Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Apple #572: Leap Day

This Apple follows hot on the heels of my entry about Cheesiness, but I could not let this Leap Day pass by without talking about it.

I don't want to dig too much into the calendar reasons for Leap Day. My main interest is in finding out, since it is an oddball date on the calendar, what are some especially interesting or unusual that have happened on Leap Days in the past.

People generally associate frogs with Leap Day because of leap-frogging, but I choose the kangaroo.
(Photo from Elverado Junior High School)

The Numbers
  • In short, the reason we have Leap Days is because the days need to get rounded off. The Earth takes 365.242199 days to orbit around the sun. Since our calendar doesn't allow for fractions of days, after a while those fractions build up, so we need to insert an extra day.
  • If we didn't have Leap Day, after 100 years, our calendar would be out of sync with the planet's position relative to the sun by 24 days.
  • It took a while before we got this figured out. Julius Caesar introduced the concept of Leap Year, but he had too many of them in his calendar. We didn't get that problem corrected until about 500 years ago.

Julius Caesar says, "I say, put Leap Day here!"
(Photo from somewhere on this bukisa page)

  • All this is, of course, in the Gregorian calendar. Other calendars from around the world have Leap Years of their own too.
  • If you don't have a calendar handy, here's how to figure out if year such & such was a Leap Year:
  1. If the year is evenly divisible by 4, it is a Leap Year except see #2.
  2. If the year is evenly divisible by 100, it is not a Leap Year, unless the number is also divisible by 400.

The Lingo
  • If you want to get really fancy when you talk about Leap Year, call it a bissextile year.
  • The word doesn't mean anything other than Leap Year. It sounds like it has something to do with the number six because, originally, it did.
  • The word comes from the Latin phrase bissextilis annis, which was the Roman way of referring to Leap Year. Except they counted their Leap Year differently than we do. Their Leap Day fell on February 24, and the phrase means "counting backwards to six days before the Calends of March."
  • Or you could just remember that it means Leap Year.
  • You could get fancy with the lingo another way and say that Leap Day is an example of an intercalary day.
  • Intercalary means some sort of addition--a day, a month, an hour; any unit of time but usually a day--inserted into a calendar year.
  • It also means, in botany, tissue growing between the upper and lower bracts on a plant stem.
  • So if you were into grafting, you could graft an intercalary branch onto your favorite plants on the intercalary day of this year.

Except the only use I've seen of intercalary in the botanical sense is like this: a patch of cells that are different from those above and below, not a completely whole branch or stem.
(Image from TutorVista)

  • Leap Year itself is a rather strange phrase. I wasn't able to find a definitive explanation for why we call it that, but it seems to be that, due to the addition of the extra day, the next day leaps ahead on the calendar. That is, if this were a non-Leap Year, the 1st would normally fall on Wednesday. But because we insert that extra day before it, the 1st leaps ahead to Thursday.

Notable Birthdays

Only about 0.07% of the world's population is born on Leap Days. Here are a few notable Leap Birthdays:
  • 1736, birth of Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker religion.
  • 1792, birth of Gioachino Rossini, Italian composer of such enduring hits as The Barber of Seville and William Tell.

Rossini. He's thinking, "Ho ho, I was born on Leap Day. And I write operas. Ho ho!"
(Image from Higher Revelations)

  • 1904, birth of a man with 26 first names, each one starting with a different letter of the alphabet and in alphabetical order. Plus his last name was enormously long. His name: Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorft Sr. That's actually the shortened version of his last name. At its full length, it weighs in at 585 letters (some sources say 590). He shortened it to Mr. Wolfe Plus 585 Sr.
  • His profession? Typesetter.
  • Also in 1904, Jimmy Dorsey, jazz saxophonist, composer, and conductor.
  • 1916, birth of Dinah Shore, actress, singer, talk show host.
  • For all you literary types, in 1920, Howard Nemerov was born.
  • Also in 1920, birth of James Mitchell who played Palmer Cortlandt for decades on All My Children.
  • 1928, birth of Annie Blanche Banks, except she became a star of the burlesque stage and changed her name to Tempest Storm.

Whew. A lot of photos of Tempest Storm are NSFW. This is a rather tame one (get it? Tame, in spite of the jungle print?) and it's got a bongo drum in it. She's being musical.
(Photo from Holly Graphics)

  • 1940, birth of Seattle Slew's trainer, Billy Turner.
  • In 1940, Peter Anthony Keogh, the first of three generations born on Leap Day. His son Peter Eric Keogh was born on Leap Day in 1964. Peter Eric's daughter & Peter Anthony's granddaughter, Bethany Wealth Keogh, was born Feb 29, 1996.
  • 1944, birth of Dennis Farina, actor, most recently on Law & Order.

Dennis Farina says, "Hey. Don't try to tell me I can't celebrate my birthday each year just because I was born on the 29th."
(Photo from Hollywood Memorabilia)

  • In 1948, twins Yuri and Nikolai Pimenov were born. They went on to win the silver medal in the 1976 Olympics for coxless (that means no one is in the boat yelling at them) pair rowing.
  • 1960, birth of Heidi Henriksen. She was the first of 3 siblings born on consecutive Leap days. In 1964, her brother Olav was born on February 29. In 1968, youngest brother Leif-Martin was born on February 29.
  • Lots of hockey players: Lyndon Byers (1964), Simon Gagne (1980), Cam Ward (1984), and Adam Sinclair (1984).
  • And football players too: John Niland, Cowboys (1944); Gary Conklin, 49ers (1968); Bryce Paup, Packers and Bills (1968); Fabien Bownes, Bears (1972); Mark Farraway, CFL's Eskimos (1972).

If you get to celebrate the actual anniversary of your birth only every four years, your cake had better be something special like this. This is a vanilla hazelnut cake that one friend made for Katie, who was celebrating her 7th Leap-Year-Day. That thing on the frog's tongue that looks like a bandage is actually a fly.
(Photo and cake by saptally on Cake Central)

Misogynistic Traditions That I Hope Have Died Completely
  • In 1960, the first Playboy club opened. Hef chose to open his club on Leap Day, because it is traditionally known as Bachelor's Day.
  • But this doesn't quite make sense because Bachelor's Day is traditionally when women, who are culturally "not allowed" to propose marriage to men, are on this oddball day allowed to propose marriage and the man is supposed to accept. The bachelor may refuse, but only if he pays a penalty. The penalty varies depending on the country, but in many European countries it was 12 pairs of gloves, so that she will have one pair for each month and will thus be able to hide the fact that she is not wearing a wedding ring.
  • This tradition goes all the way back to Irish lore when St. Bridget supposedly asked St. Patrick if there could be one day out of the year when women could propose marriage. He agreed, but said it had to be on February 29th.
  • Similarly, this day is also sometimes known as Sadie Hawkins' Day, after a character in the cartoon strip Li'l Abner--that cultural bastion of civility. Sadie, renowned for her ugliness, was an inveterate man-chaser. Out of pity or some other equally distasteful response, it was agreed that on February 29, whatever man she was chasing at the time would have to accept her proposal.
  • Let's move on.

Actual Historical Events

Some fairly major events took place in African American history on Leap Day. True, February is Black History Month, but it's pretty remarkable that three of the events which are the reason that month was so designated happened on a Leap Day.

  • 1968, the Kerner Commission Report was released, which said that the recent riots that had been taking place all across the country were due to "white racism." This may seem patently obvious to us now, but at the time, some people were saying that the riots were fomented by African American political groups in a nationwide conspiracy. The report said that "our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal." It said that major remedies should be undertaken at once, otherwise American society would face continued polarization "and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values."
  • In 1972, Hank Aaron signed a contract with the Atlanta Braves for $200K, which made him the highest-paid baseball player at the time. When I first read this, I thought, big deal. But then I remembered, hey, he was African American. That really was a big deal.

Also in 1972, Hank Aaron hit his 649th home run, moving him past Willie Mays on the list of most home runs. He wound up breaking Babe Ruth's record with 755 total in his career, and he still holds the record for the most RBIs: 2,297.
(Photo from This Day in Georgia History)

  • 1940, Gone with the Wind was awarded eight Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Film Editing, and Actress. Most exceptionally, Hattie McDaniel was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Mammie. She was the first African American actor ever to win an Oscar.

Here she is accepting her Oscar. I thought you might like to hear her talk without the thick accent she adopted in the movie.

Enjoy your Leap Day to the fullest!

Collins English Dictionary, bissextile, intercalary
Nancy C. Wooten, Leap Year Round-Up, Orangeburg Times & Democrat
Honor Society of Leap Day Babies, Famous Leapers
ClassicalNet, Gioachino Rossini
Museum of Hoaxes, World's Longest Surname
TheyNow.com, 29th Leap Day
History.com, This Day in History: February 29

Bleacher Report, The 50 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time, December 17, 2009

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Apple #571: Cheesy

So the other day I was reading a book and it mentioned a song, "Hazard," by Richard Marx. I said to my friend Joachim, "I don't remember a song called 'Hazard,' do you?" He said he didn't, and after a moment he said, "Didn't he sing one that went like this?" and he began to sing "Whatever it takes / Or how my heart breaks / I will be right here waiting for you."

"Yes, yes, that's right!" I said, cringing in disgust. "Ugh, that song is awful!"

A quick Google search and he'd pulled up the video his phone. Grinning, he held it up so I could see Richard Marx's coiffed hair.

"Ugh," I said, "look at that. The cheese is practically dripping out of your phone, there's so much cheese in that song."

After he realized that his phone was not leaking actual cheese, he laughed. "Yeah, that is pretty much as cheesy as it gets."

That's when the word "cheesy" struck me. "You know," I said. "I like to eat cheesy things. I think they're pretty great, in fact. So I wonder how 'cheesy' came to be a bad thing."

"Huh," he said. "Yeah, I wonder."

Thus another Daily Apple was born.

  • The first meaning of cheesy is the good one: "Of or belonging to cheese; abounding in cheese."

French onion soup with Gruyere on top can be ridiculously cheesy.
(Photo and recipe from Closet Cooking)

Of course there's also cheesy pizza.
(Photo from f0o0od.tumblr)

And we certainly can't forget cheesy mac & cheese.
(Photo and recipe from Christy Jordan's Southern Plate)

  • See? Abounding in cheese can be pretty fantastic.
  • The second meaning of cheesy is a little less appetizing: "Resembling cheese in appearance, consistency, etc."
  • For whatever reason, the things that have a cheesy appearance seem to more often resemble the cottage cheese variety rather than the hard cheeses. For example, will making soap, the stuff you mix together at one point would take on a cheesy consistency.
  • Or, within this meaning, is the pathological sense of cheesy, meaning that something about a person's body is cheesy, or cheese-like. I don't want to gross you out to smithereens, so I won't go into detail. I'll just say, think infections, and move on.
  • The third meaning is where we start getting into the slang. My Oxford English Dictionary says that this slang usage of the word meant "fine or showy." They speculate that it derived from the second meaning, resembling cheese. So, still thinking of cheese as a good thing, if you called someone or something cheesy, you'd be saying, hey, that looks pretty fine.
  • Their example of the word in context is from 1858. (Specifically, the sentence reads, "To see him at Tattersall's sucking his cane, his cheesy hat well down on his nose." So very British.)

This is the sort of image that comes to my mind with this meaning: a British fellow nattily dressed with a sleek top hat on his head, and rather proud of his appearance too. This guy happens to be W. F. Candy, who in 1910 was the first captain of the University of Pretoria's soccer club.
(Photo from the University of Pretoria)

  • This is where the OED entries stop. But here's where the Online Etymology Dictionary comes in. He thinks that our present slang meaning of cheesy, as in "cheap or inferior," is an ironic reversal that came after the "fine or showy" sense.
  • You know how it is. For about a generation or so, people use one term to indicate that something is really great. Then the next set of teen-agers come along and they decide that they hate what the previous group thought was great, so they use the same word but to them, it means its opposite. Like how "hippie" at one time meant a person who was iconoclastic, counter-cultural, and daring. Now people use it with all sorts of scorn and derision, meaning a person who is stupidly idealistic, outdated, and also unwashed and therefore a bit dirty.
  • Similarly, what in 1858 in Britain was fine or showy, in 1896 in the United States was cheap or inferior.
  • Some dictionaries also add to this last slang definition, "blatantly inauthentic." To me, that's the one that captures best the true height of cheesiness, the uber-Richard-Marxness of cheese. Total and utter Velveeta, as it were.

Velveeta when unwrapped. Kraft says it is technically "Processed pasteurized cheese food."
(Photo from Paco Does Bacon)

  • I suppose that's the fundamental difference in the two general usages of cheesy. The first sense uses actual, for-real cheese and is therefore delicious. The second sense uses processed cheese, Velveeta, American slices which are so not cheese but are rather some congealed mass of oil and other stuff masquerading as cheese. It's icky and full of all kinds of fakery and not good for you. But a lot of people like it anyway.

To get to the slice, you have to peel away the two slices of cellophane. This has always made the pseudo-cheese inside to be just another form of cellophane, only slightly more yellowy and rubbery.
(Photo from--believe it or not--Gourmet magazine)

I couldn't leave you hanging with the bad kind of cheesy. Here's some good cheesy:

This grilled cheese is made with homemade boule bread, sharp Cheddar, Dijon mustard, and about a half teaspoon of horseradish. With butter on the outside so it grills up nicely. Mmmm.
(Photo and recipe from Mad Mad Me)

See also: grilled cheese sandwiches

My Oxford English Dictionary, without which so many of these entries would not have been possible
Online Etymology Dictionary, cheesy

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Apple #570: George Washington

With George Washington's birthday approaching, I thought it might be nice to find out a few facts about the man. Not the stuff you've heard a million times, but maybe a few lesser-known tidbits.

This 1857 engraving of George Washington as a young man shows him with red hair. You never see him with red hair because, in the aristocratic fashion of the day, he either powdered his hair or wore a wig. He is only one of three presidents to date who had red hair (the other two were Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren).
(Photo from Discovery News)

But then, I realized, I know hardly anything about the guy. All I know is, he could not tell a lie about chopping down the cherry tree, he toughed it out in the winter with his troops, and he only reluctantly accepted the office of President and didn't want anyone to treat him like a king. Oh, and he had wooden teeth.

Beyond that, pretty much anything I learn or am reminded of would qualify as lesser-known tidbits. So I'll try to get a broader picture of the man.

  • First thing, that cherry tree story? Not true. Made up. Some say the story was told to fill out Washington's biography, others say it was published simply as a way to make money.

The story of George Washington and the cherry tree is best depicted in this sappy cartoon fashion, since the story itself is a lie. Never happened.
(Image from the Beer Barrel)

  • Also, that thing about the wooden teeth, that's not true either. He did have dentures--several pair of them, in fact--but none were made of wood. They were made from gold, ivory, lead, human, horse, and donkey teeth, or some combination thereof.
  • So what is true about this guy?
  • Executive director of the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens says of George Washington, "Of all the founding fathers, he was the most athletic, the most adventurous and clearly a man of action."
  • George came from a wealthy family and owned lots of land. He also owned slaves. Over 100 of them. He said he didn't like the practice of owning slaves, and he often performed manual labor right along with his workers. But he still kept the slaves.
  • His first military experiences were with the British Army against the French.
  • In his first campaign, he led a siege which failed, and he was captured by the French. He was released a few days later, embarrassed but pleased to see his name in the papers.
  • In his second campaign, the French and their Native American allies ambushed General Braddock's troops and Washington along with them. Washington was "so ill that he had to use a pillow instead of a saddle," but he fought nonetheless. Washington had two horses shot out from under him, and he got four bullet holes in his cloak, and in the end he had to lead his troops in a retreat.
  • In his third assignment, he was sent with 700 troops to patrol the frontier, but half of them were drunks so it didn't go very well and it ended with Washington being sent home with dysentery.
  • In 1758, Washington quit the military in frustration and got married soon after.

This painting of George Washington was completed in 1772, during the time when he was living and thriving at Mount Vernon as a landowner. But he is wearing the uniform of his military service prior to that time during the French and Indian War, with the rank of colonel.
(Image from Awesome Stories)

  • Martha was a widow when George married her. She had two children by her previous marriage, called Jacky and Patsy. Patsy died just before the Revolutionary War started. Jacky died not long after. By then, Jacky had had children of his own. George adopted two of them, making his grandchildren his children.
  • He was, before the Revolutionary War, first and foremost a landowner. He owned thousands of acres (the exact amount varies from one biographer to the next) at his home in Mount Vernon. He oversaw its operations six days a week. His holdings included a flour mill, a blacksmith shop, and kilns. He employed carpenters, masons, coopers (barrel makers), and shoemakers on his property. He had a fishery and peach and apple orchards.
  • He went visiting among his landowning neighbors and they visited him. He went fox-hunting. He liked to play billiards and cards. He smoked a pipe and took snuff, drank Madeira wine, and punch. He went to concerts and cockfights, circuses and the theatre.

Washington receiving French generals at Mount Vernon. With a home as nice as that, you'd want to get back to it, too.
(Image from the National Archives, sourced from Wikimedia)

  • In the run-up to the Revolutionary War, after Washington said he would raise an army of 1,000 men and pay them himself, he became known as a radical rather than a moderate. (Shocking! One of our Founding Fathers a radical!) But though he was against submitting to the will of the British, he was opposed to total independence for several years until the War started.
  • During the War, he led his troops in several campaigns, some of which succeeded, some of which failed. But he began to realize that the colonists didn't necessarily need to defeat the British in military battles to win their independence. As long as the resistance was kept alive, and as long as the Continental Congress was able to move from one location and re-form in another, the British would never entirely defeat them.

Here's Washington crossing the Delaware. This is a more grim portrait than the better-known one of Washington with his cloak all flowing, but this is probably a truer picture. It was night time, it was snowing and sleeting, several of the soldiers had no shoes, it was not a fun time. But they sneaked up on the Hessians at Trenton and defeated them. This victory didn't mean a whole lot militarily but it had the effect of greatly boosting the morale of the colonists so that they were able to hold out against the British that much longer.
(Image from the NEH Summer Institute for Teachers)

  • So Washington hung on, even though the treasury was empty, the troops hadn't been paid in years and were on the verge of mutiny. The British started too many battles in cities that proved too costly with too few gains and in the end, Cornwallis surrendered.
  • After the War, Washington returned to his home in Virgina and set about restoring his plantation. Things were in sorry shape since paper money had dropped in value, they couldn't export anything, and there hadn't been much cash to support the plantation's usual activities. But with a land grant from Congress in payment for his military service, he was able to rebuild. (Another shock! A Founding Father took money from the government to help himself through hard times!)

Washington resigning his position as Commander-in-Chief in 1783. This painting was completed in 1824, so it's probably full of a lot more pomp and personage than was actually present at the time. This is one of 8 paintings by John Trumbull in the Rotunda in the US Capitol building.
(Image sourced from Alex from Selden's My Hero page)

  • But the new country was struggling to keep itself organized. Dismayed by various rebellions and upheavals, Washington went back to Massachusetts to get involved in drafting what would become the Constitution.
  • He still wanted to go back to his old life at Mount Vernon, but the Electoral College unanimously elected him President. (That's the only time so far that the Electoral College has unanimously elected anyone.)
  • He accepted the office, but (here we get the reluctant president part) he was careful not to let anyone treat him like a king or refer to him as royalty, insisting that he be called "Mr. President" rather than "your highness" or the like.

Washington taking the oath of office for the first time, 1789. Said one observer at the Inauguration, "this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper. . . . He was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword."
(Photo from EyeWitness to History)

  • He didn't want to accept the $25,000 salary (that must have been an insane amount of money at that time) because he didn't need the money. But Congress persuaded him to take it to avoid giving the impression that only an independently wealthy man could be president. Would that the same were true today.
  • After he put a tax on distilled spirits, which got a lot of people mad, especially people in Pennsylvania, the Whiskey Rebellion happened. Washington personally led troops to put down the rebellion to demonstrate that this new government wouldn't be afraid to enforce the law when necessary. Can you imagine a president marching on the field and leading troops into battle today?

The Whiskey Rebellion, or Whiskey Insurrection. It was a pretty chaotic time in our country's history, and this illustration suggests that Rebellion was rife with chaos, too.
(Image sourced from Salon.com)

  • During his presidency, political parties sprang up. He despised political parties, believing that "ideological differences should never become institutionalized. He strongly felt that political leaders should be free to debate important issues without being bound by party loyalty." But he couldn't do anything to stop the formation of the parties.
  • He was a two-term president who had his detractors who mainly didn't like his wealthy landowner habits. Some people didn't like that he rented only the best houses, and he rode a coach-and-four (coach pulled by four horses) that were manned by lackeys wearing the finest uniforms. He accepted callers, but after becoming overwhelmed by the number of visitors, he said he would see people by appointment only. He entertained guests at dinner, but by invitation only. Some people thought this was very snooty.
  • He was asked to serve a third term, but by this time he was really desperate to get back to his home in Mount Vernon, and he said he was done. Setting a precedent that has been followed by scads of presidents ever since, his last act was to grant an official pardon, in Washington's case, of those who had fought against him in the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • In his Farewell Address, published in 1796 in newspapers around the country, he spent a lot of time and effort telling people how destructive political parties could be, pitting some people against each other, often not for the good of the country but for their own pursuit of power.

Washington's Farewell Address. In the first part of it, he talks about how he thinks he's justified in turning down the people's request that he serve for a third term. That's what "On His Declining the Presidency of the United States" means.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

. . . they [citizens of this country] will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty.

One of the expedients of [a political] party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings which spring from these misrepresentations. They tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

[all groups whose real design is to direct, control, or counteract the existing government] serve to organize faction; to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; . . . However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, . . . serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.
  • Let me be clear lest anyone take these words and use them to do that political finger-pointing which is so popular online. He's not saying one party is better than another. He's saying it is in the nature of political parties, whatever their stripe, to pit people against each other, to stir each other up to no purpose except to advance the party's own agenda, or the fortunes of one person in particular. Beware any political party, is what he's saying.
  • He also talked about the importance of maintaining the separation of powers, of religion and morality, of getting along with foreign nations without favoring anybody in particular, and above all, of preserving the union, which even then he saw as prone to factions North vs. South, East vs. West.
  • He closed with the following:
I am too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.
  • Upon his return to Mount Vernon, he saw that he had a lot of work to do. In his absence, things had slacked off and his plantation was only marginally profitable.

Washington back in the saddle at Mount Vernon. This painting is from 1851, decades after Washington was actually there.
(Image from Wikipedia)

  • Two years later, he was out inspecting his farm during a snow storm. He woke the next day very ill. The day after that, having been back home at Mount Vernon only two years, he died.
  • The country mourned his death for months. Even Napoleon was upset. He ordered his French countrymen to mourn Washington's death for ten days.
  • P.S. The story about the cherry tree was published in 1800, the year after Washington died. The public was hungry for more about their cherished leader, and this story about the cherry tree seemed to capture the spirit of what people were feeling about him at the time. So it was resoundingly successful and entered the public imagination as fact.
  • P.P.S. It's funny that this made-up story, itself a lie, is known best for the statement, "I cannot tell a lie."

You might think that the story about Washington and his cherry tree sprang up from the cherry trees in DC, but that's not so, either. The cherry trees that line the Potomac are not native to the area. The first cherry trees that were planted there were a gift from the Emperor of Japan to Nellie Taft, the wife of President Taft, in 1910.
(Photo from somewhere on Quora)

Biography.com, George Washington
"George Washington's false teeth not wooden," Associated Press, 2005
The White House, George Washington 1789-1797
George Washington's Farewell Address to the People of the United States, originally September 19, 1796
Mary Trotter Kion, Washington's Cherry Tree, American History @ Suite 101, April 14, 2006
The Apotheosis of George Washington, The Moral Washington: Construction of a Legend (1800-1920s)
John Dyer and Eric J. Gislason, John Trumbull's Republicanism: The First Four Rotunda Murals

Friday, February 10, 2012

Apple #569: Your Own Helicopter

The other day, a friend of mine was going to the airport and jokingly asked if I needed anything. Returning the joke, I said, "Yeah, pick me up a helicopter, would you?"

If you had your own helicopter, you could fly around places like this any time you wanted.
(Photo from Helicopter License Center)

But then I started thinking about actually owning a helicopter. In my fantasy-land it would be very convenient. I could take off and chopper the few hundred miles to visit my friends who are scattered around the country any time I wanted to. That would be pretty handy. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it seemed.

I'm sure it's way out of my budget ever to buy my own helicopter, but just for the fun of it, how much would it cost?

Since I'm assuming you might be interested in owning your own helicopter too, let's say we pool our money and go in on this together.

Purchase Price
  • First, we'd have to buy the thing.
  • Corporate Helicopters has a used 2009 Robinson R44 Raven II for sale. It's blue with gray leather interior. "No damage history," that's good. Air conditioning, gyroscope, GPS, compass, all good things to have. It's wired for Bose headsets, but the headsets themselves aren't actually included.
  • Price tag: $409,000.

This 2009 Robinson R44 Raven II could be ours for only $409K.
(Photo from Corporate Helicopters)

  • There's a much cheaper helicopter, a Eurocopter AS 350 BA, going for only $1,150, but that one was made in 1990, it's had 3,303 hours of air time, and if I'm reading the maintenance record correctly, its engine was inspected when it reached the end of its life expectancy, but it has not yet been replaced. I think I'll pass on that one.
  • There's another used Eurocopter for sale, an AS 350 B2. That one was made in 2007, and it sold for £1.050m + tax (~$1.66M). Too rich for my blood.

Looks like Eurocopters have pointier noses than the Robinsons. I think I would want a round-nosed Robinson, only because the pointy noses remind me more of military purposes, and the round noses look friendlier. Though I suppose the round noses are less aerodynamic.
(Photo from Multiflight)

  • The same company also sold a 1998 Robinson R22 Beta II for £110,000 + tax (~$173,635). The price is better, but I think 1998 is probably too old to be reliable for our purposes. I mean, we don't want the thing breaking down every other time we take it out.
  • By the way, the helicopter that T.C. in Magnum P.I. flew (he called it "The Chopper) was a Hughes 500D, the civilian version of a military helicopter. According to the show, T.C. bought his helicopter in 1980. A 1980 Hughes 500D sold in 2011 for $98K.

TC's chopper from Magnum P.I. The paint scheme was not custom-designed but one of several standard designs available upon purchase.
(Photo from Magnum Mania!)

  • Well, I like the blue Robinson. It's newer which I think means it won't require as much service, it's a nice color blue, and Robinsons seem to be pretty prevalent in the States so I'm guessing they'd be cheaper and easier to service. So let's buy that one for $409K.
  • I'll assume it needs some adjustments and attention after I buy it, like new headsets, for example. And of course there's sales tax. So I'll tack on an extra 15% or so to account for all that and to give us a nice round number:
  • Total final cost: $470,000. Pfff. Chump change.

  • Next are the costs of keeping the thing, giving it a place to live. A boring expense to consider, but necessary.
  • We could have a hangar built for us, but I'm sure that would be incredibly expensive. And we'd have to have the land for it. I don't know about you, but my acreage is all tied up in swimming pools, my personal vineyard, my llama farm.

Helicopter in a custom-built insulated hangar on a private site near Manchester, England. This hangar had to be a bit wider than the norm to accommodate the longer blades on this particular model of helicopter. These builders can include all sorts of things in your custom hangar, such as additional crew and shower rooms.
(Photo from Black Bird Hangars of Central Europe)

  • So we'll keep our helicopter in a hangar at the airport. Costs vary a lot depending on what part of the U.S. we're in, how busy the airport is, etc. But we're all in this thing together, so I'm going to go with national averages here.
  • I'm also going to go with renting our hangar space rather than buying. The helicopter is all about mobility, man. Let's not chain ourselves to one hangar.
  • That said, it looks like people really want you to be on the hook for your hangar space. Some places will rent hangar space, but a lot of airports want you to sign a land lease deal. Some of them will charge by the month, others by the year, still others want you to sign a lease for 50 years. Sheesh.
  • But it looks like the average cost to rent a hangar is around $350 per month. Just to make sure we've got enough space for our helicopter, I'll go with a slightly larger unit which ups the price to about $500 per month.
  • That's only $6,660 per year. I think we should assume we'd have to pay a year's worth, given how the airports seem to like longer-term deals.

  • Another boring expense, but very necessary.
  • Maintenance will be tricky to estimate because a lot will depend on our particular helicopter, its age, any glitches the model is prone to, what kind of wear & tear it experienced before we got it, etc. So this will be very guessy.

Crew doing maintenance on a couple helicopters at Corporate Helicopters in San Diego. We would probably have to find a crew like this to do our maintenance for us.
(Photo from Corporate Helicopters)

  • They've got the costs all figured out for insurance, maintenance that's both scheduled and unexpected, inspections, oil, gas, the works. Some of their data is per year, but most of it is per hour of use. I've already got a bunch of my calculations started below, for a 2-hour trip that I found, so I'll calculate the per-hour costs for our 2-hour trip and everything else per year. I know that we'll probably fly our lovely helicopter more than 2 hours in a year, but just to keep things simple, I'll keep all the units the same 2 hours.
  • OK, so, for insurance (the biggest cost here), overhaul maintenance and labor, direct operating costs like fuel and inspections and unscheduled maintenance and labor, plus fixed costs per flight hour, the total comes to $12,080.02.

Actually Flying the Thing
  • All right, now, let's see what it costs to use the thing once we have it. This is where it gets fun.
  • I'm going to assume that we're flying our helicopter ourselves. What's the point of having a helicopter if you can't fly it? I mean, it seems like that would be fun.
  • Costs to learn to fly a helicopter can vary a lot, depending on what kind of helicopter you need to learn, how quickly you learn and therefore how much or how little practice you need, how many times it takes you to pass the exam, etc. But a very rough estimate of how much it cost to learn to fly a Robinson helicopter for private use is about $23,000.

This is Dan, and this picture was taken after he got his private helicopter certificate from the East Coast Aero Club. I presume that's his helicopter too. Looks like another Robinson R44.
(Photo from the East Coast Aero Club)

  • We just dropped $470K on our helicopter without batting an eyelash, so $23K is a pittance by comparison. But I'd rather spend our extra money on something more exciting, like actual trips. So let's see how much it costs to hire someone to fly our helicopter for us.
  • The data is a little confusing, but it looks like you can hire a licensed helicopter pilot for an average of $45 per hour. That's a little easier to swallow.
  • OK, now we've got to calculate fuel. That depends on the particulars of each trip, so let's make one up. Or rather, I'll go with a trip that has data readily available online.

I found this chart of chartered helicopter flight times. Based on this map, I chose what seemed like an interesting trip, going from the center of the map, which happens to be Leeds, to Paris.
(Map from Multiflight)

  • If we've got a twin-engine helicopter, we can fly from Leeds to Paris in 2 hours. (Our Raven II does not have a twin engine, it has a fuel-injected single engine, but I'm going with this flight time for ease of calculation.)
  • At this point, I got interested in comparing flying by helicopter and driving, and then private helicopter vs. commercial airplane. So here follows some calculations that get me to that comparison. People who like data, read the parts in Arial italics. People who don't, skip down to where the default font resumes.

This photo may be sufficient evidence to convince you that, in many ways, helicopters are superior to cars.
(Photo seems to be from Executive HeliShares; sourced from LAWeekly)

  • If we were driving, that same trip on the ground would be about 470 miles and it would take about 8 and a half hours, including time on the ferry across the Channel.
  • The best cruise speed for a Robinson R44 Raven II (like the one pictured above), is 100 knots or 115 miles per hour. It burns about 15 gallons per hour of flight time, which works out to a fuel efficiency of about 7.6 miles per gallon.
  • So that trip from Leeds to Paris by helicopter would burn about 30 gallons of gas.
  • Actually, it's more than that because one site says that to account for any variables like strong winds or difficulties with landing or take-off, you should add on an extra 15% to the total gallons per hour. We said our helicopter would use 30 gallons of gas on our trip, so with that extra 15%, that makes 34.5 gallons total.
  • [Note: I read in the FAA regulations that we would be required to have an additional 30 minutes' worth of fuel on board in case any difficulties crop up and it takes us longer to land than expected. I'm not sure if that extra 15% includes the extra 30 minutes' worth of fuel or not, but for the sake of this very hypothetical situation, I'm going to assume that it does.]
  • Cars have an average fuel economy of about 22 miles per gallon. So by car, that trip from Leeds to Paris would burn about 20 gallons of gas (I'm assuming you wouldn't burn any gas during the time you're on the ferry).
  • Currently a gallon of gas for a car costs about $3.50. So car gas for our Leeds to Paris trip would cost $70.
  • Helicopters use one of two different kinds of fuel, 100 Avgas or Jet A. I'll assume our helicopter uses the more expensive kind, which is the Avgas. Average price for a gallon of that fuel at the moment is $5.74 per gallon. So the cost for flying our helicopter from Leeds to Paris is $198.03.
  • A bit pricier than driving. But of course when you travel 4 times faster, you'd have to expect to pay more for that. I'd like to point out, by the way, that our helicopter fuel cost is less than 4 times higher than our car fuel cost.
  • OK, now, just for funsies, let's compare the cost of flying our helicopter to the cost of flying on a regular old passenger airplane.
  • I searched Priceline, and to keep the price somewhat normal, I said I was going to fly a month from now, that I would travel in the middle of the week, and that I'd come back a couple days later.
  • Best price for round trip: $402.
  • Our helicopter is much cheaper than that, and we can fly it whenever we want to. We wouldn't have to wait a month to get on our helicopter and go.

Here's another way in which helicopters win: helicopters can tow airplanes.
(Photo from EnglishRussia)


All right, let's tally up all our costs and see what we've got. This is roughly how much it would cost to buy a decent helicopter, store it and maintain it properly, and fly it once on a 2-hour trip.
  • helicopter with tax and upgrades: $470,000
  • hangar rental, 1 year: $6,660
  • insurance and maintenance: $12,080.02
  • hire a pilot for 2 hours: $90
  • fuel for the trip to Paris: $198.03
  • TOTAL COST: $489,028.05
  • Wowsers.
  • Admittedly, my estimate is on the high side. I've got some duplication of costs in my line items. The 15% I added to the purchase price to allow for initial upgrades and maintenance might also be included in to our annual maintenance $12K line. And the fuel for our trip to Paris might also be covered by our fixed costs which are within the maintenance line. But I think overestimating the necessary budget is probably better than underestimating, don't you?
  • All I can say is, we'd better get cracking if we're going to raise that $490K for our trip to Paris.
  • Uh-oh. I discovered a tiny little wrinkle. Our Raven II has a range of 350 miles. The flight distance from Leeds/Bradford airport to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris is 381 miles. Crap.
  • We're either going to have to take a different trip or buy a different helicopter.

Still. It would be pretty cool to do something like this whenever you wanted. This chartered helicopter is flying over the Great Ocean Road coastline near the Kennet River in Australia.
(Photo and chartered flight available from heli experiences)

One Last Note: About Flight Plans for Helicopters
  • Helicopters do have to file flight plans before they take off. But they do not have to follow the same flight patterns as aircraft. They are allowed to fly at lower altitudes (because they can) and in fact, they are required to "avoid the flow of fixed-wing aircraft."
  • So the route you fly is pretty much up to you. The main requirement is that you to tell somebody where you're going so that a) they know to expect you and b) so they can help you out if the weather changes unexpectedly.

Ooh, I'm going here, on this helicopter tour of Maui. Circle above the island in just under an hour for $192. I'll meet you there.
(Photo from Sightseeing World)

Corporate Helicopters, Helicopters for Sale
Robinson Helicopter Company, R44 Raven/Clipper Series Helicopters
Eurocopter, Pre-Owned Aircraft
Magnum Mania! T.C.'s Chopper
City Government Tops $3 Million in Surplus Sales Including helicopter, LouisvilleKY.gov, December 1, 2011
Bristow Academy, Tuition and Fees
Avjobs.com, Salaries, Wages, and Pay, Helicopter Jobs
Hangar Trader.com, Hangars for Rent
Multiflight, charter helicopter flight times
Conklin & de Decker, Aircraft Variable Costs
Project America, Average Miles per Gallon for Cars, Trucks, and SUVs, 2009
zFacts, Current Gas Prices and Gas History
AirNav Fuel Price Report
Paris Airport Guide, Charles De Gaulle to Leeds
Darren Smith, CFII/MEI, Helicopter Rules That Differ From Airplanes
14 CFR Part 91, Aeronautics and Space General Operating and Flight Rules

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Apple #568: Tiger Stripes

I've done a couple of posts about tigers already, but I've got tigers on the brain, and I want to do another entry about them.

The other day I StumbledUpon a photo of a tiger licking her cub, and I wound up staring for a really long time at her fur and her stripes. So now I have lots of questions about a tiger's stripes.

(not sure exactly where this is from, but I'm guessing the Toronto Star's Daily Beast)
  • Tigers typically have over 100 stripes in their fur.
  • Tigers are born with all the stripes they will have. As they grow, their bodies get larger and the stripes move farther apart.
  • No two tigers have the same pattern of stripes. Each pattern is unique, like fingerprints.
  • Tigers have a white mark on the back of each ear. This supposedly makes it look like the back of a tiger's head could be its front and that the tiger is watching from that direction. This would discourage anyone from sneaking up on the tiger from behind.
  • Some people say that a tiger's stripes give it excellent camouflage. Other people disagree and they say that since a tiger hunts mainly at dusk or dawn, its coloring isn't a problem.

This is probably the best photo I've seen that shows how a tiger can blend in with its surroundings.
(Photo by Steve Winter from National Geographic, via the Conservation Report)

But most of the time, tigers seem pretty freakin' obvious in their habitats. This is a male Sumatran tiger in the wild.
(Photo from animals verses animals. And yes, they've misspelled "versus.")

  • The Amur, or Siberian tiger, which is the largest of all tigers, lives in birch forests in Siberia and northeastern China. Now, these places covered with snow most of the time. Orange and black stripes against snow are not at all incognito.

No trouble spotting the tiger in this photo.
(Photo from Siberian [Amur] Tiger blog)

  • Siberian tigers' fur is slightly different depending on the season. In the winter, the fur is thicker and softer for the most part, and it gets so thick around the face it looks almost like a mane. But the color changes too, the orange turning a fainter, rustier color, while in the summer the orange is more vibrant.
  • Even though it's fainter, it's still orange. I'm not sure how that provides any camouflage at all.
  • A-ha! Finally I have an answer: many of the animals that are hunted by tigers are color blind. They don't see the orange, only the stripes. And in fact, since the stripes mimic the patterns of grasses and branches, the color blind prey don't see the stripes at all.

This tiger is pretty well concealed in the jungle, except that orange makes the animal pretty obvious to you and me.
(Photo from Susan Willett Bird's smart talk on conversation)

Here's the same photo in black and white. Much harder to see the animal now, isn't it?

  • So if the orange doesn't matter, why do they bother being orange? Why not just be black and white or some other color with the black and white?
  • Apparently, the variation between the orange and the white and the black mimics the gradation of light and gray and dark of the stalks of grasses or branches and their shadows against a background.

Here's another photo of a tiger stalking its prey. Even in color, the tiger blends in somewhat with its background. But it's still pretty obvious to you and me.
(Photo from Steppes Discovery)

Now here's the same photo in black and white. Here, the black stripes stand out more obviously than anything else. The orange -- now gray -- is almost the same color as the grass behind the animal.

  • Some people maintain that tigers used to be colored all sorts of different ways. Like domestic cats, there used to be black tigers, white tigers, even tabby tigers. They say that those species of tiger were hunted until they were extinct or very nearly so.
  • But scientists who have studied tigers pooh-pooh this notion. They say that variants in the coloring of tigers are a result of genetic variants, the same way that recessive genes occasionally become apparent. These scientists say the reason tigers with this sort of coloring are rare is because such drastic differences in melanism (coloring) are about as rare as, say, albinism is in people.

Black or melanistic tiger. These have never been considered as distinct species but variants in the coloring of the six existing subspecies.
(Photo from animaldiscovery-chanel and yes, they've chosen to spell it like the perfume rather than with two n's.)

There have also been reports of tigers known as pseudo-melanistic tigers. In these tigers, the stripes are so close together, their fur appears to be black in places. An actual photo of pseudo-melanistic tigers doesn't seem to be available. The above picture is an artist's rendering of what a pseudo-melanistic tiger might look like. They tend to be smaller and they don't survive very long after they are born.
(Image from Paws for Wildlife)

  • I'm not sure why, but talking about those color variants somehow makes tigers seem sort of wimpy. So I'm going to finish with a little fact I discovered while I was researching their stripes:
  • Most people think that lions are the most powerful of the big cats. Not so. A male Siberian tiger has more muscle mass per pound than a lion. Regardless of subspecies, if a lion and a tiger were to meet up in the wild, the tiger would have the lion for lunch. In fact, when the two species have fought each other, the tiger has nearly always won.
  • Plus, tigers like to swim.

Quite simply, tigers rock.
(Photo from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, via Tiger Pictures & Facts)

Related entries: Tiger facts in brief; Tiger Sounds and other facts

Defenders of Wildlife, Tiger Panthera tigris
Kidcyber.com.au, Tigers
National Geographic, Siberian Tiger
Siberian (Amur) tiger blog)
The Animal Spot, Amur Tiger
Lairweb, Black or Melanistic Tigers
Tiger Friends, Tigers
The Cryptid Zoo, Blue and Black Tigers
Tiger Haven, Color Variation of Tiger