Sunday, January 28, 2018

Groundhog Day


By a strange coincidence those six more weeks of winter takes us within a few days of the Vernal Equinox which signals the official end of winter and the first day of spring.

Every year on February 2 a furry rodent of the groundhog variety named Punxsutawney Phil sticks his head out of his burrow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to do his annual weather forecast.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated as Groundhog Day.  If Phil sees his shadow, it will frighten him and he'll return to his burrow.  If he doesn't see his shadow, he'll emerge and winter will soon be over.

At least, that's what the tradition claims.

The earliest American written reference to a groundhog day was 1841 in Pennsylvania's Berks County (Pennsylvania Dutch) referring to it as the German celebration called Candlemas day where a groundhog seeing its shadow was a weather indication.  Superstition says that fair weather at that time was seen as a prediction of a stormy and cold second half to winter, as noted in this Old English saying:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

Since the first official celebration of Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania in 1886, crowds as large as 40,000 people have gathered in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual celebration.  And in recent years it's been covered live on television.  Quite an accolade for the little ol' groundhog.  Since 1887, the groundhog has seen his shadow over 100 times [hmm…I wonder how many of those recent times were due to the television lights] predicting a longer winter and has not seen it only a few times to predict an early spring.  There is no record of his prediction for 9 years in the late 1800s.

The groundhog, also known as a woodchuck, is a member of the squirrel family.  The current Punxsutawney Phil weighs fifteen pounds and lives in a climate controlled home in the Punxsutawney library.  On Gobbler's Knob, Phil is placed in a heated burrow underneath a simulated tree stump on a stage before being pulled out at 7:25AM to make his annual prediction.

Quite removed from the concept of the groundhog waking from hibernation and emerging from his burrow in the wild.  :)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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 rather than a flock of birds.

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 came across that might be appropriate:  a nag of wives and a jerk of husbands.  :)

Sunday, January 14, 2018


Companies have been suing each other for ages, especially over copyright infringement.  Some of the biggest brands in the world have taken each other to court.  The outcome of some of these lawsuits have altered entire industries some of which might look very different today if the outcome of the lawsuit had gone the other way.

10)  DYSON VS. HOOVER (2000)
Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Dyson
Damages:  $4.9 million

Dyson claimed Hoover infringed on its patent for the bagless cleaner which uses a dynamic similar to a centrifuge to pull the dust from air.  The court found that Hoover used the same technology which did infringe on James Dyson's invention.  Hoover appealed twice and lost both times.  The court instructed Hoover to stop selling its Vortex model.

9)  ORACLE VS. SAP (2007)
Duration of lawsuit:  seven years
Winner:  Oracle
Damages:  $357 million

Center of the lawsuit was SAP's TomorrowNow unit which Oracle claimed had illegally downloaded copyrighted documents and programs from Oracle.  SAP admitted it had infringed on copyright and tried to settle out of court before a jury awarded Oracle $1.3 billion in damages, an amount later brown down to $357 million. Both sides accepted the lower amount.

Duration of lawsuit:  two years
Winner:  Universal Studios
Damages:  Unknown

After 20th Century Fox successfully released the first Star Wars movie in 1977, Universal Studios decided it needed a space epic of its own and launched Battlestar Galactica.  Fox accused Universal of copyright infringement, citing 34 specific things allegedly copied.  The case was settled out of court.  ABC television network, where Battlestar Galactica aired, canceled the show in 1979.  [I worked for Fox during this time and the series I worked on used material from Star Wars.  The Fox legal department kept a very close eye on how we were using the film footage to make sure it didn't give any ammunition to Universal for the lawsuit.]

7)  GUCCI VS. GUESS (2009)
Duration of lawsuit:  four years
Winner:  Gucci…and Guess
Damages:  $4.6 million

In 2009 Gucci started a four-year-long legal battle, accusing Guess of copying Gucci's logo on a line of shoes.  They also accused Guess of counterfeiting, unfair competition, and trademark infringement.  They demanded $221 million in damages. Gucci files two lawsuits, one in New York and the other one in Milan, Italy.  The New York case was closed in favor of Gucci and they were awarded $4.7 million in damages.  The Milan court ruled in favor of Guess, stating the use of the "G" was common in the fashion industry.

Duration of lawsuit:  six years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  Unknown

Apple licensed parts of their Macintosh computer to Microsoft for its Windows 1.0 software.  When Microsoft released Windows 2.0, it added other features, including overlapping windows, which could also be found in the Macintosh's software.  Apple filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement and listed 189 parts of the interface that had been copied.  After six years, the court dismissed 179 of Apple's claims and said the remaining ten in dispute could not be copyrighted.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  A&M Records
Damages:  $26 million

Napster originally launched as a pirated music marketplace, allowing anybody to download music for free.  Music labels didn't wait long to sue.  Even though the plaintiff was referred to as A&M Records, it actually included all members of the recording Industry Association of America.  After the case was concluded, Napster was forced to shut down.  The brand was later acquired by the software company Roxio and relaunched as a legal music store, but it eventually died.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Microsoft
Damages:  $14.5 million

Microsoft accused Motorola of charging excessively to license its patented technologies.  Motorola was charging a 2.25% royalty amounting to $4 billion.  The court decided it wasn't fair and reasonable, fined Motorola, and ordered them to pay Microsoft $14.5 million for breach of contract.

Duration of lawsuit:  five years
Winner:  Settled out of court
Damages:  Unknown

After the Deepwater Horizon  oil spill that killed eleven workers and polluted the Gulf of Mexico with millions of barrels of oil, BP was levied with fines and clean-up costs running into $40 billion.  BP believed their partners at the time of the  spill, Transocean Offshore and Halliburton, should share the costs of the fines and demanded $15 billion.  The companies settled in 2015 in a series of legal deals.

2)  APPLE VS. SAMSUNG (2011)
Duration of lawsuit:  Ongoing since 2012
Winner:  not yet determined
Damages:  not yet determined

This lawsuit is one of the biggest in the technology industry.  It goes back to the first iPhone which Apple accused Samsung of copying for its Galaxy 5 series.  A jury in 2012 decided that Samsung had infringed on Apple's patents.  Samsung originally faced $1 billion in damages, which was reduced to $548 million before dropping down to $399 million.  The current state of the lawsuit is a discussion about the basis for Samsung to pay the damages.  The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of the $399 million in damages and returned the lawsuit to the federal court.  A number of similar lawsuits between the pair are ongoing in countries around the world.

Duration of lawsuit:  one year
Winner:  Ericsson
Damages:  Not disclosed

Apple filed a lawsuit against Ericcson claiming the patents it owns on wireless LTE connections are essential to the industry and the company was demanding excessive royalties.  Ericsson countersued and accused Apple of infringing on over 40 patents.  They settled out of court with Apple having t pay an undisclosed amou8nt.  With Apple originally pay8ing royalties as a percentage of total device cost, it's most likely a significant amount.  Apple wasn't the first smartphone maker to take legal action against Ericsson.  Samsung and Ericsson reached a confidential out of court settlement in 2014.

Out of the ten biggest brand lawsuits, two of them involved Microsoft and three of them involved Apple—biggest lawsuits/biggest companies.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Those We Lost in 2017

2017 is now behind us. As with every year, the world lost many notable people...most notable for positive contributions but some notorious for bad deeds. The list of those who died in 2017 was very long.  I've presented a cross section here representing various professions and geographic locations. The names are listed in chronological order.

Jan 12: William Peter Blatty, 89. A former Jesuit school valedictorian who conjured a tale of demonic possession and gave millions the fright of their lives with the best-selling novel and Oscar-winning movie The Exorcist.

Jan 16: Gene Cernan, 82. A former astronaut who was the last person to walk on the moon.

Feb 8: Peter Mansfield, 83. A physicist who won the Nobel Prize for helping to invent MRI scanners.

Feb 18: Norma McCorvey, 69. Her legal challenge under the pseudonym "Jane Roe" led to the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion but later she became an outspoken opponent of the procedure.

Feb 25: Bill Paxton, 61. A prolific and charismatic actor who had memorable roles in such blockbusters as Apollo 13 and Titanic along with his work in One False Move and other low-budget movies and in the HBO series Big Love. Complications due to surgery.

Mar 6: Robert Osborne, 84. The genial face of Turner Classic Movies and a walking encyclopedia of classic Hollywood.

Mar 10: Robert James Waller, 77. His best-selling, bittersweet 1992 romance novel The Bridges of Madison County was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood and later into a soaring Broadway musical.

March 16: Carl Clark, 100. A California man who was recognized six decades after his bravery during World War II with a medal of honor that had been denied to him because he was black.

March 18: Chuck Berry, 90. He was rock 'n' roll's founding guitar hero and storyteller who defined the music's joy and rebellion in such classics as Johnny B. Goode, Sweet Little Sixteen, and Roll Over Beethoven.

Mar 22: Francine Wilson, 69. Her trial for killing her abusive husband became a landmark spousal abuse case and the subject of the 1984 TV movie The Burning Bed. Complications from pneumonia.

Apr 6: Don Rickles, 90. The big-mouthed, bald-headed comedian whose verbal assaults endeared him to audiences and peers and made him the acknowledged grandmaster of insult comedy.

Apr 19: Aaron Hernandez, 27. The former New England Patriots tight end was sentenced to life behind bars for a 2013 murder and committed suicide in prison.

Apr 24: Robert M. Pirsig, 88. His philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a million-selling classic and cultural touchstone after more than 100 publishers turned it down.

May 14: Powers Boothe, 68. The character actor known for his villain roles in TV's Deadwood and in the movies Tombstone, Sin City, and The Avengers.

May 18: Roger Ailes, 77. He transformed TV news by creating Fox News Channel, only to be ousted at the height of his reign for alleged sexual harassment.

May 19: Stanislav Petrov, 77. A former Soviet military officer known in the West as "the man who saved the world" for his role in averting a nuclear war over a false missile warning at the height of the Cold War. I recently saw a segment of a tv show about this—Soviet radar detected a launch of five missiles from the U.S. headed toward Russia. Petrov had the responsibility of determining a glitch or declaring an attack and about one second to make the decision to launch Soviet missiles or not. He reasoned that the U.S. would launch hundreds and maybe even thousands of missiles if they were attacking, not a mere five missiles. He declared it a glitch which is exactly what it turned out to be.

May 23: Roger Moore, 89. The suave star of several James Bond films and prior to that he portrayed Simon Templar, The Saint, in several films. He also co-starred with Tony Curtis in a 1970s television series, The Persauders.

May 27: Gregg Allman, 69. A music legend whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel The Allman Brothers Band to superstardom. Formerly married to Cher. Cancer.

May 29: Manuel Noriega, 83. A former Panamanian dictator and onetime U.S. ally who was ousted as Panama's dictator by an American invasion in 1989.

Jun 9: Adam West, 88. His straight-faced portrayal of Batman in a campy 1960s TV series of the same name lifted the caped crusader into the national consciousness. He also voiced several animated characters, most notably Mayor West on the Family Guy series.

Jun 16: Helmut Kohl, 87. The physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe.

June 19: Otto Warmbier, 22. An American college student who was released by North Korea in a coma after almost a year and a half in captivity.

Jul 10: Betty Dukes, 67. The Walmart greeter who took the retail giant all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the largest gender bias class-action lawsuit in U.S. history.

Jul 15: Martin Landau, 89. The chameleon-like actor who gained fame as the crafty master of disguise in the 1960s TV show Mission: Impossible, then capped a long and versatile career with an Oscar for his poignant portrayal of aging horror movie star Bela Lugosi in 1994's Ed Wood.

Jul 25: Marian Cleeves Diamond, 90. She was a neuroscientist who studied Albert Einstein's brain and was one of the first to show that the brain can improve with enrichment.

Aug 8: Glen Campbell, 81. The affable superstar singer of Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman whose appeal spanned country, pop, television, and movies.

Aug 20: Jerry Lewis, 91. The manic, rubber-faced showman who rose to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons.

Aug 22: Tony de Brum, 72. He saw the effects of rising seas from his home in the Marshall Islands and became a leading advocate for the landmark Paris Agreement and an internationally recognized voice in the fight against climate change.

Sep 6: Kate Millett, 82. The activist, artist, and educator whose best-selling Sexual Politics was a landmark of cultural criticism and a manifesto for the modern feminist movement.

Sep 19: Jake LaMotta, 95. An iron-fisted battler who brawled his way to a middleweight title and was later memorialized by Robert De Niro in the film Raging Bull.

Sep 20: Liliane Bettencourt, 94. The L'Oreal cosmetics heiress and the world's richest woman.

Sep 27: Hugh M. Hefner, 91. The Playboy magazine founder who revved up the sexual revolution in the 1950s and built a multimedia empire of clubs, mansions, movies, and television.

Sep 30: Monty Hall, 96. The genial TV game show host whose long-running Let's Make a Deal traded on love of money and merchandise and the mystery of which door had the car behind it.

Oct 2: Tom Petty, 66. An old-fashioned rock superstar and everyman who drew upon the Byrds, the Beatles and other bands he worshipped as a boy and produced new classics such as Free Fallin', Refugee, and American Girl.

Oct 3: Jalal Talabani, 83. The Kurdish guerrilla leader who became Iraq's president after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein and who embodied hopes for a unified, peaceful future.

Oct 8: David Patterson Sr., 94. A Navajo Code Talker who used his native language to outsmart the Japanese in World War II.

Oct 24: Robert Guillaume, 89. He rose from squalid beginnings in St. Louis slums to become a star in stage musicals and win Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms Soap and Benson.

Nov 19: Charles Manson, 83 (pictured above). The hippie cult leader who became the hypnotic-eyed face of evil across America after orchestrating the gruesome murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles during the summer of 1969.

Nov 19: Della Reese, 86. The actress and gospel-influenced singer who in middle age found her greatest fame as Tess, the wise angel in the long-running television drama Touched by an Angel.

Nov 21: Joseph L. White, 84. A psychologist, social activist, and teacher who helped pioneer the field of black psychology to counter what he saw as rampant ignorance and prejudice in the profession. Heart attack.

Nov 30: Jim Nabors, 87. The Alabama-born comic actor who starred as TV's dim but good-hearted Southern rube Gomer Pyle, a character first introduced on The Andy Griffith Show and later spun off to his own series of Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. who constantly surprised audiences with his twang-free operatic singing voice.

Dec 4: Christine Keeler, 75. The central figure in the sex-and-espionage Profumo scandal that rocked Cold War Britain.

Dec 19: Clifford Irving, 87. His scheme to publish a phony autobiography of billionaire Howard Hughes created a sensation in the 1970s and stands as one of the all-time literary hoaxes.

Dec 20: Cardinal Bernard Law, 86. The disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose failure to stop child molesters in the priesthood sparked what would become the worst crisis in American Catholicism.

Dec 28: Sue Grafton, 77. She was the author of the best-selling alphabet series of mystery novels.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018.