Category Archives: A brief history

Common Misconceptions: Caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius


The caduceus

Often, we see the symbol of a staff with two wings and two snakes intertwined around it, and we assume that it somehow represents medicine. Even the US Army Medical Corps adopted this symbol as part of its branch plaque. This symbol represents the caduceus, a staff carried by the ancient Greek god Hermes (the messenger of the gods, protector of merchants, and provider of high end luxury goods).

The caduceus, however, has nothing to do with medicine, and when it is associated with medicine, it’s being mistaken for the rod of Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing. They are quite easily mistaken for each other as both involve serpents entwined around a staff. The actual rod of Asclepius, however, depicts only one serpent, and it looks like this:


Pictured: Jafar uses the rod of Asclepius to hypnotize the sultan

Hope you found this edifying!

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A Brief History – I’ll have the Rankine scale, please.

thermometer Looking back, I really don’t appreciate the attitude with which elementary school teachers discuss US customary units (or for you Brits, Imperial units). Sure, they’re not as easy to convert as metric, but you don’t have to be such un-American assholes about it.

The fact of the matter is that they were convenient. Take feet and miles for example. When was the last time you really cared how many feet away something really far away was? You didn’t. Why? Because feet, by definition, measure distances that you’d walk, and miles, by definition, measure distances that you’d drive. And when you drive, you go way to fast to care how many feet it is. And when you walk that, you don’t care about miles. That’s really far away. Having an easy-to-remember conversion factor would just discourage you on your long walk.

But Al, so far, everything you said can still be applied to kilometers and meters. Couldn’t you just redefine miles and kilometers to make them easier to convert?

Right, it’s that easy. We should definitely redefine the mile tonight and repost all of our road signs with updated distances so you assholes can multiply and divide by 10 IN THE COMPUTERS YOU’RE USING TO DO THE MATH FOR YOU ANYWAY.

Sure, when Napoleon conquers America and imposes the metric system on us, we’ll embrace it warmly by teaching all kids metric. And while we’re at it, we’ll kill two birds with one stone by teaching it in art class while we’re teaching them how to make white flags of surrender.

But Al, how about Fahrenheit? There’s nothing practical about it! Water freezes at 32 and 212? It seems completely arbitrary.

Yeah, you would think it’s arbitrary, but when was the last time you really cared what exact temperature water froze or boiled at? Really, if freezing and boiling water is what really matters, we should measure temperature based on the time it takes to freeze and boil water when you put it in a freezer or on a hot stove.

But practically speaking, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a scale that would be practical and tell you something? Like, for example, where the average temperature of the atmosphere at the earth’s surface is centered at 50, and 0 and 100 degrees are two standard deviations away from the mean? So when you find that it’s zero outside or it’s 100 outside, you can say, “wow, it’s way f’ing cold” or “wow, it’s way f’ing hot.”

Yeah, me too. Unfortunately, Fahrenheit isn’t like this. But my point was that you didn’t know this. Once you thought about it, you thought that it was perfectly plausible. You were just being an asshole about it by assuming that it didn’t make sense.

(If you’re curious, it was zeroed at the stabilized temperature of a mixture of ammonium chloride and ice, it was 32’ed at the freezing point of water, and it was 96’ed at the human body temperature when measured at the arm pit.)

In any case, in the spirit of staunchly defending all things American by pointing out flaws in all things foreign, I continue this argument by saying that all you metric-o-philes will feel so silly once technology advances. Why?

As technology advances, we will start caring less about water, and we will start caring more about absolute zero. Combining scientific advances with American Fahrenheitism, we will use the Rankine scale, which is essentially the Fahrenheit scale zeroed at absolute zero. I’ve already adopted the Rankine scale. Just the other day, I found myself saying, “damn, it’s like it’s 591 today. It feels like just yesterday, it was only 560.”

But more importantly, the real flaw is that metric is too highly dependent on the base-10 number system. In the future, when base-12 takes over, and 1/3 can be represented in a non-repeating decimal (or as we call it, twelvimal), teachers are going to be equally snooty and unEuropean as they’re saying, “some people that lacked foresight created metric which is so difficult to convert as it involves multiplying and dividing by 6B4 (pronounced six hundred beaty four). How arbitrary!”

There. I hope your eyes have been opened. Stay tuned for my next post in which I invent Kentucky Fried Turkey – the healthy alternative.

Oh yeah? Well eff YOU, 2008!

A lot of people think the New Year has something to do with the solar calendar and the earth’s rotation around the sun. The truth is that it’s a lot simpler than that. 2008 just couldn’t handle being the year any more. Why? Because I kicked its ass.

That’s right. Conveniently on the night of December 31st, I’m just chillin’ with my buddy at the bar. 2008 is also there. He’s a little drunk, and after ordering another drink, he bumps into me, spilling some G&T on my new Men’s Wearhouse shirt. It’s a $50 shirt! (Well, original price before the coupon I used…)

So I say, “yo, dude, careful there with your drink. You just spilled some on my shirt.” And what does 2008 say?

He says, “maybe you should shut your face.”

So I turn around, look at him, and say, “oh yeah? Well f*** you!” Then I grab his right shoulder with my left hand and land a hammer punch right in his face with my right hand. 2008 falls to the floor. As I pull out my knife, my buddy Kyle holds me back and says, “yo man, chill.”

As Kyle’s holding me back, 2008 gets up and sucker punches me in the stomach. Kyle then goes nuts and punches him in the face. 2008 blacks out, and Kyle and I pull a little “Operation GTFO” before the cops come.

And that was the end of 2008.

Damn it! I’m unoriginal!

So apparently the Internet is saturated with jokes about Avogadro’s number and the unit Guaca-mole. I had never heard these jokes before. My family didn’t grow up eating Mexican food.

Cooking! It’s just like chemistry! Not that I know either particularly well…

avocado Analogies that compare cooking and chemistry are good for two things. They show how the person making the analogy knows about:

  1. cooking and
  2. chemistry

But the one thing that the two do share is the well defined relationship between the elementary unit and the sum of an arbitrary number of elementary units. In cooking, we call this Avocado’s Number which is defined as the number of avocados in a single Guacamole.

In the early days of cooking, Avocado’s number approximated at 6.022 x 10^23. However, because of trends started by Louis Pasteur’s discovery of germ theory, elucidating the world on the grossness of communal guacamole troughs, Avocado’s number is currently 2.

Today, in guacamole seasoning factories around the world, guacamole seasoning packets are made for exactly one serving of guacamole, requiring exactly two avocados.

Woes of Internet Dating

cavemen2Dating has come a long way since the time of the cave man. Back in the paleolithic era, strong dating skills was a sign of leadership and essential for surviving, finding a mate, and eventually reproducing.

But resolution for this type of dating was quite low. Though cave men only needed to date animal tracks as fresh or not fresh, this did little to help them learn more about the world in which they lived.

This changed with the advent of radiocarbon dating, invented by Willard “Scooter” Libby in 1949 at the University of Chicago (go USA!). Radiocarbon dating allows us to find the age of organic compounds by measuring the carbon 14 content, a radioactive isotope of carbon with a well-known half life and decay rate.

Now, scientists post results from their carbon dating to the Internet, giving us Internet Dating. The exact process of Internet Dating begins when someone says, “hey, do you know how old _____ is?” A friend then goes onto the computer, searches it on the Internet, likely ends up clicking on a Wikipedia page, and finds the answer.

Though Internet dating’s contribution to society is that it makes dating accessible to everybody, it has its disadvantages. For example, sources on the Internet may not all be trustworthy. It can at times be difficult to distinguish between a radiocarbon dating expert and a nutball when both have poor Internet publishing skills. Additionally, with more accessible information comes a greater risk of the abuse of what we in the science community call “bullshitting.” This occurs when somebody takes a number such as a date out of context and pretends to know a lot about it, making bad extrapolations.

If you participate in Internet dating, make sure you know what you’re getting into, and don’t let the convenience of the Internet be an excuse to not deploy methods of “real” dating.

A brief history of Tarot card reading

tarot The history of Tarot card reading begins in the first century, anno domini, with the invention of “poker.” Poker was one of the most preferred games of the Ancient Romans.

Of course, 2 thousand years ago, poker was a very different game. Instead of having paper cards, Romans would play with tiles of dried clay, and instead of playing with a deck of 52, they would play with 6 tiles:

  1. The “fold”
  2. The pair
  3. The two pair
  4. The three of a kind
  5. The straight
  6. The royal flush

The royal flush tile was the tile of highest value, and the player that drew the royal flush would win. However, winning at poker in the first century was not necessarily a good thing as poker players generally carried weapons, and the winner was most likely to be stabbed and robbed. Ancient mystics, noticing that those who drew the royal flush were generally beaten and robbed, used poker tiles to predict the future, and the royal flush became widely associated with death.

In the year 70 AD, just before his seige of Masada, the Roman emperor’s son Titus summoned a tarot tile reader to find out if his seige would be successful. When presented with the deck of tiles (faced down, of course), Titus drew the “three of a kind.”

“Oh good,” Titus said, “it’s not the death card. What does the three of a kind mean?”

“I really don’t know,” replied the mystic. “I really only know what the death card means.”

The mystic stood awkwardly as Titus glared at him.

Understanding Finance – The tale of the Walletin Spectre

Norse giantsAdam Smith was a big proponent of free market economics. Some may say that he “invented” capitalism. But who invented Adam Smith? Clearly, saying that Smith invented capitalism would be a naive statement, and nobody invented Adam Smith, but it was the old tale of the Walletin spectre that scared him straight into supporting self interest and competition.

The Celtic tale of the Walletin spectre dates back centuries before Smith’s time to the 12th century when the Vikings raided Scotland like it was a set of 5 inexpensive hard disks. According to Norse mythology, the Valhallamr was a galley on which a communal group of giants lived. At night, they would disembark at various locations, plundering coastal villages and sharing the profits.

Centuries pass, and a number of the Norse settle in Scotland. One group of Norse emigrants established the town of Walletin, a rough Celtic translation of Valhallamr. These former Vikings vowed to stay true to the ways of Valhallamr galley and tried to establish a communal village. Unfortunately, the village of Walletin failed to survive its first winter as the settlers lacked any agrarian skills (skills vital for sustaining a commune), so they resorted to plundering other villages.

But the pickins were slim for the Walletins. No longer having the advantage of mobility offered by their galleys, the Walletins were unable to plunder. Neighboring villagers were generally smart enough to move away. Slowly, the plundering settlers died in the blistery Scottish winter.

By the 18th century, the story of the Walletin evolved into a folk story used by Scottish parents to scare their children. The Walletin became a starving spectre, or ghost, that would plunder at night with the intention of sharing profits with fellow Walletins. It was this story, the story of the Walletin Spectre, that convinced Smith that it was the idea of self-interest and competition, and not the profit sharing model of the Walletin, that would lead to economic prosperity. And now you know of the tale of the Walletin Spectre and the birth of modern economics. Do share your new wealth of knowledge with all that you know (much like the Walletins would after plundering it).