(Roughly) Daily

“Madness is the emergency exit”*…

 

United, American, Spirit…  airlines are are suffering a cascade of incidents undermining their brand claims of “friendly skies” and “world’s greatest flyers,” and “more go.”  At the same time, there has been a concomitant rise in “air rage.”  But while these wounds are largely self-inflicted, there is a historical precedent…

As the railway grew more popular in the 1850s and 1860s, trains allowed travelers to move about with unprecedented speed and efficiency, cutting the length of travel time drastically. But according to the more fearful Victorians, these technological achievements came at the considerable cost of mental health. As Edwin Fuller Torrey and Judy Miller wrote in The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present, trains were believed to “injure the brain.” In particular, the jarring motion of the train was alleged to unhinge the mind and either drive sane people mad or trigger violent outbursts from a latent “lunatic.” Mixed with the noise of the train car, it could, it was believed, shatter nerves.

In the 1860s and ‘70s, reports began emerging of bizarre passenger behavior on the railways. When seemingly sedate people boarded trains, they suddenly began behaving in socially unacceptable ways…

More on motion-induced madness at “The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride Could Cause Instant Insanity.”

* Alan Moore, Batman: The Killing Joke

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As we try to keep it cool, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that the B&O Railroad introduced air conditioning on the Capitol Limited, a sleeping car train that operated between New York, Washington and Chicago.

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Written by LW

May 22, 2017 at 1:01 am

Life expectancy is a statistical phenomenon. You could still be hit by the proverbial bus tomorrow.”*…

 

Still…

Life expectancy has risen across the U.S. steadily over the last few decades; but the gains are not equally distributed.  Flowing Data illustrates why one might prefer Minnesota to Mississippi: “Life expectancy by state, against the US average.”

* Ray Kurzweil

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As we muse on moving, we might send heart-felt birthday greetings to Willem Einthoven; he was born on this date in 1860.  A physician and physiologist, he introduced a new era in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the heart with his invention of the electrocardiograph, for which he was awarded the 1924 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.  His creation became an essential clinical instrument for displaying the electrical properties of the heart– especially useful, of course, in the diagnosis of heart disease.

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Written by LW

May 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”*…

 

Michelangelo Caetani’s “Cross Section of Hell,” an illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and part of Cornell University’s P.J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography (“more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs – to send a message – rather than to communicate geographic information”).

An enlargeable version of the Cross Section is here; browse the full collection here.

* Robert Frost

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As we ruminate on repentance, we might note that today is the Feast Day of  Lucifer– more properly, of St. Lucifer of Caligari.  At least, it’s his feast day in Sardinia, where he’s venerated.  Lucifer, who was a 4th century bishop fierce in his opposition to Arianism, is considered by some elsewhere to have been a stalwart (if minor) defender of the orthodoxy; but by more to have been an obnoxious fanatic.

“Lucifer” was in use at the time as a translation of the the Hebrew word, transliterated Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as HAY-lale), which means “shining one, light-bearer.”  It had been rendered in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally “bringer of dawn,” for the morning star.  The name “Lucifer” was introduced in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, roughly contemporaneously with St. Lucifer.  The conflation of “Lucifer” with “Satan” came later.

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Written by LW

May 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The missing link in cosmology is the nature of dark matter and dark energy”*…

 

Familiar visible matter can be thought of as the privileged percent—actually more like 15 percent—of matter. In business and politics, the interacting 1 percent dominates decision making and policy, while the remaining 99 percent of the population provides less widely acknowledged infrastructure and support—maintaining buildings, keeping cities operational, and getting food to people’s tables. Similarly, ordinary matter dominates almost everything we notice, whereas dark matter, in its abundance and ubiquity, helped create clusters and galaxies and facilitated star formation, but has only limited influence on our immediate surroundings today…

The common assumption is that dark matter is the “glue” that holds together galaxies and galaxy clusters, but resides only in amorphous clouds around them. But what if this assumption isn’t true and it is only our prejudice—and ignorance, which is after all the root of most prejudice—that led us down this potentially misleading path?…

Indeed,  Harvard theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lisa Randall asks, “Does dark matter harbor life?

* Stephen Hawking

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As we reach reflexively for a flashlight, we might send particular birthday greetings to Abraham Pais; he was born on this date in 1918.  After earning his Ph.D. in physics in Holland five days before a Nazi deadline banning Jews from receiving degrees, he went into hiding– and worked out ideas in quantum electrodynamics (later shared with Niels Bohr) that became the building blocks of the theory of elemental particles.  He was later a colleague of Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.

Pais was also an widely-respected historian of science.  Among his many works were a biography of Bohr and (the work for which he’s best remembered as a historian) Subtle Is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, which is considered the definitive Einstein biography.

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Written by LW

May 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The bubbles of certainty are constantly exploding”*…

 

The internet, most everybody agrees, is driving Americans apart, causing most people to hole up in sites geared toward people like them… This view makes sense. After all, the internet gives us a virtually unlimited number of options from which we can consume the news. I can read whatever I want. You can read whatever you want…  And people, if left to their own devices, tend to seek out viewpoints that confirm what they believe. Thus, surely, the internet must be creating extreme political segregation.

There is one problem with this standard view. The data tells us that it is simply not true.

See for yourself at “Maybe the internet isn’t tearing us apart after all.”

* Rem Koolhaas

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As we listen for the pop, we might recall that it was on this ate in 1622 that the Stationers Register recorded (allowed the publication of) the first issue of a news weekly– a series of reports from foreign correspondents, generally considered to have been the first “newspaper” in the English language.

Cover of the second issue (the first issue is lost)

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Written by LW

May 18, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”*…

 

The Museum of Failure opens in Helsingborg, Sweden on June 7.

Museum of Failure is a collection of interesting innovation failures. The majority of all innovation projects fail and the museum showcases these failures to provide visitors a fascinating learning experience.

The collection consists of over sixty failed products and services from around the world. Every item provides unique insight into the risky business of innovation…

From the Apple Newton and “Bic for Her” to “Trump, the Game” and Harley Davidson perfume (above)– see them at the Museum of Failure.

* Thomas Edison

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As we try again, we might spare a though for John Deere; he died on this date in 1886.  A blacksmith and inventor in Grand Detour, Ill., he frequently repaired the wood and cast-iron plows of eastern U.S. design, which were troubled by the heavy, sticky local soils.  By 1838 he had produced three more suitable steel plows of his own new design, and more in following years, which expanded into the agricultural machine business he began upon moving to Moline, Ill. (in 1847).  In another ten years, his annual production had increased ten-fold.  Originally using imported English steel instead of cast iron, he converted to U.S.-made steel when Pittsburgh steel plants could supply a suitable product.  The company diversified with production of harrows, drills, cultivators and wagons… and grew to become the agricultural and construction equipment giant in business to this day.

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Written by LW

May 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers”*…

 

Discover a new book every time you open a new tab: add 100 Million Books to your browser.

* Charles William Eliot

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As we turn the page, we might recall that it was on this date in 1717 that Voltaire (François Marie Arouet), the “Father of the Age of Reason.” was imprisoned for the first time in the Bastille for writing “subversive literature.”  He would subsequently be imprisoned again, and forced in exile.

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Written by LW

May 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

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