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The Curious Case of the Law of the Tongue

old-tom-and-whalersSporting the third deepest natural harbor in the southern hemisphere and a rich habitat, the waters around Eden, Australia attract a variety of wildlife, including baleen whales and, at least in the fall and winter, orcas.

At some point in the history of the indigenous Yuin people, they and the killer whales seemingly entered into a tacit sort of unspoken agreement, which was called by later whalers the Law of the Tongue.

While most of the contemporary accounts of this peculiar “contract” have been lost, including very unfortunately a 1910 film by C.B. Jenkins and C.E. Wellings that visually recorded the behavior, enough remain, along with some photographic evidence, to give us a general idea of how humans and a particular pod of orcas worked together to bring down baleen whales.

While little is known of when exactly this “agreement,” of sorts, came about, and how it may have differed for the Yuin people, after European hunters arrived in the mid-19th century, the provisions of the “contract” became clear – the killer whales would herd in and trap the baleen whales in Twofold Bay and then the hunters would harpoon the whales. In return for their help, the humans would share certain parts of the bounty with the orcas.

How was this possible? Extremely intelligent, creative and social animals, killer whales often live in large, matriarchal, multi-generational pods. Importantly to the subject of this article, they also teach their offspring their sometimes incredibly clever hunting methods, passing the knowledge on from one generation to the next. Presumably at some point in this pod’s history, humans killing baleen whales near the harbor resulted in the orcas coming in for scraps; perhaps ultimately realizing that if they helped the humans out in their hunting, there would be more scraps, the orcas began driving the whales close to shore.

It is often stated that even as late as 1860, when Alexander Davidson and his family established a whaling station in Eden, Europeans still had not realized the orcas’ value, and that it was Davidson who learned what the orcas were doing when he hired Yuin fishermen who explained it to him. However, according to an account written in Sir Oswald Brierly’s diary some two decades earlier while he was managing a whaling operation in the area, he, at least, was well aware of the orcas’ propensity to drive the baleen whales in. He noted that while some whalers would fight the orcas away after killing a whale, others let them have their spoils and soon “aquire[d] preferential treatment” from the pod.

After the little whaling empire of Scotsman Benjamin Boyd went under and he left the region, the Davidson family’s whaling business began to flourish thanks to the orcas. Beyond the Davidsons treating the orcas fairly, there are reports that the killer whales weren’t too keen on helping many other whalers still in the area owing to their eventual use of cannon harpoons and other such explosive weapons. In contrast, the Davidson’s used hand thrown harpoons and took to revering the orcas as the natives did, through their actions supposedly earning the orcas’ trust.

Old Tom attempting to block a humpback whale from escaping the whalers

Old Tom attempting to block a humpback whale from escaping the whalers

Whatever the case, eventually, the system was refined, making the Davidson’s lives relatively easy. At the mouth of Eden’s Twofold Bay, the orca pod, like sheep dogs, would herd any baleen whales they encountered closer to the shore. After the whale was trapped in the harbor by the pod, a large male, for many years “Old Tom”, would break off and go present himself at the Davidson whaling station by spectacularly breaching the surface and thrashing his tale until he got the fishermen’s attention- letting the whaler know there was now a baleen in the harbor that needed killing.

Beyond keeping the baleen in the harbor and close to the surface, there is one contemporary journal entry, whether accurate or not isn’t known, describing the orcas actually dragging Davidson’s boat towards their prey before competing whalers could get there:

Davidson threw a [anchor rope] over the bow of his boat. It was immediately grasped by two killers. They took the rope tandem fashion with a half hitch around the shoulder and started for the quarry, overtaking the opposition…

calves

A 1908 picture of a Humpback with its lips and tongue eaten off by the orcas.

As for what specifically the orcas got out of all their efforts, while the carcass of the baleen remained in the water secured to the boat, the orcas would be given time to chow down on the huge and meaty whale’s tongue and lips and then leave the rest of the beast, including the valued bones, more central meat, and blubber, for the whalers.

At this point you might be wondering why an apex predator like the killer whale wouldn’t just kill the baleen’s themselves and take all the spoils? While a sufficient number of orcas can indeed kill such significantly larger prey, the methods employed to do it are arduous. A large orca male can reach 32 feet in length and weigh 9 tons, while a female can grow to 23 feet and weigh 4 tons. While that’s massive by most sea-life standards, by comparison a humpback whale can grow to upwards of 50 feet in length and weigh up to 40 tons. Other baleen whales, like the blue whale, can grow up to 120 feet and weigh up to 200 tons!

To kill such behemoths, an orca pod must be of sufficient size and have all hands on deck rigorously working in unison for a lengthy period of time. As for the general method of execution, trapping the whale between them, some work to deny it access to the surface so that it can’t breathe (by literally keeping on top of it), while others bite and tear at its body. Ultimately between the injuries and its strenuous activity while it tries to escape the orca balling, it will weaken and either die from ceasing to be able to defend itself, with its injuries then rapidly mounting, or at some point just drown, even if it wasn’t otherwise seriously injured.

Given the time and amount of effort required, it is very rare for orcas to kill an adult baleen whale (although calves can often be prey, if it one can be separated from its own group). However, if all the orcas have to do is herd the whale into a particular place and potentially drive it to the surface, the energy expenditure is much less, making the trade-off for only getting access to the whale’s massive tongue and portions of the face after its death worth it.

In any event, by the early 20th century the most famous orca in the pod was its herald, the aforementioned “Old Tom,” who would often be the one to notify the whalers of a catch. And while most inhabitants incorrectly thought Old Tom was the leader of the group, as orcas are generally matriarchal, the real leader is thought today to have been the female called Stranger. Old Tom was simply better known, not just because he was often the herald, but also because of his endearing antics.

For instance, according to Eden fisherman Jackie Warren, Tom would sometimes grab the anchor line for Warren’s boat and tow the boat around randomly for fun.  In another account, Tom supposedly liked to place his body on the rope between the dead baleen and the boat so that the boat would tow him in too, to save himself the effort of swimming along with it.

More helpfully, there are a few accounts of Tom being observed to swim around whalers who’d fallen into the water during a hunt. It was speculated by the whalers that Tom was protecting the human in these instances. This behavior was widely panned at the time in news articles as made up by the whalers, as it was thought that killer whales would simply eat humans if they fell in the water. But today most think the whalers were probably telling the truth as it’s exceptionally rare for killer whales to attack humans and there has never been a single known case of a wild orca killing a human. (There have been cases of captive orcas doing so.) For his efforts, Tom would be described in the journals of the Davidsons as “part of the family,” with Fearless George Davidson himself known to have taken a swim with Old Tom.

According to reports, whether accurate or not isn’t clear, the beginning of the end of this cooperative hunting happened on a fall day in 1923. After Old Tom had corralled a small whale toward George Davidson, fearing a storm that was brewing, George decided to head straight back into shore without waiting to share the bounty with Tom. Old Tom disagreed and the orca and the motorized boat engaged in a tug-of-war, ending when Tom lost a number of teeth and released the rope. The daughter of John Logan, Margaret Brooks, who accompanied her father and Davidson on the boat for this occurrence, stated that upon seeing the damage done to Old Tom’s teeth, Davidson stated “Oh God, what have I done?”

Orca teeth do not grow back, and the holes left behind sometimes become infected. On top of that, as he was missing so many teeth at this point, it is speculated that hunting became more difficult for Tom, and it is often claimed in modern accounts that Tom died shortly thereafter of starvation.

Old Tom's body found in the harbor

Old Tom’s body found in the harbor on September of 1930

However, while that is the general story told of the end of Old Tom today, it should be noted that he didn’t “die shortly after.” Old Tom actually lived another seven years, dying in September of 1930 of unknown causes.

As to Tom’s teeth, we do know that he was missing several upon his death, but given the number of years he lived after the alleged tug of war match, it’s safe to say he didn’t die as a result of it. It may well be that Old Tom simply died of old age related issues, as contemporary reports describe him as an elderly looking orca towards his end. Later examination of his remains seemed to indicate he was only in his mid-30s, but the method that was used in this case is known to be unreliable. (For reference, orcas can live upwards of 100 years in the wild, though more typically between 30-50 years; in captivity they only live about 20 years or so). And for whatever it’s worth, at least one contemporary account claims Old Tom had been “seen at Twofold Bay for more than fifty years…” prior to his death.

Whatever the case, after Tom’s death, the pod supposedly never returned to Twofold Bay, though it isn’t clear whether Tom’s death had anything to do with this change of behavior.  Even by 1923, the orca pod to which Old Tom belonged seems to have shrunk dramatically in size, or at least only a few of the pod at this stage were seen in the harbor anymore. It was speculated that Norwegian whalers in the area had killed most of them over time, but whether this is true or not isn’t known.

By 1930, whether because the remaining members of the pod decided to stop visiting the harbor or whalers simply wiped them out, with no more of the pod around to drive whales in, Tom’s death more or less marked the end of the Davidsons being able to hunt whales in Twofold Bay via small row boats.

Gone but not forgotten, Old Tom’s body washed up on Eden’s shore, at which point locals saved his bones and built the Eden Killer Whale Museum to house them. If you’re in the area, you can still go see his remains today.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • “Killer Whales” are actually dolphins.  In fact, they are the largest member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae. Now, strictly speaking, whales are marine animals of the order of Cetacea and occasionally Cetacea is used to refer to not just whales, but also porpoises and dolphins. However, it generally excludes these latter marine animals, which belong to the sub-order Odontoceti.  So, depending on who you talk to, dolphins, including the orca, may be considered whales and dolphins or may be considered a separate marine animal from other whales. But in either case, orcas are one of the 35 species in the oceanic dolphin family, with its closest relative being the Irrawaddy dolphin.
  • Pertinent to this fact and the topic at hand, the ancient Romans used dolphins to help them fish. The dolphins were trained to drive fish towards fishermen. Once a large enough group of fish was near the fisherman, the dolphins would signal the fishermen to cast their nets.  Fisherman in Santa Catarina, Brazil, still train dolphins to do this.
  • Orcas get their ferocious reputation primarily due to the fact that they’ll eat just about anything handy, including sharks, whales, birds, seals, squid, fish, other dolphins, etc; they will also occasionally temporarily beach themselves in order to grab a snack off the shore or ice. Interestingly, for whatever reason wild orcas don’t seem interested in eating humans, even when given the chance.
  • The genus name “Orcinus” means “of or belonging to the kingdom of the dead”; the orcas scientific name “Orcinus orca” comes from the Roman god of death and the underworld, orcus.
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Inventing E-Books

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

sigma-VDid you know that although tin cans were invented in the 1810, the can opener wasn’t invented until 1855? If you’re reading this on an iPad or a Kindle, you may be surprised to learn that e-books have a similar history—they predate e-book readers by more than 30 years.

CHAPTER ONE

Michael Hart was a college freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the summer of 1971. He was a lifelong tinkerer, the kind of person who even as a seven-year-old had been skilled enough to take apart his parents’ TVs and radios to see how they worked…and then put them back together again.

That summer, two college friends managed to get him an account on a machine that was more complicated than anything he’d ever tinkered with before: a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer, part of the university’s Materials Research Lab. It was unlike most computers of the era in that instead of being an island unto itself, it was linked to about 100 other university and military computers around the country. They were part of a network called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the predecessor of the Internet.

SOMETHING SPECIAL

Hart got his first chance to try the mainframe on July 4 of that year. Most users spent their computer time writing programs, but Hart was so awestruck by the opportunity that for once he decided not to tinker. Reason: He figured any program he wrote would soon be obsolete, and he wanted to create something more enduring. But what?

He got his answer when he reached into his backpack for something to eat. Beside the snacks, inside his bag was a commemorative copy of the Declaration of Independence, something his supermarket was giving away as a Fourth of July promotion. “I had a ‘lightbulb moment,’ ” he recounted in a 2002 interview. “I thought for a while to see if I could figure out anything I could do with the computer that would be more important than typing in the Declaration of Independence, something that would still be there 100 years later—but I couldn’t come up with anything.” So he typed the entire document, all 1,458 words of it, into the mainframe by hand.

STONE AGE

For anyone who wasn’t a computer programmer in the early 1970s, it might be difficult to understand just how primitive even state-of-the-art supercomputers were in those days. The Xerox Sigma V mainframe cost $300,000 (for that you got a 3 megabyte hard drive) and filled an entire room. But it didn’t have a computer screen or a keyboard. Hart had to do his typing on another machine—called a teletype—which was developed to send typewritten messages across telegraph lines, so that telegraph operators wouldn’t have to learn Morse code. The teletype machine converted the text into computer code by punching holes into a paper ribbon, which Hart then fed into the mainframe. AND BECAUSE COMPUTERS IN THOSE DAYS WEREN’T SOPHISTICATED ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE LOWERCASE LETTERS, HART HAD TO TYPE THE ENTIRE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE IN UPPERCASE LETTERS.

When he was finished, the document was 5 kilobytes big (about a sixth the size of a one-page blank document created in Microsoft Word today). He planned to send a copy to every user in the network, but a colleague warned him that sending a document that large would crash the entire ARPANET. So Hart posted a notice letting the other users know where his electronic version of the Declaration of Independence (or “e-book,” as he called it) was stored in the system, in case anyone wanted to access it. Six users did.

BOOKMAKER

It had taken quite a bit of work to type the Declaration of Independence into the mainframe, but once the work was done, Hart figured that his e-book version would remain available for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come. It was entered using a simple code called ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), which could be understood by more than 99 percent of all computers, even in 1971. Nearly half a century later, ASCII files can still be read by more than 99 percent of all computers, making ASCII more compatible than any other coding system ever created. Far from being obsolete, Hart’s original e-book of the Declaration of Independence is as readable by modern computers as it was by old computers, THOUGH IT HAS SINCE BEEN RETYPED IN UPPER- AND LOWERCASE LETTERS TO MAKE IT EASIER TO READ.

Why stop with just one e-book? In 1972, Hart typed up an e-book version of the Bill of Rights. For 1973, he typed the rest of the U.S. Constitution. In 1974, he began working on the various books of the King James Bible, each of which was small enough to fit on a standard floppy disk. Hart stuck to texts that were of historical interest and small enough to fit on a single floppy disk, not only because they were easier to type, but also because in those days one of the only ways to transfer files between computer users was by sending floppy disks through the mail. Hart’s e-books became documents in what he named “Project Gutenberg,” after Johannes Gutenberg, the German printer who invented the first practical movable-type printing press in the 1450s. Gutenberg’s press had sparked a revolution in learning by lowering the cost of books to a level that ordinary people could afford. Hart hoped to accomplish a similar task with Project Gutenberg. He wanted people to be able to obtain important books for little or no cost at all.

SLOW GOING

That was how Project Gutenberg progressed for nearly 20 years: Michael Hart sitting alone at a keyboard, manually entering the text of one e-book after another in his spare time. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address was e-book #3, the Gettysburg address was #4. It took him until 1989 to enter all the books of the King James Bible (which together made up e-book #10, released in August of that year).

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was #11. Released in January 1991, it was Project Gutenberg’s most popular e-book because it was an actual work of literature that people wanted to read, not just an important historical document. The popularity of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Hart later said, caused “the light to go on in my head,” and he started to include more works of literature in his Project Gutenberg selections. All of the titles he selected had one thing in common: they were all in the public domain, which meant that they were old enough that their copyrights had expired. Had they not been in the public domain, it would have been illegal for Hart to make and distribute copies without permission from the authors or their publishers.

Given the slow pace of progress after 18 years of effort, hardly anyone other than Hart himself could have imagined that his project would ever amount to much. One person who did come to believe in the project was Father David Turner, the chaplain at the University of Illinois. Turner, a Benedictine monk, talked Illinois Benedictine College into appointing Hart to the position of adjunct professor at the college and paying him a $1,000-a-month stipend for several years. That gave Hart money that he could use on the project, and professional clout that helped him raise additional funds from other donors. The University of Illinois also supplied him with a free Internet account.

SPEEDING UP

Technological developments in the late 1980s also helped to pick up the pace. Improvements in document scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) software made it possible to scan the books into computers page by page, instead of having to type the words manually. And the growing popularity of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s made it possible for Hart to recruit volunteers in growing numbers. It had taken him 18 years to create Project Gutenberg’s first ten e-books himself, but by 1991 he was able to set a goal of adding one new e-book to the collection every month, and to double the rate of production every year for the next several years. He was able to achieve both goals. Project Gutenberg added books at a rate of two books per month in 1992, four per month in 1993, and eight per month in 1994. That year, Project Gutenberg became self-funding for the first time, collecting enough money in donations to cover all of its operating costs. By then, Hart estimated, he had spent about $100,000 of his own money on the project.

Project Gutenberg doubled its rate of production to 16 books per month in 1995, then to 32 books per month—more than one book a day—in 1996. It maintained that pace for the rest of the decade; by December 2000, Hart’s army of volunteers had grown Project Gutenberg’s e-book collection to more than 3,000 titles.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

The year 2000 marked another development—one that helped speed Project Gutenberg’s growth even more. Late that year, a fan named Charles Franks launched a website called Distributed Proofreaders. That website allowed multiple visitors to proofread scanned e-book pages at the same time, reducing the amount of time it took to prepare a draft for final publication. Result: production of e-books soared, and by 2004 Project Gutenberg was adding 338 titles a month, or more than ten new titles every day. And the majority of these titles were produced with the assistance of the volunteers on the Distributed Proofreaders website.

One of Michael Hart’s goals for Project Gutenberg was that it be able to continue to operate after he was no longer around to run it. He died from a heart attack in September 2011 at the age of 64. But just as he’d hoped, Project Gutenberg is still chugging along: Today more than 50,000 e-books are available for anyone to download, free of charge, including titles in all the major European languages as well as Chinese, Sanskrit, ancient Hebrew, Maori, and even Esperanto. For nearly two decades, Project Gutenberg was little more than one man’s pipe dream, but today it’s hard to imagine the Internet without it. As of 2015, Project Gutenberg’s mission is to produce ten million e-books in each of 100 different languages—a billion e-books in all. Given the success they’ve already had, it’s hard to imagine they won’t eventually get there, perhaps a lot sooner than anyone thinks.

This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s OLD FAITHFUL 30th Anniversary Bathroom Reader. Uncle John and the Bathroom Readers’ Institute! Every year for the past three decades, Uncle John and his team of tireless researchers have delivered an epic tome packed with thousands of fascinating factoids. And now this extra-special 30th anniversary edition has everything you’ve come to expect from the BRI, and more! It’s stuffed with 512 pages of all-new articles sure to please everyone, from our longtime readers to newbies alike. You’ll get the scoop on the latest “scientific” studies, weird world news, surprising history, and obscure facts.

Since 1987, the Bathroom Readers’ Institute has led the movement to stand up for those who sit down and read in the bathroom (and everywhere else for that matter). With more than 15 million books in print, the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series is the longest-running, most popular series of its kind in the world.

If you like Today I Found Out, I guarantee you’ll love the Bathroom Reader Institute’s books, so check them out!

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Netflix Announces ‘A Little Help with Carol Burnett’ Release Date, Guest List

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Who Really Invented Baseball?

General Abner Doubleday and His Wife

The myth that baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday has been widely spread since 1907 and even today is sometimes stated by such people as former Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig. For instance, in 2010 he stated: “As a student of history, I know there is a great debate whether Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright really founded the game of Baseball. From all of the historians which I have spoken with, I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball’. I know there are some historians who would dispute this though.” In truth, all historians who have studied the matter would dispute this.

Why? The fact of the matter is there is no record- not one- of Civil War General Abner Doubleday having anything to do with baseball. This includes Doubleday himself never mentioning it in the many letters and journals he wrote in his lifetime. Somewhat humorously, the only real reference to Doubleday concerning sports appeared in an obituary written about him in 1893, which stated he was a man “who did not care for outdoor sports”.

So what happened in 1907 to make people start thinking Abner Doubleday invented baseball?  In 1905, Albert Spalding put together a panel called The Mills Commission to investigate the origin of baseball.  This was in response to an ongoing argument he’d been having with Henry Chadwick about the origin of baseball.  Chadwick claimed, correctly, that baseball evolved from a variety of stick ball games from Europe, primarily the game of “rounders” Chadwick had played as a boy in England.  Spalding claimed baseball was invented free of such influences and was a wholly American-made sport.

The panel Spalding put together did not include any historians, but rather was comprised of former National League presidents A. G. Mills, Nick Young, and Morgan Bulkeley; former Washington club president Arthur Gorman; two former players and now sporting goods businessman George Wright and Alfred Reach; and finally the Amateur Athletic Union president James E. Sullivan.

Initially this group had very little luck in discovering a definitive origin of baseball, though by all accounts they didn’t try very hard to actually do any research.  They seemed to simply rely on placing advertisements, requesting that if anyone knew anything about the origin of baseball, they should respond.

Finally, in July of 1907, Spalding sent a letter to the Commission outlining an account of the origin of baseball he’d learned from 71 year old Abner Graves, a mining engineer, who incidentally shortly after giving this account wound up in an insane asylum, where he spent the rest of his life.  According to Spalding, who embellished Graves’ statement, on a fateful day in 1839, the man who would later become a Civil War hero, supposedly interrupted a game of marbles and taught a group of boys to play a sport he’d just invented.  Based solely on this story and without bothering to check into its accuracy, The Mills Commission decided that baseball had been invented by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.

It should be noted, though, that Graves’ letter did not set a definitive date.  He seemed to think this event happened sometime between 1839 to 1841; it was the Commission that settled on 1839, at which point Graves would have been five years old.  Further, contrary to what you’ll often read, Graves initially didn’t claim to have been there when the game was invented (though he later changed his tune and said he played in that game).  He initially just said “I do not know, nor is it possible to know, on what spot the first games was played according to Doubleday’s plan.”

He then recounted the rules Doubleday supposedly laid down which were actually more or less just rules for a version of Town Ball.  Town Ball was a game commonly played by school boys throughout the U.S. with the exact rules varying based on where you played it.  It, in turn, evolved from the English game “rounders”.  Spalding and the Commission embellished Graves’ story to make it sound more definitive.

It is possible Abner Doubleday really did play a game of Town Ball in the late 1830s in Cooperstown, as this was a common game and there would have been nothing unique about a young man playing a version of it, but he certainly didn’t do it in 1839.  Abner Doubleday wasn’t in Cooperstown in 1839, he was at West Point at the time, which is about 150 miles away and West Point has no records of him taking leave, including him remaining at the school throughout that summer.  Given Abner Graves was four years old when Doubleday left Cooperstown for West Point, it’s not clear how he learned of the details of this supposed first game.

Close friends of Doubleday, which included A.G. Mills who was on the Commission, claimed that not only could they not remember a single instance of Doubleday ever claiming to have had anything to do with baseball, none of them even remember him even mentioning the sport at all, despite its spreading popularity towards the end of Doubleday’s life.  Doubleday died in 1893, so he couldn’t be asked directly.  Given how well documented his life was, particularly through his journals and letters, it seems curious that he never mentioned it in word or in text, if we’re assuming he invented it.

Despite not bothering to check up on this story at all, The Mills Commission decided it was true and the tale was widely published.  They were motivated by the fact that Abner Doubleday was a Civil War hero who rose to the rank of Major General.  Further, the idea that baseball sprang out of the farm fields in small town America was an appealing one to the Commission. One of the underlying goals of the Commission was to prove that baseball had been wholly invented in the United States and did not evolve from a variety of European stick-ball games. Graves’ story not only did this, but “proved” that an American war hero had invented it to boot. As A.G. Mills stated in 1926 when asked what conclusive proof the Commission had that Doubleday invented the sport, he replied:

None at all, as far as the actual origin of baseball is concerned. The committee reported that the first baseball diamond was laid out in Cooperstown. They were honorable men and their decision was unanimous…

I submit to you, gentlemen, that if our search had been for a typical American village, a village that could best stand as a counterpart of all villages where baseball might have been originated and developed — Cooperstown would best fill the bill.

Henry Chadwick, who is the only writer ever inducted into the non-writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, had this to say about The Mills Commissions‘ findings, in a letter he wrote to Sam Crane:

Friend Crane, I thank you for your support of my arguments in the controversy between Al Spalding and myself as to the origin of the National Game. Spalding must realize that the rounder argument overwhelms the ridiculous fraud of Mr. Graves and the findings of the commission which are inherently flawed. It seems “Young Albert” [Spalding] is overzealous in his patriotism to a fault. Indeed, baseball is a truly American Game – but it evolved – and I am old enough to bear witness to this like my old friends Mr. Peck and Mr. Curry. Again many thanks for your letter. It is promising to see others interested in the truth.

As Chadwick thought, the truth of the matter is that baseball wasn’t “invented” at any particular time nor by any particular group.  It was more of an evolution of a variety of games played with a ball and a stick, something humans have apparently been doing since there were sticks and rocks.

Recent manifestations of these stick/ball games that predate baseball include one such game played in 1796 in England called “Englische Base-ball” that was played with two teams where “the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate.”  Each side was given just one out.  Another popular game in England, mentioned by Chadwick, was known as “rounders”, which is typically attributed to being a more direct ancestor of baseball.  In rounders, the rules were slightly different depending on where you played, but basically it was a stick and ball game, played on a diamond, with bases.  The batter would attempt to hit the ball into play and run to a base before being tagged out (which included being hit by the ball if someone threw it at you).  This gave rise to “Town Ball” in the U.S., of which there were many varieties.

Further, if baseball can be said to have been invented anywhere, it was not in the pastures of small towns, like Cooperstown, but in cities, by both school boys and adults alike. According to future Knickerbocker William Wheaton, one such adult group, just looking for a fun way to get some exercise, formed a Town Ball team called “The Gothams” in 1837.  A few years later, this group grew so large that they had to split, with part of the group forming the Knickerbockers, named after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company.  The Knickerbockers then adapted the rules of various stick ball sports to make one that suited their particular purpose to get exercise in a fun way with little chance of injury (so, for instance, they got rid of the somewhat common rule that you could throw a ball at someone and if it hit him, he’d be out).

The rules for this adapted game were codified in Hoboken, New Jersey on the Elysian Fields, with the first official “base ball” club being the New York Knickerbockers, led by Alexander Cartwright (bookseller and volunteer fire fighter). There were many such similar clubs around at the time, playing extremely similar games, but it is through the Knickerbockers’ efforts that the modern game was popularized. They developed the “20 rules and regulations of the Knickerbocker baseball club”, which were eventually adopted by other clubs and as the official rules of this “new” sport.   The first recorded baseball game was held on June 19, 1846.  The game was played on the Elysian Fields between the New York Nine and the Knickerbockers, at the time the only two clubs playing by this exact set of rules.  The Knickerbockers lost 23-1.

It was also on the Elysian Fields that the idea of baseball as the official American pastime first came about.  Henry Chadwick, the creator of the baseball box score and one of the game’s most ardent supporters in the press, saw one of these matches at the Elysian Fields, stating:

I chanced to go through Elysian Fields during the progress of a contest between the noted Eagle and Gotham Clubs. The game was being sharply played on both sides, and I watched it with deeper interest than any previous ball match between clubs I had seen. It was not long before I was struck with the idea that base ball was just the game for a national sport for Americans.

Within 20 years of the sport’s creation with set rules, the Elysian Fields were host to games that would draw as many as 20,000 fans. Somewhat ironically, given history since, baseball was made popular over a variety of other similar games, largely due to various professional gamblers taking notice of the sport.  As John Thorn, the Official Baseball Historian of MLB states,

I don’t think you could have had the rise of baseball without gambling.  It was not worthy of press coverage. What made baseball seem important was when gamblers figured out a way to spur interest in it. … In the beginning, there were people who turned their noses up at gambling but they recognized the necessity of it. You would not have had a box score. You would not have had an assessment of individual skills. You would not have had one player of skill moving to another club if there were not gambling in it.

By the 1870s, because of the fact that fenced off stadiums where teams could collect money were being built, the Elysian Fields dwindled in popularity as the home field for various club’s matches.  The last official professional baseball game to be played in the Elysian Fields was in 1873.  Today, the place where the field was is mostly covered in houses, with a small area of the field preserved by Hudson Street and Frank Sinatra Drive on one corner and Castle Point Terrace and 11th and Washington Street on the other.

Bonus Facts:

  • Unlike baseball, basketball and volleyball both have very definitive and well known origins.  You can read more about these here:
  • Henry Chadwick, “The Father of Baseball”, also authored Baseball’s first rule book; devised the batting average and earned run average; and compiled the game’s first instructional guides and player and statistical reference books, among a variety of other contributions to the game.  Read more about this here: The Baseball Box Score was First Developed by Henry Chadwick
  • Graves’ account of Doubleday’s baseball included 11 men on each team, four outfielders, five infielders, a pitcher, and a catcher.  Hitters did not use round bats, but rather, flat, like in cricket.
  • In Jane Austin’s novel Northanger Abbey, written from 1798-1799, she states the character of Catherine Morland enjoys, “cricket, base ball, riding on horseback and running about the country to books.”
  • Abner Doubleday’s grandfather, also named Abner, fought in the American Revolution, including being a mounted messenger to George Washington at the age of 14.
  • Doubleday’s father fought in the War of 1812.
  • Despite Abner Doubleday having had nothing to do with baseball’s origin, the Baseball Hall of Fame still displays an oil painting of Doubleday.  Two blocks from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, there is also a “Doubleday Field” which until 2008 hosted the “Hall of Fame Game” during the Hall of Fame induction weekend.  From 2009 through today, the field now hosts the “Hall of Fame Classic”, featuring various Hall of Famers and retired MLB players, who play an exhibition game there on Father’s Day weekend.
  • In response to a letter Bud Selig received on the origin of baseball, he wrote the following (October 18, 2010): “As a student of history, I know there is a great debate whether Abner Doubleday or Alexander Cartwright really founded the game of Baseball.  From all of the historians which I have spoken with, I really believe that Abner Doubleday is the ‘Father of Baseball’.  I know there are some historians who would dispute this though.”  Apparently he should talk to Major League Baseball’s official historian, John Thorn who would be one of those historians that would argue this point.
  • The first fully professional baseball team was the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, ten men on salary for eight months from March 15th to November 15th.  Read more about this here: The First Professional Baseball Team
  • Congress officially declared in 1953 that Alexander Cartwright invented baseball.  This is going a little far, as there was nothing truly original about the game Cartwright and his Knickerbockers came up with.  It was merely a very slight adaptation on existing games.  Further, Cartwright didn’t come up with the “20 rules” himself.  It was a group effort by the Knickerbockers.
  • The baseball “diamond” is really just a square, being 90 feet from each base to each base.  Of course, “diamond” rolls of the tongue a little sweeter and isn’t technically inaccurate, which is presumably why we call it that, instead of “baseball square”.
  • Unlike the height of a pitching mound, the basic layout of the baseball diamond has seen few changes since its originally accepted design in the 1840s. The distance between the bases has remained constant at 90 feet, which continually proves to be the ideal distance without giving favor to either the batter/runner or the throwing speed of an infielder’s arm.  Well… unless your name is Ichiro.
  • Baseball was significantly popularized due to the Civil War with soldiers on both side playing it and spreading it to soldiers elsewhere they encountered.
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The post Who Really Invented Baseball? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

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Mark Twain’s Hilarious “Thoughts on the Science of Onanism”

Mark Twain at age 15

Mark Twain at age 15

Through the latter half of the 19th century, Mark Twain was on a mission to attack pretense with satire. One of his most hilarious, if completely scandalous and by many standards inappropriate, works was a lecture he gave to The Stomach Club in 1879 about masturbation titled, “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism.”

During the 19th century, medical practice had been increasingly incorporating scientific thoughts and developments, including how disease spread and the rise of anesthesia. As such, simply calling something a “science” at that time gave it a certain cachet, so the irony of juxtaposing this honorific with the topic of self-abuse (as masturbation used to be called), would not have been lost on the audience.

Nor would any part of Twain’s talk go unappreciated, as The Stomach Club was a group of writers and artists who loved to get together over a delicious meal, and a few too many drinks, and enjoy a bawdy tale.
That evening, Twain’s topic would not disappoint, as Onanism was well known at the time as a euphemism for masturbation

If you’re wondering, Onan was the guy from the Old Testament who was killed for spilling his “seed” on the ground instead of in the lady- the oldest documented instance of the withdrawal method of birth control being used, which contrary to what many think is actually nearly as effective at preventing pregnancy as condoms according to a 2008 study, Better Than Nothing or Savvy Risk-Reduction Practice? The Importance of Withdrawal, written by researchers from Princeton, Central Connecticut State University, the Guttmacher Institute, and Ibis Reproductive Health.

Specifically, they note the withdrawal method, while a poor way to prevent STDs in general, when executed perfectly- which just means withdrawing before ejaculation, aiming said ejaculate away from the relevant lady bits, and not having sex again until one has urinated first to clear any remaining sperm out of the urethra- is 96% effective at preventing pregnancy if used as the primary means of contraception over the course of a given year. For comparison, using a condom, when done perfectly, is 98% effective over that same span and oral contraception has a “perfect use” rate of about 99.7%.

Now this is when all three methods are done “perfectly”, so what about in actual practice with everyday people? The pull and pray method is roughly 82% effective while using a condom is roughly 83% effective, give or take depending on which study you want to go with. The pill, in contrast, does offer a much better “actual use” rate of around 96%.

In any event, back to Twain and his thoughts on Onanism- getting off to a good start with his speech, Twain began by referring to the act as a “species of recreation . . . to which I perceive you are much addicted.”

He goes on,

Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with fine enthusiasm, “Give me masturbation or give me death.” Caesar, in his Commentaries, says, “To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor. They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion.” In another place this experienced observer has said, “There are times when I prefer it to sodomy.”

Robinson Crusoe says, “I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art.” Queen Elizabeth said, “It is the bulwark of virginity.” Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, “A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The immortal Franklin has said, “Masturbation is the best policy.”

… Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, “Self-negation is noble, self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with self-abuse.” …

Obviously a fan, Twain remained faithful to his journalistic roots and gave equal time to those who were not enamored with the ancient art, noting

Brigham Young, an expert of incontestable authority, said, “As compared with the other thing, it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Solomon said, “There is nothing to recommend it but its cheapness.” Galen said, “It is shameful to degrade to such bestial uses that grand limb, that formidable member, which we votaries of Science dub the Major Maxillary–when they dub it at all–which is seldom, It would be better to amputate the os frontis than to put it to such use.”

Twain then turned to Darwin and the noble monkey, stating,

Mr. Darwin was grieved to feel obliged to give up his theory that the monkey was the connecting link between man and the lower animals. I think he was too hasty. The monkey is the only animal, except man, that practices this science; hence, he is our brother; there is a bond of sympathy and relationship between us. Give this ingenuous animal an audience of the proper kind and he will straightway put aside his other affairs and take a whet; and you will see by his contortions and his ecstatic expression that he takes an intelligent and human interest in his performance.

Like a modern roast today, Twain couldn’t resist sticking it to his audience a bit as he opined that those who indulge in the recreation too much can be easily detected by their “disposition to eat, to drink, to smoke, to meet together convivially, to laugh, to joke and tell indelicate stories.”

Ultimately, however, Twain explained that this science was the least efficacious of all sexual acts since:

As an amusement, it is too fleeting; as an occupation . . . too wearing; as a public exhibition, there is no money in it. It is unsuited to the drawing room, and in the most cultured society it has long been banished . . . It has at last, in our day of progress and improvement, been degraded to brotherhood with flatulence. Among the best bred, these two arts are now indulged in only private–though by consent of the whole company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in good society, to remove the embargo on the fundamental sigh.

Finally, Twain concluded with these maxims:

If you must gamble your lives sexually, don’t play a lone hand too much. When you feel a revolutionary uprising in your system, get your Vendome Column down some other way – don’t jerk it down.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Facts:

  • Circumcision in the United States did not become popular because Christians were trying to keep with the covenant between God and Abraham, as is often thought today. After 50 BC, circumcision remained, at least popularly speaking, a largely Jewish affair as it had been since at least 1800 BC. However, there eventually arose a controversy concerning the practice among Christians as it was unclear whether the Gospel required circumcision among converts, which would thus restrict Christianity to Jews or Gentiles willing to snip the tip. Ultimately, it was decided that circumcision was not a prerequisite to conversion, and the Catholic Church maintained a degree of hostility towards the practice which would set the tone for circumcision among Catholics and Protestants alike until the 19th century (though of course Muslim groups would popularly also eventually adopt the practice). But as for the Western world, the popularity of circumcision didn’t grow until the 19th century as a way to try to discourage masturbation. Clitoridectomies were also mildly popular for a time as a treatment for masturbation in women. For more on this, see our video The History of Circumcision.
  • Samuel Clemens grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River, where he eventually became a steamboat pilot in 1857. It was from his experiences here that he came up with the name “Mark Twain” sometime around 1863. This was river slang for 12 feet of water, or two fathoms, with Mark twain literally meaning “mark two” or the second mark on the depth measurement line.
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The post Mark Twain’s Hilarious “Thoughts on the Science of Onanism” appeared first on Today I Found Out.

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Why are Bibles Printed With the Text in Two Columns Instead of One?

Louis R. asks: Why do they always print bibles with two columns on the pages instead of like a normal book?

bibleThe practice of using two columns with compact texts dates back to at least the fifteenth century, which in turn was just a continuation of an older tradition of narrow columns in horizontally opened scrolls. Both the Gutenberg Bible and the original King James Version (see: How the King James Bible Came About) used two columns, and many Bibles are still printed this way today. But why?

In part, this is simply tradition, as mentioned first being borrowed from the scrolls which the Biblical text was copied from. Today, many people have come to expect Bibles to have two columns and can’t imagine one with any other layout. But there’s a little more to this formatting choice than just tradition.

The decision of how to format a book depends highly on how that book is intended to be read. The single column format with larger fonts in a novel limits distractions and creates a good readable flow of text, allowing an individual to read a story from beginning to end with limited fatigue. On the other hand, reference books, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, break up the text by using multiple columns and providing pictures, annotations, and a numbering structure that help improve efficiency when using a book for perusing various specific topics.

Clearly the standard two column layout of the Bible more closely resembles that of reference books than novels. One can see how this might have appealed to clergy who, historically, were the ones who actually read/studied the Bible, with many among the laity unable to read anyway, even if they had access to such a physical text. The two column approach allowed for more easily starting each numbered verse on a new line so it could be quickly referred to and identified. In addition, some Bibles also contain page by page reference guides, allowing readers to skip through the text to find similar passages that could potentially help them gain a deeper understanding of the original verse read.

But there are actually much more practical reasons reference books go with the two column approach, namely using as few pages as possible. The Bible is a massive text with, for instance, almost eight hundred thousand words in the standard King James Version. In order to reduce the number of pages used, a much smaller font is used than a typical novel would have.

While this does significantly reduce the number of pages that need to be bound in the book, it also makes it difficult to read.  With Bible font sizes often less than 10 pt, in a one column format this could mean as many as 16-20 words per line, rather than the more typical 9-12 that is generally considered approximately optimal for readability. To get around this problem, as with most reference books, the text is simply split into two columns, making it a little easier to read given the small font size. The net benefit of all this is a reduction of total pages by approximately 10%-25%, providing a significant cost savings in production, particularly historically.

Of course, today with production costs being much cheaper per page, some have begun to argue that treating the Bible like a reference work isn’t always appropriate, particularly when trying to get the general public to actually read it, since the information included in the scriptures is meant to be more than mere facts and historical references and more about gleaning spiritual insight into how to live one’s life in accord with scripture. If people aren’t bothering to read it at all because it reads a bit like a dictionary, it ends up not being that effective.  As J. Mark Bertrand of Bible Design notes,

The reason why paragraphed texts are important, and why single column settings should be more widely available, is that they both encourage the proper way of reading the Bible. Rather than treating it like a pithy, cryptic phrasebook, these formatting options suggest contextual reading that focuses on the ideas behind the words rather than free-association based on a word here or there…

In the same way that a translator, to do good work, needs to consider both the source language and the one the audience speaks, a Bible designer has to do more than fit words on the page or figure out how to distinguish cross references from verse numbers. The designer has to think about the reading experience and avoid choices that might channel it into counterproductive paths. Sadly, other considerations have often predominated. As a result, it’s easy to find a Bible that looks like a dictionary — book for looking things up — and hard to find one that looks like it’s meant for reading.

This idea has led to a relatively recent trend of publishing one column, larger font Bibles (like these ones) with significantly less ancillary markers and information crammed in. Essentially, many of these new one column versions format the Bible very much like a typical novel to make it much easier for people to read the scriptures from beginning to end. And for anyone who has read one of these, it certainly is surprisingly effective at its goal, though of course has the major drawback of being less functional as a reference text and in some cases, depending on exact formatting choices, requiring the complete Bible to be broken up into multiple physical books to keep the thickness and size to reasonable levels.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Expand for References

The post Why are Bibles Printed With the Text in Two Columns Instead of One? appeared first on Today I Found Out.

Stephen Colbert Has A Golden Response To Latest Trump ‘Pee Tape’ Claims

Wild new claims lead to a flood of "Late Show" jokes.

I mean, it’s so, so accurate.

Have you used Electric Literature’s automatic male novelist description generator to see how a male author would describe you?  Because it’s quite awesome. Here’s mine: “She had curves like a juicy bedsheet and I shuddered to correct her.” Nailed it.

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The funniest book you ever read

I’m up and down this week but I’m trying to stay up because I have work to do and I need to keep myself from falling into the hole of depression.  One of the things that save me are books. … Continue reading

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The Curious Case of the Night Parrot – The World’s Most Elusive Bird

night-parrot-homelandPezoporus occidentalis, better known simply as the “night parrot”, is often described by ornithologists as being the most mysterious and enigmatic bird on Earth- a moniker the night parrot earned by being so rare and elusive that fewer people alive today have seen one with their own eyes than have ever walked on the Moon.

Described bluntly by one of the few people to have handled one as a “dumpy oversized budgie”, the unassuming greenish-yellow bird is endemic to Australia, with confirmed sightings largely being limited to the deserts of Western Australia and Queensland.

Unusually for a bird that is capable of lengthy and extremely fast flight, the night parrot spends much of its time on the ground hiding amongst the brush and shrubland of the Australian outback, making the species one of only three known “ground parrots” as they’re commonly known.

That said, a very recent tagging of one of these birds which provided GPS data for the animal for 15 days demonstrated that, as mentioned, the night parrot can cover a lot of ground very quickly, with the shortest distance the tracked bird flew in one night being approximately 40 kilometres (about 24 miles). As for this travel, it would seem the purpose behind it is generally to find water. Its food, on the other hand, is speculated to be things likes the seeds of Triodia grasses that it likes to hide in.

Speaking of its nocturnal movements, as you may have guessed given the night parrot’s name, the bird is described as being a mostly nocturnal creature, generally hiding in tall foliage during the day, with their coloring patterns blending in well with such shrubbery.

First “discovered” in 1845 by members of an expedition trying to find a “mythical sea” that supposedly existed somewhere in the heart of Australia (an amazing story we’ll no doubt cover another day), the bird was seemingly quite common at the time, with over a dozen specimens being easily collected in the 1870s alone. In fact, the indigenous Maiawali people are known to have once made extensive use of the night parrot’s feathers for ceremonial clothing.

For reasons experts can’t quite agree on though, around the turn of 20th century the bird almost completely disappeared, with the last live specimen caught in that century being captured sometime in 1912. As to where the bird went, it’s speculated it was simply displaced by humans or perhaps hunted to near extinction by feral and domestic cats, but nobody really knows. In fact, there have been some who have speculated that perhaps the bird isn’t endangered at all; it’s just extremely good at hiding.

That said, after that 1912 capture of a live specimen, while amateur bird watchers sporadically claimed sightings of the parrot, as the century stretched on with no well documented sightings occurring despite many pro bird-nerds conducting extensive searches, many experts began to write-off the bird as being extinct.

Not willing to accept this, in 1989 Australian businessman, entrepreneur, and conservationist Dick Smith offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could provide proof that the bird was still out there somewhere. A year later, this proof was found almost entirely by accident when three ornithologists decided to randomly pull over to pee while driving through south-west Queensland. During their little wizz break, they stumbled upon a dead night parrot by the side of the road.

As if that wasn’t fortunate enough, it’s noted that the only reason the ornithologists were even able to identify the bird at all is because two of them just so happened to be “among a handful of people in the world to have handled stuffed night parrots”.

Dick Smith dutifully paid the men the reward money (which they in turn donated to the university they all worked for) and Australia’s ornithologists once again began searching for the night parrot with vigor.

The next reasonably well documented sighting occurred in 2005 when a pair of biologists claim to have spotted not one, but three night parrots while the scientists were studying a region for potential iron ore mining.

A much better documented sighting occurred in 2006 when another specimen was found dead by a park ranger, Robert Cupitt, working in Diamantina National Park. Oddly, this bird was found without a head, seemingly flying into a barbed wire fence at high speed and, it is generally thought, decapitating itself. However, a search for the bird’s head proved fruitless, and it is possible the bird simply had its head eaten off by some wild animal or it was otherwise eaten after it was removed by the fence wire.

Whatever the case, after several more years of nothing but unsubstantiated reports of the night parrot from enthusiastic bird watchers, wildlife photographer and ornithologist John Young became the first human in over a century to definitely have seen a living night parrot when he managed to snap a photo of one in 2013. By his own estimation, Young spent some 15 years and around 17,000 hours searching for the bird in the Australian outback, eventually managing to get a handful of photos of one, a few seconds of footage of it in flight, and sound recordings of its call. (For the curious, the night parrot is variously described as sounding like everything from a bell going “ding ding” to a croaking frog.)

Since 2013, several more confirmed sightings of live night parrots have been recorded with an ecologist called Dr Steve Murphy even managing to capture one and tag it for study in 2015. Murphy caught the bird (which he affectionately called Pedro) with the help of his wife Rachel, but refused to divulge where exactly Pedro was spotted except to a select few, including fellow ecologists, ornithologists and academics. (You can see a picture of the night parrot here.)

Seemingly the information must also have been divulged to some politicians, because to protect Pedro and his kin, the Pullen Pullen Reserve was established consisting of some 56,000 hectares of land in Queensland around the area Murphy found him.  However, the exact location of the reserve has never been publicly released because of course Australia has empty areas of land so vast that they can reserve approximately 140,000 acres (560 kilometres squared) for wildlife without needing to tell the public where it is.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

  • The night parrot is considered to be at great risk of predation from feral cats and as a result, the Pullen Pullen Reserve has a number of special traps designed specifically to targets cats and nothing else. These traps use cameras and a proprietary algorithm to detect cats based on their gait and size, at which point a toxic gel is sprayed at the animal’s face. The idea being that when the cat grooms itself, it will ingest the gel and die. We are not making that up.
Expand for References

The post The Curious Case of the Night Parrot – The World’s Most Elusive Bird appeared first on Today I Found Out.

Who run the world? SQUIRREL.

me: LOOK WHAT CAME IN THE MAIL. Victor: WTF.  I’m on a conference call. me:  I’m thinking of calling her Daenerys TAILgaryen.  Because she has a tail. Victor: That’s terrible. me:  Marmot of Dragons. Victor:  I’m literally working here. me: … Continue reading

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Confession: I don’t understand the tiny blood bucket

My friend Maile sent me a text in the middle of the night and it reminded me how important it is to have friends who get you and who also don’t understand some of the basic principals of being a … Continue reading

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#LaserVag

My doctor refused to give me lasers in my vagina.  Click here for full story. It occurred to me just now that I may have used poor phrasing in the description of this moment.  

Spread the Word of the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards

The 2018 Corporate Humor Awards have returned. Nominate an individual or organization that is helping to keep the workplace funny!

Want to help spread the word about the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards? Here are some messages you can share:

Twitter: Nominate an awesome person for a 2018 Corporate Humor Award, presented by @HumorThatWorks. Learn more or nominate at https://www.humorthatworks.com/humor-awards/.

Facebook: Facebook Friends! Nominations are now open for the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards! Learn more or nominate an individual or organization that’s helped bring humor to the workplace @ https://www.humorthatworks.com/humor-awards/.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn Connections, Friends, and people I barely know! Nominations are now open for the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards! Nominate an individual or organization that’s helped bring humor to the workplace @ https://www.humorthatworks.com/humor-awards/.

Email: Hey Awesome Person–I just learned about the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards. Nominations are still open and you should totally nominate yourself (or someone else) for the awesome work that you do. Check it out at https://www.humorthatworks.com/humor-awards/.

Blog Post: To my awesome readers: I just learned about the 2018 Corporate Humor Awards. Nominations are still open and you should totally nominate yourself (or someone else) for the awesome work that you do. Check it out at https://www.humorthatworks.com/humor-awards/.

Telephone Call: Hey man, what’s up? I just wanted to let you know about the Corporate Humor Awards. They’re taking nominations for people who have been adding humor to the workplace. You should definitely check it out. Just go to “h-t-t-p-s-colon-slash-slash-w-w-w-dot-humor-that-works-dot-com-slash-humor-dash-awards”

Or if you want us to write a guest post, do an interview, or call a friend for you, contact us!

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James Corden Takes Bets On Donald Trump’s Childish Nickname For John Kelly

Only a matter of time.

Jimmy Fallon Spoofs Donald Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’

And the award for Most Failingest Newspaper goes to...

Samantha Bee’s Show Issues Brutal Takedown Of Trump Administration’s MLK Tributes

"You defended your boss's racist 'Pocahontas' comment," the show's Twitter account said to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

People Of Twitter Accurately Describe 2018 Thus Far With Song Lyrics

🎵 "I wanna be sedated." 🎵

The Texts from Dog 2018 Daily calendar out now!…





The Texts from Dog 2018 Daily calendar out now! https://goo.gl/WZc62V

Best of This Blog

best of blog

With over 700 posts, the Humor That Works Blog is a vast resource covering all sorts of humor topics. But it can also be a bit overwhelming; new readers aren’t sure where to start or what to focus on. Well, new readers should definitely start with the Getting Started Guide, but after that, it’s choose-your-own-adventure.

But if you want some insight from the author, I decided to share some of my favorite posts from the last 7+ years of writing about humor at work.

#1. Funny Work Jokes

Who doesn’t like a good one-liner? That was my thought with this collection of work jokes. Yes, there are plenty of posts on this blog that cover the benefits of humor or how to use it, but sometimes all you need is a laugh or 101.

Read 101 Funny Work Jokes to Get You Through the Day

2. The Best Teambuilding Exercise

Some of my posts are dedicated to teaching you how to do a very specific humor activity with the hopes that it helps you get started using humor by sharing all the details you need to repeat something I already know works. My favorite such exercise turns your peers into zombies.

Read Zombie Tag – A Teambuilding Exercise

3. The Power of Improv

I’m a huge proponent of applied improvisation and truly believe that improv can (and will) change the world. One post in particular wraps some of the wonderful life perspective that improv can provide into a nice list of ten.

Read 10 Life Tips from Improv Class

4. A Proper News Story

I’ve shared a number of personal updates over the years, all with the goal of keeping you abreast of what was going on behind-the-scenes of the company. No post was more meaningful than reflecting on my decision to leave my corporate job to pursue this project of humor at work.

Read 3 Year Anniversary of Leaving P&G

5. My Most Popular Post According to Google

The goal of the blog has always been to provide practical resources to various challenges. As an introvert, one challenge I ran into was creating engaging conversation with peers and coworkers, so I created a list of questions I could use to avoid terrible small talk. It turns out other people were looking for the same thing because this is my most popular post based on Google search traffic.

Read 50 Questions to Get to Know Someone

6. An Ancillary Skill

Humor That Works has never been exclusively about humor; it’s always been about being more effective. It just turns out that humor is one of the keys to being effective, even on personal tasks like learning how to wake up in the morning.

Read How to Stop Hitting Snooze

7. A Post to Prove My Mom Wrong

Inspiration can come from all sorts of places, including the radio / iTunes / Spotify. It’s why I decided to create an entire database of office humor–to curate inspiration into one spot. One of my favorite collections is that inspirational hip hop lyrics. Growing up, my mom was never a fan of me listening to rap (she didn’t like the lyrical content) but I realized that there’s a lot of positivity in the hip hop, so I wrote a post to prove her wrong.

Read 12 Inspirational Lyrics from Hip Hop

8. One of the Best Business Books

Reading has always been a great way to clarify my own thinking and ideas, particularly around humor at work. Periodically, I take the time to share what I’ve learned from what I’ve read. Peter F Drucker is one of those people who has taught me a great deal from his writings. His book, The Effective Executive is perhaps the first truly life-changing non-fiction book I ever read. So I shared some of the most important lessons from the book.

Read 12 Effectiveness Lessons from The Effective Executive

9. One of the Best Fiction Books

I think you can learn just as much from fiction as you can from non-fiction, and I set out to prove it by sharing some of the greatest wisdom from one of my favorite books and one of the most successful graphic novels of all time: The Watchmen.

Read Life Lessons from The Watchmen

10. A Post that Makes Me Smile

Building off the idea of getting inspiration from unlikely places, I found a site dedicated to creating inspirational picture quotes using prompts, error messages, and readouts from machines. It’s fantastic.

Read Unintentionally Profound Life Advice from Machines

Looking for More?

Still looking for more? Check out any of the other 700+ posts on the blog or read one at random.

Can You Learn to Be Funny? Yes

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the same event as Kevin Richardson, aka the Lion Whisperer, aka this dude:

Before the event, he and I were talking and when he found out I did stand-up comedy, his reaction was, “I could never do that, it’s too scary.” This, from a guy who LIVES WITH LIONS.

But that’s what a lot of people think; they think being funny is something you’re either born with or you will never be able to do.

The reality is that humor is a skill. And if it’s a skill, that means humor can be learned.

I’ve done over 1,000 shows as a performer. I’ve spoken or performed in all 50 states, 18 countries, and 3 continents. I’ve opened for Pauly Shore, performed with Rachel Dratch, and had a joke go viral.

And yet, a few years ago, when I went to my high school reunion and old classmates found out I did comedy, their response was, “But you’re not funny.”

In some ways they were right because this is not the face of funny:

awkward school dance photo

There is a lot that’s funny about this picture, but none of it is intentional. I have the old school blonde tips; my clothes are too baggy for me; the theme was “Into a Dream…” I am no one’s dream in this picture.

Growing up, I was never the life of the party or class clown. I am very much an introvert; if you know Myers-Briggs, I’m INTJ. If you know Star Wars, I’m R2D2.

But in college, my best friend wanted to start an improv group, he needed people and forced me to join. And I was terrible. I tried too hard to be clever, I made only bad jokes, and I was constantly nervous.

But over time, with practice and repetition, I got better. The nerves went away, I felt more comfortable on stage, and I started to see the world through a more humorous lens.

As I improved on stage, first as an improviser and then as a stand-up comedian, I also became funnier in everyday situations. I started adding humor to my presentations, at the end of my emails, and in conversations. My reaction time was quicker, I was able to think faster on my feet, and I had better delivery when I added a funny comment to a conversation.

Soon, I became obsessed with learning everything I could about comedy. I read every comedy book I could find, went to live shows every week, and watched comedy specials over and over to see how different comedians made people laugh. I also practiced and performed nearly every single day.

Then, as Humor That Works started to grow, I started teaching comedy. First to people who wanted to do stand-up or improv, then to people who wanted to add it to their presentations, then to people who just wanted to be wittier in everyday situations.

Along the way, my belief has been reaffirmed: you can learn to be funny. Or at least, funnier.

There’s no magic formula to learning to be as funny as Louis CK, Eddie Izzard, or Ellen (some of my favorites). That takes years of hard work, hours of practice (10,000+ if we believe Malcolm Gladwell), and probably some intangibles that we’ll never truly know.

But anyone can learn to be witty in conversations, to add humor to their work, or to write funny tweets. Because if this kid…

awkward graduation picture

… can learn to do it, anyone can.

So how does one learn to be funny? That’s what I’ll be explaining over the next series of blog posts or you can check out my TEDx talk on the Skill of Humor. To get the posts as they come out, follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or sign up for the Humor That Works newsletter.

Nicolas Cage Reading Poetry, Blessing Marriage Proposal, and Watching His Movies With Crowd of Fans Has the Internet SHOOK

awesome movies wedding nicolas cage win - 1452549

Our knight Nic in shining armor is back at it again, being the best possible Nicolas Cage that he can be, which is no easy task when you're a national treasure. And you know what, this might be his most stirring role he's landed in the last few years, at least. 

Submitted by:

Dude’s Conversation With Hacked FB Relative Is so Blatant It’s Actually Entertaining

scammer FAIL conversation facebook hacked funny - 1362693

In heavy Russian accent "Facebook is Compensates"

Submitted by:

Everyone Knows That One Guy Who Only Posts Sad Stories On Facebook

Submitted by: (via CollegeHumor)

What is Applied Improvisation?

When clients hear that my training includes applied improvisation, they often have no idea what I’m talking about or immediately fear the worst.

They worry that it means their employees will have to tell jokes, will be forced to do silly exercises, or will have to do some form of trust fall.

Applied improv is none of the above.

What is Applied Improvisation

At its basic level, applied improv is simply taking concepts, ideas, and techniques from the world of improvisation and applying them to business, relationships, and life.

It’s not joke-telling, silly activities, or the theater equivalent of Minute to Win It challenges. It is effective, experiential learning that inspires, educates, and entertains.

With this is mind, it’s important to understand that applied improv is a not a what, but a how.

It’s how we train incredibly valuable business skills such as communication, collaboration, innovation, problem-solving, and leadership. It’s how we instill a culture of growth mindset, build psychological safety, and embrace authentic leadership. It’s how we learn to be more effective at what we do.

As my good friend Kat Koppett says, improv is the gym. It’s a way to get reps building valuable skills in a low-risk, effective way.

The Benefits of Applied Improvisation

Why is applied improv so important? Why do I, as an engineer obsessed with efficiency and effectiveness, incorporate applied improv into my programs? Because it works.

There are five primary benefits to using applied improv in training and development:

#1. Participants experience the learning.

applied improv experience the learning

Remember as a kid when your parents told you not to touch the stove because it was hot, but you touched it anyway and burned yourself? And after that, you never touched the hot stove again? You know that the things you learn from experience have a more lasting impression than the things you learn because someone told you.

So much of today’s training is the equivalent of a parent telling you not to touch the stove. Lectures are great for introducing an idea like growth mindset, but it’s not how we learn to actually live it.

Applied improv serves as the hot stove where you experience the lesson (but without the burn). Rather than be told what’s important, participants go through an activity that helps them come to the learning point on their own. It’s one thing to hear an idea, it’s another thing to experience it.

#2. Participants practice the skills.

applied improv practice new skills

Imagine you’ve decided you wanted to become a violinist. To do this, you wouldn’t just read a bunch of books on what it means to play the violin and then immediately step on stage in front of thousands of people. Instead, you might do some of that reading, but mostly you would practice. A lot. Before you ever stepped foot on stage, you would have spent hours practicing scales, exercises, and songs.

And yet, when we train business skills, we have people go sit in a lecture and then expect them to be able to implement those ideas immediately, without any practice or experience. Listening to a talk on communication is like listening to a talk on how to be a violinist–it won’t be effective unless you can practice what you’ve learned.

Applied improv gives participants an opportunity to practice new skills so they can be more effective immediately. A trainer doesn’t just talk about the importance of listening to understand, the participants actually have an opportunity to build their skill in doing so.

#3. Participants feel safe to try new things.

applied improv try new things

Think back to the first time you learned how to ride a bike. How did it go? Did you pedal to glory on your first attempt? Probably not. If you’re like me, you fell on your first few tries but eventually you got better and before you knew it, you were riding down the entire length of the street (only to realize you didn’t know how to stop).

Failure is a key part of any learning experience; it’s how you learn to make adjustments and determine what works and what doesn’t. But failing in our jobs can have consequences. A first time leader can be at risk of demotivating their employees while trying to learn what it means to lead.

Applied improv provides a safe environment for the participants to try new things and to fail in a low stakes environment. Participants learn what works and doesn’t work in a classroom instead of in the middle of an important project for their company.

#4. Participants build relationships with each other.

applied improv build relationships

Of all the people you work with, who do you have the best relationships with? Chances are it’s the people who you have something in common with: maybe you work in the same department, sat next to them at a training, or have bonded over your mutual love of the show Game of Thrones. 

That’s how all relationships are formed, through shared interests and shared experiences. Relationships, both internal and external, are a vital part of any company; it’s why Google determined that the most important trait of an effective team is psychological safety.

Applied improv creates a positive shared experience that helps build the relationships of the people in the room. You could learn about psychological safety by listening to someone talk about it, or you could do it through interacting with your fellow participants, learning about each other, becoming closer together, and actually building that safety in the room.

#5. Participants have fun.

applied improv have fun

Which would you rather do: sit in a room and be bored or laugh with your peers and have fun? Which would you learn more from? Which would leave you with a more lasting impression? Which would you think more positively about and share with others? I’ll take “laugh with my peers and have fun” every time.

Sadly, many of today’s corporate trainings are death-by-PowerPoint boring. Learning about a topic as interesting as innovation can still be heart-wrenchingly dreadful. The simple truth is that you quickly forget about boring experiences and become more invested in the things you find enjoyable (duh).

Applied improv is fun. And not in a “corporate is telling us this is fun so it’s actually going to be awful” way, but in an actual “I haven’t laughed like this at work in years” way. The exercises are geared to be entertaining and the fun doesn’t come from cracking jokes, but by having authentic moments with the other participants. As a result, you learn the keys to something like being more innovative while staying actively involved in the learning experience.

Getting Started with Applied Improvisation

get started with applied improv

Applied improv is a crucial component of all of my trainings because it works. It’s effective, engaging, and entertaining all at the same time. It’s why I’ve delivered trainings at more than 200 organizations at corporate offsites, conferences, and for organizational team building. To learn more, check out my Humor That Works Programs.

The Cost of Meetings Infographic

Quill.com has put out an excellent infographic on the state of meetings in the corporate world, with some scary statistics, including that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that unnecessary meetings cost $37 billion every year. That’s a lot of wasted time and resources.

Check out the full details in the graphic below. Or learn how to have more productive meetings in 4 steps or how to end meetings on time using techniques from comedy clubs.

The Internet Can’t Stop Sharing These Famous Melania Trump “Quotes”

quotes plagarism list speech donald trump Memes rnc - 866821

By now you may be aware of the little plagiarism issue that surfaced within Melania Trump's speech at the RNC. It has been pointed out that she copied an entire paragraph from Michelle Obama's first lady speech at the DNC in 2008. And that's what started the hashtag #FamousMeliaTrumpQuotes. The things she says are so wise, so... oddly familiar. Are we sure we haven't heard some of these quotes before?

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Casually Scrolling Through Craigslist

craigslist Harry Potter trolling - 8797433600

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If You’re a CEO of a Retail Chain and Want to Do a Reddit AMA, Learn From REI’s Mistakes

fail CEO of REI does a reddit AMA and past employees shed light on truth of working there

You can read through the full Ask Me Anything thread here.

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Delicious Superpowers

superpowers, facebook comebacks, best comebacks, drinking

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Nobody Bothered to Pay Attention to the Obvious Spelling Mistake

fake facebook spelling - 8096846592

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Tagged: fake , facebook , spelling

Bonus Points for Being Creative in Your Mistakes?

funny-facebook-fail-spelling

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