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Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday links

How Difficult Is It to Land on an Aircraft Carrier in Rough Seas?

August 29th, 2:14 AM: Skynet Becomes Self-aware.

Buffalo Bill's house (from Silence of the Lambs) is for sale.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include the anniversary of the Vesuvius eruption that buried Pompeii, a gallery of ads for 19th century magic shows, the $30 million cheesemaking ring smashed by the Russian police, and Pop-Tart (and Count Chocula) beer.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Advice from 1896: how to Drive an Electric Car

"Such a motor is odorless, almost without vibration, and is practically noiseless. It can run with great speed and climb almost any hill road so long as it is smooth... When the battery is empty it may be recharged again at electrical stations maintained for the purpose, after which the carriage is ready for its journey once more...
Aside from the device for supplying power to the wheels, there are numerous others for guiding and controlling the machine when it is under way. Near the seat of the driver are a number of switches and levers, which to one just learning how they operate are rather bewildering...
The driver must keep his eyes wide open and both his feet and hands busy. With his left hand he grasps the power lever which controls the speed, while with the right he manages the steering lever. He has one heel all the time on an emergency switch that cuts off the current, and at the same time must ring a gong to warn people of the approach of his pneumatic-tired conveyance. With the other foot he manages a reversing-switch that will back the carriage, while with his toes he applies a quick brake.
When he wishes to turn on the lights he presses a button under the seat. So it may be seen that he is rather busy, and can never go to sleep and let the old horse carry him home."
Henry Davenport Northrop, The Gem Cyclopedia of Universal Knowledge
Related articles:  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday links

Norwegian company live streaming 11 months of caviar aging.

Russian police smash illegal $30 million cheesemaking ring.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, works of art carved into watermelons and Oreos, overlaying an image of a Star Wars warship on the island of Manhattan, and a supercut of improbable weapons used in movies.

Monday, August 24, 2015

August 24: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii in A.D. 79

Plaster casts of people who died (buried by ashfall) in
Pompeii during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius
He [Pliny the Elder] was at Misenum* in his capacity as commander of the fleet on the 24th of August, when between two or three in the afternoon my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had had a sunbath, then a cold bath, and was reclining after dinner with his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to where he could get the best view of the phenomenon. The cloud was rising from a mountain - at such a distance we couldn't tell which - but afterwards learned that it was Vesuvius. I can best describe its shape by likening it to a pine tree. 

Vesuvius viewed from the ruins of Pompeii
It rose into the sky on a very long "trunk" from which spread some "branches." I imagine it had been raised by a sudden blast, which then weakened, leaving the cloud unsupported so that its own weight caused it to spread sideways. Some of the cloud was white, in other parts there were dark patches of dirt and ash. The sight of it made the scientist in my uncle determined to see it from closer at hand.

~ Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (Pliny the Younger (wiki)) (letter to Tacitus, ca A.D. 95, describing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the death of Pliny the Elder (wiki)) 

Natura vero nihil hominibus brevitate vitae preaestitit melius.

~ Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) (Historia naturalis, VII, 50, 168)  

(Nature has granted man no better gift than the shortness of life.)

Today is the 1,936th anniversary of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and the death of Pliny the Elder (born A.D. 23) in that event. The eruption, which followed several years of precursor ground movements, buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is thought to have killed as many as 15,000 people. 

A view of Naples at the height of the eruption of Mount 
Vesuvius in 1944. Photo by Melvin C. Shaffer
Subsequent major eruptions occurred in 1631, 1906, and 1944, the last just after the Allies had taken the city of Naples in World War II. Pliny the Elder is remembered primarily for his "Natural History," a comprehensive compendium of ancient knowledge of the natural world. His scientific curiosity led him to take ship across the Bay of Naples to see the Vesuvius eruption at close quarters, and he was killed there by ash and poisonous fumes from the volcano. The account of his nephew and adopted son, Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-ca. 114), is the only eyewitness description we have of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and it goes on to provide further detail about on-site conditions near the disaster and his own experiences farther afield. British author Gilbert Adair wrote in 1989,

"The earth is mankind's ultimate haven, our blessed terra firma. When it trembles and gives way beneath our feet, it's as if one of God's checks has bounced." ) 

* N.B. Misenum (near modern-day Bacoli) was on the opposite shore of the Bay of Naples from Mount Vesuvius. During ancient times, it was Rome's principal naval base on the west coast of Italy. 

Here's a brief re-enactment:

If you have some time, this BBC documentary is worth it:

And a newreel about the eruption in 1944:

Recommended reading:

I first read Pliny the Younger's account of  the eruption in the excellent Eyewitness to History, a book that I've also given to several kids and grandkids. 

The thoroughly engaging novel Pompeii by Robert Harris is the story of a Roman engineer trying to repair an aqueduct in the lead-up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Full of interesting technical and historical detail.

Based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

Monday links

It's St. Bartholomew's Day - some history, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, a brief documentary, and Monty Python.

How Women in the 18th Century Got Those Sky-High Hairdos.

Supercut of Improbable Weapons.

Space Elevator Update: Space elevator could zoom astronauts into Earth's stratosphere.

To get a sense of how massive a Star Wars warship really is, overlay an image on one on the island of Manhattan.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include the science of melting cheese, a history of aliens in films, the history of lightbulbs, and a video showing how easily rats can swim up your toilet.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Supercut of Improbable Weapons

As cool as any of these were in the original movies, aggregating them is even better:

Weapon & Film List (in order of appearance):

Ladder - First Strike
Melons - Transporter 2
Umbrella - Kingsman
Afro Picks - Undercover Brother
Ship - Pacific Rim
Shirt - Transporter
Tea Cup - Chronicles of Riddick
Guitar Case - Desperado
Trash Can - First Strike
Ballpoint Pen - The Bourne Identity
Gopher-Chuks - Kung Pow: Enter The Fist
Credit Card - The Glimmer Man
Guitar - Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Record - Shaun of the Dead
Limo Antenna - Crocodile Dundee
Banjo - Zombieland
Hairspray + Cigar - Live and Let Die
Guitar Case #2 - Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Bowler Hat - Goldfinger
Toothbrush - Oldboy
Calligraphy Brushes - The Magnificent Butcher
Forks - Mystery Men
Carrot - Shoot ‘Em Up
Belt - Pootie Tang
Magazine - The Bourne Supremacy
Chair - Thunderball
Bike Pedals - Transporter
Toilet Cover - Zombieland
Fire Hose - Transporter 2

via Ace.

Happy St. Bartholomew's Day - some history, a brief documentary, and Monty Python

If St. Bartholomew's Day be fair and clear,
Then a prosperous autumn comes this year.

St. Bartlemy's mantle wipes dry
All the tears that St. Swithin can cry.*

~ Traditional English proverbs

Michelangelo's painting of The Last Judgment on the end wall
 of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, where Bartholomew is depicted
 below and to the right of Christ. The face on the discarded skin of
 the saint has long been accepted as a self-portrait of the
artist. Note the flaying knife in Bartholomew's right hand.
August 24th is the feast day of St. Bartholomew (wiki), who is mentioned in three of the Gospels as an apostle and may be the Nathanael of John 1:45-51 and 21:2. According to tradition, he was flayed alive and then beheaded in Armenia and thus is often portrayed with a large knife and occasionally his own skin flung over his arm. 

For obvious reasons, Bartholomew is the patron saint of tanners; it is less obvious why he is also the patron saint of plasterers and cheese merchants**. From 1133 to 1752, London's great Smithfield fair began on this day and was also known as St. Bartholomew's Fair partly because of its proximity to the ancient hospital of that name. 

It's also the anniversary of the St. Bartholomew's Night Massacre (wiki) in 1572, when French king Charles IX - urged on by the dowager queen, Catherine di Medici, ordered the slaughter of Huguenots throughout France on the saint's feast day. 

The massacre was timed to coincide with the wedding of Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV) in Paris, which attracted many prominent French Protestants to the capital. Admiral Gaspard de Chatillon, Comte de Coligny (1519-1572) was the first to die, followed by 2,000 more victims in Paris and perhaps 10,000 in all of France (although accounts differ). 

When the news reached Rome, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a Te Deum and had all the city's church bells rung in thanksgiving. The St. Bartholomew's massacre became a major cause celebre among European Protestants and in France re-ignited the Wars of Religion, which lasted until 1598. 

* N.B. The reference here is to the traditional belief that if it rains on St. Swithin's Day - 15 July - 40 more days of rain will follow. 

Brief documentary on the massacre:

** Here's the "blessed are the cheesemakers" clip from Monty Python's Life Of Brian:

The above is based on Ed's quotation of the day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.