Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Poblano peppers (pronounced "po-BLAH-no") are a variety of chili pepper used in Mexican and Southwestern cooking  Poblano peppers are so named because they are said to originate from the state of Puebla in central Mexico.  They have thick, dark-green skin and a wide base which tapers to a point.  Poblano peppers are mild to medium-hot.  Poblano peppers register between 1,000 and 2,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville Scale.  When dried, the poblano pepper is called the ancho chili.  Poblano peppers are good candidates for roasting.  Roasting brings out the fruitier flavors of the pepper and eases in removing the skin, which can be tough.  Danilo Alfaro

Tai is usually referred to as great or supreme.  Chi can be referred to as ultimate.  Together the ideogram has come to mean Supreme Ultimate.  Why it is supreme ultimate is hidden inside each character and those characters reveal hidden practices.  The first use of the word Tai Chi comes from the I Ching and a reference to the balance of yin and yang.  However the hidden meaning reveals Tai Chi as One Centered Person, Between Heaven and Earth, Standing like a Pine Tree, Using the Mouth and the Hands in a Balanced Fashion.  See the characters pictured and explained at

Since the Yang family popularized Tai Chi during the 1800s, the form has been passed down from teacher to student in an oral tradition, resulting in a wide variety in the way the form is practiced.  No matter which version of the form you practice, the essential principles and structure within the movements are basically the same.  The form practiced by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming and YMAA students can be traced back to the Yang family through Grandmaster Kao, Tao and his teacher Yue, Huanzhi, an indoor disciple of Yang, Chengfu.  It is comprised of 37-postures, or movement patterns, which are repeated to the left or right to create the 108-movement sequence.  See graphics and link to 11' video at

The Series of 1928 was the first issue of small-size currency printed and released by the U.S. government.  These notes, first released to the public on July 10, 1929, were the first standardized notes in terms of design and characteristics, featuring similar portraits and other facets.  These notes were also the first to measure 6.14" by 2.61", quite a bit smaller than the large-sized predecessors of Series 1923 and earlier that measured 7.4218" by 3.125"  See many pictures at

In British English the floor of a building at street level is called the ground floor.  The floor above it is the first floor and the floor below is called the basementIn American English, however, the floor at street level is usually called the first floor.  The floor below street level is called the basement, the same as in British English.  In public buildings in the US it’s also possible to call the street-level floor the ground floor, like in Britain.
Storey, storeys / story, stories  This word describes the level (height) of a building and the total number of its floors.  From the word ‘storey’ we get single-storey and multi-storey buildings. Storey is often spelled story (plural ‘stories’) in American English.  Stuart Cook 

Regardless of your kitchen size you most likely have a pantry.  This might be as small as a shelf in a cupboard or as large as a walk-in closet.  It is where we keep the foods and supplies used most often.  The history of the pantry, or kitchen storage, is an interesting reflection of what was going on at the time socially, economically and architecturally.  The word “pantry” comes from the Old French word “paneterie” meaning from “pain”, the French word for bread.  In medieval times food and supplies were stored in specific rooms:  meats were stored in a larder, alcohol stored in the buttery and bread was stored in the pantry.  The butler’s pantry was traditionally used to store silver, serving pieces and other kitchen related items.  Because the silver was kept under lock and key in the butler’s pantry the butler would actually sleep in the pantry to guard against thievery.  Nowadays, modern homes have butler’s pantries usually located off the kitchen or between the kitchen and the formal dining room.  Typically you will find countertop space to rest food or to prepare the dishware prior to serving.  In the early 1900’s the Hoosier Cabinet, made by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in Indiana, was created to be an all-in-one pantry and kitchen for the new American home.  Most Hoosier Cabinets stood about six feet high, four feet wide and about two feet deep – making it a perfect size for small kitchens.  The cabinet was typically sold with built in storage bins and containers for everyday items like flour, sugar, coffee, tea and household spices.

The 45th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 45 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane.  It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean.  The 45th parallel north is often called the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole, but the true halfway point is actually 16.2 kilometres (10.1 mi) north of the 45th parallel because the Earth is oblate, that is, it bulges at the equator and is flattened at the poles.  Find pictures, a list of areas that the 45th parallel passes through, and link to 45th parallel south information at

A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg--words with apostophes--beginning with Anu Garg's story that a sign on his street corner read childrens, and he was able to convince the transportation department to create a new sign with children's because he likes "signs punctuated." 
dog's chance  (DOGZ chans)  noun  A poor chance.  In modern times dogs may be pampered, but historically a dog's life wasn't much to bark about.  Hence a dog's chance is a small chance.  Earliest documented use:  1890.
cat's cradle  (kats kraydl)  noun   1.  A children's game in which a string is wrapped around one player's hands in complex symmetrical patterns and transferred to another player's hands to form a different pattern.  See 4:35 video at   2.  Something elaborate or intricate, especially when without an apparent purpose.  Of uncertain origin.  Earliest documented use:  1768.  

From January 1, 2015, the International Monetary Fund is providing its statistical data free of charge

Dec. 30, 2014  Actress Luise Rainer, who became the first winner of consecutive Oscars in the 1930s, has died at the age of 104.  The German-born star was named best actress in 1936 and 1937 - a feat achieved by only five actors in Academy Awards history to date.  Other actors to have collected consecutive acting awards are Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Jason Robards and Tom Hanks.  Read story and see picture at

NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION  Use the words very, iconic and unique very little or not at all.

Lake Superior State University's 40th Annual List of Banished Words The tradition created by the late W. T. Rabe, former public relations director at Lake Superior State University, begins its fifth decade with this year's annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.  Rabe and fellow LSSU faculty and staff came up with the first list of words and phrases that people love to hate at a New Year's Eve party in 1975, publishing it on Jan. 1, 1976.  Since then, the list has consisted entirely of nominations received from around the world throughout the year.  Through the years, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which now includes more than 800 entries.  Issue 1237  December 31, 2014  On this date in 1695, a window tax was imposed in England, causing many householders to brick up windows to avoid the tax.  On this date in 1992, Czechoslovakia was peacefully dissolved in what is dubbed by media as the Velvet Divorce, resulting in the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; 1922–1969) was an American actress, singer and vaudevillianSeveral stories persist regarding the origin of the name "Garland."  One is that it was originated by Jessel after Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in the film Twentieth Century, which was then playing at the Oriental; another is that the girls chose the surname after drama-critic Robert Garland.  Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, stated that her mother selected the name when Jessel announced that the trio "looked prettier than a garland of flowers."  Another variation surfaced when he was a guest on Garland's television show in 1963.  He claimed that he had sent actress Judith Anderson a telegram containing the word "garland" and it stuck in his mind.  By late 1934, the Gumm Sisters had changed their name to the Garland Sisters.  Frances changed her name to "Judy" soon after, inspired by a popular Hoagy Carmichael song.  The famous theme song David Raksin wrote for Laura (1944) was originally entitled "Judy" in honor of Judy Garland.  She was mentioned in the song "Happy Phantom" by Tori Amos, "Dance in the Dark" by Lady Gaga, and "A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel" by U2

A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.  Especially associated with theYucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.  The term derives from a word used by the low-land Yucatec Maya, "Ts'onot" to refer to any location with accessible groundwater.  Cenotes are common geological forms in low latitude regions, particularly on islands, coastlines, and platforms with young post-Paleozoic limestones that have little soil development.  Find a list of notable cenotes at

There's no evidence at this stage that the great books in our culture can be produced through the Internet right now," says bestselling writer James Patterson.  "If the equivalent of 'Ulysses' came along, out it would go on the Internet, it would get like about 12 Fs in a row — 'I couldn't get through the first page,' 'Couldn't get through the first chapter,' F-F-F-F-F, and 'Ulysses' would disappear."  Patterson's prominence as one of the world's biggest-selling authors has made him a prophet with a platform.  He's on a crusade to make books matter — to, as his hashtag says, #saveourbooks.  In addition to publishing 10 books a year, his recent endeavors have included a petition campaign to get President Obama to demonstrate a love of reading, giving $1 million to independent bookstores, funding teacher scholarships, making a documentary about disadvantaged neighborhoods, partnering with the Library of Congress and tussling with Amazon.  "I'm just stepping up, trying to make some noise, and get others to step up," he says self-deprecatingly, talking by phone from his home in Palm Beach, Fla.  "With the Amazon thing, I could draw attention to the effect it's having on a lot of writers — they were hurting."  Earlier this year, authors published by the Hachette Book Group saw their Amazon sales drop when the online retailer made it harder to buy their books as a tactic during contract negotiations.  Because Amazon accounts for 40% of all retail book sales in the U.S., most authors feared alienating the company.  Patterson (published by Little, Brown, which is part of Hachette), got up at the publishing industry's annual convention, Book Expo, and sounded the Amazon alarm, opening up a public discussion of the online retailer's aggressive business practices.  Whether through his sharp analysis of the publishing industry, the more than 400 teacher scholarships he funds, student reading programs he sponsors, or online campaigns designed to reach the president, Patterson emphasizes the idea that reading is necessary and that a vital literary ecosystem is as important as clean water.  "What kind of culture would we have without books?" he asks, his voice rising.  It's rare for a heavyweight author to engage with the world the way Patterson does.  Over time, he has sold more than 300 million books; in the last decade, that's more than any other single writer.  In 2009, you could take the combined book sales of John Grisham, Stephen King and Dan Brown and still not equal Patterson's.  He holds the Guinness world record for most entries on the New York Times bestseller list and regularly tops Forbes' list of top-earning authors.  Carolyn Kellogg

Temple University in Philadelphia announced that Snøhetta would be at the helm of the design for its new library for the original location on North Broad.  Those plans were eventually scrapped, in favor of a centralized location at 13th and Norris St., still designed by Snøhetta.  Temple's new mega-library will feature a true starchitect's touch (with the help from local firm Stantec), it will also boast a "robotic text-retrieval system," according to The Inquirer.  The Inquirer reports the library will cost $190M to complete, which should happen by 2018.  It will be comprised of 210,000 square-feet of space and utilized a robotic text-retrieval system.  A green roof and cafe space are also in the plans for the new library.  According to The Inquirer, Paley Library will be "will be retooled as a welcome center, with a cafe, classrooms, and gathering spaces."  See pictures at

Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state and microstate, located on the French Riviera in Western Europe.  It is bordered by France on three sides; one side borders the Mediterranean Sea.  Monaco has an area of 2.02 km2 (0.78 sq mi) and a population of 36,371; Monaco is the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world.  Monaco has a land border of 4.4 km (2.7 mi), a coastline of 4.1 km (2.5 mi), and a width that varies between 1,700 and 349 m (5,577 and 1,145 ft).  Monaco's most populous Quartier is Monte Carlo and the most populous Ward is Larvotto/Bas Moulins.  Through land reclamation, Monaco's land mass has expanded by twenty percent.  Monaco is governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with Prince Albert II as head of state. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297.  The official language is French, but MonégasqueItalian, and English are widely spoken and understood.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing, who died in 2013, spent her early years in Zimbabwe.  She is still giving back to the country whose former white rulers banished her for speaking against racial discrimination.  The bulk of Lessing's book collection was handed over to the Harare City Library (at the corner of Rotten Row and Pennyfeather), which will catalogue the more than 3,000 books.  The donation complements the author's role in opening libraries in Zimbabwe, to make books available to rural people.  "For us she continues to live," said 42-year-old Kempson Mudenda, who worked with Lessing when she established the Africa Community Publishing and Development Trust.  "The libraries she helped set up are giving life to village children who would otherwise be doomed," said Mudenda, who said he used to trudge bush paths daily to reach remote villages with books.  Lessing's trust started libraries in thatched mud huts and under trees after the author was allowed to return to Zimbabwe following independence in 1980.  Issue 1236  December 29, 2014  On this date in 1800, Charles Goodyear, American engineer, was born.  On this date in 1914, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the first novel by James Joyce, was serialized in The Egoist.

Friday, December 26, 2014

11 Google Tricks That Will Change the Way You Search by Jack Linshi
1.   Use quotes to search for an exact phrase.
2.   Use an asterisk within quotes to specify unknown or variable words. 
(“* is thicker than water”).
3.   Use the minus sign to eliminate results containing certain words.
4.   Search websites for keywords.  Think of the “site:”.  If you want to see every time mentioned Google, use the search “Google site:”.
5.   Search news archives going back to the mid-1880s.
6.   Compare foods using “vs.”  Type in “rice vs. quinoa,” and you’ll receive side-by-side comparisons of the nutritional facts.
7.   Filter search results for recipes.  If you search your favorite food, and then click “Search Tools” right under the search bar, you’ll be able to filter recipes based on ingredients, cook time and calories.
8.   Use “DEFINE:” to learn the meaning of words—slang included.
9.   Tilt your screen by searching “tilt.”  Try it out yourself (search without quotes).
10.  Play Atari Breakout by searching it on Google Images.  Search “Atari Breakout” (without quotes) on Google Images.
11.  Search images using images.  If you save the image, and then search it on Google Images (with the camera button), you’ll be able to see similar images on the web.

The rondeau began as a lyric form in thirteenth-century France, popular among medieval court poets and musicians.  Named after the French word for “round," the rondeau is characterized by the repeating lines of the rentrement, or refrain, and the two rhyme sounds throughout.  The form was originally a musical vehicle devoted to emotional subjects such as spiritual worship, courtship, romance, and the changing of seasons.  The rondeau’s form is not difficult to recognize: as it is known and practiced today, it is composed of fifteen lines, eight to ten syllables each, divided stanzaically into a quintet, a quatrain, and a sestet. The rentrement consists of the first few words or the entire first line of the first stanza, and it recurs as the last line of both the second and third stanzas.  
An example of a solemn rondeau is the Canadian army physician John McCrae’s 1915 wartime poem, "In Flanders Fields":

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.  Hear Jean Joseph Mouret's "Rondeau" (used as the theme from PBS Masterpiece Theater) at  2:06

Find a list of words with all five vowels including dialogue, equation, euphoria, authorize and inoculate at 

SOUTH AMERICA is the only continent with all 5 vowels in its name.  EUNOIA is the title of a book by Canadian poet Christian Bok which contains a series of univocalic prose poems.  The first 20 or so poems use only the letter A, the next 20 use only E, and so on through I, O, and U.  The book claims that eunoia means “beautiful thinking” and that it is shortest word using all five vowels.  However, the word does not appear in English language dictionaries.  The shortest word with the five vowels in alphabetical order is AERIOUS (7 letters), meaning "airy."

Unlike a lot of other headline-grabbing debut novelists, Taylor Stevens did not graduate from a prestigious creative-writing program.  In fact, she attended school only sporadically until sixth grade, when she stopped going entirely.  Ms. Stevens does not pepper her conversations with literary references or philosophical musings about her “craft.”  She estimated that she had read only about 30 novels in her life.  She cited Robert Ludlum’s “Bourne Identity” as the primary influence on her novel, “The Informationist.”  What this Dallas-based divorced mother does have, however, is the sort of bizarre, twist-filled back story that makes everyone who hears it pay attention.  She was born into and raised as a member of the cult Children of God (now called the Family International), founded by David Berg.  Growing up, she bounced from city to city, often living in cramped and impoverished conditions, rarely spending more than a few months at a stretch at one of the cult’s dozens of communes around the world.  After Mr. Berg’s death, in 1994, the cult changed its rules, allowing members newfound independence.  Ms. Stevens and her husband at the time moved to Africa, where they set up a small commune in Equatorial Guinea.  They remained there until the late 1990s, when they left the cult.  Christopher Kelly

The College Football Playoff (CFP) is the system in American college football that will determine a national champion for the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) beginning in the 2014 season.  Under the playoff, four teams play in two semifinal games, with the winners advancing to the new College Football Championship Game.  Six bowl games — the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Peach Bowl — rotate as hosts for the semifinal games.  The rotation is set on a three-year cycle with the following pairings:  Rose/Sugar, Orange/Cotton, and Fiesta/Peach.  The two semifinals plus the other four top-tier bowls are marketed as the "New Year's Six", with three bowls played per day, typically on consecutive days that include New Year's Day.  The championship game is played on the first Monday that is six or more days after the semifinals.  The game's venue is selected based on bids submitted by cities, similar to the Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four, with AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas hosting the first title game on January 12, 2015.   The winner is awarded the College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy instead of the AFCA "crystal football" trophy, which had been regularly presented after the championship game since the 1990s; officials wanted a new trophy that was unconnected with the previous championship systems.   Unlike college football's title system used from 1998 to 2013, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), the new format does not use computer rankings or polls to select the participants. Rather, a committee of 13 experts will select and seed the teams.  The playoff system is the first time the top-level NCAA football championship is determined by a bracket competition.  The new format is a Plus-One system, an idea which became popular as an alternative to the BCS after the 2003 and 2004 seasons ended in controversy.  Note that families who want to take a possible second postseason game trip will be faced with big bills.  Issue 1235  December 26, 2014  On this date in 1871, Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated for the first time, on their lost opera, Thespis.   The two would not collaborate again for four years.  On this date in 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie announced the isolation of radium.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Big Five  For more than three decades, Philadelphia Big 5 — LaSalle, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova — waged college basketball’s biggest, most envied, unique, and frenetic, intracity rivalry.  No other city in the nation ever had as many major universities competing so feverishly for such a coveted title as did the City of Brotherly Love.  The Big 5 was housed at the Palestra, a venerable red brick building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.  That building hosted more fans at more games over more seasons than any other college arena in history.  This musty, high-ceilinged, 75-year-old arena is still regarded by many people as the best basketball facility in the country.  “The Palestra is to college basketball what Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are to baseball,” wrote John Feinstein in his book, A Season Inside.  “It is a place where you feel the game from the moment you step inside.” 

Big Ten Conference (B1G), formerly Western Conference and Big Nine Conference, is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the United States.  The conference competes in the NCAA's Division I; its football teams compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), formerly known as Division I-A, the highest level of NCAA competition in that sport.  Find list of 14 members, 1 associate member and 1 former member at

The Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12) is a collegiate athletic conference that operates in the Western United States.  It participates in the NCAA's Division I; its football teams compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS; formerly Division I-A), the higher of two levels of NCAA Division I football competition.   Find list of 12 full members, affilitated members, former  and former affiliated members at

Guava is a tropical fruit rich in high-profile nutrients that fits in the new functional foods category, often called “super-fruits.”  It is an evergreen, tropical shrub or low-growing small tree probably originated in the central Americas.  Guavas actually thrive in both humid and dry climates and can tolerate brief periods of cold spells, but can survive only a few degrees of frost.  Botanically, the fruit belongs within the family of Myrtaceae, in the genus:  Psidium.  Scientific name:  Psidium guajava.  During each season, the guava tree bears numerous round, ovoid or pear-shaped fruits that are about 5-10 cm long and weigh around 50–200 g.  Different cultivar types of guava grown all over the world which, vary widely in flavor, pulp color, and seeds.  The fruit is soft when ripe with sweet musky aroma and creamy in texture.  Internally, its flesh varies in color depending up on the cultivar and may be white, pink, yellow, or red.  Ripe fruits have rich flavor with sweet-tart taste.  Each fruit contains numerous tiny, semi-hard edible seeds, concentrated especially at its center.  See picture at  In a Toledo Lebanese/Mediterranian market, we can easily buy guava juice--it tastes like pear nectar.

The Best Ingredients in America's Best Sandwiches by Sharyn Jackson   Find recipes for fried plantains, lox, whiz, weck, huckleberry jam, Dutch crunch, breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches and more at

The Wayback Machine passes 400 billion indexed webpages
2006 – Archive-It launches, allowing libraries that subscribe to the service to create curated collections of Web content.
March 25, 2009 – The Internet Archive and Sun Microsystems launch a new datacenter that stores the whole Web archive and serves the Wayback Machine.  This 3 petabyte data center handled 500 requests per second from its home in a shipping container.
June 15, 2011 – The HTTP Archive becomes part of the Internet Archive, adding data about the performance of websites to the collection of website content.
May 28, 2012 – The Wayback Machine is available in China again, after being blocked for a few years without notice.
October 26, 2012 – the Internet Archive makes 80 terabytes of archived Web crawl data from 2011available for researchers, to explore how others might be able to interact with or learn from this content.
October 2013 – New features for the Wayback Machine are launched, including the ability to see newly crawled content an hour after it’s archived, a “Save Page” feature so that anyone can archive a page on demand, and an effort to fix broken links on the Web starting with and
Also in October 2013 – The Wayback Machine provides access to important Federal Government sites that go dark during the Federal Government Shutdown.
Will The Way Back Machine have 500 billion webpages indexed by 2015?  We wouldn’t be surprised if it happened sooner.

We grew up hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and most were probably forced to eat a little something before leaving for school.  According to Emily Swanson, a recent University of Iowa graduate with a degree in Health and Human Physiology, breakfast is “essential for a productive day.”  Find recipes for Caprese Breakfast Sandwich, Bananas Foster Oatmeal—Overnight, Fruit, Yogurt and Granola Parfait and Spinach and Parmesan Eggs at

Terrible and terrific are both formed off the same root:  terror.  Both started out a few hundred years ago with the meaning of terror-inducing.  But terrific took a strange turn at the beginning of the 20th century and ended up meaning really great, not terrible or terror-inducing at all.  This happened through a slow reshaping of the connections and connotations of terrific.  First it acquired the sense, not just of terror-inducing but of general intensity.  You could talk about a “terrific clamor,” meaning a whole lot of clamor.  This was a bit of hyperbole—“so much noise it was terror-inducing!”—that eventually got reduced to a general sense of “more intense than usual.”  Once a word like that gets established as a general intensifier, it may also be applied to positive experiences—terrific beauty, terrific joy—and from there the jump to a fully positive “terrific!” isn’t so unexpected.  The same thing happened to the word tremendous (“causing one to tremble in fear”).  It happened to formidable (fear-inducing) too, but only in French, where it means “really great!”  It hasn’t quite reached that stage in English, but it has acquired positive intensifier status (“a formidable talent”).  The path from fear to happy enthusiasm isn’t an inevitable one.  Awful also started as a fear word—“awe” used to have much stronger connotations of quaking with fear before powerful forces—and came to be a general intensifier (“that pie was awful good!”), but it hasn’t crossed over to the happy side.  On the other hand, its close relative, “awesome,” did make the jump.  The fully positive “awesome,” a child of the '80s, is a relatively recent innovation.  It began as slang, with a dash of irony or sarcasm to it.  That seems to be the crucial ingredient in these crossover words.  The positive “terrific” dates to the slang-heavy flapper era, where “killer” also became a playful positive.  “Egregious,” a word that made the opposite crossing from positive to negative (it used to mean notable, excellent), also appears to have arisen from an ironic use.  And we have plenty of very recent examples of slang crossover (Sick! Ill! Wicked! Bad!).  Crossover words are a tremendous testament to our awesome ability to shape the language as we use it.  Arika Okrent

Serial is a podcast exploring a nonfiction story over multiple episodes.  First released in October 2014, it is a spinoff of the radio program This American Life.  Episodes vary in length and are available weekly.  It ranked number one on iTunes even before its debut and remained there for several weeks.   Access the first 12 episodes of Serial on NPR at  See 5:41 "Christmas Serial" on Saturday Night Live at  Issue 1234  December 24, 2014  On this date in 1818, the first performance of "Silent Night" took place in the church of St. Nikolaus in Oberndorf, Austria.  On this date in 1851, the Library of Congress burned.  The  fire destroyed 35,000 books, about two–thirds of the Library's 55,000 book collection, including two–thirds of Jefferson's original transfer.

Monday, December 22, 2014

In summer 1930, Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of the then-unknown Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote in her diary:  "Working on my mothers [sic] story — stupidly, for will it come to anything?"  Wilder had just drafted a memoir about growing up in a pioneer family in the 1870s.  Lane, then an established author and journalist with many works of fiction and nonfiction to her name, had been encouraging her.  The crash of 1929 had wiped out the family's investments and Lane was eager to send something new to her agent.  Though his response to her mother's memoir was lukewarm, Lane persisted, and two years later, after rejections, revisions, a new agent, a new editor and a transformation of the memoir into fiction, Harper & Brothers published "Little House in the Big Woods" by Wilder.  It would be the first in a series of seven children's books based on "Pioneer Girl."  Wilder and the "Little House" books would go on to enduring, international fame; Lane would fade into obscurity.  The story of how this beloved series came to be has drawn great interest in recent years, as critics have debated Lane's role:  How much of the "Little House" books did she revise or even write herself?  Lane always insisted that she merely edited them; she didn't believe there was much prestige in "juveniles."  At the same time, her diaries and letters reveal an intense and entwined relationship, and writing mentorship, between daughter and mother.  "Pioneer Girl:  The Annotated Autobiography," painstakingly annotated by Pamela Smith Hill, author of the biography "Laura Ingalls Wilder:  A Writer's Life," publishes Wilder's original memoir for the first time, presenting a crucial addition to the world of Wilder lore and scholarship while continuing to raise questions about authorship.  Bich Minh Nguyen

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero and Lefty Awards.  He received the Shamus (for best first private eye novel) and the Nero (for best American mystery) for his debut, FACES OF THE GONE, the first book in history to take both awards.  Parks is a graduate of Dartmouth College and spent a dozen years as a reporter for The Washington Post and The Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger

Dec. 11, 2014  Australian prime minister causes literary prize uproar
by Carolyn Kellogg 
They call it the Prime Minister's Literary Award, so it makes sense that Australia's prime minister gets to have a say in it.  However, when Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided to have a hand in the final fiction decision this week, it caused an uproar.  NPR reports that the judges had unanimously selected "A World of Other People" by Steven Carroll to win the award, but Abbott interceded and added Man Booker Prize-winner "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" by Richard Flanagan.  The prize was given to both authors.  It was the first time in the prize's seven-year history that it has been split.  "These are the prime minister’s awards, they’re for him to give to whoever he likes," Australia's attorney general told the Guardian.  As winners, Flanagan and Carroll split the award money, each taking home $40,000.  Except Flanagan isn't keeping his.  Although as recently as his Man Booker win, Flanagan spoke of his own financial struggles, he announced he would donate his share of the winnings to Australia's Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Q.  Where does this famous quote come from? 
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
A.  It is the fourth verse of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by ROBERT FROST  See the whole poem at

Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872) is noted as being one of the best landscape painters in the west, according to European curators and experts.  Being born a “free” slave in New York, from a Canadian slave owner, Robert S. Duncanson established himself as a master artist during a time in American history when men of color had no freedom or rights.  Robert S. Duncanson achieved unprecedented renown in the art world in the 19th century despite the adversity he faced as a freeborn “person of color”, earning national and international acclaim for his landscape paintings.  He pursued his artistic career during a time of tremendous racial prejudice and was one the first African American artists to appropriate the landscape as part of his cultural heritage and as an expression of his cultural identity.  Duncanson was a self trained artist and started his career as a apprentice working as a house painter (murals), portraiture, and landscape art in Cincinnati, Detroit, Montreal and London.  His formative years focused on portraits and murals from commissioned work.  After traveling up to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canada his focused changed more to that around the Hudson River School movement and Ohio River Valley.  See pictures and find a list of museums where paintings of Duncanson may be viewed at  See also

Nothing ever came easy to Harry Patterson, including writing.  Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he grew up in Leeds, England.  Entering the army at 17, he served as a corporal in Berlin at the height of the Cold War, while gathering research data that would serve him well in many books to come.  His first books was published in 1959, before graduation, for the princely sum of $150.  Other books, under other names, followed while he managed to hold down a full-time teaching position.  By any name; Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlow, Ken Graham, to name a few--sales were few and far between.  But after adopting the name of an uncle, Jack Higgins, in 1969 his writing career took a decided upturn.  In 1976, Higgins joined the roster of instant-millionaire writers then The Eagle Has Landed hit the best-sellers lists worldwide.  And was made into a movie, starring Michael Caine.  1999 marked Higgins' 40th year as a published author and the publication of still another bestseller from Putnam , The White House Connection.  Writing under his own name, Harry Patterson , he also produced bestsellers, The Valhalla Exchange and To Catch A King.  Both novels, Storm Warning (Higgins) and The Valhalla Exchange (Patterson) appeared on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously.
Read interview with Jack Higgins at Find books and films of Jack Higgins (born in England, not Ireland, according to article) at

The winter solstice doesn't always occur on 21 December.  Sometimes it nudges into the early hours of 22 December, which will happen again next year.  The hour of day also varies.  It would seem logical that after the shortest day has elapsed the mornings would start getting lighter earlier, but this isn't what happens - the mornings continue darkening until early in the new year.  Meanwhile, those who thought that the winter solstice would mark the earliest sunset would also be wrong as the earliest sunset arrives a couple of weeks earlier.  In the southern hemisphere, it's exactly the opposite story.  In Sydney, Australia, for example, mornings will start getting darker from the middle of December, while the evenings will continue to get lighter until early January.  So what is behind this peculiarity, which appears to fly in the face of received wisdom about the solstice - surely the shortest day should experience the latest sunrise and earliest sunset?  Well, the primary reason behind it all is that a day - a solar day to be precise - is not always exactly 24 hours.  "In fact, it is 24 hours only four times a year, and never in December," explains astronomer Stephen Hurley, who runs a popular science blog called The Science Geek.  "It is at its shortest around 23 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds, in early September, and at its longest around 24 hours 30 seconds in December."  There are two reasons why the length of the solar day varies, the first being the fact that the axis of the Earth's rotation is tilted - 23.5 degrees from vertical - and second, the Earth's speed varies because it moves in an elliptical orbit around the sun, accelerating when it is closer to the star's gravitational pull and decelerating when it is further away.  The sun therefore in effect lags behind the clock for part of the year, then speeds ahead of it for another.  "As you can imagine, it would be complete chaos if our clocks and watches had to cope with days of different lengths," continues Hurley.  "So we use 24 hours, the average over the whole year, for all timekeeping purposes.  "So, as the solar days in December are on average 24 hours and 30 seconds, while our clocks and watches are still assuming that each day is exactly 24 hours, this causes the day to shift about 30 seconds later each day."  Read extensive article at  Issue 1233  December 22, 2014  On this date in  1808, Ludwig van Beethoven conducted and performed in concert at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, with the premiere of his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto (performed by Beethoven himself) and Choral Fantasy (with Beethoven at the piano).  On this date in 1937, the Lincoln Tunnel opened to traffic in New York City.