Completely Useless Facts of the Week – Issue 37

July 12, 2015

uselessfactsheader37The weekly collection of useless and fun facts.  In this week’s edition: A Rigged Emergency Warning, Flying Salmon, The Hoff’s Divorce, The Gondolas of Venice, and The Happy Birthday Song.
The actual set-up

The Detroit Fire Department has had to deal with the city’s ongoing financial woes, so much so that many Detroit fire stations use a soda can filled with metal screws or change to alert them to an emergency call. When a call comes in, a fax machine spits out a piece of paper which knocks over the can and alerts the crew to an emergency.  This is no joke, and there’s even video to prove it.  The firefighters have had to rig up their own system because the department is so far behind in technological upgrades.  The city plans to spend $1.4 billion on city services in the future, but that isn’t going to happen until they get out bankruptcy.

In other fire stations that have a modern system, a call comes in and alerts the firefighters with a siren of some sort and a voice message telling them where they need to go and what they need to do.  Detroit firefighters have had to rely on their own homemade system.  In addition to the soda can on the fax machine, other stations have used a pipe like a wind chime to alert them when a paper comes out of the fax machine, while others have fashioned together a doorbell system to give them notice.  Not surprisingly, a 2013 report said that Detroit’s response times were much slower than other cities.  Source


Salmon are known for traveling long distances to return to where they were born.  It can be quite a difficult journey since salmon have to swim upriver, up waterfalls, and avoid various obstacles along their path.  Fish ladders are one way salmon are assisted up the river, but another, faster way has been found to move the salmon– fire them out of a cannon.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has done such a thing and adopted a device nicknamed the “salmon cannon” to move Chinook Salmon up the Washougal River.  The “cannon” is the invention of an appropriately named company called Whooshh Innovations.  The company had come up with a way to move fruit gently through a tube over long distances.  Now they’ve adapted it for salmon.  The reason was simple.  The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was finding that hydroelectric dams were causing problems for the salmon.  They were having difficulty returning to their birthplaces.  The solution was to use the tube to get the salmon away from the dams and to a new location–quickly.

The tube works in a simple way.  The fish go in, and a fabric forms around their bodies to create a vacuum.  The fish are then pushed through the tube between 11 and 22 mph and can travel about 120 feet in five seconds.  The way is safe and gentle for the fish, kind of like a water slide, if you want to think of it that way.  The salmon are shot out into the water in their new spot and are able to continue their journey, after a fun, little ride, of course.  Source

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Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería/Wikimedia

He’s best known for his roles in Knight Rider and Baywatch, but David Hasselhoff has also become known for his occasional bouts of “bizarre” behavior.  Not surprisingly, Hasselhoff’s messy divorce from Pamela Bach in 2008 was no different.  As part of his divorce settlement, Hasselhoff’s kept possession of the nickname “Hoff” and the catchphrase, “Don’t Hassle the Hoff”.  In addition to these things he also maintained his businesses; Hasseltunes, Hasselhits, and Hoffstuff Productions.  Other interesting things he was able to keep hold of were an ivory tusk, an African pipe, and some kind of “elephant foot and two elephant stools,” whatever that means.  These were just some of the interesting items split between the former pair.  It’s too difficult to explain why the nickname, “Hoff”, or the phrase “Don’t Hassle the Hoff” was so important, but if you just have to know, this interview pretty much sums it up–kind of.  Source

gondolaThe gondola is synonymous with Venice, and they’ve been used since the 11th century in the city.  Gondolas are made of eight different types of wood which make up 280 different pieces, and all of them weigh around 1.7 tons. These aren’t the only things that are similar between the flat-bottomed boats.  The famous gondolas of Venice also have to be painted black because of a law enacted in the 1600’s. Before that time, too much competition between nobles had developed as they tried to see who could have the fanciest boat in the city.  The law eliminated any growing competition between boats.  There are now only three adornments that can be used on the black gondolas today.  They can have a pair of seahorses, a tail that curls, and a custom prow, or ferro, which is like a ornate bumper on the front of the boat that protects it when it bumps into things.  Source

happybirthdayThe song, “Happy Birthday To You” is easily the most popular song in the world and is even protected by a copyright.  The song was written by Patty Smith Hill, a kindergarten teacher, and her sister, Mildred Jane Hill, who was a musician.  They began writing songs for kids in 1889 and later published them in a collection in 1893 called Song Stories for Children. The “Happy Birthday” song didn’t start with that title or the lyrics as we know them today.  The tune was called “Good Morning to All” and was accompanied by the “Happy Birthday” music.  It’s not known when or who wrote the current lyrics to “Happy Birthday To You”, but by the 1930’s, it was being widely used.  From here, things get murky.  The Clayton F. Summy Company filed for a copyright of several versions of the song in 1935 with the assistance of Jessica Hill, a sister to the two who wrote it.  In 1944, the Hill Foundation, which had been created by Jessica and Patty Hill, sued Clayton F. Summy Company for not having the rights to the song.  The Hill Foundation ended up keeping most of the rights, while the Clayton F. Summy Company held ownership of a small portion.

If things weren’t confusing enough, Joseph Sengstack, an accountant, bought Clayton F. Summy Company in 1932 and retained the rights to the song.  After a series of name changes and purchases of other music publishers, the song was in the catalog of a music education company called Birchtree, Ltd., in the 1970’s.  Warner Communications bought the company in 1988 for $25 million, and then the acquisitions began.  Warner Communications became Time Warner and was later purchased by America Online to form AOL/Time Warner.  If that wasn’t enough, AOL/Time Warner sold its music publishing wing to a group of investors who formed the Warner Music Group.  Warner/Chappell Music, a division of Warner Music, currently owns the copyright to the song, “Happy Birthday”, and that is where the song finally wound up.

The “Happy Birthday To You” song is believed to bring in about $2 million per year, and Warner/Chappell Music will have the copyright until the year 2030.  It’s okay to sing the song at home without getting slapped with a copyright infringement notice, but if the song is sung commercially a license to perform it has to go with it. Source

That’s it for another edition.  Until next time, use these facts to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.  Feel free to comment below and share.

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About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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