Why We Celebrate Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day, February 2, is supposedly the day that a groundhog will peek outside of its burrow to see if winter is over yet. They say that if the groundhog sees its shadow, it will be frightened and run back to the burrow, and we'll have six more weeks of winter. If it doesn't see its shadow and stays out, that means spring is on its way... in about six weeks. You see, February second is halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. The date is akin to Imbolc, the pagan holiday celebrated for just that reason. Imbolc is February first this year. February second is also Candlemas, a Christian feast day marking 40 days after Christmas.

Falling as it does in the middle of our calendar winter, there's no mystery as to why people wanted some sign of spring returning, but why a groundhog? It wasn't always so. Old Celtic poetry speaks of a snake coming out of its hole. In other parts of Europe, a bear, hedgehog, or badger, all being animals that hibernate, were traditionally used as weather forecasters. When Europeans immigrated to America, they found that the groundhog was the most common hibernating animal around, so Groundhog Day it became.  

For a long time, the holiday was just a piece of folklore, and anyone who looked for a groundhog considered it a local event, or just a tale to pass along to children. But Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, keeps a groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil who has been very publicly predicting weather every year since 1887! Phil is ceremoniously awakened every February second to give his opinion on the coming spring to crowds of thousands who make the pilgrimage to the town's Groundhog Day festival. Punxsutawney Phil is the most famous groundhog, but other towns have their own "official" groundhogs as well. Phil is not expected to predict weather conditions outside of Pennsylvania. Even so, his record of accuracy is only around 39%. You can't really blame him. He's just a rodent and he is a little groggy after sleeping for a couple of months. As in the early days of the tradition, an early spring is an exercise in wishful thinking.  

For the past 30 years, Groundhog Day also means the movie. In Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, visits Punxsutawney for the Groundhog Day festival and becomes stuck in a time loop. He is forced to repeat February second over and over until he gets it right. Many dictionaries now have two definitions for Groundhog Day. The first is the holiday, and the second is a metaphor for being stuck in an endless time loop where every day is the same, inspired by the movie. Watching the film has become a tradition for February the 2nd. For years, some movie channels would show the movie over and over all day long, but in the age of streaming, you can watch it as many or as few times as you like. To celebrate the movie's 30th anniversary, a remastered version of Groundhog Day is being re-released to select theaters this month.

Have a happy Groundhog Day!

(Image credit: Cephas)


"Poker Face" Done in Western Swing

If you ever wondered what Lady Gaga would sound like performing in Texas neary 100 years ago, then you are probably pretty unique in your fantasies. Dustin Ballard, better known as YouTuber There I Ruined It (previously at Neatorama) wondered exactly this, and we know how crazy he is. Ballard remixed her song "Poker Face" with fiddle and steel guitar into a 1940s-style Western swing tune. Whether it sounds good to you depends on your taste in music, but you can't argue with a video featuring vintage poker games from movies where everyone is cheating. The editing is superb. -via Laughing Squid


Take a Quirky Armchair Trip with Wonders of Street View

The website Wonders of Street View is a collection of the best images in Google Street View, whether they are funny, interesting, surprising, odd, beautiful, artful, historic, or superlative. It's not always streets anymore. Street View goes indoors, underwater, into the woods, off road, and into outer space. You might be treated to a glitch, or you might find yourself witnessing episodes of the human condition. Stay with it long enough, and you'll likely see places you've been to. You'll no doubt see places that you want to find out more about, and places that you'll never go.

Just be aware, this is one of those sites that will make your day disappear. But if you want to see any of these places again, you better grab a link from the "share" button at the bottom right, because there is no navigation, just a "random" button to take you somewhere else. -via Metafilter


Boss Built Tiny Homes instead of Office Cubicles for Employees

🏠 No cubicles here! TikToker Kylie shows us how her boss built tiny homes for employees instead of cubicles. I guess they can WFH at the office so it's win/win for the employees and the boss.

πŸ“š Now THIS is the house for booklovers: The Library House.

πŸ•ΉοΈ Did you know that January 31 is Final Fantasy VII Day?

πŸ˜• Artist Andy Sahlstrom re-imagined darker versions of the beloved kids toys brand Little Tikes.

🀚 Here's how to make your own animatronic Thing from Addams Family.

🦌 Whatever you do, don't be rude to an elk. Not even, or perhaps especially, when you're inside a giant steel box on wheels.

πŸ‘Ώ Love the anime series Chainsaw Man? You'll love the Chainsaw Man Cafe (see also: Chainsaw Man Tees and Big & Tall T-Shirts)

🧟 Don't miss: 8 The Last of Us Fan Art Tees and Big & Tall T-Shirts

πŸ”₯ Limited time special: Save up to 20% on all Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror and Valentine's Day T-shirts over at the NeatoShop.


True Facts About the Intelligence of Slime Molds

Slime molds are exceedingly weird. They are even weirder when explained by Ze Frank in a True Facts video. Yeah, the name is awful, and its more descriptive than accurate. Slime molds are more closely related to amoebas than they are to fungi. Slime molds can harness a lot of simple abilities to act like they have brains, which they don't. But they can get around better than some animals that have brains. For some reason I had never learned that slime molds are a single cell. How do they grow so big? Well, according to Ze, they may be one cell, but they have many nuclei, which is another way slime molds are exceedingly weird. This video has plenty of humor without being as prurient as some of his other recent videos. It also has a skippable one-minute ad in the middle.


A Collection of Very Old Cakes

How long can you keep a cake? Apparently forever, as some of these cakes show us. A better question would be how long can you keep a cake and it still be good to eat? We may never know, since no one wants to taste test a historic artifact. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

It's a tradition for the top layer of a wedding cake to be eaten for a first anniversary (or the first child's christening in the UK), but those cakes are frozen, and I haven't heard anyone bragging about how good it was. Believe it or not, there are pieces of Queen Victoria's wedding cake that still exist, keepsakes of the 1840 ceremony. We make jokes about the longevity of a Christmas fruitcake, which are borne out by one family that has kept Grandma's last fruitcake for 137 years. But those cakes have nothing on some funerary cakes buried with the dead and unearthed by archaeologists. The oldest cake in the world is more than 4000 years old, buried for the use of a deceased Egyptian king (who obviously never used it) and excavated more than 100 years ago. Check out a list of cakes that have been kept for a long, long time at Messy Nessy Chic.     


Cat-Torn Jeans

Sometimes they're called ripped jeans and sometimes they're called distressed jeans. Either way, there's apparently money in tearing these clothes up. This aesthetic principle does not apply to other articles of clothing, such as overalls and suit jackets. To have ripped up jeans is a sign of refinement.

Artist and art director Pablo Rochat is offering a new way to tear your jeans. This will no doubt be the look for the new season. All you need is a cat and a laser pointer. You can actually do fairly precise work if your aim with the laser pointer is precise.


What Made LEGO the King of Building Blocks

Believe it or not, LEGO blocks weren't the first toy that consisted of small interlocking plastic building blocks. That was Kiddicraft blocks, patented by British toymaker Hilary Page in 1947. Over in Denmark, toymaker Ole Kirk Christiansen switched from wood to plastic toys and started making similar bricks in 1949. You might think that a legal war would have ensued, but Page died in 1957, reportedly unaware of the Danish toy, and Christiansen died in 1958. However, the most important part of the story is the patent that Christiansen's son Godtfred filed in January of 1958 that made LEGO blocks a better product.

In the video above, Phil Edwards explains the crucial design innovation that made LEGO the better toy. That's the first four minutes. The rest of the video is about the marketing juggernaut that brought LEGO bricks to the world. 

You have to wonder if any of the original Kiddicraft blocks are still around, and whether they are valuable. I couldn't find any for sale online, but I did find a 3D printing pattern. -via Digg  


Your Odds of Dying by Accident

The leading causes of death in the US are, as always, heart disease and cancer. COVID-19 is third. Accidental death is scarier, because that could happen at any age. People are afraid of sharks and plane crashes, but the most likely accidental death is traffic accidents. After all, we get in our cars almost every day, but fly only occasionally and rarely see a shark. Visual Capitalist took data from the National Safety Council to compile your lifetime odds of dying by the most common accidental causes. There are other factors that feed into these odds, like your age. Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages one to four. Accidental firearm discharge makes up only 1% of gun deaths; the rest are suicide and homicide. Remember, the stats are for the US only. Read more on the statistics pertaining to accidental deaths at Visual Capitalist. Anything you find hard to read on the graphic will be in text there. -via Boing Boing


Historic Bottles of Air in Tasmania



Considering the way we've been treating our planet, testing air quality is crucial. That doesn't mean just testing for pollutants, but also the basic components of the atmosphere that can change over time. At Kennaook/Cape Grim in Australia, the cleanest air in the world blows in from the Southern Ocean. The Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station is constantly testing this air, but they also keep samples in the Cape Grim Air Archive. Every few months a new tank is added to the collection. Sure, we have air testing results for the last 50 years, but what if, sometime in the future, we need to test for something we never tested before? The archive means this historic air will be available for new tests. Tom Scott gives us a look at the archives and explains how these samples are bottled, stored, and used.

Tom also added a link at the video page to give us some background on Cape Grim, particularly the massacre of 1828. It is indeed grim.


Why You May Have Trouble Recalling Events of the Past Three Years

Neuroscientists, and people in general, have noticed a disturbing phenomena in that many folks have trouble recalling what they did during the pandemic. It's not widespread amnesia, but individual, day-to-day things like who came to Christmas dinner last year or whether you took your books back to the library. It can't be blamed on COVID-19 specifically, because this lack of memory can occur before infection and in people who never caught the disease.

Speculation from brain researchers tells us that two factors will do this: monotony and stress. Many people went home and stayed there, working online, taking classes from home, or supervising children 24/7 (or all three). Long-term memories are formed by the outlines of how different an event is from life around it. When every day is the same, it's difficult to form new memories. Then there was the stress of lifestyle changes, new safety protocols, social upheavals, and fear of the disease. This reminds me of what's colloquially known as "mommy brain" or "widow brain," in which focusing on new priorities makes previously-important parts of your life fade into oblivion.

Read about the factors that may contribute to the impairment of making new memories during the pandemic, whether it's just inconsequential forgetting or full-blown brain fog, at the Walrus. -via Damn Interesting


The Prophesy: A Classic Fantasy Tale



Our hero is on a quest to fulfill his destiny, but first he must uncover the foretold knowledge of what that destiny is. The secret is in the hands of a wise mountain hermit. This is a scenario you'll find in countless fantasy books, movies, and video games, but you've never seen it unfold as realistically as it does in this animated video by Joel Haver (previously at Neatorama). While it's no Lord of the Rings, it is long enough to get the point across. But it still leaves us with lingering questions, like what was the wooden triangle supposed to do? And did they ever kick it? -via reddit


30-Foot Snowman Stands Guard in Minnesota

Have you ever pulled that trick where you made a perfect snowman that's around ten inches tall and took a close-up picture to post on social media? That's why redditors demand a "banana for scale" whenever the size of something is questionable. That wasn't required for this snowman, because they already have a house for scale!

Eric Fobbe of Buffalo, Minnesota, built a snowman that's 30 feet tall and 20 feet across. He gathered up snow from all around the neighborhood and used a snowblower to pile it up. Fobbe says the snowman needs daily maintenance, with extra snow added anytime he starts to shrink. This is not Fobbe's first giant snowman. He's been building them for four years, and every year the snowman is larger. This year's snowman is so big he has a traffic cone for a nose! See a video report on the snowman from the local news station. -via TYWKIWDBI


The Pigeon-Neck Illusion Plays With Your Perception

Jun Ono, Akiyasu Tomoeda, and Kokichi Sugihara developed this illusion that shows us how pixelated pigeons and worms move. When they move across a grid of stripes, the worms appear to stretch and compress, while the pigeons begin to waddle. The movement of the figures is actually smooth, as you can see at the top where pigeons move across a bare background. This is also shown later with UFOs. But the effect is much stronger at this interactive page, where the colors are bolder. The pixelated pigeons appear to be stretching their necks out as they move forward, but that's an illusion. Uncheck the "grid" box underneath the graphic to remove the background stripes. You can also adjust the speed and colors to see how that affects the illusion. The movement we see in the figures comes from the low contrast when the edges of the figures move across the stripes, as we have a hard time seeing that part of the movement. You can see another version of the same affect in the Stepping Feet illusion. -via Boing Boing 


A Brief History of Fettuccine Alfredo

Is there anyone who doesn't like fettuccine Alfredo? You may look at it as a fancy Italian version of macaroni and cheese, but it sure is tasty. Like spaghetti and meatballs, or carbonara, it's a dish better known in the US than in Italy. But is certainly originated in Italy, made by chef Alfredo di Lelio in 1908 for his wife. It was a simple combination of handmade fettuccine pasta, butter, and Parmesan cheese.

What made fettuccine Alfredo the popular dish it is today (in America) is the way Alfredo presented it at his restaurant in Rome. He would personally mix the cheese with the buttered pasta at the table until it was silky smooth, and foreign visitors would go home and rave about it. Since 1933, the dish has appeared in more than 800 American cookbooks. Yet it's still not all that well known in Italy. Italian food historian Luca Cesari explains how and why Alfredo developed his recipe and how it became a sensation everywhere except his native land, at Literary Hub. -via Damn Interesting






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