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Posts Tagged ‘disasters

“It takes just one big natural disaster to… remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature”*…

 

ca_1116NID_Dome_Tent_online_CC_cropped

An 72-meter ice core drilled in the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps entombs more than 2000 years of fallout from volcanoes, storms, and human pollution. NICOLE SPAULDING/CCI FROM C. P. LOVELUCK ET AL., ANTIQUITY 10.15184, 4, 2018

 

Ask medieval historian Michael McCormick what year was the worst to be alive, and he’s got an answer: “536.” Not 1349, when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe. Not 1918, when the flu killed 50 million to 100 million people, mostly young adults. But 536. In Europe, “It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year,” says McCormick, a historian and archaeologist who chairs the Harvard University Initiative for the Science of the Human Past.

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine historian Procopius. Temperatures in the summer of 536 fell 1.5°C to 2.5°C, initiating the coldest decade in the past 2300 years. Snow fell that summer in China; crops failed; people starved. The Irish chronicles record “a failure of bread from the years 536–539.” Then, in 541, bubonic plague struck the Roman port of Pelusium, in Egypt. What came to be called the Plague of Justinian spread rapidly, wiping out one-third to one-half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire and hastening its collapse, McCormick says.

Historians have long known that the middle of the sixth century was a dark hour in what used to be called the Dark Ages, but the source of the mysterious clouds has long been a puzzle. Now, an ultraprecise analysis of ice from a Swiss glacier by a team led by McCormick and glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono has fingered a culprit…

536 chart

Learn what it was that challenged civilizations: “Why 536 was ‘the worst year to be alive’.”

* Neil deGrasse Tyson

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As we ruminate on resilience, we might spare a thought for Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita; he died on this date in 1998.  A meteorologist, he became known as “Mr. Tornado” for his work in understanding those severe storms and his development of (what’s now known as)  the Fujita scale to measure tornado intensity.

Thetsuya_Theodore_Fijuta source

 

 

Written by LW

November 19, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”*…

 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death” c. 1562

 

Researchers at Oxford University have compiled a “scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion”

The scientists from the Global Challenges Foundation and the Future of Humanity Institute used their research to draw up a list of the 12 most likely ways human civilization could end on planet earth.

“[This research] is about how a better understanding of the magnitude of the challenges can help the world to address the risks it faces, and can help to create a path towards more sustainable development,” the study’s authors said.

“It is a scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion, certainly, but even more it is a call for action based on the assumption that humanity is able to rise to challenges and turn them into opportunities.”

* Joesph Heller, Catch-22

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As we count the ways, we might send heavenly birthday greetings to Nicolaus Copernicus. the Renaissance polyglot and polymath– he was a canon lawyer, a mathematician, a physician,  a classics scholar, a translator, a governor, a diplomat, and an economist– best remembered as an astronomer ; he was born on this date in 1473.  Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres; published just before his death in 1543), with its heliocentric account of the solar system, is often regarded as the beginning both of modern astronomy and of the scientific revolution.

Of all discoveries and opinions, none may have exerted a greater effect on the human spirit than the doctrine of Copernicus. The world had scarcely become known as round and complete in itself when it was asked to waive the tremendous privilege of being the center of the universe. Never, perhaps, was a greater demand made on mankind – for by this admission so many things vanished in mist and smoke! What became of our Eden, our world of innocence, piety and poetry; the testimony of the senses; the conviction of a poetic – religious faith? No wonder his contemporaries did not wish to let all this go and offered every possible resistance to a doctrine which in its converts authorized and demanded a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed not even dreamed of.

– Goethe

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The mother of all tongues…

 

The spread of Indo-European, the product of Proto-Indo-European, 4,000-1,000 BCE

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By the 19th century, linguists knew that all modern Indo-European languages descended from a single tongue. Called Proto-Indo-European, or PIE, it was spoken by a people who lived from roughly 4500 to 2500 B.C., and left no written texts. The question became, what did PIE sound like? In 1868, German linguist August Schleicher used reconstructed Proto-Indo-European vocabulary to create a fable in order to hear some approximation of PIE. Called “The Sheep and the Horses,” and also known today as Schleicher’s Fable, the short parable tells the story of a shorn sheep who encounters a group of unpleasant horses. As linguists have continued to discover more about PIE, this sonic experiment continues and the fable is periodically updated to reflect the most current understanding of how this extinct language would have sounded when it was spoken some six thousand years ago. Since there is considerable disagreement among scholars about PIE, no one version can be considered definitive.

Here, University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd recites his version of the fable using pronunciation informed by the latest insights into reconstructed PIE.

More of the story– and another cool fable in PIE– at “Telling Tales in Proto-Indo-European” in Archaeology.

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As we practice pronunciation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that London suffered “The Great Beer Flood Disaster” when the metal bands on an immense vat at Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery snapped, releasing a tidal wave of 3,555 barrels of Porter (571 tons– more than 1 million pints), which swept away the brewery walls, flooded nearby basements, and collapsed several adjacent tenements. While there were reports of over twenty fatalities resulting from poisoning by the porter fumes or alcohol coma, it appears that the death toll was 8, and those from the destruction caused by the huge wave of beer in the structures surrounding the brewery.

(The U.S. had its own vat mishap in 1919, when a Boston molasses plant suffered similarly-burst bands, creating a heavy wave of molasses moving at a speed of an estimated 35 mph; it killed 21 and injured 150.)

Meux’s Horse Shoe Brewery

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Written by LW

October 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

To the day…

Barker’s Illustrated Almanac (1912)
Monthly calendar and almanac with various testimonials for Barker’s horse, cattle, and poultry powders.

Almanacs are books published annually that can contain a host of useful information including a calendar of holy days, holidays, farmer’s planting dates, weather forecasts, astronomical data and various statistics. The times of the sunrise and sunset as well as tide charts can also be included. Almanacs, in various forms, have been in existence for hundreds of years. It has been stated in the Encyclopedia of Ephemera that the first printed almanac was published in Vienna in 1457 and the Almanack Calculated for New England – the first American almanac was published in 1639 in Cambridge Massachusetts. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been published since 1792, making it the oldest continuously published periodical in North America

According to ABC for Book Collectors (an invaluable source for any book lover) an almanac is: “[c]alendar[s], usually in pocket-book (more rarely sheet) form, augmented with Saints’ days, fair-dates and astronomical and meteorological data; a bestseller from the start and protected by jealously guarded patents, the different titles [were especially] hot rivals in the 17th century….”

More data on day books on the ever-illuminating Abe Books blog.

[TotH to reader MK]

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As we page through the year, we might recall that President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only person to die in Ford’s Theater: it was on this date in 1893 that three interior floors of the building collapsed.  Following Lincoln’s assassination, the United States Government appropriated the theatre, (Congress payed Ford $100,000 in compensation), and an order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement.  In 1866, the theatre was taken over by the U.S. military… then in 1893, the front of the building gave way, killing 22 military clerks and injuring another 68… which led some to conclude that the former Church-turned-theater was cursed.  (A restored Ford’s Theater opened in 1968.)

Bodies being removed from Ford’s Theatre following the building’s collapse

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“A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems”…

In 1937, Lother Collatz proposed that, when starting with any natural number (positive integer) n, then either dividing it by 2 if n is even, or multiplying n by 3 and adding 1 if n is odd, then continuing this process indefinitely, one will always reach the number 1.

The proposition is pretty broadly known as “The Collatz conjecture”; but as it commanded the energies of a number of other mathematicians, it is also sometimes called “the  Ulam conjecture” (after Stanislaw Ulam), “Kakutani’s problem” (after Shizuo Kakutani), “the Thwaites conjecture” (after Sir Bryan Thwaites), “Hasse’s algorithm” (after Helmut Hasse), or “the Syracuse problem.”  More generically, it’s often just called the “3n+1 conjecture”…  and the sequence that it generates, “the wondrous numbers.”

But as wondrous as the sequence may be, it is no pushover to prove.  Indeed, legendary (and legendarily “homeless”) mathematician Paul Erdos– the source of this post’s title quotation– posted a $500 prize for a proof… an offer he never had to make good.  Still, most mathematicians who have played with the problem believe the conjecture to be true,as both experimental evidence and heuristic arguments support it.

It is in any case, fascinating– and beautiful.  London-based designer Jason Davies has created a visualization of the Wondrous Numbers, an animation that runs the Collatz logic in reverse— starting with 1 and “growing” a tree of natural numbers:

click here to watch this grow from a single digit

 

As we remark that there’s a fundamental propriety to everything in the world ultimately coming back to one, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940, at approximately 11:00 am, that the first Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge collapsed due to wind-induced vibrations. Situated on the Tacoma Narrows in Puget Sound, near the city of Tacoma, Washington, the bridge had only been open for traffic a few months.  For those who missed it in high school physics:

 

 

Written by LW

November 7, 2011 at 1:01 am

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