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Fact of the Day - STEAM LOCOMOTIVE

 

Did you know.... that a steam locomotive is a steam powered railway locomotive.  It was used a lot between about 1830 and 1970.  Afterwards, diesel and electric locomotives were used more often.  The first steam locomotive was made by Richard Trevithick for a railway used for moving iron at an ironworks in Wales. 

 

The first locomotives were steam powered, and for more than 100 years steam was the chief source of rail power all over the world.  Today the diesel locomotive has taken the place of the steam locomotive in many countries, and only a few steam locomotives remain in service.  Some of those are used on railroads that have been preserved for recreational purposes and as attractions for tourists and railroad enthusiasts.  In Europe, South Africa, and Russia, several historically important steam locomotives are kept operational for special occasions.  China still uses steam locomotives to transport freight in the northern regions of the country.  Steam locomotives burn fuel (usually coal or wood) to heat and boil water, which produces steam.  Contained in a boiler, the steam passes into a cylinder near the driving wheels. In the cylinder, the steam expands against and moves a piston.  The back-and-forth motion of the piston turns the driving wheels—the wheels that move the locomotive—through a system of rods and cranks. Steam locomotives commonly have two cylinders powering four, six, eight, or ten driving wheels.

 

The steam boiler is essentially a large steel cylinder with chambers at each end. At the rear is a firebox, where the combustion occurs.  The smoke and heat flow through a network of narrow tubes, called flues, that run the length of the boiler and then out the smokestack.  The firebox and the flues are surrounded by water. The heat from the fire causes the water to boil and creates the steam.  Steam exhausts from the cylinders and passes out the smokestack, creating the familiar "chuff, chuff, chuff" sound.  The force of the exhaust creates a vacuum that draws air from the opposite end of the boiler and through the burning fuel.  This causes the fuel to burn efficiently.

 

Fuel and water are carried in a special car called a tender, which is coupled, or joined, right behind the locomotive.  For more than 100 years, locomotives were fueled by hand. This process is called stoking.  During the 1920's, a mechanical stoker—powered by the same steam that propels the locomotive—was successfully developed.

 

Early steam locomotives burned coal or wood, depending on which type of fuel was most plentiful and least expensive.  American-built steam locomotives were primarily wood-fired until the 1870's. In the 1920's, oil became more common as a locomotive fuel, primarily in western areas of the United States, where coal was scarce.  Steam locomotives are classified according to the number and arrangement of their wheels.  They usually have smaller wheels in front of and behind their big driving wheels.  These small wheels help carry the weight of the locomotive and guide it around curves, but they have no power.  The small wheels are set in frames called trucks, which are pivoted underneath the engine frame so that they can swing right or left.

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Fact of the Day - THE GOLD RUSH

 

Did you know... that California did not have the first gold rush in American history?  That honor actually belongs to North Carolina.  Fifty years before gold was discovered at Sutter’s mill, the first gold rush in American history got underway after a 17-pound gold nugget was found in Cabarrus County, North Carolina.  Eventually, more than 30,000 people in the Tar Heel state were mining for gold, and for more than 30 years all gold coins issued by the U.S. Mint were produced using North Carolina gold.  

 

The Gold Rush was the largest mass migration in U.S. history.  In March 1848, there were roughly 157,000 people in the California territory; 150,000 Native Americans, 6,500 of Spanish or Mexican descent known as Californios and fewer than 800 non-native Americans.  Just 20 months later, following the massive influx of settlers, the non-native population had soared to more than 100,000.  And the people just kept coming.  By the mid 1850s there were more than 300,000 new arrivals—and one in every 90 people in the United States was living in California.  All of these people (and all of this money) helped fast track California to statehood.  In 1850, just two years after the U.S. government had purchased the land, California became the 31st state in the Union.

 

The Gold Rush attracted immigrants from around the world.  In fact, by 1850 more than 25 percent of California’s population had been born outside the United States.  As news of the discovery was slow to reach the east coast, many of the first immigrants to arrive were from South America and Asia.  By 1852, more than 25,000 immigrants from China alone had arrived in America.  As the amount of available gold began to dwindle, miners increasingly fought one another for profits and anti-immigrant tensions soared.  The government got into the action too.  In 1850 California’s legislature passed a Foreign Miner’s tax, which levied a monthly fee of $20 on non-citizens, the equivalent of more than $500 in today’s money.  That bill was eventually repealed, but was replaced with another in 1852 that expressly singled out Chinese miners, charging them $2 ($80 today) a month.  Violence against foreign miners increased as well, and beatings, rapes and even murders became commonplace.  However no ethnic group suffered more than California’s Native Americans.  Before the Gold Rush, its native population numbered roughly 300,000.  Within 20 years, more than 100,000 would be dead. Most died from disease or mining-related accidents, but more than 4,000 were murdered by enraged miners.

 

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to California to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush, but almost none of them were women.  In 1852, 92 percent of the people prospecting for gold were men.  The few women who did travel to the west eked out a living in the growing boomtowns, working in the restaurants, saloons and hotels that seemingly popped up every day.  Some women’s journals back east, fearful of the trouble the men might get into without the civilizing influence of women, published stories and ran ads encouraging educated, morally minded young women to travel west to tame these men.  Few took them up on this offer. The percentage of women in gold mining communities did eventually increase somewhat, but even in 1860 they numbered fewer than 10,000—just 19 percent.

 

Thousands of Gold Rush prospectors got rich—but John Sutter wasn’t one of them.  John Sutter, the man whose land would become synonymous with the California Gold Rush, was a Swiss immigrant who fled Europe in the 1830s, leaving behind piles of unpaid debts.  After several years of travelling throughout North America, he finally settled in the tiny outpost of Yuerba Buena (modern-day San Francisco) in 1839.  With the assistance of the local Mexican government, Sutter quickly realized his goal of establishing an agricultural community on a 50,000-acre tract of land he called “New Helvetia,” Latin for “New Switzerland, which became an important outpost for emigrants traveling to the west.  It was during the construction of a sawmill on Sutter’s land along the American River that one of his employees first discovered the gold nugget that would change the world. Sutter, initially more interested in maintaining control over his property, tried to keep the discovery quiet, but the news quickly leaked out.  Within months, most of his workers had abandoned him to search for gold themselves, while thousands of other prospectors overran and destroyed much of his land and equipment.  Faced with mounting debts, Sutter was forced to deed his land to one of his sons, who used it to create a new settlement called Sacramento. Sutter Sr. was furious—he had hoped the town would be named after him—but he had more pressing concerns.  Nearly bankrupt, he began a decades-long campaign to have the U.S. government reimburse him for his financial losses, to no avail. While thousands became rich off his former land, a bitter Sutter retired to Pennsylvania and died.

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Fact of the Day - HURRICANE

 

Did you know... that the term ‘hurricane’ is derived from ‘Taino’, a Native American word which means evil spirit of the wind?  Hurricanes are giant tropical storms that produce heavy rainfall and super-strong winds.  They form over warm ocean waters near the equator.  The warm, moist air above the ocean surface rises, causing air from surrounding areas to be “sucked” in.  This “new” air then becomes warm and moist, and rises, too, beginning a continuous cycle that forms clouds.  The clouds then rotate with the spin of the Earth.  If there is enough warm water to feed the storm, a hurricane forms!  Hurricanes rotate around a circular centre called the “eye“, where it is generally calm with no clouds.  Surrounding the eye is the eye wall – the most dangerous part of the hurricane with the strongest winds, thickest clouds and heaviest rain!  

 

Most hurricanes occur harmlessly out at sea.  However, when they move towards land they can be incredibly dangerous and cause serious damage.  The strong spiraling winds of a hurricane can reach speeds of up to 320kmph – strong enough to rip up entire trees and destroy buildings!  In the southern hemisphere, hurricanes rotate in a clockwise direction, and in the northern hemisphere they rotate in an anti-clockwise direction.  This is due to what’s called the Coriolis Force, produced by the Earth’s rotation.

 

When a hurricane reaches land it often produces a “storm surge“.  This is when the high winds drive the sea toward the shore, causing water levels to rise and creating large crashing waves.  Storm surges can reach 6m high and extend to over 150km!  Hurricanes are also called cyclones and typhoons, depending on where they occur. In the Atlantic Ocean and Northwest Pacific they are hurricanes, in the Northwest Pacific they are typhoons and in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean they are cyclones.  The largest hurricane on record is Typhoon Tip, which occurred in 1979 in the northwest Pacific.  With a diameter of around 2,220km, it was nearly half the size of the United States!

 

Hurricanes are given names by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) so that they can be distinguished.  Each year, tropical storms are named in alphabetical order according to a list produced by the WMO.  That name stays with the storm if it develops into a hurricane.  The names can only be repeated after six years.

 

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Fact of the Day - THE SUN

 

Did you know... that the sun lies at the heart of the solar system, where it is by far the largest object?  It holds 99.8 percent of the solar system's mass and is roughly 109 times the diameter of the Earth — about one million Earths could fit inside the sun.  The visible part of the sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius), while temperatures in the core reach more than 27 million F (15 million C), driven by nuclear reactions.  One would need to explode 100 billion tons of dynamite every second to match the energy produced by the sun, according to NASA.  The sun is one of more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way.  It orbits some 25,000 light-years from the galactic core, completing a revolution once every 250 million years or so.  The sun is relatively young, part of a generation of stars known as Population I, which are relatively rich in elements heavier than helium.  An older generation of stars is called Population II, and an earlier generation of Population III may have existed, although no members of this generation are known yet.

 

Ancient cultures often modified natural rock formations or built stone monuments to mark the motions of the sun and moon, charting the seasons, creating calendars and monitoring eclipses.  Many believed the sun revolved around the Earth, with ancient Greek scholar Ptolemy formalizing this "geocentric" model in 150 B.C.  Then, in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus described a heliocentric, sun-centered model of the solar system, and in 1610, Galileo Galilei's discovery of Jupiter's moons revealed that not all heavenly bodies circled the Earth.  To learn more about how the sun and other stars work, after early observations using rockets, scientists began studying the sun from Earth orbit. NASA launched a series of eight orbiting observatories known as the Orbiting Solar Observatory between 1962 and 1971. Seven of them were successful, and analyzed the sun at ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths and photographed the super-hot corona, among other achievements.

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Fact of the Day - MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

 

Did you know... that each summer in the United States and southern Canada, the beautiful, orange-and-black monarch butterfly can be seen flittering from flower to flower, foraging for nectar?  They are the most beautiful and interesting creatures in the insect world, and they are a source of fascination for many.  Monarch butterflies store a poison called Cardiac Glycosides that they had ingested by feeding on the leaves of the milkweed foliage in their larva stage.  These are sometimes harmful to its vertebrate predators, but ineffective on invertebrate predators.  The toxic effect on vertebrates however, depends on the level of intake.  These toxins provide these butterflies with a poisonous defense against its predators such as lizards, birds, and frogs.  

 

Similar to the migrating birds, the monarch butterflies use the clear advantage of updrafts of warm air, called “thermals" and glide as they migrate, to preserve the energy required for flapping their wings all the through the long 2500 mile voyage from the Great Lakes in Canada to the warm Central Mexican Oyamel fir forests in the Michoacan hills.  They rest there through winter and then complete their migration Northwards in search of milkweed plants in the Eastern United States.  At the wintering sites in Mexico, they roost in the millions in huge groups in the trees.  The females will lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves, and the cycle goes on until the next fourth generation starts the return migration to complete the cycle north in the spring.

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Fact of the Day - CINNAMON SPICE

 

Did you know... that cinnamon tree belongs to the family Lauraceae?  This plant can be found on Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, in Southern India, China and Indonesia.  Cinnamon tree grows in tropical rainforests.  People cultivate cinnamon tree because of its pleasant smell and spicy aroma.  Two types of cinnamon, called true cinnamon and cassia, are grown for commercial use.  They have different taste, smell and chemical composition.  Cinnamon is best known as spice, but it also has numerous beneficial effects on human health and can be used in treatment of certain disorders.  Oils extracted from the cinnamon tree are used in cosmetic industry.

 

Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of cinnamon trees. The inner bark is then extracted and the woody parts removed.  When it dries, it forms strips that curl into rolls, called cinnamon sticks. These sticks can be ground to form cinnamon powder.  The distinct smell and flavor of cinnamon are due to the oily part, which is very high in the compound cinnamaldehyde.  Scientists believe that this compound is responsible for most of cinnamon's powerful effects on health and metabolism.

 

Cinnamon oil, which sounds like a delicious addition to anything, destroys the hell out of mosquito larvae, as it turns out.  So think of cinnamon as an environmentally friendly pesticide in a way by adding a few drops or sprinklings to your sunscreen or lotion.

 

Back in the day — talking the first century A.D. here — cinnamon carried an ungodly price tag, especially in Rome. It was considered a precious commodity, given its high demand and low supply.  Once the regularity of foreign exploration kicked in, the spice became more available and therefore more affordable.

 

According to analysis and studies, cinnamon has been proven to be beneficial for those concerned with diabetes.  There's also been studies that suggest cinnamon can lower lipid levels, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

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Fact of the Day - ANIME ROOTS

 

Did you know... that anime has been around since the early 1900's?  Believe it or not, anime did not begin with Sailor Moon or Pokemon (they were late to the party, originating in 1992 and 1997).  Anime has been dated back to 1907, potentially even earlier – records of this time are spotty at best – as an extension of theatre.  While Osama Tezuka is known as the anime expert, three men are thought to be the anime originators: Katsudo Shashin, Junichi Kouichi, and Seitarou Kitayama. 

 

THE THREE FATHERS (1907-1923)

Film first hit Japan in 1896 and had flourished into burgeoning culture by the 1910s, complete with film criticism. Along with the initial wave of films from the west came Western animation. It was only a matter of time before Japan, with its rich visual culture, began experimenting with its own animated creations.  The earliest example (speculated to be the oldest surviving anime) is Katsudo Shashin (Moving Picture, 1907?-1918?).

 

 

 

 

The boy is writing the kanji for katsudo shashin which translates to "moving picture" in English.  It seems that in these early years, both Japan and the west were amused enough with the novelty of an image in motion.

 

In the early 1900s, animators experimented with inexpensive ways to bring their visions to life.  Katsudo Shashin and many others were drawn directly onto the strips of film from which they were projected, making these animations one of a kind.  This and other early animation techniques were pioneered by Oten Shimokawa, a political cartoonist for Tokyo Puck magazine. His first animated work, Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa, 1917) was long believed to be the first animated short made in Japan, though it is likely still the first short ever screened for a wide audience.

 

After creating only five shorts, chronic health problems forced Shimokawa into early retirement.  His contribution, however, gives him the honor as one of the three fathers of early anime.

 

The second of the three fathers is Junichi Kouichi, who holds the honor of the oldest confirmed anime in existence (Katsudo Shashin could have been made as early as 1907, but there is no real proof as to its age).  Namakura Gatana (Dull Sword, 1917) is a two minute short about a samurai attempting to test his newly purchased katana on innocent townspeople and failing miserably.

 

 

 

 

This film was thought to be lost until a copy was found in an Osaka antique shop in 2008.  Kouichi animated this short using paper cut-outs laid out on a table which he moved and changed to create the characters' movements.  This was a technique that would later be taken to a level of artistic excellence by the Japanese animation directors of the 1930s.

 

Junichi Kouichi began creating political propaganda in 1924 and retired from animation in 1930.

 

The third father of this generation had arguably the most impact on the generation that followed him, mostly because he had the largest body of work and many animators of the 1930s were his students.  Seitarou Kitayama created shorts focusing on Japanese folktales like Sarukani Gassen (Monkey-Crab Battle), Urashima Taro, and Momotarou.  Aside from creating anime's first commercials and documentary, Kitayama stood apart from his contemporaries as the only animator to found his own studio.

 

Kitayama Eiga Seisakujo opened in 1921 and gave jobs to a slew of talented individuals including Sanae Yamamoto.  Sadly after only two years, most of Kitayama's studio was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.  He left Tokyo for a fresh start in Osaka the next year, but eventually abandoned animation completely for a career shooting newsreels.

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Fact of the Day? - VENUS FLYTRAPS

 

Did you know... that unlike most plants, Venus flytraps are carnivorous, which means they eat meat?  Charles Darwin wrote in his 1875 publication, "Insectivorous Plants," that the Venus flytrap is "one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world."  There's no doubt that this opinion was formed after watching the jaws of this plant snap around an insect, capturing it for a meal.  Venus flytraps grow to around 5 inches (13 centimeters) in diameter.  Each plant usually has about six stems with hinged leaves.  The edges of the leaves are lined with "teeth," and the leaves fit together like a clamshell.  When the leaves snap shut, they form a trap. An individual trap grows to around 1 inch (3 cm), according to The International Carnivorous Plant Society.  

 

Venus flytraps are native to North Carolina and South Carolina, but they have been introduced to other states, including Florida and New Jersey.  They like the moist, acidic soil found in the understories of forests, according to the National Wildlife Federation.  They also need high humidity and a lot of sunlight to flourish.  

 

The most interesting thing about this plant is how it eats. Flytraps lure insects by the reddish lining in the leaves and by secreting a fragrant nectar.  When bugs land in the jaws of the flytrap, it doesn't clamp down right away. Sensory hairs, called trichomes, on the inside of the petals essentially count the movements from the insect.  There must be at least two movements in 20 seconds or the petals won't close.  This prevents it from trapping debris or other items that wouldn't make a good meal.

 

On the second movement, the plant closes its jaws in under a second by snapping from a convex shape to concave shape.  The bristles on the edges of the leaves work like jail bars to prevent the insect from making an escape. 

 

On the third movement, it starts to digest the insect.  Digestive juices are introduced to the mouth area and they break down the insect.  After five to 12 days, the plant will reopen and the parts of the bug that couldn't be digested fall out.

 

The Venus flytrap's primary prey is ants, but it will also eat flies, beetles, slugs, spiders and even tiny frogs.  Flytraps don't just eat bugs for nutrition, though.  Like other plants, they also need water, gases and sunlight.  Insects simply supplement their diet, according to the Botanical Society of America.

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Fact of the Day - FINGERPRINTS

 

Did you know... that almost everyone has fingerprints?  While your fingerprints are similar to those of other people's, no two people have the same fingerprints.  Scientists have studied fingerprints, handprints, and other body prints, including the patterns on people's tongues.  Biometrics is the science of studying human body characteristics.  Fingerprints develop before babies are born.  Your fingerprints are made of several layers of twisted skin that formed prior to your birth.  These ridges of skin make patterns.  Scientists studying fingerprints identified three main patterns of ridges: loops, whorls, and arches.  Everyone's fingerprints are a combination of these patterns.  While very, very rare, some people are born without fingerprints.

 

Because of the raised skin patterns on our fingertips and palms, we are able to hold on to things.  The ridges of the skin help you get a grip on objects that you are trying to grasp.  Without them, things would slide right out of your hands!  In the millions of fingerprints that have been collected and examined, no two identical sets of fingerprints have been found!  Believe it or not, even identical twins have different fingerprints.  This is why fingerprints are used to identify criminals.

 

As people get older, their appearance may change - hair may turn gray or white or fall out, and the shape of the face might change.  People grow mustaches or change hairstyles to alter their appearance.  But one thing that does not change is their fingerprint pattern.  Your fingerprints stay the same for your whole life.  Many people think that the use of fingerprints for identification is a fairly new approach, but that isn't true. Archaeologists, or scientists who study history by digging up artifacts and bones have found that people in ancient Babylon used fingerprints.  Babylonians who lived thousands of years ago put their fingerprints on clay tablets.

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Fact of the Day - WATERFALLS

 

Did you know... that a waterfall is a place where water flows over a vertical drop or a series of steep drops in the course of a stream or river?  They often form in the upper stages of a river where it flows over different bands of rock.  It erodes soft rock more quickly than hard rock and this may lead to the creation of a waterfall.  Sometimes, the land formation causes a waterfall. If there is a cliff or ledge naturally, rushing river waters will simply fall over the edge.  Waterfalls also occur where meltwater drops over the edge of a tabular iceberg or ice shelf.  Waterfalls can have a wide range of widths and depths, and this diversity is part of what makes them such a charismatic and interesting natural phenomenon.

 

Waterfalls are classified into 10 different types depending on the way they descend:
• Plunge: Water descends vertically, losing contact with the bedrock surface.
• Horsetail: Descending water maintains some contact with bedrock.
• Cataract: A large, powerful waterfall.
• Multi-step: A series of waterfalls one after another of roughly the same size each with its own sunken plunge pool.
• Block: Water descends from a relatively wide stream or river.
• Cascade: Water descends a series of rock steps.
• Segmented: Distinctly separate flows of water form as it descends.
• Tiered: Water drops in a series of distinct steps or falls.
• Punchbowl: Water descends in a constricted form and then spreads out in a wider pool.
• Fan: Water spreads horizontally as it descends while remaining in contact with bedrock

 

Some waterfalls freeze. It happens like this: the water in the river/stream that supplies water to the waterfall supercools (when water experiences a temperature less than its freezing point without becoming a solid) when the temperature dips below the freezing point (around -6 degrees Celsius).  This results in a gradual slowing down of the flow as water molecules begin to stick to each other and form tiny, solid particles of ‘frazil ice’.  Frazil ice, which has an oily appearance when seen on the surface of water, is a cluster of loose, randomly-oriented ice crystals shaped like tiny needles.  It usually forms in rivers, lakes, oceans, and other water bodies containing turbulent, open and supercooled water.

 

Because waterfalls are so dramatic and dangerous, thrill-seekers like to perform stunts or events on or around them.  People cross waterfalls on tightropes, in canoes, and even in barrels, which provide more protection.  Many of these stunts, such as jet-skiing over Niagara Falls, do not go off as planned, and many daredevils have plunged to their deaths.  Only two people are known to have survived a plunge from Niagara Falls without any protection.  Those two men sustained serious injuries.

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Fact of the Day - LAURA SECORD

 

Did you know... that Laura Secord (née Ingersoll; 13 September 1775 – 17 October 1868) was a Canadian heroine of the War of 1812?  She is known for having walked 20 miles (32 km) out of American-occupied territory in 1813 to warn British forces of an impending American attack.  Her contribution to the war was little known during her lifetime, but since her death she has been frequently honoured in Canada.  Though Laura Secord had no relation to it, most Canadians associate her with the Laura Secord Chocolates company, named after her on the centennial of her walk.  

 

Laura Secord's father, Thomas Ingersoll, lived in Massachusetts and fought on the side of the Patriots during the Revolutionary War (1775–1783).  In 1795 he moved his family to the Niagara region of Upper Canada after he had applied for and received a land grant. Shortly after, Laura married Loyalist James Secord, who was later seriously wounded at the Battle of Queenston Heights early in the War of 1812.  While he was still recovering in 1813, the Americans invaded the Niagara Peninsula, including Queenston.  During the occupation, Secord acquired information about a planned American attack, and stole away on the morning of 22 June to inform Lieutenant James FitzGibbon in the territory still controlled by the British.  The information helped the British and their Mohawk warrior allies repel the invading Americans at the Battle of Beaver Dams.  Her effort was forgotten until 1860, when Edward, Prince of Wales awarded the impoverished widow £100 for her service on his visit to Canada.

 

The story of Laura Secord has taken on mythic overtones in Canada.  Her tale has been the subject of books, plays, and poetry, often with many embellishments.  Since her death, Canada has bestowed honours on her, including schools named after her, monuments, a museum, a memorial stamp and coin, and a statue at the Valiants Memorial in the Canadian capital.

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Fact of the Day - PLASMA BALLS

 

Did you know.... that a plasma ball (also sometimes called a plasma globe, lamp, dome, or sphere) is a clear glass ball filled with a mixture of noble gases with a high-voltage electrode at its center?  Plasma filaments extend from the electrode to the glass when electricity is supplied, creating fascinating beams of colored light.  The plasma ball was invented by Nikola Tesla when he was experimenting with high-frequency electric currents in a glass vacuum tube.  That’s why the electrode at the center of a plasma ball is also often known as a Tesla coil.  The modern plasma balls popular as novelty and educational items today were first designed by Bill Parker.  William P. (Bill) Parker is an artist, scientist, and entrepreneur, best known for inventing the modern design of the plasma lamp.  The invention occurred in 1971, when Parker was working as a student in a physics laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and accidentally filled a test chamber to a greaterthan-usual pressure with ionized neon and argon.  

 

Modern plasma balls are manufactured with a mix of various noble gases such as xenon, neon, and krypton.  With various shapes in the glass globes, computerized circuits, and the gas combinations, the plasma balls can create electric tentacles that create various shapes and patterns in different colors.  You can also find USB plasma balls which are powered from the USB port of for computer.  They are a safer version, due to the low current from the PC.  However, the voltage is still very high, and can cause harmful EMF radiation.

 

Plasma balls are high voltage devices. Therefore one has to take precautions while using them.

  • The plasma sphere can emit certain frequencies, which interfere with Wi-Fi signals and cell phones. So they must be kept away from such areas.
  • These spheres also radiate electromagnetic waves. This can affect electric devices, hence they should be kept away from people with pacemakers.
  • While using metal objects to create electric and fire tricks with the plasma globe, precautions such as protective clothing and insulation should be used.
  • Never bring any flammable item near the globe.
  • Magnets are usually good conductors of electricity. Hence, bringing plasma balls and magnets together create a potential for shocks and burns.
  • Operating plasma balls for long periods of time can cause the formation of ozone gas, which is harmful to the body when you breathe it in.

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Fact of the Day - SNOW GLOBES

 

Did you know... that it is thought that snow globes originated in France in Europe, with the first known record being a globe of water and white powder, with a man holding an umbrella, which was on display at the Paris Universal Expo in 1878?  It was an Austrian man named Erwin Perzy who is widely considered to be its proper “inventor,” albeit accidentally.  In 1900, while living outside Vienna, where he ran a medical instrument–supply business, Perzy was asked by a local surgeon to improve upon Thomas Edison’s then-new lightbulb, which the surgeon wanted made brighter for his operating room.  Drawing upon a method used by shoemakers to make quasi-“spotlights,” Perzy placed a water-filled glass globe in front of a candle, which increased the light’s magnification, and sprinkled tiny bits of reflective glitter into the globe to help brighten it.

 

But the glitter sank too quickly, so Perzy tried semolina flakes (commonly found in baby food) instead.  They didn’t quite work, either, but the appearance of the small, white particles drifting around the globe reminded Perzy of snowfall—and he quickly filed the first official patent for a snow globe, or Schneekugel.  By 1905, he was churning out dozens of handmade snow globes—often featuring small church figurines made from pewter—through his company, Firm Perzy.  They became so popular among well-to-do Austrians that in 1908, Perzy was officially honored for his treasured item by Emperor Franz Joseph I.

 

Indeed, the snow globe appeared at a time when upper-middle-class families, newly wealthy following the Industrial Revolution, began collecting intricate, artistic objects and displaying them in their homes.  Though it’s unclear exactly how much these early globes cost, they were expensive due to the amount of time necessary to paint, mold, and assemble them.  After World War I concluded in 1918, a boost in tourism led to greater demand for eye-catching souvenirs—especially snow globes.

 

Gradually, news of the whimsical trinket reached America.  In 1927, a man from Pittsburgh named Joseph Garaja applied for the first snow globe patent there, and with it, he introduced a radical new method: underwater assembly.  This ensured that each globe would be fully filled with liquid and saved a significant amount of time and money—transforming the snow globe from an expensive indulgence into the affordable commodity we know today.  

 

To read more, go to: A Brief History on the Snow Globe

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Fact of the Day - MAGNETS

 

Did you know... that magnets always have two poles -- even if you cut them in half?  Magnetic monopoles do not exist --as far as we know.  Magnets will always have two poles, a magnetic north and a magnetic south.  If you don’t believe us, take a bar magnet and cut it in half.  The two remaining pieces will still have a north and a south.  You can cut it dozens of times and the results will be the same.  The most powerful magnet in the universe is actually a star called a magnetar.  These are stars that have died off and had a supernova explosion.  The magnetars are what is left over, and they are strong enough to destroy small planets if they get close enough.  Luckily, there are only a dozen of these according to scientists, and they are far far far away from Earth.  

 

Strong rare earth magnets can turn some metals into magnets.  Ferromagnetic materials like iron can be magnetized with a strong permanent magnet.  You can try it for yourself by rubbing a magnet on a screwdriver.  The screwdriver will be able to pick up magnetic objects.  The Earth is like one big bar magnet. It has a magnetic north and a magnetic south, which is what the needle on a compass points to.  However, this is geographically different than the actual north and south poles. Invisible magnetic field lines run from the north to south poles.

 

Magnetic resonance imaging machines use magnets, and they generate stronger fields than the Earth.  In fact, it is about 60,000 times stronger than the Earth’s.  Some animals are affected by magnets.  Magnets have been used to study bee communication patterns, migratory cycles and several other animal behaviors.  This is because many animals can sense magnetic fields.  For instance, some sharks are repelled by them and birds and turtles navigate by them.

 

Magnets are ancient. Well, today’s man-made magnets may not be so ancient, but the Chinese are said to have used lodestone, a natural magnet as far back as date.  In fact, ancient mariners are said to have used lodestones to help them navigate.  There are magnetic hills, said to pull cars and other large magnetic objects towards certain locations.  However, researchers have found out that these are not really a magnetic anomaly as much as a topographical illusion.

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Fact of the Day - SPACE SHUTTLE ENTERPRISE

 

Did you know... that Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first orbiter of the Space Shuttle system?  Rolled out on September 17, 1976, it was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform atmospheric test flights after being launched from a modified Boeing 747.

 

Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter, was originally to be named Constitution, in honor of the Constitution of the United States.  However, "Star Trek" fans started a write-in campaign urging the White House to instead select the name of the starship that James T. Kirk captained in the original TV series.  Although President Gerald Ford did not mention the campaign, he directed NASA officials to change the name, saying he was "partial to the name" Enterprise.

 

In recognition of their namesake, "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and most of the principal cast of the original series were on hand when the shuttle Enterprise was rolled out of Rockwell's Air Force Plant 42, Site 1, Palmdale, Calif., assembly facility on Sept. 17, 1976.

 

Enterprise was built for NASA to perform test flights in the atmosphere; lacking engines or a functional heat shield, it was not capable of actual spaceflight.  NASA planned to eventually outfit Enterprise for spaceflight and to make it the second space shuttle to fly, after Columbia, but final design plans for the fuselage and wings of the orbiters changed during the construction of Columbia, and refitting Enterprise in accordance with the new plans would have required significant effort: Entire sections would have to be dismantled and shipped across the country to subcontractors.  Instead it was deemed less expensive to build the space shuttle Challenger from existing materials.

 

Once NASA completed its critical tests of Enterprise, the shuttle was retired from flight and partially stripped of certain components for use on other orbiters.  It then went on an international tour, and in 1985 it was transported to Washington, D.C., where it was brought into the Smithsonian Institution's hangar at Washington Dulles International Airport for restoration.  It was then installed at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the airport, where it was the museum's centerpiece until it was replaced by the space shuttle Discovery on April 19, 2012.  Enterprise is now bound for its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

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Fact of the Day - THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON

 

Did you know... that the Great Fire of London was an inferno of such all-consuming proportions that it left 85 per cent of the capital’s population homeless?  Striking on 2 September 1666, it raged for nearly five days, during which time its destructive path exposed London’s makeshift medieval vulnerability.  The fire tore through the city’s densely packed wooden buildings with such ease that the task of rebuilding the city demanded a modernizing vision.  The Great Fire was a transformative moment for London – devastatingly destructive but also, in many ways, a catalyst for changes that have come to define the city we know today.

 

Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse, located in Fish Yard off Pudding Lane in the City of London, was the source of the blaze.  It is thought that the fire ignited when a spark from the oven fell onto a pile of fuel at around 1am.  

Far from leveling the city, the Great Fire of London scorched the skin and flesh from the city’s buildings – but their skeletons remained.  The ruins of many of London’s buildings had to be demolished before rebuilding work could begin.  A sketch from 1673 by Thomas Wyck shows the extent of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral that remained.  John Evelyn described the remaining stones as standing upright, fragile and “calcined”.  What’s more, the burning lasted months, not days: Pepys recorded that cellars were still burning in March of the following year.  With plenty of nooks and crannies to commandeer, gangs operated among the ruins, pretending to offer travelers a ‘link’ (escorted passage) – only to rob them blind and leave them for dead.  Many of those who lost their homes and livelihood to the fire built temporary shacks on the ruins of their former homes and shops until this was prohibited.

 

The Great Fire of London was predicted?  A few weeks before the fire, one Mr Light claimed to have been asked by a “zealous Papist”: “You expect great things in ’66, and think that Rome will be destroyed, but what if it be London?”  Meanwhile, five months before the fire Elizabeth Styles claimed to have been told by a Frenchman that at some point between June and October there would not be “a house left between Temple Bar and London Bridge”.  In 1651, an astrologer named William Lilly created a pamphlet entitled Monarchy or No Monarchy that contained illustrative predictions of the future state of England.  The images depicted not only a city blazing with fire, but scenes of naval warfare, infestations of rodents, mass death and starvation.  Unsurprisingly, Lilly was called in for questioning following the fire of 1666.

 

 

The Great Fire wasn’t the only blaze in London in 1666.  London was thrown into a panic during the evening of 9 November when a fire broke out in the Horse Guard House, next to Whitehall Palace.  It was believed that the blaze had been caused by a candle falling into some straw.  According to Samuel Pepys, the whole city was put on alarm by the “horrid great fire” and a lady even fell into fits of fear.  With drums beating and guards running up and down the streets, by 10pm the fire was extinguished, with little damage caused.

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Fact of the Day - CINCO DE MAYO

 

Did you know... that misconceptions abound about the Cinco de Mayo holiday?  It's celebrated every year on May 5th and many see it as the day of the year to celebrate Mexican culture, food, and drink, but the origins of the holiday are not what you may think.  Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.  Mexican Independence is celebrated every year on September 16.  That date commemorates when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla called the people of Mexico to rise up against Spanish rule in 1810, 52 years before the event that Cinco de Mayo celebrates took place.

 

In 1862, a contingent of Mexican soldiers led by General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated a larger, better equipped, and better trained French military force.  This battle took place in the city of Puebla at the Fort of Guadalupe.  Zaragoza commanded a force of some 4000 soldiers, as well as some local indigenous Zapotecs and Mixtecs who joined in the fight, possibly armed only with machetes.  They faced a French force of about double that size.  The victory was short-lived, as the French went on to capture both Puebla and Mexico City by the following month. However, the May 5th victory was symbolic and provided a morale boost that inspired Mexican pride and unity.

 

Cinco de Mayo is not a major holiday in Mexico.  It is a day off for students, but besides some parades and civic events, celebrations are generally low-key.  In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not, as it is in the United States, a general celebration of Mexican culture and history or even a time to imbibe substantial amounts of tequila (at least not more so than any other day of the year).  In the city of Puebla, where the May 5th battle took place, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated to a greater extent than in the rest of Mexico, with a battle re-enactment and a major parade and fireworks.  The parade winds its way along Cinco de Mayo Boulevard, to the area of the Forts of Guadalupe, just north of the city, where there are fireworks and general celebrations.

 

Cinco de Mayo is really more of a Mexican-American holiday than a Mexican one.  The first celebrations of Cinco de Mayo took place in California in 1863 as a way to honor the brave Mexicans who fought so valiantly against the French in the battle that day.  Keeping in mind that the United States was engaged in the Civil War at the time of the Battle of Puebla, we can see that a Mexican defeat of the French helped to keep them from becoming involved and supporting the Confederate Army.  In Los Angeles Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with a huge street fair as well as smaller celebrations in different neighborhoods.

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Now, here's a fact I did not know about.

 

Fact of the Day - APOLOGY ACT

 

Did you know... that Canadians love to say ‘sorry’ so much, we had to make this law?  There’s nothing quite like the classic Canadian apology.  You won’t find people in any other country in the world who will say the word “sorry” to someone who is clearly in the wrong.  This is a uniquely Canadian phenomenon.  So unique, in fact, that the term carries legal weight in the province of Ontario.

 

The “Apology Act“, passed in 2009, is a direct result of Canada’s overuse of the word “sorry”.  See, once upon a time, lawyers in court were probably able establish guilt quite easily.  All they would have to do is prove someone apologized at the time of the incident and presto! the verdict would swing in their favour.  Of course, in Canada, such a trend would create massive problems, as everyone says sorry whether they are at fault or not.  That’s why lawmakers cleared it up, stipulating that an apology of any kind “means an expression of sympathy or regret” and not “an admission of fault or liability in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.”  Only in Canada would such a law be necessary.  Only in this country can you be rear-ended, exit your car and apologize to the person who just hit you.

 

“Sorry for getting in your way, friend. You must be in a hurry!” you’d say.  Before the act was passed, that statement could technically be seen as an admission that the accident was your fault.  That’s why the Apology Act is the best thing to happen to Ontario, because now we can say “sorry” without fear.

 

Guy just walked directly into you? “Sorry!” 

 

Someone dropped their wallet and you returned it to them? “Super sorry!”

 

Someone blocking a bus seat with their backpack? “I’m so, so sorry!”

 

Fast-food cashier got your order wrong? “PLEASE SORRY THANKS MAPLE SYRUP MOOSE.”

 

Because every Canadian knows, deep down, that half the time we apologize, we’re apologizing for the incompetence of the other person.

 

Sorry about that.

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Fact of the Day - PRETZELS

 

Did you know... that there are numerous unreliable accounts regarding the origin of pretzels, as well as the origin of the name; most assume that they have Christian backgrounds and were invented by European monks?  A common origin story of pretzels is that they were created by a monk around 610 in Italy.  According to The History of Science and Technology, the monk baked strips of dough that he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer.  He would give these treats, to children who had memorized their prayers.  Unfortunately- and not surprisingly- there’s no documented evidence from the 600s to confirm this story. 

 

Another source locates the invention in a monastery in southern France.  

 

In Germany, there are stories that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local dignitaries.  The first pretzels were baked as a soft, squishy bread, like the soft pretzels of today. Some say they were originally called “bracellae,” the Latin term for “little arms,” from which Germans later derived the word “bretzel.”  According to others, the earliest pretzels were dubbed “pretiolas,” meaning “little rewards” , and handed out by the monks when their young pupils recited their prayers correctly.  The pretzel has been in use as an emblem of bakers and formerly their guilds in southern German areas since at least the 12th century.

 

During the Middle Ages, monks gave away pretzels to the poor as a religious symbol that additionally provided literal sustenance.  Because of this, the twisted snack caught on as a sign of fulfillment, good fortune and prosperity.  By the 17th century, the interlocking loops of the pretzel had come to symbolize undying love as well.  Pretzel legend has it that in 1614 in Switzerland, royal couples used a pretzel in their wedding ceremonies (similar to how a wishbone might be used today) to seal the bond of matrimony, and that this custom may have been the origin of the phrase “tying the knot.”  

 

Pretzels made their way across the Atlantic with German immigrants who were later to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1700s.  Many pretzel bakeries popped up in Pennsylvania around this time, and Pennsylvania continued to be the seat of American pretzel production and consumption; around 80% of pretzels made in America are made in Pennsylvania today.  In 1861, Julius Sturgis created the first commercial pretzel bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania. It’s believed that his factory was the first to develop hard pretzels.  These crunchy, salty snacks lasted longer in an air tight environment than soft pretzels did, allowing them to be sold in stores far away from the bakery and kept on shelves much longer.

 

In the 20th century, soft pretzels became popular in other regions of the United States. Cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York became renowned for their soft pretzels.  Landscape architecture and sculpture memorialized the strong identity that the city of Philadelphia had with pretzel cuisine of local bakers and popularity in Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia Recreation Department renamed in 2004 a facility formerly identified as Manayunk Park, located on the 4300 block of Silverwood Street as “Pretzel Park.” The re-designed park includes pretzel-like looped pathways and a public art statue in the shape of a pretzel sculpted by Warren C. Holzman.

 

Although not as popular as among German speakers and Americans, the looped pretzel is known in other European countries and in other countries around the world.

 

The largest pretzel weighs 783.81 kg (1,728 lb) and was achieved by Industrias La Constancia with its brand Pilsener (El Salvador) at CIFCO in San Salvador, El Salvador, on 25 October 2015.  The pretzel measured 8.93 m (29 ft 3 in) long by 4.06 m (13 ft 3 in) wide.

 

In the United States, April 26 is often celebrated as National Pretzel Day, in which people celebrate the rich history of pretzels.

 

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Fact of the Day - MONTH OF SEPTEMBER

 

Did you know... that September was the seventh month of the original Roman calendar?  This is where it got its name which means seventh.  Later, when January and February were added to the calendar it became the ninth month.

When the British changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, they needed to adjust some days to get the seasons aligned with the months. They took 11 days from the month of September jumping directly from September 3rd to the 14th. Now it's as if the days between September 3 and 13 during 1752 never happened in British history.  

 

  • September 2, 1666: The Great Fire of London was started, completely destroying the old city located within the ancient Roman Walls. It was believed to have started in a bakery and took three days to put out.
  • September 1, 1715: Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, died at the age of 76, after ruling France since the age of five. He was succeeded by Louis XV and Louis XVI, who was executed during the French Revolution in 1789, thus ending the reign of monarchical rule in France.
  • September 5, 1774: The 1st Continental Congress was called to order. Comprised of delegates from all 13 American colonies, it served as the governing body during the American Revolution, from 1774 to 1789. Two years later, on September 9, it changed the name of the United Colonies to the United States.
  • September 22, 1862: President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the territories held by the Confederacy, effective January 1, 1863. In spite of the ruling, the Civil War would not end for another year and a half after that.
  • September 14, 1901: President William McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 while attending the Buffalo Pan-American Exposition in New York. He passed away eight days later. 
  • September 1, 1939: In the early morning hours of this day, Hitler invaded Poland, starting World War II in Europe. Der Führer called the move a "defensive" retaliation against the persecution of Germans in Poland.
  • September 5th, 1961: President John F. Kennedy signed a hijacking bill, making air piracy a federal crime. Punishment ranged from a $10,000 fine to 20 years in prison; if a deadly weapon was used, the perpetrator(s) could receive life in prison or even death. 
  • September 8, 1974: President Gerald Ford gave an unconditional pardon to former president Richard M. Nixon, for his role in the infamous "Watergate" fiasco.
  • September 9, 2006: Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, resulting in 750 fatalities and over $1.09 billion in damages.

 

On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners as part of a series of coordinated attacks against targets in the United States.  The Twin Towers in New York City were hit by one plane each, American Airlines Flight 11 and Flight 175, while American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.  The fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, is thought to have been headed for the White House, but passengers overtook the hijackers and the plane crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.

 

More than 3,000 people lost their lives during what the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil to date.  Property and infrastructure damage amounted to over $10 billion. The attack is thought to have been ordered by Osama bin Laden, who was finally located and killed in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six in May 2011.  The 9/11 Memorial Museum occupies the sites where the Twin Towers once stood.

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