Tuesday, January 30, 2007

50, 100, 150 Years Ago


BOREDOM --"In this age of semi-automation, when not only military personnel but also many industrial workers have little to do but keep a constant watch on instruments, the problem of human behavior in monotonous situations is becoming acute. In 1951 McGill University psychologist Donald O. Hebb obtained a grant from the Defense Research Board of Canada to make a systematic study. Prolonged exposure to a monotonous environment has definitely deleterious effects. The individual's thinking is impaired; he shows childish emotional responses; his visual perception becomes disturbed; he suffers from hallucinations; his brain-wave pattern changes."

ANXIETY --"In the past year and a half prescription sales of the tranquilizing drug meprobamate, better known as Miltown and Equanil, have jumped to the rate of $32.5 million a year. More than a billion tablets have been sold, and the monthly production of 50 tons falls far short of the demand. Some California druggists herald each new shipment with colored window streamers reading, 'Yes, we have Miltown today!'"


AUTO CHIC --"The improved appearance of this year's cars is largely aided by the considerable increase in the wheel base which, in the case of some of the heavier machines, is now as great as 123 inches. Furthermore, the use of six-cylinder motors has brought with it a considerable increase in the length of the bonnet, and this also adds to the generally rakish and smart appearance of the up-to-date machine. By a judicious attention to these principles, the builders of even the low-powered and low-priced machines have succeeded in giving to their output a style which was altogether lacking in the earlier models."

FLYING FOR SPORT AND WAR --"With mechanical aeroplane flight an accomplished fact, we may now look for a diversion of interest from the dirigible balloon to the aeroplane proper. Its field of usefulness will be found chiefly in military service, where it will be invaluable for reconnoitering purposes and for the conveyance of swift dispatches. In all probability its chief development ultimately will be in the field of sport, where it should enjoy a popularity equal to that of the automobile."

TEA MONEY --"The queerest use to which brick-tea (tea leaves compressed into a block) has ever been put in the Orient is in the capacity of money. It is still in circulation as a medium of exchange in the far-inland Chinese towns and central Asian marts and bazaars. Between the Mongolian town of Urga and the Siberian town of Kiakta, there is as much as half a million taels (say $600,000) of this money in circulation. At the latter place it ceases to be used as currency, and enters into the regular brick-tea trade of Siberia and Russia, where it is largely used in the Russian army, by surveying engineers, touring theatrical companies, and tourists in general."


REALITY THEATER --"A severe test of the strength of the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls was afforded by the gale on the evening of the 13th of last month, when the toll gatherers deserted their posts at either end, and crowds assembled to see it fall, but it stood like a rock."

DR. LIVINGSTONE'S TALES --"The celebrated traveler Dr. Livingstone has been lecturing since his return to England. During his unprecedented march, alone among savages, to whom a white face was a miracle, Dr. Livingstone was compelled to struggle through indescribable hardships--he conquered the hostility of the natives by his intimate knowledge of their character and the Bechuana tongue. He waded rivers and slept in the sponge and ooze of marshes, being often so drenched as to be compelled to turn his arm-pit into a watch-pocket. Lions were numerous, being worshiped by many of the tribes as the receptacles of the departed souls of their chiefs; however, he thinks the fear of African wild beasts greater in England than in Africa."

Scientific American, Jan2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

Happier holidays -- in 5 easy steps

Ditch those obligatory get-togethers for new traditions with folks who really matter.

Last year, my girlfriend Betsy and I decided to set the holiday craziness aside and spend an impromptu few hours celebrating Christmas Eve together. No big dinner, no fancy gifts, no huge crowd--just us, our kids, and our husbands, enjoying store-bought hors d'oeuvres, desserts, and eggnog, swapping traditions, and rediscovering why we adore one another. It was a celebration full of sweet memories we won't soon forget.

If only all holiday connections were as low-key and hassle-free. Unfortunately, with all the party-hopping and the pressure to cook, decorate, and find the perfect gift, celebrations can end up feeling more like The Nightmare Before Christmas than It's a Wonderful Life. In fact, the National Mental Health Institute says that worrying, partying, stressing, and clinging to unrealistic expectations--all in an overcommercialized atmosphere--can lead to a case of the holiday blues, a condition that can cause insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and even depression.

"People focus on the holidays by saying, 'Can I just get through it?' instead of recognizing this as a time to connect with family, reflect on the previous year, and look forward to the New Year," says life coach Valorie Burton, author of Listen to Your Life.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Get more out of this holiday season by saying no to irrelevant obligations and finding more meaningful ways to connect with those most important to you. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1 Instead of assembling and wrapping gifts into the wee hours to keep the kids from hearing your tools and the distinct sound of tape ripping …

Take an afternoon off from work and invite a few buddies over for a gift-wrapping party, while the kids are at school. "Put on your holiday music, have cake and tea, talk and laugh--and connect," Burton suggests.

2 Instead of packing the whole family into the minivan and driving 6 hours across four states to see your parents (or worse, spending thousands of dollars in airfare) …

Send Mom and Dad tickets so they can visit you during the holidays. "It'll cost you a few hundred bucks. But it's an awfully wonderful trade, compared with what it would take for you to get there and the disruption it would cause," says Jeff Davidson, author of Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society. "The gesture alone speaks volumes."

3 Instead of attending multiple Hanukkah or Kwanzaa parties to celebrate these weeklong holidays …

Host a small gathering of friends on one of the days, and enjoy the others with just your immediate family. You can even make your party more special by inviting people whose religions and traditions differ from your own. Cecelia Cancellaro and Eric Zinner, of Maplewood, New Jersey, let their 7- and 4-year-old daughters invite friends over to play dreidels, eat latkes, and participate in lighting the menorah as part of their annual Hanukkah party. It gives her daughters a sense of pride when they share their tradition with friends, Cancellaro says. "It helps all the children feel more connected to one anther."

4 Instead of schlepping the kids to the mall to wait (and wait) in an excruciatingly long line to get pricey-but-not-so-great holiday portraits …

Whip out your home video camera and have your children sing, dance, and share their New Year's resolutions. Then when the holidays arrive, pop some popcorn, pour the eggnog, dim the lights, and sit everyone down to enjoy your own musical. The kids will love seeing themselves, you'll capture priceless memories, and the entire family will enjoy your new holiday tradition. Plan to make it an annual event. And next year, this year's video will be even more fun.

5 Instead of going to the annual neighborhood-association holiday potluck …

Help your kids bake a batch of cookies, and then take the treats to your favorite neighbors' homes with handwritten holiday greetings. "These days, people don't connect much with their neighbors," Burton says. "This is a great way to get the kids involved and do something that you wouldn't normally do. It's an inexpensive and extremely thoughtful gesture."

Already dreading the holidays? Ease your stress with our Holiday Survival Guide at Health.com.

By Denene Millner