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Spanning a spectrum from useful to bizarre to downright comical, this amusing, amazing Internet Q & A ranges form a language to geography to medicine to simply off the wall. As the official Webmaster for Xerox, Bill McLain is responsible for handling all mail from Xerox's external Web site. However, he was quickly surprised by the kinds of questions he was receiving, questions like whether people born blind can see in their dreams, where the lowest point on Earth is, and why...
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Spanning a spectrum from useful to bizarre to downright comical, this amusing, amazing Internet Q & A ranges form a language to geography to medicine to simply off the wall. As the official Webmaster for Xerox, Bill McLain is responsible for handling all mail from Xerox's external Web site. However, he was quickly surprised by the kinds of questions he was receiving, questions like whether people born blind can see in their dreams, where the lowest point on Earth is, and why rabbits are associated with Easter.
In a move that brought national attention from MSNBC, CNN, and People magazine, McLain began to answer each and every question he received. The result -- collected in Do Fish Drink Water? --is a surprising, funny, and informative collection of facts. McLain even explains the origin of the Christmas tree, what caused the Great Depression of 1929, and how to properly eat an Oreo cookie. He can even tell you why cats purr!
McLain's answers -- often as wild as the questions -- prompt entertaining anecdotes about where he found them, and how he's played a role in inventions, long-delayed reunions, and even a marriage or two. He also provides an extensive list of Web sites where he conducts research, offering an informative guide to making the most of the Internet.
*Although fish do drink water, their primary method of obtaining fresh water is through osmosis. The water seeps into their body through tiny holes in their skin.
A major earthquake was the direct cause of the 1906 San Francisco fire. The magnitude is estimated to have been 7.7 to 7.9 on the Richter scale. During and after the earthquake many fires started all over the city, ignited by flames and pilot lights in furnaces and stoves, broken gas lines, shorting electrical lines, and ruptured storage tanks holding flammable materials.
Many buildings collapsed because of the earthquake and became much more vulnerable to fire. They were nothing more than a pile of kindling, the gaps in the roofs and walls acting as chimneys to help fuel the fire.
Although the San Francisco firemen were thought to be the best in the nation, they were virtually helpless because the earthquake had also broken most of the water mains. Leaking gas lines ignited fires all over the city until the gas works blew up, finally stopping the flow of gas.
The fire destroyed almost 500 city blocks over 5 square miles. Over 28,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged so badly that they had to be demolished.
The fire burned for four days and nights. When it was over, 250,000 people were homeless, 500 were dead (some authorities claim the death toll was in the thousands), and hundreds were injured.
The San Francisco earthquake broke more than 270 miles of ground, with up to 21 feet of displacement in some areas.
The shaking lasted only 45 to 60 seconds but was enough to do catastrophic damage. To those in the earthquake, it seemed to last for an eternity.
Residents as far north as southern Oregon, as far south as LosAngeles, and as far inland as central Nevada felt the earthquake.
When the ground was displaced, it moved at a speed of about 3 mph, but the rupture itself propagated at a speed of 5,800 mph.
A telegraph station in San Diego, California, sent newspaper reports of the disaster to the U.S.S. Chicago anchored in San Diego harbor. The ship steamed at full speed to San Francisco to aid the stricken city. This was the first time that telegraphy was used in a major natural disaster.
One fire chief was killed when a chimney from a hotel crashed through the fire station where he was living.
The earthquake shock covered an area of about 375,000 square miles. About half of this area was in the Pacific Ocean. Damage occurred along a 400-mile north/south corridor, out to 30 miles on either side of the fault zone.
There were 135 aftershocks on the same day as the great quake. Many damaged buildings that had survived the main earthquake collapsed when hit by an aftershock.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cities were overpopulated and buildings were constructed quickly and cheaply out of wood, which was a definite fire hazard. As a result, city after city had its downtown area destroyed by fire.
The three major cities destroyed by fire were Chicago in 1871, San Francisco in 1906, and more recently, Texas City, Texas, in 1947.
A fable states that Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocked over a lantern in a barn and started the Chicago fire. However, it was neither a cow nor an earthquake that caused the destruction of Texas City, a busy port on the Gulf of Mexico. On April 15 a fire broke out in the hold of a French freighter loaded with over 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate (the same explosive used in the recent bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building). At 9:15 in the morning the ship exploded without warning.
The blast triggered other explosions at Texas City chemical plants near the docks and a surge of water added to the damage. Fires burned out of control for days until the last was extinguished a week later. When it was over, 600 people were known dead and many others were missing. Every person in the town of 16,000 people was affected in some way by the explosion and fires. The city was almost completely destroyed.
One Texas paper summed it up very well: "Texas City just blew up."
Celebrating the new year is probably the oldest holiday in the world. Virtually every culture from the beginning of time has had some custom to signify the coming of the new year.
Over 4,000 years ago the ancient Babylonians celebrated the coming of the new year around the end of March. This is a logical time for the celebration because it is the time of year when spring begins and new crops are planted. Like us the Babylonians made New Year's resolutions. However, rather than resolving to lose weight or quit smoking, their most popular resolution was to return farm equipment they had borrowed.
During the Roman Empire, the calendar eventually went out of synchronization with the moon. To put things back in order, Caesar let one year last for 445 days. In 153 B.C. the Roman senate declared that January first would be the beginning of the new year. Although this arbitrary date has neither astronomical nor agricultural significance, today we still consider it to be the start of a new year.
The Romans continued to celebrate the new year but the early church condemned the holiday as pagan and continued to oppose the festivities throughout the Middle Ages. As a result, the New Year's Day holiday has only been celebrated by Western nations for the past 400 years.
Using a baby to signify the new year started in Greece around 600 B.C. The baby was carried in a basket to represent the rebirth of Dionysus, the god of fertility. The image of a baby with a New Year's banner was brought to the United States by the Germans, who had used this symbol since the fourteenth century.
To celebrate the new year in Tibet Buddhist monks create sculptures made from yak butter, some reaching as high as 30 feet.
Many New Year's traditions include pigs. For example, in Austria each new year starts with a dinner of roast suckling pig. In most parts of the world the pig symbolizes moving forward into the new year. A pig moves forward with its snout to the ground.
In Crete nothing is thrown away on New Year's Day, not even waste. It is believed that throwing something away that day will decrease the wealth of the family during the coming year.
In most Muslim societies New Year's Day is observed by wearing new clothes. In Southeast Asia birds and turtles are released for good luck during the coming year. In India, Hindus place shrines next to their beds so they will see beautiful objects when they open their eyes at the start of a new year.
The Chinese celebrate the New Year holiday a month or so later than we do. There are 12 animals in Chinese astrology and each year is named after one of them. Thus, it might be the "year of the dragon" or the "year of the snake." The cycle repeats every 12 years.
Firecrackers are always associated with the Chinese New Year holiday, stemming from an ancient Chinese legend. This legend tell the story of a foul-smelling giant who lived on the western side of a village. If someone offended the giant, he would inflict malaria on them. One of the villagers suggested that they might scare the giant away if they created a great deal of noise. So the people of the village made a huge pile of bamboo stems and set them on fire. As the stems burned, they exploded and frightened the giant so badly that he ran away and never returned.
So the next time you see firecrackers at the Chinese New Year celebration, you can be sure that no foul-smelling giants will be lurking nearby.
|Do dolphins ever sleep?||1|
|Where do butterflies go in the winter?||3|
|Why do cats purr?||5|
|Is it true that elephants are afraid of mice?||7|
|On a turkey, what is the name of that red thing that hangs down over the beak?||9|
|Is there a land animal that has a body the color of purple grape juice?||11|
|Is a pinto a breed of horse or just a color?||13|
|Is it true you can't teach an old dog new tricks?||15|
|Do fish drink water?||17|
|2||Clothing and Apparel|
|When and where were the first eyeglasses made?||21|
|Where did the idea for underwear come from?||23|
|Are denim, jeans, and Levi's the same thing?||24|
|What is the origin of the neckties that men wear?||27|
|Does the government still print two-dollar bills?||30|
|What does the information on a U.S. penny represent?||33|
|How much gold does the United States store in Fort Knox?||35|
|Why are gasoline prices listed to three decimal places, such as $1.479 per gallon?||37|
|What caused the Great Depression of 1929?||39|
|Anecdote: A rare disease leads to a wedding||41|
|Where did pizza originate?||43|
|What's the difference between lager and pilsner beer?||45|
|How many colors of M&Ms are there?||47|
|What is the difference between caffe latte and cappuccino?||49|
|What makes peppers so hot?||51|
|What is the difference between apple juice and apple cider?||53|
|What is the difference between jelly, jam, preserves, and marmalade?||55|
|What is the lowest point on earth?||60|
|How did each of the seven continents get its name?||62|
|Is it true that at one time the entire world consisted of a single continent?||64|
|Is there really a north pole?||65|
|How did the ship that landed at Plymouth harbor get the name Mayflower?||70|
|Did Napoleon lose the battle of Waterloo because of hemorrhoids?||72|
|Is it true that in ancient Greece 300 soldiers held off 200,000 Persian elite troops for 3 days?||75|
|What does "flying the hump" mean?||77|
|Has a U.S. vice president ever been assassinated?||79|
|How many people died in the Civil War?||81|
|Is it true that a former king of England had blue urine?||83|
|Who were the Knights Templar?||85|
|Anecdote: Pushing a van around an island||88|
|Why are eggs associated with the Easter bunny?||90|
|What is the origin and meaning of Valentine's Day?||92|
|Where did the custom of kissing under the mistletoe originate?||94|
|What is the origin of celebrating New Year's Eve?||96|
|How did the custom of trick-or-treating on Halloween begin?||98|
|What is the origin of the Christmas tree?||100|
|What is Zulu time?||105|
|What does "mind your p's and q's" mean?||108|
|Why do people say "Gesundheit" or "God bless you" when you sneeze?||109|
|Where did the term "dark horse" come from?||111|
|How did grapefruit gets its name?||113|
|Why do people yell "Geronimo" when they jump off something?||114|
|What is the origin of the word "jazz"?||117|
|What is the origin of the phrase "It's not over until the fat lady sings"?||119|
|What are the fourteen Oz books written by L. Frank Baum?||123|
|How many pages were in the longest book ever written?||126|
|What was the first typewritten manuscript of a novel submitted to a publisher?||128|
|Is there a place called Transylvania and was there a real Count Dracula?||131|
|Who wrote the first "detective" novel?||133|
|Anecdote: Can you fix my koto, Kato?||136|
|10||The Human Body|
|Why don't Eskimos die from scurvy?||138|
|Why do I get a headache when I eat ice cream too fast?||140|
|Do people who are born blind ever dream?||142|
|What makes us yawn?||144|
|What blood type is the rarest?||146|
|In the Australian song, what does "waltzing Matilda" mean?||150|
|Why did Custer choose Garry Owen as his regimental song?||152|
|What was the last song the musicians on the Titanic played?||154|
|What makes the sound when you rub your finger along the edge of a glass?||156|
|What gave Roger Miller the inspiration to write King of the Road?||159|
|12||Odds and Ends|
|What is the world's fastest roller coaster?||162|
|What is the difference between green and blue mailboxes?||164|
|Why don't beeswax candles drip?||166|
|Did Thomas Crapper really invent the toilet?||168|
|What is the name and breed of the RCA dog?||170|
|What is the average number of flowers used on a Rose Parade float?||172|
|Before refrigeration was invented, where did the iceman get the ice he delivered to homes during the summer?||174|
|Anecdote: Which came first, the chicken or the exercise machine?||177|
|13||Off the Wall|
|How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop?||178|
|How long would it take to vacuum the state of Ohio?||181|
|Which came first, the chicken or the egg?||183|
|What is the correct way to eat an Oreo cookie?||185|
|What can I do with the small slivers of soap left over in the shower?||187|
|Who are the Shi'i Muslims and what do they believe?||190|
|When did the Roman Catholic Church begin using the calendar we use today?||193|
|Why are the signs on Pennsylvania Dutch barns called "hex" signs?||195|
|What is the religious makeup of the United States?||197|
|What is the history and significance of the Infant of Prague?||200|
|Is it true that toilets in Australia flush in the opposite direction from those in the United States?||203|
|My grandmother told me that when she visited Ireland she saw the sun turn green. Is that possible?||205|
|How are magnets made?||208|
|What makes the sound when you snap your fingers?||210|
|Does hot water freeze faster than cold water?||212|
|Why do some paints, stickers, and toys glow in the dark?||214|
|Why aren't there 100 seconds in a minute and 100 minutes in an hour instead of 60?||216|
|What is the star closest to our sun?||218|
|Why are the oceans salty but not lakes?||220|
|Is it true that opals contain a lot of water?||222|
|Anecdote: A visit from the Dutch Royal Navy||225|
|What does "packers" refer to in the name of the Green Bay Packers football team?||226|
|Who was the model for the Heisman trophy?||229|
|How did the "seventh-inning stretch" originate?||231|
|What is the difference between billiards, snooker, and pool?||233|
|Why is a dartboard laid out the way it is?||235|
|In football, why is it called a "down" instead of a chance, or try, or attempt?||237|
|How did the sport of hockey get started?||240|
|17||Transportation and Travel|
|How does a traffic signal know that a car is waiting for a green light?||243|
|Why do they drive on the left side of the road in England?||245|
|Why are the roofs of some school buses painted white?||247|
|Why don't they make dirigibles anymore?||249|
|How many people in the world visit zoos in a single year?||251|
|What is the average height of a person in the United States?||255|
|Who was the youngest American to go up in space?||257|
|What is the book that the Statue of Liberty is holding?||259|
|What caused the fire that destroyed San Francisco?||262|
|Which place in the United States has the longest name?||264|
|How many political parties can be represented in a presidential election?||266|
|Anecdote: A 14-year search for a cowboy song||270|
|What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?||272|
|What is the difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny?||274|
|What part of the world gets the most rain?||276|
|Can it really rain frogs?||279|
|What is the oldest living thing in the world?||282|
|What is the tallest clock in the world?||284|
|When the Panama Canal was built, was it just cut through the land or did they have to build a concrete bottom and sides?||286|
|What are the seven natural wonders of the world?||289|
|Why is the Tower of Pisa leaning and will anyone ever straighten it?||291|
|What is the largest museum in the world?||293|
|Exploring the Internet||297|
Posted January 3, 2006
This book is represents an interesting endeavor: trying to distill so much trivia into so little a space. Athough it is filled with fun facts (termed 'factoids') and does contain much accurate information, the book also contains numerous errors and incomplete answers to questions. Examples include: *The books declares, incorrectly, that there are no speed limits on the Autobahn (page 244). *Page 126 claims that Isaac Asimov has authored at least one book for every Dewey Decimal cetergory. Considering there are nearly 1,000,000 catergories, this seems unlikely. *Page 153 tells us that 'no one lived to tell what happened' at the battle of Little Big Horn. I suppose this is true if we ignore that fact that Native Americans are people. *page 108 provides only one of the most popular theories about the origin of 'Mind your p's and q's'. We are left wondering...what are some of the other theories. A quick search on the internet yielded 8 different theories, all interesting and plausible. *Page 112, paragraph 3, talks about 'one of the greatest finishes of the decade'. Fine, but what decade are we talking about here? *The book also states that 'An Englishman invented a toilet in 1775...It was another 200 years before another toilet appeared'. Really? I could have sworn there were toilets in the pre-1975 era (page 169). *page 124 tells about L. Frank Baum's infamous 2-drawer file cabinet that led to his naming of 'Oz'. Everywhere else I've checked, however, indicate that there were three drawers in the file cabinet (much more plausible, too, if you know anything about the English language). *Page 187 promises to tell us four methods for saving soap slivers, but then only provides three. *page 179 claims that a star on a Tootsie Pop wrapper can be exchanged for a free Tootsie Pop. This is an urban legend, long-since debunked. *page 73 tells us that Napoleon was, at five foot five inches, an average height for his century. But then pages 255-7 lead us to believe that it is untrue that people were shorter in previous centures, despite the fact that it also notes that five foot nine is now an average height for a man. I also suggest, if you do read this book, try your best to ignore the pointless subtitles that many of the questions are given. It appears as thought they are an attempt at humor, but they simply detract from the information.
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Posted November 17, 2006