Author Archives: Benjamin White

Chinese Zodiac

A long time ago, 13 animals lived in harmony. The 13 animals were the rat, cat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The king organized a race, telling the animals that they must compete in the race. In this race, the animals had to cross a fast flowing river and get to the other side to receive their prize, but there were only 12 prizes available. The rat and cat were really good friends, but were worried that they would not finish the race because they were both poor swimmers. The two came up with a plan. They went to the ox and admired the ox’s strength, asking if the ox would be kind enough to let them ride on its back across the river. The ox agreed. The race began and the ox quickly took the lead with the rat and cat sitting on his shoulders. When the ox neared the bank of the river, the rat pushed the cat into the river. The cat struggled to swim but was washed away by the currents. Then, the rat decided to jump off the shoulder of the ox, taking first place. The king gave the rat its reward, which was that the first year of the zodiac would be named after it. The ox received second place and got the second year of the zodiac named after him. Then the tiger crossed the bank and got the third year named after it. Then the rabbit appeared and got the fourth year named after it. Then the dragon appeared and got the fifth year named after it. Then the snake appeared and got the sixth year named after it. Then the horse appeared and got the seventh year named after it. Then the goat appeared and got the eighth year named after it. Then the monkey appeared and got the ninth year named after it. Then the rooster appeared and got the tenth year named after it. Then the dog appeared and got the eleventh year named after it. And then, in last place the pig appeared, slowly trudging along, and got the twelfth year named after it. Crawling out of the water, the cat appeared, but did not receive a prize. Since then, cats and rats have always been enemies. And that is how the animals of the Chinese Zodiac came to be.

My informant first heard this myth from his parents around Chinese New Year. That time of year lends itself to this story as it serves as an explanation for the ordering of the years in the Chinese Zodiac and is the basis for the personality profiles of people born in the different years.. This myth is fairly wide spread and has a number of different forms. Here I have included my informants favorite version, but there are others that include why the dragon. This myth emphasizes intelligence and cunning over brute strength, as the meek rat is ultimately triumphant. It also seems to condone betrayal, as the rat is rewarded despite his actions.

Killing Spiders

Killing Spiders is bad luck.

My informant first heard this from his girlfriend a few years ago. He described his girlfriend as being “really superstitious,” and seemed to disregard most of her other beliefs. Perhaps his belief in this is related to his arachnophobia.

This folk belief can also be found in The Adventures of HuckleBerry Finn

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of HuckleBerry Finn. p 171


In programming, a bug is unintentional/unwanted behavior of a program or algorithm.

The story goes that back when computers were being developed in the 1940’s, computers occupied huge, refrigerated rooms. One day while one of these computers was running, it began to behave sporadically. Perplexed, the engineers began going through all of the hardware to see if they could find a problem. They searched for hours until eventually, they found a bug had been stuck in one of the cable jacks. After removing the bug the computer behaved normally. Ever since, these sporadic errors have been called bugs, and the process of removing them has been called debugging.


Its interesting to note that this process has transferred from its supposed origins as a piece of hardware terminology and is now used primarily for problems with software. My informant also told me that there is some controversy over the origin of this story, however despite this he still strongly believes that this is the true version of the tale. He does not recall where he first heard this story, but I have also been told this exact narrative by my father when I first started studying computer science.

Bird poop = good luck

Being pooped on by a bird gives you good luck.

My informant was first told this by his parents after a passing seagull had relieved itself on his person. At the time it had cheered him up as he claims he was very distraught at the time. Looking back however, he is pretty sure his mom was just trying to make him feel better rather than conveying something that she actually believes.

Bunny Ears

Normally this would be done in a casual restaurant with cloth napkins, however we didn’t have any cloth napkins available when I collected this, so I took pictures using a washcloth. My father learned it from his father and has now passed this knowledge on to me. Normally you make bunny ears to either make a child laugh or to try and embarrass the people you are eating with. My informant is definitely a kid at heart, so he really enjoys pulling pranks and acting mischievously. This coupled with the fact that his wife and oldest son are embarrassed whenever he makes the bunny ears has led to their continued creation

Pickle XMas Ornament

Every year at Christmas after his family has decorated the Christmas tree, my informants mother will hide a pickle shaped Christmas Ornament on the tree. The first of the children to find the ornament, and bring it to her, gets a special present from her.


My informants mother (who is the active bearer in his family for this tradition) is German, however he is not sure where this tradition originated. There are a number of possible explanations, including simply the fact that the green of the pickle ornament is hard to find amongst the green of a pine tree, and the fact that sending children on a search for a phallic object may be preparing them, at least on some level, for the sexual encounters they will have in the future. In any case, my informant just enjoys competing with his siblings for a chance at an extra present at Christmas time.

A stopped clock is right twice a day, but its still broken

“A stopped clock is right twice a day, but its still broken”

My informant modified the classic fold saying “A stopped clock is still right twice a day” and modified it during a group coding session. One of the members of the group’s portion of code was working about 75% of the time, but could not reproduce the errors on his computer, so he kept claiming the problem was fixed and refused to work on it. After  my informant said the above proverb, he finally gave in and worked on fixing his code. Its interesting to note that by adding the second part of the proverb, my informant completely changed the meaning of the saying. I interpret the original saying as meaning that “even if something is broken, it still has some use”, however by adding the second part of the proverb, the meaning becomes, “If something is broken, it may still has some use, but its still broken”. These sayings can also be applied to people and the meanings remain relatively the same. “Even a stupid person is right sometimes” versus “A stupid person can be right sometimes, but their still stupid.”

Flashlight Tag

Flashlight tag is a form of hide and seek played at night. Depending on the age of the players it can be played either during a full moon or a new moon for varying levels of difficulty or spookiness. One team is designated “it” and given a flashlights. The others go and hide while the “it” players wait some predetermined amount of time usually measured by counting. Once the game begins the “it” players must turn on their flashlight and leave them on. They must then use their flashlights to find players and get close enough to determine their identity and yell their name, at which point they must go to jail. Other players may tag players who are in jail to “break them out.” The game is over once everyone is in jail.

My informant first played this game in Boy Scouts when his troop was going on a camping trip at a local state park. The boys organized this game to pass the time during an otherwise uneventful evening. Boy Scouts teach children survival and tracking skills so it makes sense that they would be interested in playing games that emphasize those skills. Its also worth noting that originally Boy Scouts was developed as a program for preparing boys for the military. This game is strongly reminiscent of guerrilla warfare, and the skills needed to succeed in surprise attacks are the same skills needed to succeed in this game. Teamwork also plays a big role in the game as players who work together well have a greater chance of winning.

Flashlight Tag by Daniel Christian

Picture Telephone

Picture telephone is a variation of the classic game telephone usually played with 5-10 players. All of the players are given a pen or pencil and a stack of post its stapled together with 1 page fore each player. Players sit in a circle and in secret everyone writes down a word or phrase on the first sheet of the stack. After 30 seconds, everyone passes their book to the right. At which point players must try and draw the word or phrase from the first page. Then after 30 seconds, they must pass the book to the right. The third player then must try and guess what the phrase that describes the drawing without looking at the original phrase, and writes it on the third page. Play continues until each book has made it all around the circle, with each player alternating drawing what is described or describing what was drawn on the previous page without looking at any other pages. By the time each book has made it all the way around the message has usually been greatly distorted, and all the books are shared.


This game was introduced to my informant at a high school get together. The game is somewhat complicated to explain, but easy to play, making it a game that is good to play repeatedly with friends, and strengthening bonds within the group. It also serves to exclude people who are not normally part of the group as they have to have the rules explained to them, often a couple of times before they understand how to play. This game is similar to telephone as one of the best aspects of game is comparing the resulting message with the original to see how the chain of communication distorted it.


If you tell a lie, god will strike black spot on your heart

“If you tell a lie, god will strike black spot on your heart”

My informant was first told this by his father when he thought he was telling a lie. It reflects the strong religious beliefs of his father. I asked my informant what would happen if he had a black spot on his heart, and he wasn’t sure. Despite this, this threat succeeded in scaring my informant into telling the truth.