Open Thread: Things you want to know more about

(by chris the cynic)

What would you like to know more about?

Here are some random examples of what a hypothetical person might come up with:

Why do some reptiles have three eyes?  What’s the etymology of the word truth?  Do cats really rule the universe?  Why can ducks walk in snow all day and not get hypothermia?  What’s the distance in furlongs to the nearest star?  What was the Ptolemaic model of the solar system really like?  What was it like to be a vagrant in medieval Europe (a place and time where almost everyone and everything was strongly linked to patch of land on which they lived)?  Stuff?

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]


16 thoughts on “Open Thread: Things you want to know more about

  1. christhecynic January 27, 2015 at 8:33 am

    And to answer some of what I asked:

    The third eye that some species have is actually believed to be the first eye that developed in vertebrates with the other two coming later. As such, it isn’t so much that they have an extra eye, it’s that most of us have lost ours.

    It is not, it should be noted, a very developed eye. I think the most highly developed third eye in a living species belongs to the tuatara. The tuatara is the only surviving member of its evolutionary order.

    Truth is an English-English word. In Old English it was trēowþ, trīewþ meaning “truth, veracity, faith, fidelity, loyalty, honour, pledge, covenant”

    That is believed to come from Proto-Germanic *triwwiþō (the asterisk means that this is a reconstructed, not an attested, word) meaning “promise, covenant, contract”

    That, in turn, is believed to come from Proto-Indo-European *drū- which means “tree”.

    So, etymologically, truth is something that stands firm, as a tree does.

    Etymology isn’t always that poetic.

    Unknown, but my sources say, “Yes.”

    I recently learned at Ana Mardoll’s that ducks’ feet employ countercurrent heat exchange, also bird feet are less blood vessel laden than ours to begin with. And scaly.

    I’m still trying to get a handle on it, because however wrong it may be (completely wrong) it looks awesome. I give you the orbits of Venus and Mercury in a geocentric model. I defy to to find any orbits that pretty when they’re centered on whatever they’re really orbiting instead of something else.

    Any given moon will create a path something like that if you draw it’s path relative to the sun instead of the planet it’s orbiting. The geocentric model creates such pretty paths because it treats the sun as orbiting the earth, so all the planets end up like it’s moons, but since the geocentric model didn’t realize the planets were orbiting the sun, it had to come up with other ways to model that phenomenon.

    I have no idea, anyone got an answer on this one?

  2. Firedrake January 27, 2015 at 9:50 am

    The nearest star depends on your starting point. If at Earth, about 744 megafurlongs gets you to the Sun. If you’re already at the Sun, Proxima Centauri is 200 terafurlongs away.

    There are horseshoe-shaped orbits. Nifty!

  3. christhecynic January 27, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    When I asked the furlong question I meant the nearest star other than the sun, and considered specifying such. When I was going to answer it I was going to do the distance to the sun from earth, because: why not? Then when I was writing my answers comment I completely forgot about it.

  4. Silver Adept January 27, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    Being a vagrant in medieval Europe depends on whether you’re a paid vagrant going from town to town, an itinerant worker (because many members of the unmounted class, and several of the mounted class, have to work fields other than their own), or a right and proper beggar without land or household to take care of them. Which would, really, include any churches or almshouses not finding them money or food or work. Which would be…not impossible. So it would totally be possible to be a vagrant in that society. But also very easy to die, as armies, bandits, exposure, disease, accidents, and other dangers appeared on a regular basis.

  5. christhecynic January 28, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Two things:

    1) I was kind of hoping that other people would chime in with things that they wanted to know more about. That’s part of the reason the main post has questions that I mostly (except for the medieval Europe vagrant one) either knew the answers to or was confident I could find the answers to. To make the thread not be: Stuff chris the cynic wants to learn about.

    Also I was hoping that maybe it might give topics that could possibly become future articles. A long shot, I know, but it was nice when we had articles.

    The third eye one, for example. The short answer is in my comment, but if anyone here studied evolutionary biology they might be able to explain some of the theories as to why that eye was largely lost with while the two eyes that (if I understand correctly) came later proved to be such a benefit that natural selection and random mutation combined to refine them and refine them and refine them. And that might be an interesting article.

    Maybe someone wants to know something about how to buy fair trade materials for their needlepoint work and that could lead to an article on social justice.

    2) On the subject of “stuff chris the cynic wants to learn about”:

    @Silver Adept

    Could you go into more detail about what life would be like for people in the various situations you described? Also, my understanding is that at some point, though it might have been later, stone masons occupied a sort of special class because their work required them to move (unlike, say, a blacksmith or farmer) since one the cathedral (or whatever) was done being built the major employment in the area was gone. Is that true? If it is, how did that make their place in society different from the average person?

    Could I convince you to, perhaps, respond in minute detail in the form of an article on the subject(s)? (Ok, that’s really reaching, but I can always try.)

    Off the subject of open thread prompt, on the subject of articles:

    And I just remembered that I have to poke Froborr about women in video games. I think there were supposed to be two more articles from him on that.

    I myself have at least two things that I was supposed to polish and make into articles here, so I’m not without fault on the lack of articles.

    On the bright side, we have an anonymous article on the way. It’s in the editing process now.

    On the less bright side, said article is about the indignity of being without a place to poop when you can’t be sure you’ll be allowed to use a public restroom. And it’s very, very indignity filled. Also, this might turn some people off (I personally have no problem with most profanity), it’s very, very full of the word “shit”.

  6. depizan January 28, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Unfortunately, everything I can think of at present that I want to know about is either too specific and personal (where the heck were these family photos taken???), whining disguised as a question (why is writing so hard???), or kind of morbid (I’m still researching broken hands and fingers because I am a horrible person writer.).

    Um… learning to draw? Good tutorials, sites, things like that.

  7. DawnM January 28, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I want to know how to interact with a colleague who is just returning to work from “stress leave”. Especially since he told HR that I was part of his problem. (Not the whole problem, but a contributing factor. )

    I don’t want to treat him like ‘normal’, since my idea of ‘normal’ was his idea of ‘bad’. But I don’t want to treat him with kid gloves, either. The job we do is inherently stressful at times, and he needs to be able to cope with that.

    If anyone has been on either side of that equation and wants to share some experience/advice/learning, it would be appreciated.

  8. depizan January 28, 2015 at 6:53 pm


    Sounds like HR was hopelessly vague with you. You can’t very well stop being a contributing factor without knowing exactly how you were being one. Can you ask them for more specifics? (I know HR is often next to useless, but they really should give something to go on. Besides, “Hey, Bob said you were part of the problem.”)

    Does your workplace provide any assistance in dealing with the job stress? Could you share with him how you deal with the stress?

    That sounds like a really tough situation all around with not enough help from the workplace.

  9. alexseanchai January 29, 2015 at 12:48 am

    For reasons I find myself very much interested in ancient Greek religion as it was popularly practiced by, say, Sappho. And how said religion’s modern-day adherents practice.

    (I do know how to research. Problem: money. Also, time.)

    DawnM: That sucks. I’ve no advice, though.

  10. christhecynic January 29, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Almost everything we know, in a literary sense (which is what gives us evidence of religion beyond “probably a votive object”) is from Athens as preserved through outposts of its empire. For most* other places if we’re lucky the only things we really know about them are what the Athenians said about them. Sappho was definitively not from Athens.

    To make matters more complex, there was never one version of Greek religion. Homer’s version had the afterlife be pretty much the same for everyone, and universally crappy (so get your glory on earth because there’s no reward waiting) but the Eleusinian Mysteries promised some kind of better afterlife. Unfortunately: Mysteries. We have a hard enough time piecing together non-secret religions. Secret religious rites are pretty well lost to us.

    (I don’t envy the people who try to recreate the Eleusinian Mysteries because there’s just so little to go on.)

    So, the short answer is: “It’s difficult to say.”

    * Sparta is an exception. A couple hundred years after Sparta pretty well ceased to be someone decided to write about Sparta. His sources are lost, but his work tells us most of what we know. Also, Athens was first their ally, then in a 20 year long war with them. That means that Athenian writing mentioned them somewhat more than most cities.

  11. lonespark42 January 29, 2015 at 8:12 am

    there was never one version of Greek religion.
    Or pretty much any traditional religion, then or now, although certainly there have been state-approved-and-promulgated forms…

    I googled Hellenismos and there’s lots of stuff. Too much, probably. It might be good to just read a few blogs and/or interview some practitioners (in, ya know, your copious spare time…)

  12. Silver Adept January 29, 2015 at 9:19 am

    @ DawnM – No advice here, other than checking in to see if there’s an employee assistance program that the other person could take advantage of – or that you can – they often will let you consult professionals for a limited amount of sessions on any given issue. If the other is someone who can be coaxed into talking when things are being stressful, you might be able to come to an agreement. If not, you may have to put in a request with your supervisor to inform you about things that may be stressful for them so that you can get a sense of what’s going on.

    I, personally, would like to know things like how corporations with multibillion dollar profits end up with zero net tax liability, why Social Security payments are considered income, and why so many professions are devalued to the point of being unsustainable.

  13. alexseanchai January 29, 2015 at 10:07 am

    copious spare time


    I shouldn’t even be browsing my rss feeds right now, I should be Doing Schoolwork…but I get antsy when I haven’t checked things in too long and then I can’t focus.

  14. alexseanchai January 29, 2015 at 10:08 am

    That said: got a hold on a library copy of Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion and I forget what all else I put holds on, and I found Hellenion’s website, so. Resources are or will be there for me, when I have five minutes to breathe.

  15. DawnM January 29, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    @ Silver Adept

    “I, personally, would like to know things like how corporations with multibillion dollar profits end up with zero net tax liability,”

    Are you hoping for an explanation of the accounting, or the “they gave money to someone’s election campaign” explantion?

  16. Silver Adept January 30, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    @ Dawn – The accounting would be lovely, since I already suspect the campaign donations make appear the things the accountants use to make the taxes disappear…

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