Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was the first scientist to be awarded two Nobel Prizes: one in Physics (1903) and one in Chemistry (1911).

She also invented the word "radioactivity" based on the Latin word for ray (radio-, radi-, rad-).

She and her husband, Pierre, helped name and add two more elements to the Periodic Table: polonium and radium.

Source: Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity

Friday, November 24, 2006

Foods from the Americas

Lots of popular foods come from the "New World." Some are well known, but others may surprise you. ;) Nearly 30% of all cultivated plants grown worldwide have their origins in the New World (1).

  • Cassava (Tapioca or Manioc) -- from South America. It can be grown in very poor soils and still yield a very nutritious vegetable. Amazon Indians domesticated over 40 varieties. Some can be eaten right away, others must be processed to remove a naturally occurring poison (2).
  • Potatoes -- South America, especially the Andean mountains.
  • Beans (all varieties) -- from Central America, spread to North America
  • Peanuts -- from South America. The word "Goober" for peanuts is African and means "ground nut" (5).
  • Sweet Potatoes -- Native to Mexico
  • Tomatoes -- native to Mexico, but many varieties are found in the Andes (2). The Aztec word for tomato is xitomatl (6).
  • Tomatillo -- also cultivated by the Aztecs. These are most often seen in salsa verde.
  • Squash -- various types grow all over the Americas. Some, like the pumpkin, are native to more tropical climates. The word squash is Native American and comes from the word askutasquash which means "eaten raw or uncooked" (5).
  • Chili Peppers/Sweet Peppers -- natives to Central America and Mexico.
  • Avocado -- originated in Southern Mexico, eaten by Incas and Aztecs.
  • Papaya -- most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Guava -- also most likely native to Southern Mexico.
  • Raspberry/ Blackberry -- native to North America.
  • Strawberry -- native to North America.
  • Cranberries -- native to North America and used by Native Americans in a food called pemmican, which is sort of an energy food. It was made with jerky, cranberries and fat (7).
  • Blueberry -- native to North America.
  • Pineapple -- native to Brazil and Southern Paraguay.
  • Passion Fruit -- native to South America as far south as north Argentina.
  • Paw Paw -- native to North America.
  • Serviceberry -- sometimes used to flavor pemmican. Native to North America.
  • Teaberry -- tasty berry used to flavor a brand of gum. Native to North America.
Grains & Nuts
  • Corn (Maize) -- there is no "wild" corn. Corn is a human invention and may have been developed from a plant known as Teosinte (3). It was developed in Mexico between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago (4).
  • Quinoa -- grows in the Andean mountains and was considered sacred by the Incas (2)
  • Wild Rice -- not actually a rice, but a water grass of the species zizania aquatica. It was a staple in the diet of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. It is also known as Minnesota's State Grain (8).
  • Cashews -- native to Brazil.
  • Amaranth -- a staple grain in the diets of the Aztecs.
  • Pecans -- native to North America and the state tree of Texas.
  • Sunflower -- native to North America.
Spices, etc
  • Chocolate -- the Aztecs considered it a gift from the gods, the name "chocolate" has Aztec origins. They called it xoco-latl.
  • Vanilla -- comes from an orchid! May have first been domesticated by the Totonac Indians, who still cultivate it today(2).
  • Allspice -- from the Caribbean.
  • Sassafras -- used as a tea, condiment and medicinally.
Sources: New World Foods, Ethnobotany (Foods that changed the world), The Story of Corn, Doebly Lab, Seeds of Change, Gourmet Sleuth, Culinary Sleuth, Minnesota Wild Rice

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

White Sands = Gypsum

White Sands National Monument is an amazing place to visit. Just last Sunday, I drove up there with my kids. We had a super time.

The sands are almost pure gypsum. Gypsum is a type of rock that is almost completely soluble. It dissolves easily in water and when it rains, it washes out of the surrounding mountains into the White Sands area inside the Tularosa Basin. The reason all the sand stays in the Tularosa Basin is because there are no rivers or other natural water features that leave the basin area. The gypsum stays put because it has nowhere to go.

High winds in the area break up gypsum crystals that form after the water begins to evaporate. The wind creates the sand and pushes it into the high dunes in the park. Dunes can be as tall as 50 to 60 feet.

Source: National Park Service Fact Sheets

Friday, November 10, 2006


Ska is a form of music that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950's and early 60's. It is the first popular form of music indiginous to Jamaica and gave rise to other more familiar types of music such as rocksteady and reggae.

Ska music was made for dancing. The music is upbeat, quick and exciting. Musically, ska can be characterized with a drumbeat on the 2nd and 4th beats (in 4/4 time) and with the guitar hitting the 2nd, 3rd and 4th beats. Traditional ska bands generally featured bass, drums, guitars, keyboards and horns (with sax, trombone and trumpet being most common).
According to, the word ska comes from bassist Cluet Johnson (Clue J), who used to walk around greeting people with the phrase, "Love Skavoovie."

Ska also has a sort of particular dance known as skanking. I found a video clip of a guy skanking, but unfortunately it has no music. Link here.

Some ska from Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra:

Sources: FAQ,

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Coffee, TIPS and filters

In the words of a dishtowel I saw in a catalog: "Coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy."

Yep. Coffee definitely does that for me!

I wanted to find out a little more about the history of coffee, so here are some trivial tidbits about this wonderful beverage.

Coffee originated somewhere in Africa and around 700 AD, there was evidence of coffee use in the Red Sea area. Coffee made its way out of Africa into Arabia, where Muslims transformed the drink by roasting the beans. Wherever Muslims went, coffee went, too. Through Muslim trade and the expansion of Islam, coffee made its way to Turkey, India and Europe.

The world's very first coffee shop was Kiv Han in Constantinople which opened its doors in 1475. Like today's coffee houses, people listened to music, talked and drank coffee, of course.

In Europe, coffee spread from Venice and finally made its way to England. In English coffee houses, the idea and word for "tipping" servers made its way into the language. Tips was actually an acronym, TIPS, which stood for "To Insure Prompt Service." Tins were labeled as such and customers would throw coins into the tin so that they were served faster.

In 1607, coffee made its way to America with Captain John Smith. Incredibly, by 1668, coffee replaced the favorite breakfast drink of New York City, which had previously been beer!

One of the most important factors in brewing coffee at home, the filter, was invented by Merlitta Bentz. She used her son's blotter paper in her brewing machine and found the flavor was improved by use of the filter. She and her husband patented the idea in 1908.

Sources:, Roast and Post Coffee Company

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


What is galvanized steel? It's a process where zinc is bonded to the outside of steel in order to prevent corrosion or rust. Galvanized steel is used on cars, for hardware cloth (like chicken wire) and many other things. The zinc on the outside of the steel oxidizes to form zinc oxide which is not brittle like iron oxide.

The first known description of galvanizing with zinc comes from a French chemist, P.J. Malouin, in 1742. The process, however, is named after Lucie Galvani, a scientist who believed in a process called "animal electricity." He hung frog legs from his metal balcony and would watch them twitch as the wind blew them against the metal.

Galvani's contributions to the study of electricity were ignored in his time, but later on, his name was attached to the process known today as "galvanizing" when Stanilaus Sorel, an engineer, took out a patent on the process in 1837 and chose to name it after Galvani in tribute to his contributions to science.

Galvanizing animation

Sources: Wikipedia, An Anecdotal History of the Galvanizing Process (PDF), American Galvanizers Association (AGA) , American Zinc Association

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Where is the B drive?

I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about little things. The other day, when I was moving files around on my Windows-based PC computer, I started wondering why the B: drive was skipped. I have an A: drive and a C: drive, but no B: drive.

Well, I looked up the info on the web and found out that there had always been a B: drive. Back in the day when computers had two floppy disk drives, one was drive A, and the other, drive B. After I read a little, I realized that I remembered having an old computer (A Commodore 64) with the A and B drive.

Old school. Nice.

These days, since no one needs two floppy drives, the B drive is omitted.

Sources: Microsoft Help and Support, Obsolete Technology: Floppy Disks

Monday, October 30, 2006


In old cartoons, whenever there is machinery or an assembly line, a certain piece of music was played to accompany the action. I always wondered what the name of that song was. Finally, I know.

The "assembly line" music is called Powerhouse and was written by Raymond Scott, a composer, musician and engineer. According to Wikipedia, Scott's wife said that Raymond Scott didn't watch cartoons and had never intended his work to be used for cartoons. However, he did sell the rights to Warner Brothers, where the music was worked into many cartoons by Carl Stalling, the music director.

Clips of some of his most famous music can be found here and a direct link to Powerhouse is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Official Raymond Scott Site

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Alligators in El Paso

The public square of El Paso is known as Plaza de los Lagartos. This is because the public square was home to several alligators from 1883 until 1965. When it was too cold for the alligators in the winter, men would wrap them in coffee sacks, take them to the saloon and have them stay by the stoves to keep warm!

How did the alligators get to El Paso? Two possible stories come from Borderlands:

One story claims that the alligators were sent to a local miner from a friend in Louisiana as a joke. The miner then presented the alligators to Mayor C. R. Morehead, who had them placed in the park pond. Another story claims that Satterwaite [J. Fisher Satterwaite, El Paso Parks and Streets Commissioner] brought the reptiles to El Paso in a box and kept them in a barrel of water at a local saloon until a pond could be built around the fountain in the Plaza.

The alligators were often used for pranks and were targets of vandalism. One alligator died of internal injuries from a failed attempt to kidnap him and others died from stoning. The El Paso Zoo eventually became their home. Today, the plaza has a sculpture made by Luis Jimenez commemorating the alligators' history in the city.

Sources: A Guide to El Paso, Texas, Borderlands
Photo source: Early El Paso Area, picture by Hendrik "Henry" Van Bruggen

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Falangist Party!

A falangist is a supporter and follower of the highly nationalistic, fascist, ultra Catholic style of government as supported by Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco.

Surprisingly, there is a political party, the Christian Falangist Party of America, which is active in politics to this day. They are extremely conservative, calling participants of Gay Pride parades "sexual perverts." In addition, they support prayer in school and putting the 10 Commandments in schools (even though, ironically, they have the Bill of Rights printed on their web page--see the 1st Amendment). They also want to re-initiate the draft for military service and state that the United States is not one country, but rather a union of 50 mini-countries. They are also extremely concerned with terrorism and illegal immigration.

From their site:
"The C.F.P.A. was founded in Philadelphia, Pa. on September 14th, 1985 as the first Falangist Party in America and is dedicated to fighting the "Forces of Darkness" which seeks to destroy our Western Judeo-Christian Civilization."

I try to be impartial with Supertrivial, but this bit of trivia was too... out there for me to be completely unbiased.

"Forces of Darkness?"

What, is Darth Vader out there, too?

Other unusual parties that are actually and currently active in US Politics are:

  • Communist Party USA
  • Prohibition Party
  • Socialist Equality Party
  • U.S. Marijuana Party
  • Light Party
This is actually just a small sampling of active or fairly active political parties in the US. For more information, see my source page: Politics1

Art Actions

Joseph Beuys is an interesting individual. He was born in 1921 in Germany and volunteered for the war in 1940. He was trained as a pilot an an aircraft radio operator. He was wounded several times and was held in a prisoner of war camp in Britain for some time.

After the war, he studied art, specifically sculpture. Many of his sculptural pieces were made of felt and hard fat. Beuys often attributed his attraction to felt and fat by describing a story (which may or may not have happened) where he was rescued by Tartars after a plane crash and they smeared his body with fat and covered it in felt to keep him warm.

Beuys felt that art should not be just about "objects" or things that were "beautiful." He felt that debate, confrontation and performance were all forms of art. Eventually, Beuys began to create performance art that he called "actions." He wanted to provoke people and make them think.

One of the most famous of these is called I like America and America likes me, where he covered himself in felt and spent five days in a room with a live coyote. Another interesting piece is Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare, where he went through a gallery with a dead hare, speaking to it about the pictures on the wall. He was also covered in honey and gold leaf for this performance.

Beuys' art was never meant to be mainstream: he didn't produce many sculptures that a collector could buy and keep as a trophy. Instead, his art was mainly time-based and what we have left from his "actions" are artifacts of the experience: photos of Beuys with the coyote, for example.

One of his quotes that makes the best sense of Beuys' perspective on art is this:
"To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom."
-Joseph Beuys

Sources: Joseph Beuys: A Brief Biography, The Artchive: Joseph Beuys

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Autism: The Word

Autism is a neurological condition that I am very familiar with. My daughter, Rei, is moderately autistic and goes to school 8 hours every day for therapy, learning and social integration. She's not even 4 yet!

While reading an excellent article (linked in the source below) in Scientific American Online, I found this interesting little bit of trivial information.

The word autism bascially means "self state." Many autistic individuals are very much involved in their own world.

The word autism was coined by Paul Bleuler in 1912. However, it wasn't until the 1940's that autism was really being studied as a neurological disorder. Even though the word existed, it wasn't being used to describe the disorder we know today. Until the 1940's, there was no word for the condition at all. Many autistic individuals were mislabeled schizophrenic, retarded or just mentally ill. Autism is not an illness; it's a developmental disorder.

Two individuals who "discovered" the disorder did so at the same time and without any contact with one another. One was a American psychiatrist named Leo Kanner. The other was Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger. The article in Scientific American Online states that neither one was aware of the other's work. Nevertheless, both of them, independently named the disorder they were studying, "autism."

Sources: Scientific American: Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism [ SPECIAL SECTION: NEUROSCIENCE ], Online Etymology Dictionary

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Mini-Van

The first Mini-Van debuted in 1972. It was the Brubaker Box, named after its creator, Curtis Brubaker. He built the original on a Volkswagen Beetle body. The only entrance is the one you see in the photo.

The Brubaker Box never became a commercial success. Even though Curtis Brubaker received positive feedback at the Los Angeles International Motorsports Show, making this custom car was difficult. Brubaker had to buy whole VW Beetles, take them apart to retain only the parts he needed (such as the chassis) and sell off the rest of the parts.

Source: Roadster Street Rods: The Brubaker Box

Photo Credit:

Monday, October 23, 2006

Dr. McKay's First Name

Dr. Rodney McKay is a character from Stargate Atlantis. However, Dr. McKay's real first name is actually Meredith. His middle name is Rodney.

Source: Season 3, Episode 8 McKay and Mrs. Miller


Curling is a sport with probable origins in Scotland. The first known curling stone was dated 1511 on the stone itself. Written accounts of curling occur in 1541 from Paisley Abbey, Renfrew. Curling was also depicted in two painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in 1565 showing Dutch peasants playing the game.

No matter what, it's clear that this unusual sport has very old origins. Curling is played in a way that is similar to lawn bowling There are two targets (known as the house) on an ice rink with the center of the target known as the button or tee. Each team of 4 players is led by a captain (or skip). Curlers slide the stone down the ice trying to get as close as possible to the button. The slider's teammates use brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone so that it can slide even further.

An inning (or end) is over after all 8 players (4 on each team) have taken their turns. A team scores one point for each stone that is nearer to the tee than any of the other team's stones. Only one team can score in each inning. If there are no stones in the house, or if the closest stones from the opposing teams are the same distance from the tee, there is no scoring for that inning.

Strategy involves trying to knock out opposing team's stones from the house so that they will be unable to score. It is also important to try not to knock out the stones of fellow teammates.

The stones are made of polished granite and have a maximum diameter of 36 inches and a maximum weight of 44 pounds.

The name "curling" comes from the ability of many curlers to put a spin on the stone, curling it around other stones. In this way, a team with good curlers can "spin" their stones into place, getting more inside the house and closer to the button for that end.

Sources:, Wikipedia

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The word: Photography

The word Photography was coined by Sir John Frederick William Herschel in 1839. Sir John Herschel was a mathematician and astronomer. He helped improve many of the techniques used in photography during the 19th century.

He also coined the words positive and negative to describe parts of the photographic process.

Sources: Online Etymology Dictionary, Wikipedia


The earliest archaeological evidence for cheese making comes from Egyptian tomb murals, dating to about 2300 BCE.

The cheese shown is called Sage Derby Cheese. It was traditionally made with cow's milk and sage, but today the sage is usually substituted with spinach juice or vegetable dye. The sage was added for health benefits in the 17th century.

Sources: Yahoo! Answers,

Water and Death Valley

People know Death Valley National Park in the US for its insanely hot temperatures and extra-harsh landscape. Summer temperatures typically average around 120 degrees Fahrenheit and in 1913, a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded.

One of the most surprising things about Death Valley is the fact that one of the largest aquifers in the US lies right under the dry surface of the National Park. This aquifer reaches East from California to Nevada and Utah.

Incidentally, the photo I found shows a picture of a "Racetrack Playa." This is a phenomenon where boulders are actually pushed by winds across the flat ground. No one has ever seen this happen, nor has it ever been recorded on film.

Source: Nature on PBS

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sir Tom Jones

So, it's not unusual to find people who are familiar with the lounge singer, Tom Jones. He's famous for his "sexy" moves, especially at a time when it was sort of outrageous to be a sexy singer.

Tom Jones' full name is Thomas Jones Woodward, and he is Welsh. The stage name he eventually settled on, Tom Jones, fits in well with the sexy novel, History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding.

Tom Jones was knighted Sir Tom Jones in 2005.

Source: BBC-Wales--Tom Jones biography

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Corna Gesture

The hand gesture most commonly known as "The Sign of the Devil" or the "El Diablo" sign has its origins in Italy where corna is Italian for horns and was actually used to ward off the evil eye.

In America, the sign is also associated with the University of Texas at Austin, especially in support of their sports teams known as the Longhorns. In this context, the sign is known as "Hook 'em Horns."

In addition, the sign also means "Rock on."

With so many different uses for one hand sign, and the notion among many people that the corna=devil worship, it's no wonder there are a ton of pages like this one, or this one, that purport that many public individuals are actually devil worshippers.

Source: Wikipedia

James T Kirk

Captain Kirk's middle name is "Tiberius."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fancy Rats

The first rat show was held in 1901 in England.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fisher Price Corn Popper

This is great little toy that nearly every little kid seems to like. The Corn Popper was invented by a man named Ralph Crawford in 1957. It's still made today by Fisher-Price.

Source: Parent Tested Buying Guides

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Daddy Long Legs

You may have heard that these are the most poisonous spiders ever, but they are unable to bite humans, so no one's died from their poison.

This is totally false and is an urban myth. A daddy long legs, of the Opiliones order, isn't poisonous at all. It's not even a spider since spiders are in the order Araneae.

Source: Spider Myths

Catholic Cassocks

Cassocks all have 33 buttons to correspond to the years of the life of Jesus.

Source: Wikipedia

My clip from a Priest's Robe Catalog: