Question

Where did the different birthstones originate, and why are certain birthstones for certain months?

The wearing of the gemstone associated with your birth month is thought to bring good luck and good health. Astrologers long ago attributed supernatural powers to certain gemstones. The ones we associate with certain months now are not necessarily the same ones as in ancient times. The list fluctuates with the availability and cost of the stones. Once, color was the most important feature of a stone. Ancients did not distinguish between a ruby and a garnet, for example. The names used in history may not relate to the stone we think of with that name today. For example, a sapphire in the Bible was probably what we know today as lapis, and the diamonds were probably a white sapphire or white topaz. The stones originally assigned to each month related to the stones appearing on the breastplate of a Jewish high priest.

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What is the coldest spot in the nation?

Generally speaking, the coldest state in any given month is Alaska. It is interesting to note, however, that Nevada is the state with the all-time largest temperature spread, with the highest temperature to lowest temperature in one year. In 1984, the temperature spanned from 50 degrees below zero F in January, to 125 degrees F in June, a range of 180 degrees that year. South Dakota is next with a span of 177 degrees.

I'd like the entire quote that contains the words "give me a tall ship" (or something like that). Where is it from?

We think you have in mind a line from the poem "Sea Fever" by the former English poet laureate John Masefield. The opening verse goes like this: "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, / And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, / And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking, / And a gray mist on the sea's face and a gray dawn breaking."

What does cornscateous mean?

"Cornscateous air" is a term used by old almanac makers to signify warm, damp air. It signals ideal climatic conditions for growing corn, but it also poses a danger to those affected by respiratory problems. Somewhere on The Old Farmer's Almanac calendar page for July each year is the notation, "Cornscateous air is everywhere."

How fast can flying fish fly?

The fish don't actually fly -- in the sense of flapping their wing-size pectoral fins -- but instead glide. In preparing for flight, the "four-winged" flying fish swims fast to the surface, fins folded tightly against its body. When it breaks the surface, it spreads its "wings" and glides a few feet above the water at a speed of about 10 mph. The stronger fliers can cover about 200 yards in a single glide and can extend their flight with a sculling motion of the tail fin. Compound glides may cover a quarter of a mile.

Why are most of the potatoes we buy at the store green? Are they poisonous?

Green potatoes seem to be showing up more and more in stores these days. The green color is the result of the potato being exposed to sunlight after protruding from the soil's surface. The green parts are not poisonous, but they can be bitter and should be cut out of the potato before cooking.

Do large flocks of birds show up on weather radar screens?

Yes. In fact, the phenomenon is common enough that meteorologists have a name for it: birdburst. Even the newest Doppler radar equipment might register a big flock of birds as a storm. Because weather radar uses a wide beam, it can pick up a flock that covers a large area. This most often occurs at sunrise, when birds leave their nests all at once. If groups of birds from a large flock leave their nests every few minutes, they may appear on radar as concentric rings, which resemble the appearance of the cool, moist air conditions that can produce thunderstorms. Radar technicians, however, have been trained to recognize the difference between a microburst and a birdburst.

Where can I obtain daily pollen and other environmental allergen counts?

Many weather-related Web sites have pollen maps. Try searching for one from a local radio or television station. One other to try is this pollen Web site.http://www.weather.com/activities/health/allergies/?from=b_homeverticallinker

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