Travis’s Tuesday Tidbit

Dear Readers,

Over the past six months, my blog has featured two main series: ALOBAM (At Least One Book A Month) and Travis’s Tuesday Tidbit. I’m announcing the end of both, at least in some ways. Before I get into that, let me explain why I started both.

I started the ALOBAM series in June after I started reading science fiction again. I really enjoy reading and I wanted to remember what I read, so I decided to write a summary of the story with my personal take. I also wanted to encourage myself, perhaps artificially, to read more stories as it’s something I missed. ALOBAM solved both these problems. However, I began to realize that my initial format wasn’t ideal as it forced me to split the story into parts with the idea of relaying information as someone read through the book, trying to avoid spoilers as they went. In hindsight, I should have put the entire review inside one spoiler tag and not worried about capturing all my thoughts about the book in the correct order.

Travis’s Tuesday Tidbit started in July when I stumbled across the weird tradition of women trying to “catch” men in leap years. Some of my friends commented on my obscure knowledge, so I decided to start the web series.  This allowed me to recap a lot of the bizarre things I had learnt and practice my writing skills, both of which it did well. I noticed by my fourth article that my passion for the subject matter had waned, mainly because there was no overall topic for the series. I was merely grabbing interesting things I had heard and recounting them. I continued writing every week until October when I took two weeks off while my girlfriend was in town and I presented my Ignite talk. Resuming the weekly tidbits was no longer enjoyable because they didn’t give me a reason to continue; there was nothing to tie them together. I wanted more than that.

Which brings me to what I’m doing now. In November I resumed working on my science podcast with my friends Dana Harrison and Jonathan Fritz. Titled The Wonder of Reality, the podcast covers what science is, what we’re discovering with it, and a lot of what fascinates us with the world around us. We’ll be launching our first episode on January 1st, 2013 and continuing every two weeks from there. In order to do this show, I’m reading a lot of science literature and writing the equivalent of six Tuesday Tidbits every two weeks.

Where does that leave these series? As I’m reading a lot of different publications and articles, I’ll definitely learn new things that I want to remember for later. As a result I’m starting a new, irregular series called “Segmented Science“. Whenever I have something science related I want to remember, I’ll quickly jot down the main points and publish it with links and files. Most likely these posts will later be used in the podcast, but it’s entirely possible that they’ll be thrown away, so think of this series as more of a link farm than anything else.

And just in case you’re a long time reader, you’ll notice that I’ve excluded “Play Smarter” in this discussion. Play Smarter was never a regular series and it’s actually the largest source of traffic to the site despite only having one post. I’m still very excited about it as I love games and analyzing things. Definitely don’t expect something soon, but do expect the series to continue.

Thanks for reading,

At one point or another, we’ve probably been emailed the following:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

While there wasn’t a published paper on the topic from Cambridge University, Graham Rawlinson from Nottingham University did write his PhD Thesis on “The Significance of Letter Position in Word Recognition” in 1976. He tested a lot of different things such as replacing letters with their mirror images, reversing the letter order of words, reversing the word order of passages, keeping the first two and last two characters fixed while mixing the inner characters, and substituting letters with other ones that may or may not be similar. The results generally showed that it is possible to guess words with incomplete information, and humans are better at guessing the words if only the middle letters have been rearranged. This last part makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever tried to do a Jumble in the newspaper; the whole point is that it’s hard to unscramble words.

How does the trick work? First, note that the text is written in lowercase for the most part. In 1955, Miles Tinker found that reading lowercase text was more legible than all-capital text because of the “characteristic words forms furnished by this type.” Building on this work and scientific studies conducted from 1982 to 1990, Colin Wheildon explains “When a person reads a line of type, the eye recognizes letters by the shapes of their upper halves.” Looking at the shapes of the words, most letters are either switched with letters of the same height (like in “wlohe”) or only offset by one character (as in “ltteer” where tt has been shifted to the left by one character).

The next important point is how much the inside of the words have been jumbled. Two and three letter words cannot be jumbled and four letter words can only have their inside letters swapped. It’s only when we reach five letter words and beyond that we can sufficiently scramble the words to hide their meaning. Here are a few examples from Posit Science:

As soon as the longer words have their letters randomly distributed, it’s very hard to decipher what they say. Assigning one point for each place a letter has moved, the harder scrambled words have scores of 16, 18, and 20 compared to 8, 4, and 8 respectively. This small amount of randomization is easy enough for us to overcome, especially when compared to how the words could have been written.

When reading we also gain context from the sentence as a whole and can infer the meaning of words without knowing what they are. In the third sentence, “The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm,” 8 of the 15 words are unscrambled giving us ample context. This might be a point we miss as they’re all function words (words that join together the important nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives that give the sentence its substance) which we tend to ignore when reading. Further, while total is rearranged to toatl it retains its overall sound, which is another piece of information we use when reading.

The final issue with the theory is with words that can be rearranged into multiple other words. For example, salt can be rearranged as slat, but these words were avoided in the passage lest the effect be ruined. Clive Tooth has found a wonderful example of this in the following sentence:

“The sprehas had ponits and patles”

There are multiple rearrangements possible here including:

  • The sherpas had pitons and plates.
  • The shapers had points and pleats.
  • The seraphs had pintos and petals.
  • The sphaers had pinots and palets.
  • The sphears had potins and peltas.

In summation, this hoax is similar to writing a paragraph missing that fifth symbol: it’s a pain to concoct but it only slows you down slightly to turn words into conclusions. As a bonus point, grammar is missing in parts such as “According to a research at…” and a word or two don’t unmix rightly such as “rscheearch” to “research” and “iprmoetnt” to “important”. Additional data by a PhD linguist is at this URL:

Today’s Tangent: Jumble was created by Martin Naydel in 1954 and now appears in more than 600 newspapers daily worldwide. An unintended byproduct was a gameshow in 1994 where four contests would face off to solve jumbles in the fastest time possible. It was one of four game shows created by Wink Martindale and Bill Hilleir for the Family Channel. Jumble only lasted six months, twice as long as the short running Shuffle also created by the duo. None of the game shows were still being produced after 1994.

My Tuesday Tidbits went on an unannounced hiatus for two weeks due to other obligations, such as the talk I did for Ignite 10. I’ll be writing up an article on my experiences leading up to my presentation and on the night, so look for that later this week. – Travis Gerhardt

During wartime lots of things become scarce: metal, meat, sugar, gasoline, and even chocolate. For the United States in World War II, chocolate was sent to the troops leaving those at home looking for something else sweet. It is because of this shortage that they turned towards jelly beans and other confections, helping to broaden the different candies available and ensuring that jelly beans would be around for generations. But there’s a lot more to jelly beans than just a wartime treat, and to tell that tale we need to visit Turkey more than two hundred years ago.

While the exact origins of Turkey Delight are unknown, the modern day version of the sweet was first found in 1776 in Istanbul, Turkey. It was at this time that Bekir Effendi, a confectioner from Anatolia set up a small shop there and started to sell his new confection. Unfortunately information around this event is scarce but we can piece together some things. It seems as though an ancestor of the treat existed back in  1626 as Francis Bacon wrote about similar sweets from Turkey:

They have in Turkey and the East certain confections, which they call servets, which are like to candied conserves, and are made of sugar and lemons, or sugar and citrons, or sugar and violets, and some other flowers; and some mixture of amber for the more delicate persons: and those they dissolve in water, and thereof make their drink, because they are forbidden wine by their law.

Bekir Effendi took this treat and made it softer and covered it in a liberal amount of icing sugar. Legend has it that he presented this sweet to the ruler Abdul Hamid I after he was commissioned to make a new confection; it quickly became a coveted dish and was associated with royalty. Eventually a Briton discovered the delight and brought back crates of it to England, reselling it under the name Turkish Delight. From there it made its way over to the United States and near the end of the 19th century was turned into the jelly bean.

The jelly bean was created by taking the jelly of a Turkish Delight, shaping it into a bean, and coating it with a soft shell of sugar. The coating is added in a method called panning where the centre of the candies are put in a open container that is partly filled with syrup, and then they are rolled allowing the candy to be coated evenly as the shells slowly harden. Since Turkish Delight came in multiple flavours, early jelly beans shared this trait and experienced great success during the penny candy craze of the time.

In the early 1900’s, the penny candy craze subsided in favour of everything chocolate. It wasn’t until World War II that jelly beans and other non-chocolate treats resurged. Then in 1960,  the small Herman Goelitz Candy Company decided to change from primarily producing candy corn to multiple other confections including jelly beans and the United States’ first gummi bears. These jelly beans caught the attention of then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, who would end up eating them through his two terms in office, famous writing “we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around the jar of jelly beans.”

In 1976, David Klien had an idea for jelly beans of unusual flavour and top notch quality, and pitched his idea to Herm Rowland, then owner of the Herman Goelitz Candy Company. Using the Goelitz company as a distributor, Klien created the Jelly Belly brand and launched with eight initial flavours including root beer and cream soda, flavours that had never been made into jelly beans before. In 1980, Klein and his business partner sold Jelly Belly and all the associated trademarks to the Herman Goelitz Candy Company for $4.8 million.

Around this same time, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States and with his presidency brought Jelly Belly jelly beans to the Oval Office and on Air Force One. He went further and asked for a blueberry flavoured jelly bean so he could serve red, white, and blue ones at parties he hosted. Then in 1983, Reagan sent Jelly Bellies to the astronauts of the space shuttle Challenger as a surprise. Throughout his eight years as president, he continued to have the jelly beans as a snack, helping to launch the Jelly Belly company into further financial success. Because of this huge influence, a portrait of the former president (shown above) made out of jelly beans hangs in the Jelly Belly visitor centre in Fairfield.

Today’s Tangent: While we may know them as Turkish Delights, the Turks definitely don’t call them that. The original word for these treats were lokum, which now translates from Turkish to English as Turkish Delight. However, not all translations are as simple. In Romanian the word is rahat which is a shorting of the Arabic translation rahat ul-holkum. Interesting, the Romanian rahat took another meaning, roughly translating to shit in English. I’d say that English got the taster of the two translations.

Complete this sentence: “I’ll be back in a ___!” While you probably answered “minute”, “second”, or “moment” most people only know the length of the first two. How long is a moment? In medieval times, it was defined to be 1/40th of an hour which is equal to 1.5 minutes or 90 seconds. Interestingly, the moment was further subdivided into twelve equal parts of 7.5 seconds called ounces. The smallest they were willing to go was the atom, a indivisible amount of time that also meant “a twinkling of the eye”. Since there are 47 atoms in an ounce, it’s 15/94th of a second or roughly 160 milliseconds. But how small can we really divide time? To find out, we’ll have to slow things down, way down.

A sixth of a second isn’t much to talk about today when movies have 30 frames a second. In movies and television we often see slow motion sequences, a phenomenon best captured in Time Warp (a science show that documents numerous events with high speed cameras). Today’s high speed cameras can easily shoot 100,000 frames per second, which is 100 faster than the first high speed camera could go. Since Etienne Oehmichen created that first high speed camera (then called an electric stroboscoscope) in 1917, the technology continued to progress until Harold Eugene Edgerton improved the design and started making art, creating the iconic photo above in 1964.

Ultra high speed cameras have practical uses too. Scientists at UCLA are using a 36.7 million FPS camera to detect cancer cells among millions of possible candidates. Still too slow for you? MIT researchers have made a camera that can record light by taking pictures every femtosecond, giving their camera a speed of 10^15 frames per second (one million billion). As of May 2010, the smallest unit of time measured was 12 attoseconds, roughly 80 times shorter than the period between pictures of the camera just mentioned. But if you really want to get the theoretical smallest unit of time, that’s Planck time. Clocking in at 5.39 * 10^-44 seconds, there are roughly 3.1 * 10^25 units of Planck time in an attosecond. Slow still has a long way to go.

Today’s Tangent: A moment is 1.5 minutes, which means it could also be called a sesquiminute. The prefix sesqui- means “one and a half”, leading to one of my favourite words: sesquipedalian. It comes from the Latin sesquipedalis, literally meaning “a foot and a half long”. Today it aptly means “a long word”.

If you ask “What’s the highest point on Earth?” most people will correctly answer “Mt. Everest”. If you ask “What’s the lowest point on Earth?” you’ll get answers of “Death Valley” (the lowest land in North America at 86m below sea level), “The Dead Sea” (the lowest point in Asia at 423m below sea level), or maybe even “Marianas Trench” which is the lowest point on Earth. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it’s almost 11 km at its deepest, a place known as Challenger Deep. First explored in 1960 by humans, there wouldn’t be a return trip by man until 2012.

Just before Christmas in 1872, the HMS Challenger left Portsmouth, England on its four year mission of oceanography. It had nets for retrieving biological samples from different depths, housed six scientists, and travelled 127,000 km over four years. The mission discovered more than 4000 new species of plants and animals, but also discovered the Marianas Trench. Using a sounding line (a line with a weight on the end which is then lowered into the water) they were able to measure the deepest part of the trench. This point was then Challenger Deep after the HMS Challenger.

In 1953, a Swiss physicist named Auguste Piccard constructed and launched the Trieste, named after the Italian city in which it was built. With his son Jacques, the ship made its first dive on August 11. Over the next three years it would complete many more dives in the Mediterranean. These successes lead the United States government to investigate the craft in 1957, and it was recommended as the ideal craft to explore the Challenger Deep. It was bought for $250,000 in 1958 (worth approximately $1.6 million in 2012).

The dive to the Challenger Deep was uneventful. Manned by Lt. Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, the submersible took nearly five hours to descend on January 23, 1960. During that time, the two occupants had little to do beside check gauges and look at the occasional bioluminescent sea life that swam by. At ~9.5 km they heard a bang which turned out to be the breaking of a secondary Plexiglass window in the entry tube, a non-fatal event. Once they reached the bottom they only stayed there for 20 minutes before returning up by dropping their ballast; the return trip only took 3 hours and fifteen minutes.

In March of 2012, James Cameron descended to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in a one-manned submersible. His descent took 2.5 hours and he spent 3 hours at the bottom, only half of his scheduled 6 hours which were cut short due to a hydraulic fluid leak. He brought multiple 3D cameras with him and recorded footage of his journey, and the team is eager to work out the kinks and try again. With only three people even reaching the bottom, Challenger Deep is one of the most remote places on the planet.

Today’s Tangent: As stated above, Mount Everest is the highest point in the world. But the highest point does not the tallest mountain make. Mount Everest is anywhere from 3.6 to 4.6 km high (3.6 on the south face and 4.6 on the north face) and is only the highest point because it’s in a mountainous region, raising its base more than 4 km. For the tallest mountain, look to Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii, both of which are 10.2 km tall though partly underwater. The tallest mountain on land is Mount McKinley in Alaska at 5.3 to 5.9 km tall.

Time has always been a fascination for humans. Just look at our sayings: we can save time, waste time, kill time, take our time, be pressed for time, run out of time, let time slip through our fingers, stall for time, be just in time, spend time, make time, have free time, be on time, have a tough time, watch time fly, watch time crawl, have a great time, be out of time, or even take time off. But despite all of this and our understanding of the theories of relativity, we have not yet been able to travel through time. That is, unless you discount the ten days that were skipped from October 4 to October 15 in 1582.

Let’s start with a flashback to 46 BC when Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar. It was a simple design, consisting of 365 days with a 366th day being inserted every four years. This made a year 365.25 days on average, which roughly corresponded to what it actually was and it provided a simple rule to correct for seasonal drift. Unfortunately it wasn’t easy converting from the existing calendar to the new one, and it resulted in the “Year of Confusion” in 46 BC – the year had 445 days.

Jumping ahead to 325 AD, the first official council of the Christian Church meet in Nicaea to discuss Easter. The date for Easter is based on a complicated formula (you can see the current formula here) based on the vernal equinox (the “first day of spring”) and the cycle of the moon. In order for Easter to fall at roughly the same time each year, they set March 21st to be the vernal equinox. Unfortunately, the Julian calendar’s estimate of a year as 365.25 days was a bit too much, resulting in a drift of one day every 130 years.

Fast forward to 1582 and 1257 years have passed since March 21st was made the vernal equinox. By this point, the calendar was 10 days off from what it should be and so Pope Gregorius XIII (with the help of astronomer Christopher Clavius) determined that they would have to skip 10 days to get things back on track. Thus everyone in Venice, Spain, Portugal, France, the Dutch Republic, and Southern Netherlands made the transistion in 1582, while other countries wouldn’t follow until decades later, with Russia finally converting in 1918. If the change to the Julian calendar could be called the Year of Confusion, this is surely the Centuries of Confusion as the date difference only got worse as the years passed, reaching 13 days by the time Russia switched. Until everyone used the new Gregorian calendar, countries and their citizens needed to know how to switch between the two calendars.

Even in those countries that changed right away, it wasn’t a smooth transition. There was a lot of outcry from the public about religious ceremonies during those times. Since 10 days had been skipped, what happened to those celebrations? And would celebrating them on the new calendar days appease their deities as well as before the change? Even worse, Pope Gregorius XIII knew that his new calendar had to work better than the old one, so he corrected how leap years worked:

  • They would happen every 4 years
  • Every 100 years their wouldn’t be a leap year
  • Every 400 years there would

Thus over four hundred years there would only be 97 leap years instead of 100, leading to an average year of 365.2425 days. The other change involved the equinoxes and solstices no longer being fixed to a specific date. As seen in the image above from Wikipedia, the summer solstice (the “first day of summer”) moves around by day over hundreds of years.

Of course this isn’t the end of the story. As the millennia wear on, addition corrections will need to be made. Earth’s rotation will slow from the Moon’s pull, Jupiter will slowly precess Earth’s axis, and changes on the surface of our planet alter its mass distribution and thus its rotation speed. In time, our descendants might once again leap into the future.

Today’s Tangent: You’ve heard of leap years, but have you heard of leap seconds? Due to the small changes in Earth’s rotation mentioned above, days aren’t exactly 24 hours. Over years these small differences add up from millseconds to seconds, and a leap second must be added, creating the time 23:59:60. Since the creation of the idea in 1972, 25 leap seconds have been added, most recently on June 30, 2012. Unfortunately, due to changes on Earth itself from earthquakes and other events, it’s impossible to know when the next leap second will need to be scheduled.

On April 12, 1961 Russia made history by sending Yuri Gagarin into space in Vostok 1, having him orbit the Earth once, and then successfully land back on Earth. At least that was the official story at the time. In reality, he parachuted from his capsule at a height of 7 km above the Earth, successfully landing ten minutes after the capsule automatically touched down. Since most skydiving happens in the 1-1.5 km range, this jump is noteworthy in itself. Yet while this is a remarkable feat of parachuting and deception (the truth about the flight was hidden for many years), the world record is more than 4 times higher and was set eight months earlier.

In the 1950s, the United States Air Force was developing more advanced jet engines and the beginnings of the Space Race were afoot. Not wanting to lose astronauts or test pilots due to malfunctions, they sought to find a safe way for them to escape and return to Earth. This lead to the creation of Project Excelsior in 1958, lead by Captain Joseph W. Kittinger Jr. as test director. Under this project, Mr. Francis Beaupre designed a parachuting system that would first stabilize descent and then slow it, all being automatically deployed at the appropriate heights. With a general lack of funding, the tests would take place out of a balloon gondola like the one pictured above, the words “This is the highest step in the world” written on the plaque.

On November 16, 1959 Captain Kittinger ascended to just over 22 km and got ready to jump. His seat contained water bottles encased in styrofoam as a cheap way to maintain his body temperature during the ascent, but they froze on the way up and expanded, holding his instrumentation kit to the seat. It took him eleven seconds to get up and during this time he accidentally triggered the timer for the stabilization chute, before he even left the gondola. When he began to descend it deployed after 2.5 seconds after he left instead of the intended 16, accidentally wrapping the main parachute around his neck in the process. He started to spin uncontrollably and eventually lost consciousness. Unable to do anything he plummeted toward Earth and at 1.8 km his reserve shoot successfully deployed, saving Kittinger’s life.

The second jump was less than a month later on December 11, 1959. The main purpose was to work out the kinks found in the first jump, such as repositioning the water bottles and adding in safeguards to prevent another accidental start of the timer. Captain Kittinger bailed from the gondola at just under 22 km and landed without incident twelve minutes and thirty-two seconds later. This data was used to set up a third jump from more than 30 km.

The third and final jump happened on August 16, 1960 from a height of 31.3 km. It took one hour and forty-three minutes for the ascent. Once he left the gondola, he quickly fell back to Earth (footage can be seen here, set to “Dayvan Cowboy” by Boards of Canada). It took only four minutes and thirty-six seconds to plummet 26 km with only his stabilization chute deployed; it would take another nine minutes and nine seconds before he travelled the last 5.3 km with his main parachute deployed. This remains the only human space jump from more than 30 km.

Today’s Tangent: Joseph Kittinger isn’t finished setting records though. In 2005, Red Bull created Red Bull Stratos, a project designed to break Kittinger’s record from 1960 by going to 36.5 km. It wasn’t until 2008 that Kittinger joined as an advisor, and since then the test pilot, Felix Baumgartner, has made several test runs up to 29.5 km. They’re scheduled to meet their goal in the first half of October 2012.

When it comes to survival of the fittest, humans have effectively stepped out of the food chain and have the technology to dine on anything. We’re able to take down any predator and have the science to combat almost any disease, making us effectively safe from any external threat. But when it comes to trying to keep our species alive, our biggest biological threat might not come from another species, but from a battle of the sexes. There’s some evidence that men might go extinct.

Gender in humans is based on our X and Y chromosomes; women have two X chromosomes while men have one X and one Y. This Y chromosome is critical in men because it controls all the male aspects required for reproduction: the development of testicles and sperm, and it can only be given by a father to his sons. Without the Y chromosome to carry this genetic information, our species would lose its male population, and with it the ability to reproduce. Unfortunately, some scientists think that could happen due to many causes, such as high mutation rate, inefficient selection, and genetic drift.

Going back about 300 million years, the X and Y chromosomes each had the same number of genes at 1438. Today the Y chromosome has only 45 (you can see their size difference in the picture above, courtesy of Exit Mundi). If we model this as two points on a line, the Y chromosome will lose its last gene in roughly 10 million years. It could even happen faster given that the Y chromosome doesn’t always select the best and “fittest” specimen to continue. In fact, roughly 1 in 2000 men will be rendered infertile by defects in the Y chromosome. Why is this troubling? The only way for a man to get their Y chromosome is from their father, meaning that all of those men with defective Y chromosomes didn’t inherit it – they became infertile during their lifetime.

Of course, it might not be as bad as once thought. By looking at the divergence of chimpanzees and humans which occurred roughly 6 million years ago, scientists have found that the Y chromosome lost none of its genes during that time, meaning that it must have lost them before and slowed its loss to a stand still by now. Going back further to when humans and chimpanzees diverged from rhesus macaque 25 millions years ago, we find that only one gene was lost over that time. While all this means it’s not a gradual decay, it still raises the question: what happened to Y in the first place, and can it happen again?

Today’s Tangent: When it comes to Adalia bipunctata, a.k.a. the two-spotted ladybug, some populations are heavily female dominated, outnumbering males 4:1. But it isn’t because of genetic mutations: here bacteria actually kill off males when they’re in eggs. Why? Since the bacteria can only exist in the female reproductive cells (it’s too big to live in the male’s sperm), it would die in a male without being passed onto the offspring. Instead, it kills the male eggs so that the females have more food, giving them a better chance of survival and thus allowing the bacteria to infect the next generation.


As it stands today, Canada only has 5 bills being issued: $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. In the past though there were a lot more, not only because the $1 and $2 bills were replaced with coins. But to tell this story, we have to start before Canada was even a country, back at the War of 1812.

The first money printed in Canada that were denominated in dollars were Army Bills, made to help finance the war effort during the War of 1812. The public was distrustful of paper money at the time, but when the British Government redeemed the money at its face value, the public began to trust the currency and not just precious metals. This lead to more paper money being produced by banks throughout the 1821 to confederation in 1867. Due to each bank being able to produce money, a wide variety of bills were created including $1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $10, $20, $25, $40, $50, $100, $500, and $1000.

In 1867, confederation occurred and the Dominion of Canada was created, spurring the design for one currency across the nation. The Province of Canada was the most prolific issuer of paper money before confederation, so its currency became the national currency. In 1870, the first Dominion of Canada bills were issued in 25¢ (nicknamed the shinplaster and seen above), $1, $2, $500, and $1000 denominations, with $50 and $100 notes being added in 1872. With the bulk of the currency in $1 and $2 bills, a $4 denomination was added in 1882 followed by the $5 bill in 1912. The 25¢ bill was last issued in 1923.

During this time period, individual banks still issued their own currency. The Bank Act of 1871 prohibited the issuing of anything less than $4 from these banks and raised this to $5 in 1880. This left all the lower denominations to the Dominion of Canada to print, which is why there was such demand for their $1 and $2 bills. To not be completely removed from this market, other banks started printing unusual denominations such as the $6 and $7 bills from Molsons Bank in 1871. These bills, when combined with the $5 they were already printing, would allow people to pay $2 by giving $7 and receiving $5 change (and similarly $1 with the $6 bill).

In 1934, the Bank of Canada was founded and began issuing $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $25, $50, $100, $500, and $1000 bills in 1935. After ten years, the Bank of Canada became the only bank that could issue money, which is unchanged to this day. Unique to this first run of bills was the purple $25 in honour of King George V’s Silver Jubilee and the $500 bill (only 46 of which are still unaccounted for). Unfortunately, all of these bank notes were printed separately in both English and French and changes in legislation in 1937 required that the bills be bilingual, prompting a new series of bank notes to be printed.

From 1938 to 1979 there were two more series of notes issued, one in 1954 and the other from 1969 to 1979. These bills had the same denominations as the 1937 series but the artwork changed and old bills were taken out of circulation as they started to wear out. It wasn’t until the Birds of Canada series was issued in 1986 that the $1 bill was not updated to the new look, followed by the $1 coin being minted on June 30, 1987 and then $1 bill being withdrawn from circulation exactly two years later.

In 1996, the $2 bill was removed from circulation and replaced with the toonie, a $2 coin. It wasn’t until 2000 that the $1000 bill was retired, mainly due its use in money laundering and organized crime. This meant that when the Canadian Journey series was issued from 2001-2006 it only contained five notes: $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. As of 2011, the Frontier Series began being issued which involved Canada’s transition from paper bills to polymer. The series is planned to finish by the end of 2013.

Today’s Tangent: Think the largest denomination in Canada is only $1000? Think again. In 2007, the Canadian Mint issued a 100 kg gold coin with a face value of $1,000,000; the world’s first million dollar coin. At 99999 pure gold, it’s worth more than five million dollars and so far five investors have bought one.

In 1976, Harry McGurk and his research assistant John MacDonald were researching how infants perceive speech as they develop. Some of their experiments involved separating visual and auditory stimuli and seeing how the children learned, such as playing the video of a mother speaking in one area and having the audio play in another. In this same vein they took two phonemes, “ba” and “ga”, and then merged the audio of “ba” with the video of “ga”. And just like a mad science experiment gone wrong, they created a third sound: “da”.

At first McGurk and MacDonald thought there was some audio error at play or technical mixup, but further testing confirmed that they discovered something new. Listening to the audio alone lead the person to hear “ba”, but watching the video with the wrong audio made them hear “da”. This phenomenon is called the McGurk Effect and you can see and hear it in this BBC2 video, pictured above. To really appreciate the effect though, watch this video and then replay it with your eyes closed.

What’s going on? In order to perceive speech, our minds merge both auditory and visual information, overlaying them in an effort to decipher words. When “ba” and “ga” are merged we hear the middle sound of “da”, or as in the BBC2 video, “ba” and “va” become “fa”. Interestingly, people in Japan experience a weaker McGurk Effect than English speakers because the former don’t look at each other as often during conversation. Similarly, people who watch dubbed movies are less susceptible to the McGurk Effect because they’ve trained their brains to dissociate audio and video speech processing. This indicates that the effect is learned instead of something we’re born with.

Today’s Tangent: The McGurk Effect is something that can’t be easily overcome; even those who have researched it for years and understand how it works are still affected by it. In contrast, many optical illusions can be easily flipped between by knowing that there are two options, such as Ruben’s Vase (a vase with two faces surrounding it). More interesting is the Spinning Dancer as the silhouette is seen spinning clockwise twice as often as counter-clockwise, though the animation never changes. The reason? There’s a slight vertical angle and more people imagine looking down at the dancer instead of looking up. In fact, the original animation was taken at a slightly downward angle, making clockwise the true rotation.