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Worth Your Salt

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Genesis 28: Stairway to Heaven

“Your mother’s right about those Hittites, Jacobaleh,” Isaac told his son.  “You can do better.  But none of these Canaanites, either!  I mean, you can date them, but you wouldn’t want to marry one, you know what I mean?  We have standards in this family.  Now I want you to head off to Paddan-Aram and marry one of your uncle’s girls.  Keep it in the family, right, boy?  Heh, heh.”  Jacob headed off to find the cousin of his dreams, wondering if maybe his brother Esau hadn’t gotten the better end of the deal.
Esau still hoped to make a good impression on his father.  Snooping on Jacob, he learned how his parents felt about the Canaanite women, so in order to impress them, he took a third wife, only this time taking care to marry one of Ishmael’s daughters.  Ishmael was only his father’s half-brother, so it’s like they weren’t even related.
Jacob walked on to the town of Haran, in Paddan-Aram, where Uncle Laban and all those single young cousins lived.  It was a long trip, lasting more t…

The Giant Stone Coins of Yap

Paper money is a relatively recent invention.  It was first used in China around the 13th century, and was later adopted in Europe and elsewhere.  For a long time, paper money was viewed with suspicion.  The reason was that it wasn’t “real”.  Sure, the paper said you had so many pounds or francs or marks or dollars or whatever, but who was backing up that paper?  It was usually a private bank, so if that bank went bankrupt, your paper money was worthless.  Gold and silver were trustworthy—you could always take coins with you.  This is the way much of the world worked for a long time.  In fact, it wasn’t unusual to circulate gold and silver coins from ancient Rome and Mesopotamia as recently as the 19th century.  Ultimately, it was about the value of the metal.
Metal isn’t the only thing that can have value ascribed to it.  After all, gold and silver are only valuable because enough people agree that they are; these metals aren’t good for anything practical.  (Well, gold would be an i…

Laika, First Dog in Space

On October 4, 1957, the first manmade object was successfully launched into orbit.  It was Sputnik, the Soviet satellite.  Sputnik circled the earth in low orbit, giving off radio signals, beeping regularly for all its life.  Sputnik’s life was never expected to be very long, since it was battery powered, and there was no one in orbit to provide fresh batteries.  It kept beeping for about three weeks before it went silent.  Sputnik was a triumph for the Soviets in the Space Race, and a source of embarrassment for Americans, who couldn’t stand the thought of trailing the world’s foremost communist power in this contest.
Replica of Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite.
The Soviets had no intention of slowing down.  While Sputnik 1 was still beeping around the earth, Premier Nikita Khrushchev told Soviet scientists that he wanted to see Sputnik 2 up and operational in time for the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution.  This was a big ask, since the 40th anniversary fell on November…

Computer mice or computer mouses?

The English word mouse has been around longer than the English language has.Its origin is in the Proto-Germanic word mūs, which is also a word for the rodent.It gave rise to the Old English mous and mowse, the German Maus, and the Dutch muis.The reason the word has the peculiar plural form of mice is due to a process known as cheshirization, where a change in the way certain sounds in a language change, but an obsolete phonological distinction gets reclassified as a new form.To make this simpler, mice is descended from the Proto-Germanic mūsiz, which is the form of the nominative and vocative declensions of mūs.You need not know what a declension is, except that the vocative declension no longer exists in English (not as a distinct, marked form, at least).The only way a declension changes the modern English word mouse is when we use the possessive declension mouse’s.Declensions are something you need to have a better grasp on if you learn modern German (and even more so if you learn …