Star Wars Snowflakes

With the December 18th release of the new Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you may want to decorate your home with Star Wars related Christmas decorations. If so, then Anthony Herrera has got you covered.

Rey Snowflake
BB-8 Snowflake
Finn Snowflake

Mr. Herrera is a graphic designer and a self confessed geek. Combining these two has led him to create Star Wars snowflakes. Not only does he design these amazing geeky snowflakes, he also provides the plans for free so that you can make them for your own Star Wars Christmas special. However, “you may NOT use any of these designs for resale purposes, including producing other types of products using these designs.

Here is his website for the Star Wars snowflakes, where you’ll find the designs for seven snowflakes including Rey, BB-8, and Finn, as you see above. Mr. Herrera has also created designs for a First Order Stormtrooper and Kylo Ren Lightsaber.

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Herrera has created Star Wars snowflakes. He has been designing these since at least 2011, and each year he unveils a new collection. Scroll down to the bottom of his page for links to the previous sets, or just follow these links:

2011 Collection, six snowflakes including Admiral Ackbar, C-P3O, and Yoda

2012 Collection, twenty-four snowflakes including Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and an Ewok

2013 Collection, thirteen snowflakes including Boba Fett, Emperor Palpatine, and a Tie Interceptor

2014 Collection, seven snowflakes including Greedo, Jabba The Hutt, and a Wampa

2015 Collection, seven snowflakes including Rey, Kylo Ren, and Poe Dameron

Recently, Mr. Herrera has been expanding beyond doing only Star Wars snowflakes. Now he has a collection for Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy.

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Nathan Fillion and Firefly

Mal ReynoldsCreated by Joss Whedon as a space western, and first broadcast on September 20th, 2002, the television show Firefly developed a huge following, even though it lasted just one season.

The lead actor in the show was Nathan Fillion, who played the character Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds. In early June at the Phoenix Comicon 2014, Nathan Fillion was asked by an audience member what episode he would have wanted to make, had Firefly gone on for more than one season.

He answered that Alan Tudyk (who played the character ‘Hoban “Wash” Washburne’) came up with a story idea where some serious bad guys hire the crew to go to a world to capture some wild, uncontrollable dogs. The bad guys want to use them for dog fighting. You just know that this will not be an easy job for Mal, Wash, or any of the crew of the Serenity. And the ending of the episode will crack you up (I hope)! Take it away Captain Reynolds …

The clip above was edited from the full panel discussion that Nathan Fillion participated in at the Phoenix Comicon 2014. The panel discussion was recorded by Nai Wang and you can watch the whole video here.

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Pearl Harbor

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly the Shokaku)

Japanese naval aircraft prepare to take off from an aircraft carrier (reportedly the Shokaku)

Seventy-one years ago today (Sunday, December 7th, 1941) at 8:01 AM local time, the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Japanese also attacked other American military installations on Oahu including the Hawaiian Air Force, stationed at the Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows Fields. These facilities were struck to eliminate air opposition and to prevent the American Air Force from counter-attacking the Japanese aircraft carriers. Prior to this unprovoked attack, the two nations were not officially at war with each other.

The attack was intended to cripple United States Pacific Fleet, to keep it from interfering with the Japanese advance into Southeast Asia (particularly Malaya and the Dutch East Indies). Japan sought to capture these territories for the oil, rubber and other natural resources being produced there.

Using six aircraft carriers, the Japanese launched over 350 aircraft (bombers, torpedo planes and fighters) at Pearl Harbor and other targets on Oahu. They succeeded in damaging all eight United States Navy battleships anchored at Pearl Harbor. One battleship, the Arizona, was completely destroyed and sunk with a loss of 1,177 lives. In addition, the attack damaged or sank three American cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one mine layer.

Over 2,400 American were killed in the attack with almost 1,300 wounded. The losses to the Japanese were considered light, with 65 killed or wounded, 29 aircraft and five midget submarines destroyed.

While this Japanese strike did cripple the United States Navy in the Pacific for the better part of a year, the Americans were fortunate that all three American aircraft carriers (the Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga) were out at sea on December 7th. It appears that the Japanese knew the carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and launched the assault anyway, believing they would be victorious in a brief Pacific war.

While the two countries were not officially at war at the time, tensions between the nations had been increasing throughout 1941. According to a Gallup survey released just before the Pearl Harbor attack, a small majority of Americans expected that war with Japan was imminent.

This surprise attack both shocked and galvanized the American public. At 12:30 PM on December 8th, United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech to a Joint Session of Congress that has become known as the “Day of Infamy Speech.” Just one hour after President Roosevelt concluded his speech, the United States Congress formally declared war against Japan. The United States entered World War II.

In the years since Pearl Harbor, the prevailing view has been that government of Japan and the leaders of the Japanese Imperial Navy (including Admiral Yamamoto) had intended to declare war prior to the attack. Howard French, writing in the New York Times (on December 9th, 1999), reported Japanese Foreign Ministry documents contradicted this view. Quoting Mr. French’s article:

The picture that emerges from the papers is one of a breathtakingly cunning deceit by Tokyo aimed at avoiding any hint to the Roosevelt administration of Japan’s hostile intentions.

The newly discovered documents include an earlier draft of the Final Memorandum, dated Dec. 3, in which the Japanese Foreign Ministry, mindful of the country’s obligation under the Hague Convention to declare war before attacking, proposed stating that ‘we are forced to terminate negotiations.’

Takeo Iguchi, a professor of law and international relations at the International Christian University in Tokyo, who discovered the papers in the Foreign Ministry archives, said the draft memorandum, together with the wartime diary of Japan’s general staff, pointed to a vigorous debate inside the government over how, indeed whether, to notify Washington of Japan’s intention to break off negotiations and start a war.

‘The diary shows that the army and navy did not want to give any proper declaration of war, or indeed prior notice even of the termination of negotiations,’ said Mr. Iguchi. ‘And they clearly prevailed.’ Mr. Iguchi said the general staff, together with a pliant Foreign Ministry, had controlled not only the content of the message to Washington, but also its timing.

Regardless of whether it was intended as a sneak attack, Japan’s actions at Pearl Harbor had far reaching repercussions. By entering World War II, America greatly increased the men and materiel, research and development, and production capabilities available to the Allies. The attack also led to the atomic age when atom bombs was used against Japanese targets.

Here is President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivering his “Presidential Address to Congress of December 8, 1941,” which has become known as the “Day of Infamy Speech.”

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Finding Common Ground

Rather than just seeking our support on an issue or initiative, some organizations also want us to adopt their point of view. Not surprisingly, a strategy like this can create tensions and be divisive, fueling an all or nothing point of view. “If you’re not with us, you must be against us!”

In her book Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us, Maggie Koerth-Baker. tells of an group that realized that individuals could support organizational goals without agreeing with the organizations’ mission.

The Climate and Energy Project (CEP) in Kansas helped to defeat a major electrical generation project (the Sunflower project) that would have seen the building of three new generators at an existing coal plant in the western Kansas town of Holcomb. This project was defeated, in part, by an argument CEP put forward regarding the “long-term, slowly creeping health impact of carbon dioxide emissions.”

Following the defeat of the Sunflower project, CEP wanted to bring the various sides together to produce real change in how energy was created and used. Through the use of focus groups, CEP and their lead environmentalist, Ellen Horn, “got a bunch of Kansans together in a room, lob some ideas at them, and watch how they responded.”

At one of the focus group, Ms. Horn watched from the other side of a two-way mirror, as a man in the group said, “‘Climate change is a lie.’ The man leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest. ‘Climate change is a lie,’ he said again. ‘It’s just something make up by environmentalists to scare us.'” Ms. Horn had heard this comment many times before. However, in this case, even though the man didn’t believe in climate change, he did drive a “hybrid car and [had] changed all his light bulbs out to CFLs.”

This moment changed Ms. Horn’s outlook on the world. “Like many people who might describe themselves as ‘green,’ Horn thought of climate change as an idea you had to accept before you’d be willing to care about energy change. Before the focus groups, she saw climate and energy as a couple of nested boxes. Open the alternative energy box, and you’d find a box full of climate change fears inside. She was wrong.”

“We came away with multiple examples where people who didn’t believe in climate change were taking action anyway for other reasons,’ Horn said. A lot of it was energy security and also conservation, which is just an ethic that we have in the Midwest. Prudence came up a lot, with people saying, ‘Well, even if we aren’t sure, maybe we should take action just in case.'”

“That lesson – that you don’t have to care about climate change to care about energy was enough to alter the way the Climate and Energy Project did business. Instead of kicking off their campaign by trying to lead a bunch of very stubborn horses to the lake, they just skipped right ahead to the part where everybody gets a glass of water.”

This story illustrates that there may be support for organizational goals, even when there isn’t support for the underlying reasons why the organization wants to pursue these goals. Perhaps, it’s time for all of us to focus on where there is agreement toward solving problems, rather than simply trying to push our beliefs on everyone else.

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A Useful Machine

Having grown up on Rube Goldberg cartoons in Saturdays’ Funny Pages, I love wacky devices that use long and overly complex techniques to perform mundane tasks. I also admire the talent and skill of individuals who are able to create these machines.

For Wednesday Humour this week, let me introduce you to The Page Turner. This machine is the creation of artist Joseph Herscher (the deeply involved newspaper reader in the video). Born in New Zealand and now residing in Brooklyn, New York, Herscher built his first Rube Goldberg devise four years ago in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Page Turner makes use of a black powder fuse, billiard balls, a gas burner, a hamster, and a lot of gravity to achieve its task!

If you’d like to know more about this crazy machine or Joseph Herscher, please read this New York Times article, Who Says Machines Must Be Useful?

Got the skills or imagination to build one of these contraptions? There are Rube Goldberg Machine contests held every year. Participants need to be High School or College students. To learn more, visit the Machine Contests page on the Rube Goldberg website.

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Science of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini and Steve Martin have just created a highly engaging and informative video of the proven “factors that influence us to say yes to the requests of others.” This 12 minute video, which is full of examples, is provided below. Dr. Cialdini is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to be quoting the authors, to provide you a quick look at the great information covered in the video. I hope you’ll watch the whole thing and are prepared to take notes.

Researchers for over 60 years have been studying persuasion and Cialdini and Martin state that there can be no doubt that is a science to how we are persuaded. And a lot of this science is surprising.

In their research, Cialdini and Martin have identified just six universal rules of thumb or shortcuts that guide human behaviour. These six shortcuts are:

1. Reciprocity
2. Scarcity
3. Authority
4. Consistency
5. Liking
6. Consensus

Understanding these shortcuts and employing them in an ethical manner can significantly increase the chances that someone will be persuaded by your request.

The first principle is Reciprocity and simply put, people are obliged to give back to others the form of behaviour, gift or service that they have received first. In the context of a social obligation, people are more likely to say yes to those that they owe! The key to using the principle of reciprocation is to be the first to give and to ensure that what you give is it is personalized and unexpected.

The second universal principle of persuasion is Scarcity. Simply put, people want more of those things they can have less of. When it comes to successfully persuading others using the scarcity principle, the science is clear. It’s not enough simply to tell people about the benefits they’ll gain if they’ll choose your products and services. You’ll also need to point out what is unique about your proposition, and what they stand to lose if they fail to consider your proposal.

The third principle of influence is Authority. The idea is that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. What the science is telling us is that it’s important to signal to others what makes you a credible, knowledgeable authority before you make your influence attempts. Of course, this can present problems. You can hardly go around telling potenial customers how brilliant you are. But, you can certainly arrange for someone to do it for you. Surpisingly, the science tells us that it doesn’t seem to matter if the person who introduces you is not only connected to you but also likely to prosper from the introduction themselves. Having a staff member, such as a receptionist, mention the experience or expertise of the staff member to whom they are transferring a call can lead to a significant increase in business. Increased business from implementing a small change informed by persuasion science, that is both ethicial and costless to implement.

For information about the other three principles Cialdini and Martin have identified, please watch the full video.

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Quotes on Risk Taking

Occasional Risk by mafleen, used with permission

Whether you know it or not, you take risks every single day. To some we have become acclimatized, such as driving a car on an icy road or crossing a street against the light.

Some risks we take, we don’t really understand. They seem smaller or larger than they really are. Most of us worry about being in a plane crash and don’t worry about dying from diabetics, a stroke, or a car accident. Yet study after study tells us that we are much more likely to die from any one of those three than a plane crash. In his article How Risky is Flying, David Ropeik writes, “The annual risk of being killed in a plane crash for the average American is about 1 in 11 million. On that basis, the risk looks pretty small. Compare that, for example, to the annual risk of being killed in a motor vehicle crash for the average American, which is about 1 in 5,000.”

Even when we don’t take a risk, we are taking a risk. Particularly in world that is changing as quickly as ours is currently. Just because what you did yesterday was successful, there is no guarantee that it will be successful tomorrow. Standing pat is a risk. Standing pat looks like safety and yet safety is an illusion. The world isn’t predictable enough to be completely safe.

As a result, I’m a believer in taking risks. Some of my risks are small. They are taken to test the waters or to learn something new. Often I will take larger risks. These are taken with deliberation or calculation. And sometimes, when the danger of a harmful outcome is really, really low, I will take foolish risks for fun and for the spice they add to my life. Riding roller coasters or sky diving anyone?

Because I believe in taking risks, I was delighted to see that Mitch Ditkoff, writing on Huff Post put together a list of 50 Awesome Quotes on Risk. Here are a dozen of my favorites from his list:

“Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.” — Anonymous

“Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.” — General George Patton

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” — David Lloyd George

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“I can accept failure. Everybody fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying. Fear is an illusion.” — Michael Jordan

“Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.” — Tom Peters

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain

“Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.” — Chinese proverb

“Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called ‘sure-thing-taking.'” — Jim McMahon

“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” — Robert Schuller

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Robbing Peter

In yesterday’s post I mentioned the phrase robbing Peter to pay Paul, which is generally considered to mean paying one debt by incurring another. Imagine paying your MasterCard bill with your Visa card, or by taking out a loan.

This expression has been around for a long time (in English and other languages). Some claim that the phrase comes from a text published in 1661, the Ecclesia Restaurata. The website The Phrase Finder, suggests that it’s first published usage is from the “ecclesiastical tome Jacob’s Well: An English Treatise on the Cleansing of Man’s Conscience, circa 1450.” As published in Jacob’s Well, the phrase is “To robbe Petyr & geve it Poule, it were non almesse but gret synne.”

Other sources state that the term came to be in 16th Century England, when part of the estate of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Westminster was appropriated to pay for repairs to Saint Paul’s in London.

Some believe the metaphor arose during the period before the Reformation when Church taxes had to be paid to St. Paul’s church in London and St. Peter’s church in Rome. In this usage, robbing Peter to pay Paul meant neglecting the St. Peter’s tax in order to make payment to St. Paul’s church.

For the final word on the origins of this expression, let’s return to the The Phrase Finder. “The expression was coined at a time when almost all English people were Christian and they would have been well used to hearing Peter and Paul paired together. They were both apostles of Christ, both martyred in Rome and shared the Feast Day on 29th June. It may not be the case that the phrase arose from the borrowing of money from one church to fund another, but from the familiarity of the notion of Peter and Paul being alike and inseparable.”

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Carlo Bianchi and the Nurse

Pearl Gossett was a nurse at a coal mining camp in Blocton, Alabama in October 1912. While cooking a meal for a patient, she suffered a terrible accident. The gasoline stove she was using exploded in flames. The burning gasoline covered her left arm, breast and shoulder, inflicting severe burns. Remember, that this was a time without antibiotics and such injuries were life-threating.

Carlo Bianchi worked occasionally as a nurse in the camp. This led him to know the medical staff. He was on friendly terms with one of the staff doctors, Dr. Thomas. A few days after Gossett’s accident, Dr. Thomas stopped by to share a beer with Bianchi. The conversation turned to Gossett’s condition. Not sugar coating the situation, Dr. Thomas said that her condition was very serious. He further added that her situation was growing more dangerous because gangrene was setting in. Asked if anything could be done to help Gossett, Dr. Thomas said skin grafts might save her. Unfortunately, Dr. Thomas had been unable to find even one person willing to donate even a small square of skin for the procedure.

Even though Bianchi didn’t know Gossett well, he knew that she had a reputation of being a compassionate, caring person. Learning that she might die, or at least lose her arm, because of the unwillingness of others to help, angered Bianchi. Asking how many inches of skin would be needed, he learned that perhaps forty to fifty inches would suffice. He volunteered on the spot.

That night, a team of doctors removed seventy-two square inches of skin from Bianchi’s thigh. After the procedure, Bianchi’s leg was bandaged from knee to hip and he spent weeks in the hospital recovering.

As he was about to be released, Dr. Thomas visited and stated that Gossett needed more skin grafts. Again, Bianchi volunteered and had 50 square inches removed from his back. Battling pain and pleurisy, he would spend the next three months recovering.

Broad white patches of scar tissue marked Bianchi’s back and thigh for the remainder of his life. A reminder that his sacrifice had saved the life of Pearl Gossett.

You may think that this is simply an interesting story of altruism. However, the story takes on even more meaning when I tell you that Carlos Bianchi was an alias. Bianchi’s real name was Carlos Ponzi, which was later Anglicized to Charles Ponzi.

The man who gave the skin off his back to save a critically-injured nurse would, eight years later, become infamous for his get-rich-scheme.

Unfamiliar with a Ponzi Scheme? It is a fraudulent investment that pays returns to investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, instead of from profits earned from the operation. It is also known as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

This post is adapted from a story published in Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend by Mitchell Zuckoff. This is a fascinating, entertaining and highly readable book about Charles Ponzi, his life and his scheme. I highly recommend it!

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Canada’s Own Skateboarding Bulldog!

Buttercup, Canada’s Skateboarding Bulldog

Last Wednesday I presented a video of Tillman, a surfing bulldog from Oxnard California. As soon as I posted, a friend (thanks, Stacey!) pointed me to a video of a Canadian skateboarding bulldog, Buttercup (yup, that’s her name). Best of all she is based in Edmonton, Alberta.

Like Tillman, Buttercup can skateboard. However while Tillman surfs, Buttercup snowboards. Given the location and climate of Edmonton, it makes sense. We’re hundreds of miles away an ocean or anywhere else to surf (excluding the World Waterpark at the West Edmonton Mall, and I’m betting that dogs aren’t allowed in). Plus for at least four months of the year, our ground is covered with snow!

One of the most common questions asked about Buttercup’s boarding abilities, is “how did you teach her to do that?” To which Buttercups’ human replies, “We didn’t, she taught herself. It’s something to do with the Bulldog breed, they love boards of all kinds. Even as a nine-week-old puppy, Buttercup was fascinated with skateboards.” At the age of 8 months, Buttercup got her first skateboard and “she took to it immediately and became obsessed with it. All she wanted to do was skateboard.” The only way get her to stop was to take her board away. Sounds like she had been taking the lyrics of The Beach Boys hit Fun, Fun, Fun to heart!

Buttercup and her human are available to make public appearances, which they do on a regular basis. Buttercup will be at the Edmonton Pet Expo on January 19th and 20th, 2013, the Calgary Pet Expo on April 27th and 28th, 2013, and the Vancouver Island Pet Expo on May 25th and 26th, 2013.

To learn more about Buttercup, or to book her for your event, visit her website.

Now, let’s see Buttercup in action on her skateboard.

Here’s Buttercup enjoying winter on a snowboard!

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