Friday, April 1, 2016

No Fooling!

Thought for the day: I have great faith in fools — self-confidence, my friends call it. [Edgar Allen Poe]

The past few years, I've opted to take the month of April off from blogging. Since I chose not to participate in the A-Z Challenge, I decided it would be a good opportunity for me to buckle down and do some real writing. Um, last year, I mostly did spring cleaning, but I did write a few words, too. This year, I'm determined to get some serious work done on my poor neglected WIP. I actually got back to it in February, so maybe, just maybe, I really will make some good progress this month. Maybe.

But since my usual blogging day coincides with April Fool's Day this year, I couldn't resist sharing a parting shot with y'all before I go off the grid. This post is a re-run, with a few minor updates. Enjoy! And y'all take care. Seeya in May.


Thought for the day:  The trouble with bucket seats is not everyone has the same sized bucket.

Happy April Fools Day! Not that any of us are fools, mind you.

So, do you like to pull pranks on April first? (Or are you an all-year-round equal-opportunity prankster?) I've been known to pull a trick or two over the years, but nothing too outrageous. One of the (few) things I miss about writing that monthly newsletter for amateur radio enthusiasts is the liberties I always took with the annual April issue. One time, it backfired on me, though.

Ever hear of BPL? That stands for Broadband Over Power Lines. That's a technology in which internet service would be provided via the power lines. A plug and play idea, more or less. And a very bad one, especially from the viewpoint of amateur radio. Power lines were never designed for this purpose, and are inadequately shielded, which means that BPL would splatter, and cause extensive interference throughout the radio spectrum.

Anyway, in one of my April issues, which came out shortly after Michael Powell was replaced as chairman of the FCC, I wrote a newsy-sounding article about the shocking "new rulings" the FCC had made about BPL, but I THOUGHT I'd written it outrageously enough that everyone would laugh and recognize it for the joke it was meant to be. I mean, at the end of the article, I even said that Michael Powell would have loved to implement those changes while he was chairman, but "his daddy wouldn't let him." (General Colin Powell)

Unfortunately, one of my readers believed it. (I should've known better than to kid about something as serious as BPL.) And to make matters worse, that one reader worked for our state's emergency management agency. And he wrote an angry letter to his congressional representative, based on the crap I'd made up about the FCC.

Not good. I was mortified, and he was angry at first, but did come around in the end. Even managed to laugh about it. But I learned my lesson. Every April issue after that had numerous disclaimers to prevent something like that from happening again.

OK, in honor of the day, I'm gonna fill you in on some of the best April Fools jokes ever played:

  • In 1957, a TV show on BBC announced that due to a mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. Accompanying the report was some footage allegedly showing Swiss farmers pulling strands of spaghetti from the trees. Anybody fooled? It would appear so. The station received a barrage of calls from people wanting to know how to grow their own spaghetti at home.
  • In 1985, Sports Illustrated played a good one. They ran a story about a rookie pitcher named Finch who'd been signed by the Mets. Said he could throw a ball an amazing 168 mph, and that he'd mastered this never-before-achieved skill while living in a Tibetan monastery. Anybody buy this story? Well, let's just say that the Mets fans' celebrations were short-lived.
  • In 1996, Taco Bell outraged U.S. citizens when it announced that it had purchased the Liberty Bell, and was going to rename it-- you guessed it-- the Taco Bell. When Mike McCurry, who was White House press secretary at the time, was asked about it, he said the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, and was about to be renamed the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
  • In 1962, Sweden only had one TV channel, which broadcast in black and white. The station's tech expert announced on the April first newscast that newly developed technology now made it possible for viewers to convert their TVs to receive in color. All they had to do is pull a nylon stocking over the screen.
  • In 1977, a British newspaper included a seven-page supplement in celebration of the 10th anniversary of San Serriffe, a small republic in the Indian Ocean, which allegedly consisted of several semi-colon shaped islands. The articles went into great detail about the geography and culture of the two main islands: Upper Caise and Lower Caise.
  • In 1976, Patrick Moore, a British astronomer, told his rapt radio listeners about an upcoming once-in-a-lifetime astronomical occurrence. He claimed that at precisely 9:47 AM, Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, and this would cause a brief gravitational realignment that would reduce gravity on Earth. He said, if they jumped in the air at that exact time, they'd experience a floating sensation. Did anybody believe him? Well, he WAS a very well-respected astronomer. Hundreds of people called the radio station later to report that they'd felt the sensation.
  • In 1992, NPR announced that Richard Nixon was running for president again. His new campaign slogan? "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." To enhance the believability of the story, they ran sound clips of "Nixon" announcing his candidacy, provided by impersonator Rich Little. Surely, nobody bought that story, right? Wrong. The station was flooded with calls from outraged listeners.
  • In 1998, a newsletter, titled New Mexicans for Science and Reason, included an article claiming that the state of Alabama had changed the value of pi from 3.14159  to the "Biblical value" of 3.0.
  • In 1995, Discover magazine wrote that an Italian biologist by the name of Aprile Pazzo had discovered a new species in Antarctica. Said species was to be named the hot headed ice borer. These creatures were described as having bony plates on their head that became so hot, the critters were able to zip through the ice in a highly effective technique for hunting penguins. P.S. In Italian, Aprile Pazzo means April fool.
  • In 1998, Burger King ran an ad in USA Today about the introduction of the "left-Handed Whopper." In honor of the approximately 32 million lefties in the country, the new burger would include the same ingredients as the usual whopper, but the condiments would be rotated 180 degrees. Surely, everyone got a good laugh out of this and then moved on, right? Not so. Would you believe the burger chain received thousands of requests for the new burger, as well as orders for the original "right-handed" version?

                                        Now, I don't care who you are ... that stuff's FUNNY!

OK, 'nuff for now. I hope you all have a wonderful day. Don't let the jokesters get ya!

                           Take care of yourselves. And each other. Seeya next month!

The greatest lesson in life is to know that even fools are right sometimes. [Winston Churchill]

April 1st: this is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. [Mark Twain]

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something. [Plato]

Better to remain silent and be thought the fool than to speak and remove all doubt. [Abraham Lincoln]

Friday, March 25, 2016

Digging for Treasure

Thought for the day:  Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. [Chinese proverb]

There's all kinds of treasures in this world. Learning is definitely one of them, and one that I value highly, but when you were a kid, did you ever dig for buried treasure? Only things I ever found were pretty rocks and fat wiggly worms, which inevitably led to a different kind of quest... for fish.

Well how about if I tell you about someone else's tenacity in solving a mystery, and his successful search for buried treasure that led to a whole new world of learning?

The roots for this story were set before the Civil War, when steamboats were a vital part of America's economy, moving goods and people up and down her mighty rivers. This picture, sent to me by a friend, is a rendition of the steamship Arabia, who happens to be the star of our tale.

On September 5, 1856, this steamboat, on a voyage to deliver two hundred tons of cargo and one hundred and thirty passengers to sixteen different frontier towns, hit a submerged tree, ripped a hole in its hull, and in a matter of minutes, sank to the muddy bottom of the Missouri River. All human passengers survived; the sole fatality was a hapless mule.

The boat, like other steamboats that had met the same fate, was believed to be lost forever.

A river is more than an amenity; it is a treasure. [Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.]

[picture by David Hawley]
In this case, as the years went by, the treasured Missouri River wasn't the one hiding the Arabia. 

A local amateur treasure hunter named Bob Hawley was particularly intrigued by this missing steamboat and the mysterious cargo she held.  He knew the course of the river had shifted decidedly eastward over the years, and based on extensive research, he and his sons surmised in 1987 that the missing Arabia might be located in the middle of a Kansas City cornfield. The farmer graciously agreed to let them search and dig in his field... as long as they were done in time for spring planting. They were. After Hawley's metal detector pinged the boat's boilers, with the use of heavy equipment, he, his sons, and some other family members and friends, uncovered the missing boat four months later... forty-five feet down, and a half mile from the current riverbanks. In the course of their work, they removed twenty thousand gallons of water from the site.

The location of the boat isn't the most amazing part. The most amazing part is the condition of its contents. Buried under the mud for over 130 years, the goods were beautifully preserved, serving as a time capsule from the past, and showing us more about the needs of day-to-day living in frontier American than any history book alone could ever do. The remarkably preserved contents of this boat included clothing, tools, guns, food products, dishes, jewelry, wine, window glass, French perfume, lumber, a couple of prefab houses, a sawmill, and a case of cognac.

The past is a treasure chest filled with learning opportunities for our present and future, but only if we look inside. [Kevin Eikenberry]

Great idea! Shall we...?

This fine china was still preserved in its original yellow packing straw.


And not just a FEW dishes were found, either. LOTS of dishes were found, as you can see from this picture taken inside of the Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City.

Here's a glimpse at some of the recovered clothing.

You probably know that calico was a very popular fabric for making dresses back then, but most of the calico dresses didn't fare too well during their time spent in the mud. However, these porcelain buttons, printed to match the dresses they adorned, survived beautifully.

Many guns and knives were recovered.

Check out this spiffy-looking rubber shoe.

And a beaver-skin hat. Naturally waterproof!

The world's oldest pickles? Because there was no air reaching the foodstuffs, it was surmised that the jars of food were still edible. To test that theory, one brave escavator ate one of the pickles. According to him, the 130+ year old pickle still tasted fresh. 

These signs hang inside of the Steamboat Arabia museum in Kansas City. Alas, most of us will never have the opportunity to visit that museum in person, but rather than me posting more pictures, how about something much better?

                                                          A video taken inside the museum!

What an amazing story, and what an amazing place to visit... even if only vicariously.

                            Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
Time to go digging for some more fun facts.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Mothers of Invention

Thought for the day:  To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. [Thomas Edison]

Thomas Edison is kinda the quintessential inventor, along with a long list of other men you can probably name. Well, Plato may have said Necessity is the mother of invention, but I'm here to tell you that women, who may or may not have been mothers, can and have come up with some pretty doggone amazing inventions, too... things you may have incorrectly assumed were the brain children of men.

The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius. [Sid Caesar]

For example, men have been the undisputed leaders in the automotive industry, but it was a woman named Margaret Wilcox, who made riding in an automobile more cozy with her 1893 invention of the car heater. Thanks to her device, which blew air over the top of the hot engine to warm the tootsies of nineteenth century motorists, women no longer got cold feet when it came to taking a spin with their fellas. Alas, her other invention of the combined clothes and dishwasher didn't catch on, possibly because people weren't enthralled with the idea of their soiled undies sharing a basin with their dinner plates. (Picky, picky, picky.) Another innovation that greatly improved motor vehicles was Mary Anderson's 1903 invention of the windshield wiper. True, we no longer have to manipulate a lever by hand to sweep a rubber blade over the windshield, but her ideas cleared the way for motorized versions.

I don't think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness— to save oneself trouble. [Agatha Christie]

To save oneself trouble? Maybe, but what's wrong with creating labor-saving devices? Like the dishwasher, for example. It should come as no surprise that a woman invented that. I mean, really. It was probably much easier for Josephine Cochran to invent the machine in 1887 than it was to get her husband's keister out in the kitchen to lend her a hand. The story has it that she and her husband liked to throw dinner parties, and she was so angry to find her servants had chipped some of her fine china while washing it after one of those parties, she swore they would never handle it again. (Somehow, I don't believe they were terribly upset at the thought of shedding this chore, do you?) That resulted in her spending time with her hands plunged into hot soapy water, a task she disliked so much, she turned her attention toward inventing something that could solve her problem. When other ladies weren't interested in purchasing her amazing machine, (Why should they? That's why they had servants...) she marketed it to hotels and restaurants. Even created a company to keep up with demand, which later became part of Kitchen Aid.

A woman is also credited with inventing the first electrical refrigerator. Florence Parpart accomplished this wondrous feat in 1914, and I'm sure her inspired creation had nothing to do with the fact that her ice man may have cometh late one time too many.

If you've read any of the studies about how the opinion of men and women differs when it comes to a comfortable room temperature, you shouldn't be surprised a woman name Alice Parker, who was probably sick and tired of having to wear a sweater in her own house, came up with the idea for gas-powered central heating in 1919. Although her unit was never manufactured, her idea allowed for the use of natural gas to heat homes, leading to the systems still used today. I thought, perhaps, that a menopausal woman might have come up with the first air conditioning unit, but I was wrong. It was a guy named Willis Carrier. ( Inspired by his wife or mother's hot flashes, perhaps...?)

[photo credit: Dupont Corporation]
Let's consider a few inventions made by the fairer sex that addressed some safety concerns, shall we? In this picture is Stephanie Kwolek, the brilliant chemist who discovered kevlar in 1965... the five times stronger than steel material that is used to make bullet-proof vests. Then there's Anna Connelly, who invented the fire escape in 1887, a lifesaver for countless apartment-dwelling people all over the world. Just as important as a means of safe escape from a burning building, so too is the safe escape from a sinking ship. Maria Beasley provided that with her invention of a life raft in 1880. She also invented a foot warmer, a steam generator, an anti-derailment device for trains, and a machine that makes barrels. She bore no responsibility, however, for the idiots who chose to crawl inside of one of those nifty barrels to plunge over Niagara Falls.

[photo credit: Harvard school of design library]
Think solar panels are a recent innovation? Think again. Chemist Dr. Maria Telkes was experimenting with solar energy from 1939 until '53. In addition to her many other accomplishments, her successful and much-acclaimed Dover Sun House, built in 1949, was the first home built that employed her solar heating system. Telkes is on the left, and at right is Eleanor Raymond, the architect who worked with her to make the house a reality.


Anybody else remember working with room-sized computers? Yeah, we really have come a long way, baby. In the '40s, Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, who in addition to being a computer scientist, was also a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, invented COBOL, the first user-friendly computer software for businesses. She is allegedly also the first person to use the word bug in referring to a computer system glitch... and with good reason. She literally found a live bug inside of her computer... to be specific, a moth... which was wreaking havoc with the system.


This is a rather romantic-looking portrait of Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. She, too, was a writer, but she was also a mathematician. She worked with Charles Babbage on an early mechanical general-purpose computer called the Analytical Engine, and her notes revealed the first algorithm intended to be carried out by machine, making her the world's first known computer programmer. (circa 1842)

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world– those who understand binary, and those who don't. 


The Analytical Engine, which is currently housed in London's Science Museum.

[wikipedia ]

Old movie buffs may recognize the oh-so glamorous Hedy Lamarr from this 1940 photo of her from MGM. But she was far from being just a pretty face. During WWII, she devised a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedoes. Based on spread spectrum frequency-hopping, this innovative technology paved the way for everything from WiFi to GPS.

Here's another invention you might be surprised to know came from a woman. Closed circuit TV. In the sixties, Marie Van Brittain Brown worked as a New York nurse, and often worked the night shift, leaving her home alone during the day in a neighborhood riddled with crime and a notoriously slow police response time. With her husband Albert, she devised a device in 1969 comprised of a movable camera that could peer through any of  four peepholes in the front door, and sent the images to a monitor in her bedroom. Not only could she move the camera to see who was at the door, she could communicate with them verbally, remotely unlock the door, and hit an alarm button, if need be.

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson has been at the forefront of an impressive number of innovations in telecommunications technology. Things like portable fax machines, touchtone telephones, solar cells, fiber optic cables, and the technology behind caller ID and call-waiting. This nuclear physicist has done research with the Fermi National Accelerator Labs, was a visiting scientist at CERN, worked at Bell Laboratories, and taught at Rutgers University. She also chaired the Nuclear Regulation Commission, and has been the president of the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute since 1999. (whew!)


This game board remind you of anything? It's The Landlord's Game, created by Elizabeth Magio in 1904 as a tool to teach about the injustices of unchecked capitalism. She was denied a patent when she first applied for it, on the basis that the game was too complicated. Didn't stop others from building on her idea to create their own versions of it... including Charles Darrow, who successfully sold his game to Parker Brothers as Monopoly in 1934, and allegedly made millions of dollars. As for Ms. Magio, the company later compensated her, too, to the tune of five hundred bucks.

Another gal who almost had her idea stolen is Margaret Knight, who invented a machine in 1871 that folded and glued paper to make square-bottomed bags. The cad who tried to steal her idea claimed that no woman could invent something so brilliant. Luckily for her, not only was she brilliant enough to invent the machine, she was also brilliant enough to be able to prove it. Not only was she the first woman to get a patent in the United States, she became the holder of 87 of them in her lifetime, including one for a safety device for cotton mills, which she invented at the age of twelve, and which is still used today. Yep, when it came to her smarts, she had it... in the bag.

Ninkasi, Sumerian goddess of brewing and beer [wikipedia]

Women are also credited with some rather fun creations, too. Like an ice cream maker! Nancy Johnson came up with that one in 1843, and thanks to her, we can all enjoy a gallon pint nice little dessert dish of ice cream whenever we'd like.

Okay, if you men aren't duly impressed with any of the items mentioned thus far, maybe this one will make you sit up and take notice. According to beer historians, (Who even knew there was such a thing?!) Mesopotamian women were the first to develop, sell, and drink... beer.

Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.  [Dave Barry]

                                       Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Thanks to Mr. Whyatt for graciously granting permission to post his cartoons on my blog from time to time.