Curiosity from the Road

Part of the reason Beaudry and I get along so well is that we think of sort of random questions at lunch and then try to figure out the answer before we google them back at the lab. Many of these have ended up on this very website in the Learning category. So it was a given that spending 12 hours in a car together on our way to Salt Lake City we were bound to come up with a couple dandies.

What’s a ‘palisade’?

Beaudry thought a palisade was a stake or something similar. I thought that was reasonable if ‘palisade’ was related to ‘paladin‘ and perhaps a ‘palisade’ was originally a spear-type weapon. Streiter suggested a cliff, which remided me of the Palisades in New Jersey, which look down on the Hudson River, so that made sense. It turns out we were pretty close to the mark, except for my ‘paladin’ reference.From

1. A fence of pales forming a defense barrier or fortification; One of the pales of such a fence.
2. palisades: A line of lofty steep cliffs, usually along a river.

How do you determine elevation?

The caveat to this question is to figure out elevation without a topographical map or sophisticated technology. I guessed that measuring atmospheric pressure would give you some information, but we wondered about pressure variations due to weather changes. Our other guess was trigonometry based, and Beaudry worked out a method based on the law of sines which seemed convincing and likely more accurate than the pressure approach. Here are a couple related techniques: Determining height of a tower, Determining the altitude of a kite.

It turns out that altitudes are generally measured by air pressure using an aneroid barometer [see also], which apparently corrects for weather variations.

How was Australia founded?

We knew that Australia was originally a prison colony of Britain. But how did that work? Did they set up a prison there and then need guards and staff? That seemed way too expensive, so they must have just arrived in Australia, tossed the prisoners onto the island, and sailed away. But doesn’t that seem expensive too, sailing all the way from northern Europe to the Oceania? Why wouldn’t they just execute these people and be done with it? Well, probably the Brits had a slightly higher respect for human life than we give them credit for, but mostly they wanted cheap labor to prepare the land for colonization. Here’s an article on the history of Australia and one on penal colonies in general.

What is this thing?

As we passed the Great Salt Lake on I-80, we saw this crazy, abandoned looking, Taj Mahal-esque building, which we dubbed the Taj MaSalt. We had to know what this thing was, so on one of our free afternoons, we drove back out to investigate. It turns out that the Mormons built the Saltair as a family resort/Coney Island of the west. It was popular for a time in the early 1900’s, burned down, was rebuilt, burned down, was rebuilt, was neglected, and now basically holds a gift shop and some pictures of its glory days.

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