October 31 - Day of Seven Billion

Posted October 31, 2018

October 31 is celebrated as Halloween, more and more all over the world - and there are plenty of articles here about Halloween and its origins and the diversity of traditions accompanying this increasingly popular holiday. Just check out the articles under "Also on this date," below.

There aren't a lot of other world holidays celebrated on this day to compete with Halloween for write-ups. But I discovered that the U.N. considers October 31, 2011, to be the Day of Seven Billion - because that is the date that the human population on Earth reached 7,000,000,000!

This meme is downplaying the difficulty of
counting to 7 billion, because it would take
a lot, lot, lot longer than 200 years to count
from 1 to 7 billion out loud.

It would take more than 220 years to count up
to 7 billion even if you could count one number
per second (which is impossible with really
large numbers) without ever taking a break for
eating, drinking, using the toilet, or sleeping!!!
And I was immediately struck by the question, with all the deaths and births happening every minute, all over the world...

How do we know the exact date that the human population became 7,000,000,000?

Also, I recoiled in horror. Back when I was a kid, the world population was more than three billion, and we wondered how-oh-how the world could support 1,000 or even 500 more humans. Now the population has more than doubled! And my amazed question is, how on earth does Earth support so many people???

(1) How do we know the exact date?

The answer is, we don't. Population scientists take data from censuses, surveys, and population registers, and they make estimates of the entire world population based on this information. The population of the entire world is always an estimate - although a pretty good one, based on lots of evidence - and is never an exact count.

For one thing, the evidence tells us that there are 4 or 5 people born and 1 or 2 people dying EVERY SECOND. So even if it took zero time to make a count of everyone, by the time you finished your sentence, "There are exactly ______ people in the world," you'd already be wrong.

And it takes FAR from zero time to make a count. Most nations only take a census every ten years, and although some nations do it more often - such as every five years - other nations don't have a full census very often at all. For example, Afghanistan has apparently not had a census since 1979 - and even that one was incomplete.
At any rate, October 31 is a symbolic date that tells us approximately  when the human population reached seven billion.

(2) How does the Earth support seven billion people?

If you think about the world population of humans, it's shocking how quickly our population is rising in the last 200 years. 

It took a long, long, long, long time - almost all of the time that humankind has lived on the Earth - to reach a population of one billion, around the year 1804. But since then, the population has grown by another billion in increasingly short intervals:

1 billion - 1804
2 billion - 1927
3 billion - 1960
4 billion - 1974
5 billion - 1987
6 billion - 1999
7 billion - 2011

To give you some perspective on that, I have been alive while the Earth housed more than 2 billion all the way up to more than 7 billion. I'm only in my 60s (old but not SUPER old), and yet the only two eras I've missed out on in humankind's 500,000-plus-year history are all the hundreds of thousands of years before the human population reached a billion and the single century of 1 billion humans!

The answer to how the planet can support so many humans is "not very well," or at least not very evenly. There is a limit to how much fresh water there is, and there is a limit to how much food can be grown on Earth. Also, there is a limit to how much waste (including carbon emissions) the planet can deal with. Assuming we would rather live in a world that has fewer famines and plagues rather than more, it behooves us to control our population growth.

Aaannnd, that's already beginning to happen:

Since 1950, most countries have had declines in their birthrates and family sizes. If this decline occurs in the rest of the nations of the world, human population may stabilize around 9 billion or possibly between 9 and 10 billion. 

October 30 - On the Auction Block: a Charming Get-away, an Homage to Fiction, and the World's Largest Key Collection

Posted October 30, 2018

The world's largest key collection...is in a small town in Colorado???

"The Key Room" of Baldpate Inn, in Estes Park, CO, has more than 30,000 keys, including some super special ones:

A key to a White House bathroom 
A key to Frankenstein's Castle 
A key to Mozart's wine cellar 
A key to Hitler's bunker 
A key to some door (not sure which one!) in the Pentagon 
A key to Westminster Abbey

Then there are a few surprises:

A key to a Peruvian monastery 
A piano key 
Several keys to the dressing rooms of Hollywood actors 
Instead of a key to seclusion, a key to occlusion - six-year molars!

And of course the ordinary:

Loads of keys from every corner of the U.S. and quite a few corners of the world

Why does the Baldpate Inn, in Estes Park, CO, have the world's largest key collection?

There's a book of fiction about a fictional Baldpate Inn. A man who visits the inn needs peace and quiet, total seclusion, and he is so happy to have the key to the inn so that he can achieve the alone time he needs.

Buuuutttt...it turns out that the title of the book is The Seven Keys to Baldpate. And, sure enough, the main character doesn't realize that six other characters also have a key. And the book concerns what happens when they use their keys and break the man's solitude...

The owners of an inn in Estes Park built it in 1917 with hand-hewn timber cut from the property and massive stone fireplaces to provide heat and hot water. When the author of the mystery novel about Baldpate visited the Colorado inn, he declared that it looked just like his imaginary inn, and the owners decided to name their inn Baldpate.

In order to honor the story line of the novel, the owners gave each guest their very own key to the room they'd stayed in - and they got a reputation and a lot of return customers from this unusual tradition. 

But then there was World War I, and the price of metal became so high that the Baldpate Inn could no longer afford to give keys away.

Their loyal return guests were disappointed. But a famous lawyer had a clever idea - he decided that if guests couldn't take a key, they could instead BRING one. And other loyal guests decided to get into the action and bring the inn a key, as well. And somehow a competition grew up to give a key from farther and farther-away places...or from more and more exotic sites.

It got so interesting to have so many keys from so many special places, the Baldpate Inn owners realized that they had to display this growing collection...

...and so, the Key Room!

The Baldpate Inn is located in a beautiful
town in the drop-dead-gorgeous Rocky Mountains!

The family that originally owned the Baldpate Inn sold it to another family in 1986, and then the inn was sold at auction on this date in 2017. I checked, and apparent the Key Room is still intact, and the new owners have added a Key-thedral Theater in an outdoor space during the summer months...

October 29 - National Hermit Day

Posted October 29, 2018

A hermit is a person who lives alone. Like, not someone who lives alone in an apartment or house in a city, but rather someone who lives alone in a remote wilderness region.

Usually, we use the word hermit for someone who lives in solitude as a part of his or her religious practice. And that brings us to why October 29 is Hermit Day: 

October 29 is one of the traditional feast days of Saint Colman Mac Duagh, a man who lived alone in a cave, fasting a good deal and praying even more. This Irish saint was a hermit, in the most common sense of the word, and today is his feast day - hence, National Hermit Day!

Most of us never will - or want to - live in a cave for years and years, but we can still celebrate Hermit Day: we can consider using seclusion at least once in a while as a way to rest up from the normal busyness of our lives, the normal noise of our environments. Being alone - especially being alone in nature - could be important at least a few minutes a day, for some people, or for a few days a year, for others. 

Another way to get in tune with your inner hermit is to spend some time each day or each week with no TV, no social media, no smart phone, no computers or internet or video games. That break from electronic devices could be restful, even you aren't actually alone in the wilderness or even alone in the house.

Either way, enjoy the quiet!