Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meze

Meze, in the Eastern Mediterranean is a selection of appetizers or small dishes often served with beverage, like anise-flavored liqueurs such as arak, ouzo, raki or different wines, similar to the tapas of Spain or finger food.

In Turkey meze are served along with rakı (anise-flavored apéritif) in establishments called meyhane. Turkish meze often consist of beyaz peynir (literally "white cheese"), kavun (sliced ripe melon), acılı ezme (hot pepper paste often with walnuts), haydari (thick strained yoghurt like the Levantine labne), patlıcan salatası (cold aubergine salad), kalamar (calamari or squid), enginar (artichokes), cacık (yoghurt with cucumber and garlic), pilaki (various foods cooked in a special sauce), dolma or sarma (rice-stuffed vine leaves or other stuffed vegetables, such as bell peppers), and köfte (meatballs).

In Greece and Cyprus, mezé, mezés, or mezédhes (plural) are small dishes, hot or cold, spicy or savory, often salty (and/or a small portion of a main dish). Often seafood dishes are served as meze, such as "little fish" or grilled octopus, small salads, sliced hard-boiled eggs, grilled slices of bread or garlic-bread, kalamata olives, fava beans, fried vegetables, melitzanosalata (eggplant salad), taramosalata (salted and cured carp or cod roe mixed with bread crumbs, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil), fried or grilled cheeses called saganaki, and various fresh Greek sheep, goat or cow cheeses (such as feta, kasseri, kefalotyri, graviera, anthotyros, manouri, metsovone and mizithra). Other small dishes are fried sausages, usually pork and often flavored with orange peel, bekrí-mezé (the "drunkard's mezé", a diced pork stew), and meatballs like keftédes and soutzoukákia smyrnéika. Meze is served in restaurants called mezedopoleíon, served to complement beverage, and in similar establishments known as tsipourádiko or ouzerí (a type of café that serves beverage, like ouzo or tsipouro). A tavérna (tavern) or estiatório (restaurant) also offer a mezé as an orektikó (appetiser). Many restaurants offer their house poikilía ("variety"), a platter with a smorgasbord of various mezedhes that can be served immediately to customers looking for a quick and/or light meal. Hosts commonly serve mezédhes to their guests at informal or impromptu get-togethers, as they are easy to prepare on short notice. Krasomezédhes (literally "wine-meze") is a meze that goes well with wine; ouzomezédhes are meze that goes with ouzo.

In Lebanon and Cyprus, meze is often a meal in its own right. There are vegetarian, meat or fish mezes. Groups of dishes arrive at the table about 4 or 5 at a time (usually between five and ten different groups). There is a set pattern to the dishes, typically olives, tahini, salad and yoghurt will be followed by dishes with vegetables and eggs, then small meat or fish dishes alongside special accompaniments, and finally more substantial dishes such as whole fish or meat stews and grills. Different establishments will offer different dishes, their own specialities, but the pattern remains the same. Naturally the dishes served will reflect the seasons, for example in late autumn, snails will be prominent. As so much food is offered, it is not expected that every dish be finished, but rather shared at will and served at ease. Eating a Cypriot meze is a social event.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Ride of the Valkyries

The Ride of the Valkyries is the popular term for the beginning of Act III of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas by Richard Wagner that comprise Der Ring des Nibelungen. The main theme of the ride, the leitmotif labelled Walkürenritt was first written down by the composer on 23 July 1851. The preliminary draft for the Ride was composed in 1854 as part of the composition of the entire opera which was fully orchestrated by the end of the first quarter of 1856. Together with the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, the Ride of the Valkyries is one of Wagner's best-known pieces.

In the opera-house, the Ride, which takes around eight minutes, begins in the prelude to the Act, building up successive layers of accompaniment until the curtain rises to reveal a mountain peak where four of the eight Valkyrie sisters of Brünnhilde have gathered in preparation for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla. As they are joined by the other four, the familiar tune is carried by the orchestra, while, above it, the Valkyries greet each other and sing their battle-cry. Apart from the song of the Rhinemaidens in Das Rheingold, it is the only ensemble piece in the first three operas of Wagner's Ring cycle. Outside the opera-house, it is usually heard in a purely instrumental version, which may be as short as three minutes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Muffler Men

Muffler Men is a term used to describe large molded fiberglass sculptures that are placed as advertising icons, roadside attractions or for decorative purposes, predominantly in the United States. Standing approximately 20 feet tall, the first figure was a Paul Bunyan character designed to hold his axe. Derivatives of that figure were widely used to hold full-sized car mufflers, tires, or other items promoting various roadside businesses. International Fiberglass of Venice, California constructed most Muffler Men.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Railway Gun

A railway gun is a large artillery piece, often surplus naval ordnance, mounted on, transported by and fired from a specially-designed railway wagon. Many countries have built railway guns, but the best known are the large Krupp-built pieces used by Germany in World War I and World War II. Smaller guns were often part of an armoured train.

Railway guns (like their seagoing analogues, battleships) have been rendered obsolete by advances in technology. Their large size and limited mobility make them vulnerable to attack, and similar payloads can be delivered by aircraft, rocket, or missile.

The idea of railway guns appears to have been first suggested in the 1860s by a Mr Anderson, who published a pamphlet in the United Kingdom titled National Defence in which he proposed a plan of ironclad railway carriages. A Russian, Lebedew, claimed to have first invented the idea in 1860 when he is reported to have mounted a mortar on a railway car.

The first railway gun used in combat was a banded 32-pounder Brooke naval rifle mounted on a flat car and shielded by a sloping casemate of railroad iron. On 29 June 1862, Robert E. Lee had the gun pushed by a locomotive over the Richmond and York River line (later part of the Southern Railway) and used at the Battle of Savage's Station to interfere with General George McClellan's plans for siege operations against Richmond during the Union advance up the peninsula.

In France, Lt. Col Peigné is often credited with designing the first railway gun in 1883. Commandant Mougin is credited with putting guns on railcars in 1870. The French arms maker, Schneider offered a number of models in the late 1880s and produced a 120 mm (4.7 in) gun intended for coastal defense, selling some to the Danish government in the 1890s.

The outbreak of the First World War caught the French with a shortage of heavy field artillery. In compensation, large numbers of large static coastal defense guns and naval guns were moved to the front, but these were typically unsuitable for field use and required some kind of mounting. The railway gun provided the obvious solution. By 1916, both sides were deploying railway guns.

The Second World War saw the final use of the railway gun, with the massive 80 cm (31 in) Schwerer Gustav gun, the largest artillery piece to be used in combat, deployed by Germany. The rise of the aeroplane effectively ended the usefulness of the railway gun. Similar to stationary battleships, they were massive, expensive, and, in the correct conditions, easily destroyed from the air.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Fiji Mermaid


The Fiji mermaid was a common feature of sideshows, which was presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a version of traditional mermaid stories.

During the Renaissance and the Baroque eras, the remains of mermaids were a staple of cabinets of curiosities. However the exhibit which created the Fiji mermaid concept was popularized by circus great P.T. Barnum, but has since been copied many times in other attractions, including the collection of famed showman Robert Ripley. The original exhibit was shown around the United States, but was lost in the 1860s when Barnum's museum caught fire. The exhibit has since been acquired by Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and is currently housed in the museum's attic storage area.

The Fiji mermaid came into Barnum's possession via his Boston counterpart Moses Kimball, who brought it down to Barnum in late spring of 1842. On June 18, Barnum and Kimball entered into a written agreement to exploit this "curiosity supposed to be a mermaid." Kimball would remain the creature's sole owner and Barnum would lease it for $12.50 a week. Barnum christened his artifact "The Feejee Mermaid". In Barnum's exhibit, the creature was allegedly caught in 1842 by a "Dr. J. Griffin." Griffin was actually Levi Lyman, one of Barnum's close associates.

Though many people believed Barnum's claim, the Fiji mermaid was actually the torso and head of a baby monkey sewn to the back half of a fish and covered in paper-mâché.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Dillards

The Dillards are an American bluegrass band from Salem, Missouri, consisting of Douglas "Doug" Dillard (born March 6, 1937 East St. Louis, Illinois) (banjo), Rodney "Rod" Dillard (born May 18, 1942 Salem, Missouri) (guitar, dobro), Dean Webb (born March 28, 1937 Independence, Missouri) (mandolin), and Mitch Jayne (born July 5, 1930 Hammond, Indiana) (double bass).

Though The Dillards were a tremendous influence on the main core of musicians who started Southern California's country rock movement in the late 1960s (which further extended from that genre into today's country music), their biggest claim to fame is playing the fictional bluegrass band "The Darlings" on The Andy Griffith Show. This was a recurring role and the Dillards were led by veteran character actor Denver Pyle as their father and jug player, Briscoe Darling. Maggie Peterson played Charlene Darling, their sister and the focus for the attentions of character Ernest T. Bass, played by Howard Morris. The appearances of the Dillards as the Darlings ran between 1963 and 1966.

The Dillards are notable for being among the first bluegrass groups to have electrified their instruments in the mid-1960s. They are considered to be one of the pioneers of the burgeoning southern California folk rock, country rock and so-called progressive bluegrass genres.

The Dillards' roots sank deep into the mainstream of popular music --- after leaving The Dillards in 1968, Doug Dillard teamed up with Gene Clark who had just left The Byrds to form Phoenix at A&M records with Laramy Smith and led to the formation of Dillard & Clark. This pioneering duo also featured as session players a veritable who's-who of Southern California country rock legends, such as Bernie Leadon, an original member of The Flying Burrito Brothers & later the archetypal country rock group The Eagles; Chris Hillman, who also had left The Byrds and also played in FBB with Leadon; Sneaky Pete Kleinow, another FBB member; Laramy Smith and Michael Clarke, former drummer for The Byrds. This group was one of the blueprints for the country-rock movement.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Battle of Lake Trasimene

The Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 24, 217 BC) was a Roman defeat in the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius. The battle is one of the largest and most successful ambushes in military history.

As Hannibal passed Lake Trasimene, he came to a place very suitable for an ambush, and hearing that Flaminius had broken camp and was pursuing him, made preparations for the impending battle. To the north was a series of heavily forested hills where the Malpasso Road passed along the north side of Lake Trasimene. Along the hill-bordered skirts of the lake, Hannibal camped where he was in full view of anyone entering the northern defile, and spent the night arranging his troops for battle.

The next morning, the Roman troops marched eastward along the road running near the northern edge of the lake. Eager for battle, Flaminius pushed his men hard and hurried up the column in the rear. Hannibal then sent a small skirmish force to draw the vanguard away from the front of the line, in order to split the Roman forces. Once all the Romans had at last marched through the foggy, narrow defile and entered the plains skirting the lake, trumpets were blown, signalling the general attack.

The Carthaginian cavalry and infantry swept down from their concealed positions in the surrounding hills, blocked the road and engaged the unsuspecting Romans from three sides. Surprised and outmanoeuvred, the Romans did not have time to draw up in battle array, and were forced to fight a desperate hand-to-hand battle in open order. The Romans were quickly split into three parts. The westernmost was attacked by the Carthaginian cavalry and forced into the lake, leaving the other two groups with no way to retreat. The centre, including the consul Flaminius, stood its ground, but was cut down by Hannibal's Gauls after three hours of heavy combat.

In less than four hours, the Roman army of 30,000 men was annihilated.

Hannibal, emerging from another brilliant victory, had successfully planned and executed the greatest ambush in history. News of the defeat caused a panic in Rome. Hannibal was left largely free to ravage the Apulia region for the next year, until the Battle of Cannae, the worst defeat the Romans would suffer throughout the Second Punic War.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thermophis Baileyi

Thermophis baileyi, also known as "Bailey's snake" or the "Hot-spring keel-back", is a rare snake found only at high altitudes in the mountains of Tibet near two hot springs. Bailey's snake is on the endangered species list.

The existence of Bailey's snake was first announced in the scientific literature in 1907 by Frank Wall. It was classified in 1907 as Tropodinotus baileyi by Wall. There are several species of Bailey's snake. Some are borrowing varieties. Although most species of Bailey's snake are nonpoisonous, there are some that have fangs and toxin saliva.

All species found appear to live within about 1 km of a hot spring known as at Chutsen Chugang Hot Springs, on the grounds of the Zhoto Terdrom / Tidro Nunnery in Maldrogongkar / Mozhugongka County, near Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region at an altitude of 4350 m. There also has been a report of Bailey's snake near the Yangpachen/Yangbajain Hot Springs, at about the same altitude in Maldrogongkar County, Tibet Autonomous Region.

This genus of snakes might be the highest altitude snakes in the world, and probably hold the altitude record for snakes in China.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

La Coubre Explosion

The freighter La Coubre exploded at 3:10 p.m. on 4 March 1960, while it was being unloaded in Havana harbor. This 4,310-ton French vessel was carrying 76 tons of Belgian munitions from the port of Antwerp. Unloading explosive ordnance directly onto the dock was against port regulations. Ships with such cargoes were supposed to be moored in the center of the harbor and their high-risk cargo unloaded onto lighters.

At the instant of the explosion, Che Guevara was in a meeting in the INRA building. After hearing the blast and seeing the debris cloud from a window overlooking the port area, he drove to the scene and spent the next hours giving medical attention to the scores of crew members, armed forces personnel, and dock workers who had been injured, many of them fatally. Thirty minutes after the first explosion, while hundreds of people were involved in a FAR-organized operation to rescue victims and secure the ship, a second even more powerful explosion occurred, resulting in many additional fatalities. Father John McKniff (a Roman Catholic missionary priest) and nurse Gloria Azoy, both of whom had rushed to the scene and were assisting the wounded and giving last rites, were thrown to the pavement by the second explosion. Although stunned, they survived amid the clouds of expended explosives and dust and continued their work. Father McKniff, given his long work as a missionary in Cuba and elsewhere, is currently being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Although the exact toll of the La Coubre explosions remains uncertain, it is estimated that there were at least 75 dead and approximately 200 injured, with some sources giving figures that are much higher. Cuban Government spokesmen and some other sources occasionally have put forward the claim that this event was an act of sabotage carried out by William Alexander Morgan acting on orders from the CIA. However, it has never been confirmed that this was, indeed, done by the CIA.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Phở

Phở, often written pho in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S., is a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup. The soup includes noodles made from rice and is often served with basil, lime, bean sprouts and peppers that are added to the soup by the consumer.

Because not much was written about the origin of phở until recently, its beginnings are a bit murky and mostly culled from oral histories. Still, the consensus among academics, diners and restaurateurs is that it originated about a century ago in northern Vietnam. It was originally sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.

While a distinctly Vietnamese dish, phở has French and Chinese influences. The origin of the word was one subject in a seminar on phở held in Hanoi in 2003. One theory advanced at the seminar is that the name comes from the French feu (fire), as in the dish pot-au-feu, which like phở uses the French method of adding charred onion to the broth for color and flavor, one of the techniques which distinguishes phở from other Asian noodle soups. Some believe the origin of the word to be the Chinese fen (this character is pronounced phấn in Vietnamese.)

There are several regional variants of phở in Vietnam, particularly divided between northern (Hanoi, called phở bắc or "northern phở"; or phở Hà Nội), central (Huế)[citation needed], and southern (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon). One regional phở may be sweeter, and another variation may emphasize a bolder and spicier flavor. "Northern phở" tends to use somewhat wider noodles and green onions. On the other hand, southern Vietnamese generally use thinner noodles, and add bean sprouts and a greater variety of fresh herbs to their phở instead. The variations in meat, broth, and additional garnishes such as lime, bean sprouts, ngò gai (Eryngium foetidum), hung que (Thai/Asian basil), and tuong (bean sauce/hoisin sauce) appear to be innovations introduced in the south.

The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a substantial textile market, where cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (local rice noodles - originally of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the French arrival being beasts of burden, not sources of beef).

Phở did not become popular in South Vietnam until the mid-1950s.

Phở has become popular in Canada, particularly on the West Coast but also in any city and the United States, particularly on the East and West Coast; it was brought by Vietnamese refugees who settled in North America from the late 1970s onwards.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yakety Sax

Yakety Sax is a piece of music written by James Q. "Spider" Rich, and released as a 45 rpm single by Boots Randolph in 1963.

The composition includes pieces of assorted fiddle tunes such as "Chicken Reel", and was written for a performance at a venue called The Armory in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. There are also two bars of "Entrance of the Gladiators" worked into it.

Randolph had recorded an earlier version of "Yakety Sax" that year for RCA Victor, but it was not until his rerecording for Monument Records that it became a standard.

"Yakety Sax" is often used in television and film as a soundtrack for outlandishly humorous situations. It is frequently used to accompany comedic chases, most notably in the sketch comedy program The Benny Hill Show, where it accompanied otherwise silent, rapidly paced comedy sequences (often involving a chase scene). This use of the piece, and the chase scenes themselves, have been parodied in many other movies and TV shows.

The host of the nationally syndicated sports talk show Jim Rome Show, Jim Rome, uses "Yakety Sax" to make light of bad situations. Usually used when a sports figure makes a bad move or is wronged he will play it proceeding a line usually trying to illustrate that "Yakety Sax" makes everything better. Jim Rome plays "Yakety Sax" numerous times during a program, making it a big running joke on the show. According to "Jungle" lore, anything is funny, as long as "Yakety Sax" is playing at the same time. This has become a moderately common genre of video on YouTube in which disastrous/tragic scenes from films, television shows, and video games are paired with this song.

In the Baltimore, Maryland area, "Yakety Sax" was more popularly known as "The Lorenzo Stomp" as it was a regular feature on a local children's television show starring starring Gerry Wheeler, who portrayed a clown. As a regular feature on the show the television audience was invited to get up to dance "The Lorenzo Stomp" along with Lorenzo.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gumnaam

Gumnaam (Urdu for "unknown" or "anonymous") is a 1965 Hindi ghost movie directed by Raja Nawathe, starring Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Pran, Helen and Mehmood. The film became a box office hit.

The story is based on Agatha Christie's novel "And Then There Were None".

The film came to wider attention when its opening song Jaan Pehechan Ho (a Hindi phrase roughly translated as "We should get to know each other") was in the opening credits of Ghost World. It is sung by Bollywood legend Mohammed Rafi, although he is not the man pictured; the main dancer is Laxmi Chhaya.

Seven people mysteriously win a free vacation. On the way to their destination, the plane has engine trouble and they are left abandoned in a remote seaside location. They find shelter in a large mansion inhabited by a comical butler Mehmood. One by one, they are murdered and the remaining vacationers try to figure out why they were chosen for the trip and what they have in common.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jonah Hex


Jonah Hex is a fictional character, a Western comic book antihero created by writer John Albano and artist Tony DeZuniga and published by DC Comics. The right side of his face is horribly scarred. Hex is surly and cynical, but bound by a personal code of honor to protect and avenge the innocent and is in many ways similar to Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name or The Outlaw Josey Wales.

The character first appeared in a full-page in-house ad for All-Star Western #10 which was published in various Nov/Dec 1971-dated DC comics, including a few of DC's war comics line, as well as a half-page version of the same house ad in Batman #237.

Throughout the character's history, the western genre conventions have been heavily subverted. Jonah has battled alcoholism, and as an adult faced his mother's turn to prostitution. Though he traveled extensively throughout the American West, he also ended up in South America and China. At one point he quit bounty hunting, got married and had a son, and took up farming, though it didn't last.

Hex's facial injuries can be traced back to being sold into slavery by his father to the Apache for safe passage. Jonah eventually saved the chief from being killed by a mountain lion and was made an honorary member of the tribe. He was soon betrayed by the envious son of the chief while on a raid. He returned years later to challenge him in a sacred tomahawk battle but the chief's son sabotaged Jonah's tomahawk and Jonah used his knife in self defense when the tomahawk broke. The tribe saw this as breaking the rules of the sacred battle and sentenced Jonah to wear the mark of the demon by pressing a searing hot tomahawk to his face. They said his honorary relationship to the chief was the only thing that saved him from death.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Austin 7

The Austin 7 was a vintage car produced from 1922 through to 1939 in the United Kingdom by the Austin Motor Company. Nicknamed the "Baby Austin", it was one of the most popular cars ever produced there. It wiped out most other British small cars and cyclecars of the early 1920s; its effect on the British market was similar to that of the Model T Ford in the USA. It was also licensed and copied by companies all over the world. The first BMW models (BMW Dixi) were licensed Austin 7s, as were the original American Austins. In France they were made and sold as Rosengarts. In Japan Nissan also used the 7 design as the basis for their original cars, though not under licence.

After World War II, many Austin 7s were rebuilt as "specials", including the first Lotus, the Lotus Mk1, which was based on an Austin 7.

Such was the power of the Austin 7 name that the company re-used it for early versions of both the A30 in 1951 and Mini in 1959.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and reference is often made to it in other political protests.

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protestors would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston's commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shiv

A shiv (from the Romani word chiv) is a slang term for any sharp or pointed implement used as a knife-like weapon, including knives themselves. However, the word in practical usage is frequently used when referring to an improvised bladed weapon. Shivs are commonly made by inmates in prisons across the world. A shiv can be anything from a glass shard with fabric wrapped around one end to form a handle, to a razorblade stuck in the end of a toothbrush. Some inmates have even sharpened the ends of pork chop bones to make them into weapons.

"Shiv" can also be used as a transitive verb, as in "to shiv [someone]", meaning "to cut or stab one with a shiv".

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dulce de Membrillo

Dulce de membrillo is a sweet spread or a dessert (quince paste, quince jelly, quince candy or quince meat).

Traditionally and predominantly from Portugal, Italy (exported when the South of Italy was Catalan) and Spain, dulce de membrillo is a firm, sticky, sweet reddish hard paste made of the quince (Cydonia oblonga) fruit. Dulce de membrillo is also eaten in some other countries of America, such as Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay.

Dulce de membrillo is cooked over a slow fire, made of quince fruit, sugar and water. It is sweet and mildly tart and similar in consistency, flavor and use to guava cheese or guava paste. It is sold in squares or blocks, then cut into thin slices and spread over toasted bread or sandwiches, plain or with cheese, often served for breakfast or as a snack, with manchego cheese or mató cheese. It is often used to stuff pastries.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bioplastics

Bioplastics are a form of plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch, pea starch, or microbiota, rather than fossil-fuel plastics which are derived from petroleum. Some, but not all, bioplastics are designed to biodegrade.

Biodegradable bioplastics are used for disposable items, such as packaging and catering items (crockery, cutlery, pots, bowls, straws). Biodegradable bioplastics are also often used for organic waste bags, where they can be composted together with the food or green waste. Some trays and containers for fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat, bottles for soft drinks and dairy products and blister foils for fruit and vegetables are manufactured from bioplastics.

Non-disposable applications include mobile phone casings, carpet fibres, and car interiors, fuel line and plastic pipe applications, and new electroactive bioplastics are being developed that can be used to carry electrical current. In these areas, the goal is not biodegradability, but to create items from sustainable resources.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dock Ellis

Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. was a Major League Baseball player who pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, among other teams. His best season was 1971, when he won 19 games for the World Series champion Pirates and was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. However, he is perhaps best remembered for the claim that he threw a no-hitter in 1970 while under the influence of LSD.

Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1970. He would admit in 1984 to being under the influence of LSD throughout the course of the game. Ellis had been visiting friends in Los Angeles under the impression he had the day off and was still high when his friend's girlfriend told him he had to pitch a game against the Padres that night. Ellis boarded a shuttle flight to the ballpark and threw a no-hitter despite not being able to feel the ball or clearly see the batter or catcher. Ellis claims catcher Jerry May wore reflective tape on his fingers which helped Ellis to see his target. Ellis walked eight, struck out six, and was aided by excellent fielding plays by second baseman Bill Mazeroski and center fielder Matty Alou. During the game, teammates are reported to have commented to Ellis on the bench between innings that he was pitching a no-hitter, despite the superstition that discourages mentioning a no-hitter while it is in progress. Because the no-hitter was the first game of a double header, Ellis was forced to keep track of the pitch count for the night game.[5]

As Ellis recounted it:

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the (catcher's) glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me."
Arguing with and being maced by a Riverfront Stadium security guard on May 5, 1972. The guard claimed Ellis did not identify himself and "made threatening gestures with a closed fist"; Ellis countered that he was showing his World Series ring as evidence of his affiliation with the Pirates.

Ellis attempted to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup on May 1, 1974, in an effort to prove a point to teammates. Ellis hit Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen in the top of the first. The clean-up batter Tony Perez avoided Ellis's attempts, instead drawing a walk, and after two pitches aimed at the head of Johnny Bench, Ellis was removed from the game by manager Danny Murtaugh.

On December 11, 1975, Ellis was traded to the New York Yankees along with Ken Brett and Willie Randolph in exchange for Doc Medich. Ellis went on to play for the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, New York Mets then ended his career back in Pittsburgh. He finished with a lifetime record of 138-119 and an ERA of 3.46.

Ellis collaborated with future U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall on a book, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, which was published in 1976. Although Hall knew of the LSD incident, it was not included in the first edition of the book.

Dock Ellis retired to Victorville, California, and a career as a drug counselor. An alcoholic, he was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 2007 and was on the list for a transplant at the time of his death. ESPN.com reported on December 19, 2008, that Ellis had died at USC Medical Center in Los Angeles due to "a liver ailment."

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mjöllnir


In Norse mythology, Mjöllnir is the hammer of Thor, a major god associated with thunder in Norse mythology. Distinctively shaped, Mjöllnir is depicted in Norse mythology as one of the most fearsome weapons, capable of leveling mountains. Though generally recognized and depicted as a hammer, Mjöllnir is sometimes referred to as an axe or club. In the 13th century Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson relates that the Svartálfar Sindri and Brokkr made Mjöllnir at the command of Loki.

The Prose Edda gives a summary of Mjöllnir's special qualities in that, with Mjöllnir, Thor:

... would be able to strike as firmly as he wanted, whatever his aim, and the hammer would never fail, and if he threw it at something, it would never miss and never fly so far from his hand that it would not find its way back, and when he wanted, it would be so small that it could be carried inside his tunic.

Mjöllnir simply means "crusher," referring to its pulverizing effect. It is related to words such as the Icelandic verbs mölva ("to crush") and mala ("to grind"), and Swedish noun mjöl ("flour"), all related to English meal, mill and miller. Similar words, all stemming from the Proto-Indo-European root *melə, can be found in almost all European languages, e.g. the Slavic melevo ("grain to be ground") and molot ("hammer"), the Russian Молот (molot - "hammer"), the Greek μύλος (mylos - "mill") and the Latin malleus "hammer", from which English mallet derives, as well as the Latin mola ("mill").

An alternative theory suggests that Mjöllnir might be related to the Russian word молния (molniya) and the Welsh word mellt (both words being translated as "lightning"). This second theory parallels with the idea that Thor, being a god of thunder, therefore might have used lightning as his weapon.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

GR 7

The GR 7 is a long-distance footpath in Spain. It is part of the network of Senderos de Gran Recorrido, and forms the westernmost part of the European walking route E4 which runs from Spain to Greece.

The GR 7 is 2699km long. It was the first long distance footpath to be marked out in Spain, and was initiated in 1974. It runs up the east side of peninsular Spain, but at some distance from the coast. From south-west to north-east, it runs through the Spanish regions of:

From Andorra, the E4 continues in France

Like all the Gran Recorrido paths, the GR 7 is marked with red and white waymarks.

There is a choice of two routes around the Spanish Sierra Nevada, one to the north above the mountains, and one to the south below them. The Southern Route through the Alpujarra foothills is popular, linking numerous small Spanish villages.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hy-Drive

The Hy-Drive was a Chrysler Corporation transmission introduced in August 1940 in Chryslers and DeSotos, Dodges in 1949, and Plymouths in 1953. It was a hybrid manual transmission with a torque converter like an automatic. Although Hy-Drive cars had a clutch pedal like a traditional manual transmission, it was only used put the car in gear. Once underway, the driver could upshift and downshift using the gear shift without using the clutch or even lifting off the accelerator.

The industry was caught by surprise by the advent of the automatic transmission in the early 1950s. General Motors' Dynaflow, introduced by Buick in 1948, was a smash hit with the public, very soon being fitted in over 80% of new Buicks. (GM's fully-automatic Hydramatic, which debuted in 1939, was in 70% of Pontiacs that year.) Chrysler had previously offered a Fluid Drive torque converter on their manual transmissions, and the Hy-Drive was an evolution of this. It was sold by Plymouth until the fully automatic PowerFlite was available in 1955. About 75,000 cars came equipped with this transmission.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bench-Clearing Brawl

A bench-clearing brawl, sometimes known as a basebrawl or a rhubarb, is a form of ritualistic fighting that occurs in sports, most notably baseball and ice hockey, in which both teams leave their dugouts, bullpens, or benches and charge the playing area in order to fight one another.

In baseball, brawls are usually the result of escalating infractions, often stemming from a player being hit by a pitch, or an altercation between a baserunner and infielder stemming from excessive contact in an attempted tag out (such as a runner crashing into the catcher at home plate in an attempt to dislodge the ball). They are also known to occur when a batter charges the mound. However, few bench-clearing brawls result in serious injury, as in most cases, no punches are thrown, and the action is limited to pushing and shoving.

Since a bench-clearing brawl by definition involves everyone on both teams, it is exceedingly unlikely that all participants will be ejected, but the player or players responsible for the precipitating event are almost universally ejected.

Fighting in ice hockey by enforcers is an established, if unofficial, part of the sport (especially in North America, where the penalty rules are more permissive); the general procedure in a one-on-one fight is to let it pan out and then send both players to the penalty box with five-minute major penalties. Bench-clearing brawls are more serious, and prohibited.

As in baseball, hockey brawls usually result from escalating infractions; in this case, dangerous hits, excessive post-whistle roughness, taking shots after the whistle, attacking the goaltender, and accumulated hatred from fierce competition in a game with a significant amount of condoned inter-player violence, all contribute to bench-clearing brawls.

In the National Hockey League the penalties include, in addition to in-game penalties, an automatic 10-game suspension and a fine of $10,000 for the first player to leave his bench or the penalty box to participate in a brawl; for the second player to leave his bench or the penalty box, the penalties include, in addition to in-game penalties, an automatic five-game suspension and a fine of $5,000.

Bench-clearing brawls have also been known to occur in other sports, and officials in those sports have been cracking down on such brawls; in 1995, the National Basketball Association changed the penalty for leaving the bench to participate in a brawl from a $500 fine to an automatic one-game suspension.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Great Altar of Pergamon

The Great Altar of Pergamon is a monumental construction built during the reign of King Eumenes II in the first half of the second century BC on one of the terraces of the acropolis of the ancient city of Pergamon in Asia Minor.

The entire structure is 35.64 meters wide and 33.4 meters deep; the front stairway alone is almost 20 meters wide. The base is decorated with a frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy. There is a second, smaller and less well preserved high relief frieze on the inner court walls which surround the actual fire altar on the upper level of the structure at the top of the stairs. It depicts in a series of consecutive scenes events from the life of Telephos, legendary founder of the city of Pergamon and son of the hero Heracles and Auge, a daughter of the Tegean king Aleus.

In 1878 the German engineer Carl Humann began official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort which lasted until 1886. His chief purpose was to rescue the altar friezes and expose the foundation of the edifice. Later, other ancient structures on the acropolis were brought to light. In negotiations with the Turkish government, which participated in the excavation, it was agreed that all frieze fragments found at the time become the property of the Berlin museums.

In Berlin, Italian restorers reassembled the panels comprising the frieze from the thousands of fragments which could be recovered. In order to display the result and create a context for it, a new museum was erected in 1901 on Berlin's Museum Island. As this first Pergamon Museum proved to be both inadequate and structurally unsound, it was demolished in 1909 and replaced with the much larger present museum, which opened in 1930. Although it housed a variety of collections, not least a famous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon, the city's inhabitants also named the new museum the Pergamon Museum after the friezes and reconstruction of the west front of the altar. The Pergamon Altar is today the most famous item in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum and in the Altes Museum, both on Museum Island.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Andrew Jackson Higgins was the founder and owner of Higgins Industries, the New Orleans-based manufacturer of "Higgins boats" (LCVPs) during World War II. General Dwight Eisenhower is quoted as saying, "Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us. ... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different." Even Hitler recognized his heroic war efforts in ship production and bitterly called him the "New Noah."

Higgins was born on 28 August 1886 in Columbus, Nebraska. Not one for academics, Higgins completed three years of school at Creighton High Prep before being tossed out for brawling. He left his native town in 1906 to enter the lumber business in Mobile, Alabama. Four years later, Higgins became manager of a German-owned lumber-importing firm in New Orleans. In 1922, he formed his own company, the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., importing hardwood from the Philippines, Central America, and Africa and exporting bald cypress and pine. In pursuing these ends he acquired a fleet of sailing ships—said to have been the largest under American registry at that time. To service this fleet, he established his own shipyard which built and repaired his cargomen as well as the tugs and barges needed to support them.

In 1926, four years after founding the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., the industrialist and shipbuilder designed the Eureka boat, a shallow-draft craft for use by oil drillers and trappers in operations along the Gulf coast and in lower Mississippi River. With a propeller recessed into a semi-tunnel in the hull, the boat could be operated in shallow waters where flotsam and submerged obstacles would render more usual types of propellers almost useless. Higgins also designed a "spoonbill" bow for his craft, allowing it to be run up onto riverbanks and then to back off with ease. His boats proved to be record-beaters; and, within a decade, he had so perfected the design that they could attain high speed in shallow water and turn practically in their own length.

During World War II, Higgins' industrial plants turned out a variety of equipment for the Navy: Landing Craft, Motor Torpedo Boats (PT Boats), Torpedo tubes, Gun Turrets, and Smoke Generators. Over 20,000 boats were produced during the war.

During the war, Higgins became associated with Preston Tucker, who would later become famous for the controversial financing and development of the revolutionary 1948 Tucker Sedan. Tucker had gained the attention of the US Navy by developing a well designed gun turret which became known as the Tucker Turrett, and formed the Tucker Aviation Corporation. Higgins acquired Tucker Aviation Corporation in March 1942, and Tucker moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to serve as a vice-president of Higgins Industries, specifically in charge of the Higgins-Tucker Aviation division. This entity produced Tucker gun turrets, armament and engines for Higgins' torpedo boats. This relationship did not work out and Tucker severed his association with Higgins in 1943. Higgins referred to Preston Tucker as "the greatest salesman in the world."

The inventor and holder of some 30 patents pertinent to amphibious landing craft and vehicles, Andrew J. Higgins died in New Orleans on 1 August 1952, and was buried in Metairie Cemetery.

In 1987, the Fleet Oiler, USNS Andrew J. Higgins (T-AO-190) was named in his honor. There is a memorial to Andrew Higgins in Columbus, Nebraska; a seven-mile (11 km) segment of U.S. Route 81 south of Columbus is designated as the "Andrew Jackson Higgins Expressway".