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2-97. Are You Conservative, Liberal, or Curious?

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


02/06/17 • 3 min

Is Curiosity a political position? Should it be? Maybe.

The post 2-97. Are You Conservative, Liberal, or Curious? first appeared on College of Curiosity.
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2-96. How Slavery Tore DC Apart – Literally

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


02/02/17 • -1 min

Have you ever wondered why Washington, D.C. or the District of Columbia got its strange shape? It started with James Madison, and his Federalist Number 43. His argument was simple: the federal government needed a home that was not included in any state. But where? In the complicated world of politics, it’s unsurprising that it was a compromise.

Though the United States won the Revolution, the new country was nearly bankrupt. For some relief, some founding fathers proposed that the federal government assume the debt incurred by the states. This was great for the Northern states, who still had a sizable amount of unpaid debt, but the Southern states had paid most of their foreign debt, so this deal wouldn’t help them at all. In fact, as they were responsible for a share of the Federal government’s debt, it would cost them money.

While the merits of this plan were being argued, the idea came for two Southern states, Maryland and Virginia, to donate land on either side of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers for the new seat of Federal government. This would give the South more influence simply due to proximity, and the hope was that this would be considered fair compensation for the imbalance in debt assumption. And it was! The deal was struck, and the Federal Government created a neat diamond shape called Washington: The Territory of Columbia, separate from all states. It was later called the District of Columbia when in 1801, Congress was given jurisdiction over the area. Washington is the name of the one and only city within the district, taking up the same amount of land.

Why a diamond? The Residence Act of 1790 declared that the District take up not more than 100 square miles, and the easiest way to calculate that would be to make a square ten miles long by ten miles wide. Once the general area was decided through more political wrangling, the committee emphasized the navigability of the river, and thus a diamond was formed, with the river running through the center.

But if you look at a map today, you’ll notice that this neat diamond has broken in half, right where the river is. What caused this? The answer is: Virginians and the pro-slavery movement. Since its inception, the District of Columbia was controversial to Virginians, who had given up land owned by powerful people. Not the least of these was George Washington himself, who owned a large tract of land on the river. The aggrieved Virginian’s initial effort to reduce their losses was an amendment that prevented public buildings from being built on the Virginia side. This set the stage for what was to come later.

The bickering never stopped completely, but it was in those heady days in the mid-19th century where words became action. States were being divided into “slave” and “free,” and the federal government was in constant struggle over which side would take control. With the talk of abolishing slavery, the residents of Virginia became alarmed at what they saw as a threat to their economy, and joined together to lobby for the return of their portion of DC. This additional land would give them two more representatives and help tip the scale towards the pro-slavery side of upcoming legislation.

And they were successful. In 1846, Congress signed the “Retrocession,” granting back to Virginia all the land on their side of the diamond. But it was not through legislation that the United States would settle the issue of slavery. That took a horrific civil war. But the Virginians did further their cause in one small way: they “enjoyed” eight more months of slavery than the rest of the what was the District of Columbia. Eight months before the Emancipation Proclamation set all slaves free in Confederate states (but not Union states, oddly), slaves were freed in the District, a place in the United States that has always had a large African American population.

The end of slavery did not bring the District back together. What was given back to Virginia in the Retrocession remains part of Virginia. But the broken-diamond of our Capitol is a cartographical reminder of the scars that remain due to slavery’s legacy in our country.

The original plan, with diamond shape.

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2-95. Mysteries of the Camel’s Hump

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


06/02/16 • -1 min

If a camel with one hump is a Dromedary and a camel with two humps is a Bactrian, what do you call a camel with no humps? Humphrey, of course. (badum tish).

Camels fascinate people, and the reason is obvious: they have humps. And what’s inside those humps? Inside those humps lies the core of this episode.

For many years, people thought that camels stored water in their humps. You can still find references to this on the Internet. It makes sense, right? They live in the desert where there is very little water, and when they find water, they drink massive quantities of it. It has to go somewhere, so it’s reasonable to assume that it goes into the hump.

But ask any camel butcher (and yes, camel meat is becoming more common in the US), and they’ll tell you that the hump is full of not water, but fat.

Where water is scarce, food is scarce, so this also makes sense. Rather than store their fat evenly around their body like many species, camels simply store it all in one or more humps. There is speculation that this helps the animal shed heat as all that insulating fat is in one place, but since camels also live in cold deserts, there’s probably more to it than that. It’s also interesting to note that camelids that don’t have humps, such as llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, etc. live in areas where food and water are more plentiful.

So, there you have it. The question is answered and we can move on.

And no, of course we can’t because I wouldn’t be talking about this if that’s all there was to it.

In 1981, a study by the University of Singapore proposed the idea that the fat in a camel’s hump could be turned into water through a process known as palmitate oxidation. If you break down fat with added oxygen, water is produced. And not a little. With enough oxygen, the potential amount of water in a camel’s hump could be measured in gallons.

So see? Camel’s humps do store water! Case closed. Take that grade-school science teacher!

Well, not so fast.

According to Dr. Anders Lundquist of Lund University in Sweden, it’s true that breaking down fat can produce water, but camels couldn’t use this water to quench their thirst. It would require so much oxygen to release water from fat stores that the animals would dehydrate from moisture lost during breathing in the arid environment. Most biologists agree with this conclusion.

So far as we can tell at this point, camel humps store fat which is used simply as a fuel reserve. Now go apologize to your grade-school science teacher, because they were right.

But a question does remain: how do camels store water? The same way many other animals do: throughout their body tissues. Camels do have ways of conserving moisture, though. Their noses have the ability to reabsorb water from their breath, and their digestive system is very good at removing water from food. It’s so good, that camel urine has the consistency of motor oil and their droppings are completely dry.

Camel humps provide a good example of how curiosity works: ideas are constantly questioned in light of new evidence, and no answer is ever complete or final. And because I can’t think of a way to wrap this up, here are five camel facts that you may not be aware of:

  1. The genus for the giraffe is Camelopardalis, which translates to Leopard Camel.
  2. Australia has the highest population of camels. None of them are native.
  3. Annoyed camels don’t spit. They’re actually regurgitating on you.
  4. Their red blood cells are circular rather than ovoid. This helps blood flow better when the animal is dehydrated.
  5. Male camels have an organ in their throats called a dulla, which can be inflated to attract females. It looks very much like the camel is sticking its tongue out and blowing a raspberry.

A bactrian camel. (

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2-94. The Dark Side of Curiosity: A Beating in Kenya

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


05/17/16 • -1 min


This episode contains disturbing, violent content.

The word “curiosity” is popular these days. It’s associated with joy and wonder—isn’t it fun to learn things?!

But in reality, not everything we learn is entertaining. But it’s still vitally important.

This morning, May 17 2016, I watched a bit of CNN as i tried to wake up. It was non-stop Drumpf, with a book review about Wall Street. There was no mention of the police crushing a protest in Kenya while we in the US slept.

At this point, it would be helpful for you to look at an image. It’s not pleasant, and I won’t blame you for not clicking through. But if you’re curious, this will be worth your time and disgust. The image is here.

There image will become iconic. It’s a very clear picture of a police officer in full riot gear, “curb stomping” an unconscious man. If you’re unfamiliar with “curb stomping,” I’m sorry to inform you that it’s an act where you place someone’s head on a curbstone and stomp on it, with the goal of either crushing the skull or breaking the neck.

This is horrific stuff, and the image is proof-positive that police brutality is rampant.

But... the image doesn’t show what happened.

Before I explain, please know that I’m not defending the Kenyan police. Their actions were brutal and uncalled for. Chasing down protestors who are running away and clearly no threat, and then beating them with sticks, as other images show, can not be defended.

But while I was looking at the curb stomping image, I noticed a comment from a Kenyan who said “This picture doesn’t show what happened.” It’s such a clear image, that I wondered how that could be. I searched the news and found this brutal picture in a dozen locations. There are already memes that incorporate the picture and refer to the famous Orwell quote from 1984 “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” But I couldn’t find any explanation as to what actually happened in the photo.

When I did find the narrative, I was amazed. There was no stomping. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

There’s another quote, often attributed to Carl Sagan but one that’s existed for at least a century that says “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The claim that this photo, which clearly shows a police office about to curb stomp a protestor DOESN’T actually show that is an extraordinary claim. And yes, the evidence against that claim is also extraordinary.

That evidence is a video, showing the incident from another angle. You can click here to see an animated gif, or here to see the entire video. The cop’s foot was actually going backwards, not down. And at no time during the video did he do anything more than kick the man in the buttocks and hit him with his baton. Kicking an unconscious man is unforgivable, but it’s not the same as attempted murder, which is what a curb stomp is. The cops were not trying to kill this man.

The story as best as I can piece it together from the video and reportedly eye-witness accounts is that the man stole a purse, was subdued and savagely beaten. He wasn’t protesting; he was just taking advantage of the chaos. Again, that is not a defense of the police, but it does change the story and meaning substantially.

The video shows police brutality. The image shows attempted murder. That’s the difference, and only curiosity will lead us to the place where we can cut through what people want us to see and arrive at what actually happened.

And could another video come along showing police curb stomping people? Absolutely, and if it does, I’ll consider it . But insofar as this image is concerned, we can learn that a single frame from time often tells a history that never happened. My fear is that few people will care enough to appreciate that.

And before I’ve even finished recording this, there’s an update. The Kenyan website Zipo is reporting that the man’s name was Ben Ngari, and that he succumbed from his injuries. However, the news report also says that he was a protestor and that the man was indeed curb stomped. I can’t find another news source reporting this fact. Does Zipo have evidence that I haven’t seen? Did they not see the video? I don’t know.

But I do know that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and those words may not be telling the truth. I hope the truth is that the man in the green hoodie is currently recuperating from his unjust injuries. As for CNN, more Drumpf, and no mention of this event at all.


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2-93. Wolves of the Magic Mountain

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


05/16/16 • -1 min

While folks in the Western US laugh when people in New England talk about their “mountains,” there are some interesting and majestic peaks that run up the northern edge of the Appalachians. Mt. Washington, for example, while only 6,288 feet above sea level, has an over 6,000 foot rise from the valley floor below. It also pokes into the jet stream, causing it to receive some of the most extreme weather in North America.

But it’s Mount Washington’s more southern cousin that was dubbed the “magic mountain” by Bostonians.

When highways were built circling the city and eventually heading north, drivers noticed something odd about Mount Monadnock, some 65 miles to the northwest: it disappears. And it’s true—as you head North on I-93, you’ll get a clear view of the mountain’s bald top, and then you never see it again—unless you drive all the way to it’s base, some 90 minutes away. The illusion is that the mountain disappears and reappears only when you approach it, but the solution is simple: the road starts off heading northwest and quickly changes to northeast and then north again as it makes it’s way into New Hampshire. Your car never faces towards the mountain again until you’re right on it.

The Monadnock Building, once an island of height, now dwarfed by buildings over five times as tall.

Monadnock has a few other claims to fame. It stands alone. There are no other mountains adjacent, with the nearest members of the White Mountains being about 100 miles north. As such, it’s name, Monadnock, which means “mountain that stands alone” in Abenaki, has become a term for all mountains that stand alone. Not only that, when Chicago was inventing sky scrapers, one particularly tall building stood alone as it towered above the other structures downtown. This building, which still stands today, is known as the Monadnock Building.

Scientists noticed something else that was odd about this mountain. It’s bald on top, meaning that the top of the mountain has a tree line. This is a line beyond which trees don’t grow, and all tall mountains have one. But Monadnock is only 3,165′ above sea level, well below the tree line of the taller White Mountains to the north.


The answer can be found hidden in the overgrowth of what’s known as Lynn Woods, just north of Boston. With some effort and bushwhacking, you can find two narrow rock lined pits, deep enough that the park service has installed railing around them. Legend has it that these were wolf pits. They would be hidden by greenery and baited with a dead lamb or some such. When the wolves leapt the greenery, they’d fall into the pit, probably onto wooden spikes. If they didn’t die immediately, the’d be trapped and killed by farmers the next day. Others suggest that these structures might have been saw pits or the ubiquitous root cellars that dot New England, but one thing was sure: people in the early 1700s were obsessed with wolves.

They weren’t so afraid them attacking people, as that rarely happened, but wolves did find easy prey in livestock and farmers would stop at nothing to protect their investments. And this brings us back to Monadnock.

“Wolf pits” as they are today in Lynn Woods.

In the 1700s, the woods around Monadnock were burned and clearcut so that they could become pasture. Monadnock was covered with spruce, which is a tree that burns well even when green. Fire raged up the mountain and consumed it. Years later, famers and villagers believed that wolves had taken up residence in the fells, and decided to solv...

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2-92. Ignoring The Lighthouse

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


05/09/16 • -1 min

I had that good fortune to visit Tulum recently. These stunning Mayan ruins command a cliff over the Gulf of Mexico, and are noted for being heavily defended not only by the sea, but also by 30 foot thick walls. It’s the most popular tourist attraction in the region, and hosts thousands a visitors each day.

If you take a tour, you’ll start at a “tourist village,” where locals sell crafts, t-shirts, and Chinese goods with the words “Mexico” and “Tulum” embossed on them. There’s even a Starbucks and a Subway if you’re afraid of local cuisine.

While this might take away from the ambience of Pre-Columbian ruins, they did a good job of separating it from the actual site. You have to walk five minutes through a wooded path to get to see ruins, and then once you’re there, there’s only minimal invasion from modern society.

Most people visit with a highly trained guide. Mexico has pretty high standards for guides, including extensive testing and licensure. Many of the guides are of Mayan ancestry, so to them, this place is more than just a collection of old buildings—it’s their heritage.

The safe landing beach.

And yet, despite all their knowledge, the two times I’ve been there, one amazing fact about Tulum hasn’t been mentioned. And I couldn’t find it on the plaques. In fact, let me read you what the plaque says for the main pyramid, known as El Castilo:

The is one of the most beautiful temples in Tulum. Neither the walls nor the door adjust to a straight vertical line. This is not a result of the passage of time, but rather the way it was originally designed. It was constructed upon another temple which was filled in, in order to serve as a base. In the recess above the door, there is a sculpture representing a personage descending from the heavens with a headdress crowning his head and holding an object in his hands. The temple was decorated inside and out with a mural painting of several representations of gods, which unfortunately, can no longer be admired.

By “no longer be admired,” the plaque means that the public is no longer admitted to this space. The language leads me to believe that it was written in Spanish and then translated to English. But what’s striking is what’s omitted: the temple was much more than that: it was a very clever light house.

The Mayans were a seafaring people. They constructed 50-60 foot long canoes and may have travelled as far as Panama and Costa Rica. Tulum was a seaport as well as a temple and fortress, and El Castillo is dramatically visible from the sea. At the top of the structure are two windows. The walls are thick, so the openings have a tunnel aspect to them. Imagine a fire burning behind each one. From the sea, there is exactly one place where you could see both lights... and that place is directly opposite a break in the barrier reef—the safest place to paddle through to the landing beach below the temple. It’s possible that the entire site was chosen because of its advantages as a protected port site.

That’s a remarkable achievement, and a fascinating story. Is it true? That’s another interesting story. All of history is “story.” In the case of the Mayans, we have very little written history, thanks to the Catholic Spaniards efforts to wipe out all but their own culture. We do have logs and reports from those Spaniards, as well as some archeological interpretations and it’s from these that we form the modern story of the area. But the lighthouse idea just seems to fit.

The real mystery for me is—why wasn’t the lighthouse theory mentioned to me on my two visits or on the official plaque?

What was mentioned was human sacrifice and astronomy. Any enclosed area is going to have points that line up with astronomical occurrences, but it seems pretty clear that the Mayans were interested in making sure the sun came back at the end of each winter. And as for the human sacrifice? One Mayan guide was adamant that it was the Toltecs who practiced that ancient art, and that the Mayans were only participants under pressure.

So it’s clear to me that the guides at Tulum and in all places, tell a narrative that’s dictated by a bit of politics and a bit of personal preference. But as I and others have noted, I can’t thi...

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2-91. Hog Calling in 8,113 CE

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


01/07/16 • -1 min

Take one old swimming pool, add common objects from 1940s, and fill it with an inert gas. Then cover it with a seven foot stone slab, and you’ve created “The Crypt of Civilization.”

With the discovery of King Tut’s tomb still fresh in the public’s mind and the rumblings of another world war beginning in Europe, Thornwell Jacobs thought up the idea of deliberately creating another Tut’s Tomb for future archaeologists, but instead of filling it with funerary articles, this one would be a representation of civilization at the time.

At Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia, an abandoned swimming pool was donated to the project. Its walls were reinforced with enamel plates, covered in tar, and objects were carefully placed inside. Some of the items include: the contents of a woman’s purse, voice recordings of major figures in the impending World War II, a Lone Ranger toy, a bottle of Budweiser and even a film copy of Gone with the Wind.

Books were important, but instead of taking up a lot of space with fragile paper, 800 works of historic value were recorded on microfilm. And of course there are film readers and projectors in there as well, so future archaeologists can actually read the Illiad or watch Gone with the Wind... providing the film survives. And yes, there’s an audio recording of the champion hog caller, which is a skill that may not be needed in the future.

How long are these things expected to survive? Jacobs calculated that the Egyptian calendar began 6,177 years before the idea of his crypt, so he figured it should be another 6,177 years before it should be opened. That date is in the year, 8,113 CE.

Concerned that treasure hunters might seek to enter the crypt before its time, Jacobs left a message at the door, which included the following lines:

This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. ...No jewels or precious metals are included. ...we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.

Jacobs, it seems, didn’t know about the value of collectibles.

It’s a safe bet that 6,000 years from now, the English language will not exist. Because we found the Rosetta Stone, we can read Egyptian Hieroglyphics. But without that find, we’d likely still be baffled by that elaborate pictographic language . What will future archaeologists use to decipher what we’ve written? And how can they appreciate that this preserved moment in time, was but a moment? Even 80 years later, we might struggle to recognize many of the objects inside. Technology is moving so quickly that any time capsule can’t possibly speak for a period of more than a few years. With the Egyptians, we had a written language to decipher. In the future, archaeologists will be looking at iPhones, where nothing is apparent unless it’s powered on. Will they be able to plug it in and read its contents? A Kindle can hold thousands of books, but will anyone in the future know that?

And more important, will they even care to? Or will curiosity about the past go the way of flivvers and buggy whips?

Some of the objects sealed inside the Crypt of Civilization.

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2-90. The Truth of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


12/17/15 • -1 min

No. Not the forgotten Nicholas Cage movie. I’m talking about Der Zauberlehrling, a poem by Goethe written in 1797. You may know it better as the bit from the original Fantasia (both, actually) that featured Mickey Mouse. That version was based on Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem, and featured the wizard Yen Sid (think about it) who, after performing alchemical miracles, retires for the evening, leaving his lab in the hands of his young apprentice. This apprentice apparently suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect. In no time, he conjures up way too many demonic assistants, who wreak havoc until the wizard returns and sets things straight. You should watch it if you haven’t seen it; it’s a triumph of mid-century animation.

What’s interesting is that there’s a lot of accuracy depicted in the piece. Ok, we’ll forgive the anthropomorphic rodent and broomsticks, but overall, what’s depicted there has roots in the history of alchemy.

Most of our “Al” words stem from Arabic, with “Al” simply meaning “The.” “Chemy” comes from the Arabic word for the “art of transmuting metals.” While we think of alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, it’s perhaps better to think of it as the forerunner of metallurgy. Chemistry branched off some time later.

In the ancient world, blending metals was hugely important. There’s a very good reason we had a “bronze” age. Learning to combine copper and arsenic into a new metal changed the world by allowing societies with that technology to make better tools, weapons and art. Alchemists were the people who learned how to make these metals, and through experimentation, improve them. Arsenic gave way to tin, bronze gave way to iron, which gave way to steel and so on.

It was difficult to learn the specifics and intricacies of proper metal production. It was also extremely valuable, and only the chosen few were allowed into the guilds and given access to the formulas and techniques. These few were apprentices, just like Mickey.

Mickey would have been given the drudge work, such as grinding materials or stoking the fire and keeping it hot with bellows. His pay would be learning valuable skills, which he would protect from outsiders just as his master did. This gave the entire practice an air of “secrecy,” which in some societies was seen as unholy.

Common symbols used in alchemy and then, in other crafts.

To the outsider, alchemy seemed like pure magic. Not only were common metals “changed” or “transmuted” into something more valuable, it was done while the practitioners combined precise and sometimes odd ingredients into crucibles, followed by specific chanting in strange clothing. Things glowed (molten metals) while producing strange smells and colorful smoke. Jars, vials and manuscripts marked with odd symbols filled the lab, and the whole scene may have seemed similar to religious rituals, which are often followed without explanation. This all contributes to the idea that somehow, alchemy and religion are related. Just think of turning water into wine and you can see the connection.The

In the animation, you see a man in a protective robe and cap standing over a cauldron. In reality, it probably would have been a crucible, and wearing protective clothing around molten metals is wise. As for the chanting, the mixing of metals requires precise timing. Reliable alarm clocks hadn’t been invented yet, so timing was done with hourglasses or, by the reciting of poems and songs. Each spoken bit of prose took a certain amount of time, so if you needed to wait one minute, you’d recite the poem that took one minute. It may have been in a classic language unfamiliar to the commoners of the time, so it sounded strange and mystical. The words weren’t doing anything other than tellin...

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2-89. Stop the Presses!

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


12/14/15 • -1 min

Over the last couple of days, my social media feeds have been filling up with short articles and witty headlines pointing at the people of Woodland, North Carolina, who are reportedly afraid that solar panels will drain the sun.

A pause.

One oft-cited source is the Independent UK, a fairly respectable paper who ran the story in their “Americas” section with the headline “US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ‘suck up all the energy from the sun’. As of this writing, the article has been shared more than 148,000 times. (In the time it took to create this article, that number jumped to 167,000.)

Most people who are aware of this story know one more fact from the article “A retired science teacher said she was concerned the panels would prevent plants in the area from growing.”

And with that, people are having a Ha Ha! at Woodland, North Carolina. Folks in the North point to the South and say “Look how dumb they are.” People in the world, point at the US and say “What a ridiculous country.”

Here’s a representative comment from the Independent UK article:

“This is wonderful! Another laugh out loud too crazy to make it up goofy story from Amurica . It’s like the light hearted story segment at the end of the news – problem is, these are the majority of the news stories coming out of this literally joke nation.” (sic)

And when you look at the facts with curiosity, you find that those blanket assessments were based on the statements of two people, who may be married.

Sharon Hill of Doubtful News looked into this story, using the same articles that people were sharing around, except that she actually read them. The short version is this: there was a town planning meeting where public comments were accepted. Two people made unscientific complaints against the project, and one of them is a retired science teacher. Other people complained that there were already solar plants in town, and that these new plants weren’t a good enough reason to change zoning on this one parcel of farm land.

When I shared the Doubtful News article this morning, I’m not sure everyone read it, as some of the replies continued to make fun of people who are afraid of solar power. Again, those “people” were two individuals who were possibly married and had a political agenda against solar panels. Their comments are silly, but silly comments from two unknown citizens aren’t newsworthy.

Sharon’s article gives a MUCH better picture of the story. And it’s actually not much of a story: people at a town meeting voted down a zoning change for a variety of reasons, and two people said some laughable things during the comments portion.

So was the Independent UK just lazy? No, they wanted to write an article making fun of Americans. And while there’s plenty to make fun of, this doesn’t really qualify. Thankfully, some local papers reported the story factually. Keith Hoggard in the Roanoke-Chownan News-Herald reported a very matter-of-fact account of the meeting. His headline: Woodland rejects solar farm.

That’s the truth, but that doesn’t sell papers or online ads.

If you’re a curious person, and you see something and wonder “How could that be?” It’s ALWAYS worth it to take a deeper look. We live in a world where content creators are clamoring for your attention, and they know that if they skew a story in certain ways, you’re more likely to click. But that skewing does curiosity a disservice when it tells a story that isn’t there. And it ignores some truly interesting parts of the story, like the fact that fire departments need special training to deal with solar panel fires. That’s a fact I didn’t know today, and it’s not a fact I would have learned from the Independent UK.

Kudos to Sharon Hill for trying to bring the truth to light. She’s performing a service for curious people, everywhere.

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2-98. Hydrogen is Not Fuel

Daily Curio – College of Curiosity


02/20/17 • -1 min

You may have heard that major auto manufacturers such as Toyota, Honda and GM are starting to make hydrogen fuel vehicles for production, and not just as experiments. This could spell the end of the hybrid fuel vehicles or it could be just another failed attempt to get us off of fossil fuels. But there’s something interesting about hydrogen as a fuel source: it’s not technically a fuel.

Hydrogen does not exist in nature in any appreciable quantities. We can’t mine it or harvest it: we have to create it. And the way we create it is through a process known as a electrolysis. No, this isn’t the zapping of unwanted body hair, instead it’s a very simple electrochemical reaction where DC current is applied to water, and the water breaks down into its constituent components, H2, diatomic hydrogen, and O, oxygen. This is something you can do at home, or may have done in school chemistry class. But there’s one thing that’s always true about this reaction: it takes more energy to create the hydrogen than the hydrogen will give off.

Fossil fuels are very dense energy stores, and they store energy that ultimately came from the sun, in some cases millions of years ago. And while it’s true that the sun gave more energy than we can get out of fossil fuels, WE, that is humans, don’t have to put very much energy into the equation in comparison to the energy we can extract. With hydrogen, we have to put in ALL the energy we can extract, and then some. Energy is always lost when hydrogen is created and used as fuel. Because of this, it’s best to think of hydrogen as an energy conveyance medium rather than a fuel. It’s a bit like a battery made of gas, in practical terms.

But that doesn’t mean hydrogen powered cars are a bad idea. Though it is extremely flammable, and thus dangerous (see airship Hindeburg), so is gasoline. And unlike gasoline, burning hydrogen whether directly or in a fuel cell, produces only one “waste” component, and that is – you can figure it out – water, or most likely water vapor. It would even be possible to store this water in the vehicle and use it for cooling or windshield washing. Hydrogen fuel cell have been used for decades on human-inhabited spacecraft for this reason.

There’s a lot of debate over the so-called “hydrogen economy” and we’ll leave that to experts.

You may or may not be driving a hydrogen powered car in a few years. But one things for certain: if hydrogen powered cars hit the mass market, it won’t be long for someone installs a device that shoots flames into the air. Count on it.

The hydrogen production cycle for power grid usage. (Photo by Delphi234)

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