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December 21, 2022 · 17 min read

101 things we learned this year

Our daily “stand up” is more of an async update in a Slack channel. And every Friday, that update includes something we have each learned that week. These facts are sometimes useful, occasionally a little dark, and always entertaining. For your end-of-the-year reading pleasure, here are 101 facts we’d like to share with you.

  1. Alaska is technically the westernmost AND easternmost US state.
  2. There is a Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve in Canada, regulated by the Federation of Maple Syrup, in case of a product shortage. And in 2011, there were 3000 tons of syrup stolen over a period of months.
  3. When bees die, they release a special smell. This alerts the workers to remove the dead “body”. This action restricts the spread of pathogens and maintains a hygienic colony.
  4. A swire is a depression between two hills.
  5. The initial motivation for Paul McCartney to choose his iconic violin-shaped Hofner bass was because the shape was symmetrical and he wouldn’t look weird playing it “upside down” (he was a lefty).
  6. In 2014, a pack of feral Chihuahuas terrorized a town in Arizona. Animal control received over 6k calls about them.
  7.  “Q” is the only letter not in any state name
  8. My friends in Puerto Rico did a tour of the big fort in San Juan and learned that to be a soldier there you have to be under 5’4” because of the very small passageways, which seems like a nice retirement plan for me.
  9. Ancestry tests can be less accurate than expected because DNA inheritance is random. I’ll attach the graphic that shows how it makes sense, but that’s why ethnicity percentages aren’t exact.
  1. I Learned that Australia thinks James Cook’s ship is in Newport, RI (at the bottom of the ocean) and were very excited to make that announcement but the Rhode Island Marine institute doesn’t think the evidence is that strong.
  2. I learned what broken-hearted knitters, urinating goalkeepers, and the CIA have in common. A fun Freakonomics radio podcast episode about superstitions and the culture of not looking at the data.
  3. I learned about “laundry stripping” and that I’m disgusting.
  4. This week I’ve learned about Marie McCredie and her book “Voiceless“, which tells her story on how she became inexplicably mute when she was a teenager and only figured out the reason by the age of 25, after going through a lot, including going to a sanatorium. Reason? (spoiler alert) There was a coin stuck in her throat for those long 12 years.
  5. I learned more about Pieter Levels and his multiple entrepreneurial ideas and failures. Most recently, he created and is currently responsible for over 5% of the total number of people moving to Portugal, crazy!
  6. Learned a lot this week but one thing that stood out was the growth of China’s ski industry. Skier visits have doubled since 2014, though around 80% of visitors are first time skiers.
  7. Learned that Greenland is apparently not a country?? It’s technically part of North America, but it’s a Danish territory. Was anyone else aware of this?
  8. Learned what CAPE is in weather terms (convective available potential energy).
  9. This week I’ve learned about the Christmas Truce back in WWI, when German and English soldiers spontaneously dropped the weapons and fraternized with songs, some soccer matches, and some even traded gifts. It happened in several points of the front and lasted 5 days. The generals of both sides were horrified and had to prevent this to happen again, threatening soldiers of court martial.
  10. Learned about Times Beach, MO, a ghost town that was poisoned by toxic waste.
  1. I learned about the Abednedo species in the Star Wars universe (post JJ Abrams) who are all named with some kind Beastie Boys references.
  2. I learned that the official name for a hashtag/pound sign is “octothorp,” which now rivals “interrobang” (aka ?!) as my favorite punctuation name.
  3. Learned DoT signs – think crosswalk, restroom, etc. – are from a design team hired by the US in the 70s to make road signage more uniform across the highways/interstates. They are almost universally accepted today and are considered the “Helvetica” of pictograms.
  4. The earliest forms of beer were made in open-air casks and were prayed over by monks. The monks thought their prayers were fermenting the concoction, when really it was wild yeasts and organisms getting into the open cask and doing the lord’s work, as it were. These days, that type of open fermentation yields what we call farmhouse style ales. 
  5. I learned (more) about the tumultuous history of the Bald Eagle and its role as the symbol of the USA. Percy Warner Park (big urban park here in Nashville) has over 40 nesting Bald Eagles living there.
Picture of a bald eagle in front of an American flag.
  1. I learned that piles of wood chips can spontaneously combust.
  2. Learned about the smallest post office in the US.
  3. I’ve learned about this crazy competition on an even weirder documentary “Hands on a Hardbody“, a contest that took place in Texas during the 90’s where people would put their hands on a truck and the last people to take them off would win the truck. I didn’t even know it was possible for regular people to stay awake for 80h straight. And that this crazy thing turned into a stage musical, wtf.
  4. Watched a Lucille Ball doc this week and learned she was worth about $40mil back in her prime which is equivalent to $80mil today. You go girl!
  5. This week I’ve learned about the “march against the electric guitar“, an event that took place here during the 60’s and the Brazilian military dictatorship. 
  6. Learned diesel engines don’t have spark plugs; the heat from compressed air combusts vs needing to be ignited.
  7. This week I’ve learned about Freddie Figgers, an abandoned new born that was found near a dumpster and adopted by a couple, and how he got to overcome difficulties and turn into an inventor and a millionaire. When he was 9yo, he got an old broken mac that wouldn’t even turn on, but he got to repair and bring the mac back to life by replacing some capacitors from old radios and clocks.
  8. I learned a lot about radiation poisoning and that you measure radiation exposure in units called roentgen.
  9. Learned about the history of razors via a podcast this week. Kind of interesting. It mostly covered the intro of the 3 blade razor and the jump to 5. According to a razor specialist, the Gillette Mach 3 would still be considered the best razor. Not much difference if you increase the number of blades beyond that.
  10. Learned about sea buckthorn, a fruit I had never heard of til yesterday!
  11. There’s a 3,200-year-old Egyptian tablet that recorded excuses for why people missed work. One of them being: the scorpion bit him. 
  12. This week I learned the story behind “Stand Back” by Stevie Nicks. Here are the highlights:
    1. she recorded the demo on her wedding night after hearing Little Red Corvette for the first time while driving from her wedding to her honeymoon
    2. Because she loved Little Red Corvette she called Prince and asked him to help her record the track
    3. He came in to the studio and spent less than 30 minutes figuring out and playing the synths
    4. Prince is uncredited on the track, but he and Stevie agreed to split the royalties 50/50 (nice move Prince)
    5. A few weeks (months?) later Prince called her and asked if she could help him figure out a song idea. That song? Purple Rain
  13. An ancient Roman bust was found at an Austin Goodwill! It was likely looted during WWII.
The bust in question.
  1. One night this week I revisited the life of Charles Ives and learned that one his best works, Symphony #4, wasn’t performed until a decade after his death. Ives’s life was amazing: phenomenal athlete, internationally renowned modernist composer, and, um, invented estate planning.
  2. Ancient Romans used to drop a piece of toast into their wine for good health, hence why we “raise a toast.” 
  3. I learned what microgreens are this week. 
  4. when you call a customer service line, depending on the tech that powers it, you can dial 0#0#0# to get auto-bumped to the top of the queue. Handy.
  5. Maine has more miles of coastline than California. 3,478 miles vs 3,427 miles.
  6. The National Parks System in the U.S. serves as a model internationally for many other countries’ park systems. We have 63 National Parks, but there are over 2,000 public sites within the system as a whole.
  7. Learned about some new wind turbines that don’t have blades, they just kind of wobble.
  8. Learned that the MiG-28 can do a four-G inverted dive.
  9. I learned why some countries drive on the right hand side of the road and some drive on the left. It has to do with a mix of evolution of transportation (walking, carriages, cars), right hand dominance, a country’s neighbors, and colonialism.
  10. There are six venomous snakes in North Carolina
  11. Glenn Burke, the first openly gay major league baseball player, invented the high-five (!)
  12. El Paso, TX is closer to L.A. than the eastern border of Texas.
  13. I found a really cool site called, which allows you to look up any location in North or South America (and some parts of Europe) to find which tribe or tribes were the native inhabitants. My new house is on Miccosukee tribal land in the Seminole territory, which is the same tribe and territory that covers basically the entire peninsula part of Florida.
  14. This week I’ve learned about prime numbers, how their distribution is an unsolved enigma, and if someone gets to figure a formula for that our world will be doomed, for the major encrypt algorithms depends on not knowing the distribution of these numbers.
  15. Learned about dinosaur belly buttons.
Wonder what kind of lint they found…
  1. Learned there’s a paw paw tree in my backyard, which is like an American mango, I guess? I didn’t even know this fruit existed until a few days ago.
  2. I learned that Chihuahuas are one of the oldest recognized breeds in the AKC (1904), but not a single one of those adorable little terrors has ever won the Westminster Dog Show.
  3.  Learned about Harrison Okene who survived 60 hours in the bathroom of a ship that sank.  A scuba diver found him in the air pocket.
  4. I learned this week that when it gets extremely hot outside for consecutive days your foundation can shift. So, you can water your foundation around the house to keep it from shifting. It’s best to do it at sunset instead of in the mornings.
  5. This week I’ve learned about an Italian city named Cremona, which holds a music museum, and how they stop traffic and other activities in the museum’s surroundings so they could do a crystal clear recording of the sound of Stradivarius violins while they are still playable.
  6. Learned that Alexander the Great once hosted a drinking competition and 41 participants died of intoxication. Promachus, a soldier, was pronounced the winner after downing about 4 gallons of wine.
  7.  Zildjian (the percussion instrument company) was founded during the Ottoman empire.
  8. There were 14 people to hold the office of President before George Washington. Admittedly, the office was different in scope and power pre-constitution than post, but still.
  9. Learned there are 4 national anthems that have no official lyrics: Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and San Marino.
  10. July 8th is a day that 99% of the world’s population will have sunlight at the same time.
  11. I learned about Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, who at one time controlled 80% of the cocaine market and was the yin to Escobar’s yang. He was a super low key guy and apparently just loved the business of drug running.
  12. The origin of the word “ampersand” to describe this symbol & is “and per se and” which I can’t stop thinking about.
  13. All mammals, regardless of heart rate, only get about 800,000,000 beats out of their hearts. Through environmental and health changes humans have managed to buck that trend–if we hadn’t we’d only live to about 25. Another good one is that our livers can regenerate. Your liver can lose about 30% of its size but it’ll grow back.
  14. The white bengal tiger only happens naturally 1 out of 10,000 births
  15. The company Nintendo was actually founded in 1889 – they originally created and sold card games.
  1. Learned that over the last couple of years, there has been growth in the dark web of spider buying. Some spidery specialists believe that there could be a few unknown species being discovered/sold. People are just finding wild spiders and selling them.
  2. Dense vegetables have a higher amount of minerals in them and can catch on fire in the microwave in seconds. The minerals include iron, magnesium, and selenium and act like tiny pieces of metal.
  3. Learned about Carol Shaw and how she single-handedly developed one of the greatest hits of the old atari2600, River Raid, being like a forerunner of indie games developers.
  4. I learned about the difference between red and gray volcanoes.
  5. “Zoomies” have a technical name: Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or “FRAPs”. 
  6.  Learned about the Human sheep competition in France which is a thing I guess.
  1. The 100 folds in chef’s hat represent the 100 ways to cook an egg
  2. Moon dust is fascinating in that it’s a big reason as to why we haven’t been back to the moon in a long time. Here on Earth, wind, sedimentary movement, and water basically all act as forces to ‘smooth’ pieces of rock and dust as a result of friction. However, on the moon, there is obviously no wind/water/movement, so the dust has no chance to become smooth over time and is extremely jagged at a microscopic level, which means it sticks to everything and is very abrasive. It’s also very fine and dry (again, no water), so it’s easily transported from outside into the lunar module, and then breathed in. Because it’s so jagged, it’s suspected that the effects would be similar to that of breathing in fiberglass. So, all that to say, moon dust is actually fairly dangerous, and there is active research to better make entry and exit procedures for people in and out of the ship, should we ever return to the moon.
  3. This week I learned about William Halsted, the inventor of medical residency programs. Unfortunately for medical residents, Halsted was a cokehead who expected residents to keep up with him (despite the fact that many of them were not using cocaine). His culture of no sleep/overwork has persisted to this day.
  4. Learned that Jostens (company that makes yearbooks/graduation gowns/class rings for high schools/colleges in most of the U.S.) also makes the Super Bowl rings each year and sometimes World Series rings.
  5. I learned about the Barkley Marathon, which is a crazy, weekend-long race through the woods in the Tennessee plateau.
  1. Those lamps that used to hang in Pizza Huts are now a very rare and hot commodity and sell for $10k+ on the intranets.
  2.  The Olympics used to award medals for the arts. Lots, actually. They were given for literature, architecture, sculpture, painting, and music.
  3. Learned that there’s something called “chicken enrichment” where if you entertain your chickens they’ll lay more eggs, thanks to about 3 dozen people who sent me this tiktok with a disco ball in a chicken coop. Naturally I’ve ordered the disco ball so will report back next week on my findings.
  4. Charlie from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Peter Ostrum) became a vet specializing in dairy cows.
  5. William Henry Harrison, despite being President only 31 days and causing a constitutional crisis upon his death, contributed two colloquialisms that are still used today, 1) calling alcohol “booze”, and 2) “Keep the ball rolling”–the man was a marketing genius.
  6. The Eiffel Tower can be 15 cm taller during the summer, due to thermal expansion. The iron heats up, and the particles gain kinetic energy and take up more space.
  7. Sriracha has no marketing or trademark, and hit $150M revenue. The owner wants it to remain a rich man’s sauce at a poor man’s price.
  8. It takes 67 mph wind to move the average adult person.
  9. The Tarbosaurus was a close cousin of the Tyranosaurus rex that lived in what is now modern day Mongolia. She was a wee bit smaller but could still have easily gobbled up a human.
  10. Figs are pollinated by female wasps who then die inside the fig and eventually disintegrate before we eat them. So you’re typically eating a wasp with your fig
  11. If armadillos have to cross a river they swallow a bunch of air and make themselves inflatable, which is PRETTY neat. 
  12. Supai, AZ which is the only place in the US where mail is brought in and taken out by mules.
Stephen Leoonardi | Unsplash
  1. The America’s cup is the oldest running international sports cup in the world.
  2. Squirrels can survive falls at terminal velocity, meaning a squirrel can fall from (almost) any height and survive.
  3. All copies of Nosferatu were originally ordered to be destroyed for being an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula (book) but a few copies made their way outside Germany which is why we have the film today!
  4. An 11 year old entrepreneur (Herman Lay) sold chips out of his car and came up with a way to preserve and ship potato chips using glassine. They used to be sold out of paper bags with just a paper clip on the top.  He had a good close working relationship with Frito which led to a merger down the line. They finally merged with Pepsi and bring in 50% of total sales of the company to this day.
  5. You can tell a turkey’s gender by its poop.
  6. The Plains Indians (Navajo, Cree, and Crow mainly) communicated through sign language as early as the 1520’s and that form of sign language, called Plains Indian Sign Language, is one of the world’s oldest and most widespread usages of sign language.
  7. Historians still have on record the lyrics to a hymn honoring Ninkasi, a Sumerian goddess, in which the lyrics are actually an incredibly detailed instructional on how to brew beer.
  8. I learned how they do chest xrays on babies, and it’s a terrible experience for a parent to have to help them encase your kid in the tube, but it’s also a little funny when you see them encased in this tube.
That “just right” fit.
  1. I learned a lot about Falconry. It’s not terribly difficult to obtain a license to own a bird of prey in the US. But you do need to apprentice for 2 years, which feels right. Apprentice falconers can’t own a raptor that is imprinted on humans, because when not raised properly they can be very food aggressive. With a master falconer license you can own any bird of prey except a bald eagle. Different raptors have very different dispositions, Harris’s Hawks are thought to be good beginner birds because they are generally friendly and have a pack hunting instinct, while Goshawks are very advanced because they are so small that any mistakes with feeding can kill them. One of the biggest challenges is moderating their weight, the goal is to keep them fed to be healthy enough to hunt, but hungry enough that they will return to you. Since Harry Potter came out there have been problems with too many people wanting to hunt with owls, it turns out that owls don’t like hunting with humans. Upon cursory research it seems that there is a much larger falconry community in the US than I would have suspected. And for the record, no I am not getting a falcon.
  2. 26% of all Christmas trees in the US come from North Carolina, and the Douglas Fir is the pride of the NC Christmas tree growers. It takes roughly 10 years to reach sellable age and is known for its blueish-green color, soft touch, vibrant smell, sturdy branches, and uniform Christmas Tree shape. Commercial farms opened in late 1950 in the mountains on the west side of the state, and Ashe County is the largest Christmas tree-producing county in the country, with roughly 20 million trees under production at one time. If you live East of the Mississippi, there is a good chance your tree comes from North Carolina; to the west, it is more likely to be a Noble Fir from Oregon, which produces 31% of all Christmas trees. However, every state grows Christmas trees, with many producing trees specifically for their region.
  3. Sean Paul is in fact NOT saying ‘Sean de paul’ at the beginning of his songs, but saying ‘Chanderpaul’ as a tribute to his favorite cricket player.