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Why is the human heart considered the center of love and affection? Who decided that? And where did the valentine heart come from? Is it supposed to be a version of the human heart?

— Ed West, via email

Well, why not the heart? The brain was already the think center, so what’s left? Feet? Anyway, the heart as the house of love goes back at least to the ancient Egyptians, and other ancient societies seemed to agree. It’s assumed that’s because they noticed that lovey stuff makes the heart beat faster, so they figured the heart was linked to adoration and feeling all smoochy goofy and such like emotions. They also knew that anatomically the heart is clearly the center of a big network of vessels, so it’s not hard to imagine that it was deemed a significant body part. As for the shape of the valentine heart, there are a million theories but no hard facts. European playing cards from the 1400s are some of the earliest examples of the heart designs, but there’s no indication that the cards are connected in any way to Valentine’s Day. The earliest valentines were poetry and mushy stuff written on decorated paper, not necessarily heart shaped. One theory about the heart shape is a very ancient scribble that was inspired by human lips or the female buttocks. Another is that it is based on the shape of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, since the Roman church reworked an ancient fertility festival into a more seemly celebration, St. Valentine’s Day, and some early valentines were actually made and decorated by nuns. These are the kinds of stories that crop up when the experts haven’t got a clue about the real answer. Sorry.

Matthew Alice:

We have a lot of new babies in the family. There’s lots of diapers. I was wondering if babies pee and poop before they’re born, or is this something they learn to do right away as soon as they come out? How can they do it before? What do they eat? I am wondering if you can help me.

— Big Sister, El Cajon

Babies are all about pee and poop, Sis. And they actually do get some practice before they pop out. They swallow amniotic fluid and pee it out, leaving it for Mom’s circulatory system to clean up. This happens through the last six months of pregnancy. Pooping is another story, though. There is a substance, meconium, in newborns’ digestive systems, the result of skin cells, hair, and other secretions they ingest. In most cases, meconium isn’t expelled until after birth, but in a small number of cases, it can happen before then. This can be dangerous if it gets into the baby’s lungs. Hope that helps explain a bit about those mysterious baby creatures and their first major accomplishments: peeing and pooping.


Why don’t we ever see B batteries? Well, maybe you and Grandma see B batteries, but I don’t. Was there ever such a thing as a B battery? What would we need to do to bring it back to make the battery line neat and continuous? I need to know this.

— Charged, via email

The elusive B battery lives! It hides out in special-power-need applications, but it’s still around. It’s been around since the 1920s, when battery power sources first came into use. A B battery used to be a necessity for listening to your old-timey radio that ran on glass tubes instead of silicon chips. It supplied 60 to 90 volts. Its usefulness sort of faded away when transistor radios got hot. But the B slot is filled. The universe is orderly.


I go to Colorado a lot, and a very embarrassing thing happens when I’m there. I fart a lot. I’ve really been aware of this, and I’m sure I do it more there than I do here. It doesn’t happen when I go to the Colorado River or other places where I vacation. Just the Colorado mountains. Please tell me there is an explanation for this.

There’s an easy explanation for high-altitude toots. Scientists actually did research on this when preparing for the space program. What exactly would happen to the human gut in low-pressure, high-altitude situations? Turns out the volume of intestinal gas doubles at the lower pressure of 15,000 feet. So, even if you weren’t vacationing at those altitudes, you’re going to feel slightly modified effects down lower. Your gut has its own happy routine at sea level, but it is definitely tootier up high.

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