Avoiding 3-D Movie Headaches

In case any of you are spending your holiday vacations at the theater, lifehacker gives some good advice for moviegoers who get headaches while watching 3-D films:

When watching a 3D movie, whatever is right in front of you and in-focus is what you want to be paying attention to—focusing on the background details for too long triggers headaches and disorientation.
According to the lifehacker article, because of 2-D movies, we're conditioned to constantly scan the movie screen, even looking at the parts of the image that aren't in focus (especially during action movies-- what's lurking in the background?). 3-D movies weren't made to be watched that way, so as long as you watch on what's in the foreground (whatever is in-focus), you should be fine. :)


Play-Doh's Origins

A man named Joe McVicker invented a non-toxic doughy wallpaper cleaner in the early 1950's. In 1955, his sister-in-law, who was a teacher, complained to him that there wasn't a good modeling clay for her elementary students. Joe sent over some of his wallpaper cleaner and it was a hit with the kids. Play-Doh was born!

As a result, we've all been playing with the stuff for over 50 years. And McVicker became an accidental millionaire by age 27!

And the best part: if you have stained wallpaper, some white Play-Doh might do the trick!


What Is The Busiest Shopping Day Of The Year?

You think it's Black Friday? Not necessarily so!

I learned recently that, since it varies from year to year, Black Friday sometimes get usurped by the Saturday before Christmas or even Christmas Eve Eve (good to know that I am far from being alone when I procrastinate!).

To illustrate, here are the most recent statistics I could find from icsc.org:

2003's Top Shopping Days:
5. Saturday, Dec 13th
4. Tuesday, Dec 23rd
3. Friday, Dec 26th
2. Saturday, Dec 20th
1. Friday, Nov 28th (Black Friday reigns supreme)

2004's Top Shopping Days:
5. Thursday, Dec 23rd
4. Saturday, Dec 4th
3. Saturday, Dec 11th
2. Friday, Nov 26th (oooh, Black Friday's slips into 2nd place)
1. Saturday, Dec 18th

2005's Top Shopping Days:
5. Saturday, Dec 10th
4. Monday, Dec 26th (the day after Christmas is back!)
3. Saturday, Dec 17th
2. Friday, Dec 23rd
1. Friday, Nov 25th (Black Friday wins again!!)

If you look further into the archives, from 1993 to 2002, Black Friday doesn't make it higher than #4 on the list. Plus, I was surprised to see that the day after Christmas never appears to be #1!

I wonder how the economic crises of the past few years have affected these statistics. I suppose we'll have to wait and see!


Why Is Christmas Called "Xmas"?

How did "Xmas" become a nickname for "Christmas"?

Well, it all goes back to Greek. The Greek word for "Christ" is Χριστος, so as early as 1,000 years ago, it was abbreviated as Xp. You may recognize this symbol, the labarum, from Catholic or Orthodox churches, which came from this Xp abbreviation:

So use "Xmas" as much as you want! Think of it as a more "historical" (and time-saving) way to say "Christmas"!

Merry Xmas Eve, all!


Christmas Tree Controversy!

While reading about the origins of Christmas tree decorating, I came across this verse from the Bible, which appears to mention decorated trees... as an idol!
1 Hear what the LORD says to you, O house of Israel.
2 This is what the LORD says:
"Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the sky,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good."
-Jeremiah 10:1-5 (NIV)
Hmmm... cutting down a tree and shaping it and making sure it doesn't fall over and adorning it with gold and silver... that sounds like what lots of Christians do around this time of year! (Or it could have been referring to something carved out of the tree...)

On the other hand, according to Christian tradition, St. Boniface in 8th-century Germany started the Christmas tree tradition with the opposite purpose, as a living reminder of Christ in or around their homes.
The Oak of Thor at Geismar was chopped down by Boniface in a stage-managed confrontation with the old gods and local heathen tribes. A fir tree growing in the roots of the Oak was claimed by Boniface as a new symbol. "This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide".
- from crediton.com

I guess, like with most religious traditions, it's not really about the object, it's about the intention.
Although I realize that most Christmas trees in America are not set up with any religious intent, I just found this to be an interesting dichotomy!


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

According to snopes.com, the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer all started with the department store Montgomery Ward in 1939. Montgomery Ward wanted to create a coloring booklet that they could give away to families during the holidays as a promotional item. An employee named Robert L. May came up with our glowing-nosed friend and his miraculous act to fill the request.

Since May was teased as a child for his small size, he wanted to create an underdog who would succeed in the end. And Rudolph (who was almost named Rollo or Reginald!) was born.

Little known fact: Montgomery Ward executives were worried that Rudolph's red nose, which was then a symbol of drunkenness, wasn't appropriate for a children's tale. Luckily it was approved anyway!

Here's the Rudolph fame timeline:
1939 Coloring Book
1944 Cartoon Short
1949 Song
1950 Comic Book
1958 Golden Book
1964 Stop-Action Movie
1998 Feature-Length Movie

And now we can't picture Christmas without him. Can you imagine just coming up with a Christmas staple right off the top of your head? Way to go, May!

With pop-up action pictures!

(I could feel Charlie Brown's frustration at me as I wrote this. Yes, Chuck, it all does go back to the commercialism of Christmas!)


Who Are The Herald Angels?

This week I've dedicated to Christmas-themed tidbits!

Most of us have heard the song "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" (written in 1739). But have you ever wondered who these "herald angels" are? Is it just as simple as "the angels who herald", meaning "the angels who proclaim news"?

Well, yes. :) Huh, that's pretty anticlimactic, isn't it.

I suppose the only interesting thing I can say about this is that "herald" is not an adjective (as defined by Merriam-Webster at least!), so the phrase is difficult to justify grammatically. "Herald" is either a verb or a noun, so the song either says "Hark! The One That Conveys News Angels Sing!" or "Hark! The Give Notice Of Angels Sing!"

But songs break those kinds of rules all the time. And it's still one of my favorite Christmas songs regardless!

That's all I got. I'll see what else I can dig up this week!



This month I read in Reader's Digest about a woman's experience with the Native American Lakota Sioux tradition of Wopila. I had never heard of it before.

Wopila, also known as "The Giveaway", is how the Lakota Sioux celebrate special occasions. When someone gets married or has a birthday, for example, that person gives away presents to their family and friends. And they often don't give out dollar-store generic items; many will spend weeks or months making the gifts, like art and quilts, or collecting items their loved ones may enjoy, like recipes or little gadgets.

Think about it: it's completely backwards from typical American culture! Can you imagine spending so much time and energy creating gifts for others in preparation for your birthday? Or adding "get gifts for everyone I love" to your list of wedding to-dos? It's crazy!

But it's also awesome, as far as I've read. People who observe Wopila these days seem to really enjoy showering their friends with gifts, and, as a result, think about "stuff" differently. They have developed a habit of focusing on what they can give instead of what they can get (even though they probably also get a lot from other Wopila-ers!).

It's an act worth considering. I have been, at least. :)


Where Did "Computer Bugs" Come From?

"In 1945, an early US Navy vacuum tube computer crashed. Its operators searched in mystification for a cause until they found a moth crushed between the contact points of an electrical relay switch. After that, whenever a computer was down, it was said to need debugging."

Therefore the moth was the first known computer bug. I never expected those terms to be so literal! Ha!


How Many Guests Can You Host?

Ever wonder how many people can comfortably party in your house? Clinton Kelly from TLC's "What Not To Wear" figured out how to calculate it for you! Just follow this method:

1. Estimate how much personal space each person will need.
- Is it a mingling appetizer party? If people may want a 4-foot-by-4-foot area of space, then they need 16 square feet each.

2. Estimate the square footage of your party space.
- Living Room (12-ft by 16-ft) + Kitchen (12-ft by 10-ft) + Dining Room (10-ft by 10-ft) - counters (2-ft by 10-ft) - tables (4-ft by 6-ft) = 368 square feet

3. Divide answer #2 by answer #1.
- 23 people can fit comfortably!

Clinton even helps with how many people to invite. He claims that typically 80% of the people who are invited will rsvp "yes", and that typically 5 of those will end up not showing up. So to figure out how many invites to send:

4. Take the number from 3, add 5, and divide by 0.8.
- Invite 35 people. :)

Of course, depending on how popular you are, or how many "close talkers" you invite, or any other number of factors, your numbers can get a little skewed. But at least it's a start!


100 Years of Concrete Roads!

In 1909, the first mile of concrete road in the world was laid on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan between Six Mile (McNichols) and Seven Mile. It was 18 feet wide (now it gets as wide as 5 lanes in each direction at that location!) and cost a little over $13,000 (around $1 million in today's dollars).

The road was studied by road builders from all over the country to see how the concrete withstood traffic and the elements. It inspired many modern highways to be built!

And it all started in the Motor City itself!


Jumbo The Elephant

Another fun fact from one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson:

You may know that the largest elephant ever kept in captivity was a circus elephant named Jumbo. However, many think that he was named Jumbo because of his size. Actually, the word "Jumbo" got its meaning of "oversize" from the elephant!

Jumbo was named when he was born in 1861, when no one could predict his adult size. He got the name from "mumbo jumbo", which was a West African term for "witch doctor" and later an English term for "gibberish". It was probably just meant to be a silly name for the baby elephant. Little did his namers know that Jumbo would eventually grow to be over 11'7" tall, and PT Barnum would promote him so much that "jumbo" would become synonymous with "huge"!


bonus: In the Disney film Dumbo, Dumbo's mom's name was "Mrs. Jumbo" and she named him "Jumbo, Jr". Due to his huge ears, he got the nickname "Dumbo". I can only assume that these names all were inspired by the original Jumbo himself. That elephant ended up being pretty influential!


Smoking Ban In Michigan!

The Michigan Legislature passed a smoking ban for indoor public places yesterday. The last step is Governor Granholm's signature, and then Michigan will become the 38th state to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, and work places. It will take effect this upcoming May.

After that, someone in Michigan will only be able to smoke in a private home, home office, car, casino, cigar bar, or outside. Or he or she can go to Indiana.

Since people typically have strong differing opinions on this topic, I won't state mine. I am just sharing something interesting I learned today. :)


Bankruptcy Exemptions

I learned playing a trivia game that if you declare bankruptcy, your creditors cannot, under any circumstances, take or sell your wedding ring. I guess the government is a little sentimental?

Also, according to the bankruptcy law network, "in virtually all states, IRA’s, KEOUGH’s, 401(k)’s and other retirement plans are fully exempt." So, you may not have any money now, but you may after you're 65!

Most people get to keep more than they think, actually. This article on Ezine is pretty interesting if you would like to know more about exemptions. Don't get any crazy ideas if you don't want to pay back all of your student loans or credit card bills, though, it still seems like bankruptcy is best used as a "last resort"!


Taste Buds

I am not really giving you any new trivia today. But I just learned what wikipedia (which I know can sometimes be a questionable source) says taste buds look like:
Hmmm, appetizing. That leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth (har har). :)


Stage Directions

When an actor is standing on a theatrical stage, the director can tell him or her where to move to using quick four terms: upstage, downstage, stage right, or stage left.

Stage right or left are easy to explain:
- Stage Left: towards the actors left, when standing on stage facing the audience.
- Stage Right: towards the actor's right, when standing on stage facing the audience.
It only gets a little confusing sometimes since it's the opposite of the left and right.

I just learned from my coworker, however, how upstage and downstage got their names (even though I have been working professionally and amateurishly in theater for 15 years!).

First the meanings:
- Upstage: towards the back of the stage, or away from the audience.
- Downstage: towards the front of the stage/audience.

Now the reason:
Stages used to be built with a slight rake (on a ramp) with the front of the stage being lower in height than the back of the stage. This was to help the audience see the actors better, especially when the stage was crowded, because the actors in the back would be on higher ground.

So when the director would tell an actor to go "downstage" on these raked stages, the actor would literally walk down the ramp towards the audience. Even though many stages now are built flat (unfortunately, really), the terms stuck.

Thanks Laura!


Clean Your Carpet With Shaving Cream?

According to Lifehacker, a glob of shaving cream can save your soiled carpet!
"Lifestyle website Thrifty Fun says one of the best ways to get pet accidents and other unfortunate stains out of carpet is with a liberal dousing of plain white shaving cream. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, blot with a damp towel, and the stain should disappear."
It worked on someone's tan carpet after a dog... um... "messed" on it 18 times! Maybe it could work for any December carpet disasters you may have? If your family is anything like mine, you'll need it for the red wine and green sugar cookie icing spots!


Laughter's A Great Medicine!

Looking for a way to stay healthy during this cold-and-flu season? Try a daily doses of comedy!

According to an article in Woman's Health magazine, laughter...

... raises levels of disease-fighting immunoglobulins by 14 percent
... helps people deal with or forget their physical pain
... increases circulation about as much as a treadmill session
... sharpens creative thinking and ability to recall information
... helps people to effectively adapt to changing circumstances
... produces the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain
... helps people bond with new people and read their emotions more accurately

What does all this add up to? Certainly the potential for less stress, improved health, and better relationships. It's not too often that something so enjoyable can be so good for you, so laugh as much as you want! :)

Bitsy's laughing. So can you!


Why Does Cilantro Taste Like Soap? (to some people)

I love cilantro. I would put gobs of it in every meal if I could.

I recently found out from a friend, though, that there is a large group of people in this world who can't stand the taste of cilantro. They say it tastes like soap or copper and ruins any dish it's in.

Why such a great divide?

It has to do with the range of smells that each person can experience. Cilantro, like any herb, is actually made up of a bunch of different flavors and scents. One of them is a compound called "unsaturated aldahydes", which happens to taste like soap.

Basically "cilantro lovers" don't notice the bad compound's taste because it's overwhelmed by the good "cilantro" scent. "Cilantro haters", though, aren't capable of detecting the "cilantro" scent, so all they smell (and therefore taste) is the nasty compound.

Crazy, huh?

For a fuller explanation of the experiment, check out an NPR story here.


Michigan Wolverines

The state of Michigan has associated itself with the wolverine in many ways:

- One of Michigan's nicknames is "The Wolverine State".
- At different times, Detroit's baseball and football teams were called the "Wolverines".
- The University of Michigan's mascot is the Wolverine.
- The state animal is the Wolverine.

But, ironically, wolverines don't typically live in Michigan. As a matter of fact, there has only been one confirmed sighting of a wild wolverine in Michigan in the last 200 years (it was seen in the "thumb" in 2004)!

So what's the deal? How did Michigan get linked to the wolverine?

Here's the explanation from the official State of Michigan website:

Why is Michigan sometimes called "The Wolverine State"?

Michigan has long had an unofficial nickname: "The Wolverine State." However, evidence seems to show that if wolverines ever lived in Michigan, they would have been rare. We don't know exactly how the state got the nickname, but two stories attempt to explain it.

Some people believe that Ohioans gave Michigan the nickname around 1835 during a dispute over the Toledo strip, a piece of land along the border between Ohio and Michigan. Rumors in Ohio at the time described Michiganians as being as vicious and bloodthirsty as wolverines. This dispute became known as the Toledo War.

Another reason given for the nickname is a story that has Native Americans, during the 1830s, comparing Michigan settlers to wolverines. Some native people, according to this story, disliked the way settlers were taking the land because it made them think of how the gluttonous wolverine went after its food.

Well, there you have it. It's all about the reputation, I suppose! I wonder if most Michiganians or U of M students realize what being a "wolverine" actually implies. They seem like vicious little animals! Maybe that was the point? :)


You May Officially "Unfriend" Now

As you may have heard, the New Oxford American Dictionary has chosen "unfriend" as its 2009 Word of the Year*.

unfriend (ən-ˈfrend), verb: To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.

It may seem odd that "unfriend" is a verb while "friend" is typically used as a noun (outside of networking sites!). Actually, in the 13th century, people did use "friend" as a verb instead of "befriend". That's a truly random fact for you all!

What makes a word worthy of "Word of the Year"? Erin McKean, editor in chief of the New Oxford American Dictionary 2e, answers with: “We are always looking for a word that is both reflective of the events and concerns of the past year and also forward-looking: a word that we think will only become more used and more useful as time goes on.”

Wonder what past Words of the Year were?

2008: Hypermiling, verb
- attempting to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s car and one’s driving techniques

2007: Locavore, noun
- one who uses locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

2006: Carbon Neutral, adjective
- describes one who calculates one's total climate-damaging carbon emissions, reduces them where possible, and then balances his/her remaining emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset: paying to plant new trees or investing in “green” technologies such as solar and wind power.

2005: Podcast, noun
- a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.

Although I don't think all of those words gained popularity after they won WOY, they were officially added to the online version of the New Oxford American Dictionary anyway! Feel free to use any of these or "unfriend" in your next term paper kids: it's now legit!

*to see a list of other words that were in the running this year, check out the Oxford University Press's blog here.


Old-Timey Diseases Defined

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book that mentioned a vague disease and you had no idea what it was? When it happens to me, I typically just make up the symptoms and causes in my head... and I frequently learn later that I am very wrong!

So if you're like I am, hopefully these definitions will help you!

1. The Vapors
origin: Victorian times, mid to late 1800's
ailment: Nervous disorder such as hysteria, typically in women
symptoms: anxiety, depression, bloating, fainting, loss of appetite, tremors, digestive issues, gas, and behavioral problems
causes: sometimes psychosomatic, sometimes a result of cancers, depression, underlying infections, and lacing corsets too tightly

2. Scurvy
origin: 4th Century BC
ailment: Malnutrition, a lack of plasma in the blood
symptoms: Fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, bloody and swollen gums, loose teeth, anemia, bruising, dry skin, and rashes
causes: Vitamin C deficiency

3. Consumption
origin: Defined in 460 BC; though cases were reported much earlier
ailment: Tuberculosis
symptoms: Weight loss, low energy, poor appetite, fever, cough, and night sweats
causes: Passed from person to person by saliva or mucus

4. Gout
origin: First written description by Egyptians in 2600 BC
ailment: Severe arthritis
symptoms: Excruciating, sudden, and burning pain, and swelling, redness, warmth, and stiffness in the affected joint or tissue, and fever
causes: Too much uric acid in one's blood (either naturally or in foods such as liver, sweetbreads, anchovies, beef, lentils, cauliflower, etc)

5. Rickets
origin: Reported in ancient times, but defined around the Industrial Revolution
ailment: Malnutrition, the softening of bones
symptoms: Bone pain or tenderness, dental problems, muscle spasms or weakness, bone fractures, deformities, and growth disturbances
causes: Vitamin D deficiency, possibly also a calcium deficiency

Wow, I feel more knowledgeable, but I don't know if I feel better after looking up all of those diseases up! Thank goodness for modern diets and medicine!


How To Dry Out Electronics

In case your Thanksgiving was a little crazier than you thought, and your iPod ended up in a glass of water or you dropped your cellphone in the punchbowl, here are some tips for saving your electronics:

1. Turn off your device and place it in a bowl of uncooked rice. Make sure the room is relatively dry (near the shower isn't a good idea!), and let it sit until the rice absorbs all of the moisture.


2. Remove the battery and the SIM card. Pat the extra moisture off the device (don't use heat). Then soak it in rubbing alcohol and let it air dry for a couple of days.

It's worth a try at least! According to the experts at Lifehacker, these steps saved a Blackberry from a toilet and a cellphone from a swimming pool!


Tribute to Tryptophan

I thought today would be an appropriate day to learn a little bit more about my favorite food-related sleep aid: tryptophan!

Fast facts:

1. Tryptophan is an amino acid, necessary for adults and growing infants. It helps our bodies balance nitrogen and produce niacin, auxin, and serotonin (which we need for a good night's sleep).

2. Tryptophan is not only in turkey: it is also naturally found in milk, chicken, nuts, soy beans, eggs, fish, pumpkin seeds, chocolate, oats, and mangoes (among other things!).

3. Turkey doesn't actually have more tryptophan per gram than other poultry!

4. Typically, the more protein per gram a food has, the more tryptophan that food has, too. Which food has the most tryptophan per gram? Egg whites!

5. Most experts think that Thanksgiving-related sleepiness is actually a result of overconsumption in general, especially of carbohydrates (which can also, after several chemical reactions, produce melatonin, another sleep-inducing hormone).

So the turkey's tryptophan effects aren't as intense as I thought... either way, I say eat up if you can! There's nothing quite like a food-coma, regardless of what causes it!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Thank YOU for reading!

(information via MedlinePlus and Wikipedia)


Oscar The Grouch Is "In A Relationship"!

Apparently I didn't pay too much attention to Sesame Street when I was a kid! I didn't find out until last week at a trivia game night that Oscar the Grouch has been a committed boyfriend since January 3, 1983!

For those of you, like me, just (re)learning this, here is a picture of the happy couple, Grundgetta and Oscar (or "Grungie" and "Oskie" as they refer to each other!):

According to Grundgetta's page on Muppet Wiki, "she and Oscar, in addition to being a couple, are also best friends." However, according to Oscar's page, "a romantic relationship between two Grouches is understandably rocky". Isn't that how he said/she saids tend to go sometimes? :)


A Nurturing Leopard Seal

This is an incredible story. And it makes me want to have a pet Leopard Seal!

More of the story is available on the National Geographic website.

[via SerialBus]


"Love" Is Against The Law?

In Roseville, Michigan, an artist named Ed Stross was almost sentenced to 30 days in jail for painting the word "love" on a mural outside of his studio. He was found guilty of violating a city ordinance that limits signage on certain buildings, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the verdict last week.

Although Stross is not in the clear yet - Michigan's Court of Appeals does want another trial to look at the case again. Apparently there is a disagreement over the constitutionality of the ordinance.

All for "love"!

I actually spent some time reading over the City of Roseville's Sign Ordinance, and I didn't see anything that prohibited painting words on buildings, unless he painted "love" too large or in the wrong spot. Then again, I lost interest around Item 9 (of 17). If you want to try to find the specific rule, click on the link above and read Chapter 264.

I did learn that any signs with moving lights are not allowed in Roseville. That alone makes the city much less appealing for me! :)


What Does A "State of Emergency" Mean?

With the autumn floods and hurricanes a'brewing, I have heard of several governors considering announcing a "State of Emergency". But what does that even mean? What happens after a leader declares it?

Virginia's government website gives a pretty clear answer. Here are some of their most common questions and answers about SOEs:


Q: What is a State of Emergency?

A: The governor declares a State of Emergency when s/he believes a disaster has occurred or may be imminent that is severe enough to require state aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering.

This declaration authorizes the governor to speed state agency assistance to communities in need. It enables him/her to make resources immediately available to rescue, evacuate, shelter, provide essential commodities (heating fuel, food, etc.) and quell disturbances in affected localities. It may also position the state to seek federal assistance when the scope of the event exceeds the [state's] resources.

Q: Does a State of Emergency declaration direct citizens to take any particular action?

A: No. The declaration empowers [the state's Department of Emergency Management] to act on behalf of the governor to employ the resources and assets of state agencies to provide immediate assistance to localities. Typically, the State Police, National Guard, and departments of Transportation and Health are called upon rather quickly to respond to the event, and other departments [or private agencies] are added as needed.

Q: Does a State of Emergency mean you aren't allowed to go anywhere or do anything until it's lifted?

A: The governor's declaration does not normally restrict citizen movements or activities. The state may limit access to affected areas due to concerns for public safety but will notify the public of these restrictions.

Q: How long will the State of Emergency remain in effect?

A: Basically, a State of Emergency remains in effect until it is no longer needed to provide necessary support to localities or until the threat of impending danger from the event has passed.


FYI. :)


Know The Secret Knock?

In case you don't have your own bouncer to guard your room, Steve Hoefer has invented has invented a device that will unlock your door if someone knows the correct "secret knock"!

If someone knocks out the wrong code, the mechanism ignores it and door stays locked. It can also be reprogrammed if the correct knocking-series gets into the wrong hands (har har).

ps. I bet it could also be helpful for those of us who have locked ourselves out on occasion!


Alien Hand Syndrome

We've all read horror stories or watched science fiction movies where a hand of one of the characters turns against him or others involuntarily. Apparently there's an actual syndrome that can cause that calamity!

Alien Hand Syndrome happens when there is unusual damage to the brain, sometimes following surgery, stroke, or an infection. Sufferers of the neurological condition usually retain feeling of the hand, but not the movement. Many say that their hand appears to "have a mind of its own", and it can "perform complex acts such as undoing buttons, removing clothing, and manipulating tools"!

Much like in movies such as Dr. Strangelove, the afflicted typically has to use his or her other hand to keep the "alien hand" at bay.

The human brain is unbelievable!


Closet Apartment

An out-of-work architect Sergio Santos was trying to find a cheap deal on a rental apartment. When even the bedroom of a house became too expensive, he asked to rent a walk-in closet in the house instead. Using his interior design skills, he turned the 5.5'-by-14' into a hip, comfortable living space:

"It's a legal rental. The landlord cut out a door so I'd have access to a kitchen and bathroom, which I share with three other tenants. I have a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a storage bin for dry goods. I made a loft for my bed, TV, and DVD player. My clothes hang on a metal rod.

I don't really get claustrophobic. I've learned to be comfortable in small places. If I keep the window open, I can just about see over the terrace and into the street. Next to my window is a bench—I call it my veranda. I've entertained as many as 11 people at my place. I can seat seven."

It's a pretty ingenious idea! He only pays $150/month in rent and word of his creativity has attracted new customers. Double win!


Remote-Control Bowling Ball

The new RC900 remote-control bowling ball by 900 Global makes "I hope I break 100" a lot more realistic for us amateur bowlers!

Marketed to kids and people with physical limitations, I think this could also be a nice $1500 present for anyone who wishes their video games were a little more like "real life". :)


The Berlin Wall

November 9th marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I am old enough to remember seeing the historic moments on television, but also was too young to really understand the significance at the time. I just knew that in 3rd grade geography, I was taught that there was East Germany, West Germany, and the USSR... but in 4th grade they were called Germany and Russia...

Here is a history of the Berlin Wall in 10 points for those of you, like me, who only have a vague idea of what happened (of course, don't expect these 10 points to do this topic justice!):

1. After World War II, four major powers (the US, France, England, and the Soviet Union) controlled Berlin in four separate occupation zones. As time went on, the West side ended up using a capitalist system, while the East side was run by the Communist party.

2. In 1952, the East German government put restrictions on the border to West Germany because more and more of the Eastern population was emigrating to take advantage of the Western freedom. However, the restrictions weren't strict enough, and East Germany was worried they would lose all of their young educated population, so the wall was constructed in 1961.

3. Everything in Berlin (train tracks, cemeteries, roads, neighborhoods, etc) was separated by a 12' high concrete structure, barbed wire, anti-vehicle trenches, a 100-meter-wide gravel span (nicknamed "The Death Strip"), a second fence, guard dogs, and guards watching from 116 watchtowers and 20 bunkers.

4. Not only did emigration become impossible for the East Berliners, but also families were split, people who worked on the other side of the wall lost their jobs, and East Berliners could no longer freely travel.

5. There were 8 border crossings in the wall, which allowed visitors with appropriate visas and permits to travel to and from East Berlin (although anyone could be denied at the border for any reason) after December 1963. However, it was significantly easier for a West Berliner to enter East Berlin than vice versa -- mostly East Germans were only allowed to cross the border for family emergencies or business matters.

6. Guards were told in 1973 that people trying to cross the border illegally were to be considered criminals and should be treated as such. Despite this, about 5000 people successfully escaped, although about 100-200 people died trying to cross the wall.

7. On June 12th, 1987, on the 750th anniversary of Berlin, President Ronald Reagan said this in a speech to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev:
"We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
8. Starting in early 1989, a series of events led to the fall of the communist system: the first free labor union was started in communist Poland, Hungary removed its physical border with Austria (allowing 13,000 East Germans to escape to Austria), East Germans took part in mass demonstrations against the system, longtime East Germany's head of state Erich Honecker resigned, and more East Germans escaped through Czechoslovakia.

9. To calm things down, new leader Egon Krenz decided to allow refugees and travelers to cross the border directly at the border crossings with permission. The politburo spokesman Günter Schabowski, though, was given this information without any instructions about how the plan would be carried out. At the press conference on November 9, 1989, Schabowski announced the new travel law, saying it was "effective immediately, without delay".

10. The East Germans saw this as a sign that the restrictions of the wall were finally being taken away. East Germans fled to the wall, and the guards, not knowing what they were supposed to do, allowed the masses to cross the border! West and East Germans, reunited at last after 28 years, celebrated in the streets. Visa-free travel was allowed after December 23rd, and German reunification officially concluded on October 3rd, 1990.

What an awesome way to end the 1980s!

(this info was compiled from the wikipedia entry. I am no historian, so please let me know if any of my facts are inaccurate!)


Bald Eagles - Safe Again!

For as long as I can remember, our glorious national symbol and distinguished bird, the Bald Eagle, has been close to extinction. Not anymore! According to Reader's Digest:
Bald Eagle populations in the Lower 48 states have increased 25-fold since the 1960s, thanks to an array of federal protections. America's national bird was taken off the endangered species list in 2007 and joins the American alligator, the Yellowstone grizzly bear, and the peregrine falcon as species that have recovered thanks to conservation efforts.
Yes!!! Conservation efforts work! I am glad my kids and grandkids will likely see a Bald Eagle in person one day. :)

Live long and prosper, little eaglets!


Inflatable Seat Belts

The Ford Motor Company recently announced that they are going to put a new safety feature in their Explorers next year: inflatable seat belts! The technology combines a regular seat belt with an airbag, and will increase the safety of backseat riders, particularly children and the elderly.

The new seat belts are wide and, according to test subjects, comfortable. When inflated, they distribute the impact over an area five times larger than traditional seat belts, which will lower the risk of serious injury substantially.

Yay for safety! Check out the video:


The "Bright" Side To Morning Sickness?

There's hope for nauseous mothers-to-be!

I heard on NPR's "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me" that a recent study concluded that mothers who experienced morning sickness during pregnancy gave birth to babies with higher IQs!

An article in the UK's Telegraph corroborates:

"The same hormones which make expectant mothers feel ill could help their baby's development, doctors believe.

Children were more likely to do better in intelligence tests if their mothers had experienced nausea and vomiting during pregnancy...

Scientists believe that the sickness could be a by-product of changes in the levels of certain hormones, known as HCG (human chronic gonadotropin) and thyroxine, during pregnancy.

These fluctuations help the body to ensure that a woman's placenta grows properly, delivering vital nutrients to her baby."

More research must be done to figure out exactly what's going on, but it's an encouraging start. Hang in there, sick moms, it may be well worth it!


Oklahoma! Slang

I recently saw a production of the musical Oklahoma! and realized that there are a lot of words in the script I didn't understand. :)

Here are a handful of those terms and their definitions:

1. Dutch Rub
An act of roughly rubbing one's knuckles across the top of another person's head with the intent of causing pain, often while pinning the other person's head with one's free arm. (ie. a "noogie")

2. Fascinator
A headpiece or hat, originally referring to a formal head covering made from wool, lace, feathers, flowers, and/or beads.
(from Forever 21)

3. Oh Foot!
The modern-day equivalent of "Crap!", etc. :)

4. Surrey
A horse-drawn, four-wheeled, two-seated carriage, with a canopy roof.

Please feel free to incorporate these into your daily speech!

"Oh, foot! I left my fascinator in the surrey. I could give you dutch rub for not reminding me to grab it!"