Saturday, December 31, 2011


Welcome to the weekend Person-of-Mystery Contest!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

Today the image has been altered by one of my favorite little iPhone apps, Percolator, which was recently updated and improved.

So, who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.
It's said that behind every great man is a great woman and this one was once described as worth dying for (although curiously enough, the man that said this about her married her daughter instead).  Your hint for today is: Aolele.

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter her name into Google Images and the this photo will be found on the first page of image results.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Country that Slept an Entire Day

For those who have lived in the Pacific, there's something the locals call "island time."  It's that feeling of tranquility when you forget what day it is.

Usually, this only affects a individuals, but for the entire island country of Samoa, they're going to go to bed on December 29 and wake up December 31!  That's right, the entire country is skipping December 30th, 2011.

Why, you ask?  Well, they've decided to switch to the other side of the international dateline.  Back in 1892, the country which was originally located on the eastern side of the dateline, decided to align itself more closely with the United States, so the entire nation celebrated July 4, 1892, twice, placing itself on the western side of the line.

The area in red will skip December 30 to flip to the eastern side of the dateline.

Why the change?  Well, these days Samoa now does much more trade with China, Australia and New Zealand than it does with the US and more of its tourists come from the Eastern Pacific now, so it only made sense.

Understandably, anytime you lose a day, you're going to make some people mad, so the government of Samoa decided to sweeten the deal, by declaring that employers will still need to pay workers for the Friday that never happened and that banks will be prohibited from charging an extra day's interest.  Can Samoa handle it?  I'm sure it can.  The nation is no stranger to major change.  Two years ago, they switched from driving on the left side to the right side of the road.

My recommendation is that our government follow Samoa's lead and forgo a day as well next year.  Might I suggest skipping April 15?  Anyone with me?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Percolator App Winners

The contest is now closed and the winners of the Percolator App giveaway have been determined.  Based on the generosity of Percolator author, John Balestrieri, I didn't even have to choose!  Free promo codes to everyone who entered:  Isabel Caraos, Judi, and Gina.  Just e-mail me and I'll fire a promo code off to you.

After playing with it for a while, if you like it (and I know you will), please consider giving Percolator a good review on iTunes.  Thanks!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Milwaukee City Hall, 1906

Milwaukee [Wisconsin]. 521. City Hall

Postmarked Chicago, Illinois, August 7, 1906

Miss Jessie Burrows
1153 University Ave.
Wichita Kans.

10:30 AM - 8/5.
Hello Jessie. This City Hall is a beauty.  The clock strikes out every hour of the night.  I slept just across this street.  No rest for the weary.  Had a lovely ride up here in the "Northland"  Bye-bye.  Will

Remember tonight.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Percolator App

I'm a big fan of the startup business entrepreneurs, especially ones with creativity.  And since the launch of the iPhone, I've been watching the iTunes App Store with interest.  With very little overhead, a talented software developer can write a program for the iPhone or iPad and if they're good enough, maybe even quit their day job.

Today, I want to highlight one of my favorite such apps and the genius behind it.  Percolator was created by John Balestrieri, founder of Tinrocket, LLC.  It's a wonderful little program that can take a guy like me (someone with the inclination to be a talented artist – just without the talent part) and make his images look interesting and fun.  Here are some examples from John's iPhone:

(Original iPhone photo on left and with Percolator magic on right)

Percolator made it's debut in August of 2010 and back then it was a fun little program.  I enjoyed taking snapshots with the iPhone and seeing what it would do.  Unlike a lot of neat programs where the developer creates something fun and just forgets about it, since it's original release, John was hard at work tweaking and improving Percolator to make it even better.  A couple weeks ago, Tinrocket released a new and improved Percolator 2.0!  And it's more beautiful than ever and loaded with more awesome features to satisfy my creative impulses!

Photo using Percolator's Superstar filter

Percolator's easy to use interface on an iPad screenshot

Here's one I took of my son (using a different Percolator filter) headed to the surf yesterday (yes, we live in California):

Kudos to John for producing such a great program.  Percolator is on my short list of must buys for the iPhone/iPad.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Tinrocket comes up with next!

John Balestrieri, author of Percolator

Oh, and let me know if you have an iPhone/iPad.  John has told me, he'll give me some promo codes to hand out and I'm giving it to the people who post the nicest comments about his program and how they might use it.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why is Christmas Special?

I wake before everyone in my house and one of the unintentional benefits to my morning routine is to have some reflective time just to myself.  Today I found myself thinking about something that I overheard a couple days ago.  I was out doing some last minute shopping when I overheard an obviously disenchanted fellow talking with his companion and complaining about the crowds.  I heard him make an offhand comment to the effect of, "I don't even know what's so special about Christmas anyway, it doesn't even feel like Christmas."  And he is a little right at least about the weather out here.  Right now in California, it's in the mid-70s (or about 24 °C) so as people are walking around in shorts and t-shirts, it doesn't really fit the traditional image of a Victorian Christmas.

For Christians, Christmas is a time that we remember Jesus coming to Earth and becoming a man.  But why is this special?  I think the story of Simeon in the Bible explains it well.  About 40 days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Jewish purification rituals.

"And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
       'Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
      According to Your word;
       For my eyes have seen Your salvation
       Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
       A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
      And the glory of Your people Israel.'

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him."

Basically in all the hustle and bustle of Roman occupied Israel, Simeon was a godly man who eagerly waited for the promise of God's salvation to be realized.  When he saw that Jesus had come, his hope was realized.

Jesus came, not to live his life as a perpetual baby to remembered as an infant year after year, but to grow up in to a man and offer his life as a sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.  When Jesus died, his followers were disillusioned because they weren't looking for a savior for their sin problem, they were seeking a great king who would establish justice and right the wrongs of the world.  But Jesus didn't stay dead, he rose from the dead and promised to return any day now to establish his kingdom of peace.

Jesus is alive and coming back any day now!  Christmas is special in the same way that looking at baby pictures of my own kids is special to me, it helps me remember those precious moments gone by.  More special though are the times spent with my living and real kids.  Jesus is alive and living today.  Why not spend some time with him today and get to know him for who he is?

For those who do know him already, I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas!  And like Simeon, keep watching the skies, he'll be back any day!

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

I'm sure some of you were wondering if there would even be a contest this week as the blog has been a little quiet on the blog this week.  Things have been a little crazy my way with all the Scouting activities and camping, family in town for Christmas, and now a small head cold, I've found it hard to keep up, but I figured I would not let you down with the contest.

Today the image has been altered by one of my favorite little iPhone apps, Percolator, which was recently updated and improved.

So, who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.
Additional clues may be found in the cipher below:

ehyre bs n angvba abg bar ohg guerr
naq n sevraq bs gur ratyvfu npebff gur frn
sbhtug gur ebznaf naq gura gur tbguf
jba zl xvatqbz v jnf ab fybgu
ohg juvyr njnl va gur ynaq bs oveqf
v jnf qrcbfrq ol n terng ovt gheq

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter his name into Google Images and the this photo will be found on the first page of image results.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Golf Great Dies

Well, I'm back from my camping trip.  Thanks for your understanding about the lack of the Person-of-Mystery Game.  Now that I'm done and rested up from my trip with the Boy Scouts, I'm officially on Christmas Break!  My personal joy was tempered however upon hearing news that the greatest golfer to ever play the sport passed away over the weekend.

Kim Jong-Il, the reclusive dictator of North Korea, died at age 69 of "great mental and physical strain."  Which is really too bad, as some of you may recall, back in 1994, he stunned the golfing world when he recorded an amazing 38-under-par game on North Korea's only regulation golf course.

Pyongyang Golf Complex

While 38-under-par is impressive, perhaps even more impressive were the 11 holes-in-one on the same round!  And did I mention, this was the only first time he had ever played?!?  While some may be tempted to believe that he may have exaggerated his score a little, perhaps you are not aware that this feat was verified by no less than 17 of his bodyguards who accompanied him that day.

So why is Kim Jong-Il not routinely mentioned in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, or Bobby Jones?  Well, like so many other promising greats, Kim Jong-Il became the pride and sorrow of golf when he announced his formal retirement, exiting at the top after his only round.

Which is really too bad especially considering his cause of death.  It makes me wonder if he may have lived longer had he spent more time relaxing on the links.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Gone Camping

I'm sorry to have to do this, but I've gone camping with the Scouts this weekend and in all the Christmas busyness, I didn't have time to prepare a Person-of-Mystery for this weekend.  I'll be back on Monday after the cycling, camping, and star gazing.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Bill of Rights Day!

It was 220 years ago today that the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the US Constitution) were ratified by enough States to become law!  Sadly, many people today have no idea what the Bill of Rights is or what was intended by passing it.  Instead of an exhaustive list granting citizens specific rights, the Bill of Rights was intended to provide clear restrictions on the power of the national government.  I wish more people in Washington understood their own government.

So, how about you?  Does any one have a favorite Amendment in the Bill of Rights?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Signature Man

Joel, one of my Scouts, wrote me a note the other day.  At the bottom, he had a very interesting signature.

When you turn the note sideways, his signature becomes a little man.

I wonder how long he'll sign his name this way.  I hope for a few more years at least.  It's pretty unique.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pancho Barnes

Congratulations to Brian and Amy, who once again correctly solved and identified this weekend's Person-of-Mystery as the flamboyant Pancho Barnes.

Now, I was about to write my own little blog post on Pancho, but my eldest son had a birthday over the weekend and things got pretty busy, so while I'm not going to do a writeup on her today, you should definitely read more.  I'd recommend this short article:

or this one

The photo on this page comes from her pilot's license.  She was one of the Ninety-Nines and the owner of the famous Happy Bottom Riding Club on Rancho Oro Verde a fly-in vacation spot on what is now Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, but these couple sentences can't do justice to the kind of character she was, so you absolutely must read more.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Welcome to Cipher Saturday!  You've found the home of everyone's favorite weekend pastime, where a stylized photo of a somewhat famous person from history is provided for you to identify.

Last week, it seems as though some people may have solved the photo by sight.  This is a perfectly acceptable way to solve the contest.  If you can't identify the person visually, perhaps decoding the clues found in the cipher below may help.

So, who could I be?  That's the mystery!  Go ahead and take a guess and then go enjoy your day.  Check back tomorrow and I'll reveal the answer.  The first correct post will be declared the winner.
Additional clues may be found in the cipher below:

If you'd like to make sure that your guess is correct, enter her name into Google Images and the first photo will be found on the first page of image results.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Classical Music Origins of a Couple Christmas Songs

From the comments posted yesterday, I noticed that several of you like Christmas songs left alone.  No new renditions, please!  I have to agree – mostly.  While I am not a talented singer, I have sung my share of Christmas carols and I can even sing my part (and not just the melody like most people do today).  If you have sung Christmas music from the printed sheet, you may recognize that in many cases, printed at the top of the page are separate people composing the lyrics and music.  You probably won't be surprised that a couple of our more famous traditional melodies were written by some pretty famous classical composers.  That's because many of the familiar songs we recognize started out as poems or words first and then music was added later.  (Fair warning:  If you really don't want Christmas Carols to ever resemble waltzes or other tunes in your head, maybe just skip this blog post entirely).

"Away in a Manger" is certainly a familiar tune to us, but some may not realize that this traditional melody was borrowed from an existing Johann Strauss waltz written about 19 years before the poem.  Note the resemblance below starting at 2:48:

I'd also like to mention "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing."  The words were written in 1739 by Charles Wesley – well, not exactly the ones we use today.  Wesley's words were changed slightly by George Whitefield and later a portion of "Festgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn (a song written to commemorate the invention of movable type) was used instead of Wesley's preferred tune at the time.  If you'd like to hear how the Christmas song might have sounded if Wesley had his way, you can play the video and sing along with the printed words below (the intro ends at about 0:21).

Hark, the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Yep, Wesley wanted his words to use the tune to "Christ the Lord Has Risen Today."  Talk about confusing!  It would be hard for me to keep Christmas and Easter separate.  Although I do like Mendelssohn.  If this has your mind all mixed up, here's a version with the traditional lyrics and Mendelssohn's music that you probably recognize:

There's also a Mendelssohn connection to another Christmas tune.  "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is usually set to the "Carol" by Richard Storrs Willis who was trained by Mendelssohn.

So, while I agree with most of you that I like the familiarity of traditional Christmas songs, I also like to hear creative adaptations of these tunes, because they get me to focus on the lyrics which are also beautiful in their own right.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Joy to the World

I'm not ready for Christmas yet, but I'm really enjoying all the great music.  A friend sent me a link to a new-to-me artist, Andrew Ripp.  Check out his version of "Joy to the World."  What do you think?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Landscape Photography of Kim Keever

I enjoy seeing good landscape photography, so when a friend recently sent me some photographs of Kim Keever's work, I was a little stunned.  In many ways they looked more like paintings than photographs.  But perhaps even more curious is to realize that there is no digital manipulation of these photographs.  I was amazed.

So how does Keever achieve these stunning colors and beautiful atmospheric conditions without Photoshop?

Well basically, he creates miniature landscape scenes in a 200-gallon tank in his studio in New York City.  Keever illuminates his tank with colored lights and fills the aquarium with water.  To create the atmospheric effect, he adds paint and then swirls it around to achieve the cloud-like scenery as he photographs the quickly changing environment.

If you'd like to see more, check out more of his work at this gallery HERE.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Christmas Greetings

Christmas Greetings

Postmarked Fort Scott, Kansas, December 23, 1908

Mr. & Mrs. C. E. Burrows
1153 University Ave

This is to remind you of us, and also that we have not forgotten you.  Remember us to the children, we are well.  I would love to see you all again.  With love and best wishes, Shulls Ft Scott Kans

[Mary Shull was the sister of Irene Burrows and the aunt of Jessie Burrows]

Monday, December 05, 2011

Musical Monday

If you haven't noticed, Christmas is fast approaching and is offering one free song a day until December 25.  This year their choices have been pretty good so far:

1.  "Ave Maria" by Celtic Woman
2.  "Peace on Earth" by Brian Wilson
3.  "Adeste Fideles" by Bing Crosby
4.  "My Dear Acquaintance" by Regina Spektor
5.  "Greensleeves" by Mannheim Steamroller

They may all be downloaded HERE.  Click on the link each day and a new song should be available for you free of charge.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Felix Nadar

Congratulations to Rob from Amersfoort who recognized yesterday's Person-of-Mystery as Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (better known by the pseudonym Félix Nadar or just Nadar) even if Rob was too modest to actually say who it was.  My guess is that Brian was also able to crack the cipher as he seems so good at those.  And thanks to Ray in UK who finally entered a correct guess.

Felix Nadar

As a history teacher, there are many people from the past I wish I could somehow have back for an afternoon to accompany me for a stroll or with whom I could sit down and have a good chat.  Nadar is certainly one of those people.  Born in Paris, France, in 1820, Nadar began his career as an writer, illustrator, and caricaturist for Le Charivari, a satirical newspaper.

A Nadar Caricaturization of Jacques Offenbach

It was through his work as a caricaturist that Nadar developed his artistic eye for portraits.  He was already well known for his illustrations when he took to the new medium of photography, opening his first studio in 1854.

Nadar's Studio at 35 Boulevard des Capucines in Paris

It was said by one contemporary that "all the outstanding figures of his era – literary, artistic, dramatic, political, intellectual – have filed through his studio."  Nadar is said to have had a friendly and outgoing personality and was good friends with many of his portrait subjects.

Illustration by Nadar showing all the influential people who he had sketched during his newspaper days

Nadar was artistic, immensely imaginative, and possessed a flair for the dramatic.  His photographic portraits became known not just for the quality of his work, but for bringing out the character of the subject as well.  Nadar also used his creative talent to push the boundaries of early photography.  His curiosity led him to be one of the first to attempt aerial photography from a balloon and he was the first to photograph the Paris catacombs using artificial light.

Nadar self-portrait in the Paris Catacombs photographed using artificial light

Nadar self-portrait in a balloon basket

Nadar's earliest surviving aerial photograph of Paris

As Nadar kept pushing the bounds of photography, he began dreaming of new ways to expand his abilities to take aerial photography.  In 1863, he built a giant balloon with an enormous gondola.  Dubbed "Le Géant" (or "The Giant"), the wicker gondola had a circumference of well over 300 feet (100 meters) and was about 15 feet tall.  It included six rooms with four beds, restroom facilities, a balcony, and a lithograph press and darkroom to create prints that could be dropped to the earth – all without the inconvenience of having to land.  The gondola also allowed for wheels to be attached, so that after landing it could be pulled by horses.  By way of comparison, Nadar's 1863 Giant was a little larger in volume than today's Goodyear blimps.

"Le Géant" in Brussels, 1864

Crowds thronged to see Nadar's balloon, so much so that when Nadar visited Brussels, he became the first person to employ crowd control barriers (still called Nadar Barriers in Belgium).

Illustration of Nadar's balloon in flight

Sadly, Nadar's balloon crashed in Hanover on its second voyage and afterwards went on display at the Crystal Palace in London.

Illustration of the crash of Le Géant in Hanover

Recovered gondola after the crash

Although, Nadar's balloon did not survive for long, it made quite an impression on his friend Jules Verne, who used Le Géant as the inspiration for the novel Five Weeks in a Balloon.  Nadar also serves as the inspiration for the character Michael Ardan in Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.

Michael Ardan in From the Earth to the Moon

Not only did Nadar have friends in the literary community, but Nadar was friends with nearly all the new French Impressionists.  When the Adadémie des Beaux-Arts refused to display at the Salon the works of many of his friends (e.g., Cézanne, Degas, Guillaumin, Monet, Pissarro, etc.), Nadar, in 1874, allowed them to use his studio for an alternate exhibition of the first public display of impressionistic painters.

Coquelicots; environs d'Argenteuil by Monet,
One of the rejected works on display at the 1874 exhibition in Nadar's studio

In 1886, Nadar published the first photographic interview with the centenarian French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, with Felix Nadar conducting the interview and Paul Nadar, his son, taking the photographs.

Nadar interviewing Chevreul, 1886

Nadar died in 1910, but his work serves as inspiration for photographers today.

More of Nadar's photographs follow below:

The Apostle Preacher Jean Journet

Gustave Doré

Sarah Bernardt


Alexandre Dumas

Victor Hugo on his Deathbed

Aimé Millet

Paul Legrand as Pierrot

Profile of a Young Woman

Madame Lefranc and Paul Nadar

Pierre-Luc-Charles Cicéri

Peter Kropotkin

Le Bris with his Albatros II

Aerial Views of Paris

Workers in the Catacombs

360° Self-Portrait taken on a revolving chair