Archive for the ‘Jared Diamond’ Category

Largest ransom ever: enough gold to fill a room 22 feet long by 17 feet wide to a height of over 8 feet

March 10, 2008

In 1532 the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca emperor Atahuallpa at the Peruvian highland of Cajamarca. Pizarro proceeded to hold his prisoner for eight months, while extracting history’s largest ransom in return for a promise to free him.

The ransom was enough gold to fill a room 22 feet long by 17 feet wide to a height of over 8 feet.

After the ransom was delivered, Pizarro reneged on his promise and executed Atahuallpa.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The world’s leading crop is sugarcane

February 28, 2008

The modern world’s leading crop is sugarcane.  Its annual tonnage nearly equals that of the number two and number three crops combined (wheat and corn).

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

In the average American household, the TV set is on for seven hours per day

February 26, 2008

American children spend much of their time passively entertained by television, radio, and movies.  In the average American household, the TV set is on for seven hours per day.

In contrast, traditional New Guinea children have virtually no such opportunities for passive entertainment and instead spend almost all of their waking hours actively doing something, such as talking or playing with other children or adults.

Almost all studies of child development emphasize the role of childhood stimulation and activity in promoting mental development, and stress the irreversible mental stunting associated with reduced childhood stimulation.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Word of the Day: Ethnobiology

February 15, 2008

Ethnobiology is a field of science that studies people’s knowledge of the wild plants and animals in their environment.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Humankind moved from hunter-gatherers to food production 11,000 years ago

February 8, 2008

For most of the time since the ancestors of modern humans diverged from the ancestors of the living great apes, around 7 million years ago, all humans on Earth fed themselves exclusively by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants.  It was only within the last 11,000 years that some people turned to what is termed food production: that is, domesticating wild animals and plants  and eating the resulting livestock and crops.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

From food production to Aristotle, Newton, and Einstein

February 4, 2008

“By enabling farmers to generate food surpluses, food production permitted farming societies to support full-time craft specialists who did not grow their own food and who developed technologies.” [Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond]
Thus food production enabled humankind to explore art and philosophy and science.  Without the ability to generate a food surplus there would have been no Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein.

Humanity’s basic economic needs

January 30, 2008

Humanity’s basic economic needs:

  • carbohydrate
  • protein
  • fat
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • transport

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Why grizzlies, hippos and zebras were never domesticated

January 29, 2008

I am reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. At this point in the book he is explaining why certain animals were never domesticated:

Bear meat is an expensive delicacy, grizzlies weigh up to 1,700 pounds, they are mainly vegetarians, their vegetable diet is very broad, they thrive on human garbage, and they grow relatively fast. If they would behave themselves in captivity, grizzlies would be a fabulous meat production animal. I am not aware of any adult that has been tamed.

Hippos, as four-ton vegetarians, would be great barnyard animals if they weren’t so dangerous. They kill more people each year than do any other African mammals, including lions.

Zebras have the unpleasant habit of biting a person and not letting go. They thereby injure more American zookeepers each year than do tigers! Zebras are also virtually impossible to lasso with a rope — even for cowboys who win rodeo championships by lassoing horses — because of their unfailing ability to watch the rope noose fly toward them and then to duck out of the way.

An animal’s efficiency in converting food into biomass is around 10%

January 12, 2008

Every time that an animal eats a plant or another animal, the conversion of food biomass into the consumer’s biomass involves an efficiency of much less than 100%: typically about 10%.  That is, it takes around 10,000 pounds of corn to grow a 1,000 pound cow.  If instead you want to grow 1,000 pound of carnivore, you have to feed it 10,000 pounds of herbivore grown on 100,000 pounds of corn.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

Anna Karenina principle

January 5, 2008

The famous first sentence of Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues.  Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness.

This principle can be extended to understanding much else about life besides marriage.  We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success.  For most things, though, success actually requires avoiding many separate possible causes of failure.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond