Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fruits and Vegetables

You may be privy to recent internet outrage over Congress declaring pizza a vegetable. In reality, Congress blocked a US Department of Agriculture proposal to increase the amount of tomato paste necessary to qualify as a school-lunch vegetable – for the past 20 years, two tablespoons has been sufficient.

Yet, to some, the true display of ignorance is calling tomato a vegetable, for – as even the most casual one-upper knows – they are really fruits. Which brings us to today’s post.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving, America (and to a lesser extent, The Netherlands)! And if you happen to live in Canada, Liberia, Japan, or Grenada, happy belated Thanksgiving! 

But not you Norfolk Island... You wait your turn.

Source: 1, 2, 3

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


What better way to mark learnalittle’s return from the dead than a short history of zombies?

Tales of the living dead abound in cultures across the world. The Norse draugar are the bodies of slain Vikings, said to inhabit their graves and jealously guard the treasures buried with their former selves. In Chinese folklore, jiang shi are reanimated corpses that hop around with their arms outstretched, sucking the life-force qi out of the living. And according to Medieval British accounts, deceased ne’er-do-wells may return as revenants – risen bodies bloated with blood – to terrorize their families and neighbors.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Daddy Long Legs

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unexpected places.

Endearing accent aside, this indignant German does bring up an excellent point: what exactly is the deal with daddy long legs?

As it turns out, the name "daddy long legs" is shared by three separate creatures, which all sport - you guessed it - notably long legs. The critters our Deutsch friend refers to are called Opiliones (or harvestmen). These eight-legged animals have two-segment oval bodies, have barely changed in the past 400 million years, and can be found across the globe. Though arachnids, harvestmen are not spiders, and lack both silk and venom glands; still, an erroneous urban legend contests harvestmen are the most venomous creatures on earth, yet lack fangs strong enough to pierce human skin.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Although tides are best appreciated from a comfortable beach chair, truly understanding the motion in the ocean requires a trip to the moon. As you may have noticed, the moon is Earth’s only natural satellite, locked in orbit by the Earth’s gravitational pull. But the moon has a gravitational pull of it’s own, which tugs on the planet’s oceans; the water on Earth’s moon-facing side – or sublunar point – bulges out slightly, while the water on the opposite side – or antipodal point – is pulled slightly “in,” towards the Earth’s core.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


The story of marijuana is old indeed, and starts with one of the earliest domesticated crops: the Cannabis plant. Cannabis has been cultivated for millennia in Asia and the Middle East, as the fiber beneath its bark can be refined into soft, durable hemp. Though this fiber was the main selling point, ancient farmers soon discovered one could smoke Cannabis flowers and their attached leaves and stems for interesting psychological effects; archeological evidence shows intentional inhalation of cannabis smoke as early as the 3rd millennium BCE.

Though these pioneers of pot most likely smoked unprocessed Cannabis, today’s stoners have additional options, like kief, a powder sifted from leaves and flowers; hashish, concentrated flower resin; and hash oil, extracted from cannabis leaves. These processed Cannabis variations offer benefits like ease of use when cooking weed-infused foods, or increased levels of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


In 1950, science fiction writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard – better known as L. Ron Hubbard – created a self-help program called Dianetics. The program’s popularity grew, and Hubbard soon found himself leading an international movement. The Dianetics method quickly evolved into more than self-help, and Hubbard officially incorporated the Church of Scientology in 1952.

Scientologists contend that belief in God or gods is a personal matter, but do accept a pervading spiritual force called Theta. Theta is present in all beings, and all humans are actually immortal spirits called thetans. Throughout time, thetans are reincarnated, not only as humans, but also aliens on distant planets. The eventual goal of Scientology is to free oneself from reincarnation through a process called auditing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The happiest of Labor Days to all! learnalittle returns on Wednesday.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Today, learnalittle has brains on the brain.

The brain is the central component of the nervous system, governing every thought and function in our body. This magnificent organ is enclosed in the cranium, protected by cerebrospinal fluid and a membrane system called the meninges. The brain itself is composed of two hemispheres that control opposite sides of the body (the left hemisphere governs the right side), joined in the middle by the corpus callosum – a thick bundle of fibers that allows the hemispheres to communicate.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kennedy Curse

On Friday 22 November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dealey Plaza, Dallas during a motorcade precession. This loss marks a defining event for a generation of Americans, and still stands as one of the nation’s most somber moments and the most infamous in a series of family tragedies known collectively as the Kennedy Curse.

America’s renowned Kennedy family consists of the descendants of Joseph Patrick Kennedy – prominent Irish-American businessman and politician – and Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Believers of the Curse say misfortune began with the Kennedy’s eldest daughter Rosemary, a shy child who scored poorly on IQ tests, diagnosed with "moderate mental retardation." In 1941, 23 year-old Rosemary received an ill-advised lobotomy as treatment for mood issues, leaving her incontinent, infantile, incomprehensible, and institutionalized until her death in 2005.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Prepare your palettes for a taste of taste.

Taste – or gustation – is the one of the traditional five senses along with sight, hearing, touch, and smell. Taste usually refers to the ability to detect flavor, although smell, texture, temperature, and sight are also contributing factors. Humans experience taste through sensory organs called taste buds (or gustatory calyculi), located on the upper surface of the tongue on raised protrusions called papillae. Fungiform papillae are mushroom-shaped, and found on the tip and sides of the tongue; circumvallate papillae are the ten to fourteen dome-shaped dots at the back of the tongue; and foliate papillae appear on the sides of circumvallate papillae and the sides of the base of the tongue. Paintbrush-like filiform papillae are most common, but sense texture and touch rather than taste. Although the widely taught taste map implies taste is localized to certain parts of the tongue, taste-perception is evenly distrusted and all tasting papillae can sense every basic taste.

Friday, August 26, 2011


This one’s for all my Anglophiles: a beginner’s guide to heraldry.

In 12th century England, men would commonly adopt a Coat of Arms: a shield-shaped household-specific emblem to identify his family in battle. Today, arms are still displayed on shields or escutcheons; heraldry is the study of Coats of Arms, the rules governing their design, and blazoning – the specific vocabulary and syntax of their description.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Today on learnalittle, stow the sippy cups and get acquainted with the adult world of formal glassware.

Unsurprisingly, alcoholic beverages have driven the specialization of glassware in Western society. The highball glass is the most standard-looking of the cylindrical, flat-bottomed tumblers, and holds 8 to 12 ounces of mixed drink. The lowball is its stouter cousin; also called an old fashioned glass, it’s the traditional vessel for Old Fashioned cocktails. Likewise, the Collins glass was invented for Tom Collins cocktails; slightly taller and narrower than a highball, the narrowed mouth lets less carbonation escape. A shot glass is smallest in this family, used mainly to serve gulps of straight (or neat) liquor.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today on learnalittle, learn how your food feeds itself with a look at photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is a chemical process that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugars, usually releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Land plants are the most widely known photoautotrophs (they produce energy from sunlight), along with algae and certain bacteria. Though only a handful of organisms use photosynthesis, all life on earth depends on this process. Cyanobacteria first appeared 3,000,000,000 years ago, and gradually oxygenated the planet, allowing complex aerobic (oxygen-breathing) organisms to evolve. Likewise, photoautotrophs serve as the basic terrestrial food source.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Wrapping up learnalitte’s WEEK OF SPACE, we really looks to the stars.

Astrology is the study of celestial bodies’ effect on human affairs, personality, and natural events. Astrologists hold that all things are intertwined with the rest of the cosmos; therefore, celestial events reflect human happenings. Using this principle, they practice divination by creating elaborate prediction charts called horoscopes; natal horoscopes are most popular, centering on an individual’s personality and destiny based on time and place of birth.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Moon Landing

Continuing learnalittle’s WEEK OF SPACE, we explore the exploration of the moon.

Before getting to getting to the moon, let’s consider the context behind one of man’s coolest accomplishments. Lunar exploration was the ultimate goal of the Space Race, an unofficial – yet high stakes – competition between the US and Soviet Union to be the world leader in technology. The Space Race itself is one of the most visible aspects of the Cold War, a fifty-year period of governmental, cultural and military tension between the two above-mentioned nations.

Monday, August 15, 2011


To kick off learnalittle's WEEK OF SPACE, we look to the stars.

A star is a massive, luminous ball of ionized gas (or plasma) that form in giant, slowly rotating clouds of dust called stellar nurseries. A cloud’s gravity gradually causes it to condense into a sphere; as it collapses, this ball becomes hotter and denser, eventually forming a protostar. Under incredibly high pressure, atoms that normally repel each other begin to collide and combine in a process called nuclear fusion. In the case of a new star, molecules of hydrogen collide to form helium. When the protostar’s heat and pressure hit 1 million °C, fusion begins and the star ignites.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Today, learnalittle raises a glass to liquor.

All drinkable alcohols are made by fermentation, the process by which yeast – microscopic fungi – breakdown sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and glucose for energy. This process’s two major waste byproducts are carbon dioxide and ethanol – better know as good ol’ fashioned alcohol. But this can’t happen just anywhere – it’s an anaerobic process: it takes place in an oxygen-less environment. So making the alcohol we drink requires a vessel that lets carbon dioxide out without letting oxygen in.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Today on learnalittle, find out what all the buzz is about with rundown of the cicada.

Cicadas are winged insects of the superfamily Cicadoidea. There are over 2,500 species of cicada, native to temperate and tropical regions across the globe. While most cicadas are an inch or two long, members of the Pomponia and Tacua genera can be over half a foot with an 8inch wingspan. Cicadas live on tree sap, sucking up the sweet stuff by puncturing the bark with their straw-like proboscis; as they have no defenses, the only way a cicada might hurt a human is by mistaking them for a tree and going in for drink.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Today, learnalittle, gets into Shinto.

Shinto (or kami-no-michi) is the indigenous spiritual tradition of Japan. Shinto may be as old as Japan itself, originating from millennia of folk and oral traditions, rather than one founder or scripture. Still, Shinto isn’t exactly a religion, but a set of spiritual views and rituals synonymous with traditional Japanese culture.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Have you ever wondered, “Why do men tie strips of fabric around their necks?” Well, today’s post doesn’t answer that question. But it does explain how we arrived on the strips of fabric we wear today.

Tying cloth around one’s neck began long before Borrelli, Brioni, and Burberry – as far back as Ancient ChinaEgypt and Rome. But a fabric square is no tie. Although not quite a tie either, the cravat is considered granddaddy of the accessory in question. When Croatian soldiers arrived in 1600’s France during the Thirty Years’ War, they brought a curious fashion trend: they tied thin bands of linen around their necks. Impressed, the French adopted the fashion, dubbing it “cravate” – from “Croat” - and the style soon spread throughout Europe (because – honestly – anything is better than a ruff).

Monday, August 1, 2011

American Flag

Things are about to get… American; today, learnalittle unfurls the old story of Old Glory.

The American flag is a national symbol of the United States of America. The flag shows a blue canton (upper-right field) called the union, which holds a star for each of the nation’s fifty states. The rest of the flag shows thirteen stripes – alternating red and white – to commemorate the initial thirteen British Colonies. Although today’s version has been in use longer than any other, the flag has undergone 26 distinct iterations since its inception, indicative of the country’s dramatic evolution since its founding.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Are two arms just not enough? Learn how the other half lives with a look at octopuses.

Octopuses (or octopodes) are mollusks in the Cephelopoda (literally “head-feet”) Class, along with squids, cuttlefish, and nautilus. Unlike their relatives, most octopuses lack an external or internal shell; their squishy bodies can easily squeeze through small spaces. These creatures sport eight muscular arms used for swimming, usually lined with suction cups for walking, climbing, and grasping prey. At the center point of its arms, there’s a hard beak used to crush and eat.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Are you longing for another ride on the punctuation train? Well, long no longer! Today’s learnalittle is dedicated to the dash!

Believe it or not, there are three main types of dash, denoted by slightly different lengths and uses. The first and shortest kind is a figure dash, so named because it’s the same width as a digit in most fonts. Fittingly, the figure dash is used when joining together a series of digits, like in a Social Security number or phone number.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Make sure your laptop is fully charged, because today’s learnalittle is all about batteries.

battery reacts two different kinds of metal to convert stored chemical energy into electricity through a series of ionic reactions. Batteries produce a strong, consistent current of electricity, ideal for powering electronic devices in a closed electrical circuit.

Friday, July 22, 2011


They say beauty is in the eye of the bee holder. Well, learnalittle… holds… um. Today’s post is about bees.

Bees are flying insects, closely related to ants and likely descended from wasps. Some bees are highly eusocial: one queen breeds for the entire colony, while female workers guard the hive, collect resources, produce honey, and tend to the queen and her young. A handful of male drones – which hatch from unfertilized eggs – exist primarily to mate with the queen. To raise new queens, workers feed select larvae protein-rich royal jelly, making them larger than the average bee and sexually mature.  These new queens may leave the hive with a swarm entourage to form a new colony.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Do you have that 2:30 feeling? Forgo the energy drink and learn a little about sleep.

Sleep is a restful state of reduced or absent consciousness that occurs in all mammals, all birds, and most reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The sleep cycle is divided into two broad categories: REM (rapid eye movement) and Non-REM (or NREM) sleep; NREM sleep is further divided into three stages. In Stage 1 sleep (N1), breathing slows and the brain’s electrical activity transitions from bursts to regular brains waves. Individuals in N1 are easily woken, and may not realize they’ve been asleep. This stage is sometimes accompanied by a “falling” sensation, that may cause a hypnic jerk or sleep start – an involuntary twitching of the muscles that might wake the sleeper.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Due to moving, learnalittle will return on Wednesday!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Salem Witch Trials

To mark this significant date in the fake magical community, today’s post dabbles in the dark past of the Salem Witch Trials.

The Salem Witch Trials were a series of court hearings held in 1692-93, addressing allegations of witchcraft in several colonial Massachusetts towns. In 1692, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams – the young daughter and niece (respectively) of Reverend Samuel Parris  began suffering episodes of uncontrollable convulsions, screaming, and grunting. Doctors could find no physiological cause, and when two other girls started reporting the same symptoms, they turned to more supernatural explanations.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Baseball Statistics

If you thought the world of hats had some ridiculously specific knowledge, wait ‘til you meet baseball statistics.

Baseball stats are the main component of sabermetrics, the objective analysis of baseball performance. The field is fraught with abbreviations and equations, so let’s start with the most basic batting stats: AB denotes the number of times per season a player is at batrecords how often a batter reaches first base due to an uncaught hitand R measures how often a player crosses home plate to score a run. Similarly, HR reflects total homeruns – a hit that allows the batter to circle all bases in one play.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Today on a learnalittle, get to know Mormonism (well-dressed twenty-something not included).

Mormonism is a branch of Christianity and the most prevalent religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement began in the 1820s Western New York, when – according to Mormon belief – Joseph Smith, Jr. discovered a set of buried golden plates inscribed with an Ancient language. Guided by God, Smith translated the plates into the Book of Mormon, one of the primary texts of the LDS movement.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Readers beware: today’s post is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t mind a little blood, then why not learn a little more about it.

Blood is a bodily fluid that plays several vital functions in animals. While humans have several types of blood cells, more than half is plasma – a solution primarily composed of water that also contains floating proteins. In addition to circulating the body’s blood cells, Plasma also distributes sugars and hormones, and removes waste such as carbon dioxideurea, and lactic acid. Plasma also contains platelets (or thrombocytes), which form blood clots at wounds and cuts to preventive excessive bleeding.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ginkgo Trees

Embrace your inner tree hugger and learn a little about the one-of-a-kind Ginkgo tree.

The Ginkgo biloba is a non-flowering plant species with no close living relatives, easily recognizable by uniquely fan-shaped leaves. When grown in sunny, well watered, and well-drained locations, ginkgoes can grow over 100 feet; some Chinese specimens are over 150 feet tall!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day, America! learnalittle will return on Wednesday.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Bible

Let’s get biblical. Today on learnalittle, we take a good look at the Good Book.

The Bible is the central religious text of Christianity, composed of Judaic and early Christian texts written over centuries. Its name comes from the Greek biblia, meaning “books.” The plural is quite appropriate: the Bible itself is composed of many individual books, the total number varying across denominations – ranging from 66 to 81.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Horseshoe Crabs

In observance of beach season, today’s post honors one of the sea shore’s oldest inhabitants: the horseshoe crab.

Horseshoe crabs date back to the Ordovician Period, and haven’t really changed in the intervening 450 million years; these ancient origins have earned them living fossil status. With their hard, dome-shaped shells, horseshoe crabs look like fossils; they molt this armor about 18 times over their life to keep growing. Under the shell, they have five pairs of clawed legs that converge at a central mouth. Instead of teeth, their mouths sport stiff bristles for eating mussels and worms.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Men's Hats

Do you long for an age when women were women and men wore hats? Today, learnalittle has you covered… well, learnalittle has that second part covered.

The fedora reigns king of the felt hats. Fedoras have a brim that goes all the way around the crown (or top), and traditionally sport a grosgrain ribbon hat band (a silky, ribbed material). The crown can be bashed or blocked – indented and/or creased – in various styles, but the most common is a crease down the center with a pinch on both front sides. Recently popular Trilby hats are very similar to fedoras with some notable differences: a shorter crown and narrower brim that turns up in the back.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Sterilize the area for an injection of knowledge: today’s learnalittle topic is Botox.

Botox is a form of botulinum toxin (pronounced “botch-uh-line-um”), a protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. If ingested, the toxin causes botulism (“botch-uh-liz-um”), a potentially fatal paralytic illness. C. botulinum thrives in neutral pH, low-oxygen environments, and is sometimes found in tainted canned foods. The first recorded case of botulism occurred in 1735 Europe, presumably caused by poorly prepared sausage (“botulism” actually comes from the Latin for sausage, botulus).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


It’s ladies’ choice today on learnalittle, as we explore the timeless tale of the Amazon warrior women.

The Amazons were a tribe of female warriors living in the Greek Classical period (5th and 4th centuries BCE)Ancient historians and artwork portray Amazons as expert with all weapons, battling Greek men with considerable skill. Some legends report Amazons as the first to ride horses, though the practice more likely originated thousands of years earlier.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dark Matter and Dark Energy

Space. As far as frontiers go, it’s pretty final – and even more mysterious. In this spirit, today’s post covers two of astrophysics’ most brain-boggling theories: dark matter and dark energy.

Our first mystery arose in 1933, when Swiss-born astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky attempted to estimate the total mass of a cluster of galaxies. But he encountered a problem. As background, the more mass an object has, the greater it’s gravitational pull – the force that attracts other objects. The greater an object’s gravitational pull, the faster objects rotating around it will move. Zwicky noticed that galaxies at the edge of the cluster were rotating way too fast for the mass he calculated; to account for speed, the cluster had to be about 400 times more massive.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Brace yourself: it’s time for The Talk. Today on learnalittle, clear up those misconceptions about conception.

Natural conception (or fertilization) requires sexual intercourse between a male and female. Healthy men typically release around 300 million sperm into the vagina during ejaculation.  Sperm are the male gamete (reproductive cell) and have pinched, oval-shaped heads. A sperm swims using a flagellum tail that continuously whips back and forth. Despite this ideal structure, about 60% of sperm are imperfect even in the healthiest men. Many have multiple tails, are unable to move, or are otherwise defective. These sperm never escape the vagina, destroyed by its acidic 4.5 pH within hours. Their more successful siblings head toward the cervix.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Ditch the rose-colored glasses and prepare yourself for full-on Technicolor. Today on learnalittle, we’re chasing rainbows.

Rainbows appear when sunlight passes through moisture droplets in the atmosphere, producing a colorful ring – though only an arc is visible. When the sun is about 42° above the horizon (in the early morning or evening), droplets of moisture behave much like prisms: a ray of light refracts as it enters the droplet, reflects off the back, then refracts once more as it passes out of the droplet. This process disperses the ray into the colors of the visible spectrum of light.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Unfurl your yoga mats and focus on your computer screen. Today on learnalittle, it’s a brief look at Hinduism.

Hinduism is perhaps the oldest surviving religious tradition, dating back to 1700BCE or earlier and evolving from thousands of years of separate practices from the Indian subcontinent. Because it lacks a historic founder and a single concept of god, Hinduism isn’t one “religion,” but an incredibly varied collective of traditions and beliefs.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Lace up your grammar gloves, step into the ring, and brace yourself for Punctuation, Round II. With the fearsome semicolon now a familiar friend, we move on to the slightly better understood (but still somewhat confusing) colon.

Colons have several uses, but all of them follow a basic rule: a colon follows an independent clause (or a full, stand-alone sentence) to provide an example or additional, needed information. Consider that last sentence. In the initial independent clause, I said there was a “basic rule”; after the colon, I explained what that basic rule was.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Learning, emotions, sensation, sleep – believe it or not, we owe all of these processes to microscopic chemical signals called neurotransmitters.

Before tackling the main neurotransmitters and their functions, let’s review how neurons – the specialized cells of the nervous systems – work. Neurons are electrically excitable, and relay information by changing their concentrations of charged ions in a process called action potential. An action potential will eventually travel down the axon, a tube-like projection that links neurons to other cells and each other at a synapse. At the end of the axon, neurotransmitters are released into a space between the excited neuron and another neuron or cell. By binding to specific receptors, neurotransmitters can excite, inhibit, or otherwise change a cell; in turn, these cellular changes can have some big affects on the whole organism.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Naked Mole Rats

They say to not judge a book by its cover, but they might need a more convincing adage to keep us from judging the naked mole rat. Though a little hard to look at, these rodents have a lot more going for them than their horror movie-worthy appearance.

Naked mole rats are native to East Africa, living in elaborate underground burrows and tunnels that they dig with their large teeth (their lips are behind these teeth to prevent dirt from getting in their mouths). Their small bodies – 3 to 4 inches long and 30-35 grams – and short legs are ideal for navigating cramped tunnels; they can scurry quickly both backward and forward.

Mole rats rarely leave their burrows: their mostly hairless, almost pigment-less bodies don’t fair well in the sun and their weak, beady eyes give them poor visual acuity. Fittingly, mole rats live mainly on tubers – starch-rich vegetables that grow underground. Additionally, mole rats have naturally low metabolisms and eat relatively infrequently; they can reduce their metabolisms even further when food is scarce.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Seven Wonders of the World

Historically, humans are inclined to competeastonish, and outdo. Truthfully, these sometimes-childish tendencies have led to some pretty impressive things. Today, we’ll explore some of the oldest and grandest examples: the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Colossus of Rhodes is perhaps the youngest of the seven, built around 290BCE in Rhodes, Greece. At over 100ft tall, the statue resembled a considerably more naked Statue of Liberty.  Though shaped like the immortal Titan-god Helios, the Colossus stood only about 56 years and fell in a 226BC earthquake.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


There are some creatures that seem too strange to be true. Chief among them are the ghostly, alien – and sometimes deadly – jellyfish.

Jellyfish,” although widely used, is considered a misleading name, as they aren’t related to fish. Instead, researchers prefer the terms jellies and medusas. Medusas belong to the phylum Cnidaria (pronounced “nidaria”) along with corals, anemones, and certain parasites. The incredibly venomous Portuguese Man o’ War is also among this group, but – despite a striking resemblance – it’s a siphonophore, not a medusa.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Gender, Sex, and Sexual Orientation

Pansexual, third gendered, intersex – there’s a lot of terminology out there to describe how people identify themselves. To make things a little less cloudy, today’s post explores the terms surrounding gender, sex, and sexual orientation.

Biological sex is determined by an individual’s chromosomes and genitals. The vast majority of men have an XY chromosome pair, while women have XX. However, there are intersex individuals, whose chromosomes and/or genitals don’t develop in the expected way. Chromosomally, a person may be XXY, XXX, XX male, XY female, or several other variations. Physiologically, persons with chromosomal syndromes and non-chromosomal developmental differences might express few (if any) overt symptoms, have slightly feminized or masculinized features, or be sterile with ambiguous genitals.

Friday, May 27, 2011


If you’re reading, clicking, and breathing right now, odds are you’re the proud owner of billions of neurons. Why not show some neuronal pride by learning a little about the cells that make your world go round?

Neurons are specialized cells in the brain and throughout the body. Because they are electrically excitable, neurons can relay signals through electrical impulses. Like all cells, neurons have a cell body or soma that contains the nucleus, which holds the bulk of the cells genetic material (here’s an actually helpful link). One end of a neuron’s soma has branch-like dendrites, used to receive signals from other neurons. The other end tapers into a long, pipe-like axon, which allows the neuron to relay electrical signals longer distances. The axon ends in the axon terminal, where more branch-like arms form synapses or connections with the dendrites of neighboring neurons or other kinds of cells.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Latin Phrases

If Latin words and phrases have always seemed like Greek, then let today’s learnalittle post be an addendum (something added or to be added) to your personal education.

For starters, let’s consider the case of id est (that is; abbreviated i.e.). The abbreviation i.e. is used to give clarification about the statement in casu (meaning: in this case), i.e. it explains an idea in another way to make it more clear. This contrasts with exempli gratia (meaning: for example), which is used to provide specific examples of a category, e.g. primary colors, odd numbers, etc. (et ceteraand the rest; used to imply or replace additional items in a list). Ergo (therefore), i.e. is used to introduce a clarification, while e.g. introduces a specific example. Interchangeable use of these two phrases is somewhat status quo (the current state of things; literally the state in which), but is often incorrect.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Marsupials and Monotremes

In case being a mammal hasn’t made you an expert, today’s post covers two of this Class’ underrepresented members: marsupials and monotremes.

In general, mammals are air-breathing vertebrates characterized by three traits: hair, mammary glands in mothers, and three middle ear bones for hearing. After these universal traits, birth method distinguishes the three different groups of mammals.

Placental mammals are by far the biggest group and include humans (along with almost every other mammal that comes to mind). During fetal development, this Group employs a placenta – an organ that connects a gestating fetus to its mother, to supply nutrients and oxygen and eliminate waste.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The End of the World

As today might prove regrettably penultimate, why not inform yourself on what the world’s major religions think of The End of the World?

The general term for the study of the end of the world and/or the ultimate destiny of humanity is eschatology. Let’s start with the Christian take.

Most Christians believe in a common set of events involved in the End of the World, drawing from passages throughout the Bible (including the apocalypse-focused Book of Revelations). Eventually, certain signs will arise, including the conversion of Jews to Christianity; natural disasters; and the reign of the Anti-Christ, a charismatic leader who enacts Satan’s will.  Eventually, Jesus returns in the Second Coming to defeat the Anti-Christ in The Battle of Armageddon and judge all humanity – living and dead. The wicked are sentenced to eternal damnation, heaven and earth are destroyed, and the righteous enter the perfect World to Come with God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Statue of Liberty

Spangle your banners and don your tricorne hats, because learnalittle is getting patriotic. Today’s post gives a glimpse at America’s favorite Frenchwoman: the Statue of Liberty.

As legend has it, New York’s Lady Liberty was first conceived of at the 1865 dinner party of French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye. Laboulaye made an off-handed comment suggesting a US monument to freedom built by both nations, which struck home with young sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi. Bartholdi imagined a tremendous lighthouse styled as a torch-wielding ancient Egyptian peasant, based on the Colossus of Rhodes in the Suez Canal of Port Said. Luckily for America (sorry, Egypt), this initial plan never got off the ground.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Carnivorous Plants

To celebrate the second week of learnalittle, today’s post spotlights one of my favorite things: carnivorous plants.

Although popular culture seems a bit preoccupied with the idea of man-eating plants, true carnivorous plants feed mainly on insects and microorganisms (with the occasional unfortunate amphibian for some of the bigger species). What’s more, these plants aren’t feeding in place of standard photosynthesis, but supplementing necessary nutrients – especially nitrogen – that can’t be obtained in their native highly acidic bogs or barren rocky outcroppings.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Break out the Holy Rollers jackets: today’s learnalittle post is Christianity.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion that most centers on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the belief that he is the Son of God, humanity’s savior, and – in the majority of denominations – God as part of a Holy Trinity, along with God the Father, the God of Judaism; and the Holy Spirit, a divine force through which God acts and inspires. Christians don’t see this Trinity as three separate gods, but one God with three distinct yet unified natures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Have you ever worried that sloppy syntax would make you the laughing stock of your local grammar rodeo? Do you succumb to fearful suspicion at the mere mention of semicolons? Then send a prayer of thanksgiving to the Grammar Gods for Punctuation, Part I: the semicolon.

Let’s hit the ground running with the most misunderstood and intentionally avoided squiggle in all of the English language: the semicolon. And yes, I just used a colon to introduce a semicolon. Get over it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Learning to Walk

For the inaugural learnalittle post, let’s start at the beginning: learning to walk.

After learning to crawl, sit-up, scoot, and cruise, most babies begin to walk anywhere between 9 and 18 months. This basic but vital skill emerges as infant muscle strengthens and motor cortex function refines. But what explains the big age range in which a child might take their first steps?