Friday, December 28, 2018

He Maps Spam, Eh?

The purpose of this blog is to unspam the Shabbat table. Please share.

kosher-spamTry this one at your dinner table tonight:

"Raise your hand if you ever received spam."

Everyone who ever had an email account will, of course, raise their hands.

(By the way, did you ever stop to realize that there are no children anymore who remember a time without cell phones?)

Now that you've got their attention, try this:

Who knows why unwanted bulk email is called spam?

The story of spam begins in 1936.

Back in 1936, in Austin, MN, Hormel Foods profits were plunging. Jay Hormel knew that he needed a new way to market his canned pork shoulders.

American housewives were listening to the radio. He wanted a catchy branding that would make a great jingle.

Competition + Depression = Necessity, the mother of invention.

Jay announced that he would award $100 for a catchy name for his canned ham.

So he spiced up his New Year's Eve party that year, he held a contest: $100 cash for the best new name for Hormel spiced canned ham (that's $1,800 in today's dollars).

You had to submit a suggestion to get a drink at the party.

Hornel observed, "
Along about the third or fourth drink they began showing some imagination.”

The winning entry came from Kenneth Daigneau, a 3-bit New York actor who was there because he was related to a company VP.

The scheme worked: by 1940, seventy percent of American households had spam in their kitchens.

In 1941 the US started shipping it to our allies.

(Question for the table - Who were our Allies in WW2?)

If you guessed the UK and USSR, you would be right.

We sent them so much spam that Kruschev later said, "
Without Spam, we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army."

When the US got into the war our GIs ultimately had to take in (and take on) 150 million pounds of it.

GIs evidently got pretty sick of it and, to everyone's surprise, refused to eat it after they got home.

So why is annoying bulk email called spam?

Because a group of comedians in 1970 created a silly 3-minute spoof of spam.

If you never saw this, or forgot about it, here tis:

The gist is that every item on the restaurant menu contains Spam and this customer is upset because she doesn't like Spam, and every time someone expresses an opinion about Spam (pro or con), a group of Vikings (who are also dining there) start singing a Spam song, that goes like this:

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam,
Spamity Spam, Spamity Spam!

And so when email was first being used in the 1990s, some culturally-clever emailers started calling overberaring and unwanted email "spam" and the practice of sending such email "spamming".

A meme was born.

It's a cute story, but what does it have to do with anything?

Personal anecdote: I discovered this week that some people I correspond with regularly are not getting my messages because their ISP is flagging them as spam.

Oy. So maybe that's why I never heard back from so-and-so.

It seems so unfair. What am I supposed to do?

A couple final questions for your table:

• What do you personally do when you don't hear back from someone?
• Have you ever found an important message in your spam folder that didn't belong there?
• If you have to take the time and effort to check your spam folder, what's the point of having a spam folder?

And the big one: What does spam have to do with Shabbat?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - The above image is Luf, "Israel's Kosher Spam". If you click on it you'll find something equally kosher, "slightly" healthier, immeasurably tastier.

PPS - Did you solve today's title?

PPPS - End-of-the-year pitch time: If you appreciate JSL's mission and programs (and this) (and this) and would like to show your support and partnership, please make a 2018 tax-deductible contribution here. Wishing you and yours a healthy and inspired 2019.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Repair a Helion

The purpose of this blog is to brighten the Shabbat table. Please share.

Healing sunAs some people are heading to sunnier or snowier climates, here's an original riddle for your table tonight:

What's the sunniest time of year?

Hint: since it's a riddle, you know the answer is not going to be at the summer solstice.

Another hint: The correct answer also does not depend on which hemisphere you're in.

Still stumped?

Here's another hint, in the form of a know-thy-planet question:

Why is it colder in the winter and warmer in the summer?

(It always amazes me how many adults can't answer this.)

Before you answer, think about the fact that today it's summertime in Sidney right now.


OK, since most people are by now totally stumped, here is the answer....

The Earth orbits the sun in an elipse, not a circle.

earth's orbitThat means that at times we are closer to the sun (perihelion) and at times farther from the sun (apihelion).

The difference between our perihelion and apihelion is about three million miles.

It happens to be that now, in the alleged start of the winter in the northern hemisphere, we are reaching perihelion. That means we are millions of miles closer to the sun now than we are in June.

These are facts.

So as a planet, now begins the sunniest time of the year - peaking at about January 4.

If the riddle fooled you, it was perhaps because you were thinking locally, not globally?

By the way, here's another fact about our orbit that may be somewhat disconcerting: it isn't constant. This year's exact perihelion is on January 3 at 12:19 am (NY time). Next year it will be on January 5.

Another fact to entertain your table: we're moving faster at perihelion than aphelion. That means that our winters are shorter than our summers.

And another interesting idea - these changes in our orbit plus fluctuations in the sun's output do affect our weather but probably not global warming.

The amount of sunlight reaching the earth varies for other reasons, including sunspots and this eliptical business. The eliptical orbit itself causes a variation over the year of about 100W per square meter.

Final question for your table: What's more amazing, the ways of the heavens and the earth, or the human minds who can measure and predict it with great precision and appreciate it?

Shabbat Shalom
(and Happy Solstice)

PS - Yes, as usual, the pic above contains a surprise link.

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Flying Friendly Class

The purpose of this blog is to turn the Shabbat table into a rest stop. Please print and share.

Oakland-sunsetHaving spent much of the past five days traveling by air, car and sailboat....'s on my mind.

So here are three travel-themed stories for your table this week.

Maybe you saw this one:

A baby with an oxygen machine enjoyed the perks of a first-class flight to Philadelphia, thanks to the kindness of a traveler who gave up his seat.

Details, details, details, then the conclusion:

As a result of her post, she subsequently connected with the passenger. “He was thanking me for (giving him) a birthday to remember. It was the best day."

For your table: Is this newsworthy?

Second vignette:

Is there anyone besides myself out there who doesn't use Facebook to keep up with family and friends?

What I'm really getting at is the experience of bumping into someone whom you have not been in touch with or even heard about.

Like for a year, or five or ten.

That happened to me this week and it gives you this wonderful feeling, a joy that is hard to compare with other joys.

The question for your table: Why is it so wonderful to see a familiar face that you haven't seen in years?

Presumably that's why the rabbis of old created a special beracha for such an occasion.

Third vignette:

Someone I know flew across the country this week for the sole purpose of catching up with two or three old friends.

There was no event, no party, no holiday.

When asked why he went, he said, "I've realized over the years that most of the important things that happen to me are because of my relationships to others. So I try to maintain them."

Question for your table: But why did he have to fly accross the country to do so?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - The pic above was from my travels this week... click on it for something interesting about trees and travel.

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Friday, December 07, 2018

My Channukah

The purpose of this blog is to add some Channukah to the Shabbat table. Please print and share.

Menorah-SwastikaInsiders read today's headline and smile.

They know that this title is an insider's pun.

It's a play on the Talmudic presentation of Channuka, which begins (in Aramaic): Mai Channuka? - What is Channuka?

OK, so now that you, dear reader, are an insider, here's the first question for your table:

Mai Channuka?

Not "What was Channuka" but "What is Channuka"?

What is it about that Maccabean war, that flask of oil, that menorah, and that destroyed Temple that matters today?

That's for your table, not for me to spoon feed you.

But the photo above has a story that you might want to share.

This has been been published widely, including the NY Times, various blogs, and sites

The scene is Kiel, Germany (north of Hamburg).
The date: December 31, 1932. The 8th night of Channuka, 5693.

It is exactly 30 days before the most infamous act of Herr von Hindenburg and perhaps of the 20th Century.

That last night of Channuka
, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner lit the menorah and placed it in the window.

(Ask at your table:) Why in the window?

Publicizing the story is the entire reason for lighting the menorah.

(Ask at your table:) What if publicizing endangers you?

For sure, there is no need to put your family in danger.

Surely a year later, Jews of Kiel were not putting their menorahs in the window

But at this moment, they did.

Not only did they, but Mrs. Posner saw the tremendous symbolism of the juxtaposition, and snapped this photo.

On the back, she wrote:

    "Death to Judah" says the flag
    "Judah will live forever," answers the light.”

The Posners escaped the Vaterland and made it to the Holyland.

With their menorah.

For 51 weeks of the year, the menorah resides at Yad Vashemj.

But for the darkest eight nights of the year, the menorah returns to the family.

The Posner's great-grandson lights it with the entire extended family around.

Once again, for your table: Mai Channukah?

Happy C/han[n]uk[k]a/h (however you spell it)


Shabbat Shalom

PS - By the way, the saga continues....

PPS - Special video link for you if you click on the pic above.

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