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15 Unique Facts About Fingerprints

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They've been with you since before you were born, but how much do you really know about the lines and ridges on your fingers, palms, and feet?

1. THEY’RE THE RESULT OF A STRUGGLE.

Human skin has several layers, and each layer has sub-layers. A developing fetus is constantly straining and stretching these layers, which can snag on each other. Scientists believe fingerprints form when the bottom layer of the epidermis grows at a different rate than the rest of the skin, causing it to buckle and tug on the dermis. Your fingerprints are made up of several skin layers twisted together [PDF], kind of like a soft-serve swirl.

2. BEFORE FINGERPRINTS, THERE WERE BONE MEASUREMENTS.

Image Credit: Jebulon via WikimediaCommons // CC0 BY 1.0

Alphonse Bertillon was a French policeman and researcher who capitalized on the fact that each person’s body proportions are different. He developed a way of using photographs to measure a person’s unique dimensions—a technique that’s still reflected in jailhouse mug shots. The Bertillon System, as it came to be known, was adopted by law enforcement agencies in Europe and North America and used for three decades. 

3. SOME PEOPLE ARE BORN WITHOUT THEM.

Three genetic conditions can prevent fingerprints from forming: Naegeli-Franceschetti-Jadassohn syndrome (NFJS), Dermatopathia pigmentosa reticularis (DPR), and adermatoglyphia. NFJS and DPR cause a range of symptoms, most much worse than smooth fingers. Adermatoglyphia, on the other hand, has just one indicator: no fingerprints. It’s sometimes referred to as “immigration delay disease,” for the trouble it causes people trying to cross borders. 

4. THEY KILLED THE BERTILLON SYSTEM.

In 1901, a man named William West began a life sentence in the Leavenworth, Kansas, penitentiary for murder. His Bertillon measurements were taken and dutifully cataloged. Two years later, Will West entered Leavenworth. When asked if he’d been there before, he said no, but the clerk took his measurements and photograph and found that they were an exact match for the man listed as William West who was currently in the prison. Befuddled, the clerk compared Will’s fingerprints with William's and found that, indeed, they were two completely different men. The story is still a matter of debate—some think the men might have been twins—but it soon became folklore among forensic scientists, illustrating not only the advantages of fingerprinting but the fatal flaws that would lead to the abandonment of the Bertillon system.

5. FINGERPRINT ANALYSIS IS FALLIBLE.

Image Credit: Daekow via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

When examining fingerprints, experts attempt to match as many points of comparison as possible, but there’s no minimum for a match, at least not in the United States. Other countries have set standards for what constitutes a positive identification, but not us. On top of that, there’s an inevitable element of human error. A 2011 study [PDF] found a false positive rate of 0.1 percent. That may not sound like much until you realize that 0.1 percent of the FBI’s annual fingerprint intake is 60,000 people, or 60,000 potential false positive IDs.

6. KOALAS HAVE THEM, TOO.

Image Credit: Mike R via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

So far, we’re aware of only a few non-human animals with unique fingerprints, such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and koalas. Given apes’ and koalas’ arboreal lifestyles, scientists suspect fingerprints evolved as a consequence of living in trees. The fingerprints of koalas are so similar to humans’ that even experts have trouble telling them apart. We haven’t heard of anyone blaming their misdeeds on a koala yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time. 

7. FINGERPRINTS ARE INCREDIBLY DURABLE …

Image Credit: Zephyris via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Even in death, our fingerprints stick around, which makes them very helpful in identifying bodies. Or fingers, in the case of Hans Galassi. After losing a few fingers in an accident on the water, the wakeboarder figured they were gone for good. Then a human finger turned up in the belly of a trout and, sure enough, it was one of Galassi’s. “If a hand is found in water you will see that the epidermis starts to come away from the dermis like a glove,” fingerprint expert Allen Bayle told the BBC. “This sounds gruesome, but if a hand has been badly damaged, I cut the epidermis off and put my own hand inside that glove and try to fingerprint it like that.” (Once the severed finger had been identified, it was offered to Mr. Galassi, who declined to take it back.)

8. … BUT YOU CAN LOSE THEM …

Rough tactile work like bricklaying and chemotherapy drugs like capecitabine can erode and even erase fingerprints. “Just a good case of poison ivy would do it," forensics expert Edward Richards said in Scientific American. Don’t get too worried: "Left alone,” he said, “your skin replaces at a fairly good rate, so unless you've done permanent damage to the tissue, it will regenerate." 

9. … ESPECIALLY IF YOU’RE DETERMINED.

By the 1930s, fingerprint analysis was standard practice in U.S. law enforcement, and criminals had begun intentionally trying to remove their fingerprints. As you might imagine, the results were grisly and mixed. Some tried to file off their prints, while others attempted to cut them out. Notorious gangster John Dillinger burnt his own prints off with acid, a hardcore decision that kind of worked. (His fingerprints were never used against him, but after his death the faint traces of his former ridges and whorls could still be seen.) Robber Robert Phillips talked a doctor into grafting skin from his chest onto his fingertips. Unfortunately for him, he neglected to remove the prints on his palms. 

10. FINGERPRINT SENSORS MIGHT WORK FOR YOUR PETS, TOO.

Image Credit: cloudzilla via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Apple created quite a buzz in 2013 when it introduced a fingerprint-coded screen lock with the iPhone 5s. Some of that buzz soon focused on cats, however, after a TechCrunch writer “commandeer[ed] a cat” and used its toe pad to create a new profile. “The cat’s paw worked,” he wrote, “and while it encountered more frequent failures than did a fingerprint, it was able to unlock the phone again repeatedly when positioned correctly on the sensor.”

11. MARK TWAIN ANTICIPATED THE VALUE OF FINGERPRINT EVIDENCE.

Two of the author’s books, Life on the Mississippi and Pudd’n Head Wilson, feature the use of fingerprints to nab criminals. Twain’s focus on fingerprinting was incredibly prescient; the books were published in 1883 and 1893, respectively, but U.S. officials wouldn’t implement fingerprinting practices here until the early 20th century. 

12. WORLD WAR II SAW A BOOM IN FINGERPRINT COLLECTION.

Wartime vigilance meant that the FBI was collecting more prints than ever before, from soldiers, foreign agents, and military suppliers, as well as draft dodgers and potential spies. By 1943, the collection included more than 70 million prints. To manage the explosion of information, the agency moved to a big warehouse (nicknamed the “Fingerprint Factory”) and hired and trained thousands of women to sort prints 10 hours a day, six days a week. 

13. THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL CASES OF MASS FINGERPRINTING.

In desperate times, British police have resorted to desperate measures. The shocking murder of a three-year-old girl in 1948 inspired officials to demand prints from more than 40,000 local men. Even with all those prints, they failed to find a match—until they tracked down the 200 men who had failed to produce prints. Among them, they found their culprit. Since then, despite protestations from Britain’s National Council for Civil Liberties, the police have conducted several mass print collections, several of which were successful. 

That sort of thing doesn’t go over too well in the United States, but it has been done. The Fourth Amendment restricts the use of fingerprint collection to “reasonable” identification of persons of interest in criminal cases. Law enforcement officers could get around this if they chose, but it wouldn’t be a popular move.

14. THE FBI STORES EVERYBODY’S PRINTS TOGETHER.

If you’ve ever applied for a teaching job, the police force, or any government position, the FBI has your fingerprints—and they’re treating them like a criminal’s. In 2015, the agency announced that they were melding their criminal and civil fingerprint databases. They also decided to make all files searchable for potential culprits.

15. THE MICROBIOME IS THE NEW FINGERPRINT.

Like the whorls and loops of your fingerprints, the tiny ecosystems in and on your body are yours and yours alone. The collective DNA of the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that make up your microbiome is a huge repository of information about your health, environment, diet, and genetics—and it’s completely unique. Forensic scientists are currently exploring the possibility of using microbiomes for identification, and testimony based on microbial forensic techniques has already been admitted in some U.S. courts.

 

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Shout! Factory
10 Surprising Facts About Mr. Mom
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

John Hughes penned the script for 1983's Mr. Mom, a comedy about a family man named Jack Butler (Micheal Keaton) who loses his job. To ensure their three kids are taken care of, his wife, Caroline (Teri Garr), goes back to work—leaving Jack to fight off a vacuum cleaner and learn why it's never a good idea to feed chili to a baby.

In 1982, Keaton turned in a star-making role in Ron Howard’s Night Shift, but Mr. Mom marked the first time he headlined a movie, and it launched his career. Hughes had written National Lampoon's Vacation, which—oddly enough—was released in theaters the weekend after Mr. Mom. But Hughes himself was still a relative unknown, as it would be another year before he entered the teen flick phase of his career, which would make him iconic.

In the meantime, Mr. Mom hit home for a lot of viewers, as the economy was on the downturn and more and more women were entering (or reentering) the workforce. But some people think that the movie's ending—which sees the couple revert to traditional gender roles—sidelined the movie's message. Still, on the 35th anniversary of its release, Mr. Mom remains an ahead-of-its-time comedy classic.

1. IT'S BASED ON A TRUE STORY.

Mr. Mom producer Lauren Shuler Donner came across a funny article John Hughes had written for National Lampoon. Based on that, she contacted him and the two became friends. “One day, he was telling me that his wife had gone down to Arizona and he was in charge of the two boys and he didn’t know what he was doing,” Donner told IGN. “It was hilarious! I was on the floor laughing. He said, ‘Do you think this would make a good movie?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, this is really funny.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have about 80 pages in a drawer. Would you look at it?’ So I looked at it and I said, ‘This is great! Let’s do it!’ We kind of developed it ourselves.” In the book Movie Moguls Speak, Donner mentioned how Hughes “had never been to a grocery store, he had never operated a vacuum cleaner. John was so ignorant, that in his ignorance, he was hilarious.”

The players involved with the movie told Donner and Hughes they thought it should be a TV movie. Hughes had a TV deal with Aaron Spelling, who came aboard to executive produce. “Then the players involved were upset because John was writing out of Chicago instead of L.A.,” Donner said in Movie Moguls Speak. “They fired John and brought in a group of TV writers. In the end, John and I were muscled out. It was a good movie, but if you ever read John’s original script for Mr. Mom, it’s far better.”

2. JOHN HUGHES REJECTED THE IDEA OF DIRECTING MR. MOM.

Stan Dragoti ended up directing the film, but only after Hughes turned it down, because he preferred to make his movies in Chicago, not Hollywood. “I don’t like being around the people in the movie business,” Hughes told Roger Ebert. “In Hollywood, you spend all of your time having lunch and making deals. Everybody is trying to shoot you down. I like to get my actors out here where we can make our movies in privacy.” Hughes remained in Chicago and filmed his directorial debut, Sixteen Candles, there.

3. MICHAEL KEATON GOT THE ROLE BECAUSE OF NIGHT SHIFT.

In 1982’s Night Shift, Keaton’s character works at a morgue and starts a prostitution ring with co-worker Henry Winkler. Donner had an agent friend, Laurie Perlman, who represented the not-yet-famous actor. She contacted Donner and pitched Keaton to her. “’Look, I represent this guy who is really funny. Would you meet with him?’" Donner recalled of the conversation. "So I met with him. Usually I don’t like to do this unless we’re casting, but I met with him because she was my friend. And then she said, ‘You have to see this movie Night Shift that he’s in.’ So I went to see Night Shift, and midway through I couldn’t wait to get out of that theater to give Mr. Mom to Michael Keaton. Fortunately, he liked it."

Keaton told Grantland that he turned down one of the main roles in Splash to play Jack Butler. “I just remember at the time thinking I wanted to get away from what I’d just done on Night Shift,” he said. “I thought if I do it again, I might get myself stuck. So then Mr. Mom came along. So I said no [to Splash] so I could set up this framework right away where I could do different things.”

4. THE FILM BROKE NEW GROUND.

Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, Taliesin Jaffe, Frederick Koehler, and Martin Mull in Mr. Mom (1983)
Shout! Factory

In 1983, more women stayed at home than worked, so it was a novelty for a man to be a stay-at-home dad. Today, an estimated 1.4 million men are stay-at-home dads, and 7 million men are their children's primary caregiver. “Mr. Mom became part of the vernacular,” Donner told Newsweek. “Mr. Mom represented a segment of men who were at home dealing with the kids who, up until then, really hadn’t been heard from. That’s what really told me about the power of film, because it spoke for a lot of men. It also helped women, because I think that women sometimes, if you’re a housewife, you’re not really appreciated for what you do. This sort of made women feel better about what they did because they knew that men were understanding it.”

5. TODAY, “MR. MOM” IS CONSIDERED A PEJORATIVE TERM.

More than 30 years after the film’s release, stay-at-home dads feel the term “Mr. Mom” should die. The National At-Home Dad Network launched a campaign to terminate the phrase and instead have people refer to men as “Dad.” In 2014 Lake Superior State University voted to banish “Mr. Mom” from the lexicon.

“At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade,” wrote The Wall Street Journal, after declaring “Mr. Mom is dead.”

6. TERI GARR DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS A MESSAGE MOVIE.

The movie redefined gender roles, but when the producers pitched the premise to Garr, they hid the plot reversal. “They just told me it was about a guy who does the work that a woman does, because it’s so easy,” she told The A.V. Club. “And I went, ‘Oh, yeah. Ha ha.’ It’s so easy. All the women I know who stay home and take care of their kids, they go, ‘Oh yeah, this is easy.’ Hmm.”

7. MARTIN MULL IMPROVISED THE “220, 221” LINE.

The quote everyone remembers from the movie comes from Jack, holding a chainsaw, standing next to Ron Richardson (Martin Mull) and discussing what kind of wiring Jack will use in renovating the house: “220, 221, whatever it takes,” Jack says.

“We’re doing the scene and it was okay,” Keaton told Esquire. “And I remember saying to the prop guy, ‘Go find me a chainsaw.’ When he comes back with it, he says, ‘You wanna wear these?’ And he holds up some goggles. I go, ‘Yeah.’ You know, they make me look crazy. And when Martin shows up, I know I should look under control, I’m not sweating it. I’m a dude. So we’re standing there, Martin pulls me aside and says, ‘You know what you ought to say? When I ask about the wiring, you oughta just deadpan: ‘220, 221.’ I died. It was perfect. I may have added ‘whatever it takes.’ But it was his.”

“That was a little ad-lib that we just threw in, but every carpenter or construction person I’ve ever worked with, they’re always quoting that line from Mr. Mom,” Mull told The A.V. Club.

8. MR. MOM OUTGROSSED HUGHES’S OTHER 1983 SUMMER MOVIE—VACATION.

Mr. Mom only opened on 126 screens on July 22, 1983, but managed to gross $947,197 during its opening weekend. Once the film went wide a month later to 1235 screens, it hit number one at the box office and spent five weeks at the top. By the end of its run, the film had grossed just shy of $65 million, making it the ninth highest-grossing film of 1983 (just between Staying Alive and Risky Business). National Lampoon’s Vacation, Hughes’s other film that summer, came out July 29 and ended its theatrical run with $61,399,552 (at its height, it showed on 1248 screens). Vacation finished the year in 11th place.

9. THE MOVIE LED TO HUGHES BEING CALLED “A PURVEYOR OF HORNY SEX COMEDIES.”

During a 1986 interview with Seventeen magazine, Molly Ringwald asked the writer-director why he never showed teen sex in Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club. “In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss,” he said. “The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a ‘purveyor of horny sex comedies.’ He listed The Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses. I thought, ‘What kind of sex?’ Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see its bare butt.”

10. MR. MOM WAS MADE INTO A TV MOVIE AFTER ALL.

In the beginning, producers wanted Mr. Mom to be a TV movie, not a feature film. But a year after the film came out in theaters, ABC produced a TV movie called Mr. Mom, with the same characters and premise. Barry Van Dyke played Jack and Rebecca York played Caroline. A People magazine review of the movie stated: “They and their three kids are immediately likable … But it goes downhill from there as the script lobotomizes all its characters. Here’s a textbook case in how TV takes a cute idea—and a script that does have some good lines—and leeches the wit out of it.”

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 119th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."


Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."


Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."


By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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