Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Last Meal

The last meal is a customary part of a Condemned Prisoner's last day. The day before the appointed time of execution, the prisoner receives the meal, as well as religious rites, if they desire. As a general rule, inmates may not ask for an alcoholic drink.

In many countries the prisoner may select what the last meal will be (within reason), and the authorities do their best to satisfy the request.

Although the history of this tradition is difficult to trace, most modern governments that execute prisoners subscribe to it.

The ancient Greeks, Chinese, and Romans all traditionally gave the condemned man a final meal. The Aztecs fed their human sacrifices for up to a year before killing them.

In pre-modern Europe, granting the condemned a last meal has roots in superstition: a meal was a highly symbolic social act. Accepting freely offered food symbolized making peace with the host. The guest agreed tacitly to take an oath of truce and symbolically abjured all vengeance. Consequentially, in accepting the last meal the condemned was believed to forgive the executioner, the judge, and witnesses. The ritual was supposed to prevent the condemned from returning as a ghost or revenant to haunt those responsible for their killing. As a superstitious precaution, the better the food and drink, the safer the condemned's oath of truce. Last meals were often public, and all parties involved in the penal process took part.

There were practical side effects of a peaceful last meal as well. It was crucial for the authorities that a public execution was a successful spectacle. If the mob believed something was wrong, things could get out of hand and place the condmned's guilt in doubt. The condemned's solemn last meal symbolized that they accepted the punishment. Additionally, prisoners were often served large quantities of alcoholic beverages to soothe them and bar them from execrating the authorities while ascending the scaffold. In Ancient Japan, samurai warriors would sometimes commit seppuku (ritual suicide) for a variety of reasons. Before the suicide, the Samurai would be served their favorite foods.

In the United States, most states give the meal a day or two before execution, and use the euphemism "special meal". Alcohol or tobacco is usually denied. An unorthodox or unavailable request will be replaced with a substitute. Some states place tight restrictions. For example, Texas limits last meals to food available within the prison system, though occasionally permitting food "from the free world". In Florida, the food for the last meal must be purchased locally and the cost is limited to $40.

Some prisoners have elected to share their last meals with another inmate (like Francis Crowley did with John Resko), or have the meal distributed among other inmates (like Raymond Fernandez).

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mint Mark

A mint mark is an inscription on a coin indicating the mint where the coin was produced.

Mint marks were first developed to locate a problem. If a coin was underweight, or overweight, the mint mark would immediately tell where the coin was minted, and the problem could be located and fixed. Another problem which could occur would be a dishonest mint official debasing the coin, or putting less precious metal in the coin than specified. Debasing a coin, or otherwise tampering with it, was a very serious crime, often punishable by death in many civilizations. For example, in 1649, the directors of the Spanish colonial American Mint at Potosi, in what is today Bolivia, were condemned to death for seriously debasing the coinage. The initials of the assayer as well as the mint mark were immediate identifiers when the coins were inspected.

Examples of mint marks in United States coinage include P for the Philadelphia Mint, D for the Denver Mint, S for the San Francisco Mint, and W for the West Point Mint. In the past, CC for the Carson City Mint, C for the Charlotte Mint, D for the Dahlonega Mint, and O for the New Orleans Mint were used. Most coins of the Philadelphia Mint earlier than 1980 are unmarked, the notable exceptions being wartime nickels and the Susan B. Anthony Dollars starting 1979. Currently, the Lincoln cent is the only coin that does not always have a mint mark, using a "D" when struck in Denver but lacking a "P" when ostensibly struck at the Philadelphia mint; this practice allows additional minting of the coin at the San Francisco mint ("S") and West Point mint ("W") without the use of their respective mint marks to supplement coin production without the concern of creating scarce varieties. Generally modern "S" and "W" coins do not circulate, being mostly produced as bullion, commemorative, or proof coinage.

Although the US and several other countries use the initial letter of the city for its mint marks, this practice is not universal. For instance, Germany used A for Berlin, D for Munich, E for Muldenhutten, F for Stuttgart, G for Karlsruhe and J for Hamburg.

Many mints of the world commonly use a Privy mark, which is a symbol unique to each mint. The Royal Canadian Mint commonly uses a maple leaf privy mark. The Monnaie de Paris uses many different privy marks to denote each branch mint, including a torch, cornucopia, or thunderbolt.

Many Islamic coins bear an inscription telling which mint produced the coin. This inscription is often the name of the city where the coin was minted spelled out in Arabic script.

Several Euro Coins have mint marks of their respective Mint. See Identifying marks on euro coins for more information.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Pulgasari is a North Korean feature film produced in 1985, a giant-monster film similar to the Japanese Godzilla series. It was produced by South Korean director Shin Sang-ok, who had been kidnapped in 1978 by North Korean intelligence on the orders of Kim Jong-il, son of the then-ruling Kim Il-sung.

Teruyoshi Nakano and the staff from Japan's Toho studios, the creators of Godzilla, participated in creating the film's special effects. Kenpachiro Satsuma – the stunt performer who played Godzilla from 1984 to 1995 – portrayed Pulgasari, and when the Godzilla remake was released in Japan in 1998, he was quoted as saying he preferred Pulgasari to the American Godzilla.

The film is about a doll made of rice by a prisoner, which on coming into contact with blood, grows to become a giant metal-eating monster. Jonathan Ross stated that the film is intended to be a propaganda metaphor for the effects of unchecked capitalism and the power of the collective.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Bondo is a brand of two-part putty manufactured by 3M. Originally used mainly for automobile body repair, Bondo has been widely used by carpenters to repair wood. The Bondo brand of filler or putty is composed of a polyester resin that, when mixed with a hardener (an organic peroxide) or catalyst, turns into a putty which then sets and hardens. The user can apply the mixed Bondo body filler, sand it to the proper shape, and prime and paint it like the material around it. The term "Bondo" is a registered trademark in the United States and in many countries throughout the world.

Bondo body filler was developed as a replacement for body solder, or molten lead, that was formerly used for the same task. Body solder is much more durable, but may require more effort to apply. Lead-based solder poses toxic hazards for people and the environment due to the heavy metal components. Despite the fact that Bondo body fillers and other polyester body fillers are far safer to work with than their lead-based counterparts, they can still pose significant health risks. The fumes are quite toxic, and the hardeners can create burns in cases of prolonged skin contact. The use of gloves, a mask, and proper ventilation are all recommended when mixing and applying the filler.

When buying a used car, it is possible to check for damaged areas that have been repaired with significant amounts of body filler by walking around the car with a magnet, as the magnet will not be attracted to the body filler. Unscrupulous sellers may mix metal flakes into the body filler mixture before application in order to circumvent the magnet test. This test however, will not detect body filler on plastic, fiber glass, or carbon fiber components.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Joseph Paul Jernigan

Joseph Paul Jernigan (January 31, 1954 – August 5, 1993) was a Texas murderer who was killed by lethal injection at 12:31 a.m, August 5, 1993.

In 1981, Jernigan was sentenced to death for stabbing and shooting 75-year-old Edward Hale, who discovered him stealing a microwave oven. Jernigan spent 12 years in prison before his final plea for clemency was denied. At the prompting of a prison chaplain, he agreed to donate his body for scientific research or medical use.

After execution, Jernigan's corpse was encased and frozen in a gelatin and water mixture in order to stabilize the specimen for cutting. The specimen was then “cut” in the axial plane at 1 millimeter intervals. Each of the resulting 1,871 “slices” were photographed in both analog and digital, yielding 15 gigabytes of data. In 2000, the photos were rescanned at a higher resolution, yielding more than 65 gigabytes.

The data is supplemented by axial sections of the whole body obtained by computed tomography, axial sections of the head and neck obtained by magnetic resonance imaging, and coronal sections of the rest of the body also obtained by magnetic resonance imaging.

The scanning, slicing and photographing took place at the University of Colorado's Health Sciences Center, where additional cutting of anatomical specimens continues to take place.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Snake handling

Snake handling or serpent handling is a religious ritual in a small number of Pentecostal churches in the U.S., usually characterized as rural and Holiness. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia, spreading to mostly coal mining towns. Practitioners believe serpent handling dates to antiquity and quote the Book of Mark and the Book of Luke to support the practice.

George Went Hensley (1880–1955), a preacher who left the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) when the Church noticed him taking part in snake handling and set specific rules that made certain that that denomination would have nothing to do with those types of practices, is credited with creating the first holiness movement church dedicated to snake handling in the 1920s. Sister-churches later sprang up throughout the Appalachian region.

As in the early days, worshipers are still encouraged to lay hands on the sick (cf. Faith healing), speak in tongues (cf. Glossolalia), provide testimony of miracles, and occasionally consume poisons such as strychnine. Gathering mainly in homes and converted buildings, they generally adhere to strict dress codes such as uncut hair, no cosmetics and ankle-length dresses for women, and short hair and long-sleeved shirts for men. Most snake handlers preach against any use of all types of tobacco and alcohol.

Most religious snake handlers are still found in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of the southeastern United States, especially in such states as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, they are gaining steady recognition from news broadcasts, movies and books about the non-denominational movement.

In 2001 there were about 40 small churches that practiced snake handling, most considered to be holiness-Pentecostals or charismatics. Some of the leaders in these churches have been bitten numerous times, as indicated by their distorted extremities. For example, the founder of modern snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains died from snakebite in 1955. In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne "Punkin" Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattler at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama.

The states of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee have passed laws against the use of venomous snakes and/or other reptiles in a place that endangers the lives of others, or without a permit. Most snake handling practices, therefore, take place in the homes of worshippers, which avoids the process of attempting to obtain a government permit for the church.

In July 2008, 10 people were arrested and 125 venomous snakes were confiscated as part of an undercover sting operation titled "Twice Shy." Pastor Gregory James Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name was arrested and 74 snakes were seized from his home as part of the sting.

The practice is legal in the state of West Virginia.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Operation Pastorius

Operation Pastorius was a failed plan for sabotage via a series of attacks by Nazi German agents inside the United States. The operation was staged in June 1942 and was to be directed against strategic U.S. economic targets. The operation was named by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, chief of the German Abwehr, for Francis Daniel Pastorius, the leader of the first organized settlement of Germans in America.

Recruited for the operation were eight Germans who had lived in the United States. Two of them, Ernst Burger and Herbert Haupt, were American citizens. The others, George John Dasch, Edward John Kerling, Richard Quirin, Heinrich Harm Heinck, Hermann Otto Neubauer, and Werner Thiel, had worked at various jobs in the U.S.

Their mission was to stage sabotage attacks on American economic targets: hydroelectric plants at Niagara Falls; the Aluminum Company of America's plants in Illinois, Tennessee, and New York; locks on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky; the Horseshoe Curve, a crucial railroad pass near Altoona, Pennsylvania, as well as the Pennsylvania Railroad's repair shops at Altoona; a cryolite plant in Philadelphia; Hell Gate Bridge in New York; and Pennsylvania Station in Newark, New Jersey. They were given a quick course in sabotage techniques, given nearly $175,000 in American money and put aboard two submarines to land on the east coast of the U.S.

Two of the Germans in New York, Dasch and Burger, decided to back out of the mission. Dasch went to Washington, D.C., and turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was dismissed as a crackpot by numerous agents until he dumped his mission's entire budget of $84,000 on the desk of Assistant Director D.M. Ladd. At this point he was taken seriously and interrogated for hours. None of the others knew of the betrayal. Over the next two weeks, Burger and the other six were arrested. All eight were put on trial before a seven-member military tribunal on specific instructions from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were charged with 1) violating the law of war; 2) violating Article 81 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of corresponding with or giving intelligence to the enemy; 3) violating Article 82 of the Articles of War, defining the offense of spying; and 4) conspiracy to commit the offenses alleged in the first three charges.

Lawyers for the accused, who included Lauson Stone and Kenneth Royall, attempted to have the case tried in a civilian court but were rebuffed by the Supreme Court of the United States in Ex parte Quirin. The trial was held in the Department of Justice building in Washington. All eight defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Roosevelt commuted Burger's sentence to life and Dasch's to 30 years, because they had turned themselves in and provided information about the others. The others were executed on 8 August 1942 in the electric chair on the third floor of the District of Columbia jail and buried in a potter's field called Blue Plains in the Anacostia area of Washington. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman granted executive clemency to Dasch and Burger on the condition that they be deported to the American Zone of occupied Germany.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nuralagus Rex

The Minorcan Giant Lagomorph, Nuralagus rex, is an extinct rabbit that lived in the island of Minorca from the Messinian until around the middle of the Pliocene, when it became extinct (3 to 5 million years ago). During that time, both Majorca and Minorca were united in one large landform, allowing Myotragus balearicus to colonize the Minorcan Giant Lagomorph's habitat.

Fossils have been found of individuals which could have weighed up to 23 kg (50 lbs), although the estimated average body mass of the species is about 12 kg. They had small ears, tiny eyes, short legs and a short, straight and rigid vertebral column, very different from their living relatives.

According to paleontologist Josep Quintana Cardona, the Nuralagus didn't hop much if at all, as evident by its relatively short, stiff spine. No fossil remains of any rabbit eating predators have been found, so it is suggested that the lack of predators meant they didn't have a reason to maintain speed and agility,

Monday, January 23, 2012

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135° to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area. Although many media and advocacy reports have suggested the patch extends over an area larger than the continental U.S, recent research sponsored by the National Science Foundation suggests the affected area may be twice the size of Texas, while a recent study concluded that the patch might be even smaller. This can be attributed to the fact that there is no specific standard for determining the boundary between the “normal” and “elevated” levels of pollutants and what constitutes being part of the patch. The size is determined by a higher-than normal degree of concentration of pelagic debris in the water. Recent data collected from Pacific albatross populations suggest there may be two distinct zones of concentrated debris in the Pacific.

The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. Despite its size and density, the patch is not visible from satellite photography since it primarily consists of suspended particulates in the upper water column[citation needed]. Since plastics break down to ever smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Piltdown Man

The "Piltdown Man" was the fossilised remains of a previously unknown early human, consisting of fragments of a skull and jawbone collected in 1912 from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England that were later discovered to be a hoax. The Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni ("Dawson's dawn-man", after the collector Charles Dawson) was given to the specimen. The significance of the specimen remained the subject of controversy until it was exposed in 1953 as a forgery, consisting of the lower jawbone of an orangutan that had been deliberately combined with the skull of a fully developed modern human.

The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous archeological hoax ever. It has been prominent for two reasons: the attention paid to the issue of human evolution, and the length of time (more than 40 years) that elapsed from its discovery to its full exposure as a forgery.

In 1912, the Piltdown man was believed to be the “missing link” between apes and humans by the majority of the scientific community. However, over time the Piltdown man lost its validity, as other discoveries such as Taung Child and Peking Man were found. R.W. Ehrich and G.M. Henderson note, “To those who are not completely disillusioned by the work of their predecessors, the disqualification of the Piltdown skull changes little in the broad evolutionary pattern. The validity of the specimen has always been questioned.” Eventually, in the 1940s and 1950s, more advanced dating technologies, such as the fluorine absorption test, scientifically proved that this skull was actually a fraud.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Binondo is an enclave in Manila primarily populated by ethnic Chinese living in the Philippines. It is the oldest Chinatown in the world, established in 1594. Historically, Binondo was the area where the Spanish permitted converted sangleys, their indigenous Filipino wives, and their mixed-race descendants, the mestizos de sangley or Chinese mestizos, to reside. Similarly, Parían, an area near Intramuros, was where the Spanish first restricted unconverted Chinese immigrants to live. They allowed sangley settlement at Parían because it was within the range of Intramuros cannons, and they felt they could control any uprising from the laborers.

Located across the Pasig River from Intramuros, Binondo has typified a small Chinese town. Locally it has been called "China Town". The district is the center of commerce and trade for all types of businesses run by ethnic Chinese merchants. Given the historic reach of Chinese trading in the Pacific, this district was already a hub of Chinese commerce before the first Spanish colonists came in 1521.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Hi-Risers are a type of highly customized automobile, typically an inexpensive American-built sedan modified by significantly increasing the ground clearance and adding large-diameter wheels with low-profile tires. Depending on the model and build year, autos customized in this manner can be labeled "donk," "box," or "bubble."

Hi-risers originally grew out of the Dirty South subculture, but the trend has spread across the United States. Vehicles customized in the hi-riser style are distinguished by their oversized (even disproportionate) wheels, ranging from 22 inches to 30 inches or more in diameter, as well as fanciful custom paint-jobs and expensive audio equipment. Suspension modifications similar to those employed on lifted pickup trucks are made to give adequate clearance for the large wheels. Often the suspension is modified so the front end sits slightly higher than the rear end, giving the car a swaggering appearance. Because of the exaggerated look gained from installing a lifted suspension and enormous wheels, donks are also known as "hi-risers" or "sky-scrapers."

The most popular vehicles for these types of modifications are full-size Chevrolet models, namely the Impala, Caprice, Monte Carlo, and Chevelle. There are three main sub-types of hi-riser, although the distinctions are blurred and open to debate. Most hi-riser enthusiasts agree that a "donk" traditionally is a 1971 to 1976 Impala. They were given this name because the "Impala" symbol was referred to as a "donkey" by owners or "donk" for short. To complement the sloping rear, the suspension of donks are frequently higher in the front end than the rear, resulting in a nose-up stance. Other hi-risers are usually raised evenly, resulting in a more or less level stance. A box is another sub-type of hi-riser, usually a 1977-1990-era Impala or Caprice with a boxy or squared-off front and rear end. Other models that are frequently made into hi-risers include the G-body Buick Regal, Oldsmobile Cutlass, El Camino, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Pontiac Bonneville.

Other vehicles gaining in popularity as hi-risers are the Cadillac DeVille and Seville, as well as the Buick Roadmaster. Also gaining in popularity are the Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis, and Lincoln Town Car sedans. These three are the last full sized, body-on-frame, RWD sedans of which the Lincoln Town Car is the only one still being sold for 2011. In fact, the Grand Marquis in particular is enjoying a slight sales surge due to the increasing popularity of buying them new and turning them into hi-risers. Several rappers have alluded to the Grand Marquis in their music. "Grand Marquis, paint job grape jelly."

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Cliffhangers was an American television series that debuted on February 27, 1979 on NBC.

Cliffhangers attempted to revive the genre of movie serials in a made-for-TV format. Each hour-long episode was divided into three 20-minute (including commercials) segments featuring different storylines. During the series' run, three serials were featured - a mystery, a science fiction/western hybrid, and a horror story:

  1. "Stop Susan Williams": Susan Anton stars as a beautiful TV journalist investigating the murder of her brother, and stumbling on a vast international conspiracy.
  2. "The Secret Empire": the adventures of a U.S. marshal (Geoffrey Scott) in the Old West who stumbles upon a futuristic underground city run by aliens.
  3. "The Curse of Dracula": starring Michael Nouri as Count Dracula, who is living undercover as a college teacher in 1979 San Francisco.

The series was cancelled after only 10 episodes were aired, by which point only "The Curse Of Dracula" had reached its conclusion. However, one unaired episode (which did air overseas) featured the two concluding chapters of "The Secret Empire" as well as the final part of "Stop Susan Williams." American viewers later got a chance to see the concluding part of "Stop Susan Williams" in the TV-movie "The Girl Who Saved The World" which re-edited the eleven installments into a single two hour movie ("Curse Of Dracula" was also re-edited as two TV-movies for later airing).

"Cliffhangers" was, at the time, the most expensive TV series ever produced due to three simultaneous production units being required. The hope was that if, after 10-12 serial episodes, a serial caught on, that it could be spun off as a series, but the network soon tired of the financial burden and never let it build an audience. The fact that it aired opposite "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley", which were the #1 and #2 most popular shows in television at the time, certainly didn't help.

The series was created by Kenneth Johnson and staffed by many young writers who went on to become quite successful, including, Craig Faustus Buck, Harry Longstreet, Renee Longstreet, Andrew Schneider, Sam Egan, Richard Christian Matheson, and Jeri Taylor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Uff Da

Uff da is an expression of Norwegian origin adopted by Scandinavian-Americans in the 19th century. It is an exclamation that is relatively common in the Upper Midwestern states of the United States.

Uff da is often used in the Upper Midwest as a term for sensory overload. It can be used as an expression of surprise, astonishment, exhaustion, relief and sometimes dismay. For many, Uff da is an all-purpose expression with a variety of nuances, and covering a variety of situations. The expression has lost its original connotation, and it is increasingly difficult to specify what it means now in America. Within Midwestern culture, Uff da frequently translates into: I am overwhelmed. It has become a mark of Scandinavian roots, particularly for people from North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, northern Illinois Iowa, Minnesota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Uff da can often be used as an alternative for many common day swear words.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Marlin Perkins

Richard Marlin Perkins (March 28, 1905 – June 14, 1986) was a zoologist best known as a host of the television program Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom from 1963 to 1985.

Marlin Perkins was born on March 28, 1905 in Carthage, Missouri, and attended public school there through eighth grade. In the fall of 1919, he entered Wentworth Military Academy. There Perkins demonstrated his fascination with snakes by keeping blue racer snakes in his room.

Perkins briefly attended the University of Missouri, but quit school to become a laborer at the Saint Louis Zoological Park. It was the start of a brilliant zoological career. He rose through the ranks, becoming the reptile curator in 1928. After being hired as a curator of the Buffalo Zoological Park in Buffalo, New York, Perkins was eventually promoted to director in 1938. He then served as director at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, from 1944 until 1962. During his time at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Perkins joined Sir Edmund Hillary as the zoologist for Hillary's 1960 Himalayan expedition to search for the legendary Yeti.

Perkins was the host of Zoo Parade, a television program that originated from the Lincoln Park Zoo when he was the director there. During a rehearsal of Zoo Parade, he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake, one of several bites from venomous snakes Perkins suffered throughout his career.

As a result of his work on Zoo Parade Perkins was offered the job in 1963 for which most Americans remember him: host of the famed nature show Wild Kingdom. The enormous fame he gained in his television career allowed Perkins to become an advocate for the protection of endangered species, and through Wild Kingdom he gave many Americans their first exposure to the conservation movement.

Perkins retired from active zookeeping in 1970 and from Wild Kingdom in 1985 for health reasons. Perkins remained with the Saint Louis Zoo as Director Emeritus until his death on June 14, 1986, when he died of cancer.

Because Walt Disney had fabricated footage of a mass suicide of lemmings in its film White Wilderness, CBC journalist Bob McKeown asked Marlin Perkins if he had done the same. Perkins, then in his eighties, "firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face."

In 1990, Marlin Perkins was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. A statue of Perkins also stands in Central Park in his hometown of Carthage, Missouri.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gas House Gang

The Gas House Gang was a New York street gang during the late nineteenth century.

Founded in the 1890s, the Gas House Gang was based in the Gas House district of Manhattan and controlled the area along Third Avenue from 11th to 18th Street. Specializing in armed robbery, the gang was estimated to have committed between 30 to 40 robberies a night as well as extorting money from local residents and operating brothels. The gang would continue to control the district for over two decades until it was eventually absorbed by the Five Points Gang in 1910.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Peach Melba

The Peach Melba is a classic dessert, invented in 1892 or 1893 by the French chef Auguste Escoffier at the Savoy Hotel, London to honour the Australian soprano, Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931). It combines two favourite summer fruits: peaches and raspberry sauce accompanying vanilla ice cream.

In 1892, Nellie Melba was performing in Wagner's opera Lohengrin at Covent Garden. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party to celebrate her triumph. For the occasion, Escoffier created a new dessert, and to display it, he used an ice sculpture of a swan, which is featured in the opera. The swan carried peaches which rested on a bed of vanilla ice cream and which were topped with spun sugar.

In 1900, Escoffier created a new version of the dessert. For the occasion of the opening of the Carlton hotel, where he was head chef, Escoffier omitted the ice swan and topped the peaches with raspberry purée. Other versions of this dessert use pears, apricots, or strawberries instead of peaches and / or use raspberry sauce or melted red currant jelly instead of raspberry purée.

January 13 is National Peach Melba Day in the United States.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Goody Two Shoes

"Goody Two Shoes" is a popular song by Adam Ant. The song was released on the album Friend or Foe in 1982. The title phrase is a disparaging term for someone who is overly virtuous or conformist, and ultimately comes from the children's story The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, published in 1765.

Following the dissolution of Adam and the Ants in early 1982, Adam Ant pursued a solo career. His debut as a solo artist, "Goody Two Shoes" was written by Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni and produced by Ant, Pirroni and Chris Hughes. The song details Ant's frustration with press intrusion, which was reinforced by the video and his clean cut image.

The song was an instant hit, reaching #1 on the UK singles chart for two weeks in June 1982 and later repeating the feat in Australia. Despite the success, this was his third and final #1 single. The song was his first and biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, peaking at #12.

Interestingly, there are two versions of the cover. The first has 'Adam and the Ants' across the top of the sleeve and the later version just 'Adam Ant'. This is probably due to the confusion around the timing of Adam going solo, particularly as the song was performed by three fifths of the band (Adam, Marco and Merrick).

The music video presents a stylized vision of a day in the life of Adam Ant, from dressing in the morning to performing on stage, to being hounded by the media. At the end of the day, he takes home a woman journalist played by British actress Caroline Munro.

Friday, January 13, 2012


Gilalite is a copper silicate mineral with chemical composition of Cu5Si6O17·7(H2O).

It occurs as a retrograde metamorphic phase in a calc-silicate and sulfde skarn deposit. It occurs as fracture fillings and incrustations associated with diopside crystals. It is commonly found in the form of spherules of radial fibers.

It was first described for an occurrence in the Christmas porphyry copper mine in Gila County, Arizona in 1980 along with the mineral apachite.[4] It derives its name from this locality. It has also been reported from the Goodsprings District, Clark County, Nevada; Juazeiro do Norte, Ceara State, Brazil and a slag area in Lavrion District, Attica, Greece.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


In European folklore and folk-belief of the Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, familiar spirits, sometimes referred to simply as familiars, were supernatural entities that were believed to assist witches and cunning folk in their practice of magic. According to the records of the time, they would appear in numerous guises, often as an animal, but also at times as a human or humanoid figure, and were described as "clearly defined, three-dimensional… forms, vivid with colour and animated with movement and sound" by those alleging to have come into contact with them, unlike later descriptions of ghosts with their "smoky, undefined form[s]".

When they served witches, they were often thought to be malevolent, while when working for cunning-folk they were often thought of as benevolent, although there was some ambiguity in both cases. The former were often categorised as being demons, while the latter were more commonly thought of and described as being fairies.The main purpose of familiars is to serve the witch/young witch. The service the familiar would provide would be to protect the new witch coming into his/her new powers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Jamkaran, Iran (on the outskirts of Qom) is the site of the Jamkaran Mosque, a popular pilgrimage site for Shi'ite Muslims. Local belief has it that the Twelfth Imam (Muhammad al-Mahdi) — a messiah figure Shia believe will lead the world to an era of universal peace — once appeared and offered prayers at Jamkaran. On Tuesday evenings especially large crowds of tens of thousands gather at Jamkaran to pray and to drop a note to the Imam in a well at the site, asking for help with some problem.

The mosque, six kilometres east of Qom, has long been a sacred place, at least since 373 A.H., 17th of Ramadan (22 February 984 C.E.), when according to the mosque website, one Sheikh Hassan ibn Muthlih Jamkarani is reported to have met Muhammad al-Mahdi along with the prophet Al-Khidr. Jamkarani was instructed that the land they were on was "noble" and that the owner — Hasan bin Muslim — was to cease cultivating it and finance the building of a mosque on it from the earnings he had accumulated from farming the land.

In the late 20th century, the mosque's reputation spread, and many pilgrims, particularly young people, began to come to it. In the rear of the mosque there is a "well of requests" where it is believed the Twelfth Imam once "became miraculously unhidden for a brief shining moment of loving communion with his Creator." Pilgrims tie small strings in a knot around the grids covering the holy well, which they hope will be received by the Imam Mahdi. Every morning custodians cut off the strings from the previous day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The Scythians or Scyths were an ancient Iranian people of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who throughout Classical Antiquity dominated the Pontic-Caspian steppe, known at the time as Scythia. Before 2006, they were believed to have ranged west of the Altai Mountains, until a royal burial was found to the east in Mongolia. By Late Antiquity the closely-related Sarmatians came to dominate the Scythians in the west. Much of the surviving information about the Scythians comes from the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 440 BC) in his Histories and Ovid in his poem of exile Epistulae ex Ponto, and archaeologically from the depictions of Scythian life shown in relief on exquisite goldwork found in Scythian burial mounds in Ukraine and Southern Russia.

The name "Scythian" has also been used to refer to various peoples seen as similar to the Scythians, or who lived anywhere in a vast area covering present-day Central Asia, Russia, and Ukraine—known until medieval times as Scythia. They have been described as "a network of culturally similar tribes." For example, the name of the Scythians has been used in reference to the Goths.

Y-Chromosome DNA testing performed on ancient Scythian skeletons dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Siberian Krasnoyarsk region found that all but one of 11 subjects carried Y-DNA R1a1, with blue or green eye color and light hair common, suggesting mostly European origin of that particular population. A mummy of a Scythian warrior found in the Altai, Mongolia, 2005, which is believed to be about 2,500 years old, was found to be a 30-to-40 year-old man with blond hair of noble origin

Monday, January 9, 2012

Pearl of Lao Tzu

The Pearl of Lao Tzu (also referred to as Pearl of Lao Tze and Pearl of Allah) is the largest known pearl in the world. It is not a gem-quality pearl, but is instead what is known as a "clam pearl" or "Tridacna pearl" from a giant clam. It measures 24 centimeters in diameter (9.45 inches) and weighs 6.4 kilograms (14.1 lb). It is an interesting piece of natural history surrounded by extraordinary stories and legends.

The pearl came from the Philippines. Wilburn Cobb, an American who brought the pearl from the Philippines in 1939 and owned it until his death in 1979, published an account of how he came to own it in Natural History Magazine. According to Cobb, he wanted to buy it from a Philippine tribal chief when he first heard of it in 1934, but the chief did not want to sell. However, in 1936 Cobb saved the life of the chief’s son, who was stricken with malaria, and was given the pearl as a token of gratitude.

In America, the pearl was exhibited at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in New York, valued at $3.5 million.

Much later, Cobb wrote a new account in the February 1969 Mensa Bulletin, this time promoting the pearl as an artifact of Chinese legend. He alleged he had been approached by a Chinese fellow named Li, who divulged a rich mythology. In short, the pearl had first been grown in a much smaller clam around a jade amulet inserted by a disciple of legendary sage Laozi more than 2 500 years ago, and been transferred over the centuries to ever larger clams, growing to record size. Wars had been fought over the artefact, and it had been sent off to the Philippines as a protective measure, where it was lost in a storm. Also according to Cobb, Li had tried to buy the pearl from him for $3.5 million.

After Cobb’s death in 1980, Peter Hoffman and Victor Barbish bought the pearl from his estate for the much smaller sum of $200,000. Barbish has claimed to have had further contact with other Li family members over the legendary status of his pearl. (The legend of a ”Pearl of Laozi”, however, is only known from the claims of Cobb and Barbish.)

When Victor Barbish borrowed money from a Joseph Bonicelli, he gave him an interest in the pearl. In 1990, Bonicelli took Barbish to court to collect his loan, and the court ruled that Hoffman, Barbish and Bonicelli were equal partners in the pearl. Bonicelli died in 1998, and after more legal proceedings the court ordered the pearl to be sold (it has not been), with a third of the money going to Bonicelli’s children.

The pearl is not on display to the public and is currently held as part of the probate inventory of Victor M. Barbish. The Pearl is presently owned in three equal shares by the heirs of Joe Bonicelli, Peter Hoffman, and Victor Barbish.

Gemologist Michael Steenrod in Colorado Springs has appraised the pearl at $60 million (1982) and $93 million (2007). Another 1982 appraisal, by Lee Sparrow of the San Francisco Gem Lab, put the pearl at $42 million.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cupertino effect

The Cupertino effect is the tendency of a spellchecker to suggest inappropriate words to replace misspelled words and words not in its dictionary.
The origin of the term is that the spelling "cooperation" was often changed to "Cupertino" by older spellcheckers with dictionaries containing only the hyphenated form "co-operation". (Cupertino is the home of Apple Inc., and thus would be in most computer spelling dictionaries.) Users sometimes clicked "Change All" without checking whether the spellchecker's first suggestion was correct to begin with, resulting in even official documents with phrases like "as well as valuable experience in international Cupertino".
More generally, "Cupertino Effect" means failing to check that a suggested word is appropriate. A common case is "definately" being changed to "defiantly" instead of "definitely". Benjamin Zimmer of Thinkmap, Inc. and the University of Pennsylvania has collected many examples of similar errors, including DeMeco Ryans as "Demerol" (in the New York Times), Voldemort as "Voltmeter" (in the Denver Post) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement as "Muttonhead Quail".
The user need not always select an incorrect word for it to appear in the document; in WordPerfect 9 with factory default settings, any unrecognized word that was close enough to exactly one known word was automatically replaced with that word. Smartphones with dictionary supported virtual keyboards automatically replace possible mistakes with dictionary words.
Zimmer suggests that a possible misspelling that produced the Cupertino effect is "cooperatino". A member of the European Union translation service reports that the Cupertino change can happen to the word "cooperation" if the word processor's custom dictionary only has the hyphenated form "co-operation", and this was verified to have occurred using the spellchecker on an older version of Outlook Express.Cupertino has been present in Microsoft's custom dictionaries since at least 1989 (when Word 4 for Mac was released).
More sophisticated techniques for spell-checking in modern programs mean that the effect is much less of a problem than it used to be.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Discordianism is the modern religion worshipping Eris (also known as Discordia), the Greco-Roman Goddess of Chaos. It was founded circa 1958–1959 by Malaclypse the Younger with the publication of its principal text, the Principia Discordia.

Discordianism is a "Ha Ha, Only Serious" 'joke', using humor to subversively spread what its members regard as a valid philosophy. To keep said beliefs from becoming dangerous fanaticism, they rely on self-subverting Dada-Zen humor, with varying degrees of success. There is some division as to whether it should be regarded as a parody religion, and if so to what degree.

It has been likened to Zen, based on similarities with absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school. Discordianism is centered on the idea that chaos is all that there is, and that disorder and order are both illusions that are imposed on chaos. These are referred to, respectively, as the "Eristic" and "Aneristic" illusions. Discordianism recognizes the positive aspects of chaos, discord, and dissent as valid and desirable qualities, in contrast with most religions, which idealize harmony and order.

It is difficult to estimate the number of followers and correctly identify Discordian groups. There is an encouragement to form schisms and cabals. Additionally, few adherents hold Discordianism as their only or primary faith.

Friday, January 6, 2012


Interview is a magazine founded by artist Andy Warhol in late 1969. The magazine features intimate conversations between some of the world's biggest celebrities, artists, musicians, and creative thinkers. Interviews are usually unedited or edited in the eccentric fashion of Warhol's books and The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again.

In the early days, complimentary copies of Interview were often given away to the "in-crowd"--this was the start of the magazine's circulation, which today hovers around 230,000. Toward the end of his life, as Warhol withdrew from everyday oversight of his magazine, a more conventional editorial style was introduced under editor Bob Colacello). However, Warhol continued to act as ambassador for the magazine, distributing issues in the street to passersby and creating ad hoc signing events on the streets of Manhattan.

The magazine (dubbed "The Crystal Ball Of Pop") has managed to stay true to form to this day - 60% features/ 40% glossy advertising - published, since shortly after Warhol's death in 1987, by Brant Publications, Inc. The magazine "relaunched" under Editorial Director Fabien Baron in September 2008, with an iconic cover featuring Kate Moss. Today "Interview" content can be found online on and via monthly apps available on iTunes.