April 1, 2010

April Fool's Day!

did this holiday of jokes and pranks get started?

Actually, the holiday has been around so long, nobody really knows. Apparently there have been mentions of an All Fool's Day, people sending others on a “fool's errand,” and so forth all the way back to the time of Chaucer (the late 1300s).

One possible reason put forth for the holiday is that, during the middle ages, calendars were often changed to align with the calendars of other realms, or with the sun. In France the New Year used to be celebrated from March 25 to April 1, so when most people made the shift to starting the New Year on January 1, they may have laughed at and teased those who hadn't gotten with the program yet...The problem is, this explanation should explain the holiday from the late 1500s, when France's calendar was changed, rather than two centuries older!

Perhaps the holiday originated with the Persian prank day, Sizdah Bedar, which usually falls on April 1 or 2. This is the oldest prank tradition that is still around—and it got its start as far back as 536 B.C.!

At any rate, if an adult asks you to go find some hen's teeth in the barnyard, DON'T DO IT! The adult is just having a laugh at your expense!

"April Fool's Day"
illustration by
M.T. Ross, from A Year with the Fairies, 1914.

Famous Pranks
There have been some really great April Fool's pranks pulled over the years (and of course some not-so-funny jokes, too).

Some companies, such as Google, produce at least one
major prank per year. Wikipedia has a long list of pranks. I thought these were some of the best:
“In 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to 'reduce the country's debt' and renamed it the 'Taco Liberty Bell.' When asked about the sale, White House press secretary Mike McCurry replied tongue-in-cheek that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would henceforth be known as the Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”

“In 1976, British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC Radio 2 that unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 a.m. that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience 'a strange floating sensation.' Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked.”
If you have the time, check on the rest of the long list on Wikipedia. (Scroll down to "Famous Pranks." Also notice the amazing photo of a subway-car prank at the top of the page!)

There have been so many Google pranks, Wikipedia gave it its own page!

Cook Tricky!

Disney Family Fun offers recipes for foods that look savory but are sweet...like a chicken pot pie that's really a sugary dessert. Also featured a
re recipes for foods that look sweet but are savory – like a whipped-cream-topped slice of pie that is really a dinner entree!

Last but certainly not least, there are several straight-up tricks such as a glass of juice you can't drink and a spilled-and-melting ice cream cone that is no such thing.
Kids might like best of all the gross-yet-professional-looking candy wrapper that you can put on an actual candy bar.

Foolish Fun
  • Here is a fun find-the-difference game with some pretty silly pictures.

  • Kids World has some prank ideas. Be careful what you do, where, and to whom!!! Pictured here is an office in which every item has been individually wrapped with foil.

March 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez

Today is a holiday in eight U.S. states, including mine (California)! It honors Cesar Chavez, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 1993. State offices and some schools are closed—including my daughter's college campus.

You may be wondering who Cesar Chavez was. Well, he was a Mexican American farm worker who became a labor leader and civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he started the United Farm Workers labor union, and his work helped make a huge improvement in the lives of many. And like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Chavez emphasized peaceful demonstrations and peaceful, constructive action at a time when there was a lot of tension and even violence during some other protest movements.

Cesar Chavez was saying “Yes, we can!” long before the Barack Obama presidential campaign—but it was in Spanish: “Si, se puede.” Chavez helped prove that grassroots efforts to register voters, to gain signatures on petitions, and persuade voters and consumers to support the workers' cause and stand up to monied interests—he proved that all of the things that many people said were impossible, could and did happen.

As Randy Shaw wrote on BeyondChron, Chavez and those who worked with him were able to unite students, women, clergy, and workers to make needed changes and to win human rights.

Robert Kennedy supported Chavez's civil rights efforts, and in return Chavez and his organization supported Kennedy's run for presidency. It is the UFW that is credited with winning the California primary for Kennedy (who was tragically assassinated the night of the victory).

Learn more about Chavez.
  • There is a nice bio here with lots of photos.
  • And this is one of many YouTube videos about him.
  • Pictured at right is the National Chavez Center, where Chavez is buried.
Learn some Spanish.
Chavez started his civil rights work to gain rights to better, healthier working conditions for migrant farm wo
rkers who went from farm to farm, region to region, picking fruits and vegetables. How about, in honor of Chavez, learning some Spanish words for fruits and vegetables? You can also have a big fruit salad and a big green salad for lunch today!
  • You can learn the Spanish food words here and here.
  • After you learn some words, you can practice them here and here.
  • And this is fun! It's a translation game with fruits and veggies!


I remember, as a kid, we couldn't eat grapes. For years!

Some grape growers in California at the time treated their migrant workers horribly. The working and living conditions were very unhealthy, and the pay was unbelievably low—an entire family might get paid just twenty cents for three hours of work!

Things were
bad, so Chavez and the UFW organized strikes—which means organized refusals to work until certain conditions were changed—and also a large protest march to California's capital, Sacramento. However, those actions weren't enough. Chavez asked the wider community—the people all across America—to support their efforts to win human rights. He called for a boycott of all table grapes.

A boycott is when people refuse to buy a certain product. Chavez asked all of us to join in his protest against the grape growers, and he persuaded many in the U.S. to support him. My parents were among those persuaded. For years, until the growers finally singed union contracts, we just didn't buy or eat grapes!

More fruit stuff!
  • Here is a jigsaw puzzle of strawberries.
  • Here is a word search.
  • Unscramble these fruit words.

March 30, 2010

Alaska Purchased – a Bargain or Folly?

On this date in 1867, the United States bought Alaska from the Russian Empire for $7.2 million. Even though
that is less than two cents per acre, some people criticized the purchase as a waste of money. Many politicians in Washington thought it was foolish to spend so much money on such a far-away chunk of land.

of State William Seward and President Andrew Johnson were especially criticized for their decision to purchase Alaska. The purchase was called “Seward's Folly,” and the cold, icy land was scorned as “Seward's Icebox” or “Johnson's Polar Bear Garden.” (And what's wrong with polar bears, anyway?)

Of course, with the discovery of oil and gold in Alaska, let alone its natural beauties and wildlife, Alaska turned out to be an amazing bargain!

Seward Day

Even though today is the actual anniversary of the purchase, Alaskans celebrate “Seward Day” on the last Monday of March—which this year was yesterday, the 29th. Most things go on during this state holiday—mail is
still delivered, schools are still in session, and so forth—but most state offices are closed.

Did you know...?

Alaska's state flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy. Benny Benson entered a flag-designing contest with other teens (grades 7 through 12) in 1926. Actually, he entered more than one design—but one of them actually won!

Benny won a gold watch with his design etched onto the back, plus $1000.
For more info—like what sorts of things were on Benny's non-winning entries, and on most of the other designs entered to the contest—read this.

Tour Alaska Photographics' galleries.
It's like touring the landscapes of Alaska! Gorgeous! (Don't forget to check out the wildlife.)

Learn ab
out Alaska's glaciers.
Glaciers are great masses of snow and ice. They usually move very slowly (about a foot a day), moving ou
twards or downwards because of their great weight. That's why they are sometimes called rivers of ice.

Glaciers pick up rocks and carry them along, grinding them against the land and rocks across which the glaciers move. With this grinding action, glaciers erode rock and carve out U-shaped valleys. At they move, glaciers push huge piles of rocks into piles called moraines.
  • Here is a short video about Alaska's glaciers.
  • These videos aren't necessarily about Alaska's glaciers, but they're great! Be sure to watch the top one, “Glacier Power.”
  • And here is an experiment you can do with simple materials to see how glaciers move.
Do some Alaskan Scramblers.
Or, if you like your puzzles to be jigsaws, try this one.

There are many interesting native cultures in Alaska.
Color a totem pole on the computer or as a printout.

March 29, 2010

Memorial Day – Madagascar

This is a patriotic holiday for the island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa; it commemorates a 1947 attempt to win independence from France and the horrible response by French soldiers: a massacre of rebels and innocent bystanders. But the good news is that Madagascar did later peacefully gain independence from France and was proclaimed the Malagasy Republic in 1958. It was renamed Madagascar in 1975.

Madagascar is one of the largest islands in the world, and it has lots of very interesting plants and animals, most of which are not found elsewhere in the world.

See if you can figure out which of the “facts” below are ACTUAL facts (in other words, true), and which are false:

1A. Madagascar is the second largest island in the world, being smaller than only the island of Greenland.
1B. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, following Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo.
2A. The main reason that Madagascar's animals and plants are so different from those found elsewhere is that this island split off from Africa (or, rather, from the super-continent that existed way back then, Gondwana) about 160 million years ago, and then split off from India 80 to 100 million years ago—so there was a long period of time during which plants and animals could evolve in their separate paths from the mainland animals.
2B. Madagascar's animals and plants are so diverse because the island enjoyed milder climate and warmer temperatures, brought courtesy of ocean currents, than did the continental areas. With this favorable climate, the plants and animals evolved much faster and became specialized into many different species.
3A. People are thought to have first come to Madagascar around 2,000 B.C., when the ocean channel that separates Madagascar from Africa disappeared, making a short-lived land bridge that people crossed on foot.
3B. Scientists estimate that humans reached Madagascar between 200 and 500 A.D.; it is thought that the first settlers arrived by outrigger sailing canoes from Borneo, and that Bantu peoples crossed the Mozambique Channel by boat soon after.
4A. The unique animals in Madagascar include koalas, rheas (these large birds, similar to ostriches, died out in the 1900s), and primates called baboons.
4B. Some of the animals that are unique to Madagascar include primates called lemurs, elephant birds (which were similar to—but larger than—ostriches, but which became extinct in the 1600s), and meat-eating mammals called fossas.

Answers: The true facts are 1B, 2A, 3B, 4B.

s bugs are unique, too!
Check out the Sunset Moth, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, and the
jewel-like Dung Beetle.

Make a Sunset Moth of your own. One idea can be found here.

Do you like snakes?

Madagascar is home to more than 80 kinds of snakes, but none of them pose much danger to humans. (In the surrounding ocean are two poisonous sea snakes, though!)

Make a cardboard snake that shows how flexible these creatures are.

Learn about a child's life in Madagascar.

Torina is a girl who lives on Madagascar. Check out the book written about her by clicking “View Sample Pages” and then clicking “Next” in the upper right corner of each page. I bet your life is very different from Torina's!

Trevor is a boy who lives on Madagascar. He has a website with information about his life.

Have you seen the animated film Madagascar?

I haven't...but I wonder what happens when mainland-African animals brought up in a big-city American zoo get stuck on the island that has never seen the likes of a lion, giraffe, and zebra before!

Here is a movie website with coloring pages (click “Fun and Learning” at the top of the frame) and other activities.

March 28, 2010

What's in a Name Day

We often celebrate people who discover things or invent things—and as often mention what those discoverers and inventors decide to name those things. Sometimes we mention names that change. For example, the country in Africa that is now called Ghana was once a colony called Gold Coast, and before that the land was part of the Akan Kingdoms, the Ashanti Empire, Fante states like the Ga and the Ewe, and the realm of the Akwamu and the Bono. We can talk about the meanings of names (such as the fact that Argentina means “Land of Silver”) and the different versions of names in different languages (for example, Italy, Venice, and Rome are all English versions of the Italian names for these places: Italia, Venezia, and Roma).

Today is the birthday of several important namers-of-places and coiners-of-terms, and it's the anniversary of a couple of important name changes as well. Let's see what we've got:

On this date in 1793, Henry R. Schoolcraft was born. This American explorer and ethnologist (a person who studies cultures) is most famous for his discovery of the source of the Mississippi River.

He had been along on an expedition in which the source was supposedly found in a lake that was named after the head of the ex
pedition (Cass Lake). When it turned out that was not, in fact, the source, Schoolcraft explored further and found the true source in another lake.

He named this lake in Northern Minnesota “Lake Itasca,” taking parts of two Latin words for the name: the letters “Itas” from veritas (true), and the letters “ca” from caput (head.) So basically, the name of the lake is “true source (or head).”

Notice he wasn't tempted to name the lake after himself: Lake Schoolcraft!

On this date in 1848, Wilhelm Kuhne was born. This German scientist studied human physiology: muscles, nerves, eyes, and the digestive system. He is famous for having coined the word enzyme.

Enzymes are very important in living things. They are proteins that speed up specific chemical reactions that a creature needs to stay alive. And when I say that enzymes speed reactions up, I really mean they speed things up: chemical reactions happen millions of times faster than would the same reactions without enzymes.

Kuhne took the word enzyme from the Greek word that means “to leaven.” (When we leaven bread dough, we put yeast into the dough,
and the yeast “ferments” and makes the bread dough rise. This, of course, is a chemical reaction.)

As Professor Sy Yentz points out, Kuhne's choice of enzyme was a great help to Scrabble players all over the English-speaking world!

On this date in 19
30, the name of the Turkish city Constantinople was changed to Istanbul.

Actually, like many ancient cities, this city has had many names. One very old name is Byzantium. With that name it became the capital city of an important empire, the Eastern Roman Empire; and it is because of the city's name that we often call that empire the Byzantine Empire.

The Roman emperor
Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and had his entire empire follow suit, and the city was renamed Constantinople. However, the Arabic world called the city Kostantiniyye (basically the same name but with an Arabic ending meaning “place of” replacing the Greek “-polis” ending). Sometimes Arab people called it simply “The City,” which in their langauge was Istanbul. When an Arabic empire (the Ottomans) conquered Constantinople in 1453, most people who lived there called the city Istanbul, but Kostantiniyye was still often used officially, and the rest of the world continued to call the city Constantinople.

Finally, when the Republic of Turkey was est
ablished in 1923, all the other names for the city became obsolete. The rest of the world would probably have kept dragging on, using the old name it knew and felt comfortable with, but on this date in 1930, Turkey's leaders informed the rest of the world that mail and packages addressed to Constantinople would no longer be delivered.

So the rest of the world got with the program and made the change!

On this date in 1963, the new owners of the professional football team the New York Titans changed the team's name to the New York Jets.

The Titans, for some reason, had never attracted crowds of spectators, so the new owners hoped that a name change would link the team in the public's mind with the popular baseball team, the New York Mets. I guess it worked, because soon the team had a popular new player, Joe Namath, lots of fans, and even a Superbowl victory!

Do you know the Nam
e Game?
Learn it here.

Imagine you had to name all the streets of a community.

Would you name them after people? Other places? Things?

Some towns have street names that are kind of boring but HELPFUL. Here's an example of street names that really help people find their way around: all the streets that run North-South have letter names (in alphabetical order), and all the streets that run East-West have number names (in numerical order).

One town I know has non-boring-but-still-helpful street names. All the streets are named in alphabetical order, but instead of boring lettered streets (A Street, B Street, C Street, etc.), this town uses flowe
r street names (something like Aster Avenue, Bluebonnet Boulevard, Carnation Close, and so forth).

Whatever you do, don't make your street
names hopelessly confusing. I once went into a small neighborhood that had streets that twisted and turned—and every single street was a multi-syllable girl's name that started with the letter “S.” Boy, was that place frustrating! I was turning from Samantha onto Sylvia, going past Sabrina and Sophia—and where the dickens was Stephanie? Trying to remember a route there was nearly impossible!

If I had the power
to name all the streets in a community, I would be tempted to use my power to honor my favorite authors, musicians, and scientists – but then I would arrange the names in ABC order, to make finding things easier!

Or, wait -- I might want to make all the names cool elfish names, as if my town was somewhere in Middle Earth. Hmmm...

What would you do?

Little kids love to write their names
, see their names, and use their names.
Here is a website with lots of name-oriented songs, poems, and games for the younger set.

Make your name into Graffiti!

This Flash program has lots of different graffiti fonts, colors, stripes, and so forth. Fun! (To get started, click the colorful word near the bottom of the screen (center panel).

Make a Name B
1.Fold an unlin
ed paper in half vertically. Unfold and position the paper horizontally. Write your name in cursive, very large, using the folded crease as the line on which you write.

2.Fold the paper in half again and position on a glass window so that the blank half is facing you but you can see your name through the paper. Trace along the lines so that you end up with a mirror image of your name.

3.Unfold the paper and turn it vertically. Your double-name looks a little bit like a strange bug, right?

Use colo
r and features (eyes, mouths, feet, antennae) to make it look even more like an insect.

March 27, 2010

Skyscraper Day in the U.S.A.

There seems to be a bit of confusion over the title “Skyscraper Day.” According to some websites, September 3 is Skyscraper Day, and according to other websites, it's March 27....Hmm, I'm not sure we NEED two Skyscraper Days per year!

(Do we “need
” even one?)

Since none of the websites backed up their claim for Skyscraper Day being an actual recognized day, I figure I can choose to celebrate skyscrapers today. Because they are very interesting!
  • Do you know how skyscrapers are built? If you answered, “From the ground up,” you are right! (They sure aren't built from the top down!) Here is a time-lapse video of a skyscraper being built. Also there are some articles here.
  • What country has the tallest skyscraper in the world? Find the answers courtesy of this YouTube video (with VERY dramatic music!).
  • What happens when a skyscraper becomes so old and run down that it isn't safe, or it needs to be replaced? Well, first the demolition experts are asked to come “bring down” the old building, as you can see here.
Not your grandmother's skyscrapers

Skyscrapers aren't all boring rectangular-box shapes; as a matter of fact, there are many different shapes in modern skyscrapers. Check out the Dubai skyscraper with rotating floors. Then take a peek at the variety of skyscraper shapes shown here.

Drawing skyscrapers

Damien from Australia does a great job at making scale drawings! Check out his diagrams for each height range of buildings in the middle of the home page. As one example, here is the "300 m and over" diagram.

Try your hand at creating skyscraper pictures using your computer paint program!

Skyscrapers in our future?

Some architects are looking forward to ultra-safe skyscrapers that are sort of “nested” in a steel mesh. The thing is, robots will be needed to build the skyscrapers.

Some scientists are planning how we can house people in AND grow food on skyscrapers! It's called vertical farming (three vertical farms are shown here, above). Here's another version of the vertical farm. And there are a LOT of different designs here.

Make a model skyscraper - or an entire skyscraper-scape.

Use Legos, or a model-building kit, or boxes and paper and tape and a lot of imagination. Here is a glimpse of some model skyscrapers to get you inspired! (Scroll down.)

Here are some how-to tips.

Here are some amazing Lego skyscrapers.

Take the Skyscraper Challenge.

Check it out...if this book is available at your library:
Skyscrapers!: Super Structures to Design & Build, by Carol A. Johmann.

Have a happy Skyscraper Day!

March 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Robert Frost

Born on this day in 1874, Frost is still one of the most-read, most-quoted, and most-loved American poets of all time. He's also one of the most honored: he received four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry in his lifetime.

Robert Frost was born in San Francisco, California, but he moved to New England when he was a teen; he lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont; Scotland a
nd England; and Michigan and Florida.

Although Frost attended prestigious universities (Dartmouth and Harvard), he never graduated from college. It's not that he didn't do well at his studies--he did--but he had to leave to support his family. So, no graduation means no diploma, right? Wrong
! Frost earned more than 40 honorary degrees, including one from Harvard and two from Dartmouth.

Other honors came his way, too; during his lifetime, buildings and schools were named for him, and Frost was chosen to read one of his poems at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

I was lucky enough to visit the cemetery in which Robert Frost was buried. I say “lucky” because I did
n't know he was buried there and was just exploring a cool old graveyard in Benngington, Vermont. It was moving to see his grave; his epitaph is a line from one of his poems: “I had a lover's quarrel with the world.”

Celebrate Frost

One of his most famous poems is “The Road Not Taken.”
(Here is a YouTube video of the poem being read by Alan Bates.)

Read the poem, listen to it, and think about or discuss its meaning. Is there just one meaning?

One time I read that songwriter Paul Simon, when asked what a particular song meant, refused to explain his meaning. He basically said that he had done his part in writing the song, now listeners had to do their part. I think what he meant is that there isn't one "correct” meaning; instead, there are lots of possible meanings, because we each create our own meaning.

I think the same thing could be said about poetry,
and from what I can tell by reading what Frost said about his poems, it certainly seems to be true of “The Road Not Taken.” The poem ends with the lines, “I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” Because of these two lines, most people think the poem is a statement that people should be individuals, strike out on their own “path,” and avoid going along with “the crowd.”

However, many people say that it is an ironic poem that shows that the decision about which path to take made little or no diff
erence, and that people tend to defend their past choices by rationalizing them. Frost called this poem tricky, and he said that in part it was a “private jest” aimed at people who were sure he would live to regret the choices he'd made. It also may have been a private joke on Frost's friend Edward Thomas; the two used to take walks through the forest, and Thomas always complained at the end that they should have taken a different path.

Do the private jests and jokes take away the inspirational message that many of us feel when we read the poem? Not at all. We
all bring our own meaning to art—that's part of what makes it art.

Read, enjoy...maybe even LOVE
more Robert Frost poems!
Gathering Leaves” is good, and I think “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is even better!

You can find many more Frost poems here.

I love this jigsaw puzzle of the U.S.!

It's a big difficult, but the fact that Frost's poem is printed on the states makes it MUCH easier to solve!

Write poems of your own

See if you can express a real emotion with simple words. What makes you really upset, sad, or angry? What fills you with joy?

March 25, 2010

International Waffle Day (Vaffeldagen)

This day started in Sweden, where there is a tradition to make and eat waffles on this day. The holiday is linked with the coming of spring.

Waffles are batter-based cakes rather like pancakes, but instead of being cooked on one flat griddle or pan, they are cooked between two metal griddles that often have patterns or fancy shapes. There are many different kinds of waffles—different batter recipes and flavors, different shapes, and especially lots of different toppings. In many countries, waffles are made by street vendors and commonly eaten hot on the street. In the United States waffles are generally eaten at breakfast. Some waffles are made into ice cream cones, and some waffles are served with hearty, savory toppings.

tory of the waffle

Many different websites say that waffles date back at least to ancient Greeks, who cooked flat cakes between two metal pans. However, hinged waffle irons similar to ours today (but not electric!) were still invented a long time ago, probably in Holland or Germany, in the 1300s. Some of the waffle irons were very decorative—they didn't just have today's familiar waffle pattern, some had coats of arms, or religious symbols, or even landscapes. All waffle irons had long handles so that they could be put into a fire or onto a hot stove (shown above).

Waffles were very popular in many places in Europe during the middle ages. Street v
endors found that hot waffles would sell—well, like hotcakes! Vendors came out to the church to make waffles on feast days and other church-going occasions, but at times they would compete aggressively with each other for customers. King Charles IX of France had to regulate waffles sales, making sure no two vendors were too close to one another.

Pilgrims brought waffle irons with them to the New World, and Thomas Jefferson helped make “waffle frolics” popular in American during the late 1700s when he brought a waffle iron from France.
Of course, nowadays, many people use electric waffle makers (show right).

Waffles a
round the world
  • Early Greek waffles – topped with cheeses and herbs
  • American waffles – commonly topped with sweet syrup
  • Belgian waffles – traditionally dusted with powdered sugar
  • Liege waffles (also from Belgium!) – with carmelized pearl sugar and either vanilla or cinnamon flavored
  • Hong Kong waffles – spread with butter, peanut butter, and sugar, and folded like a taco to eat
  • Scandinavian waffles – often made in heart shapes, served with whipped cream, ice cream or sour cream plus jam and sugar
  • Stroopwafels (Dutch) – cut into two halves, then filled with syrup, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon – the filling glues the two halves back together!
  • Norwegian waffles – served with brown cheese, or salted and served with blue cheese
Make and eat waffles today!
Mr. Break
fast has 141 different waffle recipes, with user ratings and a handy top-15 list.

Of course, you can eat frozen waffles, too. Here's a way to make frozen waffles fancy, fun (kids love to dip) and healthy, too (the dip is fruit yogurt!).

You could have an entire waffle day, with waffles and syrup for breakfast, a waffle sandwich for lunch
(put PB&J or egg salad between two halves of a thick waffle, or between two thin ones), and waffles with ham, cheese and fried egg for dinner.

Read Everything on a Waffle
, by Polly Horvath.

Enjoy waffle patterns.

This tennis shoe shows that waffle patterns can be cool. What else might look good with waffle pattern?

Remember tessellations? Here is a waffle-pattern tessellation to print or save.

Do you know the waffle song?

Lots of people have made animations for it. Here's a pretty fun one.

March 24, 2010

Anniversary of a Very Big Stamp Sale – 1970

On this da
te in 1970, a poorly-printed, smudged, slightly damaged postage stamp that was originally worth one cent sold at an auction for $280,000!

Which prompts us to ask the question, How can we know what something is “worth”?

If a little bit of once-sticky paper in not very good condition can go from being sold for a penny to being sold for more than a quarter of a million dollars—we have to ask ourselves why!

As far as postage stamps go, there is a one-word answer: Rarity.

Some people like to collect postage stamps. Stamps are colorful, they often have interesting pictures, and they come from all over the world—what's not to like? Some people buy large stamp-collecting books that have labeled pages on which to put stamps from Japan (the stamps say Nippon), Hungary (they say Magyar), Germany (they say Deutschland), and every other country. You can learn a lot from collecting stamps—including learning about the various names for countries throughout history.

Stamp collectors, who are called philatelists, know that, if there are lots and lots of a particular stamp, then each one isn't worth very much. However, if there are very few of a particular stamp, lots of collectors want them to “finish off” their collection—and so the price goes up. For almost all old stamps, whatever they were worth when first sold, they are more (sometimes far more) now!

The reason that the stamp we are
discussing here sold for $280,000 in 1970 was that it is rare. Very rare. It is the 1856 one-cent “Black on Magenta” stamp from British Guiana, said by some to be both the rarest stamp in the world and the most famous. Although it was printed in a rectangular shape, the corners were clipped off, so it has an octagonal shape. It was originally printed poorly because it was an emergency printing order with a printer never used before for stamps, in order to fill a gap left by a shortage of the normally printed stamps. Not very many of the stamps were printed for this stop-gap order, and each one was signed by a post office employee as a security measure (since the print quality was poor, it could be more easily copied).

That's what happened when these stamps were first printed. Now let's follow the sales of this one particular stamp, which is the only of its kind known to still ex
  • 1856 – stamp printed and sold for one cent.
  • 1873 – a 12-year-old stamp collector (Vaughn) finds the stamp on old family papers and puts it into his collection.
  • Circa 1874 – Sells for 6 shillings (less than one US dollar).
  • Circa 1879 – Sells for unknown amount.
  • Late 1800s – Sells for 120 pounds.
  • Early 1900s – Sells for 150 pounds.
  • 1922 – Sells for 7,343 pounds.
  • 1940 – Sells for between US $40,000 and US $75,000
  • 1970 – Sells for US $280,000
  • Circa 1980 – Sells for US $935,000
Whoa—what just happened there? In just one decade, the stamp's value jumped fourfold, from being worth a quarter of a million dollars to being worth almost a million dollars!

According to Wikipedia, today the stamp is believed to be locked away in a bank vault while its owner is serving a 30-year sentence for
murder. ( ! )

So... Something is worth...

Things are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them. Obviously, you and I would never consider handing over almost a million dollars for a postage stamp. Even if we had million dollars, which we don't, right?

There are some things that have worth to almost anybody. Food and water are necessities and are widely valued (although they are relatively cheap
because they are pretty easily available in most places). A car that runs, a boat that is seaworthy, and a well-maintained bike don't appeal just to a few collectors—many people need such vehicles.

Gold and diamonds are pretty rare on earth, which is
why they have value, and they are pretty easy to sell. Still, in some societies in the past gold and diamonds were not recognized as valuable, and in the future they may have less value than non-polluted fresh water.

Then there are autographs,
sports memorabilia, art, and other things that people buy and sell. With these things one can ask, “What is it worth to you?” In other words, let's say you have a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. If you search Google and then offer it on e-bay, you may be able to sell the autographed ball. But you have to ask yourself if it is worth giving up that bit of memorabilia for the offered amount of money. Maybe you get more enjoyment from owning it and showing it off...or maybe you really want to hold onto the ball and see if it is “worth” more later.

And a piece of art that you truly enjoy may well be worth more than whatever you can sell it for.

Enough about money!

It's said that the best things in life are free. Things like love and friendship and loyalty don't have price tags and can't be auctioned off on e-bay....but that do
es not make them “worthless.”

Try stamp collecting!
The American Philatelic Society is ready to help you get started.

Learn more about stamps with “Stamp Whys.”

The U.S. has a National Postal Museum.
Check it out here.

Did you know...?

The first postage stamp was brought out by Britain in 1840. Stamp collecting as a hobby (and sometimes an investment) began RIGHT AWAY. One person, John Edward Gray, bought some of the very first stamp on the very first day the stamp was sold—just so he could keep them. Stamp collecting was largely done by kids and teens, so adults thought of it as “childish,” but when those kids grew up, they began to publish books about their hobby and began to display their collections, and stamp collecting gained instant respect.

Design a stamp!

Every year in the United States there is a Junior Duck Stamp contest, with kids encouraged to enter artwork depicting a duck or other waterfowl. One winning entry is made a stamp and sold, and the money from sales is used for environmental programs.

But there isn't just one winner in this contest! Instead, there are 100 winners per state, district, and territory. The awards vary with each state, but the national winners get thousands of dollars in prizes. (For example, first place wins $5,000 plus a trip for three to Washington, D.C., for the unveiling of the new stamp.) There is also a contest for Best Conservation Message concerning waterfowl and wetlands.

The 2010 contest closed in most states earlier this month, but find out about the program for next year. It takes a while to research species, find out about wetlands, and gather materials.

You will probably want to look at the previous winners, and you may want to go see the 53 “Best of Show” entries as they tour the U.S. Check it all out here.

Coloring fun!
Cartoon Critters offers some printable sheets with U.S. postage stamps, ready to color.

Jigsaw fun!

Here is an online jigsaw that features postcards. And do you know what postcards have on them? That's right, postage stamps!

And here's a jigsaw with just the stamps.

Note: You can choose to make these puzzles easy or hard—12 pieces up to 192 pieces!!!