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Fact of the Day - THE OPERA

 

Did you know... that music historians have continued to debate opera’s ancestry? The plays of the ancient Greek dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides combined poetic drama and music. During the Middle Ages, biblical dramas that were chanted or interspersed with music were known under various labels, including liturgical dramas (ordines) and similar plays performed in church. These and related musico-dramatic forms may have become indirect ancestors of opera, but the earliest universally accepted direct ancestors of opera appeared in 16th-century Italy.

 

he English word opera is an abbreviation of the Italian phrase opera in musica (“work in music”). It denotes a theatrical work consisting of a dramatic text, or libretto (“booklet”), that has been set to music and staged with scenery, costumes, and movement. Aside from solo, ensemble, and choral singers onstage and a group of instrumentalists playing offstage, the performers of opera since its inception have often included dancers. A complex, often costly variety of musico-dramatic entertainment, opera has attracted both supporters and detractors throughout its history and has sometimes been the target of intense criticism. Its detractors have viewed it as an artificial and irrational art form that defies dramatic verisimilitude. Supporters have seen it as more than the sum of its parts, with the music supporting and intensifying the lyrics and action to create a genre of greater emotional impact than either music or drama could achieve on its own.

 

The preparation of an opera performance involves the work of many individuals whose total contributions sometimes spread across a century or more. The first, often unintentional, recruit is likely the writer of the original story. Then comes the librettist, who puts the story or play into a form—usually involving poetic verse—that is suitable for musical setting and singing. The composer then sets that libretto to music. Architects and acousticians will have designed an opera house suited or adaptable to performances that demand a sizable stage; a large backstage area to house the scenery; a “pit,” or space (often below the level of the stage) to accommodate an orchestra; and seating for a reasonably large audience. A producer (or director) has to specify the work of designers, scene painters, costumers, and lighting experts. The producer, conductor, and musical staff must work for long periods with the chorus, dancers, orchestra, and extras as well as the principal singers to prepare the performance—work that may last anywhere from a few days to many months. All of this activity, moreover, takes place in conjunction with the work not only of researchers and editors who painstakingly prepare the musical score, especially in the case of revivals of works long forgotten or published long ago, but also of the theatre’s administrative staff, which includes the impresario and others responsible for bookings, ticket sales, and other business matters.

 

One of the most variable facets of opera during its long history has been the balance struck between music and poetry or text. The collaborators of the first operas (in the early 17th century) believed they were creating a new genre in which music and poetry, in order to serve the drama, were fused into an inseparable whole, a language that was in a class of its own—midway between speaking and singing. In the decades and centuries that followed, the balance between these elements repeatedly shifted to favour the music at the expense of the text and the integrity of the drama, only to be brought back into relative equilibrium by various “reforms.” More than one desirable balance between music, text, and drama is possible, however, and over time the aesthetic ideals of opera and its creators have successfully adapted to the changing tastes and attitudes of patrons and audiences, while also accommodating linguistic diversity and assorted national preferences. As a result, opera has endured in Western culture for more than 400 years.

 

Moreover, since the late 20th century, new ways of delivering opera to the public—on video and DVD, in cinematography, or via high-definition simulcast in movie theatres—have increasingly made the genre more accessible to a larger audience, and such novelties will inevitably change public attitudes and appreciation of the art form. It remains to be seen, however, how these media might also change the way in which composers, librettists, impresarios, and performers approach opera, and whether the genre’s musical and theatrical values will consequently be altered in fundamental ways.

 

The courts of northern Italy, especially that of the Medici family in Florence, were particularly important for the development of opera. Indeed, Florence became the birthplace of opera at the end of the century, as the result of the confluence of three cultural forces: an established theatrical tradition, a strong sense of civic humanism, and a distinctly Florentine view of music and music’s relation to the cosmos.

 

Foremost among the factors that made 16th-century Florence ripe for the advent of opera was its long tradition of musical theatre, manifested principally in the musical productions known as intermedi (or interludes) that were staged between the acts of spoken plays. Intermedi served both to signal the divisions of the spoken drama, since there was no curtain to be dropped, and to suggest the passage of time by suspending the action between one act of the play and the next and, during the interval, by employing characters and themes unrelated to the main plot and only loosely connected from one interlude to another. The Florentine court offered lavish intermedi, planned and rehearsed months in advance and intended to impress invited guests with the wealth, generosity, and power of their Medici hosts. For the so-called 1589 intermedi, which climaxed a monthlong series of events to celebrate the marriage of Grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici (Ferdinand I) of Tuscany to the French princess Christine of Lorraine, a huge team of artists, artisans, poets, musicians, architects, and technicians was assembled under the intellectual guidance of the prominent Florentine aristocrat Giovanni Bardi. As the moving spirit behind the program, Bardi worked closely with local poets and musicians—some of whom were involved in the first experimental opera productions a decade later. In fact, the 1589 intermedi had many of the same players and almost all the ingredients of opera—costumes, scenery, stage effects, enthralling solo singing, colourful instrumental music, large-scale numbers combining voices and orchestra, and dance. Yet to be created, however, were the unified action and the innovative style of dramatic singing that have remained among the hallmarks of opera.

 

Want to read more about The Opera?  Click here.

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Fact of the Day - THE SIMPSONS

 

Did you know... that The Simpsons was first broadcast as a cartoon short on The Tracy Ullman Show in America, but since has become an international comic institution?  

 

In the opening scene, Maggie used to ring up on the cash register as $847.63 because in 1989, that was the estimated price of raising a baby for one month.  However the 20th season of the show, which kicked off in 2009, swapped the price of her worth. The groceries start at $243.26, but Maggie doubles the total to $486.52.

 

Whenever Bart prank calls Moe’s Tavern, he dials the number 764-84377 (which is one digit longer than an American phone number need be). It spells out “SMITHERS”.

 

Ever wondered why the Springfield residents are all yellow? Creator Matt Groening told the BBC: “An animator came up with the Simpsons’ yellow and as soon as she showed it to me I said: ‘This is the answer!’ because when you’re flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you’ll know you’re watching The Simpsons.”

 

If you watch an episode dubbed in French, Homer’s signature “D’oh!” is translated to “T’oh!”.  The Spanish version, however, translates it to “Ouch!”.  In Arabic episodes, Homer drinks soda as opposed to beer, and he eats Egyptian beef sausages instead of hot dogs (to coincide with Islamic customs).

 

While the characters on the show are a digit short of a full, human-like hand, only one character has ever been given five fingers – God.

 

If you watch the episode ‘Lisa The Vegetarian’ and listen to the music in the closing credits, Paul McCartney sings ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ – but this version contains an added background sound – Macca reading the recipe for lentil soup, played backwards. The very last line is said to be: “Oh by the way, I’m alive.”

 

Comic Book Guy’s real name is Jeff Albertson, and Bumblebee Man goes by the name of Pedro (or at least we assume so – he wears a bowling shirt with that name on it in an episode).

 

It takes between six to eight months to create each episode.

 

Lisa has celebrated her 8th birthday on two different episodes.

 

Ever wondered who the voice behind Maggie’s ‘sucking’ sound is? That would be the show’s creator, Matt Groening.

 

US President George Bush once blamed the Simpsons for society’s problems, claiming that American families should be less like The Simpsons and more like The Waltons.  Barbara Bush was once quoted saying “The Simpsons is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen”. You can read a reply from ‘Marge’ here.

 

The word “d’oh” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001 (although it’s spelled “doh”, which is said to be Groening’s spelling of choice). The word’s defined as: “Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish. Also (usu. mildly derogatory): implying that another person has said or done something foolish.”  But where did “d’oh!” come from? Dan Castellaneta, the voice behind Homer, told The Hollywood Reporter that in the script it’s written as “annoyed grunt”. He based the sound off of Jimmy Finlayson’s “Dooooh!” in the Laurel And Hardy films.

 

While the show’s introduction generally sticks to the usual supermarket/skateboarding/couch stunt, its creators broke a trend for an episode, replacing it with a cover of Ke$ha’s ‘Tik-Tok’. Her response? A simple Tweet of “Wooo!!”.

 

Until 1998, the six main voice actors for the show earned $30,000 per episode. From then until 2004, they earned $125,000 per show. Today, they get a whopping £400,000 per episode.

 

In 1990, ‘Do The Bartman’ topped the UK Singles Chart. The song was written and produced by Michael Jackson and Bryan Loren, and performed by Nancy Cartwright (the woman behind Bart’s voice).

 

Many of the characters’ last names are taken from street names in Groening’s hometown of Portland, Oregon.  One piece of Simpsons merchandise, a T-shirt reading “I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?” was apparently banned in from public schools.

 

Principal Skinner’s prisoner number in Vietnam was 24601, the same prisoner number as Twin Peaks’ Hank Jennings and Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean.

 

Krusty’s former sidekick Sideshow Bob also has that very same prisoner number, which can be seen on his letters to Selma (back when they were married for a short period of time).  Sideshow Bob’s real name is Robert Underdunk Terwilliger.

 

Want to read the next 25 things you didn't know about The Simpsons?  Click here.
 

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Fact of the Day - SESAME STREET

 

Did you know... that on November 10, 1969, television audiences were introduced to Sesame Street?  In the 50 years since, the series has become one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids.  

 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the original idea for Sesame Street came about during a 1966 dinner party hosted by Joan Ganz Cooney, who was a producer at New York City's Channel 13, a public television station. Lloyd Morrisett, an experimental educator at the Carnegie Corporation, was one of Cooney's guests and asked her the question: "Do you think [television] can teach anything?" That query was a all it took to get the ball rolling on what would become Sesame Street.

 

When the idea for Sesame Street was first being talked about, the original title being discussed was 123 Avenue B. Eventually, that title was nixed for both being a real location in New York City that would place the show right across from Tompkins Square Park, and also for being too specific to New York City.

 

Sesame Street has been a part of countless people's childhoods since it first premiered back in 1969. Over the course of well over 4,000 episodes, the series has helped kids learn about numbers and the alphabet, as well as tolerance and self-esteem. 

 

Oscar the Grouch used to be orange

Oscar the Grouch is a trashcan-dwelling monster who happily (or rather, grumpily) embraces the nastier side of life, which is why his grimy green color seems to suit him so well. But it turns out that during the first season of the show, the testy character was completely orange. According to the Smithsonian, "Jim Henson's original drawings for Oscar the Grouch show him as purple in color, but he evolved to be orange in the first episodes of Sesame Street. By 1970, Oscar the Grouch was the green color he is today. Oscar explained that this change was due to his vacation at Swamp Mushy Muddy where it was so damp that he became covered in slime and mold."

 

Bert has a twin

With his signature tuft of spiky hair and epic unibrow, Sesame Street's Bert may seem like a one-of-a-kind character. But if you happened to see an episode that aired back in 1974, you'll know that it featured an appearance by Bert's twin brother Bart.

 

Big Bird was played by the same performer for almost 50 years.

In 2018, Caroll Spinney, who was 84 years old at the time, left Sesame Street behind after spending nearly 50 years with the show. During that time, he brought beloved characters like Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life. "I always thought, How fortunate for me that I got to play the two best Muppets?" he said while talking to The New York Times. "Playing Big Bird is one of the most joyous things of my life."

 

Prices are going up on Sesame Street.

When Sesame Street first hit screens in 1969, characters on the show could head to Hooper's Store to get themselves a treat. But these days, they'll need a little more money if they want to enjoy their favorite snacks. For instance, birdseed milkshakes originally cost just 20 cents, but these days Big Bird has to hand over $2.99.

 

The writer of "Rubber Duckie" also wrote two other beloved Sesame Street songs.

Multiple Emmy Award-winner Jeff Moss was the man who wrote "Rubber Duckie," which is undoubtedly one of the most famous songs to ever come from the popular children's show. He was also responsible for two other tunes that you might recognize: "People in Your Neighborhood" and "I Love Trash."

 

And "Rubber Duckie" is the only original Sesame Street song to hit the Billboard charts.

"Rubber Duckie" wasn't just a hit with children. It was so popular, that it reached No. 16 on Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart. It was also nominated in the Best Recording for Children category at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1970.

 

The rubber duckie itself is considered a percussion instrument by the Boston Pops.

In 1971, the Boston Pops performed the catchy children's song and couldn't possibly leave out the squeaking noise from the titular duck. In order for the rubber duckie to be a proper part of the orchestra, it was deemed a percussion instrument, and only those particular musicians were allowed to "play" it, according to The New York Times. "Charley Smith, who in his 28 years with the Boston Pops has played everything from the xylophone to bird whistle, gave a virtuoso performance last night on the rubber duckie," wrote John B. Wood for The Boston Globe.

 

Elmo's favorite food is wasabi

Elmo may be a little red monster who's eternally three-and-a-half years old, but he apparently has a mature palate that can tolerate hot food. That might why his favorite thing to eat is wasabi. He confirmed that himself while chatting with KQED in 2010, saying, "Elmo loves wasabi." He also added, "Elmo loves [sushi], but it's a sometime food. An anytime food is like broccoli or any kind of really good fruits and vegetables and stuff."

 

James Earl Jones was the first celebrity to appear on Sesame Street.

It's almost a rite of passage for famous folks to appear on Sesame Street. But actor James Earl Jones was the very first celebrity to pop up on the children's show. He appeared onscreen in 1969 to recite the alphabet, which may sound less than thrilling, but if you know the performer's unmistakable voice—which can also be heard as Star Wars' Darth Vader and The Lion King's Mufasa—you can imagine why it would capture the attention of young viewers.

 

Snuffleupagus' puppeteer performs through a plumbing tube to get the right sound

Along with Snuffleupagus' unique name and appearance, he also has a distinctive voice. And that's partially due to the fact that puppeteer Martin P. Robinson speaks through a foot-and-a-half-long plumbing tube which wraps around his head. "[A]t the end of the tube is the guts of a microphone," vocal music director Paul Rudolph told The New York Times. "I would say Martin does 70 percent of the voice, but having that tube in there adds that little weird snuffle."

 

Want to know more about Sesame Street? Click here.

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Fact of the Day - HOCKEY

 

Did you know... that unlike baseball or basketball, the origins of ice hockey are murky, at best? While some say a version of the game was played by the French and Irish as far back as the 1700s, others claim it was invented in the mid-1800s when Canadians with homemade sticks would skate on frozen ponds in Ontario. 

 

  • The first organized indoor hockey game was played March 3, 1875 at Montreal’s Victoria Skating Rink, between two teams of nine players each, many of whom were McGill University students.
  • Chicago Blackhawks Hall of Famer Stan Mikita is most often credited with the creation of the curved stick blade in the 1960s — all blades were previously straight — though many others, including fellow Hall of Fame forward Andy Bathgate, also claim to have curved their sticks as far back as the 1930s and ’40s. 
  • The National Hockey League (NHL) was founded on November 22, 1917.
  • The Montreal Canadiens have won the most Stanley Cups in league history, with 23. The most recent came in 1993.
  • The diameter of a hockey puck is three inches.
  • The fastest slapshot on record is Bobby Hull’s, which registered 118 miles per hour.
  • Since 1914, the Stanley Cup has been awarded in every year but two. In 1919, it was not awarded after members of the Montreal Canadiens were stricken with sickness during the Spanish flu pandemic, and in 2005, it was not handed out after the season was cancelled due to a lockout/work stoppage. 
  • Darryl Sittler holds the NHL record for most points in a single game, with 10. He scored five goals and had five assists on February 6, 1976, helping his Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Boston Bruins. 
  • The standard North American ice rink is 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. 
  • Wayne Gretzky holds 61 NHL records, the most by far of any player.
  • The Stanley Cup has had many adventures since its creation in 1893. Through the years, it has been used as a cereal bowl, accidentally left by the side of the road, tossed into a swimming pool and even lost, like luggage, on a 2010 flight from New Jersey to Vancouver. It was later recovered by an Air Canada employee.
  • The Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Toronto, Ontario.
  • Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins was the first NHL player to record 100 points in a season, in 1969.
  • Before 1914, referees used to place the puck on the ice between the players’ sticks for faceoffs. This led to many cuts, bruises and even broken hands for the referees. Starting in 1914, the referees were allowed to drop the puck between the players’ sticks.
  • Before games, hockey pucks are frozen to prevent them from bouncing during play.
  • The last player in the NHL to play without a helmet was Craig MacTavish, who retired in 1997.
  • Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante is credited with being the creator of the modern goalie mask. He wore a face mask during a game on November 1, 1959. Clint Benedict also wore a leather mask for a few games in 1930.
  • The NHL record for most goals in a game is owned by Joe Malone, who scored seven times for the Quebec Bulldogs against the Toronto St. Pats on January 31, 1920.
  • The first hockey puck, used during outdoor pickup games in the 1800s, was reportedly made of frozen cow dung.
  • Regulation hockey nets are six feet wide and four feet tall.
  • The Stanley Cup is named after a former Canadian Governor General, Lord Stanley of Preston, who donated the trophy in 1893.
  • Maple Leaf Gardens — former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs — became the first arena to have a four-sided game clock, in 1932.
  • In Detroit, fans often throw octopi on the ice during the playoffs, when the Red Wings score. The tradition dates back to the Original Six era, when it only took eight wins — one for every octopus tentacle — to capture the Stanley Cup.
  • In 1992, goalie Manon Rhéaume became the first woman to play in the NHL, suiting up for the Tampa Bay Lightning during an exhibition game.
  • Goalies cannot carry — or even touch —  the puck on the opposite side of the centre line.
  • The 1956 Montreal Canadiens team featured 12 future Hall of Famers.
  • Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers set an NHL record for defencemen with 37 points in the 1985 playoffs.
  • The layer of ice in a pro hockey rink is usually three-quarters of an inch thick and is kept at a temperature of -9 degrees Celsius.
  • The original Stanley Cup was only seven inches high.
  • The Anaheim Ducks — originally called the Anaheim Mighty Ducks — were named after the team in the Disney movie, The Mighty Ducks. 
  • In 1971, the Boston Bruins signed Bobby Orr to a five-year deal worth $200,000 per season —the first million dollar contract in NHL history. 

  • The first NHL goal was scored on December 19, 1917 by Dave Ritchie of the Montreal Wanderers against the Toronto Arenas.

  • Former Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall was the first goaltender to score a goal by shooting the puck into the other team’s net. 

  • Frank Zamboni invented the first self-propelled ice-clearing machine, in 1949.

  • In the 1974 NHL Draft, Buffalo Sabres GM Punch Imlach decided to fool the media and league officials by drafting Taro Tsujimoto of the Japanese Hockey League’s Tokyo Katanas. Trouble was, neither Tsujimoto nor his team was real. The pick was later stricken from the records.

  • Twelve women have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, either as owners or team executives.

  • The tradition of fans waving white towels during playoff games was started when then–Vancouver Canucks coach Roger Neilson waved a towel on the end of a stick at a referee during a game in 1982, as a cheeky sign that he was giving up after a number of questionable calls. 

  • Andy Brown was the last goaltender to play a game without a mask, doing so with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1974.

  • Prior to the 1927-28 season, forward passes were not allowed in hockey.

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Fact of the Day - COMIC STRIPS

 

Did you know... that a comic strip is a sequence of drawings arranged in interrelated panels to display brief humor or form a narrative, often serialized, with text in balloons and captions. Traditionally, throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, these have been published in newspapers and magazines, with horizontal strips printed in black-and-white in daily newspapers, while Sunday newspapers offered longer sequences in special color comics sections. With the development of the internet, they began to appear online as webcomics. There were more than 200 different comic strips and daily cartoon panels in American newspapers alone each day for most of the 20th century, for a total of at least 7,300,000 episodes.

 

Strips are written and drawn by a comics artist/cartoonist. As the name implies, comic strips can be humorous (for example, "gag-a-day" strips such as Blondie, Bringing Up Father, Marmaduke, and Pearls Before Swine).

Starting in the late 1920s, comic strips expanded from their mirthful origins to feature adventure stories, as seen in Popeye, Captain Easy, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, and Terry and the Pirates. Soap-opera continuity strips such as Judge Parker and Mary Worth gained popularity in the 1940s. All are called, generically, comic strips, though cartoonist Will Eisner has suggested that "sequential art" would be a better genre-neutral name.

 

In the UK and the rest of Europe, comic strips are also serialized in comic book magazines, with a strip's story sometimes continuing over three pages or more. Comic strips have appeared in American magazines such as Liberty and Boys' Life and also on the front covers of magazines, such as the Flossy Frills series on The American Weekly Sunday newspaper supplement.

 

Storytelling using a sequence of pictures has existed through history. One medieval European example in textile form is the Bayeux Tapestry. Printed examples emerged in 19th-century Germany and in 18th-century England, where some of the first satirical or humorous sequential narrative drawings were produced. William Hogarth's 18th century English cartoons include both narrative sequences, such as A Rake's Progress, and single panels.

 

The Biblia pauperum ("Paupers' Bible"), a tradition of picture Bibles beginning in the later Middle Ages, sometimes depicted Biblical events with words spoken by the figures in the miniatures written on scrolls coming out of their mouths—which makes them to some extent ancestors of the modern cartoon strips.

 

In China, with its traditions of block printing and of the incorporation of text with image, experiments with what became lianhuanhua date back to 1884.

 

The first newspaper comic strips appeared in North America in the late 19th century.[4] The Yellow Kid is usually credited as one of the first newspaper strips. However, the art form combining words and pictures developed gradually and there are many examples which led up to the comic strip.

 

Swiss author and caricature artist Rodolphe Töpffer (Geneva, 1799–1846) is considered the father of the modern comic strips. His illustrated stories such as Histoire de M. Vieux Bois (1827), first published in the USA in 1842 as The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck or Histoire de Monsieur Jabot (1831), inspired subsequent generations of German and American comic artists. In 1865, German painter, author, and caricaturist Wilhelm Busch created the strip Max and Moritz, about two trouble-making boys, which had a direct influence on the American comic strip. Max and Moritz was a series of seven severely moralistic tales in the vein of German children's stories such as Struwwelpeter ("Shockheaded Peter"). In the story's final act, the boys, after perpetrating some mischief, are tossed into a sack of grain, run through a mill, and consumed by a flock of geese (without anybody mourning their demise). Max and Moritz provided an inspiration for German immigrant Rudolph Dirks, who created the Katzenjammer Kids in 1897 – a strip starring two German-American boys visually modelled on Max and Moritz. Familiar comic-strip iconography such as stars for pain, sawing logs for snoring, speech balloons, and thought balloons originated in Dirks' strip.

 

Hugely popular, Katzenjammer Kids occasioned one of the first comic-strip copyright ownership suits in the history of the medium. When Dirks left William Randolph Hearst for the promise of a better salary under Joseph Pulitzer, it was an unusual move, since cartoonists regularly deserted Pulitzer for Hearst. In a highly unusual court decision, Hearst retained the rights to the name "Katzenjammer Kids", while creator Dirks retained the rights to the characters. Hearst promptly hired Harold Knerr to draw his own version of the strip. Dirks renamed his version Hans and Fritz (later, The Captain and the Kids). Thus, two versions distributed by rival syndicates graced the comics pages for decades. Dirks' version, eventually distributed by United Feature Syndicate, ran until 1979.

 

In the United States, the great popularity of comics sprang from the newspaper war (1887 onwards) between Pulitzer and Hearst. The Little Bears (1893–96) was the first American comic strip with recurring characters, while the first color comic supplement was published by the Chicago Inter-Ocean sometime in the latter half of 1892, followed by the New York Journal's first color Sunday comic pages in 1897. On January 31, 1912, Hearst introduced the nation's first full daily comic page in his New York Evening Journal. The history of this newspaper rivalry and the rapid appearance of comic strips in most major American newspapers is discussed by Ian Gordon. Numerous events in newspaper comic strips have reverberated throughout society at large, though few of these events occurred in recent years, owing mainly to the declining use of continuous storylines on newspaper comic strips, which since the 1970s had been waning as an entertainment form.

 

The longest-running American comic strips are:

The Katzenjammer Kids (1897–2006; 109 years)

Gasoline Alley (1918–present)

Ripley's Believe It or Not! (1918–present)[10]

Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (1919–present)

Thimble Theater/Popeye (1919–present)

Blondie (1930–present)

Bringing Up Father (1913–2000; 87 years)

Dick Tracy (1931–present)

Alley Oop (1932–present)

Little Orphan Annie (1924–2010; 86 years)

 

Most newspaper comic strips are syndicated; a syndicate hires people to write and draw a strip and then distributes it to many newspapers for a fee. Some newspaper strips begin or remain exclusive to one newspaper. For example, the Pogo comic strip by Walt Kelly originally appeared only in the New York Star in 1948 and was not picked up for syndication until the following year.

 

Newspaper comic strips come in two different types: daily strips and Sunday strips. In the United States, a daily strip appears in newspapers on weekdays, Monday through Saturday, as contrasted with a Sunday strip, which typically only appears on Sundays. Daily strips usually are printed in black and white, and Sunday strips are usually in color. However, a few newspapers have published daily strips in color, and some newspapers have published Sunday strips in black and white.

 

While in the early 20th century comic strips were a frequent target for detractors of "yellow journalism", by the 1920s the medium became wildly popular. While radio, and later, television surpassed newspapers as a means of entertainment, most comic strip characters were widely recognizable until the 1980s, and the "funny pages" were often arranged in a way they appeared at the front of Sunday editions. In 1931, George Gallup's first poll had the comic section as the most important part of the newspaper, with additional surveys pointing out that the comic strips were the second most popular feature after the picture page. During the 1930s, many comic sections had between 12 and 16 pages, although in some cases, these had up to 24 pages.

 

The popularity and accessibility of strips meant they were often clipped and saved; authors including John Updike and Ray Bradbury have written about their childhood collections of clipped strips. Often posted on bulletin boards, clipped strips had an ancillary form of distribution when they were faxed, photocopied or mailed. The Baltimore Sun's Linda White recalled, "I followed the adventures of Winnie Winkle, Moon Mullins and Dondi, and waited each fall to see how Lucy would manage to trick Charlie Brown into trying to kick that football. (After I left for college, my father would clip out that strip each year and send it to me just to make sure I didn’t miss it.)"

 

Want to read more about Comic Strips?  Click here.

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Fact of the Day - CLOUDS

 

Did you know.... that in meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of minute liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or other particles suspended in the atmosphere of a planetary body or similar space. Water or various other chemicals may compose the droplets and crystals.  Clouds are incredible. Their endless shapes can add beauty to a sunny afternoon or terror to a day marked by tragedy. When you look at how diverse these billowing formations of atmospheric water are, it’s easy to forget that they’re just that—atmospheric water. Even so, there’s much more to clouds than meets the eye.

 

Clouds look like they weigh little more than a tuft of cotton, but they’re heavier than they look. Your average cumulus (fair weather) cloud can weigh more than a million pounds, and a vivacious thunderstorm can pack billions (if not trillions) of pounds of water in one tiny part of the sky. Yet, all of that weight seems effortlessly suspended in the air. It’s both a little unsettling and, at the same time, awesome to think about.

 

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Wispy cirrus clouds fill the sky near sunset. Image credit: Dennis Mersereau

 

While most clouds we see are made up of tiny liquid water droplets, there is one common type of cloud that’s made of ice: cirrus. These clouds are collections of ice crystals that form in the upper levels of the atmosphere when water vapor deposits onto tiny particles like dust or smoke. Strong winds then shred these clouds apart, giving them their iconic wispy appearance.

 

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Virga falls from the clouds at sunset. Image credit: Bryce Bradford, Flickr // CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Another phenomenon that’s often mistaken for a cirrus cloud is something called “virga,” or precipitation that evaporates before reaching the ground. The great thing about virga is that it’s both cool to look at and won’t ruin your day; it’s an indication that the lower and middle levels of the atmosphere are very dry—usually too dry to rain or snow.

 

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Contrails lingering in the sky on a day with high upper-level humidity. Image credit: Mark Robinson, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

 

While most clouds form from natural processes, some can occur as a result of human activities. The best example of this is a condensation trail, commonly known as a contrail for short. Contrails form from an airplane’s hot, moist jet exhaust condensing in the extremely cold air of the upper atmosphere. These cirrus clouds can immediately dissipate or linger for hours depending on how much moisture is present.

 

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The rotating updraft of a supercell looms over the horizon. Image credit: Niccolò Ubalducci, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Most thunderstorms are uneventful, but a tiny percentage of them can grow strong enough that they rage for hours and produce unimaginable horror. These storms, known as supercells, are characterized by a rotating updraft that powers them like an engine. In addition to their enormous hail and monstrous tornadoes, supercells are known for their incredible appearance. The most striking part of a supercell is the rotating updraft, which looks like a column that stretches from the horizon to the heavens.

 

Want to read more about Clouds?  CLick here.

 

 

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Fact of the Day - DISTILLATION

 

Did you know... that distillation is a way to separate mixed liquids by utilizing the different boiling points of the liquids. We can distill a mixture by heating it to a temperature which lies between the boiling points of the two liquids. The liquid with the lower boiling point here evaporates; while the other liquid remains in liquid form in the flask. When the first liquid is in gaseous form, it is transferred to another container where it cools down and condenses. Thus it goes from gas phase back to the liquid phase. The result is two containers -with the two liquids that are now separated from each other.

 

Distillation of alcohol

We are now looking at a concrete example where we want to distill a mixture of water and ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol with a boiling point of 78.4 ° C and water boils at 100 ° C. It is therefore necessary to heat this mixture to a minimum of 78.4 ° C, but the temperature must not exceed 100 ° C.  Basically, it is a good idea to choose a temperature that is just above the boiling point of ethanol – for example 80 ° C.  When the mixture is heated to about 80 ° C (either using a hotplate or a bunsen burner), the ethanol will begin to evaporate and this gas will move through the distillation head and into the cooler. The cooler is equipped with water that transforms the gas back to the liquid phase. The liquid then condenses on the glass in the cooler and then drops into a beaker that collects the distillate which is the ethanol. As the temperature of the mixture is not higher 100 ° C, the water remains in liquid form. However, it should be remembered that water at 80 ° C-90 ° C can also evaporate to a lesser extent, thus diluting the distilled ethanol. One can get a cleaner product by distilling the distillate of the first distillation.

 

Distillation of crude oil

Distillation is mainly used in refining crude oil on the so-called oil refineries. Here, however, the principle is typically extended to fractional distillation. In this type of distillation, crude oil is first distilled at about 400 ° C, and that which does not evaporate, is sorted off and used for, for example, asphalt. After that, a new distillation is made on the rest of the crude oil, and in that way it is possible to separate the different ingredients of the crude one by one by repeated distillations, lowering the temperature for each distillation. This gives the pure products such as diesel, petroleum, butane and propane. In practice, after the fractional distillation, a large number of refining processes of the individual products will take place before the finished products are obtained.

 

 

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Fact of the Day - TIME TRAVEL

 

Did you know... that time travel — moving between different points in time — has been a popular topic for science fiction for decades? Franchises ranging from "Doctor Who" to "Star Trek" to "Back to the Future" have seen humans get in a vehicle of some sort and arrive in the past or future, ready to take on new adventures. Each come with their own time travel theories.  The reality, however, is more muddled. Not all scientists believe that time travel is possible. Some even say that an attempt would be fatal to any human who chooses to undertake it.

 

What is time? While most people think of time as a constant, physicist Albert Einstein showed that time is an illusion; it is relative — it can vary for different observers depending on your speed through space. To Einstein, time is the "fourth dimension." Space is described as a three-dimensional arena, which provides a traveler with coordinates — such as length, width and height —showing location. Time provides another coordinate — direction — although conventionally, it only moves forward. (Conversely, a new theory asserts that time is "real.")

 

Einstein's theory of special relativity says that time slows down or speeds up depending on how fast you move relative to something else. Approaching the speed of light, a person inside a spaceship would age much slower than his twin at home. Also, under Einstein's theory of general relativity, gravity can bend time.

 

Picture a four-dimensional fabric called space-time. When anything that has mass sits on that piece of fabric, it causes a dimple or a bending of space-time. The bending of space-time causes objects to move on a curved path and that curvature of space is what we know as gravity.

 

Both the general and special relativity theories have been proven with GPS satellite technology that has very accurate timepieces on board. The effects of gravity, as well as the satellites' increased speed above the Earth relative to observers on the ground, make the unadjusted clocks gain 38 microseconds a day. (Engineers make calibrations to account for the difference.)

 

In a sense, this effect, called time dilation, means astronauts are time travelers, as they return to Earth very, very slightly younger than their identical twins that remain on the planet.  General relativity also provides scenarios that could allow travelers to go back in time, according to NASA. The equations, however, might be difficult to physically achieve.

 

One possibility could be to go faster than light, which travels at 186,282 miles per second (299,792 kilometers per second) in a vacuum. Einstein's equations, though, show that an object at the speed of light would have both infinite mass and a length of 0. This appears to be physically impossible, although some scientists have extended his equations and said it might be done.

 

A linked possibility, NASA stated, would be to create "wormholes" between points in space-time. While Einstein's equations provide for them, they would collapse very quickly and would only be suitable for very small particles. Also, scientists haven't actually observed these wormholes yet. Also, the technology needed to create a wormhole is far beyond anything we have today. 

 

Want to read more about Time Travel?  Click here.

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Fact of the Day - PAPER MONEY 

 

Did you know... that paper money is an invention of the Song Dynasty in China in the 11th century CE, nearly 20 centuries after the earliest known use of metal coins. While paper money was certainly easier to carry in large amounts, using paper money had its risks: counterfeiting and inflation.  

 

The earliest known form of money is also from China, a cast copper coin from the 11th century BCE, which was found in a Shang Dynasty tomb in China. Metal coins, whether made from copper, silver, gold, or other metals, have been used across the globe as units of trade and value. They have advantages—they are durable, difficult to counterfeit, and they hold intrinsic value. The big disadvantage? If you have very many of them, they get heavy.

 

For a couple thousand years after the coins were buried in that Shang tomb, however, merchants, traders, and customers in China had to put up with carrying coins, or with bartering goods for other goods directly. Copper coins were designed with square holes in the middle so that they could be carried on a string. For large transactions, traders calculated the price as the number of coin strings. It was workable, but an unwieldy system at best.

 

During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE), however, merchants began to leave those heavy strings of coins with a trustworthy agent, who would record how much money the merchant had on deposit on a piece of paper. The paper, a sort of promissory note, could then be traded for goods, and the seller could go to the agent and redeem the note for the strings of coins. With trade renewed along the Silk Road, this simplified cartage considerably. These privately-produced promissory notes were still not true paper currency, however.

 

At the beginning of the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE), the government licensed specific deposit shops where people could leave their coins and receive notes. In the 1100s, Song authorities decided to take direct control of this system, issuing the world's first proper, government-produced paper money. This money was called jiaozi. 

 

The Song established factories to print paper money with woodblocks, using six colors of ink. The factories were located in Chengdu, Hangzhou, Huizhou, and Anqi, and each used different fiber mixes in their paper to discourage counterfeiting. Early notes expired after three years, and could only be used in particular regions of the Song Empire.

 

In 1265, the Song government introduced a truly national currency, printed to a single standard, usable across the empire, and backed by silver or gold. It was available in denominations between one and one hundred strings of coins. This currency lasted only nine years, however, because the Song Dynasty tottered, falling to the Mongols in 1279.

 

The Mongol Yuan Dynasty, founded by Kublai Khan (1215–1294), issued its own form of paper currency called chao; the Mongols brought it to Persia where it was called djaou or djaw. The Mongols also showed it to Marco Polo (1254–1324) during his 17-year-long stay in Kublai Khan's court, where he was amazed by the idea of government-backed currency. However, the paper money was not backed by gold or silver. The short-lived Yuan Dynasty printed increasing amounts of the currency, leading to runaway inflation. This problem was unresolved when the dynasty collapsed in 1368.

 

Although the succeeding Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) also began by printing unbacked paper money, it suspended the program in 1450. For much of the Ming era, silver was the currency of choice, including tons of Mexican and Peruvian ingots brought to China by Spanish traders. Only in the last two, desperate years of Ming rule did the government print paper money, as it attempted to fend off the rebel Li Zicheng and his army. China did not print paper money again until the 1890s when the Qing Dynasty began producing yuan.

 

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Fact of the Day - DOUBLOONS

 

Did you know... that the doubloon was a two-escudo or 32-real gold coin, weighing 6.867 grams in 1537, and 6.766 grams from 1728, of .917 fine gold?  Doubloons were minted in Spain and the viceroyalties of New Spain, Peru, and Nueva Granada. The term was first used to describe the golden excelente either because of its value of two ducats or because of the double portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella.

 

In the New World, Spanish gold coins were minted in one, two, four, and eight escudo denominations. The two-escudo piece was called a "pistole"; the large eight-escudo coin was called a "quadruple pistole" or, at first, a double doubloon. English colonists would come to call it the Spanish doubloon.

 

After the War of 1812, doubloons were valued in Nova Scotia at the rate of £4 and became the dominant coin there.  Doubloons marked "2 S" are equivalent to four dollars in US gold coins and were traded in that manner. Small 1/2-escudo coins (similar to a US $1 gold piece) have no value marked on them but were worth a Spanish milled dollar in trade.  In Spain, doubloons were current up to the middle of the 19th century. Isabella II of Spain replaced an escudo-based coinage with decimal reales in 1859, and replaced the 6.77-gram doblón with a new heavier doblón worth 100 reales and weighing 8.3771 grams (0.268 troy ounces). The last Spanish doubloons (showing the denomination as 80 reales) were minted in 1849. After their independence, the former Spanish colonies of Mexico, Peru and Nueva Granada continued to mint doubloons.

 

 

Edited by DarkRavie

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Fact of the Day - ROUGH COLLIES

 

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Did you know... that the Rough Collie is a long-coated dog breed of medium to large size that, in its original form, was a type of collie used and bred for herding sheep in Scotland?  Originally used as herding dogs in Scotland and Northern England, the rough collie dog has a beautiful, multicolored coat of long, rough-textured fur that easily identifies this amazing breed. Well-known for their intelligence and ease of training, the most famous rough collie personality trait is devotion to their owner followed by their love for children. Those basic characteristics made the rough collie dog the perfect breed to star as Lassie, the beloved family TV show pup that always came to the rescue of her little boy, Timmy.

 

A dog breed that's well-known for herding and protecting abilities, rough collie dogs are described as strong, loyal, affectionate, responsive, and fast. The rough-coated collie has a beautiful long coat that flows as he runs, and his head is a smooth and elegant wedge shape. Rough collies can do well in the country or the city, but they need companionship and daily runs or long walks. Although they are a little less active than border collies, rough collies do need at least forty-five to sixty minutes of outdoor activity every day. Surprisingly, once he is back inside, he is very calm and happy to sit and lounge with his owner.

 

The rough collie breed includes two variations: the long-hair, true rough collie, and the shorter-haired, sometimes called smooth collie. Additionally, Shetland sheepdogs and border collies are completely different breeds and are not part of the rough collie breed, despite their similar coat markings and facial features.

 

As part of the herding classification, the rough collie personality is known to most as smart, quick to learn, and very in tune to people. Collies respond well to consistent, reward-based training, and they tend to enjoy the attention that comes with performing, whether doing tricks or competing in agility, obedience or herding events. Many collies make great therapy dogs as well, due to their calmness indoors and medium height.

 

Rough collies, like the one featured in Lassie, can at times be very vocal. When rough collie dogs are bored, their bark is a clear sign that they need attention. They also have a tendency to nip at peoples' heels in play, another indication of their herding background. It is important to train your rough collie to not nip, especially around children, as it may frighten little ones. Due to the rough collie's high intelligence level, he is easy to house train and learns tricks quickly. However, switch up training activities occasionally to prevent boredom. They are very smart, so you should get creative with their training!

 

The rough collie is family-oriented and loves playing with children. When he is outside, he will run as hard as he can, but as soon as he enters the house he'll be happy to relax with the rest of the family. Although the rough collie loves to be active outside, he is not an outdoor-only dog, and he can thrive in a small home or apartment as long as he gets daily exercise.

 

The rough collie is noted for his deep loyalty and nurturing personality, but he also has a fierce independent streak. Owners should try to work with his independent tendencies, rather than against them. Giving your rough collie some time to run around by himself in a fenced area each day may help.

 

A rough collie makes a great companion dog for a single person, but he will bond with all family members, not just the one who feeds him. The rough collie breed is known to learn the individual characteristics and behaviors of each person in the household. Again, this is why dedicated training of your rough collie is absolutely crucial. Rough collies are intelligent, and they are always watching people and learning, so it is important to train them early and often.

 

The ancestors of today's rough collie worked as herding dogs in the Scottish Highlands. As partners to sheep herders, not much had been recorded over time about this breed. However, Queen Victoria shifted public attention to the breed in the 1860s, and they quickly became a favored breed of the wealthy upper class.

 

In the 1950s, the rough collie breed became better known as the all-American family dog thanks to "Lassie." Over the show's two-decade run, it became apparent how devoted and faithful the breed was as Lassie saved

Timmy from the well and warned her family of danger each week. Although Hollywood sometimes exaggerates, the depiction of the rough collie as a loyal protector couldn't have been more right.

 

Today the rough collie is ranked among the top 50 most popular dog breeds by the American Kennel Club and continues to be famous for his loyal, loving, and protective demeanor.

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Fact of the Day - TOY TRAIN SETS

 

Did you know.... that toy trains are for kids of all ages?  While real trains go back to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, toy trains emerged later. Wooden and metal toys resembling trains were first made in Europe in the 1860s.

 

By 1901, Lionel made its first electric train for use in store display windows. A number of famous manufacturers, including Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, Marx, Marklin, and LGB have made toy trains. Some of the most historic ones are on display in the National Toy Train Museum. These are commonly referred to as tinplate trains.  "Tinplate" is a term applied to toy trains originally built of thin stamped metal, but more broadly it includes trains composed of plastic parts as well, their over-riding characteristic being that they were built for mass-market enjoyment rather than the precise scale that some of today's model railroad craftsmen build and enjoy.

 

Model Railroader magazine began in 1934, and by the 1950s, seemingly every boy had a train set.  Around then, there arose a differentiation between cheaper production trains for kids and much more detailed and accurate reproductions pursued by adult train collectors. Some reflect actual trains, while others display general themes. For some, the delight is in the joy of collecting and operating, while for others the focus is on absolute scaled accuracy.

 

Today, many of the Baby Boomers have embraced toy train collecting and operating. They can be seen in basements, at Christmas exhibits, running in gardens, and in special displays. Many toy trains today feature the latest in authentic sound and electronic control features.  Increasingly, toy trains use digital technology both onboard and at the control panels. This allows greater control, introduction of new features, and new challenges. In fact, wiring has always been a task requiring planning and skill when creating a train layout.

 

Toy trains prices range from economical to very expensive. Some are repaired, restored, traded and sold, with careful standards applied to their condition and worth. The Train Collectors Association is the largest and oldest group of toy train enthusiasts in the world.  Toy trains come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges and scale. 

 

Engineering entrepreneur Joshua Lionel Cowen designed his first electric train as a store window attraction around 1900. When customers asked to purchase the train instead of the product it advertised, Cowen founded the Lionel Manufacturing Company to meet demand. Lionel built its reputation on train sets noted for their authentic detail, smooth-operating three-rail tracks, and transformers that allowed kids to vary the speed of their trains. This control, along with rolling stock of coal cars, refrigerated cars, and box cars, gave boys an appealing real-world sense of commerce and success.

 

Shrewd marketing made every boy think of Lionel trains each time Christmas came around. “Everybody is happy when it's a Lionel Train Christmas,” proclaimed one advertisement. Other ads highlighted father-son bonding. Lionel Trains, they proclaimed, “made a Boy feel like a Man and a Man feel like a Boy.”  Lionel trains symbolized the ideal American childhood for more than a century, and in its heyday during the 1950s, Lionel accounted for two-thirds of all the toy trains sold in the United States. Though no longer so dominant in the playroom or around the Christmas tree, Lionel Trains remain a favorite with many.

 

 

 

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Fact of the Day - STINGRAYS

 

Did you know... that with flat, wide bodies, stingrays may not look like fish, but they are?  They can be found in tropical and subtropical waters, because they like it shallow and warm. They’re usually hidden on the seafloor. But each of the 60 species of stingrays are fascinating in their own way.  Stingrays come in all shapes and sizes and are one of the most beautiful creatures in the sea, but let’s face it, they are a little bizarre looking!  

 

Rays and skates are flattened fish closely related to sharks. All belong to a group of fish called Elasmobranchs. These guys are pretty unique as they have no bones in their body – their skeleton is made up of flexible cartilage (the bendy stuff that your ears and nose are made from!). Although they look near identical, rays and skates are actually different. Stingrays are ovoviviparous, meaning the young are hatched from eggs that are held within the body, whereas skates are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs – these eggs are protected by a hard, rectangular case often called a “mermaid”s purse“!

 

There are many different types of ray including stingrays, electric rays, butterfly rays, round rays, manta rays, guitarfish and sawfish.  Stingrays use a super set of senses to search for food. Special gel-filled pits across the front of their face, (called Ampullae of Lorenzini), allow them to pick up electrical signals from other animals when they move – cool! Their eyes are on the topside of their body and their mouth and gills can be found underneath, so in the darker depths or murky rivers this electromagnetic sense is especially useful for searching for prey.

 

Many stingrays like to live by themselves and only come together for breeding and migration. Some of the largest rays such as manta rays and cow nose rays never stop swimming and migrate in their thousands to feeding grounds each year. These large groups can reach up to 10,000 individuals and are known as a “fever“. Rays protect themselves with venomous spines or barbs in their tail. Skates rely on thorny projections on their backs and tails. 

 

Stingrays and skates feed on crustaceans, small fish, snails, clams, shrimp and other small creatures.  In 2008, a female bluespotted ribbontail ray gave birth to a set of twins at The Deep aquarium in Hull – a European first! Stingrays” natural predators are sharks, seals, sea lions and other large fish.

 

Electric rays are named for their ability to generate and discharge a strong electric current to stun prey and for defence from potential predators. Fossil records date stingrays back to the Jurassic period, 150 million years ago! Rays can vastly vary in size. The smallest ray is the short-nose electric ray which is approximately 10cm across and weighs about 400g. The oceanic manta ray is the largest ray reaching up to 7m in wing span and weighs 2,000kg.

 

Sadly, numbers of stingray are in decline. Overfishing, habitat loss and climate change are the major threats to rays. They”re also hunted for their gill rakers (used for feeding) for use in Chinese medicine. At present, 539 species of ray assessed are under the IUCN Red List, and 107 are classified as threatened.  The Deep is part of the European Breeding Programme for the bluespotted ribbontail ray and blue spot stingray, as well as the species monitoring programme for the honeycomb whiptail ray. This means they are helping to safeguard populations of these species and are leading the way in pioneering new husbandry techniques.

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Fact of the Day - KRAMPUS

 

Did you know... that in Central European folklore, Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as "half-goat, half-demon", who, during the Christmas season, punishes children who have misbehaved? This contrasts with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts.

 

Dec. 5 marks the annual Krampusnacht, a massive celebration of the Christmas demon Krampus. You’ve seen him in movies, TV shows and probably on some more eccentric Christmas decorations, but most of America has him all wrong.  

 

Ever since Krampus started making appearances in pop culture, Americanized versions of the Yule Lord have depicted him as the anti-Santa Claus. In some instances, he comes instead of Jolly Old St. Nick, stealing children to torment them or drag them through hell for a night, while in other depictions he battles the man in the red suit as if they were arch enemies. In Eastern European lore, however, he actually works alongside St. Nicholas with the two typically traveling from house to house together. Santa doesn’t need to carry any coal if he has a horned-beast by his side to punish the naughty children instead.

 

Krampus is not one being. Though many people think of him as one pivotal figure in Christmastime lore, Krampus is just a qualifier for the type of horned demon that travels alongside St. Nicholas. There are in fact many, many Krampuses that could come to snatch you into their sacks for the night.

 

In books such as Brom’s Krampus or the 2015 holiday horror movie of the same name, he tends to come to wreak havoc on Christmas Eve, but that’s not actually true. In most legends, he comes out on the night of Dec. 5, also known as Krampusnacht, the eve of St. Nicholas Day.

 

In Austria, parts of Germany and along most of the Alpine-region of Europe, it’s traditional to send out holiday cards from Krampus. These iconic cards date back to the early 1800s and tend to read “Gruss vom Krampus,” German for “Greetings from Krampus.” The cards depict images of Krampus stuffing children into sacks or whipping kids with chains and sticks. It’s definitely a change from the typical family photo card of everyone wearing ugly holiday sweaters.

 

It is quite common to run into a Krampuslauf (Krampus Run) on the night of Dec. 5 which is run by a local Krampusgruppe (Krampus troupe). This is sort of like a parade in which town members dress up as the Christmas demon, St. Nicholas and other lore-based figures and visit the townsfolk house by house staging theatrical performances for the families and warning the children of the town to be nice.

 

Various Krampuses from various Krampusgruppe get into staged “turf wars” refereed by people dressed as St. Nicholas each Dec. 5. This is called The Rempler in which two Krampuses stage a sort of shoving match, similar to a push pit at a hardcore show. If you visit Gastein Valley in Austria, you can see where this tradition is believed to have originated.

 

A good costume worn during Krampusnacht can cost several thousand dollars. All over Europe, specialist craftsmen hand carve wooden masks for the event. The masks are so intricate and unique, there are even several museums in the Alpine region that display antique costumes from generations past.

 

The annual Krampuslauf was banned in Austria from 1934-1938 when fascists controlled the country. They believed Krampus was a symbol of sin and evil. Even though he is believed to work alongside St. Nicholas, the fascists felt he was too anti-Christian to be celebrated.

 

Though he’s probably the most well-known Christmastime demon, there are many variations of him throughout Europe. Some parts of Germany talk of Knecht Ruprecht, a Krampus-like figure who dons a dark hood and carries children into the depths of hell. In parts of France, this legend is known as Pere Fouettard, translating to “Father Whipper,” and in Switzerland, he is known as Schmutzli.

 

Krampus has become quite a phenomenon in the United States, and many cities have been working to bring the traditional celebrations of Europe to America, rather than just depicting him incorrectly in pop culture. Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and many other major cities across the country now host annual Krampuslaufs and Krampus Balls each December, where you can dress up as the Christmas Demon and run amok through the street.

 

Edited by DarkRavie

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Fact of the Day - STARLINGS

 

Did you know.... that one of the most familiar of birds, the once abundant starling has suffered a significant population decline in recent years, and it is now red-listed as a bird of conservation concern?  Despite the population fall, there are still over 800,000 breeding pairs of starlings in the UK.  In winter our resident starling population is augmented by a major influx of birds from the continent: in the late 20th century as many as 37 million starlings were thought to winter in the UK, but the figure is considerably lower today.

 

Starlings are among the most social of birds, and this is particularly noticeable in winter, when they feed in flocks and roost communally.  Winter roosts can hold anything from a few thousand to several million birds.  Winter roosts will draw in birds from as 20km or more away, and in the late afternoon the flocks can be seen heading for their roost, invariably attracting more birds that join them along the route.  Before going to roost starling indulge in impressive coordinated manoeuvres – when many thousands of birds take part these aerial displays make terrific viewing.

 

The most spectacular roosts now attract crowds of human spectators: Britain’s most famous roosts include Brighton Pier, Sussex; Ham Wall in Somerset, Aberystwyth Pier; Leighton Moss, Lancashire; Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire. One of the biggest roosts in Europe is in the centre of Rome.  With so many birds assembling in one spot, roosts invariably become fouled with droppings, often leading to the birds abandoning the site and moving elsewhere.

 

Dawn departures from the roost are not spectacular, as the birds tend to have a staggered departure system, with flocks leaving at three-minute intervals, and soon dispersing into the surrounding countryside.  One of the reasons for the starling’s success is its adaptability, for it is a much at home foraging on a suburban lawn as it is in a free-range piggery.

 

Male starlings will sing for much of the year, only stopping for a few weeks during the post breeding-season moult. They have a curious habit of singing at winter roosts, both on arrival in the evening and before departure in the morning.  Not only are starlings great singers, they are also impressive mimics, able to imitate the calls or songs of other birds, and even mechanical sounds.

 

As soon as the days start lengthening our resident starlings will already be prospecting for their nest sites. They are hole nesters, and will readily adopt nest boxes.  Though there is little tradition of erecting nest boxes for starlings in the UK, it is common practice in Scandinavia, where the return of the migrant starlings is welcomed as a sign of spring.

 

Female starlings in the same colony or area lay their first clutch of eggs synchronously, usually in April, though sometimes in late March in the extreme south of the country.  The clutch consists of four or five pale blue eggs. They take 12.2 days to incubate, with the chicks fledging 21 days later.  Because of the synchronised laying, all the young starlings in an area will emerge within a day or two of each other, noisily following their parents out to feed.

 

Starlings eat both animal and plant food throughout the year, but animal food, such as insects and their larvae, are most important in the spring.  With their pale brown plumage the juvenile starlings are easy to recognise. In the autumn they moult into the typical white-spotted winter plumage. The spots are lost in the spring, while in the breeding season both sexes have bright yellow beaks.  Often scorned by garden-bird enthusiasts because of their greedy and spiv-like behaviour, starlings are among the most entertaining of birds, and well worth encouraging to the garden by providing food and nest boxes.

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Fact of the Day - SILVERBACK GORILLAS

 

Silverback-Gorilla.jpg

 

Did you know... that the Silverback Gorilla, a type of ape found in tropical rainforests, is also known as the Mountain Gorilla or the Eastern Lowland Gorilla. The fact that there are roughly 700 Silverbacks left in existence today reflects what humans have done to the population. When we continually cut down trees where gorillas live, we are slowly destroying their habitat which is one of the reasons why they have become an endangered animal. Poachers who capture and kill these animals to make a profit are also contributing to their decline. If aggressive action is not taken to preserve Gorillas and their habitat, kids of future generations may never know what it's like to see a real Gorilla.

 

Their natural habitat is the tropical rainforest of Central Africa.  Silverback Gorilla is the name given to the adult male Gorillas because of the silvery fur running across their backs and hips.  Humans and gorillas have a very similar genetic makeup. These close relatives share 98% of our DNA.

 

Gorillas live in groups or communities with a clearly defined social structure. A dominant alpha leads the group of other males, females and young in daily activities such as eating and sleeping.  Adult male Gorillas are approximately six times as strong as a man.  Standing at up to 6 feet tall (182 cm) with arms that extend up to 8 feet (243 cm) wide, Gorillas are the largest living primates.

 

Gorillas are mainly herbivores that feast on a variety of roots, plants, herbs, fruit, bamboo, tree bark and occasionally, insects. Adults can easily eat up to 66 pounds (30 Kg) of food per day.  Gorillas in the wild can live from 40-50 years and slightly longer in captivity.  Gorillas spend the morning and evening hours actively searching for and eating food while midday is spent playing and resting. Each evening they make their own nests, mostly out of vegetation, before going to sleep for approximately 13 hours.

 

Gorillas are known for being very intelligent animals. In the wild they communicate through vocalizations, body language, facial expressions and gestures. In captivity they have been known to learn sign language.  Although generally quiet and calm animals, they can become aggressive towards one another. Dominant males, in particular, will beat their chest, scream, roar and bark while standing upright in a show of power.

 

Breeding for females usually takes place around age ten but can sometimes be a little earlier. It is around this time that the females leave their original family group in search of another group. Males leave their families a little later at about 11 years old.  Gorillas give birth to one baby at a time and just like humans, the gestation period for Gorillas is nine months.  Newborns are kept very close to the mother for the first few months. When they reach about 4 months, the mothers begin to carry the young on their backs.  In stark contrast to the adult Gorilla that can weigh between 200-400 pounds (90-181 kg), the newborn babies are born very small weighing in at just 4 pounds (2 kg).

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Fact of the Day - ASTRONOMY

 

Did you know... that astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It uses mathematics, physics, and chemistry in order to explain their origin and evolution? Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets.

 

From a bar in the clouds to finding more water from the Moon, outer space is constantly surprising us. When you look up at the sky and see the sun beaming down at you, it’s hard to tell how truly big it is. So consider this: About a million duplicates of Earth could comfortably fit inside of it, according to NASA’s C. Alex Young, PhD. And if the sun didn’t supply our main energy, we’d be shivering in the dark; its core releases energy that is the equivalent of 100 billion nuclear bombs. That sure explains these strange ways the sun affects your body.

 

At 33 light-years away is an exoplanet called Gliese 436 b. The planet is composed of different water elements, which form burning ice. In other words, the ice on the planet remains solid due to pressure, while the extreme surface temperature of 570° F (300° C) super-heats the water, causing it to come off as steam. 

 

It may seem like a bartender’s dream (or nightmare), but way up beyond our atmosphere, there’s a gas cloud made from alcohol about 1,000 times the diameter of our entire solar system. There’s enough alcohol there for about 400 septillion pints of beer (that’s 400 followed by 24 zeros!). To put that into perspective, ScienceAlert notes that’s “enough alcohol to supply 300,000 pints of beer every day to every single person on Earth for the next billion years.” 

 

The solar system is a bizarre place with its alien planets, mysterious moons and strange phenomena that are so out-of-this-world they elude explanation. Scientists have discovered ice-spewing volcanoes on Pluto, while Mars is home to a truly "grand" canyon the size of the United States. There may even be a giant, undiscovered planet lurking somewhere beyond Neptune. Read on to find out some of the strangest facts about planets, dwarf planets, comets and other incredible objects around the solar system.

 

Uranus appears to be a featureless blue ball upon first glance, but this gas giant of the outer solar system is pretty weird upon closer inspection. First, the planet rotates on its side for reasons scientists haven't quite figured out. The most likely explanation is that it underwent some sort of one or more titanic collisions in the ancient past. In any case, the tilt makes Uranus unique among the solar system planets.  Uranus also has tenuous rings, which were confirmed when the planet passed in front of a star (from Earth's perspective) in 1977; as the star's light winked on and off repeatedly, astronomers realized there was more than just a planet blocking its starlight. More recently, astronomers spotted storms in Uranus' atmosphere several years after its closest approach to the sun, when the atmosphere would have been heated the most.

 

For those of us used to Earth's relatively inactive moon, Io's chaotic landscape may come as a huge surprise. The Jovian moon has hundreds of volcanoes and is considered the most active moon in the solar system, sending plumes up to 250 miles into its atmosphere . Some spacecraft have caught the moon erupting; the Pluto-bound New Horizons craft caught a glimpse of Io bursting when it passed by in 2007.

 

Io's eruptions come from the immense gravity the moon is exposed to, being nestled in Jupiter's gravitational well. The moon's insides tense up and relax as it orbits closer to, and farther from, the planet, generating enough energy for volcanic activity. Scientists are still trying to figure out how heat spreads through Io's interior, though, making it difficult to predict where the volcanoes exist using scientific models alone.

 

 

While Mars seems quiet now, we know that in the past something caused gigantic volcanoes to form and erupt. This includes Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano ever discovered in the solar system. At 374 miles (602 km) across, the volcano is comparable to the size of Arizona. It's 16 miles (25 kilometers) high, or triple the height of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth.  Volcanoes on Mars can grow to such immense size because gravity is much weaker on the Red Planet than it is on Earth. But how those volcanoes came to be in the first place is not well known. There is a debate as to whether Mars has a global plate tectonic system and whether it is active.

 

 

If you thought the Grand Canyon was big, that's nothing compared to Valles Marineris. At 2,500 miles (4,000 km) long, this immense system of Martian canyons is more than 10 times as long as the Grand Canyon on Earth. Valles Marineris escaped the notice of early Mars spacecraft (which flew over other parts of the planet) and was finally spotted by the global mapping mission Mariner 9 in 1971. And what a sight it was to miss — Valles Marineris is about as long as the United States!

 

The lack of active plate tectonics on Mars makes it tough to figure out how the canyon formed. Some scientists even think that a chain of volcanoes on the other side of the planet, known as the Tharsis Ridge, somehow bent the crust from the opposite side of Mars, thus creating Valles Marineris. More close-up study is needed to learn more, but you can't send a rover over there easily.

 

Venus is a hellish planet with a high-temperature, high-pressure environment on its surface. Ten of the Soviet Union's heavily shielded Venera spacecraft lasted only a few minutes on its surface when they landed there in the 1970s.  But even above its surface, the planet has a bizarre environment. Scientists have found that its upper winds flow 50 times faster than the planet's rotation. The European Venus Express spacecraft (which orbited the planet between 2006 and 2014) tracked the winds over long periods and detected periodic variations. It also found that the hurricane-force winds appeared to be getting stronger over time.

 

Want to read more on this topic?  Click here.

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Fact of the Day - THE RED CROSS

 

Did you know... that The American Red Cross, also known as The American National Red Cross, is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief, and disaster preparedness education in the United States?  

 

May 8 is World Red Cross Red Crescent Day celebrating the good work the Movement does every day around the world.  It is the birthday of Henry Dunant, the Swiss businessman who came up with the idea of the Red Cross Movement after seeing the horrors on the battlefield during the Battle of Solferino in 1859 in Italy. And, if you are thinking that the Red Cross flag looks like an inverted Swiss flag, well it is. Dunant designed the flag as homage to his homeland.

 

In 1859 Swiss entrepreneur Jean Henri Dunant went in search of French Emperor Napoleon III, whom he hoped would help with a business venture in French-controlled Algeria. Dunant never did gain a meeting with the emperor. But while in present-day Italy he witnessed the Battle of Solferino, in which some 40,000 troops were killed or wounded in a single day. Since neither army had much of a medical corps, Dunant organized a group of volunteers to bring food and water to the wounded, to treat their injuries and to write letters to their families. Then, in 1862, he published a book titled “A Memory of Solferino,” in which he described viewing amputations without anesthetic and groaning, fly-covered men who had been left for dead. “Some, who had gaping wounds already beginning to show infection…begged to be put out of their misery, and writhed with faces distorted in the grip of the death struggle,” Dunant wrote. Others were “disfigured…their limbs stiffened, their bodies blotched with ghastly spots, their hands clawing at the ground, their eyes staring wildly.” At the end of his book, Dunant suggested “permanent societies of volunteers who in time of war would give help to the wounded without regard for their nationality.” This vision for the Red Cross, championed by Gustave Moynier of the Geneva Public Welfare Society, became a reality the following year.

 

 

In his book, Dunant praised British nurse Florence Nightingale for her “passionate devotion to suffering humanity” and for giving up “the pleasures of opulence in order to devote herself to doing good.” But Nightingale, who had made a name for herself in the Crimean War, did not originally think highly of the Red Cross. “Such a society,” she told Dunant, “would take upon itself duties which ought to be performed by the government of each country and so would relieve them of responsibilities which really belong to them…and render war more easy.” Nightingale was harsher in a private letter to a colleague, calling the Red Cross’ “views most absurd—just such as would originate in a little state like Geneva, which never can see war.” She later softened her stance and even joined the British Red Cross ladies’ committee. Nonetheless, critics of the organization remained, such as a journalist who declared during World War I that “to heal men’s wounds and send them back to the front as soon as possible is to prolong war indefinitely.” A generation later, in arguably its most controversial decision, the International Red Cross declined to publicly condemn the Holocaust despite knowing of the atrocities.

 

A one-time clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, Clara Barton spent the American Civil War nursing wounded troops and distributing supplies at the front. She also helped locate thousands of missing men, earning the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” While visiting Europe a few years after the war’s conclusion, Barton learned about the Red Cross movement and the related Geneva Convention, which regulated the treatment of wounded soldiers and was later expanded to include prisoners of war and civilians. Upon returning home, she began lobbying the U.S. government to ratify the convention, which it did in 1882. Meanwhile, in May 1881, Barton founded the American Red Cross. She would lead the organization for over two decades, finally resigning at the age of 83.

 

Under Barton, the American Red Cross devoted itself largely to disaster relief, responding to floods, forest fires, tornadoes, a yellow fever epidemic and a hurricane that killed at least 6,000 people in Galveston, Texas. At the time of her resignation, the organization had only a few thousand members. It soon grew rapidly, however, in part by cultivating a close relationship with the U.S. government and by depicting membership as a patriotic duty. By the end of World War I, over 20 million adults and 11 million children had joined. It was considered so essential to the war effort, in fact, that a Wisconsin public official was convicted under the Espionage Act for calling it, among other things, “nothing but a bunch of grafters.” Wartime services and disaster relief remain part of the present-day mission of the American Red Cross, along with health and safety training, support for military families and blood collection.

 

Just before the Ottoman Empire went to war with Russia in 1877, it approved a national Red Cross society with one caveat. Instead of a cross, which they associated with Christianity and medieval crusaders, Ottoman medical personnel identified themselves and their equipment with a crescent. Russia agreed to recognize that emblem during the conflict; however, its legal status remained in limbo until 1929, when it was incorporated into the Geneva Conventions. Today, the national societies of over 30 Islamic nations use the red crescent. Israel’s national first-aid society, Magen David Adom, likewise tried for decades to get approval for a red Star of David on a white background. Finally, in 2005, a compromise was reached in which the Geneva Conventions recognized the red crystal (essentially a diamond). Magen David Adom still uses the Star of David domestically but has adopted the red crystal, sometimes with the Star of David inside it, for international operations. A fourth symbol, the red lion and sun, was utilized in Iran prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

 

Dunant played little role with the Red Cross after a court held him primarily responsible for the 1867 collapse of the bank Crédit Genevois, where he served as a director. Nonetheless, he secured the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 along with leading French pacifist Frédéric Passy. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the Switzerland-based custodian of the Geneva Conventions, won its own Nobel Peace Prizes in 1917 and 1944, in the midst of World War I and World II, respectively. It then shared a third Nobel Peace Prize in 1963 with the League of Red Cross Societies (now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), which today overseas national associations in 187 countries.

 

Under international law, it is illegal to deliberately target humanitarian workers. Yet that has not stopped the Red Cross from often finding itself in the line of fire. In 1996, for example, masked men gunned down six Red Cross aides as they slept in a Chechen hospital compound. Similar attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s occurred in Burundi, Somalia, Congo and Bosnia, whereas this decade over 20 Red Crescent volunteers have perished in the Syrian civil war. Just this month, seven more of the organization’s workers were kidnapped in northwestern Syria after gunmen reportedly opened fire on their convoy.

 

  • There are currently 189 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe
  • The Red Cross is one of the world’s most recognized symbols
  • The Movement's 189 National Societies represent 97 million of volunteers. About half are youth volunteers.
  • Around 50 per cent of the Movement's volunteers are women.
  • National Societies programs and services address both immediate and long-term needs and include: emergency response, disaster preparedness, community-based health and care, first aid training and activities, restoring family contact for disaster victims, and youth and volunteer activities.
  • The Red Cross has won the Nobel Peace Prize FOUR times 1917, 1944, and 1963 as well as in the award to Henry Dunant (1901),
  • The Canadian Red Cross was established in 1909 when the Federal Government passed the Canadian Red Cross Society Act.  In Canada, the Red Cross has 34,000 volunteers. Amazing!

 

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Fact of the Day - IMPRESSIONISM ART

 

Did you know... that Impressionism began in France when a group of young and talented artists decided to rebel against the established art critics, called the Salon in France, and form a new style of painting all their own. Impressionists wanted to capture a moment in time. Critics said that their work was merely "impressions" of reality and the name stuck.

 

The Impressionist movement began in the 1860s and became most popular in the 1870s and 1880s.  The Impressionists wanted to capture a moment in time. They were more concerned with the light and color of the moment than with the details of objects they were painting. They often painted outdoors and worked quickly to capture the light before it changed. They used rapid brush strokes and often used unmixed color to save time. They used unusual visual angles and common everyday subjects.

 

Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
This painting depicts an outdoor scene of a dance on Sunday afternoon in Paris. Renoir captures the afternoon light flickering as it filters through the trees. The painting captures a moment in time. It is one of the most famous of the Impressionist paintings. A smaller version of it once sold for over $78 million!

impressionism_dance_at_the_moulin_de_la_

 

Lydia Leaning on Her Arms in a Theatre Box (Mary Cassatt)
This painting is an example of an Impressionist portrait. The quick and sweeping brush strokes capture the moment of the girl leaning forward in anticipation at the opera. The girl, Lydia, appears relaxed and confident. The colors are bright and capture the lighting prior to the show beginning.

impressionism_lydia_lg.jpg

 

Paris Street: Rainy Day (Gustave Caillebotte)
This Impressionist painting gives the feeling of a photograph. It appears to capture people as they are casually walking down the street in the rain. Although this painting has sharper images than many impressionist paintings, it still captures a fleeting moment in time including the light and the weather conditions.

impressionism_paris_street_rainy_day_lg.

 

Famous Impressionist Artists

  • Gustave Caillebotte - A French painter who was interested in photography and probably was the most "realist" of the Impressionist group. Caillebotte came from a wealthy family and helped out some of the poorer artists of the time.
  • Mary Cassatt - An American painter who lived much of her life in France, Mary became good friends with Degas. She often painted women and their children.
  • Edgar Degas - Degas is famous for painting pictures of ballet dancers. Unlike many of the other Impressionist artists, he would sketch his subjects live and then paint them later in his studio.
  • Edouard Manet - A realist painter for much of his career, Manet's artwork bridged between Realism and Impressionism and gave the Impressionists credibility.
  • Claude Monet - Arguably the founder of the Impressionist movement, Monet painted many series of objects in different lighting. It was his painting, Impression: Sunrise that gave birth to the name Impressionism.
  • Berthe Morisot - One of the original Impressionists, Berthe was the only woman to display her artwork in the first Impressionist exhibition.
  • Camille Pissarro - Older than the rest of the Impressionists, Pissarro helped to mentor and lead the younger artists. He displayed artwork in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions.
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Part of the original group of Impressionists, Renoir lived in poverty early on, but became successful by the end of the 1880s. Many of his paintings such as Dance at Le moulin de la Galette and On the Terrace have become world famous.

Interesting Facts about Impressionism

  • When a critic called the art "impressions", it was meant as in insult.
  • The established art community was outraged when the young Impressionist artists held their own exhibition in 1874.
  • Many of the artists fled from France to England during the Franco-Prussian war.
  • Impressionists often painted the same view or subject over and over trying to capture different moments in light, color, and time.
  • By the late 1880's Impressionism was very popular and many artists throughout the world were taking up the style.
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Fact of the Day - INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT THE WORLD

 

Did you know... that with around 200 countries and more than 7.5 billion people, the world is full of interesting, fun, and fascinating people, places, and things? In the land of the Kiwis, for instance, you'll find the highest concentration of pet owners on the planet. And over in Nicaragua, you'll find one of the only two flags in the world that features the color purple.

 

No matter where you go, it's comforting to know you can always enjoy a Coca-Cola. Well, almost anywhere. While this fizzy drink is sold practically everywhere, it still hasn't (officially) made its way to North Korea or Cuba, according to the BBC. That's because these countries are under long-term U.S. trade embargoes.  However, some folks say you might be able to snag a sip of the stuff if you try hard enough (although it'll typically be a lot more expensive than what you would pay in the states—and probably imported from a neighboring country such as Mexico or China).

 

The world's total population is more than 7.5 billion. And obviously, that number sounds huge. However, it might feel a little more manageable once you learn that if every single one of those people stood shoulder-to-shoulder, they could all fit within the 500 square miles of Los Angeles, according to National Geographic.

 

You might think twins are a rarity, but they're actually becoming more common than ever. "From about 1915, when the statistical record begins, until 1980, about one in every 50 babies born was a twin, a rate of 2 percent," writes Alexis C. Madrigal of The Atlantic. "Then, the rate began to increase: by 1995, it was 2.5 percent. The rate surpassed 3 percent in 2001 and hit 3.3 percent in 2010. [That means] one out of every 30 babies born is a twin."  Scientists believe this trend is due to the fact that older women tend to have more twins, and women are choosing to start families later. Fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization likely also play a role.

 

The "weapons-grade" Dragon's Breath chili pepper is so hot it's downright deadly. If you ate one, it could potentially cause a type of anaphylactic shock, burning the airways and closing them up.  "I've tried it on the tip of my tongue and it just burned and burned," said Mike Smith, the hobby grower who invented the Dragon's Breath along with scientists from Nottingham University. So why make such an impractical pepper? As it turns out, the chili was initially developed to be used in medical treatment as an anesthetic that can numb the skin.

 

France is a beautiful country, filled to the brim with delicious wines, scrumptious cheese, and tons of romance. So it's no surprise that more people want to visit France than any other country in the world, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.  In 2017, the European country welcomed 86.9 million people. Spain was the second-most popular destination with 81.8 million visitors, followed by the United States (76.9 million), China (60.7 million), and Italy (58.3 million). La vie est belle!

 

Santa Cruz del Islote in the Archipelago of San Bernardo off the coast of Colombia may only be about the size of two soccer fields (AKA two acres), but the artificial island has four main streets and 10 neighborhoods. Five hundred people live on the island in around 155 houses. With so many people packed into such a small space, it's the most densely populated island in the world, according to The Guardian.

 

It might seem safe to assume that the Canary Islands were named after canary birds, but the location was actually named after dogs. Although it's off the coast of northwestern Africa, the archipelago is actually part of Spain. In Spanish, the area's name is Islas Canarias, which comes from the Latin phrase Canariae Insulae for "island of dogs." World facts related to dogs? Now those we can get behind!

 

Though there are short people and tall people everywhere, Indonesia is home to some of the shortest people in the world, according to data compiled from various global sources by the Telegraph in 2017.  When taking both genders into account, the average adult is around 5 feet, 1.8 inches. People in Bolivia don't tend to be much taller, with an average adult height of 5 feet, 2.4 inches. The tallest people among us live in the Netherlands, where the average adult height is 6 feet.

 

When 174 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement on Earth Day in 2016 at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York, it was the largest number of countries ever to come together to sign anything on a single day, according to the UN. The agreement aimed to combat climate change and accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed to strengthen the global climate effort.

 

Silence is golden, as they say. And while it may not be worth quite as much as jewels and gold to most people, it certainly was the primary goal for those who built the quietest room in the world. Located at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the lab room measures a background noise of -20.35 dBA, which is 20 decibels below the threshold of human hearing and breaks previous records for spaces that were deemed the planet's quietest places, according to CNN.

 

Want to read 40 more things about the world?  Click here.

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