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  • Translator: Morton Bast Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha

  • So, last month, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced

  • that it is going out of print

  • after 244 years, which made me nostalgic,

  • because I remember playing a game with the colossal encyclopedia set in my hometown library

  • back when I was a kid,

  • maybe 12 years old.

  • And I wondered if I could update that game,

  • not just for modern methods,

  • but for the modern me.

  • So I tried.

  • I went to an online encyclopedia,

  • Wikipedia, and I entered the term "Earth."

  • You can start anywhere, this time I chose Earth.

  • And the first rule of the game is pretty simple.

  • You just have to read the article

  • until you find something you don't know,

  • and preferably something your dad doesn't even know.

  • And in this case, I quickly found this:

  • The furthest point from the center of the Earth

  • is not the tip of Mount Everest, like I might have thought,

  • it's the tip of this mountain: Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.

  • The Earth spins, of course, as it travels around the sun,

  • so the Earth bulges a little bit around the middle,

  • like some Earthlings.

  • And even though Mount Chimborazo isn't the tallest mountain in the Andes,

  • it's one degree away from the equator,

  • it's riding that bulge, and so the summit of Chimborazo

  • is the farthest point on Earth from the center of the Earth.

  • And it is really fun to say.

  • So I immediately decided,

  • this is going to be the name of the game,

  • or my new exclamation.

  • You can use it at TED.

  • Chimborazo, right?

  • It's like "eureka" and "bingo" had a baby.

  • I didn't know that;

  • that's pretty cool.

  • Chimborazo!

  • So the next rule of the game is also pretty simple.

  • You just have to find another term and look that up.

  • Now in the old days, that meant getting out a volume

  • and browsing through it alphabetically,

  • maybe getting sidetracked,

  • that was fun.

  • Nowadays there are hundreds of links to choose from.

  • I can go literally anywhere in the world,

  • I think since I was already in Ecuador,

  • I just decided to click on the word "tropical."

  • That took me to this wet and warm band of the tropics

  • that encircles the Earth.

  • Now that's the Tropic of Cancer in the north

  • and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south,

  • that much I knew,

  • but I was surprised to learn this little fact:

  • Those are not cartographers' lines,

  • like latitude or the borders between nations,

  • they are astronomical phenomena caused by the Earth's tilt,

  • and they change.

  • They move; they go up, they go down.

  • In fact, for years, the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn

  • have been steadily drifting towards the equator

  • at the rate of about 15 meters per year,

  • and nobody told me that.

  • I didn't know it.

  • Chimborazo!

  • So to keep the game going, I just have to find another term and look that one up.

  • Since I'm already in the tropics, I chose "Tropical rainforest."

  • Famous for its diversity, human diversity.

  • There are still dozens and dozens of uncontacted tribes living on this planet.

  • They're all over the globe, but virtually all of them live in tropical rainforests.

  • This is the only place you can go nowadays and not get "friended."

  • The link that I clicked on here was exotic in the beginning and then absolutely mysterious at the very end.

  • It mentioned leopards and ring-tailed coatis and poison dart frogs and boa constrictors and then

  • coleoptera,

  • which turn out to be beetles.

  • Now I clicked on this on purpose,

  • but if I'd somehow gotten here by mistake,

  • it does remind me, for the band, see "The Beatles,"

  • for the car see "Volkswagon Beetle,"

  • but I am here for beetle beetles.

  • This is the most successful order on the planet by far.

  • Something between 20 and 25 percent of all life forms on the planet,

  • including plants, are beetles.

  • That means the next time you are in the grocery store,

  • take a look at the four people ahead of you in line.

  • Statistically, one of you is a beetle.

  • And if it is you, you are astonishingly well adapted.

  • There are scavenger beetles that pick the skin and flesh off of bones in museums.

  • There are predator beetles, that attack other insects

  • and still look pretty cute to us.

  • There are beetles that roll little balls of dung

  • great distances across the desert floor to feed to their hatchlings.

  • This reminded the ancient Egyptians of their god Khepri,

  • who renews the ball of the sun every morning,

  • which is how that dung-rolling scarab

  • became that sacred scarab on the breastplate of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

  • Beetles, I was reminded, have the most romantic flirtation in the animal kingdom.

  • Fireflies are not flies, fireflies are beetles.

  • Fireflies are coleoptera, and coleoptera communicate in other ways as well.

  • Like my next link:

  • The chemical language of pheromones.

  • Now the pheromone page took me to a video of a sea urchin having sex.

  • Yeah.

  • (Laughter)

  • And the link to aphrodisiac.

  • Now that's something that increases sexual desire,

  • possibly chocolate.

  • There is a compound in chocolate called phenethylamine

  • that might be an aphrodisiac.

  • But as the article mentions,

  • because of enzyme breakdown,

  • it's unlikely that phenethylamine will reach your brain if taken orally.

  • So those of you who only eat your chocolate, you might have to experiment.

  • The link I clicked on here,

  • "sympathetic magic," mostly because I understand what both of those words mean.

  • But not when they're together like that.

  • I do like sympathy. I do like magic.

  • So when I click on "sympathetic magic,"

  • I get sympathetic magic and voodoo dolls.

  • This is the boy in me getting lucky again.

  • Sympathetic magic is imitation.

  • If you imitate something, maybe you can have an effect on it.

  • That's the idea behind voodoo dolls, and possibly also cave paintings.

  • The link to cave paintings takes me to some of the oldest art known to humankind.

  • I would love to see Google maps inside some of these caves.

  • We've got tens-of-thousands-years-old artwork.

  • Common themes around the globe include large wild animals and tracings of human hands,

  • usually the left hand.

  • We have been a dominantly right-handed tribe for millenia,

  • so even though I don't know why a paleolithic person would trace his hand

  • or blow pigment on it from a tube,

  • I can easily picture how he did it.

  • And I really don't think it's that different form our own little dominant hand avatar

  • right there that I'm going to use now to click on the term for "hand,"

  • go to the page for "hand," where I found the most fun and possibly embarrassing bit of trivia

  • I've found in a long time. It's simply this:

  • The back of the hand is formally called the opisthenar.

  • Now that's embarrassing, because up until now,

  • every time I've said, "I know it like the back of my hand,"

  • I've really been saying, "I'm totally familiar with that,

  • I just don't know it's freaking name, right?"

  • And the link I clicked on here,

  • well, lemurs, monkeys and chimpanzees have the little opisthenar.

  • I click on chimpanzee, and I get our closest genetic relative.

  • Pan troglodytes, the name we give him, means "cave dweller."

  • He doesn't.

  • He lives in rainforests and savannas.

  • It's just that we're always thinking of this guy as lagging behind us,

  • evolutionarily or somehow uncannily creeping up on us,

  • and in some cases, he gets places before us.

  • Like my next link, the almost irresistible link, Ham the Astrochimp.

  • I click on him, and I really thought he was going to bring me full circle twice, in fact.

  • He's born in Cameroon,

  • which is smack in the middle of my tropics map,

  • and more specifically his skeleton wound up in the Smithsonian museum getting picked clean by beetles.

  • In between those two landmarks in Ham's life,

  • he flew into space.

  • He experienced weightlessness and re-entry

  • months before the first human being to do it,

  • Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

  • When I click on Yuri Gagarin's page,

  • I get this guy who was surprisingly short in stature,

  • huge in heroism.

  • Top estimates, Soviet estimates, put this guy at 1.65 meters,

  • that is less than five and a half feet tall max,

  • possibly because he was malnourished as a child.

  • Germans occupied Russia.

  • A Nazi officer took over the Gagarin household,

  • and he and his family built and lived in a mud hut.

  • Years later, the boy from that cramped mud hut

  • would grow up to be the man in that cramped capsule

  • on the tip of a rocket

  • who volunteered to be launched into outer space,

  • the first one of any of us to really physically leave this planet.

  • And he didn't just leave it,

  • he circled it once.

  • Fifty years later, as a tribute,

  • the International Space Station, which is still up there tonight,

  • synced its orbit with Gagarin's orbit,

  • at the exact same time of day,

  • and filmed it,

  • so you can go online and you can watch over 100 minutes

  • of what must have been an absolutely mesmerizing ride,

  • possibly a lonely one,

  • the first person to ever see such a thing.

  • And then when you've had your fill of that,

  • you can click on one more link.

  • You can come back to Earth.

  • You return to where you started.

  • You can finish your game.

  • You just need to find one more fact that you didn't know.

  • And for me, I quickly landed on this one:

  • The Earth has a tolerance of about .17 percent from the reference spheroid,

  • which is less than the .22 percent allowed in billiard balls.

  • This is the kind of fact I would have loved as a boy.

  • I found it myself.

  • It's got some math that I can do.

  • I'm pretty sure my dad doesn't know it.

  • What this means is that if you could shrink the Earth to the size of a billiard ball,

  • if you could take planet Earth, with all its mountain tops and caves

  • and rainforests, astronauts and uncontacted tribes and chimpanzees, voodoo dolls,

  • fireflies, chocolate, sea creatures making love in the deep blue sea,

  • you just shrink that to the size of a billiard ball,

  • it would be as smooth as a billiard ball,

  • presumably a billiard ball with a slight bulge around the middle.

  • That's pretty cool.

  • I didn't know that.

  • Chimborazo!

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Morton Bast Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha

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【TED】Rives: Reinventing the encyclopedia game (Rives: Reinventing the encyclopedia game)

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    Zenn posted on 2017/12/06
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