Saturday, February 29, 2020
In the U.S., at 2am on the second Sunday in March we set our clocks forward one hour for the start of daylight saving time—or to put it another way, we lose one hour of sleep. This year, the second Sunday falls on March 8, 2020. And on the first Sunday in November at 2am we reverse that process by setting our clocks back one hour—we get an additional hour of sleep to make up for that hour we lost in March. In 2020, that first Sunday is November 1st.
Standard time—the creation of time zones—was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads in 1883. Due to the vast width of the two countries stretching thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, it was necessary to establish some method of standardizing train schedules. However, it was not established in U.S. law until the Act of March 19, 1918. The Act also established daylight saving time which was repealed in 1919 while standard time in time zones remained the law. Daylight saving time was re-established in World War II. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 brought standardization of start and stop dates but allowed for local exemptions from its observance. Since then, the official beginning and ending dates have changed several times, the most recent being in 2007. There are many wondering why we continue to bother with daylight saving vs. standard time as that annual change seems to have no purpose in today's society. Several states are currently considering doing away with it.
Those states that have previously opted for the exemption from daylight saving time are Arizona (except for the Navajo, who do observe daylight saving time on tribal lands), Hawaii, and the overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.
There are several states that are split between two time zones. Oregon and Idaho are split between the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Florida, Michigan, Indiana (I think I read somewhere that one of Indiana's time zones observes daylight saving time and the other time zone does not), Kentucky, and Tennessee are split between Eastern and Central time zones. Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, North and South Dakota are divided between Central and Mountain time zones.
At one time, Alaska covered four time zones. That has been changed and Alaska is now in two time zones. More than 98 percent of the state's population are in one of these zones, now called Yukon time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific standard time and four hours earlier than Eastern standard time.
And then there is the other annual observance, the one dictated by science/nature—the vernal equinox.
Equinox translates literally to "equal night."
This year, on Thursday, March 19, 2020, at precisely 11:50pm eastern daylight time, the sun crosses directly over the Earth's equator. The fact that it's night time in the U.S. and Canada does not change anything. 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 in September. According to the Farmer's Almanac, this is the earliest first day of spring in the last 124 years.
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 number of 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 recognizes as observatories. Not only the spring and fall equinox days, but also the summer and winter solstice days (most and least daily hours of sunlight).
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 the spring equinox.
A little bit of equinox trivia: According to folklore, you can stand a raw egg on its end on the equinox. One spring, 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? :)
And there you have it—your science lesson for the day.
Saturday, February 22, 2020
It's not unusual to see all sorts of things washed up on beaches around the world. There are the natural things such as seaweed/kelp and sea shells, including all things native to the oceans such as dead sea animals of various sorts ranging from small creatures to the occasional large whale.
But things washed up on the beaches also includes strange and surprising items that are not normally associated with beaches or even the ocean. Most of this marine debris is trash such as plastic bags, bottles, and cans from land-based sources. Some of it, however, is due to weather events like hurricanes and tsunamis. While other sources include vessels in storm-tossed seas. We have seen several very large and strange things washed up on the shores of western U.S. and Canada that arrived from Japan courtesy of the 2011 tsunami.
Here is a list I came across of unusual beach findings that didn't belong there.
In January 2012, huge shipping containers from a distressed cargo vessel washed up on one of New Zealand's most popular beaches. Up to 300 containers were reportedly tossed overboard when 6 meter (approximately 19.5 feet) waves struck the ship. People were warned against looting, but both locals and tourists flocked to the beaches to take photos of the giant containers.
A recurring washed-up-on-the-beach sensation appeared at Zandvoort in the Netherlands in 2007, at Brighton Beach in England in 2008, and at Siesta Key Beach in Florida in 2011. And what was this surprise visitor to these shores? It was a giant (8 feet tall) Lego man that weighed about 100 pounds and featured a bright green torso showing the message "No Real Than You Are." The number 8 appeared on its back along with the words "Ego Leonard." The mystery was finally resolved when it was revealed that "Ego Leonard" was the alter ego of a Dutch artist. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Florida joined in the fun and issued a press release saying it had taken the giant Lego man "into protective custody." In response, numerous "Free Lego Man" Facebook pages and campaigns popped up on the Internet.
In September 2005, hundreds of giant squid washed up in Newport Beach. California. The creatures, believed to be Humboldt squid, normally reside in deep water. It was rare for locals to encounter them on land or sea. Authorities said the squid might have been pursuing bait fish and gotten too close to shore. Other factors, such as warm ocean temperatures or record rainfall, were also suspected.
In May 2012, dozens of fly swatters emblazoned with logos of collegiate and professional sports teams washed up on the beaches of Kodiak, Alaska. The fly swatters were originally believed to be debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, but were eventually proven to have come from a shipping container that got loose from a ship carrying products from China. The container went overboard in dangerous weather in the Gulf of Alaska. Other sports-related items, such as Nerf balls and water bottles, were also found on Kodiak's beaches.
In August 2010, hundreds of tea packets washed ashore in Rajbandar in the Raigad district, Maharashtra, India. Nine containers from the cargo ship MSC Chitra spilled into the sea after the cargo ship suffered a collision with another ship.
In 2007, residents of the Dutch North Sea island of Terschelling, 70 miles north of Amsterdam, discovered thousands of bananas washed ashore after at least six containers of the fruit fell off a cargo ship in a storm and at least one of the containers broke open. Bunches of the still green bananas from Cuba also washed up on neighboring Amerland Island. It's not known exactly what happened to the beached bananas, but at the time residents suggested sending most of the fruit to local zoos.
In February 2006, also on the Netherlands' Terschelling Island, thousand of sneakers washed up on the beach when containers from the P&O Nedlloyd ship Mondriaan fell overboard in a storm. Residents of the island rushed to get the sneakers, searching for shoes in their size. Other items that washed up on the beach from those containers included children's toys and briefcases.
Perhaps one of the most famous container spills in history occurred in January 1992 when 28,000 rubber duck toys fell into the sea. The incident inspired a book titled Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them by Donovan Hohn. The great rubber ducky spill occurred when a shipping crate on a cargo ship headed to the U.S. from China fell overboard onto the Pacific Ocean during a stormy night. Some of the rubber ducks (nicknamed Friendly Floatees) have since washed up on the shores of Alaska, Hawaii, South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest. Some have traveled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank or spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack. Some 2,000 of the rubber ducks are still circulating in the ocean and helping researchers chart ocean currents.
On January 26, 2011, a grand piano was found on a sandbar in Miami's Biscayne Bay (pictured above), mysteriously charred from being burned. Speculation about its origins included the idea that it was part of a music video production. It was later discovered that the piano was a junk art installation, the brainchild of a 16-year-old hoping to use the piece for a college application.
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Presidents’ Day is an American holiday originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington and is currently celebrated on the third Monday in February, in 2020 that's February 17th. The federal government still officially calls it “Washington’s Birthday.” When first established, it was celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual date of birth.
The story of Presidents’ Day begins in 1800. Following President George Washington’s death in 1799, his February 22 birthday became a perennial day of remembrance. At the time, Washington was venerated as the most important figure in American history, and events like the 1832 centennial of his birth and the start of construction of the Washington Monument in 1848 were cause for national celebration.
While Washington’s Birthday was an unofficial observance for most of the 1800s, it was not until late 1879 that it became a federal holiday when President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law. The holiday initially only applied to the District of Columbia, but in 1885 it was expanded to the whole country.
The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day began in the late 1960s when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. This law shifted the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays creating three-day holiday weekends. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill had widespread support. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s Birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s, which fell on the proximate date of February 12 thus giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous presidents.
The main piece of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act passed in 1968 and officially took effect in 1971 following an executive order from President Richard Nixon. Washington’s Birthday was then shifted from the fixed date of February 22 to the third Monday of February.
Washington and Lincoln still remain the two most recognized leaders, but Presidents’ Day is now popularly seen as a day to recognize the lives and achievements of all of America’s chief executives. For its part, the federal government has held fast to the original incarnation of the holiday as a celebration of the country’s first president. The third Monday in February is still listed on official calendars as Washington’s Birthday. [I just took a look at my office calendar and it shows February 17, 2020, the third Monday in February, as President's Day rather than Washington's birthday.]
Saturday, February 8, 2020
Valentine's Day is that time of the year when cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and other tokens of affection are given to loved ones in the name of St. Valentine. But who is St. Valentine and why do we celebrate his holiday every year?
One legend says Valentine was a priest in the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius ordered him put to death.
Another story has Valentine killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured.
And yet another story says Valentine was the one who sent the first Valentine greeting while he was in prison. He fell in love with a young girl, possibly the jailer's daughter, who visited him while he was imprisoned. Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it From your Valentine, an expression that has transcended time to continue as a common expression for the holiday.
St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, is a combination of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. One theory says we celebrate Valentine's Day in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial which probably occurred around 270A.D., while others believe that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card sending holiday, surpassed only by the exchange of Christmas cards. Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia in addition to the United States.
The St. Valentine's Day massacre—the most spectacular gangland slaying in mob history.
Al Capone (known to be the mastermind, but never charged for the crime) had arranged for his chief rival, Chicago mobster George 'Bugs' Moran and most of his North Side Gang, to be eliminated on February 14, 1929. The plan was simple and deviously clever, yet Capone's primary target escaped any injury. Capone distanced himself from the execution of the plan (and the execution of his rivals) by spending the time at his home in Florida thus providing himself with a solid alibi.
A bootlegger loyal to Capone was to draw Moran and his gang to a warehouse to receive a shipment of smuggled whiskey, the delivery set for 10:30AM on Valentine's Day.
The morning of February 14 was cold and snowy. A group of Moran's men waited for Bugs at the red brick warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street. Moran was running late. When his car turned the corner onto Clark Street, he spotted a police wagon pulling up to the warehouse. Assuming it was a raid, he watched as five men, three of them dressed in police uniforms, entered the building. Moran and the two men with him, immediately left the area.
Inside the warehouse, the hit men, disguised as police, confronted Moran's men. Assuming it was a routine bust, they followed instructions when ordered to line up against the wall. The hit men opened fire with Thompson submachine guns, killing six of the seven men immediately. The seventh man, with twenty-two bullet wounds, survived the attack but died after arriving at the hospital.
The newspapers instantly picked up on the crime, dubbing it the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The story appeared on front pages around the country, making Capone a national celebrity. But to his dismay, this new found notoriety also brought a new level of attention from federal law enforcement culminating in his conviction for tax evasion and his incarceration at Alcatraz. With all the law enforcement agencies trying to bring down Capone, it was a tax accountant working for the Internal Revenue Service who finally did it.
Saturday, February 1, 2020
In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a list I saw of the world's seven most romantic islands—travel destinations that offer more than just beautiful beaches. Travel destinations that offer the perfect romantic getaway for the holiday that celebrates love.
7) MAUI, HAWAII
Behind the outer wrapping of a tropical paradise with beautiful beaches you will find an interesting and varied landscape. On the way to the summit of the Haleakala volcano crater you pass through vegetation that includes cactus, something not usually associated with the Hawaiian islands. There are vast stretches of sugar cane fields, a 1900s cowboy town, and a rain forest with an almost primeval feel to it.
An archipelago in the Indian Ocean with white sand beaches, atolls, and secluded resorts. This is the world's lowest elevation nation (overall elevation of high and low averaged). You will find a hotel with a coral nursery and an underwater nightclub. And how about a restaurant reachable only by boat?
5) BORACAY, PHILIPPINES
This five mile long island was once a haven for backpackers with only the most basic accommodations. Today it rivals many of the well-known Asian destinations. Boracay starts with a forty-five minute flight from Manila followed by a boat connection to the final destination of White Beach with powdery sand that just might be the softest in the world.
4) KAUAI, HAWAII
This is the oldest of Hawaii's eight main islands and has the most dramatic scenery from wind sculpted mountains, red-walled canyons (Waimea Canyon is referred to as Hawaii's Grand Canyon), primeval rain forest, and a wide range of waterfalls. Kauai has also been the location for several movies including The Descendants, Avatar, Body Heat, and South Pacific.
3) SANTORINI, GREECE
Every place you look gives you a postcard perfect view. White washed buildings, colorful flowers, blue-domed churches all clinging to the hillsides of an ancient volcanic crater. In addition to the spectacular scenery, Santorini offers a wide variety of diversions—fine wines, black and red and white sand beaches, archaeological sites including one referred to as the Minoan Pompeii.
2) CAPRI, ITALY
This four-square mile dot in the Tyrrhenian Sea embodies la dolce vita. There is a funicular railway to take visitors from the main port to the street of Capri town with its boutiques, restaurants, and romantic getaways.
1) BORA-BORA, FRENCH POLYNESIA
What could be more romantic than staying in a bungalow above the waters of a turquoise lagoon? At the heart of Bora-Bora is the jagged peak of Mount Otemanu and on its fringes are islets and a coral reef perfect for snorkeling to observe the varied and colorful marine life.
So, if a romantic getaway to one of these islands isn't in the cards for Valentine's Day this year, it would be a good time to start planning for Valentine's Day 2020. One caveat—with the constantly changing international situation regarding terrorism, be sure to check out travel warnings that may apply.