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Fact of the week

April 9, 2010
tags: ,

Half of the people throughout human history to live to the age of 65 are alive right now (via).

Who can beat Usain Bolt?

April 8, 2010

We expect human runners to get faster with time. But Usain Bolt is something else entirely:

Ethan Siegel, a theoretical astrophysicist at Lewis & Clark College, recently charted a graph to demonstrate that, judging by the incremental progression of the 100-meter world record over the past hundred years, Bolt appears to be operating at a level approximately thirty years beyond that of the expected capabilities of modern man. Mathematically, Bolt belonged not in the 2008 Olympics but the 2040 Olympics. Michael Johnson, the hero of the 1996 Olympic summer games, has made the same point in a different way: A runner capable of beating Bolt, he says, “hasn’t been born yet.”

There are plenty of amazing athletes in the world, but right now, none of them come close to Bolt.

Does bacteria make it rain?

April 6, 2010

Brent Christner — a scientist at Louisiana State University — has found evidence that cloud bacteria may have developed the ability to create rain showers as a way of dispersing themselves worldwide:

The theory-called bioprecipitation-was pioneered by David Sands, a plant pathologist at Montana State University, in the 1980s. But little information existed on how the rainmaking bacteria moved through the atmosphere until Christner and his colleagues began their work in 2005. Sands told National Geographic News that the critters may even employ creative means of transportation: For instance, they could “ride piggyback” on pollen or insects. “We thought [the bacteria] were just plant pathogens [germs], but we found them in mountain lakes, in waterfalls, in Antarctica-they get around,” Sands said.


Is this the future of text?

April 2, 2010

How does Netflix get your returns so early?

April 1, 2010

There’s not really any special trick.

A reader writes in to Marginal Revolution to explain:

The post office doesn’t scan any DVDs for us. The envelopes come to us from the post office in standard mail cages. The envelopes are opened and inspected (currently by hand) by the nearest Netflix hub starting extremely early in the morning. After inspection, they’re scanned by a computer. It’s not until the DVD is actually scanned that it’s marked as returned.

Netflix has spent quite a bit of time hacking the USPS, as it were. They’ve found they have a much higher customer satisfaction rate, as well as being easier to get new customers, if one-way transit time is only 1 day. It’s hard to achieve in most places, but in high density areas like the SF Bay Area it’s very cost-effective.

Who were America’s highest ranking military officials?

March 30, 2010

During the Revolutionary War, George Washington led American forces as a lieutenant general. In July 4, 1976, the United States Congress passed a resolution to recognize Washington as “General of the Armies of the United States” so that no other military official would ever outrank him (that does, however, ignore the fact that Congress had previously named the general “commander-in-chief” of all US forces in 1775).

But there are a number of military commanders who’ve held rank higher than Washington’s original position of lieutenant general:

  • Admiral of the Navy George Dewey (1837-1917), March 2, 1899
  • General of the Armies John J. Pershing (1860-1948), September 3, 1919
  • Fleet Admiral William Daniel Leahy (1875-1959), December 15, 1944
  • General of the Army George C. Marshall (880-1959), December 16, 1944
  • Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph King (1878-1956), December 17, 1944
  • General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), December 18, 1944
  • Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz (1885-1966), promoted December 19, 1944
  • General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), December 20, 1944
  • General of the Army Henry H. Arnold (1886-1850), December 21, 1944 (Became General of the Air Force pursuant to Public Law 58, 81st Congress, May 7, 1949):
  • Fleet Admiral William Frederick Halsey (1882-1959), December 11, 1945
  • General of the Army Omar N. Bradley (1893-1981), September 20, 1950

What explains the promotions? In both World Wars, American commanders needed a rank equivalent to their European counterparts.

Is the NYC Apple Store a landmark?

March 24, 2010

New York City is full of recognizable institutions, and each of them draws thousands of tourists everyday. Those visitors take enough pictures to make the city the most photographed in the world. But of all the locations people shoot in New York, one is a little different from the others:

According to an analysis of 35 million Flickr images undertaken by Cornell students on a university supercomputer, the Fifth Avenue Apple Store is the fifth most photographed landmark in the world’s most photographed city — and the 28th most photographed landmark in the world

In terms of popularity, the Apple Store is behind Grand Central Station, but ahead of both Columbus Circle and Liberty Island.


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