Do Fish Drink Water?: Puzzling and Improbable Questions and Answersby Bill McLain
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… See more details below
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.
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Read an Excerpt
What caused the fire that destroyed San Francisco?
(it wasn't Mrs. O'Leary's cow from Chicago.)
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
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."
What is the origin of celebrating New Year's Eve?
(Ringing out the old, ringing in the new, giants beware!)
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
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