October 31, 2012 - Samhain

The door to the Otherworld is open tonight...and so the fairies and the dead can communicate with us...

Such is the mythological belief about this Celtic or Gaelic festival—and the aspect of the festival that influenced All Hallows' Day (also known as Day of the Dead) and All Hallows' Eve (Halloween).

The more practical side of Samhain is that it marks the beginning of winter in Gaelic Ireland. It celebrates the harvesting of crops, but it is even more a special day for herdsmen: It marks the leading of cattle back from their summer pastures and, often, the slaughtering of animals for winter.

 Some Celtic customs of Samhain included lighting bonfires on hilltops, eating a special Samhain feast—and setting a place at the table for the souls of dead relatives—and leaving offerings of food at the door for the fairies. Turnip lanterns were believed to offer protection from otherworldly beings, and they were left in windows or carried by travelers. Another kind of protection from the fairies was wearing masks or costumes, which were thought to confuse the fairies. This custom was called “guising.” Going from house to house begging for food or other gifts for the Samhain feast was another tradition in some parts of Ireland.
Can you see how these traditions led to modern Halloween customs?

Mr. Donn has gathered some websites about Samhain. 

By the way...

While I was reading about Samhain, I got mixed up reading about the Celts and the Gaels and the Druids. Were these different names for the same people? I looked up the three terms:

The Celts were an ancient people from Central Europe. They spread to Western Europe and especially settled in the British Isles.

Gaels were a particular group of ancient Celts who settled in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. The modern Gaelic language is one of the two official languages of Ireland (the other, of course, is English).

Druids were priests of the ancient Celtic religion.

Also on this date:

October 30, 2012 - Checklist Day

The reason for this day is a tragedy: On this date in 1935, a plane crashed while taking off. Afterwards, people tried to find out why, and they discovered that a gust lock was still engaged (whatever that means)—and, I guess, shouldn't have been. A group of pilots sat down together and discussed what could be done to prevent future accidents. They came up with a checklist to go through, each and every time they were about to take off in a plane. Similar checklists have been used by pilots ever since.

All kinds of
people use
It's been discovered that hospital checklists save lives. NASA's space program uses many checklists for vehicles, spacesuits, and equipment. Camping checklists make enjoying the great outdoors safer and more fun, and taking a grocery checklist to the market makes you a more efficient shopper AND saves you money, because you are less likely to buy things you don't need (AND less likely to have to come back for stuff you forgot and a little more stuff you don't need).

Did you know that there is a checklist website that offers checklists for health, home, travel, and even saving the earth? There are super serious checklists, for such things as online safety and flu prevention, and there are lighter checklists, for going to places like parties and amusement parks. Check out Checklist-dot-com!

Of course, the best checklists are the ones you make yourself—after studying other people's checklists and personalizing them for your exact situation!

You might want to make a checklist for getting ready for Trick-or-Treating tomorrow (if you celebrate Halloween). I need to buy some candy and candles for the jack-o-lanterns, and my kids might need some more glow sticks and special make-up...

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October 29, 2012 - National Cat Day

You might think that black cats would be especially popular at this time of year—what with Halloween only a few days away—but apparently black cats are more likely than any other cat to languish in an animal shelter rather than being adopted...and eventually to be put to sleep, unwanted and unloved.

(And all cats are more likely to be put to sleep than dogs.)

Unwanted cats is a big problem, and of course it's not a simple problem. Many people are allergic to cats, cannot afford to have a pet, don't have time for a pet, or already have pets. It's not at all practical to just tell everyone, “Please, go adopt a cat!” (Although, if you do want to adopt a cat, you might consider getting a black one!) Instead, we have to urge people who already have cats to get them “fixed” so they don't have babies and to outfit their cats with ID tags so that, if they get lost, the cats and owners can be reunited.

Celebrate cats!

Cats were apparently first domesticated (tamed) in the Middle-East/Egyptian area about ten thousand years ago. Ancient Egyptians had a religion that worshipped animals, including cats, and had a cat goddess named Bast. Cats were often portrayed in Egyptian statues and painted murals, and they were often pictured wearing jewelry. Some cats even rated the time-consuming and expensive mummification process after they died.

Some cultures have viewed cats, especially black cats, as a sign of bad luck or even evil. (This explains why fewer black cats are adopted.) However, in Japan and Russia, cats have traditionally been associated with good luck.

Nowadays, there are more than 86 million pet cats in the U.S. alone, with about one third of all U.S. homes having at least one pet cat! Estimates of worldwide pet cats number 500 million—the most in the U.S., and then China (more than 50 million), Russia and Brazil (dropping to just 12 million each), France and Italy (9 million each). You can see the top 10 cat countries here

Cats have made a big, big hit somewhere near and dear to our hearts: the internet! From cat posters to cat videos, from LOLcats who can't spell to Ceiling Cat who rules over all, cats are and always have been the prevalent species online. The internet is so full of cats that Google, trying to build a computer brain that can learn on its own, ended up with a machine that can recognize cats

Here are some possible reasons why cats are so popular. 

LOL Cats are notoriously bad at
spelling and grammar!
LOLCats features funny cat posters. 

"Surprised Kitty" is a video
that went viral.

Here are some of the most-watched cat and kitten videos. 

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October 28, 2012 - Ohi Day in Cyprus and Greece

World War II was an awful time to be a European. Hitler famously ruled Germany, and Benito Mussolini ruled Italy; the two made a pact with Japan that made them allies (nations acting together in a war) called the Axis powers. Hitler had already taken over Austria and had attacked and occupied Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and even France. The Axis powers were at war with Britain.

On this date in 1940, Mussolini gave an ultimatum to Greece: Allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain strategic locations, or else.

That's what an ultimatum is: an “or else.”

And of course, in this case, the “or else” means “we will attack you, we will kill your people and burn your buildings, we will occupy you you, we will take over your country.”

The Greek ruler, Ioannis Metaxas, is widely believed to have answered the ultimatum by simply saying, “No,” but he really said, “Then it is war.” And sure enough, Italian troops attacked just about an hour later. Greek people took to the streets yelling the Greek word for “No!” – which is spelled “ohi” (or "oxi" or “ochi”) in the English alphabet.

During the war, Greece's brave refusal to cooperate with the Axis powers was celebrated in Greece and Cyprus and in Greek communities around the world. 

Ohi Day became a public holiday after the war was over. It is commonly celebrated with parades and exhibitions.

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October 27, 2012 - First U.S. Expedition to Record a Solar Eclipse

– 1780

 Unlike earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, scientists can make very exact predictions about where and when we can observe a solar eclipse.

You probably know that a total solar eclipse is when the moon blocks out the sun's disc entirely, for some people on earth, for a short while. Basically, the moon casts its shadow on the earth, and whoever is in that shadow sees an eclipse. This only happens rarely, because the line-up of sun-moon-earth isn't usually exact—the moon's shadow misses the earth, usually, and there is no eclipse.

But we know a lot about exactly where the sun, moon, and earth are located, and how they move, so we can predict where a solar eclipse will happen years in advance.

For example, we know that there will be a total solar eclipse for people living along earth's equator on November 13 this year, and on March 20, 2015, March 9, 2016, August 21, 2017, July 2, 2019, and December 14, 2020....plus more...including December 5, 2048, and August 28, 2994!!! Check out NASA's eclipse website

Samuel Williams made a mistake in math...
Let's get back to 1780...

On this date in 1780, British soldiers were fighting the American army in the Revolutionary War. Harvard professor Samuel Williams had predicted the exact time and location of a total solar eclipse, but that location was behind enemy lines! So Williams asked British military to allow his expedition to set up observational equipment at Penobscot Bay in Maine. The eclipse, he explained, would take place between 11:11 in the morning and 1:50 in the afternoon.

This is what you see when the moon
only MOSTLY covers the sun.

The British generals graciously allowed the American astronomical expedition safe passage, and the Americans set up at Islesborough, on Penobscot Bay. However, it turned out that the Williams's computations weren't exact enough—and, it turned out, the scientists were in the wrong spot to experience the total eclipse! Instead of covering the sun totally, the moon only covered MOST of the sun.  
The sun's corona

That's a bummer, because it is only when the sun is totally covered by the moon that we can see the corona—the thin outer atmosphere of the sun that is millions of degrees in temperature and very bright, but which is normally invisible because the much brighter, much hotter sun drowns it out.

So the good news was that people put science ahead of warfare.
The bad news is that someone didn't check his math carefully enough, and about half of the hoped-for science wasn't completed!

We don't necessarily need to say, “The moral to the story is, always check your math,” because these days we use calculators and computers to do computations!

Also on this date:

President Teddy Roosevelt's birthday 

Three-Z Day in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 

October 26, 2012 - Mule Day

On this date in 1786, the first Spanish Jacks (male donkeys) arrived in the United States, a gift from the King of Spain. George Washington (not yet President of the U.S.) began to breed these donkeys with his female horses. And so began the history of mules in America.
Did you know that daddy mules and mommy mules don't breed to make baby mules? Mules cannot reproduce but are instead are created by horse-donkey breeding. What I didn't know is that mules are created when male donkeys and female horses are bred, and the result of female donkeys and male horses is called a hinny. Hinnies tend to look just like mules, and are also sterile (which means that they cannot reproduce or make babies).

Notice: there are male mules and female mules, and there are male hinnies and female hinnies.

Why would anyone want mules in a world that already has horses and donkeys?

Well, mules tend to be stronger than donkeys and more resistant to disease than horses. Actually, the fact that they are sterile is helpful in some situations—you don't have to worry about animals getting pregnant and giving birth—and may lead to mules' reputation of being tougher and more reliable than horses or donkeys. Mules are being used in Afghanistan by U.S. armed forces, carrying supplies to places where helicopters and Humvees cannot easily go.
Learn more about mules at Saito's Dojo

Also on this date:

Frankenstein Friday 

October 25, 2012 - World Pasta Day

The word “pasta” refers to the noodles used in Italian cuisine, but of course these days, Italian food is eaten the world over. And noodles—pasta by other names—make an important part of many different cuisines. Whether its ramen or spatzle, pho or reshte, noodles are especially important in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, German, and Vietnamese cooking.

But let's get back to Italian pasta:

What is pasta made of?

Unleavened dough (that means dough that does NOT have yeast or baking powder, and so do not rise and expand) made from wheat flour and water.

(Pasta can be made from other grains, or can use eggs rather than water. Also, some pasta is flavored and colored with spinach, say, or tomatoes.)

What shapes does pasta come in?

Such a variety! The long, skinny noodles (spaghetti, linguini, or vermicelli) are most common, but people make and eat shells, tubes, spirals, bow-ties, wheels, and wide ribbons like fettuccine or even wider noodles like the ruffle-edged lasagna.

Plus more.

How is pasta made?

Most pasta is made through extrusion. The dough is forced through a die with a hole designed for the shape desired, making a long, continuous noodle that is cut to the desired size by rotating blades. Take a look!

Celebrate World Pasta Day!

Go to the grocery store and really look at the pastas and other noodles available to you. (Hint: Check out the Asian foods section and the refrigerated section as well as the pasta section.)

Try a kind of pasta (or three or four!) that you've never eaten before.

Try a noodle dish from a cuisine you have never sampled before. I really love pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) and kaese spatzle (German macaroni and cheese).

Also on this date:

October 24, 2012 - Suez Day in Egypt

This holiday is celebrated by many in Egypt, but it is not an official national holiday, and governmental buildings remain open. It celebrates the resistance of Egyptian citizens during a 1973 war with Israel.

Of course...
I am not “in favor” of war, and of course war in the Middle East is particularly scary and upsetting. However, the next day (October 25, 1973) a ceasefire ended the war, and peace talks began halting process toward making things better (at least for a while).

Now, back to Suez...

Suez is the name of an Egyptian city near the southern end of the much more famous Suez Canal. This canal, completed in 1869, connects the Mediterranean Sea (and through that, the Atlantic Ocean) to the Red Sea (and through that, the Indian Ocean). This very important canal is sometimes called “The Highway to India,” because ships from Europe can use it to avoid having to travel aaaallllllllllllllllll the way around Africa, when traveling to India. The Suez Canal Authority, which is owned by Egypt and which runs the canal, is dedicated to the proposition that all ships from all nations can use the canal, whether during peaceful times or war. That includes even warships of warring nations!

The canal is about 120 miles (193 kilometers) long—just a single lane with two passing places. There are no locks and pumps, because there is no elevation change—the entire canal is at sea level, and the sea waters flow freely between the two connecting seas.

The Suez Canal Authority collects tolls from the ships that use the canal and make the Rules of Navigation. I thought I was interesting that the SCA owns and runs, not just the canal, but also:

  • emergency hospitals at each end of the canal
  • a full-service hospital at Ismailia, SCA headquarters
  • 14 ferry connections that cross the canal, along with 36 ferry boats,
  • a shipyard
  • roads alongside the canal
  • four schools
  • sports and recreation centers.
By the way, the triangular chunk of Egyptian land that lies between the Suez Canal and Israel is called the Sinai Peninsula.

Also on this date:

October 23, 2012 - iPod Day

Today marks the anniversary of Apple's unveiling of the very first iPod, in 2001.

It sold for $399, and its 5 GB hard drive could fit about 1,000 songs.

Now Apple sells an entire lineup of the popular music player:
  • the iPod classic, with 160 GB (40,000 songs)
  • iPod touch, with a touchscreen and many capabilities in addition to playing music (such as being a Wi-Fi internet device, game console, personal digital assistant, and more), 64 K (14,000+ songs)

  • iPod nano, a compact model with 16 GB (4,000 songs)

  • and iPod shuffle, an ultra-compact model with 2 GB (500+ songs).
In bigger news....!!!

Apple chose today, iPod Day, to hold a press conference by invitation only. It is expected to be an unveiling of yet another product, and rumors have it that it will be an iPad Mini—a smaller, cheaper version of the popular iPad tablet. By the time you read this, these rumors may well be either confirmed or denied.

Phones are cameras are computers are game consoles are music players are e-readers...

These days, many phones are getting larger screens and more capabilities, with sophisticated cameras, hundreds of games and practical apps, and full-on computer functions. Tablets are getting thinner and (in some cases) smaller. E-readers with color capabilities and interactivity are being introduced (and are arguably really tablets). The iPod Touch has always been like a really small tablet.

I wonder which of all these sorts of different products will still exist in 20 years. Will everybody just carry around one slim device capable of just about everything and backed up with “the cloud”? And what would that device be called?

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