Saturday, December 30, 2006

Apple #213: Spackle

As 2006 draws to a close, I know you're all thinking about something Very Important, the exact same Very Important thing I'm thinking about:

The wonderful substance called Spackle.

Like me (and my dad), you are burning with curiosity to know, where the heck did such a funny word (which is also a lot of fun to say, as in, Better get some Spackle on that or simply, Spackle Spackle Spackle) come from? Is it the inventor's name, perhaps?

  • For those of you who don't know all the various ways to fix up your house, or if you're just not hip to every detail of American slang, Spackle compound is a paste you can use to patch scratches or small holes in drywall or plaster surfaces inside your house.
  • If you're British, your Trademark-turned-generic term for the stuff is Polyfilla.
  • Specifically, it is a combination of gypsum powder and glue. It is usually sold in plastic containers in which it is kept moist with water so that it stays in a ready-to-use paste form.

A pretty typical-looking tub of Spackle
(You can buy this at the ePaintStore)

  • To use it, scoop up a fair amount of it onto your putty knife and spread it onto the offending, non-smooth surface (a wall where you've run a chair into it while moving furniture in or out of the room, for example). Use the putty knife to smooth out the paste and scrape away the excess. Wait for it to dry, sand it down to make the patch still smoother, and then you can paint over it and the wall looks like new again -- if you've done a good job of smoothing it out and matching the existing paint, that is.

Someone is Spackling over a pretty nasty-looking gouge in the wall
(For more info on how to Spackle, see Black & Decker's page on the subject)

  • Now, for what we really want to know: where did that word "Spackle" come from?
    • First off, the word itself is a Trademarked term that did not exist before it became a product.
    • However, the Online Etymology Dictionary says the term is probably derived from the German word spachtel, which means "putty knife," or "filler." This is sort of an odd combination of definitions for one term, but seems to match exactly with our good friend Spackle.
    • Other, possibly related words include:
      • shpaklevat (Russian): to fill holes with putty or caulk
      • szpachla (Polish): spatula or putty knife
      • spaklieven (Yiddish): to fill in small holes in plaster
    • Interestingly, Spackle as a word has been around at least since 1927, which is when Spackle was first patented -- older than I would have guessed. Use of the term as a verb (Better Spackle that up quick) appeared on the scene around 1940.
Now, don't you feel better about starting the New Year? If you accidentally make any dings or dents, you can Spackle those right up!

Online Etymology Dictionary, spackle
Word Web Dictionary, spackle
Mendele's Yiddish literature and language Q&A, spakleiven and Spackle
Mike Todd's American slang for British English speakers
Street Terms: Drugs and the Drug Trade, S
For those of you interested in the serious American slang of the drug trade, Spackle is a street term for methamphetamine. Don't ask me why.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Apple Lady

Friday, December 22, 2006

Apple #212: Loch Ness Monster

About that So-Called Traffic Increase...

As soon as I said I had all those hits, they stopped. Traffic is way down again, to just a few hits per day. Maybe it's the fact that Christmas is almost here and people aren't that interested in checking blogs. Or something.


This is my new favorite blog to check, the Daily Monster. The guy draws a new monster every day, and you get to watch, in sped-up time. Sometimes he draws the monster upside down.

Loch Ness Monster

Thinking about monsters makes me wonder, what's the latest with the Loch Ness Monster?

  • The Loch Ness Monster is the name for an elusive creature that supposedly lives in Scotland's largest freshwater lake, or loch, called Loch Ness.
  • Sightings of the monster date back some 1,400 years.
    • Either the Loch Ness Monster is one old monster, or there are at least two, if not many of them, and they have been secretly propagating and allowing only one monster to surface at a time.
  • Many photos and anecdotes have been presented as evidence of the monster's existence. Usually it is depicted or described as having a very long neck and a torso that undulates above the water's surface.

Carol took down her painting of the Loch Ness Monster, so in its place I give you this poster of the Loch Ness Monster from Sea Serpent Productions (it can be yours for $16.99)

  • The monster was first described in the legend of Saint Columba, who battled a water beast that was attacking someone. But she may have been in the River Ness as opposed to the Loch Ness. Or she may have helped someone beseiged by many metaphorical monsters throughout his life. But anyway there was a monster in the water and she fought it.
  • Very little was heard of the monster for centuries until 1934 when a photograph taken by a gynecologist named Colonel Robert K. Wilson became a media sensation and launched all sorts of searches and excitement.
    • This photo is typically referred to as the Surgeon's photo, because Colonel Wilson never publicized the photo himself, and it was circulated without anyone's name attached to it.

The much-acclaimed Surgeon's photo
(Photo from

    • It turns out, however, that the photo was a hoax, and three people were involved, including the Surgeon himself.
    • In 1933, a road was built around Loch Ness and more people were saying they had seen the monster. So a newspaper hired a very famous big game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherall to find the monster. Wetherall did find some tracks made by a very large animal of some kind, and people got all worked up over them. Upon examination, the tracks turned out to have been made by an elephant foot -- and not a live elephant either, but the kind of elephant foot used in umbrella stands, which was a popular thing to have at the time. Wetherall retreated in humiliation.
    • Then Wetherall secretly went to his step-son, Christian Spurling, and asked him to make a model of the monster and take a picture of it and thus avenge himself for being humiliated. Spurling did as his step-father asked, and took a picture of a toy submarine with a plastic head affixed to it.
    • Then he gave the photo to Wilson, who was a highly respected doctor, and told him to turn it in to the newspaper.
    • Spurling confessed all this in 1994 when he was 90 years old and nearing the end of his life.
  • Despite this confession, the photo is still circulating with all sorts of oohs and aahs and significance attached to it. And people still say they see the monster, still take pictures, and still try to come up with explanations for the monster in the water.
  • In 2001, two large, dead conger eels were found next to Loch Ness. No one made any particular claims about these eels. The theory is that someone thought they could put eels into the lake, take pictures of them and claim to have seen the monster, but since the eels are saltwater creatures, that whole plan didn't quite work out.

This is a world record-sized 68 pound conger eel caught by Martin Larkins at Devil's Point, Plymouth, England.
(Photo posted at the British Conger Club)

  • In 2003, someone found a dinosaur fossil when he tripped and fell into the loch. The fossil was confirmed to be that of a plesiosuar, a dinosaur that once lived underwater. Some people have said that this could be the Loch Ness monster, or maybe its relative.
    • The fossil is embedded in limestone that dates to the Jurassic period. However, the rocks in and around Loch Ness date to a much older period and are igneous, crystalline, and metamorphic rocks.
    • Dinosaurs were cold-blooded reptiles, and could not have survived in the cold temperatures of Scotland's northerly lake.
    • The dinosaur whose bone this was originally lived in saltwater, but the Loch Ness is a freshwater lake.
    • So this plesiosaur was not the Loch Ness monster at any point, and probably no dinosaur ever lived in Loch Ness.
  • In 2005, two American students visiting in Scotland said they had found a huge tooth lodged in the body of a dead deer and suggested that the tooth belonged to the Loch Ness Monster. They took pictures of the tooth, which they said was then confiscated by a game warden, so they no longer had the actual tooth, but they did have photos.
    • Scientists who saw the photos said that the tooth was actually a deer's antler
    • It was later revealed that the photo, the story, and the website with the details all were part of an effort to publicize a horror novel called The Loch.
  • In 2006, one paleontologist suggested that Loch Ness monster is actually an elephant in the water. The head extending out of the water is actually the elephant's trunk, and what looks like humps of its body are the top of the elephant's head and its backbone. The paleontologist said that circuses used to travel that road around Loch Ness and maybe the let the animals go swimming in the lake now and then, and so that's what the Surgeon must have seen when he took his photo.

(Image from National Geographic News)

  • Except, we know what the Surgeon saw when he took his photo: a plastic toy submarine.

Lots of theories have been advanced to explain what people are actually seeing when they think they see the Loch Ness monster. Perhaps they're seeing sturgeon, which are fish that can grow to be up to seven feet long, and their fins do stick out of the water sometimes. Perhaps these people are seeing schools of fish, boats or wakes of boats, driftwood, birds with long necks, or even groups of otters swimming all in a line. But maybe the culprit really at work is what's known as "expectant attention," the phenomenon of thinking you're going to see something as you're looking at it, so you fool yourself into believing that you actually do see it.

"Loch Ness Sea Monster Fossil a Hoax, Say Scientists," National Geographic News, July 29, 2003
Crystalinks, Loch Ness Monster
Museum of Hoaxes, The Loch Ness Monster and the Surgeon's Photo
"Photo in the News: Loch Ness Monster was an Elephant?" National Geographic News, March 9, 2006
"Why the Loch Ness Monster is no plesiosaur," New Scientist, November 2, 2006
"North America's 'Loch Ness Monster' Spotted Again," LiveScience, March 7, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Apple #211: Walruses

I saw something on Animal Planet the other day about how some people found a young, injured walrus and nursed him back to health. There were a lot of close-up shots of this young walrus. He had the pouchy front cheeks, the whiskers, and his skin looked smooth and he had an expression like a nice but slightly confused dog: What's are you doing? Will there be food?

I realized I didn't know all that much about walruses. Time to do a little appling.

  • Walruses live on both the Atlantic and Pacific shores. Pacific walruses are generally larger. They weigh, on average, around 2,000 pounds.
  • Walruses live in enormous groups, or herds, by the hundreds. Scientists say this makes them the most gregarious of all animals.

This is only part of a herd of walruses
(Photo from the NOAA Photo library, used at Gregory's page on walruses)

  • They group together as a way to keep warm, which is essential since they tend to live in pretty cold places, like off the coasts of Canada and Greenland, and in the Bering sea.
  • They also have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Their blubber can be as much as 4 inches thick.
  • Even though walruses hang out together by the hundreds, they separate themselves into groups of males and groups of females.
  • They also develop hierarchies within the groups based on size, aggressiveness, and tusk length. Bigger walruses with longer, unbroken tusks are at the top of the social ladder, while smaller walruses with shorter or broken tusks are at the bottom. Walrus tusks can grow to be 30 to 39 inches long.
  • Walruses use their tusks for fighting and for getting in and out of the water from icy or rocky shores. This process of entering or exiting the water is referred to as "hauling."

This walrus has hauled himself out of the water to take a break in his search for food. Just relaxing on a big old pile of ice.
(Photo by Budd Christman of NOAA, and posted by the Landfast Ice Gallery)

  • Their foreflippers have all the same skeletal components as the arms of a land animal, but everything is shortened and slightly modified. In the water, walruses use their foreflippers for steering (for propulsion, they alternate strokes of their hind flippers), and on land, they use the foreflippers as front legs in walking.
  • Scientists have discovered that most walruses have slightly larger bones in their right flipper. This means that most walruses use their right flipper more often than the left.
  • In the water, walruses can reach speeds up to about 20 mph. They can stay underwater as long as 10 minutes without coming up for air.
  • Walruses may communicate with each other above water or below. Above water, they clack their teeth and whistle. Below water, they make clicking or knocking noises, tapping, and "bell-like sounds." You can listen to some walrus sounds here -- and in this one, I thought the gonging sound was a person playing a drum, but it's actually a walrus!
  • Walruses have a special throat muscle that keeps water from going down its throat when the mouth is opened.
  • They eat a lot of shellfish, like clams and sea cucumbers and crabs. They dive underwater to look for clams, but because the water is usually cloudy and dark, they sniff along the bottom and use their whiskers to find food. The technical name for their whiskers is vibrissae.
  • They might use their tusks to dislodge the clams, or some walruses also blow powerful jets of water at the sea floor to uproot the mollusks. Then they suck the soft-bodied animals out of their shells and swallow them whole. Adult walruses can eat anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 clams at one sitting.

This walrus is snuffling out clams on the sea bed
(Photo from the BBC)

  • Walruses may also eat fish occasionally, but they like the shellfish best. If food is really scarce, they may scavenge from corpses of dead seals, but that's when times are hard in walrus-land.
  • There are, however, some rogue walruses who eat seals a lot. They are referred to as "habitual seal-eaters." I'm not kidding. They are usually male walruses, they're usually larger than other males, and they're recognizable as seal-eaters because their skin gets grease-stained from seal blubber. Sounds like these are the bad seeds in the walrus herd.

Then, of course, there's the musical walrus.
(If you want to know what the song means, read what John Lennon said about it.)

Sea World Education Department Resource, Walruses
Helen Briggs, "Most walruses are right-flippered," BBC News, October 22, 2003

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Increase in Traffic

I have a brief announcement to make: Google has now begun to index each page of this blog, as opposed to mainly the entry page and every once in a while another entry here and there. The result is that people searching for topics which I have covered are being directed to the actual page where that information lives rather than to the first page.

What is more, I am getting a skadload more hits than I was before. Before, I had to struggle to reach 15 hits per day. Now, since Google is doing a better job indexing my content, I am getting, on average, 25 to 30 hits per day. This may seem like small change to some of you big-time bloggers out there, but for me, this is like Christmas (I can say that, since it's December).

What this means for you, dear readers, is not much except that if you want to find a particular entry, it's more likely that searching in Google will actually give you reliable results. Perhaps even more exciting is that you can consider yourselves regular readers of a growing cultural phenomenon that is the Daily Apple. You can say you were here at the beginning.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Apple #210: Limbo

I was thinking about the word limbo. There's the kind of limbo you can be in, which to my way of thinking is an in-between state, neither here nor there. But there's also the dance, where you try to bend backwards and walk underneath a stick. I wondered, are the two words somehow connected, in their origins perhaps? Or are they totally different things that happen to share the same word?

Limbo the Place, or State

  • In this sense, the word comes from the Latin word limbus, which means a hem or a border that is distinctive from the rest of the garment. It could also mean anything joined on, such as a limb of one's body.
  • That concept of a border is probably what applies best here.
  • In Catholic theology, limbo is a place or a state that is neither heaven nor hell, in which unbaptized souls are suspended.

Mantegna's Descent Into Limbo
(Sold at Sotheby's for $28.5 million)

  • From this religious theory came a more secularized version. Limbo came to be the imaginary place where lost or neglected things or people went.
  • Limbo also came to refer to the situation of feeling oneself disregarded or forgotten. Or, if you say you are in limbo, you mean that you are in a state of waiting to find out what will become of you at some unknown point in the future.
  • One definition from the 1800s describes limbo as a waste basket where things are stowed that are too good to be thrown away but not good enough to use.
  • For prisoners, limbo refers to the time spent in jail awaiting trial.

Images of Mary Pickford as Priscilla, in the 1910 film "An Arcadian Maid." These images are provided as examples of films that have not been fully restored and remain unavailable to the public. The author of the Pickford Film Legacy website writes, "These Pickford titles remain in a seemingly unnecessary state of limbo." The woman herself seems to be stuck in limbo.
(Photo from the Pickford Film Legacy)

Limbo the Dance

  • The dance originated in Trinidad (in the Caribbean). It involves a stick being held up while the dancer arches backwards and scoots beneath the stick without falling over or touching the ground. Again and again the dancer passes under the stick, but each time the stick is lowered. The dance ends when the stick is so low that no one can go beneath it without falling or touching the ground.

Dancers in Grenada, which is next door to Trinidad, doing the limbo
(Photo from the Grenada Drum Festival)

  • The dance was originally meant to depict people being forced into slavery, having to bend and twist as they were forced into the hold of a slave ship. One can imagine the ship's hold becoming more and more crowded. In a less tangible sense, the dance depicts the concept of slavery itself, which makes greater and greater demands on a person so that a person struggles first to meet those demands and then simply to survive.
  • The dance as we know it may also have had its roots in an African funeral dance called the legba or legua.
  • It is possible that limbo in this sense is related to the idea of being limber, or being able to bend one's limbs.
So, there are similarities. The dance originally depicted a certain type of limbo, that of being forced into slavery, a state from which one never knows when one might be released. In both the dance and the religious theological definition, people are trying to meet someone else's expectations but not quite making it. Clearly, limbo is not a good place to be.

It's a good thing they made a dance out of it. It's sort of like the blues, and how those songs take feeling so bad and turn it into something that makes you feel good.

These people live at the South Pole, and they're doing the limbo
(they also may have been drinking alcohol mixed with fresh snow water)

This just in:

It appears that the Pope is considering declaring that limbo was never an official part of the Catholic church's teachings, and that it may not actually exist. But as far as I can tell, he hasn't made an official determination one way or another yet.

So now even the concept of limbo is in limbo.

OneLook and the various dictionaries sourced there, limbo
New Advent, Catholic Encyclopedia, Limbo
A Prisoner's Dictionary, limbo
Sonny Watson's Street Swing, Limbo
Merriam-Webster, second definition of limbo
Paul Cachia, "Limbo was never part of the official teaching of the Catholic doctrine," di-ve news, October 7, 2006
"Vatican to review state of limbo," BBC News, October 6, 2006

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Apple #209: Underpants Around the World

The other day, I was singing a song about underpants. Nothing fancy, it went like this, "Underpants! Underpants."

So I wondered, what kinds of underwear do people wear in various countries around the world?

I had expected to find lots of different kinds of garments. But in general, most countries' underwear looks a lot like underwear worn here in the U.S. Even with bras, too. Or at least this is true of companies posting pictures on the Internet.

Mainly, what's different is the style. Here is one example of what I mean:

Men's underwear, made by Adonis Clothing in Bulgaria)

So, just assume that for each country listed below, all the underwear is mostly the same, except for slight differences in style. I've noted only particular garments that seem especially unusual.

I should also say that the way image-posting works in Blogger didn't allow me to post many pictures from these international sites directly onto this page. If you want to see what a garment looks like, in most cases, you'll have to follow the link.

  • In India, one manufacturer makes a loose-fitting, cotton boy-short for children, called "bloomers." They have slightly different names for other things, too:
    • Men's undershirts are called "vests"
    • Long underwear is called "body warmers."
  • In China, the AB Group makes a couple interesting items:
    • "Anti-bacterial, smell-proof underwear". These are available in briefs for men, teens, and women, as well as shorts for women, which are sort of like briefs but with a little extra length at the legs.
    • Far-infrared suits for women. These are thermal pants with matching long-sleeve tops, with the additional feature of an infrared raised fiber. This material radiates infrared rays emitted by the human body back to the skin, thus not only providing extra warmth but also "expediting the blood circulation and facilitating metabolism." I guess you wear this stuff, you get warm, you sweat more, you lose a pound or two.
  • Another company in China, Yimi Lingerie, makes a thong but with extra support, called the "T-Back Brief." From the front, it looks like a brief: white and with an extra panel at the top. But in the back, it does that special thongy thing, though a little less narrowly than most thongs available here.
  • In Turkey, a company called Anil Lingerie makes lingerie that looks like what you might see in a Victoria's Secret catalog. In addition to these very modern and seductive items, they offer other peices of underwear with contrastingly old-fashioned names:
    • Knee-length (half) slips they call "petticoats"
    • Girdles and body-shaping extended-length underwear they call "corsets"
    • Kombinezons or "chemises" are full-length slips.
      • Incidentally, chemises have been around since medieval times. They are generally white or off-white garments like plain dresses that were worn beneath the showier dress or robe, if you were a man. The man's undershirt is the descendant of the men's chemise.
  • In Iran, one underwear company called Lano makes the seamless Hilper for women
    • It's an undershirt made of microfiber with a yoke-type neck, and the straps cross around the neck rather than over the shoulders.
    • I have no idea why it's called a Hilper.
  • In Australia, the very popular Holeproof company's Underdaks for men come in a variety of styles. Perhaps most arresting is this style, presented here in royal blue:

(Photo from Bizrate UK)

  • King Style underwear, based in Taiwan, seems to be suffering from some inelegant English translation of the description of their underwear:
King Style's main product, "Man's underwear" with a unique pouch for save-keeping the "balls" has been underwent many tests and has been proved to eliminate the problems created by traditional man's underwear.

Overall, I've highlighted above the various differences that I saw. But really, looking at so many pictures of underwear from various countries all over the world, I saw a lot of really similar stuff. It actually makes me feel kind of good, to know that in Iran, say, people that I might normally think of as pretty different from me, are actually wearing underwear much like my own.

Maybe that's something for the diplomats to discuss before they get down to business: what kind of underwear to you wear? Do you prefer cotton or polyester? Underwire or racerback? Really, the possibilities are endless.

Body Care International (India)
AB Group, products for women (China)
Yimi Lingerie, products (China)
Anil Lingerie products for 2006 (Turkey)
Lano (Iran)
BTC Textiles (the Netherlands)
Holeproof underwear (Australia)
Engel GmbH product overall view (Germany)
King Style underwear (Taiwan)