When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1990s

Height Advantage

1996: An intriguing but ultimately meaningless statistic: “practically every president elected in the United States since 1900 was the taller of the two candidates”. Eighteen of the 25 presidential elections in the 20th century were won by the taller of the two main candidates and five by the shorter. In the other two elections, the main opponents were the same height.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Heights_of_presidents_and_presidential_
candidates_of_the_United_States

Laws Of Physics

1995: In “Tumbling toast, Murphy’s Law and the fundamental constants”, Robert A.J. Matthews demonstrated mathematically that “toast does indeed have an inherent tendency to land butter-side down”. At the end of his article, Matthews suggested ways to avoid this messy outcome: by swiping at the falling toast, to give it a horizontal as well as a vertical velocity; by reducing toast size to 2.5-centimetre squares; or by breakfasting at 3-metre-high tables.

Source: European Journal of Physics, 1995

Scaredy Cats

1994: Why the sudden appearance, in Japanese backstreets and alleys, of clusters of plastic bottles filled with water?

To ward off unwanted cats. Householders believed the cats would be frightened by their distorted reflections as they walked past. A sort of feline hall of mirrors.

Source: James M. Vardaman, Jr., and Michiko Sasaki Vardaman, Japan from A to Z: Mysteries of Everyday Life Explained (1995), pp. 19–20

Shrieking Rabbits

1993: During the siege of the compound near Waco, in Texas, occupied by the Branch Davidian religious group, the FBI subjected sect members to the recorded shrieks of dying rabbits.

Source: Garret Keizer, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise (2010), p. 71

Exhausting The Inexhaustible

1992: The catastrophic collapse of the cod population off the eastern seaboard of Canada forced the government to impose a moratorium on catches.

European sailors who reached Newfoundland at the end of the 15th century found the seas “full of fish which are taken not only with the net but also with a basket”. In 1851, Newfoundland’s display at the Great Exhibition in London dealt solely with the history and manufacture of cod liver oil. Cod sustained the Newfoundland economy, and cod numbers seemed inexhaustible.

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Nothin’ To It

1991: Louisiana’s executioner expressed nonchalance about operating the state’s electric chair: “It’s no different to me executing somebody and goin’ to the refrigerator and getting a beer out of it.”

Source: Wilbert Rideau, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (2011), p. 220

Dahl Finds Solace

Roald Dahl, photographed in 1982 by Hans van Dijk

1990: In 1962, Roald Dahl’s 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, caught measles. The virus can lead in rare cases to measles encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that is sometimes fatal. Olivia was one of those rare cases, and the disease was fatal.

Thirty years later, as his own life drew to a close, the children’s author tenderly remembered his dead daughter and drew inspiration from her. “I am not frightened of falling off my perch,” he said. “If Olivia can do it, so can I.”

Source: Donald Sturrock, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl (2010), pp. 383–8, 560

Deadly Charcoal

1998: In Hong Kong, a city where the majority of people live in high-rise flats, it was perhaps unsurprising that the most common method of suicide should have been by jumping from a tall building; intentional carbon monoxide poisoning was relatively uncommon. In November, however, a middle-aged woman took her life by sealing herself in a room and burning barbecue charcoal to produce a fug of the deadly gas. The novelty and simplicity of this method attracted widespread media coverage and inspired copycats. Within two months, charcoal-burning had become the third most prevalent means of suicide in Hong Kong.

Source: Psychiatric Services, June 2001

Turned Out Nice

1997: No one wants it to rain on their parade. To make sure that wet weather didn’t spoil Moscow’s 850th anniversary pageant, the city’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, sent up aircraft to seed approaching clouds with silver iodide as a way of encouraging them to shed their rain before they reached the celebrations.

Source: Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide (2006), p. 270

Birth Of BackRub

Q: What began life at Stanford University in 1996 as a student research project with the nickname “BackRub”?
A: The Internet search engine Google.

Source: John Battelle, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture (2005), pp. 72–6

Pedal Power

1995: At the beginning of the century, the world land speed record, set by the Belgian racer Camille Jenatzy in 1899 in an electric-powered car, stood at 105.88 km/h. By the end of the century, bicycles were travelling faster than that. Much faster. On 3 October 1995, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, the Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, pedalling in the slipstream of a dragster, set a world bicycle speed record of 268.831 km/h.

Source: www.lepetitbraquet.fr/chron38_
fred_rompelberg.html

Vaccines Save Lives

1993: Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States: diphtheria, 156 in 1953 and none in 1993; whooping cough, 270 in 1953 and one in 1993; tetanus, 337 in 1953 and 11 in 1993; paralytic polio, 1,450 in 1953 and none in 1993.

Source: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/
pinkbook/downloads/appendices/e/
reported-cases.pdf

Corrigendum

1992: The Times of India report on 29 April 1966 that Balasaheb Patloji Thorat, from Maharashtra, had won a lawsuit that had dragged on for centuries was incorrect. The dispute had a long history, but a civil suit had only been filed on 8 April 1964. The lawsuit had lasted just over two years, not 761 years.

Source: The Times of India, 18 February 1992

Alphabet Soup

1991: In the space of 70 years, Azerbaijanis had to cope with three major changes to their alphabet, plus a handful of minor alterations. From 1923, the centuries-old Arabic script was replaced by a Latin script; in 1939, Stalin imposed a Cyrillic script; and in 1991, the newly independent state reverted to a Latin script. Azerbaijanis barely had time to become literate in one before they had to learn another.

Source: Azerbaijan International, Spring 2000

Population Boom

1990: Between the end of the Second World War and 1990 the world’s population soared by almost 3 billion. The medical journal The Lancet illustrated the scale of this increase with an analogy: if an atomic bomb with the killing capacity of the one that obliterated Hiroshima had been dropped every day since 6 August 1945, it would have failed to keep pace with the runaway growth in human numbers.

Source: The Lancet, 15 September 1990

Sporting Casualties

1999: Although the crunching collisions of American football are absent from soccer, the game is not without its perils. Between 1979 and 1999, 18 children died and 14 were seriously injured in the United States when movable soccer goals fell on them.

Source: Simon P.R. Jenkins, Sports Science Handbook: The Essential Guide to Kinesiology, Sport and Exercise Science (2005), vol. 1, p. 140

Bee Gone

Short-haired bumble bee, photographed by Martin Andersson

1998: The Daily Telegraph lamented the demise of the short-haired bumble bee, which “is, or was, one of 21 species of bumble bee in Britain”. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, Bombus subterraneus was the 154th species to become extinct in Britain during the 20th century.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1998

Record Breaker

Jeanne Calment in 1895, aged 20

1997: Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment died on 4 August at the age of 122 years and 164 days – the longest confirmed lifespan, by a considerable margin, of any human in history. At the age of 100 she still cycled around her hometown of Arles, she was almost 110 before she needed to move into a retirement home, and she didn’t quit smoking until her 117th year.

Source: Michel Allard, Victor Lèbre and Jean-Marie Robine, Jeanne Calment: From Van Gogh’s Time to Ours, 122 Extraordinary Years (1998), pp. 73, 119

Final Reward

1996: William Vickrey had little time to savour the plaudits after he won the Nobel Prize in economics. The Columbia University professor was notified of the joint award on 8 October. He spent the next three days busily fielding phone calls, giving radio interviews and appearing on television, and then died of a heart attack on 11 October.

Source: The New York Times, 12 October 1996

Hold The Line

1995: Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, the Cali drug cartel’s godfather of godfathers, was a busy man, so if you phoned him, the chances were, you’d be put on hold. While you waited, the hold music was Scott Joplin’s ragtime theme from the film The Sting.

Source: William C. Rempel, At the Devil’s Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel (2011), pp. 209–10

Medical Progress

1994: The progress made in reducing childhood mortality in the world’s most advanced economies was strikingly illustrated in Sweden: not a single 8-year-old girl died during 1994 – there were 112,521 at the beginning of the year and they were all still alive at the end of the year.

Source: Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body (2003), p. 329

Dead Language

1992: Ubykh, from the eastern end of the Black Sea, was one of hundreds of languages that disappeared during the century. Linguists were fascinated by Ubykh’s multitude of consonants and almost total absence of vowels. It was reckoned to have about 84 consonants and two or three vowels – the exact numbers were a matter for debate. Tevfik Esenç, who died on 7 October, was the last native speaker of Ubykh; his death marked not just the passing of an individual human being, but the extinction of a language.

Source: http://dergipark.gov.tr/download/
article-file/305216

Sleepyhead

1991: Vicki Childress, from Key West in Florida, kept two items beneath her pillow: an inhaler in case she had an asthma attack, and a .38 revolver to protect against intruders. Just before midnight on 21 October, she needed her inhaler. Half-asleep, she reached under her pillow. You can guess what happened next. The following day she was in hospital recovering well, but with several shattered teeth.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, 23 October 1991

At Long Last

1990: The retired Iowa farmer Charles Osborne finally stopped hiccuping, more than six decades after he had started. The hiccups had begun one day in 1922, when Osborne had been hanging up a hog for butchering. “I picked it up and then I fell down. I felt nothing, but the doctor said later that I busted a blood vessel the size of a pin in my brain.” Once the hiccups started, they wouldn’t stop. For the next 68 years, Osborne hiccuped 20 or even 40 times a minute – several hundred million hiccups altogether.

Source: http://people.com/archive/a-
cure-for-hiccups-retired-farmer-charles-
osborne-isnt-holding-his-breath-hes-
had-them-for-60-years-vol-17-no-12/

Lightning Strike

1998: The Kinshasa newspaper L’Avenir reported that lightning struck and killed all 11 members of a football team during a match in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while leaving the opposing team unscathed.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/
africa/203137.stm