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.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Still Staying Warm

Thought for the day:  Dear Winter, I'm breaking up with you. I think it's time I started seeing other seasons. (Besides, summer is much hotter than you are.)

[courtesy of Seniorark]

Man, I feel like such a fraud. Our temperatures are in the eighties here this week, so it  isn't exactly cold, but it IS still winter... technically... and it's still very cold in some places, right? Right! When I ran the first staying warm post the last Friday in January, it didn't get much love. In fact, it was virtually ignored, possibly because that post didn't show up on anyone's blog roll, as some have told me. Dunno why, but if at first you don't succeed...

Let's see if this second part of the post fares any better. With the official start of spring right around the corner, let's give a nod to winter's last gasps. Before we know it, we'll be bellyaching about the pollen, and how hot it is. In the meantime, here are some more pictures of critters trying to stay warm. Enjoy!

How about a nice cat-serole for dinner?

This bed could use a softer mattress.

How many angels can fit on the head of a pin... how many cats in a sunbeam?

Mom's new heater was the best birthday present ever!

Alternating positions is obviously the most efficient use of the sunshine.

I think I'll sleep right... HERE!

I betcha this one warms your heart.
Now, how cold has it been? It's been so cold...

* Teenagers have pulled up their pants. And put on a jacket!
* When farmers milked their cows, they got ice cream.
* If you can believe it, politicians had their hands in their OWN pockets.
* I saw a dog over on Main Street. The poor thing was frozen to the fire hydrant.
* We have one of those new rain showerheads. I love it, but the other day, when I turned it on, I got hail.
* Smarticus and I ate lunch at a greasy spoon on Wednesday... just for the heartburn.
EVERYBODY had a stiff upper lip.

With all of the snow... and shoveling...  some folks have had to deal with this winter, I present this fictional diary. You may have seen it before, because it's one of those things that's been floating around the Internet for a decade or more:

Diary of a snow shoveler, probable location - North East

December 8 - 6:00 PM

It started to snow.
The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat  for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven.
It looked like a Grandma Moses Print.
So romantic we felt like newlyweds again.
I love snow!
December 9
We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape.
What a fantastic sight!
Can there be a lovelier place in the whole world?
Moving here was the best idea I've ever had!
Shoveled for the first time in years and felt like a boy again.
I did both our driveway and the sidewalks.
This afternoon the snowplow came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I got to shovel again.
What a perfect life!
December 12
The sun has melted all our lovely snow.
Such a disappointment!
My neighbor tells me not to worry- we'll definitely have a white Christmas.
No snow on Christmas would be awful!
Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I'll never want to see snow again
I don't think that's possible.
Bob is such a nice man, I'm glad he's our neighbor.
December 14
Snow, lovely snow! 8 inches last night.
The temperature dropped to -20.
The cold makes everything sparkle so.
The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks.
This is the life!
The snowplow came back this afternoon and buried everything again.
I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly get back in shape this way.
I wish l wouldn't huff and puff so.
December 15

20 inches forecast.
Sold my van and bought a 4x4 Blazer.
Bought snow tires for the wife's car and 2 extra shovels.
Stocked the freezer.
The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out.
I think that's silly.
We aren't in Alaska, after all.
December 16
Ice storm this morning.
Fell on my ass on the ice in the driveway putting down salt.
Hurt like hell.
The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.
December 17
Still way below freezing.
Roads are too icy to go anywhere.
Electricity was off for 5 hours.
I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm.
Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her.
Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her.
God I hate it when she's right.
I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.
December 20
Electricity's back on, but had another 14 inches of the damn stuff last night.
More shoveling!
Took all day.
The damn snowplow came by twice.
Tried to find a neighbor kid to shovel, but they said they're too busy playing hockey.
I think they're lying.
Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they're out.
Might have another shipment in March.
I think they're lying.
Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me.
I think he's lying.
December 22

Bob was right about a white Christmas because 13 more inches of the white   shit fell today, and it's so cold, it probably won't melt till August.
Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to piss.
By the time I got undressed, pissed and dressed again. I was too tired to shovel.
Tried to hire Bob who has a plow on his truck for the rest of the winter, but he says he's too busy.  I think the asshole is lying.
December 23
Only 2 inches of snow today 
And it warmed up to 0.
The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning.
What is she, nuts?!!
Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago?
She says she did but I think she's lying.
December 24
6 inches - Snow packed so hard by snowplow, l broke the shovel.
Thought I was having a heart attack.
If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snow plow, I'll drag him through the snow by his balls and beat him to death with my broken shovel.
I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at a 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over where I've just been!
Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the damn snowplow.
December 25
Merry freaking Christmas!
20 more inches of the damn slop tonight -Snowed in.
The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil.
God, I hate the snow!
Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head with my shovel.
The wife says I have a bad attitude.
I think she's an idiot.
If I have to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" one more time, I'm going to stuff her into the microwave.
December 26
Still snowed in.
Why the hell did I ever move here?
It was all HER idea.
She's really getting on my nerves.
December 27
Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze; plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him, he only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.
December 28
Warmed up to above -20.
Still snowed in.
The BITCH is driving me crazy!!!
December 29
10 more inches.
Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in.
That's the silliest thing I ever heard.   How dumb does he think I am?
December 30
Roof caved in.
I beat up the snow plow driver, and now he is suing me for a million dollars, not only the beating I gave him, but also for trying to shove the broken snow shovel up his ass.
The wife went home to her mother.
Nine more inches predicted.
December 31
I set fire to what's left of the house.
No more shoveling.
January 8
Feel so good.
I just love those little white pills they keep giving me.
Why am I tied to the bed? 


                                                 Chin up! Spring is right around the corner...

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

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Head of Her Time

Thought for the day:  Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels. [Bob Thames]


No, this isn't gonna be a post about dancing... or shoes. Coming up right around the bend, on March 8, is International Women's Day, so what better way to mark it than by writing about some remarkable women? I was going to do a post about some female inventors, but then I remembered the following post, A Woman's Place, which I published on March 8, three years ago. I decided it's well worth a second look, and the lady inventors can just jog in place until later this month. Before we go to ye oldie but goodie re-run, let's kick things off on the right toe-tapping foot, with a little Ginger and Fred, shall we?

Okay, now back to that re-run... about a lady who was both ahead... and a head... of her time.


Thought for the day:  For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.  [Virginia Woolf]

Know what today is...? Give up?

It's International Women's Day. (Yeah... really!) [NOTE: Well, it was when this post first ran... now, it's four days away...]

The tradition started in 1910, but its roots were based in socialism, so for many years, only places like Russia and Eastern Europe paid any attention to it. That is, until 1977, when the U.N. finally climbed aboard, and officially proclaimed March 8 to thereafter be known as
International Women's Day.

So where's my damned cake?

A woman is like a teabag: you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.  [Eleanor Roosevelt]

Okay, no cake to go with my tea. (For now.) Nonetheless, I'll honor the day by telling you a little something about a little-known kick-ass American woman who deserves a spot in our history books.

Okay, quick: Who was the first woman in American history to run for national office?

If you said 1984 V.P. candidate Geraldine Ferraro...

you would be...

 ( Ding-Ding-Ding!) wrong.

She was the first to be nominated by a major party, but would you believe the first woman, who actually ran for President, did so fifty years before women were even granted the right to vote?

I kid you not. That lady had some serious kinda chutzpah.

Yep, her name was Victoria Woodhull, and in 1872, the Equal Rights Party nominated her as its presidential candidate. Equal rights is exactly what she believed in, too... for women, for blacks, and for the working class.A year earlier, she became the first woman in history to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, where she delivered an impassioned and articulate argument for women's suffrage. And she had other radical outside-the-box ideas, too, such as an eight-hour workday, graduated income tax, social welfare programs, and profit-sharing. Not exactly mainstream thinking for her day.

In 1870, before she ran for office, she was the first woman to open a Wall Street brokerage firm. Made a boatload of money, too, some of which she used to become the first woman to found a weekly newspaper. The purpose of the paper was to support her run for office, and its primary interest was feminism. During its six years of publication, the paper covered such taboo topics as sex education, free love, women's suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution.

I used to be Snow White, and then I drifted. [Mae West]

Uh, yeah, I did say free love. Not an orgy-filled, spouse-swapping kind of free love, mind you, although by the way she was treated by many people of her time, you would have thought that's exactly what she was espousing. What she believed in was a woman's right to marry, divorce and bear children as she saw fit... without governmental interference.

At right is a Thomas Nast caricature of Woodhull, depicting her as Mrs. Satan. She's holding a sign that says, Be saved by FREE LOVE, and behind her is a woman, laden with children and a drunken husband. In the caption, the woman tells Mrs. Satan, I'd rather travel the hardest path of matrimony than follow your footsteps. 

See? Not even the women of Woodhull's day supported her ideas. Not that it mattered... they couldn't vote.

Some people think having large breasts makes a woman stupid. Actually, it's quite the opposite: a woman having large breasts makes men stupid.  [Rita Ruder]

Oh, there's a lot more to the story of Victoria Woodhull... like her dabbling in magnetic healing and spiritualism; her friendship with Cornelius Vanderbilt; and why she was thrown into jail two days before the 1872 election... on obscenity charges.

But I said I was only gonna tell you little something about Ms. Woodhull, so suffice it to say, she didn't receive a single electoral vote. Following the election, she said, The truth is that I am too many years ahead of this age and the exalted views and objects of humanitarianism can scarcely be grasped as yet by the unenlightened mind of the average man. 

Okay, so I never said she was humble. But she was right. Many of the reforms she campaigned for, considered extreme and controversial in her time, later came to pass. By the way, know who her running mate was? Frederick Douglass... the first black man nominated for national office.

How do you know if it's time to wash the dishes and clean your house? Look inside your pants. If you see a penis in there, it's not time.  [Jo Brand]

Well, it's not time for me to wash the dishes and clean house, either. Not yet. It's time to bake myself a damned cake. I am woman; hear me roar!

A woman should always know her place. Yep, by golly, a woman's place is in the House... and the Senate... and maybe someday...  the White House.

So on this day, International Women's Day, let us raise a glass to all those wonderful women worldwide, both known and unknown, who spent (and continue to spend) their lives striving to make this world a better place, and who exemplify these words by Maya Angelou: ... you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.

I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.  [Lily Tomlin]

 Before we go, how about another short video? Again, it features Ginger Rogers, but this time... with Lucille Ball. It's bound to put a smile on your face and start the weekend off with a... real big kick.

                                         Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.
                                            (Hey, ladies... why not treat yourselves to a cake?)