April 30, 2011 - Walpurgis Night



It's May Day Eve tonight! Time to eat, drink, and be merry around a roaring bonfire!

Some people dress up like witches and go out into the streets in a sort of wandering carnival.

There's dancing, “capping” (wearing caps decorated with pom poms, and putting similar hats onto statues), entertainment and speeches...and sometimes pranks, as well.

This holiday is called various names in various countries, including Sweden, Finland, Germany, Estonia, and the Czech Republic.


What's it all about? Well, it's another spring festival—another way of celebrating the return of sunshine and warmer temperatures. It seems to me that this holiday is a cross between Halloween and Mardi Gras—but with the added benefit that the next day, May Day, is also celebrated by many!

April 29, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Harold Urey


Discoverer of “Heavy Hydrogen” and “Heavy Water”


Imagine a glass of water saying, “Does this hydrogen make me look heavy?”

Of course, the answer is that certain hydrogen atoms and kinds of water don't look heavy, but they are in fact heavier than “normal.” In other words, they weigh more.

If you want to know why, you need to learn a bit about isotopes.

Each kind of element—like carbon or gold or iron or oxygen—has recognizable characteristics. It's the kind of element that easily combines with other elements—or it isn't very reactive. It's a metal, or it isn't. It's radioactive, or not; brittle, or not. At room temperature, a particular element may be a solid, liquid, or gas. It has a certain color.

The thing that makes an element that element—in other words, what makes gold gold and oxygen oxygen—is the number of protons it has. Gold always has 79 protons and generally has 79 electrons. Oxygen just has 8 protons (and, generally, 8 electrons). It's really hard to change the number of protons an atom has—that's what happens in the center of the sun and in nuclear reactors—but, if you do change the number of protons, you change the element. For example, take away one of gold's protons, you get platinum. Add a proton, you get mercury.

There aren't just protons and electrons in an atom; there are also neutrons. These particles are about a large as a proton but have no charge. Neutrons are necessary to help protons hang together despite their like charges.

The thing is, since neutrons have no charge, you can add them to an atom and not change its element. Most gold atoms have 117 or 118 neutrons—but if you add a few more or take a few away, you still have gold. You just have a different isotope of gold. It has the same characteristics (solid, metal, yellow colored), but it is heavier.


Forget about gold...I thought we were talking about hydrogen!

Hydrogen, which is the most common element, by far, in the universe, has a super simple structure: just one proton and one electron.

But some hydrogen atoms have one neutron as well. These hydrogen atoms act just like other hydrogen atoms (super light, super reactive, gaseous), but they are almost twice as heavy as normal hydrogen atoms.
Different "flavors" of hydrogen.
The one labeled "protium" is by far the most common!


These heavier-than-normal atoms are called deuterium, or heavy hydrogen. About one out of every 6,400 hydrogen atoms in Earth's oceans is deuterium.

Discovery!

Back in the day, scientists didn't know why certain samples of materials were heavier than others, they didn't know the reason for the difference in weight; some theorized that it was caused by different numbers of “nuclear electrons.” (Remember, the difference is actually caused by more neutrons.) Scientists believed that hydrogen couldn't have isotopes. But Harold Urey, an American chemist born on this day in 1893, was able to repeatedly distill liquid hydrogen and then—in 1931—to detect “heavy hydrogen” with a spectroscope.

And so it was that Urey and his coworkers were able to discover deuterium a year before scientists discovered neutrons—the correct explanation for deuterium!—and for his work, Urey won a Nobel Prize.

April 28, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Francis Baily


Beads of Sunlight


Francis Baily was lucky, because he got to see two solar eclipses!

You probably know that a solar eclipse is a rare event when the moon gets in the way of Earth's view of the sun. In other words, those people on Earth in the moon's shadow see an eclipse!

What you may not know is the anatomy of a shadow and how that relates to what kind of eclipse people get to see.




The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow in the diagram. People in the umbra see the moon completely cover the sun—and then they get to see the sun's corona, which is usually washed out by the brightness of the sun itself. This is called a total solar eclipse.

The antumbra extends beyond the tip of the umbra. People in the antumbra see the moon fully in front of the sun, but the moon is too small to completely cover the sun, so there appears to be a ring of fire around a black disc. This is called an annular solar eclipse.

The penumbra is the lighter gray part of the shadow in the diagram. Obviously, you can see that many more people will be in the wide penumbra than in the narrow umbra. These people will see the sun with a “bite” taken out of it as the moon only partially covers it. This is called a partial solar eclipse.

Back to Baily

Francis Baily, born on this day in 1774, was an English astronomer. On May 18, 1836, he observed an annular solar eclipse in Scotland, and he reported that there were bright “beads” of sunlight bulging on the ring of sun visible during the eclipse. These beads are now called “Baily's beads,” and they are caused by the irregular surface of the moon, which of course has mountains and valleys and craters.

Baily traveled to Italy to see a total solar eclipse on July 8, 1842. Again, he was able to observe the beads just before and just after totality.

By the way, when just one “bead” is left uncovered, we see the “diamond ring effect.”







April 27, 2011 - Beethoven Composes Fur Elise – 1810


What if the movie Jaws had been called Shark Attack? Wouldn't that have been so much less attention-grabbing?

Some titles are genius—and some are quite ordinary. Some are memorable—and some slip the mind immediately. For sure, coming up with a title for something you've written or painted or otherwise created is tough!

Apparently, the great music composer Ludwig van Beethoven just didn't bother. He loved to create music—not to name it! That's why most of his pieces are called things like Symphony No. 1 in C major and Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major. The reason his famous piano solo piece Fur Elise has a title is because someone asked who he was composing the piece for, and he answered, “Fur Elise,” German for “For Elise.”

Scholars aren't sure who Elise was, although there are several theories. I know that modern songwriters who include names in their titles may not use the name of the person who actually inspired the piece—so I am not too surprised that there was no one unambiguous person in Beethoven's life named Elise. Still, if the original manuscript of the piece (which was unknown and unpublished in Beethoven's lifetime, and which is now lost) said Fur Elise at the top as just a dedication, not a title, then there had to be someone specific he was thinking of.


What is a bagatelle?

Fur Elise is not a symphony, a sonata, or a concerto; it is generally considered a bagatelle. This is a musical work that is short and light or mellow. Bagatelle literally means “trifle.”


Learn.

If you play piano (or want to learn), did you know that there are You Tube videos available in which you can watch a person play with two camera angles, plus watch a simultaneous scrolling bar-graph and conventional score? Very helpful, I think! Here is the video for Fur Elise


April 26, 2011 - Thousands of Meteorites Fall


No One is Hurt!


A Science is Born!


Some people worry that, since rocks sometimes fall from the skies, somebody might get conked in the head and die. That is not at all likely—as this story from 1803 makes non-painfully obvious:

On this day a couple of centuries ago, thousands of meteorites peppered the French town of L'Aigle. The meteorites ranged from one quarter ounce to 20 pounds—ouch!—but not one of them hurt anybody!

One fragment might have hit someone—but didn't hurt him. A wirepuller named M. Piche reported that he was hit on the arm by a small stone. He picked it up, curious, but immediately dropped it again because it was very hot.

There was also, reportedly, a close call: a stone fell on the pavement of the churchyard of St. Michel. It ricocheted off the pavement, bouncing upwards about a foot before coming to rest—right at the feet of the chaplain!

This 1803 event is an example of a meteoroid breaking apart as it sped through the Earth's atmosphere, so the 2,700 to 3,000 bits that landed could be said to be “meteorite fragments” rather than separate meteorites.

This event marked a turning point in understanding meteorites. In the 1700s it seemed fantastic, perhaps impossible, that a rock should fall from outer space. When people reported seeing a bright flash and then a stone falling out of the sky, and then the stone recovered, these events were investigated; each time scientists determined that a more reasonable explanation for the light and stone existed. A lightning strike on a larger rock was blamed, in one instance, and a volcanic eruption was blamed in another. 

The reports about thousands of stones falling on L'Aigle prompted the French Academy of Sciences to send Jean-Baptise Biot to check out the event. Biot studied the rocks and their location, and interviewed people in the town and nearby villages about the fireball they saw in the afternoon sky—and he came to the conclusion that the stones were of extraterrestrial origin—in other words, from space.

Other scientists, too, were able to study the rocks and Biot's data—he made the world's first “strewn field map”—and comparisons were made between these stones and others that had been seen falling from the sky. Soon consensus was reached in the scientific community: rocks could and did fall to the Earth from space. The science of meteorites began...

By the way...

Some people might read this story and think, wow, here's a great example of science getting things wrong for years! Those stuffy scientists with all their doubt about what people saw—they were Wrong! They said rocks couldn't fall from outer space—and they were WRONG!

Some people might even nod their heads and think, “See, anything's possible!”

But really this is a story of why science is so good at getting things right... A skeptical attitude that looks for multiple reasonable causes or known mechanisms for an unexplained phenomenon is a very good thing. Notice that, once evidence accumulated that shifted the probability to stones actually falling from space, scientists accepted that as the explanation. Scientists were then able to go back to old findings and reinterpret data, and of course modified their theories as new meteorite events occurred. 

Skepticism + openness to new ideas + ACTUAL EVIDENCE = reason + science.

And another “by the way”...

Apparently there are some stories about stones falling from the sky and hitting or even killing people, but there are very few confirmed claims. In 1954 a meteorite crashed through the roof of a home in Alabama, crashed into a radio, and bounced onto a woman named Ann Hodges. She was bruised but not badly injured. Also, a boy in Uganda claimed that a small stony meteorite fell onto his head. He was standing under banana trees, and the meteorite reportedly fell through numerous banana leaves before striking him on the head. As the stone was tiny and had hit so many leaves on its way, the boy felt no pain from the strike.


Check out these pictures of meteorites. Some are for sale! 

April 25, 2011 - World Penguin Day


On (or around) April 25 each year, the Adelie penguins of Ross Island begin a great northward migration.

Or maybe a not-so-great migrations. First, since they cannot fly, they waddle to the water and then swim. Second, they only swim a few hundred miles before they stop at the Balleny Islands. There they start feeding on krill and other seafood—and they stay there all winter long. (Remember, other than zoo penguins, penguins only live in the Southern Hemisphere. They are enduring the shorter and colder days of autumn right now, heading toward winter, while most of us are enjoying spring and heading toward summer.)

Someone decided to mark the starting day of the Adelie's annual migration World Penguin Day. Even though most penguins migrate—some mostly waddling to and from breeding grounds, and others mostly swimming—and most penguins have different schedules and routes—celebrating all penguins today is a great idea!



So...Celebrate!


  • Wear black and white today.
  • Here is an entire blog about penguins. 
  • Learn why someone links Penguin Day with chocolates and strawberries, here
  • Kid Zone has other penguin activities and info pages—plus a nice slide show (click “Penguin Photos”). 

April 24, 2011 - Easter


Easter Sunday comes really, really late this year! It's nearly May, and Easter is sometimes in March! What gives?

You probably know that Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, who was a Jew who was said to have died during or just after the week-long celebration of Passover. So the date for Easter is “hooked to” the date for Passover, which depends on the Jewish lunar calendar.

To be exact, Easter falls on the first Sunday that occurs after or on the first full moon that occurs after the Spring (Vernal) Equinox in the Northern hemisphere.

Whoa—I guess that's pretty easy to figure out, but I think I'd rather just consult a calendar.

It turns out that the earliest Easter can be is March 22, and the latest it can be is April 25. So this year Easter is ALMOST as late as it can ever be.

See last year's post for more on Easter. (Scroll down for the Easter portion.)

Also on this day...
Opening of the Woolworth Building, 1913


A new world record! The Woolworth Building, at 792 feet tall, was the tallest building in the world when it was officially opened on this day in 1913. It is in New York City.

The thing about world records is that they are often broken. In 1930, 40 Wall Street (927 feet) became the tallest building in the world. Less than a month later, the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) took the record, and in 1931, the Empire State Building (1,250 feet) became the tallest building in the world. Note that all of these buildings are ALSO in New York City, so the Woolworth Building didn't even get to keep the record of the tallest building in its country, state, or even city!

Nowadays, the Woolworth Building is WAY down the list of the world's tallest buildings. Since last year, the tallest building in the world has been Dubai Tower, which is 2,717 feet tall!



Did you know...?

The Woolworth Building has 58 stories—but the stories are so large (11 to 20 feet), they are equivalent to 79 or 80 normal stories.

Click to learn more...

Here is a great diagram of some of the world-record holders. 

Building Big has some info and activity ideas. 

There are lots of skyscrapers to click-and-view here

April 23, 2011 - Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare


Actually, nobody is sure exactly what day Shakespeare was born. I guess his parents didn't realize how famous he was going to be—because the only date we have in writing is his baptism date, April 26, 1564.

Still, it's traditional to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday on April 23, which is St. George's Day and is also the date that he died (in 1616).

You probably already know that many people consider Shakespeare to be the greatest writer in the English language and the greatest playwright in ANY language. The things he has written (a few with other authors) include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems.


To celebrate the day, read a sonnet or two, or watch a movie version of one of Shakespeare's plays. How about A Midsummer Night's Dream (released in 1999, rated PG-13), Much Ado About Nothing (released in 1993, rated PG-13), or Romeo and Juliet (released in 1996, rated PG-13)? Note that all Shakespeare plays (and therefore movies based on those plays) have some measure of adult content, so check out parent advisories!

Check out this list of words and phrases originated or at least popularized by Shakespeare. 

April 22, 2011 - Earth Day


One of the most important holidays on Earth happens today! Join in—cleaning up the environment, recycling and reusing products, buying products made of recycled materials, learning and caring about ecology! Check out last year's post for more...


One part of caring for Mother Earth is growing—and allowing to grow—plants. Another important Earth Day concern is energy, including electrical energy from batteries. So it's fitting that today is the birthday of Gaston Plante, the guy who created the first rechargeable electric battery that was marketed for commercial use.

(Plante was born in 1834, in France.)

Did you know...?

  • Rechargeable batteries have 32 times less impact on the environment than ordinary batteries.

  • Everybody should dispose of batteries safely—and that means taking them to a proper recycling or disposal site, NOT tossing them into the trash!
  • Green batteries are on the horizon—scientists have created special viruses that can generate electrical energy without any toxic materials! (Note that the viruses are completely harmless to humans.)


April 21, 2011 - Kartini Day

Indonesia


Raden Ayu Kartini lived a long time ago—she was born on this day in 1879—and she had no political power—not all that much control, even, over her own life—and she died when she was just 25 years old. But she made an impact on her society and, 60 years after her death, a national holiday was created in honor of her.

Kartini is known as a pioneer in women's rights for native Indonesians.

At the time that Kartini lived in Java (part of Indonesia), it was part of the Dutch colony the Dutch East Indies. Her parents were aristocratic and thought education was very important. That's why they allowed their daughter to attend school all the way until she was 12 years old!

She learned fluent Dutch, which was unusual for a Javanese woman of her time.

As was typical of Javanese nobility, at age 12 Kartini went into “seclusion,” which meant that she had to stay in her parents' home until she was married. Kartini's father allowed her to take embroidery lessons in the home and even allowed her to appear in public a few times—for special occasions.

Kartini could read, though, and she could even read Dutch—so her “seclusion” (which would seem like imprisonment to most modern teenage girls!) didn't stop her education. She read, read, read, and she wrote to Dutch pen pals, and she learned about life for women in other places. Kartini began to care about freedoms for women, but she also cared about the problems of her society and saw women's rights as part of a wider movement.

Against her wishes, Kartini was married at age 24 to a man who already had three wives (polygamy was legal and customary then). Kartini's husband allowed her to establish a school for women. However, Kartini died less than a year after her marriage, due to complications of childbirth.

Inspired by Kartini's example, a Dutch family set up the Kartini Foundation, which built schools for women. Kartini schools were built in many areas of Java.

In 1964, President Sukarno delcared Kartini's birthdate as Kartini Day.

Learn about Indonesia.

This Southeast Asian country is made up of 17,508 islands, including these five largest: Java, Sumatra, Borneo, New Guinea, and Sulawesi. With more than 238 million people, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country.

You might be surprised to learn that Indonesia has more Muslims than any other country! More than Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia—more than any of the Middle Eastern and Northern African countries most people associate with Islam!


  • Here are some cool photos of Indonesia; click to enlarge. 

  • The largest living lizard lives on several islands of Indonesia. Check out some facts about the ten-foot-long lizard here  and here


April 20, 2011- Happy Detective Story Day!


This as the anniversary of the April 20, 1841, publication of what many people cite as the first detective story, Edgar Allan Poe's “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Poe created the original expert sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, who could solve a crime that the police couldn't solve. Dupin was able to distance himself from the gruesome violence of the crime and use keen his observation and reasoning skills to discover clues and figure out the murderer.

Since Poe's introduction of Dupin, the world has met Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee—to name just a very few—plus detectives meant for younger readers, such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Many detective stories have been translated to movie or television screens, and original shows have been written with detective work as the main theme. These include Murder, She Wrote, Veronica Mars, Psych, and The Mentalist. One of my current favorite TV series featuring a police detective is Castle.

Detective stories are often murder mysteries, and authors often write them in the “whodunit” style, in which readers or viewers are given all the clues necessary to figure out the puzzle. We don't necessarily have to have the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes or Shawn Spencer from Psych to notice clues—they are usually explicitly called to our attention—but actually putting our gray matter to work to solve the crime is another matter altogether. Agatha Christie, particularly, wrote super clever murder mysteries that are tricky to solve.

Celebrate today by reading or watching a good detective story. Whether you go back to the original, Poe, dip into a “Golden Age” author like Christie, or opt for a modern take on detective fiction like the latest episode of Castle, you are sure to enjoy a good detective story!

April 19, 2011


Sports and Leisure” Updates


What do the inventor of outboard motors, parachutes' rip cords, and Boston's marathon all have in common? They all share today as their birthday!

On this day in 1877, a Norwegian-American inventor named Ole Evinrude was born in Oppland, Norway. He came to America as a child of five, and during that emigration, he spent much of the voyage to his new life in the ship's engine room, fascinated by the machines he saw there. Evinrude left school early because it was too easy—and he spent his time working with farm tools and machinery, eventually as an apprentice and laborer. Besides for the hands-on education he was getting from his work, Evinrude subscribed to a mechanics magazine.

When he was 23, Evinrude owned his own shop and worked as a self-taught machinist and engineer. He fell in love with his office manager and, one 90-degree day when he was rowing his boat five miles to get his girlfriend some ice cream, he decided that a boat with a gas-powered engine would be a mighty fine thing. So he invented a practical outboard motor for boats! He started a company selling his motors, and over the years, he sold that company, made more improvements on boat motors, and started a new company, which is still around today.

On this day in 1897, the first Boston marathon was run. Eighteen men competed, and the starter had no gun to signal the beginning of the race; he just shouted “Go!”

This marathon race, inspired by the 1896 summer Olympics marathon, is the oldest annual marathon in the world. (Obviously, the Olympics marathon is only run once ever four years.) These days it is a bit larger: around 500,000 spectators watch between 20,000 to almost 40,000 men and women race. (The world record for largest number of marathoners is the Centennial Boston Marathon in 1996, which had 38,708 entrants.) Racers have to qualify by running a standard marathon course within a certain period of time, although there are spots for mobility-impaired, wheelchair-bound, and charity-affiliated racers.

On this day in 1919, Californian and stuntman Leslie Irvin made the first ever free-fall parachute descent using a rip cord.

In the past, parachutists were stored in a canister and used a tether line attached to the aircraft to pull open the parachute. Irvin thought that a free-fall jump would be safer, because a spinning plane would interfere with the proper opening of the parachute—although he did break his ankle when he landed!

Although the parachute Irvin used, which was deployed from a backpack he wore, was designed by a guy named Floyd Smith and manufactured by Major EC Hoffman, and used Polish inventor Theodore Moscicki's rip cord, it became known as the Irvin parachute, as he set up a company to manufacture and sell them to the public. His company also sold the now-traditional sheepskin flying jacket, which Irvin designed himself, and later car seat belts, slings for cargo handling, and canning machinery. Today Irvin Aeorospace, Inc., specializes in parachutes and inflatable life-saving equipment.

By the way, according to Irvin's company, less than a year after this first flight, a man's life was saved by an Irvin parachute. Two years after its founding, the company began to award gold pins to pilots who successfully bailed out of disabled aircraft. By 1930, forty air forces around the world used Irvin parachutes, and during World War II, over 10,000 lives were saved by Irvin parachutes.

April 18, 2011 - Paul Revere Day –


 A.K.A. Patriots' Day (U.S.)


Ever heard of the “midnight ride of Paul Revere”? Well, it started on the evening of April 18, 1775. Today riders in Massachusetts will reenact this famous event—the 234th such reenactment!—with one horseman playing Paul Revere riding from Boston to Lexington, and another playing William Dawes riding from Roxbury to Lexington.

Notice that today's reenactment will in fact be day rides, unlike the original nighttime rides. Also, the Boston Marathon is run on Patriot's Day, so today is also called Marathon Monday.

Happy running, riding, and spectating to all the citizens of Boston and environs!

Here are some links for the rest of us:

Watch a short video that explains why Paul Revere and William Dawes made their ride. 

Read an account of the ride in Revere's own words

Explore a virtual museum on Paul Revere's ride.

April 17, 2011


Horses Arrive in the New World


Back in the not-so-good old days, communication was slow and mostly local (NOT global), so people often didn't know what was happening elsewhere. British colonists recorded that, on this date in 1629, they first imported horses to North America—but I have to wonder if these Puritans knew that the Spaniards had been bringing horses to the continent for a century. Native Americans had acquired some of these horses through trades and raids, and by taming wild horses that were the descendants of horses that had escaped from captivity. As a matter of fact, when the Puritans were first shipping horses across the Atlantic, wanting farm animals to work the fields during the week, run in races on Saturdays, and pull their carriages to church on Sunday, the continent was already pounding with hooves, particularly across the mid-Western plains.

Interestingly, horses were in the New World from their very beginnings! Horses first evolved in North America over 55 million years ago. They wandered over to the Old World (Asia and eventually Europe and Northern Africa) over the Alaskan-Siberian land bridge, and there different forms such as asses and zebras evolved. From eight to ten thousand years ago, horses died out in North America. Scientists aren't sure why, although climate change and human hunters are likely causes for their continent-wide extinction. By the time Hernando Cortes arrived in Mexico in 1519, with 13 horses, horses were unknown to the Aztec and other groups of Indians.

Learn more horse history here. There is a great page on horses in pre-history—their evolution and the related species that evolved from ancient horse ancestors –and other pages on the domestication of the horse and the RE-introduction of the horse to the Americas. Don't miss the stuff on wild horses in the U.S. today!



April 16, 2011


Emancipation Day


Free at last! On this date in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, freeing thousands of enslaved persons in the District of Columbia and paying the slave owners around $300 per slave. Of course, the act also made slavery illegal in the U.S. capital.

April 16 is a legal holiday in Washington, D.C., although events commemorating the Emancipation Act are generally held on convenient days during mid-April, rather than the 16th itself. This year the 16th is a Saturday, a great day for a celebration! (But public workers got yesterday off, so they didn't miss having a holiday from work to go with their historical holiday.)

Nine months after signing the Compensated Emancipation Act into law, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He thus made slavery illegal everywhere in the U.S. and freed all enslaved persons.

However, as you recall, the nation was torn apart at that point, and the southern states, being in rebellion against the U.S. and having set up their own country, didn't follow the dictates of Washington, D.C.! It took time for enslaved people to even hear about the Emancipation Proclamation, and I bet that, when some people heard rumors that they had been declared free, they hardly dared to believe those rumors. Because of the lag between the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the news of such, let alone actual freedom, emancipation is celebrated on various days from March through July in states and territories including Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Find out more...

Check out the stories of people who remembered slavery—stories of extraordinary “ordinary” people who survived the horrors of human bondage and expressed what it was like to be “a slave no more.” 

Mr. Donn offers lots of links to websites about the institution of slavery in the U.S. 

April 15, 2011


Rubber Eraser Day

Here is a day to celebrate the fixing of mistakes!

Joseph Priestly, the English guy who is credited with the discovery of oxygen, noted in 1770 that Europeans were using little cubes of rubber (brought from Brazil) to rub out black lead pencil. Some people credit Priestly with the invention of rubber erasers because he recorded their use.

Others credit another Englishman: There is a story that an engineer named Edward Naime created the first eraser in 1770. At the time, people used large “crumbs” of bread to wipe out mistakes. Naime accidentally picked up a piece of rubber instead of his lump of bread—and discovered that rubber worked better. He went on to sell rubber erasers to others.

Unfortunately, like the bread, rubber rots. In 1839, American Charles Goodyear discovered a way to “cure” rubber, making it a lasting and usable material. More than a decade later, in 1858, American Hyman Lipman patented the pencil with a rubber eraser at the end.

These days, erasers are made from synthetic rubber, vinyl, plastic, or gum materials. I used to use balls of dried rubber cement as erasers.


Some anonymous quotes:

To err is human; an eraser is divine!”

It's okay to make mistakes! If nobody ever made mistakes, pencils wouldn't have erasers!”

I am the author of my life. Unfortunately, I'm writing in pen, and I can't erase my mistakes.”

Celebrate today by buying a fresh new Pink Pearl eraser!

Try making "eraser art." Use the side of your pencil to rub a layer of graphite over a small section of paper. Then draw a design onto that section with your eraser. Repeat as often as needed to create the design in the size you want.