Thursday, February 28, 2008

Apple #301: Adbaaz crap

I just got the word that a lot of you have been getting redirected by some sort of hijacking code to something called I have looked into it and according to my tests, the problem has been fixed. But if anybody still experiences any weirdness, let me know.

Here's what was going on.

Apparently, this lovely little gem finds javascript code that has been written into the templates of various blogs and websites. It corrupts that code so that, instead of running its usual javascript happiness, it instead redirects people to this stupid and useless web page.

If you are a blogger or a web page author, to make it stop, you have to figure out which javascript code in your template it has corrupted. That can be a tricky proposition.
  • Some people have addressed the problem by deleting all javascript code from their templates. To me, that's a slash & burn approach that didn't seem necessary.
  • When the adbaaz was working its idiocy on my site, the username for my Sitemeter statistics was appearing in the redirected url and at the top of the page where it sent me. So I figured it was the code for Sitemeter that it had corrupted.

A screen shot of what adbaaz did to someone else's page. See the up in the left corner? I'm willing to bet that's the code that adbaaz corrupted.
(screen shot from dudesdoingdotnet's blog)

  • So I deleted the page element widget for Sitemeter from my Blogger template. I then re-loaded the Daily Apple, and adbaaz did not work its stupid magic and the Daily Apple stayed loaded. The case, as Inspector Clouseau would say, was solv-ed. Mostly.
  • I was going to add a new page element and simply paste the Sitemeter code back in, but that option to Add a Page Element wasn't appearing. I checked Blogger's Help pages for suggestions, and it said the absent Add a Page Element option was a known issue.

To add widgets for javascript and other things you want to put into your frames, go to Layout and choose Page Elements, and click Add a Page Element. In my case, that link to Add a Page Element was missing.

      • The reason Add a Page Element wasn't there, Blogger help said, might be because the URL was using a www2 instead of just a www, and deleting the 2 would take care of it. That wasn't what was going on in my case.
      • The other reason, said Blogger help, was that some javascript had been entered directly into the template, and that it should be removed from the template and placed into a page element.
  • Well, if I couldn't add a page element, how was I supposed to move the javascript into it? (grumble, grumble)
  • I thought I'd try to cheat the thing, and I copied my javascript code for Sitemeter into the end of my template. But Blogger wouldn't allow me to save those changes.

To edit the HTML code for your template in Blogger, go to Layout and click HTML. I scrolled all the way to the bottom and pasted the Sitemeter javascript at the end, but Blogger wouldn't allow me to save the template when I did this.

  • So I deleted the code I had just pasted in there and navigated away without re-saving the template. Strangely enough, when I went back to the layout page, it was now giving me the option to add a page element.
  • So I added a page element, pasted in the Sitemeter javascript code, saved the changes, and checked the results. No more adbaaz.

If you are a web page viewer
and you're getting the adbaaz effect when you try to view this or any other page, I highly recommend a particular plugin. It was developed for Firefox (obviously, I therefore recommend Firefox), but if you don't use Firefox, a similar option might have been developed for other browsers.
  • The plugin is called NoScript. It keeps things exactly like this pestilential adbaaz from hijacking any javascript code and doing things with it that you don't want it to. Because I'm using NoScript, I was not aware that adbaaz suppressing my Daily Apple. But when I turned it off, then I saw it at work (in all its pointless splendor).
  • The only downside to NoScript is that it works a little too well. It automatically blocks things like YouTube and Adobe PDFs. But it puts a little S in a circle in the bottom corner of the browser, and by clicking on that S, you can access a pop-up window that allows you to permit the various javascript items to work. So you could tell NoScript to always allow YouTube, for example, or each time you go to a YouTubey page, you could tell it to allow that page in that instance.
  • Even so, get the NoScript if you can. It helps.
Now, no thanks to adbaaz, you can get back to enjoying the Daily Apple and reading all about crayons and other goodies.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Apple #300: Crayons

I suppose the 300th Apple should be more of a self-referential, celebratory entry. But I already did my big reflective entry with the Top Daily Apples of 2007. And I really want to do an entry on crayons. So we'll make this the celebration: yay, 300!

Now, on to the good stuff.

I was in the grocery store, and I passed by the school supplies section. That area always sings its siren song to me, and this time I paused. Instead of being drawn to the notebooks as I usually am, this time my eyes went straight to the crayons. Specifically, I stared at the box of 96 Crayola crayons, with built-in sharpener.

The box of 96, open and I have no doubt, fragrant.
(Photo from Picture Fish's blog of photos)

I picked up the box, and without even bringing it to my nose, I could smell the crayons in there. Reader, I bought them.

It has been a coloring extravaganza around here ever since. I have a couple coloring books that are more abstract than the usual fare, and which allow you to be more creative. In coloring them, I have been delighting in the range of colors, from pale pink to violet red, and the veritable festival of blues. I have not even begun to sample all the fancy new colors that include speckles of metallic glitter, and some other new items that say "gel" on the label. I don't even know what delights those hold in store for me. It is enough to have so many shades of blue I don't know which ones to choose.

It is always a bit of a disappointment to wear down those satisfying points at the tip. But it's either that or never actually color with the crayons. And I'm sure not swearing off crayons.

Brand-new crayons with untouched tips
(Photo from Swain's Art Supplies)

  • Crayons existed before Binney & Smith made their first Crayolas, but nobody seems to remember who made them.
  • The crayons that Binney & Smith first made in 1903 were more durable and less expensive than crayons for artists, and they were designed specifically for children. Teachers handed them out in their classrooms, the children loved playing with them, and the long and happy life of Crayola crayons began.

What the early boxes of 8 looked like.
(Photo from Mike's 1904 St. Louis World's Fair page)

  • Binney & Smith also makes washable Crayola markers, a product beloved by parents everywhere. And I like those, too, especially how they come in varying widths. But really, there's nothing like a good crayon.
  • Binney & Smith is now owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. That's been the case since 1984.


  • Crayons are made of paraffin wax and pigment. That's it.
  • The wax is melted to liquid form, the pigment is added, and the colored wax gets poured into a mold.
  • The mold has 1,200 crayon-shaped holes, so each mold makes that many crayons at a time.
  • The mold is dunked into cold water to cool the wax. After it hardens, a hydraulic press shoots the crayons out of the mold.

Here are the crayons being pushed out of the mold.
(Photo from PBS Kids Mister Roger's Neighborhood)

  • Somebody inspects the crayons for broken tips. Thank you, crayon inspector!
  • The paper label is wrapped around each crayon and secured with a non-toxic glue made with corn starch (little kids like to eat the labels).
  • The crayons are then packaged into boxes.
  • And that's how my box of 96 crayons was born.

Crayons getting collated before dropping into boxes
(Photo from PBS Kids Mister Roger's Neighborhood)

  • The first boxes of Crayola crayons contained 8 colors: black, brown, orange, violet, blue, green, red, and yellow.
  • They didn't add more colors until 1949, when Binney & Smith came out with their box of 48 crayons.
  • Since then, they've been adding more new colors and retiring a few, just about every decade. There are now 120 colors.
  • Name changes, in response to customer requests:
      • Prussian blue changed to Midnight blue in 1958
      • Flesh changed to Peach in 1962
      • Indian Red changed to Chestnut in 1999

Same colors, but newly renamed as Midnight blue, Flesh, and Chestnut, respectively.
(Swatches from Crayola)

  • Colors retired because they were considered no longer interesting enough:
      • Green blue
      • Orange red
      • Orange yellow
      • Violet blue
      • Maize
      • Lemon yellow
      • Blue gray
      • Raw umber
      • Blizzard blue
      • Magic mint
      • Mulberry
      • Teal blue
  • My commentary on some of the color changes:
      • I'm glad they got rid of Maize. In our family, we used to call it Elephant poo.
      • I've always found those colors that combine two names to be confusing. Is the color more like the first word in the name or the second? I never seem to guess right.
      • I wish they would get rid of Cornflower, or at least fix it. For some reason, that one never colors right. However hard you press, it always comes out wimpy.
  • Some recent new colors, named by consumers, include Macaroni and cheese, Granny smith apple, Denim, Tickle me pink, Razzmatazz, and Robin's egg blue.

Razzmatazz, one of the young bloods in the crayon box.

  • In 2000, Crayola asked consumers to tell them which color crayon is their favorite. The overwhelming choice: blue. Ordinary, basic, from-the-first-box-of-8 blue.

Blue. The favorite.

  • Seven of the top 10 favorites were shades of blue.


  • Crayon comes from the French and Latin words for "chalk."
      • Which makes sense because the blockbuster product Binney & Smith made before they made crayons was dustless chalk.
  • The 100 billionth crayon was made in 1996 by Fred Rogers of Mister Roger's Neighborhood. Its color was blue ribbon, and that's the only time that color has been made.
  • It is estimated that each year, children in the U.S. together spend 6.3 billion hours coloring. (Now, if we could just get the adults to spend more time coloring. . .)

These children are coloring with markers, colored pencils and crayons. Lucky.
(Photo from Wake Forest University Irish Festival)

  • To get crayon out of carpet, spray on some WD-40 and rub gently. If that doesn't work, spray on some more WD-40, let it soak in, then use a bristle brush to loosen it. Add some dishwashing liquid and wipe with a damp sponge. Repeat if necessary.
  • The smells of coffee, peanut butter, and crayons are the top three scents people find the easiest to recognize.

Crayola, The History of Crayola, Crayola Crayon Chronology, Stain Removal Tips, Color Census 2000
The Crayola site also has several pages for children to color, which you can print out for free
Howstuffworks, How are Crayons and markers made?, History of Crayola
Online Etymology Dictionary, crayon
Arthur Elementary School, Crayon Facts and Figures

Friday, February 22, 2008

Apple #299: Roses

A while ago, a friend of mine asked me what is my favorite flower. I had never thought about that before, but the first answer that came to mind was roses. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that's true.

I think that usually, the plant itself isn't all that attractive. All stem & thorn. But the flower, to my eye, is the king of flowers. Such an abundance of petals! And they overlap in one of those mysterious natural patterns that seems random but at the same time makes perfect sense. As the rose blooms, it seems as though more and more petals appear, and the color becomes even more lush.

And if the rose has a fragrance, hold the phone and hang up your hat, it's all over, nothing else compares.

Lately I've been encountering roses here and there. I'm reading The Age of Innocence, and Newland Archer keeps giving yellow roses to the mysteriously captivating Countess Olenska.

I imagine that the roses Archer keeps buying look something like these.
(Photo from Cards by Tom, where you can order cards made with photos of roses)

I also considered buying myself some roses from the grocery store after Valentine's Day. But the only ones they had left were a strange lavender color, and that didn't seem right at all. So I got tulips instead. But the tulips turned out to have an odd, pungent fragrance. So every time Newland Archer gives Countess Olenska more yellow roses, I am jealous.

Because they're on my mind, I thought it would be nice to know more about roses.

Sheila's Perfume is a Floribunda (Modern Rose), first introduced in 1985.
(Photo from The Gardens of Petersonville)

  • Fragrance is a recessive gene in roses, so it's very hard, even if one is especially knowledgeable about hybridizing roses, to grow a new kind of rose with an intense scent.
  • A rose researcher named James Gamble studied over 3,000 Hybrid Tea roses. He found that about 20% were intensely fragrant, 25% had little or no fragrance, and the rest fell somewhere in between.
  • This distribution of the amount of fragrance is typical of the natural occurrence of fragrance in roses.
  • In fact, developing a new rose with fragrance is so notable that the American Rose Society gives an award (called the James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award) specifically to someone who is able to make a new fragrant rose. They've been giving the award since 1961, but some years, no award is given.
  • The most recent James Gamble award went to Jack E. Christensen who grew the Fragrant Plum in 2007.

A Fragrant Plum. It has a strong, fruity fragrance, and its blooms are mauve (a cross between pink and purple).
(Photo from Noteworthy Fragrances)

  • Hybridizing roses is not a new activity. In fact, most roses, even those that date back to the 1800's and before are actually hybrids.
  • Roses are categorized depending on whether they are wild or cultivated. Among cultivated roses, they are grouped according to when they were hybridized. The three categories are:
      • Species (wild)
          • Cherokee Roses are one of the five species included in this category. Others in this category include Dog Roses, Gallic Roses, French Roses, and Redleaf Roses. It's hard to find photos of these.
      • Old Garden Roses -- in existence before 1867, when the first Hybrid Tea rose was introduced
          • Includes 21 species. Favorites in this category include Tea, Damask, Bourbon, Alba, and Noisette.
      • Modern Roses -- introduced after 1867.
          • Favorites in this group include Hybrid Tea, Floribunda, Grandiflora, and Shrub.

The Reine Victoria is a Bourbon rose, one of the types of Old Garden Roses. This was first introduced in France in 1872. It has a lush fragrance and is a repeat bloomer.
(Available from Beeches Nursery in the UK.)

  • People still love to cross-pollinate and create new roses. In 2007, roughly 3400 new types of roses were introduced.
  • Some people spend years hybridizing to achieve a single, desired result. One Crested Moss rose took its grower over 30 years to develop.
  • Despite the plethora of roses that have been hybridized, no one has been able to grow a rose that is actually blue or black. You might be able to find a rose that has been dyed to one of these colors, but no one has been able to get one to grow that way on its own.

Mister Lincoln, a variety of Hybrid Tea roses, is another James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award-winner, from 2003.
(Photo from Curtis Pyle Nursery)

  • I had always thought the first roses showed up some time in the Middle Ages when the Knights and Crusaders were running around with roses from their ladies. But roses were grown and loved for centuries before that.
      • Roman soldiers returning victorious from battle would be welcomed, not with confetti, but with thousands of rose petals.
      • Roses, associated with the goddess Venus and her emissary Cupid, also indicated secrecy. Wealthy Romans decorated their ceilings with roses so that guests would know they were supposed to keep secret what they had heard at dinner. The phrase "sub rosa" or "under the roses" comes from this practice and to this day is used to mean that something is to be done confidentially.

The Autumn Damask is an Old Garden Rose highly prized by the Romans, who used this variety to make scents. Sometimes it's also called the Rose of Castile.
(Photo from Old Garden Roses and Beyond)

      • Roses and rose oils have been found in tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.
      • The first cultivated roses were grown in China. (Again, I wonder, what didn't originate in China?)
      • Fossilized rose petals and rose hips have been found that date back 35 million years.
  • The Chinese were hybridizing roses for two thousand years before the practice caught on in Europe in the 1500s.
  • In the late 1700s, as more Europeans were exploring countries around the world and bringing stuff back in their ships, they started bringing rose bushes back from China, too.
  • The Chinese roses didn't just bloom once, they bloomed again and again (the phrase for this characteristic is repeat flowering). And the Chinese roses were red and yellow, while the European roses were mainly pink or white or magenta.
  • The Europeans were thrilled by all these new and exciting roses, and they started cross-pollinating the Chinese roses with the European ones, and a huge batch of new roses were introduced.
  • When Napoleon Bonaparte's wife, the Empress Josephine, decided to start a rose garden with every single variety of rose in the world, all sorts of roses were shipped to her from China. It didn't matter that Europe was in the middle of the enormous and bloody Napoleonic wars, she got her roses. Because of her, growing roses became a very "in" thing to do, and people started hybridizing like crazy, especially in France.
  • Then in 1867, the first Hybrid Tea rose was introduced. This is considered a watershed in rose hybrids, and it marks the turning-point from Old Garden Roses to Modern Roses.

La France is generally considered to be the first Hybrid Tea rose. With a silvery pink color, this repeat-flowering rose also has an exceptional fragrance. Each bloom has around 60 petals.
(Photo from Country Garden Roses)

  • Tea roses, by the way, are so-called because their fragrance is said to remind one of a freshly-opened package of the choicest tea. Their shapes are also considered to be the pinnacle of form. Their colors may run the gamut from white to yellows to pinks and reds, but the most prized usually have the colors of the dawn: pale yellow, orange, blush, light pink.
  • Recently, people have been hybridizing to try to recapture some of the characteristics of roses from before 1867. For example, some people are trying for the shape and fragrance of Old Garden Roses but they also want to them to be disease-resistant.

The Peace rose, first grown in 1945 in France to commemorate the Allied invasion, was chosen for the World's Rose Hall of Fame in 1976. I remember when my mom got a couple of Peace rose bushes, and it was probably around that time.
(Photo from Wikipedia's page in French on the Peace rose grown by Madame A. Meilland)

They're just spectacular, aren't they?

Rose in Balboa Park, California.
(Photo from, a collection of public domain photos)

You can find more photos of roses at Yvonne's page of her favorite roses. One after another, they're all really beautiful -- and she grew each one herself. They're alphabetical by rose name. Bob Bauer's Pictures of Roses also has some lovely photos.

Edit: I went to a rose garden recently (2011) and took a lot of photos of roses. Thought I'd share some of them with you here.

Marina, which was smaller than it looks here, the petals tightly packed. This is a Floribunda introduced in 1974.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Meet Lynn Anderson, the rose. It's a Hybrid Tea introduced in 1993.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Proud Mary, the rose. The petals on this one are looser than the usual rose petals. I had trouble finding out much about this, other than that it's a Hybrid Tea.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This yellow rose is called Strike It Rich. It's a Grandiflora, and the bush stood pretty tall. I'm not sure when it was introduced, but it won the AARS award in 2007.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Early Morn, which is a Hybrid Tea, first grown in 1944.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Pretty magnificent.

Lois Ann Hegelson, "Fragrance in Roses," American Rose Society
James Alexander Gamble Fragrance Award, American Rose Society
Classification of Roses, American Rose Society
Carol Quin, "The Rose Through Time,"
Coastal Grower, Winter 1997-1998, republished at the Old Rose Nursery
The Rose: From Ancient China to Your Backyard, The History of Roses, Flowers Australia
Bob Bauer's Roses and Everything About Them, There Are No Blue or Black Roses
Tea Roses, Old Garden Roses and Beyond
Help Me Find - Roses -- searchable catalog of over 31,000 varieties of roses
Rose Hybridizers Association offers lots of tips on how to hybridize

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Apple #298: Furnace Noises

The house where I live has an older gas furnace. Recently, I've noticed that after it shuts off and the blower stops, something booms. I want to know what this means, and if this might require extensive repairs or if it's maybe a small issue.

Looking for an answer to my particular question, I discovered that furnaces can make lots of noises, depending on what's going on with them.

Note of caution: this list represents best guesses about what's going on. But sometimes furnace problems can be tricky to diagnose. If you have any doubts that what's going on with your furnace doesn't match what's described here, call a repair person to check it out for you.

Similarly, because natural gas is by nature explosive stuff, it's best to call a professional if you're uncertain about how to fix the problem.

That said, here are some noises that forced-air furnaces typically make and what they probably mean.

A boom, sometimes loud enough to shake things a bit, when the furnace ignites.
  • This usually means that the burners are dirty.
  • The burners are the series of round pipes underneath the flames. They have a wide opening at one end.
  • Over time, carbon and ashy stuff accumulates on the burners. The gas builds up behind that debris until it can finally push through, and boom! the gas ignites. Sometimes the burners light one after the other in a series: boom, boom, boom, boom.
  • If you wait to fix this problem, it will get worse until that booming ignition causes a lot of damage.
  • Have a professional come in to clean the burners for you. It won't take long, and they shouldn't charge much to do it.

Forced-air furnace. The burners are those three pipes in a row with big openings at the end. Probably your furnace has more than three burners.
(Diagram from Don Vandervort's Home Tips)

Furnace is working away, and a series of booming or popping or rattling sounds occur, sometimes in or around one room.
  • The metal ducts that carry the heat to a room or rooms are expanding, and that's what makes the booming or popping noises.
  • If it's a rattling noise, it's possible that something in the ductwork is loose.
  • If you can, locate the place in the ductwork where the sounds are happening.
  • Usually, this spot will be sort of loose compared to the other ductwork.
  • You can tighten up the location by putting a small dent in the duct metal. Or you can attach some sort of metal brace.
  • If you can't identify the noise to one particular location and the noises seem to travel throughout the system, you can have a contractor put flexible insulation in the ductwork. That will make everything less rattly.

Furnace runs, then the gas flow shuts off but the blower stays on, and a series of clicking sounds occur before the gas reignites.
  • The sensor that tells the furnace whether the gas is lit has got build-up on it and is giving the furnace bad information.
  • The flame sensor is often a single wire or rod that sticks up in the center of the flame.
  • You can shut off the furnace and the gas and clean the sensor with some sandpaper.

Someone has detached the flame sensor and is cleaning it.
(Photo from The Family Handyman, which has a lot of step-by-step maintenance tips)

  • If that still doesn't work, the sensor may need to be replaced.

Squealing or grinding
  • If the blower is making a squealing sound, the belt is slipping. It's the same thing that happens with cars.
  • The belt is probably worn in one spot and needs to be replaced.
  • If the belt is too tight, that can wear out the blower motor's bearings, and then you have a really expensive repair on your hands.

Furnace doesn't stay lit
  • My furnace used to have a problem where it would turn on, but all that came up through the vents was cold air. I'd go into the basement to check, and none of the burners would be lit.
  • So I'd have to take the cover off and re-light the thing. It was a pain because I'd have to light a match, press hard on a knob and turn it, and then light the pilot, which would in turn light all the burners. Except it usually took me several tries to get all that to happen right.
  • In some cases, the reason the furnace keeps blowing itself out is because the gas valve is bad. This is an expensive box that sits between the gas line and the furnace, and it essentially regulates the flow of gas. If this is the problem, it will be fairly expensive to replace it.
  • But the problem might be much simpler and cheaper to fix. Like the burners, the pilot can also get built up with crud.
  • If there's a place sticking up where the gas comes out and you can light it the way you light the burners on your stove, that's the pilot. If there's a bunch of gray, ashy stuff all around the base of that thing, that build-up might be the source of your problem.

Somebody is blowing through a straw to get the crud off the un-lit pilot. But there might be too much crud on the pilot for this to do the trick.
(Photo from The Family Handyman, which has a lot of step-by-step maintenance tips)

Alternatively, you might have an electric igniter, which looks sort of like an elongated, flattened paper clip. If yours is as cruddy-looking as this one, it probably needs to be replaced.
(Photo from Arnold's Service Company, which sells ignitors)

  • Call a professional to clean or replace the pilot for you. And hopefully, like mine, your furnace stop blowing itself out.

If you want more detailed tips on these and other furnace issues, see this really helpful guide by Mark Bower and Robert Hardy, Gas heater maintenance and troubleshooting, or The Family Handyman's Fall Furnace Tune-Up page.

I couldn't find much of anything helpful about noises after the furnace shuts off. I think I might have to call for a repair person and find out what's up. I'll keep you posted.

Bill Brainard, AllExperts, "Older Gas Furnace," January 5, 2008
Don Vandervort's Home Tips, Forced-Air Heating and Furnace Repairs
gas furnace ignition delay...boom,, December 28, 2003
furnace noise due to,, September 13, 2006
Rheem gas furnace clicking incessantly,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Apple #297: Top Daily Apples 2007-2008

Okay, I'm about to get really nerdy on you.

In the middle of February of last year, I started keeping a record of every single hit the Daily Apple got. I recorded the date and which Apple a visitor looked at first. For example, if somebody came to the Daily Apple to look at the page on salamanders and from there went to the page on axolotls and then checked the directory of all the pages on amphibians, I recorded only the salamanders page. I wanted to know what was initially bringing people to my site.

I recorded this in a spreadsheet (omitting my own typo-checking visits) and compiled it on a daily basis so I would know which pages got the most traffic in a given day.

A small sample of my spreadsheet. This shows a portion of one day's hits this January.

Because I discovered just how difficult and time-consuming it is to write a new Apple every single day, I thought this would be a way I could update my page every day. I would list the top three or so Apples that got the most hits in the outer frame. That way people would have something different to look at if they stopped by every day.

I meant for my record-keeping to serve another purpose, too. In the past I asked people to tell me which of the Daily Apples were their favorites. I did this twice. I sensed, from the drop in responses the second time, that people were not that interested in turning this into an interactive sort of place. People seemed to want to be able to come here and read in peace, and not have to engage in any sort of exchange if they didn't feel like it. Fair enough.

(By the way, here are the top 10 of the first 100 and the top 5 of the first 200 Apples.)

So I intended this data I was keeping track of to be a secret replacement for the Tell Me Your Favorites thing that I had tried. I was going to track that data for a full year and then, surprise! reveal what had gotten the most traffic over the past year, and those would be considered the favorites.

But for the past month or so, the Daily Apple has been enjoying an upsurge in the number of hits. Thanks mainly to the popularity of the page on my betta fish, traffic has grown from 250, to 300, to 350 hits per day. This is small change compared to a lot of blogs out there, but for this Daily Apple, that is really exciting.

Chart from Sitemeter, showing the total number of hits the Daily Apple got each month.

But for this Apple Lady, the sheer volume of hits got to be too much for me to keep up my record-keeping on a daily basis. It was taking me around 2 hours each day to record them all. So I finished through the end of January, I'm going to reveal my truly nerdy data-collection to you all now, a little bit sooner than I had intended.

So I don't have a complete year's worth of data, but it's close. I also fell behind in my record-keeping in May (another big month as you can see from the above chart), so I estimated a couple weeks' worth of data to fill in what I had missed.

And now, here are the results.

TOP APPLES, FEB 2007 thru JAN 2008

These are the pages that got the most hits during the past year. Those of you who are regular readers of the Daily Apple may not think these were the best entries, but they were certainly the most popular. And as all of us nerds know, popularity is not necessarily an indicator of quality. But for this round of favorites, popularity is what we have to work with.

The biggest winner, by far, for the entire year, is the Betta Fish entry. With nearly 3,200 hits, it blew away the next most popular page by over 2,200 hits. I have other pages about betta fish, and those did get some air time. But this one was by far the champion. Everybody loves betta fish, apparently. Especially the pictures of betta fish.

This is Susannah's betta, named El Guapo ("the handsome one" in Spanish).
(Photo from Susannah's home page)

Coming in at number two is the Loch Ness Monster. It brought in scads of hits when I first posted it, mainly because people wanted to see a particular artist's rendition of Nessie. A few weeks after the artist took down that picture, hits to that page declined dramatically. I found a replacement for the drawing that everybody liked, but it didn't seem to have a favorable effect, and hits to this page dropped down to zero for quite a while. It's started to enjoy a bit of a comeback recently, but nothing like its initial popularity. But I suppose, since the Loch Ness Monster has been around so long, you don't have to check up on it that often.

The third favorite entry is, somewhat surprisingly, Days of November. November, you may recall, is National Pomegranate Month. Lots of people want pictures of pomegranates, so they wound up at the Days of November page (are you picking up on a theme?). Some people were also interested in D.B. Cooper, who initially hijacked an airplane in November 1971, and got away with it. The FBI are still looking for him.

This picture of pomegranates is from the Friends of Queens Market, London, which is currently waging an anti-development fight.

Weighing in at number four is the Apple Juice vs. Apple Cider entry. I had thought this would get more hits because my site is called the Daily Apple, and I had thought the prevalence of the word "apple" would have meant that search engines would put this page higher on the list in response to queries for apple juice or apple cider. But apparently, popularity trumps terminology frequency. But it's a good entry, if I do say so, if only because it solved something I had wondered about for a long time.

Number five is another one whose popularity shocked me, and that is Oaks in the Beech Family. I wrote this one after consulting a tree identification guide and being astounded and confused by the fact that the tree taxonomists consider oaks and beeches to be part of the same family of trees. I mean, this is not exactly a topic that has all the world up in arms. Nonetheless, this page got over 840 hits in the past year.

Here's a chart showing the ten Apples that got the most hits, compared to the 344 others that got at least one visit during the past year. You can see how the Betta Fish rules.

I won't go into the details about the pages that won place in the 6-10 spots, though in case you can't read that chart, they are, in order:

I want to talk more about which pages won particular categories. As I list them, you'll see what I mean.

Top Celebrity
Mr. T

(Photo sourced from Everybody Loves Coupons)

Top Food
Brown vs. White Eggs

Top Animal (besides betta fish)

Top Geographic Location
Lake Michigan

Top Historical Reference
Ten-Cent Beer Night in Cleveland

Top Pop Culture Reference
Nintendo and Bottled Water

Top Music or Musician
Olympic Theme Song

I would also include some sort of category for health or the body, but three entries in that topic area are already in the top 10.


Now, here are my personal favorites. All that data and popularity aside, and the opinions of my readers -- which I really do care about -- also aside, these are the entries that I like the best. I gauge this by the fact that, when I see that someone else has looked at these pages, I feel a certain glow of happiness and fondness.

  • Coral Reefs
      • I just think they're fascinating. And so beautiful, it's almost hard to believe. Finally, because of the tremendously hopeful way in which they reproduce, they have become, in my mind, synonymous with love.
  • Eero Saarinen
      • I chose this architect because I knew nothing about him. The whole topic, including a lot about architecture in general, was completely new to me. What I learned, and the photos of the buildings he made, had me breathing, "wow," again and again in awe at his creativity and abilities. To me, this is what learning is all about: encountering something completely new that opens your eyes to one wonderful thing after another.
  • Hair Weaves
      • This is another topic I knew nothing about. But the reason I didn't know anything about it is strictly because of cultural reasons: I'm a total white girl. Hair weaves are part of a world that is very much unknown to me. But now that I've read about them and watched videos of people making them and talking about them, I know a lot more than I did before. What's more, I get to share what I learned with other people. To my way of thinking, any knowledge that helps us cross cultural barriers is a good thing.
Of course I don't mean to suggest that I only like three of the nearly 300 entries I have written. I like all of them for different reasons. But these three have my especial affection.

If anyone would care to ring in with your own favorites, I'd be interested to hear your opinions. But that would be strictly voluntary on your part.

I thank you for joining me in this little retrospective, stock-taking entry. With our wits about us, we will press on into new territories of knowledge, ever-appling our way into the unknown! (In other words, I'll have a new Apple for you soon.)

--The Apple Lady

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Apple #296: Aran Island Sweaters

I've been sick with the flu for over a week now. I'm only just now beginning to see a break in the clouds. I'm getting more of a runny nose and I don't feel the absolute need to sleep 12 or 14 hours a day -- only 10 or so. But sheesh, this has seemed like a long 9 days.

When I get sick like this -- which is not often, but it does happen -- I tend to land on a favorite set of clothes pretty early in the illness. Whatever I choose seems to be especially warm, soft, comfy, and probably also has pockets. This time, my outfit has consisted of thick, soft, jersey relaxing pants, a long-sleeve cotton T-shirt of some sort, and my wool sweater that I got in Ireland.

One type of Aran sweater. This one sells for about $75. 
(Photo & sweater from the Aran Sweater Market)

The sweater in particular has become, especially during this past week, something of a security blanket. It's kept me so warm and cozy. At night when I take it off to go on my 12-hour sleepfest, I say thank you to the sheep who made the wool, and thank you to the lady who knit the sweater.

She lived on one of the Aran Islands -- I think it was Inishmore -- and she spoke Gaelic as well as English, and she knitted sweaters like mine to support her family, in addition to what her husband earned. I was there on a study program in college, and, on the advice of our professor and guide, about six of us went to her house to buy sweaters from her. She opened a cupboard and took out maybe fifteen or sixteen of these sweaters, and we all stood in her living room trying on her sweaters (geansai) while she suggested which ones looked best on each of us. She handed me this one and said it had a non-traditional design on the front, something she'd made up herself, but she thought it would look good on me. I took her word for it, and this is the sweater I'm wearing today.

The patterns on mine look more like the man's sweater on the right: diamonds down the middle and bands of cables on either side. The neck on mine is much wider and more rounded, though.
(These are hand-knit from Irish Too. Sweater on the left sells for $298.95. Sweater on the right, $280.95)

I don't remember how much I paid for mine, by the way. I know that it was enough for me, a traveling undergraduate student, to feel it leave my wallet in a pretty big way. But our professor assured us we would be glad we'd made the purchase, and he was right.

I do remember the woman who made the sweaters telling us that the various stitches mean different things. They have to do with fishing, she said, since that's the way most of the men on the islands earn their living, and since it's such a dangerous occupation. The stitches are meant to give good luck, to act like a tie connecting the men to their home so they'll come back safely when the fishing is done.

But now, since this sweater has stood me in such good stead this past week especially, I want to know specifically what these various stitches mean.

  • First of all, the Aran Islands are in Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland.

This is all of Ireland. The Aran Islands are on the left (west), in the Atlantic Ocean.
(Map from Remunda's travel guide to the Aran Islands)

  • There are three islands in the Aran Island group: Inishere (the smallest), Inishmaan, and Inishmore. In Gaelic, the spelling is Inis Oirr, Inis Meain, and Inis Mor.
  • They each have a slightly different character. But all three are very small, very rocky, and very much exposed to the elements associated with the Atlantic Ocean (on Inishmore, it rained every day for about half an hour between 2:30 and 3:00). It can be a tough place to earn a living. Most of the children born on the Aran Islands are raised knowing they will have to leave in order to support themselves.

Inishmore. The islands are so rocky with barely any soil, so the walls help keep the soil from eroding and the whole place from turning barren.
(Photo from Discover Ireland)

The coast of Inishmore. You can just make out some people "bouldering" or climbing the rocks. This is fairly typical of the coastline of the Aran Islands.
(Photo by Eoin Lawless, posted at Bouldering in Ireland)

  • Tourism is now the primary industry of the Aran Islands, but many families still earn a living by fishing.
  • The boats fishermen traditionally used are called currachs. They're relatively small, about the size of a canoe but with a wider and flatter bottom. Some people still fish for a living in these boats.

Currachs used to be covered with animal hides. Now the exterior is fiberglass.  And they use motors now, too.
(Photo by Ann Torrence)

  • If my husband were heading out into the open ocean in one of those dinky little boats, I'd want to give him as many good luck charms as I possibly could, too.
  • And that's exactly what a lot of women meant those sweaters they made to be -- something that would help bring their husbands back home. It wasn't just the patterns they knitted; I'll get to those in a moment.
  • Though people have lived and knitted on the Aran Islands for centuries, it's thought that the islanders first started making these particular types of sweaters sometime around the 1920s. They were first made for special events like a child's First Communion, but that tradition seems to have faded with the decades.
  • The yarn used to make these sweaters comes from a particular cream-colored wool called bainin (pronounced bawneen). The wool may come from island sheep or elsewhere. What is more important is that usually at least some of the lanolin -- the sheep's natural oils -- is left in the wool. This makes the wool water-resistant and makes it a great insulator against the cold.
      • A note about the lanolin: I don't know how much, if any, was still present in the wool that made my sweater. One guy on our trip bought a sweater that had lots of lanolin in it, and whew, was that sweater stinky.
      • Also, if you wash your sweater or have it dry-cleaned, the lanolin will get washed out. Depending on what you prefer, that could be a good or a bad thing.
  • The stitches are also important because if they're done correctly, they form tightly-closed little air pockets that give the sweater an even greater ability to lock in warmth.
      • I'm noticing the some of the stitches in my sweater are a bit loose. The join on the left sleeve, for example, and a few of the cables I can see through. But I've had this sweater for fifteen years (egad, really?), so if that's the only flaw I'd say it's held up remarkably well.
  • I was told that the particular types of stitches meant various things. But now that I'm looking into this more, I'm discovering that different people say that the same stitches have different meanings. When people differ this much about the meaning of a particular thing, I've learned that that's usually a sign that I'm heading into Lands of Bogus Waters. So I'll give you some of the various meanings I've come across, and I'll let you decide whether you want to remember this symbology or discard it.

Some of the types of stitches used in Aran Island sweaters.
(Image from O'Maille)

More stitches
(Image from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill)

  • Symbolizes the Fisherman's rope, which is a traditional sign of safety and good luck
  • Hope for a good catch

Plaited cable
  • Interweaving of family life
  • Resembles the fishing net

  • Symbol of the longed-for wealth and success.
  • Diamond shape resembles the fishing net.
  • Same shape as the small fields of the islands back home.

  • Ladder of success
  • Reminiscent of the patchwork of walls on the islands at home.

Diamond plus Trellis
  • Bringing wealth home in the diamond-shaped fishing net

  • Could also be used to fill the diamond stitch
  • Supposed to depict the seaweed that was mixed with the soil
  • Hopes for a good harvest.
  • Nature and wealth

  • Represents the basket where the fisherman puts his fish -- hope for a good catch

  • Rewards of a good life
  • The bounty of nature

  • Strength that comes from the Holy Trinity

  • Eternal link to those waiting for him on the island
Tree of Life
  • Expresses the family ties between the fisherman and his grandparents, as well as to his children and his children's children.
  • Hope for a long life.

Double Zig Zag
  • Love
  • The give-and-take in a marriage
  • Twisting paths that run along the cliffs at home.

Others mentioned include the lobster claw, spoon, and bobble. There are probably many others besides.

If you want to know how to make these stitches and these sweaters, lots of books have been written on the subject. But here are a couple to start with:
Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans: Fishermen's Sweaters from the British Isles

220 Aran Stitches and Patterns: Volume 5 (The Harmony Guides)

Having looked at all these stitches, I see that my sweater uses diamonds filled with moss, cables flanking diamonds, then what's maybe her own stitch which is a single zig zag with what I think are bobbles in the curve of each zig, and finally a wide band of honeycomb at the top of each sleeve.

So I think that means lots of wealth, a bunch of good luck, and a little bit of love. Well, anyway the sweater's helped me stay healthy at least!

MSN Encarta, Aran Islands
MSN Groups, Celtic Origins, The Aran Islands
Thistle & Shamrock, Traditional Aran sweaters
O'Maille, Aran stitches
Irish Culture and Customs, Aran Isle Sweaters - how a dropped stitch gave rise to a popular myth
Luxury Experience, Irish Sweaters - A Story Behind the Stitches
Aran Wear Traditional Clothing Co., The History of Aran Sweaters
All About Irish, Aran Knits
Clan Arans, History of Aran Sweaters