History Podcasts Science SOI Blog

Honeybees are not native to North America

Photo by skeeze on Pixabay
bee skep
Bee skep

Honeybees were brought to America by the early European settlers. At that time, they use skeps, upside down woven bowls to maintain the bee hives.

In the mid 1800s a Presbyterian minister named Lorenzo Langstroth, discovered that the bees built their honeycombs by precise measurements, and incorporated this into the wood frame beehive that is still in use today.

99percent Invisible podcast on Beeing

Books Government History Podcasts SOI Blog

The Nazi Saboteurs in America

Several years ago I came across this amazing story on the This American Life program about a bungled Nazi plot of sabotage only six months after Pearl Harbor. When this program first aired, it drew comparisons to present day efforts to try Islamic terrorists in military tribunals. The legal precedent they were siting was the case of these Nazi saboteurs. It’s a great story and well worth a listen. It shows how legal justice is a very complicated thing and is often manipulated to fulfill agendas.
Recently another podcast, Retropod, brought this story up again. A mysterious stone memorial was found in 2006 in Washington, D.C. on government property, a memorial to these Nazi spies.

This American Life story

Retropod story

Michael Dobbs’s excellent book, Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America

CSPAN Book TV interview with Michael Dobbs

Humanities Language Media Podcasts

Are you using “steep learning curve” wrong?

Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics podcast episode pointed out that using the term “steep learning curve” to describe something that is difficult to master is incorrect. I’ve been guilty of this and now notice I’m not the only one. Within a day or so, I heard another person on a different podcast use the term incorrectly.

From the transcript:

Stephen Dubner is interviewing Scott Lilienfeld, a professor of psychology at Emory University.

DUBNER: And the last one we’ll do right now is “steep learning curve.”

LILIENFELD: A lot of people will say, “Oh, I started on a new job where I was having to do something new. And this job has a really steep learning curve.” In fact they’re getting it backward. A steep learning curve is easy. Because a steep learning curve means —

DUBNER: You learn a lot in a hurry, right?

LILIENFELD: Not slowly.

DUBNER: When I read that in your paper I thought, “Oh my goodness, that’s really interesting that we’ve all got it backwards.” But then I quickly rationalized and said, “Well, I guess what I always assumed was that the steepness was on the axis referring to difficulty somehow,” right? And that if a task is particularly difficult, then that’s the steepness, and that’s the curve I’m on. So really, when we encounter something that’s really difficult, and we’re having a hard time mastering it, we should say we’re on a very shallow —

LILIENFELD: A very shallow learning curve, that’s right. I think when people say, “This task has a steep learning curve,” what they mean is, “Man, I feel like I’m going up like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill and going up a very steep mountain!” But in fact if something has a steep learning curve, that means that it’s acquired very quickly.

Listen to the episode here.

Everyday Things Podcasts SOI Blog

How One Man Ruined Fast Food French Fries

Back in the 90s I noticed that all the Fast Food chains started to change their french fries. They seemed to go to this new, tasteless, batter coated version of their former fries. Most noticeably to me, Burger King then Wendys. I could not understand the reason and suspected it had something to do with trying to make them healthier. Well, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his podcast, it all came about from one man’s misguided crusade. The worst thing about it, is now that some of the ideas behind the change have been debunked, no one seems to be in a rush to bring back the tastier version.

Revisionist History Podcast

Everyday Things Podcasts Science SOI Blog Technology

Driverless Cars Still Have a Ways to Go

I’m looking forward to the day I don’t have to pay attention to driving my car and I’m all too ready to leave the driving to a computer. But, insiders in the engineering of this, caution that the tech still has a lot of ground still to cover. As one engineer in this latest podcast from Gimlet “Startup,” says that you hear a lot of people touting how safer we will be when we give up the control to a computer. In the US we lose over 30,000 lives to vehicle fatalities and most are attributed to driver error. What they don’t tell you, he points out, is that humans currently operate vehicles for 100 million miles for each fatality. That’s a pretty good record and he doesn’t think computers are even close to that yet.

Entertainment History Podcasts Science SOI Blog Sports Technology

Billiard Balls were made of Ivory up until the 1950s

According to this excellent 99% Invisible podcast, billiard balls were made of ivory tusk up until they found a suitable replacement in the 1950s. Think it’s easy to make a billiard ball, check out this video of the process.

Polygoon – Hoe biljartballen worden gemaakt from KNBB – Biljart TV on Vimeo.

Everyday Things History Podcasts SOI Blog

The 13 Month Calendar

I love the podcast 99% Invisible, I could probably post almost all of their episodes here on my blog of interesting things I learned. This one, though, really appealed to me. I really liked this idea of reforming the calendar to a 13 month schedule. Every month would have 28 days and each day of the month would correspond to the same number in each month, e.g. the second is always a Monday, the twenty first is always a Saturday. All holidays would be moved to Monday. (Although, I’m very fond of Thanksgiving, since it falls on a Thursday, most offices will take the rest of the week off.) Traditionalists would be appalled, especially the problem with what to do with July 4th holiday. Wikipedia has a page on it listing pros and cons of the calendar, where, I believe, most to the cons are weak (or should that be week). Alas, it’s only a thought experiment, I really don’t think it would ever catch on.


Books Podcasts Science

Palm Trees Are Not Actually Trees

palmsListening to the podcast 99% Invisible I learned that palm trees are not actually trees. They are kind of a super grass, according to Jared Farmer who wrote Trees in Paradise: A California History. From the podcast, “palm trees don’t make bark or branches. If you cut them down you won’t find any rings in the trunk, all their roots grow in a compact ball…” This is an interesting story about palms in California and how demand has caused some mature trees to sell for as much as $20,000. Also great podcast.”