Fairly Useless Facts

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By: Bill The Butcher

Back in college, I came across a factoid that says that 40,000 parasites, 250 species of bacteria, 0.7 grams of protein, 0.45 grams of fat, and 0.19 grams of “other organic substances” – like food debris – are exchanged during a single deep mouth-to-mouth kiss.

So why is this an absolutely useless fact?

Well, you aren’t going to stop kissing just because you read this, are you?

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The world’s most terrifying fish, indeed possibly the world’s most terrifying vertebrate animal, is a tiny catfish called the Candiru, which inhabits the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. Unlike the much more famous Piranha, whose bloodthirstiness and man-eating abilities have been exaggerated to somewhat mythological proportions, the Candiru is almost unknown outside Brazil.The Candiru is thin, almost transparent (and therefore almost invisible in the water), and armed with a couple of backward-directed spines on its gill covers. It lives in the mud of the river bottom most of the time, except when it decides to do its thing.So just what does the Candiru do? Not much, unless you feel like swimming nude with your significant other, and happen to urinate in the water. The Candiru, which is attracted to urine in the water, swims to you and enters right up your urethra (or occasionally anus or vagina) – after which ithooks itself in with the spines on its gill covers, and is stuck. The fish has just mistaken you for a source of food (it homes in on urea and other chemical triggers from larger fish, and bores into their bodies in the normal course of things) and it may be some comfort to you to reflect that that particular fish won’t be attacking anyone else again.The only known certain cure is (probably rather delicate) surgery, which this somewhat alarmist website claims involves penectomy.Ouch. Not the most popular side effect of a skinny dip.
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The hagfish is a primitive creature that straddles the worlds of the animals with spines and without, since it has a skull but no backbone; it’s the only creature known to possess that striking feature. It has no eyes or jaws, but it does possess rings of tentacles round its mouth. (And, incidentally, hagfish can be hermaphrodite or change sex as and when the requirement arises. Useful for a blank Saturday night, huh?)There are many species of hagfish, of varying sizes, but most live in the depths of the sea, and they are bottom dwellers. They eat small animals that also live on the sea bottom. But their most well-known source of food is dead or dying fish, which they enter through natural body orifices and eat from the inside out. A rotting fish or whale on the sea bottom may have so many hagfish inside it that it actually pulsates…And the hagfish has another neat feature. When disturbed, it produces an amazing amount of slime as a defensive measure. It actually then ties itself into a living knot and scrapes its body on itself to get rid of this slime, so tenacious it is. This slime, incidentally, has fibres inside like spider silk…another unique feature.OK, so what’s the fairly useless fact? It’s that this slime can be used in cooking instead of egg white.Bon appetit, people.

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Back in the days before the Industrial Revolution, all products were made on a small scale, and workmen who were hired at the “factories” of the time were expected to provide their own tools.So when one of these people left his job, he took his tools away, since they were his private property.And when one of them was dismissed, he was given his back wages – and a sack to carry his tools in.So now you know why you were “sacked” from that job, don’t you?
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Believe it or not, your chances of being exterminated by lightning or bee sting considerably outweigh your chances of shuffling off this mortal coil due to shark attack.However, if you were to get bitten by a shark, it would probably not be by the Great White, which Hollywood loves to terrify you with (remember Jaws)?No, the world’s most dangerous shark (if you can call any shark dangerous) is the Bull Shark, a small species that can travel far up rivers and which you’ll never find profiled in movies as far as I know. They are simply too unglamorous for that – even though they eat a substantial number of people everywhere from the Zambezi to the Sunderbans.Not that it makes much of a difference to the person who’s eaten just what species has eaten him, of course. Unless he’s insured only against Great Whites.
And then it’s his nominee who should worry.
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Candlelight dinners are thought to be romantic because dim light causes the pupils of the eyes to dilate. So? Well, sexual excitement also causes the pupils to dilate, and when one notices one’s significant other with dilated pupils, one subconsciously makes the connection with sexual excitement.As for the restaurants which use “mood lighting” – meaning so dim one can hardly see what one’s eating – they benefit, too. The patrons are all wrapped up in each other’s eyes and in any case the light is so poor they can scarcely see the rubbish on their plates.Some other day I’ll tell you about how on one such occasion I discovered I was eating small cooked caterpillars along with my chop suey…
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World War One pilots referred to the control column, positioned between their legs, which they used to steer their aircraft, as “joysticks”. The name referred to their penises, which were right next to the column.
Kind of explains the fascination some people have for computer games.

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I’m a coffee lover, but there are limits I wouldn’t cross.

The world’s most expensive coffee is Kopi Luwak, made from coffee beans eaten and excreted whole by palm civets in Indonesia. After the civet has obligingly done its job, the bean allegedly emerges intact and one doesn’t even have to scrabble for it in dung; so I wonder if the civet eats it just for the benefit of Japanese connoisseurs.

It’s supposed to have a unique musty flavour and that is attributed to its journey through the civet.

Thanks, but I’ll stick to instant, or cappuccino if I’m feeling gourmetish.

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Back in the Middle Ages, if you were a candidate for a civil servant’s post in China (if you wanted to be a Mandarin, that is) you had to pass a pretty stiff examination. Obviously, since a mandarin had it all – pay, perks, respect – there was a lot of competition and lots of chances for corruption.

The Chinese were well aware of this and in order to minimise the chances of examiners being bribed or otherwise induced to favour certain candidates they would  not just use the equivalent of roll numbers in order to hide the candidates’ identities – someone would actually copy the candidate’s answers so the examiner couldn’t even recognise the candidate by his handwriting.

Of course, if they tried something like that in India these days the answer copiers would be able to retire in great luxury after a year on the job.

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There’s an old saw that lighting three cigarettes from the same matchstick is unlucky.

This one dated back to the trenches of World War One. At night, in the blacked out trenches,  the flame of a match lighting a cigarette would draw the attention of an enemy sniper; the flame lighting another would give him a chance to take aim; and the third guy lighting up from the same match would end up stopping the sniper’s bullet, the stupid git.

Well, today I doubt one would find three smokers getting together too often, and if they do I think lung cancer is a greater threat than bad luck, but still.

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We have those functionless buttons on our coat sleeves as a relic of military uniforms of the early nineteenth century.

Why did military uniforms of the early nineteenth century have sleeve buttons?
Because Napoleon wanted to stop his soldiers wiping their noses on their sleeves, a most disgusting habit, you’ll agree. Big hard brass buttons would discourage the most runny of noses.
I guess we ought to be grateful he did not try to stop them scratching their genitals as well.

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In the days of sail, one punishment for delinquent sailors was keel-hauling: to be thrown off the bow of the ship, a rope tied to each arm, and dragged along the bottom (keel) of the ship till he was pulled back aboard at the stern. Since the bottoms of the ships of those days were usually crusted withbarnacles, it was not exactly comfortable for the sailor, not to speak of the sensation – and danger – of drowning.

I think I’d prefer to be tied to the mast and whipped.

(And, oh : it isn’t practicable to throw a certain someone of Mission Accomplished fame off the bow of an aircraft carrier and drag him back along the hull, more’s the pity.)

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The largest known volcano, and the highest known mountain, is Olympus Mons on Mars. It’s a giant shield volcano about the size of one of the American midwest states (I forget which, but I think it is Utah) in area and three times the height of Chomolungma (“Mount Everest”). This means of course that the slopes are very gentle and this is more like an upturned saucer than a mountain. It’s so high because of Mars’ low gravity.

Another demotion of Earth from the favoured centre of the Universe.

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Apart from the Germans, and they only in the last year of the war, World War One combatant countries did not provide their pilots parachutes. They thought it would encourage their pilots to abandon ship rather too quickly in an emergency.I assume that pilot training then was really cheap and really basic.

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In ancient Athens, anyone who could give sufficient cause for wanting to end his or her own life was handed a cup of hemlock by the public magistrate.

Now that’s the most intelligent suicide law I have ever come across.
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Japanese Samurai warriors used to burn incense in their helmets before going into battle. The idea was that if the enemy took their heads, they should not be offended by unpleasant odours.Got to get the message to today’s militaries
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