Sunday, January 26, 2020

28 Incorrect 'Facts' You May Have Learned In School—part 1 of 2

I recently came across a list of 28 things you may have learned in school that have since been proven wrong. I'm going to share 14 of them with you in this blog and the remaining 14 in next week's blog. Like many myths, these stories often have a kernel of truth to them, it just isn't what you learned in school.

MYTH: Chameleons change colors to camouflage themselves
Chameleons are thought of as spiky lizards that change the color of their skins to fit in with their surroundings. While their color-changing abilities are real, it's their way of maintaining a certain body temperature and communicating with other chameleons rather than a means of hiding from predators.

MYTH: Christopher Columbus discovered America
The belief that Christopher Columbus discovered America is still widespread. The U.S. even has a federal holiday honoring him. A 2005 survey from the University of Michigan showed that 85% of Americans believed Columbus discovered the continent while 2% of those surveyed answered that Columbus couldn't have discovered the land now known as America because millions of Native Americans already lived here. The first European to land on the North American continent is widely accepted by historians to be the Viking explorer Leif Erikson who sailed from Greenland to Newfoundland in what is now Canada around 1000 A.D. However, Columbus is historically significant because his 1492 voyage to the Americas paved the way for European imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.

MYTH: You can only taste certain things on certain parts of your tongue
According to the tongue map myth, different parts of your tongue are for different sorts of tastes—the back of your tongue detects bitter tastes, the front takes in sweet tastes, etc. This is wrong. Taste receptors are all over your tongue, and they all detect all kinds of tastes. It's true that some taste buds are more receptive to certain kinds of tastes than others, but the difference is slight, and the locations of those taste buds aren't in accordance with the tongue map.

MYTH: Sir Isaac Newton "discovered" gravity when an apple fell on his head
Newton's apple legend isn't true. But like many urban legends, it's an embellished version of something that actually happened. An apple didn't fall on Newton's head, but Newton did start theorizing about gravity when he saw an apple falling from a tree. Of course, today our account of physics is far more precise than Newton's notion of gravity.

MYTH: Albert Einstein failed math in school and was a terrible student
It's an attractive idea for young kids. Even if you're not a good student, you can still bloom as a genius later in life. Examples of late-blooming talents are everywhere, but Einstein isn't one of them. Not only was he an excellent student in math, he was excellent in everything. The myth that he flunked a math class may be from the time he failed the entrance exam to the Zurich Polytechnic. At that time, he was still a couple of years away from high school graduation and he only spoke a little bit of French—the language used on the exam. He did pass the mathematics section, but failed the language, botany, and zoology sections.

MYTH: Diamonds are made from ultra-pressurized coal
Both coal and diamonds are formed from carbon under the surface of the Earth, which is the origin of this myth. However, the carbon that forms diamonds is much more pure, and the process requires a lot more heat and pressure.

MYTH: According to laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly
According to the myth, its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee flies anyway because bees don't care what humans think. This is, of course, wrong. Bumblebees can fly. The idea may have developed because bumblebees are pretty big and their wings are pretty small. There's a difference between a real-life biological being and a mathematical model of that being. Honeybees fly by flapping their wings really fast.

MYTH: Convicted witches in the United States were burned at the stake
While convicted witches in France were burned, witches in England were hanged instead. The English tradition made its way to the American colonies during the Salem Witch Trials and other places of anti-witch hysteria. All the convicted witches who went to their death were hanged, with one exception. That sole exception is Giles Corey, who was pressed under large stones.

MYTH: Pluto is no longer considered a planet
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) originally classified Pluto as the ninth planet that orbits the sun. In 2005, Eris, another really big space rock 27% larger than Pluto that also orbits the sun, was discovered. The IAU re-evaluated what a planet actually is and ended up with criteria that neither Pluto nor Eris met. So neither could be one of the major planets that go around the sun. Instead, the two are considered dwarf planets. Pluto is a planet, it's just a dwarf planet.

MYTH: The Great Wall of China is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space
This depends on your definition of space. It's worth noting that while man-made structures like the Great Wall are visible from satellites orbiting Earth, they're not visible at all from the moon. Secondly, the structures you can see largely depend on the weather and how high the orbit is. Given the proper conditions, astronauts in the International Space Station can see major cities, the Great Pyramids of Giza, and some big bridges from their orbits.

MYTH: Raindrops are tear-shaped
According to the United States Geographical Survey website, raindrops are shaped more like hamburger buns or beans. When they get really large, they split in two. Only then do they turn into a teardrop shape but quickly become burger buns again.

MYTH: You can't start a sentence with a conjunction
You've probably been taught in school that you can't start sentences with but or and. But, as anyone who writes fiction will tell you, you most certainly can. Some grammar rules in the English language are unbreakable yet are broken anyway. The important thing to remember is that different publishers have different house styles. Each publication will set its own rules about grammar, like deciding whether to permit starting sentences with conjunctions, or allowing sentences to end with a preposition.

MYTH: Deoxygenated blood is blue
A common myth is that oxygenated blood is red and deoxygenated blood is blue, but this belief is inaccurate. While glancing at your skin, you may be lead to think that the veins below the surface are carrying blood that is a different color than red. This is actually the result of how you perceive light and the way body tissues are absorbed. Blood that leaves the heart is full of oxygen and bright red, while blood that travels to the heart is dark red. So, even though your veins might appear blue, green, or purple, the blood that flows in them is red (unless you are an extra-terrestrial being, then all bets are off).

MYTH: Humans only use 10% of their brains
The origin of this myth is unclear, but the idea that humans are storing approximately 90 percent untapped abilities in the brain is not true. Scientists have repeatedly been outspoken about this false claim, which has also been perpetuated by movies like Lucy and Limitless. All the neurons in your brain may not be firing at the same time, but that doesn't mean that parts of your brain are totally inactive. According to a neurologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Let's put it this way: The brain represents 3% of the body's weight and uses 20% of the body's energy."

Stop by next week for part 2 of my 2-part blog about Incorrect Facts You May Have Learned In School.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

10 Scariest Places On Earth

I recently came across a list that claimed to be the 10 scariest places on Earth.  The list isn't a reference to most haunted places. That would have made it a Halloween blog. :) Although, a couple of the places on this list are said to be haunted. Some of these places have been abandoned due primarily to man's misdeeds. This list is in no particular order.
1)  Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
When you have the remains of over 40,000 people, what do you do with all those bones? The Abbot of Sedlec went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1278 and brought back some dirt he claimed came from Jesus' burial site. Immediately thereafter Catholics from all over Europe started demanding burial in the Sedlec Ossuary cemetery. The cemetery obviously didn't have the space to accommodate all the continual requests. In the 16th century, the church staff dug up everyone buried there and used those bones for decoration: there's a chandelier made from one of every bone in the human body, garlands of skulls, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg coat of arms made from bones.

2) Centralia, Pennsylvania
Our incredible natural resources is one thing that has made America such a prosperous country. Unfortunately, those natural resources can occasionally turn on us and that's what happened when a coal mine near Centralia, Pennsylvania, caught fire in 1962. The veins of coal ran under the town which ultimately turned Centralia into a literal hellhole. Temperatures over 1000 degree Fahrenheit accompanied by belching clouds of poisonous gas. Once the initial conflagration settled down, people began to move back but soon discovered that the veins of coal were still burning resulting in blazing hot sinkholes that swallowed people without warning. Most of the residents have moved away.
3)  Pripyat, Ukraine
A colossal example of man's ability to really screw up the planet is on display in Pripyat in the Ukraine. The town's former population of 49,000 was evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Now referred to as the zone of exclusion, it looks like a freaky ghost town. The few people who have ventured back into the town report an atmosphere of desolation and terror. Dolls on school house floors, vehicles in disrepair on the roadsides, and the skeleton of an abandoned amusement park that's hauntingly scary.

4)  Aokigahara Suicide Forest
The Aokigahara Forest at the base on Mt. Fuji in Japan is associated with multiple demons in Japanese folklore. There's something about the supernatural forest that drives people to suicide. An average of 100 people travel to Aokigahara every year to kill themselves, mostly by hanging or drug overdose. Legend says that in the 19th century families would abandon their elderly relatives there to die when they couldn't take care of themselves.

5)  Lome Bazaar, Togo
If you've ever been to a street market in a third world country, then you know how crazy things can be. So, take all that energy and put it in a bazaar that sells only materials for voodoo and you have the Lome Bazaar in Togo. The bazaar is a one stop shop for a wide variety of terrifying things used to perform frightening functions. The absolute volume of grisly death that stares at you is enough to make the strongest person weak in the knees.

6)  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
The Khmer Rouge period of Cambodia's past is one of the scariest genocides in history. Millions of innocents were slaughtered and the museum is located where it all happened. In Khmer, "Tuol Sleng" translates as "Strychnine Hill." The museum is housed in a former death camp and notoriously haunted by ghosts of the thousands who died there. Of the 17,000 people who were admitted to the prison, only seven survived.
7)  Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee
Sometimes science has to do some pretty disgusting things to make advancements, but we don't make them vacation spots. Studying the decomposition of the human body can give researchers lots of knowledge useful to medicine, forensics, and others. To monitor a body decomposing in real time, you go to the body farm on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It's a 2.5 acre of land and at any time has multiple bodies laid out in various positions. Over 100 corpses are donated to the Body Farm every year. Several detective/forensics/crime shows, both entertainment programming and documentaries, have used the concept of the Body Farm in their episodes.

8)  Helltown, Ohio
The village of Boston was founded in Ohio's Summit County in 1806 and succeeded until 1974 when something weird happened. President Ford signed a bill authorizing the area to be turned into a national park, the houses were purchased and boarded up, but no park was ever built, resulting in a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. The newly named Helltown spawned some terrifying legends including Satanist sacrifices, mysterious toxic waste spills, and an escaped mental patient who wanders the woods.

9)  Fengdu, China
With China's population, there isn't much room left for a ghost town—except for Fengdu, located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. Fengdu is completely abandoned. It's rumored to be a junction point between Earth and the underworld where rampaging demons grab unaware souls.
10)  La Isla De La Munecas, Mexico
Dozens of small, uninhabited islands dot the canals south of Mexico City. It's not just the polluted runoff from Mexico City that makes the area less than desirable. Fifty years ago, a man named Don Julian Santana lived the life of a hermit on one of the islands. One day he fished the corpse of a young girl out of the water. As a form of protection, he started hanging dolls from the tree limbs and branches on his island. He continued to do this over the next few decades until the entire island was cluttered with broken, weathered dolls giving it the appearance of a terrifying place.

And that's the list of ten. Have any of you ever been to any of these places?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

10 Things You May Not Know About Vikings

With last week's blog about myths of medieval torture, I decided to follow it up by repeating my blog about Viking myths.

So…you think you know all about the Vikings?  Those seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond between the 9th and 11th centuries?  You've watched the movies and television shows, have been exposed to the caricatures and stereotypes.  But I'll bet there's a lot about the Vikings you don't know.
1)  Vikings Didn't Wear Horned Helmets
Forget all those Viking warrior costumes you've seen in those movies, television shows, and pictures seen with the characters wearing those elaborate horned helmets.  Descriptions from the Viking age don't mention it and the only authentic Viking helmet ever discovered is horn-free.  This concept seems to have originated with painters in the 19th century, possibly inspired by ancient Norse and Germanic priests who wore horned helmets for ceremonial purposes long before the Viking Age.

2)  Vikings Were Known For Their Excellent Hygiene
What with all that boat rowing and decapitating their enemies, the logical assumption would be that Viking men must have stunk.  However, excavations of Viking sites have revealed tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers.  Vikings also bathed at least once a week, much more often than other Europeans of that time period.

3)  Vikings Used A Unique Liquid To Start Fires
The Vikings collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark and boiled it for several days in urine then pounded it into a substance similar to felt.  The sodium nitrate in urine allowed the material to smolder instead of burn.  This gave the Vikings the availability of taking the fire with them on the go.
4)  Vikings Buried Their Dead In Boats
The Viking's boats were very important to them so it was a great honor to be buried in one.  It was believed that the vessels that served them well in life would see them safely to their final destination.

5)  Vikings Were Active In The Slave Trade
Many Vikings became rich through human trafficking.  They captured and enslaved women and young men while rampaging through Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements then sold them in giant slave markets in Europe and the Middle East.

6)  Viking Women Enjoyed Some Basic Rights
Viking girls married at age 12 and took care of the household while their husbands sailed off on adventures.  However, they had more freedom than other women of their era.  They could inherit property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriage ended.

7)  Viking Men Spent Most Of Their Time Farming
Most Viking men swung scythes rather than swords.  True, some were callous pirates who only left their boats long enough to burn villages but most planted crops and raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms.

8)  Vikings Skied For Fun
Scandinavians developed primitive skis approximately 6000 years ago.  By the Viking age, Norsemen regarded skiing as an efficient way to get around and a popular recreation activity.  They even worshiped Ullr, the god of skiing.

9)  Viking Men Preferred Being Blond
Brunette Vikings, usually men, used strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and in some regions also their beards.  These treatments also helped with a health and hygiene problem—head lice.

10)  Vikings Were Never Part Of A Unified Group
They probably didn't even call themselves Vikings.  The term simply referred to all Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions.  During the Viking Age, the land that is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden was a patchwork of tribes that often fought against each other…when they weren't busy creating havoc on foreign shores.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

10 Biggest Myths About Medieval Torture

I came across an odd bit of information a while back.  Even though I don't write historicals, I decided to save it with the thought in mind that it might make an interesting blog.

Medieval times…the Dark Ages.  There are many documented tales of truly barbaric treatment.  But, unlike the message we get from Hollywood's entertainment industry, Medieval times overall weren't as barbaric as we've been led to believe.  And with that thought in mind, here's a list of the ten biggest myths about justice in the Dark Ages.

10)   Go Directly To Jail?
Most Medieval communities actually had a judge and jury type of system, although it was much quicker than today's long drawn out sessions.  Court generally lasted less than half an hour.  At the judge's discretion, he could ask a few simple questions and deliver a verdict without consulting the jury.

9)   The Lawless Middle Age Villages?
Earlier Medieval communities had much more social responsibility than today.  If one member claimed to be wronged, every resident had to join in the hunt and persecution of the criminal, otherwise they would all be held responsible.

8)   Those Strict Church Types?
The pious Middle Ages were serious about religious offenses.  Each town's church usually ran its own kind of court to investigate everything from bad attendance to heresy.  However, the concept of sanctuary was also well known with the church as a place where criminals could avoid sentencing or punishment.

7)   Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?
Criminals who committed lesser offenses were often subject to a policy of three strikes and you're out—literally.  Repeat offenders were often simply banished from a city and not allowed back rather than killing them or having them clutter up the prisons.  Humane and cost effective.

6)   Executions: Left, Right, and Center?
According to Hollywood, Medieval evil-doers were killed on whim and often in public squares for even the slightest of offenses.  In reality, capital punishment was used only in the most serious cases which included murder, treason, and arson with the guilty usually hanged.

5)   Royal Highnesses High Above the Law?
Medieval nobles did enjoy certain privileges when it came to bending laws or making new ones to serve their purposes.  However, most European countries had legislation preventing their kings and queens from running wild, such as England's Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215.

4)   Public Beheadings as Weekly Spectacle?
Beheading was swift and painless—as long as the axe was sharp.  It was considered a privileged way to die and reserved primarily for the nobility.  Treason was the crime of choice with the beheadings usually taking place inside castle walls rather than in public.

3)   The Burning Times?
A few witches, as proclaimed by their accusers, were burned at the stake during Medieval times.  But it was during the following Reformation period (beginning approximately in 1550) that burning witches at the stake really took off.  However, in England witches were rarely burned and were hanged instead. At the Salem witch trials in the U.S., most of the accused who were actually put to death were hanged.

2)   Off With Your Ear?
Mutilation—severing of an ear or hand—was occasionally used as a punishment for serious crimes, especially in larger jurisdictions such as London.  But more often, Medieval law enforcement used it as an empty threat rather than actually doing it.

1)   Rack 'Em Up?
Immortalized in the film Braveheart, the most famous torture device of all time was the rack.  It probably wasn't used in England until the very end of the Medieval period.  It was used extensively along with other devices beginning in the torturous days of the 1500s when Queen Elizabeth I, and other European monarchs, began purging religious opponents.

So, next time you're watching a high budget film set during Medieval times filled with bloody and torturous actions, remember there's a good chance it didn't really happen that way.