How Does An Abacus Work?

As kids, my brothers and I always played around with the ancient beaded calculator, the abacus. But to this day I have never known how people actually use them. To this day when I looked it up. :)

How To Add Two Numbers With An Abacus (via WikiHow):

Say for this example, we're adding 35 to 113.

1. Assign values to the columns in a systematic way from right to left, like here:

This mimics the way that we read numbers; with the highest magnitude as the left-most number, and they decrease to the smallest on the right (like 256 = 2 hundreds, then 5 tens, then 6 ones).

2. Row I beads will be 5 times whatever Row II beads are worth.

3. Start with all the beads towards the ends. Then place the abacus flat on the table.

4. Break down the first number into units that fit the values you assigned:
35 = 3 units of 10, and 5 units of 1
Move the beads towards the center bar accordingly:
3 beads from Row II in the "10s" column
1 bead in Row I in the "1s" column:

5. Break down the second number into units:
113 = 1 unit of 100, 1 unit of 10, and 3 units of 1
Move more beads towards center to account for those units
1 bead from Row II in the "100s" column
1 bead from Row II in the "10s" column
3 beads from Row II in the "1s" column:
If you end up needing 5 or more beads from Row II, you can replace 5 beads from Row II with 1 bead in Row I.

6. Count the beads that are by the center bar and figure out their worth to get the answer.
In this case,
"100s" Column: 1 bead from Row I = 100
"10s" Column: 4 beads from Row I = 40
"1s" Column: 1 bead from Row I, and 3 beads from Row II = 8
= 148!

If that was too complicated, there's a handy video here. I think the explanation is harder than the practice, actually!

You can imagine this could be as helpful as a calculator for adding many or larger numbers together. Brilliant, considering it's over 800 years old. When people get the hang of it, they can do it very quickly!


To Plug or Unplug?

So which preserves battery life on your laptop more, keeping it plugged in or unplugging it until it runs out of charge?

Here's one answer (with multiple parts) via smarterware:

1. With Lithium-Ion batteries, Apple encourages users to let the battery run completely out and recharge it fully once/month. In between chargings, it recommends not leaving your laptop plugged in unless you need to.

2. For other battery types, the data is pretty inconclusive. Whereas neither Dell nor HP suggests unplugging to save battery life, there are many people who claim that leaving their laptop plugged in has shortened the battery life significantly.

Bottom line (as the article says): When In Doubt, Unplug. There doesn't seem to be any evidence that unplugging can shorten a battery's life if nothing else. Plus I hear it's "greener" anyway. Win-win.


Bogeys, Birdies, and Eagles, Oh My!

Ever wonder why golf lingo appears to be so random? Well, maybe this will help:

Bogey: Scottish golfers, as far back as the 1500s, used to use this word as the standard score per hole. The Scots saw themselves as playing against an imaginary "bogey", or ghost (like the "boogie man"). The Scot would try to get the balls in the holes in less strokes than the bogey.

Par: In 1898, the rubber-centered golf ball was invented and could travel much farther than the old ball. Par, meaning "a common level" or "equality", was the word chosen to be the standard score when using the new balls. Par happened to be, on average, one stroke lower per hole than the bogey. Eventually the older balls were phased out and "bogey" became commonly known as one stroke over par.

Birdie and Eagle: Both of these words were slang terms for "excellent" in the late 19th century. When golf really became popular in the US in the 1920s, Birdie became known as "1 stroke under par" and Eagle became "2 strokes under par". Or, as I like to think of them, "excellent" and "most excellent", respectively.

There, now you'll know why you call it a bogey when you score 4 strokes on a 3-par hole on your next golf/mini-golf/disc golf outing. And that's pretty birdie if you ask me. :)

(Thanks to to author/word enthusiast Bill Bryson for the info! Click here to browse his book, The Mother Tongue, to learn more fun facts about English.)


Tutti Frutti, Oh Rudy

Did you ever wonder what that Little Richard song title means? I became especially curious after I saw that a crossword puzzle answer for "tutti definition" was "everyone".

It may actually be a very simple answer:

"Tutti Frutti" is the name of an Italian dessert, and it translates as "all fruits". The dessert is a collection of many different fresh and candied fruits and maybe ice cream. The American version typically contains fruits soaked in alcohol, usually brandy. (I've been exposed to all sorts of Italian foods in my life, but never remember seeing this one!)

Also of note, the dictionary says the meaning of "tutti" is: "with all voices or instruments performing together —used as a direction in music". Although this definition probably isn't the one referenced by Little Richard, it's good to know ("okay, bandmates, this time let's try that song more tutti!").

I believe that "tutti frutti" in the song is meant to say, "These girls - Rudy, Sue, and Daisy - are like a sweet mix of tempting and possibly liquered fruits". It's a metaphor. :) But I am up for other interpretations, of course!


Michigan Can Deposit Explained

As many Midwesterners know, Michigan has a 10-cent deposit on cans and bottles, whereas the rest of the country caps it at 5 cents. Ever wonder how Michigan got the honor of paying and receiving back that extra 5 cents?

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs and hunters actually pushed for a higher deposit in the early 1970s to prevent the cans and bottles from becoming road-side litter. The law was enacted in 1978, and 5 cents was a huge jump (around 19.5 cents in today's money according to MeasuringWorth.com).

It makes you wonder if we should encourage states to raise the deposit to what they originally were meant to be. More people would probably return cans and bottles if they paid a $.20 deposit ($.40 in Michigan) on each of them!

In case you're wondering who gets and gives back the deposit money, it appears to be the State's Department of Environmental Quality. And for Michigan, they pay back 96% of the money they take in (not bad! I bet there are a lot of people who find it worthwhile to collect can and bottle litter for the $.10 deposit), and they give 25% of the leftover money to the retailers and 75% towards cleanup and pollution-prevention.

So is it worth a Seinfeld-esque trip to Michigan to make an extra $.05 per recyclable? Well, that's your call, but apparently it just hurts Michigan stores near the borders: if the merchants pay out more than they make in deposits, they take the hit. And in a state as financially strapped as Michigan is, it may just be too mean. Unless of course you also spend twice as much as you made on Michigan-based products. :)

(via freep.com)


Why Do Cats Rub Their Faces On Things?

I have never owned a cat, but I have lived with 3 as a result of various roommates having cats, and I am currently cat-sitting until November. As a long-term dog owner, I can say with certainty that cats are bizarre. :)

Don't get me wrong, I love having them around, and their bizarreness leads to a lot of hilarity, but they just think very differently than I do.

Case in point: I have noticed that when a friendlier cat come up to me, they rub their faces against my hand and pants and the chair I am sitting on and everything else in sight. My conclusion has always been that "awww, this kitty wants me to pet her face". That's not what's happening at all.

The cat is rubbing her scent on me, through scent glands around her mouth. Once she's rubbed her scent on me, she considers me "hers". Every time I wash my hands (pants, chair, etc), she feels she needs to reclaim me, to feel like "this is mine. I belong with this."

That seems to be one of the reasons cats like scratching things (like the couch), too. They also have scent glands on their paws and use their claws to rub their scent in (they doubly mark their territory by scratching: they also are visually altering the furniture to look like "theirs").

I guess it's better than spraying. :)


A New Spin on Compassion

The modern definition of "compassion" is: "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it". That's how most of us know it, right?

The word "compassion" actually comes from several different Greek words:

1. Racham: to love, pity, be merciful
2. Chamal: to pity, spare
3. Sumpatheo: to suffer with (another)
etc. ...
... and
8. Splanchna: to have the bowels yearning

Basically, it implies that someone is so "moved" (har har) feeling sympathy for someone else, that it's "gut wrenching" or it makes one sick to their stomach with emotion. It makes sense, right?

And in case anyone was wondering, while we're on this topic, how English got the word "compassion" from all that, it came from the Latin words with the same meaning as the Greek:

Com (with) + Pati (suffering)

I know I'll think about compassion and my digestive system a little differently now!

Migraines May Be Good For Something

According to a new study of over 9000 women, women who have migraines may have a 26% lower risk of getting breast cancer (even if they take a daily medicine to prevent them!).

As a migraine-suffering woman myself, this puts a very positive spin on a very awful condition!


DEKA Fabulous

There is an amazing new technology that government engineers have created for soldiers and veterans who have lost limbs. DEKA has almost perfected an unbelievable robotic arm that can move just by the wearer thinking about moving it, just like how one would move their biological arm.

When we think about moving, say, our pointer finger, our brain sends a signal through the spinal cord, which branches out into hundreds of nerves, which tells our pointer fingers to move. When an arm is cut off at the shoulder, those impulses are still sent through those nerves, but there is no longer a limb to move.

The old solution was typically just a hook on the end of a rigid prosthetic, and the wearer would just have to learn how to "make it work".

This new technology taps into those severed nerve-endings and translates them into a robotic arm's motion that is similar to the motion of a flesh arm. As a result, these veterans who have not had use of their arms for years (~40 years for Vietnam Vets) can finally use an arm and hand to brush their teeth, type on a computer, or do any of the other infinite activities the rest of us do every day... just by thinking about doing it.

Although this new robotic limb can be moved, the person using it cannot feel what they are touching; so it's difficult to discern how hard to grip something (think a lot of smashed eggs). DEKA came up with a cool solution: a vibrating cuff on the shoulder that vibrates harder the harder the hand is gripping something!

I am obsessed with this DEKA arm. To learn more, click here to see a video and read a summary of a CBS "60 Minutes" special about it.

How Much Does The Best Yankee Ticket Cost?

A ticket to a Yankees game in the section right behind home plate in their new stadium this season can cost in the upwards of $2600. Per seat. For a regular-season game.

It may include a dinner of some sort. It should include at least that (if not a night in a hotel, chauffeured limo ride to the stadium, an actual diamond, and a thoroughbred horse, too!).

But that's just my opinion. :)

The Early History of Oklahoma!

Recently I got to hear a lecture about - of all things - the history of the state of Oklahoma. And I wanted to pass some interesting factoids onto you!

- In the early 1880s, The Oklahoma Territory was used as a place to move southeastern Native Americans when the colonists wanted to use their lands for farming. The relocation became known as the "Trail of Tears", since it was incredibly hard for the Native Americans to be forced out of their homelands. Towards the end of the 19th Century, the US government divided up the OK Territory, giving parts of it to the Native Americans, but opening up more than half of the Native American land for settlers and railroads.

- All open land was available for settlers during huge "land runs" (like in the movie Far and Away). During the largest of these runs in April of 1889, people came in droves from other states and lined up along Oklahoma's borders. At high noon, a shot was fired and everyone went to claim pieces of land. By the end of that day, the population skyrocketed. The city of Guthrie alone grew by 10,000 people that day. People could claim up to 160 acres and if they paid taxes, and worked on and improved the land, in 7 years they would own it.
Sounds like a good reality TV show, right?

- There weren't any cities or houses (or banks, sawmills, etc, etc) when the people claimed these lands, cities grew very quickly to accommodate all of the new people. I believe it was the fastest-growing state, and reached full statehood by 1907. Early Oklahomans had a lot of chances for land and business ownership, but they had a tough life building everything up from scratch. Most people lived in tiny (as small as 6' by 10') sod houses and farmed for a living.

- Since the land runs made it possible for anyone to own land, it provided excellent opportunities for minorities and immigrants. As a result, Oklahoma became an incredibly diverse state, with mostly Choctaw tribes in the Central West, blacks in the South, and Russian Germans in the North. People who had never lived close to other races and cultures found themselves in completely mixed communities. Although many residents were fine with this, OK became a segregated state at statehood conception.

That's all for now. Don't be surprised if you hear more from this blogger about Oklahoma, though. :)

For anyone who only knows of Oklahoma from the cheesy musical of the same name, I hope I've provided you with a different view!


Daddy Long-Legs Debunked

Daddy Long-Legs (or Pholcus Phalangiodes technically), which I find to be the most adorably awkward of all household spiders, supposedly secrete a venom that is extremely poisonous to humans, but have jaws that are too tiny to penetrate our skin.

I have spread this rumor myself on several occasions, but recently learned that it's a myth. Mythbusters themselves tested it out, and found that when extremely threatened Daddy Long-Legs can bite humans, but their venom isn't very harmful at all. Scientists have found that their venom isn't too poisonous to other insects as well.

Good thing they have a back-up plan: Daddy Long-Legs can make their bodies vibrate extremely quickly, making themselves an almost-invisible blur to enemies. Not a bad idea. :)

Sugar Makes Me Happy

So, I've had the "do I drink Diet Soda or Regular Soda" conversation a lot recently, so I did a bit of research.

Apparently sugar (real sugar and likely high fructose corn syrup, too) actually causes a release of dopamine (the "feel-good neurotransmitter) in your brain, which gives you a "natural high" of sorts. That's why people love sweets, not just because they taste good, but because they physically make you feel good as well (unless you overdose, of course!).

Articifial sugars do not produce this affect. The caffeine and sweet taste of Diet Soda may produce some happiness in people, but not like a dopamine blast.

That's one reason I prefer Regular Soda; if I am going to drink soda, I want to enjoy it to the fullest!

But to each his own. :)

(the dopamine rush can make sugar addictive, but I am going to choose to ignore that for now!)

The Buck Stops Here!

Did you know that the "buck" in the phrases "pass the buck" and "the buck stops here" didn't start as a reference to money or deer?

In the late 1800s in America, people used a "buck knife" (with a handle made of an buck antler) as a dealer marker while playing poker. So the "buck" was literally passed to the next person responsible for dealing. And the "buck stopped" at the dealer.

Some think that this is where "buck" became a synonym for a dollar, considering that people eventually began using silver dollars as dealer markers. So the "buck" became the silver dollar, and hence the nickname.

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number

Apparently in China, after you're born, you're considered "1-year-old" right off the bat. It makes sense, when you think about it, considering that the baby is living out his or her "1st year".

However, even though they celebrate specific birthdays, everyone turns a year older on the Chinese New Year. So, think about this: if you have a baby in China on January 31st, and the Chinese New Year that year is February 4th, then on February 5th your baby is already 2-years-old (even though the baby was only born 6 days earlier)!

So next time a Chinese person tells you his or her age, just think of it in relative terms. :)