Need a quick infusion of joy? Click on the video and watch the creative genes at work in this young conductor, courtesy of Notebook contributors Andy and Adele from North Carolina.
The Naturalist's Notebook (e-)mailbag has had some other interesting comments and contributions lately, from places as far away as Japan. Let's take a look at a few:
Watt You Might Have Missed:
After we noted Thomas Edison's birthday a few days ago, Pamelia's brother, Scott, who works in energy conservation for a utility company, sent in this comment with more about the Wizard of Menlo Park: "Thomas Edision was indeed founder of the first electric utility, Pearl Street Station, in NYC. So, quite an accomplishment, more so because people did not have any immediate need to purchase electricity?! After all, there were no electric appliances around most homes. So he sold light bulbs, not electricity. Yes, back then, the electricity was free! Imagine the convenience of turning a switch when you came home instead of lighting an oil lamp or candle. Those of you who do the house work, will cringe to learn, the second big (and I mean “big”) electric appliance was the vacuum cleaner! The first ones had to be pulled around on horse drawn carts! The third, another one we all love, the electric iron!"
Speaking of Horses...
In an e-mail to a Notebook correspondent, I mentioned that I was curious how roads were cleared of snow in the days before the invention of the truck and the snowplow. He dug into his deep well of expertise and provided this explanation: "As I 'recall,' many of the roads, at least in the 1800s, were rolled. The wooden roller was pulled by a horse (of course, of course) or probably a team of them, and the only shoveling of snow, except around a horse and barn, was onto the road where it passed through a covered bridge. Pulling a sleigh over a dry, wooden surface would have been tough sledding, so to speak."
Why a Tomato Is a Fruit
I jokingly told a botanist friend that, to clear up my confusion over the differences between fruits, seeds and nuts, I would love to take a Fruits and Seeds 101 course he might teach. I told him I would be the one arriving at class dressed as a either a fruit or a nut. His reply: "Sorry, a nut is a type of fruit. With the notable exception of strawberries—where did I read about that?—the seeds of flowering plants are enclosed in fruits. That’s why a tomato is a fruit, but so are walnuts and acorns. We have this image that a fruit is soft, brightly colored, and more or less juicy, and seeds are hard, and drab, and dry. The latter is generally true, but the fruits of many plants (e.g., grasses) are not particularly appealing to the palate until they have been processed in some way. This fall I took an acorn class from [a botanist friend], and last week I had acorn-flour-based pancakes at his house."
It's a fruit if it contains seeds. That means that not just tomatoes, but also cucumbers, squash and green beans are, in scientific terms, fruit. Unless there's a Legume Corollary I don't know about that applies to the beans. My botanist friend will advise.
Dogs of Moscow
Our correspondent in Russia sent along a story about how dogs in that country's capital have learned to ride the subway from the suburbs into the center of the city, where the food scraps and mooching are better. Researchers are studying this behavior, which seems to have started after the Soviet Union collapsed. Not sure how the dogs raise the nearly $1-a-ride fare.
The Olympics, a Year Later
A sports colleague sent me a link to a story about the status of the environmentally-designed Vancouver Olympic Village, which I toured a few days before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics while covering the Games for Sports Illustrated. As some of you have may already read (I linked the story on Facebook), only a small fraction of the apartments that housed athletes and coaches during the Games have been sold as part of a condo conversion. The recession and a wariness about the village's gritty, industrial neighborhood are largely to blame. Apparently in environmentally progressive real estate—as in other forms of real estate, and baseball pitching—the old dictum still applies: location, location, location. (For a look back at my tour of the Vancouver Olympic village, click on: http://naturalistsnote.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/olympics-green-legacy/. For the happy news about SI's Olympic preview issue winning a magazine award last week, check out: http://www.foliomag.com/2011/sports-illustrated.)
Wishful Thinking Dept.
When Pamelia and I were in frigid Seal Harbor a few days ago doing some work at The Naturalist's Notebook, we couldn't help smiling at the fun-and-sun spirit implicit below:
Last Puzzler Answer
What natural North American landmark is always moving backwards? Niagara Falls, whose rim wears down by two-and-a-half feet each year because of water erosion.
Today's Puzzler Here's a real challenging one: What has two big legs and three small legs and can only be seen at night?
Galileo Galilei, the world-changing Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician, would have been 447 years old today. He has been called the father of modern science, the father of astronomy and the father of modern physics (and he was in fact the father of three children), but some of his ideas weren't welcome during his lifetime. His strong support for Copernicus's theory that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the solar system—a theory condemned by the Catholic Church as "false and contrary to Scripture"—led to his arrest and conviction as part of the Inquisition. He died under house arrest, still deemed a heretic, but has since been honored with everything from stamps to coins to street names to a prominent mention in Queen's song Bohemian Rhapsody.
Margaret Knight, the York, Maine-born inventor who's known as both the female Thomas Edison and the Queen of Paper Bags, would have been 173 years old yesterday. In 1871 she patented a revolutionary machine that folded and glued paper into the flat-bottomed bags (paper, not plastic) that are still used today in grocery and department stores. (That feat earned her a place in the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame in Appleton, Wisc.) Even as a child she was inventing and building items, such as sleds and kites for her brothers. Her more than two dozen patents included the window frame and sash and a machine for cutting shoe soles.
Fritz Zwicky, the Swiss astronomer from Caltech who in 1935 (with a colleague) coined the term supernova, would have been 113 yesterday. Supernovae are exploding stars that generate phenomenal heat and light and create, in their interstellar blast furnace, many of the elements from which the universe is composed.
If we're highlighting the three-year-old conductor above, we might as well mention that Henry E. Steinway, the German-born founder of the world's most famous piano-making company, would have been 214 years old today. My favorite Steinway story involves my mother's father, Oscar Laitinen, who died shortly before I was born. As a young man he saved up all his money and—even though he was a starving artist who didn't even know how to play the piano—bought a Steinway baby grand. He fit it into his small apartment and learned to play it. So did my mother, Jean Neff, who wasn't half bad. She went on to study piano at Juilliard.