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Friday, October 31, 2014

Ben Franklin’s satirical proposal of something like daylight saving time

In a comedic letter he wrote, An Economical Project (published in 1784), ”to the authors of the journal of Paris”, Franklin mentions something like daylight saving time; instead of changing clocks, though, he suggested ringing church bells and firing cannons, among other things, as the sun rises to maximize the amount of time people would be awake during times when the sun is providing free light. The letter was meant to be a satire, rather than actually suggesting these changes be made.

Here’s an excerpt of the letter:
You often entertain us with accounts of new discoveries. Permit me to communicate to the public, through your paper, one that has lately been made by myself, and which I conceive may be of great utility.
I was the other evening in a grand company, where the new lamp of Messrs. Quinquet and Lange was introduced, and much admired for its splendor; but a general inquiry was made, whether the oil it consumed was not in proportion to the light it afforded, in which case there would be no savoring in the use of it. No one present could satisfy us in that point, which all agreed ought to be known, it being a very desirable thing to lessen, if possible, the expense of lighting our apartments, when every other article of family expense was so much augmented…
I went home, and to bed, three or four hours after midnight, with my head full of the subject. An accidental sudden noise waked me about six in the morning, when I was surprised to find my room filled with light; and I imagined at first, that a number of those lamps had been brought into it; but, rubbing my eyes, I perceived the light came in at the windows. I got up and looked out to see what might be the occasion of it, when I saw the sun just rising above the horizon, from whence he poured his rays plentifully into my chamber, my domestic having negligently omitted, the preceding evening, to close the shutters.
I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o’clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward, too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day till towards the end of June; and that at no time in the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o’clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any signs of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this…
Yet it so happens, that when I speak of this discovery to others, I can easily perceive by their countenances, though they forbear expressing it in words, that they do not quite believe me. One, indeed, who is a learned natural philosopher, has assured me that I must certainly be mistaken as to the circumstances of the light coming into my room; for it being well known, as he says, that there could be no light abroad at that hour, it follows that none could enter from without; and that of consequence, my windows being accidentally left open, instead of letting in the light, had only served to let out the darkness…
This event has given rise in my mind to several serious and important reflections. I considered that, if I had not been awakened so early in the morning, I should have slept six hours longer by the light of the sun, and in exchange have lived six hours the following night by candle-light; and, the latter being a much more expensive light than the former, my love of economy induced me to muster up what little arithmetic I was master of, and to make some calculations, which I shall give you, after observing that utility is, in my opinion the test of value in matters of invention, and that a discovery which can be applied to no use, or is not good for something, is good for nothing… [From The Writings of Ben Franklin: An Economic Project]
Much more at the always-interesting Today I Found Out* including this:

Although it’s quite clear he’s joking around in this letter, Franklin was known for putting more subtle jokes in many of his other papers that only the most astute would spot. He was so famous for this that, according to Ormand Seavey, editor of Oxford’s edition of Ben Franklin’s autobiography, when they were deciding who should write the Declaration of Independence, they partially chose Jefferson over the significantly more qualified and respected Franklin, as some feared Franklin would embed subtle humor and satire in it that wouldn’t be recognized until it was too late to change. Knowing this document would likely be examined closely by the nations of the world at that time, they chose to avoid the issue by having the much less gifted writer, Jefferson, write it instead, with Franklin and three others to help Jefferson draft it.

* By the way, of you're starting to think about Christmas presents, I highly recommend their book - I've given out several and they're consistently a big hit. 

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend: Here's DST history (including Ben Franklin's proposal), stories and video

URBANA  - this guy got two DUIs an hour apart at the same time:

The end of daylight saving time caused a unique situation in Urbana on Sunday morning.

Police there arrested a man twice in one day, but at the same exact time.

Chief Matt Lingrell explained that Niles Gammons of Urbana was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated at 1:08 a.m., then released with a summons to appear in court this week. An hour later, it was again 1:08 a.m. and police caught Gammons driving under the influence once again.


Here are excerpts from John Miller's classic rant at NRO:
Can we please slow down and get something straight? There is simply no way to “save daylight.” People can spin the hands of their clocks like roulette wheels, but come Monday here in Washington, D.C., we’re still going to have sunshine for about 12 hours and 45 minutes. The sun can rise at a time of day we call dawn or Howdy Doody Time or whatever–but the stubborn facts of astronomy are at work here and they can’t be wished away.
The reason we have Daylight Saving Time (DST), of course, is because the politicians have mandated it. Washington is much better at wasting things than saving them, but federal lawmakers nevertheless spent much of the 20th century insisting, with typical modesty, that they could “save daylight.” 
I recently wondered exactly why we observe Daylight Saving Time (DST). For some reason, I had harbored a vague notion that it had to do with farmers.
Well, it turns out that DST had nothing to do with farmers, who traditionally haven’t cared much for it. They care a lot less nowadays, but when the first DST law was making its way through Congress, farmers actually lobbied against it.

Dairy farmers were especially upset because their cows refused to accept humanity’s tinkering with the hands of time. The obstinate cud-chewers wanted to be milked every twelve hours, and had absolutely no interest in resetting their biological clocks–even if the local creameries suddenly wanted their milk an hour earlier.
As Michael Downing points out in his book, Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, urban businessmen were a major force behind the adoption of DST in the United States. They thought daylight would encourage workers to go shopping on their way home. They also tried to make a case for agriculture, though they didn’t bother to consult any actual farmers. One pamphlet argued that DST would benefit the men and women who worked the land because “most farm products are better when gathered with dew on. They are firmer, crisper, than if the sun has dried the dew off.” At least that was the claim of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, chaired by department-store magnate A. Lincoln Filene. This was utter nonsense. A lot of crops couldn’t be harvested until the morning dew had evaporated. What’s more, morning dew has no effect whatsoever on firmness or crispness.
Perhaps farmers should take one for the team–i.e., put up with DST even though they don’t like it because it keeps city cash registers chinging into the twilight. Yet the contention that DST is good for business is doubtful. It may help some businesses, but it also stands to reason that other ones suffer. If people are more likely to browse the racks at Filene’s Basement in the daylight, then they’re probably also less likely to go to the movies or take-out restaurants. And in the morning, when it’s darker during rush hour, commuters are perhaps disinclined to stop at the corner store for a newspaper or the coffee bar for a latte. Although it’s impossible to know the precise economic effects of DST, any attempt to calculate them carries the malodorous whiff of industrial policy.
Read the whole thing.
Here's a recording of an anti-DST song from 1909 entitled We Don't Want More Daylight.

Some general information about the history of and rationale for DST.

Video: The history and effects of DST:

Ben Franklin’s satirical proposal of something like daylight saving time is an excellent read.

Irish bomber accidentally blows himself up because he forgot about Daylight Saving Time.

Friday links

Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend: some DST history (including Ben Franklin's proposal), stories and video, including my personal favorite time change story - the guy who got two DUI tickets, each at 1:08 AM, but an hour apart.

For $100,000, You Can Clone Your Dog.

2014 National Geographic Photo Contest Contenders, Part 1 and Part 2. If you want to participate, by the way, the deadline for submissions is today (October 31).

Know how many kids have been poisoned by Halloween candy? Zero. Ever.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and are entirely Halloween related: why witches fly broomsticks, costume ideas from the 1880's, scary makeup, pumpkin carving tricks, and the Sexy Ebola Containment Suit costume (plus resources for intelligent costumes). Also, Dave Barry's Halloween column from 1996: Night Of The Living Chocolate. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This mashup of Star Trek with Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" is excellent

This is so 60's, I think I'm having a flashback - Star Trek footage set to Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. Enjoy, and feed your head:

Here's Grace Slick singing the same song, but without the Star Trek footage. I have to tell you that while I love the mashup, she was such a pleasure to watch on her own, and wow - what a voice!

Here's a 2013 interview with her:

via @rdbrewer4

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Compound in cocoa found to reverse age-related memory loss

I'm apparently not eating enough chocolate, since I keep forgetting stuff - an oversight which I will correct immediately.
In case anyone needed another reason to love chocolate, a new study suggests that a natural compound found in cocoa, tea and some vegetables can reverse age-related memory loss.
The findings suggest that the compound increases connectivity and, subsequently, blood flow in a region of the brain critical to memory, the researchers said.
The study — published online Sunday in Nature Neuroscience and partly financed by a chocolate company — found that flavanols reverse mild memory loss in older adults. Using brain scans and memory tests, the latest study built on previous work showing that flavanols extracted from cocoa beans had improved neuronal connections in mice’s dentate gyrus, a part of the brain involved in memory formation.
But hold that chocolate bar. The researchers also warn that the compound found in cocoa exists only in minuscule amounts in the average chocolate bar compared with the amount used in the study, so gorging on chocolate in the name of health and improving one’s memory could backfire.
Well, shucks. Apparently that won't work, although there are flavonoid supplements. Read the whole thing.

Some Halloween-related links

This year's "viral" costume: Sexy Ebola Containment Suit. Not your style? Here's an excellent site for DIY intelligent women's costumes.

Why Witches are Commonly Depicted Flying on Broomsticks.

20 Houses That Are Clearly Winning At Halloween.

Faust, Mephistopheles, Napolean, Oliver Cromwell or a Hugenot: Halloween Ideas From an 1884 Costume Guide, plus 1880's Batgirl costumes and, from 1931, NYC architects dressed as their buildings.

Vintage and Antique Halloween Ephemera.

25 Easy DIY Halloween Costumes You Can Make Last Minute.

Dave Barry's Halloween column from 1996: Night Of The Living Chocolate.

Gallery of (really) Scary Halloween Makeup (this is an open list - you can add your own).

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include biology and science photography winners, the Ottoman Empire's 1803 map of the newly established US, and the weasel/scorpion method of birth control from ~ 1260 (plus more dubious medical advice).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Excellent site for DIY intelligent women's costumes

The site is Take Back Halloween, intended to provide more options than this:

Here's the idea:
We’re not selling any of this stuff. We’re a resource guide: we come up with the costume designs, explain what you’ll need to pull off the look, and provide links to where you can buy the various components.
As an example, here are parts of their Athena page:

Athena is easily the best-known and most popular Greek goddess. Yet none of the so-called “Athena” costumes for sale out there look remotely like her. Come on, people! She’s Athena! Helmet! Shield! Spear!

There were two very important statues of Athena on the acropolis in ancient Athens. The colossal statue inside the Parthenon was 38 feet tall, with the clothing made entirely of gold. The smaller wooden cult statue was life-sized, and dressed in a special gown made every year by the women of Athens. This dress was actually a tapestry, with scenes of mythological battles woven in purple and saffron. We can’t lay our hands on anything like that for our costume, but we are including a purple himation (wrapped cloak) with gold threads. The pieces we suggest, from left to right:

1. Gold satin flat sheet. This is for your tunic. The Greeks wore simple draped tunics of dyed wool, a look which is easily replicated with sheets and safety pins. We give you instructions below on how to pin it together. A full size sheet will work for most people.

2. Purple veil with gold and silver threads. Also available at Moondance and Artemis Imports. This is your purple himation. Loop it under one arm and knot it on your opposite shoulder.

3. Greek helmet. This is from the movie 300, which is as close as we’ll get to a Greek helmet without paying a fortune. We suggest cutting off the nose piece. This is a very flimsy latex helmet, so don’t expect a lot. Another option is this helmet, which seems to have real bristles in the crest (not molded plastic). The helmet itself is definitely made out of fabric, so you can cut and trim it to suit.

4. Greek shield. Another 300 movie prop.

5. Greek spear. Same deal.

6. Plush 9″ barn owl. Adorableness is not a trait usually associated with Athena, but this stuffed owl is adorable. Use safety pins to attach it to your shoulder at the place where your cloak is knotted. The owl is Athena’s totem animal; in fact, when you get right down to it, Athena is an owl. She’s the Neolithic bird goddess: owl-eyed Athena.

Optional snake armband: The snake is the other animal associated with Athena. Her statue in the Parthenon was accompanied by a humongous rearing snake, worked in gold like the rest of the sculpture. If you want to incorporate some snake references in your costume, you might consider a fat snaky armband like this. Athena doesn’t wear jewelry, so this would be your only ornament.

Shoes: Gold gladiators would be ideal. If you don’t have those, just basic flat leather sandals will work.

How to make the tunic: The simplest ancient tunic for costuming purposes is the Doric chiton, which consists of a single rectangle of fabric folded around the body. All you need is a flat sheet, some safety pins, and a belt or cord. (You can get a rope belt here in white, natural, or gold.) Here are your chiton instructions:

Men Try On Ladies’ Sexy Halloween Costumes

Sexy Ladybug costume and Sexy Firefighter.

Dave Barry's Halloween column from 1996: Night Of The Living Chocolate

This bit reminds me of various Free Range Kids (here's their archive of Halloween articles) posts on ludicrous Halloween-related parental fears:

The irony, of course, is that there ARE no hordes of trick-or-treaters, not any more. We in the news media make darned sure of that. Every year we publish dozens of helpful consumer-advice articles, cheerfully reminding parents of the dangers posed by traffic, perverts, poisoned candy, and many other Halloween hazards that parents would never think of if we didn't remind them ("Have fun, but remember that this year more than 17,000 Americans will die bobbing for apples").

The result is that many children aren't allowed to go trick-or-treating, and the ones who ARE allowed out come to your house no later than 4:30 p.m., wearing reflective tape on their Power Rangers costumes and trailed at close range by their parents, who watch you suspiciously and regard whatever candy you hand out as though it were unsolicited mail from the Unabomber.

And this bit reminds me of me:
Read more here:

So for most of Halloween, your doorbell is quiet. This means that you pass the long night alone, hour after hour, just you and the miniature candy bars. After a while they start calling seductively to you from their bowl in their squeaky little voices. "Hey, Big Boy!" they call. "We're going to waste over here!"

As the evening wears on they become increasingly brazen. Eventually they crawl across the floor, climb up your body, unwrap themselves and force themselves bodily into your mouth. There's no use hiding in the bathroom, because they'll just crawl under the door and tie you up with dental floss and threaten to squeeze toothpaste in your eye unless you eat them. At least that's what they do to me. By the end of the night my blood has the same sugar content as Yoo-Hoo.

Read the whole thing.
Read more here:

Video: Halloween pumpkin carving tricks

Here's an excellent pumpkin carving kit.

More videos from the same guy: