A Question of Kwanzaa: What Is It?

The phrase “Happy Holidays” has gained prominence as a catch-all way to be inclusive. While it’s a well-intentioned umbrella, one gets the impression that it is meant to stop any awkward Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah mix-ups, while something like Kwanzaa is left out in the rain, and completely out of mind.  This is not a product of dismissal, though. It is merely a lack of general understanding. For those not familiar, here is a very brief explanation of Kwanzaa.


Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st. Its concept is derived from the first Egyptian harvest festival, still celebrated by some in Africa. Its name is taken from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” (“first fruits”).  However, Kwanzaa is not rooted in a history of religious precedent. It was born from much more recent events: the African-American struggle of the sixties.

Kwanzaa was established 1966 by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga as a means of reconstructing African-American identity and reaffirming social and cultural bonds.


Like any holiday, Kwanzaa has its own celebratory colors, traditions, and symbols. In addition to decorating with the colors black, red, and green, observers will ceremoniously place the symbols of Kwanza (The Corn, The Mat, The Crops, and others) in their homes. Gifts are given to the children, with the stipulation that one must always be a book and one a heritage symbol–emphasizing commitment to learning and to tradition.

As It Stands

        There does not seem to be any available accurate information on how many people celebrate the holiday or whether its popularity has grown or diminished over time. It seems to be relegated to a niche group that is much less vocal than the countless articles I found denouncing it, despite its original purpose of unity.

While you may never knowingly meet a celebrant, now that you are armed with some understanding, you can add a little more weight to your “Happy Holidays.”

Source: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/greetings_and.shtml#go to gifts

Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

Holiday Hunger Games: Staying Smart Amidst Black Friday Madness

Black Friday is a widespread corporate strategy to increase sales going into the Holiday season (“black” comes from the term for positive sales figures). Every year, on the day following Thanksgiving, stores make huge markdowns on much of their stock. However, the horror stories that surround the war zone that is Black Friday make it seem as though the only way to win is not to play.

You can come out on top and unscathed if you arm yourself with good practices. Shopping smart can mitigate potential trauma and help you navigate a seemingly endless sea of deals. At Scholar Hero, we are firm believers in minimizing stress and having productive endeavors, even when shopping. So, for those trying to furnish their dorm, upgrade their phone, or bring the complete theatre experience of watching The Hobbit into their home home, we have some tips on intelligent shopping.

1) Shop Online

The advent of the internet has ensured that web servers take the abuse and not you. Most Black Friday sales that are available in-store are also available online. All big name stores will offer attractive sales so keep an eye on their ads.

  • BestBuy.com – When purchasing electronics, Best Buy will live up to their namesake during Black Friday. Better still, their deals are available right now.

  • Overstock.com – With no brick or mortar stores, Overstock can offer great prices on just about anything.

  • Amazon.com – While not a traditional store, do not forget about Amazon. Keep an eye on their daily and hourly deals.

  • For a complete roundup of Black Friday ads and updates, visit theblackfriday.com

2) Budget

Black Friday is a great way to land the things you want for a price that you can afford. However, this point is made moot if you spend too much on items that you do not need.

  • Money – Determine what things you intend to buy before you do your shopping and stick to it, no matter what other bargains arise.

  • Time – Remember that time is a resource, too. Is it worth eight hours of your day to catch a specific deal? Create a time allowance for all of your purchases.

  • Health – We only have so much calmness, energy, and emotional well-being to give.  Do not overtax yourself. Take breaks. Get plenty of rest. Keep in mind that your health is more important than a new computer monitor (after all, you can live without the monitor).

3) If You Have To Go Out…

  • Does the store price match? You might not have to visit several location to get the best deal.

  • Park far from the store. Do not get gridlocked by the less savvy comers and goers.

  • Go early. There will always be a rush but there will not always be stock available.

Good luck. Be Smart. Be safe.

  Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

The Freshman and the First Year: Tips For A Fulfilling Finish

Like all of Aesop’s fables, The Crown and the Pitcher uses few words to teach infinitely applicable lessons. It’s also a fantastic metaphor for succeeding in higher education. For those unfamiliar, the fable can be read here. Simply put, it is the story of a thirsty crow that drops small stones into a pitcher until the water is high enough to drink. The water is his reward for intellect and diligence in the same way that a successful college year is reward to first-year students. Here are four stones that a struggling freshman can use to fill their own pitchers in the coming weeks:


Devise a system that works for you and organize as much of your life as you can. Having a well-planned schedule can lower stress, improve performance, and keep your life within your control.


A healthy lifestyle is a key component in combating stress. Too often do students make room for their studies by neglecting other important factors of their life. Sleep well, keep a balanced diet, and exercise often. While these might seem to take up time, in the end they’ll improve your mood and keep you mentally sharp.


There is an entire university that is as close to your fingertips as your computer. Use it. Between libraries, writing centers, and office hours, nothing should be able to escape your understanding.


Get involved. Whether it is making friends, joining organizations, or engaging others in the classroom, a good community can be the support system needed to maintain health, happiness, and motivation through your first semester.

 Casting these stones into your pitcher can help you survive your first year in higher education. Do you have any other pebbles of advice? Drop them into the comments below.

 Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

The Mathematics of Music: Tool’s Lateralus

Music is equal parts art and mathematics; however, some bands take this relationship to an extremely fascinating depth. Tool’s 2001 album, Lateralus, deals heavily with metaphysical themes built upon mathematical structures, such as the Fibonacci Sequence.

The Fibonacci Sequence

        The Fibonacci Sequence is a numerical pattern in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. As an equation, it is expressed as Fn=F(n-1)+F(n-2), and it looks like this: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13… It is a sequence that has become particularly interesting due to its recurring presence in computer programming, nature, and in this case, music.

Fibonacci Fractal. (Source: Anders Sandberg http://www.flickr.com/photos/arenamontanus/)

The Golden Spiral

The titular track on Lateralus contains the most prevalent use of the Fibonacci Sequence. For one, it alternates between three unusual meters (9/8, 8/8, and 7/7) that together comprise the sixteenth number in the sequence (987).

More convincing is the vocal pattern of the lead singer during the first verse. The syllables in each line are sung as follows: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 8, 5, 3. These ascending and descending sequences tie thematically to the “spirals” mentioned later in the lyrics by mimicking “The Golden Spiral”—a special shape that expands infinitely by a constant factor and it is the very factor the Fibonacci sequence presents.

The Golden Spiral. (Source: Helen Stevens http://www.flickr.com/photos/helen_stevens/)

“The Holy Gift”

        To go a step farther and incorporate the whole album into this theory, fans have rearranged the order of the tracks on the album into a similarly shaped sequence. The key to the order was placing track 13 in the middle and arranging the other tracks in additive pairs on either side. The songs  are said to match up with each other in a more sensible way, and makes for the “proper” order.

        Unconvinced? Here is a video, with song accompaniment, that makes a more in depth argument: 




Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.

Smart and Simple Last Minute Halloween Costumes

Did you forget about the faculty Halloween party? Are all of the last minute costumes too daft to even consider wearing? Well, here are five costumes that are as intelligent as they are easy.

(Almost) Superman

(Property of DC Comics.)

Everyone wants to be Superman. He is powerful, intelligent, and has an unwavering sense of justice. While you too may have these traits, you probably do not have the cape. Well, the sensitive, everyman of Clark Kent is here to save the day. Just unbutton your Oxford to reveal the Superman shirt you that were probably wearing anyway.

The Doctor

(Property of the BBC.)

If you know anything about The Doctor (or have read our previous post), you know that this time-traveling astronaut is the perfect choice for an intelligent costume. While he can be manic at times, his outfit conveys the intellect and deliberation within. It may be a bit traditional, but most people will have a jacket and bow tie laying around. The Fez is optional.

The Son Of Man

If you are really in a pinch, then it is time to grab your bowler hat and raid the lunchroom. The Son Of Man by Rene Magritte is a instantly recognizable image that will resonate with art experts and art amateurs alike. Getting the apple to float may be a bit tricky though.


(Property of FOX Broadcasting Company.)

With a B.S. in Physics and an M.D. from Stanford, this FBI agent was the stern and scientifically minded counterpart of Mulder on the X-Files. Despite being an excellent role model for women, Scully also makes a smart choice for Halloween costume. Pin a printed out FBI badge on to a simple, black suit and start looking for the truth that is out there.

The Invisible Man

Between Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, classic film has been a valuable source for costume ideas. However, one of the most overlooked also happens to be one of the easiest to achieve. A robe, a pair of sunglasses, and head’s worth of bandage is enough to achieve this iconic image. Of course, you could really become The Invisible Man and just not show up to the party at all.

What smart costume did you wear this Halloween? Let us know in the comments!

Nathan Repp is a writer for Scholar Hero, Inc.