Where Things Came From

The simple, and not so simple, things that make our lives easier and that power our civilization originated over the centuries from all parts of the world. Here’s the background on some of them that originated before 1850.

The sailboat – Ancient Mesopotamia, 6000 BC
Ushering in the Age of Sail, which transformed early trade and transport, the ancient Mesopotamian Ubaid culture (modern-day Iraq) was the first to use sailboats, as a means of crossing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers around which the culture was based.

The nail – Ancient Egypt, 3400 BC
Not just renowned for building the pyramids, the ancient Egyptians invented one of the fundamentals of carpentry and construction – the humble but mighty nail. Three millennia later, the Romans were the first to mass-produce nails, which they forged from wrought iron.

The abacus – Ancient Mesopotamia, 2700 BC
Precursor to the electric calculator as well as the computer, the abacus emerged in ancient Mesopotamia around 2700 BC and was used to make calculations based on the Sumerian culture’s relatively complex numerical system. This clever device was an essential tool for monetary systems and trade in the ancient world.

The compass – China, 206 BC
The invention of this key navigational gizmo transformed seafaring and eventually helped bring about the Age of Discovery, as well as a huge expansion in world trade. Invented in China in 206 BC as a fortune-telling aid, the compass wasn’t used as a navigational tool until the 11th century AD.

Gunpowder – China, 142
The quintessential explosive was developed in China over many centuries, but it was first mentioned in an Taoist text written by alchemist Wei Boyang in 142 AD. This invention has had a major impact on world history, changing the way humans wage war, and gunpowder is still the basis of many modern weapons.

The mechanical clock – China, 725
Another super-important invention from China, the world’s first mechanical clock was created by mathematician Yi Xing and military engineer Liang Lingzan in the eighth century. This accurate way of telling the time pushed humanity forward in a big way, facilitating everything from seafaring to agriculture.

The printing press – Holy Roman Empire, 1440
Johannes Gutenberg’s seminal invention enabled the spread of knowledge to the people and heralded the era of mass communication, giving the wider public access to information that was formerly the preserve of the elite. Its importance cannot be overstated.

The thermometer – Republic of Venice, 1612
Modern medical practice, scientific research and manufacturing all call for accurate temperature measurement. Galileo Galilei developed the first thermoscope, a device that shows temperature changes, in 1592. The first true thermometer, a thermoscope with a scale, was created by Venetian physician Santorio Santorio in 1612.

The modern steam engine – England, 1698
A major driver of the industrial revolution, the world’s first commercially available steam-powered engine was invented by English engineer Thomas Savery in 1698. The pioneering contraption was used to power mills and pump water out of mines.

The computer – England, early 19th century
Regarded as ‘the father of the computer’, English math genius Charles Babbage invented the world’s first mechanical computing devices, the Difference and Analytical Engines, during the early 19th century.

The electric telegraph – England, 1816
English scientist Francis Ronalds is credited with inventing the first workable form of electrical telecommunication in 1816, while American Samuel Morse developed the first commercially-viable telegraph system in 1837, which revolutionized long-distance communication.

Modern anesthesia – USA, 1842
Without effective anesthesia, modern surgical procedures would be all but impossible. While alcohol and opium have been used as crude anesthetics for millennia, modern anesthesia dates back to 1842, when surgeon Crawford Long used ether for the first time to operate on a patient’s jaw.

Modern oil refining – Scotland, 1848
Everything from modern vehicles to plastics exists thanks to refined petroleum. The process was developed by Scottish chemist James Young, who figured out a way to extract kerosene from crude oil in 1848.

Whatever Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong

We know that whatever can go wrong, will. But what goes wrong in our homes need not be disastrouis if we are prepared.

Burst Pipe
Whether it’s a broken water line or a rusted-out drain, a burst pipe can cause a lot of trouble in a short period of time. If water is gushing, close the valve closest to the link first, then shut off the main water valve into the house. Once you’ve turned off the main water supply, reopen the smaller valve and slowly drain any remaining water into buckets.

PowerOutagePower Outage
During a power outage, the safest course is to disconnect all appliances and electronics. That way, you’ll avoid damage from power surges when the power comes back on. Take great care using candles for illumination, exercising proper fire safety, and be sure to stock up on batteries and flashlights.

Gas Leak
If your carbon monoxide detector sounds or you simply detect a gas odor, evacuate the house immediately. Once you’ve relocated to a safe location, call the gas company’s 24-hour help line and ask them to send a technician to check your home for leaks.

Basement Flood
Before you charge into a flooded basement to rescue your belongings, be safe. Turn off the circuit breaker to the house (or, if you can’t reach the circuit box, call your utility and ask them to do it for you). Wear thick waterproof boots and gloves to protect against toxic elements in the floodwater.

Roof Damage
For patching a storm-damaged roof, tarps nailed down with wood strips are the quickest and easiest fix. Just be sure to let any weather pass and take all precautions before climbing up – or even better, call a professional to do it for you, then arrange for more permanent fix to be made as quickly as possible.

Furnace Malfunction
Somehow, the furnace always seems to give out on the first frigid evening of the year – and Murphy’s law states it will happen on a Saturday night, when the repairman charges double his usual rate. Before you pick up the phone, check to see if a clogged filter or a tripped circuit breaker might be the culprit.

Locked Out
Getting locked out of the house is a little embarrassing, and, if you have to call a locksmith, can be mightily expensive, too. Keeping a hidden key poses security risks. So remove your extra key from inside the hide-a-key garden stone or from under the back porch door mat, and consider leaving it with a trusted friend or neighbor instead.

Kitchen Fire
First, don’t panic. Keep a box of baking soda in a handy spot for dousing flare-ups in a toaster or stovetop pan. Avoid tossing water on the blaze, and don’t try to smother the flames with a dishtowel or anything that could catch fire. You may be able to use a pot lid to extinguish the flames. If it’s an oven fire, don’t open the door – close the oven and the fire should extinguish itself. Although some fire extinguishers are rated to extinguish grease fires, those handheld fire fighters can spread flames rather than extinguish them when used improperly. Educate yourself on the types of extinguishers and how to use them so you’re always ready in case of a disaster.

Flush Fail
Obviously, a plunger is your first line of defense for a clogged commode. If you’ve cleared the clog but flushing troubles persist, open the tank and investigate. The handle may have gotten disconnected, or part of the flush mechanism may need to be replaced.

Where the Things We Use Originated

We take so much for granted – simple things that we use frequently, complex things that make our lives easier. But don’t you wonder sometimes where they came from? Well here are the origins of a few of those “necessities” of ife.

The wheel – inventor unknown, but came along around 4000-3500 BC
The wheel revolutionized the movement of people, livestock and goods, not to mention pottery making and milling. Experts can’t pinpoint exactly when and where it was invented, but Bronze Age Mesopotamia or Eurasia are the most likely candidates.

fridgeThe refrigerator – Scotland, 1755
One of the most important innovations in food history, the first artificially-cooled refrigerator was developed by Scottish physician William Cullen in the mid-1750s, but the first commercial domestic model wasn’t introduced until 1913.

Soap – Ancient Mesopotamia, 2800 BC
Improvements in human hygiene have enabled civilizations to flourish. The first indoor toilet was created at Skara Brae in northern Scotland way back in 3000 BC. Around the same time, the first cleansing soaps, made from wood ash and animal fat, were invented in ancient Mesopotamia.

Paper – China, 105 BC
The invention of paper is crucial as it enabled civilizations to share knowledge and keep records more effectively. While the ancient Egyptians developed woven papyrus reed ‘paper’ as far back as the fourth century BC, real paper, which is made from mashed-up fibers, was invented in China by Han Imperial Court official Cai Lun around 105 BC.

Photography – France, 1816
The first photograph was created in 1816 by French inventor Nicéphore Niépce using a do-it-yourself camera and paper coated with silver chloride. A key 19th-century invention, photography profoundly changed the way people communicate, learn, entertain, record events and express their artistic creativity.

FirstCarThe car – Germany, 1886
It’s hard to imagine what our lives would be like if the automobile hadn’t been invented. German engineer Karl Benz is widely credited with inventing the first true car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, in 1886.

The light bulb – USA, 1879
Where would we be without the light bulb? Several inventors, including English scientist Warren de la Rue, created rudimentary versions earlier in the century, but the first practical incandescent light bulb for the mass market was patented by Thomas Edison in 1879.

Thirteen for the 13th

With Jan. 13, 2017, falling on a Friday, here are 13 facts about the date that is synonymous with bad luck and superstitions.

friday13The apprehension surrounding Friday the 13th may have biblical origins, as Christ’s crucifixion is believed to have taken place on a Friday. Thirteen was also the number of guests present at the Last Supper, and the apostle Judas, who would later betray Jesus with the infamous Kiss of Judas, supposedly was the 13th person seated at the table, according to the New Testament.

The scientific term for the fear of Friday the 13th is “paraskavedekatriaphobia,” derived from the Greek words “paraskeví” meaning “Friday” and “dekatreís” meaning “thirteen.” Another term used to refer to the irrational fear of Friday the 13th is “friggatriskaidekaphobia” with “Frigga” referring to  the Norse goddess and seer Frigg, after whom Friday is named in English.

During World War II, five German bombs hit Buckingham Palace in the U.K. on Friday, Sept. 13, 1940, and destroyed the Palace Chapel, as part of Adolf Hitler’s strategic “Blitz” bombing campaign.

On Friday, Oct. 13, 1989, the U.S. stock exchange suffered a major crash. The day is sometimes referred to as “Black Friday.”

It is estimated that every Friday the 13th costs the U.S. economy approximately $800 million to $900 million in losses, according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute, as many people refuse to do business or travel by air.

British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, was born on Aug. 13, 1899, which was a Friday. He was supposed to make his directorial debut with a film called “Number 13,” which never saw the light of the day owing to financial troubles.

The Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapels in Las Vegas, Nev., offers special zombie, vampire and horror-themed wedding ceremonies on Friday the 13th.

On Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered his officers to raid the homes of the Knights Templar, who were warrior monks during the Crusades. Hundreds of the Knights Templar were subjected to excruciating torture in order to force confessions from them. More than a hundred succumbed to death in the process.

For a month to have a Friday on the 13th day, it must begin on a Sunday.

Hotel and hospital buildings often skip the 13th floor, and airports sometimes don’t have a gate no. 13.

Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly had a great fear of Friday the 13th. He avoided starting a trip on a Friday, wasn’t keen on traveling on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 people at the dinner table.

Pop star Taylor Swift believes 13 is her lucky number and has some connections with Friday the 13th. “I was born on the 13th. I turned 13 on Friday the 13th. My first album went gold in 13 weeks. My first #1 song had a 13-second intro,” she told MTV in 2009.

You get another dose of Friday the 13th later this year since it occurs twice in 2017 – in January and October.

New Year, New Resolve to Get Organized

It’s time for the big purge. It will make you and your family feel more organized and help reduce stress that leaves you less focused. Plus, with fewer things taking up space, you will have more room to display the things that bring you joy.

declutterWhether you take it slowly over the course of a few weeks or tackle it in one weekend, commit to the decluttering project and keep it up throughout the year. Things easily pile up around the house but the more on top of it you stay, the easier it is to maintain.

There are dozens of suggestions below for things you can toss or donate right now from your home. You probably won’t even miss most of them.

The kitchen is a great place to start, so get rid of these things: Expired food and condiments in the fridge. Frozen food so old you don’t even remember what it is. Expired spices. Leftover seasonal or themed party plates or napkins you’ll never use again. Plastic containers with missing lids. Chipped coffee cups. Duplicate utensils or tools. Rusted or broken tools or appliances. Cracked ice cube trays. Cookbooks you never open. Extra water bottles. Takeout chopsticks. Takeout condiment packets. Takeout menus. Old sponges. Ratty dish towels. Extra flower delivery vases.

Now tackle the bathroom(s) by dumping the expired makeup and sunscreen. Stretched-out rubber bands. Old toothbrushes. Ratty washcloths. Extra towels (Two to three per person is plenty). Loofahs that have seen better days. Dried-up nail polish. Extra bath products. Extra cleaning supplies. Half-empty perfume samples. Extra travel-sized toiletries. Potpourri that’s lost its scent. Fancy bar soap you’ll never use. The disposable razors you bought but hate using. Extra promotional makeup bags. Expired medicine.

Now for the bedroom. Get rid of the books you’ve already read. The stack of magazines you’ll never have time to read. Old pillows. Excessive decorative throw pillows. The side chair you throw all your clothes on. Broken window blinds. Yellowed lampshades. Papers you don’t need anymore. Old cell phones or tablets. Costume jewelry you never wear. That cup/bowl/bucket of loose change (Cash it in!). Candle stubs.

The bedroom closet that’s over-stuffed with unused items. Clear out the clothes you don’t wear anymore. Clothes that don’t fit. Uncomfortable shoes. Old formal dresses you’ll never wear again. Wire hangers. Socks and gloves missing their matches. Ratty or stained scarves. Broken purses. Extra canvas bags (you only need enough for groceries.). Hats you never wear.

Don’t do the kid’s room(s) when they are home. It will be easier without them. Dump the dried-out markers and art supplies. Broken crayons. Broken toys. Clothes they’ve outgrown. Toys they don’t play with anymore. Furniture they’re too big for now. Extra artwork.

The living room might be easier than most of the others. It’s time to dump the extra candles. The rug you keep tripping on. Magazines you’ve left out on the coffee table. Remotes that belong to old TVs. Dead plants. Knickknack decorations that don’t add anything. Broken, scratched or stained furniture.

Turn your home office back into a home office. Get rid of old papers and bills you don’t need anymore. Outdated or broken technology. USB cords to things you don’t use anymore. Excessive paper clips or rubber bands. Old DVDs or CDs you don’t play anymore.

Make room in the hall closet by clearing it of moth-ruined coats or scarves. Broken umbrellas. Almost-empty rolls of wrapping paper. Broken items. Extra blankets you never use. Just-in-case gifts you keep on hand but never use. That old vacuum that doesn’t suck. Old holiday decorations you don’t use anymore. Plastic bins that just take up space. The air bed that sinks when anyone gets on it. The ratty old suitcases you never use anymore. Dusting cloths that have seen better days.

Clean out the garage. Get rid of broken, rusted or duplicate tools. Sports equipment that no longer gets used. Deflated sports balls. That old refrigerator that doesn’t work anymore. Things you’re saving for a future garage sale that’s never going to happen. Old potting soil you no longer need. Extra paint for a color that’s no longer in your house. Unfinished DIY projects that will never get completed. Extra home improvement supplies that you’ll never need. The picnic basket you haven’t used in years. Boxes for appliances or gadgets you’re saving just in case. The folding card table that’s scratched or broken.