Saturday, January 17, 2015

Holidays and Observances for Jan 17 2015

Cable Car Day

On January 17, 1871, San Franciscan Andrew Smith Hallidie patented the first cable car, ultimately sparing many horses the excruciating work of moving people over that city's steep roadways. Using metal ropes he had patented, Hallidie devised a mechanism by which cars were drawn by an endless cable running in a slot between the rails which passed over a steam-driven shaft in the powerhouse.

After gathering financial backing, Hallidie and his associates constructed the first cable railway. The track ran from the intersection of Clay and Kearny Streets along twenty-eight hundred feet of track to the crest of a hill 307 feet above the starting point. At five o'clock on the morning of August 1, 1873, a few nervous men climbed aboard the cable car as it stood on the hilltop. With Hallidie at the controls, the car descended and arrived safely at the bottom.

Given San Francisco's steep terrain, the cable car came to define the city. Writing in 1888, Harriet Harper declared: "If any one should ask me what I consider the most distinctive, progressive feature of California, I should answer promptly, its cable-car system. And it is not alone its system which seems to have reached a point of perfection, but the amazing length of the ride that is given you for the chink of a nickel. I have circled this city of San Francisco, I have gone the length of three separate cable lines (by means of the proper transfers) for this smallest of Southern coins."

The success of the San Francisco line led to the expansion of that system and the introduction of street railways in many other cities. By the 1920s, most United States municipalities had abandoned horse drawn cars for electrically powered cars.

The first mass transportation vehicle in America was called an omnibus. It looked like a stagecoach and was pulled by horses. The first omnibus to operate in America began running up and down Broadway in New York City in the year 1827. It was owned by Abraham Brower, who also helped organize the first fire department in New York.

There had long been horse-drawn carriages in America to take people where they wanted to go. What was new and different about the omnibus was that it ran along a certain designated route and charged a very low fare. People who wanted to get on would wave their hand in the air. The driver sat on a bench on top of the omnibus at the front, like a stagecoach driver. When people who were riding inside wanted to get off the omnibus, they pulled on a little leather strap. The leather strap was connected to the ankle of the person who was driving the omnibus. Horse-drawn omnibuses ran in America cities from 1826 until about 1905.

The first important improvement over the omnibus was the streetcar. The first streetcars were also pulled by horses, however, instead of riding along a regular street, the streetcars rolled along special steel rails that were placed in the middle of the street. The wheels of the streetcar were also made out of steel, carefully manufactured in such a way that they would not roll off the rails. A horse-drawn streetcar was much more comfortable than an omnibus and a single horse could also pull a streetcar that was much larger, and carried more passengers, than an omnibus.

The first streetcar ran along Bowery Street in New York, and began service in the year 1832. It was owned John Mason, a wealthy banker, and built by Irishmen, John Stephenson. Stephenson's New York company would become the largest and most famous builder of horse-drawn streetcars.

The second American city to have streetcars was New Orleans, Louisiana, in the year 1835. The typical American streetcar was operated by two crew members. One man, a driver, rode up front. His job was to drive the horse, controlled by a set of reigns. The driver also had a brake handle that he could use to stop the streetcar. When streetcars got bigger, sometimes two and three horses would be used to haul a single car. The second crew member was called the conductor, who rode at the back of the car. His job was to help passengers get on and off the streetcar, collect their fares, and give a signal to the driver when everyone was on board and it was safe to proceed. He gave this signal by pulling on a rope that was attached to a bell at the other end of the car that the driver could hear.

The first major attempt to develop a machine that could replace horses on America's streetcar lines was the cable car in 1873. Cable cars were hauled by a long cable that moved slowly under a city's streets. To convert a streetcar line from horse cars to cable cars required digging a ditch between the rails and building a chamber under the track from one end of the line to another. This chamber was called a vault. When the vault was finished, a small opening was left at the top of the vault. Then a long cable was placed inside the vault. The cable ran under city streets from one end of the streetcar line to the other. The cable was spliced into a big loop and was kept moving by a huge steam engine with massive wheels and pulleys that was located in a powerhouse at the side of the street. The cable cars themselves were equipped with a device that extended down below the car into the vault and allowed the operator of the car to latch onto the moving cable when he wanted the car to go, or let go of the cable when he wanted the car to stop. There were many pulleys and wheels inside the vault to make sure the cable was able to go around corners, as well as up and down hills.

The first cable cars ran in San Francisco. The largest and busiest fleet of cable cars in America were in Chicago. Most large American cities had one or more cable car lines by the year 1890.

Frank Sprague installed a complete system of electric streetcars in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888. This was the first large scale and successful use of electricity to run a city's entire system of streetcars. Sprague was born in Connecticut in 1857. In 1878 he graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and began a career as a naval officer. He resigned from the navy in 1883 and went to work for Thomas Edison.

After 1888, many cities turned to electric-powered streetcars. To get electricity to the streetcars from the powerhouse where it was generated, an overhead wire was installed over city streets. A streetcar would touch this electric wire with a long pole on its roof. Back at the powerhouse, big steam engines would turn huge generators to produce the electricity needed to operate the streetcars. A new name was soon developed for streetcars powered by electricity; they were called trolley cars.

Ditch New Years Resolutions Day

Admit it – we all do it. Every year we decide to start January 1st by reinventing ourselves in some novel way. But few of us stick to these resolution and soon find ourselves falling back on our old ways. The idea of the New Year’s resolution is an important fixture in our society, but so too is the idea of ditching our New Year’s resolution. The concept even has its own holiday. January 17th has been dubbed “Ditch your New Year’s Resolution Day” because it is the most common date people abandon their New Year’s goal. To help us overcome these odds, every year around this time the news and internet are flooded with advice on how to stick to your goals. Nearly all of this advice focuses on the types of goals people adopt. If you follow this advice, you know that you should adopt goals that are specific instead of vague, quantifiable instead of abstract, and ones that can be easily linked with a situational cue.

There is nothing wrong with this advice; we have given it ourselves in blog entries and interviews. But maybe the problem is not what we chose to adopt. Maybe the problem is when. Maybe the very act of starting your goal on January 1st sets you up for the impending failure. First, consider what most people do the day before their resolution is enacted. Most of us stay up until midnight or later and consume alcohol to usher in the New Year. Thus, we face the New Year groggy, sleep deprived and hung over. We essentially spend December 31 digging ourselves into a hole that we are forced to climb out of on January 1st. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that our willpower—or what scientists refer to as self-control—is a very limited resource (Baumeister, Vohs & Tice, 2007). You only have so much of it, and once it is used up, your ability to stick with your goals and resist temptation is threatened. So just getting out of bed and facing the day after the New Year celebration taxes your fuel tank, leaving you with little in reserve to put toward your new resolution.

To make matters worse, alcohol has a uniquely impairing effect on self-control. The physiological source of our willpower appears to be glucose, which serves fuel for both our brain and our muscles. A number of studies have found that when we exert self-control, our glucose levels decrease (Galliot et al, 2007). And when people are given glucose in the form of sugary beverages, they show an increase in self-control. Interestingly, even gargling with a sugary beverage and then spitting it out has been shown to boost self-control, likely because receptors in our mouth are tricked into thinking they consumed glucose (Sanders et al., 2012). But just as sugar boosts glucose, alcohol depletes it. As tasty as those glasses of champagne are, your body sees them as poison and so it goes through great efforts to rid yourself of the alcohol. To have enough energy for this task, your body temporarily shuts down other functions, including the healthy maintenance of glucose levels. This is why 50-70% of people with alcoholic liver disease also have glucose-related disorders (e.g., diabetes).

But the negative impact of alcohol on blood glucose is not necessarily immediate and it often carries over into the next day. So by the time we start our goal on January 1st, we have already depleted ourselves of our self-control resources. It’s a lot like starting a road trip with an empty tank of gas.

But what if you don’t drink on New Year’s? Or what if you go to bed at a reasonable hour and simply watch highlights of the ball drop during your morning news? Have you escaped the inevitable failure? Not quite. In addition to New Year’s festivities, the end of the year also marks the end of a whirlwind of activity. We are exhausted by all those holiday parties, elaborately cooked dinners and straining family interactions.

Businesses are working extra hard to wrap up by the end of their year. Workers owe their end-of-year reports and inventories. Projects all tend to be due at this time of year. And just when we get all of this cleared off our plate, we are hit with a flood of new projects to start out the year. Dealing with all of this stress requires self-control, leaving less available for enacting our new resolutions.

All of this doesn't mean we are against the New Year’s resolution. Quite the opposite. It is great that once a year we all think about ways to improve ourselves. It’s just than January 1st may be the worst day to start these improvements. So what do we suggest? First, hold off on starting your resolution for a week. Instead, spend the first week of the New Year planning and preparing for the start of your resolution. Clean out the kitchen of all the holiday cookies and candies. Stock it instead with healthy options like fruits, veggies, lean protein and whole grains. Dust off that treadmill that hasn't been touched in months or better yet, drag it in front of the TV so there are no excuses. All good military generals prepare and plan before charging into battle. You should too.

Second, avoid starting your resolution on a Monday. Mondays are already taxing, so give yourself a few days to get back into the groove. Start your resolution on a Wednesday or Thursday instead. You increase your likelihood of successfully making it to the weekend, which will only empower you to try for the full week next time.

Third, instead of just designating one day a year to start anew, why not start over each season, or even each month? Instead of setting one large goal for the whole year, set a smaller goal for yourself each month. Treat the first of every month as a chance to re-commit to your goal. This approach takes the pressure off. If you fail at your goal in January, it’s no big deal. You'll get a redo in February. By focusing on the when in addition to the what, you might just be able to skip that January 17th holiday.

Kid Inventors' Day

Kids are endlessly creative, constantly experimenting with new ways of using a toy or suddenly creating new rules to a board game they've played for years. Kids are always asking how things work and trying to figure out for themselves by trying different things until it does something “cool”…. or breaks. Whichever comes first. It is the joy of kids to invent and Kid Inventors’ Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the imagination, ingenuity, and unbound curiosity of young people in all sorts of places.

You might think to yourself, “Kid inventors? That’s really cute, but surely kids haven't invented anything groundbreaking or of real impact and significance.” Well, think again. The ingenuity of young minds have blessed mankind with such things as Braille, popsicles, and swimming flippers! The mind of a child works in ways that the adult mind no longer does which enables kids to see things in a whole new way and might just allow them to make the next big breakthrough! Encouraging these tendencies is the reason behind Kid Inventors’ Day.

In the year 1718, young Ben stood on the edge of the water and wished he could swim faster and stronger, the dream of many young boys. However, Ben was not like other young boys and so he invented the first pair of swim flippers. As you have probably guessed young Ben is Benjamin Franklin, who invented swim flippers when he was only 12 years old. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the invention of several other items of great interest, but he started out as a kid inventor and gifted upon the whole scuba and snorkeling community the “swim flipper” which is now commonplace.

Kid Inventors’ Day is celebrated in honor of this noted kid inventor, though Benjamin Franklin is certainly not the only child to invent something of great note.

In 1824, the blind Louis Braille (you probably have guessed where this is going) became frustrated with the “night writing” system of letters that was then available for the blind. So, at the age of 15 he took it upon himself to improve the system. His new writing/reading system was named Braille in honor of the young inventor.

The best way to celebrate Kid Inventors’ Day is to encourage the young inventors around you! Children are naturally inventive so if you know any kids at all they're likely to have the tendencies of an inventor. Of course, if you truly can't find a kid there is no shame in indulging the “kid inventor” you have in yourself.

If you're thinking to try your hand at inventing the typical steps of invention go like this (though certainly feel free to invent your own):

  • Idea
  • Plan
  • Prototype
  • Invention
  • Patent

Once you’ve come up with your idea plan out how to build it, then build a prototype for testing. If the prototype works then you have yourself an invention! Then take your invention down to the patent office so no one else can steal it and make millions off of your brilliant idea.

There are many inventors programs scattered across the globe, such as the First Lego League. Schools often participate in Kid Inventors’ Day and have invention competitions or workshops to encourage kids to exercise their creativity. These events are excellent ways to encourage kids to shake out their inventing skills and put them towards solving real world problem. Or maybe just having fun with new ideas!

National Hot-Buttered Rum Day

Today is National Hot-Buttered Rum Day! Hot-buttered rum is a warm alcoholic beverage flavored with butter, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. These ingredients form a batter that is then mixed with rich, dark rum.

A cocktail made with boiling water, sugar and spices is traditionally referred to as a "toddy," and made with whiskey or sherry. Warm alcoholic beverages such as glogg, mulled wine and toddies originated in Northern Europe, where beer, cider, wine and spirits were mulled with sugar and spices to add some cheer to cold winter days.

Hot buttered rum is a toddy (specifically, a rum toddy). Toddies can be made of any spirit—bourbon, brandy, tequila, Scotch and other whiskeys are popular.

Hot buttered rum was a favorite in Colonial America.  Rum is a New World spirit, made of molasses, a by-product of sugar refining. Distilleries in the Colonies were making rum from the molasses by the 1650s, and “hot buttered rum” joined the toddies and nogs of English tradition (a nog is a beverage made of beaten eggs).

Hot buttered rum is traditionally made with dark rum, which has been aged in oak barrels to develop a deeper, molasses flavor. You can use light rum or spiced rum for a milder or spicier flavor, respectively. Dark rums can also be drunk straight.

You may see photos of, or recipes for, creamy toddies, which add cream or ice cream to the basic recipe. These are new interpretations, not traditional toddies, which were not cream beverages.

Try making a homemade batch for your friends to celebrate National Hot-Buttered Rum Day!