Sunday, February 8, 2009

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why December 25?

For the church's first three centuries, Christmas wasn't in December—or on the calendar at all.

Elesha Coffman

It's very tough for us North Americans to imagine Mary and Joseph trudging to Bethlehem in anything but, as Christina Rosetti memorably described it, "the bleak mid-winter," surrounded by "snow on snow on snow." To us, Christmas and December are inseparable. But for the first three centuries of Christianity, Christmas wasn't in December—or on the calendar anywhere.

If observed at all, the celebration of Christ's birth was usually lumped in with Epiphany (January 6), one of the church's earliest established feasts. Some church leaders even opposed the idea of a birth celebration. Origen (c.185-c.254) preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored. Birthdays were for pagan gods.

Not all of Origen's contemporaries agreed that Christ's birthday shouldn't be celebrated, and some began to speculate on the date (actual records were apparently long lost). Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) favored May 20 but noted that others had argued for April 18, April 19, and May 28. Hippolytus (c.170-c.236) championed January 2. November 17, November 20, and March 25 all had backers as well. A Latin treatise written around 243 pegged March 21, because that was believed to be the date on which God created the sun. Polycarp (c.69-c.155) had followed the same line of reasoning to conclude that Christ's birth and baptism most likely occurred on Wednesday, because the sun was created on the fourth day.

The eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273, reflects a convergence of Origen's concern about pagan gods and the church's identification of God's son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun"), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness" whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.

Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire's favored religion. Eastern churches, however, held on to January 6 as the date for Christ's birth and his baptism. Most easterners eventually adopted December 25, celebrating Christ's birth on the earlier date and his baptism on the latter, but the Armenian church celebrates his birth on January 6. Incidentally, the Western church does celebrate Epiphany on January 6, but as the arrival date of the Magi rather than as the date of Christ's baptism.

Another wrinkle was added in the sixteenth century when Pope Gregory devised a new calendar, which was unevenly adopted. The Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants retained the Julian calendar, which meant they celebrated Christmas 13 days later than their Gregorian counterparts. Most—but not all—of the Christian world now agrees on the Gregorian calendar and the December 25 date.

The pagan origins of the Christmas date, as well as pagan origins for many Christmas customs (gift-giving and merrymaking from Roman Saturnalia; greenery, lights, and charity from the Roman New Year; Yule logs and various foods from Teutonic feasts), have always fueled arguments against the holiday. "It's just paganism wrapped with a Christian bow," naysayers argue. But while kowtowing to worldliness must always be a concern for Christians, the church has generally viewed efforts to reshape culture—including holidays—positively. As a theologian asserted in 320, "We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it."

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Google Trends API coming soon

Google is planning to release an application programming interface for its Google Trends program, according to Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience at Google.

During the question and answer portion of a Webcast demonstration of Google Trends on Tuesday, Mayer said the company would eventually release a Google Trends API. She also said the company would make it possible to download data from Google Trends into spreadsheets. Mayer said she couldn't provide a time frame for either action.

Google Trends allows people to see trends in searches. You can compare specific searches, see how the search volume for search terms changes over time with interactive graphs, and even see the top 100 searches for any given day. You can also see how spikes and drops in searches are linked to news and blog items.

For instance, comparing searches for Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama shows that Clinton is leading in terms of searches, although Obama seems to have more news references.

Google Trends illustrates trends in Web searches.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

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The next evolution of labels for GMAIL users

Back in the Paleolithic Era, the world was a very different kind of place. People were hunter-gatherers, lived in caves, and kept all their email in folders*. You can't really blame them. Between tracking woolly mammoths, fashioning crude stone tools, and auditioning for commercials, having a highly tuned system for organizing email wasn't their highest priority.

But people changed. We moved out of caves and into skyscrapers. We hunt for bargains at the corner grocery. And we play video games simulating ourselves playing video games.

As we've changed, so too have our demands for email. Out of the email primordial ooze, Gmail was born with evolutionarily advantageous features like threaded conversations, a mitochondrial symbiosis between mail and chat, and labels. Most email solutions make users slot their emails into bland manila folders, classifying their contents as either black or white, with no subtle shades of gray. But where do you put the heated debate about M&M color superiority: the "ridiculous philosophical discussions," "all things brown," or "chats with mom" folder? With labels, you no longer have to choose. You can sort it all three ways.

Today, we're happy to announce the next evolution of labels: the colored label. Until now the label has been a little inconspicuous creature, subtly suggesting categorical associations in its simple green coat. Oh, we've seen the colored label here and there, its precursors surfacing in various experiments and Greasemonkey scripts; but the label has never before been so brazen, so bold. How will it use its new colors? Will it disguise itself with the chameleon's camouflage or clamor for attention with the monarch butterfly's vivid contrast?

Me? I'm subscribed to a lot of mailing lists: "The Britney Spears Fanboy Club," "Foie Gras Lovers Anonymous," and "UFO Sightings Daily," just to name a few. I get so much mail from my lists, I filter and archive most of it right away but I add labels just in case I need to find it again later. Those labels are my chameleons draped in subtle tones of green and blue. They're there doing their job, but I barely notice them. Every once in a while I get mail that's really important. These emails get my monarch butterfly labels, sporting bright red and yellow. Thanks to colored labels, it's easy to scan my inbox and immediately find all the emails that are really important to me.

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Website Design for your Customers - It's not what you want

Yes, believe it or not, your website design should not concentrate on what you want or what you would like to see in your website, but it is about what your customers want from your website and it’s design. You can get website designers to make great looking website for yourself, however you cannot get customers to visit and re-visit your website just because you have got a great looking website or you cannot convert visitors in customers just because you have a great looking website design. Neither do you need a website that offers a lot of functionality if your customers don’t need that functionality. If you are selling flowers, the functionality your customers desire from your website will be different to the functionality available on a tyre manufacturer’s website. So in simple terms you need to develop a website design and functionality that your customers expect from your type of business.

What should I be aiming at?

Even before you go to a see a website designer to undertake website design for your business, I would recommend that you do your fieldwork.

It would be useful to understand:

  • Who your audience is: This probably is the most important step before you go and see a website designer to develop a website for your company. You have to understand who your audience is. Try and estimate who are the people who would regularly come to my website?

  • What does my audience expect: once you identify your audience, the next step is to understand what your audience expect from your website design? Understanding this will not only help you understand the path you should take with your website design, but will also help you explain your requirement to your website designer.

  • What will bring my audience back: An important aspect of a good website design and a successful website is the ability to bring the visitors back. In marketing terms, it is like customer retention. For any business it is important to retain customer loyalty, similarly for any successful website, the ability to bring back your customers is paramount. Customer loyalty leads to increase in traffic. Look at some of the successful websites around you:, Youtube, myspace. The success of these websites is an example of the power of customer retention and referrals. If you analyse the website design of these sites, it is fairly simple but it offers its visitors what they need: products and services that matter to their audience.
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Monday, December 3, 2007

Weird Shoes

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