The Thing About Today – January 9

January 9, 2020
Day 9 of 366


January 9th is the ninth day of the year. It is Non-Resident Indian Day in India.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Apricot Day, National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, and National Static Electricity Day.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1349, the Basel Massacre took place. As part of the Black Death persecutions of 1348-1350, the Jews of Basel were accused of having poisoned the local wells with the plague due to their perceived lower mortality rates. The population of 600 Jews, including the community’s rabbi, were burned at the stake. Adding further insult to injury, 140 Jewish children were forcibly converted to Catholicism.
  • In 1788, Connecticut became the fifth state to ratify the United States Constitution.
  • In 1909, Ernest Shackleton planted the British flag 112 miles from the South Pole. It took place during the Nimrod Expedition and was the farthest anyone had ever reached at that time.
  • In 1935, actor Bob Denver was born. He would later become legend for a certain three-hour tour. (A three-hour tour…)
  • In 1939, actress Susannah York was born. She portrayed Kal-El’s mother Lora in 1978’s Superman and two sequels.
  • In 1955, actor J.K. Simmons was born (to play J. Jonah Jameson in several Spider-Man films).
  • In 1956, Imelda Staunton was born. Among so many other roles, she was Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films.
  • In 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone at the Macworld keynote in San Francisco.


In 1992, Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail made the first discoveries of extrasolar planets.

The planets are located around pulsar PSR B1257+12 (previously PSR 1257+12), also known as Lich. The pulsar is 2,300 light-years from our Sun in the constellation of Virgo. The planetary system has three known planets: Draugr (PSR B1257+12 A), Poltergeist (PSR B1257+12 B), and Phobetor (PSR B1257+12 C). Poltergeist and Phobetor were the first two planets discovered while Draugr was discovered two years later.

The grouping has roots in undead and beastly mythology – A lich is a fictional undead creature known for controlling other undead creatures with magic, the name draugr refers to undead creatures in Norse mythology, a poltergeist is a supernatural being that creates physical disturbances (German for “noisy ghost”), and Phobetor (from Ovid’s Metamorphoses) is one of the thousand sons of Somnus (Sleep) who appears in dreams in the form of beasts. – and Draugr is the lowest-massing planet yet discovered by any observational technique. In fact, it has less than twice the mass of Earth’s moon.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.



The Glory of Being a Nerd

Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more.

The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?

Read More »

Awesome Atmosphere and Ocean Infographics

Phil Plait posted on his Bad Astronomy blog about an infographic, which led me to look a little deeper.  The site has to scale infographics detailing the atmosphere and the oceans.  Teachers, please find a way to print and display these.  You would have had to pry me off these with a spatula when I was a kid.

Earth’s Atmosphere Top to Bottom
Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench

Such great work.