Fact for August 31, 2008

The world’s oldest continuously operating (degree-granting) university is the University of Al-Karaouine in Fes, Morocco, founded in the year 859 AD.  (My PhD alma mater, St. Andrews, is not even close, though it is the third oldest university in the English-speaking world, having been founded in 1410 [officially 1413 by Papal Bull]).

Fact for August 29, 2008

Gerald Ford is the only US President who became President without ever having received a single vote in 49 of the 50 states (he later received votes in every state during his reelection bid).  This is because both President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned leaving Ford, the Speaker of the House and third in line for the presidency, as President.

Fact for August 28, 2008

Skunks are actually distantly related to dogs.  In fact the biological “suborder” Caniformia or Canoidea, that literally means “dog-like,” includes all the typical dog and dog-like mammals (foxes, wolves, coyotes, etc.), but also bears, red pandas (which are not actually bears), skunks, weasels, otters, raccoons, seals, sea lions, and walruses.  Generally these animals have longish snouts with whiskers and most have non-retractable claws.

Fact for August 27, 2008

The tallest mountain in the solar system is Olympus Mons on Mars, standing a whopping 16.7 miles (or 88,580 ft.) above the mean surface elevation (Mars’ equivalent of sea level).  By comparison, Earth’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest, is a mere 5.5 miles (or 29,029 ft.).

Fact for August 26, 2008

In purely geographic terms, the easternmost and westernmost points in the United States are actually only 67 miles apart. The westernmost point, with a longitude of 179º6’W, is a point on Amatignak Island in Alaska. The easternmost point, with a longitude of 179º46’E is Semisopochnoi Island, also in Alaska. Both are part of the Aleutian Island chain that straddles the 180th meridian, technically putting a chunk of it in the Eastern hemisphere. Amatignak also happens to boast the southernmost point in the state of Alaska.

Sometimes I wish I were a quantum computer…

One of the major advantages of a quantum computer is its ability to perform certain tasks simultaneously by exploiting quantum superposition states.  If there was ever a time I wish I could do the same thing, it’s this week and next.  From Saturday to Tuesday I’ll be in Montana at the Gordon Research Conference on Quantum Information Science and am woefully behind in getting my poster ready.  Monday, while I am in Montana, classes begin at Saint A’s and I’m teaching two math courses this semester since the Math department was unable to find suitable candidates to fill the two tenure-track positions it has open (despite hundreds of applications).  Plus, both my kids begin school next week, my car is still in the shop (been there almost two weeks), I’ve been working for months on securing financing to overhaul my home heating system (switching to wood pellet furnace and solar thermal), and I’ve got three lawns I have to mow.  On top of that I’ve been busting my hump reworking two of my papers all summer, including one that forms the basis for the poster for the Montana conference.  Oh, how I wish I had superpositional abilities…

Fact for August 25, 2008

One of the first things that happens when you get severe radiation poisoning is that the protective lining of your stomach is destroyed.  As a result you begin to digest yourself.  Unfortunately, a number of physicists have died from this due to accidents and other mishaps.

Fact for August 24, 2008

Winston Churchill actually had American ancestors.  He was descended from Loyalists on his mother’s side and, oddly enough, is a distant relation of mine (he was my great-grandmother’s fourth-cousin – if you think that’s a pretty distant relation, consider that I still maintain contact with my third-cousins).

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