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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thanksgiving: History and Tradition

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag tribe shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

Thanksgiving at Plymouth
In September 1620, a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth, England, carrying 102 passengers—an assortment of religious separatists seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith and other individuals lured by the promise of prosperity and land ownership in the New World. After a treacherous and uncomfortable crossing that lasted 66 days, they dropped anchor near Cape Cod. One month later, the Mayflower crossed Massachusetts Bay, where the Pilgrims, as they are now commonly known, began the work of establishing a village at Plymouth.

Throughout that first brutal winter, most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from an man from the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been kidnapped by an English sea captain and sold into slavery before escaping to London and returning to his homeland on an exploratory expedition. Squanto taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag tribe, which would endure for more than 50 years and tragically remains one of the sole examples of harmony between European colonists and Native Americans.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit. Now remembered as American’s “first Thanksgiving”—although the Pilgrims themselves may not have used the term at the time—the festival lasted for three days. While no record exists of the historic banquet’s exact menu, the Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow wrote in his journal that Governor Bradford sent four men on a “fowling” mission in preparation for the event, and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer. Historians have suggested that many of the dishes were likely prepared using traditional Native American spices and cooking methods. Because the Pilgrims had no oven and the Mayflower’s sugar supply had dwindled by the fall of 1621, the meal did not feature pies, cakes or other desserts, which have become a hallmark of contemporary celebrations.

Thanksgiving Becomes an Official Holiday
Pilgrims held their second Thanksgiving celebration in 1623 to mark the end of a long drought that had threatened the year’s harvest and prompted Governor Bradford to call for a religious fast. Days of fasting and thanksgiving on an annual or occasional basis became common practice in other New England settlements as well. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress designated one or more days of thanksgiving a year, and in 1789 George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation by the national government of the United States; in it, he called upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war of independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His successors John Adams and James Madison also designated days of thanks during their presidencies.

In 1817, New York became the first of several states to officially adopt an annual Thanksgiving holiday; each celebrated it on a different day, however, and the American South remained largely unfamiliar with the tradition. In 1827, the noted magazine editor and prolific writer Sarah Josepha Hale—author, among countless other things, of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb”—launched a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. For 36 years, she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians. Abraham Lincoln finally heeded her request in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, in a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November, and it was celebrated on that day every year until 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week in an attempt to spur retail sales during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s plan, known derisively as Franksgiving, was met with passionate opposition, and in 1941 the president reluctantly signed a bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in Novem

Thanksgiving Traditions
For many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends. Turkey, a Thanksgiving staple so ubiquitous it has become all but synonymous with the holiday, may or may not have been on offer when the Pilgrims hosted the inaugural feast in 1621. Today, however, nearly 90 percent of Americans eat the bird—whether roasted, baked or deep-fried—on Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation. Other traditional foods include stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. Volunteering is a common Thanksgiving Day activity, and communities often hold food drives and host free dinners for the less fortunate.

Parades have also become an integral part of the holiday in cities and towns across the United States. Presented by Macy’s department store since 1924, New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade is the largest and most famous, attracting some 2 to 3 million spectators along its 2.5-mile route and drawing an enormous television audience. It typically features marching bands, performers, elaborate floats conveying various celebrities and giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters.

Beginning in the mid-20th century and perhaps even earlier, the president of the United States has “pardoned” one or two Thanksgiving turkeys each year, sparing the birds from slaughter and sending them to a farm for retirement. A number of U.S. governors also perform the annual turkey pardoning ritual.

adapted via history.com

How cookies work in your browser.

Cookies may sound like they have something to do with delicious baked goods, but in terms of the Internet, they are simply small text files that allow a website to store information related to the user of the computer. These files are contained on the user’s computer, usually in the web browser’s folder.

The web browser itself will look for cookies in the computer folder specified for storing cookies. The browser will then open the file that is requested from a certain website, if one exists. If no cookie file exists, a new one will be created.

In addition, browsers regularly maintain cookies. Cookies also specify expiration dates. When these dates are reached, the browser will automatically delete the file from the computer.

Websites can also use cookies for statistical information, like tracking how many users visit the site, how many return, and which pages they visit. This is possible because websites can assign user IDs to computers, which are tracked using cookies. A counter in the cookie file can be set to increase every time the website is accessed by a computer with the same ID.

Cookies provide an easy way to customize and maintain the look of webpages to a user’s need, and it streamlines the services they provide. However, many people believe cookies may be a threat to personal security. While it is true that cookies collect a user’s information, they are not programs that can be run on the computer. Therefore, they are not viruses or any malicious programs that can read or erase information from a hard drive, and they will not cause pop-ups.

There are still drawbacks. Cookies can be intercepted as they are being relayed from website to computer. Recently a cookie exploitation called Firesheep, and allowed people to log on other users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.

While people still debate whether the benefits of cookies outweigh the threats that they may pose, in the long run, cookies make the Internet more convenient and dynamic.

adapted via thetartan.org

  • 11/02/2010
  • IT

Ten Myths of “Safe” Web Browsing

A sense is growing that defenses have gotten stiffer and bad guys are too busy phishing for suckers on Twitter, so what’s the worry? It actually gets more dangerous online every day. That’s the reality.

1. The enemy is kids. The enemy comes in all ages and most of them are in it to make money. A proof was the late September round-up of around 100 hackers in the U.S., UK, and the Ukraine. The ring bilked businesses of up to $100 million using the Zeus Trojan (a slick key logger). Thrill seeking hackers are out there, but the real danger is the mounting number of for-profit criminals who are intent on looting your money or identity.

2. Updated anti-virus software will keep computers safe. It neutralizes at best 25 to 50 percent of threats… Meaning it misses 50% or more.

3. Apple computers are safe. Lack of a large Mac market share is why they have been ignored. If Apple sells more computers, hacker interest will necessarily rise because they follow the money.

4. Some websites are trustworthy. Security experts pinpoint this as perhaps the prime problem of the moment. Threats increasingly have shifted out of email and onto “trusted” websites. Facebook frequently is cited. Because users’ guards are down their vulnerability rises and if they are using the corporate network, hold on, troubles are brewing.

5. Gaming consoles are safe. Problems are acute with Xbox 360s, but other devices also pose risks.

6. Unmanaged smartphones represent minor risks. Don’t believe it, as the phones get smarter, with more memory and more processing power, users are indeed browsing with them.

7. Outside hackers are your prime threat. Data has shown 48 percent of all security incidents involve insiders.

8. Strong passwords are a cure. A strong password is just as phishable or keyloggable as a weak one, and if the one strong password applies to many of your accounts, you might find that more than just your Facebook account has been hijacked.

9. Tablets are inconsequential security risks. Apple alone has sold some 3.3 million iPads and BlackBerry, Samsung and more are piling on this form factor. As more users begin to use this devices the hackers will seek them out.

10. Just learn what to look for. The biggest myth of safe web browsing is the myth of training. Some threats are so sophisticated and so camouflaged that they now often fool even sophisticated computer users.

adapted via cioupdate.com

  • 11/01/2010
  • IT