Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Mythology: The Phoenix, the bird that rose from the ashes

The Phoenix was the mythological bird that rose from the ashes of its own destruction. I was reading up on Salamander Bay (RSA), and this led to the salamander then fire and ultimately to the Phoenix.
The Phoenix has Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Oriental, Persian and Christian origins, with different interpretations. The Egyptian Phoenix, Bennu, appears to be the oldest reference.
From Greek Mythology the name Phoenix was derived from the colors red, crimson, purple and gold, denoting fire
Only one Phoenix lived at any given time, and lived from 500 to 1,500 years, depending on the source. Some sources say that this bird was never seen eating. The Phoenix had a beautiful song, and in the morning as it bathed the sun god would stop a while to listen to it singing.
When the Phoenix knew death was approaching he would build a nest of cinnamon sticks and set it alight, to be consumed by the flames. From these ashes a young Phoenix arises. (Some sources say an egg, others a young bird).
The bird rising from the ashes signifies regeneration and immortality.
A good starting point, is Wikipedia, sufficient links to keep you busy for a couple of days if you need to dig deeper

Salamander Bay

"I think you should go through the dunes and the grain fields to Salamander Bay one day in the spring, when the wildflowers are blazing in the sailor's cemetery. There are ghosts of ships and seamen in that old harbour, but the ghosts of Salamander harm no one when they strike eight bells at midnight"

Passage from the book "Eight Bells at Salamander" by Lawrence G Green, 1947.

South African Salamander Bay, Langebaan, nothing to do with the amphibian with the same name. Bay was named after the Dutch ship from Delft that stopped over there about 350 years ago, with crew suffering from scurvy

Monday, 29 September 2008

Silly Signs : Bill Stickers

Received via email, source unknown

What does a Pyrrhic victory mean?

I have never heard of this expression before. (Unfortunately there is no medication for ignorance)Bumped into it while reading up on War Elephants.
Background before meaning.
Pyrrhus was a ruler of a minor Grecian kingdom roundabout 300BC. He came to the throne at the age of 12, shortly after the demise of Alexander the Great, and became a brilliant soldier, especially known for his use of elephants in battle.
Anyhow, there was a conflict situation between the Romans and the Greek city of Tarentum in southern Italy. Pyrrhus was asked to help out and he sent 25,000 troops and a bunch of elephants to assist. The Romans were defeated but at great cost. After the battle it is said that he exclaimed, “ Another such victory and we are lost!”
Thus a “Pyrrhic victory”, where the cost of achieving something is so expensive that it is little better than a defeat.
I can relate this to buying special offers. Save this much, save that much, buy before the offer ends etc” in the end you can save yourself into bankruptcy.
Pyrrus died in battle, a tile thrown from a roof killed him during a street battle.
Source was from a book I read while visiting a friend, cannot recall the name. Image from Wikipedia that has lots and lots on Pyrrhus if you are interested.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Mythology: Who or what was Delphi, Meaning and Origin

According to ancient belief Delphi was situated in the exact centre of the habitable earth and the centre of the Universe. (Zeus set two eagles free on the opposite ends of the earth and where they met denoted the centre.)
Situated on Mount Parnassus in Greece, this was the place of the oracle of Delphi.
From this place, Apollo, the god of light, music, poetry and prophecy made known to mankind the will of the heavens.
At Delphi there was a crack in the earth from which came intoxicating vapours. A priestess known as the Pythia (Pythoness) would drink water from the river Cassostis and then eat leaves of the sacred laurel. Afterwards she would sit on a tripod over the opening and inhale the fumes. This would send her into an inspired trance.
Questions put to her were written down, put into verse form and communicated to the enquirer as the revelations of Apollo. It would appear as though these oracles were expressed in such a manner that they could be interpreted in various ways.
The oracle at Delphi was always consulted before an important decision was made and exerted a powerful influence on Greek history.
People who sought the advice of the oracle were also the bearer of gifts, in payment of services rendered. All accounts are that very large treasuries were built to house the gold, silver, artifacts and works of art so received.
The Pythian games, the forerunner of Olympic games were held here every four years.

Silly Signs : Time Travel

I really enjoyed this one, appeals to my warped sense of humor, no pun intended.
Found this picture on a blog while looking for good stuff to read and I am embarrassed to say I can't find the site to give the necessary credit and link. Let me know if I pinched it from anyone and I will do justice to the occasion. ( More tan 500,000 images for time travel on the web, cannot go through all of them to look for a source. Not enough time....unless I can get back to last Thursday...)

As Dead as a Dodo: Origin and Meaning

As dead as a Dodo means dead as in extinct. There is consensus as to the meaning. Something that has disappeared entirely from the face of the earth. It is no longer around. Although Dodo refers to a flightless bird the expression can be used for other criteria such as customs, beliefs, objects, animals, anything that is no longer around or in use.
Origin. A flightless bird encountered by the Portuguese on the Island of Mauritius in the 1570’s was named a Dodo, from the Portuguese word meaning stupid.
Why Stupid?
It would appear as though the Dodo was an ungainly bird. A flightless pigeon with a big fat round body, about the size of a goose with imperfect wings that were no use for flying and underdeveloped legs that could barely carry the weight of the body.
The Dodo had no enemies and could wander about Mauritius without fear. This, over time, made them slow and clumsy. Having no fear they were easily killed by explorers, and their cats and dogs. Basically an ugly bird.
Another possible source of the name is from Dutch ‘dodoor” meaning sluggish or slow, and also from a Dutch word meaning “plump arse”. The Portuguese were in Mauritius about 100 years before the Dutch and my personal belief is that the Portuguese version has more merit.
Another version maintains that the dodo derived its name from the sound it made…”doooo …..dooooo”
If I was a betting person, I would bet on thr Portuguese option.
As far as I can determine all the birds had been killed by the 1800’s, never to be seen again.
Image and greater detail at Wikipedia
Source: Based on "Book of Knowledge"

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

MYTHOLOGY: Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture (Demeter)

The protector of all the fruits of the earth was known as Demeter in Greek mythology, and known to the Romans as Ceres.
The early Greeks were much struck by the changing of the seasons. Fruitful summer seasons would turn into desolate grey and bleak winter seasons and questions were asked as to what caused this transition from bountiful times to times of need.
They found their answer in the stories of the goddess of Agriculture, Ceres or Demeter.
She was the sister of Zeus (Jupiter), king of the gods, and was one of their greatest deities.
At first, according to these stories, there was no winter. The earth was always green and lush with an abundance of produce. It was everlasting summer.
Then one day while Ceres’ daughter was out at play with her playmates collecting flowers, the earth opened up and Pluto, the god of the dead, appeared and carried her off into the depths of the earth to be his wife.
Ceres was inconsolable; with torch in hand she searched the whole earth for her missing daughter. During her search she did not allow the earth to produce any of her fruits until such time as her daughter had been found.
For a year the earth did not produce a grain of wheat, and mankind was facing starvation. At this point Zeus intervened and persuaded Pluto to let Ceres’ daughter free. There was one condition, and that was that Persephone, Ceres’ daughter must not have had anything to eat during her stay in the underworld. She had however eaten a pomegranate seed, and therefore could not stay away forever.
An arrangement was made that she would spend 9 summer months of the year with her mother and the gods, and the remaining 3 winter months of the year would be spent with Pluto in the world of the dead.
Her 3-month stay in the world of the dead related to the winter months when seeds are dormant. When she returns to her mother she is the corn rising from the earth.
The word cereal originated from her Roman name
Source: Book of Knowledge
Update 17 November 2008
Ceres was absent so long that Zeus sent Iris ) Messenger of the gods to look for her and to instruct her to return.
" First Zeus sent golden-winged Iris to call rich-haired Demeter, lovely in form(to return to the gods on Olympos). So he commanded."
" ..and there finding dark-cloaked Demeter in her temple spake to her and uttered winged words: 'Demeter, father Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, calls you to come join the tribes of the eternal gods: come therefore, and let not the message I bring from Zeus pass unobeyed"

Monday, 22 September 2008

Sick Leave for Thinking too Much...

All kinds of questions rushed through my mind when I saw this image, none of them positive. Is this a valid/ legal document?
Received via email, source on image

Friday, 19 September 2008

What is a White Elephant? Origin and Meaning

I was under the impression that a White Elephant is an item that one possesses, but has no practical value, in that it makes no difference whether you have it or not. Just a useless object that is forever in your way. This is only partially true.
The expression in original context was "to have a white elephant to keep".
In Southeastern Asian countries a white,(albino), elephant is associated in the scriptures with the birth of Budda and is considered sacred. They are protected and are not utilised as working animals as is the case with other elephants. To own a white elephant was a privilege, as this was a gift from the Monarch, signifying that the country was prosperous and well managed.
So, now you have a gift that you are morally obliged to keep and maintain. The gift is of no practical value, cannot generate an income, and is expensive to maintain. To dispose of the animal would be an insult to the Monarch.

The way I see it is that in today's terminology the expression is a negative one. In the original context it is positive. If I had been given a gift by a Monarch I would see it as a privilege, which gives rise to the question as to whether Eastern countries have the same negative connotation to the expression.
So, the expression was morphed to "white elephant", and the "to keep" has disappeared. While looking for practical examples of modern white elephants, most references were to government expenditure. Lots of money spent on infrastructure, oftentimes for political reasons. These expenditures resulted in capital projects with no significant practical value and costing a fortune to maintain. Dams, airports and sport stadia are often cited.
This is not limited to Governments, I have a bunch of white elephants at home. Now that I think about it, is the bride in an arranged marriage a white elephant?
Another thing that pops into mind is that I cannot recall of ever hearing of a white African elephant. Is this phenomenon related to Asian elephants only?, I don't know.
Read about the difference between African and Asian elephants here
What is a Pink Elephant? Origin and meaning
Edit : 21 July 2009
See comment below:
From what I can find out, pink elephants are seen by peole who have had more than a plentifull sufficiency to drink, as in alcohol. " It is a euphemism for drunken hallucination, caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremors" as defined by Wikipedia.
By all accounts this saying has been around in some form or another since the late 1800's.References have also been made to blue mice and pink giraffes. The Elephant formally originated 1n 1913, Jack London.
I can recall a cocktail called a pink Elephant, whic was a good enough clue to avoid it.
Anyhow, not much i could find on the topic, but Wikipedia has a tad more detail if you want to scratch further.

What happens when you swallow chewing gum....

Received via e mail
Source unknown

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Anti-Drinking Poster, 1919


On the contrary, this would most probably drive a man to drink
I have been told that this is obviously a manipulated image
Maybe so, but it is rather amusing....
Received via email, source unknown
Posted by Picasa

What does Thinking Outside the Box Mean: Example and Origin

This is a follow up on two previous posts on lateral thinking.
When the subject of lateral thinking pops up in conversation, odds are there will be someone who will ask for a pen and paper and go through the 9 Dots puzzle to relieve you of your ignorance.
I’m still not sure whether this puzzle attempts to define lateral thinking or if it is a test to determine whether you are a lateral thinker. Maybe a bit of both and a bit of none.
I hate it when someone pushes a puzzle under my nose and says “If you cannot solve this in 10 seconds, your intellect is suspect”. I withdraw immediately and usually get zero for the effort. Similar to working on a PC, and you have a person looking over your shoulder telling you what to do. Meanwhile you now exactly what you are doing, and can do it much better than the spectator.
Anyhow, back to the 9 Dots puzzle.
The puzzle consists of 3 x 3 dots, arranged in a square or box. What you are asked to do is to connect the dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines without lifting the pen.
This puzzle is easily solved but only if you draw the lines outside the boundaries set but the 9 dots that form the “box”. So, you solve the problem by drawing lines “outside” the box, therefore “thinking outside the box”.

The term as far as I can find out originated in the business world during the 60’s or 70’s as a management tools to solve problems. It also gave rise to a multitude of courses by consultants to teach people to think laterally. (Don’t want to go there now)
The concept of the puzzle is much older. The puzzle was published in 1914, “Cyclopedia of Puzzles”, but the dots were eggs. There are further references to Chinese origins hundreds of years ago.
My experience of lateral thinkers are those people who approach a problem with an enquiring mind. One will often hear statements like “what will happen if….?”, “how does this….?”, “When does this….?”.
I don’t believe it is of necessity a function of intelligence, but more of an understanding of the topic in question. If lateral thinking is reserved for the intelligent, what is the measure? Mensa? Cannot be… If that is the measure there would be very few lateral thinkers.
A high level of education and intelligence will enable an enquiring mind to solve complicated issues that a lesser educated or intelligent is unable to grasp. But, but it is often the “uneducated” person who has brilliant insights, as a direct result of not suffering from the constraints of a formal “in the box” education.
Source data : Wikipedia

How to fail an Exam: Lesson 4

I found a site with a whole lot of these, Funny Exam Answers, more than I can do justice to here, this is the last one.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Meaning and Origin of "Caught with his Pants Down"

There is consensus as to the meaning of this phrase. It means to be taken by surprise or caught unprepared. I found three references as to the possible origin.
The first one relates to the Roman Emperor Caracalla, later known as Marcus Antoninus. He was known as one of the bad ass Emperors round about 200BC. History has it that while he was on a journey to somewhere important his armed escort gave him privacy to relieve himself next to the road. A certain Julius Martailis, who had a grudge against Caracalla took advantage of the opportunity to run forward and kill the Emperor with a single sword stroke. He tried to flee after the assassination but was killed by an arrow from one of the bodyguards of the now deceased Emperor.
A second source relates to the frontiersmen who could go nowhere without exposing themselves to danger. But, when a man has to go, he has to go, and weapons were taken along so that one could not be caught unprepared. It would be very difficult to defend oneself with your trousers around your ankles.
Third one relates to an adulterous husband caught in the act.
Whether these are sources or examples is debatable, but I could not find anything of substance to clarify
My personal experience you will find here
Anyhow, then meaning is to be caught in a state of unpreparedness, not necessarily relating to toilet activities

Example of Lateral Thinking

I went looking for an example of lateral thinking as a follow up on a previous post on this abstract topic. There are millions of posts on the Internet on the subject, but to get a good understanding, quickly, there is nowhere better than Wikipedia.
Anyhow, this example is taken, verbatim, from Wikipedia.

"A man and his son are in a car crash. The man is killed and the son is taken to hospital gravely injured. When he gets there, the surgeon says "I can't operate on this boy- he is my son!" How is this possible?

This is an example of an instant perception blocking the mind's ability to explore alternatives. In this case the instant perception is that most people imagine a surgeon as a male; this leads to the conclusion that either the surgeon or the "father" in the car crash was not the boy's real father.
If you switch your perception to allow for a female surgeon then the answer is suddenly obvious, the surgeon is the boy's mother.
Most people imagine a surgeon as a male, but in this case it is the opposite! Lateral thinking is the method of switching perceptions to allow the alternate view point.
Another example for an instant perception blocking the mind's ability to explore alternatives is that one assumes the surgeon is telling the truth. Maybe he was simply wrong (the son might have looked exactly like his own son) or maybe he was lying, because for some reason he didn't want to operate on him (he could have felt bad or drunk alcohol before).
Or the son could have two fathers - one of them could have been his adoptive father. Or if the boy was one of two separated twins, with the other growing up with the surgeon for whatever reason, then the surgeon would have recognized the boy as his own son.
Or the surgeon is actually talking about the man who died in the accident, making the surgeon the boy's grandfather."


This gives rise to a better understanding of the concept of "Thinking outside the box" and the classic example of the 9 dots puzzle.
Will do that in the next post.
EDIT : 24 October
While looking up on the Gordian knot I found a debateable example of lateral thinking. When Alexander the Great could not untie the knot, he severed the rope with a single stroke of his sword. He could not solve the problem, but found a solution. More here

How to fail an Exam: Lesson 3

This is pushing it a little bit too far....

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Where did the Days of the Week get their English names from?

Oftentimes one is confronted with trivia questions that one should know, but you do not. You thought you knew, or you know you should have known, but you do not. The bad part is that the village idiot is better informed than you are. The way I get past these embarrassing situations is to make fun of it. Usually say something mundane referring to the finite space in my brain that is full of important stuff and no room for trivial information. This fools nobody, especially me.
Anyhow, one of those areas relates to the origin of English names for the days of the week. I am sure there must be at least one other person out there that suffers from the same lack of knowledge. This post is for both of us.
OK, Sunday. Day of the Sun. Easy to remember Translation from Latin solis dies.
Monday is also easy to remember, also translated from Latin, lunae dies, moon day which is Monday.
Tuesday is a new one to me, the day of Tiw, the Teutonic war god. Things get a bit confused here as reference is made again to the Latin translation of Martis dies, the Roman war god, Mars. My understanding is that Tiw is the Teutonic translation of , or association with, Mars
Wednesday is the day of Woden, or Odin, the main Teutonic God. Also a translation of Latin for Mercurii dies, the Roman god equated with Woden.
Thursday is named after the Norse god of thunder, Thors Day which became Thursday. Again translated from Latin for the Roman god of thunder, Jove.
Friday got its name from Frigga, Woden’s wife. Here it gets a bit confusing as there are references to Freya, also a Norse goddess of love and beauty, associated with Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. So, that one is debatable. (It is always good to have a Silver Bullet to use when there is a wise ass about, it creates the impression that you know more than you really do, especially if you did not contribute to the discussion of any of the other days)
Saturday is the day of Saturn, Roman god of agriculture, translated from Saturni dies.
Now that I know more about this topic, it will most probably only be needed after I have forgotten everything....

How to fail an Exam, Lesson 2

All this student was doing was stating the obvious, and gets no credit...

Monday, 15 September 2008

There should be a law against this.....

Butt me no Butts...
Source unknown
Received via email

What does Metaphysics mean?

This is one of those words that I consciously avoided understanding. My feeling was that even if it was explained I would not understand. However, while spending some time where one is not usually disturbed, I read a piece that gives focus.

Like all explanations and definitions there is always more than one interpretation.

Firstly, metaphysics is one of the branches of Philosophy.

The first explanation that was given was “a theory or view” is metaphysical if it seems complicated beyond comprehensibility, or, fanciful / imaginary.

Ok, the word and the meaning at this point remain vague to me.


It would appear as though Metaphysics, in ordinary Greek, meant, “that which comes after physics”, Meta, the Greek word for “after”.

Fair enough…what now?

It would also appear as though Aristotle had a bunch of treatises called Physics. After his death a number of untitled writings were found after the Physic Papers and were called the Metaphysics, “after the physics.”

Somehow this explanation does not seem that good compared to the second cited origin.

This one states that many of the early Greek philosophical writings were entitled “Concerning Nature”, the Greek term for nature being “physics”. The scope of these writings would cover what we call Physical Science today. However there were also speculations directed towards the meaning and nature of the Universe.

So, Metaphysics covers those issues that arise after the physical problems have been solved, or which are concerned with what lies beyond the physical world of sensory experience. Stuff we know nothing about and endeavor to understand.

A good example is that of the “Zeno paradoxes”, the most popular being that of Achilles and the tortoise…..more of that later…maybe, once I’ve finished the lateral thinking promise….
This posting was done from one source and not verified at all, cannot quote source as the book is still in the Loo..Picture from Wikipedia

Difference between an African and Asian Elephant

There are a number of significant differences between an African and Asian elephant. Firstly the African elephant reaches 11ft at the shoulder compared to the 10ft of the Asian. Although slightly smaller this is not all that much of a difference. A bigger difference is the size of the ears. 9 ft from tip to tip for the African, against the 5ft for the Asian.
The trunks also differ in structure, the Asiatic being smooth and tapering to a single lip while that of the African ending in 2 finger-like lips.
Foreheads also vary. The African bulges outwards, and the Asian model slopes backwards.

Also, the Asiatic female elephant has no tusks, or only have one; the African elephant has big ones, up to 3 meters long.
From what I can find out, the Asian elephant is easier to train, but that is disputed by some.
What triggered this post was the concept of War Elephants, as used by Hannibal. I am still digging around with this one, but it would appear as though elephants were used in this role form about 500bc in India. More about that later.
So, next Trivial Pursuit you will know….

How to fail an Exam

I never had the guts to do something like this but always wanted to.
Received by email

Thursday, 04 September 2008

Silly Signs: Busy Cafe


I look around on Internet for funny signs, and the numbers are limited. Funny thing is there are a bunch closer than one can think. I found a number of them locally and this is the first one.
Posted by Picasa