History Stuff, Brain Stuff, Coolest Stuff, & More (Stuff)

I am getting older, but I don't consider myself old. Moderately aged, perhaps. Seasoned, maybe. Experienced, sure. But old? Not yet. I believe that "old" describes a state of mind more so than a state of being.
I've met more than my fair share of young "old" people; folks so set in their ways that new ideas roll off their brains as if their minds were coated with Teflon. There is goodness in stability and being even keeled, but there is goodness in being mentally agile as well, and if I had to choose between the safe and familiar and the dynamic and unknown I'd choose the latter. I don't believe we have smarts to figure out how best to keep things the same, we need to explore, to learn, to understand, then do it again.
Though I don't consider myself old I will admit to exhibiting some of the symptoms of being moderately advanced in years. My hearing is crap and getting worse, I have pains in places I didn't even know I had, and I'm beginning to feel more comfortable wearing reading glasses.

Another problem with getting older is that you tend to forget things. Increasingly I find that I have trouble recalling facts that I use to regurgitate at will. Song lyrics are getting fuzzier, and more often I find that I can't recall that actress in that movie…, you know, that actress who played that girl in that other movie with the guy… umm, he's French and…, they were … umm, he was a thief…, no, a hit man, and she was…, umm, she was a kid, and she sang, "Happy Birthday Mr. President" like that other famous actress…, oh gee you, know who I'm, talking about…

I think you get the idea. ( The actress in my above example is Natalie Portman. The actor is Jean Reno, and the movie is Leon: The Professional. Great movie! You gotta know who sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President".)

One of the things that I'm finding that I'm forgetting more of is the stuff I learned in school. It's is true that if you don't use it you lose it, and I must have lost everything thing I learned from junior high through early college because I can barely tell you what Pi is, I can tell you who Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great are, but I'd have a hard time telling you what areas of the world they conquered and when. I can't tell you how far the Moon is from Earth without looking it up on the Internet, but I use to be able to. I know light travels 186,000 miles a second, but I'd have to do the math to tell how far a light year is, and I'd probably have trouble with the math. Don't even talk to me about chemistry or philosophy, both are gone. My life and interests have not included the need to remember such facts and so I, like so many of you, have forgotten them. It's true that I've learned some new stuff along the way too. It's as if my head can only hold so much, and I leave the overflow on my pillow when I get up in the morning. It's kind of a disgusting image, but you get my drift.

What would be nice is if there was a way to keep information green in my grey matter. Of course, there are several ways to top off your brain, but most are about as boring as high school driver's ed class.

One thing I've started is doing an Internet search on subjects that cross my path during the day. I work for a living so I can't waste a lot of time rooting around on the Web, but most subjects are easy to find info on.

For instance, there's much talk these days about Swine Flu. I wondered why news folks keep bringing it up, it is just the flu after all, and we run into different strains of the flu on a yearly basis. It turns out there were some fairly nasty versions of the flu that struck and killed more than a few people in the not so distant past.

These flu variations not only attack the very old, the very young, and the very weak as the yearly strains tend to do, but the flu pandemics that struck on several occasions many years ago hit the healthy as well. The Spanish Flu, for instance, was the meanest in recorded history. After several outbreaks between 1918 and 1920 it had left over 50 million people dead worldwide.

Two other interesting facts about the Spanish Flu: First, the first recorded case of Spanish Flu appeared in the U.S., not Spain. The second fact is that Spanish Flu is of the same viral type as today's Swine Flu; H1N1.

It is that second fact that has people worried. Spanish Flu was believed to have been carried around the world with troops during World War One. Today, the world is far more connected than it was in 1918 and a vicious strain of H1N1 could appear anywhere in the world in days of an initial outbreak. With more people living in close quarters, the death toll from a Spanish Flu-like pandemic could reach into the hundreds of millions.

Scary and fascinating. It's stuff I didn't know and adds weight to the bits I see, hear, and read in the news. It also adds useful knowledge to fill the spots in my brain left nearly empty by forgotten facts, stuff I leave on my pillow each morning when I get up.

Turns out it's not so hard to keep your brain fit and filled with useful and useless knowledge. All you need is an iPhone or iPod and the iTunes Store.

Stuff You Missed in History Class is a fun podcast that covers a wide range of topics. From the sudden ashen burial of the people of Pompeii to the whereabouts of B.D. Cooper, Stuff tries to cover it all in easy to digest pieces.

There a well over 100 episodes ranging in length from about 3 minutes to almost a half an hour, but all subjects are covered fully, and you come away feeling mentally satisfied.

I like that Stuff does not shy away from controversial subjects such as Australia's Stolen Generation, Kent State, and Agent Orange. None of the episodes I've listened to are preachy or politically biased, at least as far as I can tell, so a good time can be had by all.

Stuff You Missed in History Class. Good stuff.

Speaking of stuff, if you want to know about stuff that not directly related to history then you might try Brain Stuff. These are relatively short podcasts examine things you might have heard of and always wanted to know more about, like silica gel. Just what the heck is that and why is it packed in everything from aspirin to tube socks?

That you'll learn and a whole lot more because there are close to 300 episodes available on the iTunes Store.

Host, Marshall Brain (is that his real name?) does a good job explaining the details while keeping it light enough to come back for seconds.

Both Stuff You Missed in History Class and Brain Stuff are made available by HowStuffWorks.com

More good stuff.

And while we are talking about How Stuff Works, they have another great podcast that looks at the odd, the strange, the weird yet all are decidedly cool.

The Coolest Stuff on the Planet is a video podcast that takes you to see some of the.., umm, well… the coolest stuff on the planet. The Nazca Plain, Ayers Rock in Australia, Machu Picchu and more are offered in 18 5 minute episodes. This is really some cool stuff too. Lost cities, ancient ruins, modern wonders, I could go on. It looks like they will go on too because add new episodes weekly.

Coolest Stuff on the Planet. Excellent brain food.

OK, that's a wrap for this week. You can find more free stuff at the iTunes Store below, with direct links.