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.