31 January 2006

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Do you have a question for me? Click on the word "Comments" at the bottom of this entry and leave your question. Questions can be of any kind: factual, advice, opinions, etc. EACH question asked will be addressed -- even if I cannot answer it. I would love to know where you are writing from (city -- and country if not America).

30 January 2006

Face to Face

Putting aside whatever ethical issues you might have with the face transplant performed last year in France, you have to marvel at the science involved.

This article in the Australian newspaper, The Sun Times, details the story, and includes the first photograph of Isabelle Dinoire since the operation.

27 January 2006

If Hippos and Tortoises Can Do It...

Some good news: Owen (left) and Mzee are still together more than a year after Owen was rescued from the beach just days before the Asian Tsunami waves hit the coast of Kenya in 2004.

The one-year-old male hippo had been separated from his herd, then swept downriver to the ocean. Wildlife rangers found him, and put him in an enclosure with the 100+-year-old tortoise. The pair bonded; and have lived, eaten, and slept together ever since.

"Mzee" means "old man" in the Swahili language.

Thanks to Matt for this story.

24 January 2006

Apparently, it's Television

Last week I posed the question: What is the greatest invention of the 20th century -- other than computers and anything related to computing?

The answers you gave were very interesting. Many were items I never would have thought -- the interstate freeway system, the Dada Art Movement, or the Pill.
I find it equally interesting that some items were not mentioned -- like genetic manipulation, or refrigeration.

Here in alphabetical order are all the items nominated as the greatest invention of the 20th century, and the year they were invented (which, in some cases, is a matter of debate). Some things, like broadcasting, were invented in stages over several years; so I chose the date of the first regular broadcast as the date it was invented.

Airplane - 1903 if you believe the Wright Brothers theory; 1906 if you believe the Alberto Santos-Dumont theory.

Antibiotics - 1944, streptomycin

Atomic Bomb - 1945

The Beatles - 1960

Broadcasting - 1920, the first regular radio broadcast to an audience

Dada Art Movement - 1915

Interstate Freeway System - 1956, as the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways Act

Penicillin - 1928

The Pill - 1960

Plastic - 1907, first entirely synthetic material

Polio Vaccine - 1952

Sliced Bread - 1928

Sulfa Drugs (antibacterial) - 1935

Tampon - 1929

Television - 1922 - 1939, first broadcast

23 January 2006

24 H in a D

This is so interesting. How many can you get? Tell me in the comments section of this entry.

22 January 2006

Call for Mrs. Calabash!

Randy in Ft. Worth said: At the close of his act, Jimmy Durante would always say "Goodnight Mrs. Callabash, wherever you are." Who was Mrs. Callabash?

Thank you for the question, Randy. I hope you are not holding your breath for an answer to this, because Durante never said and no one really knows. I have heard many explanations -- all of which seem equally plausible.

It might have been a woman running a restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, who served Durante when he was traveling through town. I have heard reference to a woman running a boarding house who gave Durante free room and board when he was not yet successful in vaudeville. I would like to believe (as, I think, would most people), he was referring to his first wife Jeanne Olsen who died in 1943 after more than 20 years marriage.

Putting on Airs

Confused Guy asked: What are "air rights"? How could you sell the "air" over your building?

Thank you for the question, Confused Guy. First off, in most cases air rights come with land. You buy land and you own all the air above it -- just as one generally gets the rights to water and minerals below it.

Selling of air rights is a little tricky to explain -- and seems to apply only to New York (for now).

Basically, in New York, there are limits to how high you can build a building. However, if you want to build higher than the limits, you would need additional air space. You can acquire the right to that additional air space by purchasing it from someone. In other words, you would buy the air space above one property and put it atop your property allowing you to build higher than the limit allows.

Here's a simplified example: Let's say the building limit is 35 floors; but you want to build 70 floors. You own a space of land next to a flat parking lot. You own 35 floors worth of air above your land; the parking lot owner does too. You purchase the "air rights" over the parking lot and now have the right to build in 70 floors worth of air.

Some cases I encountered in researching this got much more complicated than the above example -- including one building that is going to stretch sideways into the air above neighboring buildings.

21 January 2006

Newton: Neither Cookie nor Cake

Dizzy asked: How is it possible that if I drop a bowling ball and a tomato out of my second-storey window at THE SAME TIME, they will hit the sidewalk at the SAME TIME TOO?

Thank you for the question, Dizzy. We can thank Isaac Newton (1643-1727) for the answer to this question -- which I do not pretend to fully understand.

Basically put, gravity acts on things in our world: objects don't really "fall," they are pulled downward. The larger the object (and more mass) the more gravity pulls it.

Air resistance also acts on falling objects. The larger the object the more resistance it encounters.

A bowling ball is heavier, so it is pulled faster. However, being larger, it meets more air resistance, which slows it down.

A tomato is smaller, so it is pulled slower. However, being lighter it meets less air resistance, which does not slow it down as much.

These two situations balance each other, allowing them to hit the ground simultaneously.

Newton never came up with a law to cover the amounts of damage caused by such an experiment, so I suggest it only be attempted by professional bowlers and farmers.

19 January 2006

By Any Other Name...

Mass Bradley asked: Why was Beaver Cleaver called "Beaver" or (my favorite) "The Beav"?

Thank you for the question, Bradley. There are two explanations.

First, the real one: The show's writer, Joe Connelly, served during the war with a shipmate called "The Beaver." When looking for a name for the television character, he chose that.

Second, the television one: The name was explained in the last episode, "Family Scrapbook." Wally could not pronounce his younger brother's name "Theodore." He pronounced it odd, and the parents switched it a little to make "Beaver."

Almost makes you wish you didn't know, doesn't it?

17 January 2006

It's Not the Light Bulb...

Here's a question: What is the greatest invention of the 20th century -- other than computers and anything related to computing? (I figure computers or the internet would get the most votes, but I am interested in what other invention you think was most important.) Reply using the comments button below and I will post the results in a few days.

14 January 2006

The Rich Will Always Be With Us

James in Silver Spring, Maryland asked: Why did the Howells take along all that clothing if it was only a three hour tour?

Thank you for the question, James. There are really two answers to this question: the prosaic one; and the real one.

The prosaic one is a trick writers do for what I like to call "the convenience of the plot." This element helps along the plot, whether it is illogical, implausible, unlikely -- or even, in some cases, actually impossible.

Into this category fall such television show staples as: the child a character never knew s/he had, an action hero running through a hail of bullets without as much as a scratch, an entire season being labeled "a dream" -- even a group of people surviving on an island for three long seasons. (This is why, on soap operas, it takes 15 months for a character to have a premature baby.)

The real reason, of course, is because they are rich; and the rich, as we all know, are different from you and me.

Studies have shown that the rich routinely travel with about 3.78 times more articles of clothing and jewelry than they will likely need, about 1.3 more "assistants" than there really is work for, and pay about 7.5 times more for the same services than the average person -- simply because they can.

Thurston and Lovey Howell III
are no different, whether on "Gilligan's Island," or Manhattan island.

13 January 2006

It's Not Easy Being Green

You all know what greenhouse gases are. They are things like carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide, and methane that have this odd interaction with sunlight: like a greenhouse, they let sunlight in through the atmosphere, yet don't let it bounce back out again. The light and heat are trapped, making the planet warmer.

People have long known trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. (This probably explains why plants do well when you talk to them.) This cleans away some of this greenhouse gas.

In what has proven to be a big surprise, a new study in the journal Nature demonstrates that plants also produce methane -- and lots of it.

This may lead to a whole lot of rethinking about the causes of global warming (Yes, it's real. Get used to it.) and what can be done to slow it down.

This article on the National Geographic web site has more.

The illustration is by famed naturalist Charles Harper.

11 January 2006

Mrs. Walden

You're a loss to American industry, Mrs. Walden.

Just Ask Christopher

Do you have a question for me? Click on the word "Comments" at the bottom of this entry and leave your question. Questions can be of any kind: factual, advice, opinions, etc. EACH question asked will be addressed -- even if I cannot answer it. I would love to know where you are writing from (city -- and country if not America).

10 January 2006

Whatever Happened To...

...glamour on television? Has it been nearly 40 years since Barbara Bain (pictured) did it so well on "Mission: Impossible"?

And, please, don't tell me about "Dynasty" and other shows of their ilk. That was not glamour -- that was camp.

Is there a current show on television that has any kind of glamour in it at all?

09 January 2006

Give 'em the Bird

Joy in Indiana asked: How do state birds get assigned?

Thank you for the question, Joy. Such things occur today when a person in a state proposes a bill to name the Black-Eyed Susan the State Flower (Maryland), the Badger the State Animal (Wisconsin), or the Cardinal the State Bird (Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia -- and Kentucky, which named it first, in 1926).

Such bills go through the usual steps of being written, reviewed, discussed, voted on, etc., before being signed into law creating a state's official butterfly, drink, fossil, fish, fruit, rock, mineral, tree, song -- even silverware pattern.

There is a very interesting web site that lists all the official symbols by state and by symbol.

Can you name either the bird or state represented by this photograph?

Pet Food Recall

This is so very sad. Please visit these two links in case you have any of the dog food mentioned.

New York Times article.

FDA press release.

Please note: Free registration may be required to view the New York Times article.

07 January 2006

9,000,000 Years of Cats

A fascinating look into the evolution of the domestic cat is offered in this New York Times article.

According to the research, eight lines of cats have survived to today -- including the leopard lineage which began about 6.5 million years ago and led to the household cat. The lines were delineated through DNA study of 37 species of cats.

It's sad how many of these modern cat species are now endangered and on the brink of extinction. The population levels of some cats (mentioned at the end of the article) are just heartbreaking.

Please note: Free registration may be required to view the New York Times article.

The illustration is one of Andy Warhol's cats.

06 January 2006

Shake and Remake

Mass Bradley asked: Could you name three movies that are RIPE for a RE-MAKE, and WHY (but have been passed by)?

Thank you for the question, Bradley: On the whole, I really do not support remakes of any kind. I mean look what happened when Shall We Dansu (Japan) was made into Shall We Dance (America). Eee-uuuu.

However, your question intrigues me, so I will offer the following:

One movie of which I would love to see an American remake is "The Princess and the Warrior" ("Der Krieger und die Kaiserin," from 2000) -- as long as it has good casting. We discovered this fascinating film when we fell in love with its star Franka Potente after seeing the wonderful "Run Lola Run." It's an intriguing film that had almost zero exposure in America, and should be more widely seen.

In a slight bow to the commercial side of Hollywood, I would pick "The Day The Earth Stood Still" because this really well-acted film had pretty crappy special effects that overshadowed the important storyline. I would love to see this remade (again, good cast) with modern special effects.

My third pick is a tie of several really fascinating films (that are still great in their original form): "Fourteen Hours" (from 1951), "The Big Combo" (1955) and the quirky 1941 "Lady Scarface" which is not a great film, but it has an interesting premise. I would love to see it remade with Cate Blanchett (who should have won her Oscar for her right-on performance in "Veronica Guerin").

What other films might make for good remakes?

04 January 2006

Born a Snob; Will Die a Snob The Sequel

Oh, I almost forgot. Speaking of great foreign films, Turner Classic Movies is hosting a month of animated films made by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Every Thursday in January.

If you have never seen one of his animated films -- like Oscar winner "Spirited Away" (pictured) -- then it is fair to say you have never seen an animated film.

If you do not know what Turner Classic Movies is, then I feel very sad for you, indeed.

Born a Snob; Will Die a Snob Part One

I don't see a lot of American-made mainstream films.

In Hollywood it's all about making as much money as you can with as little creative input as possible. Remakes, sequels, movies based on 1970s television programs. Okay, whatever. You make it; I don't have to see it.

I do, however, love independent movies. I love foreign films. Why? Who knows. I like stories that deal with human beings. Who they are, why they do what they do and when. I pretty much believe that once you have seen one building blowing up, or one gang member dying in a spray of bullets from a moving car with the thump-de-de-thump of rap music in the background, you've seen them all.

Ya wanna call me a snob? Go ahead. I don't particularly think of myself as a snob; but there you have it.

And now, finally, (could it be true?) it seems like a small piece of the world is catching up with me. For it is this year that, according to Philip Berk, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for the first time ever, every Golden Globe nominee for best motion picture drama is (gasp!) an independent film (made for less than $30 million, and not by a major studio).

What's next -- hell freezing over?

Speaking of great films, if you want a reliable list of films, make sure to visit the Independent Spirit Awards site. Not only is that award show better and funnier than any other (take that, AMPAS), but they seem to truly honor the art of filmmaking.

03 January 2006

Just Ask Christopher #3

Do you have a question for me? Click on the word "Comments" at the bottom of this entry and leave your question. Questions can be of any kind: factual, advice, opinions, etc. EACH question asked will be addressed -- even if I cannot answer it. I would love to know where you are writing from (city -- and country if not America).

01 January 2006

Whatever Happened To...

... people waiting until they could afford to get married; then, waiting until they could afford to have a child -- like they did in the 1930s and 1940s?