Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Curiosities List 1

words: 827

i keep a list of “curiosities”. my curiosities list contains stuff that at some point made me go, “huh, that’s interesting. i wonder…” but then i realized it wasn’t worth interrupting what i was doing. every now and then, i go through the list and do a bunch of googling. this time i took notes.

why do goats have weird eyes? their main survival strategy is "when there are predators, run away", so they they need to see far in front of them and behind them, without being blinded by the sun overhead. the horizontal pupils give them 280 degree horizontal vision. goat eyes [even rotate](https://youtu.be/RG894fyXwDQ?t=127) to stay parallel to the ground when they bend to eat.

why are they called "Mormons"? the prophet who compiled scriptures from ancient America was called “Mormon”, and the book he made is called “the book of Mormon”.

what are “forty-niners”? they’re prospectors who went to California in the gold rush of 1849.

Petra? i heard in an episode of Writing Excuses that there have been two major cities in the history of ever that were founded in the middle of a desert, while it was a desert, and managed to flourish. one is Las Vagas, which managed because of the Hoover Dam. the other is Petra. so far i haven’t had any luck fact-checking that claim, but Petra is in fact very neat nonetheless. it was established in the early 300s BCE in Southern Jordan. there were two main things going for it: one, it was at the crossroads of two major trading routes. second, its citizens developed high-tech water collection methods. also, they were awesome at carving stuff into solid stone, like houses and canals and shit, and the rocks in the area are all rosy red. John William Burgon wrote a poem about the city, with an excellent last line, and it goes like this:

It seems no work of Man's creative hand, by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned; But from the rock as if by magic grown, eternal, silent, beautiful, alone! Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine, where erst Athena held her rites divine; Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane, that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain; But rose-red as if the blush of dawn, that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn; The hues of youth upon a brow of woe, which Man deemed old two thousand years ago, Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose-red city half as old as time.

why doesn’t China do team sports? this seems pretty odd to me, given that 1) China is enormous, so after sifting through all those people to find the best athletes there must be some damn good athletes, and 2) my impression of East Asian culture generally is that it’s super into something like team spirit. in short, i still have almost no idea. but here are some things various internet people have proposed that may be worth considering.

  • people in China freak out over competitive academics instead of competitive sports.
  • they’re a lot more locally focused so the athletes spend most of their sports time doing intramural stuff rather than rising through every-more-global ranks.
  • the government doesn’t have its shit together in relevant ways so the society lacks necessary infrastructure for well-organized national sports. (except they’re boss at table tennis so??? maybe it’s substantially easier to organize pairs than teams.)
  • they value grit and brains over physical strength, so when people do sports they go for the stuff that relies on loads of training and strategy. however, when i look at the competitions China tends to win in the Olympics, “solo activities” describes the list better than “brains over brawn”: table tennis, badmitton, gymnastics, diving, [weight lifting?], shooting, swimming, fencing, archery, boxing, cycling.
  • this isn’t an explanation, just a complication: their women’s teams seem to do fine in the olympics. the women are good at basketball, volleyball and soccer. bwa?
  • something something athletically gifted kids are taken from their homes and rigorously trained to mechanical excellence, and the ones who aren’t good enough are just thrown out of the system to fend for themselves with no skills but their athletic training. your survival depends on your own athletic ability, so the family-like team coordination stuff isn’t nurtured. (this doesn’t explain women’s volleyball.)
  • i don’t know. i’m still really confused. would love for some of my China-familiar friends to speculate.

Iroquois farming methods? the Iroquois cultivated their main crops by the “three sisters method”. they used raised beds with fish and eels buried for fertilizer, then they’d plant corn, squash, and beans right beside each other in the same plot. the corn stalks work as a trellises for the beans, so there’s no need for poles. the beans provide nitrogen for the corn and squash. the broad leaves of ground-creeping squash vines prevent weeds. nice design! i think i may give this a shot in my garden next year.