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"Sooner or later we must realize there is no station,
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~Robert J. Hastings ... Quotes for YOU

September 19, 2005

Fascinating Facts
From Around the World

Inspiration Line - Ikebana


1. Who was the first practitioner of Japanese Ikebana?

Ikebana, the complex art of Japanese floral arrangement, takes easily a decade to master. There are as many schools of ikebana as there are floral varieties and spatial relations, symbolism, and the contemplation encouraged by white space are paramount. If you're wondering what philosophy and spirituality have to do with flower arrangement, take note. Ikebana — which began in the sixth century with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan — is rooted firmly in religion. Its first practitioner was a monk who wanted to refine the presentation of the floral offering on his shrine in a way that symbolized man's relationship to heaven and earth. In the 6th Century, Ono no Imoko paid three official visits to the imperial court of China. After his retirement he was appointed guardian of Rokkaku-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, where he became abbot and changed his name to Semmu. In China he had studied arranging flowers as religious offerings, and in retirement he continued to develop his study of the 'way of the flowers'. From this has developed Japan's oldest school of Ikebana. The Ikenobo school has a written history based on scrolls and documents which date back to 1462 as its heritage. Centuries later, that relationship still lies at the center of the art form. Arrangements can also allude to the past (a flower in partial bloom, perhaps), the present (full bloom), and the future (an unopened bud). Odd numbers — associated with asymmetry and therefore creativity — are encouraged. The medium of the receptacle — metal, bamboo, woven basket — and its shape and size are as important as the flowers themselves. After each placement, view the arrangement from all angles: An ikebana arrangement should look good in three dimensions.

2. Who were the inventors of America's popular Slinky toy?

Like so many other great inventions, the Slinky, a favorite of both kids and physics teachers, was just a grand accident. Richard James, a naval engineer, "discovered" this enduring toy in 1943. Working to help the war effort, James was developing an anti-vibration device for ship instruments when he knocked over some springs and was fascinated by the way the springs appeared to "walk" down the shelves. Richard remarked to his wife Betty, "I think I can make a toy out of this." Richard then spent the next two years figuring out the best steel gauge and coil to use in making the toy and Betty James found a name for the new toy after discovering in the dictionary that the word "Slinky" is a Swedish word meaning transspiral - sleek or sinuous. The Jameses took their first batch of 400 Slinkys to Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia during the winter of 1945, right in time for Christmas shopping. They were so desperate to sell the toy, they paid a friend $1 to buy one and start the feeding frenzy. Ninety minutes later, not one Slinky remained. And the rest is Slinky history.

Some other little known facts: Slinkys were among the first toys to to travel into space; a stamp commemorating the 1940s features the beloved toy; during the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers would toss a Slinky into a tree for use as a makeshift radio antenna; and, if stretched end-to-end, the Slinky toys sold since 1945 (about 250 million) would wrap around the world 126 times.

3. How did pigeons help Britain and why do these birds constantly bob their heads?

The homing pigeon has served mankind as a means of communication as far back as 1000 B.C. It was believed that they were used by king Solomon. There are also indications that they were used as far back as 3000 to 5000 BC There is documentation that pigeon racing was practiced in Palestine from 200 to 220 A.D. The homing pigeon was the catalyst for the creation of the world's most prestigious news services, "The Reuters News Service." During World War 11 the Reuters war correspondents used pigeons to send the word to Britain that allied forces had landed in Normandy, as it would be many hours before electronic communications would be established.

Head bobbing is a common trait among ground birds like pigeons, pheasants, partridges, and chickens. Ornithologists call it the "optokinetic response", and it seems to help the birds' vision. Remember that a pigeon's eyes are set on the sides of its head, so that when it's walking around, the world sort of sails by in a confusing blur, like landscape viewed from a fast-moving train. The optokinetic response appears to compensate for this. The pigeon has a kind of inchworm gait. It jerks its head forward, then brings its body to meet it, then jerks its head forward again. The net result: The bird gets a series of fixed snapshot images, rather than a long, continuous blurry one. (A twirling ballerina uses a similar strategy, keeping her head aimed at a fixed point as long as possible while her body rotates.) Back in the late seventies, Barrie J. Frost, a visual neuroscientist at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, put pigeons on a tiny treadmill. They walked, but they didn't move relative to their environment, and they stopped bobbing — scientific proof, in case you needed any, that if you're going to get anywhere, you have to stick your neck out.

4. Why were the pirate ship flags of the Caribbean called "Jolly Rogers"?

In many parts of the Caribbean, the "Jolly Roger" was the equivalent of a happy face: it meant the pirate ship was willing to take prisoners. "Roger" was synonymous with rogue in 18th century parlance. Blood red flags were flown by hard-hearted pirates to indicate that they'd be taking no prisoners (sparing no lives). This red flag was more frightening than the buccaneer's basic white skull on black ground. A skull and crossbones was meant to inspire terror, a horned skull suggested a tormented death; other signature flags depicted grisly variations on a morbid theme. The original skull-and-crossbones flag was derived from the French "jolie rouge", meaning "pretty red," and refers to a red pennant also known as the "jolie rougere", flown by 17th and 18th century French buccaneers in the Caribbean. Jolly Roger is also associated with "Old Roger," a known nickname of the devil himself, but that the French derivation of the term is more widely accepted.

5. What are the definitions for those Hollywood job credits you see at the end of a movie?

When a movie is over, if you stay to watch all of the credits at the end you'll be there for quite some time. Rather than describe each of these credits, it's better to cover those that most people wonder about.

"Gaffer" The head electrician in charge of all lighting personnel and an Old English expression for "old man". In the early days of film, producers had to rely on natural light. Stages had canvas roofs that could be opened and closed to allow varying degrees of sunlight to fall on the sound stage. Gaffing hooks, traditionally used for landing large fish, were used to move the canvas back and forth. The person responsible for setting the proper amount of light on the stage became known as the gaffer.

"Best boy" The origin of "Best Boy" is likely from early sailing and whaling crews since sailors were often hired in their off time to set up and work rigging in theaters. There are two best boys, one for lighting and one for the grips. The grip is a crew member who works with the camera and electric department to set up and move equipment such as cranes and dollies. One best boy is second in command to the gaffer and the other best boy is second in command to the key grip.

"Key grip" The person in charge of everyone who moves anything (grips). Grips move scenery and cameras, set up and take down scaffolding, etc. In live theater they are called stage hands.

"Foley artist" The person who creates sounds that cannot be recorded during the filming. Sounds that are later added to the film might be footsteps, creaking doors, thunder, or breaking glass. In radio, they were called sound effects men. The ones who create these fake sounds are called foley artists. They're named for Jack Foley, who gets credit for inventing the craft in the early days of sound.

6. What manuscript from India first mentions diamonds and why are they measured in carats?

The first known reference to diamond is a Sanskrit manuscript, the Arthsastra ("The Lesson of Profit"). The Arthsastra was written by Kautiliya, a minister to Chandragupta of the Mauryan dynasty (322 BC - 185 BC) in northern India where it was originally mined. Diamond history transcends numerous cultures and localities — Greek, Indian, Old English, French, German, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Polish, Japanese, American, African, Korean, and Chinese. The diamond is three billion years in age, a strategic and high tech super material formed in the earth's interior which shot to the surface by extraordinary volcanoes and is the oldest item that anyone can own. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed diamonds were tears of the Gods and splinters from falling stars. The Hindus attributed so much power to these precious stones they placed diamonds in the eyes of some of their statues. These cultures associated tremendous value with these stones and clues as to why may be found in the language associated with them. "Diamond" comes from the Greek adamao, transliterated as "adamao," "I tame" or "I subdue." The adjective adamas was used to describe the hardest substance known, and eventually became synonymous with diamond.

Weighing commodities for small and precious gems demands a very tiny, uniform unit of weight. To meet this need, early gem traders turned to plant seeds that were reasonably uniform in size and weight. Two of the oldest were wheat grains and carob seeds. Both were common in the gem-producing and trading areas of the ancient world. Carat is derived from carob, the bean that's often used as a chocolate substitute. Carob trees grow in the Mediterranean region, and in ancient times a diamond of one carat, or carob, was equal in weight to a single bean, or seed, of the carob tree. In the Far East, rice was used — four grains equaled one carob bean.

7. How did coins from various countries get their names?

One can bank on the fact that most coins derive from Latin words, and are named after people, places, or things. Even the word coin, translates from the Latin cuneus, meaning wedge, and was thusly named because early coins resembled the wedges that the dies used to create coins. The word cent, from the Latin centum, meaning one hundred; the term dime, from the Latin decimus, meaning tenth; and the French franc, from the Latin Franconium Rex, meaning King of the Franks are all examples of the naming of money — the love of which is the root of all evil, which translates from the Latin word mona, meaning "to warn"! A sense of fairness dictates that some coins bear the names of the metals of which they are composed. Thus, the nickel is made of nickel, and the dollar, not always in paper form, originally hailed from the silver mines of Bohemia, where Bohemians extracted silver for the coins, and minted them in the town of Joachimsthal. Realizing that the coin they termed the Joachimsthaler was rather lengthy, our Bohemian friends lost the head of the name, and kept the tail, with the end result being the thaler. The thaler eventually lost its lisp, and became the dollar.

On to a more weighty manner in which people named coins, that being physical weight. The English pound, translates from the Latin pondo, meaning pound, or, to get more heavily into detail, from the Latin libra pondo, meaning a pound of weight. This method of naming coins weighed heavily in naming of the Spanish peso and of the Italian lira. Many countries used their word for crown, for example, crown, sovereign, krone, krun, krone, corona, to demonstrate that some crown authority initially granted permission to mint them. Other countries named coins in honor of their heroes, such as the Panamanian balboa, after the explorer Balboa; the Venezuelan bolivar, after one of it's national heroes Simon Bolivar, and the Peruvian sol, the Spanish word for sun, after this ancient Incan object of worship.

8. Which Dutch ophthalmologist created the 20/20 vision test?

Visual excellence often is referred to as “Snellen” acuity. The chart and the letters are named for a 19th-Century Dutch ophthalmologist Hermann Snellen (1834–1908) who created them as a test of visual accuracy. Visual acuity refers to the clarity or clearness of one’s vision, a measure of how well a person sees. The word “acuity” comes from the Latin “acuitas,” which means sharpness. Visual acuity is expressed as a fraction. The top number refers to the distance you stand from the chart. This is usually 20 feet. The bottom number indicates the distance at which a person with normal eyesight could correctly read the line with the smallest letters. Normal vision is considered 20/20. If your vision is 20/40, the line you correctly read at 20 feet could be read by a person with normal vision at 40 feet. Of course, just because 20/20 vision is normal doesn't mean it's perfect. A small percentage of the population is blessed with vision better than 20/20, and just recently researchers unveiled corrective lens that offered vision closer to 20/10.

9. What Asian fruit can help slow the aging process?

According to legend, birds leaving the Orient dropped cherry pits all along their flight towards the west. This is why cherries came to be found in Greece and Rome where they adorned the table of Lucullus. This renowned gastronome, a Roman general by profession, often made long side trips during his campaigns to seek out some rare spice or unusual fruit for his table in his quest for new tastes and harmonious flavors. Thus it was that he brought the cherry from Asia Minor to Italy. Cherries have been popular snack for centuries. In America, French settlers planted pits near the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes as they settled there, eventually founding Detroit and other cities in Michigan. A Presbyterian minister, Peter Dougherty, planted cherry trees near Traverse City, and the state’s first commercial tart cherry orchards were established near that spot at Ridgewood Farm, in 1893.

Recently Dr. Russell J. Reiter, professor of neuroendocrinology at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio conducted a five-month study and found that tart cherries contain significant amounts of melatonin — a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland that has been credited with slowing the aging process, and fighting insomnia and jet lag. It’s also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression and other diseases and disorders. The findings mark the first time melatonin has been pegged as a naturally occurring substance in food, although trace amounts are evident in bananas, corn and other foods. “The combination of antioxidants in cherries can be very beneficial,” Reiter says. The key is the fruit’s skin and pigmentation, where antioxidants called anthocyanins are found. A 1999 study at Michigan State University found that the antioxidant activity of tart black cherries is greater than that of Vitamin E, according to the Moss Report, a cancer treatment and referral service.

10. What Greek symbols were used to create familiar medical emblems?

The serpentine staff used as the medical emblem is called a caduceus. It has Greek origins — Hermes, the messenger of the gods, carried it as a symbol of peace. Ancient Greeks created the caduceus as a badge of honor; ambassadors and noblemen carried a long staff entwined with garlands or ribbons to announce their presence. The garlands were later interpreted as snakes, and a pair of wings was added to denote Hermes, the winged messenger. Here's where it gets tricky. The U.S. Army medical corps adopted the caduceus as their insignia because of its similarity to the staff carried by Asclepius, the god of medicine. The staff of Asclepius is considered the "true symbol of medicine" — it features only one snake, and no wings. It's the emblem of the American Medical Association. The two symbols are quite similar in appearance, and both are derived from Greek mythology.

~Information Gathered from Sites throughout the Internet

 

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