30 Things We Learnt In January, 2022

Posted on 31 January 2022

Another year, another 365 days of pure, delicious data delivered directly to your brain. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of January!

1: Hippos may have played a role in the ancient origins of one of the most widespread (and in most cases, useless) medical practices of all time – bloodletting. Hippo sweat is red-brown and can easily be mistaken for blood. According to ancient Egyptian lore, hippos would pierce themselves on reeds when they were ill, allowing blood to flow out. Egyptian doctors took this as evidence that bloodletting must be curative, prescribing it for their human patients. But why is hippo sweat red? According to findings in 2004, the red colouration comes from pigments with some rather interesting properties besides their colour. They have acidic and antibiotic properties, and are also good at absorbing ultraviolet light, acting as natural sunscreen for the hippo’s skin, which otherwise burns easily.

Do Hippos Sweat Blood? Learn About Hippo Perspiration

2: Do you remember the ‘spider rain’ from one of last year’s articles? Well how about ‘fish rain’, aka lluvia de peces, a phenomenon that has reportedly been occurring yearly in Yoro, Honduras, for over a century. Rain of flightless animals has been reported throughout history, including by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, who writes of storms of frogs and fish. By way of explanation, it has been speculated that strong winds or waterspouts may eject animals from the sea, whereupon they are carried long distances by the wind. In the case of Yoro, the nearest known source of the observed fish is the Atlantic Ocean, which is over 70 kilometres (45 miles) away.

3: Metallica performed in Antarctica, making them the first and only group to have performed on all 7 continents.

Metallica – Live In Antarctica - December 8th, 2013 (2014, Transparent,  Vinyl) - Discogs

4: Defamiliarization: the act of stating or presenting something familiar in a manner that renders it strange or alien, usually for artistic purposes.

5: Although they are primarily freshwater animals, alligators can survive salt water for several days.

6: 50% of Canadians live to the south of the red line shown below.


7: The Judas goat: a trained goat used during animal herding to lead livestock to a specific destination. In some slaughterhouses, a Judas goat is used to lead sheep to the slaughter while its own life is spared.

8: Cats have been walking/sleeping on books and papers we are trying to read for centuries, as evidenced by this 15th century manuscript, which apparently fell victim to a curious cat. Why do cats have such an uncanny knack for positioning themselves on the exact object we are trying to use? One theory is that it allows them to transfer their pheromones to the object via their paws, thereby asserting their ownership of the object. After all, the human has been staring at it for ages, so it must be important! Cats can also tell that the object is taking all of the human’s attention, and might use ‘obstructive positioning’ in an attempt to divert that attention onto themselves.

Photograph by Emir O. Filipovic

9: The phrase ‘Seven Seas’ has been used throughout history, but which seas are actually being referred to? In Greek literature (where the phrase entered Western culture), the Seven Seas were the Aegean, Adriatic, Mediterranean, Black sea, Red sea, Caspian sea, and the Persian Gulf. In medieval Europe, they referred to the North Sea, Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Black, Red, and Arabian seas. When ships began to sail across the world to trade, sailors used the term to refer to the Arctic, the Atlantic, the Indian, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

10: A hydrofoil is a winglike structure that can be mounted below the hull of a boat to produce lift. This lift serves to raise the hull out of the water, which in turn reduces drag and improves speed and fuel efficiency.

11: It has now been 100 years since insulin was first used to treat type 1 diabetes. Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy dying from type 1 diabetes, became the first person to receive an insulin injection, bringing his dangerously high blood sugar levels under control. Before that, type 1 diabetes was a death sentence.

12: Here’s a map of male body hair coverage throughout the world.

World map of male androgenic hair

13: Atomic mushroom clouds are much larger than they look. At 15 kilotonnes, the Hiroshima bomb’s mushroom cloud rose to a height of over 18 kilometres in about 10 minutes (for comparison, commercial airlines generally fly at an altitute of between 9 and 12 kilometres). The Tsar Bomba test produced a mushroom cloud 60km high – this was after it had been modified to yield 50 megatonnes instead of 100.

14: Abscam: an FBI sting operation beginning in the late 1970s in which FBI agents posed as Arab sheikhs and attempted to bribe congressmen and other government officials for various services. Out of 31 targeted officials, 12 were convicted of bribery and conspiracy, of which 7 were congressmen.

Sen. Harrison Williams, D-N.J. is pictured here FBI agent Richard Farhardt posing as an Arab sheik called Yassir Habib. (AP Photo)
Sen. Harrison Williams (left) and FBI agent Richard Farhardt (right).

15:The iconic fireman’s pole may never have come into existence were it not for horses. Fire stations originally replaced their regular stairs with narrow spiral staircases, as horses kept on the ground floor had a tendency to wander upstairs and get stuck. The spiral stairs slowed response times, leading to the need for a faster method of descent. Many newer fire stations are now being built without the poles, opting instead for regular stairs, slides, or simply designed to occupy a single floor.

16: Sylvan Goldman, inventor of the wheeled shopping trolley, had to hire people to wheel the new contraptions around his stores to demonstrate their convenience, as shoppers did not initially want to use them.

17: It seems the abandoned buildings of a meteorological station have become a polar bear playground. Photographer Dmitry Kokh captured images of the station’s new furry residents while travelling through islands of the Chukchi Sea, which sits between Russia and Alaska. Check out the rest of the photographs here.

House of polar bears photographed by Dimitry Kokh

18: ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing refers to the increasing consideration of non-financial factors by investors as part of their financial reporting, supposedly in the name of sustainability. However, when Bloomberg Businessweek analysed ESG rating upgrades awarded by American finance company MSCI, they found that a company’s record on climate change was rarely an important factor. This was because climate change was not considered to pose a risk the company’s bottom line. Similarly, ”water stress” score didn’t involve measuring a company’s impact on local water supplies, but whether water supplies were able to sustain their factories. In other words, MSCI’s ESG ratings only considered environmental issues with the potential to harm the company, not the planet.

19: Despite being allies during World War II, Winston Churchill described Charles de Gaulle as a ”bitter foe of Britain” who “hates England and has left a trail of Anglophobia behind him everywhere.” Franklin D. Roosevelt also made negative remarks concerning de Gaulle, describing him as dictatorial and having a “Messianic complex.”

De Gaulle vu d'Angleterre et ses relations avec Churchill
Churchill and De Gaulle in Paris, November 1944

20: A growing line of research suggests that combination therapy (in which two synergistic drugs are used together to treat a disease) is not as important in cancer therapy as has been thought. A recent study examined 13 cancer immunotherapy combinations and found that the benefits of all the pairings seem to come from each drug independently, not how they work together. Scientists tend to look for drug combinations that seem like they should complement each other based on our understanding of cancer biology, but this data suggests that such predictions often don’t translate into practice.

21: Amgen and the biotech startup Arrakis Therapeutics are collaborating to develop a new class of oral drugs that work by destroying RNA molecules that turn faulty genetic instructions into disease-causing proteins. Arrakis will identify small RNA-binding molecules, which will then be combined with RNA-degrading enzymes discovered in Amgen’s labs. Such a drug class could potentially block the production of any disease-causing protein, no matter where in the body it is produced.

22: Beach cusps: shoreline wave patterns made by various grades of sediment. Once formed, beach cusps are self sustaining because their ‘horns’ (the peaks of the wave pattern closest to the water) split up incoming waves, slowing them down and causing coarser sediment to be deposited while finer sediment is carried further inland.


23: The beef purchased by McDonalds generates more greenhouse gas than Portugal or Hungary.

24: Researchers have created bubbles that can last over a year before popping, making them the longest-living bubbles ever made under atmospheric conditions. They were made with water, microparticles of plastic and a clear, viscous liquid called glycerol. The microparticles make the bubbles’ outer films more durable, while the glycerol absorbs water from the air to counteract evaporation. One of the bubbles lasted 465 days before bursting after turning slightly green. The researchers think microbes living in the bubble were probably to blame.

image of an everlasting bubble
The ‘everlasting bubble’

25: The word ‘bull’ was being used to describe nonsense back in the 1600s, centuries before references to bovine excrement appeared in British and American slang in the early 1900s. The word may have referred not to the animal, but to the old French word bole, meaning fraud or deceit.

26: 18th century wealthy estate owners sometimes hired real people to dress as druids and lodge in shacks, caves, and other hermitages constructed in their gardens. One advertisement for such a job read: ”the hermit is never to leave the place, or hold conversation with anyone for seven years during which he is neither to wash himself or cleanse himself in any way whatever, but is to let his hair and nails both on hands and feet, grow as long as nature will permit them”.

27: When people get lost, they walk for hours only to find themselves back where they started, having walked in a circle. At least, that’s what happens in stories, but does it happen in real life? Research suggests that it does, but only when there are no external reference points. When traversing unfamiliar ground, people were able to walk in relatively straight lines, but only when the sun was visible. Without the sun or shadows to use as a guide, the walkers’ courses swerved from side to side, tending to favour one side over the other and eventually resulting in circular patterns.

The top picture shows subjects’ paths through a forest in Germany while the sun was out (yellow lines) and on a cloudy day (blue lines). The bottom picture shows paths through the Sahara desert during the day (red) and at night (blue).

28: How many decimals of Pi do we need? Pi has so far been calculated to around 62.8 trillion decimals, yet NASA uses only 15. When calculating the circumference of a circle 12.5 billion miles in diameter (the distance between the Earth and the most distant spacecraft, Voyager 1), the answer obtained by using Pi cut to 15 decimal places is only about 1.5 inches off. If 40 decimal places were to be used, the circumference of a circle encompassing the entire visible universe could be calculated with an accuracy equal to the diameter of a hydrogen atom.

29: When Emile Leray’s car broke down in the Sahara Desert in 1993, he spent 12 days building a working motorcycle out of the still functioning parts. Upon making it back to civilisation, he was pulled over by the Moroccan police for operating an illegal vehicle.

Emile Leray With His Motorcycle
Emile Leray and his vehicle.

30: Following an argument with her husband in 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared, not to be found for another 10 days despite an extensive search, and one of the first uses of aircraft during a search for a missing person. She was eventually found at a hotel, and claimed to not remember the events of the previous 10 days. A proven explanation for the disappearance is still lacking today, but the writer was not generally looked upon favourably at the time following the event, with many believing it was all a publicity stunt.

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