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Friday, February 26, 2010

Interesting stuff where relevance doesn't matter

 Just learned fact: It is possible to survive being swallowed by a whale... but the gastric acids will absolutely wreck your complexion," according to author Philip Hoare in his award-winning novel, The Whale.

This changes everything! Pinocchio was REAL! You THE MAN, Geppetto!

A Delaware man is suing a New York strip club... not because he didn't have a good time... but because he just can't remember if he did or not. Seems he entered the club, had two alcoholic beverages and was taken to a private room with his very own lap dancer. The part he can't remember is what happened in that room for the next 90 minutes. He does, however, suspect it must have been very, very 'special'... his credit card showed a $21,620.50 charge.

Those Bulgarians... they know which side their pepper is buttered on. In a recent country-wide survey, the "chushkopek" was voted as the most revolutionary household advance of the 20th century, beating out electricity, television and the cell phone. What is this incredible advancement, you may ask. It is a kitchen appliance (left) that will roast up to seven peppers at a time! As they say in Bulgaria, "Ay ay chihuahua!" ... or is that Italian?

A New York woman has filed a discrimination claim against her supervisor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She says he frequently "breaks wind," releasing "constant barrages of... flatulence" in her work area.  Honestly, a secular person wouldn't do that... would he?

A short time ago, Giants Stadium in East Rutherford was demolished. It was home to the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets... in New Jersey, of all places.  Of course, a newer, bigger, more awe-inspiring stadium is being built... not really because the 34-year-old older version failed to serve but because the new one will allow for higher ticket prices, more of those ultra-luxurious, more expensive corporate sky boxes, and most important, more revenue for the owners. But personally, I'm disappointed... not because of any of the above, since none of it will come from me, but because the wrecking crew didn't find the body of Jimmy Hoffa so we could give him a decent burial.

Note: three of these five items involve New York. Honestly Gotham, haven't you guys got anything better to do?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

That Mona Lisa smile...

... or is it a smirk? Was Leonardo pulling a fast one on us when he painted the Mona Lisa in his Florence studio 500 years ago. Maybe, as many now think, he was pulling one of the longest-lasting practical jokes of all time... or, he was trying to tell us something?

The actual painting is rather small, just 20 7/8" x 30... oil on wood. All the hoopla over this famous lady could cause you to imagine it larger. And Mona has no eyebrows... but that was not uncommon for a lady in the early 1500s. But Really though, who was she... and what was wry her smile all about? One theory has it that Mona Lisa was a portrait of a banker's wife who bore a more formal version of the name. I'm guessing that is a historical red herring.

Because Leonardo carried the painting with him for life (along with two other self-portraits) gave thought that it is actually another self-portrait of himself in drag, so to speak. While history does not show him to be a cross-dresser, he was believed to be gay. A close inspection of this portrait compared to his other self-portraits shows an astounding 97% match in minute ways. And side-by-side, it really looks close. See for yourself.

Well that, I suppose, could explain the wry smile. OK Leonardo, you are not only a brilliant painter but a genius on many levels... I suppose you've earned the last laugh, you cutie.

(Go to for more Leonardo fun.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

World record!

Actor Warren Beatty has had affairs with Diane Keaton, Leslie Caron, Julie Christie, Joan Collins, Natalie Wood, Madonna, Liv Ullmann, Twiggy, Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Fonda... and a lot more really big notables, according to biographer Peter Biskind in his new book, Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America... enough for a very impressive life, if that's how score is kept.

But, at almost 73, does he remember who has a dimple here, a tattoo there, a birthmark in some funny place? If so, how does he keep the details straight? Well, he probably doesn't... because this new autobiography calculates he has had affairs with 12,775 women... enough to fill New York's Radio City Music Hall (right) --twice... not counting the Rockettes, of course.... and the daytime quickies, drive-bys, casual gropings and stolen kisses were not included in this number! (I didn't make that up.) 

World Record? I hardly think so.

How could you forget one of the most famous basketball players of all time, Wilt Chamberlain? Sure, Wilt scored 100 points in an NBA game once but, according to his count, that hardly measured up to the 20,000 women he said he 'scored' before he died at age 64. (To add scope to that stat, if the number 20,000 represented days, that would be almost 55 years... so Wilt must have been a very busy man. He was, by the way, a lifelong bachelor, which is understandable since he certainly wouldn't have had time for a wife.)

"The point of using the number," Wilt said, "was to show that sex was a great part of my life as basketball was a great part of my life." I guess! He also said, "With all of you men out there who think that having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I have learned in my life... that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying." And who of us mere mortals could know enough to deny that? Wilt is probably one of the very few to speak from experience... oh, and Warren.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does the name Wham-O ring a bell?

How about Whirlo-Way or Pluto Platter? Well, those were the two early 1950 names given perhaps the most famous... most simple toy ever invented... but it didn't take off (pun intended) right away. The inventor, World War II fighter pilot Fred Morrison, created the disc that he later licensed to Wham-O Manufacturing Company. When Wham-O marketed the Pluto Platter in 1957, they called it the Frisbee after an East Coast pie company who's plates had been used for just that purpose. And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story. Frisbee's sales soared (another pun...get it?)  into the hundreds of millions, and it became a counter-culture phenomenon, often seen in the hands of movie stars and famous personalities.

"It is impossible to fathom the impact Fred Morrison has had on the world through the invention of such a simple object..." said the executive director of the World Flying Disc Federation, a non-profit governing body for all competitive things Frisbee. (Aside: My brother-in-law was a card-carrying member #162 of the International Frisbee Assoc. in 1968... he showed me the card!  It shows you, among other things, he is pretty old.... and still a kid at heart,)

As a teen, Morrison had a fascination with flying disks, throwing popcorn lids and cake pans on the Santa Monica beach. One time, a stranger watching offered to buy his cake pan for a quarter. "At that time cake pans cost about a nickel," he wrote in his memoir... and a business was born, then interrupted and almost killed-off by World War II. His P-51 mustang was shot down over Italy in 1945 and he was a POW until the war's end.

Using the aerodynamic knowledge he acquired as a pilot, he refined his model and gave demonstrations at county fairs and stores selling his product. Often, amazed onlookers supposed the disk's unusual flight was caused by unseen wires. He became frustrated when purchasers couldn't get the same results he did because people just didn't know how to throw it. He began printing instructions on the bottom of each "Pluto Platter" which he manufactured, with little bumps, to simulate the "flying saucers from space" that had the public's attention at the time.

Tired and disappointed by a lack of consumer enthusiasm, he licensed the Pluto Platter  to Wham-O in 1957. It was Wham-O that came up with the Frisbee name. "I thought it was stupid," he said.  But it sold... and sold... and sold. And still does. I found seven in my house just today... four for throwing and three purchased as dog toys.

Morrison died this past week at age 90... but his Frisbee will live forever.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What is the largest machine in the world?

No. It's not my toaster which I bought cheap. It's really 18-inches square... pretty big for a toaster.  But it's not that.

It is the Large Hadron Collider, (left: blogger's guess of what it might look like.... but probably not. May not be to scale) built to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe. (Of all the stars and sky we see-- millions of light years into space-- we see less than 4% of the universe's total mass.) This machine, built 300-feet underground near the Swiss/French border,  is basically a connected 17 mile circular tunnel. It contains two large tubes lined with powerful magnets and is helium-cooled to near absolute zero. It's sole purpose is to slam two infinitely tiny particles the size of the center of an atom (and yes, they are way too small to inscribe the Lord's Prayer on. You are, no doubt, thinking of the head of a pin) into each other at almost 186,000 miles per second. (This translates to going around the 17 mile loop 11,000 times per second.)

The cost is modest-- but only if you compare it to all the money in the world-- $10 billion. It's purpose is to try to recreate the Big Bang that scientists believe made our universe happen a mere 13.7 billion years ago. This is so sci-fi-incredible that some physicists say, if we are wrong in our calculations, this could trigger the destruction of earth.  But enough of this happy talk.

Some impressive work has already been done by an atom-smasher in the U.S. The pipsqueak 2.4-mile-wide Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in Brookhaven, NY has smashed two super cooled, high-speed atoms into each other to create a temperatures of 7.2 trillion degrees-- 250,000 times hotter than the sun's core.

But really, how hot is 7.2 trillion degrees?  Well, the human body is 98.6 degrees; iron's melting point is 2,800 degrees; the Sun's core is 27 million degrees; a supernova is 180 billion degrees; one microsecond after the Big Bang, 7.2 trillion degrees; one millionth of a microsecond after the big bang, 18,000 trillion-trillion degrees.  I just can't imagine how long it would take to toast a marshmallow, but if you are an impatient sort, your s'mores are ready when you are.

Remember physicists, plenty of sun tan lotion... and wear those shades. (Seriously, pretty mind-boggling. Right?)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life is like a game of chess...

... both are almost impossibly difficult at times. 

How complex is chess? According to former champion, Garry Kasparov, "The number of legal chess positions is 10 to the 40th power, the number of different possible games, 10 to the 120th power. A player looking eight moves ahead is already presented with as many possible games as there are stars in the galaxy (100 billion to 70 sextillion--70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000--say astronomers). There are more possible chess games than the number of atoms in the universe (don't even ask). These comparisons impress upon the casual observer why brute-force computer calculation can't solve this ancient board game. They are also handy--and I am not above doing this myself--for impressing people with how complicated chess is."

OK, I believe you, Garry... Chess (and life) can be challenging beyond comprehension. But at the end, in life, if we've played a great game, we get an automatic seed to The Finals.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Ever see a ghost, feel a supernatural presence or consult a fortune teller? I'm not surprised... 29 % of us say we have had a touch with the dead, 18 % have seen or been with a ghost (I'm one of those... story to follow) and 15 % have consulted a medium. That's what Pew Research Center found in a recent study. Faith undoubtedly leads us to feel there is a spiritual world "out there." That and Scooby Do, of course.

I had a joyous experience that I will never forget. It is as clear in my mind today as it was many years ago, when I was seven. There was never a doubt. And because I was so young, I am even more convinced it was real because I was so naively 'pure' and without influence or prejudice on such subjects.

Growing up in the 'lower income' segment of America, my family lived in a small house owned by and adjacent to my maternal grandparents.  It was a great time because grandma spoiled my sister and me rotten with love, treats, surprises and permissiveness. What more could a seven-year-old want? And so did my grandma's mother, who lived with them. We called her Big Grandma (that's her) because she was, compared to Small Grandma, at least. She was perhaps stereotypically, an older Italian 'grandma-type' with her white hair in a bun, a round, ruddy face to fit her largish heavy frame... and always, a warm smile.  As a recent and older immigrant, she spoke only Italian but that was never a barrier to the fun we had together.

I remember the day she passed away, in the house just next door. The adults kept my sister and me in the kitchen behind the closed dining room door while they sadly said their tearful good-bys as Big Grandma lay dying on the living room couch.

About six weeks later, as Big Grandma was out my life and mind, our family was coming home from a movie and I, as the self-appointed front door-opener, ran ahead and up the steps to unlock the door.

When I burst into the living room, there, on our easy chair in the corner, sat Big Grandma in her familiar black and white poke-a-dot dress, tan stockings and black shoes. She had a warm smile for me... as always.

"Why Big Grandma," I hollered with absolute delight... and I can still hear myself saying it, "What are you doing here?" She didn't answer, but held out her arms to me. I turned to mom,  dad and sis, who were just coming up the porch steps, and shouted, "Big Grandma is here!"

But then, when I turned back, she was gone.

I remember being so excited as I told everyone what I had seen. I was so happy! Big Grandma came to say good-by to me.

And she did!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It used to be the world's tallest building...

...but that was then. The landscape (or better, the skyscape) has undergone dramatic change. Take a peek here for a fascinating perspective. The just completed Burj Dubai in the UAR--recently renamed Burj Khalifa in honor of the sheik of Abu Dhabi--stands more than 1/2 mile into the sky.

This isn't about "them," however. This is about our grand lady, The Empire State Building, which held the title from 1931 to 1973...longer and more legendary than any other. It stands a 'mere' 1250 feet... not even half as tall as the Burj Khalifa... and is number 14 on today's list of world's tallest buildings. It has 102 floors, 1820 steps to the top and (get this!) was completed 410 days AHEAD of schedule, coming in at $24.7 million UNDER budget! Of course, this was during the Great Depression and that undoubtedly helped, both in cost and with readily available labor.  It is colorfully and quite specifically lit year round (showing a big red heart for Valentine's Day). Take a look at the Lighting schedule is quite complex and fascinating.

Their was a time when dirigibles would cross the Atlantic, then appear over Manhattan and glide up to the Empire State Building. After docking at the mast atop world's tallest building, passengers would transfer from airship to skyscraper, via an open gangway (really!), and an elevator would whisk them to the street.

It is sadly ironic that the tragedy of 9/11 was not the first time a plane crashed into the world's tallest building. In 1945, an army B-25 Bomber, lost in the fog, crash, quite accidentally this time, into the 75th floor of the Empire State Building. While two died,  the survival of the elevator operator who fell 75 stories when the cables to her cab were severed, was the miracle of the day.

Every year, there is a race on foot, up the stairs to the 86th floor. It is appropriately called The Run-Up. This year's event, the 33rd annual, was Feb. 2nd and the winner's time to climb 1,576 steps was 10 minutes, 16 seconds, or about 157 steps a minute! Ever try to run stairs? Piece of cake, right?

The Empire State Building has starred in more than 100 movies. How many can you name. Check it out. Call me a softy but my favorite by far was Sleepless in Seattle. Near as I can tell, the only one who didn't love this beautifully designed landmark was King Kong. Damn those planes. They just didn't understand... that big monkey had a heart!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

Wrong, wrong wrong. Pictures lie! An old journalism professor of mine (who should know because he spent half-a-lifetime as a photographer for UPI) said that if we ever say that or write that, we would get an automatic FE (fact error = failure) stamped on our paper... and he had a big rubber FE stamp that he would delight in using...with red ink, no less. This was before... way before today's digital world.

So what you see isn't always what you get. Ever watch a good magician?

Do you know that, beside being Groundhog Day, this is also the day when many top-talent, big name singing stars will re-record "We Are The World," this time for the benefit of Haiti relief efforts.

Now here's where the (digital) magic trick comes in... Janet Jackson wanted to sing the part her brother Michael (he died, you know) sang in 1985, but she couldn't make the recording session. No problem. She will sing it in a remote studio and it will be digitally inserted in the final cut. So as you see it replayed, look for her. You will see her but she really isn't there... and I'll bet you won't easily be able to tell.

Side note: Michael Jackson, who died last June 25th, was the music industry's top-selling artist for 2009 moving 8.3 million units (CDs, digital downloads, DVDs, etc.). It's amazing what you can do when you are dead.