Wikipedia: Raising of Chicago

During the 19th century, the elevation of the Chicago area was not much higher than the shorelines of Lake Michigan. The lack of drainage caused unpleasant living conditions, and standing water harbored pathogens that caused numerous epidemics. In 1856, engineer Ellis S. Chesbrough drafted a plan for the installation of a city-wide sewerage system. Workers then laid drains, covered and refinished roads and sidewalks with several feet of soil, and raised most buildings to the new grade with hydraulic jacks.

In January 1858, the first masonry building in Chicago to be thus raised—a four story, 21 m long, 750-ton brick structure situated at the north-east corner of Randolph Street and Dearborn Street—was lifted on two hundred jackscrews to its new grade, which was 1.88 m higher than the old one, “without the slightest injury to the building.”

Many of central Chicago’s hurriedly erected wooden frame buildings were now considered wholly inappropriate to the increasingly wealthy city. Rather than raise them several feet, proprietors often preferred to relocate these old frame buildings. Consequently, the practice of putting the old multi-story, intact and furnished wooden buildings on rollers and moving them to the outskirts of town or to the suburbs was so common as to be considered nothing more than routine traffic.

Traveller David Macrae wrote incredulously, “Never a day passed during my stay in the city that I did not meet one or more houses shifting their quarters. One day I met nine. Going out Great Madison Street in the horse cars we had to stop twice to let houses get across.

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Wikipedia: Eskimo or Inuit?

The two main peoples known as “Eskimo” are: the Inuit of Canada, Northern Alaska (sub-group “Inupiat”), and Greenland, and the Yupik of Alaska and eastern Siberia. A third group, the Aleut, is closely related to the Eskimo and shares a recent, common (“Paleo-Eskimo”) ancestor, and a language group (Eskimo-Aleut). The Aleut are also recognized as belonging to the greater Eskimo race.

While the term “Eskimo” is sometimes considered offensive, in its linguistic origins it is not a fundamentally offensive word. Alternative terms such as Inuit-Yupik have been proposed, but none have come into widespread acceptance.

Two principal competing etymologies have been proposed for the name “Eskimo”. The most commonly accepted today appears to be the proposal of Ives Goddard at the Smithsonian Institution, who derives it from the Montagnais word meaning “snowshoe-netter” or “to net snowshoes.” The primary reason some people consider Eskimo derogatory is the questionable but widespread perception that in Algonkian languages it means “eaters of raw meat.”

The Inuit Circumpolar Council, as it is known today, uses both “Inuit” and “Eskimo” in its official documents. Because of the linguistic, ethnic, and cultural differences between Yupik and Inuit peoples, it seems questionable that any umbrella term to encompass all Yupik and Inuit people will be acceptable.

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Wikipedia: Strategic steam reserve

A Strategic steam reserve (SSR) is a collection of withdrawn steam locomotives which is kept in working order for possible use in a national emergency. During the Cold War several countries, including Sweden and the Soviet Union, kept SSRs and the United Kingdom is reported to have done so, albeit without hard evidence.

Many European railways have a large mileage which is electrified. In the event of a war, or major natural disaster, electricity supplies could be disrupted and electric locomotives would be unworkable. Diesel locomotives could also be at risk for two reasons:

– supplies of imported oil might be cut off,
– solid state components in diesel locomotives might be destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear weapon.

The alleged British ‘Strategic Reserve’ is a potent and frequently recurring urban myth amongst railway enthusiasts. Following the complete withdrawal of mainline steam traction in 1968, the myth persisted for decades that a reserve of locomotives had been retained for such a strategic purpose. As no official reserve existed, nor was any reserve obviously visible, this encouraged many fanciful explanations for where the reserve might be hidden, usually in some tunnel or mine. One theory even claimed that the growing steam preservation movement was itself the Strategic Reserve.

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Wikipedia: Lichen

A lichen is a composite organism that emerges from algae or cyanobacteria (or both) living among filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship. The whole combined life form has properties that are very different from properties of its component organisms.

Common names for lichens may contain the word “moss” and lichens may superficially look like and grow with mosses, but lichens are not related to mosses or any plant. They can survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth: arctic tundra, hot dry deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. They can even live inside solid rock. Some lichens do not grow on anything, living out their lives blowing about the environment (see also: Aeroplankton).

Some lichens have lost the ability to reproduce sexually, yet continue to speciate. Lichens may be long-lived, with some considered to be among the oldest living things. Lichens can survive unprotected in space with no discernible damage.

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Wikipedia: Weasel war dance

The weasel war dance is a colloquial term for a behavior of excited ferrets and weasels.

In wild animals, it is speculated that this dance is used to confuse or disorient prey. In domestic animals, the war dance usually follows play or the successful capture of a toy or a stolen object and is commonly held to mean that the ferret is thoroughly enjoying itself. It consists of a frenzied series of sideways and backwards hops, often accompanied by an arched back, and a frizzy tail.

Ferrets are notoriously clumsy in their surroundings during their dance and will often bump into or fall over objects and furniture. Most often, the act includes a clucking vocalization, commonly known as “dooking”. It normally indicates happiness.

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Wikipedia: The Spanish Flu

The 1918 flu pandemic (January 1918 – December 1920) was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus.

It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

This has been attributed to the circumstances of the First World War. In civilian life, natural selection favours a mild strain. Those who get very ill stay home, and those mildly ill continue with their lives, preferentially spreading the mild strain. In the trenches, natural selection was reversed. Soldiers with a mild strain stayed where they were, while the severely ill were sent on crowded trains to crowded field hospitals, spreading the deadlier virus.

To maintain morale, wartime censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, Britain, France, and the United States; but papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain, creating a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit – thus the pandemic’s nickname Spanish flu.

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John B. Calhoun’s mouse experiments

In July 1968 four pairs of mice were introduced into the Utopian universe. The universe was a 2.7 m square metal pen with 1.4 m high sides. There was no shortage of food or water or nesting material. The only adversity was the limit on space.

Initially the population grew rapidly and reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly. The last surviving birth was on day 600. This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior. After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction.

During this period females ceased to reproduce. Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits. Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males.

The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.

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Wikipedia: 2009 Norwegian spiral anomaly

The Norwegian spiral anomaly of 2009 appeared in the night sky over Norway on 9 December 2009.

The light could be seen in all of Trøndelag to the south and all across the three northern counties which compose Northern Norway, as well as from Northern Sweden and it lasted for 2–3 minutes.

A similar, though less spectacular event had also occurred in Norway the month before. Both events had the expected visual features of failed flights of Russian SLBM RSM-56 Bulava missiles, and the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged shortly after that such an event had taken place on 9 December.

Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer stated to AFP that “such lights and clouds appear from time to time when a missile fails in the upper layers of the atmosphere and have been reported before … At least this failed test made some nice fireworks for the Norwegians.”

Further reading: Universe Today – What was the Norway Spiral? (with videos)

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