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30 Things We Learnt In April, 2022

Posted on 29 April 2022

Here at Gowing Life, we have decided to keep a fun record of everything we learn in 2022, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of April!

1: The southern grasshopper mouse: a mouse native to Mexico and to Southwestern states of the USA. It feeds almost exclusively on arthropods, including the highly venomous Arizona bark scorpion, and is resistant to venom.

A southern grasshopper mouse munching on a venomous scorpion.

2: Leg lengthening surgery: a medical procedure that can add up to 15cm (6”) to a leg, and is sometimes done if one leg is significantly shorter than the other. The bone is cut, and a device is installed that allows the two cut ends to be separated by about a millimetre each day. This allows new bone and blood vessels to slowly grow and fill the gap. Such surgery isn’t without risks, including nerve damage, muscle damage, and arthritis.

3: The challenges of applying deep learning to electronic medical records:

  • There are many players in the field and they don’t cooperate.
  • Hospital staff want software that fits their already established methods and procedures, but these are not always best suited to make effective use of the software.
  • Deep learning models must be frequently retrained and updated.
  • Data encodes expertise: when a nurse judges that someone doesn’t need to have their oxygen measured, they leave the oxygen field empty. An empty field is encoded as a zero, and so as far as the algorithm is concerned, a blood oxygen saturation of 0% is healthy.
  • Deep learning algorithms are very good at picking up on spurious correlations, but lack the human intelligence necessary to recognise that they are spurious. 

4: Creatonos gangis is a moth found in Australia and East Asia. Like some other moths and butterflies (including the monarch butterfly), males of the species possess Coremata, also known as a ‘hair pencils’ that they unfurl from their abdomens. They use them to spread pheromones that attract females while repelling other males. They make these pheromones from ingested pyrrolizidine alkaloids, chemicals produced by plants that usually ward off insects and can even poison sheep and cattle.

5: When the rules of basketball were made, moving while holding the ball was not allowed. Players at Yale realised that they could still move with the ball by ‘passing it to themselves’ without technically violating the rules, and so the dribble was born. The basketball rules committee wanted to ban dribbling, believing that ‘limitation of the dribble is a necessary step in the best interests of basketball’.

6: When Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, he kept his title of Emperor, becoming the ‘Emperor of Elba’. When he was subsequently re-exiled to the island of Saint Helena, he did not keep this title.

7: It’s not uncommon for Saharan dust to be blown across Europe. When enough of this dust settles in the mountains, the results are surreal.

8: The pig war of 1859, a confrontation in which the United States and the United Kingdom almost went to war over the San Juan islands, before the central governments of either nation received word of the events. All because of an ambiguously worded border treaty and a pig with an appetite for potatoes.

9: The American continent is the only continental landmass to derive its name from a real person: the Spanish explorer and cosmographer Amerigo Vespucci. Why him, and not Christopher Columbus, the man credited with discovering America? The misnaming may be down to a misinformed German cartographer, who had only received word of Vespucci’s arrival in South America, and did not know that Columbus had arrived on the continent a year earlier. Both Columbus and Vespucci died before either learned of the name.

10: The Hitler teapot: A steel kettle sold in 2013 that attracted social media attention due to its resemblance to Adolph Hitler. At the price of $40, the kettle quickly sold out and reappeared on Ebay for up to $199.


11: Winner’s curse: The tendency for the winning bid in an auction or similar scenario to exceed the intrinsic value of whatever is being sold. This happens because competing buyers make different estimates of how much the auctioned item is worth. While the average of these estimates is usually close to the item’s true value, the party that overestimates the most is usually prepared to bid the most, and is therefore more likely to win. The more bidders participating in an auction, the greater the chances of winner’s curse occurring, and the greater the extent of overspending.

12: Despite appearances, these are not extraterrestrial parasites that have come to destroy life on Earth, but piles of tubifex worms, aka sludge worms or sewage worms. They’re similar to regular earthworms, but tend to live close to bodies of water including sewer sludge, which they feed on. They are very resistant to chemical pollution including insecticides and heavy metals. But why do they ball up? Tubifex worms seem to clump together when exposed to stressors, like extremes of temperature or finding themselves exposed above ground. In other words, they’re cuddling each other for support!

13: Gustav III of Sweden’s coffee experiment: Despite a complete ban on the beverage, coffee continued to be drunk in Sweden during the 18th century. In an attempt to prove that coffee was a danger to public health, King Gustav III ordered an experiment to be conducted. Two idnetical twins who had been sentenced to death were offered life imprisonnment instead, on the condition that one drank three pots of coffee a day, while the other drank the same amount of tea, for the rest of their lives. The tea drinker lived to 83 while the coffee drinker died at a later, unknown date. Both outlived the King, who was assassinated in 1792.

14: The battle of Hastings didn’t take place at Hastings, but occurred around 11km Northwest of Hastings, the approximate site of the modern day town of Battle. The town grew around Battle Abbey, which was founded by the victorious new King William at the site of the battle, probably because the Pope’s representatives made him do it.

15: The planet Mercury has a tail much like that of a comet. This is the result of sodium being blasted off the planet’s surface by solar winds.

Mercury and its tail.

16: According to one study, a 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate in the USA is associated with 37,000 deaths [including 20,000 heart attacks], 920 suicides, 650 homicides, 4,000 state mental hospital admissions and 3,300 state prison admissions.

17: NASA is funding research into a “starshade”, a lightweight object in space to block light for telescopes, allowing them to get higher resolution images of objects like exoplanets.

18: One way to recover rocket boosters falling back to Earth, proposed in the 1950s, was to ‘catch’ them with a helicopter. While helicopter technology back then made the idea impracticable, the idea has recently been revived.

19: What makes poop brown? Poop is brown because of a chemical called stercobilin. Stercobilin is produced by bacteria in the gut when they metabolise bilirubin, which comes from the breakdown of old red blood cells and is secreted into the gut by the liver. Because most natural food pigments are broken down in the gut, the brown colour prevails.

20: The first documented appearance of the word nerd is as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss’s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950), in which the narrator claims that he would collect “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too” for his imaginary zoo. It’s not known whether this was the true origin of the word, but it’s easy to see how the term could have passed from a children’s book into school slang and then into wider use.

Dr Seuss’s nerd.

21: Subitizing is the ability to instantly recognize the number of objects without actually counting them. Most people can subitize up to four items, after which subitizing becomes hard unless the items are arranged in a pattern with which the observer is familiar, such as the markings on a die or playing card.

22: Projectile fusion: An alternative approach to fusion in which the fusion reaction is initiated by launching an object at the fuel source at extremely high speeds.

23: The first known example of written Finnish is found in a German travel journal from around 1450. It reads: ”I want to speak Finnish, but I am not able to”. According to the journal, they are the words of a Finnish bishop: most priests in Finland spoke Swedish at the time.

24: A 3200 year-old limestone tablet records why ancient Egyptians missed work. The inscriptions include such reasons as: ”wrapping the corpse of his mother”, ”making remedies for the scribe’s wife”, or the old time favourite excuse ”the scorpion bit him”.


25: China’s Final Warning is a Russian proverb meaning a warning that carries no real consequences. It originates from the 1950s and 1960s, during which American military planes patrolled the Taiwan straights, and during which time the People’s Republic of China issued approximately 900 ”final warnings” to the United States over the manoeuvres.

26: The image below show the paths taken by 800 unsteered bicycles that were pushed and released, and their movements recorded until they fell over. This was done as part of a study aiming to teach a computer to ride a bicycle, which has proven to be a surprisingly difficult task in the past.

The paths taken by 800 unsteered bicycles.

27: Have you ever drifted off to sleep, only to be wrenched awake briefly by a sudden muscle twitch and a falling sensation? The hypnic jerk is an involuntary muscle movement that occurs in about 70% of people. This may simply be an accident of biology – the result of reduced breathing, heart rate and body temperature during sleep, but it might also provide an evolutionary advantage. When we go to sleep, most of our muscles go into paralysis, meaning we have little chance of saving ourselves from a fall should we pick a bad spot to rest. The hypnic jerk could be a kind of test to ensure our sleeping location is safe before we enter a deeper sleep. It could also serve as a second chance to recover from accidentally nodding off in a dangerous environment. Hopefully you’ve never experienced this at the wheel of a car, but if you have, you’re probably thankful for it!

28: Different species of butterfly lay eggs with a wide variety of shapes and patterns, some of which are very geometrical and intricate. Below are some examples.

Microscope images of the eggs of different butterfly species. From left to right: Acacia Blue [Surendra vivarna amisena], Aberrant Oakblue [Arhopala abseus], Miletus [Miletus biggsii], Malayan [Megisba malaya sikkima]. HuDie’s Microphotography

29: Future skyscrapers could be built from wood: Plans for such buildings include a 100 metre tall, full timber building in Switzerland and a 183 metre tall building with a concrete core in South Perth, Australia. These buildings will use engineered wood products like glued laminated timber, which char but do not burn when exposed to flame.

30: Schizophyllum commune, known as the splitgill mushroom, has over 23,000 sexes. Whether or not two individuals are sexually compatible depends on genes at two sites in their genome. If a pair has matching genes at either location, the pair is not sexually compatible.

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