Thursday, December 30, 2004

Apple #19: Pythagoras


Something made me think of the Pythagorean theorem. I think a triangle in the corner of a sign over the highway did it. And I thought, but what about the guy who came up with it? What about him?
  • Pythagoras was born in 569 BC in Ionia, or essentially, Greece.
  • He had a big birthmark on his thigh.
  • Apparently his family was pretty well-off because he did a lot of traveling with his father and was taught by mathematicians and philosophers. He could play the lyre and recite Homer.
  • One of his teachers told him to go to Egypt to learn more about math, so he did. While he was there, he talked to lots of priests and got very into religion, and then he was accepted into the priesthood at one temple. His beliefs included maintaining the secrecy of the priesthood, striving for purity, and refusing to eat fava beans or to wear clothes made of animal skins.
  • Also while he was in Egypt, the king of Persia invaded and, because Pythagoras was friends with the Greek guy sort of in charge of Egypt at the time, Pythagoras was taken as a prisoner of war and shipped off to Babylon.
  • While in Babylon, as a prisoner, he was instructed in the religious rites of the Babylonians, and he also reached what one historian called "the acme of perfection in arithmetic and music and the other mathematical sciences taught by the Babylonians."
  • After the rulers who were fighting each other both died, two years later, Pythagoras left Babylon and went home.
  • In his home town of Samos and elsewhere, he founded multiple schools of philosophy and religion. There, he instructed people in the beliefs he'd developed while in Egypt and Babylon, plus his deepest-held belief, which is that "at its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature."
  • He attributed lots of characteristics to numbers. He said that some numbers were masculine and some were feminine. He also correlated certain tones on stringed instruments with whole numbers, and developed the foundations of the mathematical theories of music.
  • His famous theorem of geometry (the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides) was known to the Babylonians, but Pythagoras was the first to prove it is correct.
  • He was also a big student of astronomy, and a crater on the moon is named after him.
  • He thought that the Earth was a sphere at the center of the Universe. We can't be right about everything.
  • He was foremost a philosopher, and as he got older, he was recognized as a highly public figure, and his presence was requested many places. He was basically a celebrity philosopher.
  • It's not certain how or even exactly when he died, though it probably happened around 475 BC. Which means he was 94 years old.
  • After he died, his Pythagorean Society got very politicized and split into many factions. Soon his Society was suppressed, meeting houses were burned, and 50 or 60 of his followers were killed.


The University of St. Andrews' School of Mathematics TURNBULL MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, biographical entry on Pythagoras

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Apple #18: The Alphabet


Today I did quite a lot of alphabetizing. I love the alphabet. It's so useful, for one thing. And you can play with it endlessly. Sometimes I use it to help me fall asleep. I think about the shape of a particular letter, like "G" for example. Or I try to think of words all on the same subject (fish, say), one for each letter of the alphabet. Though sometimes that gets me so excited, it wakes me up all over again.

  • An alphabet in itself means nothing; it is a system of organizing the letters or characters of a given language.
  • The word alphabet comes from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta.
  • Alphabets are supposed to represent a one-for-one relation between a character or letter and a specific sound. However, as the Columbia Encyclopedia notes, "Few alphabets have achieved the ideal exactness." In other words, lots of languages have various sounds floating around that are represented by a composite of characters or that are imprecisely represented, such as English's notorious shwa e. The Korean language is considered to come closest to the one-sound-one-symbol concept.
  • English uses an alphabet of Roman characters, as do the languages of Western Europe and newly written languages in Africa.
  • The Roman alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet. Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and other Slavic languages use a Cyrillic alphabet, which is also derived from the Greek alphabet.
  • The Greeks imitated the Phoenicians when they developed their alphabet; the Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and Devangari (India) alphabets likely all were based in some way on Egyptian heiroglyphics.
  • The Egyptians, who based their heiroglyphics on Sumerian pictographs, created their system of language around 3100 BC.
  • Chinese and Japanese languages do not use alphabets. They are considered to be syllabic languages, meaning each character represents a syllable, like su, rather than a single sound, like s.
  • The Japanese syllabary (like an alphabet, but of syllables) is derived from Chinese.
  • The Mayans in Mexico and Central America also used a syllabic language.
  • There are about 50 alphabets in use today. Most are between 20 and 30 characters long. The Hawaiian alphabet, however, uses only 12 letters, the fewest of any language. Sinhalese, the language of Sri Lanka, uses more than 50 letters.
  • The Greeks originally wrote from right to left, as the Phoenicians did. That practice evolved to writing one line right-to-left followed by the next line going left-to-right. This was called boustrophedon, meaning as the ox plow turns. After a few hundred years or so, the Greeks began using left-to-right only and kept it that way.

Columbia Encyclopedia, "alphabet"
Encarta, "Alphabet"

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Apple #17: Rabbits

I just finished reading Rabbit, Run by John Updike. The book has nothing to do with rabbits, but I thought they'd make a good topic for today.

A whole pile of cuteness -- bunnies, I mean.
(Photo by Yvette/Why68 on Flickr)

  • Rabbit's milk is very rich in nutrients, so mother rabbits need to nurse their young for only a few minutes a day. So if you see baby rabbits by themselves, the mother rabbit is probably going to come back in the evening.
  • Rabbits are classified as crepuscular animals, which means they feed either at dawn or dusk.
  • Rabbit babies are born naked, with closed eyes. Hares, on the other hand, are born with fur and their eyes open.
  • Rabbits are good swimmers. Cottontails especially are known to evade predators by jumping into lakes or streams and swimming away.
  • During mating, the male snowshoe rabbit fights other male rabbits with his large teeth.
  • Both rabbits and hares bear between four and eight litters per year. The mother rabbit may have three to eight babies per litter. Considering that a rabbit reaches sexual maturity in 6 months and may live to be as old as 10 years, one rabbit could have as many as 640 babies in its lifetime.
This is one enormous rabbit.  The guy holding him is his breeder, and they live in Germany.
(Photo from Ahmed Sajjad's blog)

  • Rabbits were first brought to Britain by the Romans. They were more recently introduced in South America, Australia, and other Oceanic islands. The rabbit population in New Zealand multiplied from an original 7 rabbits brought to the island in 1860.
  • In Australia, rabbits were breeding so rapidly and destroying crops to the point that the country decided to try to control (reduce) its rabbit population. They introduced a virus called myxoma in the 1950's, which killed over 90% of the rabbits. The disease also spread to Europe and decimated rabbit populations there as well. However, the remaining rabbits developed a resistance to the disease and at the same time, the virus evolved into a less virulent form. Rabbit populations have since swelled once again.
  • Most rabbits and hares live on tree bark, herbs, vegetable, and grass. Some rabbits occasionally eat mice and carrion.
  • This is from "When feeding on green herbage, rabbits, like hares, excrete soft pellets which they reingest; the waste products of the redigested food are excreted as dry pellets."
  • Because of this feeding practice, wild rabbits are often infected with a disease called tularemia. This disease can be passed to humans through bites or by ticks. If you are infected, you first get a high fever and start throwing up or having awful diarrhea. Then you develop lesions at the site of infection (mouth, eyes, arms), and then your lymph nodes swell up and start releasing pus and draining. It's treatable with antibiotics, but the mortality rate from this disease is 6%. So, to be safe, don't pick up those wild bunnies living under your bushes!

As incredibly cute as a wild bunny might look, it's safer for you and the bunny if you don't pick it up. With domesticated bunnies, though, bring on the bunny love!
(Photo from gone on SodaHead)

Incidentally, when I searched on "rabbits" on Encyclopedia Britannica online, John Updike's name came up as one of the results.

Encarta's entry on Rabbits and Hares
Infoplease's entries on rabbits
and tularemia
Graig Farm Organics (with wild rabbit recipes)
Australia and New Zealand Rabbit Calcivirus Disease Program
Buckeye House Rabbit Society

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Apple #16: Flamingo Knees


I'm going to take about a week off from this thing for Christmas. But before I do, here are a few facts about flamingos and their knees:

  • When flamingos walk, it looks like their knees bend backwards. But actually, those are their ankles. All birds' legs have the same three joints as humans do, except everything is higher up, so that their ankles appear to be in a similar position as our knees. In a sense, they're all walking around on tip-toe.
  • The pink color in flamingo feathers comes from chemicals called carotenoids in the algae they eat.
  • The flamingo filters its food from water by using its thick tongue to suck in the water and food and plunge out only the water. The Romans used to enjoy eating flamingo tongues as a delicacy.
  • A female flamingo lays only one egg each breeding season. Flamingos will not breed at all unless they are with large numbers of other flamingos.

Merry Christmas!

WonderClub Greater Flamingo
Chaffee Zoo Greater Flamingo

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Apple #15: The Grand Canyon


A news article that mentioned Arizona today made me think of the Grand Canyon.
  • The Canyon is located in the northwest corner of Arizona, and is an enormous chasm cut by the Colorado River as it flows between Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
  • The Canyon averages 4,000 feet in depth and is 15 miles across at its widest point. In total, it spans 1,217,403 acres.
  • Visits to the Grand Canyon totaled 4,102,541 in 2003.
  • The Canyon provides a rich fossil record of three of the four eras of geologic time. Some geologic formations at the bottom of the Canyon date back 1,800 million years.
  • While the entire park is considered a semi-arid desert, it contains within it a tremendous range of biological diversity, the equivalent of traveling from Mexico to Canada.
  • It has three forests, one of pinyon pine and juniper, a second of ponderosa pine, and a third of spruce-fir.
  • In those forests live 52 species of mammals, including porcupines, squirrels, mule deer, elk, and black bears. In the desert scrub live 50 other species, primarily rodents and bats.
  • Also present in the Canyon are bighorn sheep, bobcats, coyotes, and spotted skunks.
  • The greatest number of species that live in the canyon are birds. The bald eagle especially enjoys the Grand Canyon, for its rich supply of trout in the Colorado River.

National Park Service
Grand Canyon

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Apple #14: Wind Chill


It's been really freakin' cold the past few days. When people talk about the wind chill, I think, that's just a way for them to feel less like pansies when it's cold outside. But it turns out, it's actually kind of a crucial indicator.
  • Wind chill is an indicator of how cold the air actually feels. Moving air carries heat away from the body. If there is no wind, the heat from your body will stay and warm the air around you. Therefore, when the wind speed is 3 mph or less, it is possible for the wind chill to be warmer than the actual temperature.
  • Wind chill is derived by a somewhat complex calculation based on temperature times wind speed. See the actual calculation.
  • The method for calculating wind chill was first developed in the 1940s. This method was changed in 2000 after some abnormally mild winters followed by an unusally cold winter in Canada and the northern US, which made for somewhat strange wind chill readings.
  • When wind speeds get high enough and temperatures drop low enough, you get into frostbite zone. For example, when it's 10 degrees F and the wind is traveling at 55 mph (yes, that's fast), you can get frostbite in 15 minutes or less. That's no joke.
  • In Antarctica, winds have been recorded as high as 200 mph. In July in 1983, the temperature dropped to -129 Fahrenheit. That's the coldest recorded temperature in the world. If those two situations were combined, the wind chill would be -257 F.
  • For the past 12 hours, wind chills in Springfield, MO (to pick a random city) have been between 25 degrees F and 33 degrees F.

Environment Canada's wind chill history page
Antarctic Connection
Medline article on
National Weather Service Forecast Office for
Springfield, MO

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Apple #13: Jalapeños


I made guacamole the other day, with fresh jalapeños. The juice got on my fingers and apparently because I didn't wash my hands right away, I had a very strong burning sensation on my fingers that lasted several hours.

By the way, to type ñ, hold down the Alt key and type 164, the let go of the Alt key.  To type Ñ, do the same thing but type 165.

The pepper:

  • Any pepper, whether it's a hot or sweet pepper, is considered mature when it's green. However, none have fully ripened at that stage. If allowed to, they all will turn other colors, like red or yellow or orange or purple or even chocolate-colored. When a pepper is fully ripe, it will also taste sweeter.
  • It takes about 70 days for peppers to mature.
  • If people who use tobacco touch pepper plants without washing their hands first, they may spread a disease called tobacco mosaic to the pepper plants.
  • In 1998, New Mexico alone produced 103,500 tons of hot peppers (jalapeño, cayenne and paprika). In 2000, this production increased to 121,500 tons, valued at $50 million.

The burn:

  • After handling hot peppers, if you start to feel a burning sensation, it's too late to wash it off with plain soap and water. Pour rubbing alcohol over the skin, "wash" your hands with it, then rinse. It may take several applications to get the pepper oil off. I had to do this about six or seven times, and even then, the burning sensation came back after a while. But it wasn't as severe.
  • The chemical that makes jalapeños hot is called capsaicin. It's mainly concentrated in the white membrane and in the seeds.
  • Capsaicin is also present in cayenne pepper and in curry powder. It is used in Tabasco sauce and ginger ale. It is also the "pepper" in pepper sprays used for personal protection.
  • Topical creams have been developed that use capsaicin to help relieve joint and muscle pain.
  • Some people who contract shingles develop a very painful form of neuralgia that makes even the touch of a bedsheet intolerable. They find some relief after several heavy applications of a cream loaded with capsaicin.
  • Eating capsaicin may help reduce the likelihood of blood clots, boost your body's levels of vitamin C, and speed up your body's metabolism. Folklore also has it that eating more capsaicin increases your tolerance to pain in general.
FAQ's about peppers
University of Illinois Extension's
Peppers page
USDA Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, "
Hot, Mild, Ornamental Pepper Industry Profile," March 2003

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Apple #12: Blueberries

I bought some blueberry Pop-Tarts today. They were delicious. They got me thinking about blueberries themselves.

(Photo of blueberries from Food and Faith)

  • Wild blueberries grow only in North America.

  • The blossom end of each berry is called the calyx, which in the blueberry's case forms the shape of a five-pointed star.

  • One of the crops that were key to the survival of the early settlers from England in the New World was blueberries.

  • The blueberry family (Vaccinium) includes 450 different plants. One of these plants is the wild blueberry, or lowbush. Cultivated blueberries are generally referred to as highbush blueberries.

  • The USDA ranked wild blueberries as highest in antioxidant capacity per serving, over more than 20 other fruits. This means that wild blueberries may be the most helpful fruit in protecting against cancer, heart disease, and chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's or urinary tract infections.

  • Blueberry plants require highly acidic soil. This means if you want to grow them in your backyard, you have to heap on the "organic matter" and sulfur to alter the pH.

  • The bushes have very shallow roots and require at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week.

  • It takes six years before a blueberry bush will bear fruit.

  • Blueberry bushes are susceptible to damage from at least four types of insects (one which feeds exclusively on blueberries), and six types of diseases like mildew and spots. One of the diseases that attacks blueberries is called mummy berry.

  • Over 42,000 metric tons of blueberries are harvested worldwide each year. 90% come from the US and Canada.

  • Half the harvest goes to processing plants, and the other half are sold fresh. Those that will be processed are picked by machine. Berries that you buy from the store or the roadside stand have all been hand-picked.

This blueberries were all hand-picked
(Photo from Kentucky Proud)

Wild Blueberries
US Highbush Blueberry Council
OSU Extension Fact Sheet "Growing Blueberries in the Home Garden"

Apple #11: Orangutans


One of my favorite facts to know is that "orangutan" means "man of the forest." "Orang" is Malay for "man" or "people" and "hutan" means "forest."
  • The orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling mammal in the world
  • Orangutans live in Indonesia and Malaysia, on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. I didn't even realize that Borneo and Sumatra were part of Malaysia, but they are.
  • Orangutans in the wild can live to be 45 years or older. The longest living orangutan in captivity was named Guas, and he lived to be 58.
  • They eat over 400 different kinds of foods, including bark, flowers, leaves, and occasionally insects, but mainly they eat fruit. They get their water from rainwater and dew that has collected in the holes and dips between tree branches.
  • On this diet, they grow to be about 3 to 4 feet tall and between 110 and 200 pounds.
  • Orangutans tend not to be as social as other apes. The males generally roam about on their own, while the females stay with one or two offspring.
  • They use leaves as umbrellas when it rains.

This is Abdul:

From William Calvin's great ape guessing game

Orangutan Foundation (UK)
Orangutan Foundation International
Sumatran Orangutan Society
Enchanted Learning "All About Orangutans"

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Apple #10: Purple


One of the things I do for my job is give balloons to kids. I let them choose which color they want, and if it's available, the color they choose most often is purple. Boys as well as girls. So I thought, what is it about purple that appeals to kids so much?

I'm having trouble finding an answer to this one. But I did discover that Heinz agrees with me about purple's popularity with kids. In 2001, they launched a ketchup colored purple because kids like purple so much. But judging from the fact that I can't remember seeing purple ketchup at the grocery store, maybe it didn't do as well as they'd hoped.

Looking at a chart that shows wavelengths of the various ROY G BIV colors, purple reaches its peak absorbency in our vision at the lowest wavelength of all the colors. I wonder if this has something to do with it. Like maybe kids' vision prefers lower wavelengths?

According to Crayola, America's favorite color is blue. Plain old basic blue, introduced in 1903. But the US's third favorite color is purple. Officially called Purple Heart, this color was introduced in 1997. According to Crayola, these are some of the "personality traits" associated with this color:
  • magical, mysterious, intriguing
  • creative, intuitive, imaginative
  • powerful, wise, royal
  • charming, sentimental, introspective

I've also read elsewhere that people who like purple tend to be egotistical.

Making connections between a person's favorite color and his or her personality is sometimes referred to as color psychology. I'm tempted to dismiss this as one of those not-so-scientific ways of pigeonholing people. But I just took a quiz that asked me 10 questions about things I like to do, and then it told me what my favorite color is, based on my answers, and the color it came up with was correct. (If you want to try it, go here. Sorry about all the pop-ups.)

Also, Pantone, a company that specializes in color (they advise Crayola) has studied the connections between color and personality and mood. Blues and greens tend to be perceived as "cool" while reds and oranges are perceived as "hot." Some colors are "high-arousal," like red, which stimulates the senses and raises the blood pressure. The fact that people will take more risks under red light is why casinos are bathed in neon and red carpeting.

I'm not finding the answer I want. In lieu of that, here's a different kind of color quiz: Choose your favorite color, and it will go away. Choose your next favorite color. Keep doing this until the screen is blank. The test will then tell you all about yourself.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Apple #9: Balloons


I gave a balloon to a kid today. The balloon was yellow, and the kid liked it.

The first known balloons were made out of animal parts such as bladders or intestines:
  • Jesters and troubadours sometimes inflated the entrails of recently slaughtered animals and "entertained" with them. They even manipulated the inflated animal parts into various shapes.
  • The Aztecs made animal shapes out of the bowels of cats. The bowels were cleaned, turned inside out, twisted, and sewn together at each inflated twist with vegetable thread. When allowed to dry, this thread created a nearly airtight seal. The shaped entrails were then burned in sacrifice with great ceremony. After a highly contagious disease killed most of the cats, the Aztecs took to using the innards of humans, sacrificed apparently for the sole purpose of producing the shaped bowels.

In the 1800's, balloons made of rubber appeared:

  • The first rubber balloon was made by noted physicist Michael Faraday, in 1824, for use in his experiments with hydrogen. He cut two sheets of rubber, laid them together and pressed the edges, which made the sticky rubber adhere. The inside of the balloon was then dusted with flour to prevent the rest of the rubber from sticking to itself.
  • In 1847, J.G. Ingram in London made the first vulcanized rubber balloons, which can be regarded as the forerunner of today's toy balloons.

In the late 1900's, manufacturers began using other materials to make balloons

  • Mylar balloons, which are metallized nylon, were first developed for the New York City Ballet in the 1970's
  • Most toy balloons are now made of latex, which is biodegradable. Exposure to sunlight and microorganisms attack the latex and degrade it. Evidence of this degradation can be seen in the oxidation or "frosting" of the balloons.
  • Latex is harvested from a particular type of rubber tree, in much the same way that sap is gathered from maple trees for syrup.

What happens when a balloon is let go:

  • When a typical helium balloon is released, it rises at a rate of about 2 meters per second. As it rises, it encounters increasingly cooler temperatures and the air pressure drops, which makes the balloon continue to expand. After about 90 minutes, it reaches 28,000 feet (about 5 1/2 miles). At this height, the air temperature has dropped to -40 degrees C and the balloon has expanded to about 700% of its original, uninflated size. This is when the balloon bursts.
  • The bang when a balloon bursts is the sound of the stretched edges of the torn latex snapping back to their pre-inflated size, which happens faster than the speed of sound, thus creating a small sonic boom.

Some literature in which balloons have been mentioned:

  • "Papa," said Jack, "can't you make me a balloon with this piece of whale entrail?" (Swiss Family Robinson)
  • "Gasses are generated in him [the sperm whale]; he swells to a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon." (Moby Dick)


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Apple #8: Stevie Wonder


Out and about this evening, I heard "Superstition" playing. Man, that's a good song. Here's some info about Stevie Wonder:

  • He identifies Ray Charles as his inspiration (I liked Ray)
  • Regarded as one of R&B's most original artists, in league with Marvin Gaye and Prince
  • Born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan in 1950. He later changed his name to Steveland Morris when his mother married.
  • Born prematurely and put on oxygen in an incubator. Speculation has it that it was excess oxygen that worsened the condition he was born with, retinopathy, and led to his blindness.
  • Having been discovered by Ronnie White of The Miracles, Little Stevie released his first two albums in 1962, at the age of 12. One was a tribute to Ray Charles.
  • In his teen years, as his voice changed, he studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind
  • Re-emerged in 1964 without the "Little" in front of his name and released a number one R&B hit
  • Co-wrote "Tears of a Clown" with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
  • Co-wrote and produced "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" in 1970 and married his co-singer, Syreeta Wright later that same year
  • Pioneered the use of the synthesizer in R&B music, an innovation he later used as leverage to improve his contracts
  • In 1971, his contract with Motown expired. He enrolled in classical music training, renegotiated his contract for significantly higher royalties, built his own recording studio, and established his own music publishing company. He was 21 years old.
  • In 1972, he toured with the Rolling Stones and got a divorce. Also released "Superstition" and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life."
  • In 1973, he won a Grammy for Album of the Year, and then while being driven to a concert in North Carolina, a large hunk of timber fell on his car and he sustained serious head injuries and lapsed into a coma. But he made a full recovery.
  • He released his next record a year later, which contained a critique of Richard Nixon and won a Grammy.
  • Many regard Wonder's 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life, as his consummate production.
  • Since then, he has continued to release numerous chart-topping songs, many of them duets (with Paul McCartney, Dionne Warwick, Babyface, and others).
  • He was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, at age 39.


Friday, December 10, 2004

Apple #7: Martinis


I had a Martini last night, and it was pretty good. It certainly did the job. Actually, it was a Chocolate Martini. I've tried other varieties before, and I liked Cosmopolitans a lot. If I remember right, I also liked one that had Chambord in it.

Trying to find out the history of the Martini, and it looks like it's one of those things that seems to have emerged somehow in our culture, and everybody has a different idea of its beginnings. All of these stories sound a bit exaggerated to me.
  • One site says the Martini was invented in 1910 by the head bartender of NYC's Knickerbocker Hotel. The bartender's name was Martini di Arma di Taggia. His recipe was half gin and half Vermouth. According to this site, one customer, John D. Rockefeller, who sampled it, suggested that the bartender call it a Martini.
  • Another site says that a German named J.P. Schwartzendorf made the first Martini in the 18th century. He was a composer, inexplicably nicknamed "Martini." His Martini used 2 oz. of Belgian gin called Genevieve, 1 oz. Chablis, and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Yet another story goes that in the 1800's a gold miner asked a bartender in Martinez, California to come up with something new for him to drink. The bartender supposedly made a drink that was four parts Vermouth, one part gin, plus a dash of bitters and a cherry.
  • Still another story has it that the drink is named after the British rifle called the Martini and Henry, because the drink has such a kick.
  • Others say the name comes from the name of Vermouth used, Martini and Rossi
  • Many sites simply call it a "quintessential American invention"
  • In the early 1900's, New York City hotels served English tea at the customary 5:00 hour, and it wasn't long before that morphed into the 5:00 cocktail hour.
  • A site that describes the history of the cocktail shaker notes that one of the first recorded uses of a container for cocktails was in 1520 when Cortez wrote to King Charles V of Spain about a certain drink served to Montezuma in a golden container. The drink was made of cacao and foamed and frothed (see Apple #1?).
  • Famous people who have enjoyed Martinis:
    • Elvis
    • Dean Martin
    • James Bond (for a brief period in the 1950's, some shakers came equipped with electric stirrers, hence Bond's famous "shaken, not stirred" request. Today, however, that request is superfluous.)
    • Frank Sinatra
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • Richard Nixon (supposedly drank Martinis the night Watergate broke)
    • W.C. Fields (called them angel's milk)
    • Noel Coward
    • Hemingway
    • Einstein


Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Apple #6: Eyeballs


Last night I was tired and rubbing my eyes. I thought, what the heck are eyeballs made of, anyway? Not the lens and the iris and all that, but the white stuff. So today I looked it up. Here's what I learned:

Diagram from Eye Topics

The outside of the white stuff is the sclera, which is a firm fibrous membrane that holds the innards in its spherical shape. This membrane is white and smooth on the outside, and it's thicker at the back of the eye than at the front. If you could turn the membrane inside out, you would see that it is stained brown, and grooved where nerves and vessels are attached.

My Gray's Anatomy has this disturbing observation about the sclera: "It yields gelatin on boiling."

The stuff that the sclera holds together is the vitreous humor. This forms about 4/5 of the entire eyeball. It is transparent and has the consistency of a thin jelly. Its role is to fill the concave space between the retina and the lens, and to hold everything in place.

The vitreous humor is made of:

1. water (99%)
2. a network of collagen fibrils (connective proteins)
3. large molecules of hyaluronic acid (amino acid that works like a cementing substance. It also appears in the umbilical cord)
4. peripheral cells
5. inorganic salts
6. sugar
7. ascorbic acid

You know the "floaters" you sometimes get in your eye? Sometimes they're foreign substances, but often, they're pieces of your eye. As we age, the vitreous goo gradually changes from a gel to a liquid. At the same time, the vitreous mass starts to shrink and separate from the retina. Pieces of the vitreous gel and some of the cells come loose in little clumps and start floating around in your eye. Hence, floaters.


Gray's Anatomy: The Classic Collector's Edition

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Apple #5: Handel's Messiah

Today in a store I heard the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah being played as background music. I was enjoying it, and then an employee interrupted on the intercom to tell a customer that her order was ready. It made me think about Christmas and shopping and all of that.

Later, I thought, I'd like to know more about the Messiah.

[Note from the Apple Lady, 12/2007: I just saw a performance of the Messiah in its entirety, so I have some more information to impart. The updated stuff is inserted throughout.]

Handel, in his later years. Eventually, in addition to being paralyzed from a stroke, he would be blinded by cataracts.
(Image sourced from Le Roi s'amuse's page on G.F. Handel)

  • It's an oratorio, one of several that George Frideric Handel wrote toward the end of his life. Oratorios are often written based on Biblical texts. They are similar to operas, but they are performed in concert, without staging or scenery or costumes. Thus oratorios are cheaper to perform.
  • The Messiah was first performed in 1742 in Dublin.
  • It was originally conceived and performed for Easter.
  • Handel wrote the work in the fall of 1742. At the time, he was paralyzed on his left side from a stroke suffered four years previously. Even so, he completed the oratorio in only 24 days.
  • If you think of the English word that's similar to oratorio, oration, you have kind of an idea of what the whole program is like. Sometimes a soloist gets up and sings for a while, then that person sits down, another soloist gets up and sings for a while, that person sits down, and the whole chorus sings for a while. It's kind of like everybody's giving mini-orations, but in song form. And what they're telling you is lines from various books of the Bible.

Probably what you'd see if you went to see a performance of the Messiah yourself. In this photo, the choir is standing, which means it's their turn to sing. The woman sitting off to the left by herself is probably a soloist waiting for her turn.
(Photo of Robert Levy conducting the Messiah at Lawrence University)

  • The text does tell a story, though it gets a little fluid in the middle. First is the foretelling of Jesus' birth, then the announcement of his birth to the shepherds, his suffering and death, his resurrection and the subsequent salvation and resurrection of everybody else. Since the story doesn't stop with the birth of Jesus but goes on to his death and resurrection, it is more appropriate for Easter rather than Christmas. But it has become traditional to perform the Messiah at Christmas.
  • The text for the Messiah was chosen by a man named Charles Jennens, who was a literary scholar and editor of Shakespeare's plays and a personal acquaintance of Handel's.
  • The most famous portion of the Messiah is the Hallelujah chorus, which takes as its text three passages from the New Testament book of Revelation.
  • The Hallelujah chorus, which is one small portion that the chorus sings and which begins with the word Hallelujah!, isn't even the grand finale. It comes about 3/4 the way through the program.

What the opening of the Hallelujah chorus looks like, on a modern and score for a choral director's use.
(Image from the East London Chorus)

  • The work has endured countless revisions and additions of instruments and vocalists. One of the first major revisions of Messiah was undertaken in 1788 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thirty years after Handel's death.
  • The story has been handed down that on first hearing the chorus, King George II rose to his feet, which required everyone attending the concert to rise as well. Speculations abound as to the reasons why he stood up -- he arrived late, he wanted to stretch his legs, he had to go to the bathroom, etc. Nobody can say for sure if the story about the kind standing up is true, and if he did stand, why he did so. Nonetheless, standing during the Hallelujah chorus continues to be customary.
  • And I have to say, having just seen it performed, it is truly magnificent. If any piece of music deserves to have the audience stand en masse out of respect for it, it might as well be that one.

To see what the original score looks like at another part of the Hallelujah chorus, go to this image owned by the British Library.

To hear the Hallelujah chorus, go to the "ShareAlike" downloadable files: (scroll all the way down)


Encarta, George Frideric Handel
Wikipedia, George Frideric Handel and Messiah (Handel)
G.F., Messiah: "A Sacred Oratorio"
Hartford Chorale, Handel's Messiah
Tom Lumb, Survey of Musical Directors' views on audiences standing during the Hallelujah chorus, Festival Singers of Wellington, January 1998

Monday, December 6, 2004

Apple #4: Brett Favre

(quarterback, Green Bay Packers)

Brett Favre had a bad game today. He threw two interceptions early in the first quarter, and then managed maybe a couple first downs. Usually he puts on his impressive, super-human something and manages to pull his team out of the crapper and into a win. Tonight, though, it didn't happen. He never really got any steam going, and then he sat out the last 11 minutes of the game. I can't remember the last time he went to the bench. The Packers got killed, 47-17.

To me, Brett Favre is the living proof that if you never give up, you can achieve your goals. I've admired him for several years now because he has continued to press on and perform unbelievably well even under the worst circumstances. Like his father dying suddenly, for example. Or his wife being diagnosed with breast cancer. He grits his teeth and plays with gusto, and he achieves what seems impossible.

So tonight, seeing him get sacked three times (which is almost unheard of), and then going to the sidelines saddened me personally. Here's to better games, Number Four.

Here are some of his accomplishments, and the things he's overcome to get there:

  • 30 times he has led his team from fourth-quarter deficits or ties to win the game
  • He is football's only three-time MVP, a recognition he won in consecutive years, from 1995-1997
  • In 2002, held a streak of 117 passes with zero interceptions
  • Threw a touchdown pass in 36 consecutive games (which goes back to 2002), until tonight
  • Played most of 2003 with a broken thumb on his throwing hand
  • Has a 29-0 record at home when the game temperature is 34 degrees or below. Including playoffs in these conditions, he's 36-1.
  • Including playoffs, has started in 208 consecutive games, an NFL record
  • In 2003, he reached 3,000 yards passing for his 12th season, tying John Elway for second place. He is the first NFL player to reach that 3,000 mark for 10 seasons in a row.
  • Injuries he has overcome include: recurring broken ankle, several bone chips and a bone spur removal; back injuries; abdomen and ribs; sprained thumb for most of 1999; broken thumb for most of 2003; tendonitis in his elbow; sprained knee ligament requiring surgery.
  • In college, he survived a major car accident that resulted in such serious internal injuries he had 30 inches of his intestines removed. A month after this surgery, he led his college team to a win.
  • Early in his career, he was a partier. He was hospitalized in 1996 for an addiction to Vicodin. After that hospitalization, he broke his addiction, stopped drinking, got married, and improved his game.
  • He's played with the Packers for 14 seasons and has a lifetime contract. He's 35 years old.

Sources: images/ss/980_34.html

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Apple #3: Ping Pong


I played some Ping Pong today. Really, I should say I played table tennis. I lost two games out of three, but even so, it was huge fun.

  • Table tennis is the second most popular sport in the world behind soccer.
  • Since it emphasizes endurance and reflexes above size or strength, it can be played by almost anyone. The equipment is inexpensive and the game is played indoors. It has been called "the sport for the masses."
  • The origin of table tennis is unknown, but the sport is known to have been played as early as the late 1800's by British army officers in India and South Africa. They used cigar boxes as paddles and champagne corks as balls, with a row of books set up across the middle of a table to form a net.
  • In the early 1900's, Parker Brothers trademarked the name Ping Pong(TM) and wanted the sport's professional associations to pay them lots of money for the use of the name. The associations changed the official name of the game to table tennis.
  • A major factor that led to the domination of Asian players in the sport was the introduction of the foam rubber paddle in Japan in 1952. Asian players were also the first to use the "penholder" grip, which allows the player to strike the ball with the same face of the paddle on any stroke.
  • In the 1970's, the Chinese invited American table tennis players to a tournament in China. This began the thawing of tensions between China and America. Soon after, President Nixon visited China for the first of a series of diplomatic negotiations that led to the Open Door Policy.
  • Table tennis became an Olympic sport in 1988.
  • Current (1998) superpowers of table tennis are Sweden, China, Germany, Belgium, and South Korea. Governments in Sweden and China pay their top players just to practice.
  • Some world-class players can put spins on the ball of up to 900 rpm.
  • If a receiver returns a shot successfully 13 times in a row, the receiver is granted the point.


Saturday, December 4, 2004

Apple #2: Hairdressers and Tolstoy


Today I got my hair cut. I asked the woman who cut my hair how many haircuts she gives in a week. She said it varies a lot from week to week, but she's available every 45 minutes, and she works about 40 hours a week. That works out to 5 to 10 people per day. That means she cuts anywhere from 1,300 to 2,600 heads of hair in a year.
  • In 1999, there were 784,000 hairdressers and cosmetologists in the US
  • 90.8% of them were women
  • Other jobs in which over 90% of the employees were female include
    • dental hygenists (99%)
    • secretaries, stenographers, and typists (98%)
    • child care workers (96%)
    • licensed practical nurses (95%)
    • speech therapists (93%)
  • On average, hairdressers, stylists, and cosmetologists earned $18,960 in 2002
  • The same year, barbers earned $19,550
  • Some salons offer paid vacation and benefits, but most hairdressers are self-employed

Today at work, people started talking about Russian novelists like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Tolstoy happens to be my favorite author of all time. Here's some information about him:
  • Tolstoy did not consider War and Peace to be a novel. It's actually written as an attempt to explain why people go to war and kill each other.
  • He was born in 1828 and died in 1910, less than a decade before the Russian revolution, which he warned the Tsar would happen.
  • His mother died when he was two, and he had no recollection of her. His father died when he was nine. He was raised by an aunt and by his eldest sister.
  • He served in the Crimean War in his late 20's. Afterwards, his brother died of tuberculosis.
  • At age 34, he married an 18 year-old. This marriage is often described as one of the unhappiest in literary history. He had sex with a lot of his serfs. In the meantime, his wife bore him 13 children, 7 of whom survived.
  • In the early 1900's, he wrote a novel called Resurrection, which described a man's realization that he was responsible for a woman's downfall to prostitution after he had sex with her when she was young, and then worked to have her released from Siberia where she had been sent as punishment. The Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Tolstoy after this novel was published.
  • Born into the Russian nobility, he inherited a great deal of land. He came to believe that this was an inequity he should rectify, and often gave out large sums of money to beggars. Four years before he died, he gave away all his possessions to his serfs. After his family objected, he let them have the land. He also relinquished all copyrights to his works.

US Statistical Abstract
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Wikipedia, Tolsoy entry
About Leo Tolstoy, by Jared Lyman at BYU

Friday, December 3, 2004

The First Apple

So, every time I log on to the Internet, I check about 5 of the same pages. After I've made my usual rounds, every time, I find myself wishing for one more thing. I want the last page I look at to give me a little nugget of information. Unlike what the depressing and anxiety-ridden news pages give me, I want something nice to close out my visit to Internet-land. I looked around a couple times for something like this, but no luck. So I decided it was time to make my own.

Here's my plan. I want to post some little bit of knowledge I picked up during the day and record it here. I want myself and anyone who looks at this to be able to say, "Oh, hey. I didn't know that. I'm glad I do."

I thought it might be like an apple a day. Pleasant, good to have, and pocket-sized. In real life, I probably won't keep up with it every day, but you know, close to it.

So here's the first apple:

Recently, I picked up some information about CHOCOLATE:
  • The flavor we identify as chocolate is actually combination of about 500 aromas and flavors
  • Unsweetened chocolate liquor tastes, according to some, like a bitter goat, until cocoa butter and sugar are added
  • Some neuroscientists have found evidence that one of the substances in chocolate has similar effects on the brain as marijuana. This chemical in chocolate, however, is one that is also produced naturally in the brain
  • Eating chocolate has not been proven to cause cavities or tooth decay, nor does it cause acne
  • The word "cacao" comes from ancient Mayan culture. As early as 500 AD, Mayans were writing about cacao on their pottery. They used to drink it hot, sometimes flavored with vanilla, pimiento, and chili pepper. Sometimes they added wine, too.


That's it. I'll take up a new subject next time.