Human Life Expectancy

Average human lifespan, by era:

  • Neanderthal: 20 years
  • Neolithic: 20 years
  • Classical Greece: 28 years
  • Classical Rome: 28 years
  • Medieval England: 33 years
  • End of 18th century: 37 years
  • Early 20th century: 50 years
  • Circa 1940: 65 years
  • Current (in the West): 77-81 years

Today the average Zambian dies at age 37, the average Japanese at age 81.

Roulette in the Age of Science

Albert Einstein said, “You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it.” He might have been surprised. Roulette wheels have subtle flaws, and in this technological age a sophisticated observer can make some serious money:

  • In 1873, British engineer Joseph Jaggers hired six clerks to study the wheels at the Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo. One wheel showed a clear bias, which Jaggers exploited to the tune of $325,000.
  • As early as 1961, mathematician Claude Shannon had built a wearable computer to find likely numbers.
  • By the late 1970s, a group of computer hackers known as the Eudaemons were frequenting casinos wearing computers in their shoes.
  • In the early 1990s, Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo used a computer to analyze the roulette wheels at the Casino de Madrid. He won more than $1 million over a period of several years.
  • In 2004, a group in London was using a special laser cameraphone and microchip to predict a ball’s path, a technique called sector targeting. They won £1.3 million.

In both of the latter two cases, the casinos mounted legal challenges — and lost. If you’re not influencing the ball, the courts ruled, you’re not cheating. Modern casinos monitor their wheels to keep them as random as possible, but the long-term odds favor the engineers.

Yellowstone Caldera

Most people know that Yellowstone National Park is geologically active, but few realize that it sits atop a gigantic volcano. No one knows when it will blow next, but past eruptions have been huge, up to 2,500 times the size of Mount St. Helens in 1980. Today that would kill millions and change the worldwide climate catastrophically.

For now, we just have to wait — the problem is far too big for today’s engineers to tackle.

Prescription Abbreviations

Abbreviations used in prescriptions:

  • a.c. (ante cibum) – before meals
  • ad lib. (ad libitum) – use as much as one desires; freely
  • alt. h. (alternis horis) – every other hour
  • c (cibos) – food
  • D.A.W. – dispense as written
  • dc, D/C, disc – discontinue
  • e.m.p. (ex modo prescripto) – as directed
  • ex aq – in water
  • h.s. (hora somni) – at bedtime
  • L.A.S. – label as such
  • N.K.A. – no known allergies
  • noct. (nocte) – at night
  • NPO, n.p.o. (non per os) – nothing by mouth
  • p.c. (post cibum) – after meals
  • p.o. (per os) – by mouth or orally
  • s.a. (secundum artum) – use your judgement
  • sig – write on label
  • s.o.s., si op. sit (si opus sit) – if there is a need

Napoleon Bonaparte described medicine as “a collection of uncertain prescriptions the results of which, taken collectively, are more fatal than useful to mankind.”

First Photo,_Joseph_Nic%C3%A9phore_Ni%C3%A9pce.jpg

This is the world’s first successful permanent photograph, “View From the Window at Le Gras,” created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826.

The exposure required eight hours, so the buildings are illuminated from both right and left.

“Halfway to Hell”

One “smoot” is five feet seven inches, or about 1.7 meters.

It’s named for Oliver R. Smoot, an ill-starred MIT pledge whose fraternity brothers rolled him head over heels to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge in October 1958.

The bridge measured “364.4 smoots plus one ear.” The markings are repainted each year by the incoming pledge class of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Ironically, Smoot later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute.