Monday, May 31, 2010

Apple #459: Bikinis

Since I already have an entry about Memorial Day, I thought I'd do today's entry on bikinis.  Naturally.

This past week, the subject of bikinis came up in conversation.  A few quips were traded back and forth, most of which involved the word "bikini."  Nerd that I am, I of course began to wonder about the origin of that word.  I vaguely recalled that the Bikini Islands had something to do with it.  But what, exactly?

  • In 1946, the first modern bikinis were introduced to the fashion world.  As often happens, two different designers came up with the same idea at the same time.
  • It's important that this happened in 1946 because this was the year after Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been bombed using the atom bomb, thus ending World War II.  In 1946, the US military continued their testing of atomic bombs on the Bikini Atoll, or the Bikini Islands.

The Bikini Atoll is considered part of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.
(Map from Bikini Atoll

Here's what the Bikini Atoll looks like up close. It's actually an atoll plus 23 islands.  There used to be 26 islands.
(Map from Bikini Atoll)

  • The bombs that the US military detonated in the Bikini Atoll were of about the same strength as the one dropped on Nagasaki.  Those test bombs wiped out 3 of the Atoll's islands entirely.
  • So in the middle of this uber-scary stuff, those two French fashion designers came up with their new bathing suits.
  • I don't mean to suggest that they were entirely facetious.  It's a pretty natural human response, in the face of something so enormous it could destroy the entire planet, to focus instead on something diverting, delightful, utterly human, and so obviously in favor of procreation.
  • But maybe they did have a slightly skewed opinion of the weightiness of fashion design. 
  • The first designer, Jacques Heim, called his two-piece bathing suit the "Atome."  The name was supposed to suggest that the bathing suit was small, like an atom. He hired skywriters who proclaimed the Atome to be "the world's smallest bathing suit."
  • The second French designer, Louis Reard, was originally a mechanical engineer.  He called his two-piece bathing suit the "bikini."  He named it after the Bikini Atoll, and the idea was that the effect of this bathing suit would be as earth-shattering as the atomic bombs being tested there.
  • Reard also said his suit was "smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world," meaning that it was even smaller than the Atome.  His version of the two-piece soon superseded the Atome as the more popular of the two.
  • The bikini was first shown on a fashion runway in Paris that summer.  American correspondents covering the show were shocked but also tantalized by the revealing bathing suits.  They predicted that the bikini would be too scandalous for Americans to adopt, but only one year later, some American women were already wearing bikinis.

Bikini from the Steven Sally Collection, from around 1950. The bottoms of bikinis tended to be rather high-waisted, like this one, for the first couple of decades.  For some reason, exposing the navel was considered the most taboo thing of all, and it was very carefully covered.
(Photo from Bikini Science)

In France, however, the rules were a little different. This is Brigitte Bardot in Cannes in 1953, when she was 19. She became famous because she wore a bikini the previous year in a film called Manina, La Fille San Voile, later known as The Girl in the Bikini.
(Photo from Bikini Science)

  • It wasn't until the 1960s, however, that the bikini really took off.

I suspect it was movies like Bikini Beach and Beach Blanket Bingo which showed wholesome Annette Funicello wearing bikinis that helped them go mainstream.
(Image from The Webcomic List)

Meanwhile, other movie stars were wearing entirely different kinds of bikinis. Here's Raquel Welch in her famous Cave Girl bikini in 1966. Maybe this is what people actually would wear in a postapocalyptic world, when your clothes might be exploded to ribbons.
(Photo from Bikini Science)

  • Reard also said of bikinis: "A bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring."
  • In the 1970s, the sexual revolution touched off all kinds of changes. In the world of bathing suits, nude and topless sunbathing became the buzz.  Interestingly, though, the iconic bathing suit posters from this era -- Farrah Fawcett and Bo Derek -- featured one-pieces, not bikinis.

Cheryl Tiegs in the 1974 issue of Sports Illustrated kept the bikini in the popular eye.  This suit sold for $20.00.
(Photo from Bikini Science)

Then came the string bikini in the late 1970s.  They weren't quite this string-y at first.  This one is from Brazil, 1979.  The string bikini has evolved further to include G-string bottoms.
(Photo from Bikini Science)

  • Pretty much since the 1960s, styles of bikinis have embraced both the Annette Funicello and the Raquel Welch options.  That is, you can just as easily find girl-next-door bikinis as you can find the Brazilian beach bomb bikinis.

Here's a current girl-next-door type bikini from Land's End.  They have lots of different styles and sizes of tops and bottoms that you can mix and match.

Bikini Shopping Tips
  • It may make you feel better to know that when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models are preparing for that oh-so-famous swimsuit issue, they each try on hundreds of different bikinis.  Even women with legs up to here and stomachs so flat you could iron on them have to try on lots of suits before they find ones that look the best on them.
  • Most women assume that if something isn't their best feature, they should cover it up.  In the case of swimsuits, however, that's not always the case.  Say you think your hips are too big.  You might think that you should try to hide them by wearing a swim skirt.  But actually, that extra fabric which often flares out will only draw more attention to your hips.  Choosing a suit that's cut higher in the legs will actually make your legs look longer and your hips appear slimmer. 

See how the extra fabric over her right hip draws your eye to it and makes it look larger?  This woman certainly does not have large hips, either.
(Bathing suit from Macy's)

  • Choose dark colors to slim or understate areas you want to downplay and lighter colors where you want to draw the eye.  If you're still trying to hide those hips, choose a dark colored bottom and a lighter colored top.

Here's another version of the same idea.  See how you notice Rihanna's hips way before you look at her top?  That's because of that bright neon yellow.
(Photo from CelebPretty)

  • Similarly, prints on a dark background are more slimming than lighter-background prints.  
  • Like light colors, shiny fabrics draw the eye and are less slimming.  Matte or "flat" fabrics are more slimming.
  • If a bathing suit puckers or ripples or gathers in places where it's not supposed to, it's the wrong size.  If it's supposed to ripple or gather someplace, keep in mind that those folds in the fabric will call attention to that spot.
  • Bikinis that are numerically sized and which allow you to purchase the top and bottom independently will give you a better fit.  Bikinis sized simply S, M, L are less likely to fit the specifics of your shape.
  • Move around in the dressing room to see how well the suit stays with you. Straps and leg edges should lie comfortably on the skin.  They shouldn't dig in, nor should they gap or slip.
  • When you lift up your arms, if the top creeps up to show the bottom of your breasts, find a larger size or a top that offers more coverage.

I'm afraid this is a Bikini No. Obviously she's hanging out of it, but in addition to that, the gradations of color aren't doing her any favors. The black is sort of erasing her curviest part while the white is drawing attention to a less interesting part of her anatomy.
(Photo from

  • When you sit down, the leg openings of the bottom should not gap.  If you have to keep digging the suit out of your crack, either the suit is too small or you are not comfortable wearing that level of coverage.  Choose something that fits both your body and your taste.
Katy Perry on vacation in a green bikini that suits her very well. Go, Katy!
(Photo from KROQ)

  • In the end, I think, the bikini won.  The atom bomb has been growing less and less popular, is facing various forms of deletion and erasure, while the bikini is only gaining in popularity, variation, and style. 
  • One might even say we are successfully fighting the despair of the atom bomb, one bathing suit at a time.
Sources, The History of the Bikini
Jack Niedenthal, Bikini Atoll, A Short History of the People of Bikini Atoll
eHow, How to Fit a Bikini

Friday, May 28, 2010

Apple #458: Fainting

So a couple weeks ago a friend of mine -- I'll call him Mercutio -- had to have a tooth pulled.  It was his wisdom tooth.  His dentist gave him local anesthetic, and "it didn't hurt, but the feeling and the sound of the tooth wrenching and cracking really creeped me out."

Once the tooth was out, Mercutio told them he didn't feel so well, that he felt faint, and he passed out.  When he came to, it took him a while to remember where he was and what had happened.  The technicians were wiping his face with a damp towel and telling him he was fine, even though he felt like he might pass out again.  He had to tell them to let him recline, which they did, and after about five minutes, he felt a little better and he had color in his face again.

So he wanted to know, what causes fainting and what are you supposed to do when someone says they feel faint, or after they faint?

Men faint too, you know. Even macho military dudes like General Petraeus.
(Painting sourced from the Texas Arrhythmia Institute)

  • Fainting is what happens when you lose consciousness temporarily due to a loss of blood supply to the brain.
  • The technical term for fainting is syncope, pronounced SIN-ka-pee.  That's a Greek term that literally means "cut off."  
  • Another meaning of syncope is when letters or sounds are commonly omitted from a word, like "forecastle" is pronounced "fo'c'sle" or "ever" in poetry is often written and pronounced "e'er."  So maybe when you faint, it's like you've lost a letter or two for a while.
  • Okay, but seriously, here's what happens when you faint.  In nearly every case, some stimuli or other causes your nervous system to go into a particular involuntary reflex.  The heart slow down and the blood vessels in the legs dilate.  Since the heart isn't pounding as fast, blood pressure drops, and what blood is circulating tends to hang around in the legs where the blood vessels are larger.  Thus less blood gets to the brain, and the brain temporarily shuts off -- you faint. 
  • One out of every four people will faint at least once in their lifetime.
  • Fainting is more common among elderly people.
  • About 30% of people who have fainted once will faint again. 

  • Even though it doesn't happen to that many people, the things that can trigger people to faint are legion.
  • Common faint, a.k.a. vasovagal syncope. 
    • Stress-related -- you see that you are about to be injured or you are, in fact, injured.  This is probably the type of fainting that Mercutio experienced.  Fainting at the sight of blood also falls under this category.
      • Psychological -- anxiety that gets intense enough can make people hyperventilate.  This reduces the amount of oxygen getting to the brain and may trigger a faint.  

    Here's an example of stress-related fainting:

    It's pretty amazing that he got up right away and spelled his word correctly.  That shows extraordinary presence of mind on his part.  But you shouldn't treat this as a model for what to do.  Nobody went to help him, he should have stayed on the floor longer to give himself more time to recover, and somebody could have offered him a drink of water too.

        • Environmental -- you're in a place that's hot, crowded, lots of pressure, etc.
        • Physical -- standing too long with locked knees, for example.  When I was in choir back in the day, our choir director used to tell us not to lock our knees when standing on the risers, but sure enough, somebody did exactly that during a performance.  She passed out and fell right off the risers.

      Fainting couches like this one used to be very common in Victorian homes.  This was because women wore corsets tied so tightly, the blood and oxygen supply to their brain was insufficient so they passed out a lot.  "Swooning" or "having a case of the vapors" gets made fun of, but probably for some women, it was a real and true thing.
      (Photo by Shelley Dziedic on Photobucket)

          • Other physical -- any illness that leaves you with low blood sugar or dehydrated or fatigued. Lots of conditions fall in this group, but I'll highlight some of them separately. General Petraeus said the reason he fainted was because he was dehydrated.
          • Anemia -- this means you have fewer red blood cells than usual, which in turn means less oxygen gets carried around the body.  This can make you susceptible to fainting. Girls and women with heavy periods have an anemia-like situation going on, and they can be more likely to faint.
          • Pregnancy -- a pregnant woman's body goes through an enormous number of changes to accommodate the fetus, and changes occur in her circulatory system too.  Those alterations can result in reduced blood flow to her brain. Or the fetus in later months may be large enough to block some major blood vessels, or the mother can get dehydrated more easily than she's used to.  All of these situations can make it more likely for her to faint.

        Pregnancy can make a woman prone to fainting, or the pregnancy can also reduce her iron levels, making her anemic.  That, too, can lead to fainting.
        (Photo and more information about pregnancy and fainting at Made for Mums)

          • Eating disorders -- anorexia or bulimia can leave you dehydrated, with low blood sugar, or it can even cause changes in your blood pressure or circulation, any of which make you susceptible to fainting.
          • Situational -- these are sort of odd reactions to particular bodily events.  They don't happen to most people, usually only those with particular diseases or conditions.
            • Coughing -- people with lung disease sometimes cough so forcefully, they pass out.
            • Swallowing -- people with certain diseases of the throat or esophagus may faint while swallowing.
            • Urinating (micturition) -- when people empty an overfilled bladder and then pass out. Most typically when this happens, it happens to men who have gotten really drunk.
            • Shaving -- people who have a very high sensitivity to their carotid area may faint while shaving, wearing a tight collar, or even turning their head.  Usually people with this sensitivity are elderly.
            • After eating (postprandial) -- Some people experience a drop in blood pressure when they stand up about an hour after eating. Usually people who faint because of this are elderly.
          • Standing up (postural) --  These other types of standing-up-related fainting get put into their own category.  In these cases, you feel perfectly normal while you're lying down but when you stand up, all of a sudden, you faint.  That sounds pretty common, but actually some of these types of fainting-situations are related to cardiovascular medications or certain disorders.
            • Low blood volume -- this is a pretty general group which includes people who've lost blood due to some traumatic accident or other, or else they're suffering from extreme dehydration or heat exhaustion.
            • Impaired circulatory reflexes -- some cardiovascular medications can interfere with the normal activity of the circulatory system and thus make you faint.  In other cases, people may have some disorder in their nervous system or they were born with some condition that makes this happen.
            • Substance abuse -- this probably falls under the "impaired circulatory reflexes" category, but I think it's worth giving this one its own mention.  Illegal drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine which overstimulate the heart can cause someone to faint.  Inhalants (huffing) can also screw up your heart rate and cause you to faint. 
            • Heart disease.  Here's where the causes of fainting start to get especially serious.
              • Arrhythmia -- your heart beat is erratic enough that it results in not enough blood getting to the brain.  Fainting that happens because of this can be sudden and without warning.
              • Cardiac obstruction -- something in the chest is blocking the blood flow.  That "something" can be a lot of things, most of them requiring major medical attention.  It can be anything from a faulty heart valve to high blood pressure in the heart to an embolism to a heart attack.
              • Heart failure -- this one seems pretty obvious.  The heart quits pumping, and blood can't get to the brain.  It's also extremely serious.
            • Neurologic
              • Seizures -- seizures make a person unconscious, but it's a different kind of unconsciousness than fainting.  Seizures last longer than 8 seconds and are accompanied by shaking or seizing of the arms and legs.  A person who suffers from a seizure may faint afterward.
              • Strokes -- these happen when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds.  Double vision, slurred speech, loss of balance, dizziness or vertigo, and severe headaches typically accompany strokes.  Fainting may occur as a result of the brain not getting enough blood due to a stroke.
              • Other -- severe migraines or also some very rare conditions involving the tongue may trigger fainting.

            WHAT TO DO
            • Signs you might be about to faint include light-headedness, nausea, and sometimes heart palpitations, which feel like a kind of fluttering in your chest.  Usually your face gets pale, too, because of the reduced amount of blood flow to your head.
            • If you think you might be about to pass out, sit or lie down.  This helps keep the blood in the dilated blood vessels in your legs from staying there, and helps more of it get to your brain.
            • Elevating the legs further helps with this.

            Here's a good snapshot of what to do for someone who says they feel faint.
            (Photo sourced from SodaHead)

            • Tensing and flexing the muscles in your hands and arms and feet can also help stave off a faint.  Doing so helps keep the blood flowing throughout your body.
            • Drink fluids, especially if you've been exercising or if you've gotten overheated.
            • If someone says they feel faint, take them seriously.  Help them to sit or lie down and elevate their legs.  Do not, as Mercutio's dentist did, ignore the warning signs or tell a person that they feel fine when they are saying otherwise.

            This is why you don't want to allow someone to faint away without help.  They could fall and hit something -- in this case, a burning hot stove -- and injure themselves pretty seriously.
            (Drawing from Clipart ETC)

            • If someone has fainted, move them so they are lying down if that is not already the case, and elevate their legs.  Again, this will help get the blood flowing back to the brain.
            • After the person comes to, even if you believe the cause of fainting is not serious, do not allow them to get up again for a good 15 to 20 minutes.  This is to make sure the blood pressure has restored itself to normal levels and the brain is getting enough blood.
            • Give them water or some other beneficial fluid to drink, if it's available.
            • If the person does not come out of the faint relatively quickly, yelling or briskly tapping their arm or leg may help them come to.  If the person still does not respond after about a minute, call 911 immediately.
            • Once medical professionals are on the scene, they will do what they can to restore blood pressure and treat any other symptoms.
            • If you have fainted, in most cases, you won't need to see a doctor to find out if anything serious is going on that needs attention.  However, if you've experienced the following symptoms along with the fainting, then it's a good idea to go see a doctor:
              • Irregular heart beat
              • Chest pain
              • Shortness of breath
              • No warning signs preceding the faint
              • Blurred vision
              • Confusion
              • Trouble talking afterwards
              • Taking longer than a few seconds to regain consciousness
              • Fainting when you turn your head to the side
              • Fainting more often than once a month
              • If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease
              • If you're pregnant

              • The more I've read about this, the more I started to wonder, why do our bodies do this anyway?  If it's an involuntary reflex that kicks in, there must be a reason why our bodies come equipped with this response.  So why does it happen and what good does it do us?
              • One site calls fainting an "energy conserving mode."  The fainting system actually hopes that the faint will knock us flat to the floor and require us to cease all activity.  The faint, in effect, puts a stop to whatever the stimulus was that triggered the faint, or gets us away from the unpleasant thing even momentarily, and by throwing us to the floor, it puts the brain at the same level as the feet, allowing the blood to flow back to the brain and the blood pressure to re-regulate itself.
              • This in no way suggests that if you feel a faint coming on it is somehow healthier or better to allow yourself to go ahead and faint.  If you take the steps necessary to avert the faint, you will be making conscious choices to interrupt the negative stimulus and to restore blood flow and blood pressure to levels that your body likes.  And you'll be doing so in a way that won't put yourself at risk for cracking your head open.
              • Another reason we faint is, I suspect, related to the fact that we walk upright.  It's a really tough thing our circulatory systems do, pumping blood upward, against the pull of gravity, to the most crucial and oxygen-hungry part of our bodies, the brain.  That's such a challenging feat, no wonder it goes a bit haywire now and then.
              • I'm thinking about this because of the entry I just did about bats.  They can hang upside down for hours -- they sleep that way -- and not be bothered by blood rushing to their heads or taking off suddenly and flipping themselves upright again immediately.  If we tried hanging upside down for hours and then suddenly flipping ourselves upright, I bet we'd pass out.  But bats don't have any trouble with that because their bodies are a lot smaller and their circulatory systems don't have to work as hard to keep everything oxygenated.

              Speaking of animals and fainting, these are called "fainting goats" but really what afflicts them is not a faint.  They fall down not because of reduced blood volume to the brain but because of a stiffening in their legs.  

              emedicinehealth, Fainting
    , syncope
              NIH, Medline Plus, Fainting
              Nemours, TeensHealth, Fainting
              Texas Arrhythmia Institute, Syncope (Fainting)
              Cleveland Clinic, Syncope Care & Treatment
              WebMD, Fainting Treatment
              Family, Fainting
    , Fainting

              Sunday, May 23, 2010


              I had an event this weekend and friends in from out of town, so I wasn't able to get to this as I normally would have.  I'll have a new entry for you very soon.

              (Daisies photo from Learning to Walk in Stilettos)

              Monday, May 17, 2010

              Apple #457: Bats

              I was out in the woods the other evening, I saw a fair number of bats flying around.  This reminded me, I like bats.

              Bats flying at dusk. These are actually Mexican Free-Tailed bats, one group of which lives in an enormous colony of several million near San Antonio, Texas.
              (Photo from Nature's Crusaders)

              A bat got in my house once.  I was in bed with the lights off, and I heard it whooshing around above my head.  Since I couldn't see what it was, at first, I was kind of terrified.  But once I got the light on and saw what it was, and when I saw that it was following a sort of pattern around the room near the ceiling, I got over being afraid of it and tackled the problem of how to get it outside.

              I went downstairs to get a container large enough for it, and when I came back upstairs, it had flown into the other bedroom.  I shut myself in there with the bat so he couldn't fly into another room.  He flew around and around and then paused on the molding at the top of one of the windows.  He had bright eyes, a small, quick face, and his wings looked leathery but soft.

              I talked to him.  I said, "You're not going to be happy in here because there's no food for you to eat."  I noticed that any time I said a word with an "s" sound in it, his ears moved.  So I said a lot of other things to the bat, trying to use a lot of "s" words.  During our conversation, he left the top of the window and flew around the room quite a few times, but he flew around less often and stayed on the window longer.  Finally as he was pausing, listening to my "s" words, I was able to get close enough to him, said I was sorry, and clapped him in the huge container that had once held many gallons of frozen yogurt.

              I quick opened the window, held the container outside the window, lifted off the lid, and he flew out right away.  He seemed to be unhurt.  As soon as he was gone, I missed him.  It was nice having a guest.

              A bat in the house may read your good books?
              (Photo from Get Rid of Bats)

              I just looked up what you're supposed to do if you have a bat flying around in your house.  Basically, I did what they recommend.  But because there is a faint possibility that a bat could carry rabies, I should have gotten a rabies vaccination.

              If you have one bat in your house, open a window and chances are the bat will fly out on its own.  If that doesn't happen, put on thick gloves, find something like a net or a large container, and capture it long enough to release it outside.  Then you should stop by the hospital or the doctor's office and get a precautionary rabies vaccination.

              If you have lots of bats living in your house, it seems counter-intuitive, but build a bat-friendly house for them in your yard.  Then when it's dark, wait for them to fly out to find food and close up any holes where they could get in.  When they come back, if they can't get into your house, they'll move into the bat house.  More details about that process are available here.

              Bat houses work best when they're made of cedar and mounted under eaves but with exposure to the sun to keep them warm. This bat house by Looker Inc., is one of many types that are made to the Organization for Bat Conservation specifications. This means it will have a better chance of attracting bats already in your house, and of keeping them there so they will eat the bugs you don't want in your yard or on your plants.

              • There are over 1,100 species of bats.
              • Bats represent 20% of all species of mammals.
              • They are the only mammals capable of true flight.
              • Bats are very long-lived for their size.  Most live to be around 15 or 20 years old.

              What I find interesting about bat anatomy is that it is literally the arms and the fingers that support the wings.
              (Photo from Bat Conservation International)

              • The fact that bats use their arms and hands to fly is essentially the reason they sleep upside down.  They're resting their arms.  Their feet aren't made for walking, but like birds' feet, their at-rest position is a grasping position.  So when their feet are relaxed, they're curled around the branch and the bat can fall asleep, nicely relaxed.
              • They don't have the problem with blood rushing to their head like humans do.  Because of their small size, blood distribution isn't an issue, so it doesn't matter to their circulatory system whether they're right-side-up or not.
              • Bats are not blind.  Really.  In fact, most species of bats have excellent vision.
              • Like dolphins, they "sound" out their territory by echolocation.  They make high-pitched tweets and are able to analyze the echoes that bounce back.  Not only do their know where their friends and relatives are, they also know where obstacles are so they can avoid them.  
              • Their echolocation systems are so good, they can detect obstacles as fine as a human hair.
              • Which therefore means they will not get caught in your hair.
              • One handy way to categorize the species of bats is by the food they eat.

              Species of bats divided up according to the foods they eat.
              (Pie chart from Bat Conservation International)

              • Nearly 2/3 of bat species eat bugs.  And they eat a lot of bugs.  One small brown bat can eat about 1,000 bugs the size of mosquitoes in only one hour.
              • A female bug-eating bat who is either pregnant or lactating will eat her entire body weight in bugs each night.
              • Nearly all the species of bats who live in North America are bug-eaters. 

              This is the Eastern Red Bat. It's the most common tree-dwelling bat in North America.  It lives anywhere from the northernmost tip of Maine down to central Florida, and west until about the Rocky Mountains.  They come out to eat early in the evening, often at the edge of forests or even around streetlights where moths are plentiful. While sleeping, they curl their tails around them and are often mistaken for dangling pine cones or dead leaves.
              (Photo from Bat Conservation International)

              • Many bug-eating bats will migrate to nearby caves or mines to hibernate for the winter, but some travel from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico.
              • As with many migrating animals, researchers aren't sure how bats find their way back to the same hibernation and summer homes each year.
              • Most mammals mate in the spring, but not these bats.  Most of these species mate in the fall.  Then they all go hibernate for the winter.  When the female wakes up in the spring, she ovulates, and the egg is fertilized by the sperm that has lain dormant inside her all winter.
              • Once she's pregnant, she'll move from her winter roost to another roost that's warmer.  Lots of other female bats will find the same roosting spot, and they'll form a nursing colony.  The babies are born about 2 and a half months later.

              You'd think this bat would be called Big-Eared Bat, but actually this is the Spotted Bat.  Its ears are pink and so are its wings. I'm not sure where the spots are, actually.  It's very rare and it eats only moths. Its territory ranges from southern British Columbia in sort of a stripe all the way down to the middle of Mexico.
              (Photo from Bat Conservation International)

              • The other 1/3 of bats eat plant nectar or fruit.  Most fruit-eating bats live in tropical climates.

              This is the Straw-Colored Fruit Bat, which lives in Africa.  As shown in the photo, they can use their "fingers" for help in climbing along tree branches.  These bats are fairly large, they don't mind flying around in the daytime, they like to eat the fruit of palm trees, and they're very gregarious.  Sometimes they form colonies as large as 1,000,000 bats.
              (Photo from the Organization for Bat Conservation)

              • Fruit-eating bats also act as pollinators of the plants whose fruit they eat.  The fruit-eaters are also very good at, um, fertilizing and distributing the seeds of their favorite plants.
              • Some of the plants that bats pollinate include bananas, avocados, peaches, mangoes, figs, cashews, and agave.
              • Flying foxes are the largest species of bat.  They live in Indonesia and Australia.  Their wingspans reach nearly six feet.

              This is the Egyptian Fruit Bat. They live, obviously, in Egypt, but also in Pakistan, Turkey, and around the Arabian Peninsula.  Males will roost in the nesting colony with the females.
              (Photo from the Organization for Bat Conservation)

              • A tiny fraction of other bat species eat small animals like fish, mice, or frogs.

              The Fringe-Lipped Bat is one of the few species that eat frogs, or anything other than bugs or fruit.  This bat lives in Panama.
              (Photo by Alexander T. Baugh from the University of Texas at Austin)

              • Only 3 species of bats are vampire bats, and all 3 species live in Latin America.  

              A vampire bat. Boy am I shaking in my boots at the sight of that tiny little thing.
              (Photo from Life123)

              • They do feed on blood, but only the blood of birds, cattle, horses, and pigs.  They typically go up to livestock while they're sleeping, cut open the skin with their teeth, and lap up the blood.
              • They don't suck blood but rather they lap it with their tongues.  They have never attacked a human.
              • The saliva of vampire bats contains two handy enzymes. 
              • The first numbs the skin around the bite and keeps the animal from waking up.
              • The second enzyme dissolves blood clots. This keeps the blood which is their food flowing.  But researchers have managed to collect the enzyme and use it to treat people who have had strokes.
              • Some vampire bats will adopt young orphan bats, which is very rare for any wild animal. 

              A nectar-eating bat. I don't know any more about it than that. But it's a cool photo.
              (Photo from aaaaaahhhhshark)

              Okay, so maybe most bats won't win a beauty pageant.  But is that any reason to make up all sorts of lies about them?  I think not.  And would you rather have millions more mosquitoes?

              Oh, and how could I forget:  "You wouldn't hit a bat with glasses on, would you?"  Still makes me laugh.

              Bat Conservation International, All About Bats
              Defenders of Wildlife, Bats
              Contra Costa County Office of Education, Bats! Why should you care?
              The Wild Ones Animal Index, Vampire Bat
              Life123, What Do Vampire Bats Eat 
              CoolQuiz! Why Do Bats Hang Upside Down?
              DOE Newton Ask A Scientist, Bats Upside Down

              Wednesday, May 12, 2010

              Apple #456: Cupcakes

              I completely forgot all about the Daily Apple this past Sunday.  Incredible, I know.  But I did.

              One of the things I was doing instead of coming up with a new Daily Apple was eating cupcakes.  So here's some trivia about cupcakes.

              Cupcakes from The Magnolia Bakery in New York City.
              (Photo from Things to See NYC)

              • One of the earliest known recipes for cupcakes, from 1796, calls for
                • 1/2 pound sugar
                • 1/2 pound butter
                • 2 pounds flour
                • one glass of wine
                • one glass of rosewater
                • two glasses of emptins, or dregs, perhaps of cider or beer
                • nutmeg
                • cinnamon
                • currants
              • They didn't have cupcake tins back then.  I'm not sure what they would have baked them in, but by the 19th century, people were baking cupcakes in ramekins, which are individual ceramic bowls that are smaller than the typical cereal bowl.  If you've ordered creme brulee in a restaurant lately, chances are it was served to you in a ramekin.
              • Some people make cupcakes in actual mugs.  People like to do this because, with a microwave oven, these can be made right in the mug, no extra bowls or dishes necessary, in five minutes.  One baker said that five minutes is too long, that the cupcakes turn out rubbery and inedible, and that 2 mins 30 secs works much better.  
              • Cupcakes have become enormously popular lately.  I've been noticing lots of blogs springing up that are devoted specifically to cupcakes.  Stores have opened in my town that sell nothing but cupcakes.  In 2008, Google reported that the greatest increase in the number of recipe searches was for cupcakes. 
              • I did a quick search for cupcake blogs and found thousands.  One hit listed the top 50 blogs solely about cupcakes.  So if you're mad about cupcakes and you want new recipes strictly for cupcakes but on a regular basis, check out this list and you'll probably find a blog or 5 or 10 that you might want to follow.
              • For decades, a phrase has been passed around in the product development and marketing world, which is that if you want to make a product sell really well with women, "shrink it and pink it."  That is, make it smaller and make it pink and it'll sell like hotcakes.  Or should I say, cupcakes?

              The cute and the pink factors are very hard at work in the cupcake world.
              (Photo from Hostess blog.  There's no recipe, it's an entry only about cupcake photos. Saturated with cuteness and pink.)

              • A lot of feminists say, don't keep using that "shrink it and pink it" phrase because that's demeaning to women and it's not accurate anyway, products that are small and pink don't necessarily sell better than others that are neither.  (I, for one, try steer clear of pink most of the time.)  But apparently the phrase seems to be pretty apt as far as cupcakes are concerned.
              • Another sign of cupcakes' popularity:  a search of Amazon for books with the word "cupcakes" in the title brought up 518 hits. Granted, not all of them are cupcake cookbooks.  One of them was this murder mystery:

              I don't know why this is, but new copies of the above cupcake recipe book sell for about $7, while used copies sell for $63.  Usually that means they've been signed or something, but there's no indication of that in this case.  Perhaps this is a real-life cupcake mystery?

              • In England, cupcakes are called "fairy cakes."  
              • Some people say that fairy cakes are different than cupcakes because they have a dome on top.
              • Others say that fairy cakes have "wings" on top that look like fairy wings.  Still others say those aren't fairy cakes, those are butterfly cakes.

              Fairy cake or butterfly cake.  That's butter cream spread in between the "wings" on top of the cake, with powdered sugar dusted on top.
              (Photo from Absolute Astronomy)

              • Then there are cupcakes decorated all sorts of ways, for all sorts of purposes.

              Darth Vader cupcakes from katiepeck on Flickr.

              Lego cupcakes.  Don't know who made these originally, but Forever Geek picked up the photo.

              This idea has become popular lately, too: serving a tower of cupcakes rather than cake at wedding receptions.
              (Photo from Kate's Wedding, but I think the cupcake wedding cake may actually be from the Vanilla Bake Shop)

              This isn't that appetizing, but it's really funny.  It's cupcakes with portions of Stonehenge replicated on top made from, I believe, pieces of Twix candy bars.  I found this posted on a blog that's not about cupcakes, but rather Stonehenge replicas of all sorts.  Definitely check out Clonehenge.
              (Photo and cupcakes by tokyopop)

              This might be the fanciest cupcake I've ever seen.  This is a strawberry-lime stuffed cupcake from the Food Network.  There's actually a recipe on that page.

              Hey, remember these, everybody?  The Hostess cupcakes with the cream filling?
              (This is actually an oil painting of the cupcakes in question by Pamela Michelle Johnson)

              • The first Hostess cupcake was made in 1919.  That's way older than I would have thought.
              • But it was in 1950 that the signature squiggle was added on top and which, I think, gave them their true character.
              • I've always suspected that they shoot the filling into the cupcakes with some sort of cream filling spray gun, but I wasn't able to find out whether that was the case.

              Food, Cupcake
              Absolute Astronomy, cupcake, ramekin
              Enterprise Nation, Cupcakes: the facts, figures, and how to get started
              lemondrop, "Shrink It & Pink It" -- The Sad Truth About How Tech Markets to Women, February 19, 2010
    , CupCakes

              Friday, May 7, 2010

              Apple #455: Mother's Day

              Mother's Day is this Sunday.

              • Mother's Day has a lot of distant antecedents which were more religious in nature, springing first from festivals honoring Mary the mother of Jesus.  With the passing of centuries and the changes in religious practice, those celebrations became more secularized or faded out.
              • Then in 1872, Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the words to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," suggested an International Mother's Day.

              Julia Ward Howe. Poet, lyricist, peace activist.  A woman sick of war.
              (Photo from Mother's Day Central)

              • The Civil War had ended only 5 years previously, but she had witnessed enough carnage and sons killing sons.  Her goal, in holding an International Mother's Day, was not to honor mothers with gifts but to bring them together in a united stand against war, in favor of peace.
              • She wrote an impassioned plea asking mothers to unite for this cause in a document called the Mother's Day Proclamation.
              • She wanted June 2 to be established as Mother's Peace Day, and she held the first meeting in Boston on June 2, 1873.  Similar meetings were held that year in 17 other cities in the United States.
              • As the years passed, her Mother's Peace Day grew in popularity and more and more mothers attended each year.
              • One of the women who attended one of Ward Howe's Mother's Peace Days was named Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis. She had a daughter named Anna Jarvis.
                • When Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna went to a couple churches where her mother had taught or where her family lived and asked them to hold memorial services in honor of her mother and all mothers everywhere.

                Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis and her daughter Anna
                (Photo from West Virginia Archives & History)

                  • Jarvis sent white carnations, which were her mother's favorite flower, in honor of her mother.  Two carnations were given to every person who attended the services. 
                  • Jarvis envisioned it as a day of prayer and thanksgiving.  She wanted people all over the country to come together to offer prayers of thanks and respect for their mothers and mothers everywhere.
                  • Her idea did catch on. By 1911, only six years later, nearly every state in the country was having some form of a Mother's Day celebration. But most of the local celebrations had lost their religious connection. 
                  • No one says whether she got the idea to do this from the Mother's Peace Day meetings that her mother attended.  But Jarvis's Mother's Day rose in popularity while Ward Howe's Peace Day waned.
                  • Jarvis and many of her supporters continued to petition politicians to declare one day of the year an official Mother's Day.  On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a resolution establishing that Mother's Day should be celebrated every year on the second Sunday in May.
                      • Although her original Mother's Day service included carnations, she never intended that flowers should become a commercial item connected with the day.  In fact, at one Mother's Day festival in 1930, Anna Jarvis was arrested for trying to stop women from selling flowers.  She said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit."

                      Anna Jarvis, probably around the time she started to dislike the way in which people were celebrating Mother's Day.
                      (Photo from The Parenting Magazine)

                        • She was so adamant that the day not become commercialized, she tried to sue to stop one Mother's Day celebration that she thought was particularly commercial.  She petitioned against a postage stamp using her mother's picture with white carnations and the words "Mother's Day" on it.
                        • She tried to secure copyright the phrase "Mother's Day" so she could guard against its use in applications that she thought too commercial, but too late.
                        • She died, blind and destitute, in 1948.  She had no children so no one held a memorial celebration for her as their mother.  It was the Florist's Exchange who paid for her burial.
                        • Today, Mother's Day weekend is the busiest of the year for florists.
                        • People spend about $2 billion on flowers for Mother's Day.

                        $2 billion in flowers is a whole lot of flowers.  This is a photo of how flowers are sold at the flower auction markets in Holland.
                        (Photo from

                          • All told, in 2006, gifts for Mother's Day (flowers, jewelry, clothing, greeting cards, trips to spas, dinners out, gift certificates, gardening tools, books and electronics) totaled about $14 billion.

                          All right, so that's the story of Mother's Day.  It reads like a frowny-faced tale of a good thing turned  commercial and therefore bad, and the moral is you should feel guilty for buying your mom a present because that means you're just feeding the commercial machine.  Well, I don't think that moral does anybody any good.  For one thing, that gets out of telling your mom, hey, thanks for giving birth to me and feeding me and loving me and and taking care of me and putting up with me for all those years.

                          Besides, a lot of stories of our holidays in this country have endings like that.  They start out as religious festivals of some kind, get secularized, and now there's a whole bunch of money tied up in them.  I'm thinking that might be the story of our country.  The fact that something has a whole bunch of people and money involved might be the way our country says: success!

                          Maybe the way to think of this story of Mother's Day is not as some good romanticized thing gone money-choked and bad, but as a success story.  This was one woman's wish that her mother and all mothers be honored for all that they do for us.  She worked really hard to get her idea to catch on and to be acted upon throughout the whole country, and it's happening.  Still.  Nearly 100 years later, we're still doing it.  Maybe not exactly in the way she wanted, but we are still saying to our mothers every year, "Thanks, Mom.  I love you."  And we're doing it while they're still alive.

                           Here's one way to say I love you, Mom.
                           (This is actually a free screensaver from T&P SC)

                          Here's another.
                          (Photo from

                          I can't resist, though, adding some of Julia Ward Howe's words to mothers.  Because I think her words still apply today.  Being a mom isn't just about love and happy thoughts.  It's about hard work and hard choices made to look after the ones they love, especially when there's bad cess like war going on.  Say it for us, Julia:

                          Arise then...women of this day!
                          Arise, all women who have hearts!
                          Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
                          Say firmly:
                          "We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
                          Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
                          For caresses and applause.
                          Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
                          All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
                          We, the women of one country,
                          Will be too tender of those of another country
                          To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

                          Here's to mothers everywhere who have fought to give us the good things, the important things.

                          A Peace Rose, with thanks, to Mom.
                          (Photo from Liberty Art Works)

                          Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India, Mother's Day
                , Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870: Mother's Peace Day, The Origins of Mother's Day
                          Mother's Day Central, Mother's Day History
                          Jone Johnson Lewis, "Mother's Day History,"

                          Sunday, May 2, 2010

                          Apple #454: Mourning Doves

                          Don't feel much like talking today.

                          I took a few photos of some mourning doves in the woods a couple weeks ago.  Here are the photos and some facts about them.

                          A pair of mourning doves. Probably mated for life.
                          (Photo by the Apple Lady)

                          • Mourning doves are the most common type of dove in the United States.
                          • They are also the most widely hunted game bird.
                          • They have been clocked at flight speeds in the 40 to 55 mph range.
                          • Their call is distinctive and familiar: coo-OO-oo, oo, oo.  The sound is a bit mournful; hence their name. 
                          • This is the male's call and it is used to mark territory or to court females.
                          • Females on the nest make a different call which sounds like ohr, ohr.
                          • Studies suggest that they mate for life.
                          • Mourning doves make their nests in evergreen trees and typically lay two eggs per brood.  But they have six broods in a year, which makes them sort of like the rabbits of the bird world.
                          • One egg is laid in the evening, the second the next morning.
                          • The food they feed their young, called "pigeon milk" or crop milk, is secreted by the lining of their crop.  It has more protein and fat than either cow's milk or human milk.  It looks and smells like cottage cheese.
                          • The hatchlings get crop milk exclusively for the first three days of their lives, and then they are slowly transitioned to seeds.

                          One of the pair. Hunched up like this, they were a little hard to identify at first.
                          (Photo by the Apple Lady)

                          • Mourning doves live mainly in open, grassy areas.  
                          • They like to sit on telephone poles or wires. 
                          • They like to eat the seeds of wheat and buckwheat and common weeds.  They can often be seen walking on the ground picking up seeds. They are not shy of feeders.
                          • Most birds' feet have special adaptations to make them resistant to freezing.  Mourning doves, however, often lose several toes due to winter freezing.  This makes it difficult for them to scratch for seeds.
                          • When startled, they will burst into flight.  Their wings make high-pitched whistling noises.

                          (Photo by the Apple Lady)

                          By the way, this step-by-step search from is really helpful.  If you know a few details about a bird, like its color and a general idea of its habitat, you can narrow the field down to a few choices and see which ones most closely resemble the bird you saw.

                          Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
                          Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, Mourning Dove
                          Chipper Woods Bird Observatory, Mourning Dove
                          BirdJam, Sounds of the Mourning Dove
                , Field Guide to Birds of North America, Mourning Dove