Saturday, March 30, 2019

April Fool's Day

Monday, April 1, 2019—April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day as it is also known.  A date that has been celebrated for centuries.  But what in the world could possibly be the origins of a day dedicated to pranks and practical jokes?

The exact origins remain a bit of a mystery, the most widely accepted theory says it dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar where the new year began on April 1 to the Gregorian calendar where the new year began on January 1 as called for in 1563 by the Council of Trent.  People who didn't get the word that the start of the year had moved or refused to accept the change and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the object of jokes and hoaxes.  Paper fish would be placed on their backs and they were referred to as poisson d'avri which means April fish.  It symbolized a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.  These people were considered fools and had practical jokes played on them.

Historians have linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.  There's also speculation that April Fool's Day was tied to the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Mother Nature fooled people with changing and unpredictable weather.

On April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other.  The celebration spread throughout Britain during the eighteenth century.  In Scotland it became a two day event in which people were sent on phony errands and had fake tails or kick me signs pinned to their rear ends.

All Fools' Day is practiced in many parts of the world with the playing of practical jokes and sending people on fool's errands.  In modern times people have gone to great lengths to stage elaborate pranks.  Here's the top ten hoaxes from a list of the best one hundred pranks of all time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.

1)  The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (1957):  The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.

2)  Sidd Finch (1985):  Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets.  His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy.  But Sidd Finch had never played the game before.  He mastered the art of the pitch in a Tibetan monastery.  This legendary player was the creation of the article's author, George Plimpton.

3)  Instant Color TV (1962):  At the time there was only one television channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white.  The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception.  All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their television screen.
4)  The Taco Liberty Bell (1996):  The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.  Outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their anger.

5)  San Serriffe (1977):  British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic consisting of semi-colon shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean.  It described the geography and culture of this obscure nation.  Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.  Its leader was General Pica.  Only a few readers noticed that everything about the islands was named after printer's terminology.

6)  Nixon for President (1992):  National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again.  His campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again."  Listeners flooded the show with calls expressing shock and outrage.  Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

7)  Alabama Changes the Value of Pi (1998):  The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3.0.  The article soon made its way onto the internet, then rapidly spread around the world.  The Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation.  The original article was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution and had been written by a physicist.

8)  The Left-Handed Whopper (1998):  Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction on their menu of a Left-Handed Whopper for the 32 million left-handed Americans.  The ingredients were the same as the original Whopper, but the ad claimed all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers.  Thousands of customers requested the new sandwich.
9)  Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers (1995):  Discover Magazine reported that a highly respected wildlife biologist found a new species in Antarctica—the hotheaded naked ice borer.  The creatures had bony plates on their heads.  When fed by numerous blood vessels, they could become burning hot thus allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds.  They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards where the hotheads consumed them.  It was theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837.  To the hotheads, the explorer looked like a penguin.

10)  Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity (1976):  British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur and listeners could experience it in their own homes.  Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity.  Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment the planetary alignment occurred they would experience a strange floating sensation.  When 9:47AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation.  One woman reported she and her eleven friends had floated around the room.

Have you ever played an April Fool's joke on someone, or had one played on you?  Tell us about it.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

LEONARDO DA VINCI'S 10 BEST IDEAS

(Leonardo da Vinci self-portrait)

Without a doubt, Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is the embodiment of the term Renaissance man.  His genius crossed into so many different areas—artist, architect, inventor, and master of all things scientific.  All this from a man who had no formal education beyond basic reading, writing, and math.

Until the 2003 publication of Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE, he was best known as the artist who painted two of the world's most famous paintings—Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.  But there was so much more to him than his artistic creations.
His genius knew no bounds.  With a combination of intellect and imagination, he created (at least on paper) such inventions as the bicycle, helicopter, and an airplane that he based on the physiology and flying capability of a bat.

So, without further ado, here in no particular order is a list of Leonardo da Vinci's ten best ideas.
THE VITRUVIAN MAN
Thanks to Da Vinci, this drawing is considered one of the most recognizable figures on earth.  He modeled his perfect human form after the proportions set forth by ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.

GEOLOGIC TIME
While the scientists of his time explained inland and mountain top mollusk fossils as something leftover from the Bible's Great Flood, Leonardo disagreed.  He believed the mountains were once coastline before many years of gradually shifting upwards.

THE SELF-PROPELLED CAR
His designs for a self-propelled vehicle were revolutionary for his time.  His wooden vehicle moved by the interaction of springs and geared wheels.  In 2004, scientists at a museum in Florence, Italy, built a replica.  It worked just as Da Vinci had intended.

THE IDEAL CITY
Living in plague-ravaged Milan, he envisioned a more efficient city.  His architectural drawings were very detailed and even included horse stables and fresh air vents.  To the disappointment of many of Milan's modern day residents, there wasn't any provision for a soccer stadium.

THE AERIAL SCREW
Even though most modern scientists agree it would never have gotten off the ground, Da Vinci's helicopter design is still one of his most famous.  It was meant to be operated by a four-man crew and probably inspired by the windmill toy popular in his time.

THE TRIPLE-BARRELED CANNON
Da Vinci's distaste for conflict didn't stop him from coming up with designs for more efficient cannons.  His triple-barrel design would have been a deadly weapon of war.
THE WINGED GLIDER
His imagination soared with ideas for various types of flying machines, including gliders with flappable wings.  His open-shelled glider model had seats and gears for the pilot.

THE REVOLVING BRIDGE
As a fan of the quick getaway, he thought his revolving bridge would be best used in warfare.  His design was made of light weight yet sturdy materials affixed to a rolling rope-and-pulley system and allowed an army to change locations on a moment's notice.
UNDERWATER DIVING GEAR
Da Vinci had a true fascination with the oceans and had many designs for aquatic exploration.  His diving suit was made from leather and connected to a snorkel made of cane and a bell that floated on the surface.

MIRROR WRITING
For whatever reason, he liked mirror writing with most of his journals written in reverse.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Vernal Equinox—It's Officially Spring

Equinox translates literally to equal night.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019, the sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator.  That moment is known as the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of spring and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere announcing the arrival of fall.  A second equinox will occur on September 23, 2019.

The fact that the Earth has distinctive seasons is due to the 23.4 degree tilt of the Earth's axis.  The Earth receives more sunlight (longer daylight hours) in the summer and less sunlight (fewer daylight hours) in the winter.  The tilt of the axis makes the seasons opposite in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.  At the north pole summer gives six months of daylight while at the same time the south pole is experiencing six months of darkness.  The closer you are to the equator, the daily hours of daylight and darkness become more equal.

The fall and spring equinoxes are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west.  Modern astronomy aside, people have recognized the astronomical connection to the season changes for thousands of years.  The ancients of various civilizations all over the world built structures that illustrate this—temples dedicated to their various gods that modern man recognize as observatories.  Not only the spring and fall equinox days, but also the summer and winter solstice days.

I think it's also interesting to note a connection between the spring equinox and Groundhog Day (another holiday derived from the practices and celebrations of the ancients).  If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, we have six more weeks of winter.  And by coincidence that six weeks takes us to within a few days of the spring equinox.
A little bit of equinox trivia:  According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. At spring one year, a few minutes before the vernal equinox, twenty-four almanac editors tested the theory.  For a full work day, seventeen out of twenty-four eggs stood up on the large end.  Then three days following the equinox, they tried the same test again.  And guess what?  The results were similar.  Perhaps the second test was still too close to the equinox?  :)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

St. Patrick's Day—history, symbols, traditions, green beer, and Irish coffee

March 17—St. Patrick's religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. A date that falls during the Christian season of Lent. The Irish have observed this date as a religious holiday for over a thousand years. Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in the U.S., not in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762, (when we were still a British colony). In 1848, several New York Irish aid societies united their parades to form one New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States with over 150,000 participants.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest celebrations, it has been celebrated in other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia.

In modern day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. Until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated pubs be closed on March 17. In 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to promote tourism.
Symbols and Traditions
The shamrock was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, it became a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.

Music is often associated with St. Patrick's Day and Irish culture in general. Since the ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next through stories and songs.

Banishing snakes from Ireland has been associated with St. Patrick. A long held belief says St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop and with only a wooden staff managed to drive all the snakes from Ireland. The fact is the island nation of Ireland has never had snakes. The climate is too cold and damp for reptiles that cannot internally generate their own body heat.

Every year on St. Patrick's Day the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage is consumed. Cabbage has long been an Irish food, but corned beef didn't become associated with St. Patrick's Day until many years later.

Belief in leprechauns probably comes from Celtic belief in fairies—tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Leprechauns are only minor figures in Celtic folklore, cantankerous little men known for their trickery which they often used to protect their fabled treasure. The cheerful, friendly image of the leprechaun is a purely American invention created by Walt Disney in his 1959 movie, Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Chicago is famous for a somewhat peculiar annual event: dyeing the Chicago River green. The tradition started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river—enough to keep it green for a week. Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only forty pounds of dye are used, making the river green for several hours rather than days.

Green beer, certainly associated with St. Patrick's Day here in the United States, is NOT an Irish creation. Purists claim that Arthur Guinness would turn over in his grave if anyone attempted to add green food coloring to the traditional Irish brew. Green beer is most likely of American origins.

And Irish coffee?  The forerunner of today's Irish coffee was said to have originated one miserable winter night in the 1940s at Foynes' port, the precursor to Shannon International Airport on the west coast of Ireland near the town of Limerick. Joseph Sheridan added some whiskey to the coffee to warm the arriving American passengers, proclaiming it to be Irish coffee.
A travel writer named Stanton Delaplane brought Irish coffee to the U.S. after drinking it at Shannon Airport. He worked with the Buena Vista CafĂ© in San Francisco to develop the perfect drink. The Buena Vista Cafe started serving Irish coffee on November 10, 1952, and continues to serve large quantities of it to this day starting from the time they open in the morning for breakfast until they close at night.  On several occasions I have enjoyed Irish coffee at the Buena Vista.

So, here's to everyone celebrating on March 17 whether Irish or not. Enjoy your corned beef and cabbage, green beer, and Irish coffee.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

March Bizarre and Unique Holidays


Just like all the other months, March has its share of bizarre, unusual, and unique holidays.  March also has month long celebrations:  Music in Our Schools Month, National Craft Month, National Frozen Food Month, National Irish American Heritage Month (designated by Congress in 1995), National Nutrition Month, National Peanut Month, National Women's History Month, Red Cross Month, and Social Workers Month.

In addition to the month long celebrations, March also has some week long celebrations.  The second week in March is host to two celebrations: National Bubble Week and also Crochet Week.

March 1     National Pig Day
March 1     Peanut Butter Lovers Day
March 1     Employee Appreciation Day (the first Friday in March)
March 1     National Salesperson Day (the first Friday in March)

March 2     Old Stuff Day—When asking someone "What's new?" or "What's happening?" you quite often get the stock answer of "Same old stuff."  Old Stuff Day is in recognition of that standard answer indicating a boring life.  This is a day to NOT do the same old stuff and perpetuate your boring routine.  Do something…anything…as long as it's different.

March 3     I Want You To Be Happy Day
March 3     If Pets Had Thumbs Day
March 3     National Anthem Day
March 3     Peach Blossom Day

March 4     Holy Experiment Day
March 4     Hug A GI Day—Give a big hug to any and all GIs you see today.  It's a small thanks to the men and women who serve their country.

March 5     Multiple Personality Day.

March 6     Dentist's Day
March 6     National Frozen Food Day

March 7     National Crown Roast Of Pork Day

March 8     Be Nasty Day
March 8     International (Working) Women's Day

March 9     Panic Day—Try to stay calm.  Take a deep breath.  Will you be able to handle today?  Don't worry or fret and, above all, don't panic.

March 10   Middle Name Pride Day

March 11   Johnny Appleseed Day
March 11   Worship of Tools Day

March 12   Girl Scout Day
March 12   Plant A Flower Day

March 13   Ear Muff Day—This seems to be doubly appropriate given all the cold, snowy, and icy weather we've had this winter.  In addition to keeping your ears warm, they protect you from ear infections and ear aches resulting from icy cold wind and weather.  They come in a variety of designs and colors to fit almost anyone's personality.
March 13   Jewel Day
March 13   Popcorn Lovers Day

March 14   Learn About Butterflies Day
March 14   National Potato Chip Day
March 14   National Pi Day—celebrated on 3.14, which is the value of Pi.

March 15   Everything You Think Is Wrong Day—always celebrated March 15.  This is the day when nothing goes right and we've all had those days.  This is a special day to recognize that everyone has the occasional bad day.
March 15   Ides Of March, as made famous by Shakespeare when the soothsayer says to Caesar, Beware the Ides of March.
March 15   Incredible Kid Day
March 15   Dumbstruck Day—This is the day to be dumbstruck over the things you see, hear, and read.  Today is the day to be dumbstruck like the rest of us without guilt or embarrassment.

March 16   National Quilting Day
March 16   Everything You Do Is Right Day—This could be the perfect day.  Some days are good, some are bad, and most are a combination of both good and bad.  Today is the opposite of yesterday…Everything You Think Is Wrong Day.
March 16   Freedom Of Information Day

March 17   Submarine Day (the sandwich or the boat?)
March 17   St. Patrick's Day

March 18   Goddess of Fertility Day
March 18   supreme Sacrifice Day

March 19   Poultry Day

March 20   International Earth Day
March 20   Extraterrestrial Abductions Day—Keep an eye on the skies and be ready to duck and hide.  Celebrate today by reading and watching science fiction stories about UFOs, but be sure to keep out of sight…just in case.
March 20   Proposal Day

March 21   Fragrance Day

March 22   National Goof Off Day

March 23   National Chip And Dip Day
March 23   Near Miss Day

March 24   National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day

March 25   National Agriculture Day (date varies)
March 25   Pecan Day
March 25   Waffle Day

March 26   Make Up Your Own Holiday Day—The object of this day is to allow one day for a topic or event of your choice that has otherwise escaped special recognition.  Simply declare this to be whatever special holiday you wish.

March 27   National "Joe" Day

March 28   Something On A Stick Day

March 29   National Mom And Pop Business Owners Day
March 29   Smoke And Mirrors Day

March 30   National Doctors Day
March 30   I Am In Control Day—This day is closely related to March 9th Panic Day.  Perhaps you went through Panic Day before getting things under control and now you're celebrating.
March 30   Take A Walk In The Park Day

March 31   Bunsen Burner Day
March 31   National Clam On The Half Shell Day—Thank goodness someone thought to create this holiday.  Don't hide in your shell today and don't clam up.  Get out and celebrate!