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The Boy Whose Birthday It Is

July 31, 1980 ~ the auspicious date, by all accounts, on which one Harry Potter was born. In his honor, a brief compilation of fascinating facts:

The Oldest Olympian

At 71, Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu is the oldest competitor at this year's Olympic games. He and his horse, Whisper, are competing in dressage (video):

RIP, Gore Vidal

from via
"All in all, I would not have missed this century for the world."
~ Gore Vidal
Today, July 31, the world lost one of the sharpest minds and keenest wits of the modern era. Fortunately, his writing remains, as does footage of some of his more memorable debates and appearances. To learn more about this man, go to
His New York Times obit:

The Past Is Present

Tools and other artifacts found in a cave in South Africa are 44,000 years old. Not only are they 20,000 years older than other such finds, but they are nearly identical to the tools used by today's San bush people. "You can hold [one of the] ancient artefacts in your left hand and a modern artefact in your right and they're exactly the same," said Dr. Lucinda Backwell, of South Africa's University of Witwatersrand (and, yes, you're reading it correctly: We spell it "artifacts," and the British and others spell it "artefacts"):

Scuttling a Myth

A study of lists of shipwreck survivors indicates that, with few exceptions, the captain does not go down with the ship and women and children do not come first:,0,197854.story

A Family of Firsts

Genealogists have found that President Obama is related, on his mother's side, to a man whom many call "the first African slave" in America:,0,3463156.story

Nature's Energy

While so many in India are suffering through a fierce heat wave without electricity, perhaps now is a good time to consider the concept of free energy from nature ~ and why so many of its proponents and inventors have been ridiculed and suppressed through recent history, including Nikola Tesla (video):!

After the Party

Beijing, Los Angeles, Athens ... what happens to Olympics venues when the crowds go home? (slideshow):

Passing the Torch

Pictures of a selection of Olympic torches starting with Berlin's in 1936 (caption translation: été = summer; hiver = winter):

Beauty at His Fingertips

Japanese artist Seikou Yamaoka creates beautiful "paintings" on his iPhone (story, video, slideshow):

Four Eyes, 37 Languages

A British computer programmer has developed a pair of glasses that will display real-time translations of conversation. As one can see in the video, it's not perfect (and that may have something to do with the fact that Spanish is not the speaker's first language), but it's close (story and video):

Light at Night May Not Be Right

Recent experiments are showing that, for animals at least, nighttime exposure to dim light promotes depression:

First-Class Germs

Airports are germ arsenals, but some are more likely than others to be ground zero of an international epidemic. Number 1 on the list is JFK, and Number 2 is LAX:

Rock the House!

Ilya Varlamov
Somewhere in Portugal is a little home built into ~ and of ~ stone:

The Moon Never Sets ...

... on the American flag. Photos taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that the flags planted by astronauts are still there, and still standing. The only exception is the one from the Apollo 11 mission:

New Olympic Hymn?

The full video of the U.S. swim team's version of Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe ~ it's adorable! (video):
And while we're at it, you might want to watch our president's version (well, not really his ... you'll see!) (video):
photo from


Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympics
Whatever happened to ... ? An update on a few of the more popular U.S. Olympians of the past, including Bruce Jenner ~ but of course we all know what happened to him!:

Put a Sock in It

Ideas for what to do with old socks besides throw them away (bonus video: how to make a sock puppet!):

Loping to London

Australian Flying Finish in her stable at Greenwich/© Kit Houghton
We know how the human athletes got to the Olympics, but what about those of the equine persuasion?:

Grander Canyon

British scientists have discovered a huge canyon ~ up to a mile deep in some places ~ beneath the Ferrigno Ice Stream in Antarctica. The finding broadens our understanding of the natural forces behind glacier melt:

A Bond With the Queen

One of the best parts of the Opening Ceremonies at this year's Olympics had to be the Queen's unorthodox arrival with Agent 007. (This is the best-quality full video I could find. Why it says it's age-restricted is beyond me. Just click the button.) (video):

Gateway to the Gold

Full disclosure: I hail from the San Francisco Bay Area (and that is where my heart still lies). Now to the Interesting Thing ~ apparently, so are an overwhelming number of our Olympians:

The Mother of All Host Countries

Bob Hope famously said that there will always be an England, even if it's in Hollywood. Well, they've been doing pretty well for themselves in the run-up to the Olympics. And here, in a nod to the mother country, from the BBC (which should know), the ultimate guide to all things British:

Being Dali

Quintessential Surrealist Salvador Dali had a favorite ~ and obviously successful ~ way of capturing those elusive thoughts and images that visit us when the brain lets go:

Beyond the Box

Cloud House, McBride Charles Ryan, Australia/John Gollings
The World Architecture Festival, now in its fifth year, is the world's largest such program. It takes place in October (in Singapore), but the shortlist, consisting of 301 contenders, has been announced. This year's theme is Rethink and Renew:


First-place winner  EROS/USGS/NASA image
The winners of a U.S. Geological Survey/NASA competition called Earth as Art (story and slideshow):

American Pie

What do you do with an obsession? Brian Dwyer is expanding his extensive (maybe the world's largest) collection of pizza-related paraphernalia into a restaurant-museum in Philadelphia that will be called Pizza Brain (story and audio):

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been On

The body of Eva Perón, wife of Argentina's longtime dictator and beloved ~ and reviled ~ by many, was finally laid to rest in 1976, but for the 20 years before that, it spent time in a van, in the Buenos Aires waterworks, and in a cemetery in Italy, among other places. And you thought Einstein's brain traveled a long way! (Warning, some of the images and comments could be disturbing):

Breathe Easy

The Aegis parka, designed by Nieuwe Heren
In the Why-Didn't-I-Think-of-That? department, a parka that senses air pollution and includes a respirator to get you past it:

In the Swim

Speedo's FastSkin3
Our Olympic swimmers will be donning a new kind of swimwear, in which cap, goggles, and suit (that looks more like an ultrathin wetsuit) work together to reduce drag (story, slideshow, video ~ the video is a total commercial, but once you get past the annoying first part, it actually explains a bit how the combo works):

The Shadow of Her Smile

The skeleton of the woman thought to have inspired Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa may have been found. Tests will be conducted to determine whether it is really she:

Be It Ever So Humble ...

The Leaf House (Version 2) can hold a family of four and features things like a composting toilet, a 35-gallon water storage unit, and Forest Stewardship Certified timber (story and slideshow):

They Came From the Deep

Screen shot of the Gulper, or Pelican, Eel
Amazing footage of real deep-sea creatures you've probably never seen before (story and videos):

Bad Sports

Since 1896, 10 sports have been removed from the Olympics. They include croquet, polo, tug-of-war, and something called jeu de paume, which I always thought was a strange name for a museum in Paris. (So, naturally, I had to look it up. The jeu de paume, or game of palm [aka palm game], sounds very much like handball.) Of course, they have been replaced by others, and two ~ golf and rugby ~ have made a comeback: and

Thanks for the Turtles

Sometimes a book review can be just as fun to read and contemplate as the book being reviewed.  Case in point, "wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz's musings on Jim Holt's Why Does the World Exist?:

Otto Mobile

"The more you have traveled, the more you realize how little you have seen." So says Gunther Holtorf, who with his late wife, Christine, and later alone has logged more than 500,000 miles over the last 23 years in his "main partner," his car, Otto (video):

Know When To Fold 'Em

There seems to be an origami revival going on, and much of it is taking place at various venues around L.A.:
intricate origami by Krystyna and Wojtek Burczyk, at the Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

We're Number One!

Really? Number 1? For what? Literacy (defined as percentage of population over the age of 15 that can read and write)? No, there, we're Number 36. Exports? Number 3. Per-capita GDP? Number 11. Perhaps life expectancy at birth? 49. Well, what, then? We are Number 1 in civilian gun ownership:
An interactive world map of comparative firearm statistics:

Mayor Meower

An Alaskan town has voted in the same cat as mayor for 15 years running ~ and he didn't even have to claw his way to the top (video):

What a Blast!

In 1957, five Air Force officers and one photographer volunteered to stand under a 2-kiloton nuclear bomb as it exploded (story and videos):

Score One for the Gorillas

Juvenile mountain gorillas were spotted dismantling poachers' dangerous traps. "They were very confident. They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left," said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund's Karisoke Research Center:

Embarras de Water

A huge aquifer found in Namibia could change the face of the country:

The Beat(ing) Goes On

Excavations of community cemeteries ~ not including battle sites, by the way ~ show that the current Israel/West Bank region has always been violent. A full 25% of the skulls found there, from 100 years ago and back to the Copper Age, bear evidence of severe wounds. That's the largest percentage found anywhere:

How Brassiere Is That!

Lace and linen undergarments, including bras, from 500 years ago were found by workers restoring a castle in Austria. The find "totally rewrites" fashion history, according to Museum of London's fashion curator Hilary Davidson:

Take a Moment

A website that leads you through a short meditation, complete with restful video (you can choose from among a few scenes), music, and narrative (video):

L.A. Has a River!

The Los Angeles River        Wikipedia
AND ... you can tour a cleaned-up section of it in the San Fernando Valley by canoe or kayak if you sign up for this year's Paddle the LA River program. Tickets go on sale July 17, and the first tours will be on July 21. The season ends Sept. 29 (story and video):

Rove Mars

NASA's getting ready for its rover Curiosity's Mars landing on Aug. 5 (Aug. 6 on the East Coast), and we can, too, with Unity, a 3D "virtual rover" that will allow us to follow Curiosity's path. NASA is asking for our help with crowd sourcing it now:

What To Do

Boredom? What's that? The ultimate, all-inclusive list to check in with the next time you have a few extra moments to spare:
Suggestion #145: Swim in the world's largest manmade swimming pool, the 19-acre, 66-million-gallon seawater pool at the San Alfonso del Mar Resort in Algarrobo, Chile

Country of Choice

Meb Keflezighi came to the United States from Eritrea by way of Italy. In 2004, the runner won Olympic silver, and this year, he's going for gold. Here are the fascinating and moving stories of six U.S. Olympic hopefuls who started life elsewhere (videos):

EPA's F re: BPAs

Caveat emptor. A new study links BPA, which is still in just about everything ~ makeup, food, containers ~ to diabetes (among other things). But it's not the first scientific study to do so. The connection was made as far back as 2005:

The Gift of the Gifted Child

July 15-21 is National Parenting Gifted Children Week, and SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) has a week's worth of special resources ready to mark the occastion:

Find Your Way

Animals don't use satellites or compasses, yet many, like homing pigeons and lobsters, know exactly where they are and how to get to where they want to go. What do they know that we don't, and how can we use it to help us find our way when our GPSs can't use satellites? (story and video):

Underground Art

Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Paa Joe of Ghana makes coffins, but not just any coffins. These coffins are sculptures that reflect the life, personality, and interests of the person inside. He loves what he does, but sometimes, he says, it's hard for him to see all that work be buried underground (video):

World Weight

Type in a few relevant stats and find out where you stand on the world's fat meter, based on UN and WHO data. I, for example, am "most like someone from Nepal" and learned that "If everyone in the world had the same BMI as [I], it would remove 44,439,383 tonnes from the total weight of the world's population":

Life Lived

"Life is tenacious. Life is fragile. Life relentlessly wants to live. This is the real moral of the story of mass extinctions, but life wanting to live does not mean that no harm ever comes. Life wanting to live does not mean that bad things don’t happen. We all know this. Or should. And when bad things happen, life still wants to live. Relentlessly, desperately, lovingly, fully." A beautifully written, thought-provoking hymn about nature, including us (and thanks to Kris for finding it):

Schools for Fools

What are students saying? School's too easy, they're not challenged, they're not learning anything (and certainly not critical thinking) ~ basically, it's not much more than childcare. Why this would come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention for the last four decades is beyond me:

A Mark, a Yen, a Buck, or a Pound

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in Cabaret
Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey sang it in Cabaret: Money makes ze verld go 'round ( ). It did then, and it continues to do so, only now it takes just a teeny bit more. Millionaires? Pffft! Meet the nine youngest billionaires (slideshow):

What, Me Worry?

The latest international Greendex from the National Geographic Society shows Americans being less green ~ and less concerned about it ~ than the rest of the world. Who fared best this year? India, China (despite having fallen in the rankings), and Brazil (which also fell):

Bee Counted

Ron Hemberger
You can help bees by planting certain flowers, listed on this site, and help scientists keep track of bee populations and important related information:

Ghouls Rush In

And so it goes. As more consumers realize the benefits of eating organic (which is good), they buy more organic, and as they do so, that sector becomes more profitable. As it becomes more profitable, big industry starts moving in. This has two major results. Some organic food becomes moderately more affordable (also good), and the rules governing the sector become looser (which is less than good). An eye-opening chart showing who now owns what:
And while we're on the subject, you might want to educate yourself about biotech giant Monsanto's ever-tightening grip on the USDA, which should by all rights be independent in order to best protect the public:
Back in 2008, Vanity Fair published an interesting investigative piece illustrating one way Monsanto got to become the giant it is today:

Antique Stools

Fossilized feces found in caves in Oregon point to the existence of humans on the west coast of North America before the Clovis people:

Big MacSecret

MacDonald's secret Big Mac sauce? Assuming anyone cares anymore (story and video):

How To Create Like a Child

by KLD, age 4

When my son was little, he would get frustrated and complain that he drew like a child. He was incredulous when I told him that most adult artists spend their lives trying to do just that. In case he ~ or anyone else ~ has reached that point, an interesting article and a tutorial:

The 3-Million-Mile Car

Irvin Gordon bought his Volvo in 1966, and both of them have come a long way since (story and video):

Lonely No Longer

Last year, in a fit of desperation, a man named Jeff put his number up all over NYC. Here's what happened and some of what he learned (story and video):

Book It

It is a well-known truism that one can never have too many good books, whether physical or virtual. Herewith, NPR's list (and more) of the best summer reading:

Allons, Enfants!

Bastille Day, aka French National Day, is on Saturday, July 14 (which means that the day before is yet another Friday the 13th). It celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, which was inspired in part by ours. It was a fascinating time (I can say from the comfort and safety offered by the intervening centuries) filled with many intriguing characters:
   One of my all-time favorite books, whose story takes place during this time, is Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities: a story of the French Revolution. It is a tragic story of love, fear, hope, loyalty, treachery, and suspense, and it both begins and ends with some of the most famous lines in all of literature (plus, who can ever forget Mme. Defarge and her knitting?):
   Perhaps one of the more interesting celebrations in the United States will be taking place at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, where citizens can take part in a Super-Soaker storming of the prison, the Bearded Ladies will dance, and 3,000 Tastykakes will be showered upon the onlookers as Marie Antoinette is guillotined:

Warning Signs

Scientists have discovered signs ~ the first being in the spinal fluid ~ of future Alzheimer's that show up as long as 25 years before the symptoms do:

Extraordinary Eateries

It rains every half hour in the Tonga Room in San Francisco, The Cave, in Missouri, has waterfalls and fish ponds, and fans of Sex and the City will be pleased to know there really is a restaurant called B.E.D., only it's in Miami. Here they are, America's Weirdest Restaurants:

I Owe, I Owe ...

A new report discloses that one-fifth of all student loan debt is owned by people in their 50s:,0,4414502.story


As a big fan of Words With Friends, I was happy to find this list of 17 vowel-less words:

Cats, T. gondii, and Our Brains

The story of Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr and his decades-long work to prove his suspicion that a parasite often present in cats' feces was messing with his mind and, therefore, with the minds of others as well:

Summer Strolls

Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, FL/Visit Hollywood
From Santa Cruz, CA, to Atlantic City, NJ, to Chicago's Navy Pier in between, a seasonally appropriate slideshow of our best boardwalks:

Bee Youthful

A new study found that bees that took on the duties traditionally performed by young bees not only staved off both physical and mental aging but that their brains changed on the molecular level:

Seeding the Big Picture

"If you look at a map of the world and you look at where the hungry people are, where acute things like famine and drought recur, or areas where people can’t be certain that they will get enough food from their land, what you see is that a lot of those areas are the most important biodiversity areas of the world." The president and CEO of EcoAgriculture Parners explains the "whole landscape" approach, how it's working in Africa, and why the whole world needs to adopt it:

Bear It

TWELV Magazine

So you want to start a fashion mag in a world of Elles, Marie Claires, Vogues (I could go on). What do you do to get a little attention? Write the magazine's name in all caps, like this: TWELV? Well, it's a start. Anything else? Make an evening dress out of 50,000 gummy bears, maybe?:

152,455 Bricks

Proving that one can never have too many LEGOs, a four-person team constructed a perfect half-scale model (with moving parts) of a Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 turbofan jet engine. It took them eight weeks to build the more than 160 individual parts and then put them together to create the finished piece, which weighs 307 kg (677 pounds), is 2 meters (6.6 feet) long and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) across (story and slideshow):

Space-Trip Advisor

As more companies get into the space-tourism game, as the technology becomes less onerous and the trip therefore becomes less costly, it may be time to ask yourself: Which company should I go with? A summary of what's out there:


The latest wrinkle in the search for a solution to the urban-traffic situation? A mini-electric car that actually folds up to be even smaller when parked. In fact, three and a half Hiriko (a portmanteau word meaning "from the city") Folds can fit into a standard parking space:

Commander in Chef

William Taft liked baked possum, James Garfield was partial to squirrel soup, and Bill Clinton eats Egg McMuffins. In a great list with an even greater title (I am in awe of and doff my hat to whoever came up with it), our presidents' favorite foods:

What's the Matter?

So, that elusive little Higgs boson is back in the news and getting everyone all excited. But why? What's the big deal? An explanation, by way of a Q&A (story, audio, video):
An alternative explanation (video):
Stephen Hawking had a big bet riding on this (video):

Lobster Tale

There are some very lucky lobsters with a great story to tell somewhere in the Mediterranean (and, with luck, they'll avoid those traps from now on). A couple vacationing in Italy bought a seafood restaurant's live lobsters and set them free:

'Don't Drive,' She Said

It seems there are many reasons, but there is one result, and that is that fewer Gen Y-ers are choosing to drive (while, at the other end of the age spectrum, there are more drivers over 70):

Decathlon Man

Daniel Berdichevsky, aka DemiDec Dan ~ or more like Demigod Dan ~ translated his record-setting score in the 10-subject competition into a profession and himself into an international legend:,0,3452597.story

No Pressure

Back in June, 9 million high school students in China took the gaokao, or college entrance exam, competing for fewer than 7 million spots. One's score determines not only whether one gets into college, but which college one will get into, and that can determine the course of one's life (story and video):

The Man Who Frees Whales

Landry works to free a humpback whale/Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
Meet Scott Landry, who dislikes the ocean and is out on it almost every day, working to disentangle whales from nets, fishing line, buoy line, mooring line, gill nets, rope ... :

Children's Spaces

Ryan, 11, North Carolina           James Mollison

International photographer James Mollison (born in Kenya, grew up in England, now lives in Italy) juxtaposed portraits of children from around the world with pictures of their bedrooms. "My thinking was," he says, "that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children's material and cultural circumstances": (slideshow):

Livin' la Vida Java

The word from scientists is this: Drink more coffee ~ and it doesn't matter whether it's caf or decaf! A study conducted on more that 400,000 people found that "more than two cups a day seemed to offer some protection against death due to heart disease, respiratory ailments and diabetes, while four or more cups a day imparted apparent benefits against stroke and infections." Excuse me while I brew myself another cup:

The Business of Being Bieber

Fifteen million albums, 157 tour dates, a fragrance, and a biopic add up to about $108 million over the last two years. So, what does Justin Bieber do with all that money? He invests it, mostly in private tech start-ups (story and videos):


This apartment building in New York identifies your car as you drive up to it, and the car elevator takes you home, even if home is on the 14th floor (video):

Reading and the Shorter Sentence

Prisoners in Brazil are being given an opportunity to shorten their jail time by reading! For each book read and essay written about that book (up to 12 a year), a prisoner can reduce his/her sentence by four days:

Happy iBirthday!

Has it really been only five years since the birth of the now-ubiquitous iPhone? It feels like it's been around forever! To celebrate, a slideshow of some of the more momentous moments of its short but consequential life so far:

Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone in San Francisco
Karl Mondon/Mercury

No More Hot Dogs

Summer's lovely hot weather brings the same danger for pets every year and the same warnings for pet owners every year. Yet every year, we hear the same tragic stories of dogs left in hot cars, panting and whining, and some eventually succumbing, while their owner shops or dines only a few yards away. A group called Red Rover has put together a website with tips and information AND downloadable fliers that can be placed under a windshield wiper for an offending owner to find and, one hopes, learn from: