4/14/10 What if They Had a War and Nobody Came?
Ever hear of the 1835 "Toledo War" between Michigan and Ohio? Thing is, there was no actual war to speak of, more like a war of words. The maneuvers weren't military on the battlefield, but political in Congress. Not only that, the city of Toledo hadn't been founded when all the hullabaloo was in full vent. Which means during the "Toledo War" there was no war and no Toledo.
Basically it was a border tussle between Michigan and Ohio wherein each wanted control of the mouth of the Maumee River at the western end of Lake Erie, where Toledo is today. At the time this figured to be the important (read money-making) terminus of a canal to the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Which goes to show you the animosity between Buckeyes and Wolverines predates the University of Michigan-Ohio Sate rivalry by a century.
The spat was over disputed borders dictated by the Northwest Ordinance and complicated by some mistaken mapping of where the southern tip of Lake Michigan was. The Northwest Ordinance was enacted under the Articles of Confederation before the Constitution was instituted which caused a legal tangle of whether provisions from a previous regime carried over to the new government.
At any rate, Ohio won the dispute in Congress and got the "Toledo Strip." No surprise considering Ohio was already a state with Senators and House reps while Michigan, being a territory, had little political clout. As a result the Michigan-Ohio border is angled and not due east-west like many latitudinal borders between states.
As a sop to disgruntled Michiganians the state was given the western part of the upper peninsula. This likely would have been part of what is now Wisconsin, but folks there had even less clout than Michigan so it went down without too much of a fuss. In the end this tract of "wasteland" full of timber, copper, and whatnot turned out to be more valuable than the Toledo strip.
The canal to Lake Michigan never panned out as railroads came along rendering canal plans moot. After all, railroad tracks could go up and down grades where canals had to be level. Besides, trains were a lot faster and railroads were easier to build as they needn't be watertight or require a vast source of water for filling. Thus railroads could go over mountains and through deserts. Even though there aren't any between Toledo and Chicago, you get the point.
3/30/10 Les Garçons du Ver Mont
If you're a student of American Revolutionary War history you're familiar with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, a crack militia force from New England. While militias seem to have a bad name nowadays, that wasn't the case 200 years ago when America's militias were considered patriots. Though I imagine that would depend on which side you're on. I'm sure British royalists pretty much considered them violent extremists.
One thing distinguishing the Green Mountain Boys from most was their uniform, which wasn't traditional European frock coats but fringed buckskins. There were some who thought the entire Continental Army should be so oufitted. Buckskin frontier wear would have been more practical in the wilds of early America. Even the fringe served a purpose of helping shed water. While keeping wearers warm when damp, woolen coats were not so water-proof. There was no Scotch-Guard back then.
So, the Green Mountain Boys didn't wear green uniforms. Anyway, it wasn't the men who were green, but the mountains. In what part of New England are these green mountains? Vermont, of course. Why of course? Because Vermont means Green Mountain, only in French. Vermont is next door to Quebec, and has a spillover French name. Ver means green, and mont means mountain.
Vermont isn't the only state with a French name. Louisiana was named after the king of France, Louis. Which Louis I'm not sure, they had so many. The XIV, XV, XVI? Seems like they were all named Louis, other than the odd Charles here and there. And Charlemagne. But he was a long time ago before there even was a France, or Louisiana or Vermont.
3/12/10 On Your Marks, and... Action!
One might imagine space as a cube made of height, width, and depth. Or altitude, latitude and longitude. In this space we plot something's location along these three co-ordinates. Take a fly in a box. At point A the fly is at 1' altitude, 1' latitude, and 1' longitude.
Say the the fly flies to point B at 9' altitude, 9' latitude, and 9' longitude. The fly flying from A to B takes time. Without time it would have to be in both spots at once, and at every spot along the path from A to B. To really know the fly's location you must know not only where it is, but when it is.
Without time things would be many places at once. Not only that, everything would happen at once. I mean, you'd be born and die at the same time, which is always right now. That's a pretty mean trick and highly unlikely. Motion takes time, without it the universe is frozen in place and nothing happens. Ask yourself, what's use of a three-dimensional universe where nothing can happen.
On the other hand, can you have time but no space? What would an object be if it had no height, width or depth? Again you'd have a case where nothing can happen because there's no space for it to happen in. And nothing in the non-space anyway. If nothing happens how do you measure the passage of time? Is there even such a thing as time in that case?
Can there be space without time or time without space? I don't know, my brain isn't big enough to get around that. But having one without the other just wouldn't work. Nothing could happen so what would be the point. That's how the universe is 4-dimensional, why they call it the space-time continuum.
This is how movies are 3-D. They have height, width and time. With the exception of movies in 3-D which are 4-D.
2/17/10 Magnificent Merlin
The German Me109, the British Spitfire, the American Mustang, and the Japanese Zero are perhaps the most famous fighter planes of WWII. Three of the four used essentially the same powerplant, the Merlin engine developed by Rolls-Royce. The exception being the Zero, or "Zeke" as it was called by U.S. naval air forces, which employed a Mitsubishi radial engine.
One might easily imagine how the Mustang got an English engine as the U.S. and the British were allies. The Mustang, or P51, had rather unexceptional performance until the Brits put in the Merlin turning it into a great plane. The English also gave the P51 its Mustang moniker.
On the other hand, on the other side actually, the Me109 didn't use a Merlin built by Rolls-Royce, but a variation of it. This was originally licensed to Messerschmitt before the war and developed into the engine that powered the Me109 in all its many incarnations.
Using basically the same engine is one reason the Spitfire and Me109 had very similar performance characteristics. On paper, anyway. In the field the Spitfire bettered the 109 because the British burned higher octane aviation fuel from the U.S. while the Germans, constantly strapped for petroleum, used a lower grade. Of course, the skill of the pilot made a difference, but that's another story.
The Rolls-Royce building aircraft engines was not the same Rolls-Royce making cars, but was a separate company. They started together but split up only both kept the name. BMW also built aircraft engines. In fact that's where thier logo comes from, it represents a spinning propeller. Which explains the opening pic.
In case you ever wondered, the "P" in P51 stood for "pursuit" which is what they called fighters back then.
Correction: The connection between the 109 and the Spitfire was both were inspired by the Heinkel He70 powered by a Kestrel engine. That engine was developed into the Merlin. The first Me109 used the Kestrel, but was replaced with a Daimler-Benz powerplant.
To atone for my mistake, an additional bit of trivia. The German's didn't designate the craft Me109, but rather Bf109.
2/2/10 Bloody Barbers!
Old time symbolic signs made it possible for illiterates to know where to shop. For instance, the three balls on a pawn shop told the great unwashed where to get a loan. Still, how does a red and white striped pole mean "get your hair cut here"?
Back in the day, way back, a barber was the go-to guy to have your hair cut off, your beard cut off, or your pinky toe cut off. Ye olde barbers treated wounds and performed simple surgery. The red and white stripes of a barber pole represent blood and bandaging, or a bloody bandage. You might say early barbers were proto-surgeons.
Before the 19th century surgeons weren't doctors and vice-versa. In simple terms, doctors treated diseases while surgeons treated injuries. Doctors employed potions and bleeding and whatnot to restore a patient's balance of humors which they thought was unique to each patient. Surgeons were more tradesman-like with a hands-on understanding of flesh and bone which they treated with tools. Surgeons thought a wound was a wound whoever was wounded.
The stock of surgeons rose during wartime where treating wounds was just what the doctor ordered, even though surgeons did it. Wounded soldiers needed surgeons using tools rather than doctors using elixirs and bleeding. Especially since the wounded were already bleeding.
Fast-forward to today and surgeons are doctors, and barbers no longer cut off anything but hair. Had the symbolic red and white pole gone over to doctoring with the surgeons perhaps hospitals would be adorned with barber poles instead of snakes on a winged staff. Where that symbol comes from is another story for another day. As is why a pawn shop sports a trio of balls.
1/14/10 Doesn't Taste Like Chicken
They tell me salt is the only rock we eat. At least the only rock we eat on purpose with a purpose. And the only one that tastes good. Other rocks in our food is grit, which is almost always unpleasant.
But then we eat little bits of many unsavory things besides grit that get in food. Like animal hair, insect parts, worm castings and so on. Kept to a minimum we can survive all that. Of course finding an entire rat in your food is an unwelcome prospect. Finding one in your KFC is possibly a lawsuit or an urban myth.
On the other hand salt is required eating as we need it for a little biological process we call "being alive." They also tell me this is because land animals evolved from sea creatures that migrated out of the oceans. To survive out of water, land animals had to take the sea with them. So we are in large part water, or rather salt water if you will.
All of which reminds me of what might be the first joke I ever heard. A riddle actually. What's big and red and eats rocks? A big red rock eater. Yes, it's a silly joke, but it didn't take much to amuse me at five years of age. Still, though I am not five years old, big and red, I do eat rocks. So do you.
12/16/09 Pair of Hearts
True or false? In the U.S. most people who get married don't divorce, yet most marriages end in divorce. Is it even possible?
Let's examine this proposition with a hypothetical small town of Wedville which has only 14 people, 7 men and 7 women. Let's say they all get married, that's 7 marriages. (We assume conventional marriage, no Mormons or the like.) The next year three couples divorce, and then remarry different partners. Now there's been 10 marriages.
The following year the three remarried couples get divorced while the 4 couples that didn't divorce before stay married. Now there have been 6 divorces out of 10 marriages. Yet 8 of the 14 people of Wedville that got married stayed married. Meaning most people who get married don't divorce (8 of 14) while most marriages end in divorce (6 of 10).
So we know it's possible, is it true? It is true. In the U.S. most people who get married don't divorce, while most marriages end in divorce. Which means both anti-marriage folks and pro-marriage folks have bullet points in their favor. It's the miracle of statistics. Or rather the wonder of spin. Then again, maybe it's good old everyday...
Card stacking and the fallacy of exclusion (suppressed quantification): using selected evidence to make one's side look favorable, or omitting evidence that would undermine an argument.
This is card stacking as in stacking the deck, not building a house of cards. Though if the "evidence" you've stacked is a laundry list of other fallacies your solidly stacked deck might well be as flimsy as a house of cards.
11/4/09 Galileo Was Wrong?
The Earth doesn't orbit around the sun. At least not strictly speaking. They orbit each other. It's just that the gravity of the Earth has close to no effect on the motion of the sun.
Imagine it this way, say you have a star and a planet the same size. In this case the equal mass of each will effect the motion of each other equally. The orbital center of this system will be a point midway between the two so they orbit each other. Now then, shrink the planet down and the center point gets closer to the star. Shrink it way down and the point of mutual orbit is somewhere inside the star.
Now, the Earth isn't very big compared to the sun. Big old Jupiter is a different story. Its gravity not only effects the movement of the sun, but the movement of every other planet in the solar system. In fact, all the planets effect each other so the center of the solar system changes depending on the position of all the planets and the sun.
This is called the barycenter of the solar system, the average center of mass of all the bits. In the end, everything sort-of orbits everything else in what's called barycentric orbits. Sometimes the barycenter is inside the sun, and at other times away from the sun. So, the sun is at the center of the solar system, but it isn't the center of the solar system.
10/6/09 Watt is Moving
Even though we use electricity, rarely do we use it directly as electricity. By which I mean electricity is converted to some other type of energy to be usefull to us. Such as coverting it to light energy with a lightbulb. Or to mechanical energy with a motor as in a fan, pump or compressor. Or to sound waves with a speaker. Or to heat energy with a stovetop or oven.
There are very few uses for electricity as electicity outside of stun guns, electrified fences and crash cart paddles. Even though the work done with your computer is all electrical, you can't much use it unless it is converted to light energy on your monitor or mechanical energy with your printer or sound waves with a speaker.
Consider the other end of electricity, the source. Thing is, there are no direct sources of electricity, no vast electrical fields or reserviors that can simply be tapped into. Electricity must be generated. Other than photovoltaics this is done mechanically with dynamos. Turning a dynamo can be done with falling water or moving air. Though usually it's done with a source of heat powering a steam turbine. Most often the heat comes from combustion of fuel, usually coal or gas. Even a nuclear reactor generates heat for steam turbines turning dynamos.
You could say electricity isn't a source of energy, but a way to transport energy. It starts out as heat or mechanical energy, flows to your home as electricity and is converted to mechanical, light, heat, or whatever energy that you can actually use. Without it we'd be back to fireplaces, candles, hand cranks and wind-up springs. Or maybe lots of little steam engines on every appliance.
7/31/09 Our Neighbor to the South
If you head due south from Detroit across the Michigan border you'll arrive, not in Ohio, but in Canada. Windsor, Ontario to be specific. Just one of those geographical quirks where a bit of Ontario over Lake Erie sticks under the "thumb" of Michigan's lower peninsula.
If you drive by car from Detroit to Canada you can go over the border under the Detroit River by tunnel, or over the water by the Ambassador Bridge. What might surprise you, the bridge is privately owned by one Manuel Moroun. You might wonder how a private citizen owns an international bridge. Well, because it wasn't a public project to begin with, it was a private enterprise from the git-go. It still is.
So the old gag about selling the Brooklyn Bridge to some bumpkin doesn't work for the Ambassador Bridge. You might actually be able to buy it. Just be sure you're dealing with Manny Moroun and not some "Realtor" working out of the trunk of his car.
7/9/09 Blimey, Limey! C Asea, See?
Despite their reputation, citrus fruits are not an especially rich source of vitamin C. Many green vegetables, like broccoli to name one, have more. Eating citrus fruits for vitamin C can be attributed to the English navy.
Back in the old days of sailing ships, none of which had refrigeration or AC, it took a long time to get from place to place and so there wasn't a lot of perishable produce on board, just a lot of salted meat, hard stale biscuits, and whatever it was that made gruel. To help sailors stomach this dubious diet they also had generous lashings of rum. This limited menu led to scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency.
When they figured out the cure, fresh fruits and vegetables, they settled on limes because they would last without spoiling a lot longer than, say, broccoli. Limes are thick skinned and contain citric acid, both helping to maintain freshness. The choice of limes was about shelf-life rather than the amount of vitamin C provided.
Anyway, all that lime eating is how English sailors got nicknamed limeys. Whether they fancied the sobriquet or not I can't say, but I'm pretty sure avoiding scurvy was a good trade-off if they didn't.
6/3/09 Smaller Than Bigger Than Life
If you're a history buff perhaps you've been watching the PBS series WWII Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. As you may know, Joseph Stalin translates as Joe Steel in English. Which might explain his iron fisted rule. All the same it was a pseudonym. A sort-of street name revolutionaries often adopted.
His given name, depending on your source, was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Joseph Vissarionvich Djvugashvili or Joseph David Djugashvili. I can only imagine the disagreement comes from translating Cyrillic spelling to Roman spelling. You know, how CCCP equates to SSSR which we further alter to USSR.
All the same, there is something wrong with the casting in the series, and perhaps with some folks perception of Stalin. The actor playing Stalin is a big man, Stalin was not. Take a look at the following picture.
In the pic, Stalin, Churchill and Truman all look to be about the same size. Truman and Churchill were shorter than average, they were not big men. Stalin was not a big man, a burly Russian bear. In fact, he wasn't Russian. Stalin was born in Georgia, the country not the state.
So, while his reputation might be bigger than life, in real life he was just life-sized.
5/11/09 BIG and small
Upper case and lower case are pretty well-known terms for anyone dealing in type or the written word. You know, CAPITAL LETTERS and non-capital letters. Have you ever wondered where those terms come from, what they refer to? Here's the answer whether you've ever wondered or not.
It all goes back to the big breakthrough in printing, moveable type. Gutenberg's big invention was not the printing press itself, but standardized, individual letters on little metal blocks that could be assembled into any text. This way you could print a Bible or a do-it-yourself book with the same bits by rearranging them without having to start over from scratch.
These letters were stored and organized in wooden cases with a series of partitions making cubby holes for each particular letter. These were standardized so typesetters could find what they needed with all the capitals in the upper part and all the non-capitals in the lower part. Hence upper and lower case.
Now a bit of minutiae you may not have considered. If you've played around with typefaces you may have noticed some fonts look smaller at the same point size compared to other fonts. That's because they are, even though they ain't. Which sounds like gibberish, but I can explain.
Above are the letters "I, x, p" in 80 point type. The first font is Humanist and the second is Helvetica. As you can see, if you set them on the same base line both the upper case and the lower case letters are taller in Helvetica. But point size isn't measured that way. It goes from the bottom of the descender, the tail of the "p" to the top of the ascender, the top of the "I".
When you line them up like that, they are the same size. You will notice the lower case "x" in each are different sizes. This is referred to as the x-height of the font. A typeface with a smaller x-height will look, or read smaller than a font with a bigger x-height even when they're the same point size.
If you're interested, you can read about the another built-in optical illusion of type here.