Twelve Days Of Christmas

A few years ago, I came across a religious interpretation of the popular Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas".

Here are the lyrics:
On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Two turtle doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Three french hens
Two turtle doves and
A partridge in a pear tree.

On the forth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Four calling birds
Three french hens...

On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Five golden rings
Four calling birds...

On the sixth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Six geese a-laying
Five golden rings...

On the seventh day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying...

On the eight day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming...

On the ninth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Nine ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking...

On the tenth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Ten lords a-leaping
Nine ladies dancing...

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping
Ten lords a-leaping...

On the Twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming
Eleven pipers piping...
And here is a religious interpretation:
1 True Love refers to God

2 Turtle Doves refers to the Old and New Testaments

3 French Hens refers to Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues

4 Calling Birds refers to the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

5 Golden Rings refers to the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.

6 Geese A-laying refers to the six days of creation

7 Swans A-swimming refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments

8 Maids A-milking refers to the eight beatitudes

9 Ladies Dancing refers to the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit

10 Lords A-leaping refers to the ten commandments

11 Pipers Piping refers to the eleven faithful apostles

12 Drummers Drumming refers to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed
I am too busy wrapping and shopping to look up what the writer's intention was but I found this interesting. :)

Merry Christmas Eve eve!

[image courtesy of this book]


Bad Rap vs. Bad Rep

Is there a difference? Apparently slightly so!

According to Merriam-Webster, in this context:

rap is "a negative and often undeserved reputation or charge —often used with bum or bad"

rep is slang for "reputation; especially : status in a group (as a gang)"

So, from these definitions and other things I've read:
- If someone has a "bad rap", it's typically because that person is getting blamed for or associated with negativity for something that person may not have done.
- If someone has a "bad rep", others also think poorly of that person, but likely for something that person did, or for a track record of sketchy behavior.

Of course, in this day and age, the meaning of phrases can change with how the populace uses them - so don't be surprised if some find these interchangeable!


Lifeguard Dog

Here are some fun facts that I learned about the Newfoundland dog, from the Animal Planet show "Dogs 101":

- Newfoundlands are excellent swimmers, with large bones to keep them afloat, strong legs to battle ocean currents, a waterproof double coat to protect them from the cold, webbed paws, and extremely large lung capacities. Their droopy jowls allow them to breathe while swimming, even when carrying something in their mouths.

- Newfoundlands love retrieving things from the water, so much so, in fact, that they are often trained to be lifeguards. Also, a Newfoundland saved Napoleon Bonaparte when he fell overboard from his ship on the way back to France from exile in Elba.

- Newfoundlands love being with children, and are extremely gentle and patient with them. They are very smart, loyal, and aim to please. "Nana" from Peter Pan was a Newfoundland.

- The largest Newfoundland was 6'-long and weighed 260 pounds (the size of a baby elephant)! They typically weigh in at about 150 pounds.

It's like having your very own huge cuddly teddy bear - that can save your life!

If I thought I could handle that much dog, I would be very tempted to get one!


How To De-Pill Your Clothes

Oftentimes, after you wear a shirt or sweater a couple of times, it begins to "pill" or get annoying fuzzies on it.

Lifehacker offers this trick that just uses a disposable razor:
To clean pilling off your clothes just spread the fabric across a flat surface (something firm like a table is best) pull the fabric taut and carefully shave the pilling away from the fabric. Be careful with the razor, especially around seams, buttons and stitching because you can easily cut the fabric.
This simple solution works - I tried it out personally! It made some of my t-shirts look like new, in seconds.


How A Candle Burns

People have been burning candles for thousands of years... and I know I, at least, have been taking the science for granted.  It wasn't until I listened to last week's "Science Friday" on NPR that I finally "got" why the candle works.

Host Ira Flatow and staffer Flora Lichtman talked about how Brigham Young engineers have been taking high-speed videos of flames in order to figure out how to reproduce one in digital 3-D. Lichtman spent some time with these engineers as they accomplished this task, and shared what she had learned with Flatow:

LICHTMAN: But - here's one that I thought was pretty amazing. A flame, a candle flame, for example, is just an envelope of fire around this sort of center area. So the wax, which is the fuel, goes up through the wick. It melts, goes up through the wick, and then evaporates into a gas. And that is - the part around the wick is actually not on fire. So the wick is actually not on fire. 
FLATOW: That's why it doesn't burn away, I guess. 
LICHTMAN: That's why. 
FLATOW: Yeah. Hey, you're right. You know, the wick is not on fire - so there's an envelope of gas around the wick, and it's the gas that's burning. 
LICHTMAN: And it's the gas that's burning, and it only burns when it hits oxygen. So the gas on the inside that doesn't have access to oxygen isn't burning, and it's actually cool inside the flame.
And then they posted the following video of the candle wick "sucking up" the wax (among with other interesting fire facts). It's very cool!

You can listen to the whole interview here. It's full of good stuff!


Why Are Diamonds Valuable?

I just read some disturbing information about the diamond industry and thought I'd share.  I have not seen the movie Blood Diamond, nor know its plot, so forgive me if this is all old news...
Diamond jewelry has come to symbolize love. We also think of diamonds as valuable investments, valuable because they are so rare. But we think both of those things -- because we've been conned. 
Diamonds only mean love, and cost more than gold, because one brilliant company convinced people that diamonds were special. 
The marketing strategy was born 100 years ago in the mines of South Africa, when huge deposits of diamonds were found... Before that the discovery of a diamond was so rare that diamonds had become status symbols among royalty. But with the South African discovery, diamonds were suddenly ordinary. Prices plunged. 
Then a smart Englishman, Cecil Rhodes, bought lots of the suddenly cheap diamond minds, and established a monopoly [through the company De Beers] on the diamond supply... [His dealings with diamond-producing countries] brought De Beers an astonishing... 80% of the market... 
To keep prices high, De Beers hoards diamonds. That makes diamonds seem more rare than they actually are. 
But that's only half of their strategy... De Beers played the market brilliantly. It launched an advertising and public relations campaign to manipulate the world into believing that diamonds were the proper way to express love.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was not a clear American marriage "tradition" since the country was made of so many different cultures. De Beers jumped on that opportunity and offered their solution: if you want to marry a woman, you put a diamond ring on her finger.  Movie studios jumped on the diamond bandwagon, and sales exploded.

De Beers seems to be able to set the diamond standards based on what's in their warehouses.  When they had an overflow of large diamonds, they advertised "The bigger the diamond, the more you love her." When they acquired many small diamonds from Russia, De Beers encouraged men to buy their wives "Eternity Rings" for their anniversaries, which happened to contain lots of smaller stones.

So now we're left with a conundrum -- De Beers may have started the diamond trend based purely on economic strategy that leaves diamonds chronically overpriced, but it now IS culturally "American" for diamonds (instead of other precious stones) to symbolize eternal love. How can we resolve this?

You are so pretty and so sparkly... but are you worth it?

[source: Myths, Lies, & Downright Stupidity by John Stossel]


Prevent Hearing Loss

Here's a handy guide from Reader's Digest to help you know when you're listening to music too loudly:
One in five adolescents now suffers from hearing loss -- a 30% jump from just two decades ago. The loss is mild, but it means more teens are hearing only about as well as a typical 40- to 60-year-old. 
Playing music too loudly is partly to blame, experts believe. To avoid damage to your hearing, keep these numbers in mind:
  • 60 : You can listen all day if you keep the volume at 60% of the max
  • 80 for 90 : You can boost the volume to 80% for 90 minutes a day
  • 100 for 5 : If you want to crank up the volume as high as it'll go, keep it short -- just 5 minutes a day
Here's to good hearing health!


Walking On Hot Coals

How can people walk barefoot on hot coals without getting burned?  Is it some mind trick?

Actually it's just science... and you can do it, too!

Physicist David Willey from the University of Pittsburgh physics department and 20/20 anchor John Stossel show how it's done:
Willey laid out 165 feet of lumber and set it aflame. As [they] waited for the lumber to turn into hot coals, he said that anyone can "fire-walk" in their bare feet, provided they keep moving, because when you touch burning wood or charcoal, the heat doesn't go instantly to your feet. You'd be burned if you walk on hot metal, but wood and charcoal don't conduct heat very well.
Hot coals can (slowly) roast a marshmallow and burn at a temperature of approximately 1000 degrees F. But it's a poor thermal conductor, so it takes a while to "conduct" (move) the heat from itself to whatever it's touching.  If you keep walking at an even pace on the coals your feet won't keep in contact with any coal long enough to burn them!  Plus, and this is pure speculation, the fact that the skin on your feet is so thick probably delays the heat transfer as well.

You're not so scary anymore, are ya?


Do Cats Only Meow At Humans?

My brother once told me that adult cats only meow to talk to humans, so I decided to see if he was right. And he seems to be!

What are you saying, kitty?

Here are the ways that cats communicate:

1. Meowing
They naturally meow just as kittens to get their mother's attention. But as a result of domestication, it appears that they have learned to meow at humans for the same reason!

2. Purring
Most of the time, cats purr because they are happy.  They sometimes purr when they are feeling sick or during stressful moments.

3. Hissing/Growling
Cats hiss or growl when they are angry or want to threaten other animals or humans. They typically will attack with their claws and paws if whoever they are hissing at doesn't back off.

4. Chirping/Chattering
This is a "bird-like" noise that cats can make while watching potential prey. Some have thought that the cats are imitating birds or mice, but the accepted theory is actually that they are simulating the biting motions they'd do if they actually caught the prey.

5. Caterwaul
Cats make this "crying baby" or howling noise to signal to other cats that they are in heat. In rarer occasions, cats will caterwaul to get their owner's attention, like if they are behind a door and need to be loud.

6. Body Language
There are so many ways cats use their body to communicate, I feel as though it may be their primary source of communicating, especially with other cats, who instinctively know what their bodies are saying.  Here are a few examples, some of which could be confusing to humans:

  • Lying on their back: this could mean submission and trust, or that they want to attack with all four claws, or just that's how they feel comfortable
  • Puffed tail: the cat is surprised or scared; they can also arch their backs and puff out their back hair to look bigger to whatever they feel threatened by
  • Tail-twitching: this could mean they are hunting, or they are irritated, or they are excited, or they are playing
  • Flattened ears: the cat is feeling threatened
  • Nose-touching: this could just be a friendly greeting, or they are marking their territory
  • Licking: the cat is trying to bond with another cat or sometimes with their human owner
  • Pawing: this could mean they are showing affection or contentment or curiosity, or that they are comforting themselves, or that they are marking their territory

There are tons of other ways cats communicate to each other by whisker position, tail height, and other body movements.

7. Scent
Cats claim territory by territorial marking or by rubbing their scent on people or objects.

All that to say (since it seems I have strayed from the original question): it appears that past kitten-hood, cats mainly meow to humans, and use a variety of other methods of communication to deal with other cats and other animals.

It's pretty smart of them, actually. Cats must have figured out at some point that humans communicate well with noise... and don't always read their body movements correctly!

[source: wikipedia]

ps. Check out this cat who somehow learned to bark... yet didn't want their human owner know! I guess cats have a great ability to learn how to communicate the most effectively.


Is Bottled Water Better Than Tap?

Bottled water ranges from $4-$8 per gallon, whereas tap water costs less than a penny per gallon*.  Is it worth it?

Here are some answers from John Stossel's book:

Does bottled water taste better than tap water?
ABC News ran a taste test. We put two imported waters, Evian and Iceland Spring, up against Aquafina (America's best seller), American Fare (Kmart's discount brand), Poland Spring (which is bottled in America, not Poland), and some water from a public drinking fountain in the middle of New York City. 
We asked people to rate the waters. Only one water got "bad" ratings [the most expensive one, Evian]. The water our testers liked most came from Kmart, which costs a third of what Evian costs. Aquafina ranked second... 
Tied for third were [Iceland Spring] and... drum roll... New York City tap water. In other words, reservoir water -- squeezed through the antique pipes of NYC before emerging from a water fountain in Harlem -- tastes as good as expensive imports. Even people who told us that they didn't like tap water did like it, when they didn't know it was tap water.
Is bottled water more "pure" than tap water?
Many people believe that bottled water is cleaner. So we sent bottled and tap water samples to microbiologist Aaron Margolin, of the University of New Hamsphire, to test for bacteria, like E. Coli, that can make you sick. "No difference", he said. 
Some people worry more about traces of chemicals in water, like chlorine, lead, chromium, copper, and iron. It's possible that you will ingest more of these from some tap waters than bottled, but trace amounts of chemicals are not only harmless, they may even be helpful; that's why iron, copper, and chromium are in vitamin pills.
There are some counties where the tap water is not as safe or tasty as bottled water, but it appears that in the majority of America, you can save money (and trash) by just drinking out of the tap.

To further this point, I recently went to a wedding in Indiana where they served Absopure bottled water. As it turned out, it had been bottled (and "purified"?) from the municipal water in Plymouth, Michigan. Municipal water is city water!  I suppose Plymouth's tap water is tasty enough for these customers!

*Tap water rate for Ann Arbor, MI.


What's Broasting?

Maybe you've seen prepared "broasted chicken" at the grocery store and wondered (as I have) what it is, and how it's different than roasted or fried chicken.

Broasting is actually a very special (and trademarked) method of preparing chicken, meats, and fish with a specific marinate, breading, and spices, and then pressure frying it. It's (basically) a quicker and less greasy way of frying that makes the food crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.

How come we don't hear of more people broasting? Well, it's only available for commercial use.  So you can grab a broasted whole chicken from your local grocer, or a leg from a fast food restaurant, but unfortunately you can't do this method at home.

Read more about this interesting cooking method at the Broaster Company website: broaster.com.

Side fact: L.A.M. Phelan, the inventor of the Broaster pressure fryer, also invented the the first automatic gasoline pump, the first automatic toilet, and the first automatic commercial refrigerator. We owe him a lot! :)


Weird State Laws

Aw, everyone loves strange laws, right?  Here are a few for you today from John Stossel's book:
In Belton, Missouri, it's illegal to throw a snowball. 
In New Jersey & Oregon, it is illegal to pump your own gas. 
In Kern County, California, it is illegal to play bingo while drunk. 
In Illinois, it is against the law to hunt bullfrogs with a firearm. 
In Massachusetts, it's illegal to deface a milk carton. 
In Fairfax, Virginia, the use of pogo sticks is outlawed on city buses. 
In Palm Harbor, Florida, it is illegal to have an artificial lawn.
Also, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, you can't do any outdoor home-improvement projects in any residential neighborhood on Sundays.

And inn Friendship Heights, Maryland, it's illegal to smoke indoors or outdoors.

Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse. :)


Where Robots Come From

... or where the word "robot" comes from at least!

From Reader's Digest:
Some robots (Robbie, Wall-E) we adore. But many others (the terminators, Alien's Ash, those cylons from Battlestar Galactica) are downright evil -- with good reason: The term robot comes from the Czech robota for "compulsory labor" and the Latin orbus for "orphan". Now, if you were a motherless machine forced to work against your will, wouldn't you be belligerent too?
:)  I knew there was a good reason to not like robots!

You may look cute, but you still scare me!


Are Women Bad Drivers?

According to scientific research conducted in 2002, men are worse!  Here's a quick analysis of that research from John Stossel:
Women have a bad reputation when it comes to driving... But researchers with the Social Issues Resource Center beg to differ. Their 2002 report analyzed a stack of studies on male and female driving differences and came to a bold conclusion: "In all studies and analyses, without exception, men have been shown to have a higher rate of crashes than women." 
Men, the report claims, drive faster than women and have less regard for traffic laws: They speed, they drive drunk, run stop signs, and therefore crash twice as often as women do. In the US, men cause 71% of all road fatalities, a figure that's remained constant since 1975. 
But don't men drive many more miles than women do?  Wouldn't that account for some of the difference? It's true that males account for 62% of all miles driven, vs. 38% for females, but even after miles are clocked and driving hours are factored in, men still get in way more fatal accidents [about 40% more].
So maybe it's time to give the ladies a break. :)


What's A Hysterical Pregnancy?

Late in last season's hit sitcom 30 Rock, the character Jenna experienced a "hysterical pregnancy" during a gas leak, where she had all the signs of being pregnant without actually being pregnant.  I couldn't help but wonder... is that really a thing? 

Not only is it a thing, but women and men can experience it!

According to WebMD
False pregnancy, or pseudocyesis, is the belief that you are expecting a baby when you are not really carrying a child. People with pseudocyesis have many or all of the common symptoms of pregnancy [swollen belly, stopped menstruation, feelings of fetal movement, nausea/vomiting, milk production, etc] with the exception of an actual fetus.  
This condition is very rare, occurring in only 1 to 6 out of every 22,000 births.  It is most common in women aged 20 to 44, although it can affect women of all ages. 
In rare cases, even men can have a false pregnancy. Some men experience a related phenomenon known as couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners -- including weight gain, nausea, and backache.
People suffering from a false pregnancy can sometimes even test positive on pregnancy tests!

What can cause hysterical (false) pregnancy?

According to an article in the NY Times:
Though scientists are still largely baffled about what causes it in humans, recent case studies and studies of similar conditions in animals are beginning to provide insight, exploring the role of hormones and psychology.  
Psychiatrists have suggested that pseudocyesis occurs in patients who desperately want to become pregnant — or who have a strong desire to be involved in a family member’s pregnancy experience.   
In a recent issue of the journal Psychosomatics, Dr. Biju Basil, a psychiatrist at Drexel University, reported a case of a woman who went through false delivery at the same time her son’s girlfriend was giving birth. "She started having labor pains..." Dr. Basil speculated that “she wanted to [subconsciously] play a more active part in this new life that was coming into the world.”  
Still, for all the theories about false pregnancy’s origins in the subconscious, biological studies suggest it may be in part hormonally mediated as well... Case studies at the University of Michigan and elsewhere indicate that many patients have elevated levels of hormones like estrogen and prolactin — compounds that can cause physical symptoms like abdominal swelling and milk excretion...  
This raises the possibility that pseudocyesis is the result of a delicate mind-body feedback loop: an initial emotional state induces abnormal hormone secretion, which in turn has its own physical and psychological effects... anxiety may be one emotional state that helps set this feedback loop in motion.
Wow.  That's incredible. False pregnancy has written about since at least 300 BC!  The human body is a crazy thing.

And what's stranger -- dogs have much higher instances of false pregnancy than humans!


Keep Colored Clothing From Fading

Yet again, Reader's Digest has come up with an easy solution to our random everyday problems:
That new cherry-red shirt you just purchased is fantastic, but just think how faded the color will look after the shirt has been washed a few times. Add a teaspoon of pepper to the wash load. Pepper keeps bright colors bright and prevents them from running too.
It's worth a try, I'd say. Click on the link above for other pepper tips!


The Difference Between http:// And https://

This may seem obvious, but I was completely unaware of the subtle difference until recently!

If you go to a website, you'll notice the address usually contains a http:// at the beginning. It stands for "HyperText Transfer Protocol" and is the standard way of transferring text to the internet.

If there is an "s" at the end of the abbreviation - https:// - that means that the site is "secure". A site becomes "secure" when the information on it will get encrypted (changed so that only the person with a key or password can see it) so that third parties can't view that information.

If you are entering personal or account information onto a website, make sure that little "s" is in the address!


Is DDT Dangerous?

DDT, the chemical used as a bug and mosquito repellent in farming, has been pretty controversial since started being more widely used in the 1950s & 60s. People believe that it's been a cause of cancer and possibly worse.  Recently I read some research to the contrary:
Despite [DDT's] overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Scientists found no evidence that spraying DDT seriously hurt people. 
It did cause some harm: It threatened bird populations by thinning the shells of their eggs. 
In 1962, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson make the damage famous and helped instill our fear of chemicals. The book raised some serious questions about the use of DDT, but the legitimate nature of those questions was lost in the media feeding frenzy that followed. DDT was a "Killer Chemical!" and the press was off on another fear campaign. 
It turns out DDT itself wasn't the problem -- the problem was that much too much was sprayed... 
In the late 1950s we sprayed DDT indiscriminately, but it only takes a tiny amount to prevent the spread of malaria. If sprayed on the walls of an African hut, a small amount will keep mosquitoes at bay for a year. That makes it a wonderful malaria fighter. But today DDT is rarely used to fight malaria because environmentalists' demonization of it causes others to shun it.
It's interesting how media coverage of a chemical can influence people's views on it more than science can. If the above paragraphs are true, it's tragic, considering how many people die of malaria each year...

[source: Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel]


What Are Baby Corn And Baby Carrots?

While making stir-fry the other day, I got a little curious about what I was eating. As it turns out, both baby corn and baby carrots have very appropriate names! They are baby-versions of the full-grown vegetables of the same names. Read on for more information:

Baby Corn:
Baby corn is cereal grain taken from corn (maize) harvested early while the ears are very small and immature. Baby corn ears are hand-picked from the branches as soon as the corn silks emerge from the ear tips, or a few days after. Baby corn typically is eaten whole, cob included, in contrast to mature corn, whose cob is considered too tough for human consumption.

Baby Carrots:
A "true" baby carrot is a carrot grown to the "baby stage", which is to say long before the root reaches its mature size. The test is that you can see a proper "shoulder" on each carrot. They are also sometimes harvested simply as the result of crop thinning, but are also grown to this size as a specialty crop.

"Manufactured" baby carrots, or cut and peel (what you see most often in the shops) are carrot-shaped slices of peeled carrots invented in the late 1980s by Mike Yurosek, a California farmer, as a way of making use of carrots which are too twisted or knobbly for sale as full-size carrots.


What Is Couture?

Anyone who has watched "Project Runway" has heard the word "couture" thrown around a lot. But what does it mean?

1. The business of designing, making, and selling highly fashionable, usually custom-made clothing for women.
2. The high-fashion clothing created by designers.

Generally, it seems like if a garment is high-fashion (and maybe somewhat over-the-top), then it's couture. But being "high fashion" isn't the only main point of "couture", it's also the fact that it's "designed" and "made".

Actually, the origin of the word comes from Old French/Latin words meaning "sewn together" or "to sew". When people say "couture", they probably mean "Haute Couture" which means "elegant sewing". In the fashion industry, Haute Couture is a big deal - you can't call yourself a couture designer without being approved by the French Department of Industry.

So it seems that the true definition of couture is more equal parts:
1. Highly fashionable
2. Hand sewn and well made
3. Custom-designed for a specific customer (thus likely one-of-a-kind)
And it typically is:
4. Made of expensive material
5. Involves many hours of detailed hand-sewing (instead of machine-sewing)


1. High fashion - check!
2. Hand sewn - check!
3. Custom-made for a customer - check!
Not Couture:
1. High fashion - check!
2. Hand sewn - maybe check?
3. Custom-made for a customer - NOPE!


Red Panda Name Origin

I actually learned this facts from The Detroit Zoo!

My family went recently and became obsessed with the Red Panda. Let me show you why:

So cute. Since they are small and more raccoon-like than bear-like, I wondered how they was related to a Panda Bear. Turns out, they aren't!

"Panda" in Japanese means "bamboo eater". Since that's the main source of food for the Red Panda, that's how it got it's name, in the same way the Panda Bear got it's name.

Maybe since they aren't "bears", we can get one as a pet? These people did (click here)!

Man, I want one so badly. :)


Bribery vs. Extortion vs. Blackmail

While we're on the crime topic, I wondered what the specific differences between bribery, extortion, and blackmail are

Here are the definitions via the legal-dictionary.com:
Bribery: "The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties."  
Extortion: "The obtaining of property from another induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear, or under color of official right."  
Blackmail: "The crime involving a threat for purposes of compelling a person to do an act against his or her will, or for purposes of taking the person's money or property." 
Here are some further definitions via Merriam Webster:
Bribe, verb: 
1. (Legal) A benefit (as money) given, promised, or offered in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust (as an official or witness)
2. To influence or try to influence dishonestly by giving or promising something 
Bribe, noun:
1. (Legal) A benefit (as money) given, promised, or offered in order to influence the judgment or conduct of a person in a position of trust (as an official or witness)
2. Something given or promised to a person in order to influence dishonestly a decision or action.  
Extort, verb:
1. (Legal) To obtain (as money) from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or unlawful use of authority or power
2. To gain especially by ingenuity or compelling argument  
Blackmail, noun: 1. (Legal) Extortion or coercion by often written threats especially of public exposure, physical harm, or criminal prosecution
2. The payment that is extorted 
Blackmail, verb: 1. To threaten to reveal a secret unless something is done (as paying money) 
As you can see, they are all related, and all seem to involve some sort of deception or threat in order for a criminal to get what s/he wants from another person. The differences seem to lie in who the crime is against and what is at stake for the victim.

If you understand the differences, please post examples so we can help each other distinguish between them.

(page updated 8/9/17)


What Is Racketeering?

After the 10th time I heard someone on a TV crime show get arrested for "racketeering" I finally looked up what it meant. Thought you might want to know, too!

One of the reasons it's hard to tell by context clues what racketeering is is because it actually is a pretty vague term involving all sorts of organized crime. The root of the word is "racket", which is an illegal business. Taking part in an illegal business is called "racketeering".

But what makes a business illegal? All sorts of things! Bribery, counterfeiting, embezzlement, extortion, obstruction of justice, money laundering, trafficking of stolen goods, etc etc etc.

So I think what makes a crime "racketeering" is that it's attached to a business, and it's typically part of an organized crime ring. The term was first used in 1927 to refer to the criminal acts of the Chicago Teamsters union.


Coffee Explained!

Nice quick info on my new favorite drink!



White Noise Ringtones Help You Hear Your Phone

Lifehacker Lessons, #5

"Use a White Noise Ringtone to Find Your Lost Cellphone Faster"
(from 6/13/11)

It's easier for our ears to find the location of the source of white noise over bells or limited-frequency tones. Having your ringtone be white noise can not only help you find your cellphone is lost, but can also help you identify its location quicker in your house or bag.

From Lifehacker:

After the author experienced a fire drill in England that used white noise generators over exit doors, he learned:

...it is easier to locate the fire door in a smoke filled room if this white noise generator is squawking at you rather than ringing a bell.

Okay, several days later and this information is still rolling around my head (there's not much to impede it) when my cellphone rang. I couldn't quite locate it—you know how that is sometimes, you put it down somewhere and then forget where, it sounds like it's everywhere. Guess what, I thought about that fire alarm back in England. So, I got one of the interns at work to make me a ring tone which was just pulses of white noise. We put it on my phone then got someone to hide it. We called the number and were able to pinpoint the phone's location exactly.

So, the tip is: make a white noise ring tone for calls you don't want to miss (boss, mom or dad). Something like this works pretty well. Not only is the phone more easily locatable but the sound carries farther and is instantly recognizable as your phone. It's a little antisocial I guess but so am I.

Other Lifehacker Tips for finding your phone:


Soap Bubbles Repel Mosquitoes

Lifehacker Lessons, #4

"Repel Mosquitoes with a Bubble Machine"
(from 5/31/11)

Mosquitoes don't like soap, so bubbles are a perfect way to keep them away. This is a much more fun and interactive method of mosquito-prevention than Citronella or Deet.

From Lifehacker:
According to [the weblog] DIY Life, mosquitoes are repelled by soap solutions (hence their disdain for dryer sheets), and a bit of soap suds will do a good job of shooing them away... Some blogs recommend adding a bit of lemongrass oil to your bubble mixture for more powerful repelling.
For other anti-mosquito tips (and myths), check out DIY's list of prevention methods here.
(note #8: an iPhone app that emits a mosquito-repelling noise??)


Tips For Staying Awake

Lifehacker Lessons, #3

"How to Manipulate Your Body to Wake the Hell Up"
(from 5/20/11)

There are ways to wake yourself up naturally and cheaply, even when the caffeine doesn't seem to be kicking in during your long workday afternoons.

From Lifehacker:

Tip #1: Put less sugar & milk in your coffee. The bitterness can help jolt you awake.

Tip #2: Grab a few minutes of direct sunlight, outdoors. Light through windows isn't the same.

Tip #3: Gently tug at your hair to get the blood flowing to your head.

Tip #4: Splash cold water on your face. For best results, head outside to feel the breeze.

Tip #5: Place your alarm clock far away from your bed so you have to stand up to turn it off.

Tip #6: Take a laughter break with a YouTube video, funny blog, etc.

Tip #7: Eat a mint; the stronger the better!

Tip #8: Massage your hands, especially between your palms and wrists.

Tip #9: Talk to a stranger. Your body will tend to wake up to avoid awkwardness.

Tip #10: Play upbeat music that you love.

Tip #11: Stretch your limbs and back like you're about to exercise to get your blood flowing.

Tip #12: Shed some clothing layers (if appropriate!). It's easier to feel sleepy when we're warm.

Tip #13: Stand up, feet shoulder-width apart, and flip your head upside-down to help with circulation (but come back up slowly!).

Tip #14: Suck on a lemon to shock your system!

Good luck!


Split An Apple With Your Bare Hands!

Lifehacker Lessons, #2

"How to Split an Apple Without a Knife"
(from 5/23/11)

The title says it all! You not only can do this to share an apple in a pinch, but also to impress your friends. :)

From Lifehacker:


New Experiences Help Time Pass More Slowly

I learn a lot of stuff from a great website called Lifehacker. It contains all sorts of ways to make your life easier and cheaper, from learning about what new gadget google has to turning cinder-blocks into planters. In my appreciation, I've decided to devote this week's Stuff I've Just Learned posts from recent Lifehacker entries.

"Why New Experiences Are Important, and How They Positively Affect Your Perception of Time"
(from 5/17/11)

Time may tick by at a consistent beat, but that's not how our brains perceive time. Instead, if something is unfamiliar and thus harder for our brain to process, time appears to slow down as our minds organize the new information. Conversely if something is familiar/easier to process, time appears to speed up.

From Lifehacker:
Neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has extensively studied the effects of our brain's perception of time, believes that this effect makes time fly by faster as we age. His profile in the New Yorker, written by Burkhard Bilger, explains further:

"This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older," Eagleman said-why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we're dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass. "Time is this rubbery thing...it stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up."

...If we perceive time more slowly when we're processing the unfamiliar, than the frequent introduction of the unfamiliar could help our perception of time from rapidly shrinking.
Click here to read more about fascinating perception-of-time Eagleman's research.


How Did Marvel Comic's Spider-Man Make Webs?

Believe it or not, movies that are based on comic books are not always true to the original story!

Recently, one of my 10-grade students told me that despite what the 2002 Tobey Maguire film showed, comic-book Spider-Man did not receive the ability to shoot webs out of his wrists after he got bitten by the radioactive spider.

He actually used web-shooters which attached to cuffs on his wrists. Here's an explanation of them via Wikipedia:
Peter had reasoned that a spider (even a human one) needed a web. Since the radioactive spider-bite did not initially grant him the power to spin webs, he had instead found a way to produce them artificially. The wrist-mounted devices fire an adhesive "webbing" through a threaded adjustable nozzle...
Spider-Man must steadily replenish his webbing supply, reloading his web-shooters with small cartridges of web fluid... His web-shooters require constant maintenance and on more than one occasion suffer jams or malfunctions...
Occasionally, the web-shooters are modified to expel other liquids.

So, my first question upon hearing this was "What good did come from him being bitten by the spider then?" My student answered with pretty much the same answer as Wikipedia does:
Immediately after the bite, he was granted his original powers: primarily superhuman strength, reflexes, and equilibrium; the ability to cling tenaciously to most surfaces; and a subconscious precognitive sense of danger, which he called a "spider-sense."
I suppose that's enough. :) But I guess that Spider-Man just had to use more ingenuity and engineering in the comic books than in the movie. After all:
Before the radioactive spider bite, Peter Parker was already a gifted academic student with considerable expertise in many fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, and advanced technology. Through these skills he was able to create his artificial web fluid, his web-shooters and other Spider-man equipment. His scientific knowledge has often been used to defeat his adversaries when his powers are not sufficient enough.

Easier said than done, movie Spidey.


More Words That Should Exist In English

Last year, I posted a couple of words that exist in other languages that could help make American English more concise. Reader's Digest did something similar last month!

Here are some of my favorites from their article:

Iktsuarpok, Inuit: To go outside to check if anyone is coming.

Jayus, Indonesian: A joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh.

Tartle, Scottish: The act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten his name.

Cafune, Brazillian Portuguese: The act of tenderly running one's fingers through someone's hair.

Tingo, Pascuense, Easter Island: The act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.


Love it. These will come in handy on Twitter! Must save characters whenever possible!


Rap Lyrics Explained 3

Here's more from the book Understand Rap, Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You & Your Grandma Can Understand.

This last explanation comes from the Puff Daddy & The Family song, "It's All About The Benjamins (Remix)":
My west coast shorty push the chrome 740

Meaning: "The female I associate with while I am spending time in California is driving a high-end BMW brand automobile, which I may have purchased for or loaned to her, and that has had a special coating applied to give it an extremely bright, silver, mirrorlike finish."
Want more? Click on the title to buy the book!


Rap Lyrics Explained 2

Here's more from the book Understand Rap, Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You & Your Grandma Can Understand.

This explanation comes from the Dr. Dre song, "Forgot About Dre":
I was strapped wit' gats when you were cuddling a Cabbage Patch

Meaning: "When you were still a child and had no concerns other than playing with dolls in the comfort and safety of your home, I was carrying guns around to defend myself in my dangerous urban neighborhood."
Want more? Click on the title to buy the book!


Rap Lyrics Explained 1

My cousin always used to translate rap songs for me into layman's terms, so I was delighted when she got me the book Understand Rap, Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You & Your Grandma Can Understand. I thought I would take the next couple of days to enlighten you with the info I got from this great book!

Today's explanation comes from the Fabolous song, "Throw It In The Bag":
Bag full of chips -- we ain't talkin' Ruffles

Meaning: "I have a bag that contains a large amount of paper money that I am describing by using a term that stems from the circular disks casinos use as in-house currency, clarifying that it is not a particular brand of thin crinkle-cut potato slices that you may have thought I was referring to."
Consider yourself that much more informed. :)


The Kings Of Leon Brothers

I had to look up the writers/performers of the Kings of Leon song "Use Somebody" for work, and was surprised to see that they all had the same last name. Sure enough, the 4 members of the band contain 3 brothers and their cousin; all members of the talented Followill family.

(Side note: they all go by their middle names and not their first!)

They don't give off the typical pop family-band image, but they could have been one marketing decision away from being one!

So close, yet so far away.


Why Doesn't Hello Kitty Have A Mouth?

According to sanrio.com (the company who makes Hello Kitty products):

Why doesn't Hello Kitty have a mouth?

Hello Kitty speaks from her heart. She’s Sanrio's ambassador to the world and isn't bound to any particular language.

But according to the host of the late-night QVC show I watched recently, there's an additional reason as well! The host said that Hello Kitty is more relatable to people when she isn't showing a set emotion. Without a mouth, she can appear to be feeling however the person playing with her is feeling.

I can see that. Imagine an emotion and look at Hello Kitty - she could be feeling that way, too.

Clever. :)


What Does "Bimonthly" Mean?

I know, I know, it sounds like a simple question... but I've heard it used to describe "twice per month" and "every other month". That can be a big difference!

Well, according to Merriam-Webster.com:
Bimonthly, adj:
1. occurring every two months
2. occurring twice a month
No wonder I'm confused when I hear something happens "bimonthly"! I guess you're supposed to tell the meaning by the context? The same goes for biweekly, biannually, etc.

As far as I can see, the word originally (1846) was supposed to mean "occurring every two months", hence the prefix "bi" (meaning "two, twice, double," etc.). I imagine that at some point people got confused when they heard "twice monthly" and started using it to mean twice per month, too. And you know how the English language works - enough people use a word (even if it's wrong) and that defines it.

In case you want to be "more" correct, you can try these alternatives for twice per month:
Fortnightly (since a "fortnight" is 14 days)


French Military Victories

This isn't so much "information" I learned; it's more something kind of funny I learned.

If you google search the phrase "French Military Victories" and click "I Feel Lucky", this is what you'll get:

That's a bit of a low-blow, but I guess history speaks for itself... :)


Good Thing Times Have Changed...!

Via Reader's Digest:
"In 19th-century Japan and China, 'talks too much' was one of seven reasons for which a man could divorce his wife"

Eeeek. What were the other 6 reasons, I wonder?


Television Ads Will Have To Keep Quiet!

News from last month's Reader's Digest:
Muffle those TV ads: it's the law
The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act was passed by the House and Senate, but the FCC will have a year to mull over regulations another year to enforce them.
What's it mean? It appears that within the next two years, television commercials won't be allowed to blast at a higher volume than the television show itself.

My ears are pretty stoked!


Why Do Things Cost "An Arm And A Leg"?

Unfortunately the origins of this idiom aren't super clear. What we do know is that people say an object will "cost an arm and a leg" to imply it's very expensive, and that the phrase likely originated in America around the 1930's, and started being used in print in the 1950s.

Other than that, here are some guesses as to its origin:

1. Painters would base their portrait-prices on how many limbs needed to be painted, and would charge extra for arms and legs.

2. Many soldiers who fought in World War I lost limbs, making life extremely difficult (and therefore costly).

3. Early 20th-century factories were very dangerous, but the jobs were worth it, even if a worker lost a leg or an arm in the process, because the work would make money.

4. Some gruesome forms of capital punishment were used for a period of history, where someone by law could get their arm cut off for stealing, have their legs crushed, etc. So the criminal act could literally cost a person a limb.

5. It's an extension of the phrase "to give one's right arm for". Since that's usually the dominant stronger arm, if the speaker is willing to sacrifice it, the object in question must be very valuable.

6. It came from the phrase "if it costs a leg!" used by desperadoes seeking revenge or criminals involved in illegal activity. It would be worth it for them to do these acts even if it "cost them a leg" along the way.

7. It came from the army phrase "to chance one's arm", used to describe a risky situation that could come with great reward. In this scenario, the "arm" the soldier would lose upon failing would be a rank, and thus a stripe from his arm's sleeve.

Anything I missed?


Founder vs. Flounder

Did you know that some people who say the verb "flounder" actually mean "founder"?

This kind of thing always blows my mind. After I used flounder incorrectly at work, one of my bosses showed me the following entry in a book, 100 Words Almost Everyone Mixes Up or Mangles, that she purchased for me a few months ago. :)
Flounder, verb:
1. To move clumsily or with little progress, as through water or mud.
2. To act or function in a confused or directionless manner; struggle.

Founder, verb:
1. To sink below the surface of the water.
2. To cave in, sink.
3. To fail utterly, collapse.

"If a student is foundering in Chemistry 101, he had better drop the course; if he is floundering, he may yet pull through."
Since I didn't know that founder the verb existed until now, I definitely have been using flounder for all of those meanings!

Think about this: if a person flounders in the water, that person will likely founder at times.



Trademarks, Copyrights, & Patents

Do you know what the difference is between these things?

As my former student Andrew pointed out, I have no real idea. :) So let's learn!

According to him:

Copyrights are for protecting an artists' creative works.
ie. J.K. Rowling has the copyright to the Harry Potter series.

Trademarks are for protecting the names and identifying marks used in commercial activity.
ie. The Target Corporation owns the trademark for its bulls-eye-target icon.

Patents are for scientific inventions, including machines, drugs, and the like.
ie. Apple has the patent for the iPod (and lucky them!).

Trademarks and copyrights don't need to be registered, though you get extra enforcement rights if you do register them. Patents have to go through the United States Patent & Trademark Office, and they have reviewers who look at applications and check to see whether the invention is actually new enough for a patent.

I could look all of this stuff up for you to name a source, but I believe Andrew! Thanks!


Sleepy Words

I can always count on Reader's Digest to teach me things!

Here are some sleep-related words and their meanings that you can throw around during this hibernation season:

Somniloquist, noun: sleep talker

Hypnopompic, adj: prewaking

Torpor, noun: state of sluggishness

Quiescent, adj: at rest

Bruxism, noun: teeth grinding

Soporific, adj: sleep-inducing

Did you know there were words for all these things? Feel free to use them to impress your friends. For example:

"Danny's wife's bruxism often woke him throughout the night, so he found himself in a torpor most days. If that wasn't enough, she was also a somniloquist in her hypnopompic state! Danny loved his wife, but he cherished Sunday afternoons when he could read a boring soporific book and finally be quiescent napping on the couch."

See? You probably wouldn't have understood that story at all 24 hours ago. :)


Happy Valentine's Day!

Some people say that Valentine's Day was created by the greeting-card companies just to make a profit. Is it true? Where did Valentine's Day come from?

It actually has Catholic religious origins, dating back to 496 AD, when Pope Gelasius I established the day to commemorate the martyr Valentine (although the Feast of Saint Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar by Pope Paul VI in 1969). Based on the earliest historic records, Valentine was martyred for trying to convert Roman Emperor Claudius II to Christianity.

Okay. Not very romantic yet.

Folklore has claimed that instead Valentine spent his life in jail for protesting Claudius's law prohibiting military men to marry. Further, legend states that Valentine wrote the first "Valentine's Day card" to the jailer's daughter, whom he loved. However, there is no historical proof of these stories.

So, minus the folklore, how could the jump from martyr to romance happen?

Some people say that it has to do with associating St. Valentine with "sacrificial" love (for God), which just became love in general, then "romantic" love.
Others say that the original February holiday of St. Valentine got mixed together with the Ancient Roman Lupercalia Festival of fertility.
Others associate the origins with George Chaucer's 1382's Parlement of Foules, which contains the line, "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate".
... and on and on...

Regardless, Valentine's Day poetry and letters appear to have long-standing tradition in Europe and the United States. As early as 1797, British publishers were banking on helping people express their Valentine's Day love on paper.

To get back to the original question, though, I doubt that there were greeting-card companies in the 14th century (or earlier) when this all began, but someone decided to make this holiday what it is now! And the reasons seem to have nothing to do with St. Valentine himself. So I don't believe that a company began this holiday, although the greeting-card companies are certainly taking advantage of it (rightly so! good economics!).

Either way, hope you all have a love-filled day!