Sunday, March 29, 2015

April Fool's Day—Where Did It Come From?

The first of April—April Fool's Day or All Fool's Day as it is also known.  A date that has been celebrated for centuries.  But what in the world could possibly be the origins of a day dedicated to pranks and practical jokes?

The exact origins remain a bit of a mystery, the most widely accepted theory says it dates back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar where the new year began on April 1 to the Gregorian calendar where the new year began on January 1 as called for in 1563 by the Council of Trent.  People who didn't get the word that the start of the year had moved or refused to accept the change and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the object of jokes and hoaxes.  Paper fish would be placed on their back and they were referred to as poisson d'avri which means April fish.  It symbolized a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.  These people were considered fools and had practical jokes played on them.

Historians have linked April Fools' Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.  There's also speculation that April Fool's Day was tied to the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when Mother Nature fooled people with changing and unpredictable weather.

On April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools' Day by playing practical jokes on each other.  The celebration spread throughout Britain during the eighteenth century.  In Scotland it became a two day event in which people were sent on phony errands and had fake tails or kick me signs pinned to their rear ends.

All Fools' Day is practiced in many parts of the world with the playing of practical jokes and sending people on fool's errands.  In modern times people have gone to great lengths to stage elaborate pranks.  Here's the top ten hoaxes from a list of the best one hundred pranks of all time as judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.

1)  The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest (1957):  The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.

2)  Sidd Finch (1985):  Sports Illustrated published a story about a new rookie pitcher who planned to play for the Mets.  His name was Sidd Finch, and he could reportedly throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy.  But Sidd Finch had never played the game before.  He mastered the art of the pitch in a Tibetan monastery.  This legendary player was the creation of the article's author, George Plimpton.

3)  Instant Color TV (1962):  At the time there was only one television channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white.  The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception.  All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their television screen.

4)  The Taco Liberty Bell (1996):  The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had purchased the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell.  Outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia to express their anger.

5)  San Serriffe (1977):  British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic consisting of semi-colon shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean.  It described the geography and culture of this obscure nation.  Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse.  Its leader was General Pica.  Only a few readers noticed that everything about the islands was named after printer's terminology.

6)  Nixon for President (1992):  National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again.  His campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again."  Listeners flooded the show with calls expressing shock and outrage.  Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

7)  Alabama Changes the Value of Pi (1998):  The April 1998 issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter contained an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the Biblical value of 3.0.  The article soon made its way onto the internet, then rapidly spread around the world.  The Alabama legislature began receiving hundreds of calls from people protesting the legislation.  The original article was intended as a parody of legislative attempts to circumscribe the teaching of evolution and had been written by a physicist.

8)  The Left-Handed Whopper (1998):  Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction on their menu of a Left-Handed Whopper for the 32 million left-handed Americans.  The ingredients were the same as the original Whopper, but the ad claimed all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers.  Thousands of customers requested the new sandwich.

9)  Hotheaded Naked Ice Borers (1995):  Discover Magazine reported that a highly respected wildlife biologist found a new species in Antarctica—the hotheaded naked ice borer.  The creatures had bony plates on their heads.  When fed by numerous blood vessels, they could become burning hot thus allowing the animals to bore through ice at high speeds.  They used this ability to hunt penguins, melting the ice beneath the penguins and causing them to sink downwards where the hotheads consumed them.  It was theorized that the hotheads might have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of noted Antarctic explorer Philippe Poisson in 1837.  To the hotheads, the explorer looked like a penguin.

10)  Planetary Alignment Decreases Gravity (1976):  British astronomer Patrick Moore announced on BBC Radio 2 that at 9:47AM a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event was going to occur and listeners could experience it in their own homes.  Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, temporarily causing a gravitational alignment that would counteract and lessen the Earth's own gravity.  Moore told his listeners that if they jumped in the air at the exact moment the planetary alignment occurred they would experience a strange floating sensation.  When 9:47AM arrived, BBC2 began to receive hundreds of phone calls from listeners claiming to have felt the sensation.  One woman reported she and her eleven friends had floated around the room.

Have you ever played an April Fool's joke on someone, or had one played on you?  Tell us about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What's In Your Junk Drawer?

It's now officially spring and that means many good things—shiny new leaves on the trees, colorful spring flowers, sunny days that don't include below freezing temperatures at night.  Unfortunately, it also means seasonal chores—putting away the winter coats and clothes, getting out the summer clothes, switching over from furnace to air conditioning, rounding up the garden hoses and sprinklers, and finally the inevitable once a year chore—that ritual known as spring cleaning.

And speaking of spring cleaning, shouldn't that include straightening out and organizing that infamous catch-all known as the junk drawer?  Don't deny that you have one.  Everyone does and it's usually in the kitchen.  What are some of the common items kept in a junk drawer?

1)  Scissors:
These are a must in a junk drawer.  They don't need to be an expensive pair, but they do need to be there.

2)  Paper clips and safety pins:
When something needs fastening, it's a nuisance to rummage through your office for a paper clip and sift through sewing supplies to find what you need.  It's very convenient to have a few of these items handy in the kitchen.

3)  Pens and pencils:
Another must for the junk drawer.  Everyone always needs one in the kitchen.  This is where a lot of the free give-away promotional pens end up…or the one you liberated from the grocery store after writing that check.

4)  Bandages:
Just in case you cut yourself while chopping veggies.

5)  Gum:
Always a nice surprise to find a stick of gum or piece of candy.

6)  Rubber bands:
While they're essential to a junk drawer, they often end up running amok.  You need to put them in something so they won't get tangled with everything and with each other.

7)  Bag clips:
If you have the kind with magnets on them, then you probably keep them on the freezer or refrigerator.  But if they don't have magnets, you'll most likely keep them in the junk drawer.

8)  Batteries:
Many people keep batteries in their refrigerator, but it has been debated whether or not this actually extends battery life.  I keep mine in my junk drawer, mostly AA and AAA batteries since they are the most used.

9)  Mini tools:
It's good to have a few tools handy such as different sizes of screwdrivers (both Phillips head and flat head) and maybe a hammer for those quick emergency fixes that don't require dragging out the big tool box.

10)  Flashlight:
It's nice to have one handy in case of that power failure.  Of course, I also have one in my bedroom and my office.

In my junk drawer I have some of these items and I have some that aren't mentioned here such as a couple of extension cords, a jar with miscellaneous nails and screws, and a roll of duct tape.

There are drawer organizers made for the specific purpose of putting that junk drawer in some kind of order.  I've given up on them and have returned to the basic disorganized system.

What kind of stuff do you keep in your junk drawer?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

St. Patrick's Day—history, symbols, traditions, green beer, and Irish coffee.

March 17—St. Patrick's religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. A date that falls during the Christian season of Lent. The Irish have observed this date as a religious holiday for over a thousand years. Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in the U.S., not in Ireland. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City on March 17, 1762, (when we were still a British colony). In 1848, several New York Irish aid societies united their parades to form one New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States with over 150,000 participants.

Today, St. Patrick's Day is celebrated by people of all backgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Although North America is home to the largest celebrations, it has been celebrated in other locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore, and Russia.

In modern day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. Until the 1970s, Irish laws mandated pubs be closed on March 17. In 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to promote tourism.

Symbols and Traditions

The shamrock was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland, symbolizing the rebirth of spring. By the seventeenth century, it became a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.

Music is often associated with St. Patrick's Day and Irish culture in general. Since the ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had an oral culture where religion, legend, and history were passed from one generation to the next through stories and songs.

Banishing snakes from Ireland has been associated with St. Patrick. A long held belief says St. Patrick once stood on a hilltop and with only a wooden staff managed to drive all the snakes from Ireland. The fact is the island nation of Ireland has never had snakes.

Every year on St. Patrick's Day the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage is consumed. Cabbage has long been an Irish food, but corned beef didn't become associated with St. Patrick's Day until many years later.

Belief in leprechauns probably comes from Celtic belief in fairies—tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Leprechauns are only minor figures in Celtic folklore, cantankerous little men known for their trickery which they often used to protect their fabled treasure. The cheerful, friendly image of the leprechaun is a purely American invention created by Walt Disney in his 1959 movie, Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Chicago is famous for a somewhat peculiar annual event: dyeing the Chicago River green. The tradition started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river—enough to keep it green for a week. Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, only forty pounds of dye are used, making the river green for several hours rather than days.

Green beer, certainly associated with St. Patrick's Day here in the United States, is NOT an Irish creation. Purists claim that Arthur Guinness would turn over in his grave if anyone attempted to add green food coloring to the traditional Irish brew. Green beer is most likely of American origins.

And Irish coffee?  The forerunner of today's Irish coffee was said to have originated at Foynes' port (the precursor to Shannon International Airport on the west coast of Ireland near the town of Limerick) one miserable winter night in the 1940s. Joseph Sheridan added some whiskey to the coffee to warm the arriving American passengers, proclaiming it to be Irish coffee.

A travel writer named Stanton Delaplane brought Irish coffee to the U.S. after drinking it at Shannon Airport. He worked with the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco to develop the perfect drink. The Buena Vista Cafe started serving Irish coffee on November 10, 1952, and continues to serve large quantities of it to this day starting from the time they open in the morning for breakfast until they close at night.

So, here's to everyone celebrating on March 17 whether Irish or not. Enjoy your corned beef and cabbage, green beer, and Irish coffee.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Bunch Of Alligators Is Called What?

I was watching a quiz show on television (probably Jeopardy) and one of the questions referred to the collective group name for a bunch of crows. My first thought was that I knew the answer…a murder of crows. My second thought had to do with why a bunch of crows would be referred to as a murder of crows.

We've all used the commonly known term of herd when referring to a bunch of cattle or horses or buffalo. Different groups of animals are collectively referred to by specific designations. And many of those collective group names make us scratch our heads and wonder who called them that and why.

So, my curiosity got to me and I did a little digging into collective group names for various animals.

Here's some that I found particularly interesting…and strange.

Alligators? They congregate in a congregation. However, crocodiles group together in a bask or a float. And rattlesnakes are a rhumba.

Barracudas are referred to as a battery (seems more appropriate for a group of electric eels). Jellyfish group together in a smack. And sharks form into a shiver (a name that seems very appropriate and properly descriptive).

Buzzards bunch into a wake. Eagles form a convocation or an aerie. A group of owls is a parliament or a stare. Ravens form an unkindness or a storytelling (shades of Edgar Allen Poe). And swallows give us a flight or gulp (which seems to fit with swallow).

Cats…as a general collective they can be a clowder or clutter or pounce or dout or nuisance or glorying or a glare. Wild cats specifically form into a destruction.

Giraffes group into a tower (seems very appropriate).

Gnus are an implausibility (seems only right for an animal that starts with a silent letter).

Porcupines come in a prickle (again, an appropriately named collective).

Wolves, in general, group into a pack. However, if the wolves are moving they are known as a route or rout.

Zebras are known as a zeal or crossing or dazzle or cohorts in addition to the traditional herd.

And in the rodent community…we have ferrets grouped into a business. Squirrels are known as a dray or scurry.

But what about people, you might be asking. Well, here's a suggestion that I found:  a nag of wives and a jerk of husbands.  :)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

10 Warning Signs Of Midlife Crisis

The silver-haired 50-something-year-old suddenly trading in his life in the suburbs, his wife of 25 years and his sensible car for a Harley motorcycle and a 21 year old girlfriend is certainly the stereotypical image of midlife crisis.

Obviously every period of doubt or depression that occurs in middle age is not connected with the panic about getting older. But how do you know if what you are experiencing is actually the anxiety of midlife crisis or not?

I recently read an article about 10 warning signs that say you might be going through midlife crisis. I'd like to share them with you here.

1)  You have a growing sense of regret over unattained goals.

2)  You have new feelings of being self-conscious around more successful colleagues.

3)  You now place a new emphasis on remaining youthful when the effort previously seemed unimportant.

4)  You desire to spend more time alone than previously, or with certain peers who could be characterized as youthful or as those who are comfortable in their own skin.

5)  You have developed a new tendency to abuse alcohol.

6)  You place a new importance on acquiring unusual or expensive items when the same purchases were previously considered frivolous or impulsive.

7)  You are experiencing a sharp increase in self-criticism with a corresponding decline in self-compassion.

8)  You now obsess over your physical appearance in areas where you previously didn't pay that much attention because everything was okay.

9)  You place an unusual amount of pressure and stress on your children to excel in a variety of fields.

10)  You enter relationships with younger partners than previously considered viable.

Even though midlife crisis is usually and traditionally associated with middle-aged men, it certainly applies to women, too. Now, where did that 25-year-old bronzed stud of a lifeguard disappear to (she asks as she slowly rakes her gaze across the men at the beach)?