Friday, July 27, 2007

Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable?

Today, we are going to have a veggie quiz. The first question is the post title itself - Are tomatoes fruits or vegetable?

If you answered fruit, you are absolutely correct. If you answered vegetable, you are correct too... well, sort of.

The word "fruit" means the fleshy meat growing from the ripened ovary of a plant, and contains the seeds. So, by definition, tomatoes are fruits. The same goes with cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, string beans - all of which are widely mistaken as vegetables. However, for Americans, the tomato was, in fact, declared as a vegetable. In the 1893 case Nix v. Hedden, tomato importers sought to challenge a 10% tax imposed on tomatoes by claiming that tomatoes were a fruit (which was not subject to tax) rather than a vegetable. Though the U.S. Supreme Court found that the tomato was technically a fruit, since Americans ate it with the main meal rather than dessert, it could be taxed as a vegetable.

Ok, here's another veggie question for you: If Bugs Bunny was alive in 15th century, what would be the color of that carrot that he's munching? If you answered orange, sorry, you are wrong.

It was not until the 17th century that carrots turned orange, when growers from Denmark (the royal family of which was know as the House of Orange) crossed yellow and red carrots to create what has become the vegetable's universal color. Before that, carrots are colored white, purple, black, green and red.

Ready for one more veggie-related question? Here it is: How many vegetarians were there before 1847?

The answer is... zero! Sure, there are non-meat-eating folks during that time, but they are not known as "vegetarians". That term was coined in 1847 by the first members of the Vegetarian Society of Great Britain to describe people who did not eat meat, poultry, or fish. Some suggest that the word comes from the latin "vegetus" meaning "full of life" though the prevailing view is that it comes from its obvious source - the word "vegetable".

Before the word "vegetarian" was coined, non-meat-eating people are called as "pythagoreans". Named after the famous mathematician Pythagoras who was converted into this diet after studying with members of an Egyptian sect who abstained from eating meat. Today, if you use the term "pythagoreans", people would be thinking about their nightmare with geometry and trigonometry tests during their school days.

Speaking of vegetarians, India currently has the largest vegetarian population in the world (220 million). Made up mostly of Hindus (but also Buddhists and Jains), which prohibits the killing of anything living or with the potential for life. Indian vegetarians eat milk products but not eggs.

K.D. Lang, a famous singer who is a vegetarian, once said on national television that "meat stinks". This caused an uproar and her records were banned from most radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. Even in her own hometown of Consort, Alberta, people persecuted her for airing her views. A sign announcing "Home of k.d. lang" was defaced with the words "Eat beef, dyke". It was extremely frightning for her mother that she was forced to move.

If you think that was intense, take the case of Mani. Founder of a religious movement in the 3rd century, called Manichaenism, he was tortured and executed by the leaders of Persia in 276 AD because the movement espoused meatlessness. In the 4th century, Timothy, the Patriarch of Alexandria, tested Christian clergies in Alexandria by requiring them to eat meat. Those who refused were interrogated.

Random Odds & Ends
  • Egyptians used to worship cabbage heads as gods, and even enthroned them on elaborate altars.
  • In ancient Greece, the winner of an athletic event was given a bunch of celery, just like flowers are given today.
  • Corn is a member of the grass family - so it's not really a vegetable - it's a grain.
  • Christopher Columbus was the first to introduce peppers to Europe.
  • Even though the Spanish explorers brought tomatoes to Europe from South America, they only used them as decoration, fearing they were poisonous.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You Got Mail

Despite the popularity of email, postal mail service is still widely used worldwide. In fact, according to CNN in 2004, there were 425 billion pieces of mail sent annually around the world. India has the world's largest postal system, with 154,000 post offices and 60,000 postment delivering 53 million pieces of mail each day. China is second with 57,000 post offices. The U.S., by comparison, has only 38,000 post offices.

Before stamps were introduced in America, mailing a letter cost about 25 cents during that time when the average salary was $1 a day. In 1847, the post office introduced a 5 cents stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin, which could be used for letters mailed 300 miles and a 10 cents stamp with George Washington, which could get your letter across the U.S. Once stamps allowed postage to be paid beforehand, street corner mailboxes became possible and at a suggestion of a novelist and postal employee named Anthony Trollope, the first four were installed on the isle of Jersey on November 23, 1852.

When email became popular, postal mail got the monicker "snail mail" which is meant to show that postal services is too slow compared to the immediate delivery of messages thru email. If the usual week-long delivery of letter is deemed "snail" nowadays, I wonder how the following should be called:
  • Bearing a 3-cent stamp and a February 17, 1936 postmark, the letter from a grandmother in Weirton, Pennsylvania was finally delivered in 1994. That was 58 years. In the letter, she is promising the recipient that she will come see her newborn grandchildren.
  • A valentine card posted in 1932 reached a young couple living in the former addressee's house in 1998, or 66 years after. Coincidentally, they were to be married the next day.
  • Postmarked Feb. 6, 1908, a black-and-white postcard addressed to Fanny Myers of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, asked her to send a cashmere sweater to her sister. On Oct. 22, 2001 (94 years after), the postcard was found in a batch of letters to be deliverd at the Jersey Shore Post Office.
Speed has always been an issue with postal services, and even before email, people are trying to figure out a way to deliver mail faster. On June 8, 1959, the U.S. submarine Barbero conducted the first and last test of so-called "Missile Mail". This is to use a warhead-less Regulus cruise missile to carry postal containers, in hope to make the delivery of mail faster.

While email obviously have the speed advantage, postal mail has its own advantages. For one, you can only send messages, photos, music or any sort of file thru email. While, you can virtually send anything thru mail (depends on your country's laws, of course).

Most postal employee can tell you lots of stories about weird objects being sent thru mail, but the strangest of all was a 5-year old kid. On February 19, 1914, the parents of May Pierstorff paid 50 cents to have her mailed from Grangeville to Lewiston, Idaho, to avoid the higher train fare. Similary, the Chicago Tribune reports that a 28-year old midget once mailed himself from New York to Los Angeles, paying $68.15 in postage.

In 1916, a merchant named W.H. Coltharp mailed an entire bank building in individual pieces from Salt Lake City to Vernal, Utah. During that time, there was no road between the two cities, and Coltharp figured he'd save money by mailing all 80,000 of the building's bricks over the 427-mile route. That's 40 tons! Shortly after, the post office put out an advisory saying that "it is not the intent of the U.S. Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail," and banned the practice.

Random Odds & Ends
  • An average American receives about 572 junk mail annually, and 44% of those are being thrown without being read.
  • In the U.S., there are, on average, 8 cases of dog attacks on mailmen per day.
  • The world's first stamp issued was the British Penny Black on May 6, 1840.
  • ZIP (Zoning Improvement Plan) code, a five-digit code had been assigned to every address throughout the country was first used in the U.S. on July 1, 1963, and in 1967, the Post Office required mailers of second-class and third-class bulk mail to presort by ZIP Code.
  • In February 1911, a French pilot, named Henri Pequet, flew with 6,500 pieces of mail in a biplane from Allahabad, India to Naini (a distance of 6 miles). This flight was the first official Air Mail in the world.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sneaking Sneakers

Sneakers have become a multi-million industry worldwide. In 2004 alone, Americans spent $16 billion on sneakers, 28% of which is for sneakers made for running, while 23% is for basketball. Somehow, it has become a status symbol and a fashion statement.

The word "sneaker" comes from the shoe's rubber sole, which allows wearers to "sneak" around noiselessly. In 1862, a book titled "Female Life In Prison" said that prisoners referred to the rubber-soled shoes worn by a correction officer as "sneaks." Several years later, the use of "sneaks" to refer to rubber-soled shoes gained wide acceptance and in 1873 store ads started referring to these shoes by the name "sneaker".

The best selling sneaker of all time is the Converse All Stars. Introduced in 1917, the All Star was the first sneaker designed for basketball and an estimated 580 million pairs of the sneaker have been sold to date.

Nike, the current sneaker company giant, started in 1964 by Phil Knight, a former University of Oregon runner and CPA, and Bill Bowerman, the track coach at Oregon, who made running shoes in his garage on the side. Nike's original name was "Blue Ribbon Sports", and changed name only in 1972, after much deliberation against another proposed name "Dimension 6". In 1964, Nike's sales revenue was $8,000. By 2003, it has rose to $12.3 billion.

Somehow, Nike had been blessed with a series of good fortune that helped to propel its business. First it was the amazingly simple but effective "Swoosh" logo. In 1971, Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University, was approached by Nike founder Phil Knight and asked to design a logo. When Davidson presented the swoosh design to Knight, his response was, "Well, I don't love it but it'll grow on me". Davidson received $35 for her services. In 1982, 11 years later, Nike issued some stocks to Davidson as a measure of the company's appreciation.

And of course, Nike's success can be hugely attributed to Michael Jordan. In 1984, Jordan, who was only beginning his career in basketball signed an endorsement contract with Nike. At that time, Nike was almost an unheard brand and Jordan who was a big fan of Adidas wanted to sign a deal with them. Jordan selected Nike only because Adidas did not come to his terms. In 1985, Nike released MJ's signature shoe, the Air Jordan. Originally, the NBA banned this new shoe because it didn't match the league's dress code, but the ban only gave publicity to the shoe and became even more in-demand with the youths of that generation. Nike revenues reached $1 billion for the first time in 1986 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Air Jordans continue to be one of the most popular sneakers and was mainly responsible for at least 3 riots:
  • On March 3, 2001, after 400 customers waiting to purchase the new Air Jordan Retro 11s broke the security gate of a sneaker store in Alexandria, Louisiana, police were called in and used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. "It was like an animal attacking a bloody piece of meat," one customer said.
  • In a separate incident in Sacramento, California also on March 3, 2001, 60 police officers in riot gear were called in to quell disturbances by 200 customers fighting for 80 pairs of Jordan Retro 11s in a local mall.
  • And on Feb. 14, 2004, Charlotte police were called in to a shopping mall after 200 people waiting to purchase the new Jordan Retro 12 sneakers started pushing and fighting, resulting in one injury and one arrest.
Following Nike's success, sneaker companies are now careful not to miss the boat on signing athletes and celebrities for endorsement that could potentially be a big boon for advertising. Reebok, for example, signed Allen Iverson to a lifetime contract on November 28, 2001. Iverson, a talented and popular NBA player, but often in trouble with law, gets a reported $7 million a year from the company. Reebok also almost signed LeBron James to a $75 million-dollar contract, until Nike snatched him up for $90 millions.

And in 2003, Reebok signed a 3-year-old basketball prodigy named Mark Walker after seeing a video of the kid filmed by his parents making 18 consecutive free throws on an 8-foot hoop. In a press release Reebok referred to Walker as "short of everything but talent."

Random Odds & Ends
  • The Air Force 1 debuted in 1982 and was the first basketball shoe to make use of air technology.
  • The largest sneakers in NBA history is Shaquille O'Neal's size 23, followed by Will Perdue's size 22-4A.
  • Jerry Seinfeld owns over 500 pairs of mint condition white sneakers.
  • Nike make sure to release new Jordans on Saturdays so that kids won't skip school to get them.
  • K-Swiss's five-stripes has a purpose other than design: it helps prevent stretching.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


A lot of bloggers, when faced with the dilemma of having no idea what to blog about, often come out with the following:
  1. Write about the food they ate last night,
  2. Write about their cat,
  3. Post a photo of the food they ate last night, or
  4. Post a photo of their cat
Well, this week I have no clue what to write on this blog, so I think, I will choose option 2 above. Although that may be a problem because I have no pet cat. So, I think, I will just write about cats.

Do you know that cats outnumber both dogs and children in the US? In 2001, there are estimated 77.7 million cats in the US. Despite this, 73% of Americans still believe that dogs are the "better" pet, and even among cat owners, 35% rate dogs as better.

A cat has a life expectancy of 15 years. A cat will spend 62% of that lifetime sleeping, and 12% grooming. That leaves 26% for the other activities which may include eating, purring, rubbing on your legs, chasing birds, being chased by dogs, posing for photographs, and of course, coughing up hairballs - which a cat would cough up about 180 times on its lifetime.

For an animal that sleeps too much, it only follows that it would dream a lot. According to Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, an average cat may dream as often as every 12 to 15 minutes. By contrast, dogs dream only once every 65 minutes or so, while the average dream cycle for people is about 90 minutes. So what do cats dream about? Of course, something that they were genetically to do: pouncing and stalking prey.

Still, there are lots of reasons cat owners love their cats. In fact, according to a 1999 findings by Houston Chronicle, 11% of people who ended their relationship is because of their cat. 84% of cat owners are women, and 30% of cat owners let their cat sleep in their bed. Also, 58% of cat owners buy their cats Christmas presents and 37% hang stockings on Christmas in the name of their pet cat.

The most cats owned by one person is 689, which is held by Jack Wright of Kingston, Ohio.

For rich and famous celebrity cats (not including animated ones like Sylvester or Garfield), there is Morris, who made 58 commercials for 9Lives cat food between 1969 and his death in 1978. Rescued from a Chicago animal shelter, Morris was so popular that he has a secretary hired to answer his mail. He was also featured on the show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

Then there is Tinker - the world's wealthiest cat. A one-time common alley cat, Tinker befriended a well-to-do British widow named Margaret Layne. When Ms. Layne died, Tinker inherited it all: a swank London home valued at $562,000 and $160,000 trust fund to ensure the caviar keeps coming.

Cats also have the tendency to leave home and not come back. However, if you lost your pet cat, try looking on the first 3 houses next to yours. 77% of cats who escape are found within three houses of their homes. This is not the case though for a tabby named Skittles. In September 2001, Charmin Sampson lost her cat while on a family trip to Wisconsin. On Jan 14, 2002, the cat showed up on the Sampson's doorstep in Hibbing, Minnesota, five months later. Skittles was skinny and his paws were raw, but otherwise in good shape after his 350-mile journey.

Random Odds & Ends
  • As a sign of mourning, ancient Egyptians shaved off their eyebrows when their cat died.
  • A cat will return to its bowl an average of 36 times a day.
  • A cat's vision is six times better in the dark than humans.
  • Cats have 5 toes on front paw and 4 toes on back paws. Some cats, called polydactl, are born with 6 or 7 front or back toes.
  • Sir Isaac Newton discovered principles of mechanics and gravity, formulated laws of motions and physics, developed calculus... and invented the cat door.