November 22 – Discovery of Robinson Crusoe Island

Posted on November 22, 2014

How do you spot little dots of land out in an enormous ocean?

Many islands are easily seen because they lie quite close to a continent. But the islands that Spanish sailor Juan Fernandez spotted on this date in 1574 lie hundreds of miles off the coast of what is now Chile, in South America.

The truth is, Fernandez probably spotted the islands because of his handy-dandy southward sea route.

You see, near the west coast of South America, from Chile to northern Peru, there is a cold current that runs northward. Fernandez wanted to sail southward, so he went far out, away from the coast – and that's when he spotted the islands.

There are three Juan Fernandez Islands (as the group is now called). Fernandez named the outermost island Mas Afuera, which roughly translates to “Farther Out to Sea,” the innermost island Mas a Tierra, which roughly translates to “Closer to Land,” and the middle island Santa Clara (“Saint Claire”).

For hundreds of years, the islands were rarely visited by humans other than pirates in hiding. In 1703, some privateers (pirates working for their country) ran into problems with a leaky ship. One of the sailors, the sailing master named Alexander Selkirk, demanded that he be put ashore one of those islands (Mas a Tierra)--even though the island was completely uninhabited.

Selkirk was indeed put to shore on that island...and marooned there. He lived on that island alone for about four years!

Later, after Selkirk was rescued and returned to England, he became famous for surviving alone for so long. Scholars believed that Selkirk's exploits were the inspiration for Daniel Dafoe's famous book Robinson Crusoe.

Actually, the name of the book is The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

Because of the fame of that books, the Juan Fernandez Islands were renamed:

Mas a Tierra (the island where Selkirk lived for four years) became Robinson Crusoe Island.

Mas Afuera became Alejandro Selkirk Island.

Santa Clara, however, remained Santa Clara.

Notice that the "fur seals" are not true
seals, but are in fact sea lions.
(You can tell because they have
external ears!)
There are very few land animals on the islands, with no native land mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Some mammals such as goats and rats have been brought to the accident either on purpose or on accident. (I will leave it to you to guess which was brought accidentally!) The native animals are mostly birds, including some nesting penguins! Also, some fur seals live on the islands.

Nowadays, however, some people live on the islands. Alejandro Selkirk is home to around 57 people, and Robinson Crusoe is home to around 843. Santa Clara is still uninhabited.

To learn more about Robinson Crusoe, check out this earlier post

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November 21 – Slava in Serbia

Posted on November 21, 2014

Many people in the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrate their family's patron saint on his or her feast day. Today is the feast day of one of the most popular saints, St. Michael. So today many Serbians families are celebrating their most important feast day of the year.

Traditionally, adult sons take their families to their father's home to eat a feast of Slava cake (a kind of bread made with walnuts, nutmeg, and cloves), koljivo, and other favorite foods. Often the family attends a church service or has the priest over to bless the house and give a memorial for relatives who have died.

Where in the world is Serbia?

You probably know that Serbia is in Europe, but do you know exactly where? It used to be a part of Yugoslavia, so I know that it is one of the Southern Eastern nations. Here are some maps to orient you to the location of Serbia, which is just a bit larger than South Carolina in size:

Serbia appears in bright green.

A few of my favorite things about Serbia

Much of the history of Serbia is unhappy—including pretty much all of the 1900s. Serbia suffered greatly during both World Wars, and Serbs as well as Jews and gypsies (the Roma people) in Serbia were all persecuted to the point of genocide by the Nazis. A repressive communist government took over after World War II, and the leader Slobodan Milosevic continued the authoritarian style while Yugoslav Wars erupted. Finally, in 2000, protesters forced the fall of Milosevic and the beginning of a new era—more democracy, more freedom, and a greater stake in world affairs. Serbia is now a candidate for membership in the European Union. More freedom is definitely one of my favorite things about Serbia!

Serbia is the world's second largest producer of plums.

Nikola Tesla is one of Serbia's most renowned scientists and inventors. He designed our modern Alternating Current (AC) system.

Serbian Novak Djokovic is an amazing tennis player, currently Number 1 in the world and considered to be one of the best of all time.

The only Serbian word accepted worldwide is vampire.

The first satellite video transmission between Europe and North America, in 1963, was a picture of the Serbian fresco of the White Angel from Mileseva Monastery.

Vodopod Tupavica is just one of the many lovely waterfalls that dazzle their way through green Serbian landscapes.

Uvac River takes meanders to a maze-like level!

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November 20 – Happy Birthday, William Coblentz

Posted on November 20, 2014

William Coblentz, born in Ohio on this date in 1873, didn't finish high school until he was 22 years ago.

You might assume that means that he wasn't all that bright. If so, you'd be wrong! Coblentz's family was economically disadvantaged, and he had to work and help provide rather than study and earn credits for graduation. But eventually, graduate he did – and Coblentz ended up earning BS, MS, and PhD degrees in physics from fine universities!

And he accomplished a lot in his science career, with hundreds of scientific publications, talks, and abstracts, plus ten patents.

One of the things that Coblentz is best known for was his work on infrared radiation (IR).

Do you realize that all sorts of things that people do not consider “light” – radio waves, x-rays, microwaves – are actually the same sort of phenomenon as visible light? All of these are forms of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that travel at the same speed (yes, it's called “the speed of light”) and that share other characteristics. All these forms of radiation travel in “packets” or particles called photons. And the different forms of EMR differ only in their frequency and wavelength.

Infrared “light” is not visible to the naked eye. It has longer wavelengths (and lower frequencies) than the red visible light – hence its name infrared. This kind of radiation can be released as heat, and people using infrared scopes and sensors can see and photograph living things that shine brighter than cooler nonliving objects.

Astronomers study objects in infrared light
as well as in visible light.

Infrared can reveal things that are hidden
when you are looking only at visible light!

Check out the James Webb Space Telescope video about infrared. 

Also on this date:

Globally Organized Hug A Runner Day 

Happy Inventions Day

Great American Smokeout 

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November 19 – Happy Birthday, Jodie Foster

Posted on November 19, 2014

Jodie Foster is an actor, director, and producer. Born in Los Angeles, California, on this date in 1961, Foster was a child star whose mom worked in the movie business. And when I say “child star” - I mean young! 

Foster was just three years old when she had her first gig! She was just 14 when she first hosted Saturday Night Live, and she was just 15 when she won her first Academy Award! She was even one of the youngest people to ever win the Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment,” last year, at age 50.

Did you know...?

  • Jodie Foster was born Alicia Christian Foster. Some of her credits as a child include “Jody” and “Jodi” Foster; finally, in 1970, she settled on “Jodie” with an I-E ending.
  • Foster knows five languages: she speaks English of course, she speaks fluent French, she can converse in Italian, and she understands Spanish and German.

  • Foster attended Yale University and earned a B.A. in literature and, years later, a honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.

  • One of my favorite Foster films, Contact, was a hard project for the prolific actress. She said that it was hard for her to make an acute personal connection with the role of SETI scientist Ellie Arroway, and at times she had to work while rotating on a lazy Susan in front of a blue screen.
  • I feel a bit of a connection to Foster because my mom has dementia, and her mom has dementia. When accepting a prestigious award, she said to her mom, I know you’re inside those blue eyes somewhere and that there are so many things that you won’t understand tonight. But this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you.”
  • I like how loyal Foster is. When her buddy and fellow actor Mel Gibson made a bunch of embarrassing and very public mistakes, most Hollywood insiders turned cold shoulders on him, but Foster stood by his side, made movies with him, and took him with her to award shows—being a true friend while still acknowledging his mistakes and his flaws. Also, during her emotional acceptance speech of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, she thanked her “coparent” and “BFF” Cydney Bernard, even though the two had broken up about five years before.

Also on this date:

Garifuna Settlement Day in Belize

World Toilet Day

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