The English Learners' Blog

A blog for English learners and their teachers everywhere, initiated in 2010 with the contribution of students from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. More about me on the On-line Profile below. Welcome!

11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Airplanes

Planes have changed a lot since the days of the Wright Brothers (or, perhaps more accurately, Brazilian inventor Alberto Santos). Those first wood-and-cloth contraptions are an entirely different species than the sleek Boeing Dreamliners of today.

With the continual advancements in aerospace technology, it’s hard to keep up with all the amazing things planes today are capable of doing (and withstanding). Below, 11 things you didn’t know about airplanes and air travel.

Airplanes are designed to withstand lightning strikes

Planes are designed to be struck by lightning—and they regularly are hit. It’s estimated lightning strikes each aircraft once a year—or once per every 1,000 hours of flight time. Yet, lighting hasn’t brought down a plane since 1963, due to careful engineering that lets the electric charge of a lightning bolt run through the plane and out of it, typically without causing damage to the plane.

There is no safest seat on the plane

The FAA says there is no safest seat on the plane, though a TIME study of plane accidents found that the middle seats in the back of the plane had the lowest fatality rate in a crash. Their research revealed that, during plane crashes, “the seats in the back third of the aircraft had a 32 percent fatality rate, compared with 39 percent in the middle third and 38 percent in the front third.”

However, there are so many variables at play that it’s impossible to know where to sit to survive a crash. Oh, and plane crashes are incredibly rare.

Some airplanes have secret bedrooms for flight crew

On long-haul flights, cabin crew can work 16-hour days. To help combat fatigue, some planes, like the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliners, are outfitted with tiny bedrooms where the flight crew can get a little shut-eye. The bedrooms are typically accessed via a hidden staircase that leads up to a small, low-ceilinged room with 6 to 10 beds, a bathroom, and sometimes in-flight entertainment.

The tires are designed not to pop on landing

The tires on an airplane are designed to withstand incredible weight loads (38 tons!) and can hit the ground at 170 miles per hour more than 500 times before ever needing to get a retread. Additionally, airplane tires are inflated to 200 psi, which is about six times the pressure used in a car tire. If an airplane does need new tires, ground crew simply jack up the plane like you would a car.

Why cabin crew dims the light when a plane is landing

When a plane lands at night, cabin crews will dim the interior lights. Why? In the unlikely event that the plane landing goes badly and passengers need to evacuate, their eyes will already be adjusted to the darkness. As pilot Chris Cooke explained to T+L: “Imagine being in an unfamiliar bright room filled with obstacles when someone turns off the lights and asks you to exit quickly.”

Similarly, flight attendants have passengers raise their window shades during landing, so they can see outside in an emergency and assess if one side of the plane is better for an evacuation.

You don’t need both engines to fly

The idea of an engine giving out mid-flight sounds frightening, but every commercial airplane can safely fly with just one engine. Operating with half the engine power can make a plane less fuel-efficient and may reduce its range, but planes are designed and tested for such situations, as Popular Mechanics reported. Any plane scheduled on a long-distance route, especially those that fly over oceans or through uninhabited areas like the Arctic, must be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for Extended-range Twin Operations (ETOPS), which is basically how long it can fly with one engine. The Boeing Dreamliner is certified for ETOPS-330, which means it can fly for 330 minutes (that’s five and a half hours) with just one engine.

In fact, most airplanes can fly for a surprisingly long distance with no engine at all, thanks to something called glide ratio. Due to careful aeronautical engineering, a Boeing 747 can glide for two miles for every 1,000 feet they are above the ground, which is usually more than enough time to get everyone safely to the ground.

Why there are ashtrays in the bathrooms

The FAA banned smoking on planes years ago, but eagle-eyed passengers know that airplane lavatories still have ashtrays in them. As Business Insider reported, the reason is that airlines—and the people who design planes—figure that despite the no-smoking policy and myriad no-smoking signs prominently posted on the plane, at some point a smoker will decide to light up a cigarette on the plane. The hope is that if someone violates the smoking policy, they will do so in the relatively confined space of the bathroom and dispose of the cigarette butt in a safe place—the ashtray, not a trash can where it could theoretically cause a fire. If you do smoke in the bathroom, expect a massive fine.

What that tiny hole in the airplane window does

It’s to regulate cabin pressure. Most airplane windows are made up of three panels of acrylic. The exterior window works as you would expect—keeping the elements out and maintaining cabin pressure. In the unlikely event that something happens to the exterior pane, the second pane acts as a fail-safe option. The tiny hole in the interior window is there to regulate air pressure so the middle pane remains intact and uncompromised until it is called into duty.

Why airplane food taste so bad

Airplane food has a bad reputation, but the food itself isn’t entirely to blame—the real fault lies with the plane. A 2015 Cornell University study, reported by Time, found that the environment inside an airplane actually alters the way food and drink tastes—sweet items tasted less sweet, while salty flavors were heightened. The dry recycled air inside the plane cabin doesn’t help either as low humidity can further dull taste and smell making everything in a plane seem bland. According to a 2010 study from the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics in Germany, it’s about 30 percent more difficult to detect sweet and salty tastes when you’re up in the air. Next time you fly, skip the meal, and maybe try a glass of tomato juice instead.

About those oxygen masks

The safety instructions on most flight include how to use the oxygen masks that are deployed when the plane experiences a sudden loss in cabin pressure. However, one that thing that the flight attendants don’t tell you is that oxygen masks only have about 15-minutes worth of oxygen. That sounds like a frighteningly short amount of time, but in reality that should be more than sufficient. Remember, oxygen masks drop when the airplane cabin loses pressure, which means the plane is also losing altitude. According to Gizmodo, a pilot will respond to that situation by donning an oxygen mask and moving the plane to an altitude below 10,000 feet, where passengers can simply breathe normally, no extra oxygen required. That rapid descent usually takes way less than 15 minutes, meaning those oxygen masks have more than enough air to protect passengers.

Why planes leave trails in the sky

Those white lines that planes leave in the sky are simply trails of condensation, hence their technical name of “contrails.” Plane engines release water vapor as part of the combustion process. When that hot water vapor is pumped out of the exhaust and hits the cooler air of the upper atmosphere, it creates those puffy white lines in the sky. It’s basically the same reaction as when you see your breath when it’s cold outside.

This article originally appeared on

Filed under: ■ Senses, ■ The World

How Much Do You Know about Polish Beer?

Zywiec Brewery Musem - CLUE 1

Zywiec Brewery Musem – CLUE 1

Zywiec Brewery Musem - CLUE 2

Zywiec Brewery Musem – CLUE 2

Zywiec Brewery Museum - CLUE 3

Zywiec Brewery Museum – CLUE 3

Zywiec Brewery Museum CLUE 4

Zywiec Brewery Museum – CLUE 4

1. Żywiec Beer has a unique front label which went through significant changes.

2. The Żywiec logo includes all of the most important historical symbols of the brewery. The Krakow dancing couple holds a coat of arms adorned with the crown. There are three Spruce trees and the year 1856 on the coat of arms. The name Żywiec is placed on the red sash with the golden trimming in the lower part of the mark.

3. The Żywiec logo is the most famous mark or a brand of beer in Poland and the trademark of the entire brewery.

Logo - CLUE 5

Zywiec Logo – CLUE 5

More about beer, senses, and our DNA in the article below, posted by Alexandra Sifferlin on the Health & Family section of the TIME blog.

The Beer-Smell Gene and Other Ways DNA Drives Our Senses

Beer smells like beer and a violet smells like a violet to everyone, right? Maybe not, according to the latest study that traced the way we smell to differences in our genes. 

It turns out that our senses are intimately connected to our DNA, and small variations in our genes can determine whether we are partial to the smell of blue cheese, or can’t stand the taste of cilantro. That’s not such a surprise, but what is impressive is the precision with which scientists can match up sensory experiences (such as an appreciation for the spicy scent of curry) to specific stretches of DNA. We may occupy the same environment, but the way we see, smell, taste, touch and hear things may vary widely depending on our genomes.

Perhaps the best example of this gene-based sensory diversity is color blindness — people with genetic abnormalities in the types of cone cells produced in the eye have trouble seeing red, blue or green light. And research has shown that 21% of people from East Asia, 17% of Europeans, and 14% of people of African descent taste a soapiness in cilantro that makes the popular herb unwelcome in their meals. The reason? 23andMe, the company that sequences consumers‘ genes, surveyed 30,000 of their customers and traced the soapy sensation to a gene called OR6A2,  which can make some people sensitive to the aldehyde chemicals that flavor cilantro.

(MORE: Single Genetic Glitch May Explain Most Allergies and Asthma)

“Because our genes encode the machinery that we use to perceive the outside world, our perceptions of the outside world are all a little bit different,” says Dennis Drayna, a geneticist at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). “Think about it. You and I know what green is, or what a rose smells like, but does green look to you the same as it looks to me? Maybe, but maybe not. What you and I call green may be slightly different things. There’s no doubt this is going on, and it is going to become better understood.”

How specific is the map tying sensory experiences to genes? Here’s a brief rundown of what geneticists are learning:

In a study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers traced variations in smell sensitivity to four odors to different versions of smell genes.

 The scientists, from Plant and Food Research in New Zealand, tested 10 different scents in hundreds of subjects, who were provided with wine glasses containing either water or a range of diluted scents.

The four odors related to apples, violets, blue cheese and malt, and depending on the participants’ genetic makeup, their smell receptors either detected the floral scent of violets, for example, or a rancid, acidic smell that wasn’t so pleasant. Or they could either pick out the sour smell of malt — the germinated grains that form the base of beer — or be unable to smell it at all.

“These smells are found in foods and drinks that people encounter every day, such as tomatoes and apples. This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalized way,” said study author Jeremy McRae in a statement.

(MORE: New Insight into the (Epi)Genetic Roots of Homosexuality)

In his research, Drayna found that about a quarter of the world’s population does not taste the same bitter sensations as the majority do. His team identified a gene that encodes the TAS2R bitter taste receptor, which is expressed in taste cells on the tongue. There are three different places where the DNA code for the gene differ, resulting in an individual being unable to taste some bitter flavors. He’s also identified specific genetic variants, called SNPs, that explain about 16% of the differences in how people perceive sweets and why some people are less able to taste sweet substances.

“Every single person has had the experience where you look at something and you want to call it one color, and you’re with someone and they want to call it a different color,” says Jay Neitz, a professor of ophthalmology and a color vision researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle. Neitz’s lab has done groundbreaking research into color blindness, even curing the disorder in primates.

Even among those without color-blindness, Neitz says there is a wide variety in how eyes distinguish color. “If you take the rainbow and spread out all the different colors, it turns out some colors almost everyone agrees on how they look, and there are other colors with huge disagreement,” he says.

For instance, almost everyone agrees on what yellow looks like. But if you ask someone to point to what they classify as uniquely green on a color spectrum, there’s huge variability. The same goes for red. “This is one of the things that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention because people have not been able to nail [down] why this is true,” says Neitz. “It turns out that there is variability in the ratio of red and green cones in the eye that’s huge.”

These cones affect how sensitive a person’s eyes are to those colors. Normal-sighted people can contain anywhere from 30% to 95% of red cones, with the remainder being green. Neitz says a series of genetic mutations can affect whether cells destined to become cone cells in the eyes become red or green.

(MORE: How Much of Obesity is Genetic?)

Scientists are looking into such gene-based differences in the way other senses are perceived too. Some researchers have identified touch genes that help distinguish hot and cold, for example, from studies of people with genetic disorders that prevent them from telling the difference, and Drayna has also looked at the significant variability in hearing among people — from those who are deaf to people with perfect pitch.

The work isn’t just academic. How people sense taste and smell, for example, has a direct connection to what they eat, so testing people for these senses is becoming an important part of nutrition surveys. For example, since January 2013, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual government look at eating habits and nutrition among a representative sample of Americans, began asking participants to scratch and sniff cards containing scents of four common food items and four non-food items, and to report what they smelled. To better understand taste differences, the survey takers also apply solutions of various flavors to the tips of participants’ tongues.

“Taste and smell, our chemosensory perceptions, form the basis for what we choose to eat or drink,” said Howard Hoffman, the program director of epidemiology and statistics at the NIDCD in a statement. “Does the ability to taste and smell impact nutrition? I would say so, but in what ways and to what degree remains uncertain.”

(MORE: Study Identifies Four New Genetic Markers For Severe Childhood Obesity)

Such data would undoubtedly be helpful to the food industry as well. Manipulating ingredients to counteract the off-putting flavors that some people taste or smell, for example, could expand the market for certain products.

And it’s not just what we eat that is affected by flavor. The Food and Drug Administration recently concluded that menthol cigarettes likely pose a greater public health risk than regular cigarettes, and Drayna’s research suggests that may be due to people’s preference for that flavor, which could induce them to smoke more heavily. “African Americans almost exclusively smoke menthol cigarettes. The menthol receptor is a temperature receptor and menthol is a chemical that activates that receptor, so it produces the perception of cold,” Drayna explains. “Africans have quite a different version of this gene than non-Africans, so we are working to see whether that genetic difference is actually responsible for a perception difference.”

Even beyond the food industry, custom scents are already being exploited by retailers to attract consumers. As Business of Fashion reports, Bloomingdales hired global scent marketing company ScentAir to create different scents for its various departments, such as a coconut fragrance for the swimwear racks and a lilac scent in the lingerie area. Since scent is evocative of emotions and memories, store executives hope that being reminded of pleasant experiences at the beach will entice customers to purchase swimwear.

That connection between the senses and our experiences — to moods, emotions, and memories — is part of our sensory world, and ultimately work in combination with our genes to determine how we perceive everything from foods to scents. “There’s a strong environmental component to food preferences that doesn’t have to do with genetics, but experience,” says Drayna. “But genetic differences are real, and probably very common and we have a lot more to learn from them.”

Filed under: 3►SPEAK▼, ■ Drinks, ■ Senses, ■ TIME, ►11.ON LINE▼, TOPICS▼

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