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Semi-Needful Information

Estimating how many M&M's are in a jar:

If the candies are chocolate M&M's, estimate the volume of the container in cubic centimeters and multiply by 0.68. Divide by 0.636 cubic centimeters, the volume of a single plain M&M candy, and you have the answer.

Unclaimed fax:

In 1902, Arthur Korn invented telephotography in Germany. In 1907, Korn sent the first inter-city fax when he transmitted a photograph from Munich to Berlin.

But What About Green Apples?:

Color is defined as a particular wavelength of visible light. Nothing truly has the color you see. The fact that you apprehend redness when looking at an apple means that all the wavelengths except that of red have been absorbed by it. Therefore, the apple itself is the "optical color complement" of red -- to be more specific, blue-green.

Fish Love:

Humans and guppies, having the same number of pairs of chromosomes (23), can, in principle, breed.

Equisetum arvense (field horsetail), has 108 chromosome pairs -- why?! At least, there is little chance of miscegenation there.

Chimpanzees and Bananas:

Most people are familiar with the fact that the human genetic map (DNA code) is 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees. Not so well known is that it is 50% identical to the DNA of bananas.

The DNA of chimpanzees and gorillas is more similar to that of humans than it is to monkeys'.

Sexy Finger:

Studies have shown that, on average, married couples are slightly correlated ("match up") in just about every single physical characteristic measured between them, compared to a "random" matchup. Correlation coefficients are higher than random for breadth of nose, length of earlobe, circumference of wrist, distance between the eyes -- even lung volume. However, one of the highest correlated features found so far is the length of the middle finger. It is much higher than the correlants for hair color or intelligence. (From Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee.)

Cow Mutilation:

In 1938, a 510-ton meteor (the "Chicora" meteor) landed just outside Pittsburgh. Scientists calculated that it might have destroyed much the inner city if it had landed smack-dead-center. As it was, it only killed a cow in a rural field.

Divorce Then and Now:

In the "old days", not every couple stayed married "for the sake of the children". In 1900, there was 1 divorce recorded for every 12.7 weddings. In 1946 -- an abnormal postwar year -- 1 divorce was registered for every 2.6 weddings. In 1949 it was 1 divorce for 4.1 weddings. Now it is about 1 for 2.


To Hell With Artificial Intelligence -- What About the Real Thing?

The processing power of the human brain is approximately 1017 bits/sec, based on the number of neurons (about 1010) per human brain, average number of synapses per neuron (about 104), and the average neural firing rate (about 103 Hz). A straight-line projection of historical rate of cost per logic operation says that human level, self-aware machine intelligences will be commercially available by about 2030-2040. There is uncertainty about the present human-level brain complexity, but the cost/operation ratio trend has held good for 40 years.

Taking the Long View

In 1386, the builders of the College Hall at New College, Oxford planted oak trees (on titled woodland) in anticipation of the time, hundreds of years in the future, when the beams would need replacing.  They were eventually needed in the late 19th century to repair powder-post beetle damage.  And do you think that those Victorian carpenters replanted acorns to deal with the next postulated maintenance, five centuries hence?  Of course they did!


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