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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Thursday links

January 17 is Ben Franklin's birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200+ synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more.

Why dreams like flying, falling, being chased are so common, and how your brain creates them.

For Al Capone's birthday, here's the story of that time he bought large blocks of stock in miniature golf construction companies.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include lots of snow-related stuff, animals that hunted our ancestors, the anniversary of prohibition, sneeze guard history, and igloo-building instructions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Early 20th century cure for constipation, headaches, bad breath and insanity - Dr. Young's Ideal Rectal Dilators

Who knew that butt plugs could be so useful?

Dr. Young's Ideal Rectal Dilators (wiki) were a medical device sold in the United States from the late nineteenth century (they were patented in 1892) until at least the 1940s.

Dr. Young praised rectal dilation as a cure for insanity, claiming that at least “three-fourths of all the howling maniacs of the world” were curable “in a few weeks’ time by the application of orificial methods”.

The product claimed it corrected constipation, promoted more refreshing sleep, and could relieve foul breath, bad taste in the mouth, sallow skin, acne, anemia, lassitude, mental hebetude, insomnia, anorexia, headaches, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, flatulence, indigestion, nervousness, irritability, cold extremities, and numerous other ailments.

To take advantage of the benefits, here’s what you had to do:
First warm dilator in warm water; then lubricate outside of dilator with Dr Young’s Piloment (or if it is not available, with vaseline) and while in a squatting position—or while lying on the side with knees drawn up—gently insert in the rectum as far as the flange or rim. Hold in place a minute and the anal muscles will hold and retain it. Sit or lie down and allow it to remain for half an hour or an hour to get the best results. Ten minutes will accomplish much. When ready to go on to the next larger size, it is best first to use for a few minutes the same size you have been using, inserting and withdrawing it a few times.

A 1905 advertisement by F. E. Young and Co. of Chicago promised that “The best results may be obtained by the use of Young’s self-retaining rectal dilators”, the use of which “accomplishes for the invalid just what nature does daily for the healthy individual”. Doctors were advised that “If you will prescribe a set of these dilators in some of your obstinate cases of Chronic Constipation you will find them necessary in every case of this kind”. The price of a set “to the profession” was $2.50 (equivalent to $70 in 2018).

It wasn’t until 1938 that the new US Federal Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act encompassed the sale of medical devices, and once that was in force it didn’t take long for the dilators to attract the courts’ attention. In 1940, a shipment of dilators and their lubricant, Piloment, was seized at New York and the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY filed libels against them, alleging that they were misbranded.

More at vintage everyday and the quack doctor.

Ben Franklin's 200+ synonyms for “drunk”

Here are 200+ Synonyms for “Drunk”, alphabetically arranged, first published by Franklin in the Pennsylvania Gazette on January 6, 1737 (and later in The Drinker's Dictionary) with this intro:
"The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd: But upon Consideration, I fear'd being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, 'tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People."
He is Addled,
He's casting up his Accounts,
He's Afflicted,
He's in his Airs.
He's Biggy,
Block and Block,
Been at Barbadoes,
Piss'd in the Brook,
Drunk as a Wheel-Barrow,
Has Stole a Manchet out of the Brewer's Basket,
His Head is full of Bees,
Has been in the Bibbing Plot,
Has drank more than he has bled,
He's Bungey,
As Drunk as a Beggar,
He sees the Bears,
He's kiss'd black Betty,
He's had a Thump over the Head with Sampson's Jawbone,
He's Bridgey.

Wednesday links

Roundup of links about snow: art, science, snowmen, historical storms, the history and physics of snow removal, and more.

10 Animals That Hunted Our Ancestors.

How to Build an Igloo.

Prohibition in the United States began on January 16, 1920: here's some history, contemporaneous newsreels, the women who tried to telepathically influence the vote, Abraham Lincoln and Milton Friedman. Related, The Kiss of Prohibition: “Lips That Touch Liquor…”

18th Century Cudgelling Matches.

The history of the sneeze guard.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include the 100th anniversary of Boston's 2.3 million gallon molasses flood, how trees survive winter, ancient Egyptian homework, a bonsai forest, and the history of showering.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

January 17 is Ben Franklin's birthday - bio, quotes, videos, his 200 synonyms for drunk, the bodies found in his basement, and more

If you would not be forgotten,
When you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worth the reading,
Or do things worth the writing.

Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.

~ Ibid., December 1743

It would be a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their income.

~ Ibid.

Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

~ Franklin (letter to M. Leroy, 1789) 

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

~ Franklin

Political cartoon by Franklin urged
 the colonies to join together
during the 
French and Indian War
Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

~ Franklin (Autobiography, Ch. 9) 

I should have no objection to go over the same life from the beginning to the end: requesting only the advantage authors have, of correcting in a second edition the faults of the first.

~ Ibid., Ch. 1 

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from
 the Sky
 c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Benjamin West
January 17th is the anniversary of the birth of American statesman, philosopher, and scientist Benjamin Franklin (wiki) (1706-1790) in Boston. After apprenticing with his brother as a printer, Franklin settled in Philadelphia, published The Pennsylvania Gazette, and gained a wide circle of readers with his Poor Richard's Almanack (1732-1757). Entering civic affairs, he was eventually appointed Postmaster General for the colonies (1753-1774) while also dabbling in a variety of scientific pursuits, including his famous experiment with a kite in a thunderstorm. 

Before the Revolution, Franklin spent a total of 14 years representing the Pennsylvania Assembly in England, attempting to achieve reconciliation with the home country. Failing that, he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775 and signed the Declaration of Independence the next year. Appointed to represent the American colonies in France, he spent the next nine years in Paris and helped negotiate the peace with Britain in 1781. After his return to the United States, Franklin served as a member of the Constitutional Convention and died three years later. On the separation of church and state, he wrote in 1790,
"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself, and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."
My favorite bit of Franklin lore remains his 200+ synonyms for “drunk”, alphabetically arranged, first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on January 6, 1737 (and later in The Drinker's Dictionary) with this introduction:
"The Phrases in this Dictionary are not (like most of our Terms of Art) borrow'd from Foreign Languages, neither are they collected from the Writings of the Learned in our own, but gather'd wholly from the modern Tavern-Conversation of Tiplers. I do not doubt but that there are many more in use; and I was even tempted to add a new one my self under the Letter B, to wit, Brutify'd: But upon Consideration, I fear'd being guilty of Injustice to the Brute Creation, if I represented Drunkenness as a beastly Vice, since, 'tis well-known, that the Brutes are in general a very sober sort of People."
Here's some guy dressed as Franklin reciting the list.

And then there's... That Time They Found Those Bodies in Ben Franklin's Basement:
From 1757 to 1775, Ben Franklin lived in an elegant four-story Georgian house at No. 36 Craven Street in London during his time as an ambassador for the American colonies. In late 1998, a group calling itself Friends of Benjamin Franklin House began to convert the dilapidated building into a museum to honor Franklin, whose other home in Philadelphia had been razed in 1812 to make way for new construction (a "ghost house" frame now sits on the site).
One month into the renovations, a construction worker named Jim Field was working in the basement when he found something odd: a small pit was in a windowless basement room. Inside, sticking out of the dirt floor, was a human thigh bone.
The police were called and supervised excavation continued. More human bones were pulled up. And more. And more, until some 1,200 pieces of bone were recovered. Initial examinations revealed that the bones were the remains of 10 bodies, six of them children, and were a little more than 200 years old. Their age discouraged any interest from Scotland Yard, but piqued the curiosity of historians and the Institute of Archaeology. The bones' age meant they may have been buried in the basement around the same time that Franklin was living in the house.
Read the whole thing here. More on the bodies in his basement here.

Franklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also developed the glass harmonica seen in this video:

Here's a brief (two minute) animated bio:

Wikipedia has more on his inventions and scientific studies, including (without limitation), work on electricity, ocean currents, population, the wave theory of light, and meteorology.

Tuesday links

100 years ago today - On January 15, 1919: Boston's 2.3 million gallon molasses flood killed 21 people.

Check out this Bonsai Forest.

For Harry Potter fans - Here's How Much it Would Cost to Build Hogwarts in Real Life.

This is what Ancient Egyptian homework looked like.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the Feast of the Ass, a quickie diet advice from 1595, why moths are attracted to light, an embroidered computer, and how early filmmakers produced snow-like effects.

Monday, January 14, 2019

How do trees survive winter?

Trees go through a process similar to hibernation called dormancy, and that's what keeps them alive during the winter. Dormancy is like hibernation in that everything within the plant slows down. Metabolism, energy consumption, growth and so on. The first part of dormancy is when trees lose their leaves.

Dormancy is like hibernation in that everything within the plant slows down. Metabolism, energy consumption, growth and so on. The first part of dormancy is when trees lose their leaves. They don't make food in the winter, so they have no use for masses of leaves that would require energy to maintain.

This brief video explains it well:

More at The Guardian.

On January 15, 1919, Boston's 2.3 million gallon molasses flood killed 21 people

On January 15, 1919, a tank containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses weighing an estimated 26 million pounds burst open, unleashing a sticky flood onto Boston's North End. The 25-foot high wave of goo oozed over the streets at 35 miles per hour, crushing buildings in its wake and killing 21 people.

The wave broke steel girders of the Boston Elevated Railway, almost swept a train off its tracks, knocked buildings off their foundations, and toppled electrical poles, the wires hissing and sparking as they fell into the brown flood. The Boston Globe reported that people 'were picked up and hurled many feet'. Rivets popping from the tank scourged the neighborhood like machine gun bullets, and a small boat was found slammed through a wooden fence like an artillery shell. By the time it passed, the wave had killed 21 people, injured 150, and caused damage worth $100 million in today's money. All caused by molasses.

The tank gave out a dull roar, and then its two sides flew outward with a mighty blast. One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks. An engineer stopped his train just in time to avoid an even worse disaster. Fragments of metal landed 200 feet away.
Besides sending shrapnel whizzing through the air, the explosion flattened people, horses and buildings with a huge shockwave. As some tried to get to their feet, the sudden vacuum where the tank once was created a reverse shockwave, sucking air in and knocking people, animals and vehicles around once more, and shaking homes off their foundations.
That was just the first few seconds. The real terror was about to begin.
The tank had been filled to near capacity, and 2.3 million gallons of thick, heavy, odorous molasses formed a sticky tsunami that started at 25 or 30 feet high and coursed through the streets at 35 mph...
When it was over, more than a score had died, and seven or eight times that number suffered injuries. The mess took months to clean up, and the legal issues even longer.
It was the height of the post-World War I Red Scare, and the distillery blamed anarchists, who they said knew the molasses was intended for alcohol to make military ammunition. The victims and their survivors blamed the distillery for faulty construction and unsafe operation.
At the time, molasses was a standard sweetener in the United States, used in cooking and in fermentation to make ethanol, which in turn could be made into a liquor used as an ingredient in munitions manufacture, an aspect of the business that had been booming during the First World War.

A map of the flood was printed in the paper in the days following the disaster.
 —The Boston Globe Archives
The tank itself was just over three years old. It was constructed of large curved steel plates, seven vertical rows of them overlapping horizontally and held together with rows of rivets, the whole set into a concrete base. It was perfectly located for USIA, just 200 ft from the harbor and ships that brought molasses from Cuba, and near the railroad tracks that would move the molasses from storage.

Yet the five-story storage facility was never properly tested - by filling it with water - because a shipload of molasses was due only days after the completion of the tank in December 1915.

Excerpts from an article at History Today:

On January 15, 1919 at around 12.30 pm, lunchtime for many workers, the tank broke. Buildings of the nearby Northend Paving Yard were instantly reduced to kindling as the molasses cascaded out. The three story Engine 31 Fire House was torn from its foundations, trapping three firefighters who fought to keep their heads above the rising tide. A piece of the tank was blown into the elevated railway tracks, breaking girders and almost forcing a northbound train off its tracks.

The entire waterfront area was leveled and rails from the overhead railway dangled like Christmas tinsel.

Here's a brief documentary:

First on the scene were 116 sailors from the lightship USS Nantucket that was docked nearby. They were soon joined by Boston police, Red Cross workers and army personnel. When Suffolk County medical examiner George Magrath arrived, several bodies had already been pulled from the molasses. He said they looked 'as though covered in heavy oil skins ... eyes and ears, mouths and noses filled'. A makeshift hospital was set up at Haymarket Relief Station about half a mile from the waterfront, and volunteers removed molasses from victims' noses and mouths so they could breathe.

The rescue continued for days, and almost four months later a final body was pulled from the water under the Commercial Wharf.

Harvard students re-enacted the Molasses Flood
 using a small scale model, corn syrup, and a walk-in refrigerator.
Via Popular Science, researchers at Harvard have gained new insight into the disaster by studying historical accounts of the accident, century-old maps, and weather data, and building their own mini molasses flood inside a walk-in refrigerator. Using corn syrup as a stand-in for molasses at this smaller scale, they studied the goop's flow properties at wintery temperatures.

That January's relatively balmy, 40-degree Fahrenheit weather may have increased pressure as carbon dioxide built up inside. Before the rupture, the molasses inside the tank was likely 5 degrees Celsius warmer than the surrounding air, thanks to a fresh shipment of syrup from the Caribbean. The higher temperature may have helped the molasses spread over the Boston waterfront at such an alarming pace. But once exposed to the nearly freezing winter temperatures outside, the goo cooled and became much thicker and stickier. 

The higher viscosity may have trapped people caught in the flow, and likely hampered rescue and cleanup efforts, according to the researchers. 

History Today has more on the ensuing lawsuits.

The tank was never rebuilt. The site where it stood is now a public park with bocce (Italian boules) courts and Little League baseball fields, slides and swings. All that remains of that terrible day 90 years ago is a small plaque at the entrance of the recreational complex. Yet local residents insist a faint smell lingers to this day. They say that on warm summer days the air is still tinged with the sweet, cloying scent of molasses.

More at WiredHistory TodayPopular Science,, and Mental Floss, plus Scientific American has much more on the fluid dynamics involved. The Atlantic has a larger set of photos, which you can view full screen.

Monday links

Like a moth to the flame: why moths are attracted to light.

They wouldn't need any tricks in the D.C. area right now - The Crazy Tricks Early Filmmakers Used To Fake Snow.

Advice from 1595 - How to Slim Down in Fourteen Days. There's lots of garlic bread and fennel tea involved. 

ICYMI, most recent links are here, and are all New Year-related.