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FIGURE OUT THE DATE. Today (October 1) is a rare palindromic date in America, where it's written (month/day/year) as 10.1.01. Brits, Aussies and South Africans, who write day/month/year, encountered the same palindrome on January 10. Stand by for October 11, when Americans will marvel at this six-digit palindromic date: 10.11.01. Poms, Ockers and Springboks will have to wait until November 10. 0110

SHOULD AFGHANS BE CALLED COLIN TOWELS? "Warm Up, America! Everyone loves to snuggle into a cozy afghan when the weather's cool" said an Internet website now withdrawn from view. And there won't be much demand for the books Absolutely Gorgeous Afghans and Adorable Afghans for Baby. Not many Americans will want the 2001 Afghan Calendar, but the book 7-Day Afghans may fare better. Those Afghans, of course, have no connection with Osama bin Laden. Cotton tapestries called Afghans, nearly all made in the U.S., have suddenly become politically incorrect. Maybe they should be renamed Colin Towels. To read on, please click on AFGHANS. 0110

NOSTRADAMUS NEVER SAID IT. No, Nostradamus did NOT predict four centuries ago the calamity  which destroyed New York's World Trade Center on September 11, although countless email messages asserted that he did. Newspapers around the world unknowingly misquoted Nostradamus as having foreseen the 2001 terrorist attack in 1645 and as having predicted that "the third big war will begin when the big city is burning." "It's a hoax," declares LIEmails, a website which investigates and exposes Internet lies and myths. "It is NOT by Nostradamus" says the equally knowledgeable Nostradamus Repository. And TruthOrFiction sums it up in a single word: Fiction!  For a full explanation, please click on NOSTRADAMUS. 0110

TITANIC ICEBERG PICTURE TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. Copies of a breathtakingly beautiful photograph showing a massive iceberg above and below the surface of the ocean are currently circling the globe in emails relayed by many of its admirers. Having a suspicious nature, and being aware of the truth of the adage Don't Believe Everything You See on the Internet, I decided to check it out, if only to find out just how the intrepid photographer had achieved the apparently impossible feat of taking a shot over and under the water at the same time. Sad to say, two Internet investigators declare the picture's a fake. Read their findings by clicking on ICEBERG. 0110

TAMPA'S PIRATES. When heavily-armed Australian troops boarded the Norwegian freighter Tampa in a bid to prevent it from landing a large group of asylum seekers on Christmas Island in August 2001, the ship's captain said it was an act of piracy. By a strange coincidence, centuries ago pirates used  the Tampa Bay area in Florida as a stronghold from which to raid commerce. To read  this topical story, please click on TAMPA. For further details of Florida's colorful history, by writer John Everlove, click on GUESTLIFE. 0110

MILLION-DOLLAR PENNY STAMP. A tiny scrap of bright-red paper, worth at least a million dollars, is locked away in a Pennsylvania bank vault - and the key's been thrown away. It's one of the world's rarest stamps, the famous Penny Magenta... yet nobody can inspect or buy it.  "Many feel that it's the world's ugliest postage stamp ever issued," says  "It is crudely printed, cut to shape, and heavily canceled."  The stamp has been a great profit spinner for each of its owners... that is, until the present one. For the full story, please click on Vermont (US) stamp expert Michael Mills's great new website, GLASSINE SURFER. 0110

HOVERCRAFT WORLD SPEED RECORD. A bid to set a new world speed record for hovercraft is planned to be held on Lake Burley Griffin, in Australia's capital city, Canberra, in 2004, as the highlight of the World Hovercraft Championships. The events, which are sure to attract global media coverage, will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the world's first hovercraft race, held on March 14, 1964, on the then partially-filled lake. I was there as the Sydney-based public relations officer for the sponsor, BP, which supplied fuel and lubricants for a wide variety of motors, ranging from tiny Victa lawnmower engines to one salvaged from a Catalina flying-boat. For full details, click on 2004 and 1964. 0109

ELEPHANT POLO: The Game That Attracts Wealthy Men and Lovely Ladies. The peculiar sport of Elephant Polo, largely confined to the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, will be demonstrated in Thailand for the first time when an international three nations test series is played in Hua Hin, 238 kilometers south of Bangkok, from September 14 to 16. Organisers say teams from Australia, Singapore  Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two from Thailand will participate in what has been called "one of the world's fastest games on one of nature's slowest beasts." To read on, please click on JUMBO POLO. 0109

COMICAL BUSINESS NAMES. More than 80 years ago, a Kidderminster, England estate agent, Edward Doolittle,  invited his young assistant, Reginald Dalley, to become his business partner.Their firm still uses the marvelous name Doolittle and Dalley. Another great business name was coined after Rodger Reid met and later married Marsha Wright in New Preston, Connecticut.  Today, Reid and Wright is just the right name for their antiquarian book center. To see more great business names, click on NAMES. 0109

NUDE'S IMAGE WILL DECORATE BALLOON BOUND FOR SYDNEY. A wealthy American living in Bangkok (Thailand) is scouring the world looking for a nude model whose image will decorate a huge new hot-air balloon which he plans to display in Sydney next year. Alf Erickson, heir to a bread fortune,  recently swapped his home in Florida in favour of a luxury suite on the 14th floor of "the world's finest hotel," Bangkok's Oriental. He already owns three hot-air balloons, which have been displayed in several European countries.His Internet website, which reads like a personal diary, contains dozens of photographs of his favourite models, dressed and undressed. For further details, please click on ALF. 0109

WHY  NOBODY  CARES ABOUT Y. While Thailand, New Zealand and Wales promote towns claiming "the world's longest place name" as tourist attractions, the place with the world's shortest name, a tiny French village called Y, is almost unknown. It appears on hardly any maps, and few Internet search engines know anything about it. Y (its 29 inhabitants pronounce it as E),  whose brief name dates back to 1241, is near the township of Ham ans Athies in the department of Somme in Picardy. To continue, please click on Y . 0109

WORLD'S LONGEST PLACE NAMES. Thailand has beaten off challenges from New Zealand and Wales for the world's longest place name. The Tourism Authority of Thailand plans to display Bangkok's 171-letter name on large billboards at four places, including a point near the country's Grand Palace, a prime tourist spot. Bangkok's historic name is so long that citizens usually call it Krungthep, or City of Angels. The capital's modern name, Bangkok, means City of Wild Plums. Internet websites in Thailand, Wales and New Zealand all claim their countries have the world's longest place name. Among the longest U.S. place names is the  46-letter name of a lake in Massachusetts: Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. To see an edited story from the Sydney Morning Herald, click on SMH; for a longer version, click on BANGKOK or SRI LANKA0108

WHEN I WROTE ABOUT ERIC CATMAN...THE FANS HIT THE WIT. The U.S. has a living Generic: Gen Eric Shinseki, Army Chief of Staff.  Fifteen-year-old  Wendy Fierberg, of Norwalk, Connecticut, narrowly missed being named Generic. And  there's a real-life Eric Cartman in London Ontario,  Canada.  I learnt these three things as guest columnist of Anu Garg's "A Word A Day" for a week last month (July 2001).  On the very first day I suffered a baptism of ire because, in discussing generics and people named Eric, I  had carelessly written "South Park's Eric Catman (who has more lives than any cat)..." MORE. 0108

RADIO IN THE I930s: STATIC IN THE ATTIC. Nearly 70 years ago, in the early days of commercial broadcasting, New Zealand station 4ZC Cromwell, with a power output of 25 watts, broadcast its programs from Lowburn Ferry. Several other N.Z. stations had outputs of only seven watts. Far away across the Pacific, the Crosley Radio Corporation, of Cincinnati, Ohio, boasted that its station, the new 500,000 watt WLW, was the most powerful in the world. For a nostalgic look at radio stations around the world, just posted by  Hermod Pedersen, of Sweden, in his e-magazine  ("Probably the best DX site in the world") click on DX. Sixty-three years ago, I wrote about my schoolboy hobby in a feature article published by the Brisbane Sunday Mail - click on 1938 for an image (322Kb gif file). 0108

PARSLEY: NOT ALWAYS GHARSTLY. Only an honest man or a pregnant woman can grow good parsley. The seeds have to go to the devil and back seven times before they sprout, so they take at least a month to show signs of growth. And if you give a plant to a female, she will promptly become pregnant. Despite those old wives' tales, parsley, a member of the carrot family, has been cultivated since the days of Ancient Rome. Americans use it mostly as a garnish, while European and Middle Eastern cooks use it instead of salt. [The couplet "Parsley is gharstly" was written by U.S. humorous poet Ogden Nash  (1902-71) a descendant of General Francis Nash (1742-77) of North Carolina, who gave his name to Nashville, Tennessee.] To read on, please click Parsley. 0108

ANU GARG'S HALF-MILLION WORDLOVERS. What must be the world's largest school, the free, world-wide A Word A Day service, will soon enroll its 500,000th student. The prestigious U.S. magazine The Smithsonian calls it "a globe-circling cyberphenomenon, one of the most addictive free services available on the Web."  School principal Anu Garg, a 34-year-old computer engineer who works for AT&T in Columbus, Ohio, began his own education sitting under a mango tree in a small Indian village, with a few broken sticks of chalk and a blackboard made by painting a flat piece of wood with soot. He so loves "the music and magic of words" that he e-mails AWAD free to subscribers in some 200 countries in all continents (including Antarctica) five times a week. For full story, please click on ANU. 0107

WHO WAS LITTLE MISS MUFFET? Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet / Eating her curds and whey /  Along came a spider, who sat down beside her / And frightened Miss Muffet away. For centuries, millions of children around the world have recited that nursery rhyme. No one seems to know the identity of either Little Miss Muffet or the poet who wrote about her. Many people in Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire, a small commuter village 20 miles north of London, believe Patience Muffet, who lived there 400 years ago, was the original Little Miss Muffet, and that her father, Dr Thomas Muffet, an entomologist who died in 1604, wrote the rhyme. As the oldest printed version is dated 1805, in an American book, Songs for the Nursery, that theory seems unlikely. Muffet had no children of his own; and two step-daughters from his second marriage to a widow named Catherine Brown would probably have been Little Miss Browns. The good doctor would  have written Little Miss Brown / Went to Town... For full story, please click on LITTLE MISS MUFFET. If you wish to learn more about her hometown, visit David Brewer's interesting website at Brookmans Park 0107

BOSTON'S APOSTROPHE MAN IS A DREAM COME TO LIFE. George Richards, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald's popular Column 8, has for years fought the misuse of apostrophes, through a fictitious, nitpicking character he calls Apostrophe Man.  In a classic case of Life copying Art, a retired copy editor and reporter in the English town of Boston has formed an Apostrophe Protection Society. By a fantastic coincidence his name is John Richards.  I don't think he's related to George...  Boston, (1981 population 26,495) is the small Lincolnshire seaport town from which a small band of Puritans, later known as the Pilgrim Fathers, set off via Plymouth on the 180-ton sailing ship Mayflower. After a stormy voyage across the Atlantic, the tiny ship reached North America, and the little group landed on Plymouth Rock, to found the first English settlement in New England. (To read on, click on BOSTON). 0107

COPYBOYS: AN EXTINCT SPECIES. Generations of famous editors, politicians and businessmen began work as copyboys, when that job was the first rung of a traditional ladder to success. My own climb up the journalistic ladder led not to success, but to a small weather station perched on the roof of The Press, a morning daily occupying a gaunt, fortress-like building in Christchurch, New Zealand. Aged 16, and just out of school in 1935, at the end of the Great Depression, I had scored a job there as a copyboy (wages one pound, then equivalent to four U.S. dollars, a week). I dreamed of emulating my favorite American authors, Don Marquis, Damon Runyon and Sinclair Lewis. This article was published by one of my favorite newspapers, the oddly-named Hereford Brand, in Hereford, Texas, on April 28, 2001. Click on Hereford Brand. 0107

LIFE BEGINS AT 80 FOR PRINCE PHILIP. An open letter to the His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, also called Philip Mountbatten (original name Philip, Prince Of Greece and Denmark) on the occasion of his 80th birthday, June 10, 2001.  Hi Phil (as you know, we're a bit informal here on the Internet). I have good news for you. Please read these consolatory words written many years ago by Frank C. Laubach: "The first 80 years are the hardest. The second 80 are a succession of birthday parties. Once you reach 80, everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you forget your name or anybody else's name, or an appointment, or your own telephone number, or promise to be three places at the same time, or can't remember how many grandchildren you have, you need only explain that you are 80." Click on Philip for a tale with a sting in its tail. To see pictures of the Duke in his 80th year, plus detailed biography, click on 80th Birthday. 0106

THAI TEENAGER'S GREAT WEBSITES. Thousands of teenagers around the world have their own websites, but Nattawud Daoruang's may well be the world's best for that age group. Begun four years ago, when he was only 12, his first modest three pages have grown to 343 pages and 842 images spread among  eight professional-looking sites, which attract 5000  visitors a week, from more than 100 countries. "We don't all live in the jungle or ride elephants to school, and we do have TV," he  says on his outstanding Thailand Life website, which he has developed into a weekly online magazine telling the Internet world about his life and country. To read this story, click on THAI TEENAGER. 0106

SCOTLAND'S NOSTRADAMUS. "When the ninth bridge crosses the Ness, there will be fire, flood and calamity," the Brahan Seer predicted some 300 years ago. The ninth bridge was built in 1987. Within two years: the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea exploded, killing 167 oil workers (fire); the 127-year-old rail bridge across the Ness was washed away (flood); an American aircraft crashed in flames on Lockerbie, with a loss of 279 lives (calamity). The Brahan Seer worked as a labourer on the Brahan Estate, seat of the Seaforth chieftains. He saw future events by peering not into a crystal ball, but through a hole in a curious small bluish-black stone. Click on Brahan Seer. 0106

IS PRUNE KING PLUM CRAZY? King Prune's five-year reign as head of Royal Prune University is in dire peril, because the California Prune Board has just changed its name to the California Dried Plum Board, hoping that calling prunes dried plums will boost worldwide sales of its product, just as the humble Chinese gooseberry rocketed to popularity when New Zealand growers marketed it as Kiwi Fruit. "Who would take any notice of me if I adopted the ridiculous title of King Dried Plum, of Royal Dried Plum University?" asked King Prune, tears streaming down his wrinkled face. "That would make me a laughing-stock. If everyone adopts the name change, we'll have to alter thousands of words on our Web site. Worse still, we'll have to prune our staff." Click on Foodiesite. 0105

ASK YOUR DAD ABOUT KILROY OR CHAD. If your parents or grandparents remember World War II, they will probably recall seeing graffiti of a funny little man with wide-open eyes and a huge U-shaped nose, peering over a wall. Britain knew him fondly as Chad or Mr. Foo, while Americans called him Kilroy. In Britain, he appeared on walls of buildings, on shop windows, and in newspaper cartoons. Below him were the words: WOT - no sugar? (or Tea, or Cigarettes, or whatever else was in short supply). In the United States, the caption just read KILROY WAS HERE. Americans serving in the armed forces took him with them wherever they went. Click on 0105

Kilroy/Chad looking for engines. Click here to read about Operation Market Garden.On the left is a reproduction of a drawing of Kilroy/Chad on a glider of the British First Airborne Division before it left England to take part in Operation Market Garden , an attempt to free occupied Holland. Had it succeeded, the war might have ended months before it did. Airborne units of the 101st US Airborne Division landed in southern Holland on September 17, 1944, in what was then the largest airborne operation in history. Click on the drawing to read about Operation Market Garden. (The drawing was copied by Gary Bainbridge, a 16-year-old signwriter in Nottingham, England). 0105

All above articles copyright © 2001.  Eric Shackle

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