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52 Interesting Things I Learned in 2023

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 26, 2023

Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s annual list, I kept track of some things I learned this year, one for each week. Here we go:

  1. Ciabatta was invented in 1982.
  2. “If our planet was 50% larger in diameter, we would not be able to venture into space, at least using rockets for transport.”
  3. Purple Heart medals that were made for the planned (and then cancelled) invasion of Japan in 1945 are still being given out to wounded US military personnel.
  4. More than 100,000 public school students in NYC were homeless during the 2021-22 school year.
  5. The San Francisco subway system still runs on 5 1/4-inch floppies.
  6. NYPL librarians have discovered that “up to 75 percent of books published before 1964 may now be in the public domain”.
  7. Gangkhar Puensum, a mountain in Bhutan with an elevation of 24,836 feet (7,570 m), is the tallest unclimbed mountain in the world. (Mountaineering has been banned in Bhutan since 2003.)
  8. The founder of Lululemon picked that name for the company because he thought it would be funny to hear Japanese speakers try to say it. What an asshole.
  9. Eigengrau is the name of the dark grey color people see in the absence of light.
  10. Bees can make green honey.
  11. Baby scorpions are called scorplings.
  12. Alaskan finishers of the Iditarod can get a custom license plate.
  13. Any Rubik’s Cube can be solved in 20 moves.
  14. Hurricanes don’t cross the equator.
  15. Lake Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela sees almost 300 thunderstorms a year.
  16. Premier League referees are forbidden to work games played by their favorite teams (or their close rivals).
  17. The climate crisis has cost $16 million per hour in extreme weather damage over the past 20 years.
  18. The word for computer in Iceland translates to “prophetess of numbers”.
  19. All but two of the moons of Uranus are named after Shakespeare characters — the remaining two are from a poem by Alexander Pope.
  20. Bottled water has an expiration date — it’s the bottle not the water that expires.
  21. There are satellites that were launched in the early to mid 60s that are still operational.
  22. Multicellular life developed on Earth more than 25 separate times.
  23. US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can get a free lifetime pass to US National Parks (and other federal lands).
  24. If you try to pack information on a hard drive more densely than 10^69 bits/m^2, the hard drive will collapse into a black hole.
  25. Queen Victoria had a dog named “Looty” that was stolen from China by a British soldier while looting a palace in Peking in 1860.
  26. Colorado is not a rectangle — it actually has 697 sides.
  27. Horseshoe crabs are older than Saturn’s rings.
  28. Inmate is the ninth most common household type in America.
  29. Humans have pumped so much groundwater out of the ground that it’s changed the tilt of the Earth’s axis 31.5 inches to the east.
  30. “By 1920, the network of interurbans in the US was so dense that a determined commuter could hop interlinked streetcars from Waterville, Maine, to Sheboygan, Wisconsin — a journey of 1,000 miles — exclusively by electric trolley.”
  31. The Great British Kettle Surge is the simultaneous putting-on of the kettle in British households during commercial breaks of particularly popular TV programs, resulting in electricity surges.
  32. The Parker Solar Probe is the fastest object ever built by humans — at its closest approach to the Sun, it will reach speeds of 430,000 mph (690,000 km/h), or 0.064% the speed of light.
  33. The top speed of zeppelins was about 80 mph (129 km/h).
  34. Ernest Hemingway only used 59 exclamation points across his entire collection of works.
  35. TIL there’s a whole genus of South American spiders whose species are named after people and things in the 1987 movie Predator, e.g. “Predatoroonops schwarzeneggeri”.
  36. Robert Butler, who died this year aged 95, directed the initial episodes for Batman, Star Trek, Moonlighting, Hill Street Blues, Hogan’s Heroes, and Remington Steele.
  37. I cannot believe this is the first I’ve heard of this: in the original Super Mario Bros., you can continue where you left off in the last game by holding A down when you press Start. This would have saved me so much time as a kid.
  38. Thomas Smallwood, an African American shoemaker, coined the term “Underground Railroad” in 1842.
  39. Swedish criminal gangs are using fake Spotify streams to launder money.
  40. Human ancestors almost went extinct 900,000 years ago. “A new technique analysing modern genetic data suggests that pre-humans survived in a group of only 1,280 individuals.”
  41. “People who enroll in genetic studies are genetically predisposed to do so.”
  42. MLB broadcaster Vin Scully’s career lasted 67 seasons, during which he called a game managed by Connie Mack (born in 1862) and one Julio Urías (born in 1996) played in.
  43. When the Regimbartia attenuata beetle gets eaten by a frog, rather than accepting its fate to be digested, it crawls through the frog’s bowels and emerges through its butt. “The quickest run from mouth to anus was just six minutes.”
  44. The rarest single-game event in baseball is not the perfect game but hitting two grand slams in one inning, which has only been done once in more than 235,000 games.
  45. Crab-like bodies have evolved at least five separate times in the past 250 million years.
  46. Almost 800,000 Maryland licence plates include a URL that now points to an online casino in the Philippines because someone let the domain registration lapse.
  47. From 1999 to 2020, there were 1.63 million excess deaths among Black Americans (when compared to the death rates of white Americans).
  48. Almost 75% of all films from the golden age of silent films (1912-1929) have been lost.
  49. For years beginning in 2018, every copy of macOS has included a PDF copy of Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper.
  50. This San Francisco barbershop has a “silent mode” for patrons who don’t want to chat with barbers.
  51. According to America’s Test Kitchen, you can use your SodaStream to double the life of your salad greens.
  52. Deadline’s chief film critic had never played or even heard of Tetris before seeing the film about the game’s genesis.
    1. Here are my lists from 2022 and 2021.

Discussion  11 comments

Anthony Sorace

37: WHAT?!?!?!? Hold on, need to blow in a cartridge here…

Anthony Sorace

It works! OMFG if works! I mean, I didn’t really expect anything else, but still. Now I just have to figure out how to tell 12-year-old me.

Jason KottkeMOD

Just think of how much better we could have been at SMB if someone would just invent time travel!

Reply in this thread

CW Moss

Re: #24 and black holes: That makes sense. It does sometimes feel personally world-ending when my brain knows too much.

Jacob Mul

“34. Ernest Hemingway only used 59 exclamation points across his entire collection of works!”

C’mon! It was right there!

Richard Earney

#31 we do call them programmes though (to distinguish them from computer programs) 😄

Jason KottkeMOD

Re #12, an Alaskan reader shares that the Iditarod license plate also includes your overall finishing place — so if you're the 483rd person to ever finish the race, your plate number will be IDT 483. Pretty cool!

Bo Brock

#14 the other amazing thing (based on that link) is that there were only TWO tropical cyclones in the south Atlantic Ocean between 1945 and 2006.

Thom Wong

I went into Lulelemon when it was a single store on West 4th in Vancouver. Chip Wilson, the asshole in question, had been on a break after selling his share of Westbeach Snowboards and this was his new venture. At the time they sold only a small selection of Lulelemon branded apparel, mostly t-shirts, and a lot of cycling gear.

Unprompted, he related the above anecdote of how he came up with the name. I have a lot of Japanese friends, he said, and I thought it would be funny to have them try and say it. He said it just like that, without any hint of self awareness or that maybe something was amiss with this attitude. I should point out I'm Chinese/Scottish, and regularly mistaken for being Japanese.

Ha, I said to him. Yeah. Let's say it wasn't a surprise when he built the largest house in Vancouver and petitioned the city to close off the street leading to his house from public traffic. And yes, it's a public street.

Sacha Greif

8. For what it's worth (and I know that doesn't make it any less weird as a reason to pick the name), "Lululemon" is perfectly fine to say in Japanese. What native Japanese speakers tend to struggle with are words that combines both "l"s and "r"s (such as "L'Oréal"), since those two letters are not distinguished in Japanese.

Bob Clewell

It looks like Maryland fixed the www.starspangled200.org mixup.

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