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Cool facts and stories behind them


For 75 years, Finland’s expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It’s like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world’s lowest infant mortality rates. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it’s designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they’re from, an equal start in life.
The maternity package – a gift from the government – is available to all expectant mothers.
It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress. With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby’s first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box’s four cardboard walls.

In the 1930s Finland was a poor country and infant mortality was high – 65 out of 1,000 babies died. But the figures improved rapidly in the decades that followed. Mika Gissler, a professor at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, gives several reasons for this – the maternity box and pre-natal care for all women in the 1940s, followed in the 60s by a national health insurance system and the central hospital network.

The box contains:Mattress, mattress cover, undersheet, duvet cover, blanket, sleeping bag/quilt
Box itself doubles as a crib
Snowsuit, hat, insluated mittens and booties
Light hooded suit and knitted overalls
Socks and mittens, knitted hat and balaclava
Bodysuits, romper suits and leggings in unisex colours and patterns
Hooded bath towel, nail scissors, hairbrush, toothbrush, bath thermometer, nappy cream, washcloth
Cloth nappy set and muslin squares
Picture book and teething toy
Bra pads, condoms

One ancient account of the death of Chrysippus, the 3rd century BC Greek Stoic philosopher, tells that he died of laughter after he saw a donkey eating his figs; he told a slave to give the donkey neat wine with which to wash them down, and then, “…having laughed too much, he died” (Diogenes Laertius 7.185).

Other people who’ve died from laughing:
Zeuxis, a 5th-century BC Greek painter, is said to have died laughing at the humorous way he painted the goddess Aphrodite – after the old woman who commissioned it insisted on modeling for the portrait.In 1410, King Martin of Aragon died from a combination of indigestion and uncontrollable laughter.
In 1556, Pietro Aretino, an Italian author, playwright, poet, satirist and blackmailer, who wielded influence on contemporary art and politics and developed modern literary pornography “is said to have died of suffocation from laughing too much”.
In 1660, Thomas Urquhart, the Scottish aristocrat, polymath and first translator of François Rabelais’s writings into English, is said to have died laughing upon hearing that Charles II had taken the throne.
In 1799, William Cushing, a pauper who lived in the parish of St Andrew’s, Norwich, England, died from “a fit of excessive laughter, which lasted five minutes.”
In 1893, farmer Wesley Parsons laughed to death over a joke told in Laurel, Indiana. He laughed for nearly an hour. He then died two hours after the incident.
On 24 March 1975, Alex Mitchell, from King’s Lynn, England, died laughing while watching the “Kung Fu Kapers” episode of The Goodies, featuring a kilt-clad Scotsman with his bagpipes battling a master of the Lancastrian martial art “Eckythump”, who was armed with a black pudding. After 25 minutes of continuous laughter, Mitchell finally slumped on the sofa and died from heart failure. His widow later sent The Goodies a letter thanking them for making Mitchell’s final moments of life so pleasant. Diagnosis of his granddaughter in 2012 of having the inheritable long QT syndrome (a heart rhythm abnormality) suggests that Mitchell may have died of a cardiac arrest caused by the same condition.

Lene Hau (pronounced LEE-nuh HOW) grew up in Denmark, and got a Ph.D. at the University of Arhus, studying the physics of solids. After she graduated, she received a Carlsberg Foundation fellowship – an award given by the Danish brewery Carlsberg for study abroad. She visited several physics programs around the U.S., and was interested in the Rowland Institute of Science in Boston. Soon after she arrived, she launched a new research project: the search for a new state of matter called the Bose-Einstein Condensate.

When atoms get extremely cold, a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero, they lose their individual identities and blend together. At low enough temperatures, a collection of millions of atoms can behave like a single “superatom.” This collection is known as the “Bose-Einstein Condensate,” after the two physicists whose work predicted its existence in 1924.

In June 1997, Hau and her co-workers finally cooled atoms enough to form a Bose-Einstein Condensate. They were among the first people in the world to see those condensates.

After making the condensate, Hau and her co-workers began looking for ways to use it. They realized that if they massaged the condensate just right with laser beams, they could make light pass through the previously opaque condensate. And they found that the massaged condensate could slow light more effectively than any material ever discovered.

They used an electromagnet to suspend a cigar-shaped condensate, 0.2 millimeters (0.008 inches) long, inside a vacuum chamber. They first illuminated the cigar from the side with a finely tuned laser beam (the ‘coupling’ beam), and then shot a pulse of laser light along the long axis of the cigar. The pulse slowed down and compressed as soon as it reached the altered condensate. Hau worked late nights in the lab for a year, trying to perfect her experimental system for slowing light.

Finally, in March 1998, she began to see the light slow down. “I thought, ‘gee, you are the first person to see light go this slowly,’” she said. That summer, when she flew to Copenhagen, she realized that she was traveling faster than her light beams. That fall, when she succeeded in getting light to travel at the speed of a bicycle, she decided to publish her results.

This year, her group took its experiments a step further by getting light inside a Bose-Einstein Condensate to stop completely. While the light pulse was totally compressed and contained entirely within the condensate, the team abruptly turned off the coupling laser. This adjustment left the light trapped inside. When they turned the coupling laser back on, the original light pulse came out the other end. “We can park a light pulse in the cloud for a millisecond,” Hau said. “It might sound short to you, but it’s really long – long enough for light at its normal speed to travel 300 kilometers – and there’s no doubt that we can get the storage times up.”

Slow or stopped light could someday be used in future computers that use light instead of electrons to carry and process information. Or, the light could be used by scientists to create simulated black holes in the lab.

Alone in her one-room cabin high in the mountains of southern Mexico, Ines Ramirez Perez felt the pounding pains of a child insistent on entering the world.

Three years earlier, she had given birth to a dead baby girl. As her labour intensified, so did her concern for this unborn child.

The sun had set hours ago. The nearest clinic was 80km away over rough roads, and her husband, her only assistant during a half-dozen previous births, was drinking at a cantina. She had no phone and neither did the cantina.

So at midnight, after 12 hours of constant pain, the petite, 40-year-old mother of six sat down on a low wooden bench. She took several gulps from a bottle of rubbing alcohol, grabbed a 15-cm knife and began to cut.

By the light of a single dim bulb, Ramirez sawed through skin, fat and muscle before reaching inside her uterus and pulling out her baby boy. She says she cut his umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, then passed out.

That was March 5, 2000. Today the baby she delivered, Orlando Ruiz Ramirez, is a rambunctious 4-year-old. And Ines Ramirez is recognised internationally as a modern miracle: She is believed to be the only woman known to have performed a successful Caesarean-section on herself.

Although there were no witnesses available to confirm her account, the two obstetricians who examined her 12 hours after the birth are wholly convinced.

Dr Honorio Galvan and Dr Jesus Guzman were so stunned by what they saw that they told Ramirez’s story at a medical meeting the following year. But the birth got little attention until it was reported in March in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

The doctors relied on the testimony of the village health assistant, Leon Cruz, who initially was summoned to help Ramirez and who described in detail what he saw when he arrived.

Ramirez said she thinks she operated on herself for about an hour before extricating her child and then fainting. When she regained consciousness, she wrapped a sweater around her bleeding abdomen and asked her 6-year-old son, Benito, to run for help. Several hours later, Cruz and a second health worker found Ramirez alert and lying beside her live baby.

Cruz sewed her 17-cm incision up with a regular needle and thread. The two men lifted mother and child onto a thin straw mat, lugged them up horse paths to the town’s only road, then drove them to the clinic over two hours away.

Students in three of Professor Peter Fröhlich‘s computer programming classes at Johns Hopkins University recently devised a method to game their final grades. Frolich grades exams on a curve: the highest grade in the class, whatever it may be, becomes 100 percent, and “everybody else gets a percentage relative to it.” So students collectively planned a boycott:
Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.
“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up… Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though.

Fröhlich was impressed by the students’ scheme. “The students learned that by coming together, they can achieve something that individually they could never have done,” he wrote in an e-mail. “At a school that is known (perhaps unjustly) for competitiveness I didn’t expect that reaching such an agreement was possible.” He has, however, revised his grading policy to prevent future gaming.

In the early hours of 19 May 1943, the crew of PC-815 detected what Hubbard thought was first one then later two Imperial Japanese Navy submarines approximately 10 nautical miles (19 km) off the shore of Cape Lookout, Oregon. Both the sonar operator and Lt. Hubbard himself thought that the echo of an active sonar ping, combined with apparent engine noises heard through the ship’s hydrophone indicated contact with a submarine.

Over the next 68 hours, the ship expended 37 depth charges in a “battle” that also involved the U.S. Navy blimps K-39 and K-33, the United States Coast Guard patrol boats Bonham and 78302, and the subchasers USS SC-536 and USS SC-537, all summoned to act as reinforcements. PC-815 was finally ordered back to base on 21 May.

In his eighteen-page after-action report, Hubbard claimed to have “definitely sunk, beyond doubt” one submarine and critically damaged another. However, the subsequent investigation by the Commander NW Sea Frontier, Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, cast a skeptical light on Hubbard’s claims and also implying that Lt. Hubbard and his crew were operating the ship’s sonar equipment incorrectly.

After the war, British and American analysis of captured Japanese Navy records confirmed that no Japanese submarines had been lost off the Oregon coast. Hubbard, however, never accepted that he had been mistaken about the “battle.” Both he and Tom Moulton, one of his officers, claimed that the official denials of any Japanese submarine presence off the Pacific coast had been motivated by a desire to avoid panic among the U.S. population.
Moreover, the Japanese submarine I-76 (renamed I-176 by that time) was based in Truk and operated only in the south Pacific during the time when Hubbard was in command of PC-815. The I-176 was sunk in the Coral Sea in May 1944 and removed from the Japanese Navy List on July 10, 1944 – a year after Hubbard was relieved of command of the PC-815.

A month later, the PC-815 traveled to San Diego, which was to become her home port. She arrived there on 2 June, and at the end of June was ordered to sea to join an anti-submarine training exercise. The exercise, held on 28 June, ended early and Hubbard took the opportunity to order an impromptu gunnery exercise while anchored just off the Mexican territory of South Coronado Island to the south-west of San Diego. The Mexican government sent an official protest to the U.S. Government, as no gunnery operations had been scheduled.

On 30 June a Board of Investigation was convened concerning PC-815 which concluded that Hubbard had disregarded orders, both by conducting gunnery practice and by anchoring in Mexican territorial waters without proper authority. His orders stated that the PC-815 was supposed to return after completing that day’s training. Hubbard argued that his crew was inexperienced, it was foggy, and he was tired so he did not return to port as ordered. A month earlier in his after action report concerning the recent fiasco off Cape Lookout, he had described the same men as “experienced” and “highly skilled”. Vice Admiral Fletcher, who both chaired the board and read the prior after action report, rated Hubbard “below average” and noted: “Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results. He is believed to have been sincere in his efforts to make his ship efficient and ready. Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time. Recommend duty on a large vessel where he can be properly supervised”. Hubbard was relieved of command effective 7 July 1943.

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A mosquito sucked the blood out of a bruise

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