Saturday, January 25, 2020

Groundhog Day…And I Don't Mean The Movie


By a strange coincidence those six more weeks of winter takes us almost to the Vernal Equinox which signals the official end of winter and the first day of spring.

Every year on February 2 a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day.  If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow.  If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication.  Superstition says that fair weather at that time was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration.  And in recent years it's been covered live on television.  Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.  Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow over 100 times [hmm…I wonder how many of those recent times were due to the television lights] predicting a longer winter and has not seen it only a few times to predict an early spring.  There is no record of his prediction for 9 years in the late 1800s.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family.  The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library.  On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction. Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)

Over the decades, the groundhog has only about a 30% accuracy record. The television weatherman is far more accurate than that.

Saturday, January 18, 2020


With the British royal family once again in the headlines, I thought it would be a good time to share this list of Superstitions Of The British Monarchy.

Most of us have our family traditions and even superstitions that we've upheld through the years, maybe even several generations. Ours, however, aren't declared for the whole world to know. But if you're a member of the British royal family, it seems your family superstitions are out there for the world to see regardless of how old or obsolete they are.

Here are some of the weirdest superstitions the monarchy still upholds.
The Tower of London ravens
It's believed that ravens took up permanent residence in the Tower of London back in the 1800s. To the royal family, they have been looking out for the monarchy since it was reinstated in the 1600s with King Charles II following the time of Oliver Cromwell. It's believed that if the ravens flew away, it would bring bad luck. The legend says: "If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it." There are still ravens that live in the tower and serve as a tourist attraction. There are people assigned to full time duty of taking care of the ravens.

Wedding dates
Are you wondering why it was cause for concern that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were getting married on May 19, 2018? It's because the month of May is considered unlucky, at least according to royal family superstition. This belief dates back to Queen Victoria's reign. The late monarch's line on the matter was: "Marry in May, and rue the day."

(Queen Victoria makes multiple appearances on this list because she was so superstitious.)
The gems and jewels
Kate Middleton's gorgeous sapphire ring isn't just an ode to her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana. The royal family has long believed that gemstones hold magical powers. Sapphires are a particular favorite because they are believed to bring on financial success and stability. Queen Victoria also wore a sapphire.

The Ceremony of the Keys
Modern security systems keep the crown jewels under tight security at the Tower of London. Even though the monarch hasn't lived there in ages, the Ceremony of the Keys continues its centuries-old installment. Every evening, a ceremonial guard (one of the Beefeaters) walks the halls of the tower and locks all the gates to insure that thieves don't break in.
The monarch's residence
For the last couple of centuries Buckingham Palace has been recognized as the home of the reigning monarch. This isn't Queen Elizabeth II's official address. Her official residence is technically St. James' Palace in London. The reigning monarch lived at St. James' Palace prior to Buckingham House becoming Buckingham Palace. The first monarch to live at Buckingham Palace but keep St. James' Palace as the official residence was (surprise, surprise) Queen Victoria.

Paying the rent
No one actually pays rent at Stratfield Saye House. This is actually an annual ceremony paying homage to the Duke of Wellington and the 1815 Battle of Waterloo when the British defeated Napoleon. The Duke was given Stratfield Saye House as a gift for the victory. Every year the current Duke delivers a silken French flag to the queen to commemorate the win, i.e. "pay his rent." A new flag is produced every year and is draped over the bust of the first Duke of Wellington.

The royal touch
Dating back to the Middle Ages, it was believed that being touched by the monarch could cure you of any illness. This act was put into practice by King Charles II, with the belief that his touch was God-given and could cure a skin disease called scrofula. Needless to say, modern medicine has made this "divine" practice a bit obsolete.

No touching the royals
One tradition the monarchy has not been able to shake is the superstition that the members of the royal family cannot be touched by non-royals. This belief dates back to the Middle Ages. From medieval times, monarchs were divinely appointed to rule by God, so they were seen as gods and demanded to be treated as gods. Everyone from LeBron James to Michelle Obama has been criticized for throwing a friendly arm around the royals.
Searching the cellars
In 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of co-conspirators called the Gunpowder Plotters enacted a plot to assassinate King James I while making his speech to Parliament. The plan was foiled when Fawkes was apprehended in the cellars below the House of Lords the night before the speech. To this day the tradition continues as the queen's royal guard still searches the cellars for Fawkes.
No shellfish allowed
One of the better-known superstitions among the royal family is that they don't eat shellfish. This old-school tradition, which Queen Elizabeth II upholds to this day, comes from the fear of being poisoned or having a severe allergic reaction. Shellfish still doesn't appear on the Buckingham Palace menu, but some members of the family eat it. (Prince Charles and Kate Middleton are known seafood fans.)

Holding a hostage
Once upon a time, the monarch and Parliament didn't get along very well. They didn't trust each other to the point that the royal family didn't trust the safety of the sovereign while with Parliament. So, in exchange, Parliament would have to send over one of its members to be "held hostage" to insure the monarch's safe return. Even now, when Queen Elizabeth II gives her speech at The State Opening of Parliament a member still stays at Buckingham Palace as a hostage.

Towards the beginning of each year, Queen Elizabeth II selects High Sheriffs during a meeting of the Privy Council. This is referred to as the Pricking Ceremony. She selects names from a list by poking through paper with a sewing needle. The origin isn't clear, but many believe this odd tradition was started by Queen Elizabeth I. She was asked to choose her High Sheriffs while she was in the middle of embroidering. She used her needle as a selecting tool.
Anne Boleyn's ghost
Of all the figures in the monarchy's history, Anne Boleyn continues to be the most intriguing. With that in mind, perhaps it's not surprising that the royal family supposedly believes that her ghost walks around. According to family superstition and local lore, there are at lease seven different locations where her ghost has been seen. They include the Tower of London where she was executed. Her ghost allegedly walks around without a head.

The royal 'we'
As mentioned above, monarchs of times gone by believed they were chosen by God to rule. So when Queen Victoria spoke, she used the pronoun 'we' instead of 'I' showing that she was speaking for both herself and her divine creator. Nowadays, Queen Elizabeth II uses the plural when she addresses Parliament, but to convey that she is speaking for both herself and the nation.
The Coronation
For centuries the royal family has believed that the coronation of a new monarch has to go perfectly without even the slightest hiccup. One mistake can be a sign that the monarchy is in trouble.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

10 Jobs That No Longer Exist

This is certainly far removed from a complete list of obsolete jobs, but it's an interesting cross-section. Some of these jobs were prominent centuries ago and have been gone for a long time, some are much more recent. One or two of them may have existed in your lifetime. But either way, they are jobs that no longer exist.

Pre-Radar Listener
And speaking of World War II (and World War I)…during times of war in the days before radar, these listeners were people assigned to detect enemy aircraft. They did this by using acoustic mirrors and listening devices to detect the sounds of engines. (above picture)

We've all seen photographs from back in the day showing the photographer taking a picture, whether a portrait in a studio or Matthew Brady engaged in his landmark history changing photographs from the U.S. Civil War. Prior to modern cameras and selfies, daguerreotypes were one of the earliest forms of photography. These images were made by daguerreotypists, who treated a silver-coated copper plate with light-sensitive chemicals. After exposing it in a camera and developing it with mercury, a detailed image appeared.
Ice Cutter
Back when today's electric refrigerators were referred to as ice boxes, there was a reason for it.  Highly insulated 'boxes' held a large block of ice and kept food cold (until the ice melted).  The ice man delivered the large blocks of ice door to door.  These blocks were provided by people known as ice cutters who would literally cut the huge blocks from frozen lakes. And in the summer? Mostly it was 'tough luck.'

Before you become shocked or start laughing, that's not what I'm talking about here. The knocker-up was literally a human alarm clock. A knocker-up would visit your house to make sure you got to work on time. They used a long, light stick to hit their client's doors or windows to wake them.

Rat Catcher
From several centuries ago to even just a couple of centuries ago, cities (both residential neighborhoods and industrial areas) were plagued by disease-carrying rodents. Rat catchers were the people employed to remove the vermin off the streets.
Back in the day when street lights were gas, before the days of electric lamps, lamplighters would use long poles to light, extinguish and refuel street lamps to illuminate the night streets.

Before refrigerators existed, and even in the day of the ice box, it was hard to keep milk from going bad, especially in summer. The milkman made regular neighborhood deliveries. With the advent of home refrigeration and the convenience of modern supermarkets, the need for the milkman disappeared.
Switchboard Operator
At one time switchboard operators were a key part of a telephone network’s operation. Initially, anyone wanting to make even a local call needed the operator to put it through. After local dial was the norm, the operator was still required for long distance. And in businesses where numerous employees were all connected to the same company phone number, the switchboard operator was needed to direct incoming calls. But now, with billions of phone calls made every day, the job of switchboard operator would be virtually impossible.

Before you wrinkle your forehead into a frown and formulate an immediate objection to the concept of computer belonging on a 'no longer exists' list, I'm not talking about the hardware/software combination that is vital to today's society. I'm talking about a person rather than a machine. Computer was an actual job title. Before computers (the machine) became commercially available, these computers (the human workers—commonly women) performed mathematical calculations, converting and crunching numbers by hand. These 'computers' were invaluable during World War II calculating firing logistics for the artillery units at the front.
Also known as 'body snatchers' as well as grave robbers. Resurrectionists were hired to dig newly buried, fresh corpses from graveyards and sell them to universities to be used as cadavers for medical research and instruction.

And as is obvious, many of today's jobs will be obsolete at some point in time. Some of them not that far away.

Saturday, January 4, 2020


Companies have been suing each other for ages, especially over copyright infringement.  Some of the biggest brands in the world have taken each other to court.  The outcome of some of these lawsuits have altered entire industries some of which might look very different today if the outcome of the lawsuit had gone the other way.

10)  DYSON VS. HOOVER (2000)
Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Dyson
Damages:  $4.9 million

Dyson claimed Hoover infringed on its patent for the bagless cleaner which uses a dynamic similar to a centrifuge to pull dust from the air.  The court found that Hoover used the same technology which did infringe on James Dyson's invention.  Hoover appealed twice and lost both times.  The court instructed Hoover to stop selling its Vortex model.

9)  ORACLE VS. SAP (2007)
Duration of lawsuit:  seven years
Winner:  Oracle
Damages:  $357 million

Center of the lawsuit was SAP's TomorrowNow unit which Oracle claimed had illegally downloaded copyrighted documents and programs from Oracle.  SAP admitted it had infringed on copyright and tried to settle out of court before a jury awarded Oracle $1.3 billion in damages, an amount later brought down to $357 million. Both sides accepted the lower amount.

Duration of lawsuit:  two years
Winner:  Universal Studios
Damages:  Unknown

After 20th Century Fox successfully released the first Star Wars movie in 1977, Universal Studios decided it needed a space epic of its own and launched Battlestar Galactica.  Fox accused Universal of copyright infringement, citing 34 specific things allegedly copied.  The case was settled out of court.  ABC television network, where Battlestar Galactica aired, canceled the show in 1979.  [I worked for 20th Century Fox during this time and the series I was working on used material from Star Wars.  The Fox legal department kept a very close eye on how we were using the film footage to make sure it didn't give any ammunition to Universal for the lawsuit.]

7)  GUCCI VS. GUESS (2009)
Duration of lawsuit:  four years
Winner:  Gucci…and Guess
Damages:  $4.6 million

In 2009 Gucci started a four-year-long legal battle, accusing Guess of copying Gucci's logo on a line of shoes.  They also accused Guess of counterfeiting, unfair competition, and trademark infringement.  They demanded $221 million in damages. Gucci filed two lawsuits, one in New York and the other one in Milan, Italy.  The New York case was closed in favor of Gucci and they were awarded $4.7 million in damages.  The Milan court ruled in favor of Guess, stating the use of the "G" was common in the fashion industry.

Duration of lawsuit:  six years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  Unknown

Apple licensed parts of their Macintosh computer to Microsoft for its Windows 1.0 software.  When Microsoft released Windows 2.0, it added other features, including overlapping windows, which could also be found in the Macintosh's software.  Apple filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement and listed 189 parts of the interface that had been copied.  After six years, the court dismissed 179 of Apple's claims and said the remaining ten in dispute could not be copyrighted.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  A&M Records
Damages:  $26 million

Napster originally launched as a pirated music marketplace, allowing anybody to download music for free.  Music labels didn't wait long to sue.  Even though the plaintiff was referred to as A&M Records, it actually included all members of the Recording Industry Association of America.  After the case was concluded, Napster was forced to shut down.  The brand was later acquired by the software company Roxio and relaunched as a legal music store, but it eventually died.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  $14.5 million

Microsoft accused Motorola of charging excessively to license its patented technologies.  Motorola was charging a 2.25% royalty amounting to $4 billion.  The court decided it wasn't fair and reasonable, fined Motorola, and ordered them to pay Microsoft $14.5 million for breach of contract.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Settled out of court
Damages:  Unknown

After the Deepwater Horizon  oil spill that killed eleven workers and polluted the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil, BP was levied with fines and clean-up costs running into $40 billion.  BP believed their partners at the time of the spill, Transocean Offshore and Halliburton, should share the costs of the fines and demanded $15 billion.  The companies settled in 2015 in a series of legal deals.

2)  APPLE VS. SAMSUNG (2011)
Duration of lawsuit:  Ongoing since 2012
Winner:  not yet determined
Damages:  not yet determined

This lawsuit is one of the biggest in the technology industry.  It goes back to the first iPhone which Apple accused Samsung of copying for its Galaxy 5 series.  A jury in 2012 decided that Samsung had infringed on Apple's patents.  Samsung originally faced $1 billion in damages, which was reduced to $548 million before dropping down to $399 million.  The current state of the lawsuit is a discussion about the basis for Samsung to pay the damages.  The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the $399 million in damages and returned the lawsuit to the federal court.  A number of similar lawsuits between the pair are ongoing in countries around the world.

Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Ericsson
Damages:  Not disclosed

Apple filed a lawsuit against Ericsson claiming the patents it owns on wireless LTE connections are essential to the industry and the company was demanding excessive royalties.  Ericsson counter-sued and accused Apple of infringing on over 40 patents.  They settled out of court with Apple having to pay an undisclosed amount.  With Apple originally paying royalties as a percentage of total device cost, it's most likely a significant amount.  Apple wasn't the first smartphone maker to take legal action against Ericsson.  Samsung and Ericsson reached a confidential out of court settlement in 2014.

Out of the ten biggest brand lawsuits, two of them involved Microsoft and three of them involved Apple—biggest lawsuits/biggest companies.