July 31, 2011 - La Hae Hawaii

This is Hawaiian Flag Day. The flag is unexpected, at least to me—it doesn't seem to catch the island flavor or the Pacific/Asian ancestry of many Hawaiians—and it features a British “Union Jack” in one corner!

But in 1816 this flag was commissioned by King Kamehameha the Great to show Hawaii's close ties with Great Britain. The eight red-white-and-blue stripes stand for Hawaii's eight major islands.

This flag represented Hawaii as the flag of the Hawaiian Kingdom, as the Republic of Hawaii, and as the territory of Hawaii. Now it represents the State of Hawaii.

Celebrate Hawaii!

July 30, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Vladimir Zworykin

He is sometimes called the Father of Television!

Vladimir Zworykin was born in Russia in 1889. He studied science and engineering and worked on early television at St. Petersburg Institute of Technology. He came to the U.S. in 1918, during the Russian Civil War, by joining a scientific expedition in Siberia and continuing on to Alaska. Once in the U.S., Zworykin worked at the Westinghouse laboratories in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He continued to work on improvements for television and earned his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh (the university that features that wonderful Cathedral of Learning I mentioned in yesterday's post!).

Zworykin helped develop cathode ray tubes, infrared image tubes, and the electron microscope.

Learn about the evolution of the television here. 

Have you tried out the Virtual Electron Microscope

Here is a gallery of images captured with a Scanning Electron Microscope. 

July 29, 2011 - Olsok – Norway

Insel Halsnoy in Norway
With the horrendous tragedy that struck Norway this week, this Norwegian holiday will be more solemn than usual. Still, there is much strength and courage in the Norwegian people to celebrate.

Check out last year's post.

Also on this day...
First U.S. newspaper west of the Alleghenies published – 1786

The Pittsburgh Gazette (now called the Post Gazette) was first published on this day in 1786. Nowadays Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, doesn't seem very far west, but back then it marked the western edge of publishing in North America!

I just went to Pittsburgh for the first time. My favorite sight there was the 42-story Cathedral of Learning, which is a wonderful gothic building where Pitt students can study in cozy medieval-looking nooks or in grand halls with lofty arched ceilings. Two floors of classrooms have been decorated by people from particular countries—everything from Israel to Japan, from Wales to Italy, from Africa to Ukraine—to represent and teach about that country. I spent several happy hours exploring all the “nation” rooms open to the public.

July 28, 2011 - Olavsoka Eve

– Faroe Islands

Isn't it nice when a nation celebrates the opening of its law-making sessions?

The people of the Faroe Islands have rowing competitions, art exhibitions, folk music, chaindance performances, and calvacades (which are parades of people riding on horses) tonight—all to celebrate the opening of their parliament tomorrow!

The Faroe Islands are halfway between the United Kingdom and Iceland, far to the north in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the nation is self-governing, it is part of the kingdom of Denmark and depends on Denmark for military, police, justice, and foreign affairs.

There are 18 major islands, most of which are long and sknny, in the group.

The Faroe Islands boast cool summers and mild winters, but the sky is usually overcast. One special thing about the islands is that, although they have miles of coastlines, they lack beaches. Instead, most coastal areas have tall sea cliffs; as a matter of fact, the sea cliffs of these islands are the highest in Europe and some of the highest in the world. Check out the cliffs in this cool slideshow

July 27, 2011 - Lu Pan Day – Hong Kong

Have you ever heard of Lu Pan, the Chinese Leonardo da Vinci?

He is said to have invented the drill, plane, shovel, saw, lock, and ladder. And his wife is credited with inventing the umbrella!

Today is the traditional birthday of this Taoist hero and inventor, who is said to have been born on this day in 507 B.C.E. Lu Pan was an architect and engineer and is considered the patron saint of carpenters.

Try your hand at carpentry!

Here are a few ideas. 
Here is a book that can help with lots more ideas. 

July 26, 2011 - Happy Birthday, FBI!

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was created on this day in 1908. It is, in a way, the United States' national police department, because the FBI has jurisdiction in more than 200 categories of federal crime. The FBI also is the “intelligence agency” that gathers information from inside the country for the purposes of national security. (The CIA and NSA both operate as intelligence agencies involved with data gathering around the world.)

Did you know that FBI is an abbreviation for “Federal Bureau of Investigation,” but it's not an acronym? An acronym is a word you can pronounce, with at least one vowel per syllable, created from initial letters or word parts. FBI is just the initial letters that we pronounce as letters; it would have to be pronounced something like “febbie” to be an acronym. Examples of acronyms are NASA (“National Aeronautics and Space Administration”) and scuba (“self-contained underwater breathing apparatus”).

But though FBI is not an acronym, the organization does feature a backronym. A backronym is a phrase created especially to start with certain letters; in other words, it is sort of the opposite of an acronym. The FBI's backronym is its motto: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.

Play games on the official FBI website!  I just tried the first two slider puzzles—and they were difficult but fun!

Watch White Collar. This is one of my favorite shows right now; the USA network show features a white collar division of the FBI.  The show is in its third season, but we watched the first two seasons streaming and on DVDs from Netflix and loved them!

Many other television shows, including an old favorite, NUMB3RS, also deal with the FBI, but these shows are often more violent--the FBI, of course, does investigate murders and other violent crimes. White Collar is a lot less bloody because it's more about conmen and scam artists. You might, however, want to check the parental advisory.

July 25, 2011 - Yalong Cultural Festival


National sports contests, singing, dancing, Tibetan opera, ethnic costume shows, and trade fairs are just some of the cool things offered during this important festival.

Tibet is located in the northern portion of the Himalaya Mountains. It is ruled by the People's Republic of China, but many people in Tibet and the world think that Tibet should be an independent nation. The Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism, lives in exile, and there is off-and-on political unrest and violence about Tibet's situation, including major riots and protests just three years ago.

Here is a short You-Tube video about the growth of tourism in Tibet. 

I also found an interesting music video by Tibetan singer Dowa Tskeyi. I found it cool partly because it shows a mixture of traditional and modern clothing and of urban and natural settings. 

July 24, 2011 - Simon Bolivar Day

– South America

He was, quite simply, The Liberator!

Well, make that El Libertador!

Along with Jose de San Martin, Bolivar led South Americans during their struggle to win independence from Spain. He was instrumental in gaining independence for Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Panama. (Panama is part of Central America, which is part of North America, rather than South America.)

Since today is Bolivar's birthday (he was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on this date in 1783), he is celebrated today in Latin America. Apparently the biggest celebrations are in Ecuador and Venezuela; there is food and music, there are military and national-costume parades, and there are flags and battle reenactments.
This statue of Simon Bolivar is
located in Washington, D.C. It is the
apparently the tallest statue in the city!

A short biography of Simon Bolivar can be found here.  

July 23, 2011 - First Swimming School in U.S.

– 1827

Apparently the idea of a school that teaches swimming was quite marvelous back in 1827, for the president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, went to Boston and checked it out. Another famous adult who visited the swimming school was naturalist and painter-of-birds James Audubon.

John Quincy Adams
Several websites claim that Adams and Audubon, ages 60 and 42 at the time of the school's opening, were not merely visitors to the school, but were actually pupils there! Maybe, but I'm not positive. If you were 60 years old and hadn't bothered to learn to swim yet, would you take the plunge then?

Like I said, maybe. I'd like to see some evidence of the claim, though...


Sign up for swim classes or swim team. Or just go swimming!

Remember, safety first! Here is a swim safety website for kids, and here is another short-and-simple explanation of the basics of swim safety, geared to adults.

July 22, 2011 - Firsts Around the World

On this day in 1933, Wiley Post became the first person to fly solo around the world.
On this day in 1983, Dick Smith became the first person to fly a helicopter solo around the world.
And on this day in 1989, Tony Aliengena, age 11, became the youngest pilot to fly around the world.

Wiley Post's around-the-world flight took just 7 days and 19 hours, beating his own world's record for speed around the world (which previous feat he accomplished with a navigator on board). Post stopped three times for repairs to his autopilot, once to replace his airscrew, and three more stops, presumably for refueling and rest and refreshment!

When Post arrived at the airfield in New York that he had left a week before, he was greeted by a crowd of fifty thousand cheering people!

Dick Smith, an Australian entrepreneur, took his time making his solo round-the world flight, but in so doing managed to honor the early aviation pioneers. Smith took off from an airfield in Texas in August of 1982, and his journey across the Atlantic ended on the 50th anniversary of James Mollison's solo crossing of the same ocean. Once he arrived in his native Australia, Smith took more than half a year off. When he resumed his journey, he deliberately timed his arrival back in Texas to be the 50th anniversary of Wiley Post's solo feat.

Dick Smith is one of those guys who has the desire and the means to do grand round-the-world gestures. He has also flown around the world “vertically,” stopping off at both the North and South Poles, and a few years ago he and his wife completed a two-and-a-half-year drive around the world via wheeled vehicle. I assume the car spent some time on ferry boats?

Tony Aliengena's round-the-world flight began and ended very near me, at John Wayne Airport, Orange County, California. It took seven weeks. When at a stopping place in Alaska, just a few days before the ending of the trip, Aliengena's father took the controls of the small plane and loaded too many people into the plane to go somewhere for a fishing trip. He flipped the plane and crashed it! So then Mr. Aliengena had to go find another plane so his son could continue the world-record feat.

It looks to me like this particular round-the-world adventure was being pushed on the fourth grader by his publicity-seeking dad. Apparently the FAA no longer allows youngest pilot feats—which means Tony Aliengena's world record may stand for a long time!

July 21, 2011 - Victor Schoelcher Day

French Caribbean

Victor Schoelcher was born in Paris on July 22, 1804, but he is celebrated today in Martinique, Guadeloupe and other French Caribbean isles because of his role in the abolition of slavery there.

I don't know why every source I consulted listed Schoelcher's birthday as July 22, yet every source on Caribbean holidays listed July 21 as the birthday celebration of the man! At any rate, Schoelcher seems to be one of history's unambiguous “good guys.”

He was born into a rich merchant family, and he became a journalist. He had a college education but learned about slavery when he traveled to America in 1829, visiting southern U.S. states, Mexico, and Cuba. From then on, he devoted himself to working to abolish slavery throughout the world.

I have always thought that travel is a great teacher, and Schoelcher deliberately chose his travel destinations to learn more about slavery. He traveled throughout the West Indies, including Haiti, and he traveled in Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and the west coast of Africa. He published many articles about slavery and the positive outcomes of its abolition. He also contributed some of his family fortune to establishing and promoting societies for the benefit of black people.

In 1848, Schoelcher was appointed under-secretary of the navy and finally had some power to win rights for slaves. In April of that year, he wrote a decree in which France declared that slavery was abolished in all of its colonies.

Schoelcher went on to serve in the legislature of Martinique—although he took time out from his service to defend Paris against Prussia in 1870.

July 20, 2011 - Moon Day

Celebrate the first day that human beings stepped foot on another world!

When you feel discouraged about people's stupidity and cruelty, look up in the sky at the moon and remember that, ALMOST HALF A CENTURY AGO, we went there! Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11's successful voyage of hundreds of thousands of miles to our nearest celestial neighbor.

We can also celebrate the 1976 landing of the Viking I Lander on Mars. This intrepid unmanned spacecraft traveled hundreds of millions of miles to Earth's next-door planet, and it was the first to successfully land on Mars. Viking I transmitted many photos of Mars and ran a variety of experiments over a period of over six and a half years!

We need to get back to exploring the moon! And Mars, too!

For more Moon Day info, check out last year's post

July 19, 2011 - First Parking Meters

– 1935

Is there any time left on the meter? Does it take dimes and nickels, or only quarters? Is it

even working? What do you mean, they're charging 25 cents for every FIVE MINUTES?

Parking in big cities can be a difficult and expensive proposition. Often, we must choose between an expensive parking lot and street parking with parking meters that may or may not work. The joy of using a parking meter includes scrounging for the right amount—and the right kind—of coins, keeping track of the time, and running back to “feed the meter” before the time runs out. Of course, sometimes we lose track of time and get a parking ticket that is far more expensive than the day-rate at any parking lot. Oh, joy!

Well, it all began in 1935. A man named Carl C. McGee of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce traffic committee invented the parking meter, applied for a patent, and then installed the meters in the business district of downtown Oklahoma City.

From those beginnings we can see how reasonable parking meters really are. Before McGee's invention, the downtown workers parked on the streets. There their cars sat, at the curbs of all the streets of downtown, all day, every day. People who wanted to shop or bank downtown couldn't ever find a parking spot!

Which wasn't good for stores and banks and other downtown businesses. Which, ultimately, wasn't good for those downtown workers!

The parking meters saved some spots for shoppers and visitors. That meant that many workers who wanted to park all day long needed to find somewhere else to park, and, I presume, caused some enterprising people to start private parking lots as a business endeavor.

Odd, but true...Sad, but sweet...

Oklahoma resident Barbara Manire was very funny and enjoyed making people smile. She requested that, when she was gone, her children would bury her in the front row of the cemetery with an expired parking meter on her grave.

It wasn't the easiest request to fulfill, but Manire's son was able to purchase a parking meter on Ebay. He changed the expiration time on the meter to 64 years and attached the meter to his mother's headstone.

July 18, 2011 - Nelson Mandela's Birthday

He spent 27 years in prison. Just four years after his release, he was elected president of his nation!

Those two things do not normally go together. However, the stories of Nelson Mandela and his country, South Africa, are not your average stories.

South Africa had the fortune and MISfortune of having a lot of mineral wealth, particularly diamonds and gold. It was also located in an important area of the world, at the very tip of Africa, a spot passed by ships traveling between Europe and Asia. That meant that world powers fought over control of the land, the strategic location, and all that wealth. In 1961, after years of colonization and invasion, slavery and wars, South Africa became a truly independent republic – a nation with legally institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination. The system of legal segregation was known as apartheid.

Apartheid was an appalling policy that trampled on the rights of the majority of the people of South Africa. People around the world called for an end to apartheid – and even went so far as to hold protest demonstrations and to boycott South African businesses. (My own sister was briefly held by police here in the U.S. for her participation in an anti-apartheid demonstration!) Within the country of South Africa, anti-apartheid activists used strikes, marches, protests, and even bombings and sabotage to fight against the oppression. Mandela, one of the anti-apartheid leaders, was arrested and convicted of sabotage, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

I read that Mandela and his anti-apartheid organization were influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and used nonviolent protests for years. However, the nonviolent strategies didn't work, and eventually the organization began to bomb governmental buildings when they were empty, with the intent of not hurting and killing people. Unfortunately, the guerilla war against the South African government spill over into unplanned violence and did end up causing civilian deaths; Mandela sharply criticized the organization's own violations of human rights.

While a young man, before his arrest, Mandela (born on this day in 1918) had earned a university degree. While in prison, he studied law through correspondence courses from a British university and earned his law degree.

When he was finally released from prison in 1990, Mandela became a strong voice for negotiation and reconciliation. He showed, not just leadership, but greatness. And he won more than 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. He was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994.

I recommend the 2009 movie Invictus (rated PG-13), in which Morgan Freeman plays President Nelson Mandela as he uses the popular sport of rugby to help heal his nation.

July 17, 2011 - Total Solar Eclipse in China

– 790 B.C.

The earliest record of a confirmed total solar eclipse, on this date in 790 B.C., was written in China. The reason we can confirm the date, although it wasn't recorded by any other civilization, is because knowledge of the movements of the sun and the moon allow us to compute eclipses of the past as well as predict eclipses of the future!

Historians give the ancient Chinese credit for being the most accurate observers of astronomical events in the world, before the medieval Islamic or Arab astronomers eclipsed them. (Yeah, I used the word eclipse to mean “surpass” or “outshine” in an article about astronomical eclipses!)

One of the main reasons for all this careful observation was timekeeping. The Chinese used a lunisolar calendar which indicated both the lunar phases and the position in the solar year, with the four seasons depending on day length. Because lunar phases and the solar year are independent, the Chinese had to add leap days in order to keep the seasons in sync with the calendar—and so a lot of time was spent keeping tabs on constellations and the sun and moon.

Some ancient Chinese scholars conceived of the heavens as a dome-like hemisphere or as a celestial sphere like the one conceived by ancient Greeks. However, one school of ancient Chinese astronomers (the Xuan Ye school) viewed the heavens as an infinite space with stars and other bodies floating about “at rare intervals,” each with independent speed and movement. In other words, these Chinese cosmologists thought of the celestial bodies as being not attached to anything. 

The Xuan Ye view is very close to the theories of modern astrophysicists!

July 16, 2011 - World Snake Day

Today's the day to honor snakes!

I'm sure you know that snakes live on every continent except Antarctica and that some of them are among the deadliest animals on Earth. From a 32-foot-long python to a Barbados thread snake as thin as spaghetti, snakes come in all sizes -- but one limbless shape!

Learn more at Scholastic

Check out a snake eating an egg here, and a sidewinder snake eating a lizard, and many more snakes, here.

In the mood for some snake crafts? DLTK provides several ideas here.  And if you'd rather do a jigsaw puzzle, try Jig Zone. (Notice that you can change the number of pieces by clicking “Change Cut” on the left of the screen.) 

July 15, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Rembrandt

Have you heard of the artist named Rembrandt? Did you know that his real name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn?

One of the most important Dutch artists in history, Rembrandt lived during the 1600s, a period we now call the Dutch Golden Age.
Rembrandt is especially known for his portraits and self-portraits. I love these three self-portraits.

Try creating your own self-portrait. Here are some ideas:

Choose a photo of yourself and carefully sketch with pencil what you see. Try to focus on the shapes formed by the “negative space” between your eye and eyebrow, for example, or between your lower lip and chin line. Notice how dark and light different areas of your photo are, and try to capture that in your drawing. It might help if you make a black-and-white copy of your photo before starting your sketch.

Sit in front of a mirror and sketch yourself. This is more difficult because you will be moving and may also change expression, but it is a fun experiment to try.

Enlarge a photo, using a copier, and create grid of evenly-spaced lines on the enlargement. Use very light pencil lines to lay down a proportional grid on your drawing paper. (In other words, even if the squares in the drawing-paper grid are larger than those on the photo, make sure that both grids are the same number of squares high and wide.) Then copy the dark and light areas in each square of the photo onto the drawing paper.

Here is a WikiHow article about self-portraits. The Incredible Art Department has all kinds of self-portrait project ideas. 

July 14, 2011 - Emmeline Pankhurst Day

– U.K.

She fought long and hard for women's right to vote in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland).

Emmeline Pankhurst, born on this day in 1858,* went to her first suffragette meetings when she was still a child. (Both of her parents were political agitators.) And universal suffrage (votes for men and women over age 21) was not achieved in the U.K. until the year of Pankhurst's death, 1928. So working for women's votes took up almost the entire span of her long life!

There was a surprising amount of violence toward and even by suffragettes. I read about women protestors having rocks in their kid gloves, wearing proper gowns but carrying hammers, going on hunger strikes and even smashing windows. I read about women demonstrators being beaten, imprisoned, and force-fed. Pankhurst's radical strategies brought a lot of attention to the suffragettes' cause—but not all of the attention was the good kind!

When the suffragettes sing in the movie Mary Poppins, "Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again," they are referring to the fact that Pankhurst was jailed numerous times during protests and political activism, including 12 times in one year! 
    * By the way, although almost everybody, including Emmeline herself, reports Pankhurst's birthday on July 14, her birth certificate claims that she was born the next day, July 15, 1858. Still, the commemoration follows the traditional date.