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10 Lovely Stories of Kindness from Newtown (And How You Can Still Help)

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It's been nearly a week since the massacre in Newtown, and Ann Curry's #26acts campaign continues to zoom around the internet. Thousands of people have committed to doing small kindnesses in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As people from across the country (and the world) report on their acts of kindness, we decided to talk to the middlemen: people who are helping make those acts happen for the people of Newtown by taking donations, facilitating deliveries, and providing services to the town's families. Here are some of their stories, and how you can help, too.

1. Coffee for Everyone

Tom Cavanaugh is a 911 dispatcher in Northridge, CA. On Monday morning, he called Newtown General Store to donate 100 cups of coffee to residents of Newtown. After he tweeted the General Store's phone number, manager Peter Leone says that calls for donations came flooding in and haven't let up. "One person sent a food platter to the funeral home staff," and another ordered 600 teddy bears — one for the desk of each student at Sandy Hook Elementary for when classes resume in January. "It's like a 180 from the way people felt last week after the tragedy. Our hearts are so full."

Leone says that he thinks the town needs prayer the most right now, but if you'd like to help in a tangible way, he suggests ordering giftcards: "We can take care of them quickly, and people can use them at their convenience for anything they need."

To donate a Newtown General Store giftcard, call the store directly at 203-426-9901.

2. Make a Winter Wonderland

One way the Connecticut PTSA is helping students in the wake of the school shooting relies entirely on the assistance of generous and crafty donors: they're transforming Sandy Hook Elementary into a Winter Wonderland for returning students. So far, hundreds of handmade snowflakes in every shape and size have arrived at the state's PTSA office, but they're taking them all through January 12. Hundreds of updates about the project are floating around Twitter, with classrooms and parents organizing mass craft projects.

Making a paper snowflake is a very low-cost but significant gesture, and according to Connecticut PTSA President-Elect Don Romoser, this along with local donations for the coin drive are the most important to the school right now. "Current needs are being very well met," he said this morning, thanks to donations of supplies and cards of condolence coming in, so "the community is asking for monetary donations to assist with future needs and needs that are still unidentified." The funds donated to Connecticut's PTA will be "managed by parents in the Sandy Hook area as they deem necessary."

For more information on the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook project or to make a monetary donation to the Connecticut PTSA, visit ctpta.org or call 203-281-6617.

3. "Meals and goodies for anyone in need"

Image credit: DOrazio Sisters Bakery

In response to Ann Curry's call for random acts of kindness, one woman said she'd made a $50 donation to DOrazio Sisters Bakery, a local business in Newtown that deals in Italian sweets and dinners. Whether that tweet began the flood of donations or not is debatable, but co-owner Jojo DOrazio says the store received — and is still receiving — an incredible amount of money for food to be delivered to the families of Sandy Hook victims, first responders, and staff and volunteers at various local groups. "It's overwhelming," she said; the store took in "a couple thousand dollars just yesterday" and the donations are "still coming every minute." Those donations will be put to good use, too; the DOrazio sisters say they'll "keep going until the money runs out, probably in January or February."

DOrazio Sisters Bakery will continue accepting donations and providing "meals and goodies for anyone in need" as long as there's money coming in. You can help by donating a dollar or one hundred dollars, or anything between or beyond, to provide food for area families.

4. Security Blankets

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Project Linus is a beautiful charity that donates handmade blankets to children in need. The blankets themselves are usually donations from warm-hearted knitters and quilters, and dozens of people have tweeted about their donations to the project. But they aren't the only few; a Project Linus representative told me that the incoming blanket donations were so vast and immediate that there is no longer a need for blankets in Newtown — by Monday, more than 800 children had received a handmade gift from the charity "because the donations came in so fast, we were already there."

However, don't let that dissuade you from being involved. Project Linus, according to their rep, "always falls short on monetary donations," which allow chapters to "ship the blankets to children and supplies to areas in need." If you would like to help Project Linus with shipping and delivery costs, you can make a donation on the organization's website. And if you would like to send a handmade blanket to any other chapter, those donations are always welcome, as well.

5. Give Time

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In addition to all the monetary donations for goods in Newtown, many of the #26acts involved offering personal time as the town struggles to meet ongoing grief counseling efforts. The need for professional support will "extend well beyond January" when children return to school, and can be "supplemented by monetary donations," but will ultimately require feet on the ground, says a representative from Danbury Hospital Foundation Office. To offer your time or to sponsor the foundation, visit Danbury Hospital's site or call 203.739.7227.

6. Make Connections

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The needs of the Newtown community are varied and complex, and many may be as yet unidentified. While the local police station has "rooms full of teddy bears" and as each of these businesses work to fulfill the needs of Newtown residents, Newtown Parent Connection, the town's family services organization, is working in partnership with other local businesses toward naming and managing the rest. Assistance is being provided in every conceivable way through Parent Connections and their partners to grieving families and residents, an effort that requires both funding and volunteerism. As Parent Connection donations come in, a partner (who asked not to be identified) says "[they]'re earmarking funds for when children return to school in January, and in the spring we're planning to do something for the surviving siblings."

To assist with ongoing efforts in Newtown, the local toy store is donating 20% of their profits to Parent Connection, and 100% of that organization's funding goes directly into community efforts. For more info, visit the Newtown Parent Connection website or call 203.270.1600.

7. Send Words

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You probably haven't heard of Evergram, a startup that launched officially on November 1, 2012. The service sends secure, private messages (text, video or audio) to a chosen recipient at a later date. Evergram co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jeff Caden explains it this way: "When you disrupt time, in essence, by sending a message in the future, a lot of the same behaviors that we see in letter-writing — the tone and level of connectedness — are enhanced in a way you don't see in social media and the like." An Evergram campaign to collect messages of condolence for Newtown residents was initiated this week, and Caden says around 4,000 Evergrams have already been banked for Newtown families. Around 10% of those who sent a message also went on to make a donation through the Evergram site. (In a follow-up email, Caden says that in addition to the official Sandy Hook page, "at least one of the families has created their own Evergram for their close family and friends, which has also garnered an additional 1500+ messages of support and love.")

Though a letter from a stranger may seem a small gesture, Caden hopes the nature of Evergram's service will affect change, and not just in Newtown: "Our hope is that in a very small way that this may help over time to console some of the families that are going through so much grief right now, and in some ways to help the rest of our society help process the same grief and outrage that's associated with this tragedy. That's really our hope. In our own way, we're just doing what we can, just like everyone else."

You can send your own message, and make a donation if you'd like, at Evergram's dedicated Sandy Hook page.

8. A Safe Zone

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Save the Children, an independent organization that partners with local communities to provide aid and relief to children in need, set up a Child Friendly Space in a Newtown intermediate school after the group was called in by the American Red Cross. A representative says that this week the Space has provided at least 100 children with "a sort of safety zone for the kids, where they can play or draw or talk, or whatever they need to do." The service offers counseling for children and adults, and offers tips for grief counseling on their website for anyone in need.

You can help Save the Children provide continued efforts in Newtown and in needy cities everywhere by donating time or money to the foundation.

9. Give Blood

In a brief chat with a woman at the American Red Cross this afternoon, I learned that many hundreds of units of blood and plasma have been donated in drives dedicated to Newtown families from all across the country. "It was quick," she said. "The calls started coming in as the news was breaking. People were so eager to help." While Newtown's needs have been met (and far exceeded), a blood donation to the ARC is always useful and can help in ways money can't. If you're interested in setting up your own drive or would like to donate, she says "We always need donations. Call your local chapter and ask them what they need most."

10. Focus on the Families

Every person I spoke to over the last 12 hours has made it a point to focus their energy on the survivors, on the community at large, and on bringing positive efforts into the fold. Not a single mention was made of the shooter or political reform. As Peter Leone told me, "The town is a very tight-knit community ... and the people are very family-oriented, there are a lot of kids in the town, and we all just hope we're going to get through this. Especially with Christmas and the holidays so close."

As Tom Cavanaugh, the man who donated 100 cups of coffee, said in his interview, it's time for the town to heal; "we'll take care of the rest." The resources listed above can help the rest of us keep up with what Newtown needs, and if we all do one small kindness, we can make sure that those needs are met.
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If you're participating in #26acts or have been the recipient of a random act of kindness this week, please share your story in the comments!

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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language
6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
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Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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