The Palladium Credit Card

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Plastic. It's the one-word term used by many to mean "credit card" because, in almost all cases, credit cards are made out of that flexible, durable material. But not all cards are created equal. Early this year, investment bank J.P. Morgan Chase announced a new credit card, called the J.P. Morgan Palladium Card.

The card itself is made of a mix of palladium—a rare, silvery-white, and very shiny metal—and 23 karat gold. At current prices, the card, if melted, would fetch about $1,000 for its metal alone. The card's annual fee is only (only?) about half that, at $595. And that comes with free laser engraving—the cardholder's name is etched into the metallic card by the bank.

The benefits?

To start with, cardholders are given access to Marquis Jets, a private jet company which sells access to a fleet of roughly 800 private planes in increments of 25 hours. Palladium Card members receive one free hour—value starting at just over $5,000—per 25 purchased. And if you happen to be flying commercial, the card has you covered there, as well: access to private lounges in 600 airports worldwide; a free upgrade to first class when flying British Airways to London; and, if you're flying British Airways in business class elsewhere, well, how's a free ticket for a companion sound? Consider it done.

Other benefits: Need to be evacuated from an emergency situation? They'll pay for it, up to $100,000. If the airline loses your bag? J.P. Morgan will give you up to $500 to replace "essentials." And, heaven forbid, if you die while traveling, they'll pay up to a grand to bring your body back home. (The full list of benefits is available here.) Oh, and of course, the card has no pre-set spending limit.

All of this for $595? If you think that there has to be a catch, you are correct. Membership is limited to customers of a select group of J.P. Morgan private bank offerings. The average customer of one of these has over $30 million invested with the bank.

And at $30 million, what's $1,000 worth of palladium among friends?
Had the card been made of solid gold, its melt value would probably be about twice as much. And if it were issued in the spring of 1933, it would have likely been illegal, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6012, which outlawed private ownership of gold. Then again, it is unlikely anyone would have cared — while the Order was in effect, the government only prosecuted one person for violating its terms. (And even then, the government lost.)

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Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Why Is Ice Slippery?
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

If you’ve ever shakily stepped onto the ice at your local skating rink, you are intimately familiar with the fear of falling on slippery ice. But what makes ice so slippery in the first place? Interestingly enough, scientists are still trying to figure that one out.

Physicists used to believe that ice became slippery when it was exposed to applied pressure. This pressure, they theorized, lowered the melting temperature of the top layer of ice. They believed that when a person went ice skating, the pressure from the blade caused the topmost layer of ice to melt. The thin layer of water allowed the ice skate to glide easily over the surface. After the blade passed, the top layer of water refroze.

However, most scientists today claim that this theory is wrong. “Ice is a very mysterious solid,” Robert M. Rosenberg, a chemistry professor at Lawrence University, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Scientists found that while pressure does lower the melting point of ice, it only does so by a fraction of a degree. Instead, they proposed that the friction from an ice skate causes the ice to melt beneath it.

Others believe that ice naturally possesses a fluid layer comprised of unstable water molecules. While these molecules search for stability, they move chaotically over the ice’s surface and create a slippery layer.

Determining Migratory Patterns of Early Humans — With Earwax!

Dan Lewis runs the popular daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”). To subscribe to his daily email, click here.

Earwax is mostly gross, but it serves a few purposes: protecting our ear canals from bacteria and dryness, assisting in cleaning and lubrication, and — surprisingly — helping anthropologists determine the migratory patterns of early humans.

While most native English speakers have wet, amber-to-brown colored earwax, there's a second type — dry, gray, and flaky. Which type of earwax you have is determined genetically, with the dry type being recessive and perhaps the result of a genetic mutation somewhere along the way. For some reason, the mutation is common among East Asians. An estimated 97 to 100 percent of people of European and African descent have the wet-type earwax, while 90 percent or more of those descended from East Asians have the dry type.

The gene that controls the relative wetness of earwax is tied to sweat, generally, and the prevailing belief amongst researchers is that the recessive gene, insofar that it reduces sweat output, had advantages in the colder climates of northern China (where, along with Korea, dry earwax is most common), where the mutation seems to have begun.

But for the rest of the world population, earwax makeup is mixed. Native Americans and people from southeast Asia, for example, exhibit dry earwax in 30 to 50 percent of the population, and it appears to occur more densely in some communities thereof than others. Armed with this information, researchers can determine in part the ancestral routes of different people and how those ancestors got to where their descendants now live.
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BONUS FACT: Whales' earwax increases over time without (mostly) discharging. This makes the amount of earwax in a whale's ear proportional to its age. As many whales (for example, baleen whales such as the blue whale, the world's largest mammal) do not have teeth, earwax buildup is one of the best ways to determine how old the whale is. For toothed whales and dolphins? Their teeth grow in layers and, much like the rings of a tree's trunk, the layers are used to determine the animal's age.

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