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Posts Tagged ‘invention

“I propose to build for eternity”*…

Florence Duomo as seen from Michelangelo hill

Sent back in time 600 years and tasked with building the world’s largest dome, how would most of us fare? Most of us, of course, are not trained architects or engineers, but then, neither was Filippo Brunelleschi. Known at the time as a goldsmith, Brunelleschi ended up winning the commission to build just such a colossal dome atop Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which itself had already been under construction for well over a century. The year was 1418, the dawn of the Italian Renaissance, but a break with medieval building styles had already been made, not least in the rejection of the kind of flying buttresses that had held up the stone ceilings of previous cathedrals. Brunelleschi had thus not just to build an unprecedentedly large dome, in accordance with a design drawn up 122 years earlier, but also to come up with the technology required to do so.

“He invented an ox-driven hoist that brought the tremendously heavy stones up to the level of construction,” architect David Wildman tells HowStuffWorks. Noticing that “marble for the project was being damaged as it was unloaded off of boats,” he also “invented an amphibious boat that could be used on land to transport the large pieces of marble to the cathedral.”

These and other new devices were employed in service of an ingenious structure using not just one dome but two, the smaller inner one reinforced with hoops of stone and chain. Built in brick — the formula for the concrete used in the Pantheon having been lost, like so much ancient Roman knowledge — the dome took sixteen years in total, which constituted the final stage of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore’s generations-long construction.

Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, still the largest masonry dome in the world, has yet to quite yield all of its secrets: “There is still some mystery as to how all of the components of the dome connect with each other,” as Wildman puts it, thanks to Brunelleschi’s vigilance about concealing the nature of his techniques throughout the project. But you can see some of the current theories visualized (and, in a shamelessly fake Italian accent, hear them explained) in the National Geographic video [below]. However he did it, Brunelleschi ensured that every part of his structure fit together perfectly — and that it would hold up six centuries later, when we can look at it and see not just an impressive church, but the beginning of the Renaissance itself…

How Filippo Brunelleschi, untrained in architecture or engineering, built the world’s largest dome at the dawn of the Renaissance.

For more on the dome, see Ross King’s marvelous 2013 book, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

And for more on Brunelleschi— whose other accomplishments include the first precise system of linear perspective, which revolutionized painting and opened the way for the naturalistic styles of Renaissance art– see here.

* Filippo Brunelleschi

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As we go big, we might recall that it was on this date in 330 that Roman Emperor Constantine the Great consecrated Constantinople (on the site of what had been the ancient city of Byzantium; today, Istanbul). Constantine identified the site of Byzantium as a place where an emperor could sit, readily defended, with easy access to the Danube or the Euphrates frontiers, his court supplied from the rich gardens and sophisticated workshops of Roman Asia, his treasuries filled by the wealthiest provinces of the Empire.

The city became famous for its architectural masterpieces, such as Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Built by the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople for the state church of the Roman Empire between 532 and 537, the church was then the world’s largest interior space and among the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”… It set the bar for Brunelleschi.

Hagia Sophia

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“God loveth the clean”*…

The history of ordinary things can be fascinating while offering insight into our immediate future. We’ve previously noted how artificial ice and assorted refrigeration/cooling technologies helped change demographics in the American South. Recent news from the Census Bureau confirms this trend as northern states like Michigan and New York lost population while the south, Texas and Florida in particular, gained. But the history of the ordinary can be hidden by ubiquity, tedium, and general disinterest. Unnoticed until they cry out for attention. Today’s Tedium is looking at the history of New York City restaurant inspections and the variety of ways restaurants cope. (And yes, the pandemic has certainly had an impact.)

There is no shortage of great New Yorkers, the people that helped shape the city and its culture. How one measures impact can vary. The wealthy and influential find their names on street signs, convention centers, and airports. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there is a renewed appreciation for those that helped lay the foundation for the city’s hospitals and medical care. In this regard, there are few New Yorkers greater than Dr. Sigismund Goldwater. 

A graduate of Columbia University and NYU medical school, Dr. Goldwater was a recognized authority in hospital construction. Among the numerous posts he held over a distinguished career included Superintendent at Mount Sinai Hospital, president of the American Conference on Hospital Service, and vice president of the New York Academy of Medicine. In recognition of his career and experience, he was appointed City Commissioner of Hospitals from 1934 to 1940. During his administration, Dr. Goldwater oversaw the construction of 25 new hospital buildings. His Times obituary credits him with adding more than 5,000 hospital beds to city capacity.

While his work in hospital administration and construction helped lay the foundation for New York City as a world-class center for health care, Dr. Goldwater has a legacy a bit more meaningful to modern restaurateurs. In 1914, Mayor John Purroy Mitchel was newly elected and in need of a health commissioner. His first choice, Dr. Goldwater, didn’t really want the job but finally acquiesced on the strong insistence of his predecessor. 

About six months after taking over the role, now Health Commissioner Goldwater announced a couple of general initiatives in public transportation and dining to ensure general cleanliness, pointing out to the Times that, “…the Sanitary Code at present did not call for regular inspection as in the case of bakeries and meat markets.” His solution was to require permits and require commercial restaurants to be inspected on an annual basis.

Public health, especially regarding sanitary food handling practices, had grabbed media attention in the early 20th century in part to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Sinclair, an investigative journalist, went undercover to detail the working conditions in meat packing facilities. His account of rat infested factories and spoiled meat products shipped to consumers provoked outrage. Unfortunately for Sinclair, who was trying to shed light on the conditions of workers, readers were incensed to learn what was in their food. By 1905, the federal government had passed legislation to create what would become the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Another unique circumstance that kept food safety in the minds of New Yorkers was the terrible tale of Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary. A private cook that was also an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, Mary Mallon became infamous for her condition, the number of people she infected, and her refusal to cooperate with safety guidelines. [See here]

There was another reason for the attention Mary Mallon received, explains Claire Stewart, a chef and hospitality management professor at the New York City College of Technology. “Typhoid was considered a disease of the poor and associated with immigrants and overcrowded tenements,” she said. “Mary Mallon spent a lot of her career cooking for wealthy people, so her bringing typhoid to the upper classes caused a lot of alarm.”

Still, by the time Dr. Goldwater became health commissioner, New York City had yet to regulate restaurants, creating a range of dining experiences and anxiety about the status of any given kitchen.

One concerned citizen wrote to the Times in a letter titled, “We Need Dainty Waiters.”, “In these days of pure food laws and Boards of Health… I would like to ask what assurance, if any, has the public that in our hotels, restaurants, and clubs proper supervision over their employes is exercised so as to insure us a fair degree of cleanliness on the part of those who handle the food we are to eat? This inquiry is prompted by occurrences coming under the personal observation of the writer, showing that employes in so-called high-class hotels, clubs, and restaurants are often guilty of practices which would not be tolerated in our own homes. One large restaurant in this city requires its waiters to pass an inspection by a manicure before they are allowed to handle food for its patrons.”

After Dr. Goldwater noted that other cities had also adopted regular restaurant inspections, and noting the potential for additional revenue via fines and permit fees, the city agreed. Now they just had to get some 15,000 owners and operators to comply. Should be easy, right?…

The wacky and surprising history of NYC restaurant inspections (and by extension, that same system in other cities). That letter grade is a lot more effective than you might think: “The Letter in the Window.” By Andrew Egan, in Ernie Smith’s (@ShortFormErnie) ever-illuminating newsletter Tedium (@readtedium).

* Francis Bacon

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As we wash our hands, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gideon Sundback was granted a patent on the first modern zipper. While he did well with his invention for several decades, he and his western competitors were overtaken in the mid-20th century by YKK.

Most checked chefs pants still have buttons.

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“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start”*…

As we noted in an earlier post, Robert C. Baker– “the George Washington Carver of chicken,” a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame– is best-remembered for his invention of the chicken nugget. But on his home turf, he’s remembered for something else entirely…

In 1950, Robert C. Baker, a professor at Cornell University, published Cornell Cooperative Extension Information Bulletin 862, which changed summer in upstate New York forever. Entitled “Barbecued Chicken and Other Meats,” the bulletin describes a simple vinegar-based sauce that can be used to turn broilers—chickens raised for their meat rather than their eggs—into juicy, delicious barbecue heaven.

At the time, this was an innovation. When Americans ate meat, they preferred beef and pork, and the poultry industry was just beginning to increase production. As an agricultural extension specialist, part of Baker’s job was to convince Americans to eat chicken. Before he passed away in 2006, he invented chicken bologna, chicken hot dogs, chicken salami, and, most famously, a prototype chicken nugget.

Cornell Chicken Barbecue Sauce, though, was his first great triumph, and what he is best known for in upstate New York. All summer, every summer, Cornell Barbecue Chicken features at backyard parties and family get-togethers. Younger generations of Finger Lake residents don’t even recognize this as a regional specialty so much as the default way to cook chicken outdoors. “Every fund-raising event, every fire department cookout, every little league barbecue, must serve this recipe or nobody would come,” writes barbecue expert Meathead Goldwyn

The way Baker told the story, he first came up with the idea of the chicken barbecue when he worked at Penn State and the governor came to visit. When he went to Cornell a short while later, he started putting on barbecues regularly, enlisting his family and the young men who worked with him at Cornell as basters and turners.

“My father was quite a promoter,” says Dale Baker, the eldest of Baker’s six children. “He would have me and others go out in high school and cook for groups.” Roy Curtiss, who worked with Baker as a Cornell undergraduate, remembers killing and butchering chickens in the basement of Rice Hall, on campus, freezing them, and using them all summer long to create barbecues for 50 to 100 people.

“We’d charge them a buck and half, for a roll, an ear of corn, and half a chicken,” Curtiss says. All summer, they set up for church groups and farm bureaus, toting collapsible grates in the back of a pickup truck, all around the Ithaca area. “It was very popular,” he says. “People would hear about this, and think it was a great alternative to hamburgers and hot dogs.”…

Perhaps the most ambitious use of the sauce, though, has been at Baker’s Chicken Coop, the barbecue stand Baker started in the 1950s at the New York State Fair. (His daughter still operates it today.) “We would cook, when I was younger, 22, 23,000 half-chickens in 10 or 11 days. It was a pretty big thing,” says Dale Baker. When he finished college, he and his dad estimated how many half-chickens they had cooked up until that point in time. It was more than a million…

The recipe (* today, many use less salt)

The true legacy of the Cornell professor who invented the chicken nugget: “Why All of Upstate New York Grew Up Eating the Same Barbecue Chicken.”

* Anthony Bourdain

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As we baste, we might recall that on this date in 1982 Saturday Night Live viewers decided the fate of Larry the Lobster. In an early example of interactive television, Eddie Murphy held Larry, a live lobster, aloft and declared that the show’s audience would determine whether he lived or died. He read two “900” phone numbers, one for those who wanted to spare Larry, and another for those who wanted to see him cooked. Calls cost $0.50 each.  (Murphy tended to read the number to save Larry very quickly, as opposed to his giving the number to cook Larry very slowly and clearly.)

Updates on the voting were given by other cast members over the course of the episode, and in the span of 30 minutes, viewers made nearly 500,000 calls, sending phone traffic soaring– indeed, the heavy phone use stood as a record or near-record for many years.

Larry was spared by about 12,000 votes; 239,096 callers voted to save him and 227,452 voted for him to be boiled. (Though on the following week’s show, a lobster– reputedly Larry– was eaten on-air.)

To this day the sketch is cited in discussions of classic comedy routines, cruelty to animals, and in rosters of famous animals.

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“Well, that is California all over”*…

Half of Californians live below this red line. ☝️

That may be hard to believe, but it’s more or less accurate, demographers say: Roughly 20 million people reside north of a line running through Los Angeles, and the other 20 million are squished underneath it.

n the second half of the 19th century, the majority of the state’s residents lived in Northern California, where the Gold Rush city of San Francisco hosted the largest urban population on the West Coast. So what happened?

The shift began with the oil and citrus booms of the 1890s. “Los Angeles and Southern California have one of the largest oil reserves of any region in the country. And agriculture made it an attractive place for land speculators, especially as major aqueduct projects brought water to the region,” said Justin Levitt, an adjunct political science professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Then came Hollywood’s entertainment boom in the 1920s, the WWII defense boom that sprouted industrial factories as well as a sizable military presence in San Diego, and the Southern California aerospace boom of the 1940s and ’50s. The population exploded, with Los Angeles County growing from about 170,000 in 1900 to 10 million today, a full quarter of California’s people.

The San Francisco Bay was once considered the state’s most important harbor, but Southern California stole that distinction away too. The ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles are now the busiest in the United States…

There are signs that California’s slackening growth in recent years — a consequence of curtailed immigration, housing shortages, and high cost of living — might be nudging the dividing line back north, said Dowell Myers, a demographer at USC.

At last check, about five years ago, the halfway mark was near Hollywood Burbank Airport, he said. “But since then population growth has really stalled in the state. If anything, growth is shrinking in the southern counties. This weak growth must be moving the halfway line slightly upward geographically.”

The unevenly-distributed population of the Golden State: “California’s lopsided population,” from the eminently-informative California Sun.

* Mark Twain, Roughing It

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As we dwell on demographics, we might recall that it was on this date in 1911 that Willis S. Farnsworth– of Petaluma, in Sonoma County, California– was granted a patent for the first coin-operated locker.

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Written by LW

March 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

“What is research but a blind date with knowledge?”*…

Science at work: a fascinating interactive visualization of every paper ever published in Nature.

Will Harvey

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As we interpret influence, we might spare a thought for Neil Arnott; he died on this date in 1874. A physician and inventor, he created one of the first forms of the waterbed, the Arnott waterbed for the comfort of patients during prolonged illness. He also invented the economical Arnott stove (which he called a thermometer-stove), which featured a self-regulating fire. And in 1852, he won the Rumford Medal for the construction of the smokeless fire grate, as well as other improvements to ventilation and heating.

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Written by LW

March 2, 2021 at 1:01 am

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