Call that a Landing

These past few days the stories have been long ones, so tonight is a shorter story– The photo is of a Trident aircraft. These were flown by BEA, which became British Airways, and were flown during the 1970’s and 80’s. They were a British made aircraft, built by Hawker Siddeley, and powered by Rolls Royce engines. But they had one problem, pilots who flew the Trident had a nickname for them “grippers” as they were a beast to lift off the ground, and when they landed, because they were so tail heavy, they landed hard, no soft three point landings for a Trident. One day there was a new first officer (co-pilot) on a check flight. And after landing the airline had a policy that required the first officer to stand at the cockpit door, while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a “Thank you for flying with us”. Well on this particular flight into Manchester, it was raining, nothing new there, with a strong cross wind, and the first officer, who was making the landing, really had nothing on his side from the weather department to help him. Well he hammered the Trident onto the runway so hard that items from the overhead compartments spewed out into the aisle, and on to a few people as well.

In light of his hard landing, the first officer had difficulty looking the passengers in the eye as he stood by the cockpit door to smile at the passengers as they left the aircraft. All the while he was expecting a passenger would have a smart comment to make about the landing. However, it seemed that all the passengers were either too shell shocked, or were just being very British and not wanting to say anything about it.

Finally, everyone had exited except for this little old lady who came walking up the aisle ever so slowly towards the front. When she arrived at the exit door, she looked at the first officer and said “Sonny, do you mind if l ask you a question?” – Why no, not at all, said the first officer. “Tell me did we just land, or were we bloody shot down?” The Captain, who was normally a stern character, and was visibly not happy with his first officers landing, had a smirk on his face that lasted for the rest of the day.


The Vernal Equinox

Last week we celebrated the first day of spring, or vernal equinox, the days now start to get longer, the weather starts to get warmer, and you can almost feel yourself unfolding after the long clutch of winter. Everywhere you look, you see growth and renewal of flowers and leaves on the trees. Well everybody in the UK is now shouting “You got that wrong” in fact here in the USA we could say the same as there is a blizzard tracking through the Northern States, and it’s nippy down here in Florida where we are averaging 67 degrees for the next three days, about 15 degrees below normal. So what exactly is the “Vernal Equinox?” Well the term Vernal Equinox, is Latin, and the words mean “spring” and “equal night” respectively. The equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 each year and signals the start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the autumnal equinox—the first day of autumn—in the Southern Hemisphere. This year it was March 20th,   at precisely 7:02am, U.S. Eastern daylight time, that the Sun crossed directly over the Earth’s equator. Because the Sun is positioned above the equator, day and night are about equal in length all over the world during the equinox. I say “about equal” as it depends exactly where you are located on the surface of the Earth. The date is also significant in Christianity because Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox. (it was a full moon yesterday – 25th March). It is also probably no coincidence that early Egyptians built the Great Sphinx so that it points directly toward the rising Sun on the day of the vernal equinox. Below are some photos of other traditions celebrated around the world, on or around the time of the vernal equinox:

Photo 1 –  British surf boarders in Gloucestershire brave the Severn Bore, a tidal surge that reaches its highest heights around the spring equinox on the River Severn, due to the movements of the spring sun and full moon.

Photo 2 –  Torch-bearing Kurds gather in the countryside to celebrate “Nowruz” near Aqrah, Iraq. on March 20. Here the vernal equinox festival of Nowruz is marked by fire, dancing, music—and journeys out into the wilderness. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, this traditional Kurdish celebration had been banned. In 2003 Iraq’s new Shiite leaders declared the day a public holiday.

Photo 3 – Traditionally costumed figures parade on stilts in Warsaw as part of the Polish celebration of the vernal equinox. Another Polish equinox custom is to carry an effigy of Marzanna—a goddess associated with winter—from house to house, then strip it, set it aflame, and drown it. Though originally performed on the fourth Sunday of the Christian period of Lent, the Marzanna drowning is now carried out by children on the first day of spring—the vernal equinox.

Photo 4 – And finally:  Driving a tractor over an Afghan wrestler is one way to celebrate the spring equinox festival of Nowruz in Afghanistan, in a Kabul stadium! Until 2001 the public celebration of Nowruz was banned by the ruling Taliban. Present-day celebrations of Nowruz in Afghanistan now feature tournaments and displays of strength.

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Yesterday we had a heavy spring thunderstorm here in Orlando that stopped play at the Bay Hill golf classic, In most places around the world the occurrence of a thunder and lightning storm are not common, they are normally associated with hot and humid days, or when cold air hits warm air, as was the case yesterday here in Florida. But in Venezuela it’s the most common thing in the world! As a matter of fact, there is one place in particular that has so many storms that it is considered the world’s longest continuous thunder and lightning storm.

The Catatumbo Lightning, as it’s called, is estimated to produce over 1,000,000 bolts of lightning every year, and since the storm never changes position, if you live in the region, you’d be able to see every single one.  The intensity of the Catatumbo Lightning is rarely seen outside of tropical storms. The bolts of lightning can be seen up to 400 kilometers away. Not only is the storm active for at least 150 days each year, but on those days when it is active, it can last upwards of 10 hours per day. As a result of its consistency and stationary position, the storm has also been dubbed “The Maracaibo Beacon”, and has been helping with the navigational efforts of ships for centuries. Aside from being really something to watch and providing navigational assistance, the phenomenon is one of the world’s largest producers of ozone. With all of this lightning, one might be inclined to think that there would be copious amounts of thunder. In the case of the Catatumbo Lightning, this is not the case. As a matter of fact, there is very little thunder to be heard at all! The reason for this is that the lightning is going from cloud to cloud, and only very rarely reaches the ground. So the big question is why does it happen? On its way to Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, the Catatumbo River passes through a very large bog, decaying the organic materials found there. As the materials break down, huge clouds of ionized gasses (specifically methane gas) are released, and are carried to great heights after colliding with the strong winds coming from the Andes Mountains. Due to the excessive amount of gas being released, along with the high winds, the clouds can be upwards of 40,000 feet high. A study conducted by the University of Los Angeles, suggests another contributing factor to the storm may be the uranium present in the bedrock. It was recently thought that the storm may have stopped permanently, when from January until April 2010 there were no lightning bolts lighting up the sky. There had been a drought in the region, thereby not breaking down the organic materials in the bog. Thankfully the drought ended and the amazing spectacle has resumed. And lastly, while the storm has proven to be wonderfully helpful to sailors in their navigational efforts throughout the ages, it has also been horribly detrimental. In 1595 Sir Francis Drake set out to take the city of Maracaibo by storm (pun most definitely intended). He had intended to come under the cover of darkness, but the soldiers guarding the city were able to spot him when the region’s relentless lightning gave him away. The storm has become so famous in Venezuela that it has been depicted in the flag, as well as the coat of arms for the state of Zulia, which is where Lake Maraciabo is found.
By the way the golf classic continued this morning, and was won by Tiger Woods…

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Happy Sunday everyone, a religious theme to today’s blog, every person in the UK will know the very patriotic hymn “Jerusalem,” we all sung it at school, in church, and it’s sung every year in that very British Institution “Last Night of the Proms”. But do you know what the words of the hymn are referring to?  To remind you, here are the first two versus:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Well there are ancient myths that as a child, Jesus spent time in England, courtesy of his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was, by legend. a trader with business ties in England. The places that they visited are written down as Glastonbury, Penzance and Falmouth in the South West of England. So in the hymn “those feet” refer to Jesus’s feet and how he walked on England’s pleasant pastures. It is said that Glastonbury was where Joseph and Jesus first visited, they arrived in Glastonbury by boat over the flooded Somerset Levels. On disembarking Joseph stuck his wooden staff into the ground and it flowered miraculously into the Glastonbury Thorn, (or Holy Thorn – see photo below). This is said to explain a hybrid hawthorn tree that only grows within a few miles of Glastonbury, and which flowers twice annually, once in spring and again around Christmas time (depending on the weather). Each year a sprig of thorn is cut, by the local Anglican vicar and the eldest child from the local St John’s School, and then is taken to London to be presented to Her Majesty Queen (see photo 2 below).

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True or a lie?

According to myth, a young George Washington confessed to cutting down a cherry tree by proclaiming, “I cannot tell a lie.” So tonight’s story asks the question “Isaac Newton and the Apple” is it “true or a lie?”.

In school most of us will have read the story about Isaac Newton, an Englishman, who, in the late 17th century was responsible for discovering the laws of motion, the speed of sound, the law of cooling, and calculus. But his most famous discovery is “Newton’s law of gravity”. The story is told that Newton, a mathematician and professor of physics, was sitting under the shade of an apple tree, when an apple dropped from a branch and hit him right on the head. Newton’s first instinct was not to shout “ouch” and look up, but the apple falling onto his head gave him the idea about gravity, and he went on to formulate the entire set of universal laws governing the motion of gravitating bodies, a theory so sound that it went unchallenged and unmodified for over 200 years.

Well l hate to tell you but it’s a lie…..Now Newton did indeed discover the law of gravity, but the apple falling from a tree had nothing to do with it. The truth, it was a professor called John Conduitt who first told the story about the apple some 60 years after Newton wrote his theory about the Law of gravity. The apple was used by Conduitt, when describing Newton’s law of gravity to students, he used the apple as a metaphor to illustrate the way gravity works in order for the students to fully understand the theory, and the explanation stuck. And what ever happened to Isaac newton? Well he spent the best part of his life formulating and perfecting his theories until he had a nervous breakdown, and finally died, insane from mercury poisoning at the age of 84, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, London in 1727.

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Fun Facts About The Big Apple

Did you know that in New York City, more than 26,000 people live in each square mile? Or that the island of Manhattan was purchased from Native Americans for about $24? And that New York City is the largest city in the United States. So you have probably guessed that tonight is fun facts about New York City, I hope you find them interesting:

As mentioned above, Dutch explorer Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin Indian tribe for trinkets and tools worth $24.00, the city’s first known name was New Amsterdam, which referred to the southern tip of Manhattan which was a Dutch trading port. In 2011 the census showed that there were 8,244,910 people live in New York City.

A New Yorker travels an average of 40 minutes to work each day, and more than 48 percent of New York City’s residents, over the age of 5, speak a language other than English at home. The average sale price of a 2 bedroomed apartment in Manhattan is a whopping $1.49 million. By the way if you just want a hotel room, the average daily room rate for a hotel in New York is $267. If you want a meal in the city, there are more than 18,600 restaurants and eating establishments, and the average cost for a dinner, including a drink, tax and tip, is $43.50

New York’s Yellow Cabs are yellow because John Hertz (founder of the New York Cab Company, and also of the Hertz car rental company) learned from a study that yellow was the easiest colour for the eye to spot, and more than 12,700 licensed taxis work the street of the city. The Federal Reserve Bank on New York’s Wall Street contains vaults that are 80 feet beneath the bank, and hold one quarter of the world’s gold bullion.

There are many legends that exist about the origin of New York City’s nickname, the Big Apple, most historians agree that it can be traced back to a writer who covered horse racing in the 1920s, where the word “apple” was used in reference to the many racing courses in and around New York City. Apple referred to the prizes being awarded for the races – as these were important races, the rewards were substantial. In The Morning Telegraph, he wrote that stable hands often referred to New York as the Big Apple, meaning that any thoroughbred that raced in New York had reached the pinnacle of racing. And lastly the phrase “New York, the City that never sleeps” comes from “a poem of New York” written in 1930 by a Spanish gentleman called Federico Garcia Lorca. He immigrated to New York from Spain in 1929, he died in 1936, and the poem was published posthumously in 1942.


Another stange story from the tabloids.

Well today’s story is another headline from the tabloids, this time a Florida newspaper. The headline reads: “Man who suffers from ‘Popeye deformity’ after fall in Wal-Mart, is awarded $1.3million”.

Tom Papakalodukas, a Port St Lucie, Florida resident,  In 2011, while shopping in his local Wal-Mart store, slipped on a sign that had fallen off a display. If you look at the second photo you can see a surveillance photo of him falling in the store, the first photo was taken after Mr Papakalodukas was released from the emergency room. Papakalodukas was left with a lifelong defect called a “Popeye deformity”, which created abnormal bulges in his arm. His attorney only asked for $600,000 in damages, but the jury awarded Mr Papakalodukas more than double that figure (I hope the extra was so he could change his name to Smith..) His lawyer said “We are very grateful for a jury system in this country that will allow a small local law firm like mine, and an individual, to be able to level the playing field and come in here to have a fair trial against a large corporation like Wal-Mart. Papakalodukas added “It’s tough, l just try to take it day by day. Hopefully, I’ll heal this time and get my life back together, l have slipped on a sign before you know”….. ummmmm  if I were the judge, after those words of wisdom,  I would “NOT” rest my case.


The very English Sandwich..or is it?

Today’s photo shows the very English “afternoon tea sandwich” the typical contents are ham and mustard, cucumber, and smoked salmon. The sandwich, after all, was invented by an Englishman –The story goes that The 4th Earl of Sandwich, in 1765, was attending a card-game tournament. He was hungry, but wanted to continue playing while eating, so he needed both hands to stay clean and he needed one hand free to hold up the cards. So he told one of the servants to fetch him some slices of roast beef and put them between two slices of bread. The other royals noted this and eventually started ordering “what the Earl of Sandwich came up with”. Eventually they just started calling it a sandwich. And thus was born the sandwich. But here’s the thing, a sandwich can actually be traced back to the 1st century: The first recorded sandwich was by the famous rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived during the 1st century B.C. He started the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, between two matzohs to eat with wine. The filling between the matzohs served as a reminder of the suffering of the Jews before their deliverance from Egypt and represented the mortar used by the Jews in their forced labor of constructing Egyptian buildings. Because he was the first known person to do this, and because of his influence and stature in Palestinian Judaism, this practice was added to the Seder and the Hillel Sandwich was named after him. OK so you can argue that is was not made of bread as we know it – lets go forward to the 6th century: During the Middle Ages, thick blocks of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used in place of plates. Meats and other foods were piled on top of the bread to be eaten with their fingers and sometimes with the aid of knives. The trenchers, thick and stale, absorbed the juice, the grease, and the sauces. At the end of the meal, one either ate the trencher or, if hunger had been satisfied, tossed the gravy-soaked bread to their dogs or given as alms to less fortunate or poor human. Alms were clothing, food, or money that is given to poor people: In the past, people thought it was their religious duty to give alms to the poor. Trenchers were clearly the forerunner of our open-face sandwiches. So the name sandwich may have arrived into our vocabulary from the 4th Earl of Sandwich, but the idea of the sandwich happed well before he was born.  By the way the sandwich was introduced to America by Englishwoman Elizabeth Leslie (1787-1858). In her 1840 cookbook, issued in America, she had a recipe for ham sandwiches. Her suggestion was: Cut some thin slices of bread very neatly, having slightly buttered them; and, if you choose, spread on a very little mustard. Have ready some very thin slices of cold boiled ham, and lay them between two slices of bread. You may either roll them up, or lay them flat on the plates.


Only in the UK tabloid press.

Found this headline in a UK tabloid newspaper…Do they wheelie need to know? Council asks residents if they’re gay in a survey about bins “As well as questions about recycling reward schemes and bin storage, resident were asked if they were heterosexual, gay or bisexual. Residents have told Birmingham council to mind its own business after being quizzed about their sexuality – in a wheelie bin (trash can) survey. They were stunned after receiving the online questionnaire. As well as questions about recycling reward schemes and bin storage they were asked if they were heterosexual, gay or bisexual. Dave Dixon, 34, who got the email, fumed: “It does not ask if residents want such bins but is very interested in their sexual orientation.” And former Tory councellor Peter Smallbone said: “It’s typical pointless left wing nonsense.” Householder Cyril Mayers, 40, added: “What the hell has sexual orientation or religion got to do with wheelie bins? Mind your own business.” Birmingham city council claimed it was a standard monitoring question. A spokesman said: “Although we do ask those questions, as part of the effort to make the feedback as informed as possible, you will have also noticed that ‘prefer not to say’ is an option to every question in that part of the survey.” It is not the first time the blundering council has been a laughing stock. Last summer it commissioned a statue of British Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt doing his victory pose – but got it the wrong way around. In 2008 it used a picture of Birmingham, Alabama, on 360,000 leaflets and in 2010 it misspelt Birmingham on polling cards.



The Winchester “Mystery” House

Today a story about the Winchester Mystery House, which is a mansion located in San Jose, California. It was the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. So why was it built, what is the history behind it and why was it called the Winchester “mystery” house?

In 1884 Sarah Winchesters husband passed away in New Haven, Connecticut, leaving his wife, Sarah to grieve not only the loss of her husband, but also earlier that year the loss of her only child. Sarah consulted a medium in Boston who told her she had to leave her house in New Haven and travel West. Here she must build a home for herself and for the spirits of all the people who had fallen (been killed) by the guns produced from her husband’s company (Winchester rifles).Additionally she must make sure that construction on the new home never stops as this is the only way she would be able to appease the spirit world. If you continue building, you will live forever. But if you stop, then you will die.  And so Sarah Winchester moved to San Jose in Northern California, and work started in 1884 on her mansion at 525, South Winchester Boulevard. Construction was continuous for 38 years without interruption, until Sarah Winchesters death on the 5th September, 1922. Sarah Winchester made sure she had the day to day guidance on the building construction from day one. There was no master plan, and the mansion has staircases that go nowhere, doors that are inaccessible, and secret passages everywhere. The cost for the mansion, and for the having construction workers on-site 365 days of the year, is estimated to be $5.5 million, which today would be over $75 million.

When Sarah Winchester died, all of her possessions (apart from the house) were bequeathed to her niece and personal secretary. Her niece then took everything she wanted and sold the rest in a private auction. It took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks, to remove all of the furniture from the home. Mrs.Winchester made no mention of the mansion in her will, and appraisers considered the house worthless due to the damage caused by an earthquake, the unfinished design and the impractical nature of its construction. It was sold at auction to a local investor for $135,000, and in February 1923, five months after Winchester’s death, it was opened to the public. Today the home is owned by Winchester Investments, and it retains unique touches that reflect Mrs Winchester’s beliefs and her reported preoccupation with warding off malevolent spirits. These spirits are said to have directly inspired her as to the way the house should be built. The number thirteen and spider web motifs, which carried spiritual significance for her, occur throughout the house. For example, an expensive imported chandelier that originally had 12 candle-holders was altered to accommodate 13 candles, wall clothes hooks are in multiples of 13, and a spider web-patterned stained glass window contains 13 colored stones. The sink’s drain covers also have 13 holes. Also, every Friday the 13th the large bell on the property is rung 13 times at 1 p.m. in tribute to Sarah Winchester. Photo 1 shows the mansion in 1894, photos 2,3, and 4 are more recent photos of the restored mansion.

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