Q. When you went out drinking this weekend, you drank a buttload, you say. What exactly is a “buttload”?
A. According to the “Online Etymology Dictionary,” “butt” comes from the Old French word “bot,” which translates to “barrel,” says Dan Lewis on his “Now I Know” website. Before units of measurement were standardized, the booze business used different-sized casks to describe the amount they had for sale: a “tun,” a “butt” (half a tun), a “puncheon” (one third a tun), etc. And though different distilleries and wineries used slightly different measures, in general, a “butt” is about 125-150 gallons (475-550 liters) of wine, whiskey, ale, etc. A full cask is a “buttload.”
As Lewis concludes, “So if you actually drank a literal buttload of wine this weekend, you had about 3,500 glasses of it…. The good news is you’re probably not drunk, but the bad news is that’s because there’s no way you could have survived the experience.”
Q. Pointing at things – a universal human behavior – is typically the first communicative gesture an infant makes. But the extended index finger is not just like an arrow aimed at the object of interest. How so?
A. Based on careful measurements of more than 50 subjects spanning an age range of 1.5 years to adults, Cathal O’Madagain et al. (“Science Advances”) found that a pointed-at object tends to fall on a line connecting the end of the index finger with the pointer’s eye-–the direction one would move in order to touch the object, not along the line defined by the index finger itself. Further experiments revealed that the orientation of the hand while pointing at a distant object is generally consistent with how one would have to orient the hand in order to actually touch the object if it were nearby. For example, right-handers facing the front of a box and pointing at an object fastened to the outer left side of the box will typically rotate their wrist one-half turn counter-clockwise (a rather awkward maneuver) as if trying to touch the object.
The authors conclude that pointing originates in touch. “Once the child finds that she can get an adult to pay attention to something by touching it, she may begin to make ‘as if’ to touch things that are slightly further away. … The action originally designed to allow the infant to explore an object with the fingertip becomes a gesture that functions to coordinate the attention of infant and adult on an object, and pointing is born.”
Q. When? 2020 Where? Svalbard, Norway, some 1200 kilometers (745 miles) from the North Pole What? Update at the “doomsday vault.” Explain, please?
A. In 2008, in a mountain cavern in Svalbard, the Global Seed Vault became operational, “designed as the ultimate insurance policy for small seed banks around the world if they are affected by extreme weather, conflict, fire and other events,” says Adam Vaughan in “New Scientist” magazine. The first withdrawal from the vault took place in 2015, after conservationists lost access to a major seed bank in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
Now, in 2020, in the first big deposit to the Arctic facility in several years, around 60,000 new seed samples have been added: onion seeds from Brazil, guar beans from central Asia, wildflowers from the United Kingdom, and seeds from the Cherokee Nation, the first US Native American tribe to contribute. Also, 36 seed banks from around the world have added to the collection, including first-time deliveries from Morocco and South Korea.
While total seed samples now number more than a million, the vault has a capacity for 4.5 million samples. But as one of the partners running the facility says, “numbers alone aren’t as important as prioritizing unique species.”