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Friday, January 6, 2017

Friday links

How to Build an Igloo.

Giant Snow 'Mushrooms' Are Winter's Rarest Natural Wonder.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include identifying wildlife droppings, National Fruitcake Toss Day, the giant concrete arrows across the U.S., and a supercut of people falling and landing on vehicles (set to the finale of the 1812 Overture).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

How big can a tsunami really get?

In the video below, RealLifeLore looks at the science behind tsunamis and the question of just how massive they can actually become. And it's way bigger than we ever imagined – in some instances capable of creating waves that tower above the biggest buildings humankind has made.

There are two main causes of tsunamis: underwater explosions (like earthquakes or eruptions) and large volumes of material hitting the water (like meteorites or landslides).

What's happening in a tsunami is a principle called water displacement, where some other force or matter takes up the room the water was peacefully occupying and sends it racing off in different directions. The strength of the blast and the distance the water has to travel affects the overall size of the tsunami.

The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 was the deadliest tsunami in history and reached heights of 30 metres (or 98 feet). It was generated by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake that produced a greater force than all the explosives used in World War II combined – including the nuclear bombs.

The tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 was from a similarly sized quake to the one in 2004, but the resulting wave towered 40.5 metres (133 feet) into the air. That's just a few metres shorter than the Statue of Liberty.

But as devastating as those waves were, we're still just getting started in terms of potential tsunami size. There's a whole separate category of them, called megatsunamis, usually created by material sliding or falling into the water rather than an earthquake, which throws the waves up much higher.

One of the most tragic examples was the Vajont Dam disaster in 1963 in Italy, where a massive landslide into a dammed reservoir created a wave that reached 250 metres (820 feet) up into the air. It's estimated as many as 2,500 people were killed, but most of the dam structure stood firm and remains in place today. (more at BasementGeographer.

There was an even larger megatsunami than that though, in Lituya Bay, Alaska, in 1958. Again, a powerful landslide was to blame, and this time the terrifying wave reached a peak of 525 metres (1,722 feet) high. (More at

More at ScienceAlert.

Wednesday links

Yesterday was National Fruitcake Toss Day: here's a video of people launching fruitcakes from trebuchets, catapults, air cannons, and giant sling shots.

Know Your Sh!t – Identifying wildlife droppings.

This will get your morning off to a rousing start: a supercut of people falling and landing on vehicles, set to the cannon-punctuated finale of the 1812 Overture.

The Giant Concrete Arrows Across The US.

The Crazy Tricks Early Filmmakers Used To Fake Snow.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include a life-size T-Rex balloon animal, Isaac Asimov's birthday (including his 1964 essay predicting life in 2014), an explanation of leap seconds, and video of the infamous 11'8" tall "can opener" bridge shearing the tops off of trucks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How to Slim Down in Fourteen Days: Advice from 1595

Charles Mellin, Portrait of a
Gentleman (c. 1645)
From Ask The Past's blog: "An excellent and approved thing to make them slender, that are grosse. Let them eate three or foure cloves of Garlick, with as much of Bread and butter every morning and evening, first and last, neither eating nor drinking of three or foure howres after their taking of it in the morning for the space of fourteene days at the least: and drinke every day three draughts of the decoction of Fennell: that is, of the water wherein Fennell is sod, and well strained, fourteene dayes after the least, at morning, noone and night. I knewe a man that was marveilous grosse, & could not go a quarter of a mile, but was enforst to rest him a dosen times at the least: that with this medicine tooke away his grossenesse, and after could iourney verye well on foote."

Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1595)

January 3rd is National Fruitcake Toss Day

In case someone gave you a fruitcake for Christmas, as a joke or otherwise.

How to Celebrate? Collect all the fruitcake you can. Find an empty space, and start tossing your fruitcakes. Feeling competitive? Compete for the highest or farthest throw.

Here's video of the 2013 event in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where it's thought that this holiday was first created and celebrated in 1995. This occurrence included trebuchets, catapults, air cannons, and giant sling shots:


The classic drunken fruitcake recipe (Check the whiskey. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat.)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Monday links

A very Happy New Year to you all!

Today is Isaac Asimov's birthday. Here's his 1964 essay predicting life in 2014 and a recently published paper on creativity he wrote in 1959 for DARPA.

Which Actor Has Died The Most On Screen? Surprisingly, it's not Sean Bean.

What is leap second, anyway?

11 Foot 8 Inches: The Infamous ‘Can Opener’ Bridge.

Here's a Life-Size T-Rex Balloon Animal.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include Dave Barry's 2016 Year In Review, top 2016 science stories, lots of hangover science and cures, a warning from 700 AD on what not to do on New Year's Day, Mark Steyn singing and explaining What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?, and my favorite New Year's resolution story.

Isaac Asimov's birthday

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
~ Isaac Asimov (wiki), from "Runaround," Amazing Science Fiction, March 1942

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." 

~ Asimov ("A Cult of Ignorance," Newsweek, 21 January 1980) 

It has always been my ambition to die in harness with my head face down on a keyboard and my nose caught between two of the keys. 

~ Asimov (in Farewell - Farewell

Today is the anniversary* of the birth of Russian-born American writer and scientist, Isaac Asimov (wiki) (1920-1992), particularly known for his works of science fiction and his books on science for non-scientists. Born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov to a family of Jewish millers in Petrovichi, Russia, he emigrated with his family to Brooklyn, New York in 1923 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1928. Azimov later attended Columbia University, eventually earning an MA in chemistry and a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1948.** Upon completing his doctorate, he taught biochemistry at Boston University and remained affiliated with that institution for most of the rest of his life.

However, Asimov's writing soon became his primary focus and the engine of his growing fame. As a youth, he had discovered an intense interest in pulp science fiction, by 11 was writing his own stories, and at 19 was a regular contributor to various science fiction magazines. Eventually, he published over 300 books on an astounding variety pf topics, including first-rate science fiction novels and stories, such as the Foundation trilogy (1951-53) and I, Robot (if you don't feel like reading it, the Will Smith movie version will give you a good sense of this one), and factual books on science for the layperson, such as The Human Brain (1964) and The Collapsing Universe (1977), He also wrote on humanistic topics such as literature, religion, and history and by the end of his life was perhaps the most famous popular-science writer in the world. 

* N.B. Asimov's actual birth was sometime between 4 October 1919 and the following 2 January, but he always considered the later date to be his birthday:
In Memory Yet Green: The date of my birth, as I celebrate it, was January 2, 1920. It could not have been later than that. It might, however, have been earlier. Allowing for the uncertainties of the times, of the lack of records, of the Jewish and Julian calendars, it might have been as early as October 4, 1919. There is, however, no way of finding out. My parents were always uncertain and it really doesn't matter. I celebrate January 2, 1920, so let it be.
** Asimov's studies were interrupted for three years by World War II, when he worked as a civilian in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and then spent nine months in the Army. 

Related posts and links:

In 1959 Issac Asimov wrote a paper for DARPA on creativity. It was just published recently.