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“Only when the clock stops does time come to life”*…

 

Inspired by the Egyptian Pyramid and tomb openings in the first half of the 20th century, Thornwell Jacobs, President of Oglethorpe University (near Atlanta) and “the father of the modern time capsule,” was the first in modern times to conceive the idea of purposely preserving man-made objects for posterity by placing them in a sealed repository.  He began work in 1936; then in 1940, he sealed “The Crypt of Civilization,” a 20′ X10′ X 10′ space built into the foundation of one of the buildings on campus.

Set to be opened in 8113, the time capsule contains microfilm on cellulose acetate film capturing more than 800 classic works of literature, including the Bible, the Koran, Homer’s Iliad, and Dante’s Inferno–approximately 640,000 pages in all– and an original copy of the script of Gone With the Wind; modern techonology, including a typewriter, a cash register, an adding machine, an electric toaster, a sewing machine, and a radio receiver; and a host of other “artifacts of the time,” including: seed samples, dental floss, the contents of a woman’s purse, a collection of Artie Shaw records, a pacifier, a specially sealed bottle of Budweiser beer, a set of Lincoln Logs, and plastic toys of Donald Duck, the Lone Ranger, and a Black doll.  The National Bureau of Standards offered professional and technical advice for the artifacts and construction of the crypt, and recommended methods of storage: many artifacts are stored in stainless steel cylinders lined with glass and filled with an inert gas to prevent aging.

Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, president of Oglethorpe University, shown sealing the last cylinder to be placed in the Crypt of Civilization.

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The 1990 Guinness Book of World Records cited the Crypt as the “first successful attempt to bury a record of this culture for any future inhabitants or visitors to the planet Earth.”

Message to the Generations of 8113

This Crypt contains memorials of the civilization which existed in the United States and the world at large during the first half of the twentieth century. In receptacles of stainless steel, in which the air has been replaced by inert gasses, are encyclopedias, histories, scientific works, special editions of newspapers, travelogues, travel talks, cinema reels, models, phonograph records, and similar materials from which an idea of the state and nature of the civilization which existed from 1900 to 1950 can be ascertained. No jewels or precious metals are included.

We depend upon the laws of the county of DeKalb, the State of Georgia, and the government of the United States and their heirs, assigns, and successors, and upon the sense of sportsmanship of posterity for the continued preservation of this vault until the year 8113, at which time we direct that it shall be opened by authorities representing the above governmental agencies and the administration of Oglethorpe University. Until that time we beg of all persons that this door and the contents of the crypt within may remain inviolate.

- A statement from Jacobs, inscribed on a plaque on the door of the Crypt, which is welded shut.

* William Faulkner

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As we try to wait patiently, we might recall that it was on this date in 1792 that a group of 12 Freemasons laid the cornerstone of The White House.  Eight years later, John and Abigail Adams moved in.

The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant architect living in Charleston, South Carolina, who won a competition for the commission (and a $500 prize) with a design modeled after Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland.  He beat out a future resident, Thomas Jefferson, whose Monticello/UVa-like design was among the many losers.

It’s not known whether there was anything contained within the cornerstone.  In fact, thought the building stills stands (albeit rebuilt and expanded after being burned down during the War of 1812), the whereabouts the stone itself are a bit of a mystery.

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“Data is the new oil? No: Data is the new soil”*…

 

Eleanor Lutz, a designer in Seattle with a Bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Washington (where her research was in teaching mosquitoes to fly through mazes), has turned her talents to scientific visualization.  Her wonderful site, Tabletop Whale, features a weekly animated GIF illustrating both the principles and the beauty of a scientific phenomenon.

Watch them move: more (and larger) animated GIFs at Tabletop Whale.

[via Visual News; TotH to Erik Kuhne]

* David McCandless

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As we wonder at the working of the world around us, we might recall that it was on this date in 1810 that Crown Prince Ludwig (later to become King Ludwig I) invited the citizens of Munich to help celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen with horse races and a feast lubricated liberally by beer. The festivities were held on the fields in front of the city gates, named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wiesn.”  The event was such a success that the Crown Prince decided to repeat it the following year– and so the tradition of Ocktoberfest was born.  The current version of celebration begins in late September and runs through the first Sunday in October, and involves the serving of over 1 million gallons of beer.

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Written by LW

October 12, 2014 at 1:01 am

“But when I make a good [taxidermy] mount I feel like I beat God in a small way. As though the Almighty said, Let such critter be dead, and I said, ‘F**k You, he can still play the banjo”*…

 

Afke and Floris met as students at Rietveld Academie. They began collaborating under the name This Work Must Be Designed by Idiots, incorporating dead animals in their work for shock value. Here, a peacock’s plumage turns into a beautiful garment.

This isn’t your gun-toting great-uncle’s taxidermy: there are no hunting trophies mounted on smoking den walls or Teddy Roosevelt-inspired museum dioramas. In Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How to Do It Yourself, Robert Marbury introduces a world of bionic crocodiles, pigs in Chanel bowties, impalas with human faces, and polar bears climbing on refrigerators (get it?).

In 2004, with two friends, Marbury established the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermists (MART). In the decade since, Rogue Taxidermy–a genre of pop-surrealism that fuses traditional taxidermy with mixed-media sculpture–has evolved into a veritable subculture of people obsessed with turning dead animals into art. “Not since the Victorian era has taxidermy been so popular,” Marbury writes in the book’s introduction. (The Victorian era saw a trend of taxidermists like Walter Potter [see also here] making anthropomorphic tableaux of squirrels smoking cigars and kittens having tea parties.)…

See many more examples– and find out why taxidermy has become again as popular as it was in the Victorian Era– at “Inside The Bizarre World Of Rogue Taxidermy.”

Christopher Buehlman, Those Across the River

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As we ponder retrospective reanimation, we might send carefully calculated birthday greetings to Lewis Fry Richardson; he was born on this date in 1881.  A mathematician, physicist, and psychologist, he is best remembered for pioneering the modern mathematical techniques of weather forecasting.  Richardson’s interest in weather led him to propose a scheme for forecasting using differential equations, the method used today, though when he published Weather Prediction by Numerical Process in 1922, suitably fast computing was unavailable.  Indeed, his proof-of-concept– a retrospective “forecast” of the weather on May 20, 1910– took three months to complete by hand. (in fairness, Richardson did the analysis in his free time while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I.)  With the advent of modern computing in the 1950’s, his ideas took hold.  Still the ENIAC (the first real modern computer) took 24 hours to compute a daily forecast.  But as computing got speedier, forecasting became more practical.

Richardson also yoked his forecasting techniques to his pacifist principles, developing a method of “predicting” war.  He is considered (with folks like Quincy Wright and Kenneth Boulding) a father of the scientific analysis of conflict.

And Richardson helped lay the foundations for other fields and innovations:  his work on coastlines and borders was influential on Mandelbrot’s development of fractal geometry; and his method for the detection of icebergs anticipated the development of sonar.

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Written by LW

October 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”*…

 

Sitting in a Starbucks in Plano, Texas in 1997, “Winter” (who has legally changed his name from Rafael Lozano) decided to visit every one of the coffee chain’s outlets, everywhere they’d popped up around the world.  In 1997, that meant 1,400 stores.  Seventeen years and more than $100,000 later, he’s patronized 11,733 Starbucks across six continents– a majority , but by no means all of the 17,000 in operation today. He documents his visits and charts the ones he’s still missing on his web site.

A freelance programmer, Winter spends his off-time in independent coffee houses:

I respect Starbucks for its business sense, customer service and amenities including clean bathrooms and WiFi. But unless I am checking a new store off my list, I would not go there for the coffee.

More on this hopped-up hobbyist at “Ultimate coffee fan spends 17 years visiting every Starbucks in the world.”

* Albert Camus (or not: while the phrase is attributed to Camus, uncited, in Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice, there’s no documentary evidence…  still, it seems an apposite title for this post)

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As we try to remember which size “Venti” is, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that John Wesley Hyatt was awarded a patent on the first celluloid billiard ball.  hyatt had developed the ball in response to a competition sponsored by billiard ball maker Phelan & Collander, who were offering a $10,000 reward for a suitable substitute for ivory, the growing shortage of which was threatening their business.  Hyatt took the prize– and in the process, created and introduced to the world the first industrial plastic.

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Written by LW

October 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Photons have mass? I didn’t even know they were Catholic”*…

 

On Tuesday, the Nobel Committee announced the winners of the the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014.

Isamu Akasaki, 85, left, Hiroshi Amano, 54, and Shuji Nakamura, 60, won “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources”– an award that speaks to current concerns over energy efficiency, climate change, and improving living conditions in developing economies:

In the spirit of Alfred Nobel the Prize rewards an invention of greatest benefit to mankind; using blue LEDs, white light can be created in a new way. With the advent of LED lamps we now have more long-lasting and more efficient alternatives to older light sources…

As about one fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting purposes, the LEDs contribute to saving the Earth’s resources. Materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.

The LED lamp holds great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids: due to low power requirements it can be powered by cheap local solar power…

[Read more in the Nobel press release]

The Committee’s choice was clearly a worthy one.  Still, as a reminder that the field is a very competitive one, it’s worth (re-)visiting the expert predictions that immediately preceded the award.  Thompson-Reuters’ annual Science Watch predictions named three potential winners (or groups– the award can go to up to three); while they’ve been right four of the last ten years, and all of their candidates did amazing– and amazingly-important– work, they missed this year.  Ditto, the expert panel whose prognostications were reported last Friday by Scientific American.

But maybe most fundamentally, it’s worth noting (quizzically, as SciAm does) that since the Prize was first awarded in 1901, only two women have won: Marie Curie (who was a double Laureate, also winning in Chemistry) and more recently, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who won in 1963.

* Woody Allen

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As we size up the sociology of science, we might recall that this was a bad day for inclusiveness in Massachusetts in 1635: the General Court of the then-Colony banished Roger Williams for speaking out for the separation of church and state and against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land.   Williams moved out to edge of the Narragansett Bay, where with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, he established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in (what is now) Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters– and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”

Williams stayed close to the Narragansett Indians and continued to protect them from the land greed of European settlers. His respect for the Indians, his fair treatment of them, and his knowledge of their language enabled him to carry on peace negotiations between natives and Europeans, until the eventual outbreak of King Philip’s War in the 1670s. And although Williams preached to the Narragansett, he practiced his principle of religious freedom by refraining from attempts to convert them.

Roger Williams statue, Roger Williams Park, Providence, R.I.

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Written by LW

October 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

“It is wonderful to be here in the great state of Chicago”*…

 

A page from Anna Heermans’ 1875 project, A Hieroglyphic Geography of the United States

These pages… tell little stories about the New England states and New York, in picture form. Published by E.P. Dutton & Co., a company that then specialized in juvenile texts, the pictorial atlas was intended for children’s use—an attempt to bring life to geographical information through imagery.

A rebus (the broad name for this type of writing system) replaces words, or parts of words, with pictures. To take one example, from the New Hampshire page:

Translation: “Mt Washington, the most elevated peak, is 6,234 feet high. The summit is an acre of comparatively level ground, upon which is the Tip Top House.”

More (and larger) examples, and a discussion their significance in the history of geographical education, at the redoubtable Rebecca Onion’s “Go Ahead, Try to Decode This 19th-Century Rebus Atlas of New England.”

* Dan Quayle, who might have avoided the gaffe had he paid more attention in geography class… or not.

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As we consult our maps, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that the first transcontinental air race in the U.S. got underway.  63 planes set out from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, vying to be the first to reach San Francisco, 5,400 miles away.  The winner, Belvin W. Maynard, an Army Lieutenant and Baptist preacher from North Carolina, reached the Presidio in his Havilland DH-4 (Named “Hello Frisco”) in just over three days. He and his two-man crew rested and serviced the plane for another three days; and then returned to Long Island in just under four days.  The victory made Maynard such a celebrity that the Army assigned him to PR and recruiting duty, and his native Winston-Salem named its first airfield for him.

Soon thereafter, however, Maynard fell afoul of the Army.  While delivering a series of both lectures and sermons in New York in November of 1919, the Flying Parson averred that many military airmen were accustomed to flying drunk, and that drunkenness had been the cause of the twelve deaths during a recent aerial derby.  In a sermon just days later, he condemned the women of New York for their lack of clothes and frivolous lifestyles.  The Army yanked him off of the publicity trail and discharged him.

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Written by LW

October 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The street finds its own uses for things”*…

 

“Along with the heroin, cash, weapons and other stuff you would expect, we kept finding these tiny McDonald’s spoons they give out for stirring tea and coffee.” — A Scotland narcotics detective, 1998

In the 1970s, every McDonald’s coffee came with a special stirring spoon. It was a glorious, elegant utensil — long, thin handle, tiny scooper on the end, each pridefully topped with the golden arches. It was a spoon specially designed to stir steaming brews, a spoon with no bad intentions.

It was also a spoon that lived in a dangerous era for spoons. Cocaine use was rampant and crafty dealers were constantly on the prowl for inconspicuous tools with which to measure and ingest the white powder. In the thralls of an anti-drug initiative, the innocent spoon soon found itself at the center of controversy, prompting McDonald’s to  redesign it. In the years since, the irreproachable contraption has tirelessly haunted the fast food chain.

This is the story of how the “Mcspoon” became the unlikely scapegoat of the War on Drugs…

The whole truth and nothing but the truth at “The McDonald’s Cocaine Spoon Fiasco.”

* William Gibson

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As we appreciate unintended consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955 that the final Mouseketeer chosen for The Mickey Mouse Club (the original series), Annette Funicello, made her first appearance on the show.  She had been discovered by Walt Disney himself as she performed in Swan Lake at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank.  By the end of The Mickey Mouse Club‘s first season, Annette was receiving 6,000 fan letters a month.

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Written by LW

October 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

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