It’s Pointless Animation Monday

Tmouse1 Tmouse2 Tmouse3 Tmouse3 wheel1 wheel2 wheel2 Bmouse1 Bmouse2 Bmouse3 Bmouse3

So the animation is pointless, but we thought we’d add some trivia value to it. While most animals cannot squeeze through a space smaller than their head, a mouse can. That’s because the multiple bones that make up its scull are not firmly connected to each other, as are human sculls for instance. So a mouse’s head is squeezable, it can elongate to squirm through holes smaller than you’d ever imagine.

Filed 4/17/17

Can Electric Glass Finally Make Electric Cars Sensible?


From the 94 year-old who brought you the lithium-ion battery comes a new glass battery. Possibly another game changer from the mind and hard work of John Goodenough. Now there’s a name that’s an understatement. The new battery holds three times the charge, is lightning quick to recharge and doesn’t self immolate. Perhaps that Tesla will stop doing it’s pyrotechnic Pinto imitation.

Will a New Glass Battery Accelerate the End of Oil?

Whether it actually saves any energy overall is not clear. Electric cars today don’t. Still, to get past the slow charging hurdle that dogs current electric cars it might be good enough. (You just knew that pun was coming.)

Filed 4/11/17

Those Magnificent Men and Their If-Only-Magnificent Flying Machines –Jet and Flying Wing


We close our Flight Week Extravaganza with what might have been magnificent flying machines. Early jets and flying wings. After all, what is more sleek and futuristic than the B-2 Stealth Bomber, a jet-powered flying wing?

The first jet, or proto jet, appeared much sooner than most might imagine. That was the Coandă 1910 we mentioned about ten years ago. Along the same lines the origins of the flying wing goes way, way back, too. The very first flying wing was a biplane built and flown in 1910 by Englishman John William Dunne. It was also likely the first variable aspect swept wing plane to go airborne.

J.W. Dunne’s Flying Wings
The First Jet –Coandă 1910

Coandă’s jet, what he called an air reaction engine, failed because they didn’t yet have the technology to construct engines that could withstand the high heat it produced in operation. Why they didn’t pursue developing Dunne’s flying wing is not really clear. We guess some ideas are simply too far ahead of their time.

Filed 3/17/17

Those Magnificent Men in Their Not-so-Magnificent Flying Machines –Part Five


It looked like a small plane with its fuselage over-inflated with air, like a winged pufferfish. It was the Stipa-Caproni “intubed propeller” airplane of 1923. Also called, for obvious reasons once you see it, the Flying Barrel. Still, it wasn’t as crazy as it seemed, though it certainly looked the part.

The Stipa-Caproni was built to test a propulsion concept and not to develop its very peculiar airframe. The entire machine was a really big tube with a propellor inside and some airplane bits attached so it would fly. After a fashion. It could take off and cruise quite stably at low speeds. In fact, too stably as it was hard to turn. See and find out all about it here:

The Flying Barrel

The more we look at it the more we’re convinced it was something bought by Wile E. Coyote from Acme Industries. Only in real life, not a cartoon.

Filed 3/16/17

Those Magnificent Men in Their Not-so-Magnificent Flying Machines –Part Four


Now for a change of pace. Not every plane with peculiar wing arrangements, or non-wings, was utterly nutterly. Some flew fine, but were deemed unnecessary. It’s like, you could build a working Rube Goldberg mousetrap, but why bother? Three examples: the Flying Flapjack, spinning wings, and the Custer Channelwing.

The Flying Flapjack’s entire airframe was a lifting body, something like a flying wing only shaped more like a pancake than a boomerang. Spinning wings came in various configurations (drums, paddles, tapered thingies) and rotated like mad on horizontal axes sticking out the sides or in front or sometimes over the pilot’s head. The channelwing’s engines drove air over a round trough which… we don’t know how the thing worked. Go to the links to see and learn all about them.

Chance Vought Flying Flapjack
Magnus-Robbins Effect Spinning Wings
Custer Channelwing

We imagine the big problem with both the spinning wings and channelwing is since they rely on their engines to create lift if there’s an engine cut-out the plane would drop like a rock. Turning an ugly duck into a literal blot on the landscape.

Filed 3/15/17

Those Magnificent Men in Their Not-so-Magnificent Flying Machines –Part Three

By middle of the Great War standard airplane design was pretty well worked out. Wings, not tetrahedral cells, were the way to go. Limiting the number to less than you could count without taking your shoes off became standard practice. Wing warping also went by the board. Tails were at the tail and wings were up front, rigid and well braced. Well, most of the time.

Enter Dr. William Christmas, aviation innovator and either charlatan or crackpot. He built the Christmas Bullet, a plane with flexing wings to flap in the air like a bird. Not a controlled flapping, mind you, its wings had no struts or bracing and weren’t very rigid. They flapped from turbulence. Here’s the story:

The Dr. Christmas Bullet

A long story short, two planes, two flights, two crashes, two dead test pilots. Pretty dreadful, if not homicidal. The doc also had a plan to fly to Germany and kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm to end the war. Con-man or madman? Who knows? The most amazing part of the story, he billed the U.S. government $100,000 for this utterly miserable contrivance. And the Feds paid him!

Filed 3/14/17

Those Magnificent Men in Their Not-so-Magnificent Flying Machines –Part Two


As we saw in Part One, tetrahedral cells were not such a great alternative to wings to get a flying machine off the ground. Planes with actual wings, monoplanes, biplanes, triplanes, on the other hand, all worked admirably. How about a plane with a hundred wings? Fifty times as good as a biplane, right?

At least that seemed to be the thinking of intrepid London-born aircraft pioneer Horatio Phillips. His obsession with more is more took on ludicrous proportions. His 1907 two hundred wing multiplane (that’s right, 200 wings) looked like a crate made out of venetian blinds. Thing was, it worked. Barely. He used it for the first, though very short, powered flight in England. At least he limited his contraptions to a single engine, so we’ll give him that.

Horatio Phillips & Multiplanes

Despite how absurd these multiplanes appear today, Mr. Phillips wasn’t a completely round the bend eccentric. In fact, he helped pioneer proper airfoil design, though seemingly at the expense of everything else that would make flying practical. Such as his novel circular runways. We can only guess that was so everyone could have an airport in their backyard.

Filed 3/13/17

Those Magnificent Men in Their Not-so-Magnificent Flying Machines –Part One


A lot of early airplanes and would-be flying machines look pretty goofy to modern eyes. What in blazes were they thinking, we wonder. Of course, these days we know what a working plane should look like, back then they didn’t. Two wings? Four wings? Ten wings? Tail in the front or back? Or front and back? What everyone did agree on was a plane needed wings to fly. Well, almost everybody.

Alexander Graham Bell had other ideas. Instead of wings like a bird, he’d use what worked for a certain kind of box kite. Tetrahedral cells. Hundreds of them in a ginormous triangular rack. Rather than describe what that is or how it was supposed to work, we suggest you go to the link where they show and tell all:

Alexander Graham Bell tries his hand at aircraft design

Needless to say it worked out badly. Which at least saved us from having the airways run by the phone company.

Filed 3/10/17

I Came, I Saw, I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes


Likely you know Julius Caesar’s famous line, “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” I came. I saw. I conquered. If you spoke Latin the way he spoke it, that’s, “Wenny. Weedy. Weekie.” Sounds kinda wimpy, but that’s how they talked. On the other hand the Pope would say, “Venny. Veedy. Veechie.” as that’s how ecclesiastical Latin is spoken.

We don’t imagine the Bishop of Rome would have occasion to speak the line as he doesn’t have much of an army these days. The Swiss Guard aren’t very likely to conquer anyone with their pikes. Or Swiss army knives, either. Still, a wargame scrimmage between Swiss pikemen and, say, Beefeaters might be interesting. Wonder if re-enactors or LARPers ever try that scenario? Bet they would if you tossed in Samurai. Or Vikings. Every battle is better with Samurai and Vikings. Or pirates. But we’re done with that.

Speaking of Samurai and Vikings, while we all know Vikings didn’t sport horned helmets, some Samurai did. Sometimes absurdly gigantic horns. But not for battle, on ceremonial parade and suchlike. Some of these helmets and armor were pretty outlandish, more art than armor really. Feast your eyes and maybe be amazed:

Samurai Bling from Medieval Japan
Wonderfully Strange Samurai Helmets

Filed 3/7/17

The Eponymous State Name Game


We’re going to do something a little different for this time out. Since there’s going to be multiple answers, which might be tricky to keep track of and store in short-term memory, we’ve provided spaces for you to jot down your answers. The boxes can be expanded as needed. Afterward you can compare your wild guesses to the correct answers.

Sorry, we don’t have the tech savvy to check it for you like trivia quiz sites do, you’ll have to go old school and score it yourself.

Which seven states were named after kings or queens? One point for each correct answer.

Before moving on, who were the kings or queens these seven states were named after? Be sure to include any Roman numeral. There were eight Henrys and a slew of Edwards for instance. One point for each correct answer.

Mouseover for answers

Georgia: King George II
Louisiana: King Louis XIV
Maryland: Queen Henrietta Maria of France
North and South Carolina: King Charles II [Latin for Charles, Carolas]
Virginia and West Virginia: Queen Elizabeth I, the “Virgin Queen.”

Which three states were named after famous persons who weren’t kings or queens? Score one point for each correct answer.

As before, who were the three famous people they were named after? Score one point for each correct answer.

Mouseover for answers

Delaware: Thomas West, Third Baron De La Warr
Pennsylvania: William Penn
Washington: George Washington
(Score a point for getting Lord De La Warr. Knowing Thomas West and his being the Third Baron wins a bonus point and our undying awe.)

18-20 points: history nerd supreme
15-17 points: smarter than a fifth grader
11-14 points: lucky guesser
8-10 points: unlucky guesser
5-7 points: slacker
1-4 points: phys ed major
0 points: you didn’t keep track, did you?

Filed 2/27/17

Quick Pirate Week Update


We just learned pirates did not use cutlasses during the Great Pirate Heyday around the turn of the 18th century. That’s because the cutlass wasn’t invented until after the American War of Independence. Pirates used other swords similar to a cutlass, like hangers and falchions or possibly backswords, shamshirs and rapiers. Who knows which, pirates didn’t keep good records.

In the opening pic we reprise the Jolly Rogers of Thomas Tew (left) and Calico Jack to show, whatever those swords were supposed to be, lacking a beefy hand guard they certainly weren’t cutlasses.

As for other errata generally throughout terry colon dot com, there are bound to be more. Especially as we tend to take liberties to make jokes, successfully or not. We do guarantee the information presented is 97.5% correct. Though we might be wrong about that.

While We’re on the Topic, Some Additional Sword Trivia


The iconic Roman short sword was the gladius. It is where the term gladiator comes from, a man wielding a gladius. Gladius is simply Latin for sword, and gladiator pretty much translates to swordsman.


The modern sport fencing épée and foil were originally practice swords for the rapier and small-sword. Folks in the past weren’t stupid enough to practice with real swords. Considering everything has a learning curve, few would survive sword first grade to ever graduate.

There is a bit of trivia that makes the rounds that cavalry sabers were not sharpened and used as blunt impact weapons. ‘Fraid not. Military saber manuals contain instructions for cutting with a saber, which requires a sharpened blade to do.


The blunt saber idea may have arisen because many surviving old sabers are unsharpened. Two possibilities for that. First, swords were sharpened only after being issued. Warehoused swords would all be blunt. Secondly, even issued swords would not always be sharpened unless there was a war on or if the soldier served in a danger zone. Both warehoused and peacetime swords tended to survive more than swords used in combat.

Filed 2/21/17

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 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.

What is the capital of Vermont?

Montpelier, the least populous state capital city. (Three questions down and no tricks so far. Feeling confident or leery going forward?)

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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