Christmas Factoid 3: Santa's Reindeer

Male reindeer shed their antlers at the beginning of winter. Therefore, it appears that all of Santa's reindeer (as traditionally depicted) are female!

I guess with names like Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, etc., that shouldn't be too surprising. :)

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


Christmas Factoid 2: Ornaments

This comes to you from The Detroit Free Press:

The earliest Christmas tree ornaments were fruit and nuts, in the early 1800s. These ornaments, and the evergreen trees that they adorned, represented "the certainty that life would return again in the spring".

My goodness I hope spring is returning. :)


Christmas Factoid 1: Santa's Looks

Q. Who was the first to clothe Santa in (what we now consider) the traditional red coat with a white fur collar?

A. The Coca-Cola Company first displayed the jolly bearded red-and-white Santa in 1931.

To get more on the story (including how Santa was depicted before!), click here!

Never underestimate the power of advertising!



I don't know about all of you, but I always assumed that a "cootie" was just a vague imaginary disease that kids use to alienate each other. Not so!

Cooties are actual things, defined as "body louses", which are small insects that are usually parasitic.

It was a general term that began in World War I (circa 1917) to describe any number of vermin (lice, fleas, etc) that a soldier could pick up living in the trenches. The word is thought to have come from the Austronesian word "kutu", which means "lice". Soldiers who traveled to Polynesia, the Philippines, or Malaya could have brought the word back west.

Kids picked up the term later for fun.

That information certainly makes this game from my childhood more logical. :)

Aw, they look so happy!

Bonus fun fact: One early 20th Century treatment for cooties was a pickle-juice-solution bath! Maybe it would also work for this bedbug outbreak? Anyone want to try it?


Pirates & Theater

... apparently don't mix well!

I recently visited the "Real Pirates" exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural History. It follows the early-1700s shipwrecked Whydah and its crew. It's very impressive - I highly recommend checking it out if you're in the area!

One of the Whydah stories I read was particularly ridiculous, so I decided to share it with you. It was listed as a side note on a "Life on Board a Pirate Ship" banner.
One-Act Plays -- Pirate Style

Pirates even performed plays on ships. The Whydah crew staged a play about a mock pirate trial called The Royal Pirate. A group of crewmembers, the worse for drink, missed the first act. They stumbled in -- clueless that a play was being performed -- just as one of the actors was being sentenced to death for piracy.

Outraged, they leapt to his defense, throwing hand grenades and drawing their cutlasses, breaking the actor's leg, taking the arm off the playwright, and killing a member of the audience.
!!! It really made me appreciate all of the performances that I've been to that haven't involved any unplanned violence!

But I guess what else should we expect from drunken pirates?


What Does STAT Stand For?

Actually, it doesn't "stand for" anything. Believe it or not, it's not an acronym!

According to Merriam-Webster.com:

Stat, adverb: without delay : IMMEDIATELY
from stat, an abbreviation for the Latin statim, meaning "at once"

Despite most people capitalizing "stat", which makes it look like an acronym (maybe someone started capitalizing it for emphasis?), it's just a regular old lower-case word.

Tell all your friends STAT! ;)


What Does "Karaoke" Mean?

I love going to random dive-bars and singing to pre-recorded music in front of a bunch of strangers in the middle of the night. Even though I spend a lot of time at karaoke, I have never really thought of what the word itself means.

But it has for-real origins: it's a blending of Japanese kara "empty" and ōkesutora "orchestra".

Here is also a brief history of karaoke, while we're on the subject:

It's said that karaoke was invented by a musician named Daisuke Inoue in 1971. At parties in Japan around that time, the hosts usually provided some sort of live entertainment for their guests. After he was asked to play music at a bunch of parties so the guests could sing along, he realized there was a market for a machine that could do what he was doing. He loaned his machine ("karaoke box") to people, and they would pay 100-yen per song (the equivalent of a nice dinner). It caught on in Asia.

Since Inoue never patented his invention, a Filipino man named Roberto del Rosario got the patent to the karaoke machine in 1983. He called his machine the "Minus-One" and it used cassette tapes. Filipinos had been immigrating to Japan to become entertainers since the 1960s, and the karaoke machine helped them save a ton of money when they traveled to perform. Plus it was fun for non-entertainers alike.

When the karaoke machines didn't catch on in the United States and Canada in the 1980s, developers turned them into home entertainment stereo systems, with karaoke as a small side feature.

In the 1990s, karaoke became something that American bars offered its patrons. With that, the affordability of small karaoke machines, and the explosion of karaoke home video games (Karaoke Revolution, Rock Band, etc), karaoke has continued to grow in popularity.

Karaoke's come a long way!

Karaoke Studio for Nintendo, 1987

1990's Karaoke Machine

Karaoke Revolution for PlayStation 2, 2003

Thank goodness for karaoke. Seriously.


Food Facts

Sometimes you learn things just from reading the kiddie menu at a restaurant. These "fun facts" come to you via Monical's Pizza Restaurant:

1. In 1990, Bill Carson of Arrington, TN, grew the largest watermelon at 262 pounds.

2. In the United States, a pound of potato chips costs 200 times more than a pound of potatoes.

3. Honey is the only edible food for humans that will never go bad.

4. An apple is made of 25% air, which is why it floats.

5. Chewing gum while cutting onions can help a person not produce tears.

6. Strawberries have more vitamin C than oranges.

7. The first product to have a bar code was Wrigley chewing gum!

Thanks, Monical's!


Happy Birthday Dr Pepper!

Today marks the 125th birthday of my favorite soda-pop, Dr Pepper!

Here are some fun facts:
  • Charles Alderton, the inventor, first served the drink to the owner of Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas. Customers soon caught wind of the tasty drink and started ordering "Waco"s.
  • Early on, Dr Pepper was marketed as an energy booster and brain tonic (I know it works like that for me!).
  • Dr Pepper is the oldest major soft drink brand still in existence (a year older than Coca-Cola).
  • Some interesting Dr Pepper US slogans have been: "King of Beverages" (1889-1914), "America's Most Misunderstood Soft Drink" (1960s), "The Most Original Soft Drink Ever" (1970s), "Dr Pepper, It Makes The World Taste Better" (2000).
  • Since 2002, Dr Pepper has been advertised in Europe with the tagline, "Solves All Your Problems!" (I can't argue that!).
  • It has been long rumored that one of the ingredients in Dr Pepper is prune juice, but the Dr Pepper Snapple Group claims that's just an urban legend.
  • There is a Dr Pepper museum in Waco, Texas, complete with 3 floors of exhibits!
  • Apparently, there is a huge group of people who love to drink their Dr Pepper hot.
I wish I could list out the unique blend of 23 flavors that Dr Pepper consists of, but I suppose that's proprietary (and don't read the label, it only says vaguely "natural and artificial flavors"). When I drink it next time, I'll try to figure out each one by taste. :) In the meantime, if you want to read about one writer's experience guessing, click here.

Yay for Dr Pepper!

[Sources: Wikipedia & DrPepper.com]


America's Thanksgiving Parade

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Everyone knows about Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, but did you know about another fantastic parade that happens in Detroit, too? I've spent many Thanksgiving mornings experiencing it live, but this year I decided to learn some things about it instead, while watching the coverage on TV (it's really cold!).

Here's a brief highlight of its history via the Walter P. Reuther Library blog:

This Thanksgiving marks the 84th anniversary of a Detroit favorite now known as America’s Thanksgiving Parade. The parade was started in 1924 by Charles Wendel, the display manager of the J.L. Hudson Company department store on Woodward Avenue. Along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, which was founded the same year, Hudson’s Thanksgiving parade was one of the first of its kind in the United States.

Inspired in part by European carnivals, the parade featured large papier-mâché heads imported from Italy, floats depicting nursery rhymes, and bands marching down Woodward Avenue. Since his first appearance in 1925, Santa Claus has remained a staple of the parade.

...The Michigan Thanksgiving Parade Foundation was established in 1982 to support the parade, which is now managed by The Parade Company.

The Parade Company creates all of the floats and balloons from scratch! It's a year-long process for the staff and 1500 volunteers (plus another 3000 volunteers the week of), culminating in a spectacular 2-hour 1.5-mile walk down Woodward Avenue.

Thanks, Detroit, for brightening our Thanksgiving mornings for 84 years!

[images via Virtual Motor City & The Parade Company]


Pumpkin Pie!

I found out a random series of facts via my friend Mike, which he heard via the "Pumpkin Pie" episode of Good Eats:

Here's Mike's direct quote:
Pumpkins are a great source of Beta Carotene. Beta Carotene is what your body turns to Vitamin A. Speaking of Vitamin A, a polar bear's liver has enough Vitamin A to kill youuuu.
So there you go. :) Thanks Mike!


Shiv vs. Shank

As my friend Seth proposed via twitter, what's the difference between a shiv and a shank?

And I am here with answers for you all! There is a subtle difference:

Shiv, n: a slang term for something that can be used as knife.

Shank, n: a slang term for a knife that's typically made from something else. A shank can be considered a type of shiv.

So bottom line is that they are both types of homemade knives. A shiv, though, is usually made from something already sharp, like it can be a razor blade attached to the handle of a toothbrush. A shank, however, would be the end of a toothbrush handle meticulously filed down to a sharp point. Make sense?

Hope that helps. :)


Have Lots of Errands?

Reader's Digest suggested this website to help save time and gasoline when running around town:
Route4me.com lets you type in up to ten errands and their associated addresses. The website will calculate the optimal route, with driving directions.
Worth a try, I'd say! It could also be helpful for party-hopping. :)


Highest-Rated Televised Sporting Events

I learned something new at a trivia night yesterday!

In a listing of the Top 20 Most-Watched Sporting Events on Television in the United States, 19 are Super Bowls. But coming in at #4 is the 1994 Olympic Women's Figure Skating Competition. Do you remember why? Maybe these two will jog your memory:

Ah, yes.


Pearl Jam's "Ten"

Why does the band Pearl Jam have a 1991 album named Ten when there are 11 tracks on it?

Well, the members were big fans of the basketball player Mookie Blaylock, so much so in fact that they wanted to name the album after him. They had some intellectual property rights issues in doing that, so they decided just to name the album after his jersey number, 10.

Thanks to my friend Eli for the random trivia!


How Old Was The Cast Of "Grease"?

I caught a little bit of the 1978 musical-movie Grease on television the other day. It's about a bunch of seniors in high school in 1950s California. Since I work with teenagers in my real life, I was surprised at how mature everyone in the cast looked! If you, like I, have ever wondered how old they all were when the movie came out, wonder no more!

In 1978...
Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 28
Barry Pearl (Doody) was 28
Michael Tucci (Sonny) was 32
Kelly Ward (Putzie) was 22

Pink Ladies
Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was 34
Didi Conn (Frenchie) was 27
Jaime Donnelly (Jan) was 31
Dinah Manoff (Marty) was 20

Dennis Steward (Leo) was 31
Annette Charles (Cha Cha) was 30

John Travolta (Danny) was 24
Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was 30
A little far from typical 17-18 year-old seniors in high school. Although, it's not unusual for Hollywood to cast young adults as teenagers (I would imagine it'd be hard to find the talent that young?), but it seems like 1978 standards were a little looser than 2010!

Take, for example, a sampling of the cast of the 2008's High School Musical 3: Senior Year:

In 2008...
Zac Efron (Troy) was 21
Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella) was 20

Lucas Gabreel (Ryan) was 24
Ashley Tisdale (Sharpay) was 23

Corbin Bleu (Chad) was 19
Monique Coleman (Taylor) was 28
I guess the talent's getting younger? Or it could have just been a directorial choice to have such "adult" looking high schoolers for Grease, I suppose!


The Definition of "Peruse"

I read this today on comedian Steve Martin's twitter feed (@SteveMartinToGo). Thursday is his "Get It Right Friday" day. :)
Hey, it’s get it right Friday! Did you know the first definition of the word “peruse” is “to look through carefully” and not “to browse”?
I thought that was pretty crazy, since I (believe I) have only heard people use the word "peruse" when they meant "skim". So I looked it up in the dictionary (not that I don't trust Steve Martin, but...), and it gave several definitions (note Steve was right about the first one):
Peruse (verb):
a : to examine or consider with attention and in detail : study
b : to look over or through in a casual or cursory manner

: read; especially to read over in an attentive or leisurely manner

It means either reading over "attentively" OR "leisurely". It's interesting when a word can mean its own opposite!

At some point someone must have decided that "peruse" was more about "reading" and not-so-much about how you do it!


Why Americans' Steering Wheels Are On The Left

I just read in an old copy of "Invention & Technology" magazine (Winter 2009) about Henry Ford's Model T car turning 100 years old.

The article produced the following claim:
"Ford relocated the steering wheel from the right to the left side on the Model T, a custom followed by other car makers, in part, so that women might more easily access the curb from the car..."
Of course, this is under the assumption that the women would be passengers, and would therefore keep them safer (out of traffic) and cleaner (out of the muddy street) by allowing them to get into and out of the car on the curb.

Who could have ever thought women would be ever be driving cars? :)

Also, though, a 1909 Ford brochure explained that putting the driver on the left would help see oncoming traffic clearer (since they would be closer), and help them judge distances when passing or making left-turns. So it wasn't all about the ladies.

Why we drive on the right in the first place is another question I'll get to when I learn it! But I thought you might like to know some of the justification for why you hop in the left side of your car everyday to drive.


Sound Facts

I've been reading this book called "In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise" by George Prochnik. It's packed with information about how sound's purposes have changed throughout the centuries and such. It's pretty fascinating, actually.

I thought I'd give you a little sample of some of the many things I've learned so far.

- "Noise" originates from the word "nausea", probably from the "seasickness" feeling that one gets when overwhelmed with and disoriented by clamor. (pg. 88)

- We are biologically programmed to associate danger with a lower, rougher sounds. Coincidentally, when people smile, the shape of their mouths changes in such a way that naturally makes their voices a bit higher. Therefore, both the look of the smile and the sound of the smiling person's voice can help you feel at ease. (pg. 74)

- Typically, male species of animals call out to their females in as low of a tone as they can, in order to prove their masculinity. However, certain types of frogs in urban areas have had to change their calls to be much higher just so the female frogs can hear them over the sounds of traffic! (pg. 73)

Like I said, there is a ton of information in this book, so I can only give so much here. But if you've ever wondered about meditation, noise-cancelling devices, why people love listening to loud music, how to achieve perfect silence, or any number of other things, I'd recommend checking this book out!


What Is Food Coloring Made Of?

Colorful Foods Day 5
Q. What is natural food coloring made of?

A. Well...
Red: Cochineal beetles, Beets, Paprika
Orange: Achiote blossom seeds
Yellow: Saffron stems & flowers
Green: Chlorophyll from algae, Pandan plant
Blue: Elderberry juice, Butterfly pea flowers
Brown: Caramelized sugar

Yum. :) Although most of the common things we eat are made from artificial food coloring... which is a subject for some other day!


Red Wine From Purple Grapes?

Colorful Foods Day 4

Q. Why do the same color grapes produce red wine but purple grape juice?

A. Yes, both are made with a combination of red, purple, and black grapes, but...

As I understand it, for red wine, the grape skins, stems, and seeds are all used. In the skins and seeds of red grapes are compounds called Tannins, which release a red color during the fermenting process. Tannins can also be released from the barrels used to store the aging wine, which can add a bit more redness, too.

Grape juice, however, is mashed and strained, and therefore contains mostly just the juice. Without the extra tannins from the skins, etc, and the barrels, the color ends up more as a blending of the natural grape-color. Plus, most commercial grape juice is made from Concord grapes, which tend to be more bluish-purple in color anyway.

That's my best guess at least. :) I have a very limited wine knowledge, so if you know other reasons, please comment!


What Makes Dirty Rice Brown?

Colorful Foods Day 3

Q. What makes the traditional Cajun side "Dirty Rice" brown?

A. Chicken liver and giblets.

Think I was going to say some sort of spice? :) That's what I thought! The rice starts as white rice, but after it's cooked with some small pieces of chicken liver and giblets, it becomes its more distinctive "dirty" color.


Why Is Red Velvet Cake Red?

Colorful Foods Day 2

A. What makes Red Velvet Cake red?

B. Food coloring and sometimes beetroot.

Originally, some of the reddish color may have occurred naturally. One of the ingredients in the cake is cocoa. Cocoa possesses a natural pigment called Anthocyanin, which can appear red or purplish. In early red velvet cake recipes, before the cocoa was more thoroughly pre-processed, bakers may have seen the red pigment come out when mixed with vinegar, baking soda, or buttermilk (again because of chemical reactions). Regardless, most ended up adding some sort of food coloring anyway!


What Makes Pumpernickel Bread Brown?

This week is dedicated to the unusual colors of common foods. For some reason, it's been coming up randomly a lot recently in my life!

Colorful Foods Day 1

Q. What makes American pumpernickel bread dark brown?

A. Molasses, cocoa powder, coffee, and possibly food coloring

The original German pumpernickel bread got its rich chocolaty-coffee flavor and color from a chemical reaction between the amino acids and sugars in the dough while the bread baked for an exceedingly long time (16-24 hours).

Americans changed the recipe for economic reasons, in case you were wondering. :)


How Well Can People Pay Attention?

There was a really cool bit on NPR's Science Friday this afternoon evaluating how aware humans are while focusing on a specific task. The conclusions are pretty fascinating!

The following videos were part of a study from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, testing how well people can pay attention. Try it out!

How did you do? Were you surprised by the result?

Now try this test:

Tricky, huh? It kind of made me wonder if things like talking on the cellphone while driving should be illegal!

To listen to the entire segment from Science Friday, you can find the podcast here.


Pepsi Slogans

I randomly had to look up old Pepsi slogans for a project the other day. Even though I am a Coca-Cola person myself, I thought they were kind of fun!

1939–1950: "Twice as Much for a Nickel"
1950: "More Bounce to the Ounce"
1950–1957: "Any Weather is Pepsi Weather"
1957–1958: "Say Pepsi, Please"
1958–1961: "Be Sociable, Have a Pepsi"
1961-1963: "Now It's Pepsi for Those Who Think Young"
1963–1967: "Come Alive, You're in the Pepsi Generation"
1967–1969: "(Taste that beats the others cold) Pepsi Pours It On"
1969–1975: "You've Got a Lot to Live, and Pepsi's Got a Lot to Give"
1975–1977: "Have a Pepsi Day"
1977–1980: "Join the Pepsi People (Feeling Free)"
1980–1981: "Catch That Pepsi Spirit"
1981–1983: "Pepsi's Got Your Taste For Life"
1983: "It's Cheaper Than Coke!"
1983–1984: "Pepsi Now! Take the Challenge!"
1984–1991: "Pepsi. The Choice of a New Generation"
1986–1987: "We've Got The Taste"
1987–1990: "Pepsi's Cool"
1990–1991: "You got the right one Baby UH HUH"
1991–1992: "Gotta Have It"/"Chill Out"
1992–1993: "Be Young, Have Fun, Drink Pepsi"
1994–1995: "Double Dutch Bus"
1995: "Nothing Else is a Pepsi"
1995–1996: "Drink Pepsi. Get Stuff"
1997–1998: "Generation Next"
1998–1999: "It's The Cola"
1999–2000: "For Those Who Think Young"/"The Joy of Pepsi-Cola"
2003: "It's the Cola"/"Dare for More"
2006–2007: "Taste the One That's Forever Young"
2008: "Рepsi is #1"
2008–present: "Something for Everyone."
2009–present: "Refresh Everything"
2010–present: "Every Pepsi Refreshes the World."

(I think 1983 was a bit of a stretch!)

[source: Wikipedia]


Cheerleading Ruled "Not A Sport"

... by Federal Judge Stefan Underhill.

This all began when Quinnipiac University in Hamden Connecticut decided to cut their women's volleyball team due to budget issues. Under the 1972 federal law, Title IX, male and female college athletes have to be given equal opportunities. So Quinnipiac, in order to comply with Title IX, told the female volleyball players that competitive cheerleading would be an acceptable alternative. A lawsuit followed, and Judge Underhill found several places where the University wasn't adhering to Title IX, but what got the most headlines was his ruling on cheerleading as a Title IX sport.

Underhill wrote that "the University's competitive cheerleading team does not qualify as a varsity sport for the purposes of Title IX and, therefore, its members may not be counted as athletic participants under the statute."

Under Title IX, an activity can be considered a sport if it meets certain criteria, namely that it has coaches, practices, competitions during a defined season, a governing organization, and competition as its primary goal — not just the support of other athletic teams, reports The Associated Press.

Of course, hard-working competitive cheerleaders from all walks of life are disgusted with the ruling. But based on Title IX's criteria, even though cheerleaders do compete, it's not typically their primary purpose. So at the end of the day, the judge was correct in saying it's not a Title IX sport.

Maybe due to this ruling, more college squads will choose to just compete and not cheer on the sidelines? Guess we'll wait and see!


Having A Bad Day?

Your mom may have told you once that "bad days" only happen because of your "bad attitude". As Steve Schwartz (via Lifehacker) discovered, psychology backs her up!

After he and his girlfriend had two bad days in a row, he did a little research and found:

1. Our brains process the gobs of information we receive by categorizing and drawing conclusions from them. As a result, we can draw the wrong conclusion from certain events. For example, I could drop a bowl of cereal in my lap first thing in the morning, and I can (falsely) conclude, "Oh, geez, this is a sign that I am going to have a bad day".

People tend to like to believe in "bad luck" so they don't have to feel like negative consequences are the result of their actions. The person becomes a "victim" of random cosmic events instead. In the cereal example, believing in bad luck takes away my responsibility in the mess (ie. maybe if I ate at the table instead of at the couch, it wouldn't have spilled so easily)!

Once a person "decides" that the day is "ruined" and it's out of his or her control, the day is much more likely to go badly, according to Schwartz.

2. People's expectations directly affect their reality. This is commonly known as the "placebo effect". In studies where patients were given a fake pain killer, for example, researchers found that "the brain regions that interpret pain actually show far less activity when subjects have lowered expectations for the pain they will experience."

This is a double whammy now - first you've given up control of your day to "bad fate" and then, since your expectations are so low, you're more likely to see and feel bad things happening, when otherwise the day might look quite average from any other point of view.

3. Knowing this, bad days can be nipped in the bud! Schwartz offers the following tips:
-- Reflect on the negative feeling you have right now. Is it stress? Anxiety? What caused it? Once you've labeled it, do not think about the feeling or events anymore. Move on and only refer back to the label if necessary. Matthew Lieberman, an associate professor at UCLA, has shown that the simple act of putting our feelings into a word or two can dramatically reduce the effect of those feelings.

-- Re-evaluate the situation or events that lead to this stress. Find some conceivable positive outcome. Figure out why [it happened], and you're left with a powerful experience from the school of hard knocks, which you can use to your advantage in the future.

-- Remember that the outcome of the previous minute is not indicative of the outcome of the next minute. Likewise, the last hour has no bearing on the next hour, and this morning is no indication of what this afternoon will bring.
For more details on the science behind these findings and how to reset your brain, read Steve's blog entry here.


Fresh Fruit & Flowers Don't Mix Well

Cut flowers look so pretty in the summer next to a large bowl of fresh fruit on a patio table with brightly colored placemats!

Don't do it! I learned on the radio that putting flowers too close to fruit can cause them to wilt:
You should keep your flowers away from the fruit bowl. You can’t see it, but that fruit gives off ethylene gas, which will make the flowers deteriorate more quickly.
Also, you want to keep them out of the heat, so don't place them on a windowsill or next to the ol' television.

For more tips on keeping flowers fresher longer, click here.


The Benefits of Blemishes

Prevention Magazine claims that acne might not be all bad:
Researchers from the UK's University of Bristol tracked about 10,000 male college students for 30 years or more and found that those who suffered from severe breakouts as young adults were a third less likely to die from coronary heart disease.

Androgens -- hormones involved in acne -- may help prevent the narrowing of arteries, says study author Bruna Galobardes, MD. The findings may lead to androgen-related therapies to prevent heart disease.
Oh, man, I hope this is true! :)

(side note: if they give people androgens to prevent heart disease, will the patients get pimples? maybe it'd be worth it?)


Brilliant Birds?

Not just a pretty face!

My mom passed on some interesting information about parrots from USA Today. Apparently, not only are they good-looking, but they also have brains!

Excerpts from the article:
We all know that some birds can talk, but can they understand, too? Are they doing more than just "parroting" sounds? Harvard University research associate Irene Pepperberg has been studying those questions for nearly 30 years. The short answer: Yes.

Her African Grey parrot, Alex, can identify 100 different objects, seven colors, five shapes and quantities up to six and can understand concepts like bigger/smaller and absence.
The article put parrot-intelligence on par with that of great apes, whales, dolphins, and young children! The parrots researchers followed even had certain types of movies or television shows they preferred.

Not only that, but Pepperberg is convinced that parrots can consciously amuse themselves by tricking humans with their noises (such as imitating the phone and watching someone answer it)!

Nuts, huh?


Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Ever wonder where that common casino phrase came from?

According to the Detroit Free Press:
"Winner winner chicken dinner" is occasionally yelled out on the casino floor to suggest a positive gambling result. Years ago, every casino in Las Vegas had a three-piece chicken dinner for $1.79. Your typical wager back then was $2, so if you won your bet, you had enough for a chicken dinner.


Prevent Jellyfish Stings

For those of you lucky ones who get to live on or visit the ocean this summer, Lifehacker shared a really easy way to prevent jellyfish stings: pantyhose!

Apparently, some short stingers can't penetrate the tight weave of pantyhose. And other stingers are triggered by contact with skin, which can't happen with the pantyhose in the way.

Although I can't imagine most people adding nylon sleeves and such to their bathing suits, I bet this is particularly helpful to those who like to scuba dive or spend a lot of time observing ocean life. I mean, they are likely to wear a wet-suit anyway, right?

Lifehacker also included a helpful tip for if you do get stung: use a blowdryer on the hottest setting you can stand (without burning your skin) to dry out the stingers. After the heat is applied, you can scrap the stingers off with a razor.

In case you don't have a blowdryer handy at the beach or on your boat, I learned a quick way to ease the sting after I got stung myself: a spritz of vinegar. The local lifeguard had some on hand just for that purpose, and it worked beautifully. Whatever you do, the lifeguard said, don't rinse it with freshwater or it'll just irritate it more; you can rinse with salt water if you need to.

(Of course, seek a professional opinion about the kind of jellyfish you'll be swimming with - you want to seek immediate medical attention if the jellyfish sting could potentially be life-threatening!)

Safe swimming!


What An American Hopeful Should Know

In the 4th and last of the Detroit Free Press's United States trivia entries, here are some facts about American government, history, and geography that may come up on the US Citizenship test.

Would you pass the test? :)

1. The Constitution sets up the government, defines the government, and protects the basic rights of Americans.

2. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution: "We the people".

3. The First Amendment outlines the freedom of speech, religion, assembly, press, and petition of the government.

4. The Constitution has 27 amendments.

5. America uses a capitalist economy (market economy).

6. The "rule of law" is that everyone must follow the law; leaders must obey the law; government must obey the law; no one is above the law.

7. Some of the reasons that the colonists came to America were freedom, political liberty, religious freedom, economic opportunity, and to escape persecution.

8. The Constitution was written in 1787.

9. The US bought the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.

10. The US fought four wars in the 1800s: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War.

11. There were several problems that led to the US Civil War, including slavery, economic reasons, and states' rights.

12. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy.

13. Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I.

14. The two longest rivers in the US are the Mississippi River and the Missouri River.

15. The US flag has 13 stripes to represent the 13 original colonies.

Know all that? I don't know if I would pass a citizenship test, to be honest! Lucky for me I was born here!

Thanks Detroit Free Press for all your fun facts!


What An American College Student Should Know

For part 3 of the Detroit Free Press's US History trivia entries, here is what the University of Michigan expects its "Introduction to American Government" students to know.

1. At the Constitutional Convention, the institution of slavery was opposed by some delegates but was preserved in order to maintain unity among the states.

2. Proposed amendments to the Constitution must be supported by a 2/3rds vote in both houses of Congress. Amendments are ratified by either 3/4ths of the state legislature or 3/4ths of state conventions.

3. The Constitution does not establish any political parties.

4. Some of the public goods provided by the government are national defense, development of a uniform standard of weights and measures, and building interstate highways.

5. Legislation can be killed at several points in the legislative process, including on the House or Senate floor, during the conference report, or during the hearings and committee markup stage.

6. The US has a lower voter turnout than Italy, Mexico, and Canada.

7. In November, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the US's first written constitution, known as the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

8. Under the original version of the current US Constitution, the part of elected government designed to be directly responsible to the people is the House of Representatives.

9. Under the US Constitution, the sole power to originate revenue bills is vested in the House of Representatives.

10. Limiting government by dividing it into two levels -- national and state -- each with sufficient independence to compete with the other is called Federalism.

Would you have passed? One more set of US trivia tomorrow!


What An American High Schooler Should Know

Today's entry is part two of the Detroit Free Press's US History trivia from Sunday. Here are the facts that the Detroit Public Schools expects its high schoolers to know about US Civics.

1. The best way for Americans to participate in government is to vote.

2. The main purposes of government are to maintain order, provide public services, and to provide national security.

3. The US government derives its power from the consent of the governed.

4. We use a system of checks and balances to prevent any branch of the government from having too much power.

5. The most important reason for having a limited form of government is to ensure government by public consent.

6. "Democracy" means a rule by the people.

7. The primary role of Congress is to write and enact laws.

8. Representative government is necessary in a democracy because we can't all get together in one place to discuss our problems.

9. Part of the reason the colonists declared independence from Britain on July 4th, 1776, was because they were seeking representation in government.

10. The three branches of the federal government are the executive, the judicial, and the legislative.

How are we doing so far? Pretty basic, right?


What An American 6th Grader Should Know

The Detroit Free Press posted a lengthy quiz about US History in last Sunday's newspaper. In keeping with the Independence Day theme, I decided to share some of their facts with you this week.

Today's facts come from what the Detroit Public Schools expect their 6th graders to know. How many facts did YOU know?

1. Thomas Jefferson helped lead the colonists to revolution by writing the Declaration of Independence (we learned that yesterday!).

2. The role of a constitution in democracy is to guide the government and list guaranteed rights of citizens.

3. In settling conflict, the principal listens to all students' point of view. The principal is protecting the students' constitutional right of Freedom of Speech.

4. People may help make or change laws by expressing their opinions to elected officials, voting, and circulating petitions (among other things).

5. One of the ways that a person may become a US citizen is to be born in the US or its territories.

6. US citizens have the right to vote, to hold elected office, to practice one's own religion, and to have a fair trial (among other things).

7. US citizens have the duty to obey laws, defend the nation, and pay taxes (among other things).

8. The colonists wanted to separate from Britain because they believed that all men are created equal, all men have some rights given to them by God, and all men have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

9. The framers of the Constitution wanted a representative government to limit its control.

10. The judicial branch of the US government protects the rights of citizens by creating laws.

Are you smarter than a 6th grader? :)


Fourth of July Trivia

Happy Birthday, America!

I went to Trivia Night at a local Bar & Grill tonight and discovered that I don't know much about American history. :) Here are some of the fun facts about July 4th that I just learned:

- One US President was born on July 4th:
Calvin Coolidge, 1872

- Three US Presidents passed away on July 4th:
John Adams & Thomas Jefferson, 1826
James Monroe, 1831

- The Declaration of Independence was...
... written primarily by Thomas Jefferson.
... the formal explanation of what the Continental Congress voted on on July 2, 1776 (to declare the colonies' independence from Great Britain).
... adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
... first read to the colonists on July 8, 1776, in Philadelphia's Independence Square.
... eventually signed by 56 delegates, 2 of which would later become US Presidents.

- Fireworks were used to celebrate the 4th of July during the first observance in 1777.

- Independence Day wasn't a federal holiday until 1938.

Hope you all enjoyed your holiday weekend!


Naps Help Improve Your Memory

EurekAlert has posted a study that states that naps can dramatically improve your memory retention, particularly when trying to recall something you learned earlier that day.

Here's the Lifehacker summary:

"At noon, all the participants [39 healthy, young adults] were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn."

This study suggests that if you're trying to cram in facts you need to recall later, a same-day nap before your last-minute cram might be more helpful than powering through your day with nervous energy.

Here's yet another reason why you should consider incorporating a "siesta" into your day!


Laverne & Shirley Theme Song Meaning


Those of us who watched television or reruns in the 1970s, 80s, or 90s probably are all familiar with the "Laverne & Shirley" show's theme song:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!

Schlemiel! Schlemazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!
We're gonna do it!

But what on earth does it mean?

Maybe the definitions will help:

Schlemiel: n, an unlucky burglar; chump; clumsy person (Yiddish)

Schlemazel: n, a very unlucky or inept person who fails at everything (Yiddish)

Hasenpfefffer: n, a highly seasoned stew made out of marinated rabbit meat (German)

Maybe the only ones who would try to start a rabbit stew company would be a couple of inept people?

Actually, the first two lines of the theme song are said to be from a Yiddish-American children's hopscotch chant. As we know from our childhood playground chants (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, et al.), sometimes they are just nonsense. This one in particular, though, is reported to be one that Penny Marshall (who played Laverne) used to chant on her walk to school as a kid.

That's my best answer. :) At the very least we learned what the meaning of the words are!