Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

bubble wrap appreciation dayBubble Wrap Appreciation Day, also known as BWAD, is celebrated on the last Monday in January. It was created in 2001 by Jim Webster of Spirit 95.1 FM in Bloomington, IN. In the past, the radio station has sponsored sports, sculpture and fashion design contests.

Sealed Air Corporation’s Bubble Wrap Competition for Young Inventors awarded top honors in 2010 to 13-year-old. Matthew Huber for his invention of Petri bubbles, a cheap and easy alternative to Petri dishes for use after earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks, and any disaster where access to medical services is desperately needed.

In 2014, Harvard University chemists published a paper stating that “the gas-filled compartments in the packing material commonly called ‘bubble wrap’ can be repurposed in resource-limited regions as containers to store liquid samples, and to perform bioanalyses.” Huber is probably looking at grad schools by now. Give him a call.

bubble wrap appreciation day

The invention of Bubble Wrap began as a failed experiment and became a triumph of the imagination. In 1957, engineers Marc Chavannes and Al Fielding created three-dimensional wallpaper by trapping air between two shower curtains. (Imagine how our interiors might look had their plan succeeded.)

After an unsuccessful effort to repurpose it as greenhouse insulation, Chavannes and Fielding realized that their terrible wallpaper would make excellent packaging material. At that time, the paper products used for packaging didn’t cushion heavy or delicate objects.

They raised $9,000 to fund a developmental production line and incorporated Sealed Air Corporation in 1960. IBM was their first customer, using Bubble Wrap to protect its 1401 business computer’s fragile vacuum tubes during shipping. Customers all over the world have entrusted it with their valuables ever since.

The company continues to innovate, improving its products and creating new ones. In 2015, Sealed
Air announced the creation of NewAir I.B. Extreme (cue air guitar), designed to ship flat, reducing bulk and lowering transportation costs. One truckload is equivalent to 40 truckloads of traditional Bubble Wrap. Customers will then inflate sheets as needed with a custom air pump.

The stuff looks like traditional Bubble Wrap but don’t be fooled: it will not pop, no matter how hard you press, poke, punch, squeeze, sit or stomp on it. Believe me, we’ve tried. We miss that pleasantly startling noise that induces a fight-or-flight response in anyone within earshot. While we can’t replicate the sensation, we can help keep the memory alive with this:

If you no longer use Adobe FlashPlayer, which is going the way of the dodo, don’t worry. Googling “virtual bubble wrap” returns 9,460,000 results sure to keep you amused in perpetuity, or until you get bored, whichever comes first.

Happy Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!

Copyright © 2019 Worldwide Weird Holidays

August 18 is Mail Order Catalog Day

mail order catalog dayToday is Mail Order Catalog Day. On August 18, 1872, Aaron Montgomery Ward issued the first mail order catalog of Montgomery Ward & Company of Chicago, Illinois. It was a one-sheet list of 163 items.

Several years earlier, while working as a traveling salesman, Ward learned that customers in rural areas lacked access to quality goods. He hit upon a way to serve this untapped market: direct mail sales.

While this is hardly shocking to us—Amazon is, in essence, a giant catalog—his idea was so revolutionary at the time that he had trouble raising capital for the project; friends told him it was lunacy.

He had just gathered the inventory he needed to launch the business when it was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. Convinced of the soundness of his plan, he rebuilt the stock and mailed the catalog the following August.

At that time, far-flung consumers had no recourse if they received shipment of a shoddy product. The “bait-and-switch” routine was common. A scammer would display and sell an item to an out-of-towner, then deliver something inferior and refuse to take it back.

Some say Ward coined the phrase “satisfaction or your money back.” He certainly ran his company by that credo and his customers showed their appreciation with their business. By 1883, the catalog had grown to 240 pages selling 10,000 items ranging from handkerchiefs to handguns.

As we can attest but not explain, people began to refer to the company, with great delight and affection, as “Monkey Wards.” The catalog was called the “Wish Book.” Retailers who lost business showed no such fondness and were inspired on more than one occasion to make a bonfire of it.

A print catalog seems quaint today: What can it show us that we haven’t seen before? (If it can, how did we get on that mailing list?) It’s a vestige of an earlier time. Before everyone had an automobile, before flight, before motion pictures and television, Ward brought the world to our doorsteps.

Happy Mail Order Catalog Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

August 16 is International Wave at Surveillance Day

international wave at surveillance dayToday is International Wave at Surveillance Day, created in 2001 by privacy activist Zorbitor to provide “a chance for the watched to reach out to the watchers both at home and in public venues.” First, a little history is in order.

Video Surveillance

In 1942, the surveillance camera was invented by German engineer Walter Bruch and installed by Siemens AG to observe the launch of V-2 rockets.

In the U.S. the first closed-circuit television system (CCTV), Vericon, was introduced in 1949. It required constant monitoring because there was no way to record and store information. As video cassette recorder (VCR) technology became widely available, surveillance became more practical. Tapes could be saved for later playback or erased and reused.

Cameras were placed in New York’s Times Square in 1973. In the decades that followed, video surveillance spread across the country, especially in public and theft-prone areas. In 2005, the New York Civil Liberties Union tallied 4,176 cameras below 14th Street. London has approximately 500,000, while the UK as a whole has more than 4 million.

Of course, waving at a camera would be largely ceremonial given that modern surveillance systems are automated and thus incapable of appreciating irony, sarcasm, snark or a friendly greeting. Chances are, we wouldn’t get any attention from the spy satellites whizzing over our heads either—but they’re there.

Satellite Surveillance

On March 5, 1946, a secret treaty called the UKUSA Agreement created a worldwide network of listening posts run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The countries agreed to exchange intelligence gathered from the interception and translation of foreign correspondence. One passage stated: “It will be contrary to this agreement to reveal its existence to any third party whatever.”

Within nine years, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined the signal intelligence (SIGINT) sharing operation. The group became known as Five Eyes (FVEY), shorthand for the AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLY classification level. The network connecting the alliance became known as Stone Ghost.

In 1964, FVEY established the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), which would go on to own and operate a fleet of satellites under the guise of civilian control . In 1966, the first satellite of the new ECHELON system was launched into orbit.

In 1970, GCHQ set up a secret signal station in Morwenstow near Cornwall, England, to intercept satellite communications over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Soon afterward, the NSA built a station in Yakima, WA, to begin interception over the Pacific Ocean.

Omnipresent Surveillance

Most reports on ECHELON focus on satellite interception, which has dwindled to a small percentage of traffic. It has been revealed that the program also employs other means to monitor all landline and cellular telephone calls, email, faxes and texts and augments them by purchasing information from corporate entities.

Modern fiber optic cables deliver data much more efficiently than satellites ever could. Advances in technology, convenient for consumers, are a boon to those who vacuum up information. Most of us carry mobile phones at all times, emailing, texting, surfing, sometimes even talking.

To eavesdrop on terrorists, druglords and hostile foreign governments, ECHELON must capture everyone’s communications and use its supercomputers to analyze them for keywords. That can lead to mistakes such as the listing of a woman as a possible terrorist after she called a friend and told her that her son had just “bombed” in his school play.

Fear of terrorism since September 11, 2001, has led many to believe security and privacy are mutually exclusive. No matter where anyone stands on that issue, one thing is clear: The apparatus used to surveil everyone was in place long before that attack.

Can you hear me now?

In the US, the NSA grabs three billion conversations each day and stores the “metadata”—phone numbers, date and time, length of call—for 18 months. Spoken conversation is legally protected; the audio is not supposed to be monitored. (The experience of that mom would seem to put the lie to that.) NSA computers also capture every out-of-country call and email to or from a US citizen. In this case, the content is considered fair game. Agents are authorized to read or listen to any of them.

When paired with public information on services such as Google, Yelp and Facebook—which is not subject to the same legal protections as phone calls—Stanford researchers were able to use metadata to identify names, partners, pregnancies and medical problems as well as calls to gun stores, head shops and prostitutes.

In 2013, after Edward Snowden‘s act of whistleblowing, treason or both,  Stewart Baker, former general counsel for the NSA, admitted,  “Metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody’s life.”

Its XKeyscore program captures approximately 40 billion Internet records every month, adding them to its digital storehouse, including emails, Google searches, websites visited, Microsoft Word documents sent, etc.

NSA’s annual budget includes $250 million dollars for “corporate-partner access,” a term of art for its payments to acquire material compiled on corporate computers. It collects so much data that it maintains 700 servers at 150 sites.

On August 13, 2016, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers announced it had hacked Equation Group, which allegedly carries out cyber attacks on behalf of the NSA. It proved its claim by releasing two sets of highly sophisticated malware and hacking tools used by Equation Group and promises to sell the rest for $1 million in Bitcoin—roughly $574 million US dollars.

Do the Wave?

We must admit we don’t feel much like waving, and not just because today’s observance has been called the laziest protest ever. During our research, we’ve conducted 28 Google searches and read 47 posts at 34 sites, excluding Wikipedia entries. We suspect that even if we don’t wave at surveillance today, it may be waving, however briefly and figuratively, at us.

Try to have a happy International Wave at Surveillance Day. We can all blame Zorbitor if we end up on a no-fly list.


Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

July 26 is Esperanto Day

international esperanto day

Dr. L.L. Zamenhof

Today is Esperanto Day. On July 26, 1887, Dr. L.L. Zamenhof published Dr. Esperanto’s Lingvo Internacia (International Language), also known as Unua Libro (First Book), a textbook about the new language he’d just invented.

Zamenhof didn’t create Esperanto as an intellectual exercise. It was his practical solution to an issue dividing people and cultures. He built a common language to allow everyone to communicate freely, without the need for the translation and manipulation of governments.

Esperanto is comparatively easy to learn due to its logical construction. It employs phonetic spelling and 16 basic rules of grammar that have no exceptions, eliminating the frustration familiar to a student of any other language. Because it uses the roots of European languages, mastering Esperanto as a second language can make it easier to learn a third.

Zamenhof wrote, “An international language, like a national one, is common property.”  He renounced his rights and placed his work in the public domain. He used the pen name “Doktoro Esperanto” (Doctor One-Who-Hopes). Students began to call it “Esperanto” and the name stuck.

Today, approximately two million people speak Esperanto and there are many magazines, books, clubs and pen pal programs devoted to it. Community members often seek each other out when traveling. Esperantists make friends all over the world.

Dr. Zamenhof would be proud.

Fun fact:

In 1966, William Shatner starred in Inkubo (Incubus), the first and only movie filmed entirely in Esperanto. In his autobiography, Shatner wrote that he simply memorized his lines and never saw the completed film because he doesn’t watch his own performances. He joked in the book that he certainly wasn’t going to break that self-imposed rule to watch himself trying to speak Esperanto. (If you care to watch this scene, we think you’ll agree that he made the right decision.)

Shatner was cast in Star Trek soon after and never had a need to learn the language. Some Esperantists who’ve seen the horror film say his diction was off and at times the actors appeared to be reading from off-camera cue cards. We’re not sure how Dr. Zamenhof would feel about that.

Happy Esperanto Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays