March 31, 2012 - Earth Hour and Malta's Day

Tonight, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., it's time to turn off our lights and celebrate Earth Hour.

Check out the official website and this earlier post

Today is Freedom Day in Malta

When British troops and the Royal Navy left Malta on this day in 1979, it was finally fully independent for the first time in thousands of years! This island nation is positioned in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Italy and Africa. Of course, that location is the reason the island were taken over by empire after empire, from Phoenicians and Greeks to Romans and Arabs, from Normans and Hapsburg Spain to French and British navies.

Surrounded by the sea, with mild winters and warm summers, Malta is quite naturally a hot spot for tourists, and there are three times more tourists each year than there are residents. Film production in the nation is a growing part of the economy, and shipping and limestone are other pieces of the economic pie. As you can imagine, with so many empires struggling to control Malta, there are some amazing historic sites, including the Megalithic Temples, which are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the entire world.

This slide show REALLY makes me want to go to Malta! How about you? 

If you do ever go to Malta, you might want to do some diving. Check out this video!

Also on this date:

March 30, 2012 - Invention of the Pencil-Eraser

 – 1858

Such a simple idea, but someone had to come up with it! An eraser, ready-to-use, attached to a pencil! Brilliant!

The man who came up with this idea was named Hyman Lipman (notice the rhyming name!). He was born to English parents on the island of Jamaica, and he emigrated with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at age 15. He lived in “Philly” the rest of his life, and there he started the first envelope company in the U.S. Lipman sold his patent for the eraser-topped pencil for $100,000. Back then, that was a whole lot of money!

Did you know...?
  • The metal band that holds the eraser onto the pencil is called a ferrule. The ferrule is glued onto the pencil, and a plunger presses an eraser plug into the ferrule
  • Before a pencil's eraser is cut into a short plug, it is part of a long cylinder of rubber.

Check out this video, which shows how pencils are made. I found this really fun to watch!

Also on this date:

March 29, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Charles Elton

Have you ever seen a diagram that shows a pyramid of living things in an ecosystem? There has to be a whole lot of grass to feed a grasshopper, a whole lot of grasshoppers to feed a rat, a whole lot of rats to feed a snake, and a whole lot of snakes to feed a hawk.

It reminds me of a children's story! (“This is the cat that ate the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built...”)

This food chain of grass → grasshopper → rat → snake → hawk is oversimplified, since each of the consumers eats other things as well. However, the point is that the numbers of organisms at each higher level of the food chain tend to get smaller. That's why we can represent such food chains as pyramids.

The ecological “pyramid of numbers” was first presented by today's birthday boy, English scientist Charles Elton. He was born on this date in 1900, and he did several studies on Arctic ecosystems.

Aside from the pyramid of numbers, Elton described ecological niches and studied what happens to an ecosystem when an invasive species is introduced. Here are some websites to help you explore Elton's ideas:

  • Here is a nice website on food chains. Notice the diagram of an ecological pyramid. 
  • An ecological niche is kind of like a job or role that a plant or animal does within a particular habitat. For example, in the coastal waters of Washington state, I got to see a pod of dolphins that fit in the niche of feeding on smaller porpoises and seals, and later I saw another pod of dolphins that fit in the niche of feeding on salmon. Because the two different pods eat different things, they behave in different ways; their hunting patterns are different, and the mammal-eaters are always on the move, while the fish-eaters pretty much stay in one place. It's like comparing two groups of humans, deer-hunters and wheat-growers. Other creatures who live in the same coastal waters include Dungeness crabs, which eat clams and small fish but which freelance as scavengers, eating bits of “trash” and debris—dead bodies and body parts that would mess up the habitat if there were no scavengers. Gulls also eat small fish and act as scavengers, but they feed in deeper water than do crabs.

    Here and also here are additional explanations of ecological niches.

Also on this date:

March 28, 2012 - Weed Appreciation Day

A weed is any plant that you don't want growing in your yard, field, or garden. Basically, we plant the grass and flowers and vegetables and crops we want to grow and enjoy, harvest and eat—and then wild plants invade and compete with our plants for sunlight and water. Darn those weeds!


Some people point out that weeds can be pretty...

...and fun...

...and even useful or tasty!

Wildlife often depends on the plants we call weeds, and in times of famine, people have sometimes survived by eating what those in better times would consider weeds, such as dandelions and clover.

Today is the day to cultivate a greater appreciation for weeds!

  • Check out Dave's Garden for a great viewpoint about “weeds.”
  • Some weeds are classified as “noxious” because they are poisonous to animals, spread very quickly, and eliminate native plants. This coloring page features the tansy ragwort, which is one example of a noxious weed—but it also features a creature who eats the poisonous plant!
  • Here is an experiment to run about plant competition—which is what it's all about when we talk about weeds!
  • Did you know that you can eat every part of the dandelion? Here is a recipe for dandelion fritters. You can also make dandelion lemonade.
  • This page on clover is part of Squidoo's “Edible Weeds in Los Angeles” series. 

Also on this date:

March 27, 2012 - Fingerprints Solve a Case

– 1905

Is it hard for you to remember that there was a time when there was no such thing as DNA evidence? Well, I think it's hard to remember that fingerprint evidence had to be invented, too!

On this date in 1905, the first murder case was solved through fingerprinting. The police had been taking fingerprints for a few years, and a court had admitted fingerprint evidence in a petty-theft case a few years ago. In the current case, police believed that two shopkeepers were killed in a robbery, and they dusted the cash drawer for fingerprints. There was one print that did not match either of the shopkeeper victims. Could it belong to the killer?

The detectives consulted the tiny file of fingerprints that Scotland Yard had gathered in the past few years. None of those prints matched. It was looking like fingerprint evidence wasn't going to be helpful in the case.

The police did what they'd always done—what they still do—which is to interview people near the scene of the crime, hoping somebody had seen something. They discovered a local milkman who had seen two young men near the murder site. Based on the milkman's description, the police narrowed down the search to the Stratton brothers, and they finally tracked them down.

Unfortunately, the milkman couldn't be positive the Stratton brothers were the men he'd seen.

Fortunately, the police had another way to get an ID—they fingerprinted the two brothers. And, lo and behold, Alfred Stratton's right thumb was a perfect match for the print on the victims' cash box!

Find out more about fingerprints.... Cyberbee 
...and at View Zone
And try the fingerprint art ideas at DLTK

Also on this date:

March 26, 2012 - Maryland Day

On this date in 1634, English settlers emerged from two ships, the Ark and the Dove, and first stepped foot onto the soil of what later became Maryland.

Today, the people of Maryland celebrate their history with special school programs, a festival in the capital city of Annapolis, art exhibitions, and re-enactments.

What's in a name?

Maryland was named after the French wife of King Charles I of England. The Queen's name was Henrietta Maria, but the English people called her Queen Mary.

Maryland's largest city, Baltimore, was named after Lord Baltimore, the first leader of the colony. Lord Baltimore was a member of the Irish House of Lords, and the name Baltimore itself comes from the Irish Gaelic term Baile an Ti Mhoir, which means “town of the big house.”

Maryland's capital city, Annapolis, was named after two different Annes. An earlier name was Anne Arundel's Towne, after the wife of Lord Baltimore, and when the city was renamed Annapolis, it was in honor of the Princess Anne of Denmark and Norway, who was soon to be the queen of Great Britain.

Not a name, but two names and two crests: Maryland's colorful flag combines the family crests of the Calvert and Crossland families, two families in Lord Baltimore's background. The gold-and-black pattern used to be the Maryland flag. When Maryland sided with the Union during the Civil War, some confederate Marylanders started using the red-and-white cross pattern as their flag. After the war, in an attempt to reunify the two sides, the flag became a combination of the two crests.

Find out more at Maryland Kids' Page

Also on this date:

March 25, 2012 - Monkees Cancelled

-- 1968

The Beatles was one of the hottest musical acts ever. People (and especially girls) went so crazy over the Fab Four (as they were sometimes called) that reporters and concerned parents and TV hosts talked about Beatlemania. While concert venues hired thousands of security guards to keep up to 55,000 screaming fans in line, and show business records were shattered, the Beatles and their manager made quite a bit of money!

And hundreds of thousands of teenaged boys grew their hair longer to copy the Beatles' “mop tops.”

A Hard Day's Night
In all that Beatle-craze, which included the release of a movie starring the Beatles called A Hard Day's Night, some TV producers got a great idea: let's create a pretend Beatles-like band and make a fun TV show with the same kind of comedy featured in the Beatles' movie.

Does that sound like an idea that would work? Believe me, I was a teenager at the time: it worked!

Four likeable musician-actors were cast as band members, asked to grow their hair and get "Beatle haircuts," and recorded some music. They took a six-week acting course and filmed TV episodes. Before the TV show even debuted, the first Monkees single became a hit, and later the first album shot up the charts as well. When the show first aired, September 12, 1966, it quickly became a massive success.

Money was definitely made!

As a matter of fact, the TV show and singles and albums were such a success, that the band went on tour and were greeted by some Monkee-mania--crowds of enthusiastic fans, screaming girls!

Did you know...?

Since the Beatles were often called “the Fab Four,” of course people poked fun at the manufactured group the Monkees by calling them the Pre-Fab Four.

Both the Beatles and the Monkees have animal names that are slightly misspelled!

Some musicians who were considered for roles in the Monkees were guitarist and singer/songwriter Stephen Stills (later famous in the bands Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), Paul Williams (later famous as a composer and songwriter), the group The Lovin' Spoonful, and Danny Hutton (later famous in the band Three Dog Night)--plus hundreds of other people who auditioned to be part of the band and show.

Although the people casting the show chose musicians to play the roles of the four musicians, the producers were reluctant to let them actually play their own music! Later, after they became very popular and therefore much more powerful, the guys in the band insisted on playing (and at times even writing and producing) their own music.

Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees” was the silly song that started each show. And “I'm a Believer” was a huge hit for the group.

Although the Monkees-as-a-group was a major hit in almost every way, including television ratings, the TV show was canceled on this date in 1968. Also canned on this date were the shows “Bewitched” (in 1972) and “Sanford and Son” (in 1977).

Also on this date:

March 24, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Harry Houdini

Today's birthday boy has one of the best job titles ever: he was an escapologist!

An escapologist? 

One who escapes from chains and handcuffs, sometimes under water—maybe even upside down and under water! Houdini regularly escaped from handcuffs inside a sealed over-sized milk can filled with water. The milk can was sometimes locked inside a wooden chest, as well, or inside another sealed milk can, or chained and padlocked. 

Another popular Houdini escape act was really weird: Houdini was strapped into a straitjacket and then suspended by his ankles from a tall building. He would make his escape in front of a crowd of people on the street—and when I say “crowds,” I mean crowds that sometimes numbered in the thousands! These crowds would spontaneously gather as more and more people ran to see what was going on; and, of course, any time you get a crowd of thousands of people, there is going to be a huge traffic jam! In New York City, Houdini sometimes brought blocks worth of cars to a standstill.

Aside from all the fantastic escapes, Houdini was a magician, stunt performer, actor, film producer, and aviator.

But an even better job title was this:


In my opinion, Harry Houdini's most important, and most admirable, role was skeptic. He set out to expose frauds who pretended to be in touch with dead people, also known as the “dearly departed.” Psychics, mediums, and spiritualists claimed to be able to reach the dead relatives of grief-stricken people, and they charged a lot of money for these services. Houdini's training in magic helped him to figure out how these so-called psychics were able to trick customers and even scientists. He debunked so many frauds who were supposedly in touch with ghosts, that he became known as the ghostbuster.

Cool, huh?

Houdini would disguise himself so that the medium or psychic wouldn't recognize him, and he would go to a séance with a police officer and reporter. He would figure out the psychic's tricks and then expose the fakery to all.

Here you can read about an amazing magic trick, or illusion, that Houdini once performed on his one-time friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. 

Here you can see a straitjacket escape by Houdini. 

Here is a picture of a 2002 Houdini postage stamp, along with some interesting biographical info on the world-famous magician. 

Oh, by the way...

  • Harry Houdini” was a stage name. Houdini's real name was Erik Weisz, later changed to Ehrich Weiss.
  • Houdini (then Weisz) was born in Hungary on this date in 1874, and he came to America when he was four years old.
  • Houdini died on Halloween Day!

Also on this date:

March 23, 2012 - Pakistan Day

A lot of nations celebrate the day they declare or win their independence—but Pakistan won its independence from Britain in August of 1947. Instead of celebrating that day, Pakistan commemorates the adoption of the constitution that made it a republic, on this date in 1956. However, some Pakistani leaders have said that the real commemoration is of the passage of the Lahore Resolution, on this date in 1940, which demanded that a Muslim state (only later named Pakistan) be carved out of British India.
Did you know...?

When India was a British colony, it included all of Pakistan to its west and also Bangladesh to its east. Both Pakistan and the much smaller East Bengal (as Bangladesh used to be called) were majority Muslim regions, and most of India is majority Hindu. When the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was first formed, it included East Bengal—but the Bengali people were treated like second-class citizens and were kept out of power. Even their language was dismissed as unofficial and thus unimportant. There was a revolution in which many Bengali police officers and soldiers mutinied against their government and joined forces with their people. In late 1971, Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan.

Learn more...

Think Quest offers a short biography of a Pakistani girl.

There are tons more links at the Kids Connect site. 

Since constitutions and resolutions and even revolutions aren't the most fun topics to read about, I thought I would also mention that today is:

Ahhh! So cute!

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the coining of the word “okay” (America's “Greatest Word”)