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How Much Pee in a Pool is Too Much Pee?

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Last week, a study by Chinese and American scientists revealed another reason to not pee in pools, which had more to do with chemistry than good manners. 

The researchers found that when urine and chlorine meet in the right quantities, they can create two byproducts, trichloramine and cyanogen chloride. The latter can be harmful to the lungs, heart, and nervous system. It’s nothing to get your bathing suit in a bunch over, though. Even with chlorine levels far beyond what’s used in the average swimming pool, the amounts of these chemicals produced in the study were still in the World Health Organization’s “safe” range. In other words, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself emptying your bladder during a swim. That said, the study still warned that the chemical could “adversely affect air and water quality” in and around the pool. Plus, it’s just gross. 

At Ars Technica, the research made editor Casey Johnston wonder just how much pee in a pool it would take to make a harmful amount of those chemicals. And after some number crunching, Johnston found that creating a death pool of pee is a pretty tall order.

To get enough chlorine and uric acid together to create a toxic level of cyanogen chloride in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Johnston says you’d need three million people emptying an entire day’s worth of highly concentrated urine into water that’s more chlorinated than normal. 

“If you could get at that pool without dying of either suffocation or drowning in other people’s urine,” she writes, “you could probably pull off death by cyanogen chloride poisoning or at least a pretty good coma.”

Even in this pretty unrealistic situation, there’s a snag. Even at high concentrations, the researchers who did the study found that a lot of their chlorine was consumed by the uric acid. So really, you’d need an even higher chlorine concentration—a whopping half a liter of chlorine per liter of water—to create enough cyanogen chloride.

“In the end we need a pool that is two parts water to one part chlorine and would probably burn the eyeballs out of your sockets and make your skin peel away from your bones,” says Johnston. Get three million people to pee into that, without crushing each other or melting away like Nazis opening the Ark of the Covenant, and you’ve got enough cyanogen chloride to kill (also, the world’s worst pool party).

You can read Johnston’s whole thought experiment here

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Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
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English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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