Things You Don’t Know: Computer Viruses, Dinosaurs, Snakes and Medieval Street Performers.

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know
6 MINUTE READ

WhyWhatHow: Things You Don't Know

Perfect for you if:

  • You love interesting factoids and trivia.
  • You’re a fan of “No Such Thing as a Fish” but always forget what you’ve heard.
  • You’re a Podcast lover, or a Podcast virgin: come share your favourites or learn something new!

I love little factoids. They make us laugh or stop and think. They remind us how little we really know. They add colour and meaning to the world around us. This post is a little window into that world of unknown unknowns.

The facts below are from last Friday’s episode of “No Such Thing as a Fish“: a light-hearted, meandering, and informative podcast that brings together four researchers from Stephen Fry’s QI to discuss their favourite four facts of the week. If you’re not already a listener I’d definitely recommend visiting their website or Facebook for a weekly dose of laughter and learning.

So, without further ado, it’s time for fact…

1. Avril Lavigne is the celebrity most likely to give you a computer virus in 2017.

Source: McAfee’s “Most Dangerous Celebrity” Study

Mainly driven by people searching for pirate music. Her spike in popularity is down to two things. First, the announcement that she’s working on a new album due for release later this year. Second, she’s become the subject of a bizarre conspiracy theory that she’s died and been replaced by an imposter.

The first ever human to get a computer virus was Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading in 2010. He self-infected a chip he’d implanted his hand as an experiment to see if it would be possible to hack e.g., pacemakers.

The “first” computer virus ever was the Cookie Monster virus in the late 1960s which froze your computer until you typed the word “cookie”. After a while it would freeze again so you had to keep feeding it cookies incessantly. It was created at Brown University to wind up fellow students. A later version could be cured completely by entering the word “Oreo”.

Another early virus “Casino” gave you five spins to get a jackpot or it would swear at you and then remove all the files from your computer.

The American government has finally stopped providing updates on how they will deal with the Millennium (Y2K) bug. There was an obscure rule that meant that federal agents had to keep providing updates on how they would deal with the bug even 17 years after the threat had passed.

At their recent hacking conference, DEF CON participants managed to Rickroll US voting machines. During the conference local guests and companies (like the USP printing store) have to take extra security precautions to avoid themselves being hacked.

John McAfee (founder of the company) claims to be the most targeted hacking target in the world.

One hacking group was recently discovered to be using comments on Britney Spears’s Instagram account to hide updated addresses of its virus’s Command and Control servers.

2. One type of dinosaur is almost always found fossilised on its back: the Ankylosaurus.

Source: The Canadian Museum of Nature in Ontario.

This is because of “Bloat and Float”: they were swept out to sea; turned upside down because the gas in their belly was lighter; sank to the bottom of the ocean and became fossilised. The scientists at the Canadian Museum of Nature used Armadillos to study this effect.

Plesiosaurs had the longest neck of any dinosaur (23ft / 7 meters long) and may have had to keep it extended like a javelin to stop it from snapping when swimming underwater at high speeds.

The latest theory on dinosaur necks is that they had a swan-like curve to them. To hold their necks upright they would have needed to use half their energy pumping the blood up to their brains.

When horses go to sleep, their legs lock so that they don’t fall over.

3. Snakes that eat other snakes can eat snakes that are 139% of their body length.

Source: Snakes Are Long

They must eat the whole other snake in one go to stop it from rotting and because they can’t physically bite it into pieces. To fit it in they squeeze the snake they’re eating into their stomachs like an accordion.

A common snake keeping myth is that snakes stretch themselves out next to their owners or pets to measure them to see if they can eat them. This is not true.

Snakes sometimes mistakenly eat their own tails if for some reason it smells like prey.

An Australian snake was once observed eating another snake. A short time later, the snake was observed hauling itself back out of the other snake’s body. It had managed to turn itself around inside the predator snake and used the predator’s jaw to drag itself back out.

When snakes eat other animals they almost become another animal. Their:

  • Metabolism gets 40x faster
  • Blood becomes milky from the fatty acids it contains
  • Heart grows by 40%
  • Oxygen consumption increases between 36x and 100x depending on the relative size of the prey (from +60% to +150% of their size).

Up to half the energy a snake gets from eating a large meal is taken up digesting the meal.

N.b., When humans eat we increase our oxygen consumption by 25%; when we sprint we only increase oxygen consumption by 10x.

4. Medieval street performers used to multiply numbers together in public for entertainment.

Source: Lost Discoveries: the Source of Ancient Science.

In late medieval times, Arabic numerals were coming over to Europe from India and were more useful for e.g., division and multiplication than Roman numerals.

Initially they were distrusted and banned so street performers used to use their secret knowledge to perform otherwise “incredible feats” of multiplication e.g., (12 x 16)

Arabic numerals were actually known to exist from the 6th Century. There were failed attempts to introduce them to European thinking by Pope Sylvester II in the 10th Century but failed. People thought his ability to multiply was a kind of black magic. His subsequent reputation as a sorcerer dogged him throughout his papacy.

Zero in particular was seen as a particularly ungodly number. Due to the usefulness of Arabic numerals, Merchants began using them in secret. They would check each other’s mutual understanding by signalling “Zero” to each other.

The word “Cypher” comes from the same base word as “Zero”. The Persian polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi named “Zero” and also invented the “Algorithm” the word for which comes from the Latin form of his name – Algoritmi.

German Zacharias Dase was a famous 19th Century “human calculator”. He once multiplied two 20 digit numbers together in six minutes in his head. He then multiplied two 100 digit numbers in eight and three-quarter hours. He is said to have had “an uncanny sense of quantity, he could just tell, without counting, how many sheep [up to 30] were in a field”.

In Moscow, buskers have to go through a rigorous assessment process to perform in the subway. The process included performing to a panel of professional musicians and judges from the TV talent show “Voice of Russia”. Prospective buskers must be able to perform at least two hours of original material.

That’s it for today! If you enjoyed this round of Trivia from “No Such Thing as a Fish” leave a comment and I’ll keep them coming. I was searching online for an existing write-up but couldn’t find anything similar.

Erin and I recently spent some time driving around the Baltics and Scandinavia. On the way, we discovered a few favourite podcasts that never failed to get us talking about the world around us. There’s many to choose from (yes, we’ve listened to “My Dad Wrote a Porno“) but here’s our top pick of brain busters for now:

What podcasts are you listening to at the moment? We always love finding out about more so please share your favourites with us below!

Arthur

Arthur is a learning freak, traveller, and writer who loves to help curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his free Ultimate Language Learning Guide to save thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.


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