August 31, 2011 - Trinidad and Tobago

Independence Day 

Whoo, hoo! Today, Trinidad and Tobago celebrates independence from England in 1962!

The Caribbean island of Trinidad is a little bit smaller than the U.S. state of Delaware, and the nearby island of Tobago is much, much smaller. The islands lie off the coast of Venezuela, in South America.

Although already settled by Amerindians and colonized by Spain, Trinidad and Tobago was turned over to French, Dutch, and Courlander colonizers, and in 1802 it was ceded to Great Britain. English is the only official language.

Although Trinidad and Tobago are beautiful and popular with tourists, the economy is mostly industrial. It is one of the best economies in the Caribbean.

The country is known for its Carnival, and it is the birthplace of steelpan (music made with big, curved metal drums) and calypso (a style of Afro-Caribbean music made commercially famous by American singer Harry Belafonte). Also invented in Trinidad is the dance called limbo—you know, the dance where you see how low you can go!

Here are some television professionals and kids doing the limbo, and here is an expert!

August 30, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is one of the original monster horror novels—and its author, Mary Shelley, was born on this day way back in 1797!

Shelley started writing the book, which was inspired by a dream, when she was just 18 years old. The book was published when she was 21. Later on Shelley wrote other novels, short stories, essays, travel pieces, and biographies. 

Shelley is also known because she edited and promoted the Romantic poems of her famous husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Celebrate Frankenstein!

The people at Print Activities have gathered together a lot of Frankenstein “printables,” including word search puzzles, mazes, coloring sheets, and connect-the-dots!

People at Squidoo have gathered together a few Frankenstein-themed crafts. 

August 29, 2011 - A VERY Long-Distance Phone Call!

 – 1965

Space calling Ocean?

On this day in 1965, astronaut Gordon Cooper talked from Earth orbit with former-astronaut-turned-aquanaut Scott Carpenter, who was 205 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the time!

Is this the longest-distance phone call EVER? Apparently it is the only space-ship-to-underwater-ship conversation so far in history.

Cooper was aboard Gemini 5, and Carpenter was setting a world record in underwater work, living for 30 consecutive days on Sealab II. The two had known each other for years, having been among the original seven astronauts in Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space effort.

The movie “The Right Stuff” is partly about the Mercury 7 and is very interesting!.

Did you know...?

  • Sealab II was knicknamed the “Tiltin' Hilton” because the landing site, in the La Jolla Canyon off the coast of California, was sloped.

  • The divers tested human ability to withstand the partial-pressure and cramped spaces of the vessel, but also tested new tools and an electrically heated drysuit.

  • A bottlenosed dolphin named Tuffy helped carry supplies from the surface to Sealab.

  • Another famous phone call from aquanaut Scott Carpenter was made to President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This call was pretty weird because Carpenter was in a decompression chamber filled with helium and oxygen, and his voice was really high, what is known as “helium speak.” The White House phone operator didn't want to connect the call, even though it had been pre-arranged, because she thought Carpenter's voice was “garbled.” It's pretty entertaining to listen to that phone call—but the only copy I could find was about twenty minutes into an NPR tape here. (The first twenty minutes are really good, “voices from space”—President Kennedy calling on Americans to send a man to the moon, and astronaut voices from Gemini and Apollo space missions. I could have done without all the weird space-y music and especially the even-weirder “Third Planet” interlude, but the most of it is really interesting!)

August 28, 2011 - MLK Makes an Important Speech

 – 1963

On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., made the famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He delivered this speech to a crowd of about 200,000 people who crowded the Washington, D.C., mall—along the sides of the reflecting pool, all the way back to the Washington Memorial!

This speech is considered one of the greatest speeches of the twentieth century. Actually, a group of scholars of public speaking ranked it the #1 top American speech of that century.

Celebrate by watching and listening to the YouTube video of the speech.

By the way, there is a plaque in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the exact location where MLK stood to give the speech. Also, during my recent visit to Washington, D.C., I was thrilled to get a first glimpse of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, which is under construction.

August 27, 2011 - World's Biggest Battery Plugged In

 – 2003

It can get cold in Fairbanks, Alaska. Real cold!

Because a power failure can be so dangerous in an isolated city that experiences extreme weather, Fairbanks ordered a 2,000-square-meter battery that weighs 1,300 metric tonnes. (In U.S. terms, that is more than 21 thousand square feet and more than 1,400 tons.)

On this day in 2003 the city of Fairbanks installed the huge battery in a warehouse outside of town and then plugged it in to the city's electrical system. In the case of a power failure, the battery should kick on and provide power for up to 12,000 residents for up to seven minutes—long enough to start up diesel generators to restore power.

In Fairbanks's low winter temperatures, water pipes could freeze entirely in just two hours. So it is crucial to keep the power on! But when I checked Wikipedia to see how many people live in Fairbanks, it listed 35,000 residents, not 12,000! Who gets the emergency power?

August 26, 2011 - Women's Equality Day

– U.S.

Last year's Women's Equality Day, celebrating 90 years
since women won the right to vote.

It's hard to believe that, almost 100 years after the Equal Rights Amendment (a Constitutional amendment that guarantees equal right to women) was written by Alice Paul, it still isn't part of “the law of the land.”

The ERA passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 1972, but it failed to get enough states to ratify it before its 1982 deadline.

Alice Paul
Twenty-one of the fifty states have a version of the ERA in their state constitutions. And, although many goals of the equal-rights movement have been reached, many have not. That is something to think about on Women's Equality Day

August 25, 2011 - Celebrate Paraguay and Uruguay

Today is Constitution Day in Paraguay! The nation celebrates its revised constitution, adopted on this day in 1967.

It's also Independence Day in Uruguay! The nation celebrates its independence from Brazil in 1825.

Can you sort your -guays?

For each question below, answer Paraguay or Uruguay.

  1. Which country is landlocked (has no seacoast)?
  1. Which country has a populace that is primarily (around 88%) of European descent?
  2. Which is one of the most economically developed countries in South America?
  3. Which country has the capital city that is most southerly of the Americas?
  4. Which country has two official languages, Spanish and Guarani?

  1. Paraguay is located in the very center of South America (and is sometimes called the Heart of America). It has no access to the ocean and is, therefore, landlocked. Uruguay, on the other hand, is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
  2. Uruguay is almost entirely “white,” with very few “mestizo” people (mixed “native” or “Indian” and white). In contrast, Paraguay is 74% mestizo, with white, black, and native minorities.
  3. Uruguay is highly advanced in economic development, industry, and human rights. It has been ranked one of the least corrupt countries in Latin America and THE most “green” (environmentally sound) country in North and South America. Although Paraguay has always been poorer than Uruguay, its economy was the fastest growing on the continent from 1970 to 2009.
  4. Uruguay's capital city, Montevideo, is farther south than any other capital in South America. This vastly surprised me, since I always think of Uruguay sitting “on top” of Argentina—thus, I would think, more to the north. However, Uruguay is actually on the east side of the top portion of Argentina—and its capital is slightly south of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the map above shows.
  5. Paraguay has both Spanish and Guarani as official languages. Uruguay only has one official language: Spanish.

To learn more about Paraguay, see this earlier post.

To learn more about Uruguay, see this earlier post.

Take a quiz on South America at the Christian Science Monitor.

August 24, 2011 - Mt. Vesuvius Erupts!

Pompeii Buried! – 79 C.E. (or A.D.)

On this day almost two thousand years ago, the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed—flash-fried, and then buried—by heat, ash, and pumice from a volcanic eruption.

Some wonder why people would live so close to a dangerous volcano—but Mt. Vesuvius had been dormant (inactive) for hundreds of years before this eruption.

It is sobering to realize that, although Pompeii and Herculaneum were never rebuilt, people still do live near Mt. Vesuvius! There are almost one million people in the nearby city of Naples, and another two million living elsewhere are close enough to be in danger if there were a really big eruption.

You might imagine that all those people live near a volcano because modern science has shown that it is, not just dormant, but entirely extinct. But you would be wrong.

Scientists consider Vesuvius an active volcano. It has erupted again and again (although not as strongly) since the 79 C.E. eruption: fifteen times between the years 79 and 1000 C.E., eight more times in the next 500 years, once in 1500, again in 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century, and in 1906, 1929, and 1944!

No wonder scientists consider Mt. Vesuvius to be one of the most dangerous volcanos in the world!

Although it is incredibly sad that so many people died in Pompeii and Herculaneum, it would be even more sad if we hadn't discovered their remains. Buried beneath six meters (18 feet) of ash and pumice, Pompeii was actually forgotten for almost 17 centuries! In the 1700s, the city was accidentally rediscovered, and archeologists got busy excavating the buildings and the remains of humans and other animals.

During the 1800s a man named Giuseppe Fiorelli realized that the occasional open spots in the ash layer were holes left by decomposed bodies. He injected plaster into the holes to perfectly recreate the people or dogs—even the terrified expressions on their faces. This technique has not given us a freeze-frame picture of what people did in their daily lives, because of course people were trying to escape death or sheltering in buildings. Still, scientists have excavated many different tools and instruments, frescoes (murals) and toys—all of which have helped them recreate what daily life must've been like at that time.

Take a “virtual field trip” to Pompeii and Vesuvius.

August 23, 2011 - Ukrainian Flag Day

The Ukraine was one of the nations that had been absorbed into the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, Ukraine became independent. The blue-and-yellow flag of earlier times, including a short-lived republic in 1918, was resurrected.

People explain the colors by saying that the blue represents the sky over the yellow wheat field, or that the yellow represents golden roofs of churches and the blue the river Dniper. More simply, some people say that blue and yellow represent water and fire.

Other nations with blue-and-yellow flags include Sweden (a yellow Scandinavian cross on a blue field), Palua (a golden full moon on blue sky), and Kazakhstan (a golden sun and eagle on blue sky, plus some more golden decorations on the hoist side).

This lovely forest is
in Ukraine.
Tomorrow Ukraine will celebrate its independence! See last year's post for more about this fascinating country. 

August 22, 2011 - Russian Flag Day

Today Russians commemorate the 1991 hoisting of their new flag.

You probably already know that Russia used to be largest state in the communist nation called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Did you also know that Russia is the largest nation on Earth? It covers about one-eighth of all the land area in the world, which means that most of the other 195 other nations do not have their “fair share” of land!

Unlike the Soviet Union's red flag, which was decorated with a single yellow star, hammer, and sickle, Russia's flag features three broad stripes, one each of red, white and blue. Of course, these colors are associated with the U.S. flag, as well...but did you know that more than 30 countries have tri-color red-white-and-blue flags?

This website has tons and tons of links you can use to learn about all things Russian, including the language. One of my favorite links was to a YouTube video called “Wonderful Moscow.”

August 21, 2011 - Voyager 2 Reached Triton

– 1989

By this date in 1989, the little-space-probe-that-could had already accomplished its mission goals. It had gathered a lot of information about Jupiter and Saturn—and their moons and rings—and it had continued the Grand Tour by flying by Uranus and Neptune. Now Voyager 2 was about to exit the solar system, collecting and transmitting information as it went, and following in its identical twin's footsteps. (Voyager 1 was launched a few weeks after Voyager 2 but only visited Jupiter and Saturn on its way out of the solar system.) Scientists wanted Voyager 2 to check out one more world before it left:

Triton is Neptune's largest moon. It's only half the size of Earth's moon, but it is far colder (of course, being so very far away from the sun), and it has a thin atmosphere. Triton is unusual in that it is the only large satellite with a retrograde orbit. What does that mean? Well, all of the moons in the solar system orbit their planet in the same direction as the planet rotates. (Scientists explain that this is due to the way that planets and moons form.) That is, all but one: Triton orbits Neptune in the opposite direction of Neptune's rotation on its axis.

Voyager 2 sent back to Earth some pretty great photos of Triton. Check out NASA's photojournal

By the way, both Voyager 1 and 2 are still operating, still sending us information about deep space! It's been almost 34 years—far longer than the expected lifespan of the space probes—and they are still working for us!

August 20, 2011 - International Homeless Animals Day

There are simply too many dogs and cats in the world. There aren't enough loving homes to go around. This overpopulation problem wouldn't exist if everyone spayed and neutered their pets. This is the day to make sure your own pets are “fixed” and to urge other people to do so as well.

There are candlelight vigils planned for tonight, possibly near you. Also, you can probably find free spaying and neutering services at human societies, adopt-a-thons, microchip clinics, and other activities. Find out more here.

August 19, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Charles Hires

If you like root beer, today's a day to celebrate!

On this day in 1851, Charles Hires was born in New Jersey. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when he was 16 and worked in a drugstore until he save up enough money – $400! – to start a drug store of his own. He started selling an herbal tea made from roots and bark (primarily from sassafras plants and trees); when people purchased the tea mixture, they had to add their own water, sugar, and yeast.

The drink started to become popular, and Hires thought it would be even more popular if he called it root beer instead of root tea. He made the beverage similar to beer by bottling and carbonating it, and by serving it cold. At the time that Hires was introducing his drink to the American public, there was a temperance (anti-alcohol) movement, and root beer was supposed to be a healthy alternative to regular beer or other alcoholic drinks.

By the way, Hires did not invent root tea. He got a recipe from a restaurant owner, and her recipe was based on folk recipes. He fiddled with the recipe so he could manufacture the beverage for widespread sales.

And thus Hires made root beer famous, and root beer made Hires rich!

Enjoy a giant root beer float today.

August 18, 2011 - Virginia Dare's Birthday

– and Disappearance Day

In 1587, the first child with English parents was born in the Americas. The baby, named Virginia Dare, was born on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina.

Unfortunately, the very day that Virginia Dare would've turned three, her grandfather John White, who was the governor of the Roanoke Island colony, returned from a much-delayed supply trip to England—and found the entire colony gone. There had been 115 English colonists when he left—and now there were none.

No living people. No bodies or skeletons, either, thank goodness! The houses and fortifications had been dismantled, so it appeared that the people had taken their time about leaving. There was no sign of violence.

These colonists were tough. They were used to weather and war and disease thwarting their plans and changing their lives. Before he had left, White had told the colonists that, if they decided to move or were forced to leave, they should carve their destination on a wall, tree, or post. If they had left by force, they were to carve a cross next to the name. So White looked for a carving, and he found the word “Croatoan” carved into the post. There was no cross.

There was an island named Croatoan about 50 miles away.

Because of bad weather, and because he was on somebody else's ship, John White couldn't go to Croatoan and see if the English colonists were there. Instead he returned to England and reported to others what he had found.

It was years before English people set off to search for the Lost Colony. It may be that the people died at sea; it may be that most survived by intermarrying with Indians. There are many hypotheses (guesses) but not a lot of evidence to show us what happened to Virginia Dare and the other members of the Lost Colony.
A play called The Lost Colony has been performed in an
outdoor theater on Roanoke Island since 1937!

August 17, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Ralph Teetor

Did you know that the guy who invented cruise control, which allows automobile drivers to automatically keep their cars moving at a constant speed, was blind?

That's right! The amazing Ralph Teetor, who was born on this day in 1890 and who was blinded in an accident at age 5, became a prolific inventor. (That means that he invented a lot of things.)

Teetor became an engineer and invented a power lawn mower, special locks, holders for fishing rods, and other gadgets. He developed a technique for balancing steam turbine rotors used in torpedo-boat destroyers. He was a long-time executive of a manufacturer of piston rings. He was very successful and has been inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame.

August 16, 2011 - Independence Day – Gabon

Gabon, which used to be a French colony, has been an inde- pendent nation since this day in 1960. It is one of the most prosperous countries in African south of the Saharan Desert, because it has quite a few natural resources and a relatively small population.

Two things you might want to think about in connection with Gabon are:
  • its tropical rainforests.

    • Its elephants, who carve elephant trails through the tropical rainforests.

    Check out this very short but truly lovely video of Gabon. 

    Don't watch this next video, which is about the problem of poachers, if you are squeamish!

    Find out more about Gabon here.