The ukulele is a four-stringed instrument shaped like a guitar. When Portuguese immigrants arrived in Hawaii at the end of the nineteenth century, they brought with them their machetes which developed into the ukulele.
The 1957 publication of American Speech (American Dialect Society) explains the origin of the word ukulele: “The machete was heard one day by the vice-chamberlain of King Kalakaua's court, who..asked to be taught to play it... This vice-chamberlain was a British army officer named Edward Purvis; but the Hawaiians..called him ukulele because his lively playing and antics and his small build suggested a leaping flea. The new instrument became a great success, and someone started calling them ukuleles”.
Of all the musical instruments, the ukulele possesses a special charm which never fails to put a smile on people's faces. Maybe it’s the ukuleles cute size in combination with its sweet sound, or the fact that when you hear a ukulele, it brings to mind images of golden beaches, hula dancers and sunshine. Despite these positive associations, however, the ukulele’s popularity has certainly come in waves since its introduction into Hawaiian culture.
Popular in Hawaii and mainland US in the late nineteenth century, and made famous in the UK by comedian George Formby with his unique strumming patterns and upbeat syncopated rhythms, things slowed down on the ukulele scene during the mid twentieth century. Being a petite four-stringed instrument can be hard, and many view the ukulele simply as a toy. In a TV interview with the late Amy Winehouse, she was handed a ukulele to play one of her songs, but demanded to be given (ukulele fans cover your ears) a “proper instrument”. This is the sort of image problem that the ukulele suffers from. Things changed though when Hawaiin native Jake Shimabukuro uploaded his amazing rendition of Goerge Harrison’s classic “When my guitar gently weeps” onto YouTube in 2006. Suddenly people were falling in love with this little instrument all over again recognizing that the ukulele is actually pretty versatile. Since then, the ukulele has gone from strength to strength. It might be little, but this mighty little instrument has stood the test of time and continues to put a smile on the face of even the most cynical of musicians.
What is German Christmas without Christmas markets and mulled wine and stollen? Even if a typical German-Austrian fruit cake, the stollen made its way through Europe and North America to land at pretty much every Christmas table.
Yet, of course, the most notable stollen remains the Dresden one. The story goes back to the oldest German Christmas market, founded as a one day market in 1434 to been the best one in Saxony nowadays, because of its special atmosphere and the tallest Christmas pyramid (14meters). The Striezelmarkt in Dresden got its name from the stollen, indeed.
The Striezel was the name of a type of cake sold at the market - a light airy cake, produced from flour and oats in the shape of entrance to a mine tunnel (the literal meaning of stollen) was reflecting the area's silver and tin mining history.
The story of the stollen as a Christmas pastry started in the mid 15th century's Saxon Royal Court. The method of preparation was supervised by the Church Council and the shape was now to depict the Christ Child wrapped in a blanket, thus the name Christstollen. Following the fasting rules of the Advent season, the cake was a basic and tasteless mixture of flour, yeast, oil and water.
At the end of the century Pope Innocenz VIII blessed the adding of butter to the stollen with what is known as the "butter-letter" (Butterbiref). The Royal family could enjoy butter-rich stollens, but bakers had to pay a “fine” which was going for building of churches.
In the next centuries, following the butter-letter, the Christmas bread evoked to a sweet, rich in butter pastry with many dried fruits and marzipan – just as we know and enjoy it today.
The stollen reached its glorious moment in the year 1730, when August the Strong, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, according to the story, ordered the baking of a 1.8 tons stollen (it took 100 bakers a week-work). No wonder that Dresden Stollen still carries a special seal depicting the famous king.
This glamorous baking event is the historical model for today´s annual Stollen Festivals, which take place in Dresden, every Saturday prior to the 2nd Advent. This year's Stollen was 4.34 meters long and weighted 3.341 kilos.
The Dresden Christmas Stollen came to the British and American taste only in the 20th century. With the first written reference in the English language coming from a 1906 cooking book with typical German food German Cookery for English Kitchen. Of course, there was a recipe for a Stollen!
And it was some decades later that Dresden Christ Stollen started been parched and exported in metal sheet boxes to North America.
Few developments in air travel have had a similarly far-reaching impact on the industry and its image than the introduction of the Concorde airplane in 1969. The supersonic Concorde was a symbol of Anglo-French cooperation, the West’s answer to the Soviet Union’s Tupolev Tu-144, and also a symbol of luxury and innovation in flight. Although the Concorde saw service as a commercial airliner for only 27 years (from 1976 to 2003) the iconic plane still captures the imagination of aviation enthusiasts and engineers alike. While there is no longer a Concorde in service today, its legacy is alive in well. So much so, that in British English a game-changing innovation is referred to as a “Concorde moment.”
While the original Concorde airliners are now museum pieces, the demand for and appeal of a Concorde-type aircraft has never left. On the contrary, the need for aircrafts that can quickly connect people and places along with the unbroken appeal of supersonic flight directly translates into the development of another supersonic commercial plane.
Currently, there are already two supersonic aircraft in development. One project, the N+2, which involves Lockheed Martin and NASA, is developing an 80 passenger supersonic plane that would be able to cut U.S. cross-country travel times in half while also being 100 times quieter than the Concorde and all but eliminating the “sonic boom” caused by supersonic travel. Another project, the Airbus Aerion AS2, is designed as a 12-seat supersonic plane exclusively for business travel that, although it doesn’t address the sonic boom issue, offers increased fuel efficiency and can fly from Los Angeles to Tokyo in 6 hours.
These supersonic planes are still an estimated 8-10 years from production, but the fact is that Airbus and Boeing are no longer the only choice in the global airplane marketplace and other aircraft manufacturers might beat them to the finish line. Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and China’s Comac (Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China) are rapidly expanding their production scope and are gaining ground on Airbus and Boeing. For emerging aircraft manufacturers the development of a commercial supersonic plane might just be the big engineering and marketing stunt they are looking for to establish themselves as global contenders.
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Wrongly considered by some for a vegetable, the tomato is actually a fruit, originally cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas as early as 700 A.D. Its use as a food originated in Mexico and was brought in Europe as a fruit of the Spanish colonization of Americas, particularly linked to the conquering of nowadays Mexico City by Cortez in 1521. The anthropologist Marvin Harris reports that the first culinary reference to the tomato comes from companions of Cortez who observed a cannibalism fest of the Aztecs where the human meat was served with tomatoes, squash blossoms and peppers.
For the first 200 years of its British story, the tomato was considered for been poisonous and turning blood into acid. Of course, it was an Englishman to set the stage for the negative view of tomatoes – John Gerard, a barber/surgeon and naturalist in his 1597 General History of Plants stated that tomato was poisonous, even while acknowledging that Spanish and Italians ate the thing. The notorious fame is linked to tomato's belonging to the “deadly” nightshades, because of which nowadays it is also banned from the menu of people with autoimmune diseases and its high acidity leaching lead from the plates it was normally consumed in and resulting in lead poisoning and deaths.
Known as love apple (aphrodisiac qualities) and wolf peach (from old German wolfpfirsich), the tomato traces its name back to Aztecan tomatl, literally translating as the "swelling fruit", through Spanish to the earlier 1600s English spelling - tomate.
By the end of the 18th century, most British were quite aware that tomatoes were edible and started growing in their gardens not only because of their beautiful blossoms. The tendency was obviously widely spread out, as John Gabriel Stedman described in 1796 the tomato as “.... being produced in many British gardens” and Encyclopedia Britanica named the “tomato been in daily use in soups, broths and as a garnish”.
The earliest American recipe including tomatoes occurred in South Carolina in 1770 but it is Thomas Jefferson who is largely credited for cultivating the tomato and helping it find its way to every American table, though with the early warning that should always be cooked for three hours.
For the last 15 years, the Pantone Color Institute, nominates a Colour of the Year to comb the world looking for colour influences and to universally appeal to fashion, beauty, industrial design, home furnishings and interior.
After last year's Radient Orchid colour, now comes – Marsala. The reddish-brown hue is declared as the colour of 2015. And just as the Marsala wine, that it takes its name from, the Marsala colour is rich and earthy and seductive. Or, as Pantone describes it: "Much like the fortified wine that gives Marsala its name, this tasteful hue embodies the satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal while its grounding red-brown roots emanate a sophisticated, natural earthiness."
Before we start looking for inspirations in Marsala colour, let us firstly follow the Marsala wine from the Marsala region in Sicily to the British table. And it was an Englishman to introduce the Marsala wine to consumers outside the Italian region where it was produced. In 1770s, merchant John Woodhouse visited Sicily and experiencing the rich taste of the wooden cask aging wine, loaded and brought back to England 30 casks. The outcome of the voyage was a roughly fortified wine, whose taste certainly was familiar enough for the English consumers. And the marketing potential turned out so successful so 20 years later, went into mass production. And from that period comes the first written reference in the English language, when in 1806 Harper's magazine pointed out as a key ingredient for a successful dinner: “Two Pipes Marsalla wine”.
Even if Marsala wine could be labeleled as “made by an Englishman”, nowadays it is one of the symbols of Italy. And when in the 1960s a “Protected Denomination of Origin” system was established, Marsala was the first Italian product to obtain such recognition.
Marsala wine is commonly popular and used for cooking, both the dry and sweet Marsala, to create rich caramelized sauces for meats and deserts. But the fortified wine, is much more than a cooking one, rich in alcohol and classified according to its color, which has to do with the grapes used, as well as the sugar content, the wine is quite enjoyable for sipping. So make sure to add a bottle of Marsala to your Marsala colour shopping lists.
Artificial intelligence refers to the field of study concerning the capacity of computers or other machines to exhibit or simulate intelligent behavior. Artificial Intelligence as a field of research originates with Dartmouth College, a private Ivy League University in the U.S., which held a conference in 1956 for an artificial intelligence research project. Thanks to the influence of popular culture, however, many of us are familiar with the term or concept because we’ve watched 2001: A Space Odyssey or The Terminator. Last week, when Stephen Hawking, a world-famous British theoretical physicist, commented “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”, you may not have been the only one imagining silver cyborgs plotting our downfall.
The field of Artificial Intelligence and the debate surrounding it is fascinating and has always been a popular theme in literature and film – it seems like people enjoy nothing more than to fantasize about man’s destruction. But how accurate is Hawking? Depending on who you ask, answers seem to vary between complete disagreement to something more like “perhaps, but not for a very long time”.
Certainly, artificial intelligence is already around us and many low-paying jobs have been lost to machines which can do the job just as well, if not better. It’s easy to imagine a future where we commute to work on trains and buses with no human at the controls, and maybe even Ridley Scott’s terrifying self-automated surgical operation in the film Prometheus isn’t a stretch. In Japan, the combination of an ageing population coupled with declining birthrate plus a general unwillingness towards increased numbers of immigrants in the workforce means that artificial intelligence is the only real option and one which many firms such as Toyota and Honda as well as the healthcare industry are investing in.
There is no doubt that artificial intelligence is already changing our lives, but whether machines and computers reach full artificial intelligence and whether this becomes a force for good or for destruction remains to be seen. If popular film plots are anything to go by, we will have been wiped out by aliens, giant meteorites or a return of the bubonic plague before we even have a chance to find out.
Manga is the word for Japanese comics which are hugely popular both in Japan and internationally. In 1951, Martin Leon Wolf wrote his book Dictionary of the Arts, in which he defines manga as “a series of sketches generally assembled in book form after individual publication; also, any collection of cartoons”. It was around the time of his book, during Japan’s post-war period, that manga really took off and, far from being simply a “collection of cartoons”, manga has gone on to be a huge cultural phenomenon both in Japan and abroad.
There is manga for everyone, its themes catering to all tastes and ages. There’s action adventure and sci-fi for children, romance stories for grown women, hero stories for men, and much more. Any bookshop in Japan will have shelves stacked high with large collections; 24-hour internet cafes attract manga fans who browse the selections and enjoy a few stories while having a drink, and entire shops dedicated to men looking for…ahem…raunchier selections.
In terms of manga’s popularity with foreigners in Japan, there seems to be two categories of people: those who are somewhat bemused by the whole fascination and those who state it as their inspiration to learn the language (after reading the many translated publications that exist). For the former group, well, there is a lot of quirky stuff in Japan: crazy Japanese game shows, cafes where girls dressed as cartoon characters serve your drinks, grown adults dressed as power rangers dancing to music on a stereo in the middle of Tokyo's Yoyogi park on a weekend...and manga fits in with all of this. For the latter group, manga is a special art form with a respected history and much-loved characters. And who are we to judge? It's fun, a bit odd, but on the whole, harmless and will continue to be a mainstay of Japanese popular culture for generations to come.
As a word scintillate first appears in a dictionary with the interesting title “The English Dictionary, or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words” which appeared in 1623. The dictionary actually introduced hundreds of new words into the English language, and was the leading dictionary of the time. Scintillate was defined as “to sparkle or leap up” and related to flashes of fire or light.
This was also the meaning taken up the first time scintillating was used as an adjective. In a book published in 1664 about wells, a specific well is described as follows “The saltish and scintillating stones of the well”. It took over 100 years for this sparkling and brightness to be applied to humans. In 1793 in a review of a comedy, the review describes ways that playwrights awaken passion. One of them is “scintillating flashes of wit”. And the word was obviously well known at the time. Again in a theoretical paper on the meaning of humour, hilarity is given as the opposite of “all the scintillating effects of real wit, and brilliancy in conversation”.
From this time onward the main use of scintillating was in relation to fascinating conversation which sparkled and was entertaining.
One of the unfortunate aspects of the Holiday Season is that it also marks the beginning of flu season. Unlike other low points of the Christmas holidays like getting knitted socks as a gift or pretending to like sprouts, getting the flu can really take its toll. Not only is influenza the cause of over 400,000 doctor visits annually in England and Wales, but, in a typical year for the UK overall, the flu season accounts for over 6 million lost working days. Considering the working age population, that’s like 14% of all employees missing a day annually. Obviously, we all know what the flu feels like, and understandably during this time of year, it becomes a big concern for many people; however, what about the word itself?
Many know that the word “flu” is the short form of “influenza,” but the word itself is Italian in origin. Coming from the Medieval Latin influentia, the Italian form, influenza, quite literally means “to influence.” The meaning itself comes from the 16th century belief that outbreaks of plague and sickness were in some way related to or influenced by natural phenomenon, such as astronomical or planetary movements.
English usage of the term came, unsurprisingly, from an outbreak of the illness which spread from Italy, then throughout Europe, and finally to England. The news on the contagious infection were reported by The London Magazine in 1743. Interestingly, while usage of the word has remained unchanged since its introduction, the strains of influenza and the differing epidemics of it are noteworthy: from R.J. Graves’ A System of Clinical Medicine, which notes epidemics in 1803, 1831, 1834, and 1837, to multiple writings on the well-known 1918 Spanish flu epidemic to the Times’ 1968 mention of the Hongkong influenza.
Finally, as with any disease, it’s worth noting that hypochondria has also played a factor, as lamented in 1888 by Pye-Smith in Fagge’s Principles and Practices of Medicine, “The practice, so common among the higher classes in this country, of designating as influenza any catarrhal attack that happens to be painful and distressing.”
Being a bit of a hypochondriac is proven to be healthy, yet the single best way to prevent the season flu is to get a flu vaccine and then the only fever you will get would be the holidays' one.