Mailbox (8/17/2011)

It's the first time that I've ever had a REAL mailbox (not the little slot with a bunch of other slots at the end of the street) so it brings me much joy opening my mailbox when I get home. I have yet to use it for outgoing mail and put up the little red flag. Today I learned that the mailbox (anything that the US Postal Service uses to deliver your mail) is the property of the USPS. According to the  United States Postal Inspection Service, the mailbox is federal property and therefore it is a crime to tamper with it (or steal from or even put anything in there that is not mail).

I love hand written letters with stamps on them. Perhaps I just like old stuff but I think it just takes more effort to write letters by hand or find an envelope and stamp. One of the coolest post offices I've ever been to is the one at the Waterfront in Boston (25 Dorchester Ave.) by South Station. It's open 24/7 and you can mail things on a SUNDAY! The workers there are also VERY knowledgeable about how mail get shipped, you can ask them anything and they know! So the next time you are in Boston, go grab a postcard and tell someone how much you enjoyed it and go mail it on a Sunday over by the Waterfront Post Office!

photo of Post Office by the Waterfront in Boston taken on July 12, 2009 (first time I ever sent mail on a Sunday) 

Hinduism and Southeast Asia (8/16/2011)

Postcard received from Joseph T.

I was looking at my collection of postcards when I noticed one from Bangkok with a picture of the 46 meter long reclining Buddha. My mother had visited a couple years back and commented on the huge influence of Hinduism in the country (the King's name is Rama). The cit Ayutthaya is named after the city of Ayodhya in India, which is the birthplace of Lord Rama from the epic Ramayana (which there is a Thai version titled Ramakien). 

Postcard received from Katie S.

I always found it fascinating how the migration of people spread ideas and changed the way people live. I was curious where this influence came from and that led me on a trail to discover that Angkor Wat was originally a Hindu temple before it became a Buddhist temple in the 13th century. Several Southeast Asian countries were introduced to Hinduism when several Indian (mostly South Indian) migrant workers moved to these countries. All this mixing and sharing of cultures has some great benefits like one my favorite dishes, Gobi Manchurian! In all seriousness, it's fascinating to learn that people weren't so isolated back in the day. 

ProPublica (8/10/2011)

photo by micora

Today I learned a lot watching Page One, a documentary about the decline of print journalism looking at the New York Times in particular. One of the more interesting things mentioned which I took note to learn more about was an organization called ProPublica. This is a non-profit investigative news organization that operates on the premise that there is value in doing REAL investigative journalism and had brought together a lot of big names in the field to work on stories that are published on their website as well as given free of charge to news organizations. Currently this is primarily funded through private donations. The need grew out of the decline of investment in hard hitting investigative reporting which often takes up a lot of resources and time to hunt down sources and make connections to get at the truth of the matter. Since so many newspapers are losing revenue and trimming staff, it's more rare to find these kinds of stories being pursued. David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter, does a great job outlining the value of the profession while testifying before the senate:

The Grey Lady (8/9/2011)

Today I learned that one of the nicknames for The New York Times is "The Grey Lady" since the newspaper traditionally had more words than images printed on the front page compared to other papers. 

Corn Palace (8/8/2011)

photo by veritasnoctis

Today I learned about Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota! The building is a tourist attraction and also a multi use facility including an arena for college and high school basketball. Concerts and shows go through there too! It was originally built to attract folks to Mitchell. The coolest part is that some of the artwork (especially murals outside) IS made out of corn! The palace even has a mascot, Cornelius (he's an ear of corn). I think it'll be on my list of places to go when I'm on that part of the country!

Caisson (8/7/2011)

Altered photo of Chesapeake Bay Bridge taken from Sandy Point State Park in MD

Ever stare out at a bridge over water and wonder about the foundations in the water? The Chesapeake Bay Bridge (pictured above) spans over 4.3 miles and is a beautiful sight to see as it curves over the bay. I'm always amazed by structures that make you wonder how they were built and all the design and planning that went into making it happen from the initial sketches to figuring out the balance on the structure and acquiring the material and labor to get it built. I would love to work on a huge project like that from start to finish. 

Today I learned how the foundations are made in the water. The piers on bridges that are sunk into the water are made by using caissons. Caissons provide an airtight chamber in the water which can be used to work on construction underwater. A caisson is basically a hollow structure which is sunk into the water. Cranes are then used to dig at the bottom until a solid grounding can be found. The caisson structure provides an airtight chamber to dig under the the water and once solid ground is found the base foundation can be built. The box mold is then filled with cement and anchors to prevent the structure from floating off. Once these piers are built then the construction on the rest of the bridge can be built. This process is similar to piers made on land in which the soil is drilled down until bedrock or suitable strong ground is found before pillars are placed in position. It's kinda cool to think about all the engineering that goes behind the structures we use everyday!

Check out this super short video of an explosion of a caisson under water:

Spray Paint (8/6/2011)

photos taken near Central Square in Cambridge, MA

Today I learned about that little ball inside a spray paint can. Spray paint allows you to spread paint evenly on a surface. Inside the can is the paint, aerosol propellant, and the little ball. When you shake up the can, the tiny ball mixes the paint so that there is an even coat when yous spray and the mixing of the propellant and the paint creates the pressure that is released when you open the valve to spray the paint. This is why shaking the can is VERY important to create a nice smooth and even coat of paint on the wall. So when you start painting with your spray can make sure to shake it up really well so that you can hear the little ball mixing it all up! Also paint outside or where there is good ventilation since spraying creates small paint particles that you can breath in which would be bad for you lungs.

Framingham Heart Study (8/5/2011)

photo of Greater Framingham Community Church by dougtone

I was first introduced to the town of Framingham a couple of years ago when I was doing a project out in the community. Most of what I learned about the town was about the strong Brazilian immigrant population. As I was reading the data issue of GOOD magazine, I came across a piece about the importance of opting into medical records so that we can increase the amount of available data out there to improve health research. The article started out by mentioning the Framingham Heart Study which I had never heard of before and curious to learn more. What intrigued me was that researchers got a community to be studied over such a long period of time (currently in the third generation). The study focused on the causes of heart disease by monitoring a multitude of variables. The study began in 1948 with over 5000 residents signing up to have a thorough medical exam every two years. Can you imagine such a huge group getting recruited by neighbors calling each other up and going door to door? That's kinda awesome! The study still continues with the grandchildren of the original participants opting into the study as the third generation. A lot what we know now about heart disease is because of this study such as risk factors (smoking, diet, blood pressure, etc.). So should this convince you to check that box to have all your medical records become a digital database for future research? Maybe. Or maybe the next time you hear about new information about your health just think about ALL the people who were involved in helping you stay healthy :)

Theodore Roosevelt Island (8/4/2011)

As I was looking at a map of DC area I noticed the Theodore Roosevelt Island which I am sure I have seen before on the map but never really paid much attention to and wondered how one gets there considering that it seems even less accessible than the Jefferson Memorial. The island is accessible only via footbridge from Virginia yet reside within the District of Columbia. It is also part of the George Washington Parkway and therefore maintained by the National Parks Service. I guess I'll have to visit this soon! 

photo by fristle

Orange (8/3/2011)

I love taking photos and my cube at work is filled with photos that I have taken to remind me of people and places that are dear to my heart as well as really colorful images. One such photo is of an orange (seen below) that had just been peeled and a slice eaten and it sits right in front of me at my desk so I catch myself staring at it often and I got to thinking today what came first in the english language, orange the fruit or orange the color? From what I could dig up it seems like creating words for colors come late in linguistics. Going off of written history, the earliest known record of orange has been in reference to the fruit!

As I am trying to extend my vocabulary in other languages, I noticed that orange in these following languages seem very similar (though they don't all have the same origins):
Telugu: Nārin̄ja
Hindi: Nāraṅgī
Spanish: Naranja
Croatian: Naranča

This photo was taken July 22, 2009 out by the Hatch Shell on the Boston Esplanade during one of the summer concerts.

CaBi on the Mall (7/2/2011)

photo by ElvertBarnes

I love Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) because it is fun and convenient. There's even a station right outside my house! I also save money by not taking the bus or subway just a couple blocks down the road in the sweltering heat. The bike lanes also make me a lot more comfortable since I'm not used to riding a bike on the road with lots of cars. I think for my short trips, it's really great to get around on the red bikes but I always wondered why there aren't any stations near monuments and most importantly, near Jefferson memorial. I would visit Jefferson a lot more often if there was a more convenient way of getting there. I learned today that Capital Bikeshare stations are not on these sites because the National Parks Service have contracts with companies on services offered on the premises and these companies have the right to refuse services (Guest Services Inc has not been part of any talks to places stations at parks). So will there be Bikeshare Stations on the mall? Doesn't look likely, but one can hope. So what can you do? Well, i suggest you go visit Jefferson anyway because unlike the other touristy spots, it's not crowded and has a great view of the White House! Also, become a Bikeshare member and you too can sport a really cool red bike :)

Expiration Date (8/1/2011)

Did you ever spend a night cleaning out your fridge and find out that you had something that had been expired for over a year and wonder if it is still good? Does soda really go bad? Or water bottles?  Or Pickles? I'm not sure about the last one (though that is what I found to be in the fridge way past the expiration date the last time I cleaned the fridge) but I highly doubt that water nor soda is bad for you to drink past the expiration date (especially unopened ones). I can't be for certain but in my quest to find out, I learned that FDA regulations does not require expiration dates except on infant formulas and baby food. Individual states have their own laws on labeling food and that is how I suspect that we find ourselves with bottled water expiring. I trust the smell and sight test over the use by/sell by/best before labels on perishable foods. Especially for bread! It's terrible to waste food just cause of a label. In fact, if you think you are about to find yourself with old produce in your fridge, I think it's a GREAT excuse for a dinner party (just make sure it really hasn't gone bad)!

Ticketing Fees (7/31/2011)

photo by salanki

Today I finally learned what all those extra fees you have to pay for when you buy tickets to events and shows through ticketing services. It seems pretty obvious now but the extra $5 service fee you pay is what the ticketing service makes for selling you the ticket. The processing fee is also a price to get the tickets to you and therefore there is only one processing fee per order while the service/convenience fee is per ticket (so the ticket seller can pay their employees and stay in business). So basically the tickets WOULD be cheaper if event planners were in the business of selling tickets but they are not, instead we must pay for the service of purchasing tickets, which seems a bit odd. What is even more odd is that since ticketmaster seems to have a monopoly on being a ticketing service, I don't see why the posted price isn't simply the base price with the negotiated fees included. There you have it, next time you complain about the extra fees, just remember that the people you buy the tickets from are only seeing that $10, not the $90 you paid for that Britney Spears concert :)

Pain Relievers (7/30/2011)

photo by vvvracer

Today I learned how pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen work. When you injure a part of your body, your cells produce and release a chemical called prostaglandin which signals to your nerve cells that you have just created some damage to yourself. This tells your brain to take action so you don't continue down the path of more damage. When you take a pain medication, this prevents your cells from producing prostaglandin and therefore your brain does not get the signal that there is damage. Pain is good when you are doing something to harm your body and it wants you to stop so taking a bunch of pain killers without really taking steps to heal yourself is kind of a waste. Do your body good and take care of it like the temple it is!

Charlie on the MTA (7/29/2011)

If you ride the T in Boston then you know about Charlie, the guy on your fare ticket/card, but do you REALLY know Charlie? So Charlie isn't a real guy and he popped up on the fare cards in 2006 when they were trying to replace coin tokens. Charlie is a tribute to the song "Charlie on the MTA," which tells the story of a young man named Charlie who couldn't afford to pay the nickel for his exit fair and thus was stuck on the subway forever. Though the song also talks about his loving wife who comes to bring him food everyday. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority used to be called the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

So always have change as this can surely happen to you! Actually it isn't possible on the T since you don't have to pay an exit fair. You can even buy a day, week, or monthly pass and ride the train and bus as often as you like :) I highly recommend it! I once took a trip to the end of each line and here are pictures from my trip: 

YMCA (7/28/2011)

photo by kirinqueen

I love my YMCA, I really do! It's not only a great place to exercise and get my swimming fix every week, but also staffed with some really awesome people. I'm always greeted with a smile and asked about my day and if I need any assistance. Some of them even know my name! I also love the instructors in the classes and the new and interesting people I meet every time I'm there! During the summer, the place is full of kids running around attending summer day camps with their adolescent camp counselors. I decided to learn a little bit more about this place I love and found out some pretty interesting things. First off, YMCA was first established in 1844 in London by George Williams. The first YMCA in the USA was established in 1851 in Boston, MA. Originally a federation trying to promote christian values, it is open to all people regardless of faith or gender and most widely known for its swimming facilities. The thing I was most surprised to learn about the YMCA history is that there are a few universities that have sprung out of YMCAs, Northeastern University in Boston being one of them. YMCA also began the concept of night school for adults with full time jobs. Who knew? But to me, my Y is a place I go to for a healthy spirit, mind and body :)

Vegetables (7/26/2011)

photo by comprock
As I was questioning whether ketchup was a vegetable, i realized that tomatoes are not vegetable and therefore neither is ketchup. This made me question what the classification definition of a vegetable is. The folks sitting around me could not answer this and so I looked it up. It is as simple and laymen as it gets. Vegetables are anything that are edible parts of a plant that are not fruit or seeds (root, leaf, stem, etc.). This seems to go against most conventions of classifications since okra, eggplant, and tomato are often thought as vegetables. Taking a strict definition none of the above would be vegetable. The term vegetable isn't really a scientific term and most people know what you are talking about when you talk about vegetables but it is neat to see how words adapt to the cultures that use them. How about we just tell the kids, "Eat your fruits AND vegetables!"

DoDEA (7/25/2011)

photo by michaelcardus

As I was perusing through the list of recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) I came upon two teachers who taught at Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools in Europe. I had never heard of DoDEA so I decided to learn more. The history of schools on military bases started shortly after World War II, in which schools were established in Europe and the Pacific. They were initially run by the military but later transferred to a civilian agency which manages the system. The system consist of 3 groups of schools, one in Europe, Pacific, and domestic bases. The schools are housed on military bases and are for children of those serving in the military as well as children of foreign service members. All the schools are accredeted and follow the DoDEA Community Strategic Plan. 

I thought this was pretty neat. In fact, you can apply to become a teacher at one of these schools.

YAY teachers and especially really awesome Math and Science teachers!