What I learned this week, February 19, 2021

Why Are There 5,280 Feet in a Mile?

Why are there 5,280 feet in a mile, and why are nautical miles different from the statute miles we use on land? Why do we buy milk and gasoline by the gallon? Where does the abbreviation “lb” come from? Let’s take a look at the origins of a few units of measure we use every day.

New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

Politics Is Seeping Into Our Daily Life and Ruining Everything

Is there anything that politics can’t ruin? The answer, it appears, is a resounding “no” as partisan conflict creeps into all areas of American life. Our political affiliations, researchers say, obstruct friendships, influence our purchases, affect the positions we take on seemingly apolitical matters, and limit our job choices. As a result, many people are poorer, lonelier, and less healthy than they would otherwise be.

Governor NIcholls Street, New Orleans

Heard of “road diets?” Here’s why fewer lanes can actually be faster—and safer.

Ford pumped out a lot of cars in the early 1900s, and by the ’60s there were so many vehicles on US roads that traffic engineers decided to add more lanes. Unfortunately, they were a bit overzealous, and many roads were expanded even when there was really no need. That left the country with a lot of overbuilt and unsafe roads that persist to this day.

Bicycle Lanes on the Jefferson Viaduct from Oak Cliff into downtown Dallas.

The Cult Sports Movie That Tackled the Underbelly of Fandom

‘Big Fan,’ Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt’s ode to a sad New York Giants fan from Staten Island, is the best sports movie that’s not about sports ever made

I went ahead and watched this movie streaming on something or other. It was very good. I wouldn’t say it was completely pleasant – but it does make you feel something for a character that you wouldn’t usually give a shit about. And that’s something.


Why are sitcom dads still so inept?

From Homer Simpson to Phil Dunphy, sitcom dads have long been known for being bumbling and inept.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom dads tended to be serious, calm and wise, if a bit detached. In a shift that media scholars have documented, only in later decades did fathers start to become foolish and incompetent.

Braindead Brewing Company, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Impossible Cookware and Other Triumphs of the Penrose Tile

In 1974, Roger Penrose, a British mathematician, created a revolutionary set of tiles that could be used to cover an infinite plane in a pattern that never repeats. In 1982, Daniel Shechtman, an Israeli crystallographer, discovered a metallic alloy whose atoms were organized unlike anything ever observed in materials science. Penrose garnered public renown on a scale rarely seen in mathematics. Shechtman won the Nobel Prize. Both scientists defied human intuition and changed our basic understanding of nature’s design, revealing how infinite variation could emerge within a highly ordered environment.

I have always been fascinated by Penrose Tiles. I think they look soo cool. I dreamed once of buying a small ceramic manufacturing facility and actually selling colorful Penrose tiles (darts and kites) so you could cover your patio with a non-repeating pattern. Some dreams are better off unrealized.

Penrose tiling

Four wild animals that are thriving in cities

As someone who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, I never thought wild game would inhabit any part of the Five Boroughs. Seeing deer, coyotes, ducks, and other kinds of critters was common here in the wilderness areas and waters near my home in Long Island, but on the streets of New York? Our city centers continue to expand with development and urban sprawl, which means human infringement on animal habitat continues. So it’s not surprising that humans are encountering these animals within city limits more and more.

I live on a creek lot – there is a slightly wooded creek behind my house. It isn’t really a creek – it’s more like a ditch running down from the flood control ponds at the end of my block – but there is a jogging trail and no houses on the other side of my alley. I also don’t have the typical Texas tall wooden privacy fence – so you can see into the slightly wooded ditch from my back porch. If you go out at dawn you can sit there, sip your coffee and watch the coyotes running along the strip. I’ve read that they tend to live in the clumps of trees on the golf course a couple miles downstream. They come up at night for a duck dinner. So there’s coyotes, and ducks, and geese… and I’ve seen an occasional beaver (new trees have to be protected by wire mesh or the beavers will gnaw them down) back there too. Now that I think about it – owls and opossums and rats… (I’m not sure it those last two count as wild) are common. Plus we’re starting to hear more and more reports of bobcats.

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

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