Light Friday: 3 Things to Know About New Year's Eve

December 13, 2013


Making Artificial Snowflakes

Engineering the Road Less (Conventionally) Traveled

Always Avoid These Words When Talking About Yourself

Another new year is approaching, and we get ready to say goodbye to 2013. Many of you will be making New Year's Eve plans to celebrate, with friends and family. Many of you might be staying home to catch Kathy Griffin's antics on CNN that will make Anderson Cooper either turn red or giggle like a schoolgirl or both. No matter what you do, we know there are some things you're always wondering about New Year's Eve, and we've looked them up for you.

The island nations of Kiribati

and Samoa

are the first to welcome the New Year while Honolulu

is among the last places. Kiribati, pronounced "kiri-bas," is a tiny island nation of 312 square miles in the central Pacific Ocean that straddles the equator. As travelogue Lonely Planet

puts it, the weather "is always hot and steamy" and "nothing fast happens here." So if you are celebrating New Year's Eve on Kiribati (in which case, lucky you), you'd be dressed in shorts and a flowery shirt, kicking back with a drink in hand and counting down before the rest of the world. You might even count slower.

"Auld Lang Syne" is a poem written by Robert Burns in 1788, and the title loosely translates to "days gone by" or "old times." The poem was sung as a song and quickly became a tradition of Hogmanay

, the Scottish celebration of the last day of the year. It is now one of Guinness Book of World Records' most often sung songs. The proper way to sing "Auld Lang Syne" -- at least the Scots' way -- is to do it in a circle with friends or loved ones. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms while holding adjacent hands, and when the song ends, everyone rushes to the middle to celebrate. Brush up on the lyrics here


What's this year's Times Square Ball going to be like, you ask? Well, at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, millions of eyes will gaze upon a 12-foot-diameter, 12,000-pound aluminum geodesic sphere covered in nearly 2,700 Waterford Crystal triangles, which are bolted to nearly 700 LED modules. Those modules will have more than 32,000 combined Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs in four colors: red, blue, white, and green. A little history behind the Ball: its maiden descent occurred in 1907, with an iron-and-wood ball that weighed 700 pounds and had a hundred 25-watt lightbulbs. Since then, it has dropped annually except for the wartime years of 1942 and 1943. In 2007 -- the Ball's centennial -- halogen and incandescent lights were replaced by LED technology.

Making Artificial Snowflakes

Of all the things science has figured out how to grow in laboratories these days, snowflakes could be the most innocuous (read: least controversial). The Collage of Arts & Sciences blog

at recently profiled Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology who has spent a few decades studying the formation of natural snowflakes and figured out a way to grow them in his lab, making this guy's obsession

pale in comparison.

What could be surprising is that snowflake formation to this day remains indescribable by scientific formulas. But Libbrecht appears close to breaking the code through his lab experiments. He, for example, has figured out how to change snowflake style through temperature and humidity adjustments. "I call them 'designer snowflakes,' because you can change the conditions as you grow them and predict what they will look like," Libbrecht was quoted.

Smithsonian details Libbrecht's way of growing an individual snowflake crystal as opposed to the comparatively neanderthal method of incubating a bunch of crystals via frost. He has refined it to a 45-minute endeavor in a cold chamber, where he isolates an ice crystal on a piece of glass and blows slightly warmer humid air onto the glass. In nature, individual water droplets require a particle -- be it dust or a few water molecules that have collected already -- on which to freeze, so the water vapor from the warmer air condenses around the crystal to form a snowflake.

Libbrecht says the old saying that every snowflake is unique may not be entirely true. While the odds of two naturally occurring snowflakes being identical are "extremely unlikely," it's possible for two flakes, as long as they're small, to be the same on the molecular level. In his cold chamber, however, he has been able to figure out that snowflakes with sharper edges grow faster and bigger while those with blunter edges mature more slowly and remain blocky. Question is, can he repeat them?

In the meantime, the Caltech professor has been able to exercise his artistic side through this big "little" experiment by publishing hundreds of photos of natural snowflakes he has taken, some of which have appeared on U.S. postage stamps. He doesn't exactly need to subsidize his scientific work, since "ice is a pretty inexpensive material to work with."

Engineering the Road Less (Conventionally) Traveled

Via Popular Mechanics, here is what happens to roadways when engineers "must calculate the most efficient routes over massive mountains, through densely populated cities and around unavoidable bodies of water, all while accounting for the ecological and financial cost of such projects." It's a rogues' gallery of roads


Whether it's China's Guoliang Tunnel, or Bolivia's Yungas Road (aka "Road of Death"), or the Dalton Highway in Alaska, these thruways are not for the faint of heart, so the drivers seen on them likely had no other option. But they do present some spectacular views.

A lot of them wouldn't make the, er, grade in the U.S. Take, for example, Italy's Stelvio Pass: "To go down that slope, you either basically cut down the mountain to remove that slope, or you have to go back and forth and zigzag a lot," said Hani Mahmassani, a civil engineer who was asked by Popular Mechanics to critique the brazen passages.

Even with the 48 "hairpin" windings, the Italians called it a day with a 7.4 percent grade. Six percent is the max in the U.S. "You go down or up this road, you're going to get seasick," Mahmassani quipped to PM. Which is why U.K.'s Top Gear dubbed it the greatest driving road in the world.


Always Avoid These Words When Talking About Yourself

Speaking of snowflakes, Inc.

notes that the word "unique" can be a good one to describe them but it probably doesn't apply to your business. Inc. has released a list of 10 words that sound cool when other people use them to describe you but reek of complete arrogance -- maybe even self-delusion -- when you do.

To paraphrase Jeff Haden, the article's writer, the use of hacky cliches, overblown superlatives, and breathless adjectives for yourself makes you sound like a pompous asinus. And he thinks these 10 words

are the epitome of that.

As you run down the list, it would be a good time to open up your resume, call up your LinkedIn page, and click on the bookmark for your business' About Us page and see whether they are potmarked with these self-defeating terms. Hint: There's nothing "innovative" in describing yourself as an "authority," and better get more "creative."


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