August 26, 2009

Ask Jen: Foolish Edition

Cam writes: "I've heard the quote about not [fooling] all the people all the time attributed to Abe Lincoln and PT Barnum. Which is it?"

The full quote is "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

Unfortunately, there is no documentary proof linking the quote to either man, but it is most often attributed to Lincoln, who supposedly said it during his Senate campaign against Stephen Douglas. The problem is, the quote was attributed well after the fact and can not be found in newspaper coverage from the time.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 05:52 AM | TrackBack

August 19, 2009

Ask Jen: Jen Edition

Jack writes: "What's been up for you? How's school? How's life? What are you reading? What are you studying? Where are you living? How's things?"

Thank you for the questions, Jack. I finished school last summer after studying history and anthropology, and I am now living in the Des Moines area once more. I am re-reading (at a very slow pace) New Moon, which is the 2nd book in the Twilight series. Those who follow me on Facebook (profile name: JenLars) know I already read the Twilight books earlier this summer. Now I am re-reading them to see what I missed. I am also reading The Secret History of the Rulers of the World by Philippe Gigantes.

As for what I am studying now, I am not taking formal classes, but I am moving through an Art Appreciation textbook at about a chapter a day. I love college textbooks, and pick them up at garage sales and the Half Price bookstore for cheap (the clearance section especially rocks). Next: Human Sexuality.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 06:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 17, 2009

Call for Questions

As most of you reading this know by now, I tend to get bored and wander off without positive reinforcement (i.e. comment-love and emails).

So, send me your "Ask Jen" questions and I will feel slightly more compelled to blog than normal.

Tack sĺ mycket.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:48 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 02, 2009

*Ask Jen: Dogs are Gross Edition

Victor writes, "Why do dogs like to eat poop? You figure an animal with that developed a sense of smell could tell that poop smells really bad."

First of all, Victor, what is with your ongoing campaign to point out how gross dogs are? We can't all be rat people.

As mentioned previously, dogs smell things differently than you and I. What we think smells gross may be fantastic to the canine nose. So there's that.

There is also the practice of animals occasionally eating their own fecal matter in order to get a second chance at the nutritional value contained therein. There is also the practice of "Bear" Grylls eating bear poo in order to get at the nutritional value contained therein, but that is just disgusting.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:10 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 13, 2008

*Ask Jen: Size Matters Edition

Jim writes, "How did 12 ounces become the standards size for a canned/bottled beverage? Is the standard different in other countries?"

How many inches are in a foot? American bottlers tend to favor multiples of 4...8 ounces, 16 ounces, 20 ounces, 24 ounces...you get the idea. My bottle of Diet Pepsi Max here is 24 fluid ounces of highly caffeinated awesomeness. It's also marked as being 1.5 pints and 710 milliliters. Whatever that means. Canadians have the same sized cans and bottles we do because their southern neighbors are highly influential. If they want to keep getting their American soft drinks, they'll just keep quiet.

Europeans get all metric with it, as you'd expect. Whether the actual sizes are the same, I couldn't tell you because as an American I refuse to acknowledge metric...or calculate any conversions of the same.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | TrackBack

August 06, 2008

*Ask Jen: Alotted Memory Edition

Nic left a comment pondering her lack of ability to reference songs released in her adulthood. She ended with the query, "Jen, does the brain undergo some change at the age of 18?"

The brain does not undergo any changes at this time, but a person's life normally does. At 18, most people graduate from high school and either enter college or the workforce. Priorities change. You have to become more self-sufficient. You spend more time working and less time lying around with the radio on. Your supervisor is inexplicably less impressed with your knowledge of Queen lyrics than your lunchroom tablemates had been.

Adults generally have other things to keep straight besides which Bon Jovi album had the song "Never Say Goodbye" on it. (Slippery When Wet, 4th single.) So their memory focuses on things that are more important for them to remember. Some adults find music to be just as important to them as it ever was...but the rest of us start focusing on other things. Our available memory is used up by those other things.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

*Ask Jen: Mason Dixon Edition

Jim writes, "Who were Mason and Dixon and why did they get a line named after them?"

Mason and Dixon were just the surveyors who figured out exactly where the boundaries were between some of the British Colonies: specifically, Maryland and Pennsylvania, who were all argumentative about who belonged where. (Delaware was also involved, but didn't feel as much need to break out the militia and shoot people about it.) The King stepped in and made Pennsylvania and Maryland behave themselves. He also ordered a survey to establish the physical boundaries. Some of the surveyors' original boundary markers can still be seen today.

The colonies were always disputing each other's borders, with some of the original colonies claiming rights to all the land west of their chartered territory. Violence was not uncommon amongst the colonies as they fought over land, and it must be said that the same problems cropped up amongst later U.S. territories/states as well. (See this description of the Iowa-Missouri Honey War for one nearly-violent example.)

Over 50 years after Mason and Dixon surveyed their line, it became involved in the Missouri Compromise and therefore tied to the issue of slavery. The term "Dixie" likely derives from the line's name, making a British colonial surveyor the nicknamesake for the entire American South.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 23, 2008

*Ask Jen: Collapse of Civilization Edition

Shank writes: "My Uncle, who I consider fairly intelligent and well-read, has recently been very vocal about what our future holds. Specifically, he sees several economic conditions or events in motion that will eventually lead to total global economic collapse; and, in his words, 'I see people forming communes where groups of like people, and families, learn to adapt and become self-sufficient.'

I guess my question is two fold: Firstly, has my uncle simply lost his shit, or should I really pay attention to this? Secondly, if this is a reasonable and probable outcome, should I neccesarily be worried?"

Thanks for your question, Shank. Next time, try to keep it a little shorter. I have ADD and started to glaze over around "economic" something something.

Anywho, in the past, civilizations would come and go. One day you're on top of the world, sacrificing humans to your various gods, and the next day you're archaeological material.

Never before has the human race been so completely intertwined with one another as they are today. Back in The Day, no one in the Eastern Hemisphere was much affected by the goings-on of the Western Hemisphere. The only things that could affect the planet on a large scale were environmental in nature.

Now, however, most of the global "us" are linked through economic and social ties. (Are you glazing over yet? At this point, a review of the Great Depression might be useful. I can't be bothered with that, so go here. I'll wait.)

I think the current levels of debt in America should be cause for great alarm. Personal debt or corporate debt can be bailed out by the government, sure, but where do we think the government gets its money from? We're all going to pay for it some day...and that day is getting closer.

A global economic depression is entirely possible, but social collapse on the scale your uncle describes seems unlikely. In earlier centuries and millenia, urbanization was cyclical. Groups would form large cities, the cities could not sustain themselves for whatever reason, and the groups would disperse into smaller rural groups.

I don't think this kind of dispersal is really possible in the modern era. It is possible people will become more self-sufficient, but to have the whole world turn into communal village-dwellers seems far-fetched. Maybe it could happen if there is a total breakdown in communication infrastructure, casting people off from one another in the global sense and completely refocusing their concerns to the local level.

So to sum up, put your uncle in a home.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 30, 2008

*Ask Jen: Bless Your Heart Edition

Jim writes: "I’m having difficulty nailing down this particular southern idiom. I hear 'bless her (or rarely his) heart' in conversations that sound nothing like a blessing. Can you dig into this one?"

As you well know, Southern Ladies would never speak rudely of another. So tacking "bless her/his heart" onto the end of an insult is just a way of making it seem nicer: "That boy is dumber than a box of rocks, bless his heart." Which in the North might be said something like, "I don't want to be mean, but that boy is not the sharpest pencil in the drawer."

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 23, 2008

*Ask Jen: Tooth Fairy Edition

Jim writes, "Where does the Tooth Fairy come from? Bacon has lost about 50 teeth in the last two weeks and it is putting a serious dent in my ready cash. Who can I blame for this?"

A couple things worry me about your question, Jim. Firstly, Bacon is apparently half-shark, because 50 teeth is a lot of toofs to be losing!

Secondly, I do not understand how his losing teeth is affecting your cashflow, since the Tooth Fairy provides her own money in exchange for teeth.

But I will tell you about the Tooth Fairy. She was born about 100 years ago in America, keeping her tooth-routes pretty small for the first few decades. After WWII she expanded her territory by hiring a cracker-jack PR firm, and now visits most English-speaking countries.

Beyond her public persona, not much is known about the Tooth Fairy. She lays relatively low. Unlike, say, Santa Claus, no one is really sure where the Tooth Fairy lives or what exactly she does with all those teeth.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 16, 2008

*Ask Jen: In a Nutshell

Since no one will e-mail a question for me, I am forced to pull my "Ask Jen" questions from other sources.

SarahK posted, "That, in a nutshell, is why you are only just now getting Idol. If you want the whole nut (what *does* 'in a nutshell' mean, anyway? Jennifer, please explain.), here it is."

To which I responded via comment: Apparently Pliny (Elder) mentioned in his writings a copy of the Iliad that was so small it fit into a nutshell…it was a condensed version, so “in a nutshell” came to be used to mean “the condensed version.”

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 08, 2008

*Ask Jen: BEARS! Edition

(The title is a well-disguised nod to Stephen Colbert, btw.)

My nephew, on a trip to the zoo a couple months ago, asked, "Why isn't that bear sleeping?" Which I shall translate into: "Why don't zoo bears hibernate in winter?" Because my nephew is a genius who realizes bears hibernate in wintertime, and some bear blatantly gallivanting about in February has some explaining to do.

Well, Favorite Nephew, I am glad you asked. First of all, it shows you've been paying attention to my in-car lecture series on the animal kingdom. (Lacking a rear-seat DVD player, I rely on actual conversation to keep the kids occupied on car trips.) Secondly, it shows a flair for critical thinking that I value highly.

The reason why bears don't hibernate in zoos is because they don't have to. They are kept warm and fed, and have no need to conserve energy by hibernating. Bears in the wild hibernate when temperatures are below freezing and their food sources are depleted.

It's not easy to find enough food when it's cold and snowy in the woods, but it's super-easy to find food when a keeper throws it in your habitat on the daily.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 04, 2008

*Ask Jen: Mooning Edition

Jim (yay!) asks: "So Jen, why does the moon sometimes look tiny like a dime and other times it is huge like a baby's head?"

Well, Jim, I am glad you asked. The moon has an elliptical orbit, so sometimes it is closer to the earth...but that does not account for the dramatic "change" in size during one night. What I think you are referring to is the illusion that the moon is huge near the horizon, and smaller as it rises in the sky.

This change in size is only seen by the human eye--cameras do not record the same phenomena. If you take a series of pictures of the moon throughout the evening, you'll see that the moon remains the same size. Our brains must be tricking us!

The prevailing theory on this is that we judge the size of the moon compared to what's nearby. So when the moon is near a house in our sight-line, for example, we think the moon is larger than when we see the moon hanging out by itself.

Personally, I have seen a ginormous orange moon on the horizon a couple times that I don't believe can be explained away by the above theory. It happens when the moon rises above the waste treatment plant east of my parents' town...so I think in my non-scientist way that the gases and chemical whatnot affect the appearance of the moon at those times. Seriously, it's HUGE! Then it rises and becomes white and normal-sized.

Is my mind just being tricksy? Until I start carrying a camera everywhere I go--or holding up dimes against the moon--I won't know for sure.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't know the answer, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

*Ask Jen: NASCAR Edition

Blogless Pete writes, "Seeing that I am a recent transplant to the south I need some instruction on NASCAR. All over the place I see cars on the highway with different numbers as bumper stickers or in the back windows. Back when I was younger I knew that Richard Petty was number 43 and Dale Earnhardt was #3 but now a days I am lost. I do know that everyone is supposed to hate Jeff Gordon, unless you love him, or something like that. HELP!!!"

In my opinion, all an outsider really needs to know is:

1. When you see a red #8, you cheer. Unless he crashes, and then you curse the driver near him who obviously put him in the wall.
2. When you see a rainbow #24, you boo. Unless he crashes, and then you laugh if it doesn't look fatal.
3. When you see the #2 this year, you boo. Unless he crashes, and then you laugh especially if it looks fatal.

I kid.

That Kurt Busch is a punk, though.

Since you're in Tennessee, I recommend trying to catch a race in Bristol. This year is already sold out, so try a Busch race if you don't want to wait until the ticket drawings of 2007 and beyond. (Racing's a little popular there.) It may be easier to get tickets to Atlanta. Good seats are still available for the March race, close to the start/finish line. Once you go, you'll be a fan. I guarantee it.

Anywho, regarding the # 43, it is still owned by Richard Petty, and Bobby Labonte is the driver this year. You'll like him. He's allowed to be your favorite if you decide against #8 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr). No one races the # 3, but NASCAR doesn't "retire" numbers, so it's possible it'll be raced in the future. The distant future.

If you want to know more, go here and here. Mark February 19 on your calendar, that's Daytona. Whee!

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll eventually answer it if I feel like it. If I don't know the answer, I might eventually make something up if I feel like it.

Posted by Jennifer at 08:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005

*Ask Jen: Reality TV Edition

Shank writes, "What is it about this disgusting programming known as reality TV that draws us in?"

Let me ask you a few questions: When the police show up at the neighbor's house, do you look out the window to see what's going on? Do you either stay at the window or keep going back to the window until after the police leave? When you're watching sports on TV, do you express your outrage over boneheaded plays, and think you could do better?

Reality TV taps into the same basic behaviors, I think. Most of us are nosy and maybe even a little voyeuristic, plus we love to play Monday morning quarterback. "Colby should have voted Tina off! What an idiot!" As for Fear Factor, I think people watch that for the same reason they watch horror movies--the thrill that accompanies vicarious terror. You watch someone with giant spiders on their head and imagine yourself with giant spiders on your head. You don't actually have spiders on your head, but you get the adrenaline rush anyway.

Plus it's nice to have actual proof that there are loonier loonies running around than ourselves.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 02:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 29, 2005

*Ask Jen: Interview Edition

Shank writes, "Do you prefer Jennifer or Jen, or does it matter at all? If you were stranded on a desert island and had to choose one of your commenters to hang out with, who would it be and why? When and why did everyone start paying so much attention to politics? Remember the nineties? When MTV couldn't even get people to vote? What happened?"

Okay, QuizMaster, I'm hard up for material, so I'll humor you on this one. I prefer Jennifer or Jen, but never Jenny. Unless you're really attractive and smart and single.

If I was stranded on a desert island, I'd have to go with Paul(!) for amusement purposes. He's married, so no funny business, but he'd be a good conversationalist. Plus he's smart, so he might be able to rig a way off the island.

What politics?

I do remember the 90s. I graduated high school, went to college, voted for Clinton, left college, made more money than I've been able to since 2001, voted for Clinton again, made even more money...what was the question? Oh, right, voting. People still don't vote. Apathy lives!

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2005

*Ask Jen: Chinese Law Edition

Reader Anna writes, "Can you please post something about crime and punishment in China?"

Well, that's a bit of a broad topic, but I'll give it a stab.

The earliest complete legal code to have survived in China was the Tang Code. It stated that laws originated out of necessity rather than any divine reasons, and had finely graded punishments based on both the actual crime and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.

The worst of the crimes listed in the Tang Code were the Ten Abominations, and anyone who was guilty of one of these crimes could not be saved by their higher rank in society or relationship to the emperor. These were crimes that endangered the emperor or the government, threatened the family, or involved "black magic". The Ten Abominations were:
1. Plotting rebellion
2. Plotting great sedition
3. Plotting treason
4. Contumacy
5. Depravity
6. Great irreverence
7. Lack of filial piety
8. Discord
9. Unrighteousness
10. Incest

For the first three (which were the most serious of the Abominations), decapitation was the punishment. And for the first two, execution of the criminal's extended family was carried out as well...for plotting rebellion, the entire male line over the age of 15 was executed. Those under 15 were enslaved. The females were either enslaved or exiled, and all the family's property was seized.

Women generally got off lighter than men, regardless of the crime. They were beaten less severely, and if they were pregnant, they could not be beaten at all. Plus pregnant women weren't executed until 100 days after the birth of their baby.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 18, 2005

*Ask Jen: Talk About Your Nipples Edition

Reader Cara writes, "Are male nipples as sensitive as female nipples?"

Well, in my limited informal research on the subject, I would have to say nipple sensitivity is entirely dependent upon whom said nipples are attached to. In other words, it varies. Some women do not have very sensitive nipples at all, and some men have very sensitive nipples.

So let's ask the readers: how sensitive would you say your nipples are? Are they an erogenous zone, or would you really prefer to have them left alone in favor of other areas?

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

*Ask Jen: Drinking and Dialing Edition

Reader Lindsay writes, "I have a question for Jen: Why do people drunk dial?"

Why do you ask? Who have you been talking to?

Alcohol is a depressant, and some of us tend to start dwelling on our relative unhappiness when we drink. Which perhaps leads us to think about when we were happy(-er) and who we were happy(-er) with...leading us to want to reach out and touch someone. These are the pathetic drunk dialing scenarios. Booty calls also fit in somewhat with this scenario.

Alternately, it can make us dwell on the people who we think have wronged us...leading us to lash out at them at 3 in the morning. These are the angry drunk dialing scenarios.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:08 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

*Ask Jen: Neener Neener Edition

Reader CarolAnn writes, "Jen - do you have any idea where the children's phrase.....'ne ner ne ner ne ner' came from? Thanks."

Wow, that is a tough one. I don't know any original sources for neener-neener or its sister nyah-nyah...but if I were to fabricate an explanation, I'd say it likely comes from Old English "ne". Which means "no" or "not".

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 06, 2005

*Ask Jen: Winers Edition

Reader Chris writes, "After a (briefly) exhaustive search of your site, I notice you don't ever mention wine once. Why is that? Are you winophobic or possibly a winoholic?"

Well, it's not true that I've never mentioned wine. I mentioned it here. I don't consider myself a wine connoisseur or anything, but I do have a few bottles squirreled away. I'm told they're really good. All I really know about wine is what kind of meat they generally go with...reds with reds, whites with whites.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 09, 2005

*Ask Jen: Heartless Witch Edition

Reader "B" writes, "Regarding 'That's all she wrote!' Who is she and what did she write?"

"That's all she wrote" means basically, "it's over". She is the same she who wrote the "Dear John" letters in WWII, ending her relationship with her soldier abroad.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:50 PM

June 08, 2005

*Ask Jen: Filibuster Edition

Reader Amanda writes, "Can you please tell me the origins of the term filibuster?"

The word evolved, as many terms do, from other languages and meanings. The Dutch used the word vrijbuiter, or "freebooter" to label pirates. The Spanish adopted the term, changing it to filibustero. It came to be applied to revolutionaries trying to stir up trouble in Spanish colonies. One of their tactics was to speak incessantly in partisan rhetoric. Little wonder, then, that the term came to be applied to politicians who pirated debate with their partisan rhetoric.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:11 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2005

*Ask Jen: Beetlejuice Edition

Reader S.A. writes, "I love the movie 'Beetlejuice', but his name is spelled Betelgeuse. What's the dillio?"

Well, Betelgeuse is pronounced "beetle-juice". And btw, Betelgeuse is one of the stars in the Orion constellation. The hunter's armpit, actually...which is how it got its name, which is supposedly a variation of an Arabic phrase that means "the mighty one's armpit".

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:00 AM | Comments (3)

May 20, 2005

*Ask Jen: The Learn Nothing Edition

Pete writes, "Down the street from my job they are building a new apartment complex and naturally they have the site blocked off with plywood. On the plywood they have painted 'post no bills'. I have seen this all over the place at construction sites and I was wondering what the hell it means and when it started."

Well, since you are a lifetime East Coaster, I'm pretty sure you know it means, "this isn't a damn bulletin board, jackass". Unfortunately, I can't enlighten you any further. I can find no information on the origins of the phrase. In short, I suck.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:30 PM | Comments (2)

April 27, 2005

*Ask Jen: The French Kiss Edition

Shank writes: "Now that France has a really awesome bridge, have they redeemed themselves from centuries of loserdom?"

Umm, no. Simply because I think most people don't know anything about the bridge. And by "people" I mean "Americans". Plus the French women are all skinny while eating chocolate and croissants and I'm bitter.

Shank also writes: "Sex - how much is too much?"

When it begins to interfere with your presidential duties.

Posted by Jennifer at 08:00 AM | Comments (2)

April 26, 2005

*Ask Jen: Spelunking Edition

DFMoore writes: "What's the difference between a stalagtite and a stalagmite? Is there some really quick mnemonic to remember the difference?"

Stalagtites hang down. Stalagmites reach up. With all their might. Hope that helps.

DFMoore also writes: "Jen, Why do none of my Ask Jen questions ever get published or answered? All I get are smart aleck responses back via e-mail. Is there some reason for this? Is there something I'm doing wrong?"

The reason is I assume you ask me questions you already know the answer to, DMo.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

March 31, 2005

*Ask Jen: The Jim's-Forcing-Me-to-Blog Version

Jim asks: "Where the hell does 'cream of the crop' come from? What crop yields cream in any quantity? Are we talking about harvesting cows here?"

Creamed corn. Cream of Wheat. You're not trying very hard.

Anywho, when you milk a cow and let the milk stand, the cream rises to the top. The cream is (supposedly) the best part of the milk. If you've ever watched* Emma, you know that the best part of the riddle she and Miss Smith read is the punchline...which Emma refers to as "the cream". The cream of the crop is simply the best of the crop.

* Any Jane Austen fans out there who can tell us if it's in the book, as well? I can't find mine and don't remember.

Posted by Jennifer at 06:02 PM | Comments (6)

December 06, 2004

*Ask Jen: 86ing Edition

Kyle said, "The story behind the term '86' might be interesting... go for it!"

The term "86" originated with the food service industry back in the 1920s. Lunch-counter clerks had to communicate with the cook verbally, and they didn't necessarily want the customers to understand everything that was being said. Code words and numbers were used when preferred...such as "86" meaning the cook was out of an item.

The term "86" also came to mean that a customer should not be served, and it made its way in this meaning to the adult beverage establishments. An "86" was a customer who shouldn't be served any more due to intoxication, and removing that customer from the bar became "86ing".

Posted by Jennifer at 03:15 PM | Comments (4)

*Ask Jen: Shaved Edition

The Viking wants to know if it's true shaved hair grows back thicker and darker.

No, it's not. Think of a tapered candle...with the base being the same size all the way towards the top, but the top coming to a point. Hair is similar in that way. You shave it off bluntly, and lose the tapered end. So the stubble that then grows back out of the skin looks thicker at first, but it's not really.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:47 AM | Comments (4)

November 16, 2004

*Ask Jen: Walk the Plank Edition

Tim wants to know "about the history of Jolly Roger."

Well, as everyone knows, the Jolly Roger is the pirate flag...black with a white skull and crossbones. Every pirate ship had one, bought from Flags-R-Us, and if they didn't have one, the Democratic Order of Pirates made them walk the plank, me hearties.

Sorry, slipped into Talk-Like-a-Pirate-Day-speak for a moment.

The truth is, the Jolly Roger as we know it is probably more of a Hollywood creation than anything. All pirate ships had their own flag--some with skull and crossbones, some with crossed swords, some with whatever other frightening imagery they came up with. And the flags came in different colors, too. It is possible that "Jolly Roger" is derived from "joli rouge"...French for "pretty red".

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 02:15 PM | Comments (3)

November 03, 2004

*Ask Jen: Aerodynamic Lift Edition

Reader Stephanie writes, "My high school gym teacher says throwing a discus into the wind makes it go farther. Is he right?"

Well, as anyone who knows me can attest, physics is my real area of expertise.* Your teacher is right, because even though throwing the discus into the wind results in drag, it also gets an aerodynamic lift from the pressure differences on the top and bottom of the discus, which makes it fly for a longer period of time--and thus a greater distance as well.

* This is a blatant, big fat lie, but I did actually know the answer to this question. Yay, gym class! And if any of the real physicist types care to expound/clarify/correct in the comments, feel free.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 02:23 PM | Comments (12)

June 29, 2004

*Ask Jen: Smelly Dogs Edition

Victor wants to know, "Why do dogs like to roll around in dead stinky things?"

Well, first of all, let's not generalize. Some dogs are awfully fussy about getting their royal paws dirty, much less getting animal carcass or fecal matter on their luxurious fur. But let's focus on the dogs who do enjoy a good romp in smelly goodness.

My initial reaction to this question was that it is to hide their scent from predators, and that is the most popular theory. But there are a couple other theories.

Some scientists think it's a show-and-tell kinda thing. The dog rolls in the smelly stuff to bring the scent back to his pack. "Hey! Look what I found!"

Still other scientists hold the position that it's like perfume--the dogs just like it. Their noses are much more sensitive than our own, so perhaps the icky stuff is a great smell to them.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:25 PM | Comments (1)

June 25, 2004

*Ask Jen: Brownshirt Edition

A reader who shall remain anonymous asked what a "brownshirt" was...as in Gore calling people Digital Brownshirts. So I figured other people might be confused too.

From Encarta:

Brown Shirt noun 1. Nazi storm trooper: a member of a Nazi uniformed paramilitary organization originally forming Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard and later used as a militia. Brownshirts assisted Hitler’s rise to power, but lost their influence to the SS following the assassination of their leader Erich Röhm in 1934. 2. offensive term: an offensive term for somebody who is viewed as being a violent racist ( insult ) [Translation of German Braunhemd , from the brown uniform shirts of the Nazi storm troopers]

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:39 PM | Comments (4)

June 24, 2004

*Ask Jen: The Morning After Edition

Reader "L" wants to know, "What will cure a hangover?"

Not drinking too much. But you already know that. Before you go to bed, make sure you drink lots of water to rehydrate your body and take a painkiller that doesn't have acetaminophen in it (Advil good, Tylenol bad). For the morning after, drink more water or Gatorade. You'll want to consume some carbs to get your blood-sugar back up and protein for energy. Avoid fatty foods, which will make you feel more nauseous.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 02:04 PM

June 22, 2004

*Ask Jen: Buckingham Edition

Jim wants to know, "Who (or what) was Buckingham, as in 'Buckingham Palace'? Why isn't it called London Palace or 'Whatevertheroyalfamiliesnameis' Palace?"

Good question. First, let's look at the royal family's surname, because that's kind of interesting.

Before 1917, the royal family's official surname was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Because of the anti-German sentiment during WWI, the King renounced his family's German titles and changed the surname to Windsor. The current royals (The Queen and her direct male and unmarried female descendants) have the last name Mountbatten-Windsor, since Prince Philip took the surname Mountbatten when he became a British citizen.

Now, Buckingham Palace: it was bought by the royal family in 1761 when it was known as Buckingham House. It was originally used as a home for the queen and her children, and was much smaller. By 1847 it had the four wings we see today.

So who was Buckingham? The Duke who built the House in 1703.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

March 11, 2004

*Ask Jen: Bathroom Edition

Reader David writes, "I've been wondering for a while what is the true origin of the naval phrase 'Hit the Head' as in I have to go to the bathroom. I've asked several people in the navy and they know the term, but not the origins, help!"

This originated in the middle 1700s due to the location of the crew's toilet. It was traditionally in the bow--or head--of the ship.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up. (Hint: history, trivia, and phrase origin questions tend to get more serious answers. No guarantees, though.)

Posted by Jennifer at 04:22 PM

March 05, 2004

*Ask Jen: Refusing to Answer Edition

Jim writes, "How come all of the union strongarm tactics have 'work' in their names when they all deal with the exact opposite of work? Examples: work stoppages, work slowdowns, work actions."

My first inclination is to say that it is because they are, you know, stopping work or slowing work, etc. But I am in a unique position to seek expert input to your question. I do have co-workers who are in the union. Let me go out to the shop and find some...(five minutes later)...hmm, no one out there. Must be break time. I'll just call a couple of the guys...(ten minutes later)...hmm. No one's answering their phone. Is it lunch time? It's not 10:30 yet, so that can't be. Oh, wait. Payday. They're at the bars. Sorry, Jim, I can't answer your question.

Pete the Blogless wants to know, "what is an Irishman's drinking stick?"

Oh, no, you don't. I'm not getting pulled into that Irish stereotype stuff again.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up. (Hint: history, trivia, and phrase origin questions tend to get more serious answers. No guarantees, though.)

Posted by Jennifer at 09:24 AM

March 02, 2004

*Ask Jen: Monkeying Around Edition

Jim asks, "Is 'monkey picked' tea really picked by monkeys?

One of my co-workers is drinking 'Monkey Picked Oolong Tea' and says it's
really picked by monkeys. I think that's bull, marketing or legend. Maybe
all 3?"

Looks like it is mostly legend. And I have to say the marketing strategy is suspect. Who wants a monkey touching their tea? If I saw a monkey touching my tea, I'd be like, "Hey! You get your bitch-ass back in the kitchen and make me some pie!"

Kin demands to know, "Why are you a Democrat?! They're evil!!"

Yeah, and your point is...? I like being evil.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 02:41 PM | Comments (1)

March 01, 2004

*Ask Jen: Boobies and Lightning Edition

Jim asks, "If Janet Jackson starts a weblog is she automatically a member of Bloggers With Boobies?"

Interesting question, Jim. I have "Boobies" and yet I am not a member. However, I did not bare either of my breasts in public, either. Well, there was that one time on Spring Break, but...ahem. I'm digressing. I don't want to speak for Dana here, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say Janet Jackson doesn't know how to type and could never have a blog.

Reader Shawna writes, "I heard that men are 6 times more likely than women to be hit by lightning. Why?"

My guess is it isn't chemical or anything like that...just that women have the good sense not to frolick about in open spaces with metal sticks during a thunderstorm.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:09 PM | Comments (2)

January 27, 2004

Ask Jen: Whigging Out Edition

Reader Eddie wants to know where the term "Whig" came from.

The name was a shortened form of "whiggamor" which meant "cattle driver" and was a derogatory term referring to Scottish Presbyterians who opposed King Charles I (who was later deposed and beheaded). The Whigs were mostly merchants and landowners who supported a strong Parliament, in contrast with the Tories who supported the King.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 26, 2004

Ask Jen: Hindenburg Edition

Reader Jeff wants to know, "Was the Hindenburg really that big of a tragedy?"

I suppose it is all relative...97 people were on board and 62 survived. Thirty-five people on the airship and one crewmember on the ground died. I think the fact it was caught on tape helped fuel (no pun intended) the horror.

Before the Hindenburg disaster, travel by airship had been going on for over 25 years, but the Hindenburg explosion ended blimp travel. Soon afterwards, the first passengers crossed the Atlantic via airplane.

Incidentally, the Hindenburg was designed to use helium, but the U.S. refused to sell any to Adolf Hitler's Germany. So hydrogen was used instead, flammable as it is.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:01 AM | Comments (9)

January 23, 2004

*Ask Jen: Dutchy Edition

Reader Beth writes, "Why do so many phrases have the word 'dutch' in them?"

Dutch treat, Dutch courage, Dutch auction, etc. are all phrases that were coined by the British. Hint: they are not meant to be flattering.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2004

*Ask Jen: Huh? Edition

Normally I am loathe to harvest questions out of the comments, but "Jackle" left the following: "I really like your site!*) Could you maybe tell me a little about France's Government. And i really like this one guy in my computer class,and if he keeps on messing with your mouse & one time he said I'm gonna get high. I'm gonna get high with Jackle? Please post it on your web site:*( P.S. Jacklw is a pretend name! Thanks"

This site will give you basic information on the French government.

As for the rest of your comment, I'm not sure there was an actual question. I think Pete does the Love/Relationship-type questions anyway. My only advice is Just Say No to Drugs, and say the same thing to boys. (Or at least use condoms.)

I want to re-visit one question Pete answered last week. Jim asked about the phrase "coon's age".

A lot of people assume anything with the word "coon" has racial connotations. The term originally referred to a white person from the country, but it did eventually evolve into a derogatory term for a black person. (It also was the American Whig Party's nickname, since the raccoon was their mascot.)

"Coon's age" predates the racial slur. It most likely was an alteration to the phrase "crow's age".

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:55 AM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2004

*Ask Jen: Bling and BoomBoom Edition

Reader Jeff writes, "All the pictures of the Iowa capital got me wondering how thick is gold leaf?"

Typically a single gold leaf is 0.0000035 inch thick, but this varies by manufacturer. Gold leaf is pure gold and therefore quite pliable for use in architecture.

The Iowa capitol dome gold is 23 karats (pure gold is 24 karats), weighs a total of 100 ounces, is 1/250,000th of an inch thick, and originally cost $3,500 to gild in the 1880s. When it was regilded in 1999, it cost $400,000. If you've never been in the capitol building and have a chance, you should go. It's actually pretty cool. (Online tour here.)

My Anonymous Reader Who Likes Bombs writes, "Where can I find urnaium?"

Urnaium? Never heard of it. But if it is natural uranium you're looking for, it's all over the place. The best deposits are in Canada and Zaire; but the U.S., Australia, France, South Africa, and the former Soviet Union all have substantial uranium sources. In the U.S. your best bet is to look in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, or Utah. Of course, if you're looking for uranium-235, it only occurs in one of forty uranium molecules. Good luck!

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:19 AM

January 20, 2004

*Ask Jen: Superman is Always Late Edition

Reader Jeff asks, "Why doesn't Superman wear a watch?"

I'm going to guess it has something to do with the use of Krypton 85 to make watches glow in the dark. As far as I know, Superman has no super-time-telling-power.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:30 AM | Comments (3)

January 16, 2004

*Ask Jen Pete

Reader Shawna asks: "Why are station wagons named that?"

The crack internet research team found the following site Station Wagon History that covers it pretty well. Here is an excerpt:

Well, the very first station wagons were called 'depot hacks' - they worked primarily around train depots as hacks (taxicabs). The modified back ends that made them depot hacks were necessary to carry large amounts of luggage - everyone traveled by train then, remember, and you needed a car that could comfortably carry people and large amounts of luggage from the train station to home. They were also called 'carryall's' and 'suburbans' (a name Plymouth used on their wagons until the late 1970's). 'Station wagon' was just another derivative of 'depot hack'; they were vehicles that were used as wagons (to carry passengers and cargo) from (railroad) stations.

The site covers it in much more detail and gives a brief history that comes up to the present day. Of course they don't really mention that the biggest draw back of station wagons is they suck the cool right out of a person. This even goes for the modern day station wagon, the minivan. No matter what you do to them, dvd player, big tires, (yes I have seen ones like that) they are still a station wagon.


Jim at Snooze Button Dreams asks "How long is a coon's age"? As in "Why Emma Lou, I ain't seen you in a coon's age!"

I didn't have a lot of luck with this one. The best that the crack Internet research department could come up with is that the origin of this term is not clear. One thought is that it is derived from the average age of a raccoon. This, of course, is nonsense as most people know that raccoons get killed all the time on the highways of America and thus don't lead particularly long lives. I have begun to wonder about the competence of my research team.
Another idea that was floated is that it is derived from the premature aging of African American slaves who were referred to using the derogatory term "coon". I don't know how premature aging could be a sign of longevity, so I am forced to conclude that my research department is incompetent.

Posted by Pete at 10:15 AM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2004

*Ask Jen Pete

Jim Peacock from Snooze Button Dreams asks, "Where did the phrase 'Going Dutch' come from? Is the source of "Dutch Treat" the same?"

The source is the same. It comes from a time when the Dutch and British were vying for colonial supremacy. It was actually a derogatory term used by the British as it really means that there was 'no treat'. There is a good explaniation at Word Detective . Scroll down a bit for for it.

Jim continues with the question "Why is it wrong for a coach or player to bet on his (or her) own team to win? Doesn't that just give them more incentive to win (which would be a good thing)?"

Generally speaking I would agree that betting on your own team to win is a good incentive, as long as it's only a one on one type of bet. But as we all know that there are many other ways to bet on professional sports. There are point spreads, over-under, god only knows what else. Plus when the bets are made to professional bookies it can take on a life of it's own if the gambler in question loses a large number of bets. Take the Reds for example. The bookie might have a large number of bets on the Reds to win a certain game. Pete calls up and is told that since he owes the bookie a large sum of money he can get some of it knocked down by losing the game. He hasn't bet against his team, but he sure as hell isn't going to manage the same way. The manager can control the game in so many ways to affect the outcome.
Another example would be to suppose that the Manager has a big bet riding on his team to win. He leaves his star pitcher in far longer than he normally would have in an attempt to win thus destroying the pitcher's shoulder and career. I think that there are enough questionable managerial calls without having to throw in the question of personal financial gain through betting. As a player I would want to know that my manager is thinking about the team first and not worrying that he legs are going to get broken if we lose.

Posted by Pete at 12:20 PM

January 09, 2004

Ask Jen Pete

Victor follows up the Teflon question by wondering: “if there was time when massive herds of cows roamed the earth”

After days of scouring the Internet my crack research team was unable to find anything on this topic. There were even muttered comments about sniffing to much Elmer’s glue or something to that effect. Failing that in the future they would appreciate Victor sharing whatever it is that he is smoking when thinking up these questions.

Reader Milots recently asked the following of Jen, “I guess you are a woman? Did you ever pop a balloon and how did you pop it.”

Answering this one is a bit tricky. While I am pretty sure that Jen is, in fact, a woman, I am not. I could go into a rant about being a woman who is trapped in a man’s body and I don’t know it because she is a lesbian, but I’ll pass. Although I will admit to feeling far safer on a girl’s bike. But where was I? Right the balloon-popping question. I will take a stab and say, yes, that she has popped a balloon. Knowing Jen like I do, and boy do I know Jen (wink wink, nudge nudge say no more), I would say that she generally uses her nails to do it. Unless she was in one of “those” moods and then she might use…never mind. This is a family blog. Well I hope that helps you. Please free to comment if you’d like more info.

Posted by Pete at 07:18 PM | Comments (3)

January 08, 2004

Ask Jen Pete

Paige has a friend who wonders if is dangerous to take a shower during a thunderstorm. My first impression was to agree with him that it is nonsense. Unless, of course, you are a nature type who likes to use an outdoor shower. However after reading the wonderfully paranoid site Thunder Storm Safety I have to wonder. Of course the type of person who worries about getting electrocuted in the shower during a thunderstorm is probably paranoid about a lot of things and it’s a wonder that they ever leave the house. Personally I wouldn’t worry about it, if it’s your time to go you are going to go and it doesn’t matter where you are when it happens. I see that he is from Rochester so if I were his firend, I would worry more about getting buried in a snowdrift or hypothermia.

Posted by Pete at 06:05 AM | Comments (4)

January 06, 2004

Ask Jen Pete

Rick, who doesn't seem to read this blog on a regular basis, asks "Who, where or what is nu or munu? What is the "axis of naughty"? And/or what, in Thor's name, is that all about?"

Now if he did read he would have known about this post munu link . A good link to all the Axis history can be found at War! Recap

As for what Thor has to do with all of this, I have no idea. Most of the nu or munu stuff is from the South Pacific so unless the Vikings made it a lot further than currently believed he wasn't involved.

Posted by Pete at 12:55 PM | Comments (2)

January 04, 2004

Ask Jen Pete

Victor asks, "How do they get Teflon to stick to pans?" Personally I think that he has been smoking some interesting herbs and spices because people on fresh air don't seem to worry about things like that, but in the interest of science I sent my crack investigative team out and they found the following from CECIL ADAMS:

Smart-aleck radio hosts think this one is sooo funny. Obviously they don't remember the first Teflon pans in the 1960s, which required special non-scratchy cooking utensils, lest you scrape the Teflon off. Fact is, the reaction when Teflon was invented pretty much consisted of, "Whoa, Teflon, the nonstick miracle! So tell us, genius, how do we make it stick to the pan?"

Teflon, known to science as polytetrafluoroethylene, is a pain to work with because it's nonsticky in all directions, the pan side (the bottom) as well as the food side (the top). Teflon is a fluorinated polymer, a polymer being a passel of identical building-block molecules linked together to make a long chain--the stuff of most plastics. Fluorine, due to certain electrochemical properties you'll thank me for not explaining now, bonds so earth tightly with the carbon in Teflon that it's virtually impossible for other substances, e.g., scrambled egg crud, to get a chemical-type grip or, for that matter, for Teflon to get a grip on anything else. In addition, the finished Teflon surface is extremely smooth, giving said egg crud little chance to get a mechanical-type grip.

So how do they get Teflon to stick to the pan? First they sandblast the pan to create a lot of microscratches on its surface. Then they spray on a coat of Teflon primer. This primer, like most primers, is thin, enabling it to flow into the the micro-scratches. The primed surface is then baked at high heat, causing the Teflon to solidify and get a reasonably secure mechanical grip. Next you spray on a finish coat and bake that. (The Teflon finish coat will stick to the Teflon primer coat just fine.) Works a lot better than the early Teflon pans, but you can still ruin Teflon cookware by subjecting it to extremely high heat. This causes the bonds between some of the carbon atoms to break, giving other undesirable stuff a chance to bond thereto and making the Teflon look like Jeff Goldblum in the last reel of The Fly.

Scientists continue to search for something better, and recent reports suggest they may have succeeded. Dow Chemical researcher Donald Schmidt has come up with another fluorinated polymer that can be used like paint and cured with moderate (as opposed to high) heat. Even better, you wind up with a coating that's nonsticky on only one side, presumably the outside. The only drawback: Schmidt's coating won't withstand heat. That doesn't matter if you're trying to make, say, graffiti-proof wall tile, but don't look for Schmidtlon-coated frying pans anytime soon.

So there you have it Victor. Hope that this helps to clear up the issue for you. My crack investigative team is still working on the second part of your question so stay tuned.

Posted by Pete at 06:20 PM | Comments (1)

January 02, 2004

*Ask Jen: Gravy Nose Roll Edition

Reader Jeff wants to know, "What's the explanation for the phrase 'gravy train'?"

As early as the 1930's, gravy was American slang for easy money. Gravy train became railroad terminology for an easy run with good pay.

Bonus fact: a doubleheader was a train with two engines before it made its way into baseball jargon.

Jim writes, "What's the button and who's nose are we talking about in the phrases 'On the button' and 'On the nose'?"

The button is the target and the nose is not a specific nose, Jim. Sheesh.

Susie wants to know "How did Tootsie Rolls get their name?"

On this site it says the inventor's daughter was nicknamed Tootsie and it was named for her. It also says they produce more than 60 million Tootsie Rolls a day. Cool.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:22 PM | Comments (1)

December 30, 2003

*Ask Jen: Attila's Dandruff Edition

Reader Jeff asks, "How did Attila the Hun die? Where is he buried"

As the story goes, he died while having sex on his wedding night. He had many wedding nights, but this was the last. The Huns buried him at night, in a secret spot in the mountains. When the funeral was over, they killed the slaves who had dug the grave. He died shortly after leaving Rome, so the location may be Austria. Check mountains "beyond the banks of the Danube"...that should narrow it down for you. I expect a fair cut if you find the treasure.

Reader James K. asks, "Why does your dander get up when you're angry?"

Dander is an old word meaning anger, possibly derived from the Dutch "donder" which means thunder. A second explanation is that dander is another word for dandruff, and when an animal is angry his hair stands on end...transferring this to humans, being angry would get our hair or dandruff up.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 10:05 AM

December 29, 2003

*Ask Jen: Bridge to Caligula Edition

Pete the Blogless, Monty Python Fan, asks, "Was the bridge ever completed between the 2 peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro?"

Alas, there is only one peak, sir.

Reader Jeff wants to know, "What happened to Pontius Pilate?"

The best sources claim he committed suicide after Caligula ordered him to report to Rome on charges of cruelty in the massacre of Samaritans. It is possible he was ordered to commit suicide by Caligula, or he could have done so in anticipation of harsh treatment.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 05:25 AM | Comments (3)

December 26, 2003

*Ask Jen: Oz Census Edition

Trey wants to know, "How many people are there alive? How many people have died? How do you know?"

Despite what some people believe, there are not more people alive than dead. Today's population is around 6 billion...estimates I found put the total who have died at about 20 times that number. How do we know? We don't...it's a best guess.

Reader Shawna wants to know, "How did the Land of Oz get it's name?"

L. Frank Baum claimed a file cabinet with a drawer labeled "O - Z" inspired the name.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:14 PM

December 23, 2003

*Ask Jen: Solitaire Tigers Edition

Kin is asking about "Tamil Tigers?"

A terrorism group in Sri Lanka, with some ties to the PLO. More information on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam can be found here.

Jim asks, "In a game of standard solitaire is it statistically better to play a card from the waste or play a card to uncover a new card in the tableau?"

Without having more specific information I can't tell you the probability of a particular play's outcome, so I'd have to say you should uncover a new card. After all, you can't win without exposing all the cards.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:33 PM

December 22, 2003

*Ask Jen: Salty Terrorist Edition

Kin wants information on "Baader Meinhof?"

It was a West German terrorist group...more information can be found here.

Reader Jeff wants to know the origin and meaning of the phrase "Salt of the Earth."

The phrase can be found in the Bible (Mathew 5:13) where Jesus says to his disciples, "Ye are the salt of the earth..." This phrase probably precedes Jesus's time, however, as it can be found in Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Persian traditions. It means a valuable, reliable person or group of people.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:33 AM | Comments (4)

December 19, 2003

*Ask Jen: Star Trek and Cambodia Edition

Kin wants to know about "Khymer Rouge?"

In 1975 Cambodia, the Khymer Rouge communist guerillas seized the capital city of Phnom Pehn. In 1979, the Khymer Rouge was overthrown, but fighting continued between the government forces and guerrillas.

Reader Brian asks, "What does the T in James T. Kirk stand for?"

Star Trek, eh? Tiberius.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:02 AM | Comments (1)

December 18, 2003

*Ask Jen: Tupac Shake-r Edition

Kin asks, "What is Tupac Amaru?"

Tupac Shakur's illegitimate son. Or something.

Reader Pete wants to know "Why can't a human shake off water like a dog?"

I realize you are Italian and probably hairy as Yeti, Pete, but most of us are relatively hair-free. We use towels. It's evolution or something. ;-)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:02 AM | Comments (5)

December 17, 2003

*Ask Jen

Kin wants to know, "Who were the Tontons Macoute?"

The Tontons Macoute are the Haitian paramilitary force which used to support the dictatorial regimes of Francois Duvalier and his son Jean Claude, and their military successors.

Thousands of Macoutes and soldiers fled to the Dominican Republic when American troops invaded Haiti in September 1994 and reinstalled president Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was elected president in 1990 and overthrown in 1991.

Daniel, who--like Kin--enjoys asking questions he knows the answer to, writes, "What is figgy pudding? And why is that lady so demanding about it?"

Some kind of pudding with figs, Daniel. Hello. Here is a recipe you can try. And I assume she was demanding about it because who doesn't enjoy "solid white fat from the loin and kidney regions of meat animals"? (Although I was kind enough to provide a recipe that is suet-free.)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:43 PM

December 16, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Adam writes, "As an undergraduate at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, I was very disturbed when the campus security changed its name from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to the misnomer Northwestern Police. Years have passed and I now work in downtown Chicago, near the Northwestern University Medical Center. I recently saw a patrol car marked 'Northwestern Police' driving around, marked with a Call 911 In an Emergency sign. I hope if I was ever in trouble it would be real Chicago cop who showed up to help. Can any group of security guards just call itself 'Police'?"

Campus police or campus security depends on the particular campus...if they can arrest people, issue summons, etc, then they are "real" police. Northwestern's campus police are "real" police...from their website: "All University Police officers are graduates of a state certified police academy, and have full police authority on and off campus." (emphasis added)

As for your 911 question, the dispatcher would send the appropriate help your way, and unless you were calling from the NU campus, it is not likely you would see NU campus police.

Security guards can not call themselves police. If you have a question about whether the person you are talking to is a cop or not, look at their uniform patch. It will say police, sheriff, security, etc.

Kin, who already knows the answer, asks: "Who were the Mau Mau?"

Sounds like a group of Muppets? I don't know.

(Anyone who really wants to know, can try this site to start.)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:28 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff wants to know, "What are the Dodgers dodging?"

The Brooklyn Dodgers were named for "trolley dodgers" who needed to be quick-footed enough to slip between trolleys that were frequent on urban streets at the time. The baseball players hoped to be just as agile on the field.

Reader Brian asks, "Who came up with the idea that storks deliver babies?"

Apparently the ancient Scandinavians began the legend, but it wasn't until Hans Christian Andersen came along that the myth grew in popularity. The reasons the Scandinavians used the stork were observations that the storks were gentle to one another, monogamous, and nested in chimneys.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:23 PM

December 12, 2003

*Ask Jen Follow-Up

The lovely and talented Dave from Better Living Through Blogging sent an e-mail which answers Jim's question better than I did...

I have been able to find a few answers regarding the number of Generals in the military (including Navy Admirals)...here's the link, followed by a breakdown by each service:

"Section 526. Authorized strength: general and flag officers on active duty

(a) Limitations. - The number of general officers on active duty
in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and the number of flag
officers on active duty in the Navy, may not exceed the number
specified for the armed force concerned as follows:
(1) For the Army, 302.
(2) For the Navy, 216.
(3) For the Air Force, 279.
(4) For the Marine Corps, 80."

And here is a site which presents (I believe) a very credible breakdown of the number of 1, 2, 3, and 4 star officers according to service branch.

Hope this helps.

Cheers,
Dave
www.davidmsc.com

The Army numbers are: 9, 43, 99, and 150 for 4-star to 1-star generals according to the second site. Follow the link to see the breakdown for other branches.

Thanks, Dave!

Posted by Jennifer at 07:49 PM | Comments (2)

*Ask Jen

Jim writes, "How many generals are there in the Army? Can you delineate the answer by number of stars? (How many 1 stars, how many 2 stars, etc)"

Each site I was able to find that looked like it would have this information was secured. If any readers know the answer, please pass it on.

I can tell you there have been four five-star generals in the Army: General George C. Marshall, General Douglas MacArthur, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and General Omar N. Bradley.

I'll let Jim ask another question since I couldn't answer the last one...he also wants to know, "What's the story behind the 'bad penny'. You know, the one that's always showing up?"

The phrase "A bad penny always turns up" means that a no-good person can be counted on to come back again and again. The expression was originally English and the unit of currency was the shilling. Sir Walter Scott wrote, "Bring back Darsie? Little doubt of that. The bad shilling is sure enough to come back again."

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:52 AM | Comments (3)

December 11, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader B. writes, "Why do we use the phrase salad days to talk about being younger?"

It's an analogy to salad greens--when you are young you are said to be inexperienced and green. Shakespeare used this in Antony and Cleopatra when Cleopatra says, "My salad days, when I was green in judgment; cold in blood."

Reader Steve wants to know, "Was the Twinkie filling ever banana flavored?"

Originally, yes. During WWII America had a banana shortage and the flavoring was changed to vanilla.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:51 AM

December 09, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff wants to know, "How are Indira and Mahatma Gandhi related?"

They're not. Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi (1869-1948) and Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) share a last name, but are not related at all. Indira's married name became Gandhi (her husband was no relation to Mohandas Gandhi) in 1942. Her father was the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharial Nehru, who was a follower of Mohandas Gandhi.

Reader B. writes, "Why do we say someone is on the wagon or falling off the wagon?"

This comes from the days when a water wagon was commonly used to keep the dust down on dirt roads. A water wagon sprayed water on the roads. Someone abstaining from liquor was said to be on the water wagon (drinking mainly water instead of alcohol)...over time, the phrase was shortened.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:14 PM

December 04, 2003

*Ask Jen

A reader who continues wishing to remain anonymous says, "Last time I asked if you knew how to make a bomb and you said yes but did not say how to make one. Can I get some more details?"

I believe putting that information up would open me to legal problems. Plus, if you don't know how to blow up mailboxes by now, I don't think I should be the one to teach you. But I'll give you a hint: 1 pound of something that has two words and ends in "ate", 3/4 cup of something else, and 1 cup of something else. Mix very carefully in a plastic tray so as not to create a spark, fill a small plastic container, add a fuse, and make sure to leave no fingerprints.

Reader Lisa wants to know, "Who was the first woman in space?"

Valentina V. Tereshkova from the USSR. On June 16-19, 1963 she made 48 orbits of the earth. It took exactly 20 more years for America to send a woman into space. Sally Ride flew aboard the Challenger on June 18, 1983.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:48 PM | Comments (4)

December 03, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Shawna wants to know, "How many people are allergic to poison ivy?"

Reactions vary in severity, but 85% of people are allergic to some degree.

Reader Jeff writes, "In Finding Nemo the whale eats krill. What is krill and how big are they?"

Krill consists of 85 different species of small crustaceans that generally resemble shrimp and lobsters. They range in size from a quarter of an inch to two inches. When they are most abundant, a swarm of krill can contain as much as 35 pounds of animals per cubic yard.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM

December 02, 2003

*Ask Jen

Paige writes, "What is a mu.nu, anyway? And where the hell is Niue?"

Mu is explained here, and Nu is explained here. If you require further explanation, Pixy Misa will be victim subject to an interview one of these days...that might be a good question for him.

Niue is in the South Pacific, east of Tonga and northeast of New Zealand.

Simon asks, "Why are people from Holland called and speak Dutch?"

Dutch is simply the English name of the language, which is similar to German. The Netherlands is the official name of what most of us call Holland. Holland is an area of the Netherlands. Specifically, North Holland and South Holland are two of the twelve provinces in the Netherlands. People from the Netherlands call their language "Nederlands."

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 05:16 AM | Comments (2)

November 28, 2003

*Ask Jen

Mookie wants to know, "Why is there anger and resmentment between the French and the U.S.? Why is it a love hate relationship? Please explain why. Also if you could keep it in the 20th-21st centuries."

I was a little suspicious of this question. First, Mookie never asked me anything before. Second, it sounds like a high school assignment. And it is. I'd hate to take away the joy of learning by doing your homework, but on the other hand this could be a golden opportunity for a (cough) real dialogue on the topic. So I invite my readers to leave their reasons for the French-American rift in my comments.

Jim asks, "Where did the term "Black Friday" (the day after Thanksgiving) come from?"

It's a retail thing. This is the day they generally are supposed to know if they'll make or break sales and pull out of the red into the black.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.


Posted by Jennifer at 04:46 PM | Comments (10)

November 25, 2003

*Ask Jen

Simon writes, "Can you please list the famous 'On this day events' for May 7 and May 8. This post will explain why."

I'm not sure I can add anything to your lifetime of knowledge accrued for the sole purpose of annoying your brother, but here are some main ones...

May 7: Birthdays...Sir Francis Beaufort (British naval officer, invented wind force scale), Gary Cooper (actor), Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (composer), Tim Russert ("Meet the Press"), Johnny Unitas (football player). History...Vietnam's victory over France ended Indochina War, Germany's first surrender in WWII, Lusitania torpedoed by Germany in 1915, 27th Amendment ratified (forbidding mid-term pay raises for Congress).

May 8: Birthdays...Harry Truman (president), David Attenborough (author, naturalist), Ronnie Lott (football player). History...Beatles' last album released, Lavoisier execution ("father of modern chemistry" guillotined for role as tax collector), Germany's second WWII surrender or V-E Day.

Jim asks, "When did the hour become used? That is, when did the standard of 1/24th of the day become a popular unit of time? I was watching a special on the Giza plateau yesterday and one of the things they said just seemed wrong. In the temple in front of the Sphinx there were 12 podiums for statues and the narrator said these were for the 12 months and the 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night. Was the hour really used 5000 years ago?"

The Egyptian calendar of 12 months was developed in the 4200s B.C. and the Egyptians were one of the earliest to divide the day into 24 parts, but one difference between their hour and ours was that their hour could lengthen or shorten depending on the time of year. For example, their daytime summer "hours" were longer than 60 minutes and their nighttime summer "hours" were shorter than 60 minutes. My best educated guess would be that the program was correct, assuming the temple was built after 4000 B.C.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

November 24, 2003

*Ask Jen

Jeff asks, "Were there ever any alternative names for US States that got rejected?"

The thing is, most of the state names were already in use before becoming...states. Being a midwestern kinda girl, I'm used to native American names for my states. I mean, there was talk of naming Minnesota after Lewis and Clark, but calling a state "Meriwether" is pretty gay even for Minnesota. So they went with the native American word for "we'll say 10,000 lakes because it sounds good and you won't count them anyway." Of course, Iowa is the native American word for "death from boredom."

I suppose I should throw you one fact about US names. Despite popular belief, Plymouth, Massachusetts was not so named because the Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, England. It had been named before that. Prince Charles replaced the "barbarous" native American name of Accomack with a nice English name about six years before the Pilgrims set sail.

Simon wants to know, "If a tree falls in the forest, and no-one here's it, has it really fallen or is it part of a global environmental conspiracy?"

Trees are stupid. I'm glad that one is dead. Who cares how or why it happened. The important thing is that it won't be falling on any poor, innocent loggers in the future.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 06:57 PM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Don P. wants to know, "What was the original Pledge of Allegiance?"

Originally written in commemoration of Columbus Day in 1892, the Pledge was originally, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands--one nation indivisible--with liberty and justice for all."

In 1923 "my Flag" was replaced with "the flag of the United States of America." In 1954, Congress added "under God."

Reader Kristin asks, "Did the Pilgrims eat Turkey for the first Thanksgiving?"

They did not. However, the pilgrims enjoyed duck, goose, venison, and seafood (including eels).

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM

November 20, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Don P. writes, "The song 'Yankee Doodle' has always bothered me. I don't understand why someone would stick a feather in their cap and call it macaroni."

Excellent point. The macaroni in the song is not referring to pasta, but to a social club of dandy young men in England. ("Yankee Doodle dandy") The club was named the Macaroni Club, and the song was actually meant to be unflattering to the American revolutionaries.

Reader Jeff wants to know, "Why does a donkey stand for the Democratic Party? Couldn't they find something more flattering?"

In the 1828 presidential election, Democrat Andrew Jackson adopted the donkey as his mascot when his opponents called him a "jackass". Later on, cartoonist Thomas Nast used the donkey in his cartoons and made it famous. (Nast also introduced the Republican elephant in 1874, intending to show the strength of the Republican vote.)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:06 AM

November 19, 2003

*Ask Jen

Trey Givens wants to know, "Where does the dirt in my dining room come from?

In your post you don't indicate if it is a fine coating of dirt, a pile of dirt, random scattering of dirt, etc. So I'll just assume you meant dirty footprints. This means you have either a prowler or a ghost. You should move at once.

Victor asks, "Why is it considered rude to eat with your elbows on the table?"

It is not considered rude to have your elbows on the table if you're not actually eating, but the reason why you shouldn't have your elbows on table while eating has a historical meaning behind it. In the Middle Ages, people often ate in groups lined up at a long table. There wasn't a lot of room, and having your elbows on the table crowded your companions. The reason this piece of etiquette has endured may be because it doesn't seem very polite to sit hunched over your food.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.


Posted by Jennifer at 11:07 AM | Comments (2)

November 18, 2003

*Ask Jen

Daniel wants to know, "What is best book ever to cover the subject of turtle stacking?"

Well, someone is a "Simpsons" fan. The answer to the question is, of course, Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle.

Reader Noah asks, "How many airplanes carry mail back and forth to Hawaii every day?"

Well, this is a hard question to answer because mail and cargo often travels on passenger flights to and from Hawaii. I can tell you that when Hawaiian and Aloha airlines merged in early 2002, they agreed to keep 3 dedicated cargo planes in operation, but those are used for transporting goods not only to the mainland but between the islands and other countries. Sorry, but I don't have a more definitive answer for your question.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:16 PM

November 17, 2003

*Ask Jen

Daniel writes, "In furlongs per hour, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"

Damnit, Daniel, I told you to stop sending me complicated math questions. If you had asked the mass of the wood he could chuck in an hour, I would have been able to answer your question, but I'm not going to spend my time converting that into furlongs. I have things to do. Look it up on Google or something.

Alan asks, "Where did the democratic pres candidates go to college?"

In the interests of time, I'll assume you mean this/next year's "major" candidates...
LIEBERMAN--B.A., Yale University, 1964. J.D., Yale University Law School, 1967.
DEAN--B.S., Yale University, 1971. M.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 1978.
GEPHARDT--B.S., Northwestern University, 1962. J.D., University of Michigan, 1965. (Ed. note: Whoo! Big Ten!)
KERRY--B.A., Yale University, 1966. J.D., Boston College, 1976.
EDWARDS--B.S., North Carolina State University, 1974. J.D., University of North Carolina, 1977.
SHARPTON--Attended Brooklyn College, 1973-75.
CLARK--B.S., US Military Academy at West Point, 1966 (graduated first in his class). M.A., Rhodes Scholar, Oxford University, 1968.
BRAUN--B.A., University of Illinois, 1969. J.D., University of Chicago, 1972.
KUCINICH--Attended Cleveland State University, 1967-70. B.A. & M.A., Case Western Reserve University, 1973.

Did I miss anyone?

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:55 PM | Comments (2)

November 12, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff wants to know, "How far away can thunder be heard? What causes it?"

Thunder can be heard easily six to seven miles away, and occasionally as far as 20 miles away. The sound waves of thunder are the result of the expansion and contraction of air heated by lightning. Intense claps of thunder are caused by repeated lightning in a previously heated path of air.

Reader Pete writes, "How many senators have been elected President?"

Fifteen. For the list, please look in the extended entry.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

(Source: Senate.gov, which doesn't have good working links to individual pages.)


James Monroe

Senator, 1790-1794

President, 1817-1825

-----------------------------------------------------

John Quincy Adams

Senator, 1803-1808

President, 1825-1829

-----------------------------------------------------

Andrew Jackson

Senator, 1797-1798; 1823-1825

President, 1829-1837

-----------------------------------------------------

Martin Van Buren

Senator, 1821-1828

President, 1837-1841

-----------------------------------------------------

William Henry Harrison

Senator, 1825-1828

President, 1841

-----------------------------------------------------

John Tyler

Senator, 1827-1836

President, 1841-1845

-----------------------------------------------------

Franklin Pierce

Senator, 1837-1842

President, 1853-1857

-----------------------------------------------------

James Buchanan

Senator, 1834-1845

President, 1857-1861

-----------------------------------------------------

Andrew Johnson

Senator, 1857-1862; 1875

President, 1865-1869

-----------------------------------------------------

Benjamin Harrison

Senator, 1881-1887

President, 1889-1893

-----------------------------------------------------

Warren G. Harding

Senator, 1915-1921

President, 1921-1923

-----------------------------------------------------

Harry S. Truman

Senator, 1935-1945

President, 1945-1953

-----------------------------------------------------

John F. Kennedy

Senator, 1953-1960

President, 1961-1963

-----------------------------------------------------

Lyndon B. Johnson

Senator, 1949-1961

President, 1963-1969

-----------------------------------------------------

Richard M. Nixon

Senator, 1950-1953

President, 1969-1974

Posted by Jennifer at 04:41 AM | Comments (2)

November 06, 2003

*Ask Jen: Cedar Rapids is Dead Edition

Natalie of Pickle Juice left a comment asking why Cedar Rapids is the city of five seasons...and what the fifth season is supposed to be.

Because CVBs are good at explaining the stupid unique things about their towns, I went here and it appears the fifth season is "the time to enjoy"...so there you have it.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:27 AM | Comments (1)

Ask Jen

Jim wants to know, "Where does 'In a jiffy' come from?"

This one I am not sure I can explain...jiffy is in the dictionary as meaning a "moment or instant" but the etymology is listed by Webster as unknown. None of my cliche sources have it listed. One source says jiffy used to be thieves' slang for "lightning." The reputability of this source is questionable, but it sounds good. :-)

Daniel asks, "When is the Feast of Stephen and who is this Stephen guy anyway?"

St. Stephen's feastday is the day after Christmas Day. He was apparently the first Christian martyr, and if you want to read the Catholic church's story about him, try here. Religion gives me a headache. (ducking)

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:05 AM | Comments (2)

November 05, 2003

*Ask Jen: Des Moines Edition

Des Moines (pronounced DE moin, by the way) has a somewhat confusing name origin. I have been told various different meanings and histories for the name, but I believe I have finally found a reasonable answer to the question that keeps me up nights:

The name "Des Moines" comes from the river of the same name. Indians called the river Moingona, meaning "river of the mounds." Early French explorers later translated this into La Riviere de Moingona, which, over time became Des Moines.

I've been asked about Des Moines enough that I figured I'd just post this information so y'all can sleep better at night, too.

Posted by Jennifer at 04:26 PM | Comments (4)

*Ask Jen

Reader Amy asks, "Was there a Mother Goose?"

Good question. Legend has it Elizabeth Goose was a New England widow who married Isaac Goose, adopted his 10 children, and bore 6 children of her own. In 1719 her book Mother Goose's Melodies for Children was supposed to have been published by her son-in-law, but no copy of the book has been found. More likely, French author Charles Perrault was the actual "Mother Goose."

Reader Jeff asks, "What are close encounters of the first, second, and third kind?"

First=a UFO sighting.
Second=physical evidence of a UFO.
Third=physical contact with a UFO.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 08:20 AM | Comments (2)

November 04, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff D. asks, "Where do odors go? Do they dissipate beyond recognition or do the compounds break down after a while (or both)?"

Daniel takes this one: They dilute themselves in the natural air and in the wind. Odors are caused by chemical compounds being released into the air. When these chemicals land on the nerves in our nose, the resonant frequency of them is changed and this sends an electrical signal to the brain. Of course, each compound changes the frequency in a very specific way and the more of that compound that enters our nose, the stronger the smell. Of course, there is a limited amount of chemicals that can be released by the material (actually some of the compounds are formed through natural interaction with the air, but same idea...) and this material spreads out the farther away from it you are. It doesn't seem likely that the compounds would break down - that would take a large amount of energy - but I suppose it could happen, just not very likely.

Susie asks, "What's the derivation of the phrase 'Hobson's choice'?"

Tobias Hobson kept a livery stable in Cambridge, England, in the seventeenth century. He let out his horses in rotation only, and did not let customers choose. Hobson's choice was no choice at all.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up. If you have a blog, please include a link in your e-mail.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:27 PM | Comments (1)

November 03, 2003

*Ask Jen

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes, "Do you know how to make a bomb?"

Yes. Do you?

Reader Jeff asks, "What does 'zip' in 'zip code' mean?"

It was named for the national Zoning Improvement Plan.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 05:51 PM | Comments (1)

October 30, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Pete wants to know, "Since the Swiss currently hold the Americas Cup where are they going to have the race? Last time I checked Switzerland was a landlocked country."

"Somewhere in Europe." That is the answer I was given, and since I don't really give one of Victor's rat's asses about the America's Cup, I didn't pursue it further. :-)

Reader Amy asks, "Who is Samuel Adams and why is a tasty beer named after him?"

Samuel Adams was an older cousin of President John Adams, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He inherited his father's brewery business and a significant amount of wealth with it...but he squandered his inheritance and ruined his father's business. He was one of the most radical of the patriots, and did a good job instigating rebellion. He was the chief architect of the politics that led to the Boston Tea Party, but mostly faded from the national picture after the Revolutionary War.

The Koch family, of Bavarian descent, started brewing Samuel Adams the beer. They are of no relation to the Adams family that I can tell. And for what it's worth, their website says Samuel Adams "was better at brewing beer than dissent". So that's pretty funny.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM

October 29, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff wants to know, "Are all animals color blind?"

Most birds appear to see colors, while most mammals are color blind. Apes and monkeys can tell colors apart, but dogs and cats seem to see shades of black, white, and gray.

Reader Troy writes, "How did Napoleon die?"

This has been the subject of some debate, actually. The most widely held belief is that he died of stomach cancer. Other theories have been advanced, including a story that he was poisoned. Sten Forshufvud, a Swedish toxicologist, asserted that Napoleon was the victim of arsenic poisoning at the hands of a household servant who was working for the French Royalists.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:00 AM | Comments (3)

October 28, 2003

*Ask Jen

Susie writes, "Pixy said:'Well, the U.S. version is a puny 110-volt device that would explode if I tried to plug it into our manly Aussie electricity.' Why is Australian electricity more manly than American electricity?"

Because Americans are more energy-conscious (strangely enough) and develop electrical appliances to use as little energy as possible. Or something like that.* Plus those (non-North American) outlets are all misshapen. But you can get step-down convertors and adaptors to travel with you to such strange lands as Australia and Europe. That way you can use your hairdryer. Yay!

*(Actually, the appliances apparently use the same energy...we use twice as many amps as they do. I'm not an electrician, so can't really explain this.)

Reader Jeff asks, "Why don't bears in zoos hibernate?"

Because they are constantly fed by their keepers and their enclosures remain warm throughout the winter. Hibernation only occurs with lack of food and with temperatures below freezing.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM | Comments (3)

October 27, 2003

*Ask Jen

Jim asks, "What is the origin of the phrase 'under the weather'?"

According to one source, this comes from sailors...a seasick person would crouch under the bulwarks to get protection from the wind, or weather.

Reader Missy wants to know, "Why do outhouses have crescent moons?"

Back when outhouses were widely used, most people were illiterate, and symbols needed to be used to distinguish the men's from the women's. The moon was used for the women, symbolizing the goddess Luna. Men were represented by a sunburst for Sol...but over time, men apparently had little use for outhouses and found alternate arrangements.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:14 AM | Comments (3)

October 22, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Amy writes, "I freeze my bread because I can't eat all of it before it goes bad but then it sticks together. So I put slices in baggies but that gets kind of expensive and takes a lot of freezer space. Any suggestions?"

I have the same problem. Besides reusing your baggies, you can use waxed paper to separate the bread slices. Then after you freeze your bread you can remove as many slices as you want. The same trick works for cake or any other baked goods...just slice up the cake/pie before freezing.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 05:43 AM

October 21, 2003

*Ask Jen, Part Two

Victor asks, "What's the difference between "then" and "than"? I'm pretty sure I've been screwing that up lately."

Ah, good one. The easiest way I can try to explain this is that "then" refers to time. "Than" is a comparison. For example:

We went to the movies and then we went to the bar for drinks.

I'd rather see Tomb Raider than Gigli. In fact, I'd rather have my toe nails ripped out than see Gigli.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 06:41 PM

*Ask Jen, Part One

Victor writes, "I notice on your page you proclaim the Axis of Naughty has been, "A monkey-free zone since 2003." Seeing as how the Axis is anti-Frank, and Frank doesn't like monkeys (in fact, he hates monkeys), is that a suggestion that Frank should join the Axis (so that he won't be surrounded by monkeys) and, therefore, hate himself?"

It is certainly not a suggestion that Frank join us. If you'll recall, it was decided by popular vote that he was a Marmoset...a monkey, if you will. That is why we are a "monkey-free zone."

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 06:30 PM

October 17, 2003

*Ask Jen

Jim asks, "Why is water colder from the faucet in the bathroom than it is from the faucet in the kitchen?"

One reason for this difference is because your water source is probably closer to the bathrooms than to your kitchen...bathrooms have more piping and it keeps costs down to arrange them near the water meter. This also means the water out of your kitchen has been sitting in the pipes, so unless you run the faucet awhile, that water will be warmer. Another reason for the cooler water in the bathroom is often you use your bathroom faucet after flushing the toilet; so the water has already been running and is nice and cool.

Bill writes, "I read you everyday. See?"

Dear Scabby, I didn't realize that reading my comments at your blog counted as "reading" me, but I appreciate the thought. Get the flowers yet?

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 08:13 AM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2003

*Ask Jen

Sgt Hook asks, "Should you salt your meat before putting it on the grill, or just before taking it off the grill?"

Of course, tastes vary, but I'll answer this from my own experience. You should use a rub to season your meat before grilling. If you just use salt, you should still do it before grilling...let the flavor cook into the meat.

Susie asks, "What is the deeper meaning to the term 'ambient irony'?"

An encompassing, sardonic look at life. I don't know if it's deeper, but the words are bigger.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 09:31 AM | Comments (6)

October 15, 2003

*Ask Jen

Jim says, "I have been perplexed about the origin of the phrase 'gilding the lilly'... If you knew the true origin it would solve a long standing mystery for me."

In Shakespeare's King John, the king has a second coronation to try to reinforce his position. A line by Lord Salisbury discussing the king's actions goes, "...to be possess'd with double pomp, To guard a title that was rich before, To gild refined gold, to paint the lily..."

I believe this is the origin of the phrase, although the exact words "gild the lily" did not seem to appear until the early 1900s.

Reader Jeff asks, "Why are worms all over the sidewalk after it rains?"

Their holes are full of water and they're seeking higher ground.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 07:35 AM | Comments (3)

October 13, 2003

*Ask Jen

Victor asks, "What's a 'penumbra'? Is there ever a time when one is 'practical'? Also, should the question marks go inside or outside of the quotation marks, in the two previous questions?"

The, ahem, dictionary defines "penumbra" as:

1 a : a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light b : a shaded region surrounding the dark central portion of a sunspot
2 : a surrounding or adjoining region in which something exists in a lesser degree : FRINGE
3 : a body of rights held to be guaranteed by implication in a civil constitution

As for their practicality, I have no comment.

Now onto your third question (cheater)--if you were quoting Susie, you used quotation marks correctly. You should not alter a direct quote with your own punctuation.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

October 10, 2003

*Ask Jen

Paige asks, "How do deer know to cross at the 'Deer Crossing' signs?"

Excellent question. The easy answer would be to say that they don't. You've probably driven down the road and seen the apparent evidence of this many times. However, I have it on good authority (my dad's) that this simply is not the case. According to a conversation my dad and I had about a year ago, all young deer attend Deer School where they learn useful skills such as looking both ways before crossing the street and where to cross. The problem is that--much like humans--some deer are overly social with other deer and don't pay attention in class. The bad students are the ones whose guts you see scattered all over the highway. They deserve to get hit. So there you have it.

Reader Stephanie asks, "Why are GrapeNuts called GrapeNuts when they contain neither grapes nor nuts?"

When the cereal was introduced in 1898, C.W. Post declared the natural sweetness of wheat and malted barley "sweet as grapes." The Nuts part comes from the cereal being crunchy as rocks nuts.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 11:37 PM | Comments (4)

October 09, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Shawna asks, "What's a lars?"

A LARS is a Light Artillery Rocket System, which began service with the German Army in 1970. It has been almost entirely phased out there, but is currently being used by Greece, Portugal, and Turkey.

The LARS has an 18-barrel launcher attached to a standard 6x6 military truck. The launcher is operated from inside the vehicle cab, but not before the two rear stabilizing jacks are lowered to the ground. The loaded launcher weighs 17.2 tons.

The rocket has a solid fuel motor, and the standard warhead is a high explosive-fragmentation type. The rockets measure 7.42 feet and weigh 77.16 pounds. The warheads weigh 38.14 pounds. The maximum velocity of the rockets is 2100 feet per second, with a maximum range of 15,310 yards.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

October 08, 2003

*Ask Jen

Sgt. Hook asks, "What is the maximum velocity of an unladen swallow?"

To which I am forced to respond: What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

Reader Jeff asks, "Why are piggy banks pigs?"

European dishes and cookware were made of a clay called "pygg." When it became customary to save coins in jars made of this clay, they were known as pygg banks. In the 1800s an English potter was asked to make a pygg bank and misunderstood; he thought the request was for a "pig" bank, so he made a bank shaped like a pig. It caught on.


Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 01:57 AM | Comments (2)

October 07, 2003

*Ask Jen

Reader Pete asks, "The question on everyone's mind, Quasimodo or Esmeralda??  And did I spell them correctly?"

Phoebus. And I believe you did.

Wiseass.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 03:30 PM | Comments (7)

*Ask Jen

Reader Jeff wants to know why Americans drive on the right while Europeans and others drive on the left.

The reason seems to come from the different ways farm wagons were developed and used.

In America, it was common for wagons to be built without a seat. The driver would walk alongside the left or ride the rear left animal pulling the wagon. This put the driver in optimal position to use a whip with his right hand. When the wagon encountered another wagon, each moved to the right to pass; ensuring they did not collide with one another.

In England the wagons were built with a driver's seat and a brake lever which was on the right...forcing the driver to sit on the right side. Therefore, when encountering another wagon, the drivers would move to the left to pass.

When the "horseless carriage" was invented, Americans and Europeans simply continued their own customs.

Do you have a question for me? You can e-mail it. If I know the answer, I'll answer it. If I don't, I might make something up.

Posted by Jennifer at 12:57 AM | Comments (2)


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