Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Apple #360: Confetti

While I was home celebrating Christmas with my family, I accrued several ideas for Daily Apple topics. But those are going to have to wait because none of them are suitable for New Year's Eve.

Confetti, however, is just the ticket.

Times Square, New York, 2013.
(Photo by Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

  • Originally, confetti were little candies that Italians made for special occasions. The word comes from the Latin confectum, which is also the source for candy-like words such as "confection" and "comfit."
  • The candies are also known as sugared almonds, Jordan almonds, or dragees.

Confetti, or Jordan almonds, can be made in lots of different colors. According to one confetti maker, Pelino, different colors are appropriate for different occasions: white for weddings, red for graduations, green for engagements, light blue or pink for baby showers, and lilac for same-sex marriages.
(Photo from this Pinterest page on Jordan almonds)

  • These candies were made as far back as 1350 to celebrate lots of special occasions, including weddings, royal ceremonies, and banquets. Whether the confetti candies were thrown, besides just being served and eaten, I'm not sure.
  • At some point, Italians did start to throw the candies during Carnival, which is similar to Mardi Gras. Both parties celebrate the days just before the 40 days of Lent starts and you're supposed to fast and abstain from eating meat and generally go into a kind of preparatory hibernation. Carnival is the last fling, so to speak, so it makes sense that you'd want to fling stuff. Har har.
  • Italians call the paper stuff coriandoli.
  • How confetti the candy turned into scraps of paper is uncertain. I found a few conflicting stories online:
    • One source tells a very vague tale about how some guy thought he'd make a bigger profit if, instead of throwing real candy, he made candy-shaped cut-outs from cardboard and sold those instead. Some people did throw his fake cardboard candy, and over time the practice caught on.
    • An 1895 issue of Scientific American magazine, widely referenced but nowhere quoted directly, supposedly reported that the first paper confetti was thrown in 1891 at the Casino de Paris in France. According to this article, an unnamed someone took down all the decorations left over after a New Year's Eve party. For some unknown reason, this person cut those decorations into smaller pieces. The following night, guests at the club threw the pieces of cut-up decorations from the balcony. People thought that was fun and the practice of throwing little pieces of paper and calling it confetti was born.

The Casino de Paris was a bit of a wild place, apparently. Josephine Baker sang and danced there, they held wrestling and boxing matches, and they often featured scantily-clad or topless women dancers such as Mademoiselles Zazani and Whiard, pictured above. It was pretty much the place to go for a spectacle. It is still a very active venue, though I think it's more popular and less racy these days.
(I think these were originally postcards. Image from Candy Ping Pong)

  • It also became the practice, earlier than you might think, to throw confetti instead of rice at weddings. My trusty OED refers to people throwing confetti at a wedding in 1895.
  • The first ticker-tape parade happened in 1886, to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Stock brokers in the offices that lined the streets where the parade took place spontaneously broke off the ticker-tape in their offices and threw it out the window. What interests me here is that people in the United States threw ticker tape, in confetti fashion, before people in France threw the first (documented) paper confetti.
  • It's possible, I suppose, that this is sort of like the first time anybody did The Wave at a sporting event: lots of different events are claimed to be the first event, but the overall effect is that it seemed to be a thing people were doing all over the place for about a decade or so.
  • Today, you can buy confetti in lots of different colors and shapes, for all sorts of occasions. 
Champagne flute confetti, available for $1.99 per 1/2 ounce packet from Chico Party Confetti.

  • At big public events where they blast lots of confetti into the air, the confetti is loaded into huge plastic barrels. At the appropriate time, the confetti is blasted forth using compressed air or carbon dioxide. They might also use an air mover (a big fan) to make the confetti fly farther or keep blowing around in the air.

Confetti cannon in action at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Kansas City.
(Photo by meliam, on Flickr)

I'm going to go look in on the madness at Times Square. I bet there will be confetti.

(Times Square, New Year's Eve, 2011.)

P.S. Check out the new section at the top right. Instead of telling you which Daily Apples are getting the most hits, which I think is something that only interests me, I've decided to give you links to Daily Apples that I think might be especially timely.

P.P.S. Happy New Year, everybody!

Online Etymology Dictionary, confetti
Confetti Pelino, The History of the Confetti Sulmona
Bella Umbria, Umbria Carnival in Italy
Big Site of Amazing Facts, Why Do We Throw Confetti?
Absolute Astronomy, Confetti
Wyrdology, What is Confetti?
Confetti Guru, Fun Facts About Confetti
American Heritage Blog, Ticker-Tape Parades, June 13, 2006

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ho ho ho

Merry Christmas!

See you in about a week.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Apple #359: When Harry Met Sally

I just watched this movie again for, oh, probably the tenth time or so. I've been thinking about the mini-scene where Sally has to drag the Christmas tree up the hill by herself for a few weeks now, and I finally decided, Hey, that makes it a Christmas movie. I'll watch it.

I still enjoyed it. Mostly, it was satisfying to see, on the screen, little tidbits that have occurred to me multiple times over the past couple of years. The bit where, after he gets off the phone with her, he lies awake in bed with the remote in his hand and moans. The part where they're in the Sharper Image singing "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" and Helen walks in, and he looks totally gut-shot. When he says, "That's the good thing about depression. You get your rest."

I know, you're sensing a theme here. Well, it can't be helped.

Also, watching this movie always makes me want to eat salad. Because of the scene when they go to dinner after they do it, and she says it was a mistake, and he agrees right away, and then the salads arrive, and Harry eats his salad like he's a rabbit with a mission. So after I finished watching the movie, I made a salad. I am eating it now, as I type this.

So, I've got some trivia about the movie to share with you, and then because that sort of thing gets on my nerves sometimes, I also have some trivia related to things that appear in the movie.


The Scene
(Photo from the In Between Thoughts blog)

  • As we all know, that was Rob Reiner's mother who says "I'll have what she's having" at the end of the orgasm-in-the-diner scene. But did you also know:
  1. It was Meg Ryan's idea that she should fake the orgasm in front of him, and that the scene should take place in a restaurant
  2. She had to do the fake orgasm 8 or 10 times before they got the scene right
  3. The bump line was Billy Crystal's idea
  4. Rob Reiner's mother, Estelle, became a jazz singer when she was 65. She died November 1, 2008 (yeah, a month a half ago). She was 94.

You can go to Katz's Delicatessen where this scene was filmed and sit at the table where Harry & Sally sat, indicated by this sign.
(Photo from Picasaweb, posted by HAdidas)

  • The woman who played Harry's young date Emily (the one who makes all those cakes) at the Win, Lose, or Draw party is Rob Reiner's adopted daughter, Tracy.
  • The guy who played Sally's boyfriend Joe is Steven Ford, son of former President Gerald and Betty Ford. He now has a horse ranch, and he used to compete in rodeos.

Steven Ford, son of Gerald R. Ford, a.k.a. Joe, a.k.a. Andy Richards from The Young and The Restless. Who knew?
(Photo from

  • The "documentary" couples are actors -- which, when I first learned this, greatly disappointed me. But they're giving more concise versions of stories that Reiner and Ephron collected from real couples they knew or had interviewed. One of the stories is that of the parents of a friend of Reiner's; another is the story of how Ephron's parents met.
  • The character of Harry was based very much on Rob Reiner. He had just gone through a devastating divorce and was depressed and upset. A lot of the things Harry does in the movie were things that Reiner was doing or talking about at the time.
  • Reiner met and fell in love with his next wife, Michelle Singer, while working on this film.

Rob Reiner and his wife Michelle Singer at the premiere of The Bucket List in 2007
(Photo from IMDB)

  • The character of Sally was based mostly on Nora Ephron. She used to order food in restaurants in a very complex way. Rob noticed this and decided to put that in the movie.
  • One time Ephron was on a plane, ordering something from the flight attendant in her usual involved fashion, and the flight attendant asked her, "Have you ever seen 'When Harry Met Sally'?"
  • The first couple of drafts of the script, Harry and Sally did not get together in the end. Ephron says that after a while, "it became obvious" they they should wind up together.
  • Ephron describes herself as a generally optimistic, sunny person, which is what Sally is in the movie. However, at the end of the short film in which people talk about how this movie was made, Ephron says she gets young people coming up to her all the time and saying, "I'm in this When Harry Met Sally kind of situation." She said she wants to tell them that, most of the time, "It's probably not going to work."
  • Who's really the sunny one here?

Trivia About Things In the Movie

Sally drags the Christmas tree up the hill by herself.
  • The average cut Christmas tree weighs about 10 pounds. Not heavy, just unwieldy.

This is Stacey. She's dragging her Christmas tree by herself to a waiting snowmobile.
(Photo from Rob Pennie's blog)

When Harry is telling Jess about how his marriage to Helen ended, they are at a football game. Giants versus Lions, to be exact.
  • The movie was released in July 1989, which means it would have been filmed mainly in 1988.
  • The Lions did play the Giants at Giants stadium in 1988, on October 16. The Giants won, 30-10.

At this game, the crowd is doing The Wave. So during this painful conversation, Harry and Jess have to stand up to do their part in The Wave. Makes for good comedic punctuation, for one thing.
  • The invention of The Wave is the subject of much dispute. Was it during a Canadian hockey game? Did it first happen during an Oakland A's baseball game? Or was it at a football game in Seattle? Or did Frank Zappa come up with it first at a concert in 1969.
  • Nobody can verify for sure which came first. But those professional sporting events occurred in the early 1980s.
  • By 1988, when this movie was filmed, The Wave was pretty much de rigeur, and such a common element of sporting events, it would have been something you do without thinking much about it. Which is exactly Harry and Jess' attitude.

These people are at a zoo and they're doing The Wave. That's how common it's become.
(Photo from Webshots, posted by rachelaustralia)

When Harry and Sally are shopping for a housewarming present for Jess and Marie at the Sharper Image, Harry sees what he calls "a singing machine," and gets them both singing "Surrey With the Fringe on Top"
  • Sharper Image declared bankruptcy in June of 2008. What did them in was the fact that one of their products, the Ionic Breeze air purifier didn't actually clean the air.
  • There is actually a company called The Singing Machine Company which makes Singing Machines. They're still going strong.
  • One Singing Machine model that's pretty similar to the one in the movie is the STVG-512. That was on sale for Black Friday deals for $49.99.

STVG-512 Singing Machine
(Image from The Singing Machine Company)

  • Here are the lyrics to "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Oklahoma!
[Harry] Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry
When I take you out in the surrey,
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!

[Harry + Sally] Watch that fringe and see how it flutters
When I drive them high steppin' strutters.
Nosey pokes'll peek thru' their shutters and their eyes will pop!
[He stops & stares at Helen. Sally keeps going]

The wheels are yeller, the upholstery's brown,
The dashboard's genuine leather

[Sally stops here, thinking he's appalled by her singing. But I wonder if, in real life, the reason they stopped there was because the next line includes the word "isinglass" which is a weird word to say or sing.]

When they're playing Win, Lose, or Draw, Sally is trying to draw "baby talk" and Jess comes up with "baby fish mouth" as a guess. When the answer is revealed, he says he's never heard of "baby talk" before. Harry says, "Oh, and baby fish mouth is sweeping the nation?"
  • Baby Fish Mouth is now the name of a business which sells T-shirts and clothing for babies. They take famous lines from movies and tweak them to be baby-cute -- or something -- and print them on the clothes. "I love the smell of baby powder in the morning" is one example.

At Jess and Marie's wedding, Harry and Sally are offered shrimp with pea pod hors d'oeuvres. Harry declines, but Sally takes one. She never even takes a bite, but later, throws it in anger in the kitchen.
  • It looks like it's just a piece of shrimp with a pea pod wrapped around it and the whole thing stuck through with a toothpick.
  • That's probably accurate, but I found a recipe online that says you're also to serve such a thing with a sauce that includes cream cheese, green onion, lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt, and watercress. Blend all of that, pour it into a bowl, and it becomes a dip for the shrimp.
  • That sounds more appetizing to me than just the cold shrimp on a toothpick. But if she had dipped it into the sauce first, when she hurled it across the kitchen, that might have made for a messy take.

(Photo from Yahoo Movies production photos)

At New Year's Eve party at the very end, people are singing "Auld Lang Syne," the traditional New Year's Eve song. Harry pauses in the middle of a romantic moment to ask in his usual convoluted way, what does this song mean?

I'll break it down for you, Harry:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

[Should we forget our old acquaintances
and never think of them anymore?
Should we forget our old friends
and days long ago?]

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
for auld lang syne.

let's drink a cup of kindness
and toast to days long ago]
Okay, so my translation gets a little loose there, but you get the point.
  • The song was originally a poem written by Robert Burns.
  • Guy Lombardo turned it into a song probably around 1919.
  • He and his band played it at a New Year's Eve party in 1929. Every year for 50 years after that, his band played the song on New Year's Eve radio. Hence the tradition of singing that song on New Year's Eve.
  • "Prior to Dick Clark, there was Guy Lombardo," said the man who organizes the Royal Canadian Big Band Music Festival each year. He ought to know.

(Image from Squidoo)

"How Harry Met Sally" special feature documentary on the DVD
IMDB, When Harry Met Sally
80s Movie Rewind, When Harry Met Sally trivia
Netscape Celebrity from AOL News, "Estelle Reiner, 'When Harry Met Sally' Actress Dies," October 27-November 2, 2008
City of Winnipeg, Recycle your Christmas tree
Pro-Football, 1988 Boxscores
Consumer, "Sharper Image Closing All Stores," June 3, 2008
Stephen Lynch, "New Year's song remains ingrained in public mind," The Augusta Chronicle, December 31, 1999

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Apple #358: Courtney

Your Apple Lady is ill. I don't know if I have a cold or the flu because I have symptoms of both: stuffy nose, aches. Sneezing, chills. Sore throat, fever. Anyway, I feel pretty lousy.

I think because of the fever, my brain has been coming up with some odd things. I got a phone call from someone who works for my landlord about my lease. Not exactly a soothing topic. But after I got off the phone with her, my brain wandered into thinking about her name, which is Courtney. My next door neighbor's name also happens to be Courtney. This struck me as an odd coincidence. I mean, you don't meet very many Courtneys.

  • It's an English name but it comes from a region in France called Courtenay or Courtney.
  • As a French word, you can break it up into court-nez, where court means "short" and nez which means "nose."
  • So the name means snub-nosed. Maybe that's why it's not very common.

Then I entertained myself by trying to think of other Courtneys. I came up with two.

Courtney Thorne-Smith

with her dogs, Ed on the left and Norman on the right
(Photo sourced from

Courteney Cox (variant spelling, but it still counts)

(Photo from

And I was reminded by sources online of Courtney Love

(Photo from the moreonmore blog)

Not a snub nose among them. Did I miss any other Courtneys?

I wonder what else will interest my brain in the next couple of days.

P.S. 3 hours later: I just got a sales call from someone selling me symphony tickets. She introduced herself, and her last name was Courtney. If there was a lottery where you bet on names instead of numbers, I would play Courtney today.

Parents Connect, Baby Names World, Courtney
Behind the Name, Courtney

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Apple #357: Eat Your Heart Out

A reader who is new to the Daily Apple -- but is no less faithful -- asked me to look into a topic for him. He wanted to know about the phrase "eat your heart out." Strange phrase, isn't it? he observed. I agreed.

This, we're supposed to eat?
(Image from The Wellington Hospital)

Upon investigation, I discovered that it seems to be a slippery phrase for a lot of people, including those who write dictionaries.

First off, people can't seem to fix on exactly what emotion it represents. I found definitions that said it means to depict:
  • jealousy
  • bitterness
  • worry
  • sorrow
  • bitter anguish
  • hopeless anguish
  • hopeless disappointment
  • longing
  • grief
  • silent grief or vexation
  • pain
  • strong feelings [undefined] gnawing at one's [metaphorical] heart

Jealousy, by Edvard Munch, reflects only part of what "eat one's heart out" expresses
(Image from Edvard

Additionally compounding the confusion is the fact that the phrase is often used as a definition for other words. Fretting, for example, is often defined as eating one's heart out. Not very helpful.

I'm going to try to bring some clarity on this. [Apple Lady dons her lexicographer cap.]

I think a key part of the phrase is the concept of hopelessness. There's something you want but can't have, though you yearn for it mightily. You might be jealous of someone else's talent or ability or fame; you might be pining for a lover who will never be yours; you might be grieving over someone who died. In all cases, though your desire may be strong, you will not obtain what you wish for.

Those of you familiar with our good friend the Latin language might be reminded of the word utinam, which expresses the impossible wish: "Would that I could achieve the roguish, scruffy beard of George Clooney!" or "Oh, if only I could be as skinny as Keira Knightley!" Even as you say it, you know it's never going to happen. Eating your heart out over something seems to be a similar concept.

Impossible wishes.
(Photo of George Clooney from Julie Luongo's blog); photo of Keira Knightley from Anton's MySpace page)

In addition, there's the difficulty of point of view. As in the previous examples, you might be eating your own heart out, in which case the emotion is more of a sad, yearning kind of thing. But you might also be telling someone else to eat his or her heart out. In those cases you are wishing upon them that state of hopeless yearning. But you are making such statement with great zest and superiority, a playground nyah nyah nyah-ness: "I'm so great at figure skating, Tara Lipinsky can eat her heart out!" or as Angelina Jolie might have said to Jennifer Aniston, "Eat your heart out, Jenny-poo!"

(Photo from the Sun Sentinel)

There remains the further question, where did this phrase come from? The visual imagery of eating one's own heart is quite graphic and startling. It's not as if this is a thing we tend to do in real life. So who dreamed up this little gem?

Once again, the dictionaries hobnobbing around on the internet are not that helpful. I found etymologies and definitions that said the phrase dates from
  • 1596
  • late 1500s
  • 1500s
  • 1200s
  • Biblical times
  • The Odyssey
When there's this much disparity in fact, that's usually code for "nobody knows." But in this case, since a lot of places mentioned that date 1596, I thought there had to be some specific reference that appeared in 1596. But nobody online said what it was. Lots of dictionaries were throwing that date around, but with no specifics to back it up.

So the only thing to do was to turn to my ever-trusty and much-loved Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Sure enough, it contains the answer.

The 1596 occurrence comes from Spenser's Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto II: "He could not rest; but did his stout heart eat." The context for this is that the Red Cross Knight has just come upon a magician-devised image of Una, his lady, with another man: "that false couple were full closely ment / In wanton lust and leud [lewd] embracement: / Which, when he saw, he burnt with gealous fire." Then he goes back to his room and is tormented by bitter anguish. I.e., did his stout heart eat.

The Red Cross Knight and Una, over whose supposed betrayal he eats his heart out.
(Image from Illusions Gallery)

The OED also refers to the Bible. It says there is this verse from Ecclisiastes: "The fool foldeth his hands together and eateth his own flesh." The OED also says that the Bible (no chaper & verse cited) uses the phrase "to eat one's own flesh" to refer to someone who is lazy.

Well, laziness and foolishness are not part of our going definitions for eating one's heart out. But perhaps the notion of ineffectiveness applies. A lazy person who sits around eating his or her own flesh is not going to get anything done. Similarly, pining after something that will never come to pass is also quite ineffective.

The woman in this painting, called Indolence, could also be pining after someone as well as being lazy, I suppose.
(Painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, image from The Orientalist Gallery)

But, okay, why the heart? How did we get from eating our own flesh in the Bible to eating our heart in the Faerie Queene? Several of those dictionaries online posit that the heart used to be considered -- and still is, I'd say -- the core of a person's being. So to indicate that you're really torn up about something, you're not going to be just gnawing at your forearm or chewing on your thumb, you're going to be eating your entire heart out of your body. That is serious business.

So, it's not a neat and tidy answer for you, Jim. But maybe this will sum it up for you:

eat one's heart out: hopeless and intense longing for what will never come to pass
eat your heart out: a boastful taunt intended to inspire jealousy and a hopeless and intense longing for what will never come to pass.

Eat your heart out, Noah Webster!

Joe-Ks; Phrases, Cliches, Expressions & Sayings; E, eat one's heart out
American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, eat one's heart out
Bartleby, eat (one's) heart out
Wiktionary, Eat one's heart out
Urban Dictionary, eat your heart out
Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, eat (one's) heart out
Online Etymology Dictionary, eat one's heart out
Wiki Answers, eat your heart out
Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
My copy of the The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Apple #356: The Football's Shape

Today I went with a friend to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The entrance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And yes, that's a football-shaped dome on top. It looks really cool on the inside. I'd like one just like it in my living room.
(Photo from Destination 360)

I was expecting that much of what I'd see would be enjoyable only to football fanatics, the sort of people who could debate at length which team would win: the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers, or the 1986 Chicago Bears; or perhaps who was the be defensive player, Dick Butkus or Carl Eller. Not so. In fact, the only reason I can provide you with these details is because I learned about these teams and players from having been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They did an excellent job of describing individual players and their achievements, the history of teams extinct and extant, key games in the history of football, and spectacular or even boneheaded plays. There were jerseys that had been worn by players from the past and present, there were shoes, there was even the cast of a barefoot placekicker's foot. I learned a great deal -- something your Apple Lady always enjoys -- and I had a good time. I recommend making the trip.

This is the Hall of Fame room, sort of the centerpiece of the whole museum. The bronze busts were actually kind of cool to look at, to see who I recognized, and whether I thought they looked lifelike or not. There's also a multimedia system that goes along with this where you can look up individual players or teams or positions and see who's got a bust on the wall and learn more about them. For example, here's the list of Hall of Famers by college. See other lists by mousing over HALL OF FAMERS at the left of the top banner.
(Photo from the Pro Football Hall of Fame)

One thing I was hoping to learn which they did not discuss, however, was why the football is shaped the way it is. I guessed that the football got its shape from the ball used in rugby, but I wanted to find out for certain.

  • The short answer is, I was right. The ball used in American football is based on the ball that was used in rugby.
  • The earliest football games -- I should probably call them precursors to football as we know it today -- were played at Ivy League colleges in the 1860s and 1870s. The sport they played was mostly based on rugby's rules, but it was also a unique brand of American rugged play that allowed for "roundhouses and uppercuts" before and after the ball was snapped.
  • Harvard's three-game match against Yale in 1875 is generally considered the first American football game. Most of the rules were still rugby-like, though.
Program from the Harvard-Yale football games in 1875. That ball sure looks round.
(Image from Snipview)

  • It wasn't until 1880 when Walter Camp from Yale proposed that there ought to be a line of scrimmage where the ball would be placed when it was last downed, and that the ball must be advanced 5 yards in 3 plays or else the team with possession had to give it over to the other team. That's really when football as we know it was born.
  • It's important to know that our football is a descendant of rugby because that means that the first footballs were actually rugby balls.
  • So the question then becomes, why were rugby balls shaped like that? Answer: they were actually pig bladders.
  • That's right, rugby balls were made by inflating the bladders of freshly dead pigs. The shape of the ball was determined by the size and shape of the pig's bladder.

A rugby ball from the 1880s or 1890s. When this was sold as an antique, it was described as being "melon-shaped." The description says it was quite small, and rugby balls from that time tended to be small and to vary in shape because they depended on the size of the pig's bladder inside. Which would suggest that this one does have a pig's bladder inside.
(Photo from the Busacca Gallery)

  • Two enterprising boot and shoemakers who had shops near the Rugby school hand-stitched the rugby balls from pigs' bladders. The bladders were sometimes inflated by use of a clay pipe and sometimes directly by the mouth. Ew.
  • The pig's bladders were inserted into a leather case, which was then tightened closed around the bladder with laces.
  • By the 1860s, rugby-ball-makers were using leather instead of pig bladders for the rugby ball's innards.
  • Over the years, the rugby ball became more oval in shape because that made it easier to carry. It also went through lots of changes in the materials used so that today, a rugby ball is made mostly of synthetic materials -- plastic, polyurethane, polyester, latex, and glue.
  • The American football came on the scene after the rugby balls were made of leather, but still in basically the pig-bladder shape. They, too, had a leather bladder that was inflated inside a leather casing that was then tightened using laces.

Football from the 1890s. It's not quite as rounded as the early rugby ball, but it's not as oval as footballs are today.
(Photo from The 1890s Weekend at Mansfield (PA) University)

  • Today, the American football is still made in essentially the same way, with a bladder on the inside that is inflated within an outer casing.

The basics of a football's construction today.
(Diagram from How Products Are Made)

  • And, by the way, that's why people refer to a football as "the pigskin," even though it is not and never was made from pig skin. Because the rugby ball used to be.
  • The particular shape of a football is referred to as a prolate spheroid. That means the ball is round-ish, or based on the concept of round, but with a polar diameter longer than its equatorial diameter (taller than it is wide).
  • Except the football is even an exception to this, because with a true prolate spheroid, the longer ends would be rounded. But a football has pointy ends.
  • Here's one last fact about the football: with most balls that are round, one can predict relatively easily where they will bounce. With a football, however, the only time a football will bounce straight back up vertically is if it lands exactly on one of its points. But because of its odd shape, the rotation of the football can change dramatically after it has bounced -- even if it has landed exactly on one of its pointy ends -- so it is very difficult to predict where it is going to go once it has hit the ground.
  • More often than not, one physicist has stated, a football will bounce away from the person who has dropped it.
  • Which is how you get this kind of thing (41 seconds into this):

For more about the physics of football, The Physics of Football: Discover the Science of Bone-Crunching Hits, Soaring Field Goals, and Awe-Inspiring Passes, by football fan and physicist Timothy Gay.

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Bruce K. Stewart, American Football, November 1995
How Products Are Made, Volume 3, The Football
Anthony Mann, The Rugby Ball, Manchester Guardian, November 1998
Sean Fagan, RL 1908, Rugby Balls, The Ball
Mary Bellis, History of Football, Inventors
Pete Grathoff, "The Football,"
The Kansas City Star, September 1, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Apple #355: No More FishFish

FishFish is dead. Long live FishFish.

FishFish, though colored similarly to this betta, hasn't looked like this in a long time.
(Photo from the Virginia Tech Union)

When I got home from work today, I went to feed my betta fish, but then I discovered he was lying on his side at the bottom of the bowl. Never a good sign.

He's been sick for a long time. Back before I'd even had him for a year, he got Pop Eye and Fin Rot. Though I tried several different types of antibiotics on a number of occasions, I was never able to get rid of either illness. So both diseases have been progressing (his fins getting smaller and his eyes getting more bulgy) ever since.

Gradually, he made fewer and fewer bubbles. Then when it got cold this winter, I kept the room temperature a little lower than I did in the summer time. FishFish, being tropical and loving hot, humid weather, was not enthused. In fact, he's been very sluggish ever since it got cold. Sometimes I had to shake his bowl to rouse him and get him to eat.

Then, the day before yesterday when I fed him, even though he was alert in there, he had no interest in his food or me. Usually, he tried to attack me whenever I came near his bowl. I always appreciated his vigor and willingness to go after me. I believe that if there had been no bowl between us, I probably would have sustained definite though tiny injuries, inflicted by my intrepid FishFish. And I would have been so proud of him.

But there just wasn't any fight left in him. Yesterday when I went to feed him, the food from the day before was still floating at the top. When FishFish doesn't even try to eat his food -- especially the bloodworms, which he loved to sneak up on and chomp from below -- let alone attack it, that is not good. So I wasn't too surprised today when he was lying at the bottom of his bowl. No more FishFish.

I got him on March 22, 2006. Almost three years ago. According to what I've read on the subject, that's a pretty long life for a betta fish. He survived traveling with me; he survived staying at home and toughing it out while I traveled without him. He courageously survived an inadvertent attempt on his life when he was nearly boiled to death. I enjoyed him living with me. I hope that, in spite of my owner-operator errors, he enjoyed living with me too.

I gave him a decent send-off, said good-bye and thank you for living with me. No fanfare. No bunting. That's the way FishFish would have wanted it.

AJ's betta fish, George Michael, who apparently looked like the fish pictured here, recently met with a similar fate.
(Photo from Wikipedia and sourced from AJ's blog, Sorry I Can't Hear You I Was Humming)

Good-bye, FishFish. Thanks for all the bubbles.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Apple #354: The Misfits (movie)

While I was home, I watched The Misfits on TV again. It's such a terrific movie, and the characters so hit me where I live, I can't get it out of my head.

It stars Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, and a fourth guy named Eli Wallach. I mean, with those actors, how can you go wrong?

Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift in The Misfits
(Photo from Sixties City)

These four characters end up in Reno, Nevada, for various reasons. Monroe's character, Roslyn, is there to get a divorce. Guido (Eli Wallach) is hanging out there in between jobs. Gay Langland (Gable) is an old cowboy who is Guido's friend and is building a house very slowly nearby. Clift's character, Perce, is on his way to a rodeo. The four of them meet up in a rag-tag assemblage, and the men plan to go out to the desert to round up some mustangs they've heard about. This used to be a demanding, macho, very-cowboy thing to do, but now the only people they can sell the horses to are dog food manufacturers. So the whole thing is kind of doomed.

The people themselves are hanging on at the edge of their own lives. Each of them has been through some pretty rotten stuff, and they're at the point where their lives could be set drifting into nothing forever, or could be reclaimed for something purposeful and wonderful. So they're all living on a last-ditch world-wise hope that something, just one thing, might turn out to be decent.

The paddle-ball scene. Clark Gable is at the far left, in the white hat.
(Photo from

The three men each fall in love with Roslyn, in their own way and for their own reasons. She seems to have chosen Gay, the old cowboy, but then her choice is threatened when she goes with them to the desert and watches them roping the mustangs. She learns what they're planning to do with the horses, and her anguish and anxiety about what they're doing threatens to turn everything -- the mustang-rustling and the relationships -- to chaos.

I'm not going to tell you any more except to say, my heart breaks at several moments during this movie.

It turns out, there are some pretty fantastic facts about this movie.

The script was written by Arthur Miller.
  • He based the movie on a short story called "The Last Frontier of the Quixotic Cowboy." The story he wrote was essentially about getting his own divorce in Reno, Nevada, before he met and later married Marilyn Monroe.
  • Miller turned the story into a movie for her, at the suggestion of a friend of Miller's who said, "that's a woman's part she could kick into the stands."
  • However, his marriage to Monroe was in shreds by the time the movie was filmed. She was often late for filming -- where Miller was on set -- in part because she was having an affair with another man.

Monroe with Miller, on the set.
(Photo from the interior of a book of Magnum Photos of the movie's filming, published by Phaidon)

  • Their marriage officially ended by the end of that year.

The film was made in 1960, released in 1961.
  • 3 days after the movie was completed, Clark Gable had a heart attack. 11 days later, he died.
  • Monroe went to rehab following a sleeping-pill overdose while the movie was being made. One year later, she died of a suicidal drug overdose.
  • Montgomery Clift, who had been in a terrible car accident some years previously and had had reconstructive surgery on his face, died unexpectedly of a heart attack 4 years later.

Montgomery Clift. On the left, early in his career. On the right, late in his career, after the accident, in Judgment at Nuremberg. He's got gray added to his hair, but his face doesn't have that sharpness it did before the accident.
(Photo from I'm still trying to define myself...)

See, and the creepy thing is that Montgomery Clift's character gets royally banged up in the movie, too.
(Photo from Coffee coffee and more coffee's blog)

Everybody was drinking, just about
  • Marilyn's issues with alcohol and pills were pretty well-known at this point. Besides the fact that she was having an affair, they were the other reasons she was often late to the set.
  • Montgomery Clift's reliance on alcohol was less well-known, but he did abuse it in part of his self-torture over his homosexuality. He was also taking various medications due to the trauma from the car accident. Clift and Monroe shared a doctor who was on call 24 hours a day during filming.
  • Director John Huston was often hung over or drunk. After having stayed up late gambling and drinking, sometimes he even slept during filming. He reportedly told Eli Wallach on one occasion that the previous day he had been more drunk than ever before in his life though he had appeared sober. The point was that Wallach should use that as his model for how to act like a drunk person who tries to appear sober.

John Huston, next to Marilyn. He spent a lot of nights gambling in the casinos at Reno.
(Photo by Eve Arnold, sourced from PBS)

  • (Another tidbit about John Huston: the editor of the Nevada newspaper Territorial Enterprise announced that they'd hold a camel race down the streets of Virginia City, Nevada. An editor at the San Francisco Chronicle called his bluff and showed up with a bunch of camels and some contestants, John Huston among them. So the Enterprise had to hold the race, and Huston wound up winning. Not sure if he was drunk or sober while atop his camel.)
  • Wallach is the only person who seems to have escaped the wreckage surrounding the making of this movie.

It was Clark Gable's last movie.
  • As I mentioned before, the 59 year-old Gable had a heart attack 3 days after filming was completed, then died 11 days later. But wait, here's more:
  • Lots of people say that Gable insisted on doing his own stunts, and that the extraordinary effort was what brought on his heart attack. Huston, however, wrote in his biography: "This is utter nonsense. Toward the end of the picture there was a contest between Clark and the stallion the cowboys had captured. It looked like rough work, and it was, but it was the stunt men who were thrown around, not Clark."
  • Gable was not fit enough to pass the physical that the insurance company required. So he went on a crash diet and stayed in bed for a week before the insurance company doctor's exam.

Clark Gable on the set of The Misfits. Looking a little ragged, but still with his quintessential panache.
(AP Photo from an article about photos from The Misfits going up for auction.)

  • Gable is reported to have said, on the last day of filming, "Christ, I'm glad this picture's finished. She [Monroe] damn near gave me a heart attack."
  • He also is said to have remarked to Arthur Miller:
"This is the best picture I have made, and it's the only time I have been able to act."

It was Marilyn Monroe's last movie.
  • People usually say Something's Got to Give (1962) is her last movie, but it was never completed, so this is actually her final complete performance.
  • She loved Clark Gable. He was one of her screen idols. At first she was terrified of working with him, but soon,
"Everything he did made me shiver. . . . Whenever he was near me, I wanted to grab him around the neck and hold him forever. I never tried harder in my life to seduce any man."

(Photo of Gable & Monroe from Sixties City)

  • Huston later wrote of her:
"She was in very bad shape. She was really in no condition to do the picture. She shouldn’t have been anywhere near the camera if truth be known. She had this terrible worry about sleeping. She had by then become reliant on pills. She needed them to put her to sleep and then to wake her up again."

Marilyn, 1962, shortly before her death.
(Photo by Arnold Newman)

  • She was taking 6 or 7 Nembutals per night. One night, after filming a scene in which Gable says, "Honey, we all got to go sometime, reason or no reason," she took too many Nembutals and had to have her stomach pumped.
  • She was sent to detox for two weeks, during which time the doctors switched her sleeping pills and the movie's production was shut down.

The crew, without Marilyn, returning to LA while she was in the hospital.
(Photo by Cornell Capa, sourced from PBS)

  • After she got back, her close-ups were all shot in soft focus. Huston later said he didn't know how she did it, but she pulled up something from in herself to finish shooting.
  • She later said she hated herself in The Misfits, and of all the movies she'd been in, she liked it the least. (I don't think she was in a position to judge, given that she was all about self-destruction by that time.)
  • Huston thought her performance was "unique and extraordinary."

(Photo by Eve Arnold)

People called the movie a failure at the time. But I and many others now disagree.
  • Production cost almost $4 million. That was a huge amount of money to spend on a movie at that time. With the big-name stars, it was supposed to be a big audience draw.
  • However, most viewers were puzzled or even disturbed by the film. It wasn't a western or a cowboy movie that was like anything they expected. Even most critics at the time were disappointed.
Say, where did I see this guy?
In Red River?
Or A Place in the Sun?
Maybe The Misfits?
From Here to Eternity?

Everybody say, "Is he all right?"
And everybody say, "What's he like?"
Everybody say, "He sure look funny."
That's Montgomery Clift, honey!

Starting in the back, that's Frank Taylor the producer, Arthur Miller standing on the ladder, John Huston with his arms folded, Eli Wallach sitting sideways, Montgomery Clift with his hands clasped, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable.
(Photo by Elliott Erwitt, sourced from a 404 Page Not Found)

IMDB, The Misfits, biography of Montgomery Clift,
Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK, The Misfits (1961)
Bill Harry's Sixties City, The Misfits
PBS, Great Performances, Making The Misfits
Pop Matters, Making the Misfits reviewed by Jonathan Kiefer
Wikipedia, The Misfits (film)
Museum of Hoaxes, The Virginia City Camel Race
Official Reno & Lake Tahoe Blog, International Came Race Celebrates 50 years in Virginia City

Lots more photos are available at these sites:
PBS Great Performances, On the Set of The Misfits
About 1/3 of the way down a Russian Live Journal blog of all sorts of Magnum Photos
The Marilyn Monroe Collection
Website of Ralph L. Roberts, Marilyn's personal masseur
Marilyn Monroe photographs by Eve Arnold