Monday, December 30, 2013

Before Benjamin Franklin started his scientific experimentation, it was thought that electricity consisted of two opposing forces.  Franklin showed that electricity consisted of a "common element" which he named "electric fire."  Further, electricity was "fluid" like a liquid.  It passed from one body to another — however it was never destroyed.  Franklin's work became the basis for the single fluid theory.  When something is being charged, such as a car battery, electricity flows from a positive body, that with an excess charge, to a negative body, that with negative charge.  Indeed, a car battery has plus and minus signs on its terminals.  Franklin wrote Peter Collinson  that: "I feel a Want of Terms here and doubt much whether I shall be able to make this intelligible."  Not only did Franklin have to posit theories, he also had to create a new language to fit them.  Some of the electrical terms which Franklin coined during his experiments include:  battery, charge, condensor, conductor, plus, minus, positively, negatively, and armature.  They are still the terms we use today.  Find an account of Franklin's June 1752 kite experiment at 

They're all soybeans 
endamame:   whole pods of immature soybeans, either placed in seasoned, boiling water or steamed-- then typically coated with salt and eaten whole
wasabi beans:  edamame coated in wasabi seasoning
soy nuts:  whole, mature soybeans, soaked in water, then seasoned and roasted or baked

What is wasabi? 
The wasabi plant (Eutrema wasabi) is a member of the cruciferous family.  It traditionally grows in very cold, flowing water from natural springs or rivers in deep valleys, under the canopy of trees.  The earliest cultivation of wasabi dates at least to the 10th century.  The grated .rhizome. or above ground root-like stem of this plant has a fiery hot flavor that quickly dissipates in the mouth to leave a lingering sweet taste, with no burning sensation. 

Hope springs eternal for the American Chestnut tree  While leaving downtown Stockbridge, Massachusetts heading south on Rte 7, on the left there you will see a wooden sign the shape and color of an American Chestnut tree leaf.  If you pull into the nearby driveway, you will see a commemorative rock honoring the late Peter Berle of Great Barrington who had a lot to do with the acquisition of the land.  Then you will come upon a kiosk made of chestnut wood and which contains samples of chestnut branches and bark.  Eventually, there will be a bench there which will also be made out of chestnut.  While at the kiosk, pick up a flyer developed by The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) and read about how the chestnut was one of the most important trees in the forests of Eastern US.  The trees grew up to 100 feet tall and were a major source of lumber and food for wildlife and families. In the 19th century, loaded wagons of chestnuts were sent to major cities to sell at Christmastime.  Then the blight struck in the early 1900s.  The blight is a fungus to which our native chestnuts have very little resistance.  By 1950, approximately 4 billion trees had been destroyed, encompassing 188 million acres of forestland (twice the size of Montana).  It was known as the largest ecological disaster of the 20th century.  Moffatt feels that one reason we lost the turkey population in the early 20th century was because we lost the American chestnut trees which provided food for them.  Once the chestnuts died out, there was a lot of dead space and a void remained until the oaks and cherries eventually moved in.  Amazingly, after all these years, American Chestnut saplings are still sprouting in our woods.  They grow to about 50 feet; inevitably get the blight and die, only to have suckers shoot up from the stumps and seeds again.  Its leaf looks like a beech leaf but different in the sense that it has a scalloped edge.  Thank you, muse reader. 

Westmont is a borough in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, United States.  It is part of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania Metropolitan Statistical Area.  The population was 5,523 at the 2000 census.  Westmont is located about 28 miles WSW of Altoona, Pennsylvania.  According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 2.4 square miles (6.2 km2), all of it land.  The Westmont Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.  Perhaps the town's standout feature is the allee of American Elm trees along Luzerne Street, the last cathedral-arched boulevard left in the United States.  Today there are 195 elms, the longest continuous stand of American Elms in the country, planted along Luzerne Street. Westmont's elm trees are intensively maintained to protect them from Dutch Elm Disease.,_Pennsylvania 

Ebenezer Scrooge Versus the Grinch  Read four-page article by Eric Adler at

Follow-up to overlooked holiday classics  My dad has read "Christmas Memory" aloud every Christmas Eve since 1978.  He does all the voices -- Buddy, his friend, Ha Ha Jones, even the mill owner's wife who wants to buy their Christmas tree.  He sings the tunes that Buddy and his friend dance to after they're finished making fruitcakes.  It's a very special part of our holiday tradition, and when Buddy searches the sky for two lost kites at the very end, there's not a misty eye in the room.  Thank you, muse reader. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR  My New Year's Resolutions:  Read the original A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens and read The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816) by E.TA. Hoffmann and its 1844 revision, The Nutcracker of Nuremburg by Alexandre Dumas.  

Q:  What did Guy Lombardo have to do with New Year's Eve?
A:  Gaetano Alberto Lombardo (1902-1977) was a violinist and leader of "The Royal Canadians," a popular big band formed with his three brothers in London, Ontario.  While booked at New York's Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, the band was so in demand on New Year's Eve that it played for CBS radio before midnight and for NBC radio after.   About that time, Lombardo began playing "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight, launching a tradition that continued at the Roosevelt until 1966, and then at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  Lombardo would joke to reporters, "When I die, I'm taking New Year's Eve with me." -- Solid!  Peter Mattiace.   
Q:  What does "auld lang syne" mean?
A:  The words are Scottish for "times gone by."  Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the song in 1788. -- CNN.
Q:  Why is Times Square the centerpiece of New Year's Eve in our country?
A:  The New York Times first held a New Year's Eve celebration there on Dec. 31, 1904, to celebrate its new building and the renaming of Longacre Square to Times Square.  The first ball was lowered on Dec. 31, 1907, at 1 Times Square.  It was five feet in diameter, made of iron and wood, and had 100 25-watt light bulbs.  CNN,2013,Dec,30&c=c_13

Friday, December 27, 2013

The American chestnut, Castanea dentate, was once considered the redwood of the east.  Chestnut trees grew to be very large with trunks often greater than 5 feet in diameter and reaching heights of 100 feet.  In states like Pennsylvania, it made up 25 percent of the forest.  The American chestnut was a major source of lumber and an important source of food for many animals.  It was also a favorite of many people that loved to eat it roasted.  The chestnut rivaled the white oak as an important food source for animals with one major difference:  it could produce a crop of nuts after eight years, while the oak often took over 20 years.  A single chestnut tree could produce 10 or more bushels of nuts.  This important tree for food and lumber was decimated by a fungal blight that was introduced into the New York area on imported chestnut trees around 1904.  The chestnut blight fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, quickly spread across the eastern half of the United States, killing more than three billion trees by the 1930s.  The Midwest Nut Producers Council started trials of chestnut cultivars at Michigan State University Extension’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, Mich.  By 1996, data from these trial plots suggested that ‘Colossal,’ a European x Japanese hybrid provided large nuts and large yields.  Though the European chestnut is susceptible to chestnut blight, it also produces four to five times more nuts than the Chinese chestnuts.  Growers in Michigan have chosen to grow both the resistant Chinese chestnuts along with the very productive, blight-susceptible European chestnuts.

Chestnut flour is a grayish-tan alternative to regular all-purpose flour made from ground chestnuts. Its sweet flavor makes it a favorite ingredient for recipes involving almonds, chocolate, honey, and hazelnuts.  A gluten-free product, chestnut flour is a cooking option for people with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances or allergies.  Since chestnuts do not contain the fat content regular nuts have, and are instead largely composed of carbohydrates, they have many of the same properties as flour.  Known as the grain that grows on trees, chestnuts have been dried and made into mellow, sweet flavored flour in Italy for centuries.  In Tuscany, where it is known as Farina di Castagne, chestnut flour is considered a staple food, and it is commonly called for in recipes. 

Dead as a doornail is an ancient expression:  we have a reference to this dating back to 1350, and it also appears in the fourteenth-century work The Vision of Piers Plowman and in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Another expression, of rather later date, is as dead as a herring, because most people only saw herrings when they were long dead and preserved; there are other similes with the same meaning, such as dead as mutton, or dead as a stone.  William and Mary Morris, in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, quote a correspondent who points out that it could come from a standard term in carpentry.  If you hammer a nail through a piece of timber and then flatten the end over on the inside so it can’t be removed again (a technique called clinching), the nail is said to be dead, because you can’t use it again.    

Figgy pudding--a.k.a. plum pudding, plum porridge, Christmas pudding and steamed pudding-- is a quintessentially British sweet with a history that might go back to Shakespeare's time.  We know it was around in the mid-1600s, because that's when the English Puritans banned it and Christmas, too.  There probably aren't too many sweets that have been banned, but then there aren't too many sweets that are as alcoholic as this one. 

Christmas Island is located in the Indian Ocean, 380 kilometres south of Java and 2650 kilometres north west of Perth.  The nearest point on the Australian mainland is Northwest Cape, approximately 1565 kilometres to the south east.  The Island has an area of 135 square kilometres.

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s (PPPL) focus — magnetic fusion research — began at the university in 1951.  It was grounded in the earlier work of a European scientist then living in Princeton.  Einstein’s theory that mass could be converted into energy had been demonstrated six years earlier near Alamogordo, N.M., by fission — the splitting of atoms, which released the energy that held the atoms together.  By the 1950s, however, attention was turning to an unimaginably more promising method of releasing energy from transforming matter — the way the sun does, by fusion.  Every second the sun produces a million times more energy than the world consumes in a year.  But to “take a sun and put it in a box” — the description of one scientist here — requires developing the new field of plasma physics and solving the most difficult engineering problems in the history of science.  The objective is to create conditions for the controlled release of huge amounts of energy from the fusion of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium.  Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe; Earth’s water contains a virtually inexhaustible supply (10 million million tons) of deuterium, and tritium is “bred” in the fusion plant itself.  The sun is a huge sphere of plasma, which is a hot, electrically charged gas.  The production and confinement of plasma in laboratories is now routine. The task now is to solve the problem of “net energy” — producing more electrical power than is required for the production of it.  Magnets produce a field sufficient to prevent particles heated beyond the sun’s temperature — more than 100 million degrees Celsius — from hitting the walls of the containment vessel.  Understanding plasma’s behavior requires the assistance of Titan, one of the world’s fastest computers, which is located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and can perform more than 17 quadrillion — a million billion — calculations a second.  As in today’s coal-fired power plants, the ultimate object is heat — to turn water into steam that drives generators. Fusion, however, produces no greenhouse gases, no long-lived nuclear waste and no risk of the sort of runaway reaction that occurred at Fukushima  Geroge F. Will 

Dec. 20, 2013  Two Canadian cities, Vancouver and Montreal, have the world’s best public library systems, according to a new survey by German researchers.  Library mavens at the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf studied libraries in 31 major world cities, from London and Los Angeles, and from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Two U.S. library systems finished third and fourth: Chicago and San Francisco.  The New York Public Library system (ranked 9th overall), scored at the top in terms of digital services, while Montreal was judged to have the best physical facilities and book collection.   Hector Tobar,0,1665035.story#axzz2o7yRS1Ig

Forget Peter and his peppers, and Sally and her seashells. Researchers at MIT claim they have found the twistiest tongue twister in the English language:  "Pad kid poured curd pulled cod." 
Presenting the work at the Acoustical Society of America in San Francisco in December 2013, Stefanie Shattuck-Hufnagel, an MIT psychologist who helped coin the phrase, says it's so tricky that when she asked subjects to say it ten times fast, some became so tongue-tied that they simply gave up.  This puts it in the league of famously frustrating phrases like "Clean clams crammed in clean cans"; "The top cop saw a cop top"; and "The seething sea ceaseth and thus the seething sea sufficeth us."  So what makes some phrases harder to say than others?  Researchers say tongue twisters share certain qualities that the human brain and mouth tend to reject.  For example, they often contain a quick string of similar but distinct phonemes, which are the smallest linguistic unit (like "s" or "sh"). Inversions, such as "the top cop saw a cop top," also prove tricky.  And "Pad kid poured curd pulled cod" has the extra bonus of being totally nonsensical.  Researchers have also identified the kinds of mistakes people tend to make when attempting these phrases.  They often conflate consonants, a mistake linguists refer to as double onsets.  "Top cop" sometimes becomes "tkop," for example.  People also tend to turn vowels into mush.  "Toy boat" very quickly becomes "tuh-boyt."  Is the brain jumbling the syllables, or are the muscles in our mouths unable to handle certain rapid movements?  In 1982, researchers Ralph and Lyn Haber examined where the mistakes occur.  Asking college-age test subjects to silently read two types of sentences — ones that contained tongue twisters, and ones that were similar in complexity, but did not contain tongue twisters — the Habers found that subjects slowed down on sentences with tongue twisters, even when their actual tongues were not in use.  This implied that the brain is confusing the sounds before they ever reach the mouth.  Carmel Lobello 

Here are three stories from three great writers of the 20th century that will put the holidays in a new light. 
(1)  The first is John Cheever’s wonderfully funny 1949 story, “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor,” originally published in The New Yorker  Cheever’s protagonist, Charlie, is an elevator operator for a Park Avenue apartment building.  He isn’t happy about having to work on Christmas, and he voices his complaint to the very first apartment dweller who enters his elevator.  The doorman repeats his complaint — and throws in a lie or two — to other people in the building, and soon he’s being surprised with a windfall of food and gifts.
(2)  In Truman Capote's “A Christmas Memory,"  he recounts a tale of the Christmas he was 7 years old and living with his mother’s eccentric relatives in Alabama.  The story is centered on one relative he was especially close to, and who conspired with him to make the most Christmasy food she could think of:  fruitcake (the recipe requires whiskey, which wasn't available legally).    
(3)  If you’re looking for a "white" Christmas, then look no further than the poet Dylan Thomas’ "A Child's Christmas in Wales."  a reminiscence of his childhood.  Originally read by Thomas for a radio show in 1952, the story  cemented Thomas's fame in the U.S.  Hector Tobar,0,4787578.story#axzz2oVBeQSYy

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The National Library of Norway is planning to digitize all the books by the mid 2020s.  Yes.  All.  The.  Books.  In Norwegian, at least.  Hundreds of thousands of them.  Every book in the library's holdings.  By law, "all published content, in all media, [must] be deposited with the National Library of Norway," so when the library is finished scanning, the entire record of a people's language and literature will be machine-readable and sitting in whatever we call the cloud in 15 years.  If you happen to be in Norway, as measured by your IP address, you will be able to access all 20th-century works, even those still under copyright.  Non-copyrighted works from all time periods will be available for download.   Alexis C. Madrigal 

blue gold (water or natural gas)
white gold (rubber or cotton)
black gold (oil)
green gold (tea or marijuana)
brown gold (tobacco) 

Paraphrases from The Lonely Polygamist, a novel by Brady Udall
A stalling tactic:  when you don't want to do something, ask a question.  Change the subject when confronted with a question that has no good answer. 

Idaho Writer in Residence  Selection of the writer is made from Idaho applicants whose anonymous writing samples are judged by a panel of three out-of-state writers.  Former writers-in-residence include:  Ron McFarland, Moscow (1984); Robert Wrigley, Lewiston (1986); Eberle Umbach, Indian Valley (1988); Neidy Messer, Boise (1990); Daryl Jones, Boise (1992); Clay Morgan, McCall (1994); Lance Olsen, Moscow (1996); Bill Johnson, Lewiston (1999); Jim Irons, Twin Falls (2001); Kim Barnes, Lewiston (2004); Anthony Doerr, Boise (2007); Brady Udall, Boise (2010).   The 2013 recipient, Diane Raptosh, grew up in Nampa, Idaho, one of three children. A graduate of The College of Idaho, she earned her MFA at the University of Michigan.   Raptosh is now professor of English at The College of Idaho, where she holds the Eyck-Berringer Endowed Chair.  She has published four collections of poems, among them Just West of Now (1992), Labor Songs (1999), and Parents from a Different Alphabet (2008).  Her work has appeared in more than 20 anthologies and 50 journals. 

How Plants Secretly Talk to Each Other by Kat McGowan
The evidence for plant communication is only a few decades old, but in that short time it has leapfrogged from electrifying discovery to decisive debunking to resurrection.  Two studies published in 1983 demonstrated that willow trees, poplars and sugar maples can warn each other about insect attacks:  Intact, undamaged trees near ones that are infested with hungry bugs begin pumping out bug-repelling chemicals to ward off attack.  They somehow know what their neighbors are experiencing, and react to it.  The mind-bending implication was that brainless trees could send, receive and interpret messages.  The first few “talking tree” papers quickly were shot down as statistically flawed or too artificial, irrelevant to the real-world war between plants and bugs.  Research ground to a halt. But the science of plant communication is now staging a comeback.  Rigorous, carefully controlled experiments are overcoming those early criticisms with repeated testing in labs, forests and fields.  It’s now well established that when bugs chew leaves, plants respond by releasing volatile organic compounds into the air.  By Karban’s last count, 40 out of 48 studies of plant communication confirm that other plants detect these airborne signals and ramp up their production of chemical weapons or other defense mechanisms in response.  “The evidence that plants release volatiles when damaged by herbivores is as sure as something in science can be,” said Martin Heil, an ecologist at the Mexican research institute Cinvestav Irapuato.  “The evidence that plants can somehow perceive these volatiles and respond with a defense response is also very good.”  Read extensive article at 

At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime?  See What If?  "answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every  Tuesday" site at 

Welcome to the 2013 edition of Dennis Kennedy’s annual Best of Law-related Blogging Awards, affectionately known as the “Blawggies.”  The Blawggies, which honor the best law-related blogs as determined from my personal and highly-opinionated perspective, were first unleashed on an unsuspecting blogosphere in December 2004 and are an annual tradition here at DennisKennedy.Blog.
1.  Best Overall Law-Related Blog 3 Geeks and a Law Blog
2.  The “Marty Schwimmer” Best Practice-Specific Legal Blog – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning
3.  Best Law Practice Management Blog – Adam Smith, Esq.
4.  Best Law-related Blog Category – Law Librarian Blogs
5.  The “Kennedy-Mighell Report” Best Legal Podcast – The Return of the Legal Talk Network
6.  The “Sherry Fowler” Best Writing on a Blawg Award – Sharon Nelson’s Ride the Lightning
7.  Best Law Professor Blog – Legal Skills Prof Blog
8.  The “DennisKennedy.Blog” Best Legal Technology Blog – V. Mary Abraham’s Above and Beyond KM
9.   Best New Blawg – Jerry Lawson’s NetLawTools
10. Best Blawg Aggregator – Tie:  TechnoLawyer’s BlawgWorld; Pinhawk Law Technology Daily Digest 
Find more information at

Dec. 24, 2013  Merry Christmas!  107 years ago tonight, Americans heard the world’s first radio show.  At 9 p.m. that night in 1906, the Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden set up his violin before the microphone at a studio in Brant Rock, Mass., and proceeded to play "O Holy Night," a live performance that was heard, by some accounts, up to 12 miles away.  Brian Fung

Monday, December 23, 2013

euphony — eu “good” + phone "sound, voice"
euphemism — eu “good” + pheme "speaking”
euphoria — eu “good” + pherein "to carry" 

In March 2013, Bridget Flynn, a school librarian who lives in Philadelphia, was searching for an old family drawing to print on the invitations to her daughter Rebecca’s bridal shower.  As she and Rebecca rummaged through the several generations of family artifacts—letters, photographs, an envelope of hair cuttings—she keeps in plastic bins in her basement, they found  stack of small envelopes tied together with a black shoelace.  “Oh, honey, these are love letters,” Flynn said.  Rebecca untied them and began reading the first one:  “Mr Ros, be not uneasy, you son charley bruster be all writ we is got him and no powers on earth can deliver out of our hand.”  “Mom, these are ransom letters,” Rebecca said.  Flynn went through the rest of the stack with her husband, David Meketon, a research consultant at the University of Pennsylvania.  They counted a total of 22 letters, all of them addressed to Christian Ross.  Kidnappers had taken his 4-year-old son, whose full name was Charles Brewster Ross, and demanded $20,000 for his return.  Meketon googled “Christian Ross” and found that in 1876, Ross published a memoir about the kidnapping.  The memoir, available online, includes facsimiles of several of the letters.  As he compared the handwriting in the images to the documents that lay before him, Meketon realized he held America’s first known ransom kidnapping notes. 

Paraphrases from Live Wire by Harlan Coben
The great thing about the Internet--it gives everyone a voice.  The bad thing about the Internet--it gives everyone a voice.  The great bastion for the cowardly and anonymous.
A golf course is a sanctuary.  You feel almost blessed when you look out over the calming spread of green.

In 1913, one man sent a letter that would transform the telephone industry.  The letter gave rise to the country's last and most powerful monopoly.  And like the Internet of this century, it gave millions of ordinary people the chance to stay in touch more easily than they ever had before.  The letter's author was Nathan C. Kingsbury — a vice president of AT&T many have since forgotten.  Wilson's administration was threatening a legal assault on AT&T.  The telephone company had been aggressively buying up its competitors around the country — maybe too many.  Perhaps AT&T should be broken up, Wilson mused.  Perhaps the government should take control.  Then came Kingsbury's letter.  In under 900 words, Kingsbury smoothed everything over.  It produced a miraculous result in Wilson and his deputy in the Justice Department.  "I gain the impression more and more from week to week that the businessmen of the country are sincerely desirous of conforming with the law," Wilson gushed, “and it is very gratifying to have the occasion, as in this instance, to deal with them in complete frankness and to be able to show them that all that we desire is an opportunity to cooperate with them.”  The White House’s antitrust concerns were resolved practically overnight.  But the letter's impact can still be felt today.  By dropping its antitrust case, the Wilson administration effectively gave its blessing to AT&T's dominance of the telephone industry. In exchange for this government-sponsored monopoly, AT&T agreed to operate as a public utility, eventually providing high-quality phone service to the vast majority of Americans regardless of income or geography.  Kingsbury's commitments to President Wilson would later be formalized and expanded by Congress into the legal obligations that still bind the modern successors of the old AT&T: Verizon, CenturyLink, and the new AT&T.  But technological changes are rapidly undermining the century-old bargain of the Kingsbury Commitment.  Telephone incumbents want to abandon conventional analog phone service in favor of a new generation of Internet-based voice applications.  In this new age of telephony, Americans will need to decide whether phone companies owe them the same obligations they demanded in the 20th century.  Brian Fung 

Ten Library Stories That Shaped 2013 

Two "lost" films starring actor Peter Sellers are to be shown in public for the first time in more than 50 years.  The star made the comedy shorts Dearth of a Salesman and Insomnia is Good For You in 1957 as he tried to make his name as a film actor.  The two 30-minute films were originally salvaged from a skip outside a film company's office in 1996 before being forgotten about again.  They will be screened at the Southend Film Festival in May 2014. These films capture Sellers at a career crossroads.  He's nailed the radio with The Goons, and made a good start in TV and film.  Now he wants to be a screen star.  The two rediscoveries were spoof government information films.  Mark Cousins from The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society said the discoveries, which are the final two of three missing films, were "very exciting" and helped to "complete the canon of his legacy".  "These early films, although they're only shorts, are quite important because they were really made before he hit the big time," he said.  "They are missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [Sellers] is very well known for his later works such as Dr Strangelove and the Pink Panther films and these help to give people an appreciation of how he got there." 

"Bah, humbug!” says Ebenezer Scrooge about Christmas — but some readers would use the same phrase to dismiss “A Christmas Carol” itself.  One critic described Charles Dickens’s famous book as “saturated with exaggerated Christmas fervour” and “larded with soggy and indigestible lumps of sickly sentiment.”  That’s probably a little too strong, too dismissive for this artistically complex tale about a skinflint’s change of heart.  Over the next few days, many families will again watch Alistair Sim or the Muppets in one of the innumerable film adaptations.  Yet will they ever open the book?  All too commonly, “A Christmas Carol,” like “Don Quixote” and “Robinson Crusoe,” is a classic people think they know without actually ever having read a word of it.  Michael Patrick Hearn’s excellent annotated edition, which first appeared in 1976, has been reissued this year (though without any updating since its last appearance in 2004; the bibliography is noticeably out of date).  Hearn — best known as an authority on children’s literature and on “The Wizard of Oz” in particular — provides a substantial introduction in which he tracks Dickens’s early career up through his 1842 visit to America and the composition of “A Christmas Carol” that followed in 1843.  Hearn points out that the young novelist drew upon the depiction of Yuletide festivities in Washington Irving’s underappreciated “Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon” and took his “conversion” plot from “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” part of the wonderful “Christmas at Dingley Dell” section of his own “Pickwick Papers.”  Michael Dirda 

See quotes from A Christmas Carol at  Phrases such as Merry Christmas and Bah, humbug! were popularized with this ghost story that is also a tale of morality and redemption.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Dec. 2, 2013  What happens to your digital life after you die?   It’s a question not many consider given how embedded the internet is in their lives.  The typical web user has 25 online accounts, ranging from email to social media profiles and bank accounts, according to a 2007 study from Microsoft.   But families, companies and legislators are just starting to sort out who owns and has access to these accounts after someone has died.  The issue came up recently in Virginia, when a couple, seeking answers after their son’s suicide, realized they couldn’t access his Facebook account.  Now Virginia is one of a growing number of states that have passed laws governing the digital accounts of the deceased.  Meanwhile, technology companies are forming their own policies regarding deceased users.  While still in the early stages, the laws and policies taking shape so far indicate that designating one’s “digital assets” may soon become a critical part of estate planning.  The implications are widespread, considering that today nearly all American adults are online and 72% of them, along with 81% of teenagers, use social media sites.  In the digital world, posting photos, drafting emails or making purchases are activities that don’t solely belong to users.  They belong, in part, to companies like Facebook and Google that store information on their servers.  In order to access these convenient online tools, users enter into agreements when they click on — but often don’t read — terms-of-service agreements.  Maeve Duggan 

inoculate  (i-NOK-yuh-layt)  verb. tr.  1.  To treat with a vaccine to induce immunity against a disease.  2.  To introduce an idea into someone's mind.  3.  To safeguard or protect.   From Latin in- (in) + oculus (eye; bud, referring to grafting of a bud into a plant of a different type).  Earliest documented use:  1420.
pratfall   (PRAT-fawl)  noun  A humiliating failure, blunder, or defeat.   A pratfall is literally a fall on the buttocks.  The word is figuratively used to describe embarrassing errors or failures.  From prat (buttocks, fool) + fall.  Earliest documented use:  1939.
A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

Toledo is home to the largest collection of lithophanes and the only museum worldwide dedicated to the art — the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.  The museum is home to more than 2,300 lithophanes and has approximately 750 lithophanes on display at all times.  A lithophane is a three-dimensional image in translucent porcelain that was a popular European art form in the 19th century.  Many lithophanes were displayed as part of lanterns, as candle shields or as fire screens during the Victorian age.  In addition to those forms, the museum has lithophanes displayed as night lights and lamp shades as well as in beer steins and tea warmers.  Skilled craftsmen carved images into beeswax with tools similar to dental instruments.  The deeper the beeswax was carved the more light that shone through and the lighter the image.  Upon completion, the carved beeswax was used to create molds for the porcelain.  Once a mold was created a lithophane image could be replicated a number of times.  The museum’s largest flat lithophane, an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is 15 inches by 10.75 inches.  Most of the lithophanes at the museum are smaller, however, measuring roughly 5 inches by 7 inches in size.  Most lithophanes are monochromatic, but some lithophanes have been painted, Carney.  Painted lithophanes are rare, but the museum has some on display.  The Blair Museum of Lithophanes was founded by Laurel Gotshall Blair, a local businessman.  Blair began collecting lithophanes in the 1960s and ran a lithophane museum out of his home in the Old West End.  When Blair died in 1993, he left his entire collection of lithophanes to the city of Toledo.  After nearly 10 years of efforts, the museum was opened at its current location at 5403 Elmer Drive in the Toledo Botanical Garden.  Kristen Criswell 

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (German: Nussknacker und Mausekönig) is a story written in 1816 by E. T. A. Hoffmann in which young Marie Stahlbaum's favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.  In 1892, the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned Alexandre Dumas père's adaptation of the story into the ballet The Nutcracker, which became one of Tchaikovsky's most famous compositions, and perhaps the most popular ballet in the world.  The Nutcracker (Histoire d'un casse-noisette, 1844) is a somewhat watered-down revision by Alexandre Dumas, père of the Hoffmann tale.  This was the version used as the basis for the Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker, but in the ballet, Marie's name is usually changed to Clara.  Read plot summary and see a variety of nutcracker images at 

Alexandre Dumas born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (1802–1870) also known as Alexandre Dumas, père, was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure.  Translated into nearly 100 languages, these have made him one of the most widely read French authors in history.  Many of his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne: Ten Years Later were originally published as serials.  His novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century for nearly 200 films.  Dumas' last novel, The Knight of Sainte-Hermine, unfinished at his death, was completed by a scholar and published in 2005, becoming a bestseller.  It was published in English in 2008 as The Last Cavalier.,_p%C3%A8re

Discworld is a comic fantasy book series written by the English writer Terry Pratchett, set on the fictional Discworld, a flat disc balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle, Great A'Tuin.  The books frequently parody, or take inspiration from, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and William Shakespeare, as well as mythology, folklore and fairy tales, often using them for satirical parallels with current cultural, political and scientific issues.  The series is popular with more than 80 million copies sold in 37 languages.  Since the first novel, The Colour of Magic (1983), 40 Discworld novels have been published as of November 2013[update].  Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, has said that he would be happy for his daughter Rhianna to continue the series when he is no longer able to do so.  The original British editions of the first 26 novels, up to Thief of Time (2001), had distinctive cover art by Josh Kirby; the American editions, published by Harper Collins, used their own cover art.  Since Kirby's death in October 2001, the covers have been designed by Paul Kidby.  Companion publications include eleven short stories (some only loosely related to the Discworld), four popular science books, and a number of supplementary books and reference guides.  In addition, the series has been adapted for the theatre, as computer games, as music inspired by the series, and repeatedly for television.  Newly released Discworld books regularly top The Sunday Times best-sellers list, making Pratchett the UK's best-selling author in the 1990s, although he has since been overtaken by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.  Discworld novels have also won awards such as the Prometheus Award and the Carnegie Medal. In the BBC's Big Read, four Discworld novels were in the top 100, and a total of fourteen in the top 200. 

Botanically speaking, bulbs are geophytes, which are herbaceous plants with underground storage organs.  Geophytes don't just include true bulbs, but also those that we collectively refer to as bulbs, which are in fact corms, rhizomes and tubers.  A true bulb, such as an onion, consists of fleshy layers of leaves that store food for the developing plant.  Corms, such as gladiolus, contain a solid mass of stem tissue, rather than concentric rings of leaves.  The fleshy portion at the roots of a canna is called a rhizome, which is a general term for a stem that grows horizontally.  Some of the best known rhizomes are ginger, bamboo and many irises.  Then there are the tubers, the most well-known of which is the potato.  A potato is technically a stem tuber, meaning that it's actually a swollen stem, or more correctly, the swollen tip of a rhizome.  Paul James  Find more information and pictures at 

A beloved musical about a magical nanny, an epic about the first astronauts, a silent film with a Native American cast and a sci-fi thriller loosely based on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" are among the 25 motion pictures to join the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.  This year's selections that span the years 1919-2002, include 1964's "Mary Poppins"; 1983's "The Right Stuff"; 1929's "Daughter of Dawn" and 1956's "Forbidden Planet"; as well as 1952's "The Quiet Man"; 1994's "Pulp Fiction"; 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"; 1989's "Roger & Me"; and the 1966 documentary "Cicero March," which examines a confrontation between blacks and whites in an Illinois town.  Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, the librarian names 25 pictures to the National Film Registry that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.  The film must be at least 10 years old.  This year's selections bring the total in the National Registry to 625.  Susan King,0,1122309.story