Monday, December 28, 2015

On Crusade

Did you know that Richard the Lionheart captured Cyprus while on crusade and sold it to the Templars? During his stay on Cyprus, Richard married Berengaria of Navarre ( a kingdom that occupied lands on either side of the western Pyrenees, south of his mother's lands in Aquitaine). Richard also retook the port cities of the Near East during the Crusade. He was unable to conquer Jerusalem, but did negotiate safe passage for pilgrims who visited Christian sites in the city of Jerusalem.

Saturday, December 26, 2015


What building in Paris never was NEVER entered by the occupying Nazis or the Allied liberators? The International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris was so respected by the engineers of both groups that it was never interfered with. The master metric measures are stored at this location.

Top Secret Melon

A moldy cantaloupe was the source of one of the Top Secrets of WWII. As WWII threatened, a British team sought to perfect penicillin and its production. As D-Day loomed fear of the Germans getting their research and lack of resources for further development caused them to turn their Top Secret project over to the Americans. The search was on for a mold that produced the most penicillin. USA military planes even brought back molds from exotic locales. An American agricultural inspector brought a moldy cantaloupe to the labs one day. The mold was the best penicillin producer yet. Penicillin was found to grow well in corn syrup, which was readily available in the corn growing USA. Penicillin needed oxygen to grow. At first penicillin was grown in tipped milk bottles, finally in giant vats with oxygen bubbled into the mixture. Large amounts of penicillin were ready for D-Day and saved many soldiers from infection. In WWI, more soldiers had died of infection than did from being shot.

Post Civil War Disaster

In April, 1865, Union POWs were gathered at Vicksburg, Mississippi. They were loaded on steamboats for the trip to Cairo, Illinois, At 9 p.m., on April 24, the riverboat Sultana packed with freed Union POWs left Vicksburg headed up river. One boiler had a weakened spot that bulged. A quick patch was applied so the boat would not miss the lucrative job of carrying the POWs.
On Apil 26, the Sultana docked at Memphis to pick up coal. At midnight she headed upriver. At 2 a.m., April 27, the repaired boiler exploded. Two of the three other boilers exploded. Fire spread through mid-ship. The two smokestacks fell onto the boat, crushing the Hurricane or top deck and killing many men on the overcrowded deck. Those who survived panicked and rather than fighting the fire began to jump into the river. The flames started sweeping toward the stern, causing more panic and jumping. Of the 2,500 passengers, 1,900 died.

Pound for Pound

Did you know the pound measurement of weight is connected to the Roman conquest of Britain and a grain crop? The weight of the Roman pound, or libra, was equivalent 5,076 grains of barley. From the beginning of agriculture weights of goods were balanced with counted grains. Soon balance weights were substituted for laboriously counted out grains. England began using the Roman system during the Roman occupation. British colonists carried the system to the USA. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Seedy Trade

Did you know that cotton has a connection to Afghanistan and Alexander the Great? Alexander's troops first encountered the cotton plant in Afghanistan. The Greeks called cotton "vegetable wool." They carried cotton seeds back to Greece in their saddlebags.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Spoiled canned goods shipped to British troops during the Crimean War caused major problems. The Crimean War taught the British Army some hard facts about canning The new super size cans of rations were spoiled when they were opened because the center of the can did not reach 250 degrees during canning. You see no one in those days knew how to calculate the temperature needed per size of can. England ignored technical education and experimentation at a cost.were

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Dutch Treat

One unusual Dutch demand in the treaty handing New York to the British became an American cornerstone. In the treaty ending the Anglo-Dutch War, New York went to the English, while the Dutch retained the Spice Islands. The Dutch insured continued religious freedom in New York in their treaty. This was an unheard of requirement at the time. This was the first guarantee of the religious freedom that would become a cornerstone of democracy in the USA.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Anise for the Victorious

Did you know that the Romans were extremely fond  of anise? Anise cakes were often served at the end of Roman weddings. Roman generals handed out anise candies to their victorious troops.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Light on the Land

Kerosene lanterns were one of the revolutionary inventions that helped make the USA an agricultural powerhouse. They helped farmers get in harvests before a storm hit and tend to livestock at night, such as helping with the difficult delivery of a calf. Edwin Dietz invented the device that gave off a long lasting and bright light. Standard oil magnate John D. Rockefeller cornered the market by offering farmers a kerosene with a standard flammability that could be counted on to be bright but not explosive. Previos brands were less dependable--less standard.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Heinz Ketchup Was Sold to the Nation at the Chicago World's Fair

Heinz ketchup tycoon Henry John Heinz always shunned chemical additives. When Theodore Roosevelt enacted the clean food act, his company did not have to hustle to make changes in their product, so they were a head of the game. They also introduced such ideas as washing hands and clean aprons for help at a time when most food facilities were filthy. One of his best marketing ideas was selling the bright ketchup in clear glass bottles. The ketchup was also marketed at the Chicago World's Fair.

Confederate Gold

The fact that the Confederate capital, Richmond, would soon fall, caused General Lee to send an urgent message to President Jefferson Davis that the government must evacuate or face certain capture. Late that night a special train carrying the President and Members of the Confederate Cabinet departed Richmond for Danville, Virginia. Although the news was bleak, it was  hoped that the struggle could continue.
Shortly after midnight a second train departed the Richmond station also heading south. On board were all the hard currency reserves of the Confederate States of America guarded by a group of young midshipmen from the Confederate Navy.Amongst the official records of the Confederacy crates and barrels containing gold and silver coins, bullion, and a substantial amount of fine jewelry donated to the Cause by women across the South. In addition there was more than $450,000 in gold from Richmond bank reserves, taken to keep it from falling into the hands of the invading Yankees.
By the end of the day on April 3, 1865 Richmond lay in ashes. The gold could not be found.

Spreading Economic Depressions May Have Begun Earlier Than You Thought

A depression caused the first covered wagon treks west. An economic depression that began in London in the 1830s and quickly spread to the East coast of the USA caused people to head west in droves hoping for a better life..

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I'll Drop You a Line

At the beginning of WWI, airplanes served as artillery spotters using a map and a notepad the spotter noted troop movements and artillery positions. They then put the materials and a pebble in a bag and dropped it to their artillery.

Later a Morse Code radio was added to confirm hits. Still later as trench warfare bogged down aerial photography began.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Luxury of Civilization

The urge to look pretty and have a good time are often considered a bad thing, but these desires for luxury may be responsible for civilization. The first trade routes were probably established for trading in shells for beads and later beautifully colored stones to be drilled for beads. The first trade city was established to support the obsidian trade for sharp volcanic glass razors and polished volcanic glass mirrors.

The first fields were probably planted to provide more barley for beer. In early times beer was not just for getting drunk, brewing created a safe to drink beverage in a time when most water was not safe to drink. It also added B vitamins to the diet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Triumph of The Nerds

The USA has won more wars by being nerdy than being brawny. Guns made with rifling by German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania, known as Kentucky long rifles because of their use in hunting there, were far superior in range and accuracy to UK muskets and helped to win the Revolutionary War. Sails made of a cutting-edge fabric that was superior to the linen us by the UK helped win the War of 1812. Cotton needed less wetting to keep the weave tight enough to hold the wind. Applying assembly-line techniques to gun making helped the North to win the Civil War. Being the most technically advanced nation has been one of the top 5 reasons for winning every war the USA was ever in. The USA is falling dangerously behind in technical education ranking 25th in science and math.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Coffee, Tea, or Revolution

Did you know that the American Revolution is the reason that most Americans prefer coffee over tea? Before the American Revolution, most Americans, like other British subjects, drank tea, The Boston Tea Party marked the beginning of a protest against the tea tax. ("No taxation without representation.") that would result in a switch to drinking coffee for that caffeine boost. Coffee houses had been popular for some time and coffee grown in South America was readily available in North America.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Secrets of The Pharaoh's Tomb

Tutankhamun’s famous death mask wasn’t really his. It was probably reworked adding a different face to someone else's golden death mask after the boy king died unexpectedly. The evidence of a repurposed death mask is that the gold of the surrounding headpiece is better quality than that of the face section. The entire mask is made up of eight pieces riveted together. The blue stripes in the head piece are glass, in the face (such as the eyebrows) the blue is lapis lazuli. Tiny holes for earrings were covered up with gold leaf. Earrings were used in female death masks. It is speculated that the death mask and many other items in the tomb may have been originally a part of Nefertiti’s funerary objects. Nefertiti’s tomb has never been found. Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovery by Howard Carter, his team, and his patron, the Earl of Caernarvon, on Sunday November 26, 1922.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Corny Subject

The corn plant came to us from Native Americans, but the word corn is of Germanic origin from Old Frisian and Old Saxon "korn" for grain. Hominy however is a word of Native American origin from Powhatan meaning 'that which is ground."

 Pharaoh's Military Cows 

Cows were the secret weapons of Egyptian Pharaohs! Did you know that cattle were an important element in Ancient Egyptian military hardware manufacture? We use carbon fiber in bows and as tough flexible masts for sailboards, but cattle horns are a superior source of carbon fiber. Cattle horns were used as the inner compressive layer of laminated bows as early as 4,000 years ago.  Horn, wood, and sinew were glued together to create a bow with superior range. Those charming spotted cattle pictured in Egyptian tombs were a source of hides to cover shields, leather to absorb shock as the woven floor of a chariot, served as an outer covering for chariot wheels, and as a layer for bows, as well as providing dried meat to feed the army. Rearing cattle was important to the military might of Ancient Egypt.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Son and Heir

King Henry VIII as a concerned father walking 2 miles barefoot for the sake of his child. This seems unlikely. History is full of surprises. When Henry VIII and his queen Catherine had a son on January 1, 1511, Henry went on pilgrimage to the shrine at Walsingham. It was customary for pilgrims to walk the final mile to the church barefoot. King Henry walked 2 miles barefoot hoping to ensure the life of his son through his sacrifice. Unfortunately the little prince died before he was 2 months old. Henry and Catherine had 6 children all died except princess Mary.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Oxygen Blue

Ever wonder why the sky is blue? The answer links the air we breath and the rainbow created by a prism splitting sunlight. The atmosphere is largely made up of two colorless gases: oxygen and nitrogen. Sunlight appears white but is made up of a rainbow of colors created by light with different wavelengths. Because the wavelength of blue light is roughly the size of an atom of oxygen, blue light interacts with the oxygen in the atmosphere and is scattered by it. If the Earth had no atmosphere, the sun’s light would travel directly from the Sun in a straight line towards our eyes and we would see the Sun as a very bright star in sea of blackness. Because the blue light waves in sunlight are scattered by the oxygen in the atmosphere, blue light from the Sun enters our eyes from all sorts of different angles and we see the entire sky as blue. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Dinosaurs And Spark Plugs

Did you know that the firing end of your car's spark plugs and the extinction of dinosaurs are linked by the same metal--iridium? A clue to the extinction of the dinosaurs was found in a layer of rock laid down at the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65.5 million years ago, that contained a very high concentration of iridium. Iridium occurs in high concentrations in asteroids. The layer must have been laid down by dust settling over the entire planet after a very large asteroid impact. Iridium is one of the nine least abundant elements in Earth's crust, gold is 40 times more abundant, platinum is 10 times more abundant, and silver and mercury are 80 times more abundant. Iridium is found in high enough concentrations for mining in two types of geologic locations: igneous deposits (crustal intrusions from below, iridium is heavy and sank into the central layers of the molten early Earth), and impact craters. The high melting point, hardness, and corrosion resistance of iridium make it the perfect metal for the spark point of spark plugs.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

It's A Pain

Red haired people are more resistant to the pain-numbing effects of certain anesthetics. They require, on average, 19% more anesthetic. In 98% of the population the body produces a dark pigment eumelanin, but in redheads, a mutation in MC1R leads to the production of a red-tinged pheomelanin, instead. Pigment also interacts with molecules that are structurally similar to pigment stimulating hormones, including hormones whose primary role is one of pain relief.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Angels and Apollo

The round papal fortress of Castel Sant 'Angelo, seen in the film "Angels and Demons" has a connection to a Roman Emperor and a pagan sun god. It was built as a mausoleum for himself and his family by Emperor Hadrian. A bronze statue of Hadrian as Apollo driving the sun chariot topped the tomb in Hadrian's time. A pope replaced it with a bronze statue of the Archangel Michael.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Decoding the Pantheon

Ancient Roman monuments hide a secret code. Learn how to decode Roman buildings. In many Roman monuments, the sun is used to mark a special date. The famous Pantheon in Rome is also a vast sundial of a Roman type called a hemicyclium, consisting of the inside section of a hemisphere, with a hole for light to enter, marked with lines delineating the hours. In a hemicyclium, a circle of sunlight marks the hour rather than a shadow as in gnomon type sundials. At the equinoxes, the sun shown half over the dome cornice of the Pantheon. On the anniversary of the founding of Rome on April 21, the sun shown on the massive double doors where the emperor would enter and perform a ceremony. What a spotlight!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Cookie Crumbs

Did you know that the word cookie has to do with the Dutch and king Charles II, international politics, and the Spice Islands? The Dutch settled Manhattan in the 1600s. We get the word Cookie from them. It means small cake. The British, ruled by king Charles II, seized Manhattan starting the Anglo-Dutch War in the mid 1600s. A treaty ending the war traded Dutch holdings in America for the Spice Islands. The Dutch lands, now under the English, were renamed New York, but some Dutch settlers stayed in the area. Several Dutch words entered English so Americans say cookie and Brits say biscuit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Can See Clearly Now

Plexiglas played an important role in World War II as bullet resistant glazing in our warplanes. It was light and very strong and could be easily formed to fit into the structural design of the aircraft. It was used in the nose and gun turret of B-17s.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Going Dutch

In the 16th Century, the Dutch became rich through trade. They developed the first ship dedicated to carrying cargo--the fluyt. It had twice the cargo capacity of other ships and could be operated by a small crew using automation such as pulleys. By using specialized shipyards that built only fluyts, though larger, the ship cost half what it cost to build a warship. The sails were of linen with some hemp threads making up the canvas or duck sailcloth. In fact, the word duck applied to cloth comes from the Dutch word for cloth doek. Duck for sailcloth entered English in the time when the Dutch dominated trade.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Not A Flash in The Pan

Did you know that a powerful strobe light was used as an electronic flash for military night aerial photography, during WWII? It lite up a square mile of countryside at a time revealing enemy troop movements, strength, and location. The flash tube was a tough monster made of 30 inches of strong, quartz glass, coiled into a xenon-filled spiral that withstood the 4,000 volts discharged through it. The tube fit into a reflector mounted in the plane’s belly or tail. Banks of capacitors, weighing up to 500 pounds each, were slung on the plane’s bomb racks and supplied power to the flash tube. A direct contact synchronized the flash to the equally over-sized aerial camera.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bang-up Job

When we think of the assembly line, Henry Ford's auto factory is the first thing to come to mind, but actually several assembly lines predate Ford's. Samuel Colt established an early assembly line using interchangeable parts, more than half-a-century before Ford, for production of the Colt revolver at his factory in Hartford, .CT.

The Joke Is on You

During WWII, the Nazis built fake airfields, complete with wooden planes painted like real planes, to lure allied bombers away from real targets. The allied air-force easily saw through the ruse. They dropped wood painted like bombs on the fake airfields.

A Glowing Report

The granite in New York City's Grand Central Station gives off more radiation than is allowed in public areas of a nuclear power plant. Granite is a hard crystalline igneous rock often used as a building material. It forms when magma cools slowly beneath the Earth's surface. Granite is made up of quartz and feldspar with minor amounts of mica, amphibole, and other minerals that may include uranium. The pink granite colonnaded Grand Central Station was inspired by the Roman baths of Caracalla. Grand Central Station  was conceived to deal with congestion and opened for business on February 1, 1913. The lovely pink granite has a higher than average uranium content.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


The word Timbuktu conjures up thoughts of the exotic and distant. Timbuktu is actually a town in central north Africa in the country of Mali. It was an important stopping point on the cross Sahara caravan route. Timbuktu is located south of the Sahara Desert  and just north of the Niger River. The town thrived on trade in salt, ivory, gold, and slaves.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Man in the Black Suit

Did you know that a painting of a man in a plain black suit would change the view of what leadership is and help shape the future? When you look at the full length portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stewart, what do you see? Do you notice that President Washington is posed in a luxurious European style room, however he manages to look dignified in a just a plain black suit. Actually, at the time the picture was painted, it was startling to see the leader of a country portrayed in such a way. Unlike other world leaders of that day, he does not wear ermine or even the officer's uniform he is entitled to. He is a man forging the role of the presidency. Washington must appear dignified without appearing glorified and powerful without being absolute. Did you know that the constitution makes little mention of presidential powers? It was Washington who started the practice of appointing a cabinet to advise him.

Cows & Whiter Whites 

Bet you didn't know that cows and meadows were the source of white linens before the invention of bleach? Linen was bleached white by soaking it in acidic buttermilk and staking it out in the sunshine in special linen meadows. Some streams in Holland were said to run white with the milk being rinsed out of linens.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Curious Matter

Wonderful series on how we came to understand the elements and matter itself:

The Mystery of Mstter


The Mystery of Matter

Unraveling such mysteries as why rusty iron weighs more than the same volume of unrusted iron helped to uncover the way elements interact. In a related experiment, melting mercury oxide causes it to give off a mysterious gas that makes a candle flame burn brighter. Understanding why radium glows in the dark gives a glimpse at the structure of atoms. Learn the answers to these mysteries and much more in this well written series on the history of those who solved the mysteries of matter.

You can watch episode 1 at PBS. Highly recommended series! Perfect for classroom or the inquiring mind.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bordering on Perfect

What do Roman senators and snails have in common?

A natural purple dye used to color the border of Roman senators togas was derived from the secretions of the Murex sea snail. The ink is sprayed into the water to cover the retreat of the snail, when it is attacked. The Phoenicians of Tyre farmed the snails and dealt in the precious purple dye, often called Tyrian purple.

A Glowing Idea

Did you know that the word radiation and electricity have a link? Marie Curie first devised the word radiation to denote the property of uranium and thallium to create a field that allowed electricity to travel in the air. Marie Curie also first realized that radioactive elements glow in the dark because they are breaking down into other elements and giving off energy--a new and startling idea at that time.

It's a Gas

What do MRI machines, semiconductor manufacture, deep sea diving, welding, and party balloons have in common--helium.
Astronomers first discovered Helium by turning a new scientific instrument, the spectrometer, toward the sun. Chemists searched for helium on Earth. Finally, William Ramsey released helium by dropping acid on a uranium mineral. Later Helium was found in 1903 jetting from a Cowley county Kansas well.

Modern Warfare

Did you know that London suffered aerial bombing during WWI by aircraft taking off from Berlin, even though planes of the day only had a range of 200 miles, a third of the distance from Berlin to London?

German Zeppelins dropped bombs on London. The Zeppelins were held aloft by bags of hydrogen gas made of cattle intestines. The large lighter-than-air craft cruised at 80 miles per hour. However, they lacked heated and pressurized cabins, subjecting crews to extreme cold and altitude sickness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Symbol of Health

The Rx symbol used by pharmacies is derived from the ancient Egyptian eye of Horus. The single snake wrapped around a staff, that often appears on hospital buildings and ambulances, is derived from the rod of Asclepius, a Greek god of healing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seeing the Forest for the Crossties

Fears concerning dwindling natural resources is not a new problem. In the great age of rail. railroad construction and maintenance created an unquenchable thirst for lumber. Railroads needed over 2,500 crossties per mile to support their tracks. They also used large amounts of timber for bridges as well as pilings, telegraph poles, snow fences, fuelwood for the camps, cribbing, tunnel timbers, fuel, corduroy roads, railroad buildings, and railroad cars. Many small sawmills sprang up along railroad routes to supply these needs. Untreated ties last a maximum of 5 years. By the 1880s, keeping up with railroad maintenance was the equivalent to replacing the ties on 50,000 miles of track annually by harvesting 15 to 20 million acres of forest. As the end of the 19th century approached, railroads were expected to consume all the trees of the vast North American forests in less than a decade.

At first, only bridge supports were treated with wood preservation methods because the cost was prohibitive. After advances in chemical treatment led to cost reductions, the Santa Fe became the first North American railroad to treat ties regularly in 1885. A creosote treated wood tie installed today has an estimated life span of 40 years.

Railroad Towns

If you live in a town in the Midwest with East to West streets named after trees and North to South streets numbered, your town was most likely laid out by the railroad. Laying out towns was an important source of income for railroads by offering ready-made destinations for immigrants to buy tickets to and creating support locations for engines and crews. Once the town was populated, it created an ongoing income through delivery of supplies and shipment of produce.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Redcoats Are Coming

Bet you didn't know that the red uniforms of British troops are related to bugs and pirates?

A red dye is derived from the dried bodies of cochineal beetles. The dye came from Mexico where the beetles were fed on prickly pear cactus. When a Spanish ship full of the precious dye was seized by the English, Queen Elizabeth used it to dye the uniforms of her troops as a sneer to the Spanish who only used the dye for luxury items and as a gift to the Catholic Church.
Super Highway

The Erie Canal, finished in 1825, shortened a three-week travel time from Lake Erie to New York City to one-week. Speeding the delivery of salt, grain, and meat, from inland, to that large city and carrying port of New York worldwide trade across the Great Lakes.

Before the completion of the Erie Canal, Philadelphia was the largest most prosperous city in the United States. The project was financed by bond sales when the president refused to finance the canal. Tolls quickly paid off the project. The canal was a great success and made New York the largest most prosperous city in the United States.

Stream a Lesson and Learn Something New

 Very informative and fun show free with Amazon Prime on Codebreakers. Highly recommended for classroom and home schooling use. Very useful for Jr. High and older students in math and history.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Information Age Begins

Did you know that the encryption of critical information has been a primary concern far longer than you might think? With the beginning of the widespread use of the telegraph in 1861, critical information falling into the wrong hands became a problem for businesses and governments, which led to sending telegraph messages in code.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The New Vegetables

Lots of exciting changes were happening to European vegetables in the 16th century. Recently discovered plants were being introduced from the new world including: corn, potatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and beans. Breeders were also developing new improved varieties of well known plants. All of these changes greatly improved European diets. There are so many prints of vegetables from this period because they were new and exciting.

For example, the familiar sweet fleshy orange carrot did not exist before the 16th century. The Dutch  created a new larger and tastier vegetable by crossbreeding the smaller beet colored carrot of their day with a variety of wild carrots and a yellow mutant carrot.

Remember to eat your vegetables. They are healthy and played an important part in history.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sun Storms

On September first and second 1859, a major solar storm made a direct strike on Earth. A solar storm consists of  a vast cloud solar plasma, a gas of electrically charged particles, flung from the sun explosively during sunspots. Very bright auroras were seen as far south as Colorado. Telegraph keys chattered on their own. Telegraph operators were shocked into unconsciousness. Telegraph lines sparked fires. At that time, there was little electrical infrastructure. Telegraph lines did not yet span the American continent.

A far smaller event in March 1989 blacked out the entire province of Quebec. Transformers blew up and electrical fireballs were seen to roll along power lines. Spectacular auroras were produced.

On July 23rd of 2012 a solar storm of similar size to the vast 1859 storm burst from the sun but fortunately missed the Earth entirely.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Speaking of History

The English language is like an ancient but thriving city, such as London. You might discover a Roman artifact or a Medieval building and then turn a corner and see the Millennium Bridge. Certain words are artifacts from the past while new words are being added. A number of Arabic words made their way into English during the Reconquest of Spain.

Raymond of Toledo, Archbishop of Toledo from 1126 to 1151, started the first translation team at the library of the Cathedral of Toledo, where he led a group of translators who included Mozarabic Toledans, Jewish scholars, Madrasah teachers, and monks from the Order of Cluny. Toledo had been surrendered by the Moors through negotiation and was spared being sacked and burned, so many Arabic libraries survived. The group translated many works, including works by Aristotle, from Arabic into Castilian, and then from Castilian into Latin, the official church language. Some translated books were purchased by the Pope and became the roots of the Renaissance. During translation, a number of Arabic words entered Latin and later became a part of the English language. Zero, zenith alcohol, logarithm, and algebra all entered English from the Arabic language at this time.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Stop The Presses

The familiar layout of newspapers with large type headlines, illustrations, and factual articles with a broad appeal was once a fresh and exciting idea originated by Joseph Pulitzer to make the lackluster newspapers of his day more interesting. Today he is better remembered as the creator of the Pulitzer Prizes to recognize artistic and journalistic achievement, but he began his career as a groundbreaking newspaperman.

Not A Lightweight

Without the innovations of transistors and microprocessors, your laptop would be the size of a skyscraper and take a hydroelectric dam to power it. ENIAC, an early computer, designed by the U.S. Army to automate the process of making fast and accurate artillery calculations during World War II, filled a 30-by-50-foot room and weighed more than 27 tons. It used 174 kilowatts per second--enough to power a typical home for more than a week. ENIAC contained 17,468 fragile vacuum tubes, 7,200 crystal diodes, 1,500 relays, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors and around 5 million hand-soldered joints. It could store twenty 10-digit numbers in its memory, and it cost roughly $450,000. A handheld calculator now offers more computing power than ENIAC. A modern laptop computer weighs around 5 lbs. with most of the weight coming from the rechargeable battery that powers the computer--an amazing feat of innovation and miniaturization.

Flying High

The B-29 Superfortress was one of the most technically advanced American planes used in WWII. The aircraft was the first to be constructed of a new aluminium alloy that added zinc, to prevent cracking, to the usual lightweight alloy of aluminium and copper. The heavily armed, long-range plane could fly much higher than most aircraft of the time, at up to 33,600 ft. It was B-29s that made the famous supply runs over the Himalayas to China during WWII.

On July 30, 1916, German saboteurs conducted a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil, blowing up tons of ammunition, in New York harbor. The explosions were heard up to 90 miles away. Windows were blown out up and down Fifth Avenue. The statue of Liberty was struck by shrapnel. It took investigators years to realize that the explosion was no accident.
Earhart Fashions

Did you know that Amelia Earhart was the first celebrity to have her own clothing line? Amelia Earhart Fashions, launched in 1933, featured designs for an active lifestyle.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Taste of India

Did you know that the Egyptians, already traded with India for cinnamon over 4,000 years ago? It is portrayed in several tomb paintings. Later, the Romans even set up their own trade representatives in far off India to procure cinnamon. The word cinnamon is of Hebrew origins and probably came into English from the Bible. Cinnamon was an ingredient in the incense burned in the Temple in Jerusalem. Cinnamon is the inner bark of a species of laurel tree. Today most cinnamon comes from plantations on the island nation of Siri Lanka, located near the Southern tip of India. Thirty-five tons of cinnamon is consumed annually. 
You Light Up My Life

Our vast modern electric power grid began with a dc power station established by Thomas Edison in 1882 on Pearl Street, in Manhattan, that served less than a square mile. The beautiful White City of the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, lit by 200 thousand electric light bulbs, became the next electric milestone with ac power, provided by Westinghouse with the help of Tesla, illuminating all 600 acres of the fair site, at a time when few Americans had seen an electric light bulb. Today electric power grids span the nation with over 2.7 million miles of power lines and Americans take lighting and the cooling power of refrigerators and air conditioners for granted.
Foiling the Nazis

As WWII loomed, defense experts realized how important aluminum would be in building an air force. At that time, the Aluminum Company of America’s (Alcoa) factory south of Knoxville,Tennessee, which used hydroelectric power from dams constructed by the TVA, was  the largest aluminum plant in the world. New plants were needed. A new Alcoa plant in Vancouver, WA, which used electricity from dams constructed on the Columbia River, began producing aluminum in September 1940. During World War II, bauxite mines in central Arkansas produced more than 95 percent of the ore that was made into aluminum. Smelting of Bauxite ores for aluminum requires significant amounts of electricity so processing facilities are located near dams that generate electricity. These 2 plus 18 other plants produced aluminum for the war effort. By the end of the war, America had produced 305,000 planes and all of them had skins fabricated from aluminum alloys.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rockets and Bombs

The rocket's red glare, mentioned in "The Star Spangled Banner", resulted from the  explosion of 600 to 700 thirty-two pound Congreve incendiary rockets, fired at Fort McHenry by HMS Erebus. Due to withering American fire, the ship was forced to stay beyond the range of the fort's cannon. At that range, not many of the rockets reached their mark.

The bombs bursting in air were 13 inch and 10 inch explosive hollow iron balls, packed with gunpowder, weighing up to 200 pounds, fired by mortars. One bomb scored a direct hit on the powder magazine of Fort McHenry but failed to explode, saving the fort. During the 25 hour bombardment, between 1,200 and 1,800 rounds were fired on Fort McHenry by a British fleet of 19 ships.

Fort McHenry is a star fort, designed to withstand bombardment. Constructed with low walls, shielded by ditches to prevent direct fire reaching the walls, and walls topped by earthen fill to absorb the shock of descending missiles. Projections, called bastions, better position cannon to protect fort walls with crossfire, giving a star fort its star-like shape.
By a Mile

Have you ever wondered why a mile has such an odd number of feet--5,280 feet? The answer is it didn't start that way but gained some length in translation. 

To the Romans, a mile was 1,000 paces by a soldier or 5,000 feet. Now that is a nice round number that is easy to remember. The word mile comes from the Latin word for thousand.

The English mile ended up longer because of changes made to the length of rods, used to measure distances by surveyors, by Henry VIII in order to increase taxes. Lots of surveying took place in England after Henry VIII seized the lands of the Catholic church and sold them off. The English mile became equivalent to 8 furlongs, a rather English measure of distance equal to the length of furrow a horse could plow before needing to rest, with 40 rods per furlong, and 16.5 feet per rod, making the mile equal to the unlikely less than round number of 5,280 feet.
The Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Many technological innovations happened far sooner than you might think. Did you know that the first submarine attack in history took place during the Revolutionary War when the Turtle unsuccessfully attempted to sink British ships in New York harbor? Did you know that the first aircraft carrier served during the Civil War when a converted coal barge was a support and transportation vessel for aerial reconnaissance hot-air balloons used by the North? 
Top Secret in Your Kitchen

Did you know that one of your kitchen appliances is based on a technical development that was one of the greatest secrets of WWII? Your microwave is based on the same invention that is the heart of Radar. After the original breakthrough by British scientists, the invention was carried, in absolute secrecy, by destroyer across the Atlantic . The Americans took over further development of radar at Loomis Labs in Tuxedo Park, NY. Radar was instrumental in winning WWII.
Dollar for Dollar 

The word dollar was devised by the first secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton. He wanted the currency of our new nation to have a name that conveyed a sense of being sound. He pondered the two most trusted currencies--the thaler, a coin minted from silver dug in Bohemian mines, and Spanish doubloons, struck in silver from the massive mine at Potosi, Bolivia--coining the new word dollar.