Friday, July 31, 2009

Fun and games...

It's Friday, and I'm beyond exhausted from my week of baking (and the involuntary and unwelcome habit I have developed of waking up an hour before my alarm). So I have decided to do a nice and light post that requires minimal thought on my end. Hey, at least I'm honest...

This first story is for all of us late Gen Xers/early Gen Yers. Warner Bros' website reported yesterday the reunited cast of Saved by the Bell (minus Screech) is on the cover of People, which hits news stands today. I LOVED this show when I was growing up; I never missed an episode. It's funny to me how everyone except Lisa looks nearly the same as they did 15 years ago. I do wonder, though, if they Photoshopped Dustin Diamond out of that photo dated 1989 on the cover...

I am too young to remember another TV show, The Flying Nun, but a quick Wikipedia search yielded the following: It was a sitcom that ran on ABC from 1967-70 and starred a young Sally Field as a very slight novice nun in Puerto Rico who could take to the sky with a good gust and a very stiff cornette (winged nun hat). I have absolutely no idea how this show caught on, but the story I saw recently on msnbc.com is something that did catch my attention. Sister Bridget, known as The Flying Nun for her travels around the world to help the poor, is highlighted for her work with mentally and physically disabled individuals at the Boston Home. 

What a lot of people have forgotten in the hoopla over the final departure of the Gloved One was that former Charlie's Angel Farrah Fawcett died the same day. TVLand aired a marathon of Charlie's Angels episodes the weekend after she died, part of which I managed to catch. Despite the obviously dated hairstyles, clothes and plots, I found myself watching episode after episode. There was just something very appealing about watching three strong women kick butt and still be women. That feeling appears to be universal. Someone has started the Stiletto Spy School, based in Las Vegas and New York City. It runs weekend courses for women to participate in all sorts of activities prominent in TV shows and movies like Charlie's Angels, Kill Bill, etc. It is mainly for fun, but the skills the women learn do leave them feeling feeling empowered. 

You know, even when I try to do a mixed-bag post, I still end up with a theme... :-P

(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's all about me...

So my post today is pretty much all about me. Some of you may know, but I have started a little side business doing desserts and catering small parties. Today was my first "official" party - a baby shower for a girl at work. I was fairly nervous something would go horribly wrong (and my roommates would kill me for taking up all the room in the fridge with assorted baked goods), but all seems to have gone well. A lot of my coworkers took my business cards, and everyone was complimentary about how it looked and tasted. Most importantly, our little mama-to-be was pleased.



These are some cookies I did - my mama's sugar cookie recipe covered in royal icing and topped with little sugared sleping babies. I also made a few cookie lollies on a whim. Clearly my co-worker is having a boy... : ) 


Even more cookies.... : ) 

This is my piece-de-resistance: the cake. I had loads of fun making this even though I had to pipe out each tuft of fur individually in my sweltering kitchen last night (and I proceeded to smoosh the piping tip at work today). Everything except the binkie is edible. And I am now friends with fondant, which may be the most important thing. : ) We've worked out our differences - I've promised to roll it thinly and not make it work in humidity, and it has promised to look pretty. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Messages in celluloid...

I have a cousin who is much younger than me; when he was little, his proclivity for running around the house in his underwear earned him the nickname "SpongeBob No-Pants." Predictably, he hated it and often proclaimed his disgust for the show.

SpongeBob SquarePants debuted 10 years ago this spring. If you were to tell me that 10 years ago, I would have dismissed it out of hand. I was still babysitting then and well-versed in kids shows. I'd seen SBSQ and thought it was stupid, bordering on occasionally gross. But James Parker wrote an article in the June issue of "The Atlantic" that made me re-examine the show more closely for meaning I had not previously attributed to SpongeBob

That article pushed me toward re-thinking other cartoons and looking for lessons hidden in the technicolor. Sneaky adults, trying to sandwich morality between mythical blue creatures wearing white mushroom-shaped hats and multi-colored bears with magical powers in their tummies...

Yahoo! News had an article this morning on a movie remake of "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" that is in the works. Studios are trying to ride the rodent wave begun with "Ratatouille" and continued by "The Tale of Desperaux" and "G-Force." I have to confess, when I read the Newbery medal-winning book years ago, I had a hard time with it. The feeling of having to slog through it comes back to me. I think I struggled to keep all the rats straight. However, as the article pointed out, refreshing my memory, the story - Mrs. Frisby needing the help of former lab rats to move her sick son and escape from imminent death-by-farmer's plow - does have a distinct parable regarding evolution and community about  in it. 

I wish the subject of my last story had been around when I was younger. The New York Times previewed a new web-based (the things they come up with these days...) cartoon-series that will "air" on the AOL website and feature an animated version of super-investor Warren Buffet. The series, called "The Secret Millionaires Club," aims to teach 6-11 year-olds how to be responsible with money and avoid pitfalls like credit cards and impatient investing. While I had no credit cards and no concept of the stock market when I was younger, kids do these days, and it's a smart move to arm them with information now, while they are still adaptable enough to absorb it. 

(Image courtesy of the New York Times)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

All around the world...

I realized this morning I've been monopolizing this blog with good news from the US. I suppose I'm fighting the US media bias of only reporting "local" news, but I've also been going with stories that came to me, rather than actively looking for articles. Today I did a little more of the latter and found a bunch of good news from other countries. 

The Washington Post (yay for the US reporting on something other than the US!) had a brief story on a new customer relations technique debuted in Japan - service with a smile. Now, you're probably protesting this concept is as old as the hills, but the Japanese have taken it to a new technological level. Employees at the busiest train stations - ones that serve hundreds of thousands of commuters every day - now have the option to check their uniform in the mirror and their smile on the computer. Software on laptops in 15 of rail stations can measure the employees' smile curvature to tell how broad a grin the individual is sporting. 

Also in the Pacific is news of a more far-reaching nature. Yesterday, the leaders of Taiwan and China exchanged their first direct messages in 60 years. The enmity between these two countries goes back a long ways, pretty much ever since China annexed Taiwan against the Taiwanese people's wishes. If I were Taiwanese, I'd be pretty peeved too. But according to USA Today, the Chinese president sent a congratulatory message to Taiwan's leader after he won an election to the ruling party's chairmanship. 

Moving a little farther west, presstv.ir reports that a mosaic depicting an angel has been uncovered in the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Originally a basilica before the Ottoman Turks took over the city in the 15th century, the angel (one of a set of six, it is believed) were covered after the building underwent its own religious conversion. 

Lastly, I finish up in the West - Canada to be more precise. The Toronto Star reports on some welcome relief to prospective adoptive parents. Recently, Imagine Adoption Agency, which was handling adoptions between Canadians and children in an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, filed for bankruptcy. That move halted the adoptions of over 40 families, many of whom spent years learning Ethiopian culture and language in preparation for their new child(ren). However, a mining company has stepped in and donated $100,000 to help the orphanage in Ethiopia keep going and facilitate the adoptions already in progress that were frozen. 

(Photo courtesy of presstv.ir)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Lost and found...

There was a pattern at the end of last week, with stories being posted on things of great value that had been lost for a long time - in one case for centuries. However, I was firmly encased in my cranky pants on Friday and instead chose to be very lazy and just post a video my friend J sent me that has blown up into an Internet craze. Today, I am back to my usual posting self. 

Yahoo! News posted a story on a recent archaeological find in the Mediterranean. A team of archaeologists have found a "graveyard' of five nearly perfect Roman trading ships that sunk off the coast of Italy, and the earliest dates back to the first century BC. Underwater images show the well-preserved contents of the ships spilling out after the wood rotted away.

Also on Thursday, and as an addendum to the shipwreck story, Yahoo! News featured an article on two "new" works from Mozart. Apparently the International Mozarteum Foundation has had one of the works in their collection for a while, but only recently verified it was, in fact, written by Mozart as a young man. The results will be made public in a presentation on Aug. 2 in Salzburg, Austria, when an Austrian musician will play the piece on an original Mozart piano. The foundation also had a hand in authenticating another found Mozart composition in the possession of a French library last September.

Perhaps the sweetest of the three stories today concerns an object of less intrinsic value than those in the previous two articles. Once again, I mined Yahoo! to find this little gem... A love affair between a British man and his Spanish sweetheart was rekindled after 16 years when a missing love letter was found behind a mantle. The couple, who married two weeks ago, were reunited after the woman was brave enough to phone her former fiancee after discovering the letter.  

(Photo courtesy of www.about.com)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wedding season...


My apologies to the person who sent this (and the two to whom I forwarded it) since it will not be a new blog to them, but it is the only thing that has made me laugh on this horribly gross and rainy day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Science=Magic...



To me, nearly all science is magical. Not in the sense that I am endlessly fascinated by it, but more in that way most people regard watching someone get sawed in half. It's a "how did they DO that?" feeling. In school up until college, I took all the requisite classes - biology, chemistry, earth science, etc. My college transcript is less than stellar in that category, boasting a single class called "Natural Disasters." So I still regard scientific achievement with a certain degree of mystification. In this way I supposed I'm not that different than people from the Middle Ages or those of a very superstitious culture/religion.

Yesterday was the longest solar eclipse since 1991. It cut a swath across Asia and the Pacific, lasting for up to six minutes and 39 seconds in places. Indian astrologers were making predictions of widespread violence and evil according to their beliefs that what happened during a solar eclipse was that a dragon swallowed the sun. Fortunately for us (and the sun) neither mass panic and crime nor the sun being swallowed actually happened. Instead people had something really cool to look at, while some very confused cows in Japan decided it was dinner time and went to their troughs. 

The Seattle Times had a story a few days ago on something that may be neither science nor magic. This one struck my attention because of my interest in animal behavior. Mary Phillips, a hospice nurse in the state of Washington, credits her co-worker's Maltese Poodle, Jacque Pierre, with saving her life. She arrived at work one day and was struck by a crippling headache. While lying on the floor resting, Jacque Pierre came in and, despite the fact Phillips and Jacque Pierre weren't buddies, licked the size of her head exactly where the pain was the most excruciating. That unlikely gesture convinced Phillips to go to the ER where they found a walnut-sized aneurysm in her head. Phillips had recalled times when hospice patients' pets refused to leave their dying owners' sides at the exact moment of death, and she stated those experiences were what made her finally seek help.

What might quite possibly be magic in the sue-happy American society of today is University of Michigan Health System doctors have found that admitting mistakes and offering compensation up front has actually saved them from malpractice suits. According to Google News, after implementing this "common decency" approach malpractice claims dropped by half from 2001-07, the time to process claims dropped from 20 to eight months and costs per claim were halved. Patients who have been on the receiving end of medical mistakes in the system but who received an immediate apology and compensation have stated their satisfaction with not feeling abandoned. I guess nice guys don't always finish last. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wondering at Nature...

As I have stated before, I do not enjoy "roughing it," but I am still capable of being sufficiently awed by the forces of nature. Some of my favorite photos come from the genius Ansel Adams. I do love me a good view of the countryside after tramping up hundreds of stairs to the top of whatever tower/cathedral/really tall building is handy. The stone I stole from the Cliff Walk in Rhode Island reminds me, among other things, of the power of the waves and the time it took for that rock to become so smooth. 

I do recall one incident sophomore year of college where I was more confused than cowed by Nature, however. I remember being woken out of a dead sleep in my East Coast dorm room without a clue why. I was more peeved than anything else since it was before I had to get up to go to work. Later at the tennis camp where I taught I found out what had woken me up was a low magnitude earthquake. 

I'm not sure if this next story really qualifies as good news, but it isn't bad news unless you're a Kiwi or Aussie who really hates the other nationality. A 7.8 earthquake has moved the island of New Zealand one foot closer to Australia and actually enlarged NZ, as one side of the country moved farther than the other. I guess what does qualify as good news is that despite it being the biggest tremor in the world so far this year, it caused relatively little structural damage and no injuries. 

Yahoo! seems to be the go-to story site today. I just realized all three of my stories are from there... Attached to the earthquake story was a little article on a new contest to name the seven natural wonders of the world. Two years ago, New 7 Wonders held a contest to name the seven man-made wonders that produced the following list: the Roman Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Lost City of Petra in Jordan, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, Macchu Picchu in Peru, and the Pyramid at Chichen Itza in Mexico. For the new contest, there are 28 finalists which people can vote on by phone or the Internet. The winners will be announced in 2011. 

The photo belongs to an AP story hosted on Yahoo! News. The popular seals who sleep and play in a cove in La Jolla have been granted legal protection from being forcibly ejected from the area. A couple years ago, some idiot, ahem, the disgruntled swimmer mentioned in the article filed suit because s/he wanted to swim in the cove and not share it with the seals. This ruling also prevents some poor soul from suffering the indignity of having to walk down the beach with a loudspeaker blaring the sound of dogs barking (to scare away the seals) accompanied by one of San Diego's finest (to ward off attacks from pro-seal demonstrators.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A day late and dollar short...

Once again, I missed the boat. I did not realize that yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon walk. To be fair to myself, my parents hadn't even met at the time of the moon walk, so there was no chance of me sitting around reminiscing on where I was when it happened. And, as several articles have pointed out, Americans' interest in the space program has plummeted since the 1960s, to the degree I really don't pay attention anymore. 

But, regardless, that was a very important day and exponentially cool when you think about it, so I'm going to do a post today. Besides, now I have the benefit of being able to sift through all the stories about yesterday without missing any unique ones. : ) 

The photo to the left, from CNN.com, is part of a fun story about how a 10 year-old boy played an extremely important role in the landing of Apollo 11. Greg Force, the child of the Guam NASA Tracking Station director, was sitting at home when he was retrieved by a member of his father's staff to perform a task only a child could. The antenna that was supposed to receive the last transmission from the astronauts before they landed had broken, but Greg's father thought it could be fixed with a little grease. However, grown ups' arms were too big to reach into the hole to apply the grease. Enter Greg. 

USAToday.com has a story on Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins' trip to the White House to meet with President Obama on the anniversary of the walk. Reading this article I realized there was a third astronaut up there. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that someone would have to "stay with the ship" as it were, but I just never thought about it. Can you imagine being the one guy who doesn't get famous from the moon walk? Well, yesterday he got his day in the sun as Obama praised the men for being "real American heroes." (Take that, GI Joe...)

Finally, computerworld.com had a fun little slideshow on the technologies we use today that were inspired by 1960's era NASA projects. If it weren't for the space program 40 years ago, we may never have had the Dustbuster...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hope floats...

I've never been a big fan of that movie, mainly because I am not a big fan of Harry Connick, Jr. as an actor. Jazz music - okay. Love interest for Sandra Bullock - not so much. Plus, I never really got the title in relation to the movie plot. 

But it seemed a particularly apt one for today's post. Hope does prop you up when you need it the most, even though in those times, optimism can be the hardest thing to call up. 

Delmarvanow.com has a nice, long story on how optimism is helping area residents get by in the current recession and even includes some comforting facts about small ways the recession seems to be easing.

Delawareonline.com highlighted the story of an unidentified donor who went to an ad agency in Port St. Lucie, Fla. with a concept to put up inspirational billboards around the country and the money to back it. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America donated materials and manpower. Twelve messages are broadcast on over 1,000 billboards across the US that share fun and hopeful reminders about recessions, like "Self worth beats net worth" and "Bill Gates started Microsoft during a recession." 

The Appeal-Democrat out of Marysville, Calif. (apparently the one Conservative paper in that state) has a brief commentary that mentions the latest recession angel. Marilyn Mock learned her neighbor's house was foreclosed upon and going up for auction. She attended the auction, bought the house and sold it back to the woman for the price she bought it. The original owner will make payments to Mock now, as she can afford and with no interest. Mock then started the Foreclosure Angel Foundation that raises money, so other foreclosed-on homeowners have the same chance as Mock's neighbor. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Making an impression...

While thinking of a way to tie together today's post, all the phrases connected with making an impression came flooding into my head. I'm not above an occasional pun and/or terrible play on words since they amuse me (yes, I know what that says about my sense of humor), but I didn't want to go that route today. 

For some reason Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "What is Success?" popped into my head, mainly for the fifth stanza - "...To leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition..." 

That single stanza perfectly captures the stories I found for today. 

Walt Disney made an impression on generations of children (myself included), and his ground-breaking work continues to inspire others to do the same. Some may think Disneyana is childish or hokey, but the New York Times believes it may be making a comeback as a legitimate genre of antiques, propelled by the October 1 opening of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, Calif. Created by the animator's daughter and grandson, the museum celebrates Walt Disney as a "daddy, husband and friend" and will include all sorts of memorabilia from his life and creations. 

The Epoch Times has a story on a muralist in Burnaby, British Columbia who has partnered with all sorts of organizations to paint full building-sized murals that show nature and animals in their natural habitats. Entrepreneur and painter Todd Polich paints endangered species murals in a way that promotes connection to nature and conservation. Check out the photo in the story closely. You can't tell that he painted that on the side of an insurance building. 

In recognition of Nelson Mandela's 67 years of fighting for human rights, peace and humanity, South African president Jacob Zuma has called on people all over the world to spend 67 minutes doing something to help their community tomorrow, July 18 - former President Mandela's birthday. The Sofia Echo posted a Reuters story quoting Mandela: "We would be honoured if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace and reconciliation."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Personal Growth...

It has taken me up until a month ago to be able to admit out loud and to other people a certain fact - I am not an outdoor kind of girl. For years I lied and told myself and others how much I unequivocally liked outdoor activities and being in nature. 

This is simply not true. 

There are distinct limits to the amount of nature I can take at any one time. I do like being outdoors, as long as I can go back into the air conditioning when I get hot. I like going for a walk into town to shop, but I do not like seven-mile hikes. And do not even get me started on the beach. The only body of water I truly love is surrounded by concrete and can be tended to by good-looking men who also bring me pink drinks. 

Awhile back, before vacation season started, CNN.com had a story on a new budget travel trend - camping. I have been camping exactly three times in my life. All three ended badly - one with a trip to the Lake Placid Children's Hospital with an ankle the size of a grapefruit. I believe the last time I went camping was about 20 years ago, and I could live the rest of my life happily if I never do it again. But this story makes the excellent point, for you hunters and gatherers out there, that a week in a state park is equivalent to a night or two in a hotel. And it does connect city folk to nature, which is always a good thing. I grew up in the country and loved the freedom and fresh air. It's the dirt I have a problem with. Add Image

These next two stories are more in line with my grapefruit ankle experience. 

The Globe and Mail newspaper out of British Columbia, Canada had a story on a toddler who survived an eight-mile river ride clinging to his flipped-over motorized truck. Apparently the three year-old wandered off while his family was camping, and drove directly into a river, which swept him downstream. When the boy was found two hours later, he seemed fine, getting treated only for mild hypothermia at a local hospital. When asked about his spontaneous trip, the only thing he had to say was "truck, boat, river." 

Hiking is another of my least favorite activities. I still like to tease one of my old roommates about a hike we took a few years ago outside Boston. Every time we had the choice between the sunny path with birds dancing on the tree branches singing and the one that went straight up a craggy path that was certain death if you tripped, we opted for the rocks. I've also read Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country," about Australia and how dangerous most of the center of the country can be. Combine those two things and you have the experience of British backpacker Jamie Neale, who improbably survived 12 days lost in the Aussie bush country. According to Yahoo! News, he went on a six-mile hike (leaving most of his things, including his phone, at his hostel) and somehow wandered off the trail. Experts say he only survived because of water available due to a recent rain. 

(Photo courtesy of the Globe and Mail)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big dose of nostalgia...

On my way to get my oil changed today at the crack of dawn (I become more and more like my father every day), I heard Brad Paisley's song "Welcome to the Future" again. But this time, instead of making me ponder the advances we've made, it made me nostalgic for "the way it used to be." 

No, I never had to walk to school uphill both ways in 10 feet of snow (I do that now to get to work...)But I swear some things were definitely better 20 years ago, the neon colors and layers of scrunchies and socks I wore notwithstanding.

On Aug. 11, the United States Postal Service will launch a set of Early TV Memories stamps featuring 20 stamps with images from the Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dinah Shore Show, Dragnet, Ed Sullivan Show, George Burns & Gracie Allen Show, Hopalong Cassidy, The Honeymooners, Howdy Doody, I Love Lucy, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Perry Mason, Phil Silvers Show, The Red Skelton Show, Texaco Star Theater, Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), Twilight Zone and You Bet Your Life (www.iconvision.com). Through the magic of TV Land and one very old VHS tape, I have seen a lot of these shows. I definitely appreciate them for the break they provide from today's shows which are often best described as gratuitous (in violence and sex) but should probably be called fatuous. 

To use an analogy borrowed from "Shrek," HMOs are like onions - they have layers (and they stink). Recently I finally caved and began the process of having the lingering pain in my shoulder checked out. First I had to get an appointment with my primary care doctor (which I actually forgot to go to for the first time in my life). So then I had to get another appointment. Predictably, she had no real idea what to do, so she referred me to a specialist, who was the one I wanted to go to in the first place. I have absolutely no idea why I have to go to my PCP first for something I know she can't fix. The only thing I can think is the insurance wants my co-pay. Which was why when I read in the New York Times that President Obama's choice for surgeon general made house calls when needed and occasionally accepted food as payment, I felt refreshed. I would not like to go back to the days before penicillin, but a little more of a personal touch and connection in health care would not be a bad thing. 

The stereotype about cops loving donuts has probably been in place since the first cop shows on TV. It is parodied on nearly every show that features policemen and a sense of humor. I even found a book on the history of donuts in the library yesterday called "Glazed" which takes aim at the joke. But in one case in Michigan, reality mirrors fantasy - a group of police officers banded together and bought a failing donut shop. According to wmnt.com, a band of nine cops with no working knowledge of running a bakery, bought the 113 year-old donut shop to save it from closing. 

(Image courtesy of iconvision.com)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What we got here, is a failure to communicate...

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures


Just like any proud human mother, I was convinced my cat Galway was smarter than other cats. She actually seemed to communicate with me aside from the "I'm hungry" and "I'm bored" and "It's midnight; where the h*** have you been?" meows. And often after I finally figured out what she wanted, I thought I caught a glimpse of a "finally, you dummy" look on her face. Now she lives with my parents, and nearly every phone call home includes a story of the latest intelligent thing my cat has done. 

The University of Sussex recently concluded a study that states what most cat owners know from prior experience. When it comes to control of the household, cats are in charge. A researcher at the university discovered cats embed an urgent cry inside their meow that subtly plays off humans' response to a baby crying. Apparently this cry is always in the meow, but once cats learn humans respond favorably to it, they learn to exaggerate the sound when they want something. According to Yahoo! News, this type of solicitation cry is more prevalent in a one-to-one household where the cat's cries are harder to ignore and/or do not get lost in general bustle. So, sorry Mom and Dad. 

But that story got me thinking about all the ways communication can happen. Cats and babies express needs through crying. People generally express pain/distress through swear words. It's often involuntary - you stub your toe or shut your finger in a door, and the first thing out of your mouth is usually four-lettered. Yahoo! News had an article on Sunday that explained swearing can actually make it easier to bear the pain of injury. Participants in a study were asked to immerse a hand in ice water while swearing. A control group did the same but saying a benign word. Those who swore held their hands in the water longer (can you imagine being the college student asked to be a part of this study??). 

Multiple ethnicities express themselves in music and dance. Baltic republic Estonia held its Song and Dance Festival on the first weekend of July this year in the hopes it would help the nation turn its collective attention away from its economic troubles. Held every five years, the festival has its roots in Estonians' response to repression first by czarist Russia then 50 years of Soviet occupation. In the 1980s, in what was called the Singing Revolution, the people would gather, sometimes by the thousands, to sing patriotic songs to defy the Soviets (Google News).

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Big Bang Theory...

The fact that I live in a five-bedroom apartment initially shocks people. The fact that I live with four guys deepens that astonishment. But the real icing on the cake is the fact three are physicists, well, candidates for their Ph.D.s in the field. 

The picture to the left is my very first attempt at cake decorating with any effort. It is a replication of the issue of "Nature" in which my German roommate was published last year. Do not ask me what that white/red/green blob is. I didn't know then, and I don't know now. But it is faithfully represented in frosting.

I often explain my life as a version of the Penny character in "The Big Bang Theory," which I don't think my roommates appreciate all that much, considering the degree to which stereotypes are exaggerated on that show. It is, however, apt. I'm about as far from science-minded as they come, yet most of my new friends are physicists. I think the best example of this is having gone to a good-bye party for a science friend a few weeks ago and watching, stunned, as someone made ice cream using frozen nitrogen (I think). 

Regardless (or perhaps because) of my lack of aptitude in this area, what my roommates (including the one who recently moved to France for two years to join an experiment) can do amazes me. So today's post is dedicated to cool things in science.

Several of my friends (or their wives) have recently had babies and several more are due in the next few months. So this story on sciencedaily.com caught my eye. A pilot study by the University of Toronto has shown evidence that a redesign in delivery rooms may be in order. By moving the bed to the corner of the room to allow for more space to move around the room as well as adding visually and aurally stimulation, the need for a drug that speeds up slow deliveries was decreased. Some women even reported an overall more connected and pleasant birthing experience. 

Sciencedaily.com also had a story on the other end of the life spectrum. Testing done in mice who are the equivalent of the human age of 60 has shown a compound found in the soil of Easter Island can extend lifespans. Testing done on 20 month-old mice shows a 28-38 percent extension in lifespan. This verges into creepy science fiction a little for me, but apparently the compound can also be used in cancer treatments (yay!) and other drug therapies as well. 

Finally, msnbc.com has a story that I can wrap my head around. Fifteen years and $3 million later, Tim Kehoe has invented colored bubbles. When I was little I used to love blowing bubbles outside. I chased them around the yard and tried to catch them again on the tip of my bubblewand. I remember the spritz I used to get when they burst. Apparently bubbles as entertainment have been around for 400 years, but in all that time, no one had been able to figure out how to dye the bubbles without staining whatever came in contact with the bubbles upon bursting. The guy in this story has a pretty funny sense of humor, at one point likening an experiment with red dye to a scene from "Braveheart." 

Friday, July 10, 2009

This is why I had so many stuffed animals as a child...

When I was little I LOVED stuffed animals. I toted one everywhere with me, and I always wanted one more. I remember one photo where my bed is so covered in stuffed animals there isn't room for a four or five year-old me to get in it. Even today I need to remind myself I am 27 years old and do not need that stuffed penguin from the aquarium or that teddy bear from Stieff in Berlin (I wanted to be a teddy bear collector when I grew up according to my pre-school diploma.). 

When I was in Berlin, I opted for the Knut t-shirt with an image of the polar bear, furry in the same way "Pat the Bunny" is instead of a stuffed bear. But I made sure we stopped at Knut's enclosure at the zoo. I had heard the Berlin Zoo may not keep him for much longer, and I wanted to see him while I was there. Fortunately, I saw in the news yesterday, via the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, that Knut is staying in Berlin! The zoo ponied up $600,000 for him, and he gets to stay in his home.

The New York Daily News had a story yesterday about one of my other favorite animals. I have absolutely no idea why, but I love turtles. Love them. I was fascinated by the giant ones swimming in the coral reef tank at the Boston aquarium. Apparently runways at JFK were taken over by 78 terrapins who had climbed out of local waters looking for a place to mate. They were scooped up by Port Authority workers and loaded into a truck to be returned to the bay. I can't help but think perhaps someone should have called the Department of Natural Resources, but at least no turtles were lost. After all the crappy flight delays I've had, I probably wouldn't mind a cute one. : ) 

Finally, the Daily News (usually not one of my favorite papers - too florid) has my last link for the week. As a corollary to the turtle story, the paper linked to a multimedia gallery of the 87 cutest animals in the animal kingdom. In the interest of thorough journalism, I went through all 87 photos to report on who actually was the cutest. However, I ended up with a five-way tie, so I'll just post the link and let you go through it yourself. : ) 

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Good news from the Lost Continent...

I'm fairly certain the phrase "the Lost Continent" was coined based on some other landmass, but I feel it is particularly apt concerning Africa. It is one of the most populous places on the planet, but you never hear much of it, at least in the U.S., unless some one has started another genocide. Even I tend to skip right over it on the map in my head. But then again, why would people concentrate on a place where the only news the outside world gets is that of misery and suffering? 

Of the various stories I've collected over the past few weeks, three come from Africa. In fact, the first I've been holding onto for a bit, in the hopes I would find a couple more to do a post on this theme. It was hosted on Google News on June 29. The Brookings Institute and the World Bank released a report that stated several African nations have made great improvements on the governance of their people. The report notes that Botswana is on-par with other, more developed Western nations and points to the progress made by Liberia, Angola, Uganda, Congo and Ethiopia. 

Liberia has now had nearly four years of peace after being yet another of those "war-torn African countries." The nation has the continent's only democratically elected woman leader and is making a real effort to rebuild its infrastructure after the lengthy civil war. VIN International has a story on the fledgling Veterinarians Without Borders, which is sending two veterinarians to Liberia to hold a free clinic for large and small animals and assess the country's animal care needs on the request of the country's vice president. Liberian VP Joseph Boakai points out there are no known educated veterinarians operating in a country of three million people. 

On its website UNICEF announced that a rebel group in the Central African Republic (CAR) has now released nearly 200 child soldiers from its ranks in accordance with a peace agreement signed last year. The group has sent home 166 boys and 16 girls, and UNICEF said nearly all have been reunited with their families. The children are being given clothes, hygiene products and other supplies and will have access to education, training and counseling in their villages. This announcement comes on the heels of 84 child soldiers released by a group in Chad back in June. 

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Welcome to the future...

This morning I heard Brad Paisley's new song "Welcome to the Future." In it he reminisces about all the technological advances he has seen in his lifetime - personal video games, TV sets in cars, etc. As I sat listening to the song, I realized I am part of the last generation probably to remember life before the Internet, iPods and cell phones. And it made me wonder what's next... 

Something that only happens once in a lifetime happened today - at 12:34.56 to be exact. The time and date together was 123456789. I would never have figured that out on my own if I hadn't logged onto Facebook and saw it in someone's status. What amused me was how many news outlets found this newsworthy. I had a plethora of stories to choose from, and I picked the Chicago Tribune, mainly because it was listed first. 

My reliance, some might say addiction, to Facebook is another advance in my lifetime that I didn't see coming. In fact, back in 2004 when it started during my senior year of college, when someone asked me if I was on Facebook, I thought they were asking if I was in the printed version BU puts out during every class's freshman year. Over the past couple of years I have watched several friends become enamored with their iPhone. The things you can do with that phone...all of my friends who have them cannot put them down. The phrase "there's an app for that" has become commonplace. When someone told me he had an app to know when to avoid the Fenway area because Sox were in town, I incredulously asked, "There's an app for that??" (Turns out it was just an MLB app that listed your favorite team's schedule, but considering the life-altering traffic Sox games cause, I could see why he purposefully mis-used the app.).

The New York Times tech blog, GadgetWise, featured the DoGood app as its App of the Week recently. A group of University of Michigan students created the free app that lists daily random acts of kindness you can perform for others, simple things like thanking a teacher or making someone laugh. The users can then click the "done" button, so the good deeds can be tracked in quantity. You can see how many people across the country did, in fact, help an old lady across the street.

One engineering expert performed a tremendous act of kindness for his fellow passengers, as reported by the BBC. On the way to Glasgow from Menorca, vacationers were told they would have a flight delay of eight hours after a technical problem on the plane forced its grounding while an engineer was flown in from Great Britain. The man, who refused to be identified, stepped up and announced he was a qualified engineer. After a check of credentials, he was told to have at it, and he apparently fixed the problem. The flight landed in Glasgow only 35 minutes late. Having had an eight-hour delay coming home from Spain due to very same reason, I am still not sure I would like a fellow passenger to be fixing my plane, credentialed as he was...

(Image courtesy of The New York Times - and I can tell you not one of those 525 doers was from Boston...)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Independence Day, part zwei

One of my friends confessed to me once that she would like to be proposed to on a Jumbotron at a sporting event. Another of my friends used to work in sports marketing and would routinely reject requests from fans to do that very thing on the grounds that it is mortally embarrassing to all involved if the proposal does not have the desired response. 

CNN.com had a story on a man who was undeterred by the thought of being rejected. Aaron Weisinger proposed to girlfriend Erica Breder upon reaching the top of the newly re-opened crown of the Statue of Liberty on Saturday. The lucky (and newly engaged) couple were two of 240 people who got tickets to the first day the crown was re-opened to the public. Personally, for the record, I would not enjoy a public proposal, nor would I like to be forever captured wearing that stupid foam hat...

Remember the solider who was photographed a few months ago fighting the Taliban in pink "I Heart NY" boxers? Google News hosted an AP story that stated Spec. Zachary Boyd was home from Afghanistan in time for the Fourth of July. He spent a few days at home with his family before returning to Ft. Hood to begin training as a helicopter pilot. His boxers will soon be on display at the 1st Infantry Division museum in Fort Riley, Kansas. 

It is because of our protected freedoms I can post the following link to a project that is sure to tick off some people. Inspired by the fading flag bumper stickers visual artist Aaron Fein saw all around New York City after Sept. 11, he created an installation he calls "Surrender."  Fein wondered what would happen if all the nations' flags faded to white. "Surrender" is a growing exhibit that features flags of the world made entirely of white fabric. Just the small selection of flags in the photo on george.loper.org really does provoke the viewer into ignoring the map- and geography-based divisions imposed on these countries and think about new ways they are similar

(Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Monday, July 6, 2009

One man's trash is another's treasure...

It really is all about perspective when it comes down to it. I've decided that is the secret to life - it's all in how you look at it. Yesterday I got up and walked dogs at the MSPCA as usual and after showering off six dogs worth of appreciation for treats, I gathered my things together to run a couple errands. One glance out the window canceled the trek to Target and instead sent me on an odyssey to the Berkshires. I'm not entirely sure who else would drive two hours each way on a whim, but I guess that's what makes me me. : ) Anyway, I decided on my destination after looking on the bright side of all this rain - the Bridge of Flowers located in Shelburne Falls, Mass., had to be beautiful now. So off I went and I was not disappointed

Speaking of the MSPCA, I went into the cat room yesterday for the first time since stationing my cat at my parents' house. It appears I've turned into more of a cat person than originally thought. I spent the last 15 minutes of my shift cuddling homeless kitties. One feline who recently made news, even all the way out west in the LA Times blogs, was Postina. She was found by a Boston mail carrier after being dumped in one of those big blue mail bins. After some TLC at the animal hospital she was adopted by the same mail carrier who found her. 

Recently I was listening to Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" on CD in the car. It tells, in language I can understand, how the universe was created and thus the rest of history. Part of it is devoted to prehistory and dinosaurs. In his imitable style, he does mention some of the more ludicrous examples of ignoring or misidentifying dinosaur bones. Recently, Australia has had no such issues. Yahoo! News reported paleontologists have found three new large species of dinosaurs in Oz, including one bigger, even-more-scary Velociraptor-type creature. These are the first dinosaur bones found in Aus since 1981 and seem to point to a more complex past than originally thought.

And in a perfect example of things not turning out as one may have thought at the start, porcelain created for an emperor in the Chien Lung dynasty (during the middle to late 1700s) has turned up in the hands of an average American woman. Reuters says that woman has scored the first $1 million appraisal on the TV show "Antiques Roadshow." Her father bought the pieces while stationed in China in the 1930s and '40s. Previously the highest estimate had been $500,000 for artwork. 

(Photo courtesy of LA Times blogs)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness...

Little known fact about the Fourth of July: then-future president John Adams thought people would celebrate our nation's day independence on July 2, the day the Declaration was officially accepted by the Continental Congress, not July 4 - the day it was official to the rest of the colonies.

So in deference to both President Adams and history, I'm going to split the difference and celebrate on my blog today. : )

The LA Times has an abridged version of the Declaration of Independence on one of its blogs. It is edited for length and typographical understanding. Personally I'm okay with omitting all the haths and thous in favor of clarity; this version does not diminish the power of the ideas and motivations of the men who crafted the original document.

The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y., publishes an editorial annually in time for the Fourth of July, entitled "Independence is the cornerstone of America." It talks not in grand language about the lofty ideals of the American democratic experiment but in simple terms about what it means to everyday people. It's no soapbox appeal, just a reminder that our country was founded to give people the freedom to say and do what they believe, regardless of whether someone else agrees with them. I think that's why I appreciate the Fourth on a level other than the ninth-grade U.S. history way - it's the one political holiday people all along the party spectrum can celebrate and not tilt its meaning to the left or right.  

On a slightly more down-to-earth level, the Denver Business Journal reported MillerCoors and Pizzeria Uno donated 8000 cases of beer and 25,000 pizzas to the men and women fighting in the Middle East on July 4. MillerCoors, Pizzeria Uno and DHL partnered with Pizzas 4 Patriots, a non-profit committed to sending food and beverages to soldiers overseas. 

I thought it might be fitting to put the National Anthem on here instead of a picture today, and this particular version struck me on YouTube. I still can't decide if it's original or slightly disrespectful. I'm leaning toward original since I've never seen the reaction Marvin Gaye gets to his rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (written in Baltimore - yay Maryland!) at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game.



Thursday, July 2, 2009

A little bit of old and a little bit of new...


I suppose it's the Gemini in me, but I have a hard time making decisions between two distinct things. You'd think it would be easy, but for me it's never one or the other; I want to have both. It's generally not because I'm greedy, but more because I can see the benefits or advantages to both and don't want to lose one to the other. 

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that mine is the last generation to have one foot "back when..." and one foot in the Internet Era. I remember having to use card catalogs at the library and not knowing where someone was because he or she was out and cell phones weren't widely available (or were the size of shoe boxes). I guess that's why I see the value in both technology and the old way of doing things. 

I don't always think newer is better. CNN.com has an article on the rise of urban farming. I grew up between two farms and eating corn off my neighbor's stalks. I was introduced to city gardens through my cousin's neighbor in Philly, and I really think the type of gardens CNN profiles are an excellent idea. They do so many wonderful things beyond bring fresh vegetables to a population that may be unfamiliar with them. Cities rose with technology at the turn of the last century, but there is something to be said for picking your own dinner. 

If one is looking to put a face on the digital age, one of the first image that springs to mind is Google. This company has become so intertwined with daily living, the name is actually a verb in the U.S. I have no idea how many times a day I "google" something. Occasionally it causes a ruckus by testing the boundaries of copyright - Google Books - or privacy - tailoring ads in Gmail to the content of an email - but in this case cited by allheadlinenews.com, its Street View cameras had a positive impact. The images taken from a Dutch camera helped identify suspects and lead to their arrest for the mugging of a 14 year-old boy. The suspects robbed the boy of 165 euros ($285), but after police obtained permission from Google, prosecutors were able to clear the blurry shots and see the muggers.

Perhaps a compromise between the old school and the new school is in order. BBC Online reported on a study which found listening to the right kind of music can lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. Most people would see this as common sense, but doctors today have found a niche in which to apply it to a greater benefit - stroke victims. Music like Verdi or Puccini, which alternates stimulating crescendos with calming diminuendos, mimics the cardiovascular rhythm and can be applied to rehabilitation for stroke victims who are trying to regain movement out of paralysis. So yes, opera is good for something. : )

(Image courtesy of ariababy.wordpress.com)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles...and bikes...

A little bit of trivia for you: at what time of the day, on what day of the week, is it most dangerous to drive, according to the National Safety Council? (If you are an inpatient soul, jump down to the bottom of the post for the answer.)

This morning was the second time in a week I've gotten up at an ungodly hour (prior to 6:30 a.m.) to take a roommate to the airport. Thankfully, ironically, it was early enough that I avoided traffic around the city both coming in and going out. That didn't stop me from getting cut off about three times heading to work, but I guess you win some and lose some. 

One 15 year-old who is winning more than losing at the moment is Kimberly Anyadike. The Compton, Calif., resident is part of an initiative by Tomorrow's Aeronautical Museum that gives youths flying lessons in exchange for community service. Anyadike is flying from Compton to Newport News, Va., in an attempt to become the youngest black woman to fly across the United States, according to the Arizona Republic. Along the way she is meeting with members of the famous "Tuskegee Airmen" who flew with distinction during World War II. 

This morning I was mildly embarrassed to get passed by a Smartcar on Comm. Ave. How on earth does that little thing have more horsepower than my Civic? Being the type of person who does not get worked up by cars, I'm already over it, but I was amused to find a story on wired.com about Baltimore rolling out a fleet of electric cars as apart of a car-share program. Mom, take note: Here is some good news about the home of "Homicide: Life on the Street." In partnership with the Maryland Science Center, battery-maker Electrovaya is providing 10 cars that get 120 miles to the charge to be used to tool around the Inner Harbor area by residents and tourists alike. The cars only go about 35 mph, but as is pointed out in the story, it really isn't possible to go much faster than that in the city. 

On the drive into Logan this a.m., I felt very sorry for those poor individuals dressed for work and waiting for the T at 6:30 in the morning. Where on earth did they work, I wondered, that they needed to catch the train so early? Philly.com had a story this morning on the fact Philadelphia's public transit, SEPTA, has partnered with Google to provide maps which will help residents and visitors better get around the city by public transport. Right now only the trains are featured online, but they are hoping to get the bus routes up as well. Users can type in attractions or destinations, and the maps will show the routes to take to get there. I think that's awesome; I know Boston's system well, but I've lived here for nearly seven years. On my last trip to Philly, I would never have figured out the buses if I weren't on them with my cousin.

Every day I pass bike commuters while driving my car to work. For about a second, I think what good exercise I could get, and how I could quit the gym. But then I remember it has been raining for the last month, I would not enjoy it in the snow, and I like wearing skirts to work. However, I hope if biking were my only option, I'd be grateful. Google News hosted an AP article from six days ago on a U.S. charity called World Bicycle Relief which will be giving out 50,000 bikes to schoolchildren in Zambia over the next three years. Studies have shown that a lack of safe, reliable transportation is a major reason children do not get to school in developing countries. The amount of time and walking distance by the children cited in this story is astounding. It really makes you aware of how fortunate we are for those long, yellow school buses which annoy us by stopping traffic every morning. Seventy percent of the bikes in Zambia will be going to girls, as it is evident in the research they are the most likely to be harassed on a long walk to school. 

The answer to the opening question is actually 2 a.m. on Sunday morning - when drivers who are exhausted and/or inebriated from a night's revelry are heading home.

(Photo courtesy of wired.com)