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30 Things We Learnt In November, 2022

Posted on 30 November 2022

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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 November!

1: Hydnora Africana: Despite appearances, this is not a baby sandworm but a plant called Hydnora africana, translating roughly as ‘African truffle’. It can only survive by parasitizing the roots of other plants. Pictured below is the flower, with the rest of the plant growing below ground. This includes the fruit, which apparently tastes a lot like a potato. Best not to sniff the flower, though, as it smells like faeces in order to attract pollinating insects.

2: The Mcgurk effect: An audio-visual illusion that happens when you hear one sound, but the visual information from watching the speaker’s lips causes you to hear a different sound. For example, you may listen to the sound ‘ba’, but if you watch a video of someone saying ‘fa’, you are likely to hear the sound ‘fa’. Our reliance on lip movements and the context of the sentence to interpret sounds can be exploited by ventriloquists, allowing some sounds to be substituted with those that are difficult to make with a closed mouth. Thus, ‘tenelote tarked the car’ can be heard as ‘Penelope parked the car’, especially when combined with a silly voice.

3: The idea that ”crowd crush” events are caused by panicked people stampeding is a mythmost people who die at such events don’t die from trampling, but from asphyxiation due to pressure caused by crowd density. Crowds with densities of 5+ people per square meter and crowds that move in a stop/start motion tend to be the most at risk of developing into a crush. If you find yourself in a crush, avoid trying to move against the crowd and concentrate on not falling over.

4: Entrance of the Gladiators, widely recognised as the ‘clown theme’, was originally composed as a military march by Czech composer Julius Fučík in 1897. Canadian composer Louis-Philippe Laurendeau would later re-arrange the march for American wind bands under the title ‘Thunder and Blazes’, following which it gained popularity as a circus theme, often used to introduce clowns.

5: Frank Hayes is the only jockey to have ever won a horse race after death. In 1923, at Belmont Park racetrack in New York, Hayes suffered a heart attack during the latter part of the race. Aged just 22, it was suggested that Hayes’ extreme weight loss efforts prior to the race could have contributed to the heart attack.

6: The Guinness world record for longest time without sleep is held by Randy Gardner who, in 1963, went 11 days and 24 minutes without sleep. Since then, sleep deprivation challenges have been banned by Guinness due to safety concerns.

7: As of this month, Flossie is officially the oldest cat alive at nearly 27. She still has some way to go before beating Crème Puff, who lived to the age of 36.


8: People who are deaf or hard of hearing need special smoke alarms. These are often wirelessly connected to pads placed under a pillow or mattress, and vibrate if fire is detected. Alarms can also emit flashing lights, or even release a powerful odour in case of fire.

9: A huge proportion of farmed chickens worldwide can be traced back to the Chicken of Tomorrow Contest, which took place in the US in 1948. 40 finalists submitted 720 eggs, and the resulting chicks were raised in controlled conditions and fed a standard diet before being slaughtered and judged after 12 weeks. The two best performing breeds were eventually crossed to produce the Arbor Acre breed. As of 2013, at least half of the chickens raised in China are genetic descendents of this breed.

10: Heavier species live longer on average, as do species that can fly. Much of this is probably down to predation – smaller, nonflying animals are easier for predators to kill, so evolution favours faster reproduction cycles and shorter natural lifespans. Humans are an exceptional outlier – we can expect to live about twice as long as an elephant despite being about 100 times lighter.

Average lifespan of animals by weight (logarithmic scales).

11: Tomatoes are native to South America. They didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century.

12: The Milankovitch cycles: The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is nearly perfectly circular, but is pulled into a 5 degree ellipse every 405 000 years by the gravity of Jupiter and Venus. This is enough to affect the Earth’s climate, and the effects of this are visible in fossil records. We are currently about half way through one of these cycles.

13: The Birds of Jupiter: This is what it sounds like when the radio waves picked up by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft near Jupiter are translated into sound.

14: The Hawker Hunter Tower Bridge incident: Disgruntled at the lack of air show to honour the 50th anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 1968, fighter pilot Alan Pollock decided to put on his own show. He performed an unauthorised low flyover of several London landmarks before flying through the span of tower bridge, making him the first person to do so in a jet. According to Pollock, this stunt wasn’t planned, and the decision to fly through tower bridge rather than over it was made in the space of about 10 seconds. Following the incident, Pollock avoided a court marshal but was removed from the air force on medical grounds. He was eventually exonerated by the RAF 14 years later.

15: The Pepsi Harrier jet incident: We previously learnt about the Pepsi fleet, but it turns out that isn’t the only link between Pepsi and military equipment. In 1996, Pepsi had a loyalty program in which Pepsi points could be exchanged for rewards. In one humorous advert, Pepsi offered a Harrier jump jet in exchange for 7 million points. Business student John Leonard realised that he could buy 7 million Pepsi points for $700 000, while a Harrier jump jet was worth around $37 million. Leonard managed to borrow the $700 000 and proceeded to sue Pepsi when they unsurprisingly refused to grant him the jet. A judge eventually ruled in favour of Pepsi, who later amended the cost of the jet to 700 million points and added a disclaimer.

16: Picking your nose is more than just a gross habit – it might actually be bad for your brain. Nose picking could damage the lining of the nostrils and make it easier for pathogens to access the olfactory nerve and thereby enter the brain.

17: The Leidenfrost effect is when a liquid encounters a surface significantly hotter than its boiling point, resulting in an insulating layer of gas that prevents the rest of the liquid from boiling and causes it to levitate.

18: Diabetics have a similar risk of future cardiovascular events as someone who has already suffered a heart attack – even if their blood sugar is maintained at normal levels through treatment. There’s now mounting evidence that the immune system ‘remembers’ high blood sugar and promotes the growth of fatty plaques.

19: The graph below depicts changes in life expectancy since 2019 through 2021. The section of each arrow before the twist represents change during 2020, while the section after the twist represents 2021. Red arrows indicate a decrease in life expectancy, while grey arrows indicate a rebound. Greater decreases in life expectancy were correlated with reduced vaccine uptake.

20: Why did the wheel take so long to invent? The wheel is often credited as one of humanity’s most important inventions, with the earliest wheels thought to have appeared somewhere around 3500 B.C. Yet by this time, humans were already creating metal alloys, building canals and engaging in intercontinental trade. So why did it take so long to invent something so seemingly simple? Pack animal domestication might have played a role – without animals suited to pulling wheeled vehicles, the value of the wheel would have been reduced, especially considering that heavy goods were already being transported long distances by boat. In spite of the wheel’s apparent simplicity, building an effective wheel also wasn’t that easy at the time. The ends of the axle needed to be very smooth and needed to fit within the wheel loosely enough to allow it to rotate easily, but not so loosely that the wheel would wobble. This would have required metal tools that weren’t available beforehand.

21: The carbon cost of football: For the first time, FIFA and the World Cup host country Qatar have pledged a fully carbon neutral world cup. However, Lancaster University researchers estimated that the real carbon footprint of the event is much larger than anticipated – at least 10 million tonnes of CO2 will be produced by researchers’ estimates. Some examples of how CO2 production was underestimated by the organisers include assuming that attendees would be booking one-way plane tickets, and that a large proportion of these visitors would be staying with relatives already living in Qatar.

22: France will soon require all carparks with space for over 80 vehicles to be covered by solar panels. This is expected to generate up to 11GW of electricity at peak output.

Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

23: France produces a larger percentage of its electricity from nuclear energy than any other country in the world – about 70%. In 2021, France produced the second most nuclear energy – behind the United States and slightly ahead of China.

24: Amazon’s scrapped recruiting tool: In 2014, Amazon began developing an experimental AI tool that could read and score people’s resumes to help with the hiring process. By reading the resumes of employees previously hired, the AI learnt to recognise certain keywords and phrases that commonly appeared in said resumes. What could possibly go wrong? Since the tech industry is male-dominated, most applicants over the past 10 years were male. The AI learnt to penalise resumes with female gender-associated words and downgraded graduates from all-women universities. The project was eventually abandoned.

25: Elizabethan quackery: For as long as there have been medical establishments, there have been spurious medical practices, but none are as well documented as those of self-taught Elizabethan doctor and astrologer Simon Forman. His ‘cures’, which were recorded in 66 volumes currently kept at the Bodleian library in Oxford, included ”touch of a dead man’s hand”, counter-spells and ”pigeon slippers” – cutting open two pigeons and wearing one on each foot. The College of Physicians of London were not a fan of Forman’s practices. Unfortunately, most of the aforementioned records are illegible on account of poor handwriting and overuse of astral symbols. You can read for yourself what has been transcribed here.

One of the 66 medical records penned by Simon Forman and his protégé and successor Richard Napier.

26: Balancing on one leg remains one of our strongest predictors of mortality past middle age. A decade-long study with over 1700 participants found that an inability to balance on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an almost doubling of one’s risk of death.

27: Rats instinctively move in time with music with no prior exposure or training – an ability previously thought to be unique to humans. They also prefer similar rhythms to humans – in both rats and humans, a rhythm of around 120-140 beats/minute results in optimal synchronicity.

28: Octopuses throw things at each other:

29: The first standardised measurements of temperature using a thermometer began in the 17th century, but as with many inventions, the Greeks were using thermometers over a millennia earlier. They knew that heated air would expand, and were using this as a basis for devices that could measure temperature as early as the first century B.C. However, without known reference temperatures, these devices were not gradated and were primarily used to measure changes in temperature.

30: Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a microscope less than 1mm in diameter – about the width of 25 human hairs. It could help surgeons to more precisely identify and remove cancer cells.

The microscope next to a 1 penny coin.
Photograph: Dr Khushi Vyas/Imperial College London/PA

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