Playing keeps us young. Everyone who’s got a healthy sense of balance has a little kid inside of them that likes to come out to play once in a while. And because it’s something all of us can relate to in one way or another, some clever folks have put together a museum dedicated to having fun! From toys, electronic games, television programmes like Sesame Street, board games, ball games, dolls, card games – you name it, they’ve probably got an exhibit about it! The Strong National Museum of Play also has a large number of online exhibits, so if you don’t live near Rochester, New York, you can still enjoy their collections. So come along on a tour of playing – just click on the image below and enjoy playing around!
Question: What was your favourite game as a child? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
“It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
Fred Rogers, American television personality, 1928–2003
Way back when in grade school, we used to take tours of local factories; it was one of the highlights of the year for me, because I’ve always had a curious mind, wanting to know the hows and whys. Have you ever wondered how candy is made? Let’s go on a virtual factory tour today! Just click the image below to watch a fascinating guided tour as they make candy canes and other hard candies. What I especially enjoy about this tour is the obvious love of the craft and the philosophical perspective of the candymaker himself. Passion for what you do is an essential ingredient, no matter what your occupation is.
Let’s go on a virtual outing! This time, to a Swiss museum located on my doorstep, in Zürich. I can’t imagine a better place to have a museum on that topic.
Have you ever wondered where coins started, or what the history of money is? Look no further. Have you ever wondered what blockchain technology is, or what cryptocurrencies are (and there are over 8 thousand so far!)?
Included in the tour are 5-minute podcasts exploring the topic of money, as well as visual tours of coins throughout time and regions.
Besides the online presence, this museum is also a library and a forum, where people can gather for lectures and discussion groups around the topic of money, finances, markets, etc.
Coins are just one form of payment, but throughout the centuries, different people have put a value on different objects, and trading them became a type of currency: When the Russian currency nosedived in value, vodka became a currency because, in that culture, vodka was the most stable commodity! In other cultures, beads, shells, water gourds, and many other objects have been currency; in another article, I’ve talked about hack silver – jewellery worn with scoring to allow easy division into pieces to trade for goods.
Here’s a quick question for you: Do you know what your money really looks like? We may have handled it dozens of times in a week, but have we ever really stopped to examine it? I remember back when shillings were still valid coinage in Britain – they were used in lieu of 5p pieces; when the new coins came into circulation, I would have been hard-pressed to tell you what they’d looked like before! The same goes for banknotes here in Switzerland, which changed to the current design back in 1995. Once a new coin or banknote comes into use, it’s hard to remember what the old ones looked like. Interestingly, some Swiss coins have not changed; I once found a 10-rappen coin in my purse from 1899! It went straight into my coin collection. Since then, I always check my loose change. As a matter of fact, the 10-rappen coin holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest original currency in circulation.
The history and scope of money is a fascinating one, once you scratch below the surface. Click hereto take the virtual tour through the world of money, and enjoy!
Most people collect something as a hobby; I’ve collected various things over the years: Stamps, postcards, arrow heads, fossils and minerals or gemstones, and coins. All of those are fairly common. The oddest thing I used to collect, in middle school, was spiders: I had about 500 different species in test tubes, and I would use them with my science fair presentations that was, for several years in a row, a growing display of all things arachnid, including my pet tarantulas. But there are folks out there who make that last collection of mine look normal: People who collect thousands of toothbrushes, or back scratchers, or “Do Not Disturb” signs, or erasers, or milk bottles. Where most of us have a collection that fits into a storage box, others have them the size of an entire room or two. OCD is probably also on the top of their profile descriptives, but then maybe they’re just passionate or fascinated about something most people would never think about collecting.
To have a look at 43 odd collections, just click HERE. Some of these are only odd in their amount collected, while others are just downright gross (think world’s largest chewed gum ball, or navel lint…). Perhaps “enjoy” is the wrong sentiment in those cases, but nevertheless, have a fascinating time vicariously checking out the odd quirks of others!
I don’t know about you, but I love going to museums; I’ve been in huge museums such as the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Maritime Museum, all in London, or the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; but some of the best museums I’ve seen have also been smaller. The mega-museums usually have so much to see that you can really only cover a wing or two in a day; but I’m the kind of visitor who likes to sit and contemplate the exhibit a while before moving on, which means I can cover even less ground. I’ll often absorb the information and history by creating a calligram or two (such as this ammonite). Pocket-sized museums, however, can offer a lot for their size; they often tell the story of the region, or of one family that made a difference in their worlds.
Today’s tour takes us the the latter kind of museum: The Warther Museum, in Dover, Ohio, tells the story of a man and his wife, Ernest & Frieda Warther, who had passion for what they did and for their community. The museum houses the collections of buttons and arrowheads the couple collected, which Frieda mounted and arranged into designs. Ernest “Mooney” Warther was a master wood carver, and his finest work, a locomotive engine car with moving parts throughout, was deemed by the Smithsonian as a masterpiece.
To see the collections for yourself and read the story of this little gem, just click here. Enjoy learning about a fascinating little piece of history!
Most of my writing in the last few weeks has been intensively focused on my current novel’s manuscript; After nearly a year of Corona Virus residual exhaustion, I’ve finally been able to focus my mind; brain fuzz is apparently widely recognized now as an after-effect, but when this all started for me it was new territory for everyone. Only by talking with other friends who’ve gone through it have we pieced together which symptoms are common denominators – it doesn’t alleviate them, but it helps to know the whys and hows.
While writing, editing, and researching for my novel, I’ve been keeping one eye open for the next interesting topic for a tour, and today I found it:
This might actually fall under another category I did back in 2016: Odd jobs (just search for that in the column on the right of the screen, and you’ll find the list). Today’s tour introduces the people behind the voices we have all heard and recognize, but who we would never recognize on the street – or even know their names: Film trailer voices, bank and computer voices, and public announcers.
Come with me as we meet some of the faces behind the well-known voices:
Carolyn Hopkins: You may not have ever thought about who is behind the voice of the airport announcer – you might think it’s a random employee of the airport who just happens to be on duty in the dispatch; but you’d be wrong. In over 200 airports worldwide, you will hear the same motherly but authoritative voice of Maine resident, Carolyn Hopkins. She records those airport warnings, delays and flight changes, as well as subway announcements and storm warnings, all received by email from her modest little home office-cum-recording studio.
Susan Bennett: Though you might not know the name, you’ll know her voice: Siri.
Jane Barbie: Back in the days before cell phones, this woman was the most-listened to recording artist of all time, with her recordings heard 25 trillion times per year. Her most famous one is: “I’m sorry. The number you have dialled…”
Redd Pepper: With a booming voice, he is one of the most-recognized film trailer recording artists in the UK and beyond.
Charles Martinet: The voice behind several of Nintendo’s Super Mario’s characters for over 25 years, he’s a bit of a character himself!
Jim Cummings: As he says, you might not know him, but you know his characters: Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, too.
Here is a short videofeaturing several voice-over artists – voices you’ll recognize, with a bit of an insider look into the industry’s unseen side.
Ted Williams: About 10 years ago, a YouTube video went viral about a homeless man on the side of the road with a sign claiming that he had a radio voice; he became known as the Man with the Golden Voice. His rocket into fame was a rough ride, with people taking advantage of him, but he’s now got better management, and continues to do voice-over work and support the homeless shelter that had supported him for 20 years of his life.
Hal Douglas: One of those famous movie trailer voices, here’s a short spoof video taking the mickey out of his own job.
For a short video covering the history of how box office trailers evolved with the film industry, click here.
I hope you enjoyed getting to know some of the people behind the scenes of the media!
It’s time for another tour! Today’s tour takes us on a sweet-tooth trip: Maple syrup, and how it’s made.
Usually made from the sap of sugar-, red-, or black maple trees, this sap is stored during the cold seasons in the trunks and roots of trees before winter to keep the tree conserved and primed for the warmer season; when the temperatures rise, the tree is ready to go – it begins moving sugar from its roots to the twigs, supplying the energy needed to grow new shoots and leaves. At this point, if the tree is “tapped” by drilling holes into the trunks and attaching a collection container, the sap flows, and can be processed into maple syrup; when done properly, the tree won’t be substantially hindered in its spring production.
But why is sap from the maple tree so dominant? What about other hardwood trees? There are at least 20 tree species that can be tapped for sap, including hickory, pecan, birch, sycamore and walnut; but while the maple trees can be tapped from January to March, as long as the nights are below freezing and the days are warmer, and they produce about 40 litres sap for 1 litre of syrup, some trees, such as the birch, can only be tapped for 2-3 weeks, and because the sugar content is much lower in this tree, it would take about 60 litres sap to make 1 litre of syrup. Walnut trees can be tapped from autumn through spring, but its syrup tends to have a bitter and astringent taste, and so it’s not a popular flavour.
When you consider that tapping a tree produces drops at a time, harvesting is a slow process; it explains why some trees are less preferred by producers, as their volume-to-production values are lower. A major factor in maple syrup production is that, before the colonization of North America, sugar maple trees were the most abundant trees in their areas; as the most dominant biomass, it was natural that they were the most experimented with, and early Native American tribes recognized their potential – they used the sap for everything from sweet snacks to medicines and poultices, and passed on their knowledge to early European settlers.
A cheap alternative is a “maple-flavoured” syrup, which is nothing more than corn syrup with flavouring and colouring added; but corn syrup (also known as glucose syrup), which is made from the starch of corn and is a common sweetener in many pre-packaged foods, can lead to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. It increases your appetite, promoting a vicious cycle, while the real deal, maple syrup, provides at least 24 antioxidants (according the healthline.com); these can neutralize free radicals, which are believed to be among the causes of ageing and many diseases. As with anything containing sugar, however, it should be enjoyed within reason!
So, now that we’re all on the same page as to what maple syrup actually is, let’s go on our tour!
Today’s tour isn’t of a place, but of a group of people: Hobos. Come along with me as we explore their origins, their ethics, their slang, and even their secret language of symbols.
Hobos were migratory workers that began as displaced soldiers after the American Civil War, fought between 1861 and 1865. The conflict laid waste to large swaths of land, and many men returning found that they had no home to return to, or found families so economically devastated by the war that they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed – so those men took to the railways to take them cross-country looking for work. Before the advent of the train, these men tramped – walked – around the countryside in search of work. While railroads began in the US around 1830, they were not really nationwide until after 1910. Another group of people who took to life on the road were young men from large families; removing a hungry mouth or two could greatly benefit the family; some left with tearful goodbyes and promises to send wages when they could; others slipped out in the night and left on their adventure into the wider world.
The story goes that in the distant past, boys were often hired on temporarily to help with agricultural harvests; they were referred to as simply “boys”; but to distinguish them from other groups of workers, they were named after one of their tools, the hoe; gradually the term drifted from hoe-boy to the word we know today, “Hobo”. There is, in fact, no etymology of the word that I could find. It might also come from a railroad worker’s call on late 19th century railroads, “Ho, boy”, ho being a variation of “whoa”, used to either call attention from a distance, or as a command to stop. Perhaps the true origin of the word lies somewhere in between.
Both tramp and bum come from German, trampeln and bummeln, both referring to trekking, walking, ambling or wandering. But because both tramps and bums were associated with being lazy and opportunistic thieves, hobos carried the same stigma. Hobos, however, were honest and free; they had a strict moral code, were hard-working, and some even chose that lifestyle above their own personal wealth or position, such as James Eads Howe, founder of the International Brotherhood Welfare Association, an aid society for hobos; he was born into a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, but he chose instead to live as a hobo. Some simply wanted to live with no strings attached, no address to be found by state or federal government; today, we might call it living off-grid, though our contemporary version is far more luxurious than those early migrants could have ever aspired to.
Up through the 1920s, hobos defined themselves in terms of being free-spirited; but when the subculture exploded during the late 1920s and early 1930s as the Great Depression forced men, women and children onto the highways and byways looking for work to survive, the hobo popular image shifted to a symbol of poverty wracking the nation. As factories closed across the country, many had no choice but to migrate. The most famous image from that time is by Dorothea Lange, taken of Florence Owen Thompson, a mother of seven starving children, living in a shanty during a pea harvest in Nipomo, California in 1936. The photographer captured the plight of the migrant workers, prompting the government to send food to the camp; the images did not gain popularity until the 1950s, however; it was probably too painfully familiar to people to garner much contemporary appreciation. After the Great Depression had passed, and World War 2 was over, the number of hobos decreased drastically, but has never died out completely.
Today, the hobo culture continues; whether they’re called hobos, or trainhoppers, or drifters, or solo ramblers, strays, or vagabonds, it is a worldwide movement. In South America, it is estimated that 400-500,000 migrants hop trains annually in an attempt to reach the United States. As Corona lockdowns affect companies, leading to layoffs and bankruptcies, I think we’ll see a surge in the number of hobos. Every year in Britt, Iowa, a hobo convention is held, where they celebrate the positive aspects of living free, and likely discuss how to do it honourably and well. It’s a chance to connect, and to feel part of a community while still being independent. Click here to see a few images from their 2013 convention.
Hobos didn’t just try to work hard; they had a moral code of conduct that included these tenets:
Decide your own life; don’t let another person rule you or run you.
When in towns, always respect the local law and officials – be a gentleman at all times.
Always try to find work, even if temporary, and look for jobs nobody wants. You’ll be helping a business along, but you’ll also ensure good will if you return to that town again.
Don’t take advantage of the vulnerable – either locals or other hobos.
When no work is available, make your own work – use your talents.
Don’t set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos by becoming a stupid drunk.
Always respect nature – do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
If in a community jungle, pitch in and help. Help others whenever needed – you may need their help one day.
When jungling in town, respect handouts and don’t wear them out – other hobos will be coming along who may need them more than you.
Don’t cause trouble in rail yards or in towns – other hobos will be coming, and they need the goodwill.
Try to stay clean – bathe whenever possible.
When travelling, ride your train respectfully – take no personal chances, cause no problems with the train crew, and act like an extra crew member – help where you can.
Do not allow other hobos to molest children – expose them to the law – they are the worst garbage to infest a society.
Help all runaway children, and try to talk them into returning home.
I’d say that these rules are good for everyone to live by, no matter what their status or situation. Besides a code of ethics, they had a separate language. Here’s some of their colourful slang:
Accommodation Car = Caboose of a train
Bad road = a train line made unusable by some hobo’s bad action or crime
Banjo = a small portable frying pan, sometime a “D” handled shovel
Barnacle = a person who sticks to one job for a year or more
Beachcomber = a hobo who hangs around seaports or dockyards
Bindle Stick = a collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tie at the end of a stick
Blowed-in-the-grass = a trustworthy, genuine person
Bone Polisher = a mean dog
Bone Orchard = graveyard
C, H & D = a person is Cold, Hungry and Dry (thirsty)
California Blankets = bedding made of newspaper
Calling in = using someone else’s campfire to warm up or cook
Catch the Westbound = to die
Chuck a Dummy = pretend to faint
Cover with the Moon = Sleep out in the open
Docandoberry = anything growing along a river that’s edible
Easy Mark = place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
Elevated = under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Flip = to board a moving train
Flop = a place to sleep, “Flophouse”, a cheap hotel
Glad rags = one’s best clothes
Graybacks, Crumbs = lice
Gump = a chicken
Honey Dipping = working with a shovel in a sewer
Hot = 1) a fugitive hobo; 2) a decent meal (“I could use three hots and a flop”)
Hot Shot = fast freight train, stops rarely
Jungle = an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate. Jungle Buzzard = a hobo or tramp who preys on his own
Knowledge Bus = a school bus used for shelter
Maeve = a young hobo, usually a girl; similar to Angelina (a young, inexperienced child)
Mulligan = a type of community stew, created by several hobos combining their ingredients
On the Fly = jumping a moving train
Padding the Hoof = travel by foot
Possum Belly = ride on the roof of a passenger car (one must lie flat)
Rum Dum = a drunkard
Sky Pilot = a preacher or minister
Spare Biscuits = looking for food in garbage cans
Stemming = panhandling or begging
Source: New Braunfels Railroad Museum, Texas
When hobos travelled from town to town, they never knew what to expect – would they be welcomed, or arrested? Out of the necessity to be prepared, a language of symbols grew: A hobo could give those who came after him a good idea of what to expect – was there work available? Would the police arrest a hobo on sight? Could you get a good meal at this house or that? The hobo would leave these symbols nearby – etched in the dirt road near a house, or marked on a stone or tree or a wall or a railcar. Here is an example of the symbols, though there are many more! Reading through them gives you a glimpse of some of the things they were up against.
In the images below, the young man getting on the train and the one cooking over a fire with a can on a stick are one and the same man – World lightweight boxing champion Lou Ambers, who travelled across the US to compete in Bootleg Bouts to earn money for his widowed mother.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the world of hobos – without the dangers of train hopping!
Today’s tour brings you to my neck of the woods, so to speak: Switzerland. How many mountains we have here depends on who you ask; whatever the exact number, I can say that it’s hundreds. Even the Swiss Plateau, while technically lying between the Jura Mountains and the Alps, is mostly hilly. But perhaps what Swiss would consider a hill, others would view as a mountain. So what’s the actual difference between the two? That’s a grey area, at best: A hill is a landform that rises above the surrounding terrain and does not usually have a defined summit (peak); a mountain has a limited or defined summit area, and rises 300 metres or more above the surrounding landscape. While hills may be a result of glacial flow, erosion of surrounding regions, or faulting, mountains are formed through volcanic activity or faulting. But notice – both hills and mountains can be formed by faulting (the shifting of tectonic plates).
Whatever you call them, Switzerland is full of the beauties. They influence weather, sometimes dramatically, from one side to the other; while Lugano usually has Mediterranean weather, the northern side of the mountains has a cooler climate. Once, as we came over the Gotthard mountain pass from Lugano toward home on a warm, sunny day, we saw a wall of white cloud ahead, clearly defined on the road; when we drove into it, it was absolutely white, and we were unable to see much ahead. Not fog. A cloud. Where we live, our wet weather usually comes from the local mountain range; if the wind shifts from that direction during a grill dinner on our balcony, grab your plates and get inside before it hits.
Did you know that the term homesickness comes from the Swiss German word Heimweh (= home + ache)? It was exported in the 17th century by Swiss merchants and mercenaries working abroad, and refers not to family or house, but to the mountains and their longing for the sights of the Alps.
Below are a few links:
With the first, you can choose various panoramic starting points, exploring visually and/or with information about each point of interest.
The second link takes you to live webcams in Switzerland, where you can see what’s going on. Keep in mind that if you’re looking at these webcams at the time of my uploading this blog (February 2021), we are currently in lockdown due to the second wave of COVID-19, so activity is far less than when shops are open (if you’re looking at town centres or skiing zones), though in town centres you’ll see kids riding bikes home from school in the afternoons, around 16:00 Swiss time (e.g. the town centre Appenzell webcam). Come back in a few weeks, and activity will have picked up once again. Hopefully!
The third link takes you to a YouTube live webcam feed that switches locations occasionally, giving you an overview of several sites. The music they play over this live feed is a bit monotonous, so I’d suggest turning on your favourite musical alternative and muting the actual video.
Our fourth outing together isn’t a museum, but a topical tour: Yesterday, I bought a hair comb when I went shopping; it looks like plastic, and it feels like plastic, but it is 100% biodegradable liquid wood. Having a curious mind, I came home and did a bit of research into the topic, so I thought I’d take you along on my discoveries.
Liquid wood, trademarked as Arboform, is a bioplastic made of natural ingredients, including lignin, which is the structural material found in plants and some algae, and cellulose, which is also a key structural component for green plants and algae as well as smaller organisms. The exact formula is a trade secret, of course, but the German inventors, Helmut Nägele and Jürgen Pfitzer, developed this thermoplastic in 1996, founded a company 2 years later, and in 2010 they won the European Inventor Award for their work.
Because of the properties that allow it to be melted and moulded like conventional plastic, its uses are limitless; but because it is made of natural ingredients, it is biodegradable – it can be disposed of in the ways wood could be, e.g. by burning or sawing, and will break down over time, as wood does. It may well transform the world of mass production and material sciences. What this product also does is use as a main ingredient a waste product from the paper-making industry – lignin.
The plastics industry created a huge problem that they never found a solution for, and they know it. But now, anything plastic can do, Arboform can do better. Literally. With more and more people trying to cut plastic out of their purchasing choices, this is the only logical solution to those who claim that plastic is the only alternative. Look around you right where you’re sitting: What plastic objects do you see? Speakers? Keyboard? A disinfectant bottle? Imagine every piece of plastic around you made from biodegradable products that, when you’re done with it, won’t harm the environment for hundreds of years afterward.
Below are a few examples of how it’s being used:
For a short tour of the factory, click the image below:
While Arboform can take care of the future, there is still the massive problem of the legacy of plastics that takes 10 minutes to drink a bottle of water out of, and 500 years to break down. There are other initiatives and efforts to clean up the environmental catastrophe; below are a few links if you’d like to learn more about the issue and how you can have an impact for the good.