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30 Things We Learnt In August, 2023

Posted on 31 August 2023

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Here at Gowing Life, we are keeping our fun record of everything we learn in 2023, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of August!

1: Half of all panda births result in twins, but one cub is almost always abandoned. That’s why keepers at Chengdu Research Base hatched a cunning plan.

2: The entirety of Wikipedia is only around 100GB and is free to download.

3: A polar histogram is a way of representing directional data, such as how often streets within a city run in a certain direction. In this way, the entropy levels of the streets of different cities can be easily visualised. A chart of polar histograms for 100 cities around the world can be found in the original paper here. Among those included, Charlotte, Sao Paolo and Rome have the highest entropy.

4: The Barter Economy Myth: Monetary systems are often described as having emerged out of necessity due to the inefficiency of bartering. A common perception is that before the invention of money, all trade relied on bartering over the exchange of goods – if the person didn’t want what you were selling, you were out of luck. However, anthropological studies of present and past societies suggest that this is untrue – there is no evidence that economies relied on barter without any other medium of exchange, and no evidence that money emerged from barter. Instead, the most usual way of exchanging goods was simply through gift-giving and interpersonal debts/favours.

5: Born to sell: Genetics are a better predictor of a salesperson’s success than personality traits according to research. It is suggested that educational attainment and adaptive learning (and therefore an improved ability to recognise a sale opportunity) may explain such a link.

6: This amazing map of the observable universe by Pablo Carlos Budassi, with distances from the Earth represented on a logarithmic scale.

Logaritmic map of the Observable Universe with the ground level on the left side and the farthest visible objects on the right. Made by Pablo Carlos Budassi on August 2018.

7: On Venus, a day lasts longer than a year. It takes about 225 Earth days for Venus to orbit the Sun, but 243 Earth days for it to turn on its axis.

8: For technologies to which Moore’s law applies, delaying the initiation of large projects can actually result in them being completed sooner. This is because technology improves so much that procrastinators are able to overtake those who started early with inferior technology. For example, imagine we develop the ability to travel close to the speed of light within the next 100 000 years. If we sent a probe to Betelgeuse today, that probe would still arrive millions of years later than a probe sent in 100 000 years. Depending on how rapidly artificial intelligence improves over the coming decades, a similar logic may apply to many projects initiated today.

9: The James Webb telescope captured this image of a ‘question mark’ structure. All we really know about it is that it is not part of our galaxy. It could be two galaxies colliding, but it could also represent two unrelated structures than just happen to line up perfectly.

10: “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming”: The title of the memoir of Mike Brown, the astronomer most responsible for demoting Pluto to a dwarf planet.

11: Most people’s ideas about creativity do not align with observations. Contrary to popular belief, children are not more creative than adults, people are less creative when brainstorming as a group, and constraints make people more creative.

12: A demonstration of spontaneous synchronisation. Due to being on a moving platform, metronomes exert an opposite force on other metronomes that are not in sync with them.

13: Noise – an insidious killer of productivity. This study found that while noise did not affect how much effort participants put into a task, it made them significantly less efficient. A 10 decibel increase in noise (roughly equivalent to going from a dishwasher to a vacuum cleaner in the background) correlates with a 5% reduction in productivity.

14: This interactive map of undersea cables.

15: That time Catholics mined and machine-gunned a giant carp: The Buddhist crisis in South Vietnam which broke out in 1963 due to religious and political tensions between Buddhists and the pro-Catholic government. During this time, a greatly oversized carp was found in a small pond near Đà Nẵng. Some locals began to believe that the fish was a reincarnation of a disciple of Gautama Buddha, and the pond started to attract pilgrims. In an effort to stop this, government officials mined the pond and fired machine guns at it, but failed to kill the carp. They found more success with grenades and eventually succeeded in putting an end to the fish.

16: The paper that spawned the Dunning-Kreuger effect was inspired by a bank robbery in which the robbers did not attempt to disguise themselves, as they had covered their faces in lemon juice and believed that this would make them invisible to security cameras. Professor Dunning hypothesised that the robbers were too incompetent to realise they were incompetent, and set out with graduate student Justin Kreuger to explore this idea.

17: A transparent sea cucumber photographed by researchers with the Census of Marine Life at a depth of 2,750 meters.

18: Immortal time bias: A type of bias that can occur in scientific studies, in which participants are rendered ‘immortal’ for a certain period of time due to exclusion criteria. Say we want to answer a simple question: does heart surgery in eligible patients improve survival chances? We take some patients and randomly assign them to receive surgery or no surgery, and see how long they live. But what happens if someone in the surgery group dies before their scheduled surgery? Clearly this death should not be counted when considering whether surgery improves survival. The problem is that by excluding these people, the surgery group has been made ‘immortal’ for the period of time between the start of the study and the date of the surgery. This means that the study will select for a surgery group that is healthier on average than the control group.

19: Harada Sanosuke, a low-ranking samurai who was mocked by a retainer for being a peon who did not know how to properly commit seppuku (ritual suicide). In response, Harada immediately drew his sword and attempted to commit seppuku, but he did it wrong and survived.

20: This video showing microorganisms in comparison to a human hair.

21: Researchers found that replacing 15% of the sand in concrete with coffee grounds enhanced the concrete’s strength by 30%.

22: This cross-section of a blade of grass. Look how happy they are! The structures resembling smiley faces are vascular bundles responsible for transporting water and nutrients.

23: Implicit Association Tests (IATs) are designed to detect subconscious bias and stereotyping based on how quickly participants are able to sort images into different categories. You can anonymously take various IATs here.

24: It may look like a dated video game, but this is actually the Las Vegas Underground House, built in a cold war era underground bunker and designed to support a family for a year.

25: We will never run out of uranium. We are reasonably close to being able to extract uranium from seawater. The oceans contain about 4 billion tonnes of uranium at any one time. This uranium is constantly replenished through leeching from the crust’s 100 trillion tonnes of uranium, effectively making it a renewable energy source (while uranium in the crust is technically finite, so is light from the Sun). Even if 100% of our energy were provided by uranium for the next billion years, we would not be able to lower the concentration of uranium in the oceans.

26: Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have developed a smart contact lens that’s powered by tears. The battery’s coating reacts with sodium and chloride ions in tears to generate electricity. This also means that the lens could be recharged in salt water when not in use.

27: Birds alter their songs in noise-polluted areas – they sing louder but give up on the complexity of their songs. Researchers found that when traffic noise in San Francisco fell due to COVID-19, birds in the city started to sing quieter, more intricate songs again.

28: These prehistoric tunnels in Brazil weren’t dug by humans, but by giant ground sloths (Megatherium). They went extinct 12,000 years ago along with many other large mammals, possibly due to hunting.

29: The heaviest person ever documented was Jon Brower Minnoch at 635kg. At the time of his death, he also held the record for most weight lost at 419kg. Of the 20 heaviest people ever documented, 15 are from the United States.

30: Daniel Lambert, an English man born in 1770 who became the heaviest person in recorded history at the time – 335kg at the time of his death at age 39. Before gaining weight, Daniel was reportedly healthy and physically active, and claimed to be consuming a healthy diet free of alcohol even during his weight gain. However, he displayed none of the other signs of endocrine or genetic disorders that might cause abnormal weight gain. Most doctors assume he just wasn’t very honest about his lifestyle.

By Unidentified painter – Wellcome Library, London, Iconographic Collection 574786i, Public Domain,

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