Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Girl's Best Friend

The word "carat" originated from the "carob tree". Because seeds from the fruit of the carob tree have a uniform weight of about-one fifth of a gram, they were used to measure diamonds. On average, there are about 120 million carats of diamond being mined worldwide annually. This figure totals about 24 tons, which could fit snugly inside the back of a single 18-wheel truck. Only about 50% of these mined diamonds end up as jewelry, however, with the rest serving industrial uses such as drill bits for deep-earth exploration. Uncut, these diamonds has the value of about $7 billion. In finished jewelry, however, that value rises up to $58 billion.

The largest rough diamond ever found on earth has 3,106 carats. Called the "Cullinan", the rock was discovered on Jan 26, 1905 in the Premier mine of South Africa. It was cut into nine major diamonds and hundreds of smaller ones, including the Great Star of Africa - the largest cut diamond in existence at 530.2 carats, now in the royal scepter of the British Crown Jewels.

The largest diamond ever found in the universe has 10 billion trillion trillion carats! Discovered in February 2004 by scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for the Astrophysics, the diamond is 50 light-years away in the constellation Cetaurus. "It's the mother of all diamonds," said one of the discoverers. At 2,600 miles across, it certainly is.

Going back to Earth, diamonds, of course, is the most popular gem used for engagement or wedding ring. In fact, the odds that an American woman receives a diamond engagement ring is 8 in 10, and the average size is 0.8 carats. The first recorded diamond engagement ring given was in 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented Mary of Burgundy with a gold band crowned with a piece of sparkling carbon. The ring was placed on the third finger of Mary's left hand, the finger that ancient Egyptians believed held the vein of love.

Other noteworthy celebrity diamond rings:
  • 5 carats: Bruce Willis to Demi Moore
  • 6 carats: Ben Affleck to Jennifer Lopez (JLo returned the ring)
  • 10 carats: Michael Douglas to Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • 16 carats: Victor Luna to Liz Taylor
  • 22 carats: Howard Marshall to Anna Nicole Smith
  • 29 carats: Mike Todd to Liz Taylor
  • 40 carats: Aristotle to Jackie Kennedy Onassis
  • 69.4 carats: Richard Burton to Liz Taylor
For her engagement, Princess Diana briefly popularized alternatives to the diamond ring when she received a sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds from Prince Charles.

Celebrities usually borrow diamond jewelries to wear during Oscar awards ceremony. The first time it was done was in 1943 when movie produced David Selznick asked Harry Winston if he would lend jewelry to Jennifer Jones who was nominated for best actress that year for her role in "The Song of Bernadette". Winston agreed, and Jones won. Today 20-30 percent of the nominees will eventually buy the pieces they borrow.

In 1998, Gloria Stewart, nominated for best supporting actress for her role in Titanic wore a 15-carat blue diamond necklace inspired by the fictional "Heart of the Ocean" diamond in the movie. Stewart was flanked by two security guards throughout the ceremonies. To date, that jewelry was the most expensive jewelry ever worn to the Oscars, with value of $20 million.

And in 2002 Whoopi Goldberg was wearing a $6 million 80-carat yellow diamond on a necklace borrowed from Harry Winston while hosting the Oscars. During a commercial break, Goldberg noticed that the diamond was gone. After a frantic search, a Winston security man noticed that the diamond was hidden in Whoopi's cleavage.

Random Odds & Ends:
  • Most diamonds found in nature are 1-3 billion years old.
  • Stories of diamonds being poisonous have been widely circulated throughout history to discourage the practice of stealing diamonds by swallowing them.
  • Dating back to 1304, “The Koh-i-Nur” is oldest known diamond and is now kept in the Tower of London.
  • The only active diamond mine in the United States is in Arkansas.
  • Most gemstones contain several elements. Diamond is an exception - it's all carbon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

All Shook Up

ElvisThis coming August 16 is the 30th death anniversary of Elvis Presley, and so it is only fitting that I would post some odds & ends about the "King".

At around 2:30 in the morning on Aug 16, 1977, Elvis was found sprawled on the bathroom floor, his pajamas below his knees, by then girlfriend Ginger Alder. He had had a heart attack while on the toilet, reading a book entitled "The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus". Doctors found 10 drugs in Elvis's system, including morphine, phenobarbital, methaqualone, Valium, Carbrital and Demerol, but no cause of death was ever established.

Elvis was actually buried twice - he was originally laid to rest in Memphis's Forest Hill Cemetery on Aug 18, 1977, entombed in a large mausoleum. In the early morning hours of Aug 29, three men were arrested for trying to steal Elvis's body. As a result, Presley's father had his body disinterred and reburied on the ground of Graceland on Oct 2, 1977.

Even so, a survey made in 2002 showed that 7% of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive. On Elvis's grave, his middle name Aron is misspelled as Aaron, giving Elvis conspiracy theorists reason to conclude that Elvis Aron Presley is not buried there. In Wright City, Mo, there is even an Elvis is Alive Museum. The museum, run by Bill Beeny, claimed to have DNA tests conducted on tissue samples he got from doctors in Memphis, which he said resulted in negative match.

At the time of Elvis's death, there were only about 50 known Elvis impersonators. By 2003, the number is estimated at around 35,000 and there are impersonators all over the world. It is truly amazing for someone's image to be that popular worldwide considering the fact that Elvis only performed outside the U.S. three times - all of which are in Canada (Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa, all in 1957). And the only time Elvis set foot in England was during a refuelling stop on the way back from army service in Germany. Yet as of 2004, Elvis had spent more weeks on the British singles charts that any other artists - including the Beatles and Cliff Richard.

All over the world, there are places and streets named after Elvis. And in Abu Ghosh, Israel stands the largest Elvis statue. Looming over the Tel Aviv-Jerulasalem highway, the 22-foot high statue of Elvis is the centerpiece of the Elvis Inn, a highway stop whose walls and ceiling are covered with Elvis memorabilia.

Elvis's popularity is even more amazing when you consider all the negative reviews he got when he was first starting out his singing career. The New York Times described him as "unspeakable untalented and vulgar" after his first national TV performance. In addition, the Times also wrote "Mr. Presley has no singing ability". The Daily News called him "appalling musically... tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos", and the Rev. Billy Graham was quoted to said "I would not let my daughter cross the street to see Elvis Presley."

The amount Elvis got for his first record contract was $5,000. In addition, he also got a penny and a half for each record sold. At the time of his death, Elvis estate is worth $4.9 million and in 2004, Elvis earned $40 million, most of it goes to his daughter, Lisa Marie, who owns his estate. A visit to Graceland cost $27, and the average annual number of visitors is 700,000. White House averages around 1,250,000 visitors, but it charges no fee.

Thats it... Elvis has left the building!

Random Odds & Ends
  • Elvis did not like to wear jeans because he had to wear them when he was a child.
  • Elvis's famous Pink Cadillac was originally colored blue. He had it custom-painted for his mother.
  • Elvis is a natural blonde. He dyed his hair jet black when he went into acting.
  • Elvis had a twin brother, Jessie Garon, who was stillborn, leaving Elvis as an only child.
  • John Lennon's sons Sean and Julian were asked to introduce Elvis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
  • Elvis was a direct descendant from Abraham Lincoln's great grandfather.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Rewarding Post

Just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. have doubled the reward to Osama Bin Laden's capture, or to any information that may lead to his capture, to $50 million, making it the largest reward ever offered for a fugitive. In announcing the original reward in 2003, which was then $25 million, President Bush said, "There's an old poster out West, as I recall that said: 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' All I want, and America wants is him brought to justice."

Actually, current U.S. law limits federal rewards to $25 million except when personally authorized by the Secretary of State "if he [or she] determines that offer or payment of an award of a larger amount is necessary to combat terrorism or defend the Nation against terrorist attacks."

That is really a large sum of money, one that may even turn Osama's close ally against him. Who knows, maybe Bin Laden can even turn himself in and claim that reward himself. While, you may think that is funny, it actually happened before. On March 1995, Gerald Lydell Voyles, suspected in a 1981 murder, walked into the Polk County Prison in Bartow, Florida and asked about the $3,000 reward for his capture. He was arrested after giving his real name. "We believe he was serious about the reward," said the local sheriff. "He will not be eligible."

Here are some other interesting rewards offered:

In 1994, O.J. Simpson offered $500,000 reward for information leading to the "real killer or killers" of Nicole Simpson.

$30 million was awarded to the unidentified person who tipped off U.S. forces that Saddam Hussein's sons were in a home in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in July 2003.

Robert Holmes, a 47-year-old car repairman from Tacoma, Washington was given $350,000 after he tipped off the FBI about the possible identity of the D.C. sniper, John Allen Muhammad. In contrast, Whitney Donahue, who called police after he spotted Muhammad's car at a Maryland rest area on Oct 24, 2002 received only $150,000.

People providing information to the IRS regarding tax cheaters receive up to 15% of the additional taxes collected, depending on the value of their information. In 2003, IRS shelled out a total of $4.1 million to reward people who turned in tax cheats. The record year was 2000, when IRS handed out some $10.8 million to informants.

In 1994, the Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.) offered $25,000 reward for the return of an object they couldn't describe. The object was stolen from an unmarked D.E.A. vehicle in Wilmington, N.C. "For security reasons, I can't say what it looked like," said the DEA agent-in-charge. "It does work in the manner in which you would think, by looking at it, it would work. Obviously, I can't say how it works, but it works. It's also very expensive, and we want it back."

In November 2003, Microsoft launched an Anti-virus rewards program and offered $250,000 for information leading to the creators of the "mydoom", "msblast" and "sobig" viruses. None of the virus creators has been captured.

In the fall of 2002, Warren Patabendi of New York offered $25,000 reward for the return of Bugsy, his parents' German shepherd, making it the largest reward ever for the return of a lost dog. Patabendi raised the reward to $25,000 after signs offering a $10,000 reward drew no interest.

And finally, the most popular bounty in history: 30 pieces of silver was awarded to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus.

Random Odds & Ends:
  • The F.B.I. was founded on July 26, 1908. On 1909, there were only 9 agents of FBI. By the year 2004, the number rose to almost 12,000.
  • The FBI's 10 most wanded criminal list started on 1950. By the year 2000, a total of 478 criminals made it on the list, only 7 of which are women.
  • Prior to having the cool nickname "Air Force One", the U.S. presidential aircraft was called "Sacred Cow".
  • Secret service code names for past presidents - Nixon: "Searchlight", Carter: "Deacon", Reagan: "Rawhide", Clinton: "Eagle" and George W. Bush: "Trailblazer".
  • There are 4 levels of U.S. government document secrecy: 1-confidential, 2-secret, 3-top secret, and 4-sigma 16. Sigma 16 are documents "containing nuclear weapons design specifications that would permit the reproduction and function of the weapon."