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  • Writer's pictureFrank DiGiovanni

Who's curious?

Dear curiosity,


I want to make this simple. I love you, I love what you make me do. I love how you encourage me to follow you. You make think "I wonder why?" or "What made that happen?" There are so many questions you encourage me to find an answer to, that I cannot show my appreciation in mere words, but I'll try...



We humans are an interesting bunch, aren't we? We look at the horizon and wonder "What's over there?" or we come up with strange ideas to help solve what we might consider a problem, or simply just invent the strange new thing! Or we just mess around and find out what happens when... Heck, some authors have claimed that humans have an "insanity" gene that makes us do the strange things, but that's not what I'm here to discuss.


First, I want to discuss the phrase "Curiosity killed the cat." Now as an owner of a cat, I hope that his curiosity never gets the best of him and takes his life. The basis for this phrase is that being (overly) curious, as cats tend to be, can lead to danger, misfortune or even death.

Sterling, the author's cat | Courtesy of author

The origin of this phrase dates to the original proverb from the 1598 play titled Every Man in Hus Humour, which was written by the English playwright Ben Jonson (c. 11 June 1572 – c. 16 August 1637). And while he did leave a lasting impression on theatre, the original line read: "Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care 'll kill a cat, up-tails all, and a louse for the hangman." It was then Shakespeare who used a similar line in this 1599 play Much Ado About Nothing: "What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care." For almost 300 years the proverb remained the same until Ebenezer Cobham Brewer included this definition in his Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Care killed the Cat. It is said that "a cat has nine lives," yet care would wear them all out.


However interesting, that is still not the phrase I'm getting at. That distinction belongs to an Irish newspaper from 1868, and here I'll quote Wikipedia...Which I always tell my students is a good starting point and not the end-all be-all of reliable sources, so here goes...


"The origin of the modern variation is unknown. It is found in an Irish newspaper from 1868: "They say curiosity killed a cat once." An early printed reference to the actual phrase "Curiosity killed the cat" is in James Allan Mair's 1873 compendium A handbook of proverbs: English, Scottish, Irish, American, Shakesperean, and scriptural; and family mottoes, where it is listed as an Irish proverb on page 34. In the 1902 edition of Proverbs: Maxims and Phrases, by John Hendricks Bechtel, the phrase "Curiosity killed the cat" is the lone entry under the topic "Curiosity" on page 100. (Wikipedia.com)


So there you have it, the reason the cat died from curiosity, but if you read further on the Wikipedia page, you'll learn that "satisfaction brought it back". This implies that when your curiosity has been slaked, the "cat" comes back to life; this may refer back to those "Nine lives" that cats are thought to have. Whatever it is, there's more to my love letter in the form of curious and somewhat odd inventions.


I'll start with an aircraft. When in the heat of the Cold War, the United States and the USSR (Russia) engaged in a "How can we kill each other faster?" macabre competition. Nuclear weapons were at the ready constantly and strange ideas came about. With this in mind a strange aircraft emerged. The McDonnell XF-85 Goblin, was such an idea; nuclear bombers needed a protector in the form of a fighter, known as a "Parasite fighter". This diminutive little plane was to be carried aloft, alongside the nuclear weapons of the Convair B-36 Peacemaker and launched to protect it, if Soviet interceptors came looking for trouble. While ultimately cancelled quickly, after issues were found with its performance at altitude, it was a wonderfully creative solution to a problem that was seen, even if the plan wasn't so...maybe... well thought out. The photos below demonstrate this small aircraft and when you look at the photo of it in the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's Museum, you'll notice a few people near enough to gauge the size of this pint-sized fighter.

The McDonnel XF-85 Goblin in test flight, and on static display at the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base | All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Curiosity, why do you do this to me? You drive me to show all the more strange, and in this case somewhat interesting inventions.


Now I want you to imagine you are bed-bound, for whatever reason but you're an avid reader. Well of course that might be a problem... What to do? What to do? Well, thank Mr. Theodor Hamblin of course! Picture it, England, 1936: Mr. Hamblin, an optician, comes up with an idea that will let him and anyone who buys his invention, the ability to lay down and read at the same time! Why come up with such an unusual idea? Better to ask, "Why not?!" Given the fact that they did not become popular during his time, they have now caught on but go by the moniker "Lazy glasses". A decidedly less eloquent name for a really great invention!

Man reading with Hamblin glasses | Reddit

So, like I said, you're laying in bed, head on the pillow and you put these glasses on. Hamblin designed his glasses to mimic the way a submarine's periscope works. With two prisms inserted where the glass would typically go in a regular pair of glasses, these prisms bend the light at a 45-degree angle, thus allowing the reader of a book or someone using a device, to read/use it without bending their neck! I mean, think how this could help someone who is stuck in bed for whatever reason and can't sit up, here is the perfect thing to help!

So, is this a useless device or brilliant idea? You be the judge. I'm an avid reader; on the beach, in bed, in a chair, so I'd wear these, would you? -Brilliant idea to me.- So, you're interested in buying a pair? Yes, you can buy them! To help you figure out where you can buy a pair if you'd like, here is a link to get you started: Hamblin glasses


The internet is LOADED with lists about the most useless or weirded inventions and Mental Floss has one, which I won't get into here, but encourage you to read, once you're done here... Of course. Newsweek compiled their own version, here and Bigthink.com created their own version of strange inventions, here.


There is one other part of curiosity that I feel must be addressed: debunking. According to merriam-webster.com, the definition is as follows.

debunk verb de·​bunk (ˌ)dē-ˈbəŋk


debunked; debunking; debunks

transitive verb : to expose the sham (see SHAM entry 1 sense 2) or falseness of

debunk a legend

debunker noun


I bring this up because it is our curiosity that makes us question what we see or hear and I feel compelled to attempt to continue to debunk something important to me.

SO...and I cannot believe I have to write this... I feel hard-pressed to ensure that all of the readers of this know this, THE EARTH IS ROUND! I'm going to debunk some of the hair-brained notions that the Earth is flat. I know that sometimes, spitting in the face of stupid ideas like this (sorry, not sorry), can only make believers of "flat Earth" dig their heels in even more but, I'm not pulling any punches here.


The FIRST idea that the Earth was round dates to the 5th century BCE (Before Common Era) when it appears in the writings of Greek philosophers. Another two centuries would pass before Hellenistic astronomers would come up with the idea of a roughly spherical shape and then calculated the circumference of the planet!! THIS WAS THE 3rd CENTURY BCE!! This round-Earth idea continued to progress and be adopted throughout the world until Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastián Elcano's circumnavigation (1519–1522) and demonstrated the spherical nature of Earth. But what makes Earth and other planets spherical? Simply? Size, gravity and something called hydrostatic equilibrium.

Diagram of a newly formed planet in a state of hydrostatic equilibrium. | Wikimedia Commons

When a body, or astronomical object, accretes mass, eventually gravity takes over and pulls from all angles equally. Combine this with rotation and you'll have, eventually, a spherical shape such that Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (please say it correctly [According to NASA, most scientists say YOOR-un-us.]) and Neptune. Yes, boys and girls, all eight major and most of the dwarf planets are spherical because they have enough gravity to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium to make them that way; there are other of bodies that are not spherical in the solar system. And if you choose to spit in the face of mathematics and science for whatever reason, I cannot help you.


But since you're reading this, please let me present you with further proof of a spherical Earth. If you've ever seen a lunar eclipse, you've bore witness to Earth's spherical shape. But it takes someone willing to create a composite image to really demonstrate this spherical shape.

Composite image of the partial lunar eclipse on July 16, 2019. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What you're looking at are three images "stacked" together and taken about an hour apart from each other. The reason for an hour and nine minutes between shots is because that is the time needed for the moon to travel the distance of its own diameter. What you're looking at is the Moon traveling through the Earth's shadow during a partial lunar eclipse. See the spherical shadow? It was Aristotle suggested that the Earth must be a sphere seeing his own lunar eclipses over 2,300 years ago! With photos and diligent astro-imagers such as the ones who create images like this, we can see further proof that yes, Earth is round.


And the debunking continues... Here's more, only this one comes from near the Belgian coast and the Thorntonbank Wind Farm. According to their website, the height of the hubs are between 94 and 96 meters (308-315ft) above sea level, which is statistically insignificant for us here. The reasons for this is because the diameter of the rotors is the same at 126m (413ft). Now, if the Earth was flat, we would see all of the turbines at the exact same height and not as you see them below.

Thorntonbank Wind Farm seen over the curved horizon | Wikimedia Commons

It is precisely because the Earth is spherical that we cannot see the turbines at the same height. As the Earth's surface curves away from the viewer, things like the turbines that stick so high above the horizon, will only show the highest parts of that object (like a boat going over or coming over the horizon) which are the ones closest to the viewer.


Now that we've debunked flat Earth, learned about why curiosity killed the cat and about some very interesting inventions spurred on by curiosity, go let yours inspire you. Maybe you'll invent something someone calls "weird" but goes on to be essential? Maybe you come up with a revolutionary idea to help in a way you weren't expecting or maybe your idea falls into the trash can of history as something mostly useless to most people? Who knows?!


Failure or success, you'll learn with help from curiosity.


Thank you curiosity. For both the interesting and perhaps, the insane. Like I said, I love you, curiosity. For all that you inspire in me and my world, to the great big world outside, we could not have done it without you.


Love,


Frank


P.S. Here is my very own Ode to Curiosity, I hope you like it!


How do I love thee, curiosity?

The way you encourage me this way and that

That you make me wonder what lies beneath the sea

What is it made of, my favorite baseball hat?

To the sky I look about what awaits in the inky black

Planets, life, nothing, or something more sinister

What is out there, wondering the same?

Does anything out there look back?

Would any being out there, be their version of a minister?

Who exactly was it that invented the term “twister”?

Launch a space vehicle to learn if space can be tamed


What makes this work the way it does

When things go “bump” instead of “click”

Should you be wondering, what will happen if something is covered in green fuzz?

And telling our children what they should and should not lick

How long will it take before it is done?

Getting bored with impatience is not the plan

Watching the way things work is not always easy

It might take a day or at least until we next see the sun

Which is exactly what you want if you are working on your tan

Just remember to bring your SPF lotion as you head towards the sand

And know that new creatures await you when you dive deep into the sea


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

All walk together on the pathway to education

Helping to lead you down curiosity’s winding path

Steering us clear of ignorance’s temptation

But what is it that makes us do this or think about that

An insanity gene, or creative spark?

“I have an idea!” someone will say

And it turns out that it is acrylic, wool, and cardboard of sorts that makes up my favorite hat

Something inside of our brains helps us leave our mark

A candle or flashlight to help chase away the dark

Until that next idea hits, I’ll go outside and seize the day



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