July 29 – Happy Birthday, Walter Hunt

Posted on July 29, 2015

Some people achieve fame and fortune when they invent something really useful or popular.

But Walter Hunt (born in New York on this date in 1796) invented a whole lot of somethings and didn't earn as much fame and fortune as, perhaps, he ought to have.

For example, do you know who invented the sewing machine? If your answer is Elias Howe (as mine was), you might be interested to know that Hunt invented a lockstitch sewing machine with a second thread (bobbin) and an eye-pointed needle more than a decade before Howe. However, Hunt feared that he would put seamstresses out of work, so he didn't patent his sewing machine. Foolish, right? Because of course someone else just re-invented it!

Some other Hunt inventions include a repeating rifle, flax spinner, knife sharpener, streetcar bell, hard-coal-burning stove, street sweeping machine, velocipede (early bicycle), and ice plough. Oh! And a fountain pen, nail-making machine, swivel-cap stopper, inkstand... and the biggie: the safety pin!

Hunt was a prolific inventor, but he didn't always realize the importance of his inventions. The invention of the safety pen is a good case in point:

Hunt owed some guy fifteen dollars. So he sat down to invent something useful, and a couple of hours later he came up with an idea for a safety pin. He patented his idea, but he didn't realize how big this invention would be, and he sold his patent and all the rights to his invention for just $400.

Nowadays, just two companies in the U.S. make safety pins, with each factory putting out over 3 million safety pins a day! The company that paid Hunt $400 for the rights to the safety pin made millions upon millions of dollars in profit from his invention!

For more about safety pins, check out this earlier post.

By the way...

When Howe patented a similar sewing machine to Hunt's earlier invention, Hunt's family prompted him to challenge Howe's claim. He did so, but the patent office accepted Howe as the first to submit a patent application for the invention.
However, Hunt was able to receive a patent for an improvement on the sewing machine – a machine that had a fabric feed that would help move fabric through the machine at an even rate and therefore minimize jams.

In 1858 Isaac Singer agreed to pay Hunt $50,000 for his original design – but Hunt died before this payment was made. I assume (and hope!) that Hunt's family received the money.

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July 28 – National Milk Chocolate Day

Posted on July 28, 2015

I don't know how smart it is to have any sort of chocolate day in July! Us Northern-Hemisphere types often have hot, hot days and warm nights – just the sort of weather that can make a mess of chocolate treats!

But I got to wondering when people first started eating chocolate...

Here's the scoop:

The word cocoa comes from the Spanish word cacao, which comes from the native-Central-American (Nahuatl) word cacahuatl. The cacao tree is native to South and Central America, but the American natives who used parts of the cacao tree for food first used the fleshy fruit to make alcohol. The seeds (beans) found in pods in the middle of the fruit were not the first attraction to the plant.

These are cocoa beans in their pod.

By 1400 or 1500 BCE, various Central- and South-American peoples were roasting the cocoa beans and shucking off their papery skins. They used the chocolate in various ways, and many people even used cocoa beans as a form of money.

You have probably already guessed that cocoa beans from the cacao tree were one of the many foods introduced to Europe and the rest of the world by the Spanish conquistadors. Now, however, about 70% of the world's chocolate is grown in Africa!

Here are some chocolate terms:

cocoa butter is the fatty part of the cocoa bean

cocoa solids are the remaining, nonfat part of the cocoa bean, which is ground into a powder

chocolate liquor is a liquid created by melting cocoa beans; its about half butter and half solids

raw chocolate has never been heated or mixed with other ingredients, and it has never been processed in any way

unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor mixed with other fats to create a solid; trust me, this is hard to eat!

baking chocolate is unsweetened chocolate; it is often mixed with sugar to make chocolate cookies or cakes

bitter chocolate is also unsweetened chocolate

dark chocolate is created by adding fat and sugar to cocoa; it's yummy

bittersweet chocolate is dark chocolate that only has a little bit of added sugar; sometimes vanilla is added

semi-sweet chocolate is dark chocolate with more added sugar; many chocolate chips fall into this category

sweet chocolate has more sugar even that semi-sweet

couverture is chocolate with a lot of extra cocoa butter

milk chocolate is made by adding milk powder, liquid milk, or condensed milk to chocolate along with sugar and perhaps extra cocoa butter

white chocolate is sugar, milk, and cocoa butter – but no cocoa solids

compound chocolate is made by adding vegetable fats to cocoa

cocoa powder is made by removing nearly all the cocoa butter and grinding the rest of the cocoa bean into powder

modeling chocolate is used to create decorations; it is made by combing melted chocolate with corn syrup or other syrup

  • Check out these amazing things made out of chocolate,

  • Some people have gathered amazing chocolate sculptures on Pinterest pages

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July 27 – Victory Day in North Korea

Posted on July 27, 2015

Last September, I wrote about North Korea on the day of one of its patriotic holidays. Well, as it turns out, it has various patriotic holidays three months in a row: July, August, and September. Today is considered “Victory Day” - the day to celebrate the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The Korean name for this holiday translates as “Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War.”

It's interesting that North Korea claims victory – because of course most historians say that the war ended in a stalemate—with Korea returning to the way things were before the war—and a few say that North Korea lost the war, as it was trying to expand and swallow up South Korea, and was prevented from doing so.

But that's North Korea for you: a place where propaganda about the nation's and its leaders' supposed greatness is everywhere, where MISinformation about the rest of the world abounds, where actual information from reliable sources is hard to find. I read a few articles that claim that most people know that the propaganda isn't true—they sense that they are being lied to—but, still, the people who have managed to get out of North Korea and see the world for themselves are shocked to see HOW MUCH they've been lied to!

And cities and towns in North Korea looks a bit like ghost towns...

As I wrote in my last post, North Korea is almost as dark, on nighttime satellite photos, as the ocean that surrounds the Korean peninsula. That makes South Korea look like an island!

And every photo of North Korea shows almost-empty roads.

I think this is a Google Earth shot?
Most photos of almost-empty roads
are from surreptitious photos by
rare visitors or journalists.
I saw quite a few photos of traffic officers,
but zero photos of traffic.
10 lanes wide...for what?

Lest you think that photographers took these photos during really off-times, here is a video of sparsely-used street after street. Most of the people using the roads are on bicycle or foot. And remember that this video is of Pyongyang, the largest, most populous city – and the capital city – of North Korea. If that city seems like a ghost town, what must the other towns look like?

Here are some more photos that show city scenes that are decidedly under-populated: 

Notice that the playground ride is shaped like a ballistic missile!

I found a few photos in which these monuments were surrounded by lots of people,
but in general the squares are empty or practically empty.

This was captioned "Children at a rural shop."
So...this little stand is a "shop"? Yikes!
See? Practically empty squares...

...and temples...
This is a zoo. North Korea is one place in which it is NOT
correct to say, "Wow, the zoo is a zoo today!"

 Some of the photos released by the North Korean government show PLENTY of people who participate in mass games and mass dances:

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Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxaca

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July 26 – Happy Birthday, Dorothy Hamill

Posted on July 26, 2015

Born on this date in 1956, Dorothy Hamill started skating at age 8. But it was a nice-and-slow start—just group lessons once a week. The kind of thing my kids did, too.

Soon Hamill started skating more seriously—you know, private lessons and getting up early for 4:30 a.m. ice time! Soon her father was paying about $20,000 per year for skates, lessons, costumes, and travel!

At age 12—just four years after she started skating!—Dorothy Hamill won the novice ladies' title at the U.S. Championships. She began to compete internationally.

And in 1976, at age 19, Dorothy Hamill won the World Championship AND the Olympic Gold Medal!

Here are some interesting things we can learn from Hamill's figure skating career:

  • When she was just 17 years old, Hamill took the ice, ready to skate, and heard boos from the crowd. She was upset, left the ice, and burst into tears—but it turned out that the boos were directed at the judges, because the home crowd in Munich, Germany, was upset with the German skater's scores that had just gone up.

In other words, the boos were nothing to do with Hamill. The crowd settled down, she took the ice again, and she did great, winning a silver medal!

What we can learn: Sometimes, the negativity coming your way isn't REALLY coming your way. Check it out before reacting emotionally.

  • When she was skating at the Olympics, Dorothy saw signs that said, “Which of the West? Dorothy!” She thought at first that the signs were comparing her to a witch, and she felt hurt. But actually, the signs were asking which of the “Western” skaters would beat Christine Errath for the Gold Medal – and their answer, Dorothy, was a sign of support.

    Naturally, Hamill soon realized the intent, especially since the people with the signs were carrying American flags and whooping and applauding for her!

    What we can learn: Spelling matters. Also, don't take offense too easily; sometimes the negativity coming your way is actually positivity!

  • When Hamill was competing, figure skaters had to trace slow-and-careful figures in the ice (hence the term “figure” skaters). Hamill had pretty terrible eyesight, and her coach urged her to get the largest possible frames so she could actually see out of the corners when doing the figures.

    After winning Gold, a trend for glasses with oversized frames started. Also, of course, her bobbed hairstyle was a huge fad. After all, Hamill was “America's sweetheart”!

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