What was the last element discovered on the periodic table?

18 Nov

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My friends and I love anything and everything to do with trivia.

Naturally, we have a team, which competes at a weekly trivia night, and I’m not at all embarrassed to say competition within our group for the right answer can almost be as fierce as that with our actual rivals.

Plus, there’s our love of the Sunday quiz, which can be a battleground all on its own.

Now normally I am pretty good at this, with specialities including the collected episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ancient Sumerian coinage and pottery.

But the last one I tackled stumped me on one particular question – the chemical name for silver. And I had no better luck remembering it than I did at high school.

The answer, of course was Au, but the footnote of the quiz explained the periodic table was, well, periodically updated.

So I decided to find out what the last element added was. And the ever-reliable National Geographic had the answer. Here’s an excerpt..

The new element doesn’t have an official name yet, so scientists are calling it ununpentium, based on the Latin and Greek words for its atomic number, 115.

In case you forgot your high school chemistry, here’s a quick refresher: An element’s atomic number is the number of protons it contains in its nucleus.

The heaviest element in nature is uranium, which has 92 protons. But heavier elements – which have more protons in their nucleus – can be created through nuclear fusion.

The man-made 115 was first created by Russian scientists in Dubna about 10 years ago. This year, chemists at Lund University in Sweden announced they had replicated the Russian study at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Germany.

Now, element 115 will join its neighbors 114 and 116 – flerovium and livermorium respectively – on the periodic table just as soon as a committee from the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemisty decides on an official name (which, by the way, seems like a pretty political process).

Anyway, the full article has some pretty cool stuff on how scientists make an element and whether you can try it at home. The answer, to give you a hint, is no.

And yes we did look for any sign/mention of adamantium, but sadly came up empty handed.Wolverine would not be impressed.

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Why isn’t Pluto a planet any more?

17 Nov

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When I was growing up, we learnt a catchy phrase to help us remember the order of planets in the solar system. And it went a little something like this: “My very easy method just speeds up naming planets”. Or to give them their full names, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.

Of course these days, you’d have to lose the word ‘planet’, since Pluto no longer qualifies as one. And why I knew this fact, I didn’t know why. So of course I turned to the arbiter of all things space – NASA.

And here’s what they had to say on the topic..

Why is Pluto not classified as a planet anymore?

In 2003, an astronomer saw a new object beyond Pluto. The astronomer thought he had found a new planet. The object he saw was larger than Pluto. He named the object Eris (EER-is).

Finding Eris caused other astronomers to talk about what makes a planet a “planet.” There is a group of astronomers that names objects in space. This group decided that Pluto was not really a planet because of its size and location in space. So Pluto and objects like it are now called dwarf planets.

Pluto is also called a plutoid. A plutoid is a dwarf planet that is farther out in space than the planet Neptune. The three known plutoids are Pluto, Eris and Makemake (MAH-kee-MAH-kee). Astronomers use telescopes to discover new objects like plutoids.

Scientists are learning more about the universe and Earth’s place in it. What they learn may cause them to think about how objects like planets are grouped. Scientists group objects that are like each other to better understand them. Learning more about faraway objects in the solar system is helping astronomers learn more about what it means to be a planet.

So there you have it. Size does matter. Wonder if Earth will ever come in for a category change?

How do you make caramel slice?

16 Nov

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My care factor for cooking is generally as high as my care factor for the safety of reality TV show stars. By which I mean middling to none.

I mean sure, I can cook staples such as pasta and steak, but my heart’s not really in it. Especially when there’s always so much good TV to watch.

On the flipside, I do love baking. Especially as it provides easy access to raw cookie dough filled with chocolate chips. Or so I’m told…

Anyway, for the most part, I start my creations with the contents of a packet mix, but when I signed up to host a friend’s baby shower, something more impressive was clearly required.

So I turned to a kitchen-whiz friend with a plea for a recipe to make caramel slice. She obliged in wonderful style.

And since she was quite happy to tell me, I’m going to share it with you. Here goes…

Steph’s caramel slice

Mix a cup of plain flour (gluten-free is fine) with half a cup of almond meal, about ¾ of a cup of caster sugar and 125g of melted butter.

Press into a lined slice tin.

Cook on about 180-200C for about 10-15 minutes until it’s starting to turn golden (time might differ from oven to oven) and then pop into the fridge for half an hour.

Once it’s cool, cover with caramel – I confess to using 1.5 tins of Top ‘n’ Fill here – and refrigerate again.

Meanwhile, melt 250g of chocolate melts with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (I did it on a stove in a bowl above a pot of boiling water), pour it over the caramel and put it back in the fridge again to set.

Then comes the tricky bit – the cutting. As the above photo shows, I do not have this process down nearly even pat. But a friend suggested a knife or similar tool dipped in hot water might do the trick.

Happy baking!

Who created supercalifragilisticexialidocious?

15 Nov

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As a child, I can well remember entering some sort of competition run by a milk company. I’m not sure what the link was, or even what the prizes were, but I do know it involved making as many words as you could from the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Now, it would be fair to say I poured my little heart and soul into the task. I literally went through the dictionary word by word, finding ones that matched. And yes, it took as long as you might imagine. So long I actually missed the deadline for entries. And was somehow still surprised I didn’t win.

Anyway, this chunk of history came to mind when I noticed the movie Mary Poppins listed in the TV guide.

I’ve never seen it – and am less likely to do so the more anyone tells me I ‘have’ to – but I do know it unveiled the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. So I decided to find out its origins.

The answer lay in an laist interview with Richard M Sherman, who wrote the score to the musical with his brother, Robert. Here’s the relevant bit…

How did you make up the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ?

That’s a word we sort of concocted from our childhood when we used to make up double talk words. In the screenplay version of Mary Poppins we wanted her to give the children a gift they could bring back with them from inside the chalk drawing when they came out into the real world. If it was a tangible thing like a seashell or pine cone it would disappear. So we said “Remember when we used to make up the big double talk words? We could make a big obnoxious word up for the kids.” And that’s where it started. Obnoxious is an ugly word so we said atrocious, that’s very British. We started with atrocious and then you can sound smart and be precocious, we had precocious and atrocious and we wanted something super colossal and that’s corny, so we took super and did double talk to get califragilistic which means nothing. It just came out that way. That’s in a nutshell what we did over two weeks. All together you get supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Great explanation. Now, who feels like a spoonful of sugar?

Could a Sharknado really happen?

14 Nov

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I don’t drop the word ‘glorious’ into conversation all that often.

In fact, I’m pretty sparing with its usage, saving it purely for such moments of awesomeness as the shirtless scene in Thor and Thor 2.

But every so often a piece of entertainment comes along that is so exquisite, so unique and so innovative that no other word will suffice. And so it is with Sharknado.

Now first, I should offer a disclaimer, which is that I am naturally pre-disposed to like this film.

I am obsessed with/terrified of sharks, am noted for my love of B-grade animal monster movies and am slightly famous for loving things other people consider crap. Plus, it has the ultimate in B-grade acting pedigree by way of Iain Ziering and Tara Reid. What’s not to love?

Anyway, while the nuances of the plot are non-existent would take far too long to explain, the official synopsis goes something like this: “When a freak hurricane swamps Los Angeles, nature’s deadliest killer rules sea, land, and air as thousands of sharks terrorise the waterlogged populace.”

And when they say terrorise they mean terrorise, with sharks appearing everywhere from helicopters, highways and manholes to living rooms as they bite people clean in half. At least until Iain – playing Fin Shepard – starts fighting back with a chainsaw.

In short, it is gory, blood-spattered, mind-blowing, ridiculous and glorious. With a subtle plot that points out a punchline from about 1km away and then smacks it right in the face. Like when the man says “My mum always told me Hollywood would kill me” literally a split second before he is crushed by the Hollywood sign. See what they did there?

Like I said, solid gold.

Anyway, I had to know who was responsible for writing this work of art. And as it turns out, his name is the equally glorious Thunder Levin, who did a great interview with iO9.

You can read the full Q&A transcript here – including the inspiration for the movie and whether alcohol was involved – but first, the burning questions that came to my mind as the DVD ran its course…

Is there any scientific basis, however tenuous, for Sharknado?

Yes. There are numerous confirmed reports of fish falling from the sky, sometimes even on a clear sunny day. We just took it to the “logical” extreme.

How are the sharks cognisant enough to keep biting people while they’re flying through the air?

If you were a shark and you found yourself flying through the air, wouldn’t you keep biting? I think you’d be pretty pissed about being plucked out of your nice familiar ocean where you’re king of the predators, and you’d probably take it out on whoever got in your way. Honestly, I don’t understand why people are so perplexed by this concept. The logic is undeniable.

Well sure, if you say so. Now check out the best scene from the movie…

How did the Spice Girls get their nicknames?

12 Jun

As a singer Victoria Beckham makes a great fashion designer. And I’m not just saying that to be snarky.

Just look at her fashion label, which is beautiful, stylish and goes from strength to strength. The praise is well earned and her designs are a favourite among celebrities. As for her singing, well that’s another story.

While Victoria was a founding member of ‘90s girl power group the Spice Girls, you only have to watch one of their videos to see how little of the singing she did. But that’s OK. That’s what Emma Bunton and Melanie Chisholm were there for. Posh’s role was to add a bit of class to proceedings, something I’m sure played heavily into her choice of purple thrones for her wedding to footballer David Beckham, who is famous worldwide for his enormous, err, footballing skills.

Anyway, while watching the video for 2 Become 1 in a nostalgic moment tonight, I started wondering how all five girls – rounded out by Geri Halliwell and Melanie Brown – got their Spicy nicknames of Posh, Baby, Scary, Sporty and Ginger. I figured it was the brainchild of their manager, but turns out it was a bit of inspiration from Top of the Pops editor Peter Loraine, who broached the subject over lunch. As he remembers

I simply said it would be a good idea if they had some nicknames. The girls liked the idea, so I had an editorial meeting back at the office and about four of us started thinking of names. Posh was the first one to be thought up because Victoria looks pretty sophisticated. The rest were pretty easy really because the girls’ characters were already really strong. The names jumped out at us. We laughed the most when we came up with Scary. Jennifer Cawthron, who was also from Leeds, came up with that one because Mel B was so loud and had tried to take over our whole photo shoot. We ran the names for a couple of issues and the first time the girls saw them they thought it was funny. Then the newspapers started picking up on the names and they cropped up everywhere until they were fully accepted by everyone.”

Now let’s watch the video..


BTW, did you know that for their group auditions, Mel C sang I’m So Excited by the Pointer Sisters, Mel B sang The Greatest Love Of All by Whitney Houston and Victoria sang Mein Herr from Cabaret?

 

Who was sport’s first streaker?

11 Jun

Pic by Ian Bradshaw

I love going to cricket games, especially at the Gabba in Brisbane, which is home to some of the world’s most impressive beer cup snakes.

Sadly, it’s also home to some of the world’s most humourless security guards, who take great delight in puncturing any errant beach ball that makes its way on to the ground. Honestly, would it kill them just to throw them back into the crowd? With such mean spirit I’d hate to see what they would do to a streaker! And believe it or not it’s a question I’ve actually been pondering today.

It all started over lunch with a fellow cricket tragic, where we re-lived some of our favourite Gabba games, mine being a New Zealand v South Africa one-day international where Chris Cairns went the tonk to claim victory in the last over.

We’ve both seen the greats in action, and some great action, but neither of us could lay claim to spotting a streaker. Which led me to wonder who the first big-name sporting streaker was. And in a piece of history that actually makes me pretty proud of the green and gold, that honour goes to a fellow Aussie.

His name was Michael O’Brien who, on April 20, 1974, decided to make his mark on sporting history by running on to the ground starkers during a union match between England and France at Twickenham.

Being only 25, I’m guessing alcohol and his mates played a big role in giving him the courage to make his leg bye. But one person wasn’t impressed – a policeman called Bruce Perry, who used his helmet to cover O’Brien’s genitals. It was such a seminal moment that helmet even went on display in Twickenham. And Perry shared his story with the Guardian back in 2006. Here’ an excerpt…

“The streaker had been drinking Fosters – it had only just come out here, and clearly he and some of his friends had an enjoyable time before the game drinking it. So he did it for a bet – he had to run across the pitch at half-time and touch the other side to win £10. I caught him just before he got there but when he explained the bet I let him touch the stand before I cautioned him. I was so embarrassed. I told him he didn’t have to say anything and all that but he just shouted at me: “Give us a kiss!” It was a cold day and he didn’t have anything to be proud of, but I didn’t think twice about using my helmet. We took him down to the nick but he was back for the second half.”

Decades later Perry had the chance to fly to Australia for a reunion with O’Brien courtesy of the Ch 7 program Where Are They Now, which finally convinced O’Brien to tell his story. Streakerama holds a transcript of the interview by Mel Doyle and David Koch. Here’s an excerpt..

Mel: Thank you for joining us. So… what were you thinking?
Michael: Obviously not much.
David: So there you are, out in the middle of the field, it’s a test match, rugby, not a stitch on…
Michael: Yes
David: How did you feel going through it all?
Michael: I was blank to it, to be quiet honest. From the minute I sent my clothes to the other side of the ground and I was sitting there stark naked on the opposite side of the ground, everything just went blank. All I was waiting for was the half time whistle so the players would leave the field. And I decided I wanted to run across the half way line. Fortunately where my seat was was near the quarter line. So I had to get over the fence, go along the side of the paddock to the half way line and take off which gave the cops all the time in the world to get ready and wait for me.
Mel: You were a young accountant – a fairly conservative kind of profession if I can say…
David: Come on! No!
Mel:… and your mates put you up to it for a bet.
Michael: It was an Englishman who put me up to it. My Australian mates said to him straight off “Don’t bet with O’Brien because he’ll do it.” He insisted so I said “Well, it’s going to happen.”
Mel: And did you win the cash?
Michael: I won the cash and I was fined the equivalent amount of cash from the Magistrate the following Monday, so all squared.

Like the classic song always said: C’mon Aussie..