Saturday, March 30, 2013

130th Birth Anniversary of Vincent Van Gogh

Blossoming Almond Tree Vincent Van Gogh 1890
Blossoming Almond Tree - Vincent Van Gogh 1890, public domain, Wikimedia Commons
One of the best tributes to Van Gogh is Don McLean's song, "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)." Almost everyone who is moved by art has their own appreciation for Van Gogh's powerfully moving paintings. And while many of his of works are bold in color and emotion, a distinct delicacy is also evinced in others. I've always loved the "Blossoming Almond Tree" for its ethereal, floating quality which to me has always evoked Dogwood blossoms.  A nicely representative gallery of his works may be viewed on Wikimedia Commons, including several self-portraits.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Notable Quotes

A periodic posting of some notable quotes:

1. The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound. The poverty-stricken man makes the same mistake about the rich man.

~ George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950, Irish-born British dramatist)

2. We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.

~ Blaise Pascal (1623-1662, French scientist, religious philosopher)

3. If you're looking for perfection, look in the mirror. If you find it there, expect it elsewhere.

~ Malcolm S. Forbes (1919-1990, American publisher, businessman)

4. A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.

~ Chinese Proverb

5. Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

~ John Wooden (1910- 2010, American basketball coach)

6. Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.

~ John Henry Newman (1801-1890, British religious leader, prelate, writer)

7. How far is far, how high is high? We'll never know until we try.

~ Song from the California Special Olympics

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Musical Hair Debuted 45 Years Ago

I was too young to understand what this musical was about when it came out, but I do remember thinking some of the music sounded cool, especially the mega-hit, " Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)." Even though the musical is seen as emblematic of the 60's, the music somehow stands on its own and still sounds phenomenal. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

200th Birth Anniversary of Nathaniel Currier

American Homestead Winter Currier and Ives
American Homestead Winter - Currier and Ives, Public Domain
Nathaniel Currier, of Currier and Ives fame, started his famously prolific lithographic company in the 19th century and produced over 7500 lithographs. The Currier and Ives lithographic style is probably one of the most recognizable anywhere, as the images are often reproduced for greeting cards and other merchandise. While today most people associate Currier and Ives with Christmas cards and cookie tins, the company also produced a number of illustrative lithographs depicting political figures and events. Their collection may be viewed on many websites, as most, if not all, is in the public domain:

  • Currier & Ives Foundation
  • Online Gallery of Currier & Ives Prints
  • Currier & Ives, Printmakers to the American People
  • Currier and Ives, Printmakers to the People
  • A Gallery of Currier and Ives Lithographs
  • Library of Congress Digital Resources; search Currier and Ives
  • Behind the Scenes: The Artists Who Worked for Currier and Ives
  • Currier and Ives Tradecards
  • Currier and Ives, Perspectives on America
  • Harriet Endicott Waite research material concerning Currier & Ives, 1923-1956  from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
  • Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Robert Frost Birth Anniversary

    Robert Frost
    Robert Frost 1959 - public domain, Wikimedia Commons
    “In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” ~ Robert Frost

    One of the most widely read and beloved poets of the 20th century, Robert Frost was born 139 years ago today. This past January also marked the 50th anniversary of his death. Frost wrote mostly about New England life and landscape, but his exceptional lyricism has touched people throughout the world. He often wrote of personal conflict and internal struggles, but in a clear and accessible meter which made his poetry easy to identify with. His family life was marked by many problems and tragedies, but he seemed always to rise above them and gain a mountaintop overview of life. A recent New Yorker profile of Frost reveals another side of Frost that many may not be aware of, namely his family political background. His own Yankee sensibility actually belied his family's southern origins - Frost's full name is Robert Lee Frost. The New Yorker article also shows him to be keenly interested in science, people, and the world at large. President John F. Kennedy described his contributions saying, "He has bequeathed his nation a body of imperishable verse from which Americans will forever gain joy and understanding." Reading Frost, whose clear and poetic thinking inspires many, also helps us understand the deepest reaches of our own minds. An enjoyable way to spend time is to peruse the comprehensive collection of Frost quotes on Goodreads; even better, reading his poems.

    Monday, March 25, 2013

    Tolkien Reading Day

    shire English Countryside
    Shire-like English Countryside by Scott Rimmer - Wikimedia Commons
    A day to celebrate the works of J.R.R Tolkien by reading any of his books. The Tolkien Society has an interesting explanation for why March 25th was chosen for this purpose: it was on this day that Middle Earth saw the downfall of Sauron. This year's theme is "Tolkien's Landscapes" as much of his works are drawn against wondrous and majestic vistas which have fueled readers' imagination throughout the years. Many of his landscapes were also immensely comforting, as the Shire most often evokes a sense of homecoming.

    Sunday, March 24, 2013

    Joseph Barbera Birth Anniversary

    As one of the creators of some of the best-loved cartoon characters of the 20th century, Joseph Barbera enjoyed a long, fruitful, and faithful career in the animation world. He and long-time collaborator, William Hanna, brought such characters as the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Tom & Jerry, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, and many others to colorful life every Saturday morning. Growing up in the 60's and 70's, Saturday morning was the most enjoyable part of the week, when kids would wake up, run to the TV, and eat cereal while watching all these characters do their own goofy thing. At least, that's what my siblings and I did! So, I am grateful to Joseph Barbera (and William Hanna) for making my childhood Saturday mornings totally blissful. Barbera was known as a genuinely nice guy in Hollywood and he enjoyed a truly remarkable working and personal relationship with William Hanna. No two partners were better suited to one another in their creative endeavors. They were a superb team of animators, cartoonists, artists, and directors; and gave 20th century entertainment its own special character.

    Saturday, March 23, 2013

    Ask a Librarian

    It's our business to know things. And if we don't know it, we can show you the correct door to where the answer lies.

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    APOD - Light Echoes

    Light Echoes from V838 Mon
    Light Echoes from V838 Mon - APOD
    Image Credit:
    NASA, ESA, H. E. Bond (STScI)
    A light echo is the visual analog of a sound echo and the Hubble image above shows the apparent brilliant burst of light from V838 Monocerotis, a red variable star in the constellation Monoceros (Greek for Unicorn). This star exploded for uncertain reasons, but the magnitude of the light burst is due to light reflected by the more distant rings of interstellar dust already surrounding the star. Because of these light echoes, the rate of expansion of this explosion appeared to be superluminal (faster than the speed of light). The rapid expansion can be viewed in the image below. A sound echo is something we instinctively understand, but picturing light echoes is another thing altogether, since we don't experience it in our lives.  The starburst in Monoceros, observed in 2002, is a beautiful, cottony mass of light, color, and dust - and still a mystery.
    progression of light echo in v838 mon
    Successive photos of V838 Monocerotis showing the progress of a light echo.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Won't You Be My Neighbor?

    A sweet homage to Mr. Rogers over the years.
    Fred McFeely Rogers, otherwise known to children simply as Mr. Rogers, was born 85 years ago today. His birthday is marked every year by celebrating, "Won't You Be My Neighbor? Day." This year is also, sadly, the 10th anniversary of his death This gentle man, an ordained minister, created a wonderfully safe and nurturing neighborhood where children could be free to develop into good people. I remember watching him during his earliest broadcast years in Pittsburgh, where his show was produced. I think it was his sweater that was the most comforting element of his persona. Sweaters are safe, reliable, and warm - everything that characterized Mr. Rogers. One bit of trivia related to him which I only learned recently is that his middle name was McFeely! He gave his name to the neighborhood postman, Mr. McFeely, known for his "speedy delivery." For anyone nostalgic for a visit to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, pay a call on PBS where videos are available for viewing online. Mental Floss has a great article entitled, "15 Reasons Mr. Rogers was the Best Neighbor Ever." It's a nicely researched mini-biopic that details some little known information about Mr. Rogers, such as the fact that many of the sweaters he wore on his show were hand-knit by his mother!

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    The 95th Anniversary of Daylight Savings Time

    daylight savings time
    Image assembled by theLibraryLander
    The Calder Act, Pub.L. 65–106, 40 Stat. 450, enacted March 19, 1918, was the first U.S. law implementing Standard and Daylight Saving Time in the United States. In addition, it allowed the Interstate Commerce Commission to define the time zones across the U.S. It was initially established as a fuel saving measure during WWI, but it was never  popular and was abolished for a time after the war. In subsequent years, there were no Federal laws governing its observance and states were free to establish it or not. In 1966, however, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 was passed to make the various state rules consistent. Ever since the first law was passed enacting DST, there has been controversy over the need and effects of DST on the population. Most research supports the idea that it is detrimental to the health and safety of the nation in general. More accidents happen following the time change, and it is implicated in an increase in heart attacks as well. Currently, a petition has been started to eliminate the time change altogether, by either ending DST or making it year-round. Recently, this idea has gained a bit of extra traction with the viralization of an imaginatively written obituary for a man who opposed DST with a passion. Harry Stamps' obit states, "the family asks that in honor of Harry that you write your Congressman and ask for the repeal of Day Light Saving Time. Harry wanted everyone to get back on the Lord’s Time." I say amen to that!

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    The World is Full of Beautiful Things

    Seeing the recent Etihad Airways commercial featuring, "The World is Full of Beautiful Things" performed by Bobby Darin took me back to childhood memories of watching the musical Doctor Doolittle where the same song is sung by Anthony Newley. I've presented Darin's version below and Newley's version can be viewed here. While my personal preference is for Newley's more emotional orginal version, I'm beginning to enjoy Darin's more peppy pop version now too. Enjoy whichever appeals to you!  

    Saturday, March 16, 2013

    Luray Caverns Family Drama

    Washington Post Magazine cover
    Washington Post Magazine cover 3/14/13
    The Washington Post has published an intriguing article about the business of running Luray Caverns, which is actually owned by the Graves family in Virginia. Anyone in the Mid-Atlantic area will be very familiar with the caves as an international attraction, but how many know that it's been operated as a family business for more than 130 years? The article, written by Ken Otterbourg, describes the current operations as, "'Dallas' meets the National Geographic Channel," though it's admittedly more complicated than that. I learned a number of things about Luray Caverns that I was unaware of previously. It happens to be the third most visited cave in the U.S., after Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. It's also not run by the National Park Service as the top two are, but is considered a "show cave" meaning it's a commercial enterprise which turns a profit. Nothing wrong with that, since it happens to be maintained very well and draws over 400,000 visitors a year from around the country and the world. The most fascinating parts of the article concern the rancorous family relations of the current owners, who are all siblings. I won't present the details here, so that readers may peruse the article and arrive at their conclusions. It does show the pitfalls facing family-run businesses, in particular those that span generations. Some have suggested that perhaps the NPS could take over Luray under eminent domain and preserve it in the public interest. As long as the family continues to be extant - with six siblings, that likely will be case for even generations to come - it's difficult to  wrest control from the owners. As long as the caves are safely maintained and people are willing to pay to ponder these wonders, why not? The only thing standing in the way is the very contentious family squabble presently playing out in the courts.

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    The First .COM

    computerToday's post was almost going to be about the Ides of March, but in researching that date, I happened upon an interesting bit of internet history. The very first commercial internet domain name was registered on March 15, 1985 - The company that registered it, Symbolics, Inc. is no longer in business and the domain was transferred to in 2009. While was the first domain ever registered, the very first one to be created was, which served as the identifier of the first root server, was created just three months before was registered through the normal domain registration process. TechCrunch has a fascinating article about this history as well as the current status of Today, this domain exists as a mere marker of its history, although the owner has posted some interesting information about his personal role in acquiring He has also created an enlightening infographic depicting internet trivia and statistics. Alas, everything has its day and then must pass gracefully into the aether.

    Thursday, March 14, 2013

    What's Your Favorite Pi?

    Pi Pie
    Pi Pie baked at Delft University of Technology
    Public domain - Wikimedia Commons
    Let's hear it for Pi, for today is March 14! 3/14, 3-14 or whatever format, it's still 3.14 day. Pi Day is celebrated everywhere in honor of this important mathematical constant. Even Congress has approved the designation of a day to recognize Pi. The website is replete with everything you'd like to know about Pi, including some very odd places that Pi can be seen. The Random Facts site has a list of 50 interesting facts about Pi, including this item, "In the Greek alphabet, π (piwas) is the sixteenth letter. In the English alphabet, p is also the sixteenth letter." Today is also, fittingly enough, Albert Einstein's birthday, though he didn't live to see Pi celebrated on its own day. He probably would have appreciated it better than most people.   And of course, the best way to celebrate this day is to... eat pie!

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    The Planet Uranus, Brought to You by Sir William Herschel

    NASA photo of Uranus taken by Voyager 2, Jan. 10, 1986 - public domain, Wikimedia Commons
    It's the 232nd anniversary of the discovery of Uranus by Sir William Herschel, who spied it while in his garden on March 13, 1781. The dusky blue planet actually had been observed previously as early as 1690, but it was always mistaken for a star. Herschel ultimately determined it to be a planet, even though he himself initially mistook it for a comet. He was asked to name this planet and he chose Georgium in honor of King George III, but this idea was met with general disfavor outside of Britain. The name Uranus comes from the Greek god who was the father of Jupiter and Saturn. The element Uranium was discovered in 1789 and was named in honor of Uranus. It's interesting that some astromers wanted to call Uranus, Neptune, although the planet Neptune hadn't been discovered yet. (Makes you wonder what Neptune would have been named if Uranus had been given that name?) And now, all kidding aside, let's hear it for Uranus! (Groan!)

    Tuesday, March 12, 2013

    In Weather Forecasting, the European Model Rocks

    Snowquester - Image from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite on Mar. 6, 2013, shows winter storm over the U.S. mid-Atlantic.
    As a semi-weather geek, I'm always fascinated by the accuracy of weather forecasting in our time. And some weather services are more accurate than others. Our own National Weather Service needs more support to be able to compete with the Europeans in forecasting. The European weather computer model, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), famously predicted exactly where Hurricane Sandy would fall, and more recently, the snowfall for Snowquester (March 6, 2013 Nor'easter). The Global Forecasting System (GFS) is run by the NWS every four hours and is the only model whose output is in the public domain freely available everywhere per U.S. law. But, many observers feel that the NWS is in need of increased computer power* to be able to produce the high quality forecasts for which the Europeans are renowned. The recent Snowquester forecast was a bit of an embarrassment for the NWS, unfortunately. But, we can do better and hopefully, their resources can be improved. Of course, watching the satellite views (above) of the impending Snowquester would have made many of us believe it was going to be huge everywhere in the Mid-Atlantic as opposed to mainly in the Shenandoah Valley!
    Two recent interesting articles discuss the differences in numerical weather prediction: 
    1. The Washington Post cites a blogger who derides U.S. forecasting as "second rate."
    2. *National Geographic investigates the reasons the Europeans are stronger in weather forecasting.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, Prelude

    Probably the most famous bit of Cello music, often simply called "The Cello Song," is heard frequently on TV and movies. Here are two versions, the classic, traditional one by Yo-Yo Ma, and a rather percussive version by The Piano Guys. Both very moving - relaxing and uplifting at the same time.


    Sunday, March 10, 2013

    Bridge of Light

    This beautiful art installation looks like it could have been built by Cisco Systems since it resembles their logo. It's sort of like a static fireworks display which you can watch all night long!

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    Plastic Manatee??

    Tardigrade in Moss (APOD)
    Image Credit & Copyright:
    Nicole Ottawa & Oliver Meckes / Eye of Science / Science Source Images
    That's initially what I thought this creature was since it doesn't even look alive. But it's a tiny living organism known as a Tardigrade that can withstand the most extreme environmental conditions. It seems they can exist for decades without sustenance! They almost seem like the animal version of air plants, but even more resilient. The world really is full of the most bizarre things...

    Friday, March 8, 2013

    "From Wikipedia to our libraries"

    Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University
    Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University
    public domain image Wikimedia Commons
    I first saw this post cited on Boing Boing and then found the original source. Blogger John Mark Ockerbloom has an interesting proposal to use Wikipedia to promote library offerings by linking to those resources. Librarians are always trying to figure out how to get people to the library, but this is a different route which could yield enormous benefits to patrons and libraries (and Wikipedia) alike. That's really thinking outside the box!

    Thursday, March 7, 2013


    1.  Dr. Weil - carbonation is ok.
    2.  Dr. Weil - but shoveling snow is not.
    3.  WP - Where Presidents took their last breaths.
    4.  WP - amazing uses of 3-D printing.
    5.  WP - heartrending, haunting story of family violence.
    6.  LiveScience - the Unparticle?
    7.  Do pessimists live longer? Maybe, or maybe not.
    8.  NYT - the subway baby.
    9.  NYT - Yosemite's perfect sunset.
    10. NYT - the mysterious owls

    Wednesday, March 6, 2013

    To Build a Windmill, Head to the Library

    Young William Kamkwamba did just that when he built his family an electricity-generating windmill. When he was 14 years old, he used spare parts and plans from a library book called Using Energy, and constructed a working windmill which powers lights and radios in his family home. This young inventor has a bright future ahead and we wish him even greater success in helping his country, Malawi.

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    APOD - Magnificent Little Mercury

    Colors of Mercury
    Image Credit:
    NASA / JHU Applied Physics Lab / Carnegie Inst. Washington
    Swift little Mercury, not much bigger than our own Moon, though much denser, looks like its twin in this color-enhanced image.

    Monday, March 4, 2013

    A Lovely Little Bookstore

    Shakespeare and Company Bookstore
    Shakespeare and Company Bookstore website
    Situated on the Left Bank, this appealing bookstore is full of charm, history, and nostalgia. Despite the digitization of reading, Shakespeare and Company continues to flourish and draw bibliophiles from everywhere. For those who can't go there, the shop's website is a virtual version of its cluttered, eclectic space. You can easily get lost in its nooks and crannies crammed full of interesting news and reading. The bookstore was recently included in Buzzfeed's 30 Best Places To Be If You Love Books list.

    Sunday, March 3, 2013

    Women's History Month

    March 3rd is the 100th anniversary of the Suffragist March of 1913. This event which took place in Washington DC, marked a major victory in the women's movement and contributed to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. More information can be learned from these resources: 

    Image above: Official program - Woman suffrage procession, Washington, D.C. March 3, 1913 / Dale. Image right: Suffragette parade, Washington, D.C., on March 3, 1913. Public domain.


    Saturday, March 2, 2013

    Dr. Seuss Day - Read Across America

    cat in the hat

    Read Across America is celebrated on March 2 coinciding with Dr. Seuss' birthday, although this year Read Across America Day is actually on March 1. It's confusing, because some states (Maryland, e.g.) celebrate Read Across for the whole month of March. In any case, it's nice to celebrate Dr. Seuss and his contributions to encouraging children to read. Reading builds knowledge and courage, for understanding the world helps to banish fear.

    "Have no fear of this mess!" -- the Cat in the Hat

    Friday, March 1, 2013

    203rd Anniversary of Frédéric Chopin's Birth

    Waltz in A minor (Op. Posth.) - one of my favorite Chopin waltzes. Portrait of Frédéric Chopin  (above) by Maria Wodzińska 1836 - public domain Wikimedia Commons.