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199. Fighting Tuberculosis and Embarassment

Listening to a patient for tuberculosis

Near the dawn of the 19th century medicine advanced inwards. Doctors began once more to diagnose problems with the heart and lungs by placing their ears against the bodies of patients and listening intently. This practice had been used since the time of the Greeks but recent advances had returned to frequent usage. This new body of science was in its infancy and doctors had great trouble listening to internal problems and keeping abreast of developments in the understanding of the human interior. Then it was improved by chance and embarrassment.

The Doctor René Theophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec was busy at work in the nineteenth century, doing nineteenth century things when he was presented with a chest problems. It was a young and rather plump lady, who was followed by her family. They lined the room as the young lady told of her suffering. For a decent diagnosis, he needed to listen to her lungs.

Under the watchful gaze of the family and the pressure of nineteenth century sensibilities he felt suddenly aware of how uncomfortably close he would have to place his head to her bosom, so he improvised. He grabbed a nearby piece of paper and rolled it up into a tube and placing the paper purposefully on her skin. To his shock when he listened, the sounds were much clearer. The lazy lungs breathing and the nervous heart beating.

That day, in 1816, the stethoscope was invented. Over time they became less papery and more trumpet-like. So it was until 1851 when a binaural stethoscope, one allowing the use of both ears, was introduced. Designs similar to the ones still used today, or so I hear.

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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Articles

 

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194. The High House

Reachable thanks to the violent and thorough application of nunchuksIn 2004 some developers planned a shopping complex in the Chinese municipality of Chongqing. As per normal they bought the land and swiftly evicted the 280 home owners, however they met resistance in the  form of Wu Ping and her husband, Yang Wu. The ever calm 49-year-old Wu Ping and supporting Yang Wu decided to not leave. Instead they settled down in their two-storey brick house while the land around them was scraped clean.

The developers were impatient and even began to excavate the land around the house; still, Wu Ping and Yang Wu stayed in their house. While the ground fell away from around their humble abode the developers apparently threatened the pair by sending up thugs, presumably thugs of the threatening kind. The oddity of the case and the bravado displayed meant news of the case spread far and wide. The image of a single house on a column of earth became synonymous with the struggle between citizens and property developers in an aggressively modernising China. As Wu Ping said:

“I’m not stubborn or unruly, I’m just trying to protect my personal rights as a citizen.”

Fortunately Wu Ping’s husband was more than able to help. Being a martial arts champion he threatened to beat up any authorities approaching the house. He also happened to be a practical and fairly determined individual. For simpler access to the house he cut stairs winding up the 10 muddy metres to the house. How? With the violent and thorough application of his personal nunchuks to the soft earth.

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Articles

 

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188. Death by Utopia

Calhoun relaxing in Universe 25

In the late 20th Century, John B. Calhoun decided to make Utopia; it started with rats. In 1947 he began to watch a colony of Norway rats, over 28 months he noticed something, in that time the population could have increased to 50,000 rats, but instead it never even rose above 200. Then he noticed that the colony split into smaller groups of 12, any more and groups would split apart. He continued to study rats up until 1954. Then in 1958, he made his first lab.

He bought the second floor of a barn, and there he made his office and lab. For four years he had Universe 1, a large room homing rats and mice alike. It was split into four spacious pens connected by ramps, each filled with rats. The thronging mass of rats produced an overpowering odour, it took a few minutes before anyone could breathe normally. After 4 years he moved away from the farm, in 1963 he produced his most famous creation, Universe 1. The worlds first mouse mortality-inhibiting-environment.

2.7 metres square with 1.4m high walls. The ‘Universe’ was surrounded by 16 tunnels leading to food, water and burrows. No predators, no scarcity, the mice would have to be blind to not see the utopia around them. That is how it started, Utopia. Then the mice, four breeding pairs in all, were introduced into Universe 1. After 104 days they adjusted to the new world and the population began to grow, doubling every 55 days. Day 315 and the population reached 620, then it stopped. The population grew much more slowly as the mice came against the limit of space, their only frontier.

Then the societal breakdown, young were expelled before they had been properly weaned and the attacking of young. Dominant males couldn’t defend their territory and females became more aggressive, non-dominant males became passive, not retaliating to attacks. The last healthy birth came on the 600th day. Then there were no children. Then came extinction.

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Posted by on October 14, 2011 in Articles

 

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186. The Melted Caterpillar

by GollyGForce

For over a century scientists have been observing caterpillars engaging in strange migrations. This condition affects many different species of caterpillar, but the virus specialising in the Gypsy Moth caterpillar has a few extra surprises.

These normally nocturnal creatures would starts venturing out in broad daylight, leaving their normal grazing and reaching up into the open canopy. The change was not a choice, it was forced by an invader. The caterpillars were sick, and a virus was in control.

One single gene has been isolated in the virus which is thought to be the ‘caterpillar control,’ it deactivates the caterpillar’s will to moult, sending the caterpillar on a constant feeding cycle. Making one very hungry caterpillar.

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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Articles

 

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184. Deadly Dough

In San Diego the sun beat down mercilessly on every available surface, metal  singed fingers and waves of air rose off of the tarmac. Outside of a small shop there was a car parked, from inside came a muffled bang, no-one outside noticed. The figure inside the car reached up cautiously to the back of its skull then collapsed limply.

Over time the people passing in and out of the shop noticed the slumped figure with her eyes closed and windows rolled up. The figure was one Lisa Burnett, a 23 year-old blonde-haired figure who was now by some contrivance of circumstance inert in the front of a rapidly heating car. Eventually one person who had been in the shop for over an hour became concerned and carefully approached the car.

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Posted by on September 16, 2011 in Articles

 

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183. The Revolutionary Making Of The Metre

The Belfry in Dunkirk by Harry NL

After the French Revolution, France was changed and changing. Old units of measurement were too linked to the previous regime, they had to be thrown out. Lengths varied region to region and country to country, but that was old France; in 1790, just one year after the French Revolution, they started – on a surprisingly long journey – to find a universal length. The metre.

The first idea was a pendulum which would swing to and fro in a total time of 1 second, the length of the pendulum would become the metre. The length was close to other lengths in use such as the English Yard. Unfortunately a pendulum that performs a full swing in 1 second in Paris would do the same motion in a different time if moved. A pendulum in London moves at a different speed to one in Paris. The idea did not gain traction.

June 17 1771 King Louis XVI charged a commission chosen by the Academy of Sciences to pursue and create the metre. The commission was a group of 12 dedicated scientists and mathematicians, the leader was Jean Charles de Borda. Jean-Charles de Borda was an eminent French Mathematician, physicist and fan of decimalisation. He detested the idea of the second-pendulum because of both its errors and a more personal gripe, the second was a unit of time, and time wasn’t measured in units of ten, it just wasn’t decimal enough. He preferred the system of 10 hours to a day, 100 minutes to an hour and 100 seconds to the minute and so on. Unfortunately for him this decimal time system was being used in exactly 0 countries, so he and the 11 others looked into alternatives.

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

At the intersection of two dirt roads in the Mojave Desert and 15 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere existed the Mojave telephone booth. From the 1960’s it existed to service remote miners working nearby in all of its hand-cranked glory. In the 1970’s it was upgraded to a touch-tone and then it was left. The miners then left and many mines abandoned. The telephone booth held its position but became ever more infrequently used, on the edge of nowhere. At some point it was shot. After being shot it became rather more interesting.

So it sat there with its broken light by the crossing of two trails of dirt, until it was discovered again. In 1997 when it received a little visit. Anonymous Los Angeles man ‘Mr. N’ was just looking at a map of the nearby area when he discovered a peculiarity — a dot. Beside said dot sat the word, ‘telephone.’ Mr N heard the call and set off, in his Jeep, in pursuit and in a pair of fine pair of Wingtip shoes. After many hours he did find it, and a surprise. He returned home satisfied and wrote a letter to a small, underground magazine which described his findings. Contained were the words ‘it works’ and the number so that anyone curious could call the desert. (760) 733-9969. Despite the chances, the phone company had been remarkably charitable and had let the phone stay connected for an extremely small number of people. Soon the number was to increase.

On the 26th of May Godfrey Daniels read the letter and became mildly obsessed. Calling it every day, leaving notes around the house, ‘Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?’ says the one affixed to his mirror. Each call was taped, while it rang he would automatically dictate the time, date and purpose of the call. Every visitor to his house was coerced into also calling the number. He was by his own admission ‘prepared to call for years’. Fortunately for his phone bill and confused house guests he succeeded in contact within a month.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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