Land Rover, Britain’s go-anywhere icon

It is on this day, 30 April, back in 1948, that the first Land Rover prototype was premiered at the Amsterdam Motor Show.

Billed as “a go-anywhere vehicle, a portable source of power, and an alternative to the light tractor”, the four-wheel drive Land Rover Series 1 prototype was an inspired combination of a chassis from an old American Willys Overland Jeep, a Rover P3 sedan 1.6 litre engine, and various other existing and new parts. The Series 1 had a utilitarian, square, boxy design with a canvas roof and very little along the line of ‘extras’ – even doors were considered an added luxury, and sold separately.

The Land Rover Defender - a go-anywhere icon since its launch in 1983. (© All Rights Reserved)
The Land Rover Defender – a go-anywhere icon since its launch in 1983.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The Land Rover Series 1 proved a huge hit in Britain and beyond, and was used by farmers, police and military forces, expedition travellers and more. Within 30 years from its launch, a million Land Rovers were produced at its assembly line in Birmingham, England.

Since the Series 1, Land Rover has released a wide range of models, from the rough-and-tough Defender to the super-luxury Range Rover to the hip and fashionable, compact urban warrior SUV, the Evoque.

Across it’s model range, Land Rover have sold consistently well over the years, with the 4 millionth Land Rover rolling off the production line in 2007. Not bad for a vehicle that entered the market as an alternative to a tractor!

Catch a healthy beat on International Dance Day

International Dance Day is celebrated on 29 April each year since 1982 when it was introduced by the International Theatre Institute (ITI), a UNESCO partner NGO.

The day celebrates dance as a universal art form – crossing all political, cultural and ethnic boundaries, and bringing people together through the common language of movement and rhythm. Each year an outstanding dancer or choreographer is selected as ‘Message Author’ for the event, and this year the honour goes to Taiwanese choreographer Lin Hwai-min. Quoting from his Dance Day message:
“Dance is a powerful expression.
It speaks to earth and heaven.
It speaks of our joy, our fear and our wishes.
Dance speaks of the intangible, yet reveals the state of mind of a person and
the temperaments and characters of a people.”

Dancing can provide you with a healthy, energetic full-body workout. (© All Rights Reserved)
Dancing can provide you with a healthy, energetic full-body workout.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Besides its cultural and artistic significance, dance is also a great physical activity, providing the dancer with a comprehensive full-body workout. As a mode of exercise it has many advantages – not only is it more fun than slogging away in a gym, it’s great for core strength, balance training and flexibility. In this age when many children and adults spend the bulk of their time sitting at a desk behind a computer, rather than engaging in physical activity, dance can become an even more important form of expression. Dance Day Message Author Lin Hwai-min also touches on this important role of dance, saying:
“Come, turn off your television, switch off your computer, and come to dance.
Express yourself through that divine and dignified instrument, which is our body.
Come to dance and join people in the waves of pulses.
Seize that precious and fleeting moment.
Come to celebrate life with dance.”

So come on, enjoy the unity and diversity of dance, feel the rhythm, and exercise your body while you’re at it. Happy International Dance Day, everyone!

Pinhole photography, creative and addictive

Today, 28 April, is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, an international event to promote and celebrate the art of pinhole photography.

For those who may not know it, a pinhole camera is an extremely basic and simple device with which to take photographs. In essence all it consists of is a lightproof box/container with a very small hole/pinhole to let in light, and a piece of film (or a film roll, in the case of more advanced model) to record the image created by the light entering through the hole.

Various websites exist (see here, here, here and here, for basic examples, or here for very detailed instructions) showing how to make pinhole cameras of varying degrees of complexity. Many can be made at almost zero cost – all it takes is some time and effort. I’ve also seen some really nifty pre-manufactured pinhole photography kits for sale, often through educational toy outlets. Alternatively, a digital version can be created by drilling a hole in your digital SLR’s body cap, covering the hole with tin foil, and making a tiny pinhole in the foil.

The inexactness of composition and exposure makes pinhole photography a very exciting photographic art form. (© All Rights Reserved)
The inexactness of composition and exposure makes pinhole photography a very exciting photographic art form.
(© All Rights Reserved)

One of the most exciting aspects of pinhole photography is that it is not an exact science. It is difficult to determine your exact exposure, and creating a composition is also a bit of a hit and miss affair. Each pinhole camera is unique – no two pinholes will be exactly the same size/shape, the distance between the pinhole and the film will vary, the film may not always be perfectly flat, and there may even be a small amount of light leakage affecting the film. This non-exactness of pinhole photography is what makes it so much fun, and such a uniquely personal experience – you are always guaranteed a few surprises when you have your pinhole film developed.

To create a fairly sharp image, the pinhole in the camera needs to be quite small, which in turn means that not much light is allowed into the pinhole camera. This means the amount of time you leave the pinhole open to take a picture (the shutter speed, basically) also tends to be quite long, making pinhole photography more suited to stationary subjects (for sharp images) or slow moving subjects (for some motion blur). Fast moving subjects are likely to move too fast to be captured, and will either result in excessive blur, or may even end up not captured at all.

In celebration of the day, you can participate by making your own pinhole camera, taking some photos and submitting one image to the Pinhole Day website (see the 2012 Gallery for inspiration.) Perhaps its a bit late for this year, but remember Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day is celebrated every year on 28 April, so now is your chance to start early for next year

Of course you don’t have to contribute to the official website. By immersing yourself into the art of pinhole photography, looking at what others have done, and developing your own unique approach and style, you can soon start building up your own library of original photo art.

Just a word of warning – pinhole photography can be seriously addictive! (But, don’t fret, it’s a healthy obsession!)

Spreading the vaccination message on World Veterinary Day

It’s 27 April, and today is World Veterinary Day. Celebrated since 2000 on the last Saturday in April, each year features a specific theme of particular interest to the veterinary community. This year, World Veterinary Day will seek to raise awareness of vaccination as a means to prevent disease.

World Veterinary Day is a great opportunity to get your beloved pet vaccinated. (© All Rights Reserved)
World Veterinary Day is a great opportunity to get your beloved pet vaccinated.
(© All Rights Reserved)

“Vaccines are very valuable tools to stop the spread of a large number of transmissible diseases that threaten the health and welfare of animals and people,” explains the World Veterinary Association. “Vaccination of animals helps people to protect their livestock and their companion animals, as well as themselves in case of zoonotic diseases. Through well organised campaigns, vaccination contributes to the eradication of diseases from certain areas and even from the world.”

Vaccination is equally important in clinical veterinary practices and large animal practices. With companion animals, for example, vaccination is important to prevent and even eradicate diseases, in some cases also providing protection to the owners who are in regular, close contact with the animals. In the case of commercial farm animals, outbreaks of diseases can have a huge impact on farm productivity, and here vaccination is again a key preventative measure.

World Veterinary Day provides a great opportunity for veterinarians to promote their message and educate the community. As stated on the website of the New Zealand Veterinary Association, “World Veterinary Day is an ideal opportunity for us all to show our communities the value and protection vaccinations provide against the spread of disease.”

So whether you are a livestock farmer or pet owner, why not use this day to contact your vet and find out more about the benefits of vaccination. Who knows, some practices may even run special clinics or promotions, providing you with a cost-effective opportunity to have your animals vaccinated.

Commemorating the creator of the Richter Magnitude Scale

It’s 26 April, and today we celebrate Richter Scale Day. It is the commemoration of the birth of Charles Francis Richter (26 April 1900 – 30 September 1985), the American seismologist who is famous as creator, in 1935, of the ‘Richter magnitude scale’, commonly known as the Richter scale.

The Richter scale was developed as an attempt to quantify, in a single number, the energy released during an earthquake. It is a base-10 logarithmic scale, meaning that a magnitude 4 earthquake, for example, would be 10 times that of a magnitude 3 earthquake. Since the mid 20th century, the ‘moment magnitude scale’ (MMS) has replaced the Richter scale as the preferred measure of the strength of earthquakes, particularly for larger earthquakes. Despite this, and despite the fact that many earthquakes these days are actually measured according to the MMS, the magnitude values are commonly still referred to as Richter scale values by the general public.

(© All Rights Reserved)
(© All Rights Reserved)

For low magnitude/weak earthquakes, the Richter and MMS scales are very closely related. However, for values above 5, the Richter classification is considered ‘at risk’, while Richter values above 6 are essentially meaningless. Both the Richter and MMS scales are open-ended, meaning they have no maximum value, but to date the highest value recorded has been the Valdivia earthquake that took place in Chile in 1960, measuring a magnitude of 9.5 on the MMS scale.

Both the Richter and MMS scales measure the energy release of an earthquake, not the damage done. Since quakes can manifest in many different ways – jolts, wobbles, shakes, vertical movement, horizontal movement etc – two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have greatly varying impacts. The ‘Mercalli intensity scale’, on the other hand, classifies earthquakes based on their effect/impact – it provides an indication of the effects of an earthquake on humans, natural objects and man-made structures, on a scale from I (‘not felt’) to XII (‘total destruction’).

As recent comparative examples, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake here in New Zealand, and 2011 Japan earthquake, which measured 6.3 and 8.9 on the MMS scale respectively, were both categorised as IX (‘violent’) on the Mercalli scale. The 2011 Van earthquake in Turkey, on the other hand, which measured 7.2 MMS, was categorised one level higher as an X (‘intense’) according to the Mercalli scale.

Living in the very seismically active New Zealand, one cannot help but have an appreciation for people like Charles Richter, and the work he has done in advancing the understanding and categorisation of earthquakes. So here’s to Charles Richter, and here’s to a seismically calm Richter Scale Day.

Girls in ICT Day, promoting ICT as an equal opportunity career

The fourth Thursday in April (falling on the 25th this year) has been designated Girls in ICT Day by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in response to the global decline in the number of schoolgirls opting to pursue technology-related careers.

ICT is consistently ranked among the top 20 tech careers in terms of pay and long term prospects, and as one of the more stable and robust sectors, there is a strong, and by all indications ongoing, demand for young ICT professionals entering the market. It is also a domain boasting a good gender balance, and the ITU hope to use these facts, combined with its activities on Girls in ICT Day, to reverse the trend witnessed in other tech industries, and to grow the number of girls and women pursuing careers in the ICT sector.

Girls in ICT Day aims to show that ICT is not boring, geeky or uncreative. (© All Rights Reserved)
Girls in ICT Day aims to show that ICT is not boring, geeky or uncreative.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In 2012, Girls in ICT Day involved approximately 1,300 events held by governments, the private sector and NGOs in 87 countries, and it is estimated that these events reached over 30,000 school-age girls. In 2013 the aim is to grow participation to 100 countries, for even greater impact. In the social media space, events related to the day are linked through the #girlsdigital hashtag. One of the global online initiatives is the ITU-hosted Girls in ICT Portal, a consolidated source of information and resources on ICT opportunities for girls.

Perhaps the sentiment of the day is worded best on the Tech Needs Girls website: “Word’s out that tech has an image problem among girls who think it might be boring, geeky, uncreative and not really helping anyone! (…) So we’re here to encourage girls to step up to technology and not leave all the fun to boys in shaping our futures…”

Gideon Sundback and the invention of the zipper

Time for some clever inventions again – today, 24 April, we celebrate the birthday of Gideon Sundback (24 April 1880 – 21 June 1954), the Swedish-born electrical engineer who is best known for his contribution to the development of the zipper.

In the decade between 1906 and 1914, while working for a number of different companies, Sundback made several meaningful contributions to the development of the zipper. While he did not come up with the original concept, he improved on the ideas of others, including Elias Howe, Whitcomb Judson and Max Wolff. One of the key problems Sundback solved was to create a version of the zipper that didn’t pull apart easily. He essentially did away with the hook-and-eye principle of earlier versions, and also increased the number of fastening elements. His version of the zipper included two sides with interlocking teeth, that are locked together or separated using a slider, much like the modern zipper we know today.

Gideon Sundback's 1914 'separable fastener' was almost identical to the zipper as we know it today. (© All Rights Reserved)
Gideon Sundback’s 1914 ‘separable fastener’ was almost identical to the zipper as we know it today.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Sundback also designed a machine to manufacture the zippers, which could produce about 100m of zipper per day. He incrementally improved his design, and the version he patented in 1914 (called the ‘Hookless No 2’) is essentially the same as the modern metal zipper.

Still called a ‘separable fastener’ up to this point, the zipper only became known as a ‘zipper’ when BF Goodrich coined the term in 1923 for the new fasteners used in their boots. Boots and tobacco pouches were the first widespread applications of the new separable fasteners, and it was only after the second world war, shortly before Sundback’s death, that the zipper gained widespread acceptance in the clothing industry.

In acknowledgement for his work, Sundback was included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. Google also created a special commemorative zipper doodle on his birthday in 2012.

Celebrating books, authors, publishers and readers

Today we celebrate World Book and Copyright Day, also known as World Book Day. The day serves as a celebration of books and authors all over the world, and involves activities to “encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”

In celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, my humble attempt at spine poetry (a wonderfully fun art form that I first heard about from A Little Blog Of Books And Other Stuff). (© All Rights Reserved)
In celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, my humble attempt at spine poetry (a wonderfully fun art form that I first discovered through A Little Blog Of Books And Other Stuff).
(© All Rights Reserved)

In addition to being a tribute to authors, the day also serves to promote publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

In her message for the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: “All forms of books make a valuable contribution to education and the dissemination of culture and information. The diversity of books and editorial content is a source of enrichment that we must support through appropriate public policies and protect from uniformity.”

Definitely a day – and a cause – well worth supporting. To quote Charles W. Eliot, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Earth Day: the face of climate change

Today, Monday 22 April, is Earth Day, a day of worldwide activity around the theme of environmental protection. The idea for earth day was suggested by John McConnell at a UNESCO conference in 1969. His proposed date was 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. However, at the same time another Earth Day, focused on environmental education, was initiated by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, and held on 22 April 1970. This subsequently became the accepted date for the day. The famous American cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, created the promotional poster for the first Earth Day, featuring the message “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

We have met the enemy, and he is us. (© All Rights Reserved)
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Initially a US only event, it was expanded to an international event on it’s 20th anniversary in 1990. Earth Day 1990 was celebrated in 141 countries, involving an estimated 200 million people, and was an important unifying event in the international environmental movement. Ten years later in 2000, Earth Day took another step forward, becoming the first Earth Day to be extensively organised via the Internet. A huge success, the day featured actor Leonardo DiCaprio as its official host, and involved participating events in a record 183 countries.

This year, a wide range of activities are again being planned around the world, with a focus on climate change. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent each year – while the concept may have felt remote, vague and theoretical not long ago, it has reached the point where we can no longer sit back and make it out to be a rumour or conspiracy theory, or a distant future generation’s problem.

To underline the fact that climate change affects us here and now, and that every person, as an individual, can take steps to do something about it, the Earth Day Network has initiated a campaign entitled “The Face of Climate Change”, with the premise that each of us represents a face of climate change, and it’s up to us to decide whether our faces will be those of the villains or heroes in the climate change picture.

As part of the campaign, they are organising a collaborative ‘global visual mosaic’ around the theme, with the idea being that people can upload photos illustrating aspects of climate change from around the world. Photos can illustrate effects, causes or solutions of climate change, and should ideally include a human face and a sign that reads “The Face of Climate Change”. To take part, and to show your role in the global climate change picture, upload your photo here.

To quote the Earth Day Network, “Together, we’ll highlight the solutions and showcase the collective power of individuals taking action across the world. In doing so, we hope to inspire our leaders to act and inspire ourselves to redouble our efforts in the fight against climate change.”

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Creativity and innovation, cornerstones of scientific and artistic progress

It’s World Creativity and Innovation Day today. In fact, the whole preceding week, 15-21 April, is celebrated as World Creativity and Innovation Week. To quote the website, “World Creativity and Innovation Week, April 15-21, celebrates the unlimited potential of people to be open to and generate new ideas, be open to and make new decisions, and to be open to and take new actions that make the world a better place and make your place in the world better too.”

The importance of creativity and innovation can hardly be overestimated. Throughout the history of science and art, progress was sparked by the innovations of those individuals who nurtured and positively exploited their creativity.

Creativity and innovation - weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature. (© All Rights Reserved)
Creativity and innovation – weighty subjects that impact on every aspect of our lives, from art to science, from mathematics to literature.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course loads have been said about the art of innovation, and many clever people have devoted their lives to the study of creativity. Yet these remain elusive subjects, with much disagreement as to what constitutes creativity, and how you can increase/improve your own creative abilities.

I’ve featured many inspirational individuals, who have been responsible for amazing creativity and innovation, on this blog in the past, and hope to feature more in future. Rather than attempting to turn this post into a meaningful, comprehensive overview on the science of creativity (which would be pretty much impossible anyway), let me rather simply applaud all those innovators who have dazzled the world with their creative contributions, however big or small – may the river of human innovation never run dry, and may every day be a creativity and innovation day.