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Friday, March 15, 2019

Saint Patrick’s Day: origin, history, quotes, a short bio, and how to make your own green beer

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) (Ballad of the White Horse(wiki))

Sir... the Irish are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, Sir, the Irish are a FAIR PEOPLE; - they never speak well of one another. 

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) (Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1775)

St. Patrick with a shamrock - more on the shamrock connection here.
The 17th of March is St. Patrick's Day (wiki), commemorating the patron saint of Ireland, Padraig mac Caiprainn (ca. 390-461?). Much of Patrick's life is shrouded in legend, but he is said to have been born in Roman Britain and was captured and enslaved by Irish raiders until he managed to escape to Gaul. There, he entered the priesthood but returned to Ireland as a missionary and made many converts, reportedly by using the leaves of the shamrock to explain the three-in-one mystery of the Trinity. 

In 445, with the approval of Pope Leo the Great (reigned 440-461), he established his arch-episcopal see at Armagh, and by the time of his death, Ireland was largely Christianized. Our principal source about St. Patrick's life is his own Confessions, written in his last years.

My personal favorite Irish joke:
"An Irishman walked out of a bar... " (that's all of it).
The story of St. Patrick:


Around 1.6 million gallons of Guinness is consumed on St. Patrick’s Day. This is a bit over double the amount on any other given day of the year. Guinness trained a sheepdog to round up Irishmen and herd them to a bar:




Some of the stories and traditions associated with Saint Patrick (wiki) are actually probably from another man that preceded Patrick by a 1-3 decades (exactly how much isn’t known), Palladius. It has also been argued by some scholars that the blending of these two’s accomplishments was done purposefully to bolster the prestige of Saint Patrick. Palladius was one of the earliest missionaries to Ireland, ordained by Pope Celestine the first as the “First Bishop to the Irish believing in Christ”. However, accounts seem to indicate the Palladius and his companions’ mission was fairly unsuccessful and Palladius himself was eventually banished by the King of Leinster, at which point he went to Northern Britain to preach to the Scots. Nevertheless, much of what Palladius did accomplish while in Ireland has long since been credited to Saint Patrick instead and it’s difficult to tell in most cases exactly which of them accomplished what.

King George III in 1783 created a “Most Illustrious Order of Saint Patrick”, which is an order of knights of Saint Patrick given to certain people associated with Ireland who the monarchy wishes to honor. It’s been decades since the last person was inducted into this order and the last person in the order died in 1974, Prince Henry the Duke of Gloucester. Nevertheless, the order still technically exists with the Queen functioning as the Sovereign.

For St. Patty's Day: Excellent Drinking Stories. And here's how to make your own green beer.

Saint Patrick, Druids, Snakes, and Popular Myths explains the pros and cons of the theory that the “snakes” that Patrick drove out of Ireland were the Druidic priests, who had serpents tattooed on their forearms.

Based in part on a post at the excellent Today I Found Out (their Wise Book of Whys has gone to several family members as presents). 

The epic poem Ballad Of The White Horse (link is to a free Kindle version) tells the fascinating story of Alfred the Great's stand against the Danes in 878 - or read about the subject at Wikipedia. Per Amazon:
More than a thousand years ago, the ruler of a beleaguered kingdom saw a vision of the Virgin Mary that moved him to rally his chiefs and make a last stand. Alfred the Great freed his realm from Danish invaders in the year 878 with an against-all-odds triumph at the Battle of Ethandune. In this ballad, G. K. Chesterton equates Alfred's struggles with Christianity's fight against nihilism and heathenism—a battle that continues to this day. 
One of the last great epic poems, this tale unfolds in the Vale of the White Horse, where Alfred fought the Danes in a valley beneath an ancient equine figure etched upon the Berkshire hills. Chesterton employs the mysterious image as a symbol of the traditions that preserve humanity. His allegory of the power of faith in the face of an invasive foe was much quoted in the dark days of 1940, when Britain was under attack by Nazis.

Friday links

Beware - It's the Ides of March. Related: when Julius Caesar was kidnapped by pirates, he insisted on a higher ransom.

Couple has eaten at the same restaurant six nights a week for 15 years.

Spring Cleaning in the 19th Century - it's a lot easier now.

Saint Patrick’s Day: origin, history, quotes, poetry, videos, and how to make your own green beer. Related, this excellent Biologist’s St. Patrick’s Day Song and why four-leaf clovers are considered lucky.


ICYMI, Thursday's links are here, and include Pi Day, secrets of the world's greatest art thief, videos on making medieval manuscripts, and Einstein's birthday (including the post-mortem travels of his brain)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Excellent: (A Biologist’s) St. Patrick’s Day Song

The science of drinking.

Thursday links


This Italian Farmer is Returning Chickens to the Wild.

Seven videos on making medieval manuscripts.

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879: here's a short bio, video, and the strange post-mortem travels of his brain. Related: Einstein's forgotten inventions.

To Conceive a Girl in Ancient Greece, Eat a Salad and Tie Your Right Testicle.

The Secrets of the World's Greatest Art Thief.

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and include Daylight Saving Time history, Washington DC in the 1820s, Chuck Norris' 79th birthday, and the island that was traded for Manhattan.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

3/14 Happy Pi Day

March 14 (3/14) is celebrated annually as Pi Day because the date resembles the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — 3.14159265359... or, rounded off, 3.1416. 2016, therefore, provided a particularly good reason to celebrate: 3/14/16. The year before (3.14.15) was significant because it matched the first four digits after the decimal point - now we're back to regular old Pi.

Archimedes (wiki) (circa 287–212 B.C.) is credited with doing the first calculation of Pi. British mathematician William Jones came up with the Greek letter and symbol for the figure in 1706, the use of which was later popularized by mathematician Leonhard Euler (wiki), beginning in 1737.

Here's Vi Hart on 2016 Pi Day:


And a good general explanation of Pi (kid-oriented, but that makes it straightforward):


And here's what Pi sounds like:

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879: bio, video, and the post-mortem saga of his brain

The greatest aim of all science [is] to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest possible number of hypotheses or axioms.


Einstein with an Einstein puppet**
To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men.

~ Albert Einstein (What I Believe)

Our defense is not in armaments, nor in science, nor in going underground. Our defense is in law and order.

~ Einstein (New York Times Magazine, 2 August 1964)

If my theory of relativity is proven correct, Germany will claim me as a German, and France will declare that I am as a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare me a Jew.

~ Einstein (address at the Sorbonne, December 1929*)

Worshipped today, scorned or even crucified tomorrow, that is the fate of people whom—God knows why—the bored public has taken possession of.

~ Einstein (letter to Heinrich Zangger, 1922)

Even though without writing each other, we are in mental communication, for we respond to our dreadful times in the same way and tremble together for the future of mankind ... I like it that we have the same given name.

~ Albert Schweitzer (wiki) (1875-1965) (of Einstein, letter, February 1955)

Quintessential theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (wiki) (1879-1955) was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. After an unpromising start in school, Einstein took Swiss citizenship at the age of 15 and while working as a patent examiner in the Swiss patent office in 1905, produced three seminal papers - on the photoelectric effect and the quantum theory of light, Brownian motion, and his theory of special relativity - that forever changed modern physics. 

The general theory of relativity (see video below on recent discovery of gravitational waves) followed in 1916, by which time he was professor of physics at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, where he continued his theoretical work until 1934, when he fled Germany for the United States to escape Nazi persecution. He was among the prominent physicists who warned President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 about the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, which led to the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb. 

Awarded American citizenship in 1940, Einstein spent his last years at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, where he sought to develop the so-called "unified field theory" which still eludes physicists today. He is now recognized as the greatest physicist of the 20th century, if not of all time.

Here's a brief biography:


And an explanation of the recent discovery of gravitational waves (based on Einstein's general theory):


After his death in 1955, Einstein's brain (wiki) was removed - without permission from his family - by Thomas Stoltz Harvey, the Princeton Hospital pathologist who conducted the autopsy. Harvey took the brain home and kept it in a jar. He was later fired from his job for refusing to relinquish the organ.

Many years later, Harvey, who by then had gotten permission from Einstein's son Hans Albert to study the brain, sent slices to various scientists throughout the world. There's more here on the postmortem travels and travails of the brain, plus this: the first formal study of Albert Einstein's brain, which describes some differences in structure and morphology.

* N.B. An earlier variant of the same idea (in November 1919):
"By an application of the theory of relativity to the taste of readers, today in Germany I am called a German man of science, and in England, I am represented as a Swiss Jew. If I come to be regarded as a bĂȘte noire, the descriptions will be reversed, and I shall become a Swiss Jew for the Germans and a German man of science for the English!"
** This photo was taken by Harry Burnett at Cal Tech in Pasadena where Albert Einstein was teaching. Einstein saw the puppet perform at the Teato Torito and was quite amused. He reached into his jacket’s breast pocket, pulled out a letter and crumpled it up. Speaking in German, he said, “The puppet wasn’t fat enough!” He laughed and stuffed the crumpled letter up under the smock to give the puppet a fatter belly.

Further reading:


Prior to their divorce, Einstein had given to his first wife a rather stringent list of behaviors that he put into writing. He produced another set of criteria for their divorce, including a promise to give to her the proceeds of his not-yet-awarded Nobel Prize.

The plot to kill Einstein.


Parts of the text above is adapted from Ed's Quotation of the Day, only available via email - leave your email address in the comments if you'd like to be added to his list. Ed is the author of Hunters and Killers: Volume 1: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1776 to 1943 and Hunters and Killers: Volume 2: Anti-Submarine Warfare from 1943.

Monday, March 11, 2019

This 1938 Film Shows How Sound Effects Were Made for Serial Radio Shows

Back of the Mike” demonstrates, in detail, how dramatic sound effects were made for radio serials using specific devices and actors voicing different roles.
A boy lies on his bed (wearing a white shirt and a necktie), listening to a radio western. We see the images the radio creates in his mind, then we cut to the studio, where we see that this whole fantasy world is created at a frantic pace by announcers in three-piece suits and sound-effects technicians operating incredibly complicated jury-rigged devices.
We get to see such things as one guy doing both voices in a conversation, an adult do a very convincing impersonation of a child’s voice, guys playing cowboys impersonating the sound of conversing while riding by playing “horsie” while reading their lines, and all the weird stuff used to make sound effects.