Sunday, June 28, 2015

Fourth Of July Holiday—Some Trivia And A Fireworks Safety Quiz

July 4, Independence Day—on this date in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. The U.S. Constitution, the document that emerged from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, is the oldest national constitution in the world.

As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues. Fireworks displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations. Fireworks were invented in ancient China to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.

With 4th of July fireworks comes the concern for safety. A reality for the holiday is that fireworks cause thousands of injuries, and even some deaths, in addition to enough fires to make July 4 the day with the most reported fires across the United States according to the National Fire Protection Association.

So…how much do you know about fireworks safety? Here's a 9 question quiz to test your knowledge. Correct answers are at the end.

1)  How hot does a sparkler burn?
          a:  212 degrees
          b:  600 degrees
          c:  950 degrees
          d:  1200 degrees

2)  What portion of 4th of July fires are caused by fireworks?
          a:  10 percent
          b:  35 percent
          c:  50 percent
          d:  90 percent

3)  Which age group has the most injuries reported from fireworks?
          a:  under 20
          b:  20 – 40
          c:  40 – 60
          d:  60+

4)  You should skip buying fireworks in brown paper packaging as that could be a sign that they're made for professionals, not consumers.
          a:  true
          b:  false

5)  If a pack of fireworks has not fully functioned, you should cautiously relight it.
          a:  true
          b:  false

6)  What's the best way to dispose of a used firework?
          a:  throw in trash
          b:  use hose or bucket of water to soak them then throw away
          c:  bury them

7)  Last year what was the most common fireworks injury?
          a:  fractures and sprains
          b:  contusions and lacerations
          c:  ear injuries
          d:  burns
          e:  eye injuries

8)  According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, which of these were common reasons for fireworks injuries?
          a:  holding fireworks in the hand
          b:  mischief
          c:  debris or smoke from a malfunction
          d:  errant flight path from a malfunction
          e:  early or late ignition from a malfunction
          f:   all of the above

9)  Never light more than how many fireworks at a time?
          a:  1
          b:  2
          c:  3

And now, for those of you who want to see how well you did on the quiz—

1)       the correct answer is d…1200 degrees F, hot enough to burn certain metals and ignite clothing.

2)       the correct answer is c…50 percent, when shooting fireworks keep a bucket of water or sand available.

3)       the correct answer is a…under 20, children 10 – 14 are more than twice as much at risk for fireworks injuries.

4)       the correct answer is a…true.

5)       the correct answer is b…false, any malfunctioning fireworks should be soaked in water and then thrown away

6)       the correct answer is b…use hose or bucket of water to soak them and then throw them away

7)       the correct answer is d…burns

8)       the correct answer is f…all of the above

9)       the correct answer is a…light just 1 at a time.

Happy…and safe…holiday to everyone.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Frivolous Lawsuits—Almost Too Ludicrous For Words

Is the U.S. the most lawsuit-happy country in the world? Am I the only one who is sick and tired of reading/hearing about frivolous lawsuits where people are suing someone (or more often a company that they assume has deep pockets) for something that's the result of their own stupidity or carelessness? Apparently it's easier to sue someone rather than take responsibility for their own actions. Of course, the humor element of the lawsuit content is fun, but the reality of the cost to tax payers and having the court calendar clogged with this stuff isn't funny. It just seems to me that in something like the last maybe 20 years frivolous lawsuits have skyrocketed—not only in number, but also in how ludicrous and ridiculous they are. There is the reality that many reports of frivolous lawsuits are nothing more than internet hoaxes, but there are as many that are sadly legitimate.

Ever wonder why those weird warnings are sometimes on the packages of items you purchase? Things like telling you not to operate various electrical appliances while in the bathtub, something that seems so blatantly obvious that it shouldn't require a special warning. But, obviously the manufacturer was sued at some time by someone who did just that.

And why the warning to tell you that hot coffee is actually hot? Well, that goes back to another lawsuit.

I think my conscious disgust with frivolous lawsuits dates back to the infamous McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit of several years ago. Woman buys a cup of coffee at McDonalds then puts the cup between her legs in her car so she could drive. Well…surprise, surprise…the coffee spilled and burned her. And, as seems to be the rule today rather than the exception, she certainly didn't take any responsibility for what happened. After all, it was McDonald's fault because their hot coffee was actually hot. So she sued them. And the clincher is that a jury awarded her an obscene amount of money thus rewarding her for being irresponsible and foolish.

And here's one I read in a news report a few months ago. In March 2012 a man died of heart failure while engaged in a threesome with a woman (not his wife) and another man. The dead man's family sued his cardiologist claiming the doctor should have warned him not to become involved in strenuous physical activity. The man had been to the cardiologist the week before with chest pains. The doctor determined he was at high risk of having clogged heart arteries and ordered a nuclear stress test for 8 days later. The threesome and the man's death occurred the day before the scheduled stress test. And in a totally insane action (in my humble opinion), the jury actually awarded the man's family $3 million in damages even though the doctor had instructed his patient to "avoid exertional activity until after the nuclear stress test was completed." Apparently he should have explained that avoiding exertional activity included staying away from sexual threesomes.

And there's the guy who, in 1991, tried to sue Anheuser-Busch for $10,000 because, after drinking large quantities of Bud Light, beautiful women didn't come to life in tropical settings and pursue him like they did in the commercials.

As we all know, staged haunted houses at Halloween are there for the specific purpose of scaring people. But in 2000 a woman sued Universal Studios for $15,000 because their Halloween Horror Nights haunted house caused her "extreme fear, mental anguish, and emotional distress." Makes you wonder exactly what she thought something called Halloween Horror Nights Haunted House would be.

A woman sued Starbucks for serving her tea that was "unreasonably hot." I wonder which came first…McDonalds or Starbucks?

An Israeli woman sued a television station for predicting fair weather. Because of the forecast, she dressed in light clothes but later that day the weather turned cooler and it rained. She ended up sick and had to miss work so she sued for $1000. Bottom line, she sued over an act of nature…and won. I do have to admit that it's nice to come across one that didn't happen in the U.S.

And speaking of suing for an act of nature, isn't that like suing God?

A man living in Minnesota thinks he's a god of some sort. He became upset after seeing David Copperfield and David Blaine perform their magic acts and sued both of them for using his "godly powers." (this is me shaking my head in disbelief)

Two teen girls in Colorado decided to bake some cookies and share them with neighbors. One neighbor woman was so shocked by two 15-year-old girls at her door at 10:30pm that she had an anxiety attack. She sued for medical expenses and won $930 to cover the expense of her trip to the emergency room but was denied money for "pain and suffering."

And here's a truly bizarre one. A woman standing on a train platform was pelted by pieces of an unfortunate young man who had just been hit by an oncoming train. She tried to sue the victim but the judge dismissed the suit because the young man had no way of knowing where his body parts were going to land…due to the fact that he was dead.

A fugitive murder suspect kidnapped a couple and claimed he entered into a verbal contract with them where they would hide him from the law in exchange for an unspecified amount of money. The couple turned him in and during the subsequent arrest he was shot. The couple sued the fugitive for $75,000 for trespassing, intrusion, and emotional distress. He countersued for $235,000 claiming the couple violated their verbal contract with him. The judge dismissed the fugitive's counterclaim because the couple could not have entered into that contract as hiding a fugitive was illegal.

And here's one I came across earlier this month. A woman in Spain is suing eBay for $11,000. She claimed she owned the sun and even went to a local court and found a notary who backed up her claim. As the notarized legal owner of the sun, she threatened solar power users saying she was going to charge them. She also started selling land parcels on the sun using eBay. Of course, there is no land on the sun, just gas that's like 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. When her activities came to their attention, eBay shut her down for violating their intangible goods policy. She claimed eBay collected their fee on her sales [people actually paid money for this?] while not giving her money to her.  She's now in the running for most frivolous lawsuit of 2015.

And the beat goes on…

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Travel Trivia: 10 Miscellaneous Facts From Around The World

Mt. Everest
Memorial Day in the U.S. was three weeks ago.  We are now in the middle of June and definitely into the summer vacation season, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere.  So, I'd like to offer you some miscellaneous travel tidbits and trivia.

I came across an article recently that listed bits of trivia about various travel destinations.  Little snippets of miscellaneous information usually not included in travel guides.  Things I found interesting.  I hope you find them interesting, too.

1)  Mt. Everest
It's a commonly known fact that Mt. Everest, on the Nepal–Tibet border, is the highest point on earth.  You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?  Well, apparently it isn't.  The precise height of Mt. Everest is somewhat disputed.  It's generally thought to be 29,029 ft (8848m) above sea level.  And that interesting little fact?  It's still growing!  Mt. Everest is pushing upward at a rate estimated to be 4mm a year thanks to the clash between two tectonic plates.

2)  Mexico City
While Mt. Everest is growing, the interesting little fact about Mexico City is that it's sinking at an average rate of 10cm a year which is 10 times faster than the sinking rate of Venice, Italy.  And the reason for this?  Mexico City was built on a soft lake bed and subterranean water reserves have subsequently been pumped out from beneath the city.  The obvious result?  The city is sinking.

3)  Vatican City
The world's smallest independent state, 44 hectares (110 acres) is totally encircled by Rome.  The Vatican's Swiss Guard still wears the uniform inspired by Renaissance painter Raphael.  Its population is 800 with only 450 of those being citizens.  It even has its own coins which are legal tender throughout Italy and the EU.

4)  El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles
What is all that?  In English it's Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels.  In it's shortened version it's better known as Los Angeles, California.  The town came into being in 1781 and today, in an area of downtown Los Angeles referred to as Olvera Street, there is a cluster of museums, ancient plazas and lively markets providing a taste of life in 1800s Los Angeles.

5)  Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Aire
What is all that?  In English it's Our Lady St. Mary of the Good Air, better known today as Buenos Aires, Argentina.  It's the best spot to savor the tango.  And don't take the tango lightly.  In Buenos Aires, it's very serious business.

6)  London Underground
London's Metropolitan Railway was the world's first subway, opened in 1863.  The first section ran between Paddington and Farringdon and was a hit in spite of the steam engines filling stations and tunnels with dense smoke.  Today, if you take the Circle Line between Paddington and Covent Garden, you'll travel part of that original route.

7)  Venice, Italy
As mentioned earlier, Venice is sinking.  But in the interim…one of the things immediately associated with Venice are the gondolas on the canals, especially the Grand Canal.  Each gondola is made from 280 pieces of 8 different types of wood.  The left side is larger than the right side by 24cm.  The parts of a gondola represent bits of the city—the front echoes its 6 districts, the back is Giudecca Island, and the lunette is the Rialto Bridge.

8)  Great Wall of China
Most everyone knows this is the largest military construction on earth.  However the part about it being the only man-made structure able to be seen from space is an urban myth.  The sections were built by independent kingdoms between the 7th and 4th centuries BC then unified under China's first Emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC.  A not well known fact is that the sections near Beijing which are most visited by tourists are reconstructions done in the 14th to 17th centuries AD.

Table Mountain, South Africa 
9)  Table Mountain, South Africa
This large plateau of sandstone looms over Cape Town.  But this huge table has its own table cloth.  The plateau's cloud cover gathers across the flat top and spills over the sides when the wind whips up from the southeast.  You can reach the top by hiking trails or cable car.

10)  Uluru, Australia
This is probably the world's largest monolith, rising from the Australian desert.  More commonly known for years as Ayers Rock, it is now referred to by the Aboriginal name of Uluru.  The rock glows a fiery orange-red color, especially at sunset.  Where does its red color come from?  It's made from arkosic sandstone which contains iron.  When exposed to oxidation, the iron rusts thus providing the red color.

On your travels this summer, pay attention to those obscure little facts that make a place more interesting.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


ghost army inflatable decoy tank--before and after
As children, we're told we can grow up to be anything we want.  We can grow up and change the world.  However, the reality is that when we grew up we hopefully had a positive impact on our family, our jobs, our surroundings and hopefully our community.  But not many of us have actually ended up changing the world in massive ways merely by working hard, thinking quickly or simply doing our jobs properly.  Many of these people were lost to history for a number of reasons—cultural differences, minority status, military secrecy and, in a few cases, just plain modesty.

It's World War II, the Army's 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, also known as the Ghost Army, played a major role in putting a halt to Hitler's advances through Europe.  In reality, the Ghost Army consisted of 1100 soldiers who were artists, illustrators, sound technicians, and other creative types who used their brains and specific creative skills to win battles.  Their mission was to trick the enemy into believing there was a huge military presence where one didn't exist.  They created the illusion of air fields with hundreds of planes, harbors with large navy vessels, trucks and tanks ready to roll—all decoys that looked very real to enemy aerial reconnaissance.  Through the use of fake inflatable tanks, trucks and weapons in conjunction with war noises through huge military speakers, and 'buildings' that were basically movie sets, the Ghost Army played a major role in helping America's Ninth Army to cross the Rhine River deep into German territory.  The Ghost Army pulled off more than 20 such missions, all of which remained classified until 1985.

Watergate office complex 
Security guard Frank Wills was making his rounds when he noticed a small piece of duct tape on a door of an office complex.  Wills removed the tape, but found it there again on his next patrol of the night.  He immediately called the police.  The date—June 17, 1972.  The location—an office complex in Washington D.C. named Watergate (Watergate consists of several buildings—the office building, apartments, and a hotel). Minutes later, 5 middle-aged men were caught ransacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee thus launching the scandal uncovered by Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—a scandal that would eventually cause President Richard Nixon to resign.  Woodward and Bernstein's book, All The President's Men, became a movie of the same name starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.  Sadly, Frank Wills' life took a turn for the worse after that.  He quit his job at the Watergate after being turned down for a raise (wow…if you don't give this guy a raise, who are you going to give one to) and found that many places were too afraid to hire him as a security guard allegedly because they feared retaliation by Republican politicians.  He ended up in prison, then destitute, before dying of a brain tumor in September 2000.

Even though he's generally unknown to all but the most dedicated Revolutionary War aficionados, there are 38 towns and 14 counties named after him.  A Boston doctor who performed the autopsy on Christopher Seider, the first American killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre.  When things between the colonists and the British became even more heated, he put together a military unit and participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill (which was actually fought on Breed Hill) where he died from a British musket ball through his brain.

We all know some facts about DNA such as you can extract it from fossilized remains to bring back dinosaurs and it can be altered to create ninja turtles.  But seriously…Rosalind Franklin, physical chemist and pioneering x-ray crystallographer with a PhD from Cambridge, was born in London, England.  The new technique of using x-ray crystallography on things that weren't actually crystals aided in accurately recording the structure of DNA.  Even though her work provided the linchpin of James Watson and Francis Crick's articles establishing the double helix theory, she was mostly ignored and brushed aside as far as being given credit for her work.  She died in 1958 at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

Highly intelligent, a fossil collector and paleontologist at the beginning of a century marked for tremendous advances in the practice and philosophy of science, she was royally screwed over from the beginning.  She had three strikes against her—she was poor, a religious minority, and (gasp—worst of all) a woman.  She was officially shunned by the British scientific establishment even though she had discovered the world's first correctly identified ichthyosaur skeleton when she was only 12.  Soon, geologists and paleontologists across the Western world knew her by reputation despite receiving almost no formal education and barely having enough money for journal subscriptions.  She died in 1847 of breast cancer.  She received an eulogy from the Geographical Society of London (where women weren't admitted until 1904), a glowing article by Charles Dickens in 1865 [I double checked this because my first thought was "they must have meant Charles Darwin the scientist rather than Charles Dickens an author of fiction," but Dickens was correct], and a 2010 mention by the Royal Society as one of the 10 British women having the greatest impact on history.  And there was a tongue-twister about her day-to-day business of selling marine fossils.  We know it better as She sells sea shells by the sea shore.

One of the most significant people in Islamic culture remains nearly anonymous in European history even though he single-handedly set the groundwork for traditional Spanish music.  Ziryab was a highly educated North African slave in the approximate year of 800.  In addition to his strong point of music, he invented numerous dyes and chemicals for clothing, makeup, and hygiene.  He introduced the idea of seasonal fashions, came up with the structure of the traditional three-course meal consisting of soup, entrĂ©e, and dessert.  He also popularized shaving and short haircuts as a way of beating the fierce Mediterranean heat.  It's also said he invented the world's first underarm deodorant and an early type of toothpaste that was both effective and also had a pleasant taste.

Dona Marina (as the Spanish called her) was 1 of 20 slave women given to the Spanish as the spoils of battle in 16th century Mexico.  Her skill with languages made her far more valuable than merely being Cortes' mistress.  She was instrumental to the small Spanish army's eventual victory by interpreting intelligence information and cultivating allies among the many tribes fed up with being kicked around by the Aztecs.  She's a controversial figure today.  Some argue that she was working in the best interests of her native people by aiding the Europeans and convincing Cortes to be more humane than he might have been.  Others think she was a traitor and her name is almost a curse.  Either way, without her the Cortes expedition might not have succeeded and history would have been changed forever.

Vasili got his start in the Soviet Navy at the tail end of World War II and worked his way up through the ranks where he became the executive officer on the Soviet Navy's hotel class nuclear submarine K-19.  From there, he was dispatched to the Caribbean to command a group of 4 nuke-armed Foxtrot-class patrol subs.  And it was there that he made a decision that literally had a life and death impact on the future of the world.  He found himself in a sticky situation as his Foxtrot came under what seemed very much like an American attack (The US Navy saying it was only dropping practice depth charges in an ill-considered attempt to force the sub to the surface).  The Soviet sub's captain and political officer both demanded that they retaliate with nuclear torpedoes.  They hadn't had any contact with Moscow in days and didn't know if World War III had actually started or would start as soon as they fired back.  Vasili refused to authorize the launch.  The sub eventually surfaced and scampered away from the American task force with no further interaction.  Vasili advanced to vice-admiral, retired, and died in 1998.  It was 4 years later when former NSA head, Thomas Blanton, called him "the guy who saved the world."