High Five

I love scientific analysis of unscientific things — like when Wikipedia takes on the high five:

The gesture takes its name from the “five” fingers and the raising of the hand “high”. This is opposed to the “low” five which has been a part of the African-American culture since at least World War II. It’s probably impossible to know exactly when the low first transitioned to a high, but there are many creation myths.

The best part of the article is a helpful series of photographs clarifying the proper manner in which to perform the “too slow” variation:

"Too Slow"

"Too Slow"

Zoom in on the facial expressions for Victim misses and “Too slow”. I don’t remember anything like that in The Encyclopedia Britannica we had back in the dark days when learning about something took more than 30 seconds.

Fun fact: the high five was invented in 1977.

[Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Glenn] Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. [Leftfielder Dusty] Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” says Baker, now 62 and managing the Reds. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”

Another fun fact: Glenn Burke was gay. Grade school bullies inclined to shout out homophobic insults and then high five about it should just keep that in mind. (Wikipedia cites that fact to a book titled Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders, which is at once the most awesome and the most horrifying book title ever.)

Side Mirrors

Adjust Your Mirrors

Adjust Your Mirrors

The Society of Automotive Engineers recommends adjusting the side mirrors on your car so that there’s no overlap between what you see in the interior (“rear view”) mirror and in the wing mirrors.

I made this adjustment a couple months ago and I love it. For me, the goal isn’t to avoid ever looking over my shoulder. That seems unnecessarily lazy and still potentially dangerous. What I avoid is the need to check repeatedly.

When looking for a safe opportunity to change lanes, I may know there’s a car passing me but not know how far it’s come or whether there’s still enough room behind it for me to merge there. I’d end up checking over my shoulder several times (taking my eyes off the road for many seconds in total) before maneuvering. With this simple adjustment to the mirrors I can watch the traffic develop through my peripheral vision and only check over my shoulder as a final precaution when I’m actually ready to move my car.

Apollo Insurance Covers

Apollo 11 Insurance Cover

Apollo 11 Insurance Cover

Suppose it’s 1969 and you’re getting ready for a visit to the moon as an Apollo astronaut. You may not make it back alive — that’s no secret to anybody — but you still want to provide for your family. Anybody else would just take out a life insurance policy, but astronauts didn’t have that option. No agent in the world would accept such a risky policy.

NASA solved the problem simply and cleverly. Astronauts would sign a set of postcards just before each launch. Such memorabilia would be inherently valuable just for representing a bit of history. If the astronauts didn’t survive, though, those limited, suddenly irreplaceable cards would be worth a fortune. Astronauts’ families could make their “insurance” income by simply selling their stock of cards.

A lot of the details are a bit of a mystery (e.g., precisely how many of each card exist), but they’re still traded today. Various auction sites, including eBay, currently offer cards for around $10,000.

(via UKinsurancenet)

True of Candy, True of Leaves

In searching for tips on not killing poinsettia plants, I found The Poinsettia Pages from the University of Illinois.  They provide this helpful bit of trivia:

A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 [leaves] might have a slight tummy ache.

I’m glad someone finally researched that!  I’ve been asking for years.  However, how did the study show that, exactly?

Elvis Has Reentered the Building

I picked up a copy of Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu from the library for a little practice reading French.  Only one sentence in I got nervous about the translation.  In the American English version, the first sentence reads:

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle house,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

This, of course, references Tom Marvolo Riddle, whom we met in The Chamber of Secrets two books ago.  Bien.  Maintenant en Français:

Les habitants de Little Hangleton l’appelaient toujours la maison des « Jeux du sort », même s’il y avait de nombreuses années que la famille Jedusor n’y vivait plus.

Translating roughly back to English, and adding emphasis, that reads:

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it “the Riddle house,” even though it had been many years since the Jedusor family had lived there.

(Okay, putting “Riddle” back in is a stretch, but it’s the Jedusor that stands out most anyway.)

I didn’t read La Chambre des Secrets en Français, but according to Wikipédia the character we know and love to hate as Tom Marvolo Riddle is known en France as M. Tom Elvis Jedusor.

On the one hand… Elvis?  Really?  On the other hand, the anagram in Chamber of Secrets was one of the two silliest and least believable moments in the entire saga.  Introducing “Marvolo” to make the letters come out right never felt appropriate.

En Français, c’est seulement « Je Suis Voldemort »

Math 55

The Harvard Pops, whom I just mentioned, and whose concerts I never miss, often make jokes about Harvard in their performances.  When something is gigantic, it might be “bigger than Harvard’s endowment.”  Get it?  Most of them I get.  Some are more esoteric.

Pops Risks it All had a line that went something like (and I paraphrase):

The Rules: You’d have to take the ultimate risk!
Marcus: What, like, Math 55?

I laughed at the time, ’cause I got the gist.  Then I Googled it when I got home to understand more fully.

The math department has a pamphlet to help Freshman choose which of four math courses they might want to take.  The first sentence describing each course is as follows:

  • Math 21: A thorough treatment of multi-variable calculus and linear algebra with real-life applications.
  • Math 23: A class that covers linear algebra and multivariable calculus while also teaching proof-writing, starting with the basics.
  • Math 25: A rigorous treatment of multivariable calculus, linear algebra, and introductions to other topics in advanced mathematics.
  • Math 55: This is probably the most difficult undergraduate math class in the country; a variety of advanced topics in mathematics are covered, and problem sets ask students to prove many fundamental theorems of analysis and linear algebra.

Wow.  That is the ultimate risk.

Growing Up Skipper

We have the 365 Amazing Trivia Facts calendar at my office, featuring a trivia question every day.  So far this year I have correctly answered two.  One was a Star Trek question.  The other asked what the word “mondegreen” means.

Today’s question read:

What was unique – and controversial – about the doll Growing Up Skipper introduced by Mattel in 1975?


When her left arm was turned, she grew taller and developed small breasts and a narrower waistline. Her growth was reversed when her arm was turned in the opposite direction.

Sure it’s disturbing, but I bet more boys started playing with dolls in 1975 than any other year in history.