6 Interesting Facts I read in Non-Fictions

There are tons of surprising facts we never learn at school and some of them are from a passage in non-fiction books. It is the bliss of reading non-fictions. Learning new facts stimulate us to think intellectually and critically, challenge our opinion and of course, help us winning trivia games. I have the habit to keep things I learned from books in my mobile phone and here are facts that are worth sharing, it might be eye-opening about why things happened and why it should be and what we are going to do about it.

The Design of Iguanodon

Where: The Future of Dinosaurs: What We Don’t Know, What We Can, and What We’ll Never Know by David Hone

What I found: In the year 1878, in the Walloonian town of Bernissart, a huge collection of dinosaur bones was discovered. Not only were there very large amounts of bones from a very large number of individuals, but complete and articulated specimens were unearthed, including the skulls. These animals were rapidly identified as belonging to Iguanodon (although it was given a new species name- Iguanodon bernissartensis), and thus between them and still more material that had been recovered in the UK, a new understanding of these animals was possible.

The nose horn was revealed to be a very unusual thumb, and presumably represented some kind of weapon. Iguanodon’s arms were rather like its legs in general form, though shorter and more slender, suggesting the animal, even it was a quadruped, was rather less elephantine (or even rhinoceros-like) in stature and proportions. The tail was not quite as long or lizard-like as assumed, and the head was certainly not that of an iguana, however large.

Also novel was both the number of specimens and the fact that they appeared to have died together in a massive group (this has turned out not to be the case, and the Bernissart dinosaurs most likely represent the deaths of animals alone or in small groups over many years, rather than one mass mortality). Such a find suggested large groups of animals living together, which would again make them different from most modern reptiles and pointed to more complex behaviours among these ancient creatures.

Thus our understanding of Iguanodon took a major step forwards. Not the lumbering beast of the earliest reconstructions with the rhinoceros-like horn and huge columnar limbs (as exemplified by the famous reconstructions led by Richard Owen in London’s Crystal Palace), but a svelte and perhaps agile animal that moved in herds. The discoveries pointed to creatures that were far from simply being large lizards, but a truly special set of animals.

What I think about this: We know how Tyrannosaur looks like from Jurassic Park. Children of 90’s know Apatosaurus from The Land before Time. But is it really what they look like? How much do we actually know about Dinosaur? Dinosaurs have been million years ago extinct. The only access to know how they looked like and how they behave is based on the information in soil and bones and through comparative observation on the existing animals. That is what our paleontologists do. However the findings are not always final. The shape of skull is not enough information on generating its complete shape. The muscles can be varied by their dietary, habitat, and how they move. This passage about the design of Iguanodon is an example of how the image of Iguanodon is changing after changing as the fossil search continuously progresses. What we know about dinosaur from film or books might be changing in the future.

Numbering System

Where: Enlightening Symbols: A Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers by Joseph Mazur

What I Found: It is the nature of symbols in general to connect unrelated meanings in order to create a state of mind. In Hebrew, the number 15 would be naturally written from right to left as י (the symbol for 10) plus ה (the symbol for 5). Writing 15 in that way, however, would also be writing the first two letters of the name of God. So the number 15 was (and still is) written as 6 + 9 (טו) instead.

This book contains about many numbering system that has been used. Nippur at the center of Babylonia, used “gap” (as space) as symbol. The concept of counting a quantity has been recognized thousand years ago. Today, we used standardized numbering (1,2,3,4,…) which is the result of translation during trading. The efficiency in writing the symbols itself contributes the design, considering paper and pen are not yet invented thus writing is done by carving a tablet.

What I think about this: Number and symbols are invented mostly because of the practicality with limited writing materials and also the result of lost translation. Mathematic is another form of language that uses numbers and symbol that keep evolving depending on how universal communication is. Nowadays we even type using emojis. It is part of the change in language and numbering system we are unconsciously transforming. It takes million years to have a drastic change in writing system. That depends on how we are going to write and what is the easiest and the most understandable approach.

How Concept of No-Time Affects in Hopi Grammar

Where: Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher

What I found: Hopi famous for a different reason: the Hopi language, he said, had no concept of time. Whorf claimed to have made a “long and careful study” of the Hopi language, although he never actually got round to visiting them in Arizona and his research was exclusively based on his conversations with one Hopi informant who lived in New York City. At the start of his investigations, Whorf argued that Hopi time “has zero dimensions; i.e., it cannot be given a number greater than one. The Hopi do not say, ‘I stayed five days,’ but ‘I left on the fifth day.’ A word referring to this kind of time, like the word day, can have no plural.” From this fact he concluded that “to us, for whom time is a motion on a space, unvarying repetition seems to scatter its force along a row of units of that space, and be wasted. To the Hopi, for whom time is not a motion but a ‘getting later’ of everything that has ever been done, unvarying repetition is not wasted but accumulated.’

What I think about this: One that makes learning foreign language so challenging is understanding their general perception through their culture. This is an important thing that usually ignored by most language teachers when teaching foreign students. In English, we learn the grammar structure to explain our daily, or in the past, or in the future, or on going activities. But in a culture without the concept of time, it is difficult to understand the concept. For Dutch, it is easy to learn Swedish or German since there are similarities in the grammar structure and general perception. For Japanese, it takes more effort to understand West Germanic languages due to the root of their culture. Of course, one of the myth that language learners very proud of is how language affected their personality. In reality, there is no scientific evidence that proves language impacts neurotically. Nonetheless, language is built based on the country’s culture. By mastering the language, it enables the learners to view a global perspective.

Christmas in Mexican

Where: Christmas is Coming: Traditions from Around the World by Monika Utnik-Strugala

What I found: All over the country, on December 23 the Night of the Radishes is celebrated. Stalls are set up in the streets that tower with carvings made out of the red-and-white vegetables. They depict scenes with Christmas themes and figures of animals, kings or mariachi (Mexican musicians). When the Spanish brought radishes to Mexico four hundred year ago, they found it impossible to persuade the local population to cultivate them. It was only the Dominican friars who managed it. When the farmers were gathering their crops, one of the friars suggested carving shapes out of the radishes. “People will be happy to buy such pretty vegetables,” he said to convince them. And indeed, the farmers sold every last one of their radishes. Ever since, a competition has been held for the most interesting radish sculpture.

What I think about this: This celebration is one of the example how a festival has a economic benefits which improves the growth of tourism and other businesses in a town or region. Not only radish, but Christmas trees and decorations are also originated from economic reason. Similarly to Chinese Moon Cake that is packed into fancy boxes as partly to entertain customers when doing important Business.

“Next and Previous” Arrow in Slide Controller

Where: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

What I found: I was in Asia, giving a talk. I was given a remote controller for advancing my slides. This one had with two buttons, one above the other. I dislike traditional slides with long streams of text that the speaker reads to the audience, so I have a rule: “No words.” Most of my slides are photographs. I was all ready for the first photograph, but when I pushed the upper button to advance to the slide, I was flustered: I went backwards through my slide set, not forward.
“How could this happen?” I wondered.
When we have an arrow button, we assume that to go next, press right while to go previous, press left. But apparently, different culture has different perception about future (which is ‘next’ in the context of power point slider) and past (which is ‘previous’ in the context of power point slider)

What I think about this: To me, this is important we need to consider in designing products. In engineering department, we have Test Engineers that are assigned to evaluate our products. However, the problem is the Test Engineers probably are coming from similar background. It even adds worse combination when the whole team contains only the majority race, gender and age. By diversify the team, it provides critical feedbacks. They may give heterogeneous perspectives in developing the products. Many Japanese designs are accessible for left handed and handicapped users which rarely becomes the nature in other countries.

Hearing Quality modify Upper Jawbone on Fish

Where: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

What I found: In fish, there are bones stapes and hyomandibula. By comparing the sizes of hyomandibula in sharks and in Tiktaalik, it gets smaller and resulting in a shifting position from the upper jaw. This modification plays role in hearing which happened when fish started to walk on land. Hearing in water is different from hearing on land. The size and the position is adjusted to adapt to the vibrations in air.

Image Taken from National Geogprahic

What I think about this: I’m not sure if my opinion regarding this is scientifically smart, but this passage makes me aware that our shape might change in next million years. It is premature to assume the shape of human (and other creature) remains same by ignoring the impact of climate change, our dietary, our habit, and pandemic! My engineering nature cannot stop convincing this as a promising artificial intelligence project to generate what we look like in million years.

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