Ancient Animals

He might be slow, but he'll outlive your grandchildren.
He might be slow, but he’ll outlive your grandchildren.

Humans have a fascination with numbers, especially large numbers. Hell, this website has largely been patterned around large things, tall things, old things… That’s a big one. People are fascinated with how long things live. Spurred on by the fear surrounding our own mortality, we seek out other living things that have proven to be exceptionally long lived.

One interesting thing I discovered while doing research for this entry is how often longevity records are questioned. Why lie about how long some creature lived, anyway? It’s not like you get some sort of special reward for finding a really old animal, outside maybe a couple paragraphs in National Geographic. Personally I’d be ripped to find out that an animal with a brain one-third the size of mine somehow managed to live for two centuries.

Whatever the reason may be, we’re always looking for the oldest something. I could have blown your mind with the oldest living sea sponge (they’re the longest living, well, anything, really) or the oldest living tree(oh yeah, I already did.) Instead of going to extremes, I decided to pick out the one land creature and the one waterborne creature that are both the longest lived and actually have spines and the ability to move.

The mighty ocean brings us the Bowhead whale. These 60-plus foot long, 75-ton behemoths hang out mostly in arctic and sub-arctic waters. They’re absolute brutes, lacking a dorsal fin, but having a thick humped back. They use their strength and size to bust through surface ice in order to breathe. Despite their brutish appearance and the fact that they have the largest mouth of any animal period(your sister’s mouth not withstanding,) they feed mainly on tiny 1 millimeter sea life.

Those teeny critters they eat must be low-fat or something, because Bowheads are incredibly long-lived… probably. The most common measure of age used for captured whales have been the age of harpoons and spearheads lodged in them. I told you they’re tough! The toughest, and possibly oldest, had the head of a harpoon embedded in its neck when it was caught in 2007. That harpoon dated to 1890. This and other research shows this species of whale could live to be 150 to 200 years old.

It’s usually pretty hard to surpass sea creatures for anything if you are a land animal, but the Aldabra Giant Tortoise has this game locked up. They come appropriately enough from the Aldabra atoll in the Indian ocean. Their exceptionally long necks and size make them excellent foragers. These immense turtles average over three feet long and around 250 pounds.

The real surprise about these tortoises is that they are actually pretty agile. They’ve been known to support themselves on their hind legs in a bid to reach foliage on a tree. They can also manage a half-run when threatened or excited and don’t appear concerned with taking risks. This led one biologist to refer to the Aldabras as the “ninjas” of the turtle world. Large ninja turtles… huh. That could make for a good kids’ show.

Okay, so how far can these large, mutant-like ninja turtles make it? Well again it can be difficult to verify ages, seeing how these turtles tend to seriously outlive their handlers. The Aldabra believed to be the oldest lived to a ripe old age of 255. Adwaita was believed to have been born circa 1750. Jonathan the tortoise is now believed to be the oldest living turtle, aged 182 and still going strong. You should be so lucky.

Amazing Medical Centers

Not all hospitals have to resemble correctional facilities.
Not all hospitals have to resemble correctional facilities.

Hospitals can be, and often are, as unique as the towns and cities they are built in. Some are general hospitals. Some specialize in teaching or treating cancer. Whatever the case may be, it’s painfully obvious that some hospitals get more time and effort put into them than others. Here’s three interesting examples.

The image above is the atrium of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, located in West Bloomfield, MI. Every detail inside and out was carefully planned to create a warm, welcoming and comforting environment. The hospital has a modern, mall-like feel to it. Points of interest include a demonstration kitchen, a “Live Well Shoppe”, and a wellness center and hair salon.

In addition to it’s modern approach to patient rehabilitation, the hospital is also super green. It uses natural light for heating and cooling. It also collects rainwater, and has an extensive recycling program. It’s crown jewel resides a short distance away: a hydroponics-based greenhouse that provides fresh fruits and vegetables for the hospital’s kitchens.

Don't worry, we've been doing this for CENTURIES.
Don’t worry, we’ve been doing this for CENTURIES.

Let’s now shift from modern to medieval with St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield, London, UK. More affectionately known as St Bart’s, this historic hospital has been in constant use since 1123 and is the oldest still-open hospital in the world.

It has served, off and on, as a teaching hospital for centuries now. Important research on the human circulatory system and modern surgery were conducted here in the 18th century. The hospital had nearly 700 beds by the late 19th century.

That number has dwindled down to just under 400 beds in modern times. Talk of shutting the hospital portion of Bart’s was bandied about in the early 90’s, but it was decided to keep it operating for minor injuries. Major injuries and emergency cases are handled by larger, more modern hospitals nearby.

That's PART of the medical center... PART...
That’s PART of the medical center…

Speaking of larger, our third and final hospital is arguably the largest medical center in the world: Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. Yes, Texas… The Everything Must Be Huge State.

I’ll give ’em a pass on this one, though. Texas Med covers an estimated 1.5 square miles of real estate. The hospital consists of six main buildings: The Cullen, Jones, and Robertson Pavilions, the Children’s Hospital, the emergency center, and the Heart and Vascular Institute. That only covers about a quarter of the Center’s buildings, by the way.

The Center employs over a hundred thousand people in total. That includes 20,000 physicians, scientists and researchers. This enables the Center to treat over 7 million patients annually.  Hospital or self-contained city? You decide.

Automotive Methuselahs

All new for 1884! Sorry, no cup holders.
All new for 1884! Sorry, no cup holders.

How long a vehicle lasts can vary greatly. Things like regular maintenance, vehicle and parts quality, and whether or not the vehicle is stored in a garage are just a few influences on the lifespan of your family sedan. Even under the best of circumstances, twenty years and/or 200,000 miles could be considered advanced old age for most cars on the road today.

These two cars are one hell of an exception. One makes an absolute joke of that mileage while the other sniffs at such a low number of years. Let’s take a look.

"La Marquise"
“La Marquise”

We’ll start with the gran-daddy of ’em all: the De Dion-Bouton et Trepardoux, nicknamed “La Marquise” for those who don’t like tongue twisters. La Marquise was built all the way back in 1884, making it 130 years old as of this writing. It is arguably one of the first automobiles, period.

The funky little thing runs on steam power and is fueled by paper and wood scraps in addition to coal, also making it the grandfather of Mr. Fusion. It takes about half an hour to build up enough steam to get rolling, but can then hit speeds of up to 38 mph. That was written in present-tense because the world’s oldest car is also the world’s oldest still running car.

That picture is of said car being driven about before being put up for auction in October 2011. La Marquise might not be a hot rod anymore by today’s standards, but it’s still no slouch in the value department. It sold for a mind-blowing $4.6 million, making that driver either very brave or very naive.

"I've been everywhere, man..."
“I’ve been everywhere, man…”

Despite its longevity, La Marquise most likely has not yet hit the 200,000 mile mark. Now Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800? It has hit that mark, fifteen times.

Gordon’s Volvo, of which he is the original owner, saw the 3 million-mile mark in September of 2013. He has received the world record for the most miles driven by the original owner of a vehicle in non-commercial service. He also has the record for vehicle with the highest mileage.

When asked about racking up so many miles, he said “I just couldn’t stop driving it.” Having a 125-mile daily commute probably helped out a bit(dude must have really liked his job, too.) Making a habit out of traveling all over the US didn’t hurt, either. Each million miles hit came as the culmination of a special road trip. Asked about going another million miles, Gordon was confident the Volvo could make it, but he’s not so sure he would. Gordon was 75 at the time.

Opposite Day: The Biggest Little Train Set

One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.
One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.

Today’s Opposite Day post finds us on both sides of the fence: Witness Miniatur Wunderland, the largest, miniature train set in the world! It’s the biggest little train set!

Miniatur Wunderland (literally “Miniature Wonderland” in case that wasn’t obvious,) located in Hamburg, Germany features an expansive miniature train system as the center attraction, but surrounds it with much, much more. The nearly 40,000 feet of HO scale train track ribbons through over 12,000 square feet of miniatures that represent multiple countries. Planned expansions extending all the way into 2026 will see England and France added to the mix.

Miniature Las Vegas
Miniature Las Vegas

While the trains are the main focus of the miniature, the real draw is the insane level of detail and animation that’s been poured into every inch of the attraction. Real locations have famous buildings and landmarks recreated in exacting detail. You can see cars driving about, amusement park attractions whirling around, even miniature people going about their daily lives.

The Knuffingen Airport, modeled after the Hamburg International Airport, is among the most impressive parts of the model. You can watch scale model passenger jets taxi, take off, and land. Meanwhile cars, taxis and emergency vehicles mill about the airport. Support vehicles on the airport landing strip drive around and tend to the landed planes.

Not the Architect's matrix control room.
Not the Architect’s matrix control room.

What goes on behind the scenes is just as incredible. The control room alone has dozens of monitors showing the attraction “on stage” and behind the scenes, along with screens showing diagnostics and conditions of various mechanics. Every single moving vehicle (essentially programmed, radio controlled vehicles) reports its location and state of charge.

The system is smart enough to know when vehicles need recharged or repaired. The affected vehicle will drive itself through a backstage access point and into a charging station, for example. A duplicate will be activated and sent out to follow its route until the first vehicle is ready to leave again.

Venice, Italy is currently under construction, with England scheduled for completion by 2021. See a video of the attraction here.

 

Space: The Ultimate Hangout

"Leaving me... Ha ha, guys... guys?"
“Leaving me… Ha ha, guys… guys?”

When we first started hurtling people out into the cold vastness of space at 17,500 miles per hour, we didn’t leave them hanging up there for too long. How long astronauts got to live in space became longer as technology progressed and space stations became a thing. Also, some of the things we shot off into space both before and after haven’t necessarily dropped back with any expediency either. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

Things got a lot more comfy for astronauts around the time the Russian space station Mir was put into orbit. It was only a little longer than that before we started seeing some serious records set. In fact it was a Russian cosmonaut by the name of Valeri Polyakov who has the honor of staying up in space for the longest amount of time. Mr. Polyakov went up into space on January 8, 1994 and didn’t fall back down until March 22 of the next year, for a total of 437 days. Hope he had some good books to read.

The Mir space station was de-orbited in 2001, but the International Space Station continues to rock it in Earth orbit. First launched in 1998, the ISS continues to house brave men and women, having done so for nearly seventeen continuous years and making it the current record holder. Some estimate that the station could be useful for up to thirty years.

For the longest anything sent into space by man, we turn to the Vanguard 1. The satellite was launched all the way back in 1958 to obtain geo-something something… It measured scientific stuff. Despite losing contact with it in 1964, the little metal ball that could is still swinging around our big blue marble. It’s estimated it will continue to do that for at least two more centuries. Now that’s staying power!

Standing Tall: The World’s Immense Statues

Now that is a big toe.
Now that is a big toe.

I’ve learned two things researching this post: Statues are apparently only measured by height(whatever happened to man’s obsession with length?), and that famous statues aren’t as big as we’d like to think. Let’s start with the second one.

I started off thinking that, say, the Mount Rushmore monument would surely be in the running for the largest statue in the world. Well, it’s not. Believe it or not, the faces are only sixty feet tall. The dearth of the girth: I was able to find zero information on the width of the monument, which may be one reason it’s not on “World’s Largest” lists. Height-wise, Mount Rushmore is the pits.

So what about the Sphinx? The sizable kitty certainly is taller at a height of sixty-six feet. I can actually say it’s an impressive 241 feet long, but it still doesn’t register in the top five largest statues. I have to wonder again about the whole tall-bias again.

Let’s give the US a shot again: The Statue of Liberty. The old gal stands much taller at an impressive 151 feet from base to torch. As incredible as that is, it’s less than a third the size of what’s considered the world’s tallest statue.

That record goes to the Spring Temple Buddha in China. It’s mind-boggling height adds up to 502 feet. That’s over forty stories tall. Even removing the height of the building supporting it, the statue itself still stands 420 feet tall, dwarfing the Statue of Liberty. That’s the statue’s toes pictured up there at the beginning of the post.

Fairy-tale Factoids!

Better hope those aren't extensions.
Better hope those aren’t extensions.

Welcome to the very first Fairy-tale Factoids! I thought it’d be fun every once in a while to look into the facts and figures that lay behind famous fairy-tales. I decided to start with Rapunzel. Does she really have the longest hair in the world? Let’s find out!

Rapunzel is a German fairy-tale collected by the brothers Grimm. The story was first published in 1812 in the collection Children’s and Household Tales. The tale could have roots (haha) that go back as far as 10th century Persia.

The original versions of the story are somewhat dark. Essentially, an enchantress takes possession of a man’s baby as payment for sparing his life and names it Rapunzel. Once Rapunzel reaches twelve years of age, the witch puts her in a tower with no stairs or door, and only one room at the top. Rapunzel is the most beautiful girl in the world, and the witch seeks to keep her for herself.

The witch gets into and out of the tower via Rapunzel’s long beautiful hair. One day a prince sees her do it and tries it himself. The two fall in love, yadda yadda. Instead of taking her away one day, the witch finds out and casts out Rapunzel after cutting off her hair. She tricks the prince into coming up and then promptly drops his ass back down, blinding him in the process. He eventually finds her in the woods and her tears fix his eyes because Visine hadn’t been invented yet.

You get the idea. The focus of our studies today is that famous long hair of hers. Just how long was it? Well, the original story doesn’t tell you. The end! Just kidding… For the sake of simplicity we’ll go with how long Rapunzel’s hair was in the 2010 movie Tangled: 70 feet long! So how does real life stack up against the fiction?

Well, that depends on the classification. The Guinness approved world record for longest hair goes to Xie Qiuping of China with 18 1/2 feet of hair. The record for longest dreadlocks goes to Asha Mandela. Her hair is over 19 feet long, with one dreadlock more than 55 feet long. Why dreadlocks don’t count as hair, I don’t know, but there you go. Both real life record holders come up well short of finding their princes.

I’m sure that’s small comfort to someone who’s been locked up in a tower all their life and been psychologically tortured for like, EVER. But, you know…

Hello Dolly Collection!

Divorce Barbie always gets the car.

Dolls have been around since ancient times, with written descriptions of dolls used as toys dating back to 100 AD. We’ve been collecting and displaying them almost as long. Some people get a little more crazy with their collections than others…

Take Bettina Dorfmann of Germany, for example. Guinness awarded her with the record for the largest Barbie doll collection in 2013. Bettina has 15,000 unique Barbie doll “items”. Yes, they’ve made at least that many. It took 19 years of dedicated collecting to get to this point, and she’s always looking to expand. The most expensive Barbie in her collection cost her $10,000: a “Barbie ponytail #1” with accessories and in mint condition.

The boys can participate as well, and still maintain their manhood. Mattel’s Masters of the Universe collection consisted of well over sixty action figures alone in the original run of toys. This does not include larger creatures or battle vehicles. The series was brought back after a lengthy hiatus with an even larger run.

These figures continue to be made and released as the “Classics” series that are aimed squarely at collectors. Prices can be sky high for these action figures that used to sell for as low as a few dollars at your local department store. Rarer specimens in mint condition can go for hundreds of dollars a piece, while a Wonder-bread promotional He-Man figure complete can start at $1,000.

Now might be a good time to plan a trip to the old attic.

Ocean Dwelling Dynamos

Pictured: Your mom
Pictured: Your mom

The seven seas are teeming with life. The last true undiscovered country on Earth, the deepest depths of the ocean may yet hold immense lifeforms we’ve never seen. Thanks to the buoyancy water affords to those creatures that live in it, the oceans are home to the largest animals in the world.

The blue whale blows away any challengers by a large margin. Full-grown specimens can top out at upwards of 100 feet long and can weigh up to 150 tons. To give this animal’s size some perspective, its heart alone weighs an average of 1,300 pounds. That’s around the same weight as a full grown cow. What could possibly compete with that?

Well, if you prefer your gigantic water dwellers sans vertebrae, then you can always turn to the colossal squid. Best estimates put adult specimens between 40 and 45 feet long. That puts it at about half the size of a blue whale. Humpback whales should take note, though. They are about the same length, and are known to have scars that are believed to have been caused by the colossal squid.

A tad bit squishier, and a lot less deadly, is the lion’s mane jellyfish. The largest discovered was a mere 7.5 feet in diameter, but sported tentacles that measured an impressive 120 feet long. That’s longer than the blue whale up there. Despite it’s impressive size, its sting would be no more annoying than a mosquito bite to our other two seafaring giants.

Perfectly Aged Drinking Establishments

Ug Beer Bar: Established 40,016 BCE
Ug Beer Bar: Established 40,016 BCE

It seems like every town has the one local bar that’s been around “forever”. The funny thing is some bars really have been around forever. Today, we’re embarking on the ultimate global bar crawl.

Okay, so the oldest bar in the world doesn’t quite date back to prehistory, but you can still make it pretty far back. The oldest documented bar, appropriately established in Athlone, Ireland in 900 CE, is simply known as Sean’s Bar. I’m going to go ahead and guess that having a creative name back then just wasn’t as important as it is today.

Renovations in 1970 revealed building materials in the walls that dated back to the 10th century. The bar also has records of every owner of the bar dating back to the same time period. The most notable owner? Boy George. He owned it briefly back in 1987. The paperwork available was compelling enough for Guinness to grant them the record for World’s Oldest Bar.

If Ireland is a little farther than you are willing to travel for some well-aged whiskey, you can always hop on down to Louisiana. The oldest continuously operating bar in the US is located in New Orleans(again some would say appropriately.) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop opened its doors sometime prior to 1772.

The infamous pirate Jean Lafitte is, somewhat obviously, rumored to have owned the watering hole at one point. There’s been no concrete evidence found to prove this belief, unfortunately. Pirates weren’t known to keep good records of their activities for some odd reason.