Saturday, September 16, 2017

Say Goodbye To Summer And Hello to Autumn

Friday, September 22, 2017, marks the official end of summer and start of autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere—the Autumnal Equinox.

Earlier this month in my little corner of the world we had a delightful taste of the fall weather to come.  That crisp feel in the air with cooler temperatures replacing the heat and dryer air shoving aside the retched humidity of summer.  That change to cool dry air brought a renewed vigor, a revived energy to replace the lackluster feeling resulting from the summer heat and humidity...at least for me.  (Do you get the impression that I don't function well in heat and humidity?)

Just as I love the renewal of life in the spring—bright green new leaves on the trees, colorful flowers, the awakening of nature from winter's long hibernation—I also love the change of the leaves to their brilliant array of fall colors in autumn.  This year we've exceeded our average amount of rainfall, so I'm hoping for a more colorful autumn than we've had the last couple of years.

I can say with all sincerity that I'm happy to welcome the end of summer.  Oh, yeah…also happy to welcome the start of fall.  But it's mostly the end of summer's heat and humidity that thrills me. I do have to admit that the summer of 2017 was a strange mixture of several triple digit temperature days and periods of cooler temperatures. However, we did have many super high humidity days.  Ugh!

Welcome autumn...I'm thrilled to see you!  But, on the other hand, I'm hoping for a mild winter.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Total Eclipse Of The Sun

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse was visible in the U.S. literally from coast to coast as it moved across the country—from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast. I traveled to an area where I could see the total solar eclipse. The area we selected was the town of Hiawatha, Kansas, (population of a little over 3000) in the far northeast corner of the state.  In Wichita, where I currently live, the eclipse was going to be 94%. But when a 3.5 hour drive can get the total eclipse, we decided that was the thing to do.

In Hiawatha (central time zone), the eclipse started at 11:39AM and concluded at 2:33PM with totality occurring at 1:06PM and lasting for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

We bought our eclipse glasses about 2 weeks in advance. I spent lots of time going over all the settings on my DSLR camera that I don't normally use to make sure I could photograph everything with quick efficiency. Traffic-wise, we anticipated crowded roads so we left before daylight. The drive up was surprisingly quick and easy, normal traffic moving along as highway speeds.

Rather than finding a quiet place on a country road somewhere, we headed for Hiawatha's city park which had been set up as the center of eclipse activity. Parking was a reasonable $5. Just 2 blocks away from the city park, a church was charging $20 for use of their parking lot (however, I suspect that it might have been an overnight parking fee for motor homes and recreational vehicles).

At the city park, the main recreation building housed a demonstration and talk by NASA personnel in the auditorium and the gym had been opened for children. Outside in the open grassy areas, a band provided live music, one of the television stations (I'm assuming from Topeka, Ks) set up for a live broadcast, about a dozen food trucks were on site and they offered a wide variety of choices rather than everything being the same. Lots of picnic tables and even a beer garden. There were, of course, the normal mandatory souvenir stands selling T-shirts and other Eclipse-themed items. But the main attraction was the rapidly approaching time for the eclipse.
 
clouds closing in as eclipse starts
Since viewing the sun at mid day is a matter of looking straight up rather than at a stage, there were no bad seats. Everyone was the same 93 million miles away from the show with an unobstructed view of the event.

But…as the old saying goes, into every life a little rain must fall. And so it was on August 21, 2017, in Hiawatha, Kansas.

That whole portion of the state had been having off and on rain for several days. The forecast for Hiawatha for August 21 said partly cloudy with possibility of showers. The morning looked pretty good, then the clouds rolled in. But we weren't worried. It was not a solid cloud cover, it was your basic intermittent coming and going cloud cover with the sun visible most of the time.
last picture before clouds cut off view 
Until about 12:30, approximately an hour into the eclipse and half an hour prior to totality, when the partially cloudy turned into definite storm clouds and started to rain. And that pretty much describes the weather for the rest of the day.

However, the 2 minutes 34 seconds of totality was not lost on us even though the sun/eclipse was not visible. The cloud cover broke at the horizon. As anticipated, the sky became dark (however not black like midnight on a moonless night) and street lights came on in response. The temperature noticeably dropped, but the rain helped that along. The most intriguing part of the obscured eclipse was the color and feel of the air.

The color was twilight, but not really. A combination of many hues, but no specific one. A soft glow that seemed to surround rather than coming from a single direction.

When I say feel, I'm not referring to the sense of touch. The feel was somehow ethereal—aesthetic rather than tactile. The very air surrounding us oozed an almost surreal awareness, a sensation of awe, a perception that can't be explained using mere words.
after the eclipse 
But reality soon set in. What was a 3.5 hour drive to Hiawatha, Kansas, was an 8 hour drive home. The highway was literally a parking lot.

Even though we could not see the moment of totality, the experience was well worth the trip.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cats Have Super, Psychedelic Vision

Science has known that birds, insects, reptiles, and fish can detect ultraviolet light. Recent studies show that more animals share this ability than originally believed. A new study shows that cats and dogs may be able to see UV, too.

Cats are nocturnal and have been thought of as being able to "see in the dark." They have long been a symbol of the mysterious. It's now believed they can see things invisible to humans such as psychedelic stripes on flowers and flashy patterned feathers on birds. The secret to this is ultraviolet light detection, an ability shared by many animals but not humans. Snow reflects UV but white fur does not, allowing reindeer to see polar bears at a distance. Humans would just see a blur of all white.

It is assumed that most mammals do not see UV because they have no visual pigment sensitive to UV. They have lenses like those of man that prevent UV from reaching the retina. Certain people, such as those who have had their lenses replaced during cataract surgery, can see some UV, but most humans cannot.

Humans are good at seeing detail. If we didn't have a lens that removed the UV so that we don't see it, the world would appear more blurry.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

10 Incredible Scientific Discoveries About Dogs

Dogs—commonly referred to as man's best friend. Somewhere between 11,000 and 15,000 years ago, dogs were among the first of the animals to be domesticated by man and are well known for being loving and loyal. They also have many lesser-known and quite fascinating traits.

Here's a list of 10 of those qualities.

10) They have 3 eyelids. Like people, dogs have top and bottom ones that move up and down. They also have one that originates in the corner of the eye and moves side to side. Its purpose is to clear mucus and debris from the eye.

9) Dogs really do love their humans. MRI scans reveal that when presented with the scents of various people and canines, the reward centers of the dog's brain is most responsive to the aromas of their human companions.

8) They're just as smart as toddlers. Specially designed IQ tests show that dogs' capabilities are on par with the typical 2-year-old. That means they're capable of learning over 150 words and gestures.

7) Dog paws often smell like snack foods. There's some debate as to whether the particular scent is popcorn or corn chips, but either way the cause of it has been linked to a bacteria dogs pick up while walking.

6) Canines possess the ability of night vision. It's not on the same level as cats, but it is superior to that of humans. A dog's pupils are larger and their central retinas have more cells dedicated to light sensitivity than to color detection. That gives them an upper hand when it comes to making out objects in dim light.

5) Every nose is unique. The Canadian Kennel Club has been using nose prints as a means of individual identification since the 1930s and many organizations have followed suit.

4) They most likely dream. Proof isn't at the 100 percent mark, but there is an abundance of support backing the claim. Much of it is based on brain attributes and behaviors that dogs and humans share. Among them are structure and the occurrence of electrical impulses during the deep sleep stage.

3) Fur isn't just about warmth. In the summer it acts as insulation, keeping heat from reaching their bodies. Fur also protects their skin from the sun's damaging rays.

2) They really do listen when you talk. Even better, they've been shown to understand a lot of what's being said. Though they're not able to decipher the words, dogs can interpret certain sounds and the message's overall emotional tone.

1) Dogs aren't nearly as sweaty as humans. That's largely because rather than having sweat glands all over the bodies, as people do, dogs only have them in their paws. To cool off, they rely mostly on panting.

Next week, I'll share some facts about cats.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Weird August Holidays

Every month has its collection of strange, weird, and obscure holidays—at least one per day—many of which are unknown to the general public.  And, needless to say, holidays that are not recognized as days when we would have a paid holiday at work. Days where the schools, banks, government offices, and post office are closed. But still holidays to be celebrated and enjoyed in their own quirky fashion.

Let's start with month long celebrations.  For August you have:  Admit You're Happy Month, Family Fun Month, National Catfish Month, National Eye Exam Month, National Golf Month [I'd better make sure my brother knows about this one], Peach Month, Romance Awareness Month, Water Quality Month, and National Picnic Month.

And then there are the week long celebrations.  The first week of August is National Simplify Your Life Week.  The second week of the month is National Smile Week.  The third week is Friendship Week.  And the fourth week is Be Kind To Humankind Week.

And the daily celebrations:  I found it interesting that 10 of the 31 days in August had holidays connected to food [are we seeing an ongoing theme here?]. Some of the dates had more than one holiday attached to them.

August 1)  National Raspberry Cream Pie Day
August 2)  National Ice Cream Sandwich Day
August 3)  National Watermelon Day
August 4)  U.S. Coast Guard Day
August 5)  Work Like A Dog Day
August 5)  National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August)
August 6)  Wiggle Your Toes Day
August 6)  Sisters Day (first Sunday in August)
August 6)  International Forgiveness Day (first Sunday in August)
August 6)  Friendship Day (the first Sunday in August)
August 7)  National Lighthouse Day
August 8)  Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day
          Apparently zucchini is one of the most prolific plants with a single plant producing what seems to be an endless supply of zucchini. By the time August arrives, gardeners have far more zucchini than they can possibly use. After giving away as much as they can to family and friends, desperate growers seek desperate measures to rid themselves of the overflow. And that gives us the name of the holiday…sneak some zucchini onto your neighbor's porch day.
August 9)  Book Lover's Day
          Book Lover's Day encourages you to find a comfortable place, relax, and enjoy a good book. If you happen to fall asleep in that gently swaying hammock while reading, that's perfectly okay. There is some disagreement about when this holiday is celebrated. August 9th is the most widely accepted date. Some celebrate it on the first Saturday in November. My suggestion? Celebrate both days.
August 10)  Lazy Day
August 10)  National S'mores Day
August 11)  Presidential Joke Day
August 12)  Middle Child's Day
August 13)  Left Hander's Day
August 14)  National Creamsicle Day
August 14/15)  V-J Day (end of World War II)
August 15)  Relaxation Day
          For people with a hectic lifestyle, this is the day to kick back and do nothing…just relax. Take a break from your busy work and personal schedule. If something stresses you out, this is the day to ignore it.
August 16)  National Tell A Joke Day
August 17)  National Thrift Shop Day
August 18)  Bad Poetry Day
August 19)  Aviation Day
August 20)  National Radio Day
August 21)  Senior Citizen's Day
August 22)  Be An Angel Day
August 22)  National Tooth Fairy Day (and/or February 28)
August 23)  Ride The Wind Day
          This is a carefree day, a time to soar above the earth. Catch a ride on the breeze or float like a cloud. Summer will soon be over. Take advantage of this day to relax and leave your worries behind. Fly a kite. Enjoy the final days of summer.
August 24)  Vesuvius Day
August 25)  Kiss And Make Up Day
August 26)  National Dog Day
August 26)  Women's Equality Day
August 27)  Global Forgiveness Day
August 27)  Just Because Day
August 28)  Race Your Mouse Day [but in today's society are we talking rodent or computer?]
August 29)  More Herbs, Less Salt Day
August 30)  Frankenstein Day
          There are 3 versions of this day. This one is in honor of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, who was born August 30, 1797. There is also Frankenstein Friday and National Frankenstein Day, both celebrated in October. Confused? Celebrate all 3 days.
August 30)  Toasted Marshmallow Day
August 31)  National Trail Mix Day

Saturday, July 15, 2017

10 Of History's Overlooked Mysteries

History is filled with mysteries, some small scale like the origins of a book and others on a very large scale such as the disappearance of an entire civilization.

I recently came across a list of 10 historical mysteries that don't seem to get too much attention.

The Tarim Mummies
An archaeological excavation beneath the Tarim Basin in western China unearthed more than 100 mummified corpses dating back more than 2000 years.  Even though dug up in China, when a college professor viewed the mummies in a museum, he was shocked to discover they had blonde hair and long noses.  In 1993 he returned to the museum to collect DNA samples from the mummies.  Tests validated his belief, showing that the bodies were of European genetic stock.  Ancient Chinese texts from as early as the first millennium BC mention groups of Caucasian people living in the far east, but there is no mention on any living in the Tarim Basin.

The Voynich Manuscript
This is quite possibly the most unreadable book in the world.  The 500-year-old, 240 page manuscript was discovered in 1912 at a library in Rome.  It contains illustrations and writing in an unknown language.  The best cryptographers have been unable to decipher the text, but statistical analysis of the writing shows that it does seem to follow the basic structure and laws of a working language.

Who Was Robin Hood?
The possible real-life existence of a bandit living in the forest who stole from the rich and gave to the poor is more plausible than the legendary King Author and a magical sword named Excalibur.  The historical hunt for the real Robin Hood has discovered several candidates including Robert Hod, a fugitive in Yorkshire who went by Hobbehod as well as Robert Hood of Wakefield.  The name Robin Hood eventually became synonymous with being an outlaw.  His identity would later become even murkier as various authors wove more characters into the tale such as Prince John and Richard the Lionhearted.

The Carnac Stones
As with the construction of Stonehenge, it was a backbreaking task for the people responsible for the Carnac Stones.  On the coast of Brittany, in northwestern France, there are over 3000 megalithic standing stones arranged in exacting lines and spread out over 12 kilometers (7.2 miles).  The local myth explains them as a Roman legion on the march when the wizard Merlin turned them to stone.  The identity of the Neolithic people who build them is unknown.

The Bog Bodies
Hundreds of these ancient bodies have been discovered buried around the northern wetlands of Europe.  Researchers who inspected them have found tell-tale signs of torture and medieval foul play.  These clues have led some to suspect that the dead were victims of ritual sacrifice.  [I recall reading about an incident in England, I think in the 1800s, where a body was found in a bog and it was so well preserved that the locals believed it to be a recent murder which resulted in a police investigation.]

Disappearance Of The Indus Valley Civilization
The ancient Indus Valley people were India's oldest known civilization.  Their bronze-age culture stretched from western India to Afghanistan with a population of over 5 million.  Their abrupt decline rivaled that of the Mayans.  Excavations in 1922 uncovered a culture that maintained a sophisticated sewage drainage system and immaculate bathrooms, but found no evidence of armies, slaves, social conflicts, or other vices prevalent in ancient societies.

The Lost Roman Legion
After an underachieving Roman army led by General Crassus was defeated by Persia, legend says that a small band of POWs wandered through the desert and were captured by the Han military.  An Oxford historian who compared ancient records claimed that the lost Roman legion founded a small town near the Gobi Desert named Liqian, which is Chinese for Rome.  DNA tests are being conducted to hopefully explain some of the residents' green eyes and blond hair. [Which leads one to wonder if there is a connection with the Tarim Mummies.]

Fall Of The Minoans
The fall of the Minoan Empire has proven just as puzzling as the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Approximately 3,500 years ago, life on Crete was disrupted by a huge volcanic eruption on the neighbor island of Thera.  Ancient clay tablets show that the Minoan Empire continued for another 50 years.  Theories about their demise include a blanket of ash devastating their crops and another one says their weakened society was left vulnerable to an eventual Greek takeover.

Lost City Of Helike
The Greek writer Pausanias wrote about a great earthquake that destroyed the city of Helike followed by a tsunami that swept away what remained.  The once flourishing city had been a worship center devoted to Poseidon.  No trace of this legendary society existed outside of ancient Greek texts until 1861 when a bronze coin was found showing the head of Poseidon.  In 2001, the ruins of Helike were located beneath coastal mud and gravel.  Work is currently under way to unearth what some consider the real Atlantis.

Rongorongo
Rongorongo is an indecipherable hieroglyphic writing used by the early inhabitants of Easter Island, often referred to as the other Easter Island mystery.  Rongorongo appeared mysteriously in the 1700s, at a time when no other neighboring oceanic people had any type of written language.  The language was lost along with the best hopes of deciphering it when early European colonizers banned it because of its pagan roots.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

THE 10 LIES YOU HEAR EVERY DAY

I recently came across an article (primarily directed toward men rather than women, but for the most part it applies to all) listing 10 lies that we all hear (and say) on a daily basis…things you don't necessarily think of as lies.  These are usually considered as slight exaggerations, an attempt to be polite rather than confrontational, or merely being nice rather than hurt someone's feelings.  But no matter how you rationalize it, they are still lies.

1)  "Everything's great."
It's the usual response in a restaurant when your server asks how everything is, a brush-off even though the soup is too salty.  And the possible consequences of this insignificant little lie?  The chef never finds out he's heavy-handed with the seasonings, people stop coming to his restaurant, and you end up with the same too-salty soup everyone else was also reluctant to mention.  You might be doing the chef a favor if you tell your server—politely—that something is off.

2)  "I'm fine."
Reality check for men: No woman who says this to you is actually fine.  Something's wrong and you need a strategy to figure out how to fix it.  Most of the time it's as easy as asking her how she really feels.

3)  "I love your new haircut."
People usually compliment anything that catches their eye as new or different—no matter how ugly it may be or how much they don't like it.  If your significant other has a different opinion on your new hair style—or jacket, or shoes—than your chipper coworker, trust your significant other's take.  The I get so many compliments on this defense doesn't hold up.

4)  "No thanks, I've got it."
Guys, in particular, feel guilty accepting assistance from others, especially from a woman—even if they could really use it.  If you have to ask, "Can I give you a hand with that?" you should already be helping—not offering to lend a hand.

5)  "I couldn't find time to look at that today."
It doesn't matter if your boss said that, a client, or someone else, rest assured that you're being bluffed.  If you need the feedback right away but fear you might irritate your boss or client with repeated requests, you'll need to come up with a new way to present your need.

6)  "It's so great to see you."
Is it really great?  Your wife's or husband's friend from college looks to be in a huge hurry, and you don't really know the person that well.  This is a polite lie that really means, "I want to stop talking to you now."  Offer a quick smile then you can both get on with your day.

7)  "That's interesting."
People throw out this meaningless phrase so often it's become more of a cliché or silence-filler than a lie.  Instead, consider what you actually think before speaking, and come up with a more insightful adjective (and "That's stupid!" doesn't count).

8)  "Your email ended up in my spam folder."
Of all the emails you've successfully sent this person and it's this one that mysteriously ended up in the spam folder?  No need to call this person out on it.  Recognize this deception for what it is and figure out a better way to grab this person's attention next time.

9)  "I just saw your text."
Your friends have no problem lying about being busy when they're actually looking at other things or surfing the net.  But when they actually have a lot on their plates, they become reluctant about admitting it (sometimes for fear that it sounds like a flimsy excuse).  This text message is their polite way of saying, "I was too busy to answer you right away."

10)  "Sorry."
Admit it: Even you toss out apologies as readily as you would a losing lottery ticket.  At least 95 percent of the time you tell someone you're sorry when you really mean, "That's too bad."  Don't apologize unless there's something you need to apologize for and you mean it.