13 minutes of useless information..

"Computer” - it’s a simple word. But if you think of it, this word has been radically redefined since being coined in the 1600s. At first, it actually referred to people - people who did calculations and observed or surveyed things. Then, it was used to refer to really large mechanical machines. Machines that are much bigger than the rooms most of you are in. And now, computers are, well, everywhere. They are electronic devices. Laptops are computers, tablets are computers, phones, watches, even your refrigerator.

It’s all so… startling - which is also another curious word. It is unique because it is the only 9 letter word that can have a letter taken away, one at a time, and still have 9 different words made out of it. Startling to starting to staring to string, sting, sing, sin, in, I... was in an exam the other day and I was supposed to upload my solutions online, because well it’s 2020. I mean 2021. So yeah I’m just about done converting all the pngs to pdf aaaand the laptop stops working. Just in time.

As I was contemplating the pros and cons of throwing my laptop through the window whilst reminding myself that, after Uncle Sam took his cut of my money, I am just... wayyyyy too broke to buy another one right now. So, I tried to actually solve the issue. How do I fix this, I thought. It was low battery, so maybe connect it to the charger? Just use my phone instead? I don’t know, make a plane out of my answer sheet and shoot it in the direction of my professor’s office? Or, you know, turn it off, then turn it back on again? 

I chose the last option, because, well, it’s the most known “hack” in all of technology. And sure enough, it worked. This trick has a lot of applications, apparently. In addition to saving your degree, turning things off and on has potentially saved even plane crashes. 

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, an apparently “state of the art” long-haul aircraft, actually needs its computers to be turned off manually every 51 days. Known more formally as “Power Cycling,” this supposedly simple thing is done to prevent “stale data” from overpopulating the plane's systems. Without power-cycling, the plane’s digital instruments may reflect misleading information, including faulty airspeed, altitude, and other critical info. For some aircraft, the screens can actually “time-out” if the power is left connected for too long. Talk about the blue screen of death when you’re 35 thousand feet in the air. Now while loss of certain data during a flight isn’t necessarily the end of the world, the risk of a technical failure often needs to be qualified with which phase of the flight it takes place in. 

During the critical stages of a flight, such as take off or landing, such a failure could have catastrophic consequences. Turning the plane off and turning it on again, as it turns out, is quite common practice. And, some of you might have actually experienced this “power-cycling” before. Remember when you were waiting for the plane to taxi and suddenly the lights and air conditioning went off for a second? That might as well be the maintenance staff or the crew “turning it off and turning it back on” again.

But, hmm, 51 days. That’s around 7 weeks. And a week has 7 days. But, wait, why does a week have 7 days? And why are the weekends one after the other instead of some other arrangement? Well, as it turns out, as with most of the original calendar inspiration, the 7 days of the week were inspired from the 7 planets thought to be a part of the solar system at the time. As for the weekends, well, in 19th Century Britain, the Sundays were reserved for religious practice only, which is of course how many still use it for today. However, people apparently relaxed a bit too much on Sunday, and not showing up for work on Monday became a real problem. It was then that factory owners decided that Saturday would be a half-day as well in a desperate bid to ensure productivity and give workers just a little extra time. 

Another idea is that in the 1930s, some factories had to maximize productivity to avoid an economic crisis. Turns out, they did too good of a job and they started producing surplus, which was a problem because that could actually lead to people without work, leading to, you guessed it, another economic crisis. So, according to that theory, we have 2 weekends not because people weren’t working well, but rather because they were working too well. With so many people these days working from home, 24/7 financial markets, and the larger landscape around office work looking to change for good, who knows what the idea of a “weekend” will be in the future? Only time will tell. 

Speaking of time, it has been quite a while since humans have been on this planet. And in that time, we have evolved to have larger brains, bipedality, mullets, and ...poor eye-sight? Wait, where did poor eye-sight come from? You’d imagine that not being able to properly see a predator would be very bad for someone’s chances of survival, and the genes that lead to such faulty vision should have been removed from the gene pool through evolution, right? Well, why hasn’t evolution taken care of it, then? Of course there is an age element to it, as with every ailment. Poor eye-sight is way more common in the elderly, at which point they have fulfilled their evolutionary responsibilities and are no longer being selected for or against. But a sizable chunk of youth need corrective lenses too. 

Oh, by the way, when your mom told you watching too much tv caused your blurry vision, she was lying. Kind of. But yeah back to evolution. So, really, why hasn’t evolution taken care of poor eye-sight? Well for one, our ancestors weren’t really reading tiny fonts off a screen, so farsightedness was probably not an issue. But even for shortsightedness, the condition was prevalent in some, but not all. So people just collaborated and looked out for each other. That’s the theory anyways. Now, we have civilization in all its glory coming up with ways to restore perfect vision to more people than ever before. If you think of it, we are quite literally fighting evolution, and in doing so, preserving the genes of people with poor eye-sight from dying out. If you’re ever mad at having to wear glasses, well, you have civilization to blame for it. Now you know. 

One thing that is improving with time, however, is our average life-span… or is it? You see, average life-span and average life-expectancy are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Are they really the same thing, though? Average life-expectancy is how long someone is expected to live. This metric often takes into account the health-care facilities in a country, mortality rates, causes of mortality, and so on, and is often used to compare a country’s socio-economic progress. Average life-span, on the other hand, is really referring to something more like a “shelf-life” metric. How long you can biologically last, basically. Now, the average life expectancy all over the world has been going up in general, and that’s a great thing. We have more access to medication, comparatively safer modes of transport, more vaccines and whatnot. However, we actually haven’t increased our average life-span all that much. Yes people died really early back in the hunter gatherer times; it was a brutal existence, after all. Life expectancy rose all the way from about 35 years to around 75. 

However, people that were able to escape famine, plagues, wars, did live decently long. Health care was obviously not very good back then. What this shows, instead, is how far good genes can get you. In a 1994 study that looked at 397 Greeks and Romans that lived before and after 100 B.C, about a 100 of them died in battle, suicide, or other violent manners. For those that were able to survive through these things, the median age was actually 72. For those born after a 100 B.C., the median age was 66, which is supposedly impacted by lead poisoning. History has many other examples of people living pretty long once they were able to escape the common causes of death at the time. Today, we have not expanded the biological limits of life all that much; we have simply delayed the causes of death our ancestors had to deal with. 

But if you’re suddenly uncertain about how long you are going to live, don’t worry too much. Just count your heartbeat. Like really. As silly as that sounds, the number of beats can be a surprisingly accurate indication for the life-span of mammals. All mammals have a set number of beats - about a billion - and what determines how long they live is basically how fast they go through those beats, basically, how fast their heart beats. On the far end of this scale is the Etruscan Shrew which has a resting heart rate of 835 beats per minute - which is well over 10 times that of humans. It is no surprise then, that the Etruscan Shrew only lives for about 2 years, despite being kinda cute. 

On the complete opposite end of that scale is the Bowhead whale. It has a life-span of around 200 years. It follows, then, that the Bowhead Whale has a heart rate of a measly 10 beats per minute. If you had a heart rate around that, you’re already dead. Just kidding, you might have an extreme version of Bradycardia though. Now, I kinda lied when I said this would work for you.

For whatever reason, us humans don’t actually follow this rule. We have an extra billion beats to go through.

And as you are going through them, maybe watch a movie? And then watch the trailer as well?

Wait, why would you watch a movie and then watch its trailer? Actually, that’s why they are called “trailers”. Trailers were originally shown after a movie, but that was seen to be ineffective in that audiences just left after the movie. Today, trailers are known to us more as previews and are crucial components in ensuring a box-office presence. 

But, if you’re not feeling like movies too much, maybe watch someone flip a coin? Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually not 50/50 all the time. For a penny, for example, the head's side is slightly heavier than the tails side. That means the center of gravity is tilted a bit more towards the heads side, and that side is therefore more likely to face down, giving you more tails than heads. So coin tosses aren't 50/50. But you know what is? The Haskell Free Library and Opera House. 

It’s a Victorian building deliberately built on the US-Canada border between Derby Line, Vermont and Quebec. It actually has 2 separate addresses, one for America and the other one for Canada. The front door is on the US side, the books are on the Canada side and the reading rooms are considered international. The library has over 20,000 books, some of which are English, and some of which are French. Something that is not French, however, is a croissant.

What the... I know. But Croissants are the... I know. How can that be, right? Croissants are the most French thing there is. Well, croissants actually originated in Vienna, Austria. Over there it was called “Kipferl.” In fact, until as recent as the 19th century, the only way to get a croissant in France was from an Austrian Bakery in Paris.

So I guess, you’ve been lied to your entire life? We aren’t living any longer than we used to, coin tosses aren't 50-50, trailers play after movies, and croissants aren’t French. 

It really do be like that sometimes. 

- MA, MM