Monday, October 31, 2011

10 Things I Learned From "Random Article"

God bless the Internet! There's a wealth of useful – as well as useless – information literally at your fingertips. While the useful information is why we all love to use the Internet, it's the useless stuff that you'd only ever come across online, much less learn about, that makes surfing the web the ├╝ber-awesome pastime that it is.

Case in point:  I decided that it would be interesting to click the "Random Article" tab on a number of times, just to see what weird and wonderful new knowledge I could acquire. So what if I may never be able to use any of this information in my daily life (other than sharing it with you here, that is). So what if the veracity of any and all articles on Wikipedia is questionable, or irrefutable, depending on whom you ask (all information on the site is user-generated). So what if I just wasted a half hour of my life I'll never get back. At least I had fun. And I learned a few things. And now, so will you...

1)  The U.S.S. Pansy was a steamer acquired by the Union Navy from the Union Army during the American Civil War. The U.S.S. Pansy served the Navy as a tugboat and as a dispatch boat, and operated primarily out of Cairo, Illinois, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, under the command of Acting Ensign William Harris. Pansy served in, and supported, several blockades of the Confederate States of America, including the Union Army's Western Flotilla and the Union Navy's Mississippi Mortar Brigade.

What Have We Learned?
That even during the time of the Civil War, people came up with ridiculous names for their boats. What self-respecting sailor would ever own up to the fact that he served on the U.S.S. Pansy? I mean, really!

2)  The Nicaraguan Constitutional Assembly Election of 1972 was held on February 6th that year. The Liberal Nationalist Party received 534,171 votes (75.33%) and the Conservative Party received 174,897 votes (24.67%). There were 970,792 registered voters in Nicaragua that year.

What Have We Learned?
That 261,724 Nicaraguan citizens were too lazy, too politically indifferent, or too busy listening to their Rolling Stones records to even bother with voting that year.

3)  "Devil And The Deep" is a Paramount Pictures film released in 1932 starring Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, and Cary Grant. Laughton plays a naval commander named Charles Sturm whose jealousy makes life miserable for his wife, Diana (Bankhead). His suspicions fall over his own subordinate, Lieutenant Jaeckel (Grant). Although Storm's suspicions had no basis in reality, soon his obsessive behavior drives Diana into the arms of yet another officer, Lieutenant Sempter (Cooper). Learning of their affair, Sturm plots a terrible revenge.

What Have We Learned?
That unwarranted jealousy could lead to warranted jealousy which could lead to surreptitious plotting which could lead to initially-innocent-but-later-guilty people getting killed. Also, that the screenwriters for this film had an affinity for oddball character names. Along with Sturm, Jaeckel, and Sempter, other characters include Mrs. Planet, Mrs. Crimp, and Lt. Toll.

4)  Waverveen is a small village in the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the municipality of De Ronde Venen, 3 km west of Vinkeveen. Waverveen was a separate municipality until 1841, when it was merged with Vinkeveen to form the municipality of Vinkeveen en Waverveen. At last count, the population was 794 people.

What Have We Learned?
Dutch words and names look and sound weird.

5)  Konstantin Ushkov (born August 2, 1977) is a retired butterfly swimmer from Russia, who won the silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in freestyle relay. He also competed for Kyrgyzstan at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

What Have We Learned?
Some people are lucky enough to be able to retire by age 34.

6)  The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893 and claims to be the spiritual descendant of the Scottish Reformation. It is sometimes colloquially known as the Wee Wee Frees (not to be confused with the "Wee Frees", which is the colloquial name for another offshoot of the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland).

What Have We Learned?
"Wee Wee Frees"???  #smh

7)  Ecuadorian Sign Language (ESL) is the deaf sign language of Ecuador. ESL is a language isolate (a "prototype" sign language), though one developed through stimulus diffusion from an existing sign language, likely French Sign Language.

What Have We Learned?
Actually, not a darned thing. Seeing as I don't know what a "language isolate" is (do you?) or "stimulus diffusion" (how about that one?), I actually feel dumber now than I did before reading this.

8)  Litoria moorei (common name: motorbike frog) is a species of frog that's well-known in Southwest Australia for its signature call which sounds like a motorbike changing up through gears. The Litoria moorei is a ground-dwelling tree frog which is able to camouflage itself well, ranging in color from dark brown, through to green and gold. Its underside is noticeably lighter, and usually ranges from very pale green to light brown.

What Have We Learned?
That "ground-dwelling tree frog" seems to be a misnomer. Why not just call them ground frogs, or simply frogs? Or, in the case of this motorin' amphibian, how about "Harley Davidson"?

9)  A stemple is a form of wooden step used in mining, caving, and mountaineering, usually a wooden bar set between notches in rock walls for climbing purposes, often one of a series forming a ladder. If not well maintained, stemples can rot and should not always be trusted. The origin of the word is in the German "Stempel", meaning a stamp or prop.

What Have We Learned?
That stemples and Wikipedia have something in common – they should not always be trusted.

10)  Guiseppe Gonzaga (March 20, 1690 - August 16, 1746) was the last Duke of Guastalla (now a part of Italy). The second son of Vincenzo Gonazaga, Duke of Guastalla and Maria Vittoria Gonzaga, Giuseppe was mentally handicapped. When his elder brother Duke Antonio Ferrante died in an accident in 1729, Guiseppe was the only remaining male member of the family, so he became Duke.  Giuseppe would probably have never married, but when he became Duke, a marriage was arranged in 1731 with the 16-year-old Eleonore von Holstein (1715 – 1760), daughter of Duke Leopold of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Wiesenburg. The marriage remained childless.

What Have We Learned?
That a mentally handicapped man was made a Duke in the early 1700s because of his brother's accidental death – a title which he might never have attained otherwise, due to his handicap. No smart-alecky comments here – that's just straight-up interesting. And thought-provoking.

Now, why not take your own jaunt through the awesomeness that is "Random Article"?  Happy Learning!

Not All Music Is Garbage!: A Few Overlooked Gems Amid A Sea Of Mediocrity

There are two things I hate about the music industry:
• That so many artists get lots of attention that they don't deserve.
• That so many artists don't get lots of attention who do deserve it.

It's that second group – the undiscovered or overlooked gems amid a sea of mediocrity – that I want to focus on here. I will concede, to begin with, that all music is extremely relative. What I love, you may hate. What you adore, I may despise. But this is my blog, and it's not my job to decide what you like, only to share with you what I like.

I should also mention, in case you miss the obvious, that I tend to enjoy listening to female singers more than males. Always have, probably always will. That being said, here are 10 of my favorite "gems", in no particular order...Enjoy!

1)  Zee Avi – "Bitter Heart"

2)  Lucy Schwartz – "Life In Letters"

3)  Kina Grannis – "Valentine"

4)  Maia Hirasawa – "Gothenburg"

5)  Meaghan Smith – "I Know"

6)  Meiko – "Under My Bed"

7)  Priscilla Ahn – "Dream"

8)  Corinne Bailey Rae – "Like A Star"

9)  Sophie Madeleine – "Take Your Love With Me"

10)  Stacy Clark – "Not Enough"

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ties That Bind

Today I wore a tie for the third time this month.

I should preface this by saying that I am not a fan of wearing ties, or even of dressing up in general. But sometimes the situation or the occasion calls for it, and I, mostly not grudgingly, will comply.

The first time I donned a tie this month was for my sister-in-law's wedding. I had been asked to say a prayer for the happy couple during the ceremony. Not being officially part of the wedding party, I hadn't been instructed to wear any particular type of outfit, but a dress shirt and pants and a tie seemed appropriate, so that's what I wore. All in all, it went well. My prayer was scripted – I don't really do improv that well – but they seemed to like it. Not that I was saying it to them, but still...

The second time I was all tied up was two weeks later for our church's Night of Drama production. I was acting in one of the mini-plays – it was a live radio drama – and I was the Narrator. Since I was also the director of that particular play, I could have told myself to wear whatever I wanted, but it was a significant role, and somewhat a central character, so I figured I'd go all out and put on the old tie again (same one as the wedding two weeks prior, by the way). For the second time, I'd worn a tie for an event that brought people together as a family. That's how we think of ourselves, us drama folk. We're somewhat of a breed apart, I guess you could say. But we understand each other.

Today I wore a tie for the third and final time this month. The occasion was undoubtedly the least joyous of the trio, and yet it was the most joyous. I was attending the funeral of a 7-year old little girl who, after two brave years of fighting a vicious brain tumor, had lost the battle. I can hear you asking the question right now: how on earth could this be a joyous occasion? Good question. Short answer: It can't. On earth, that is. Lydia Byrd's family and friends will never again see her as she was in this life. But they will see her again – those who believe as she believed, at least – in the life to come, which is everlasting. Sweet Lydia is waiting there for our arrival. But she isn't missing us, not like we're missing her at least. She's got Jesus by her side. Today was a celebration of her life, and we cried together, we smiled because of who she was, and we rejoiced for her reunion with her Maker. And again, this was an occasion that brought together a disparate group of people as a family.

Today I didn't mind wearing that tie.