Amazon Deals

New at Amazon

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday links

August 18 is the anniversary of the death of Genghis Khan: founder of the Mongolian Empire, prolific spreader of DNA, and climate change hero. Related: Why Genghis Khan’s tomb can’t be found.

Cancer Treatment in the 19th Century.

Building the Middle Ages one LEGO Brick at a time.

National Geographic shows you how easily rats can swim up through your toilet.

Florida company offering 'alien abduction insurance' has sold nearly 6,000 policies.

The surprisingly interesting history of the lightbulb.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae, washing machine history, Churchillian and Shakespearean insults, underwater wine cellars, and why only some people remember dreams.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The World War of the Ants – The Army Ant

Ant bridge - source
Interesting videos on army ant (wiki) behavior - army ant colonies consist of the queen, the queen’s brood (her eggs), soldiers, and the workers. Army ants are nomadic, making temporary nests as they travel. The nest is made up of the army ants themselves. They form walls and fasten onto each other by using their mandibles (jaws) and their claws. This way, they can hang from a log or another surface while the nest encloses the queen and her brood.

The name army ant (or legionary ant or marabunta is applied to over 200 ant species in different lineages. Due to their aggressive predatory foraging groups, known as "raids", a huge number of ants forage simultaneously over a certain area.
Another shared feature is that, unlike most ant species, army ants do not construct permanent nests; an army ant colony moves almost incessantly over the time it exists.






More at pests.org and DK Find Out

Friday, August 9, 2019

Friday links


The Secret History of Washing Machines.

Why Do Some People Always Remember Their Dreams, While Others Almost Never Do?



ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the birthdays of Aldous Huxley and Milton Friedman, the economics of airport food, Beatrix Potter's botanical drawings, and protecting cows from predators by drawing eyes on their butts.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Tom and Jerry Concerto

The Tom and Jerry cartoon The Cat Concerto (wiki) has Tom giving a concert performance of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which Jerry keeps interrupting. 

The same year (1947) that MGM produced The Cat Concerto, Warner Bros. released a very similar Bugs Bunny cartoon (see below) called Rhapsody Rabbit (wiki), with Bugs against an unnamed mouse. Both shorts used near identical gags, the same piece by Franz Liszt, and had similar endings.

Here's 16 year old pianist Yannie Tan:



Rhapsody Rabbit - I can't find a better version - please share if you find one. 



Related: Yannie Tan plays Snowbody Loves Me - Tom and Jerry - A Chopin Medley:



Piano arranged version of the following pieces by Frederick Chopin:
- Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat major
- Étude Op. 25, No. 9 in G-flat major
- Fantaisie-Impromptu in C♯ minor Op. posth. 66
- Scherzo No. 2 In B-Flat Minor Op. 31

Friday, July 26, 2019

Friday links

July 26 is Brave New World author Aldous Huxley's birthday: here's a brief bio, audio of him narrating Brave New World, a 1949 letter from Huxley to Orwell and a Huxley vs Orwell infographic.

Why is airport food so expensive? The reasons you pay a massive markup on a water bottle are more complex than you might think.

These Sisters will make your Evil Siblings look like Angels.

Birthdays this weekend include free-market economist Milton Friedman's (July 27): here are some favorite quotes and short videos, and Beatrix Potter's (July 28): in addition to Peter Rabbit et al, she produced some gorgeous botanical drawings.

The house from The Goonies gets so many fan visits (around 1200 per day), the owner has tried to stop them coming by covering the house in a blue tarp.

Why It May Make Sense to Draw Eyes on Cows’ Butts.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include the Apollo 11 anniversary, early blacklisting in Hollywood, a laser that identifies people from a distance by heartbeat, and the anniversary of the 20th of July plot (the unsuccessful bomb attempt by insiders to kill Hitler in 1944).

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Beatrix Potter's birthday

Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.

Don't go near Mr. McGregor's garden: your father had an accident there, he was put into a pie by Mrs. McGregor. 

~ Ibid. 

Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.

~ Potter, attributed

And the best quote ever on why you should ply your children (and grandchildren!) with good books throughout their childhoods:

For quiet, solitary and observant children create their own world and live in it, nourishing their imaginations on the material at hand.
In the UK, stamps depicting Beatrix Potter's creations
were released on the 150th anniversary of her birth.
July 28 is the anniversary of the birth of the English writer and illustrator of children's books, Beatrix Potter (wiki) (1866-1943). Most familiar as the author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) and The Tailor of Gloucester (1903), Beatrix Potter was born in London and despite having no formal artistic training, illustrated all her books with simple, unassuming watercolors, while creating the characters of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, the hedgehog Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and others.  

After 1927, she wrote very little but became a farmer and sheep-breeder in the north of England. From the age of 15 until she was past 30, Potter kept a journal in a secret code that was not broken until 20 years after her death

Here's a brief documentary on Potter's life:


She also produced a series of gorgeous, scientifically accurate paintings of various types of fungi, as discussed and illustrated in Linda Lear’s highly regarded Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature:

Flammulina velutipes (Armitt Museum and Library)

Strobilomyces strobilaceus (Armitt Museum and Library)

Hydrocybe coccinea (Armitt Museum and Library)
Related links:


The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, a new story written by Beatrix Potter more than 100 years ago, featuring Peter Rabbit, was published in 2016 for the first time. She had done only one illustration for the story, so that task has been taken over by others: 
She sent the story to her publisher in 1914, saying it was about "a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life".
The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots also features an appearance from an "older, slower" version of Peter Rabbit.

The Economist had an interesting article on her in 2007.

Here's an article on her mushroom illustrations, with several excellent examples.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Abandoned in the Night Woods

A Peculiarly Dutch Summer Rite: Children Abandoned in the Night Woods

It may sound extreme, but it’s normal in the Netherlands.

In the Dutch scouting tradition known as “dropping,” groups of children, generally pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base.

AUSTERLITZ, the Netherlands — Shortly after 10 p.m. on a recent night, a car came to a stop at the edge of the woods. The door opened to release three children: towheaded boys of 12 and 15, and a 12-year-old girl with dark pigtails and an emoji-covered backpack. Then the driver threw the car into gear and sped away, gravel crunching under its tires.

They were tiny figures at the foot of the forest, miles from the summer camp they were attending, with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction. Darkness was falling. And they were alone.

They peered into the night: Was this the path?

“Could be,” said Thomas, the 12-year-old team leader.

And then, because there was nothing else to do, they plunged into the woods.

This is the Dutch scouting tradition known as a “dropping,” in which groups of children, generally pre-teenagers, are deposited in a forest and expected to find their way back to base. It is meant to be challenging, and they often stagger in at 2 or 3 in the morning.

To make it more difficult, adult organizers may blindfold the children on their way to the dropping.C

Many adults look back on their dropping experiences fondly.

In some variations of the challenge, loosely based on military exercises, adults trail the teams of children, but refuse to guide them, although they may leave cryptic notes as clues. To make it more difficult, adult organizers may even blindfold the children on their way to the dropping, or drive in loop-de-loops to scramble their sense of direction.

Sometimes, they hide in the underbrush and make noises like a wild boar.

If this sounds a little crazy to you, it is because you are not Dutch.

The Dutch — it is fair to say — do childhood differently. Children are taught not to depend too much on adults; adults are taught to allow children to solve their own problems. Droppings distill these principles into extreme form, banking on the idea that even for children who are tired, hungry and disoriented, there is a compensatory thrill to being in charge.

Certainly, many adults in the Netherlands look back on their droppings fondly. Rik Oudega, a 22-year-old scout leader, recalled being pulled over by police as he drove the wrong way on a one-way road on his way to a dropping. His heart sank, he said, “because what I did was against the law.”

The officers pulled up beside him and asked him to roll down his window. They peered into the back seat of his car, where there were four children in blindfolds, which, Mr. Oudega said, “is not really allowed either.”

Mr. Oudega tried to look wholesome. “I’m here on a dropping,” he told them, hoping for the best.

“They looked at each other, then they smiled at me and said: ‘Have a good evening. And try to follow the rules.’”

The children on the dropping in Austerlitz, not far from Utrecht, walked into the woods, and the smell of pine needles rose from the sandy earth. The forest floor was patched with ink-black moss. A half-moon had appeared in the sky.

For a few minutes, there was the sound of cars on a road, but then that, too, quieted. The woods closed in, becoming dense.

That night was the first dropping for Stijn Jongewaard, an 11-year-old boy with jutting ears, who claimed to have learned English from Minecraft video games and “Hawaii Five-O.” At home, he spends much of his leisure time planted in front of his PlayStation. This is one reason his parents have sent him to camp. He has never been lost in the woods before.

His mother, Tamara, said that the time had come for him to take on greater responsibility, and that the dropping was one step in that direction.

“Stijn is 11,” she said. “The time window in which we can teach him is closing. He is going into adolescence, and then he will make decisions for himself.”

After they had been walking for half an hour, the group turned off the path and into the forest, then paused, stood in conference for a few minutes, and reversed themselves. Ten yards off the path, a huge body leapt, thrusting, behind the leaves, and the children startled. A deer.

If you peruse the Dutch newspapers with sufficient attention, you will find evidence of droppings gone awry. In 2012, German media reported that five Dutch boys on a dropping in Germany called local police to extract them from the narrow space where they had become stuck, between a rock face and a ventilation duct.

A “perilous adventure,” the Germans reported.

But Dutch journalists were unimpressed at all the fuss, mocking it as a “droppingsdrama” and “a bit romanticized.” “The dropping is often the most exciting part of a camping trip,” explained one follow-up article.

Another report surfaced in 2017, when scout leaders in Belgium dropped 25 children in the woods, then drank a number of beers and fell asleep, leaving the children wandering in the forest after their appointed pickup time. The campers finally rang someone’s doorbell and got a ride.

“The parents,” the newspaper noted somberly, “were not satisfied with the incident.”

Droppings are such a normal part of Dutch childhood that many there are surprised to be asked about it, assuming it is common to every country. But Pia de Jong, a novelist who has raised her children in New Jersey, said it reflected something particular about the Dutch philosophy of parenting.

“You just drop your kids into the world,” she said. “Of course, you make sure they don’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”

Still, Ms. de Jong, 58, has begun to question whether droppings are really all that fun. “Imagine that you are lost and have no idea where to go,” she said. “It could be 10 hours, it could be the whole night, you just don’t know. It is late and long and people are a little frightened.”

She paused, in thought. “I don’t think it’s a nice thing to do to kids, actually,” she said.

In 2011 and 2014, children on droppings were fatally struck by cars while walking alongside roads. Since then, the practice has become far more regulated.

The dropping team does carry a cellphone in case of emergency, and the scouting association requires participants to wear high-visibility vests and distributes a long list of guidelines, mainly geared toward traffic safety. “Pushing boundaries is fun,” reads one recommendation, “but that, too, has boundaries.”

The scout leaders of the recent dropping, staring into the embers of a campfire, murmured about the proliferating paperwork, the way childhood has softened in recent years. “Society is changing,” Mr. Oudega said. “It’s a miracle that we are allowed to have a fire.”

But the core experience of dropping, he added, has not changed.

“It really is being on your own,” he said. “It really does make you feel that you are in charge.”

By 1 a.m., Stijn and the other campers were well into their third hour of hiking. They trudged along a paved road in single file, too drained for conversation. Fifteen minutes passed, and another 15, and there was no sign that they were anywhere near their campsite. Stijn was staring straight ahead, like a zombie.

“My parents are sleeping,” he said. “My sister is sleeping. My brain is tired. My feet are tired.”

They were bone-tired, all of them, but also adamant on finishing. One boy had asked to be picked up at the halfway mark, and that seemed to make the rest of them more determined. At that halfway mark, the children were given snacks and water, but in exchange, their GPS was taken away, and they had to follow their instincts. But no one complained, since there was no one to complain to.

“I’m going,” Stijn observed. “I don’t know why I’m going, but I’m going.”

It was nearly 2 a.m. when they stumbled into camp. There was a crackling fire, and boiled sausages tucked into soft rolls. Owls were on the hunt, and their shrieks could be heard in the tree canopy high above.

The campers wolfed down the food, stared into the fire for a few minutes, and stumbled to their tents. When Stijn emerged the next morning, bleary-eyed, at 11 a.m., he considered himself a veteran.

He no longer missed his PlayStation. And he said that someday, when he had children, he wanted them to experience a dropping.

“It shows you, even in very hard times, to keep walking, to keep going,” he said. “I have never had to do that before.”

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday links

On July 20, 1969, man first landed on the moon. Here's NASA's Original Mission Video (over 3 hours - if you just want to see the first step, start at 3:15), Photographs Taken By NASA's Apollo Mission Astronauts and a gallery of photos from the mission, memories of Plucking NASA's Moonmen From the Sea, and the speech prepared for Nixon in the event of a disaster.

The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat.

Hollywood’s Doom Book and other Tales of Blacklisting in American Cinema.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 20th of July plot, the unsuccessful bomb attempt to kill Hitler in 1944.



ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include a 19th century experimental pneumatic subway, lawn mower physics (in slow motion), treadmill history, why red M&Ms disappeared for a decade, and the anniversary of the beginning of the atomic age (the 1945 Trinity test and related links).

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tuesday links

On July 16, 1945 the atomic age began with the Trinity nuclear test. Related, this 1954 PSA: How a Clean, Tidy Home Can Help You Survive the Atomic Bomb and a rather naively optimistic 1957 Disney classroom film - Our Friend the Atom.

An experimental pneumatic subway secretly built in Manhattan in the late 19th century.


The Physics of How Lawn Mower Blades Cut Grass (at 50K frames per second).

The Torturous History of the Treadmill - it was originally designed to exploit prison labor.


ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include poorly translated English language T-shirts spotted in Asia, that time America air-dropped pianos for troops in battlefields, the evolution of the Army helmet, and the eating habits of Medieval peasants.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Betamax Salesman Training Video 1977

A real trip down memory lane (if you're old enough)...



via metafilter

Friday links

July 14 is Bastille Day, the anniversary of the French revolution in 1789.


That Time When America Air-Dropped Pianos For Troops in Battlefields.


Julius Caesar came. He saw. He conquered. Here's how Rome celebrated.


ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include why monkey butts are so colorful, Nikola Tesla's birthday, how to buy your kid's way into college, and the 47 names Disney considered for the 7 dwarfs.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

July 14 is Bastille Day

If you're here for Jonah Goldberg's classic article on the subject, here you go: The French are Revolting.
 Allons enfants de la Patrie,                   Arise you children of the motherland,
 Le jour de gloire est arrivé!                    The day of glory has arrived!
 Contre nous de la tyrannie,                   Against us, tyranny
 L'étendard sanglant est levé,                 Has raised its bloodied banner,
 Entendez-vous dans les campagnes      Do you hear, in the fields,
 Mugir ces féroces soldats?                   The howling of these fearsome soldiers?
 Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras          They are coming into your midst
 Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!          To slit the throats of your sons and consorts!

Refrain                                                Chorus
 Aux armes, citoyens,                            To arms, citizens!
 Formez vos bataillons,                          Form your battalions!
 Marchons, marchons!                            Let us march, let us march!
 Qu'un sang impur                                  May impure blood
 Abreuve nos sillons!                              Soak the furrows of our fields!

~ Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836) ("La Marseillaise", first verse. Six more follow, all more or less equally bloodthirsty. *
The Storming of the Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël
France has neither winter nor summer nor morals - apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. 

~ Mark Twain (1835-1910) (Anderson, ed., Mark Twain's Notebooks and Journals, Vol. 2, Notebook 18)

Old France , weighed down with history, prostrated by wars and revolutions, endlessly vacillating from greatness to decline, but revived, century after century, by the genius of renewal.

~ Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) (War Memoirs, Vol. 3, Ch. 7)

The Bastille was later demolished - the Place de la Bastille
 sits where the fortress once stood
July 14th is Bastille Day (wiki), which commemorates the storming of the ancient royal prison of that name in Paris on 14 July 1789, an event which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. That storming was, of course, more symbolic than substantial - as Jonah Goldberg points out in his classic Bastille Day column, it consisted of "the capture of an almost entirely empty prison, the cold-blooded murder of six unarmed soldiers, and the execution of one French governor already captured by the mob". On that day the Bastille held only seven inmates: four forgers, two madmen, and a young rake who had displeased his father. All were freed.

The Marseillais volunteers departing, sculpted on the Arc de Triomphe
Formally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, the fortress was built during the Hundred Years’ War to defend the eastern approaches of Paris from English attacks. It Consisted of eight 100-foot high towers, all linked together by equally tall walls, surrounded by 80 foot wide moat. By 1789 the Bastille was actually little used and was scheduled to be demolished, part of the reason why there were so few prisoners there that day.

*La Marseillaise, France's stirring national anthem, was written in Strasbourg on 25 April 1792 by French captain Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle and originally titled the "Marching Song of the Army of the Rhine." It gained instant popularity as a rallying song and gained its latter-day name from being first sung in the streets of Paris by newly arrived troops from Marseilles. The remaining verses are available at Wikipedia

La Marseillaise was banned in both Vichy and German-occupied France during World War II, and also during the 19th-century French Empire under Napoleon III because of its revolutionary sentiments.  

Has there every been a more stirring rendition than the one at Rick's "Café Americaine" in Casablanca?


Related post: French King Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793. Here's Allan Sherman (because if you're of a certain age it's inevitable to think of Allan Sherman when you hear La Marseillaise:

Ed's London Guide


We get asked for this pretty often - it's a PDF scanned from an old typed copy so there's no easy way to convert to text without re-typing. I may do that one of these days.

He put this together in 1992, but since most of your trip to London will involve historical sites and museums, it's still pretty applicable.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Tuesday links

July 9 is Nikola Tesla's birthday: bio, some science and engineering, Tesla coil music, Tesla vs Edison rap battle.

...as a conservative at my small, Minnesota-based liberal arts institution, I’ve spent the last four years defending myself against personal and political attacks from professors and peers alike. 
Raising the American Weakling - there's been a 20 percent decrease in grip strength in one generation.

The 47 names Disney considered for the 7 dwarfs.



ICYMI, most recent links are here, and are Independence Day related - history, movies, music, inspirational speeches, the science of barbecue and of fireworks, more.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The 47 names Disney considered for the 7 dwarfs



In the 1930s, as Disney began work on the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (an adaptation of Snow White by the Brothers Grimm), the writing team compiled the following list of potential names for the seven dwarfs - characters who, in the original story, were unnamed.

As we now know, Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, and Sneezy were picked. The name of their leader, Doc, was chosen at a later date, although I don't see Happy on this list, either.

By the way, in 1912 the story had been adapted for the Broadway stage, and the names chosen for the dwarfs were Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee.

Here's the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Original Theatrical Trailer from 1937:



And here are the options they compiled (What the heck is Neurtsy? And why leave off Sleazy and Smutty?):
  1. Awful
  2. Baldy
  3. Bashful
  4. Biggo-Ego
  5. Burpy
  6. Daffy
  7. Deafy
  8. Dippy
  9. Dirty
  10. Dizzy
  11. Doleful
  12. Dopey
  13. Dumpy
  14. Flabby
  15. Gabby
  16. Grumpy
  17. Hickey
  18. Hoppy
  19. Hotsy
  20. Hungry
  21. Jaunty
  22. Jumpy
  23. Lazy
  24. Neurtsy
  25. Nifty
  26. Puffy
  27. Sappy
  28. Scrappy
  29. Shifty
  30. Shorty
  31. Silly
  32. Sleepy
  33. Snappy
  34. Sneezy
  35. Sneezy-Wheezy
  36. Sniffy
  37. Snoopy
  38. Soulful
  39. Strutty
  40. Stuffy
  41. Swift
  42. Tearful
  43. Thrifty
  44. Weepy
  45. Wheezy
  46. Wistful
  47. Woeful

Sunday, July 7, 2019

July 9 is Nikola Tesla's birthday: bio, Tesla coil music, Tesla vs Edison rap battle

Want a quick explanation of everything Tesla? Check out this infographic at The Oatmeal.

Epic Rap Battles of History — Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison:


The video below is based on stories about Tesla's lost papers and documents, about how the government secreted them away somewhere: The Missing Secrets Of Nikola Tesla from The Phenomenon Archives (described as "A documentary series that takes an in-depth look at the topics found in recently de-classified government documents. It explores well-known issues with new information that has been sequestered from the public"):




Wardenclyffe, Tesla's Long Island estate, was originally intended to be “a vector for trans-Atlantic wireless communications, broadcasting, and wireless power. The site consisted of an (incomplete) 18-story-high transmission tower that topped off a laboratory surrounded by 16 acres of land in Shoreham, Long Island in 1903. 

By 1917, Tesla had sold the site for $20,000 to pay bills at the Waldorf. That same year, the transmission tower was blown up by the buyers and sold for scrap. 

In 2013 it was purchased by a non-profit for the purpose of building a Tesla museum, with the help a fund-raining effort from The OatmealHere's an NPR story on the purchase. More on Wardenclyffe and the likely methods employed in its operation here.

A brief bio:

July 9 is the anniversary of the birth of Serbian-American electrical-engineering genius and futurist Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) (wiki), to a Serbian-Orthodox priest in Croatia. Tesla displayed remarkable intuition for mechanical and electrical phenomena while still a youth, and although he studied physics sporadically in Graz and Prague, he was largely self-taught in scientific and engineering subjects. 

In 1881. he began working at the Budapest Telephone Exchange as a technician, but within a year he transferred to an Edison subsidiary in France, designing electrical equipment. Two years later, he relocated to New York City, where he worked directly for Thomas Edison but resigned several years later in a dispute over pay. 

Subsequently, Tesla moved out on his own, eventually forming a company to commercialize his own inventions for the improvement of electric motors and generators operating largely on alternating current (vice Edison's direct current). Most importantly, he invented the concept of polyphase alternating-current power systems and the AC induction motor, which used a rotating magnetic field to propel the rotor. 

In 1888, Tesla licensed his patents to George Westinghouse, who used them to devise alternating-current alternatives to Edison's DC systems for generating and distributing electrical power, and eventually alternating current prevailed as the national standard.* 

In 1891, Tesla became an American citizen and established his own laboratory in New York City to work on a wide variety of electrical developments, including X-ray technology, radio, and high-voltage/high-frequency apparatus. Among the latter was the "Tesla coil," a device for developing extremely high voltages and creating spectacular displays of artificial lightning. 

In 1899, he moved his operations to Colorado Springs and concentrated on devising a system for the wireless transmission of electrical power through the atmosphere (but never realized it at a practical level). He also developed concepts for vertical takeoff/landing aircraft, remote controlled vehicles, and an early directed energy weapon. He ultimately received nearly 300 patents for his discoveries. 

Since Tesla had sold his most lucrative patents to Westinghouse and plowed what money he earned later into further experimentation, he died in relative poverty in 1943. Although vastly overshadowed by Edison in the popular imagination, it was Tesla who was primarily responsible for the concepts underlying the electrical power grids used world-wide today.

Alternating Current (AC) vs. Direct Current (DC)
*The great advantage of alternating over direct current in power distribution is that the former can make use of transformers to step the voltage up and down, and high voltage is much more efficient for sending electrical power over long distances.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day links

Want some inspiration? Read Lincoln's 1858 speech on the meaning of Independence Day: "Let us stick to it then. Let us stand firmly by it then." More excellent speeches from Coolidge (1926) and Reagan (1986). Video of the Reagan speech is here.


Journal of the American Revolutions' 10 Myths for the Fourth of July and Breaking News From 1776: First News Reports of Independence.

All about the Statue of Liberty.


Videos: The Science of Fireworks and of Barbecue

Kaboom! 10 Facts About Firecrackers That Will Blow You Away. Related: PBS's description of various fireworks effects, and a quiz.

From Mark SteynAmerica The Beautiful: the story of the song.


When in the course of human events... here's the full text of the Declaration of Independence.


Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

When in the Course of human events... the full text of the Declaration of Independence

Full text of the Declaration:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. 

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
Artist John Trumbull - more on this painting here.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Video: The Science of Fireworks, some 18th century fireworks illustrations, and photographic advice

Washington College professor John Conkling, who is the former director of the American Pyrotechnics Association and the co-author of Chemistry of Pyrotechnics, breaks down the science of fireworks and offers a laboratory demonstration of various color fuels in action.



Atlas Obscura has an excellent gallery of antique illustrations of fireworks. Here are a couple, but go to the link to see the whole set:

This hand-colored etching illustrates a 1749 show celebrating the Aix la Chapelle peace treaty, which also featured the first performance of George Fredric Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks." Sadly, three spectators were killed during the show when a lit rocket shot into a stack of reserve fireworks and blew up a pavilion. (Image: Public Domain/WikiCommons)
A”Grand Display” over New York’s Hudson River illuminated the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24th, 1883. This celebratory chromolithograph was published by Currier & Ives. (Image: Library of Congress)
And there's this:

Designs for "pyrotechny," engraved by Andrew Bell
for the 1797 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. 
Related, National Geographic has some pro tips on how to take good pictures of fireworks. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Heineken's Lost Plan To Build Houses Out Of Beer Bottles

The Heineken World Bottle was designed by architect John Habraken. When then-CEO Freddy Heineken was visiting the island of Curaçao, he was bothered by the mass amounts of trash and the lack of housing. His solution? Make a beer bottle that could serve as a brick when it's finished. It was a brilliant compromise, but Heineken's marketing department rejected it as effeminate. There's a photo of a house built with these at the bottom of this post, along with photos showing in more detail how they fit together.

There are a handful of houses in the US built of beer bottles, although not the brick style bottles - here's "The House of a Thousand Headaches" in Hillsville, VA - unlike other bottle houses, the bottles point outward so that the inner walls are flush:



And a Tonopah, Nevada house built in 1902 made from ~10,000 bottles of J. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters (which consisted of various herbs in a solution of 47% alcohol, so not beer, but in the same spirit):


Around 1905, Tom Kelly built this house in Rhyolite, Nevada, using 51,000 beer bottles masoned with adobe:


Building with empty vessels (including bottles) goes back a long way, of course, back at least to ancient Rome, where many structures used empty amphorae embedded in concrete. This was not done for aesthetic reasons, but to lighten the load of upper levels of structures and reduce concrete usage. It's more common to find a wall of bottles than an entire structure.

Here's a tutorial on making your own bottle bricks:



An additional tutorial is here, more on bottle walls here, and more on the Heineken bricks here and here.

Heineken bricks: