January 27 – National Geographic Day

Posted on January 27, 2015

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the National Geographic Society on this date in 1888.

National Geographic wasn't a magazine, yet—but the founders started the society in order to increase the public's knowledge about geography. The 33 men who started the organization included geographers, explorers, and cartographers (mapmakers)—just the guys you would expect to start such an organization!—but the group also included lawyers, teachers, financiers, and military officers.

They realized that Americans were increasingly curious about other places and peoples. They chose a lawyer and a philanthropist to head the Society, because they hoped that the Society would be able to reach out to the layman (in other words, reach all the people who aren't explorers and geographers themselves).

This is one of the most
famous magazine covers
of any magazine, of all time.

Of course, it's National
Nine months later, the first issue of National Geographic Magazine was published. But the magazine wasn't reaching very many laymen, as the Society had hoped. The articles were short and technical and largely text. In 1899, a man named Gilbert Grosvenor took over as editor and made some big changes. Suddenly articles of general interest began to appear. And those articles were illustrated by gorgeous photographs!

In just a few years, the magazine went from a thousand subscribers to two million subscribers!

The profits from the magazine are used to sponsor more expeditions and research projects. The Society has given grants for such now-famous endeavors as Robert Peary's journey to the North Pole, Richard Byrd's flight over the South Pole, Jacques Cousteau's underwater exploration, and Jane Goodall's observation of wild chimpanzees.

These days, even though few people still purchase magazines because of all the content available online (often for free), National Geographic Magazine boasts about nine million subscribers (many, no doubt, libraries in which many people enjoy each magazine!). And the National Geographic Society is one of the world's largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions.

  • Here is a cool zoomable world map.
  • And there are loads of maps available for sale.

Also on this date:


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January 26 – Happy Birthday, Bessie Coleman

Posted on January 26, 2015

I don't know if you had met Bessie Coleman on the day of her birth, January 26, 1892, if you could've guessed that one day she would be the subject of biographies and a Wikipedia article.

She was born in Atlanta, Texas, the tenth child of African American sharecroppers. (They had three more kids after Bessie.) Sharecroppers are people who do not own land. They farm someone else's land and in return get some share of the crops they harvest (hence the term sharecropper). It isn't easy to go from being a sharecropper to being a landowner!

And, trust me, it wasn't easy to go from being a sharecroppers' daughter to being a woman accomplished enough to have an entry in Wikipedia!

Coleman went to a segregated one-room school for all eight available grades and was an outstanding student. Later, she was only able to afford one term at the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University. She moved to Chicago and got a job as a manicurist.

But she didn't want to be manicurist. She wanted to be a pilot. At that time, in the early 1900s, black people were not allowed in flight schools in the U.S. Also, women were not allowed in flight schools in the U.S. Two strikes against her...but they didn't stop her.

Coleman studied French, and then she traveled to Paris on November 20, 1920. There she learned to fly a biplane with a steering system that consisted of a vertical stick in front of the pilot and a rudder bar under the pilot's feet.

Her determination and I-will-go-anywhere-to-meet-my-goal attitude paid off. In 1921 Coleman became, not only the first woman of African American descent to earn an international pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, she became the American – man or woman, black or white – to do so! She was also the first woman of African American descent to earn any sort of pilot's license.

Coleman wasn't content with just doing the minimum to get her license. After getting her license, she continued to polish her skills by taking lessons from a French ace pilot.

When Coleman returned to the U.S., late in 1921, she was a media sensation.

Still, there was no way to make money as a commercial pilot at the time. Pilots in the U.S. made their money by “barnstorming” and doing stunt flying in front of paid audiences. So Coleman needed to learn stunt flying.

Nobody in the U.S. was willing to teach her, so Coleman returned to France for more training. She even studied flight with some then-bigwigs in airplane design and aviation in the Netherlands and Germany. She returned to the U.S. well trained, ready to take on the world of exhibition flying.

Queen Bess was Coleman's “stage name,” and she was very popular with audiences. People wrote newspaper articles about her, and she was invited to important events. She was sometimes billed as the world's greatest woman flier. She did figure eights, loops, and near-ground dips for large and enthusiastic crowds of all races.

Stunt flying isn't all cheering crowds and success, of course. Once Coleman's plane stalled and crashed, and she broke a leg and three ribs. And unfortunately, she died in a plane crash when she was just 34 years old.

Still, Coleman's fame and successes did empower other women and other black people to feel that they, too, could learn to fly.

Also on this date:

Author Mary Mapes Dodge's birthday 

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January 25 – Opposite Day

Posted on January 25, 2015

Is this a thing? I gather from mentions on various TV shows that Opposite Day parties and celebrations have been happening for years – just not where I live, I guess!

At any rate, we are urged to do things backwards, to do different things, to live as opposite to normal as possible. If you say “yes,” you mean “no.” If you say “black,” you mean “white,” if you say “bright,” you mean “dark,” if you say “day,” you mean “night.” You get the drift!
Dressing backwards has a long and
proud tradition!
Opposite or not?

I don't think that most colors have
opposites, but we are very used to
thinking of black and white as opposites.

But I just used this picture because
everything is better with kitties!
Not all words have opposites, of course. When you look at antonyms (which is a fancy term for the word opposite in meaning to another), you find that a lot of adjectives and adverbs, and some nouns and verbs, have an antonym. But a lot of words do not. For example, what is the opposite of yellow? I would say that yellow's complementary color—the color on the opposite side of a color wheel from yellow, which is purple—is not actually the antonym or opposite of yellow. I would say that yellow has no antonym. Unless, of course, you are using the word yellow to mean cowardly, in which case it has antonyms like brave and courageous.

I would guess that most words have some meanings for which there is no antonym. For example, day and night are often thought of as opposites, but day often (maybe usually) means a 24-hour period that includes “daytime” or light AND “nighttime” or dark. And that meaning of day has no opposite.

Here are a few other examples of words that have no antonyms: panda, hour, ukulele, daffodil.

Celebrate Opposite Day!

  • Play an antonym game at ABC Ya or at Learning Games for Kids
  • Eat dinner at breakfast or dessert first and salad last.
  • Dress backwards.
  • Have an Opposite Day party with an upside down cake that you eat on the floor, under the table!

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January 24 – Global Belly Laugh Day

Posted on January 24, 2015

Whether you are giggling or chortling, chuckling or guffawing, tittering or whooping or snickering—today, try to up the ante on your laughter and get into a body-shaking belly laugh.

How to do it?

Take your pick: TV shows, YouTube videos, books, jokes and riddles, movies, songs. There's a lot of funny stuff going on!

  • You can read the first chapter of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny here

Here are a few of my favorite funny things:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling
Holes, by Louis Sachar   

  • Funniest literal music video – Take Me On (Pipe Wrench Fight)

Also on this date:

AND Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day

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January 23 – Happy Birthday, Karl Ernst Claus

Posted on January 23, 2015

Have you ever heard of the platinum group?

I'm not talking about a rock band that has had loads of platinum records (like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones).

Instead, I'm talking about a group of metals that hang out together on the periodic table. These metals are dense and generally inert to most chemicals. That means that they don't easily react with other substances.

This makes these metals highly resistant to wear and tarnish. Chemicals, hot temperatures, electricity—these metals tend to be quite stable no matter what we throw at them. All of these characteristics make the platinum group metals useful to humans!

Today's birthday boy (born on this date in 1796) was a chemist who discovered the last of the platinum group metals. He was Russian, and he named his discovery Ruthenium, which basically was a way of honoring his homeland.

By the way, Karl's name is sometimes seen as Karl Klaus and Carl Claus. If you are wondering what the REAL spelling is...well, he was Russian, so here it is: Карл Ка́рлович Кла́ус.

Ruthenium's chemical symbol is Ru, and its atomic number is 44. That means that there are 44 protons in each and every atom of ruthenium...and 44 electrons in non-ionized atoms, as well. 

The atomic mass is an average. The periodic table give ruthenium's atomic mass as 101.07, so most ruthenium atoms must have 57 neutrons. Some isotopes have from 53 to 58 neutrons.

(Isotopes are forms of an element that have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. They are the same in their chemical properties, but different in weight or mass.)

Ru, Rh, Pd, Os, Ir, Pt are the platinum group.
They are ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum.
They make a square in the middle of yellow "transition metals."
To learn more about elements and the Periodic Table, check out this earlier post (scroll down to find links to the Element Song), or this earlier post (scroll down to the cool Interactive Periodic Table of Elements), or this earlier post (with an even better, even more interactive, Periodic Table). 

I loved playing around the history portion of the interactive Periodic Table! 

Also on this date:

National Handwriting Day 

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