Roman Military Attire Hollywood Gets Right and Wrong


In Hollywood productions Roman legionaries invariably wear the iconic segmented plate armor, Lorica segmentata. If the time period is the early Empire, as is usual in films, that’s spot on. Though through most of Roman history, Kingdom, Republic and late Empire, the Romans wore (chain) mail (Lorica hamata) or scale armor (Lorica squamata).

One interesting thing about Lorica segmentata was, unlike a cuirass, it could be custom fit after being forged. As the torso was covered with a series of steel bands they could make a bunch of different length bands to later combine however needed to fit any body shape and size.

Despite what you might see on the silver screen there is no evidence Romans ever wore leather armor, segmented or otherwise. Ask yourself, why would they segment leather armor anyway when leather is flexible?

In the movies legionaries are uniformly clad in red tunics. Not always the case in the Roman world. Some units wore white, some wore green, some wore brown. Naval legionaries wore blue, a lot like modern sailors do.

Also in films Roman soldiers almost always sport leather wrist bands. What was the purpose of those, one might wonder. Actually, they had no purpose, the Romans never wore them anywhere outside of Hollywood. How that ever got started is something of a mystery.

Filed 2/14/17

A Year and a Day on Planet Z


How many times does the Earth rotate on its axis in one year?

A. 365.25
B. 366.25
C. zero
D. all of the above

Before giving your answer, consider the following imaginary universe as pictured below. Looking down from the north poles we have star A and planet Z, which luckily for our purposes is divided into four equal, differently colored quadrants.

Let’s say Z doesn’t rotate at all relative to the universe and orbits A counter-clockwise. It starts with quadrant yellow facing A, after a quarter orbit quadrant green is facing A. Meaning, if Z does not rotate on its axis in relation to the universe the planet will make one full clockwise rotation relative to star A. To someone living there, star A will rise in the west and set in the east once a year. Also, there will be no astrology on Z because the constel­lations look to be in the same place all year.


Now let’s say Z rotates on its axis counter-clockwise. To anyone on the planet A would rise in the east and set in the west. If Z rotated once per orbit, after a quarter orbit it rotates 90 degrees. If it began with quadrant yellow facing A, quadrant yellow would still be facing A at the quarter mark. Meaning in one counter-clockwise rotation during one counter-clockwise orbit the same quadrant will face the star all the time. There will be no changing day or night. People on planet Z can only mark the calendar by the Zodiac which to them rotates once a year.


So then, in order to have one day and one night Z needs to rotate counter-clockwise two times per year to negate the effective clockwise rotation from the orbit. To have 365.25 days and nights Z must rotate on its axis 366.25 times per year.

With that in mind, the correct answer to the opening question is B. If you were counting rotations of the Earth from some other galaxy you would see 366.25 rotations per orbit. Each of these woud be a sidereal rotation.

sidereal (sī-dîr′ ē-əl) adj. Measured or determined by means of the stars. Relative to the stars.

On the other hand, if you were counting rotations from the sun the answer is A, you’d see 365.25 rotations. If you were observing from the surface of the Earth you wouldn’t see any rotations of the Earth, but the sun and universe rotating around you. In which case the correct answer is C, zero. Meaning, depending on your point of view A, B, and C are each correct. Therefore, the correct answer to the opening question is D, all of the above.

This is the one trick question you simply cannot get wrong depending how you want to look at it. Our gift to you.

Filed 2/6/17

U.S. Geography Quizlet


Do you know your U.S. geography? Think you can pass this short quiz? You know us, we like to sometimes present fun facts in a slightly off-kilter way. You gotta figure there’s a trick question or two in there. Or trick answers, more like. Still, beyond the silly asides the information is true enough.

Mouseover boxes for answers

What is the capital of Vermont?

The U.S. dollar. The capitol (with an O) is Montpelier, the least populous state capitol city. Count it correct if you spotted the misspelling.

What is the only state to border on only one other state?

Maine. Which is also the only state with a one syllable name.

Which states have borders that are partly circular?

The border between Pennsylvania and Delaware is a circle segment.

Name the state(s) which is (are) rectangular.

Due to a surveyor’s error the western border of Colorado has a slight kink and so is not a rectangle. Which leaves only Wyoming. Except the curvature of the earth makes the bottom wider than the top. Which means there are no rectangular states.

Which middle western state is literally flat as a pancake?

Kansas. If you scaled a pancake up to the size of Kansas its surface would have topographical surface deviations roughly equal to Kansas. Such a pancake would feed the people of the surrounding states for 100 years, give or take.

What’s the fewest number of states you must cross to drive from Albany, New York to Seattle, Washington?

Zero. We didn’t say you couldn’t drive through Canada. Whether you’re allowed in Canada is up to them, not us.

Is Rhode Island an island?

Rhode Island is indeed an island in Narragansett Bay and a part of what is officially called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Which state looks like part of the human anatomy?

We will accept Michigan looking like a hand in a mitten or Louisiana looking like a foot in a sock unravelling at the toe. If you thought of any other state looking like something other than a hand or foot, you have an overactive imagination, or a dirty mind.

9-10 correct: You know your trivia but not your math, there are only 8 questions.
7-8 correct: You know your trivia and can spot a trick question a mile away. Or you’re a liar.
5-6 correct: You know your trivia. Give yourself a cigar.
3-4 correct: You know some trivia. Give yourself a pat on the back.
1-2 correct: You don’t know your trivia. Give yourself a slap on the forehead.
0 correct: You don’t know squat. Kick yourself.

Filed 1/30/17

Japanese Troops Man the Atlantic Wall


Many of the Wehrmacht soldiers manning the Normandy defenses on D-Day were not Germans, but came from countries occupied by or allied with the Third Reich; such as Romania, Hungary, Georgia, and even Japan. These were Osttruppen, east troops. When’s the last time you saw that in a Hollywood film? Well, when’s the last time you watched Saving Private Ryan?

In a scene about twenty minutes in, an American G.I. guns down two unarmed Wehrmacht soldiers trying to surrender, but not being understood because they didn’t speak English. If you have an ear for language you may have picked out they were not speaking German. What the first soldier says is “Nestŕílejte. Já jsem nikoho nezabil. Já jsem Čech.” In English, “Don’t shoot. I haven’t killed anyone. I’m Czech.”

While Director Steven Spielberg correctly includes Osttruppen, he seems to have fallen for the common miscon­ception these troops were conscripts who didn’t put up a fight and were eager to be liberated. This is largely post-war spin, the battle records indicate otherwise. It’s the old, “Nazi? I’m not a Nazi. I’m Swiss.”

All that aside, it seems the Czechs couldn’t win for losing. If the Allies weren’t shooting them during the war, they were handing their country over to the Nazis before the war and then to the Communists after the war. And now they’re in the E.U. run out of Brussels by unelected bureaucrats. Though they have only themselves to blame for that.

Filed 1/24/17

Some Unrelated Trivia (or Possibly Fun Facts if You Think They’re Any Fun)


Dassler Brothers Shoes was founded in Germany in 1925 by Adi and Rudi Dassler. After the Second World War Rudi left to start his own company, Puma. Since it was no longer brothers running it, Adi renamed Dassler Brothers Shoes after himself, Adi Das(sler), Adidas.

If you order a pepperoni pizza in Italy try not to look surprised when they bring you a veggie pizza. There is no sausage called pepperoni there, or any word pepperoni. Peperoni (no double P) is Italian for bell pepper. The bell peppers on your pizza might be red, orange, yellow or green, which are all the same fruit in various stages of ripeness. Just like the difference between black (ripe) olives and green (unripe) olives.

A second is called a second because it’s the second division of an hour, the first division being a minute. Making a second more minute than a minute. We can’t explain why a minute is called a minute, nor why we are so amused by heteronyms.

Filed 1/21/17

How a Train Leans Into a Turn


We’ve written in the past about how bikes and motorcycles lean into a turn. Planes, trains and automobiles also lean into turns. Or at least NASCAR automobiles do on a banked track. Planes don’t run on a track, they bank themselves. But trains? Yep, trains lean into turns so they don’t topple over, which is bad for business and for anything that happens to be sitting by the side of the tracks.

Most folks don’t own or drive trains, so the need to lean them into turns isn’t something they ever need worry about. Yet, we suppose most kids in America have played with toy trains (or model railroads if you prefer) so they’ve likely noticed what train wheels look like, that flange and slightly tapered shape of the flat bit that sits on the rail. Have you ever wondered why they’re tapered? That’s what makes trains lean into a turn.

The taper means the wheel at the flange is a bigger diameter than on the tapered side. In other words, the wheel is a truncated cone. As the train track turns left, say, the wheel, which wants to go straight, rides up the rail until the flange hits the rail turning the train left. When it does the outside wheel rides on the large diameter part of the wheel and the inside wheel rides on the smaller diameter part of the wheel. Any vehicle with bigger wheels on one side will be lopsided and lean. Presto, the train leans into the turn.


Looking at the pic it ain’t much of a lean. Two things, trains don’t take sharp turns and compared to bikes or cars trains are very tall and top-heavy so a little lean goes a long way. Besides, you don’t want them leaning too much inside the turn or they’d tip over that way, which is bad for business etc.

trains3 trains4

To really see the difference, mouseover the pic.

There is a second advantage to this. Through a turn the outside wheel covers more ground than the inside wheel. For two wheels rotating at the same pace the outside wheel needs to be bigger so it has a greater circumference to cover more ground. If both wheels were the same size connected to a single axel, one or the other would roll too fast or too slow depending. That’s friction, that makes the engine work harder and adds wear and tear. So if the wheels are small inside and big outside… voila! No problem.

This is pretty ingenious engineering, elegantly simple, totally passive, set it and forget it. No need for a complicated suspension with motors, actuators, servos or gizmos of any kind. We doff our metaphorical caps to whoever devised it.

Filed 1/17/17

Treasure Trove of Pirate Trivia Light


Nobody has ever come across a bonafide pirate treasure map. As a general practice pirates didn’t hoard their ill-gotten gains, they spent it like drunken sailors. Which they were.

Pirates believed piercing their ears would enhance their eyesight. Which is no more absurd than modern people thinking piercing their nose will enhance their appearance.

Another term for pirate is freebooter, which comes from the Dutch vrijbuiter, plunderer. Your average pirate didn’t speak Dutch so they decided to be a freebooter and to heck with the Dutch.

A privateer was a sort-of pirate licensed to kill. Something like James Bond. Countries engaged privateers to wage undeclared war on enemy ships using a black budget navy they could deny responsibility for. Something like the CIA.

The whole “Ar-r-r, matey” pirate talk business came from a 1950 movie version of Treasure Island. It was actor Robert Newton’s version of a Bristol accent as it’s thought Blackbeard was born in Bristol. Blackbeard did his pirating out of South Carolina, but “Hey, y’all” just doesn’t sound very piratey, does it?

Early 16th century pirates the “Flying Gang” inspired Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow manner of speech is patterned after Keith Richards who was not born in Bristol and isn’t a pirate.

Filed 1/12/17

1.21 Gigawatts Is Child’s Play for Mother Nature


Lightning is much more powerful than long suspected. Unlike in Back to the Future with its Professor Brown shocking 1.21 gigawatts, strong lightning bolts can be in terawatts. A terawatt is 1,000 gigawatts. A gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts and a megawatt is 1,000 watts. And you thought a 150 watt lightbulb was bright?

Odd how a watt is named after James Watt who built the improved steam engine and not any kind of electrical gizmo. Though technically a watt is a measure of power, how much work an electric current can do. One watt is equal to one joule per second, if that means anything to you. We would explain it, but, since we don’t actually understand it, we won’t. Make that can’t.

Of course, Mother Nature really rolls up her sleeves and goes to work out in space. The sun is 3.9x10^26 watts, or if you can’t make sense of exponents 390,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 watts. That’s per second, by the way. Though a number with that many zeros is hard to relate to as you never count anything in your everyday life that high. After all, nobody takes inventory by molecule count, do they?

Filed 1/2/17

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