First isolated and named as an element at the end of the 1700s, uranium had actually been used in pigments since at least the first century CE. A piece of glass from a Roman villa was found to be yellow because it was one-percent uranium oxide. And history repeats itself: after its discovery as an element, it was used extensively to make glass, enamel, and ceramics of a range of colors. The most famous use of uranium was in uranium glass, which has a distinct, and slightly unsettling, green tint under UV light.

In 2017, a comprehensive study looked into why eggs are shaped like, well, eggs. Why are eggs ellipses, and not spheres? Why are they often asymmetrical with one pointier end and one rounder end? These were the questions the scientists set out to answer.

The research team gathered together a large dataset of 49,175 images of eggs produced by 1,400 species, both living and extinct, and examined exactly how elliptical and how asymmetrical each egg was (and made a pretty graph, see above). The scientists also paid attention to the parents' nesting behaviors, clutch sizes, diet, and flight ability. Previously, it was suggested that eggs are pointy on one end to prevent them from rolling away from the nest or to make laying easier for females. But the study did not support that.

Instead, they found multiple lines of evidence that the shape evolved to simply fit better inside the parent’s aerodynamic body. The stronger, better fliers had the longest and pointiest eggs. Meanwhile, some flightless birds (like ostriches) hatch from squat orbs.

The Spy Who Slept His Way Out of Work

Jack Barsky, born Albrecht Dittrich, was a former sleeper agent of the KGB who spied on the United States from 1978–88. They ordered him to return to the USSR embassy in Canada to be extracted to East Germany. But Dittrich, now Barsky, had married and there was an infant daughter he did not want to abandon. (He didn't seem as concerned for his German wife and son back home.) Barsky decided he wouldn't leave the US. But the KGB isn't known for letting its employees go. Then he had an ingenious idea.

To stay in the United States, Dittrich told his handlers he had HIV and needed to stay in the United States for treatment. Afraid of it spreading to the USSR, or perhaps simply unable to snatch him, the handlers did not extract him. So HIV saved his life? Barsky was uncovered after the fall of the USSR when a defector to Great Britain listed his name along with many other former KGB agents. The FBI found him, surveilled him, and eventually picked him up. But Barsky was happy to provide information on his training and KGB techniques. In short, he made himself an asset to the FBI, and he was never formally charged. Oh, and he and his American wife ended up getting a divorce.

Largest Parrot Known To Science Discovered In New Zealand

Heracles inexpectatus (yes, that's really its scientific name) was discovered based on re-classification of bones discovered initially in 2008. The fossils were dug up in St Bathans, New Zealand, labeled as giant eagle bones, and promptly put into storage. Recently a paleontology graduate student Ellen Mather re-discovered the bones as part of another research project. And realized something was not right about these "eagle bones."

At 3 feet tall, or about 1 meter, Heracles inexpectatus is the largest parrot ever discovered. It is nearly double the weight New Zealand's largest living bird the kakapo. Heracles probably lived during the Early Miocene, which spanned from about 23 million to 16 million years ago. It was likely flightless and ate what it could reach on the ground. Which wouldn't have been hard with its gigantic beak, which paleontologists suspect was capable of cracking most anything it fancied eating. Including bones. Researchers say yes, Heracles might have even been eating other parrots, leading them to bestow the cannibalistic nickname: "Squawkzilla."

Contrary to popular belief, the first video game was not Pong. It was preceded by Tennis for Two in 1958 and Spacewar! in 1962

Bedouin tents are made out of black goat hair and are typically rectangular. The Bedouin term for their tents is buryuut hajar, which literally means "house of hair."

Beautifully Preserved Boot Still Bright Red After 2,300 Years

This Scythian woman's boot was saved by being frozen in a Siberian barrow tomb, preserved by the cold where no decomposition could occur. Even the woman's fine felt socks were saved inside the shoes!

The Cape Town Noon Gun is a time signal, a cannon which fires every day at noon. They go off every day except Sundays and public holidays. The tradition dates back to 1806, when wristwatches were not a thing, and timekeeping on ships was near-impossible. So Cape Town, a major port nicknamed “the Tavern of the Seas,” had many visiting vessels who recalibrated their time to the local noon based on when the gun went off.

The tradition of the Cape Town Noon Gun even survived the transfer from British colony to independent nation in 1910. It has fired every day since 1806 -- with only one misfire in 213 years!

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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