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  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2018/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , earthquake, , , , , natural disaster, New Richmond, , ,   

    “Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim”*… 

     

    The United States is an enormous country, spanning mountains, deserts, forests, prairie, tundra, and more. This varied terrain is also home to many natural hazards spawned by air, water, fire, and forces beneath the Earth’s surface.

    Some of these threats are dramatic; the United States and its territories have the greatest number of active volcanoes of any country except Indonesia, as well as the most tornadoes. Other hazards, like heat waves, are less flashy but can still kill you.

    Different regions of the country face very different hazards. But which part of the United States is the most dangerous? It turns out there’s no simple answer, although the south does have a particularly generous share of hazards…

    See how the country’s natural menaces differ by geography at “Where in the United States is nature most likely to kill you?

    * Eduardo Galeano

    ###

    As we calculate our odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that New Richmond Tornado– an estimated F5 storm, formed in the early evening, and went on to tear a 45-mile long path of destruction through St. Croix, Polk and Barron counties in west-central Wisconsin, leaving 117 people dead, twice as many injured, and hundreds homeless.  The worst devastation wrought by the tornado was at the city of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which took a direct hit from the storm.  In all, more than $300,000 ($8,825,000 in today’s dollars) in damage was reported.  Still, it ranks as only the ninth deadliest tornado in United States history.

    The ruins of New Richmond Methodist Church after the tornado

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:22 on 2018/06/11 Permalink
    Tags: , camera obscura, Doctor Mirabilis, , , , , , scientific method,   

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*… 

     

    A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

    400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

    * Martin Luther King, Jr.

    ###

    As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

    He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

    Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:11 on 2018/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , cyber-attack, , , , , ,   

    “The challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud”*… 

     

     source

    WannaCry, a computer virus that encrypts data and demands a ransom to unscramble it, hit thousands of computers in May, causing several hospitals in Britain to close their doors. Hardly a week now goes by without a large company admitting that its systems have been breached: Yahoo recently confessed that 1bn accounts had been compromised in an attack in 2013. Cyber-attacks are a scourge of modern life, but their history goes back further than you might expect.

    The world’s first national data network was constructed in France during the 1790s. It was a mechanical telegraph system, consisting of chains of towers, each of which had a system of movable wooden arms on top. Different configurations of these arms corresponded to letters, numbers and other characters. Operators in each tower would adjust the arms to match the configuration of an adjacent tower, observed through a telescope, causing sequences of characters to ripple along the line. Messages could now be sent much faster than letters, whizzing from one end of France to the other in minutes. The network was reserved for government use but in 1834 two bankers, François and Joseph Blanc, devised a way to subvert it to their own ends…

    Nearly two centuries ago, France was hit by the world’s first cyber-attack.  With a nod to Isaiah Berlin**, Tom Standage argues that it holds lessons for us today: “The crooked timber of humanity.”

    * James Surowiecki

    ** Berlin’s title was a reference to a quote from Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

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    As we learn from history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that two ships, the Niagara and the Agamemnon headed out from Keyham Dockyard in England to begin work on what would become the first operational Transatlantic cable, as previous attempts at laying a Transatlantic cable had failed.  Designed for telegraph operation, the cable run was completed on August 5th; and the first test message was sent on August 12th.

    The Niagara at work

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:51 on 2018/06/09 Permalink
    Tags: , experiment, Ford's Theater, freezer, , , , Toaster,   

    “But the toaster was quite satisfied with itself, thank you”*… 

     

    Would a toaster still work in a freezer?  —My Brother, My Brother and MeEpisode 343, discussing a Yahoo Answers question

    On a recent episode of Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy’s terrific advice podcast, My Brother, My Brother and Me, the brothers pondered a Yahoo Answers question about what would happen if you put a toaster inside a freezer. (The discussion comes around the 36-minute mark.)

    They have a fun discussion of a few aspects of the problem before eventually moving on to the next question. Since they don’t really settle on a final answer, I thought we could help them out by taking a closer look at the physics of freezer toasters.

    (A quick safety note: If you actually do this, keep in mind that the toaster may melt some of the ice in the freezer, leaving you with a running electrical appliance in a pool of water.)…

    Another in Randall Munroe’s marvelous What If? series: “Toaster vs. Freezer.”

    * Thomas M. Disch, The Brave Little Toaster

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    As we cultivate curiosity, we might recall that President Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only person to die in Ford’s Theater: it was on this date in 1893 that three interior floors of the building collapsed.  Ford had acquired his venue from a failed baptist Church; but shortly after its conversion, it burned to the ground.  Ford hastily rebuilt, and began to program performances like Our American Cousin, which featured the  famous actor– and assassin– John Wilkes Booth.

    Following Lincoln’s death, the United States Government appropriated the theatre, (Congress payed Ford $88,000 in compensation), and an order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement.  In 1866, the theatre was taken over by the U.S. military… then in 1893, the front of the building gave way, killing 22 military clerks and injuring another 68… which led some to conclude that the former Church-turned-theater was cursed.  (A restored Ford’s Theater opened in 1968.)

    Bodies being removed from Ford’s Theatre following the building’s collapse

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:29 on 2018/06/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Circumnavigation, , John H. Wilson, Pan Am, , , Worle War II   

    “I was once told that flying involves long hours of boredom, interrupted by moments of extreme fright”*… 

     

    Boeing Model 314 Clipper “California Clipper,” Pan American Airways [source]

    On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, there was a Pan Am Clipper proceeding to Auckland, New Zealand [from its San Francisco base] when the radio operator announced to the crew, in a panicked voice, that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The Captain realized that this was not a joke, after looking over at the radio operator’s face, and said, “Please confirm the details of your news with Pan Am headquarters in New Caledonia.”

    When the radio operator returned to the Captain’s side he advised that the news was in fact correct and they advised me to tell you the following, Implement Plan A.” The Captain reached for a sealed envelope from his jacket…

    And so began a globe-circling trek that ended on January 6, 1942 at La Guardia’s Marine Air Terminal: total flight time was 209 hours; total distance, 31,500 miles (a circuitous route that involved dodging first Japanese then German military aircraft that considered the American plane “a strategic military resource” to be destroyed).  It was the first around-the-world flight by a commercial airliner… the hard way.

    Read the fascinating story of this unintended circumnavigation at “The Long Way Home….Pan Am Flight 18602.”

    * “Franklin W. Dixon” (the shared pseudonym of the many authors of The Hardy Boys novels)

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    As we buckle our seatbelts, we might recall that it was on this day in 1920 that Lt. John H. “Dynamite” Wilson of the 96th Aero Squadron, Kelly Field, Texas, leapt with a parachute from a De Haviland B airplane at an altitude of approximately 20,000 feet and made a safe landing in a turnip patch.

     source (and larger version)

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:31 on 2018/06/07 Permalink
    Tags: Barbara Washburn, Boston Museum of Science, Bradford Washburn, disputed territory, , geopolitics, hsitory, , mountaineering,   

    “Whose maps are we trying to read? And what are we trying to draw?”*… 

     

    A map of the South China Sea, with competing territorial claims marked

    Maps are complicated in the current geopolitical climate—especially emblazoned across your torso. What is perfectly acceptable in Vietnam can get you stopped at Chinese border control, and vice versa.

    Recently, US clothing retailer Gap apologized for printing a t-shirt that didn’t include China’s claimed territories, including Taiwan, South Tibet, and islands in the South China Sea. In doing so, it joined Marriott and Delta, which had previously triggered Beijing’s ire for maps-related issues. At the same time, a group of Chinese tourists to Vietnam generated outrage by showing up at a Vietnamese airport wearing t-shirts with a Chinese map including parts of Vietnam…

    Even the United Nations’s world map openly states that the represented borders aren’t necessarily officially recognized (the map specifically calls out Kashmir and the Falkland Islands as disputed territories.) It also notes that although Taiwan was a UN founding member, it left the organization in 1971, and the UN recognizes China’s sovereignty over it…

    And so the image above: “Here’s a t-shirt you could wear everywhere in East Asia without upsetting anyone.”

    * Rebecca Solnit

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    As we ponder geopolitical presumption, we might send pioneering birthday greetings to Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1910.  An explorer, mountaineer, photographer, and cartographer, he established the Boston Museum of Science, served as its director from 1939–1980, and from 1985 until his death served as its Honorary Director.

    In 1940, he married fellow explorer Barbara Polk; on their honeymoon in Alaska, they made the first ascent of Mt. Bertha.  Seven years later, they climbed Denali (Mt. McKinley), an ascent that made her the first female to reach the peak.

    Bradford and Barbara atop Mt. McKinley, Alaska, June 6, 1947

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:30 on 2018/06/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , picnic table, , University College,   

    “There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort”*… 

     

    From campground to crab shack to suburban backyard, the picnic table is so ubiquitous that it is nearly invisible as a designed object. Yet this ingenious form — a structurally bolted frame that unites bench seats and table into a sturdy package — has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. Having transcended the picnic, it is now the ideal setting for any outdoor event that compels us to face one another squarely across a shared surface…

    These qualities of familiarity and abundance have made the picnic table an American icon. On the website of The Home Depot, buyers can choose from among 102 models, priced between $109 and $2,260. That seems an impossible variety, and we should be grateful that we typically don’t make the purchasing decisions. For most of the past hundred years, we have occupied picnic tables chosen by others, by the operators of car washes and rest stops and fairgrounds, and it is never uncomfortable…

    Dig in at: “An Illustrated History of the Picnic Table.”

    * W. Somerset Maugham

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    As we parse the pastoral prandium, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

    Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

    It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

     see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:18 on 2018/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: Harriet Beecher Stowe, , , local, , public finance, , , Uncle Tom's Cabin   

    “News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising.”*… 

     

    Local newspapers hold their governments accountable. We examine the effect of local newspaper closures on public finance for local governments. Following a newspaper closure, we find municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points in the long run. Identification tests illustrate that these results are not being driven by deteriorating local economic conditions. The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies, including higher likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated issues, and higher government wages, employees, and tax revenues…

    A new piece of academic research on (one example) of the importance of local journalism: “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”

    * Katherine Graham

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    As we support our local journalists, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that  Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s anti-slavery serial, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, starts a ten-month run in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper.

     source (and larger version)

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:37 on 2018/06/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Capitol Records, , , Lou Naidorf, Michael Bierut, , Raymond Loewy, recording industry,   

    “Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection”*… 

     

    click here for larger version

    From legendary designer Raymond Loewy [see here], a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

    Explore at: “Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design.”

    Then check out MacRae Linton’s conversion of Loewy’s chart into a proper timeline.

    * Henry Petroski

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    As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that music industry insiders Johnny MercerBuddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs founded Capitol Records.  By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records by artists including (Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr) and was established as one of the “Big Six” record labels.

    In 1955, Capitol became a subsidiary of British label EMI and began construction on a new headquarters building designed by Lou Naidorf.  Known as “the House the Nat Built” (as Nat King Cole was the label’s steady sales leader), it was the first circular office building in the world.

    Capitol, which had an output deal with its UK parent, built on their early 60s success with the Beach Boys by acquiring the Beatles record rights in the U.S. (though they passed on other EMI acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:48 on 2018/06/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , mathematical economics, , merit, RGD Allen, , , wealth inequality   

    “Oh, I am fortune’s fool!”*… 

     

    The distribution of wealth follows a well-known pattern sometimes called an 80:20 rule: 80 percent of the wealth is owned by 20 percent of the people. Indeed, a report last year concluded that just eight men had a total wealth equivalent to that of the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people.

    This seems to occur in all societies at all scales. It is a well-studied pattern called a power law that crops up in a wide range of social phenomena. But the distribution of wealth is among the most controversial because of the issues it raises about fairness and merit. Why should so few people have so much wealth?

    The conventional answer is that we live in a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for their talent, intelligence, effort, and so on. Over time, many people think, this translates into the wealth distribution that we observe, although a healthy dose of luck can play a role.

    But there is a problem with this idea: while wealth distribution follows a power law, the distribution of human skills generally follows a normal distribution that is symmetric about an average value. For example, intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, follows this pattern. Average IQ is 100, but nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000.

    The same is true of effort, as measured by hours worked. Some people work more hours than average and some work less, but nobody works a billion times more hours than anybody else.

    And yet when it comes to the rewards for this work, some people do have billions of times more wealth than other people. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that the wealthiest people are generally not the most talented by other measures.

    What factors, then, determine how individuals become wealthy? Could it be that chance plays a bigger role than anybody expected? And how can these factors, whatever they are, be exploited to make the world a better and fairer place?…

    A new computer model of wealth creation confirms that the most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest. Learn more at: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance.

    * Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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    As we muse on merit, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to a forbearer of the researchers who did the work recounted above, Sir Roy George Douglas Allen; he was born on this date in 1906.  A mathematician and statistician turned economist, he was a leader in the field of mathematical economics, writing a number of influential texts including  Mathematical Analysis for EconomistsStatistics for Economists, and Mathematical Economics.

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