Wednesday, January 31

The Debunker: Was Pompeii Buried in Lava When Mount Vesuvius Erupted?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Was Pompeii Buried in Lava When Mount Vesuvius Erupted?

Mount Vesuvius, a stratovolcano on the Gulf of Naples, erupted violently in the year 79 AD, destroying the resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. "Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore," wrote the Roman author Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption and then the death of his own famous uncle, Pliny the Elder, in the subsequent cataclysm.

read more…

 

Wednesday, January 24

The Debunker: Are Volcanoes Full of Lava?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Are Volcanoes Full of Lava?

Just because I'm "The Debunker" doesn't mean I'm an irritating pedant full-time. But this particular installment does hinge, in part, on a bit of semantic hair-splitting. Yes, volcanoes can vent lava, which is molten rock. But that doesn't mean that a volcano contains lava. That's because molten rock is only called "lava" after it erupts onto the surface. When it's still underground, it's called magma instead.

read more…

 

Wednesday, January 17

The Debunker: Is Krakatoa "East of Java"?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Is Krakatoa "East of Java"?

At the 1970 Academy Awards, a not-very-good Gregory Peck astronaut drama called Marooned defeated a not-very-good Maximillian Schell volcano drama called Krakatoa, East of Java for the Best Visual Effects statuette. Neither film really would have deserved the "Academy Award Winner!" sticker on its video box, but there we are. Krakatoa, East of Java was a Cinerama disaster movie set on the ill-fated Indonesian isle, and opened to widespread moviegoer apathy. It was then re-released a few years later under the title Volcano with a "Feelarama" low-frequency soundtrack added, in the hopes that a booming bass rumble in the eruption sequence would entice audiences. Nope again.

read more…

 

Wednesday, January 10

The Debunker: Should We Freak Out about the "Supervolcano" Under Yellowstone?

by Ken Jennings

We usually think of volcanic eruptions as sudden and dramatic events, but that's not always the case. The Hawaiian volcano of Kilauea, for example, has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983, covering 48 square miles of the state's "big island" with new lava. In honor of the thirty-fifth anniversary of Earth's longest-erupting volcano, Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings will be here all month providing explosive corrections to a lot of popular misinformation about volcanoes. The results might just rock your world.

The Debunker: Should We Freak Out about the "Supervolcano" Under Yellowstone?

Pseudo-scientific fearmongering about the end of the world is nothing new. When Halley's Comet passed by us in 1910, for example, one French astronomer theorized that all life on earth might suffocate as we passed through the "cyanogenic gases" coming off the tail of the comet. Hucksters made tons of money selling anti-comet pills and elixirs and gas masks, which looks pretty silly in hindsight.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 31

The Debunker: Was the Name of "HAL" in 2001 a Secret Salute to IBM?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was the Name of "HAL" in 2001 a Secret Salute to IBM?

Shortly after 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, author Martin Gardner used one of his "Mathematical Games" columns in Scientific American to publicize an ingenious theory discovered by one Mr. John Roycroft of London. Writing to IBM in Britain magazine, Roycroft noted that if you took "HAL," the name of the film's psychotic computer, and advanced each letter one step forward in the alphabet, you'd get "IBM." IBM had advised the makers of 2001 on technical accuracy, and its logo appears twice in the film, once in the cockpit of the Pan Am space-plane, and again on the wrist panel of the space suits aboard the Discovery. Ever since Martin Gardner put the word out, it's been a widespread fan theory that HAL 9000 was so named to secretly indict IBM in the actions of the evil, murderous supercomputer.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 24

The Debunker: Was eBay Founded as a Way to Trade Pez Dispensers?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was eBay Founded as a Way to Trade Pez Dispensers?

In 1995, Pamela Wesley was a collector of Pez candy dispensers looking to add to her collection. You or I might hit garage sales and flea markets, but Wesley was lucky enough to be engaged to Pierre Omidyar, a computer programmer and early Internet entrepreneur. Omidyar decided to build a website where Wesley could trade Pez to her heart's content, and within two years, he was running AuctionWeb, one of the fastest growing sites on the Internet. In 1997, he renamed it eBay, and the rest is history.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 17

The Debunker: Are Apple Products Really "Virus-Proof"?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Are Apple Products Really "Virus-Proof"?

Fans of Apple devices are a proud and loyal bunch, and for years they've been a little smug about the barrage of viruses and other malware faced by the less fortunate among us who use Windows machines. They thought their beloved Macs were virus-proof, and Apple was happy to let them go right on believing that. "It doesn't get PC viruses!" bragged one Macintosh ad campaign. At best, this is like saying that oak trees don't get Dutch elm disease: technically true, but suspiciously silent on other, oak-specific diseases.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 10

The Debunker: Was the QWERTY Keyboard Designed to Slow Down Typists?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was the QWERTY Keyboard Designed to Slow Down Typists?

Look at the keyboard on your computer or mobile device. Whose idea was this random jumble of letters? Why not put the alphabet in the A-Z order that all beginning typists already know, or, if you're more interested in speed than ease of use, why not put the most common letters on the "home" finger keys? It seems crazy that someone wanted it to be easier to type an uncommon letter like 'J' or 'K' (the home positions of the strongest fingers of the right hand) than to reach for the 'O,' 'E', or 'N', right?

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 03

The Debunker: Was a Moth in a Navy Computer the First "Bug"?

by Ken Jennings

January 1, 2017 isn't just New Year's Day… it's also the Internet's 34rd birthday. On January 1, 1983, all the computer systems on the ARPANET, created by the Department of Defense in 1969, were required to switch over to the TCP/IP network protocol that it still uses today, giving birth to the Internet as we know it. But how well do we know it? Onetime computer programmer (and Jeopardy! computer victim) Ken Jennings is here to do a complete systems update on all the Digital Age spam in your mental inbox.

The Debunker: Was a Moth in a Navy Computer the First "Bug"?

Grace Hopper was one of the greatest computer pioneers of the 20th century. "Amazing Grace" was a math whiz with a Ph.D from Yale who joined the Naval Reserve during World War II and worked on the early computers that made the Manhattan Project possible. After the war, she helped create UNIVAC, America's first commercial computer; wrote the first compiler in history; and was instrumental in developing early programming languages like COBOL and FORTRAN. By the time she retired from the Navy in 1986, she had achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Last November, President Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

read more…

 

Tuesday, January 26

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

by Ken Jennings

Do you celebrate World Religion Day, held every year on the third Sunday of January? No? What's the matter with you, don't you like world religions? There are several to choose from, it's hard to pretend you don't like any of them. To ring in the new year with some new knowledge, we've asked implausibly long-running Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings to correct some of the stuff everyone gets wrong about the world's great belief systems. No matter what faith you practice—or even if it's none at all!—Ken will set you straight, chapter and verse.

The Debunker: Who Was Conceived in the Immaculate Conception?

In the Gospel of Luke, the Virgin Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that her child will be "the Son of the Most High" and will reign over Israel forever. Mary is a little taken aback: she's a virgin! It's even in her name! The angel explains further, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." In other words, Jesus gets conceived without a mortal father. That's the immaculate conception, right?

read more…