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  1. 1 point
    Fact of the Day - SLEEP Did you know.... “That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all natural graces, sleep,” the British writer Aldous Huxley once observed. Huxley, who died in 1963, had no idea what temptations would get in the way of our sleep in the digital age. About 35% of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which isn’t enough. Often we either can’t get to sleep, or we think of sleep as wasted time. What actually goes on while we’re lying there? Why are we designed to do nothing for a third of our lifetimes? The answer is that our bodies are doing necessary work to keep us going when we’re awake. But scientists still have plenty to learn about how. 1. What Is REM Sleep, Really? In 1951, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Eugene Aserinsky, hooked up his 8-year-old son, Armond, to a device that tracked eye movements and brain waves. After Armond fell asleep, Aserinsky noticed from another room that the eye-tracking “pens” were swinging back and forth. Thinking Armond must be awake and looking around, Aserinsky went to investigate and found the boy sleeping deeply, his eyes closed. Aserinsky’s paper, published in 1953, was the first time REM sleep had been described; before that, scientists had believed that the sleeping brain was more or less turned off. We now know that not just humans but all land mammals and many birds undergo spells of REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, sleep. In those spells, the heart rate speeds up, breathing becomes irregular, and brain waves are more variable. Major muscles that we normally control can’t move. REM sleep first occurs about an hour to 90 minutes after falling asleep. As we age, we get less REM sleep, and its function is still not entirely clear. It’s thought to be key to memory formation, but people who take antidepressants spend far less time in REM sleep, and that doesn’t seem to consistently affect their memory. Also, it’s a myth that we only dream during REM sleep. Our most vivid dreams occur during REM sleep, but dreaming can occur at any stage of sleep. 2. What Is Sleep Paralysis? Sleep paralysis is an inability to move that happens sometimes for a short period as you’re falling asleep or waking up. The mind is awake, but the body lags behind for a minute or two. Although the feeling is bizarre and can be scary, sleep paralysis isn’t rare or dangerous. It occurs most often in young people, beginning in the teens, and in people with other sleep issues, including narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and nighttime leg cramps. It is also more common in people with post-traumatic stress or panic disorder. In those moments of paralysis, some people feel that they are falling, floating, or having an “out-of-body experience.” Others hallucinate a presence in the room, hovering nearby, and may conclude they have been abducted by aliens or visited by ghosts. According to one theory, people who feel outside of their own bodies or sense ghostly presences might be experiencing a glitch in their mirror neurons, the part of the brain that fires when we observe activity in other people. 3. It’s a Myth That Many Adults Only Need Five Hours of Sleep or Less We’ve all heard people boasting that they’re perfectly functional on five hours of sleep or less. Adults do vary in their sleep needs, but the number who are at their best with such little sleep is vanishingly small. Long-term sleep deprivation is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and traffic accidents. So why do people say they’re fine on a sleep-deprived schedule? A rush of cortisol, the hormone that revs us up to manage stress, can create the sensation of alertness. It’s an illusion; the sleep-deprived still do poorly on objective tests of their short-term memory and motor skills. For optimal functioning, seniors usually need seven to eight hours, and other adults need seven to nine. Teens need eight to 10 hours and younger children need even more. People who are getting enough sleep take at least 15 minutes to fall asleep when they get into bed. 4. But an All-Nighter Might Be Good for Your Mental Health Although losing an entire night’s sleep zombifies most of us, there are exceptions: Some people feel much happier or calmer after an all-nighter. That’s probably because the jolt is a reset for their body clocks, which were out of whack, an idea first described in an 1818 German psychiatric textbook. Depression or bipolar disorder almost always involves a disruption in sleep, which may be a symptom or a trigger. According to British psychiatrist David Veale, staying up for 36 hours relieves mood symptoms in about half of these patients. To maintain this state, he prescribes a sleep schedule that requires waking up in the wee hours for the next several days. After that, they may be able to stay in a more standard sleep schedule, supported by light therapy. Our body clocks are set by light: Veale prescribes exposure to intense white light in the morning for six months to a year. 5. Medieval Peasants Slept Better Than We Do Artificial light has made sleep far less pleasant. We get too little sunlight and too much light when we need darkness. In medieval Europe, there were no glowing smartphones or bedside lamps. At sundown, families blew out a candle and retreated to soft heaps of rags in one room. After about four hours of sleep, at midnight, adults awoke for a blissful hour or two of prayer, sex, reading, writing, or chatting, before they dozed off and awoke at dawn. That’s apparently the natural rhythm. In an experiment in the 1990s, in which participants lived away from artificial light, after three weeks they gradually drifted into the pre-artificial light pattern of waking in the middle of the night. Tests of their blood in the interlude showed that even without sex, they were awash in prolactin, a hormone released after orgasm that gives us the “afterglow.” Eight hours seems to be the key, but ideally, we’d all have a sweet interlude. Just don’t turn on your lights or use your laptop or phone. Source: Fascinating Facts (And Myths) About Sleep
  2. 1 point
    What's the Word: DRUTHERS pronunciation: [DRUH-therz] Part of speech: noun Origin: U.S. English, 19th century Meaning: 1. (Usually “one's druthers”) A person's preference in a matter. Example: "I wish my neighbors would exert their druthers to city council about the speed of traffic on our street." "Raphael would have been an architect if he’d had his druthers, but he ended up a baker." About Druthers “Druthers” is formed in English out of the expression “I’d rather.” Did you Know? One of the earliest instances of the word “druther” is in Mark Twain’s 1876 novel “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” in which a character says “I druther” in place of “I’d rather.” The word made other appearances in the early 19th century, suggesting it was already widely used by that time. The term is strongly associated with the South, where the expression “drather” was also common in the 19th century. Over time, “druthers” became a noun on its own.
  3. 1 point
    Fact of the Day - LIGHTHOUSES Did you know.... For millennia, lighthouses have guided wayward ships away from hazardous waters, providing safety during powerful storms. Lighthouses still help seafarers today, though modern sailors have many more navigational tools at their disposal, from GPS to detailed nautical charts, buoys, and radar beacons. These days, many lighthouses have become romantic relics of another era, one in which people set sail with only the power of the wind and looked toward lighthouses to guide them back home. These seven illuminating facts about lighthouses include just a few reasons why these structures continue to fascinate us and remain popular tourist destinations today. 1. Antiquity’s Most Famous Lighthouse Is One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was built during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt, around 280 BCE. For centuries, it was one of the tallest structures in the world, with reports estimating that it reached about 350 feet high. The lighthouse stood on the island of Pharos in the harbor of Alexandria, named after Alexander the Great and the capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom (which lasted from 305 BCE to 30 BCE). Sadly, frequent earthquakes in the Mediterranean region badly damaged the lighthouse, and it was completely destroyed by the 14th century. However, the lighthouse served as an archetype from which all other lighthouses derived, and its importance is embedded in many Romance languages — for instance, the word “pharos” is sometimes used in English to mean “lighthouse.” In 1994 French archaeologists discovered remains of the famous lighthouse on the seabed, and UNESCO is working to declare the area a submerged World Heritage Site. 2. The U.S. Has More Lighthouses Than Any Other Country The United States’ first lighthouse was built in 1716 on Little Brewster Island near Boston, Massachusetts. Lighthouses were so important to early America that in 1789 the first U.S. Congress passed the Lighthouse Act, which created the United States Lighthouse Establishment under the Department of the Treasury. Today, the U.S. is home to over 700 lighthouses — more than any other country in the world. However, the state with the most lighthouses isn’t located on the coast of the continental U.S. Michigan — surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes — is home to 130 lighthouses, including the remote lighthouse on Stannard Rock, nicknamed “the loneliest place in North America.” 3. The Romans Built the Oldest Surviving Lighthouse In the first century CE, the ancient Romans built the Farum Brigantium, known today as the Tower of Hercules — the world’s oldest lighthouse that is still functional. The lighthouse continues to guide and signal sailors from La Coruña harbor in northwestern Spain. An 18th-century restoration of the tower thankfully preserved the original core of the structure while improving its functionality. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tower of Hercules is the only Greco-Roman lighthouse from antiquity that has retained such a high level of structural integrity, and it continues to shine its light across the Atlantic to this day. 4. “Lightships” Once Sailed the Seas Although lighthouses were originally designed as immovable land structures, in 1731 English inventor Robert Hamblin designed the first modern lightship and moored it at the Nore sandbank at the mouth of the Thames River. As its name suggests, the ship had a lighted beacon and was used to provide safe navigation in areas where building a land-based lighthouse was impractical. The U.S. had its own lightship service, which began in 1820 and lasted 165 years. The country’s last lightship, the Nantucket, retired in 1985 after being replaced by more modern technology such as automated buoys. Today, the United States lightship Nantucket (LV-112) is registered as a National Historic Landmark. 5. An 1819 Invention Gave Lighthouses a Major Upgrade That Still Exists Today In the early 19th century, lighthouses weren’t particularly good at steering ships away from land, as the most common lenses used in lighthouses at the time, known as Lewis lamps, were not nearly powerful enough. Enter French inventor Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who in 1821 introduced his eponymous lens. The Fresnel lens used a series of prisms to focus all the light from a lamp in one direction and magnify it into a much more powerful beam. Soon, Fresnel lenses were installed in lighthouses all over the world. Not only did they offer vastly improved functionality, they were also stunningly beautiful. The Fresnel lens was so revolutionary that the technique is still used today in flood lights and professional lighting equipment. 6. The U.S. and Soviet Union Experimented With Nuclear-Powered Lighthouses In 1964, the Baltimore Harbor Light, which sits at the mouth of the Magothy River, became the first — and last — nuclear-powered lighthouse ever built by the United States. Originally constructed in 1908, the Baltimore Harbor Light operated as a far more typical lighthouse for 56 years, until it became the subject of a Coast Guard experiment. The U.S government installed a 4,600-pound atomic fuel cell generator, and the lighthouse ran on nuclear power for a year before the project was dismantled (thankfully with no signs of nuclear contamination). Although the U.S.’s experiment with nuclear lighthouses was short-lived, the Soviet Union embraced them more enthusiastically, building 132 nuclear-powered lighthouses along the notoriously inhospitable Northeast Passage, a shipping route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along Russia’s Arctic coast. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia abandoned the upkeep of these lighthouses. But, being nuclear-powered, they kept shining their light for years afterward. 7. A Remote Scottish Lighthouse Was the Sight of an Enduring Mystery The Flannan Isles Lighthouse is located on the remote, uninhabited island of Eilean Mòr in northern Scotland. From the outside, the lighthouse is remarkably similar to many other lighthouse structures built around the turn of the 20th century — so you might not guess that it was the setting of a notorious unsolved disappearance that inspired the 2018 film The Vanishing starring Gerard Butler. On December 15, 1900, the transatlantic steamer Archtor noticed the lighthouse wasn’t lit while traveling to the port town of Leith. A team from the local lighthouse board visited the island a few days later and discovered no sign of the three lighthouse keepers who were supposed to be on duty. The table was set for dinner, and an oilskin (a type of raincoat) was still on its hook. A preliminary investigation concluded that two of the lighthouse keepers likely traveled to the west platform to secure a supply box during a storm and accidentally tumbled into the sea. When the last keeper went to investigate (without his oilskin), he likely met a similar fate. Rumors on the mainland posited more fanciful explanations, including mythical sea serpents or even murder. While those explanations have been largely dismissed, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure what happened at Flannan Isles Lighthouse. Source: Illuminating Facts About Lighthouses
  4. 1 point
    What's the Word: CIRCUMSTELLAR pronunciation: [sir-kəm-STELL-ər] Part of speech: adjective Origin: English, 20th century Meaning: 1. That surrounds, or revolves around a star. Example: "In astronomy, the area around a star that can support liquid — and therefore life — is called the circumstellar habitable zone." "The sun is a yellow dwarf star, and the Earth is in circumstellar orbit around it." About Circumstellar “Circumstellar” was formed in English in the 20th century by combining the prefix “circum-,” meaning “around,” and “stellar,” meaning “related to stars.” Did you Know? Circumstellar disks are pancake-shaped rings of dust, gas, asteroids, and other matter that rotate around stars. These disks are created as stars are formed, and after a star appears, the circumstellar disk around it contains dust and gas the star can absorb and build upon as it grows. Though circumstellar disks surround stars, the materials they contain are distinctive. The matter floating in circumstellar disks around younger stars offers building blocks for future potential planets.
  5. 1 point
    Fact of the Day - MEMORABLE SPEECHES Did you know... Many famous moments in history — whether they involve inspiring troops before a battle or inspiring a nation against injustice — involve equally inspiring speeches. Spoken by Presidents, activists, wartime leaders, and abolitionists, these famous speeches live on decades after they were delivered. Here are seven amazing facts about them that will make them seem even more remarkable. 1. The Gettysburg Address Is Only Two Minutes Long Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address looms large in American history, but the speech itself is very short. On November 19, 1863, only four and a half months removed from the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, a crowd gathered to hear the President’s remarks at the official dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery (now Gettysburg National Cemetery). The speaker before Lincoln, a famous orator named Edward Everett, had delivered a two-hour-long speech, which means the crowd might have been ready for something shorter. At only 272 words (about two minutes long when spoken), Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address masterfully encapsulates the unimaginable anguish of a nation at war with itself, but also that same nation’s hope to persevere through the bloodshed. After the speech, Everett admitted to Lincoln, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” 2. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Refrain Was Improvised Around 4 a.m. on August 28, 1963, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. finished the final draft of his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. There’s just one problem with that title: Those words appeared nowhere in his prepared remarks. Hours later, King stood before the Lincoln Memorial — a century removed from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — and addressed a crowd of more than 200,000 people. In previous speeches from Birmingham, Alabama, to Detroit, Michigan, King had evoked the imagery of a dream of racial equality, but had no intention of revisiting that dream on that hot day in August. That is, until Mahalia Jackson, one of the world’s greatest gospel singers, who had performed earlier in the day, urged him on, yelling from offstage: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Then, according to one MLK speechwriter, King pushed aside his prepared text, grabbed the podium, and launched into those famous words that echo through history. 3. FDR’s “Fear Itself” Line Was Likely Inspired by Henry David Thoreau On March 4, 1933, with the country in the grips of the Great Depression, newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address, uttering the famous phrase that served as a bulwark against the dark days ahead: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Although the words perfectly fit the times, they were likely first written more than 80 years before by transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau. In a journal entry dated September 7, 1851, Thoreau wrote: “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” Historians haven’t made a direct connection between Thoreau and Roosevelt’s famous line, but when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was asked about the phrase’s possible origin, she guessed he had discovered it in a collection of Thoreau’s writings that he had with him in Washington. 4. Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” Speech Was Not Broadcast The dramatic conclusion to the 2017 Oscar-winning war drama Darkest Hour, a film that follows Winston Churchill as Britain descends into World War II, places the prime minister’s famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech front and center. Although it was a rallying cry for members of the U.K. Parliament to continue the fight, the British public didn’t hear Churchill’s stirring words, originally delivered on June 4, 1940, until years after the war. Despite not being broadcast at the time, the speech was well-received, with one member of Parliament writing in a letter that it was “the finest speech that I have ever heard.” Today Churchill’s words encapsulate Britain's dogged determination in the face of overwhelming odds as well as Churchill’s firm belief that the U.S. needed to join the Allied cause. 5. Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” Line Was Almost Cut From the Speech Arguably the most famous words uttered during the four decades of the Cold War came on June 12, 1987. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin — a city still divided by the 27-mile-long Berlin Wall — President Ronald Reagan posed a challenge to the leader of the Soviet Union: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” However, those words were almost never said. Weeks earlier, Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson flew to Berlin to interview locals about the Berlin Wall. With strong support for its removal, Robinson was determined to mention the wall’s destruction in the speech. Many officials and aides fought against the line, however, thinking it “unpresidential.” The line remained — the wall, of course, did not. 6. JFK Prefaced His “We Choose to Go to the Moon” Line With a Football Jok One of John F. Kennedy’s most famous speeches arrived on September 12, 1962, at Rice University Stadium in Houston, Texas. With the famous phrase “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” Kennedy’s words committed the U.S. to besting the Soviet Union in the ongoing space race. But an often overlooked legacy of Kennedy’s speech comes directly before that famous line. Comparing the moon mission to other human feats, Kennedy questioned why we climb Everest, fly across the Atlantic, and “why does Rice play Texas?” The joke, added by the President himself, got a rise out of the audience at the time, but according to ESPN, those five words added some serious fuel to the long-standing football rivalry. 7. Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” Speech Likely Didn’t Contain That Phras On May 29, 1851, Sojourner Truth — a former enslaved woman, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist — delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. In the speech, Truth powerfully advocated for the right of Black women to be involved in the fight of American women for equality. Although history knows Truth delivered a powerful oration at the convention, the only surviving versions of the speech come from secondhand accounts. The oldest account of the speech, transcribed weeks later by a journalist who attended the convention, makes no mention of the famous “Ain’t I a Woman” line, whereas a later 1863 version repeats the phrase frequently. Whether Truth uttered the words or not, the message is one that still resonates today. Source: Amazing Facts About 7 of the Most Memorable Speeches in History
  6. 1 point
    What's the Word: FLOCCULENT pronunciation: [FLAHK-yə-lənt] Part of speech: adjective Origin: Latin, early 19th century Meaning: 1. Having or resembling tufts of wool. 2. Having a loosely clumped texture. Example: "The flocculent sheep were ready for their spring shearing." "Your potting soil should be slightly damp and flocculent." About Flocculent If the word flocculent makes you think of a flock of sheep, well, you'd be correct. In Latin, "floccus" means tuft of wool, so the adjective flocculent can apply to the woolly sheep themselves, or anything with a similarly tufty texture. Did you Know? The adjective flocculent describes a tufty texture, but there's also a noun, flocculation. This chemical process occurs when clumps of a substance start to form. It's important for water treatment processes and even beer brewing. Yeast flocculation is a vital step in brewing your favorite IPA.
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