This year, I graduated from college in my pajamas from a living room in Montana, bonded with a cat through quarantine, traveled across seven different states to be reunited with that cat, and learned about the subtleties and quirks of a crazy 2020 world.

Here’s some of what I learned:

  1. Poorly ventilated rooms negatively impact cognitive ability and decision-making. [Joe Romm]
  2. Only two individuals have their own zip code in the United States: the President and Smokey the Bear. [Matt Gray]
  3. Hummingbirds enter a state of hibernation each night to avoid starving to death in their sleep. [James Gorman]
  4. When given identical slices of pizza, $8 pizza tastes 11% better than $4 pizza. [Bourree Lam]
  5. To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese central bank destroyed millions of dollars worth of cash that may have come into contact with infected individuals. [Jessie Yeung]
  6. Three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Library of Congress orchestrated a top-secret mission to transport the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Gettysburg Address, and four other “utterly irreplaceable” documents inland to Fort Knox in Louisville, Kentucky. [Stephen Puleo]
  7. In the wake of the 2019-2020 Australian bush fires, Australian National Parks and Wildlife Services officers dropped thousands of pounds of carrots and sweet potatoes from a helicopter to feed threatened wallabies on the brink of starvation. [Matthew Abbott]
  8. Refusing to profit on his celebrity as a former president, Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 with only his $112 a month army pension to live on. He subsequently moved into his mother-in-law’s house in Missouri. [Jeff Jacoby]
  9. Broccoli is a human innovation — the vegetable is the result of selective wild cabbage breeding thousands of years ago by Italian farmers. [Encyclopaedia Britannica & Anupum Pant]
  10. In a behavioral economics study, Virgin Atlantic saved 6,828 metric tons of fuel, £3.3 million, and prevented the emission of 21,507 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by simply mailing pilots information on their fuel use. [Chris Mooney]
  11. Casper — a mattress startup — lost $80 million on mattress returns in 2019. [Daniel Roberts]
  12. Early Russian cosmonauts were sent into space with sawed-off shotguns. [James Simpson]
  13. In the week ending March 21st, 2020, sales of baking yeast increased 647.3% in the United States compared to the same week in 2019. [Camila Domonoske]
  14. The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are “essential workers.” [Bill Chappell]
  15. The Mossad saved thousands of Ethiopian Jews’ lives by running a fake diving resort in Sudan in the 1980s. [Allison Kaplan Sommer]
  16. On May 30, 1948, Oregon’s second-largest city vanished. [Natasha Geiling]
  17. Busch Light offered 250 couples a year of free beer if their wedding was postponed due to the coronavirus. [Natasha Anderson]
  18. In 1964, the “fake Beatles” — four Americans named Tom, Vic, Bill, and Dave — conned South America. [Ed Prideaux]
  19. Olympic National Park’s 2019 budget included $480,000 set aside for helicopter-assisted goat removal. [Jesse Major]
  20. During coronavirus lockdown, eels at a Japanese aquarium became so shy from not seeing humans that staff were unable to care for their health. To remedy this, the aquarium asked for volunteers to FaceTime the eels in a 3-day “Face Show Festival” where people from around the world could call in and keep the eels company. [Nicole Gallucci]
  21. In 1847, the Choctaw Nation — being poor itself after being relocated in the Trail of Tears — gathered and sent $170 (more than $5,000 today) to starving Irish families during the Irish Potato Famine. When the coronavirus pandemic began threatening water, food, and health supplies for two Native American tribes, the Irish stepped in to help. [Ed O’Loughlin and Mihir Zaveri]
  22. The United States and Great Britain once almost entered into war over the shooting of a pig. [National Park Service]
  23. Coors Brewing Company reported a $6.15 return in profitability for every $1 spent on its corporate fitness program. [Shawn Achor]
  24. During a 1949 experiment at the Hanford nuclear plant in Eastern Washington, the largest radioactive emissions ever were documented. Kept secret for nearly forty years while cancer deaths among children in the area rose, the people in the area were exposed to doses of radiation that were ten times higher than Soviet citizens living near Chernobyl in 1986. [Timothy Egan]
  25. In a case of pizza arbitrage, a pizza shop owner made money by ordering his own pizzas on DoorDash. [Ranjan Roy]
  26. In May, the CDC warned of aggressive, cannibalistic rats in major American cities that had issued urban shutdown measures for COVID-19. Urban rats rely heavily on restaurant waste and street garbage to survive; without access to these sources of food, rats were seen eating their own young. [Edward Helmore]
  27. Further horrifying, rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter. [Professional Wildlife Removal]
  28. Before starting his show The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross was a master sergeant in the United States Air Force. In his own words, he was “the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who makes you make your bed, the guy who screams at you for being late to work.” Ross promised himself that if he ever left the military, he would never be a mean or tough person again. [Linda Shrieves]
  29. Flossing helps reduce the risk of heart disease. [Kareen Wilson]
  30. A 41-year-old Guatemalan math professor is worth $700 million. He created CAPTCHA (the online “are you really a human” verification tests) and Duolingo (the language-learning app). [Alan Trapulionis]
  31. CAPTCHA was first developed as a means of counteracting automated software that created millions of fake email addresses to send penis enlargement ads in bulk. [Alan Trapulionis]
  32. When you are asked to translate a sentence on Duolingo, the words you are given are not random; they are excerpts from real articles from international news agencies like the New York Times or the Washington Post. By translating the sentences, you help to translate these news articles into new languages. [Alan Trapulionis]
  33. In the early 1990s, a typo during a Pepsi promotional campaign caused violent riots, resulting in five deaths, dozens of injuries, and a loss of $20M for the company. [Sean Kernan]
  34. In Scandinavia, babies are often left outside in -20° Celsius weather to nap. [Helena Lee]
  35. In 2019, two Chinese college students studying in the U.S. used fake iPhones to dupe real Apple technicians and scam Apple out of nearly $900,000. [Alexandra Ossola]
  36. While president, Teddy Roosevelt engaged in a boxing match that left him blind in his left eye. After the incident, he wrote, “I thought it better to acknowledge that I had become an elderly man and would have to stop boxing. I then took up jiujitsu for a few years.” [Mike Conklin]
  37. In 2017, an unknown buyer purchased the “Salvator Mundi” painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci for $450.3 million at auction — a world record. However, curators continue to dispute whether the painting is actually by da Vinci. [Sebastian Smee]
  38. Just 12 years before the record auction, the “Salvator Mundi” painting was found at an estate sale in New Orleans and bought for $1,175. One author wrote, “no object, item or substance in the known universe has ever risen in value so fast and by so much.” [Sebastian Smee]
  39. The “French Paradox” refers to the fact that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease while having a diet rich in copious amounts of butter and cheese. [Stefano Vendrame]
  40. Goldman Sachs released their very own font, Goldman Sans. However, you cannot use the font to criticize Goldman Sachs. [James Vincent]
  41. Before opening Sir Winston Churchill’s family estate to the public in 1966, the family requested that there always be a marmalade cat named Jock, with a white bib and four white socks, living on the estate grounds in “comfortable residence.” Jock VI lives there today. [National Trust]
  42. The United States landed on the moon in 1969. A year later, the rolling suitcase was invented. [Robinhood Snacks]
  43. Police in Tennessee warned residents not to flush methamphetamines down the toilet for fear of creating “meth gators.” [Kalhan Rosenblatt]
  44. In 2016, a single programmer in Oakland, CA broke the internet and disrupted web development around the world by deleting 11 lines of code. [Keith Collins]
  45. Some fish eggs can survive being eaten by birds. Bird poop might just explain how fish species end up in isolated and landlocked ponds. [Carolyn Wilke]
  46. In 1999, a chimpanzee named Raven became the 22nd most successful money manager in the United States by choosing her stocks by throwing darts at a list of 133 internet companies. Her index delivered a +213% gain. [Guinness World Records]
  47. In 1952, the Boston Symphony attempted to diversify its male-dominated orchestra by hosting blind auditions where the musicians would play behind a screen. When the audition results still skewed male, the Symphony asked the musicians to also remove their shoes before their audition as the women’s high heels would sound off the hardwood. The subsequent results showed an almost tripled chance of the female musicians being selected to the Symphony. [Yassmin Abdel-Magied]
  48. Goats have rectangular pupils that allow them to see an almost 360-degree field of vision. [Tibi Puiu]
  49. A solution to one of the most famous, longest-standing problems in theoretical computer science was improved nearly fifty years after the last breakthrough. The solution — which a number of computer scientists have devoted decades to pursuing — improves the previous algorithm by 0.2 billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a percent. [Erica Klarreich]
  50. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardeau, auditioned and was turned down for a role in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. [Josh Taylor]
  51. One of the most invoked rules on the Internet, Godwin’s Law states that “As an online discussion continues, the probability of a reference or comparison to Hitler or Nazis approaches 1.” [Abby Ohlheiser]
  52. After 11 Danes were infected with a mutated form of COVID-19 that was detected in mink, the government ordered the immediate mass culling of all 15 million mink living within Denmark. Some of the mass mink burial sites reported “zombie mink” — carcasses resurfacing after burial. [Jan Olsen]

— —

52 Things I Learned in 2019

🚀 Computer Science and Political Science student @VanderbiltU interested in using technology for social good 🦖

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store