Friday, December 31, 2004


In the Han Dynasty (206–220 BC) firecrackers were made by roasting bamboo to produce the loud sound (known as "bian pao") that was intended to frighten evil spirits. In the Northern and Southern Dynasties (AD 420–581) the firecrackers were used not only used to dispel evil but also to pray for happiness and prosperity.

The discovery of gunpowder and the invention of the first true fireworks are traditionally credited to the Chinese, although India is also a likely source. Some scholars believe fireworks were developed in the Sui and Tang Dynasties (581–907), but others believe there were no fireworks until the Northern Song Dynasty (10th century).

America's earliest settlers brought their enthusiasm for fireworks to the United States. Fireworks and black powder were used to celebrate important events long before the American Revolutionary War. The very first celebrations of Independence Day were in 1777. In 1789, George Washington's inauguration was also accompanied by a fireworks display.

In Western Europe the use of fireworks by the general public is usually restricted to a few hours after midnight on New Year's eve.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


In 1850, Joel Houghton patented a wooden machine with a hand-turned wheel that splashed water on dishes, it was hardly a workable machine, but it was the first patent. In 1886, Josephine Cochran proclaims in disgust: "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself."

Josephine Cochran had expected the public to welcome the new invention, which she unveiled at the 1893, World's Fair, but only the hotels and large restaurants were buying her ideas. It was not until the 1950s, that dishwashers caught on with the general public. Josephine Cochran's machine was a hand-operated mechanical dishwasher.

The first electric dishwasher was developed in Germany by the Miele Company in 1929, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the dishwasher made inroads in America's homes, as they became cheaper and a more usable size. The first fully automatic, front-loading dishwasher appeared in 1960. By 1967, it had been improved to include three rotating spray arms and automatic water softener reactivation program.

In 1978, Miele invented the world's first microprocessor-controlled dishwasher with sensor touch controls came on the market. Over the last 20 years it has been refined and improved, offering features like a third-level cutlery tray and enough room to accommodate 14 place settings.

Phenomenon: Japanese new year

Japanese people eat a special selection of dishes on New Year's Day called osechi. Some of the popular foods included in osechi are miso soup with mochi (sticky rice cakes) and vegetables (ozo-ni), sweetly boiled seaweed wrapped tuna fish (kobumaki), jellied fish paste (kamaboko), mashed sweet potato with marron (kurikinton) and sweetened black beans (kuromame).

Japanese have a custom of sending New Year's Day postcards to their friends and relatives. It is similar to the European custom of sending Christmas cards. Instead of sending Christmas cards, Japanese people send these postcards so that they arrive on the 1st of January. The end of December and the beginning of January are the busiest times for the post office.

On New Year's Day, Japanese people have a custom of giving pocket money to children. It is handed out in small decorated envelopes called 'pochibukuro', descendants of the Chinese red packet, and is called otoshidama. In the Edo period, large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around.

The New Year traditions are also a part of Japanese poetry, including haiku and renga. All of the traditions above would be appropriate to include in haiku as kigo (season words).

Can animals sense disaster?

Sri Lankan wildlife officials are stunned -- the worst tsunami in memory has killed around 22,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast, but they can't find any dead animals. Giant waves washed floodwaters up to 2 miles inland at Yala National Park in the ravaged southeast, Sri Lanka's biggest wildlife reserve and home to hundreds of wild elephants and several leopards.

"The strange thing is we haven't recorded any dead animals," H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of the national Wildlife Department, told Reuters on Wednesday. "No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit," he added. "I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense. They know when things are happening."

At least 40 tourists, including nine Japanese, were drowned. The tsunami sent waves up to 15 feet high onto Sri Lanka's southern, eastern and northern seaboard.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Record breaking card structures

Bryan Berg broke the Guinness World Record for card structures in 1992 at the age of seventeen with a tower fourteen feet, six inches tall. His latest record-holding structure is more than twenty-five feet tall. Touring regularly, Berg has stacked cards in virtually every major U.S. city and in Japan, Denmark, and Germany.

The card stacking does not involve glue or tape. Berg: "The cards stand up-and stay up-for two reasons. First, there are so many cards in large constructions, the combined weight of all the cards actually adds to the stability of the structure. Second, the weight is supported by the strategic arrangement of cards, called grids. Cards, arranged in grid patterns, resemble waffles or ice cube trays. The cards actually prohibit each other from bending and also prohibit each other from falling over. If you can learn to build a grid structure, you can build just about anything."

Would you like to try stacking some cards? If so, then you should use the best cards for the job–cards just like Berg uses. Visit the Cardstacker store and get your own stacking decks. Via Attu.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Someone blew up my pub!

Finding a decent pub on a Saturday night can be bloody hard work. This inflatable tavern makes it easy: All you need is a flat surface and two small fans. In six minutes, you'll have a full-blown, 760-square-foot structure that accommodates a fully stocked bar and 30 people.

The pub - which features traditional British decor like a framed painting of Big Ben and a stuffed fish over the mantle - was designed by Airquee, a Welsh company that specializes in blow-ups. Airquee chair Andi Francis says the PVC pub allows for smoking, dart playing, and even some literal bouncing off the walls.

More pictures here. Airquee also created the world's first inflatable church. Seen at Boingboing.

Snow White and the Four Dwarves

Snow White had to make do with just four dwarves rather than the usual seven due to cost-cutting at a theater in the eastern German town of Stendal, the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported.

The Altmark Stendal theater said it could afford only six actors for its Christmas rendition of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," which led to protests from theater-goers from the nearby western city of Hanover who wanted to see seven dwarves.

The theater said it had attached two puppets in dwarf outfits to a background wall to give the production six dwarves. The actor playing the prince was supposed to double as the seventh dwarf but only made one brief appearance on stage.

"The seventh dwarf wasn't on stage the whole time because he was in stuck down in the mine working overtime," theater spokeswoman Susanne Kreuzer told the newspaper.

Research: Gay penguins

Researchers have found a number of same-sex pairs of penguins at aquariums in Japan, with an imbalance between the numbers of male and female birds suspected to be the cause, a report said.

A research group led by Keisuke Ueda, professor of behavioral ecology at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, found about 20 same-sex pairs at 16 major aquariums and zoos, Kyodo news agency said.

Penguins in captivity "may be more likely to form same-sex pairs" due to the difficulty of finding partners of the opposite sex because breeding facilities in Japan only have an average of 20 birds, the agency quoted Ueda as saying. It is not known if the frequency of homosexuality is higher than in the wild, where telling the sexes apart is tough, he said.

Many of the gay male pairs and two of the female pairs were seen performing mounting behavior, it said.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Indian Ocean earthquake

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake was an undersea earthquake of moment magnitude 9.0 that struck the Indian Ocean off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004 at 00:58:50 UTC (or 07:58:50 local time in Jakarta and Bangkok). It was the largest earthquake in the world since the 9.2-magnitude Good Friday Earthquake which struck Alaska, USA, in 1964, and the fourth largest since 1900.

The quake was initially reported as magnitude 6.8 in the Richter scale. On the moment magnitude scale, which is more accurate for quakes of this size, the earthquake's magnitude was first reported as 8.5 by the United States Geological Survey, but after further analysis they increased this first to 8.9 and then to 9.0.

For comparison, the largest recorded earthquake was the Great Chilean Earthquake of 1960, having a magnitude of 9.5. The only other larger quakes worldwide since 1900 were the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake (9.2) and a March 9, 1957 quake in the Andreanof Islands (9.1), both in Alaska, USA. The only other recorded 9.0 magnitude earthquake, in 1952 off the southeast coast of Kamchatka, U.S.S.R., spawned tsunamis that caused extensive damage in Kamchatka, the Kuril Islands and the Hawaiian Islands.

Tenthousands of people have lost their lives. Millions have lost family members, their home and their belongings. Facts and figures cannot describe the tragedy that took place in these countries on December 26.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Today 90 years ago: Christmas Truce

The so-called "Christmas truce" began on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, during World War I, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting holiday greetings to each other. Soon, there were calls for visits across the "No Man's Land", where small gifts were exchanged — whiskey, cigars, and the like. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Proper burials took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respect.

The truce spread to other areas of the lines, and there is a perhaps apocryphal story of a football match between the opposing forces, which ended when the ball struck a strand of barbed wire and deflated.

In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but in some areas, it continued until New Year's Day.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Taco grease, please

Ecologists toured Mexico City taco stands and sushi bars on Wednesday to refuel an old school bus with waste cooking oil that will power the next leg of a green-awareness tour from California to Costa Rica.

The bus, which ran on avocado oil during a week-long drive down from the U.S. border, is being used to prove that vehicles can run on recycled fuels that pollute less than gasoline as it chugs around oil refineries, factories and eateries collecting vegetable oil.

Crops like soybeans can also be grown for biofuels -- seen as a transitional energy source that Zaidman said could cover 10 percent of fuel needs, including for things like industry and tractors, for 30 to 40 years. "What with pollution and wars over oil, a lot of people want to get off petroleum," he said.

To convert a diesel engine to run on food oil costs around $400, a much cheaper option than fuel cell cars on the market.

Vintage phone accessories

"Our aim is to provide you with the ultimate vintage accessories for your mobile. The BRICKIA, DESKIA and POKIA all plug into your mobile and work as a headset (although hardly hands free)."

Generally attributed to the inventor Alexander Graham Bell, the first phone was built in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1876. However, an Italian inventor Antonio Meucci is said to have invented the device in 1849, and in September 2001, Meucci was officially credited by the US Congress with the invention of the telephone, instead of Alexander Graham Bell.

Other sources say Philip Reis invented it in 1860, but due to a false translation of the German word "Telephon" his invention was considered only the predecessor of Bell's.
Seen at Boing Boing

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Luck wins the Fat One

A town called "Luck" lived up to its name on Wednesday, turning up the winning ticket in Spain's Christmas lottery, one of the world's biggest prizes known as El Gordo (The Fat One).

The ticket which scooped a prize of 390 million euros ($522.1 million) was sold at a lottery office called The Golden Witch (La Bruixa D'Or) in the town of Sort, which in the Catalan language means "luck."

Each ticket can be divided into a maximum of 1,950 segments, although those can then be shared again in cartels in which whole villages may take part. Sort also sold one of the prize-winning numbers in last year's Christmas draw.

El Gordo is the top prize in a lottery which gives out 1.8 billion euros in prizes, or 70 percent of the value of tickets sold, and marks the start of Christmas. The ritual in which children sing out the prize-winning numbers in a draw takes several hours and brings Spain to a virtual standstill.

The tickets are even sold abroad and earlier this year a "decimo," the smallest division of a ticket, was selling in London for 50 pounds ($97.40), more than three times the price in Spain, where it costs 20 euros.

Bottoms up!

More than 80 percent of Dutch children aged between nine and 15 say they have tried alcohol and on average start drinking at the age of 12, according to a survey. The teen web site Kaboem said Monday a survey of 2,500 young people found nearly 40 percent had their first alcoholic beverage with a parent.

Some 68 percent of Dutch 15-year-olds admitted drinking alcohol often and a third of respondents said that when they drink they have enough to get drunk. As in many other countries, boys drink more frequently than girls, the survey found. Forty percent of 15-year-old boys said they had been drunk at least once.

The European School Survey project on alcohol and other drugs, published earlier in December, said Dutch youngsters drank more often than their peers across Europe and were among the most likely to binge drink.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Laps for sale

Single or lonely Japanese men may get lucky this Christmas. One popular item for holiday shoppers is the "lap pillow," with skin-colored polyurethene calves folded under soft thighs -- a comfy cushion for napping, reading or watching television.

The 9,429 yen ($90) pillow, which comes with one red and one black skirt, went on sale in late November and maker Trane Co Ltd says shipments have reached 3,000 in just a few weeks.

At stores, lap pillows gather crowds where people poke and pry at the foam legs. "I think this may be good for single men, but it could cause trouble for someone who is married," said Shingo Shibata, a 27-year-old company employee browsing at a toy store which sells the pillow.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

1000 ways to waste working time

"Read this collection. The Diagram Group (London-based book packager) wasted nearly thirty years of working time to complete the necessary research for this project."

I wonder why maintaining a weblog or surfing the web in general is not on the list. For me, that's the ultimate way to waste working time. Actually, I'm doing it right now.

Being creative with beer cans

These guys are building an aircraft out of empty beer cans. How noble!

Aircraft modeling or aeromodelling is a hobby that has been popular since the 1930s. It is constructing small airplanes using materials such as balsa wood, beer cans, etc. A vast array of designs are possible, from ultra-simple gliders such as that pictured, to highly accurate scale models, some of which can be very large - maybe 1/3rd scale or more.

Flying models have to be designed according to the same principles as full-sized aircraft, and therefore their construction is very different from most static models. In fact, construction techniques similar to full-sized aircraft (especially older ones) are often used. These might consist of forming the structure of the model using thin strips of light wood such as balsa, then covering it with fabric and doping it to make it stretch on the frame and become airtight.

Lightness is essential, but so is having sufficient strength to accommodate the forces of flight. Seen @ Quicksand

Today 113 years ago: Basketball invented

Doctor James Naismith, (November 6, 1861 - November 28, 1939) was the inventor of the sport of basketball and the first to introduce the use of a helmet in American football.

In 1891, while working as a physical education teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts he was asked to look for a way to relieve his students' boredom during indoor winter gym classes.

Inspired in part by a game he played as a child in Ontario called Duck-on-a-Rock, Naismith's basketball started December 15th 1891 with thirteen rules, a peach basket nailed to either end of the school's gymnasium, and two teams of nine players. On January 15, 1892 Naismith published the rules for basketball.

Basketball became popular in the United States very quickly, and spread to other countries as well. The sport was added to the Olympic programme at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin (although there had been a basketball competition in connection with the 1904 Games). There, Naismith handed out the gold medals to the American team, which beat Canada in the final.

Scrap metal sculptures

The place was featured in a documentary this summer on the Discovery Channel's "Beyond Bizarre" series, used to be listed in Guinness World Records for the world's largest scrap-metal sculpture, and is a favorite destination in roadside attraction books. It's Dr. Evermore's Scrap Metal Park.

Evermore, born Tom Every, is a scrap-metal dealer turned artist (and not a real doctor) who once made his living demolishing industrial machinery. He abandoned the job in 1983, donned his alter ego and started building the Forevertron, a sprawling, 3-ton, three-story metal sculpture resembling a mix between a roller coaster and a space station that he says will one day launch him to the heavens on a "magnetic lightning force beam."

The Forevertron is surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of other pieces built by the doctor from junked machines, musical instruments and other metals. A band of metal birds of various shapes and sizes with doorknobs for eyes and French horns for bodies shoot puzzled looks at you as you wander past.

Evermore says thousands of visitors flock to the site each year, especially during the summer, to walk or drive the dirt loop that meanders around the lot. He has never charged admission and makes a living selling various smaller sculptures that aren't key parts of the park. He reportedly turned down a $5 million offer to sell the Forevertron and said he wouldn't for any amount.

Don't mess with Panettone

Proud Milanese bakers and pastry chefs took a first step on Tuesday toward protecting the city's famous panettone Christmas cake from inferior copies, publishing their request for an official European "brand."

Panettone, a sponge-like cake often studded with raisins and candied fruit, is a Christmas treat across Italy, and Italians are expected to spend a total of 360 million euros ($480 million) on them this year alone. There are many stories about the possible origin of the cake -- one of the most often repeated holds that a nobleman disguised as a baker's assistant invented it to woo Algisa, the beautiful daughter of a Milan baker.

Others say Toni, a cook for Milanese nobleman Ludovico il Moro, invented it when ingredients for regular bread ran out, hence "pan di toni," or Toni's bread.

In reality, the cake probably evolved from the northern Italian tradition of sharing a large loaf of bread over Christmas. Panettone now has dozens of regional varieties, from Genoa's pan dolce to nut-filled, chocolate-topped panettone from the region of Abruzzi in southern Italy, and the golden pan d'oro of Venice.

Monday, December 13, 2004

What town are you from again?

is the longest placename in Britain, with 58 letters. It is a town in North Wales meaning "St. Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave" or "St. Mary's (Church) by the white aspen over the whirlpool, and St. Tysilio's (Church) by the red cave" in Welsh.

The 'real', and official, name of the place is Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is how it appears on maps and road signs. It's also referred to as Llanfair PG. The 19th-century extension of the name is certainly not in anything like common use, except by tedious English people who like to show off.

Dale Williams of New Zealand says that the Welsh placename is a nineteenth-century fabrication, adopted to look good on their railway place boards, whereas a Maori name for a hill in New Zealand is genuine and was in general use. It has 85 letters: TAUMATAWHAKATANGIHANGAKOAUAUOTAMATEATURIPUKAKAPIKI- MAUNGAHORONUKUPOKAIWHENUAKITANATAHU. Williams says, "If we want to go there now we call it Taumata." New Zealand broadcaster Henare Te Ua says the word celebrates the prowess of a great Maori chief who possessed enormous personal power. Chief Tamatea was so mighty and powerful that, metaphorically, he could even eat mountains. There was a gentle side to his personality too. He could play his nose flute beautifully and quite charmingly to his loved ones.

The word, Henare said, means "The summit of the hill, where Tamatea, who is known as the land eater, slid down, climbed up and swallowed mountains, played on his nose flute to his loved one." The hill, about 1000 feet in height, is in Southern Hawke's Bay, a district on the eastern side of the north island. The word as spelled above now has 85 letters and agrees with the spelling in the 1992 Guinness Book of Records."

Today 188 years ago: Ernst Werner von Siemens

Ernst Werner von Siemens (December 13, 1816 - December 6, 1892) was a German inventor and industrialist. Siemens invented a telegraph that used a needle to point to the right letter, instead of using Morse code. Based on this invention, he founded the company Siemens AG on October 12, 1847. The first electric elevator was built by Von Siemens in 1880. He retired in 1890.

The company continued to grow and diversified into electric trains and light bulbs. Siemens & Halske (S&H) was incorporated in 1897. In 1919, S&H and two other companies jointly formed the Osram lightbulb company. A Japanese subsidiary was established in 1923. During the 1920s and 1930s, S&H started to manufacture radios, television sets, and electron microscopes. During World War II, Siemens employed Jews and Roma as slave labour and ran its own concentration camp near Auschwitz.

In the 1950s, S&H started to manufacture computers, semiconductor devices, laundry machines, and heart pace makers. Siemens AG was incorporated in 1966. The company's first digital telephone exchange was produced in 1980. In 1990, Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme AG was founded. In 1997 Siemens introduced the first GSM cellular phone with color display.

Siemens AG is the world's largest electronics company and listed on the New York Stock Exchange since March 12, 2001. Worldwide, Siemens and its subsidiaries employ 423,000 people in 192 countries and reported global sales of $80.5 billion in fiscal year 2003.

Plastic Fantastic

China will soon host the finals of the country's first beauty contest in which every contestant has gone under the knife. Twenty "man-made" beauties will parade their surgical nips and tucks next Saturday in the hope of taking home the country's first Miss Artificial Beauty crown.

Plastic surgery clinics offering everything from liposuction to eye re-modeling have mushroomed in major cities in China in recent years. Statistics from the China Plastic Cosmetology Committee show there are more than 10,000 medical institutions carrying out procedures throughout the country.

China's face-lifting industry started at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s. During the first 20 years or so, plastic operations were by and large confined to wound treatments such as skin-graft after burns. The idea of beauty treatment wasn't introduced into China until the late 1970s.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Say what? - Phony

Something that is not genuine; a fake or imitation.

British thieves and swindlers of old used many secret codewords. One such word was fawney, which referred to a gilt ring. They would sell these, saying that they were made of real gold. But the rings were not genuine gold, and the word phony – from fawney – came to be used for anything that is fake or not genuine.

A famous phony product is the fake Rolex. Some people even run a complete business on somewhat strange phony products.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Say what? - To break the ice

Image Hosted by
(1) to relax a tense or formal atmosphere or social situation; (2) to make a start on some endeavor.

The phrase came into general use, in sense (1), in English through Lord Byron's "Don Juan" (1823) in the lines:

And your cold people [the British] are beyond all price,
When once you've broken their confounded ice.

In these lines the ice in question is metaphorically that on a river or lake in early spring. To break the ice would be to allow boats to pass, marking the beginning of the season's activity after the winter freeze. In this way, this expression has been connected to the start of enterprise for about 400 years.

Nice ashhole you got there

" We’re glad you’re craving an Ashhole of your very own. We’re working hard to ensure that Ashholes will be found in stores all across the country sometime in late summer 2004. You can do your part to make sure you favorite store gets in on the action -- tell ‘em to visit this site to order a case of Ashholes. Then you and your friends can go buy an Ashhole. Everybody wins. That’s how we like it."

I saw this beauty of an ashhole at Attu's.

People have been inventing lots of interesting ashtrays over the years. The "please don't smoke" ashtray gently reminds you with a pleasant message that "smoking can damage your health". There's the "portable ashtray", useful on many occasions - at an outdoor party, on the ski-lift, when hiking, on a boat or at an open-air concert.

One in particular combines the needs of the real fanatics. "The beermat that can become an ashtray to use and to throw away" alows you to drink your beer, enjoy your sigarette and leaves you with no mess at all. Isn't that amazing?

Homeless hawks

He was a movie star who resided on Manhattan's tony Upper East Side, drawing a devoted crowd of followers who gathered daily to catch a glimpse of him. But this week, that star -- a famous red-tailed hawk known as Pale Male who built his nest above a cornice of an apartment building overlooking Central Park and was the subject of a documentary movie -- was evicted.

The nest where Pale Male and his companions had resided since 1993 was removed along with the metal spikes that provided support for the nest and protected it from the wind. The action outraged bird lovers, including actress Mary Tyler Moore, who lives in the same building as the hawk. "I am just amazed at the insensitivity ... of people who have torn away a nest that had been used for 10 years by an extraordinary red-tail hawk," Moore said. The building's management company said of the nest removal, "It was a researched and thought-out decision on the part of the building."

Pale Male's unusual decision to take up residence in Manhattan and raise his young 12 stories above the park captivated bird watchers and inspired a book and a documentary film. On Wednesday, Pale Male and Lola, his female companion, could be seen circling the building and bringing back twigs to try to rebuild the nest, which bird watchers said would be futile without the metal spikes to support it.

Pale Male supporters were organizing a sunset vigil outside the apartment to urge the building to restore the nest.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Vaseline vandalism

A Virginia man admitted Monday to smearing 14 jars of petroleum jelly all over an upstate New York motel room. Robert F. Chamberlain, 45, of McLean, gave no reason for his actions when he appeared in court to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief.

A Broome County judge sentenced Chamberlain to three years of probation and ordered him to pay $3,886 in damages to the Motel 6 in Chenango. Authorities said Chamberlain coated every object of the motel room with petroleum jelly in May. A cleaning crew discovered the mess after he checked out, and he was arrested at another motel covered in the greasy stuff.

In 1859 when oil was first found in Pennsylvania, Robert Augustus Cheesebrough was a 22 year old chemist in Brooklyn who had become an expert at extracting kerosene from cannel oil. He noticed that a colorless film called "rod wax" collected around the pump rods on the oil wells, gumming up the works until it was removed. He also observed oil workers who would slap the stuff on a cut, instead of a bandage. Not only did it stay on the skin and stop the bleeding, but it seemed to help cure the wound.

Cheesebrough returned to Brooklyn with some rod-wax and spent months creating a clean form of rod-wax which he called "petroleum jelly". He began making so much of this stuff that every beaker in his laboratory was full, so he threw out his wife's flowers and filled the vases with his creation. After a while, he added the popular medical term "line" to the word "vase" and he called the product "Vaseline Petroleum Jelly."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Jesus Beckham

Church leaders united Wednesday to condemn a Christmas nativity tableau depicting soccer star David Beckham as Joseph and his pop singer wife Victoria as the Virgin Mary. Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians called the exhibit at Madame Tussaud's waxwork museum in London a new low in the cult of celebrity worship.

In the tableau, Australian pop star Kylie Minogue hovers above the crib as an angel while "Posh Spice" Victoria lays her shawled head tenderly on Beckham's shoulder. Tony Blair, George W. Bush and the Duke of Edinburgh star as The Three Wise Men. The shepherds are played by Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson, British actor Hugh Grant and camp Irish comedian Graham Norton.

The Vatican was not amused. "This is worse than bad taste. It is cheap," an official Vatican source told Reuters in Rome. "You cannot use contemporary personalities as the central figures of the nativity ... And it becomes worse, if that were possible, if the people may be of questionable moral standing," he added. He said it was sometimes acceptable to use modern figures in the supporting roles because it can help make Christmas contemporary -- but not the central characters.

In Naples, for example, famous figures like Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona have been depicted as shepherds in creche scenes.

Mr. Potato Head

George Lerner of New York City invented and patented Mr. Potato Head in 1952. Based on an earlier toy called "make a face" that used a real potato, Lerner designed his all-plastic toy as a prize for cereal premiums. Lerner sold Mr. Potato Head to the Hassenfeld Brothers of Rhode Island, who owned Hasbro Inc., the toy company. Hasbro sold the first Mr. Potato Head with a styrofoam head as a base for the facial plug-ins. However, instructions were included that suggested the use of vegetables and fruits instead of the styrofoam.

In 1953 Mr. Potato Head meets and marries Mrs. Potato Head. The couple eventually has a crop of over a dozen small fries. In 1987 Mr. Potato Head loses his pipe and becomes the official 'spokespud' of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.

Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on television. In 1985, he received four write-in votes in the mayoral election in Boise, Idaho. Today, Hasbro, Inc. still manufactures Mr. Potato Head.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Today 63 years ago: pearl harbor

On November 26, 1941 a fleet including six aircraft carriers commanded by Japanese Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo left Hitokappu Bay headed for Pearl Harbor under strict radio silence.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, that fleet's planes bombed all the US military air bases on the island (the biggest was the US Army air base at Hickam Field), and many of the ships anchored at Pearl, including "Battleship Row". Nearly every plane on the ground was destroyed; only a few fighters got airborne and offered any opposition.

Twelve battleships and other ships either were sunk or damaged, 188 aircrafts were destroyed, 155 were damaged and 2,403 Americans lost their lives. The battleship USS Arizona exploded and sank with a loss of over 1,100 men, nearly half of the Americans dead. Its hull became, and remains, a memorial to those lost that day.

Phone cleaning announcement

On April 1, 2002 Southcoast Bellcom announced preparing to join telephone companies throughout the U.S. in a nationwide "cleaning" of all phone and telecom lines. "We do this about every 10 years," said a Richard Schvanski, spokesperson for the National Telephone Association. "Over time, dust collects in the lines and this leads to weak connections and static, as well as to broken and slow Internet connectivity."

To clean the lines, Schvanski said, all telephone companies will use air compressors at their central locations in each city to blow a blast of air through phone lines and cable networks. The 10-minute process will cause dust to blow through telephone receivers, fax and answering machines, and both traditional PC and DSL modems in homes and offices throughout the U.S. Schvanski explained that most people are being urged to set a newspaper under their telecom device before going to bed Sunday night. The cleaning will be done between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. so as to disturb as few people as possible, he said. In the past, the spokesperson said, some people have put a plastic baggy over their telephone's handset to catch the dust, or wrapped the handset with a cloth to keep dust from getting on their furniture. Cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices are not affected.

It's a classic April Fool's Day joke that has been around for decades. In 1997 a modern e-mail version of the joke was spread throughout the world announcing that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for twenty-four hours from March 31 until April 2. This cleaning was said to be necessary to clear out the "electronic flotsam and jetsam" that had accumulated in the network. Dead email and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by "five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world." During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. The message supposedly originated from the "Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff, Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology."

Please hold the line

Nine out of 10 Chinese calling into a suicide-prevention hotline in the capital Beijing are getting the busy tone, a newspaper said on Monday, adding that nationwide four people were killing themselves every minute. So far, more than 110,000 people had dialed in to the Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center hotline since it was set up in Beijing last year, the China Daily said.

It quoted an expert as saying poverty, unemployment, bereavement, breakdowns in relationships or legal and work-related problems were all causes. But a lack of funds meant that not everyone who needed the hotline was getting through, said Michael Phillips, executive director of the suicide prevention center. "Nine of every 10 persons only hear a busy tone," he told the newspaper. "It's very dangerous because they may be at high risk of committing suicide." Stress in urban China has increased with 20 years of economic reforms, increased competition, job losses, breakup of the traditional family unit in the cities and the dismantlement of cradle-to-grave welfare benefits.

According to numbers released by doctors working at the Beijing Psychological Crisis Research Center, every year over 250,000 people commit suicide in China; this represents one-fourth of the total number of suicides in the world. Ever 2 minutes in China, a person commits suicide. Over 2,000,000 people attempt suicide in China every year but are unsuccessful.

Suicide is the number one cause of death in China among people 15 to 34 years old. Chinese living in rural areas commit suicide 3 times more than those in urban areas. Chinese women commit suicide 3 times more than men. 28% of Chinese suicides have never had formal schooling of any sort.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Beer Pong

"The purpose of this site is to provide the most comprehensive guide of the rules and strategy for the drinking game known as beirut (beer pong). This site provides the most indepth set of Standard Rules of the game of beirut (beer pong) available anywhere. This site has something for everyone, whether you are a veteran of the game, just learning how to play beirut (beer pong), or somewhere in between."

"Also, because everyone that plays beirut (beer pong) has their own unique variation, we have created the first ever House Rules Generator™. The House Rules Generator™ allows you to choose which variations and additions to the standard rules of beirut (beer pong) you would like to play by, and generate a page that you can link to on your own personal web page."

Do you need more practice before starting with the real thing, go here. Personally, I would like see beer pong nominated for the Olympics. This must be the best excuse to drink and sport at the same time.

Politically incorrect phrases

The computer term "master/slave," which was banned as racially offensive by a Los Angeles County purchasing department, was named the most politically incorrect term of the year on Thursday. Among other terms on the top 10 list of politically charged words and phrases, issued by the word usage group Global Language Monitor, were "non-same sex marriage" to describe heterosexual unions, "waitron" for waiter or waitress and "higher being" for God, a term some people found too religious.

"We found 'master/slave' to be the most egregious example of political correctness in 2004," said Paul JJ Payack, president of The Global Language Monitor. "This is but one more example of the insertion of politics into every facet of modern life, down to the level of the control processes of computer technology." In computer terminology, "master/slave" refers to primary and secondary hard disk drives. But a Los Angeles county purchasing department told vendors in late 2003 that the term was offensive and violated the region's cultural diversity. The county's department of affirmative action undertook a hunt to replace it on packages.

After a public uproar, the county backed down. Payack said that while the incident took place in late 2003, debate about it grew enormously in 2004. The phrase "non-same sex marriage," was used by a former congressman who did not want to offend gay people by using the term traditional marriage, Payack said.

Also on the list this year were "Red Sox lover," to use in place of "Yankee hater," "progressive" for classical liberal, "incurious" rather than more impolite invectives for President Bush, "insurgents" instead of terrorists in Iraq, "baristas" for waiters, and "first year student" rather than freshman.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Christmas Islands

For centuries, Christmas Island's isolation and rugged coasts provided natural barriers to settlement. British and Dutch navigators first included the island on their charts from the early seventeenth century, and Captain William Mynors of the East India Ship Company vessel, the Royal Mary, named the island when he arrived on Christmas Day, 25th December, 1643. He was unable to land, however, and it was not until 1688, when Captain William Dampier on the British ship Cygnet, landed at the Dales (on the West Coast) and two of his crewmen were the first recorded people to set foot on Christmas Island.

Christmas Islands is an external territory of Australia. Over the years, phosphate mining had been the only significant economic activity, but in December 1987 the Australian Government closed the mine. In 1991, the mine was reopened. With the support of the government, a $34 million casino opened in 1993. The casino closed in 1998. The decision to block the casino on Christmas Island is being described as a fatal blow to the future of the Indian Ocean territory. The Federal Government is set to legislate against the re-opening of the casino which closed in 1998 due to financial difficulties, halving the island's population. The government says the casino was blocked because of the negative impact it could have on the local community and that the island can develop tourism without it.

Christmas Island lies more than 1,500 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. According to the Island's official website, the population was around 1,500 in 2000. The CIA's world factbook reports a population of 396 based on recent data. The diversity of the settlers native tongues & cultures has influenced the island's own culture, as evidenced by the range of ethnic festivals held throughout the year. Today most residents are Chinese followed by Australian/Europeans & Malay.Though English is the official language there are many residents who generally communicate in Malay or one of the four Chinese dialects.

The Island's TLD .cx is often used for sex related websites, for example the famous More on this and other famous .cx sites here.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Flowering phone

British scientists seeking to protect the environment have designed a biodegradable mobile phone cover that breaks down in soil when discarded and sprouts a flower from a seed embedded inside the case.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in central England said the novel device, made from a specially designed polymer, is a boon for the environmentally sensitive. Millions of mobile phones are thrown away every year as the industry churns out new models. "It's a real novelty in the phone industry and consumers are happy because they feel they are doing something for the local environment," said Kerry Kirwan from the University of Warwick.

Designers have reassured the wary user that the seed, implanted in a tiny transparent window, only germinates when the phone cover is discarded. "We put sunflower seeds into the prototype covers, but we are working with horticultural researchers to identify which other flowers would perform best. Maybe we could put poppies or roses next time," Kirwan added. He said he hoped the covers would hit the market next year, but did not say how much they might cost.

Today 89 years ago: relativity

In November 1915, Einstein presented a series of lectures before the Prussian Academy of Sciences in which he described his theory of general relativity. The final lecture climaxed with his introduction of an equation that replaced Newton's law of gravity. This theory considered all observers to be equivalent, not only those moving at a uniform speed. In general relativity, gravity is no longer a force (as it was in Newton's law of gravity) but is a consequence of the curvature of space-time. The theory provided the foundation for the study of cosmology and gave scientists the tools for understanding many features of the universe that were not discovered until well after Einstein's death. General relativity becomes a method of perceiving all of physics.

The theory was derived with mathematical reasoning and rational analysis, not with experimentation or observation, leading scientists to skepticism. But his equations enabled predictions and tests to be made, and when it was tested by Arthur Eddington by measuring during a solar eclipse how much the light emanating from a star passing close to the sun was bent by the sun's gravity, the predictions from the theory were confirmed.

In the early 1920s, Einstein was the lead figure in a famous weekly physics colloquium at the University of Berlin. On March 30, 1921, Einstein went to New York to give a lecture on his new theory of relativity. In the same year, he was finally awarded the Nobel Prize for his work. Though he is now most famous for his work on relativity, it was for his earlier work on the photoelectric effect that he was given the Prize: in 1921 his work on Relativity was still too disputed to merit a Nobel Prize, so the Nobel committee decided that his earlier, less-contested theory would be a better political move.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Being creative with camels

Iranian police seized 18 kilograms of opium after cutting open the stomachs of six camels, which are being increasingly used to carry narcotics from Afghanistan, media reported Tuesday.

Iran is one of the world's key narcotics thoroughfares, carrying opiates from Afghanistan to Europe. It boasts 25 percent of opium seizures worldwide. The official IRNA news agency said police in the central city of Nain slaughtered the camels which they found in the back of a truck pulled over at a checkpoint. The bellies of four animals yielded drugs and the truck driver was arrested.

Networks of forts and ramparts across Iran's eastern borders have forced drug dealers back to more traditional methods, carrying narcotics through narrow mountain passes in rucksacks and camels' saddle-bags.

Which reminds me: Whole stuffed camel recipe.

Sense and surrealism

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The guys at Reemco's really know what drives us. Seen at uberBitch.