Putting the X in Xmas


Looks like my neck of the woods is not going to have white Christmas, but a clear christmas. Or whatever you’d call it. The weatherman is calling for rain, not snow. Though I don’t think I’ll be supplanting a festive snowman with a rainman. White or not in your area, here’s hoping it’s a merry Xmas. Which leads us to… why X in Xmas? Where’d that come from?

Abbreviations used as Christian symbols go way back. The New Testament was written in Greek, the first two letters of Christ in Greek are chi and rho. These form the chi-rho monogram on the snowman’s umbrella in the illustration above. The Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, used it on his banner.

Remove the rho and you have a chi, a simple X. Still, when and exactly how X for Christ came about is not known. By the fifteenth century Xmas for Christmas was widely used. Back in the day, X in place of Christ also gave you Xian for Christian and Xianity for Christianity. These uses are no longer widespread, meaning not at all.

While nobody has every wished anyone a merry Fishmas, you might wonder about the origin of the fish as a symbol of Christ. One theory is it comes from the phrase “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.” The initial letters of the phrase spell the Greek word for fish, ichthus. Jcsgs doesn’t spell ichthus, but with the Greek alphabet it does. Whether this is the true origin, nobody really knows.

Filed 12/24/14

The First Names of Santa Fe and San Francisco


What do the names of San Francisco, California and Santa Fe, New Mexico have in common? Saint Francis.

One might suppose Santa Fe was named for a woman saint, like Santa Barbara or Santa Clara. While there is a Santa Fe, Saint Faith in English, that’s not what the city’s name is about. Santa can also mean holy in Spanish, so if you paid attention you can see Sante Fe translates as holy faith.

So, where does Saint Francis come into it? The full name of New Mexico’s state capital is Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis. In English, Royal Village of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi. One can easily understand why people went with the condensed version.

San Francisco was originally Yerba Buena. Now we go off on a tangent or two. There’s a major drag on the SF peninsula called Camino Real. We’ve seen Real (Rey-al) means royal, Camino is a road. Chevy used to have a car with a pickup bed called the El Camino, which is to say, “the The Road.” A clumsy name for a vehicle. Still, better than the Chevrolet Nova which in Spanish means the Chevrolet No-go. On the other hand you might drive a Volvo, Swedish for “it rolls.”

Filed 12/8/14

Organic, Deadly But Safe


People ingest about one and a half grams of pesticides daily. Not man-made ones, pesticides plants create naturally to protect themselves from insects, mites, nematodes, bacteria, and fungi. Fruits and vegetables contains by weight 10,000 times more natural pesti­cides than man-made ones. If you want to avoid pesticides in your food you’ll have to stop eating… well, everything.

Still, organic farmers don’t use pesticides, right? Not man-made ones. They use all-natural pesticides like nicotine sulfate, rotenone, and pyrethrum, or naturally occurring poisons such as lime, sulfur, borax, cyanide, arsenic, and fluorine. Are these safer? Think about it, they’re pesticides, meaning they kill. If they weren’t deadly they’d be pretty lousy pesticides.

As toxicologists say, poison is in the dose. A tiny amount will kill a tiny nematode, but it takes a whole heck-uva lot to kill a person. A whole heck-uva lot is not a standard measure, but it’s certainly greater than one and a half grams per day. After all, that amount is killing zeroes of people a year.

But surely organic foods just have to be tastier and more nutritious, right? Dozens of studies have all come to the same conclusions: no tastier, no more nutritious. Also, organic farming produces about one third less yield per acre, so more habitat must be plowed under to grow the same amount of food. The biggest threat to wildlife is loss of habitat. Organic farming’s roots are in biodynamic agriculture, a spiritual-mystical perspective on farming: modern agriculture, bad; old ways, good. You might call it Luddite farming.

There is one benefit, folks buying organic food report feeling virtuous doing so. Now you know what the higher cost buys you.

Filed 12/4/14

Fat for Fitness


According to the articles linked to below, carbs are fattening, not fats. Carbohydrates enter your system as simple sugars stim­ulating your body’s insulin production. Insulin helps store sugar in the body as fat. Raise your insulin and sugar levels to excess and you get fat. Meanwhile, fat does not increase insulin and so the body creates less fat storage.

Is it only a coincidence that obesity rates have risen in the age of lo-fat and no-fat? Seems all that “healthy” low-fat dietary advice the experts have been feeding us did a fat lot of good. They’ve been pounding the anti-fat drum for decades now, wonder how long it will take to convince folks they were 180 degrees wrong all along.

Looks Like The Medical Establishment Was Wrong About Fat

Why Experts Now Think You Should Eat More Fat

Filed 11/26/14

Airport Tarmac or Aeroport Tarmacadam?


When you read or hear ‘tarmac’ do you think “a part of an airport where planes park” or the like? I think most people do. Which only goes to show when a word is used a certain way it can take on a new meaning.

Tarmac, capital T, was originally a trade­marked name, just like aspirin was originally. Tarmac is short for tarmac­adam, a combination of tar plus macadam. Macadam is a type of pave­ment made of layers of crushed stone. So, tarmacadam is a type of pavement made of crushed stone with tar as a binder.

Traditionally tar came from trees, the tar in tarmac comes from petrol­eum. Asphalt is a bituminous tarry substance derived from petroleum mixed with aggregate, which is to say crushed stone. Which means tarmac is basically paving asphalt.

Anyway, airport hanger areas and the like are often paved with tarmac. Folks started referring to these areas as the tarmac. I’m supposing it was short­hand to distinguish between a plane being out of the hanger on the pave­ment but not on the runway or taxi lanes. Eventually tarmac came to mean both a type of paving and an area of paving. I imagine in some airports the tarmac is not made of tarmac but is concrete.

The difference between cement and concrete… aw, skip it.

Filed 10/4/14

Catch As Cats Can With Space Age Cookware


Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

At least, that’s the old saw. It’s not really true, of course. Lots of people have invented mousetraps over the years, there’s dozens of them. Some maybe better, some not. But even the better ones require marketing. The world won’t beat a path to your door unless they hear there’s a reason to do so.

All that aside, inventive folks keep trying to improve all sorts of things other than mousetraps. Things most of us never imagined needed improve­ment. Things with a form more-or-less set for decades or even centuries. Like a hammer or pencil or everyday pots and pans. Well, those last two have been redesigned. Not just for looks, but for basic function. And it took a rocket scientist to do it. No joke.

Here’s the basic idea. If you are familiar with air-cooled engines, like on a motorcycle, you know they dissipate heat with a series of fins. Air flows through the channels between the fins and carries away heat. The new and improved pots and pans use this idea in reverse. They have fins on the side to capture heat from hot air flowing up the sides of the cookware.

Space Age Cookware

Like another thing they say, There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Why people would want to skin cats I couldn’t say. I suggest a better use for cats is to catch mice. A-a-a-and, we’re back.

Filed 7/30/14

The Little Girl Who Put the Pop in Popsicle


Some things are discovered or invented by accident, like penicillin and Silly Putty for instance. Some words or names which seem to be related or have a common origin, don’t. Both of these apply to that summer treat on a stick: the popsicle.

The popsicle was accidentally invented in 1905 when eleven year-old Frank Epperson mixed up some soda pop from the then popular “soda water powder” and left it outside in freezing weather. He remembered this happy accident and in 1923 developed a flavored ice treat product which he named after himself, Epp’s icicles, shortened to Epsicles.

While Mr. Epperson’s friends might have used the nickname Epp, his children didn’t and they wouldn’t call his iced treats Epsicles. Still his kids gave him all due credit and called them after their pop, pop’s icicles. And so Epsicles became popsicles and are so called today.

While popsicles were derived from soda pop, the name doesn’t refer to that at all. As far as it goes, they might have been papasicles or dadsicles. Or worse, Fredsicles.

Filed 5/21/14

Spring Trivia Time


What professional sport covers vital equipment with mud? No, not mud wrestling. Baseball. The National League and American League rub their baseballs with Lena Blackburne Mud found at a top secret location in a New Jersey swamp. The mud takes the shine off the balls. Just who the heck Lena Blackburne is and why they can’t use some other mud is also a secret. To me anyway.

Daisies were originally called day’s-eyes for how they opened in the morning and closed at night. Follow­ing the eye theme we have oxeye daisies. Another flower with an eye name: black-eyed susans. Though who Susan was or who gave her the black eye is one more secret.

The joke marker was invented by computer scientist Scott Fahlmon in 1982. What’s a joke marker, you ask. A smiling face emoticon. You know, colon-dash-close parenthesis.  :-)  Though somewhere along the line it seems to have gotten rhinoplasty. When is yet another secret.  : )

Filed 5/3/14

How Much a Buttload Is

Click pic to play animation

Believe it or don’t, a buttload is a real unit of measure. Sort-of. A butt is two hogsheads. So you ask, what’s a hogs­head? Butt and hogshead both were traditional mea­sures of wine and other spirits. A hogshead is sixty-three gallons. Making a butt 126 gallons. That’s a whole buttload of booze.

You can file that under “I never even thought about it.” Had you thought about it, maybe you’d imagined butt­load was a sloppy version of boatload. A boatload is… depends on the size of the boat. They haven’t come up with a standard boatload unit of measure.

Tanker ships don’t ply the sevens seas full to the gunwales with potent potables, but they range in capacity from around 500,000 to 4 million barrels of oil. A barrel of oil is about 42 US gallons. If you do the math that comes out to 21 to 168 million gallons of oil. Yep, one helluva buttload, or boatload, of oil.

If you noticed, a hogshead is one and a half barrels and a butt is three barrels. Why a barrel is 42 gallons is a mystery lost in the mists of time.

Filed 3/26/14

The Truth Behind Henry Ford’s $5-a-day Wage


There’s this notion floating around about how Henry Ford doubled auto worker wages so that they could then afford to buy his cars, increasing sales, making him richer than ever. This makes no sense whatever. It’s pretty surprising anyone, let alone an econo­mist, believes it.

When Mr. Ford set up his produc­tion line he created an unforeseen problem. The work was so mind-numbingly tedious and demanding people wouldn’t stick it out. They quit in droves. Sometimes leaving after lunch on the first day. This was very disruptive to production, it lowered productivity. Also, hiring and training a constant stream of new workers was expensive.

To solve the turnover problem Mr. Ford doubled wages as an incentive to get workers to stay on the job. Experts at the time thought it was nuts, but it worked. It was cheaper and less disruptive to increase wages than to constantly hire and train new workers. Productivity increased, overhead went down, profits went up.

On the other hand, raising your own labor costs so employees can then buy the very product they make can never make you money. Even if workers spend 100% of their raise buying the product the best you can ever do is break even. The same amount of money goes out and then returns. There are reasons to raise wages, Mr. Ford showed one reason, but so workers can buy their own production is not one of them.

Filed 2/26/14

Seeing the Unseen


Sometimes it pays to think backwards, as it were. Or rather, you can see more from what you don’t see than what you see. It’s the old conspicuous by its absence idea.

A case in point. During World War II, statistician Abraham Wald reviewed battle damage to airplanes returning from sorties over Germany. He found the fuselage and fuel system were much more likely to be damaged by bullets or flak than the engines of returned planes. Our initial reaction might be, “Look at all that fuselage damage. We need better protection there.”

Abraham Wald saw it otherwise and recommended the engines needed better protection. He understood the implications of looking at returned planes rather than planes that did NOT return. If planes all shot to heck but with intact engines returned, it meant planes could sustain that damage. Meanwhile, since planes were not returning with damaged engines it meant those planes were kaput. Hence, the engines needed more protection.

What Mr. Wald saw was what he didn’t see, see? Of course, thinking backwards doesn’t always help. Sometimes it’s just ass-backwards thinking which doen’t seem very helpful at all. Though ass-forward thinking doesn’t sound much better, does it?

Filed 2/8/14

Chemicals in Our food


Imagine if the FDA required ingredients lists for everything. Not only what was added in processing, but the chemicals created by nature that make up the basic food itself. Below are the ingredients of an all-natural food fresh from the organic farm. Guess what it is.

Water. Amino Acids: glutamic acid, aspartic acid, valine, arginine, leucine, lysine, serine, phenylalanine, alanine, isoleucine, proline, tyrosine, threonine, glycine, histidine, methionine, cystine, tryptophan. Fatty Acids: octadecenoic acid, hexadecanoic acid, octadecanoic acid, eicosatetraenoic acid, eicosanoic acid, docosanoic acid, decanoic acid, dodecanoic acid, tetradecanoic acid, pentadecanoic acid, heptadecanoic acid, tetradecanoic acid, hexadecanoic acid, eicosenoic acid, docosenoic acid, octadecadienoic acid, octadecatrienoic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, docosehexaenoic acid. Sugars: glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, galactose. Color: E160c, E160a, E306, E101. Flavor: phenylacetaldehyde, dodeca-2-enal, hepta-2-enal, hexadecanal, octadecanal, pentan-2-one, butan-2-one, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acetone. Also contains: benzene, esters, furans, sulfer compounds, terpenes.

When you consider all our basic foods are living things, or at least were until we turned them into food, it’s no surprise they’re chock-full of a whole variety of chemicals. After all, life itself is pretty much chemical processing. So, what is it that contains the listed ingredients?

It’s an egg. A plain old, everyday, garden variety, chemical-laden chicken egg. Yep, nothing starts your day better than a ration of fried formaldehyde, acetone, and benzene. Pass the phenylalanine and don’t spare the octadecatrienoic acid.

Filed 2/6/14

Speak and Spell Gone Wild


It’s your name and you can spell or say it any way you want. At least, that seems to be the philosophy behind the screwy spelling-pronunciation mismatches you run across.

Ten English Family Names You’d Never Guess how to Pronounce from the Spelling

  1. Ayscough - said as - Askew
  2. Beauchamp — Beechum
  3. Belvior — Beaver
  4. Cholmondeley — Chumley
  5. Dumaresq — Doomerik
  6. Leveson-Gower — Loosen-Gore
  7. Marjoribanks — Marchbanks
  8. Myerscough — Maskew
  9. Wauchope — Walk-up
  10. Wriothesley — Roxlee

If you go to Scotland and Wales the names get even odder. Which might not be so surprising when you consider they’re not English, but Gaelic and Welsh. Then again, many of the names on the list were probably Norman-French that came over with William the Conqueror. Not that the French pronounce them like that. These families aren’t even trying.

The more foreign it is the stranger it can get. Take Duke basketball coach Mike Kryzewski, which despite all phonetic reason is pronounced Sha-SHEV-ski. Must be cyrillic translation thing. Imagine if the list were coach K’s Duke basketball roster. American sportscasters would be totally lost.

Filed 1/15/14

Modern Medieval Myths


As we weren’t around then to know otherwise, it’s easy to believe a lot of things we’ve heard over and over about the Middle Ages. Though, like a lot of things you hear repeatedly about things today, much of it is stuff and nonsense. The real shame of it, some slipshod historians repeat the myths, too. Here are a few examples.

Chastity belts date from the Renaissance and not the Middle Ages. Even so, they were not designed or used to keep a wife faithful, but were worn for short periods in emergencies. As a castle or town was being attacked and likely to fall, women donned them to protect them­selves against rape.

Medieval theologians did not debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or the point of a needle as it went originally. This canard comes via wise-acres making jokes that people later took seriously. Missing the point of satire is nothing new, it seems.

The Medieval church never declared women had no souls. That whole idea started when some wit named Valentius Acidalius in the 1500s published a spoof on the subject. It was a joke that went viral, so to speak.

Still, the superstitious bumpkins burned witches in the Middle Ages, right? Very rarely. Witch burning didn’t gain traction in Europe until the Renaissance when there was an anti-witch hysteria spawned by the Black Death. Medieval cannon law officially stated witches did not exist.

Not only is much of what folks believe about the Middle Ages wrong, so is a lot of what people think about the Renaissance being such an improvement.

Filed 1/9/14

Trivia Quivia


In modern usage the word trivia is both singular and plural. It comes from the Latin trivium, any of the three lesser liberal arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The three together were plural, trivia.

Likely you know a pair of dots above a letter is called an umlaut or a diaeresis. As in coöperate. Did you know a single dot above a letter, as in lower case i and j, is called a tittle?

Via pop culture (The Big Bang Theory) many folks know about Schrödinger’s cat. What they likely don’t know, Schrödinger wasn’t explaining an aspect of the uncertainty principle, he was lampooning it. Despite what Sheldon Cooper says you can think, a cat cannot really be both dead and alive simply because you don’t know which it is. Unless you believe in zombies.

Due to a rare genetic defect, about 6% of people have an extra nipple. Though it seems to me every man has two extra nipples.

I like websites and blogs from Australia. Check out the datelines; you get news from tomorrow! In fact, it’s both Monday and Tuesday as I write this. Spooky. Kinda like Schrödinger’s cat?

Filed 1/7/14

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