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Engineering Trivia

  • Around 4,000 Chicago homes have their cookers fuelled by methane gas produced from cow dung. The company providing this valuable service is called the Calorific Recovery Anaerobic Process Inc.(1)
  • In one second 6,242,000,000,000,000,000 electrons pass any given point in an electrical current. (3)
  • A jumbo jet weighs as much as 76 African elephants. Despite this, elephants continue to be discriminated against in aviation law. It is forbidden, for example, to lead one's elephant through the approach tunnels of London's Heathrow Airport.(1)
  • The Beaufort Scale is a device for measuring the strength of the wind at sea. Normal breathing registers force two on the Beaufort Scale (described as a light breeze).(1)
  • The world's deepest hole is an exploratory geological drilling in the Koal Peninsula, in northern Russia. In 1984 it was more than four-fifths of the way to its target depth of 15,000 m (49,000 ft.).(4)
  • Octopuses in Monterey Bay, California have been seen making their homes in discarded beer cans. In Germany, there is a type of flea which lives and breeds only in beer mats. The consumption of beer in a privy, toilet or lavatory is forbidden in Manitoba.(1)
  • Whenever a fly alights on an ocean liner of about 35000 tons, the ship tends to sink lower in the water by one tenth the thickness of an atom (0.1 Å) - this can be measured at present by means of an electrostatic capacity meter. If the fly lands on the handrail, say 15 meters (17 yards) from the center line of the ship, the resulting downward deflection of the ship on the same side will be about 20 times greater (unless the vessel is efficiently stabilized). In fact, it is not even necessary for the fly to to touch the ship at all. If it merely hovers just above the deck, the vertical pressure of the airstream generated by its wings will have practically the same effect on the ship. (2)
  • Two irrigation dams built by Roman engineers in the 2ng century ADS in Merida Spain, are still in use. The only major maintenance work they have needed in the past 1,800 years has been the renewal of their stone facings, carried out in the 1930's.(4)
  • If a passenger car with a stationary weight of 1000 kg (220 lbs) is accelerated from rest to 60 km per hour (40 mph), it gains something like the weight of a pinhead in the process. If the car could be made to travel at 100 times the velocity of sound (100 X 1200 km per hour) it would become about 100 kg heavier, and at 250,000 km per hour its weigh would be doubled. Traveling at 0.999% of the velocity of light, the car would weigh 2,000 times its stationary weight, and would plough deep furrows in the surface of the road. (2)
  • The word bicycle is from the Latin, bis, twice and the Greek, kyclos, circle. This fashionable mode of transport was denounced by a Baltimore preacher in 1896 as a "diabolical device of the demon of darkness". His reason for condemnation was not on the perfectly justifiable grounds that the word is an ugly Latin-Greek hybrid (etymological purists would only ride a dicycle) but simply because too many of his parishioners were lured away from church on pleasant Sunday afternoons by the temptation of a bike ride. Perhaps because they are aware of the potential corrupting danger to moral standards, British Columbia has imposed a 10 mph limit for tricycles. (1)
  • The variety of aluminum used to manufacture airplane wings is capable of withstanding loads of more than 90,000 pounds per square inch. Aluminum can be spun into a filament so fine that 1.5 pounds of it could encircle the world. (3)
  • Bifocals were invented in 1785 by Benjamin Franklin. The inspiration came from a desire to be able to enjoy his dinners fully, able to see both what he was eating and the companion to whom he was talking. Franklin was also responsible for the invention of the rocking chair. (1)
  • In July 1950, a patent was issued for an automatic spaghetti-spinning fork. (3)
  • A fundamental law of economics may underlie the findings of a recent piece of research: calculations indicate that the amount of money spent on financing research into construction methods in Britain is approximately the same amount of money spent on providing tea for builders on construction sites. (1)
  • The human race as we know it has existed for approximately 50,000 years. This makes it approximately 800 lifetimes old, assuming a lifetime to be from 65 to 70 years. Of these 800 lifetimes, about 650 were passed by cave dwellers. Nearly all the manufactured products, luxury items, and technological conveniences we enjoy today were invented or perfected within only the past 5 to 7 lifetimes. (3)


(1) Hartson, Bill and Jill Dawson The Ultimate Irrelevant Encyclopedia.

     London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1985.

  (2) Houwink, R The Odd Book of Data.

      Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1965

  (3) Louis, David 2201 Fascinating Facts.

     New York: Greenwich House, 1983.

  (4) The Reader's Digest Book of Facts.

      London: The Reader's Digest Association Limited, 1985.

...from the University of Manitoba website

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