These queries are on my horizon. Let me know which you think I should investigate next!
How is the caffeine removed from whole coffee beans?
You can buy whole, decaffeinated coffee beans. Preliminary research has revealed to me that these caffeine-less beans are not bred or otherwise genetically modified to grow this way, but that the caffeine is removed from them after harvest…somehow. I can more easily imagine already ground coffee in significantly smaller granular pieces with a higher surface-area-to-volume ratio being processed from the outside-in to extract the chemical caffeine, but how does this process happen, and how does it reach all the way into the insides of the whole beans?
Furthermore, why haven’t coffee plants been bred to grow caffeine-less beans in the first place? Or have they?
Is equal transit time really responsible for lift?
Equal transit time, also called longest path theory, claims that air molecules separated from one another when a wing slices between them must meet back up at the trailing edge of the wing. This purportedly results in a negative pressure zone caused by the upper molecules traveling a greater distance and therefore spreading further apart than their below-wing counterparts. I’ve never fully fathomed what I was taught in school about this phenomena: the alleged idea that lifeless air molecules are physically obligated to return to their original alignment, post-wing disruption, has baffled me since second grade. My confidence that the next flight I’m on will arrive safely depends on an understanding of the physics involved!
Why is the color orange associated to The Netherlands?
My family is Dutch, and my parents inherited a lovely little tea set that is my very favorite deep orangey red color. I didn’t think much about it being a Dutch-specific color until I watched their soccer team beat Brazil in the 2014 World Cup while donning all-orange uniforms and going by the collective nickname “Orange Crush”. More recently I visited Amsterdam and bore witness to a constellation of orange in the form of tulips, t-shirts, and bicycles. But this color is not even in The Netherlands’ national flag, so where’d it come from, and how did it come to be adopted by this nation?
How do so many subsequent bubbles all spawn from the same microscopic spot at the bottom of a filled champagne flute?
I am pretty sure there are not tiny leaks in every single champagne glass I’ve ever sipped from, letting in tiny snatches of air (though I’ll admit my sample size is itself tiny so far). This mysterious phenomena does remind me of what happens when the tide comes in at the beach and covers up all the little crab holes in the sand, and bubbles stream from the holes to the surface. But I also doubt that microorganisms’ exhales are directly responsible for the never-ending surge of bitty bubbles rising from the depths of every champagne flute. (Indirectly, maybe, in so far as champagne wouldn’t have any carbonation if not for yeasts.)
How is helium harvested?
The sun and other solar bodies fuse hydrogen atoms together nuclearly and output helium (need to verify that my memory is correct on this). So there is helium floating around the sun presumably, and in Earth’s atmosphere. As a little kid, I always imagined a person in a launched rocket sticking their arm out the window while wielding a little butterfly net and swishing it all around to catch every helium molecule they could. Of course they couldn’t really use nets, even with the most microscopic mesh, since helium is the second-smallest regularly occurring molecule (also need to verify how far materials science has come in the helium-filterable-nanoparticle-mesh department). But in any case, I strongly doubt that the imagination of my four-year-old self is correct in this matter (unfortunately). So…how do we really get helium?
How are airports funded?
Airports are expansive and expensive. Who pays for them compared to who benefits from them? What proportion of airline, local, and regional taxes are allocated to an airport? What about teeny tiny airports that exclusively fly into and out of a single major airport: do they contribute to the cost of the major airport, and/or vice versa? How do the funding models differ across the US, and the world? Nothing an up-and-coming wannabe data scientist can’t suss out.
Why are different beers served in different glasses?
… And how were these matchings derived and universally adopted (or are they?)?
How are mountains measured on planets and moons without seas (and therefore without sea levels)?
I always thought that measuring a mountain’s height based solely upon its peak’s altitude above sea level was a bit of a cop-out: is the mountain really that tall itself? Or is it just standing on the shoulders of a very tall plateau, so to speak? Then again, determining the base from which to measure any mountain seems like quite the slippery slope once you get down to it, so I do understand and sympathize with the sea level approach adopted by us Earthlings. But what about pinnacle-filled planets that nonetheless lack oceans: how are their mountains measured? And even on Earth, how are high and low tides reconciled in order to arrive at such specific heights down to individual feet and even inches in some cases?
Solved! Take a look at my first post, How are Martian mountains measured?, to find out all about the formulas that determine the heights of mountains in outer space!
What is that weird pointy looking thing at the end of a banana?
Is it a seed, or just some other totally normal part of a fruit that I was nonetheless scared of as a kid because it looked pokey? Maybe it is like the core that strawberries and raspberries have, or the pithy part in the middle of an orange. Also, banana plants are herbs, or so I hear. Are they supposed to taste herb-y?
How is windchill calculated?
Presumably it represents what the temperature feels like, after accounting for wind speed and maybe moisture levels, and I’m not sure what else. But what is the formula, and how did they arrive at it given that what something “feels like” seems somewhat unmeasurable if you ask me. Or maybe it doesn’t actually represent the perceived temperature, but we’ve just been collectively interpreting it as that?
How does freezer burn happen?
Freezing is supposed to be the polar opposite of burning. So what kind of oxymoron is “freezer burn”? Does the aftermath it leaves on our chicken tenders, tortillas, bread, and berries fit the definition of “burnt”?
If moths are nocturnal, why do they flock to lights?
Moths could just come out during the day to get all the light they could ever want. They sure seem to like light when it’s not a naturally occurring commodity. Does this mean something about the particular frequency of light they prefer? Maybe the sun doesn’t specialize in the particular part of the visible light spectrum that they crave? Or is it more about the ratio of light—daytime is too intense for them? If so, this phenomena of light being available to them every night—thanks to human technology in the form of harnessed electricity—is a very recent development within the long span of animal evolution. How has it affected moth behavior?
What is malt?
I have never figured out what is the point of this optional milkshake add-on. Is it a flavor? A texture? Does it have any other uses?
Do indoor trees have tree rings?
Indoor- and greenhouse-grown trees don’t experience annual weather patterns like their counterparts in the wild. Do they still grow thicker skin for the winter season “instinctively”, or are tree rings exclusively reactionary responses to climate? If the former, how do trees track years and seasons without experiencing them, and how accurate are they?
How are the dates for Easter, Passover, and other seemingly arbitrarily timed holidays determined?
The date for Thanksgiving every year is unpredictable enough for me, and I know its formula: the third Thursday of every November. Yes, that feels arbitrary to me, but not compared to Easter. I do know that Easter’s date is based on that of Passover, but then what is the calculation to determine Passover’s date, and how did that come to be? Are there other holidays around the world with opaque and unpredictable formulas determining when exactly they’ll be celebrated?
How are the holes in macaroni noodles extruded?
To make a tube, you can roll a flat, two-dimensional material and connect its edges, like those construction paper chains kids make. You could also build up its circumference layer by layer, the way tube socks are knitted or the colosseum was built. Finally, you could start with a cylindrical form and carve out its center, the way hollow logs’ insides rot away over time, leaving a tubular shell.
To my knowledge, the pasta industry does not employ any of these methods: according to Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, noodles are extruded by pushing dough through holes of various shapes and angles. While accruing this knowledge was very enlightening and mesmerizing to me as a child, it cannot account for the holes in macaroni and other pasta forms: the extrusion machine’s hole would need to have an inner circle “floating” within the main extrusion hole, to prevent dough from filling the core of the macaroni noodle. But how could that inner core-creating circle be held in place, without also slicing apart at least one side of the macaroni tube?
(Also, how are PVC pipes made? I am beginning to believe that my compilation of tube-creation methods is incomplete.)
Why are water towers worthwhile?
Isn’t the energy cost to pump the water up to it the same or greater than the potential energy that very water gains? And that’s atop the cost of constructing them in the first place.
How are zip codes assigned?
Zip codes seem to me to be a sequential, one-dimensional, quantitative nomenclature plopped onto the two-dimensional surface that is the constellation of the United States’ population. There is a vague pattern in that zip codes with lower values are assigned further east, while higher values are assigned to the West, the reverse of the US Interstate’s numbering system. But how are other nuances of location accounted for, if at all? And when are new zip codes assigned, if at all? Are remaining zip codes in short supply? And what about those extra, seemingly optional 4-digit extensions to every zip code? Hmmmmm.
Why do liquids seem hotter when sipped through a straw?
Is there a threshold for this perceived temperature increase? Or are cold liquids also perceived by our nerves to be relatively warmer than they would have been if sipped straight from the cup? Maybe we don’t notice this phenomena with cold liquids because they don’t threaten to char our tongues for eternity like straw-sipped hot liquids do?
Or, as my ever-sensible mom suggested to me, the liquid must be hotter at the bottom of the cup, where the straw pulls from, than the top, where the liquid touches air. This had not even occurred to me [insert face-palm emoji]. But still we must test to verify!
Why are bowling alleys seemingly always windowless?
I have yet to be in a bowling alley that benefits from natural lighting. Maybe they are following the casino architectural model, in that they want us to forget the time so we wile our days away with more and more games. Maybe windows are too expensive to be worth it. Maybe too much chance of someone accidentally throwing a bowling ball through a costly window (if you have ever bowled with me you know this is a serious, but unintentional, possibility).
Does UV light really dry nail polish?
When I had a manicure they took me over to a drying station, which did not have a fan, but did have UV lights. They told me to put my freshly painted fingernails under the lights to cure them. This worked, although I didn’t have a control to compare it to. In hindsight I should have only put one hand under and then compared my two hands’ rates of drying… maybe a good excuse to get another manicure, in the name of science! But assuming UV does act as a catalyst for curing nail polish, how does it do it? And does it have to be used exclusively with a certain type of nail polish containing special UV-sensitive ingredients?
(How) do bugs breathe?
You know the drill: after you captured some sort of bug as a kid (or adult) you put it in a container, added grass, leaves, and sticks, and then punched holes in the top to keep it from suffocating to death. This implies an early understanding that insects breathe, just like other inhabitants of the animal kingdom. Well, maybe not just like other animals—how similar are insects’ cardiovascular systems to ours? Do they have lungs? Do water beetles have gills? They aren’t usually red when you squish them (except mosquitoes…), so that would seem to imply that they don’t possess iron-toting red blood cells to do the job of oxygenating their various bodily systems. So how do bugs breathe?
Can staleness be measured?
Stale foods are somewhat of a paradox: they are both too hard to comfortably bite, but then at a certain point become bendable. Maybe staleness can be characterized and quantified using measures of hardness and elasticity normally reserved for minerals and metals.
Why do spicy foods make your nose run?
Maybe the spicy fumes irritate the mucus membranes, so they react by producing more mucus?
(How) do the smears of black that athletes apply to their cheeks keep the sun out of their eyes?
Black absorbs light, but it can’t bend the light that is already on a trajectory straight into someone’s pupil. Maybe these black patches just prevent light from reflecting off of one’s cheeks into their eyes? Or maybe they do not do a thing to prevent sun blindness.
What are the etymologies for baby animal names?
Baby cats are kittens. Baby foxes are kits. Baby goats are kids. Baby dogs, whales, and mice are all pups. Very peculiar, and not exactly intuitive. Why can’t they all follow the pig and piglet model?
It’s possible to have vision that’s better than 20/20; so why is that measure the standard?
What does the denominator of “20” mean?
What does it mean to be tone deaf?
Does everything sound like a dreary monotone? Or does tone deafness mean that you can hear differences in tone, but not identify the characteristics of those tones, like which is higher or lower pitched?
How can cameras possibly “know” how far away something is in order to auto-focus on it?
Cameras don’t have pinging radar like submarines do to measure distance based on returned signals … as far as I am aware at least. And they have only one lens, unlike the two eyes most animals have, which I had always assumed made it possible for us to detect depth via parallax. So how do cameras do this? What if I put a printed, one-dimensional photograph in front of a camera: would the camera freak out trying to focus on what seems to be true depth? How would it even know, though? And how does this compare to how the human eye(s) would respond?
Do salamanders and other amphibians start out as tadpoles too?
I’ve never actually learned about the life cycle of any amphibian besides frogs. Everyone seems to learn about frogs metamorphosing from tadpoles, but maybe this is just because it is more dramatic and interesting to see an animal with a tail change into one without it, whereas salamanders and most other amphibians already have tails. But it also seems to be taken for granted that if you collect a bucket of tadpoles they will turn into frogs. Has any kid ever been surprised by a bucket of salamanders instead? If not, is this because salamanders do not start out as leg-less polliwogs?
Why do night vision technologies always render in green?
And does this have anything to do with the fact that red light—opposite green on the color wheel—is generally considered the best hue to use for retaining one’s own optical night vision, if you do have to turn on a light?
What is fluorescence and where does it fit on the color wheel?
Or rather, where does it fit into any of the very many color organization systems that have been designed over the years? And is fluorescence itself a spectrum: can a color be half fluorescent and half not, or is more of a quantum leap sort of color category?
Does pure hydrogen dioxide (water sans any minerals or other molecules) have a taste?
There are some other compounds that don’t have detectable tastes or smells, so it is possible. But wouldn’t pure H20 taste different than the mineral-, chlorine-, and fluoride-filled water we might be accustomed to?
Is dry cleaning really dry?
How does dry cleaning work? If it’s really “dry” how does it clean clothes? Why do some fabrics require it? Furthermore, how much do you really end up paying for dry-clean-only clothes versus their lower maintenance counterparts after accounting for cleaning costs?
How does salt “lose its saltiness” over time?
There is a Bible verse about salt “losing its saltiness” and being of no use, so this concept must be true. But how does a compound lose characteristic traits like that? Does it change in some other measurable way simultaneously, like how much it weighs?
What’s the difference between all the power plug types around the world, and why are there so many?
Even within the US, there are some plugs with two prongs and some with three. Of the two-prong type, some of those have one prong that’s taller than that of their partner. What is the reasoning and benefit to having it one way or the other? And what would it take to align the world with one outlet style (preferably one that looks like a happy face, not the aghast-looking face formed by the current US three-prong)?
How natural are natural flavors?
Whenever I read “natural flavors” on an ingredient label, especially of something that tastes like it should have calories but mysteriously does not, I get skeptical. So how are these “natural flavors” derived, and how come they don’t come with the calories or color that any truly natural food or beverage would have?
Do eyelashes turn grey like hair and eyebrows do?
I have never noticed anyone with gray eyelashes, but maybe I should just look a bit closer.
Is pineapple the lowest performing crop of all time?
I have heard—from a co-worker, who heard from a tour guide in Hawai’i (more fact checking to come)—that a single pineapple takes two years to grow. Factor in the cost of Hawai’ian land and overseas climate-controlled shipping, and you have yourself an economic mystery … or at least a conspiracy theory waiting to be created. How are these things not worth their weight in gold?
What does it mean when which wheels do the driving?
Four-wheel drive, all-wheel drive—what’s the difference (assuming the all-wheel drive vehicle has just four wheels)? And amongst measly two-wheel drive vehicles, which is better under which conditions—front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive? If one is always superior, why even manufacture the other variety? I’m on a mission to bring clarity to motor vehicle owners everywhere!
What do mosquitos prioritize in blood?
I’ve heard all kinds of anecdotal rationale for why mosquitoes love some people’s blood more than others, and consequently, why some people are perpetually bitten while others aren’t—everything from banana breath to blood type. Is there any truth to these notions or are they old wives tails?
Does sunlight activate a chemical reaction in the compounds comprising sunscreen?
If so, does the sunscreen “get used up” by the sunlight, and how long or how much sun intensity does it take? Is this the reason behind the reapplication instructions on every bottle of sunscreen, or is that just because they want you to use it up faster to buy more? Or maybe the reapplication instructions are simply to account for the cream wearing off or evaporating away over time, or maybe the sunscreen compounds are not directly “used up” by the sun, but are broken down by the light or heat over time?
Why were there so many “GAK” license plates in Walla Walla county circa 1996?
Being the bookish youngster that I was, I naturally stashed a spiral-ringed notebook in the family minivan that I dedicated to keeping careful track of every repeating license plate letter-pattern I saw. I had my hypotheses as to why certain letter-combinations seemed to cluster in my small city. The way I saw it, once you bought a new car, you were automatically enrolled to get the next license plate that came off the press. By my calculations, this meant that Walla Wallans were also buying cars in bunches, at least relative to the rest of the state. I figured they must be reacting to dealership sales.
It’s been over twenty years, and I have yet to validate this hypothesis one way or the other, but there’s no time like the near future! The first order of business is to run some basic probability tests: maybe the “clusters” I witnessed are in fact clusters, but still part of a normal, random-ish distribution pattern.
When to use a dash between dual-word descriptions?
When I decided on a name for my blog, I realized I wasn’t sure if I needed a hyphen between “curiosity” and “colored”. It seemed to me like those two words acted as a single concept to describe “glasses”, but I also realized I had never learned any rules in school about what that means in terms of hyphenation. I’ve noticed these sorts of dual-word descriptions (like the phrase “dual-word descriptions” itself) pretty often in various literary settings, but I never could pick up on any consistency with regard to hyphens or lack thereof, probably because no one else remembered this grammar lesson either.
Are white and rose gold really gold?
Gold is an inert element, so how could any of its physical characteristics be modified to change its color? And how would it bond with other substances to change its color? Or is it just mixed with platinum and copper respectively (or other metals) to modify its hue?
How do silica gel packets work?
The little balls inside look so impenetrable, I am surprised they are the standard for maintaining low moisture levels. How do they compare to wads of cotton that come in Ibuprofen bottles (or are those just to keep the pills from breaking when shipped?) and those weird little ear-plug-looking things that came in bottles of Flintstones vitamins when I was a kid?
How complete is the vitamin alphabet?
There’s vitamin A, then several vitamin B’s (B1, B2, then suddenly jump to B12), then vitamin C, D, and E. After that I am not aware of any vitamin letter until K. How are all the letters and numbers organized and why?
How blurry are the boundaries between clouds’ categories?
Do clouds fit neatly into their typical little categories like cumulonimbus and cirrus, or are there cloud hybrids? If so, which cloud types or cloud creation methods are ever mixed? Are any existing cloud types actually just half-steps between two other types? If so, can the cloud taxonomy be considered a spectrum? Is it a hierarchy? What is the best way to visually structure the relationships between cloud types?
How do 3D movie glasses work?
And why do they rely on red and blue? Could it work with any other colors?
How does a car’s rear-view mirror work in night mode?
More specifically, those older manual varieties with the little lever that you had to flip to turn night-mode on or off: I think it did something to reflect the light through a prism or something to refract it a bit somehow, but I could never quite tell from the outside. I guess it’s time to go to the old car parts junkyard for one of these, to deconstruct it!
Is a positive electrical charge more potent than a negative charge?
I never thought that the potential energy caused by a charge-type disparity depended on the charge type itself. That is, why would it matter if the built up charge was positive or negative, and how would you really even know? But then, I was helping the kid I tutor with his science homework, which involved reading about lightning storms. This proved very enlightening and thought provoking for me, because the reading passage claimed that positively charged lightning storms are especially dangerous, “as observed in spring of 1998”. But it did not go into any more detail.
So now I need to know exactly what went down in the “spring of 1998”, and why positively charged electrical storms are somehow so much worse. Are positive charges in general more powerful than negative charges, or just when it comes to the context of lightning? Either way, why?
How do light-sensitive lenses work?
How can a substance go from transparent to dark just due to the brightness of the surrounding light?
What’s the difference between melody and harmony?
Music is not my strong suit, but I want to learn more about it. I’ve never been able to tell the difference between melody and harmony, in both practice and theory.
What’s up with some places having an alternative spelling and pronunciation?
For example, in English we say and write “Munich”, but in Germany—the place responsible for the official name of that city—it’s “München”. How are these alternative spellings and pronunciations determined when the native name is just that—a name, not necessarily a translatable concept? How did they come to be standardized enough to appear on maps?
What’s up with English-speaking places calling it Munich, but Germans calling it München?
How do L.E.D. light grids depict italics?
Those little L.E.D. light boards on busses, at airport ticket counters, and in shop windows can be programmed to run text across horizontally or vertically, and do all sorts of other little visual choreography. One thing I have been intrigued by since I first bore witness to it, is an italic effect sometimes produced when the letters run horizontally across the board. How can slanted lines—the fundamental structure behind italic type—be simulated on a perfectly parallel, vertical, and extremely low-resolution grid?
Since I’ve only ever seen this phenomena when the text was running horizontally, not vertically, I am wondering if somehow the timing of each row of L.E.D.s is ever so slightly staggered, resulting in an optical illusion of leaning vertical lines.
How does hot air warp light?
Related: the mirage effect is so ironically awful for anyone who’s ever been lost in a desert, that it’s hard to believe this phenomena isn’t just a result of physics playing pranks.
What is “e” and how was it discovered?
I just remember using e to do lots of logarithmic math problems in high school that revolved around predicting population growth or some other organic phenomena, and being left baffled by the supposed ability of this seemingly arbitrary number to do so much heavy lifting. So what’s the story behind this little letter/number?
What does it mean to be a nation? And are there any alternatives?
This goes beyond just semantics. What is Puerto Rico? What constitutes Skandinavia? Is Scotland a country? If so, does that make the UK nothing more than a metaphorical file folder enveloping independent nations? … And the EU (pre-Brexit at least) a drawer within the metaphorical filing cabinet that is the world? But why, and what do these designations mean for the people in each segment of the Venn diagram?
Also, what is the Cherokee Nation and how much autonomy does it have?
Why do candles only seem to smoke after their flames are extinguished, but not while burning?
I don’t even have a hypothesis for this one. Maybe the brightness of a burning flame optically distracts our eyes from seeing the smoke as easily while burning? But that is not enough to account for the sheer amount of smoke produced by blowing out a candle.
Why haven’t all flowers evolved to self-pollinate exclusively?
Only 5% of naturally occurring grape plants can self-pollinate; the others are either male or female plants exclusively and as a result produce far fewer grapes and ultimately far fewer seeds. Modern wine grapes were bred from the self-pollinating 5% for this very reason: the ability to consistently provide fruits for harvest.* What I don’t understand is why only 1/20th of all grape plants have evolved in this way. It seems a much more efficient mechanism for passing along their DNA—and all of their DNA at that; no need to dilute it with half of another plants’. And given that they consistently produce more fruit and seeds, it would seem that they’d have easily surpassed the 5% mark over time. For that matter, why haven’t all plant types evolved beyond the limits of male-female dependency? But I am especially baffled by grapes, some of which have evolved this mechanism, but seem to be stifled from taking over the grape-world. Maybe the male-female plant dynamic forces DNA mixing, which acts as insurance against genetic mutations and diseases?
*This all according to the podcast “Science for the People”’s episode about wine… a very fascinating listen!
What are those three characteristic spots that every coconut has?
I used to think they were part of the packing and shipping process, when I only saw whole coconuts in the grocery store. But then I went to a tropical beach, and my curiosity was piqued when I saw these same three dots naturally occurring out in the wild. It almost looks like the coconut is attached to the tree with three stems, and all three stems must release their hold on it before it can fall. But having three stems seems strange. So what is the origin story for these little spots?
Why are the pockets of blazers and other business-y style clothes sewn shut before you buy them?
I have two main theories on this right now. Maybe they want to prevent you from being able to return the items after wearing them, and they can tell if you wore them because you would have wanted to use the pockets and so would have un-done the stitching. Or maybe too many people were accidentally leaving their keys or phone or goldfish crackers, etc in the pockets when they tried them on. That might seem to be a strange hypothesis, but I have found a pair of keys in a coat I tried on (the brand of which did not employ this stitching shut methodology), and a sunglasses lanyard (not sold by the store) in the pocket of a sweatshirt I tried on once.
How are streets named?
And who gets to suggest and ultimately decide on the name? Similarly, how are neighborhoods named?
Which came first, orange the color or orange the fruit?
And why don’t we call the color “carrot”—why does the fruit get all the eponymous attentions?
How do bicycles add more net weight yet transport us so much more efficiently than walking does?
Bicycles are the quintessential invention. I am continuously in awe of how far I can pedal before I’ve even had breakfast, powered by the glycogen in my legs alone. But I haven’t quite mentally sorted out the physics behind these miracle machines. Pedaling means my legs still go up and down and forward and back in a way that’s much like walking, so how does adding two wheels and some gears to the equation make up so much distance?
Must they really shoot race horses that break their legs?
(Why) do they always kill a horse if it breaks a leg? Why not put a cast on it and prop it up in a small pen where it can’t move for a month or so? Yes, that sounds miserable, but not compared to killing an amazingly intelligent creature of which thousands of dollars have probably already been invested. In Sri Lanka I saw an elephant that had stepped on a land mine and it would never walk again, but they didn’t kill it. Also, my cousin works for a veterinarian and has put a cast on a calf with a broken leg—what’s stopping that from being the default for horses?
Furthermore, shooting seems such an inefficient and cruel death, hopefully they at least get a vet to euthanize them, but somehow I had heard they shoot them. Reform is in order if so.
Is there any truth behind wine-tasting jargon?
Are there really any minerals or other compounds exclusively in common between wines said to be bearing “notes of apricot” and actual apricots? I believe we have the technological prowess to determine this, but not sure if it is worth it to do so … which means someone probably already has, and I want to find out about it.
How far does water tension scale?
How come water tension can bulge on a penny, but not to an equivalent height on a humungous 100-mile wide disc (at least I assume it can’t …)? A penny is still enormous compared to the individual water molecules responsible for water tension. So what is the size threshold for this water tension trick?
Why are the pupils of some animals’ eyes horizontal or vertical slits?
And do they narrow in bright light by closing like a coin purse? Which makes me wonder how our perfectly circular human eyes maintain a perfect circle when they narrow?
Do you hear the sonic boom if you’re in the plane that made it happen?
Also, what is a sonic boom again?
Why do some living organisms have the same species and genus names, twice in a row?
For example, Vulpes vulpes is the red fox. It makes it seem like the quintessential species to represent the genus as a whole, but if that is the case (which I doubt), what would the criteria for quintessentialism be? Are there any species with the same name for their genus and family, and even order or beyond?
What’s the typical alphabet-to-language ratio, and how does our Latin alphabet compare?
Several languages use the same alphabet as English, or at least quite similar, maybe with a couple extra letters or diacritical marks. Is the same true of other alphabets, or are they more strictly tied to individual languages?
What is shorthand? What is stenotype? How can I learn them?
That pretty much covers it. And also I’d like more details on how Gregg-ruled notebooks fit in, and why the English language as a whole has not adopted these presumably more efficient mark-making methods.
What determines a snowflake’s detailed form?
What are the forces and reasons dictating the unique shape each ice crystal grows into? Why don’t they follow more standard visual patterns like mineral-based crystals do?
What are all the various royal titles, what does each mean, who gets to be what, and why?
Monarchies are ridiculous relics of a past built on fate over freedom (in my occasionally not-so-humble but unswervingly democratic opinion). Nonetheless, I’d like some insight into the structure behind the destinies these dynasties propagate: who gets what title and what does it mean? How do they all fit together hierarchically?
Why do moon cacti have octagonal tops and triangular bases?
These cute little cacti are quite the conundrum for my hyper-geometrically and -biologically aware brain: their colorful round flower-like top halves are radially symmetrical in eight directions, while their green bases are radially symmetrical in only three directions. Three does not divide into eight nicely and I’ve never seen a plant that simultaneously supported both “symmetry types”.
Are pumpkins hollow vacuums?
Everyone who’s ever carved a Jack-o-lantern is aware of the fact that pumpkins are hollow. But what, if anything, fills this seemingly empty void within them before we pierce their exteriors and let air in? Are pumpkins vacuums, fighting against imminent implosion with their tough spherical forms? Spheres are the strongest shape when it comes to absorbing external force (need to verify; opposite vector of a baby chick trying to push out from inside of an egg shell). Maybe pumpkins are semi-permeable, letting air in from the outside, or even producing their own gasses to balance the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.
I have the beginnings of an experimental protocol in mind: I will fill a tub with water, submerge a pumpkin, and cut it open from beneath the surface of the water. If air bubbles emerge, that means it is filled with gas of some kind.
How do we see the primary color yellow without yellow cones in our eyes?
Primary colors—of which yellow is generally considered to be—are, by definition, colors that cannot be created by combining any other hues. Cones are the color receptors in the back of our eyes, and they can receive either red, blue, and green light. Not yellow! We have green cones, even though we are taught in school that green is a mix of yellow and blue… so how do we perceive isolated yellow colors when we would seem to have no method for intaking the information that is yellow light?
Why do wheels sometimes look like they’re turning backwards in movies?
I have a theory that this depends upon the speed the wheels are traveling, the frame rate the video was filmed with, and the number of spokes (or other radial-type decor) on the wheels. Videos are just a series of still images flashed in sequence, so these still images might not capture the progression of each spoke evenly. One frame might show the a spoke at the top of the wheel. The next image might show this same spoke further along its radial trajectory. The spoke behind it will have moved the same distance, but within the timeframe between image captures, won’t have moved quite to the top of the wheel yet. Since this spoke looks identical to the first spoke, we will instead perceive the spokes as moving backwards collectively, and at a bit slower rate than they are in truth moving forward. Now I just need to build out some models to test this.
Yeast is living! But how?
I have been confused by this for most of my life (and in blatant disbelief of it when I was a kid). It seemed inhumane that as a society we’d all just be fine with storing living organisms inside of claustrophobic little foil pouches, only to pull them out and use their alive-ness for our own convenience before brutally baking them to death. But very recently I developed a metaphor that I think more accurately reflects the reality of yeast: those little particles patiently awaiting us in their foil pouch homes are more like seeds. Like barley or apple pips. When they are exposed to the proper environment, they multiply, kind of like plant seeds start to grow when given moisture and light.
However, this metaphor brought up a much bigger conceptual quandary: are seeds living? Do they fit the definition of “alive”? Do they fit the definition of “dead”? Or are they destined to wander aimlessly in plant purgatory until they happen upon the circumstances that will conjure them from this mysterious state?
How does that old pink and yellow pressure-sensitive carbon paper work?
It’s very strange to me because there is nothing dark on the back of any of the sheets, and yet when you write on the top layer (or even just scratch without ink) the next layer has an exact copy of what was written on the layer above it, that cannot be removed. Maybe there are tiny bubbles of ink embedded within each page that pop like itty bitty bubble wrap when pressure is applied? This seems like a stretch, but there also seems to be no other feasible explanation.
How were the original parameters that we now use to derive sine, cosine, and tangent established?
I have wondered about this for decades. Geometry was my all-time favorite class I have maybe ever taken, despite that fact that Ms. Jacky sent me to detention on more than one occasion for asking too many questions, one of which was this. No one in the class even understood what I was asking, including Ms. Jacky, and the fact that my teacher and all my classmates were willing to swallow the SOHCAHTOA formula we’d been taught hook, line and sinker, without bothering to question its origins, incensed me. The real issue with this particularly opaque formula is that it relies on parameters that change depending upon the knowns of a triangle’s sides’ lengths and angles’ measurements. We had to look up these parameters in the back of our math books, or rely on our scientific calculators’ outputs—either way, without having an understanding of how those parameters were ultimately and originally determined. It is time I learn the truth and share it with all the many geometry students the world over who have been kept in the dark, or worse—relegated to detention simply for seeking knowledge!
Why does the moon always keep the same face toward earth?
This was the question that started it all. In seventh grade, while studying the orbits and rotations of the planets in the solar system, I realized that although Earth and the other planets rotated while we orbited the sun in such a way that the same hemisphere was not continually facing the sun, the same could not be said of the moon: it continuously keeps the same face toward Earth as it orbits. When I asked my teacher she said it was because the rate at which it rotates was perfectly aligned with the rate at which it orbits. It would have to be perfectly aligned; if either rate were off from each other by the slightest, it would begin to turn its “dark side” toward Earth, but it’s kept the same face toward us for as long as humans have recorded it. Is this just a spookily serendipitous coincidence, or is there some hidden force syncing up the moon’s rates of rotation and orbit?
Where do place names across America come from?
Everytime I travel to the east coast for work, I become hyper-aware of the differences in the names of many of the cities and towns, compared to where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Whereas the west seems to be dominated by Native American names, the East is peppered with old-school Englishy-sounding monikers. It makes me wonder how correlated the various nomenclatures are to the dates of their cities’ founding, and the time and way in which the land they lay upon was acquired.
Solved! Take a look at my second post, How do place names differ across America?, to see US county naming patterns visualized and to learn more about the regional naming trends revealed.
What’s the difference between soda water, tonic water, and sparkling water?
As someone who has intentionally avoided curating a sensitive palette so she can continue to purchase and enjoy Two Buck Chuck, I honestly cannot tell the difference between any of the fizzy water types. Are they all just synonyms for each other, or is their carbonation distracting my lazy tastebuds from distinguishing some subtle differences?
Is asparagus the highest performing crop of all time?
Asparagus grows 10 inches per day for 6 weeks in the spring! And they harvest it everyday, down to there being nothing showing! But how does the asparagus plant have enough energy to grow this much? The leaves are too tiny to gather much chlorophyll energy from the sun and also there is not enough time for them to send energy down to store in their roots since each leaflet only exists for less than one day in the first place! It definitely takes more energy to grow a stalk than the stalk collects in its short life and sends down to the roots, so how does this math equation work out?
What is static?
Why does TV static make black and white speckles moving all over like crazy? And why are those patterns different, sometimes big zig-zags, sometimes tiny little ant-sized dots? And why does both radio and TV static have to make such a terrible noise; why isn’t it just silent?
How do hibernating reptiles break out of their cold-blooded Catch-22?
What do reptiles do in winter in snowy places? I assume they retreat down into burrows below the frostline … But then how do they even get enough energy in the spring to wake up from hibernating down there in the first place? They need heat to warm their cold-blooded bodies but how do they get that heat if they’re hidden away from the sun in their burrows?
Are there infinite “do re mi”s?
And perhaps more importantly, why are there seven repeating steps (do re mi fa so la ti or A B C D E F G), why not more or less, or why repeat note names at all? Is it arbitrary like days of the week, or is there some sort of music theory rationale to it?
Testing Forrest Gump’s chocolate box credo: do you really never know what you’re gonna get?
Are there any conventions for boxed chocolates in regards to intuiting their flavors? Do flavors tend to relate to certain external patterns, shapes, or designs? As a UX designer, can I determine a solution to bring at least a semblance of coherence and clarity to the terrifying prospect and inevitable FOMO of selecting the wrong chocolate from the box of them that someone brought to work?
Why do people form different letter forms?
We hosted a Spanish exchange student over the summer one year in high school and I noticed that she wrote her lowercase a’s by making a U, then a cursive o’s loop at the top, before descending to create the a’s tail. When I asked her about it, she said that was how they always learned to make them in school.
Since then I have noticed all sorts of penmanship idiosyncrasies, often tied to the country of the writer’s birth. I want to catalog these handwriting conventions of the latin alphabet, character-by-character, and trace them back to their roots.
Donkey + horse = ?
When donkeys and horses breed, does the resulting offspring really matter which is the female versus which is the male? If so, why? Probably something to do with chromosomes, but I need more information about this. And also how different are the two possible offspring types—mules and hinnies—and how do you tell one from the other? Furthermore, are donkeys and horses separate species? But if they are, how do they even produce offspring at all? And are the offspring separate species or sub-species, or how are they categorized? Lastly, how did all four of these animal varieties get their names, and why?
Is color a spectrum or a wheel?
How and why have we as humans come to interpret the two end of the visible light spectrum as connected, like a wheel?
Is it pure coincidence that the size of the sun in the sky is the same as that of the moon?
I am interested in this specifically as it relates to solar eclipses, in which the moon perfectly covers the sun: not too big and not too little.
When does the sun rise and set across America?
It might at first seem like this question would have a terribly uninteresting and obvious answer. But there are so many variables to take into account! Longitude: the closer to the equator, the less sunrise and -set times are affected by the seasons, and vice versa. Latitude: the further East, the sooner to see the sun, and vice versa. Time zones: if I’m truly concerned with “time” of set and rise, then this is yet another factor to consider. Day of the year: see longitude, above. Surrounding terrain: if you’re behind a mountain when the sun is said to have risen, but you’re still in the mountain’s shadow, has the sun in fact risen? What if you’re just behind a hill or huge rock? At what land-formation size does it stop being pre-dawn, and start just being shade?
Which makes me wonder how they calculate the sunrise time for mountainous regions. Maybe they survey multiple locations for when the sun peaks over whatever ridge forms the horizon from that vantage point, and average them together: this school of thought considers the mountains as horizons, and the shade formed by them as “pre-dawn”. Or maybe it’s simply a calculation of when the sun should be considered to have risen, minus the mountains: in this school of thought the mountains simply form shade.
How are gemstones cut?
And how does the underlying crystalline structure of a raw gemstone affect the options for its outcome, if at all? Some precious stones in the rough look just like gravelly rocks; how were their ugly duckling potentials ever discovered in the first place?
(How) does stainless steel remove the smell of garlic?
Or are those little stainless steel “soap bars” they sell really just snake oil, so to speak?
Are fruits and vegetables mutually exclusive?
I’d love to see sort of a lattice-network visualizing the hierarchies and relationships between all the various plant-provided foodstuffs we consume. Maybe a tomato can live happily as both a fruit and a vegetable at once, if looked at through botanically appropriate lenses?