Monday, September 29, 2008

Goose Bumps

The stock market is a little crazy right now - enough to give a person goose bumps.

Have you ever wondered where goose bumps come from?

Goose bumps are caused by the contractions of small muscles at the base of hair follicles - often caused in response to cold, or fear.

Back when humans were a little more furry than we are now, goose bumps caused hair to stand on end. This was advantageous in the cold because extending one's fur helps maintain warmth.

Goose bumps also were good to have when times are scary, because extending one's fur makes you seem bigger...and perhaps a more imposing figure to anybody that is trying to eat you!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk Like a Pirate!

Yar Har! Avast Ye Matees!

Did you know that today is the official talk like a pirate day? I don't know about you, but I love talking like a pirate. YARG!

Check it out here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


It is generally agreed that the word "sabotage" is French in origin - coming from the French word for shoes: sabot.
There are two theories.

The first is that during the railway strike of 1910, French workers disabled the wooden shoes, or sabots, that secured the rails - thereby rendering the railway inoperable.

The other theory describes how during the industrial revolution, disgruntled workers threw their shoes into the works of the looms they were working on - as a way of protesting working conditions.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Mayflower Sails

September 6, 1620 - a date that will live in bonnets, if not infamy.

It was September 6, 1620 that the Mayflower left Portsmouth, England bound for Plymouth. The ship left Portsmouth with 102 passengers and around 30 crew. After a grueling 66 day voyage it reached Cape Cod on November 11.

Interestingly, the pilgrims were using the old style Julian calendar - so the actual dates on the calendar we use now are September 16, 1620 and November 21, 1620.

Which means today is the 388th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Somber Day at the Pentagon

It's a somber day at the Pentagon today as on this, the 7th anniversary of 9/11/01, officials are unveiling the memorial dedicated to the 184 victims who lost their lives there.

The memorial consists of 184 bench like structures, one dedicated to each of the victims. The names are inscribed on each bench pointing either toward the Pentagon or toward the western sky, depending on whether the person died in the Pentagon or was aboard the plane as is crashed.

The height of the benches ranges from 3 inches to 71 inches, the height of each bench corresponds to the age of the person it honors.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Diet Coke Floats

If you place both a can of regular Coke and a can of Diet Coke in water, the Coke will tend to sink while the Diet Coke will tend to float. Do you know why?

It turns out that the sugar in the regular Coke adds just enough to the density of a regular Coke to make the can sink. The artificial sweetener in the Diet Coke is less dense, just enough to allow the Diet Coke to float.

Try it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Don't Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water

"Don't throw out the baby with the bath water!"

Ever wonder where that expression comes from?

In medieval England, it was customary for most people to bathe no more than once a year - usually in May. Too much exposure to water was considered unhealthy.

When bath time came, a family would usually bathe in a pecking order: first the dad, then the mom, then the children with the youngest children and the baby going last.

By the time baby got to bathe, the water was pretty when it was time to drain the bath it was right to caution: "don't throw out the baby with the bath water."

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Space

So you probably know about Facebook and My Space, but have you heard about A-Space?

It turns out that folks in the intelligence community are building a social networking site especially meant for spies. The hope is that connecting people in different branches of intelligence through A-Space, intelligence analysts might better be able to connect the dots when it comes to gathering intelligence.

Of course, the site is by invitation only - and invitations only go out to people with very high level clearance. So nothing personal, but unless you work in intelligence - you might never get a friend request from A-Space.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Cat is Out of the Bag

The "cat is out of the bag" is slang for saying a secret has been revealed...

Turns out that the phrase comes from the days of sail in the Royal British Navy. To say "the cat was out of the bag" referred to the moment when a cat o' nine tails (a whip used to deal out punishment) was taken from the red bag it was kept in.

Customarily the whip was kept in the bag till the offender at hand was securely tied down and prepared for a lashing. The cat o' nine tails was kept in the bag until there was absolutely no possibility of reprieve.

So once the cat was out of the bag, somebody had it coming.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Black Squirrels in Washington, DC

If you have ever visited Washington, DC - you may have noticed that the squirrels running around the National Mall come in a whole bunch of different colors.

There are a few, particularly around the Vietnam Veterans memorial - that are stark white.

But the ones that most often catch tourists' attention are the solid black squirrels. They represent about 20% of the local squirrel population with normal gray squirrels making up most of the rest.

It turns out the the gray squirrels in Washington are all decendents of 18 Canadian squirrels, which were released from the National Zoo during the Presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. At the time, the Smithsonian was trying to replenish the local gray squirrel population which had been greatly reduced due to hunting. Back then, folks were actually worried that gray squirrels were going extinct.

The black Canadian squirrels tended to give them an advantage and the gene for a black coat has since spread through the local squirrel population so much that people can now see black squirrels in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs of DC.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Show Me the Money

This past spring the American Council of the Blind brought a suit against the U.S. Treasury Department claiming that the design of U.S. currency discriminates against the blind and people with low sight. The Federal court ruled in favor of the Council, ordering the Treasury Department to redesign the currency.

The Treasury Department has commissioned a study to research ways U.S. currency might be better designed for the blind and has asked the courts for time to let that study play out.

The courts are having none of it however, saying recently that the Treasury must start redesigning currency now - either by varying the size of bills or incorporating raised print that would allow blind people to tell the difference between denominations.

So it seems the next version of the $1.00, $5.00, $10.00, and $20.00 are going to not only look, but will also feel different.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Too Many Storms

Gustav, Hannah, Ike..

There are too many storms bearing down on the US these days...

Did you know that the tradition of naming Hurricanes with women's name began just after World War II. They started using men's names in 1978.

Storm names have English, French, Dutch, and Spanish origins.

Stay safe out there!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Stars In a Circle

Did you ever wonder why the first flag of the United States, the Colonial flag, has its stars in the shape of a circle?

You might be able to guess - it was designed that way so that no star (and thus, no colony) would be greater than another.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why is the White House White?

Did you ever wonder: why is the White House White?

Well - it wasn't always least not until 1814. That was the year during the War of 1812 that the British sacked Washington. In the process they set fire to the Executive Mansion destroying much of its interior and charring its outer walls.

Once Washington had been recovered, to save money on the reconstruction - architects whitewashed the outer walls of the Presidential residence to cover up the scorch marks.

There are actually a few hidden places that White House curators have kept unpainted over the years where you can still see the black marks from 1814.

That is why the White House is white.

Monday, September 1, 2008

And the Great Ship Went Down...

It was 23 years ago today in 1985 that researchers discovered the location of the Titanic about 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland in about 12, 500 feet of water.

The ship was designed to hold 32 lifeboats, but the managers of the vessel were concerned that too many lifeboats would mar the beauty of the Titanic, so they only loaded 20 lifeboats.

For its maiden voyage, a first class ticket on the Titanic cost $4,350 (about $90,000 in today's dollars).

Since its discovery, underwater tourism has started to become a little bit of a problem on the Titanic. Submarines taking people down tend to land on the deck, and they are causing damage.

It is estimated that there are millions of shipwrecks on the ocean floor from generations of human activity. There currently is not a whole lot of international regulation about the preservation of underwater artifacts - as more and more of the ocean floor is mapped in the coming decade, it will likely become more and more of an issue.