Friday, 28 February 2014

The Miracle Fibre

Nylon is a generic designation for a family of synthetic polymers known generically as aliphatic polyamides, first produced on February 28, 1935, by Wallace Carothers at DuPont's research facility at the DuPont Experimental Station. Nylon is one of the most commonly used polymers.

Nylon is a thermoplastic, silky material, first used commercially in a nylon-bristled toothbrush (1938), followed more famously by women's stockings ("nylons"; 1940) after being introduced as a fabric at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

Bill Pittendreigh, DuPont, and other individuals and corporations worked diligently during the first few months of World War II to find a way to replace Asian silk and hemp with nylon in parachutes. It was also used to make tires, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies. It was even used in the production of a high-grade paper for U.S. currency. At the outset of the war, cotton accounted for more than 80% of all fibers used and manufactured, and wool fibers accounted for nearly all of the rest. By August 1945, manufactured fibers had taken a market share of 25%, at the expense of cotton. After the war, because of shortages of both silk and nylon, nylon parachute material was sometimes repurposed to make dresses.

Some of the terpolymers based upon nylon are used every day in packaging. Nylon has been used for meat wrappings and sausage sheaths. Nylon was used to make the stock of the Remington Nylon 66 rifle. The frame of the modern Glock pistol is made of a nylon composite.

In the mid-1940s, classical guitarist Andrés Segovia mentioned the shortage of good guitar strings in the United States, particularly his favorite Pirastro catgut strings, to a number of foreign diplomats at a party, including General Lindeman of the British Embassy. A month later, the General presented Segovia with some nylon strings which he had obtained via some members of the DuPont family. Segovia found that although the strings produced a clear sound, they had a faint metallic timbre which he hoped could be eliminated.

Nylon strings were first tried on stage by Olga Coelho in New York in January, 1944.

In 1946, Segovia and string maker Albert Augustine were introduced by their mutual friend Vladimir Bobri, editor of Guitar Review. On the basis of Segovia's interest and Augustine's past experiments, they decided to pursue the development of nylon strings. DuPont, skeptical of the idea, agreed to supply the nylon if Augustine would endeavor to develop and produce the actual strings. After three years of development, Augustine demonstrated a nylon first string whose quality impressed guitarists, including Segovia, in addition to DuPont.

Nylon can be used as the matrix material in composite materials, with reinforcing fibers like glass or carbon fiber; such a composite has a higher density than pure nylon. Such thermoplastic composites (25% to 30% glass fiber) are frequently used in car components next to the engine, such as intake manifolds, where the good heat resistance of such materials makes them feasible competitors to metals.

In 1940, John W. Eckelberry of DuPont stated that the letters "nyl" were arbitrary and the "on" was copied from the suffixes of other fibers such as cotton and rayon. A later publication by DuPont (Context, vol. 7, no. 2, 1978) explained that the name was originally intended to be "No-Run" ("run" meaning "unravel"), but was modified to avoid making such an unjustified claim. Since the products was not really run-proof, the vowels were swapped to produce "nuron", which was changed to "nilon" "to make it sound less like a nerve tonic". For clarity in pronunciation, the "i" was changed to "y".

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Love overcomes the violence of dictatorship

Until early 1943, Nazi officials exempted Jews married to Gentiles or "Aryans" (the Nazi term for German non-Jews) from the so-called Final Solution. In late February of that year, however, during a mass arrest of the last Jews in Berlin, the Gestapo also arrested Jews in intermarriages. This was the most brutal chapter of the expulsion of Jews in Berlin. Without warning, the SS stormed into Berlin's factories and arrested any Jews still working there.

 Simultaneously, all throughout the Reich capital, the Gestapo arrested Jews from their homes. Anyone on the streets wearing the Star of David was also abruptly carted off with the other Jews to huge provisional Collecting Centers in central Berlin, in preparation for massive deportations to Auschwitz.

 The Gestapo called this action simply the "Schlußaktion der Berliner Juden" (Closing Berlin Jew Action). Hitler was offended that so many Jews still lived in Berlin, and the Nazi Party Director for Berlin, Joseph Goebbels, had promised to make Berlin "Judenfrei" (free of Jews) for the Führer's 54th birthday in April. This "Schlußaktion" was, indeed, the beginning of the end for about 8,000 of the 10,000 Berlin Jews arrested in its course. Many who left their houses for what they thought would be a "normal" day of work, without turning back for even a last glance or hug, were to end up shortly in the ovens of Auschwitz, never again to see home or family.

About 2,000 of the arrested Jews who were related to Aryan Germans, however, experienced quite a different fate. They were locked up in a provisional collecting center at Rosenstraße 2-4, an administrative center of the Jewish Community in the heart of Berlin. The Aryan spouses of the interned Jew, who were mostly women, hurried to Rosenstraße, where they discovered a growing crowd of other women whose loved ones had also been kidnapped and imprisoned there. A protest broke out. The women who had gathered by the hundreds at the gate of the improvised detention center began to call out together in a chorus, "Give us our husbands back." They held their protest day and night for a week, as the crowd grew larger day by day.

On different occasions the armed guards between the women and the building imprisoning their loved ones barked a command: "Clear the street or we'll shoot!" This sent the women scrambling pell-mell into the alleys and courtyards in the area. But within minutes they began streaming out again, inexorably drawn to their loved ones. Again and again they were scattered, and again and again they advanced, massed together, and called for their husbands, who heard them and took hope.

The square, according to one witness, "was crammed with people, and the demanding, accusing cries of the women rose above the noise of the traffic like passionate avowals of a love strengthened by the bitterness of life." One woman described her feeling as a protester on the street as one of incredible solidarity with those sharing her fate. Normally people were afraid to show dissent, fearing denunciation, but on the street they knew they were among friends, because they were risking death together. A Gestapo man who no doubt would have heartlessly done his part to deport the Jews imprisoned in the Rosenstraße was so impressed by the people on the streets that, holding up his hands in a victory clasp of solidarity with a Jew about to be released, he pronounced proudly: "You will be released, your relatives protested for you. That is German loyalty."

The headquarters of the Jewish section of the Gestapo was just around the corner, within earshot of the protesters.  Joseph Goebbels, in his role as the Nazi Party Director for Berlin, decided that the simplest way to end the protest was to release the Jews. Goebbels chose not to forcibly tear Jews from Aryans who clearly risked their lives to stay with their Jewish family members, and rationalized that he would deport the Jews later anyway. But the Jews remained. They survived the war in Berlin, registered officially with the police, working in officially authorized jobs, and officially receiving food rations.

The building on Rosenstraße, near Alexanderplatz, in which the men were held, was destroyed during an Allied bombing of Berlin at the end of the war. The original Rosenstraße location is now marked by a rose colored Litfaß column 2–3 meters high, dedicated to the demonstration. Information about this event is posted on the Litfaß column.

In the mid-1980s, Ingeborg Hunzinger, an East German sculptor, created a memorial to those women who took part in the Rosenstraße Protest. The memorial, named "Block der Frauen" (Block of Women), was erected in 1995 in a park not far from the site of the protest. The sculpture shows protesting and mourning women, and an inscription on the back reads: "The strength of civil disobedience, the vigor of love overcomes the violence of dictatorship; Give us our men back; Women were standing here, defeating death; Jewish men were free."


The events of the Rosenstraße protests were made into a film in 2003 by Margarethe von Trotta under the title Rosenstraße.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Boffin Detector

As early as 1886, German physicist Heinrich Hertz showed that radio waves could be reflected from solid objects. In 1895, Alexander Popov, a physics instructor at the Imperial Russian Navy school in Kronstadt, developed an apparatus using a coherer tube for detecting distant lightning strikes. The next year, he added a spark-gap transmitter. In 1897, while testing this equipment for communicating between two ships in the Baltic Sea, he took note of an interference beat caused by the passage of a third vessel. In his report, Popov wrote that this phenomenon might be used for detecting objects, but he did nothing more with this observation.

The German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer was the first to use radio waves to detect "the presence of distant metallic objects". In 1904 he demonstrated the feasibility of detecting a ship in dense fog, but not its distance from the transmitter. He obtained a patent for his detection device in April 1904 and later a patent for a related amendment for estimating the distance to the ship. He also got a British patent on September 23, 1904 for a full system, that he called a telemobiloscope.

Before the Second World War, researchers in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, independently and in great secrecy, developed technologies that led to the modern version of radar. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa followed prewar Great Britain, and Hungary had similar developments during the war.[

Full radar evolved as a pulsed system, and the first such elementary apparatus was demonstrated in December 1934 by the American Robert M. Page, working at the Naval Research Laboratory. The following year, the United States Army successfully tested a primitive surface-to-surface radar to aim coastal battery search lights at night. This was followed by a pulsed system demonstrated in May 1935 by Rudolf Kühnhold and the firm GEMA in Germany and then one in June 1935 by an Air Ministry team led by Robert A. Watson Watt in Great Britain. Development of radar greatly expanded on 1 September 1936 when Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new establishment under the British Air Ministry, Bawdsey Research Station located in Bawdsey Manor, near Felixstowe, Suffolk. Work there resulted in the design and installation of aircraft detection and tracking stations called Chain Home along the East and South coasts of England in time for the outbreak of World War II in 1939. This system provided the vital advance information that helped the Royal Air Force win the Battle of Britain.


The British were the first to fully exploit radar as a defence against aircraft attack. This was spurred on by fears that the Germans were developing death rays. The Air Ministry asked British scientists in 1934 to investigate the possibility of propagating electromagnetic energy and the likely effect. Following a study, they concluded that a death ray was impractical but that detection of aircraft appeared feasible. Robert Watson Watt's team demonstrated to his superiors the capabilities of a working prototype and then patented the device. It served as the basis for the Chain Home network of radars to defend Great Britain, which detected approaching German aircraft in the Battle of Britain in 1940.

In his English History 1914-1945, historian A. J. P. Taylor paid the highest of praise to Watson-Watt, Sir Henry Tizard and their associates who developed and put in place radar, crediting them with being fundamental to victory in the Second World War.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

How the west was won

A revolver is a repeating firearm that has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. The revolver allows the user to fire multiple rounds without reloading. Each time the user cocks the hammer, the cylinder revolves to align the next chamber and round with the hammer and barrel, which gives this type of firearm its name. In a single-action revolver, the user pulls the hammer back with his free hand or thumb; the trigger pull only releases the hammer. In a double-action revolver, pulling the trigger moves the hammer back, then releases it.

The first guns with multichambered cylinders that revolved to feed one barrel were made in the late 1500s in Europe. They were expensive and rare curiosities. Not until the 1800s would revolvers become practical weapons for non-rich owners. One of the first was a flintlock revolver made by Elisha Collier in 1814. The first percussion cap revolver was invented by the Italian Francesco Antonio Broccu 1833. He received a prize of 300 francs for his invention, although he didn't patent it, his revolver was shown to the King Charles Albert of Sardinia. However, in 1835 a similar gun was patented by Samuel Colt.

In 1836, he founded his first corporation for its manufacture, the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company of Paterson, New Jersey, Colt's Patent. This corporation suffered quality problems in production. Making firearms with interchangeable parts was still rather new (it had reached commercial viability only about a decade before), and it was not yet easy to replicate across different factories. Interchangeability was not complete in the Paterson works, and traditional gunsmithing techniques did not fill the gap entirely there. The Colt Paterson revolver found patchy success and failure; some worked well, while others had problems. The United States Marine Corps and United States Army reported quality problems with these earliest Colt revolvers.

Colt made another attempt at revolver production in 1846 and submitted a prototype to the US government. During the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), this prototype was seen by Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker who made some suggestions to Colt about making it in a larger caliber. Having no factory or machinery to produce the pistols, Samuel Colt collaborated with the Whitney armory of Whitneyville, Connecticut. Colt used a combination of renting the Whitney firm's facilities and subcontracting parts to the firm to continue his pursuit of revolver manufacture.

Colt's new revolvers found favor with Texan volunteers (the progenitors of later Texas Rangers cavalry groups), and they placed an order for 1,000 revolvers that became known as the Colt Walker, ensuring Colt's continuance in manufacturing revolvers. In 1848, Colt was able to start again with a new corporation of his own. He founded the Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut.

The most famous Colt products include the Colt Walker, Single Action Army or Peacemaker, and the Colt Python. John Browning worked for Colt for a time, and came up with a design for a semiautomatic pistol, which debuted as the Colt M1900 pistol and eventually evolved into the Colt M1911 pistol. Though they did not develop it, for a long time Colt was primarily responsible for all AR-15 and M16 rifle production, as well as many derivatives of those firearms. The most successful and famous of these are numerous M16 carbines, including the Colt Commando family, and the M4 carbine.

In 2002, Colt Defense was split off from Colt's Manufacturing Company. Colt Manufacturing Company now serves the civilian market, while Colt Defense serves the law enforcement, military, and private security markets worldwide.

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, first published in 1988 and inspired in part by the life of Prophet Muhammad. As with his previous books, Rushdie used magical realism and relied on contemporary events and people to create his characters. The title refers to the satanic verses, a group of alleged Quranic verses that allow intercessory prayers to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses: Allāt, Uzza, and Manāt. The part of the story that deals with the "satanic verses" was based on accounts from the historians al-Waqidi and al-Tabari.

The Satanic Verses consists of a frame narrative, using elements of magical realism, interlaced with a series of sub-plots that are narrated as dream visions experienced by one of the protagonists. The frame narrative, like many other stories by Rushdie, involves Indian expatriates in contemporary England. The two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, are both actors of Indian Muslim background. Farishta is a Bollywood superstar who specialises in playing Hindu deities. (The character is partly based on Indian film stars Amitabh Bachchan and N. T. Rama Rao.) Chamcha is an emigrant who has broken with his Indian identity and works as a voiceover artist in England.

In the United Kingdom, The Satanic Verses received positive reviews, was a 1988 Booker Prize Finalist (losing to Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda) and won the 1988 Whitbread Award for novel of the year. 

The novel caused great controversy in the Muslim community for what some Muslims believed were blasphemous references. Rushdie was accused of misusing freedom of speech. As the controversy spread, the import of the book was banned in India and it was burned in demonstrations in the United Kingdom. In mid February 1989, following a violent riot against the book in Pakistan, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran and a Shi'a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers, or to point him out to those who can kill him if they cannot themselves. Although the British Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher gave Rushdie round-the-clock police protection, many politicians on both sides were hostile to the author. British Labour MP Keith Vaz led a march through Leicester shortly after he was elected in 1989 calling for the book to be banned, while Conservative MP Norman Tebbit, the party's former chairman, called Rushdie an "outstanding villain" whose "public life has been a record of despicable acts of betrayal of his upbringing, religion, adopted home and nationality".

With police protection, Rushdie escaped direct physical harm, but others associated with his book have suffered violent attacks. Hitoshi Igarashi, its Japanese translator, was stabbed to death on 11 July 1991. Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator, was seriously injured in a stabbing in Milan on 3 July 1991. William Nygaard, the publisher in Norway, was shot three times in an attempted assassination in Oslo in October 1993, but survived. Aziz Nesin, the Turkish translator, was the intended target in the events that led to the Sivas massacre on 2 July 1993 in Sivas, Turkey, which resulted in the deaths of 37 people. Individual purchasers of the book have not been harmed. The only nation with a predominantly Muslim population where the novel remains legal is Turkey.


In September 2012, Rushdie expressed doubt that The Satanic Verses would be published today because of a climate of "fear and nervousness".

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The thirteen days of glory

The Battle of the Alamo (February 23 – March 6, 1836) was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Following a 13-day siege, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near San Antonio de Béxar (modern-day San Antonio, Texas, United States). All of the Texian defenders were killed. Santa Anna's perceived cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians—both Texas settlers and adventurers from the United States—to join the Texian Army. Buoyed by a desire for revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836, ending the revolution.

Several months previously, Texians had driven all Mexican troops out of Mexican Texas. Approximately 100 Texians were then garrisoned at the Alamo. The Texian force grew slightly with the arrival of reinforcements led by eventual Alamo co-commanders James Bowie and William B. Travis. On February 23, approximately 1,500 Mexicans marched into San Antonio de Béxar as the first step in a campaign to retake Texas. For the next 10 days the two armies engaged in several skirmishes with minimal casualties. Aware that his garrison could not withstand an attack by such a large force, Travis wrote multiple letters pleading for more men and supplies, but fewer than 100 reinforcements arrived.

In the early morning hours of March 6, the Mexican Army advanced on the Alamo. After repulsing two attacks, the Texians were unable to fend off a third attack. As Mexican soldiers scaled the walls, most of the Texian soldiers withdrew into interior buildings. Defenders unable to reach these points were slain by the Mexican cavalry as they attempted to escape. Between five and seven Texians may have surrendered; if so, they were quickly executed. Most eyewitness accounts reported between 182 and 257 Texians dead, while most historians of the Alamo agree that around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded. Several noncombatants were sent to Gonzales to spread word of the Texian defeat. The news sparked both a strong rush to join the Texian army and a panic, known as "The Runaway Scrape", in which the Texian army, most settlers, and the new Republic of Texas government fled from the advancing Mexican Army.

Within Mexico, the battle has often been overshadowed by events from the Mexican–American War of 1846–48. In 19th-century Texas, the Alamo complex gradually became known as a battle site rather than a former mission. The Texas Legislature purchased the land and buildings in the early part of the 20th century and designated the Alamo chapel as an official Texas State Shrine. The Alamo is now "the most popular tourist site in Texas". The Alamo has been the subject of numerous non-fiction works beginning in 1843. Most Americans, however, are more familiar with the myths spread by many of the movie and television adaptations, including the 1950s Disney miniseries Davy Crockett and John Wayne's 1960 film The Alamo.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Five Cent Store

The F. W. Woolworth Company (often referred to as Woolworth's, or Woolworth) was a retail company that was one of the original pioneers, and arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime stores, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today.

The first Woolworth store was opened by Frank Winfield Woolworth on February 22, 1878, as "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store" in Utica, New York. Though it initially appeared to be successful, the store soon failed. Searching for a new location, a friend suggested Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Using the same sign from the Utica store, Frank opened his first successful "Woolworth's Great Five Cent Store" on July 18, 1879, in Lancaster. Frank brought his brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, who went by the nickname "Sum", into the business.

The two Woolworth brothers pioneered and developed merchandising, direct purchasing, sales and customer service practices commonly used today. Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th century, increased competition led to its decline beginning in the 1980s. The chain went out of business in July 1997, when the company decided to focus on the Foot Locker division and renamed itself Venator Group. By 2001, the company focused exclusively on the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker, Inc. (NYSE: FL)

Retail chains using the Woolworth name survive in Germany, Austria, Mexico, South Africa and, until the start of 2009, in the United Kingdom. The similarly named Woolworths supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand are operated by Australia's largest retail company Woolworths Limited, a separate company with no historical links to the F. W. Woolworth Company or Foot Locker, Inc. However, Woolworths Limited did take their name from the original company, as it had not been registered or trademarked in Australia at the time.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles

The Communist Manifesto (Das Kommunistische Manifest), originally titled Manifesto of the Communist Party (German: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei), is a short 1848 publication written by the political theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It has since been recognized as one of the world's most influential political manuscripts. Commissioned by the Communist League, it laid out the League's purposes and program. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and present) and the problems of capitalism, rather than a prediction of communism's potential future forms.

The book contains Marx and Engels' theories about the nature of society and politics, that in their own words, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". It also briefly features their ideas for how the capitalist society of the time would eventually be replaced by socialism, and then eventually communism.

The Communist Manifesto was first published (in German) in London by a group of German political refugees in 1848. It was also serialised at around the same time in a German-language London newspaper, the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung. The first English translation was produced by Helen Macfarlane in 1850, and the book was first published in the United States by Stephen Pearl Andrews. The Manifesto went through a number of editions from 1872 to 1890; notable new prefaces were written by Marx and Engels for the 1872 German edition, the 1882 Russian edition, the 1883 French edition, and the 1888 English edition. The 1910 edition, translated by Samuel Moore with the assistance of Engels, has been the most commonly used English text since.

However, some recent English editions, such as Phil Gasper's annotated "road map" (Haymarket Books, 2006), have used a slightly modified text in response to criticisms of the Moore translation made by Hal Draper in his 1994 history of the Manifesto, The Adventures of the "Communist Manifesto" (Center for Socialist History, 1994).


In late 2010, Red Quill Books announced the release of a modern, illustrated "comic book" version of the Communist Manifesto in four parts.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Mir - Peace

Mir (Russian lit. Peace or World) was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, owned at first by the Soviet Union and then by Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It had a greater mass than that of any previous spacecraft.

It held the record for the largest artificial satellite orbiting the Earth until that record was surpassed by the International Space Station after Mir's deorbit on 21 March 2001. Mir served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology and spacecraft systems in order to develop technologies required for the permanent occupation of space.

The station was the first consistently inhabited long-term research station in space and was operated by a series of long-duration crews. The Mir programme held the record for the longest uninterrupted human presence in space, at 3,644 days, until 23 October 2010 (when it was surpassed by the ISS), and it currently holds the record for the longest single human spaceflight, of Valeri Polyakov, at 437 days 18 hours. Mir was occupied for a total of twelve and a half years of its fifteen-year lifespan, having the capacity to support a resident crew of three, and larger crews for short-term visits.

Following the success of the Salyut programme, Mir represented the next stage in the Soviet Union's space station programme. The first module of the station, known as the core module or base block, was launched in 1986, and was followed by six further modules, all launched by Proton rockets (with the exception of the docking module). When complete, the station consisted of seven pressurised modules and several unpressurised components. Power was provided by several photovoltaic arrays mounted directly on the modules. The station was maintained at an orbit between 296 km (184 mi) and 421 km (262 mi) altitude and traveled at an average speed of 27,700 km/h (17,200 mph), completing 15.7 orbits per day.

The station was launched as part of the Soviet Union's manned spaceflight programme effort to maintain a long-term research outpost in space, and, following the collapse of the USSR, was operated by the new Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA). As a result, the vast majority of the station's crew were Soviet or Russian; however, through international collaborations, including the Intercosmos, Euromir and Shuttle-Mir programmes, the station was made accessible to astronauts from North America, several European nations and Japan. The cost of the Mir programme was estimated by former RKA General Director Yuri Koptev in 2001 as $4.2 billion over its lifetime (including development, assembly and orbital operation). The station was serviced by Soyuz spacecraft, Progress spacecraft and U.S. Space Shuttles, and was visited by astronauts and cosmonauts from 12 different nations.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Heretic!

Constantius II (Latin: Flavius Julius Constantius Augustus; 7 August 317 – 3 November 361) was Roman Emperor from 337 to 361. The second son of Constantine I and Fausta, he ascended to the throne with his brothers Constantine II and Constans upon their father's death.

In 340, Constantius' brothers clashed over the western provinces of the empire. The resulting conflict left Constantine II dead and Constans as ruler of the west until he was overthrown and assassinated in 350 by the usurper Magnentius. Unwilling to accept Magnentius as co-ruler, Constantius defeated him at the battles of Mursa Major and Mons Seleucus. Magnentius committed suicide after the latter, leaving Constantius as sole ruler of the empire.

His subsequent military campaigns against Germanic tribes were successful: he defeated the Alamanni in 354 and campaigned across the Danube against the Quadi and Sarmatians in 357. In contrast, the war in the east against the Sassanids continued with mixed results.

In spite of the some of the edicts issued by Constantius, he was not fanatically anti-pagan – he never made any attempt to disband the various Roman priestly colleges or the Vestal Virgins, he never acted against the various pagan schools, and, at times, he actually made some effort to protect paganism. In fact, he even ordered the election of a priest for Africa. Also, he remained pontifex maximus and was deified by the Roman Senate after his death. His relative moderation toward paganism is reflected by the fact that it was over twenty years after his death, during the reign of Gratian, that any pagan senator protested his treatment of their religion.

Although often considered an Arian, Constantius ultimately preferred a third, compromise version that lay somewhere in between Arianism and the Nicene Creed, retrospectively called Semi-Arianism. During his reign he attempted to mold the Christian church to follow this compromise position, convening several Christian councils. The most notable of these were the Council of Rimini and its twin at Seleuca, which met in 359 and 360 respectively. "Unfortunately for his memory the theologians whose advice he took were ultimately discredited and the malcontents whom he pressed to conform emerged victorious," writes the historian A.H.M. Jones. "The great councils of 359–60 are therefore not reckoned ecumenical in the tradition of the church, and Constantius II is not remembered as a restorer of unity, but as a heretic who arbitrarily imposed his will on the church."

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Par Avion

Airmail (or air mail) is a mail transport service branded and sold on the basis of being airborne. Airmail items typically arrive more quickly than surface mail, and usually cost more to send. Airmail may be the only option for sending mail to some destinations, such as overseas, if the mail cannot wait the time it would take to arrive by ship, sometimes weeks. The Universal Postal Union adopted comprehensive rules for airmail at its 1929 Postal Union Congress in London. Since the official language of the Universal Postal Union is French, airmail items world-wide are often marked Par avion , literally: "by airplane".

Although homing pigeons had long been used to send messages (an activity known as pigeon mail), the first mail to be carried by an air vehicle was on January 7, 1785, on a hot air balloon flight from Dover to France near Calais. It was carried by flown by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries. The letter was written by an American Loyalist William Franklin to his son William Temple Franklin who was serving in a diplomatic role in Paris with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin.

The introduction of the airplane in 1903 generated immediate interest in using them for mail transport. An unofficial airmail flight was conducted by Fred Wiseman, who carried three letters between Petaluma and Santa Rosa, California, on February 17, 1911.


The world's first official airmail flight came the next day, at a large exhibition in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, British India. The organizer of the aviation display, Sir Walter George Windham, was able to secure permission from the postmaster general in India to operate an airmail service in order to generate publicity for the exhibition and to raise money for charity. Mail from people across the region was gathered in at the local church and the first airmail flight was piloted by Henri Pequet, who flew 6,500 letters a distance of 13 km (8.1 mi) from Allahabad, to Naini - the nearest station on the Bombay-Calcutta line to the exhibition. The letters bore an official frank "First Aerial Post, U.P. Exhibition, Allahabad. 1911". The aircraft used, was a Humber-Sommer biplane with about fifty horsepower (37 kW), and it made the journey in thirteen minutes.

The world's first scheduled airmail post service took place in the United Kingdom between the London suburb of Hendon, North London, and the Postmaster General's office in Windsor, Berkshire, on September 9, 1911, as part of the celebrations for King George V's coronation and at the suggestion of Sir Windham, who based his proposal on the successful experiment he had overseen in India.

On December 25th of 1918, the Latécoère Airlines (later becoming the famed Aéropostale) became the first civilian international airmail service, when mail was flown from Toulouse, France, to Barcelona, Spain. Less than 2 months later, on the 19th of February 1919, the airmail service was extended to Casablanca, Morocco, making the Latécoère Airlines the first transcontinental airmail service.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Madame Butterfly

Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The libretto of the opera is based in part on the short story "Madame Butterfly" (1898) by John Luther Long – which in turn was based partially on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and partially on the semi-autographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti. Long's short story was dramatized by David Belasco as a one-act play, Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan (1900). After premiering in New York, Belasco's play moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of 1900.

The original version of the opera, in two acts, had its premiere on 17 February 1904 at La Scala in Milan. It was very poorly received despite the presence of such notable singers as soprano Rosina Storchio, tenor Giovanni Zenatello and baritone Giuseppe De Luca in the lead roles. This was due in large part to the late completion and inadequate time for rehearsals. Puccini revised the opera, splitting the second act into two acts and making other changes. On May 28, 1904, this version was performed in Brescia and was a huge success.

Between 1915 and 1920, Japan's best-known opera singer Tamaki Miura won international fame for her performances as Cio-Cio San. Her statue, along with that of Puccini, can be found in the Glover Garden in Nagasaki, the city where the opera is set.

Madama Butterfly is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire for companies around the world, ranking 7th in the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

When there was nothing on the telly

The Toddlers' Truce was a piece of early British television scheduling policy that required transmissions to terminate for an hour each weekday between 6pm and 7pm. This was from the end of Children's TV to the start of the evening schedule, so that young children could be put to bed.

It may have originated when the BBC resumed television after the end of the war in 1946. The policy remained fairly uncontroversial until ITV began transmission in 1955.At that time the Truce was accepted as policy by the Postmaster General, Earl De La Warr, in the interests of smoothing relations between ITV and the fledgling ITA. The problem became apparent in 1956 when the ITV franchise-holders under the ITA's jurisdiction were struggling to stay in business. As the BBC was (and still is) funded by a TV licence fee, its budget was not related to the number of hours of transmission. Indeed the Truce saved them money. ITV, on the other hand, was funded entirely by advertising and the Truce caused a loss of revenue in the hour's closedown. Supporters of ITV, which had faced strong political opposition, argued that the Truce had little to do with social responsibility and was simply a way to give the BBC an unfair advantage.

The ITA had encouraged the ITV companies (Granada, ABC Television, ATV and Associated-Rediffusion) to seek abolition of the Truce. Action was taken finally in July 1956, probably the result of a lack of effective cooperation between the companies rather than political objection.[original research?] The Postmaster General, Charles Hill, had disliked the policy as an example of the BBC's paternalism toward its audience:

"This restriction seemed to me absurd and I said so. It was the responsibility of parents, not the state, to put their children to bed at the right time... I invited the BBC and the ITA to agree to its abolition."


The BBC could not, however, be persuaded to accept the abolition or even to a compromise of reducing the period to 30 minutes. Hill tired of the disagreement and asked Parliament for the abolition which was agreed on 31 October 1956. However, the BBC and ITA could not even agree a date for the abolition to take place. Hill decided on Saturday, 16 February 1957.

The BBC filled the hour with a music programme, Six-Five Special, from the first Saturday and with the Tonight news magazine from Monday to Friday. The BBC however continued to close from 6.15-7.00pm on Sundays, the time of evening church services, until Songs of Praise was launched on 1 October 1961. Until 1992 this time on Sundays was used for religious programmes on BBC1 and ITV. The 6-7pm slot has since then been devoted to news, especially regional news, in the weekday schedules of both BBC1 and ITV, though Crossroads was also shown in this period in most ITV regions.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Decimal Day

On 15 February 1971, known as Decimal Day, the United Kingdom decimalised the currency.

Under the old currency of pounds, shillings and pence, the pound was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as "old pence"), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latin solidus) in a pound.


Especially in an era before widespread computer use, this meant that monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency, while tourists were also confused by coins such as the "half-crown" (worth two shillings and sixpence, or one eighth of a pound). The loss of value of the currency meant that the penny, was of relatively slight value, while the farthing, which was worth one-quarter of an old penny, had been demonetised on 1 January 1961.

There was a substantial publicity campaign in the weeks before Decimalisation Day, including a song by Max Bygraves called "Decimalisation". The BBC broadcast a series of five-minute programmes, "Decimal Five", to which The Scaffold contributed some specially written tunes. ITV repeatedly broadcast a short drama called Granny Gets The Point, starring Doris Hare, the actress in On The Buses, where an elderly woman who does not understand the new system is taught to use it by her grandson.

Banks received stocks of the new coins in advance and these were issued to retailers shortly before Decimalisation Day to enable them to give change immediately after the changeover. Banks were closed from 3:30 pm Wednesday 10 February 1971 to 10:00 am Monday 15 February, to enable all outstanding cheques and credits in the clearing system to be processed and customers' account balances to be converted from ₤sd to decimal. In many banks the conversion was done manually, as most bank branches were not yet computerised. February had been chosen for Decimal Day because it was the quietest time of the year for the banks, shops, and transport organisations.

Many items were priced in both currencies for some time before and after. Prior to Decimal Day the double pricing was displayed as e.g. 1s(5p); from Decimal Day the order was switched to 5p(1s). For example, this order was used on most football programmes during the 1970-71 season. High denomination (10p, 20p, and 50p) stamps were issued on 17 June 1970. Post offices were issued with very simple training stamps in the same colours as the upcoming decimal stamps.

Decimal Day itself went smoothly. Criticisms included the small size of the new halfpenny coin and the fact that some traders had taken advantage of the transition to raise prices. Some used new pennies as sixpences in vending machines. After 15 February, shops continued to accept payment in old coins, but always issued change in new coins. The old coins were returned to the banks and in this way the bulk of them were quickly taken out of circulation.

The new ½p, 1p and 2p were introduced on 15 February 1971. Within two weeks of Decimal Day, the penny (1d) and threepenny (3d) coins had left circulation and even sixpences were becoming rare. On 31 August 1971, the penny and threepence were officially withdrawn from circulation, ending the transition period.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A hospital for the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up

Great Ormond Street Hospital (informally GOSH or Great Ormond Street, formerly the Hospital for Sick Children) is a children's hospital located in the Bloomsbury area of London, and a part of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust.

At the time of the Hospital’s foundation, the population of London had grown hugely in the preceding decades, following the Industrial Revolution and the end of the wars with Napoleon’s France. This growth was not, however, matched by growth in hospital provision for the City, and the few long-established general hospitals, such as St. Bartholomew’s and Guy’s, struggled to cope with the increase in demand. In these circumstances, the hospital care available to the many thousands of children living in poverty in London was minimal. A survey in 1843 revealed that, of some 2,400 patients in all the London hospitals, only 26 were children under 10 with diseases peculiar to that age; of 51,000 people dying that year in the capital 21,000 were children under ten. It was generally assumed that children were “expendable”, and in any case were better off staying with their mothers, even when seriously ill. What little healthcare that was available before Great Ormond Street Hospital opened was largely provided by various Dispensaries for Women and Children, in modern terms a cross between a pharmacy and a hospital outpatients’ department.

Dr Charles West, the principal founder of Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, was an expert on diseases of women and children. He had trained in medicine at Paris and Bonn, in countries where provision for children’s health was more advanced than in Britain, and where hospitals exclusively for children had long been in existence. In the 1840s, having returned to London, Dr West worked at the Universal Dispensary for Children and Women in Waterloo Road. He was determined to set up England’s first in-patient hospital for children, but failed to persuade the managers of the Dispensary to support his plan. Through his own efforts, and through social contacts made by his fellow doctor, Henry Bence-Jones, a committee was formed in 1850 with support from eminent philanthropists and public health reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury, Baroness Burdett-Coutts and Edwin Chadwick of the Board of Health. By February 1852, sufficient backing had been obtained to open The Hospital for Sick Children at No. 49 Great Ormond Street.

Great Ormond Street Hospital is closely associated with University College London (UCL) and in partnership with the UCL Institute of Child Health, which it is located adjacent to, is the largest centre for research and postgraduate teaching in children’s health in Europe. It is part of both the Great Ormond Street Hospital/UCL Institute of Child Health Biomedical Research Centre and the UCL Partners academic health science centre.

Great Ormond Street Hospital is known internationally for receiving the rights from J. M. Barrie to his play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up in 1929, which have provided significant funding for the institution.

Contrary to popular belief the hospital was not the first specific children's hospital in the World. The National children's Hospital in Dublin was founded over 30 years previously in 1821 but the very first was the Hôpital des Enfants-Malades founded in 1802 on the Rue de Sévres in Paris.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Covering the Senne

The covering of the Senne was one of the defining events in the history of Brussels. The Senne/Zenne (French/Dutch) was historically the main waterway of Brussels, but it became more polluted and less navigable as the city grew. By the second half of the 19th century, it had become a serious health hazard and was filled with pollution, garbage and decaying organic matter. It flooded frequently, inundating the lower town and the working class neighbourhoods which surrounded it.

Numerous proposals were made to remedy this problem, and in 1865, the mayor of Brussels, Jules Anspach, selected a design by architect Léon Suys to cover the river and build a series of grand boulevards and public buildings. The project faced fierce opposition and controversy, mostly due to its cost and the need for expropriation and demolition of working-class neighbourhoods. The construction was contracted to a British company, but control was returned to the government following an embezzlement scandal. This delayed the project, but it was still completed in 1871. Its completion allowed the construction of the modern buildings and boulevards which are central to downtown Brussels today.

In the 1930s, plans were made to cover the Senne along its entire course within the greater Brussels area, which had grown significantly since the covering of the 19th century. The course of the Senne was changed to the downtown's peripheral boulevards. In 1976, the disused tunnels were converted into the north-south axis of Brussels' underground tram system, the premetro. 

Actual purification of the waste water from the Brussels-Capital Region was not completed until March 2007, when two treatment stations were built, thus finally cleansing the Senne after centuries of problems.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

"It's such a New Look!"

The House of Dior was established on 16 December 1946, in "a private house" at 30 Avenue Montaigne Paris B. However, the current Dior corporation celebrates "1947" as the opening year. Dior was financially backed by wealthy businessman Marcel Boussac. The new couture house became a part of "a vertically integrated textile business" already operated by Boussac. Its capital was at FFr 6 million and workforce at 80 employees. The company was really a vanity project for Boussac and was a "majorly owned affiliate of Boussac Saint-Freres S.A. Nevertheless, Monsieur Dior was allowed a then-unusual great part in his namesake label (legal leadership, a non-controlling stake in the firm, and one-third of pretax profits) despite Boussac's reputation as a "control freak". Monsieur Dior's creativity also negotiated him a pleasant salary.

On 12 February 1947, Dior launched his first fashion collection for Spring-Summer 1947. The show of "90 models of his first collection on six mannequins." was presented in the salons of the company's headquarters at 30 Avenue Montaigne. Originally, the two lines were named as "Corolle" and "Huit" (which included the new "Bar suit" silhouette). However, the new collection went down in fashion history as the "New Look" after the editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazaar Carmel Snow's exclamation, "It's such a New Look!" The silhouette was characterised by a small, nipped-in waist and full skirt falling below mid-calf length, which emphasised the bust and hips. At a time of post-war fabric restrictions, Dior used up to twenty yards of extravagant fabrics for his creations, favoring the luxury textiles of Robert Perrier. The New Look became extremely popular, its full-skirted silhouette influencing fashion and other designers well into the 1950s, and Dior gained a number of prominent high-profile clients from Hollywood, the United States and the European aristocracy as a result. Paris, which had fallen from its position as the capital of the fashion world after WWII, regained its esteemed position due in part to the attention it gained from Dior's New Look. The New Look was welcomed in western Europe as a refreshing antidote to the austerity of wartime, and embraced by stylish women such as Princess Margaret in the UK.

Expansion from France began by the end of 1949 with the opening of a Christian Dior boutique in New York City. By the end of the year, Dior fashions made up 75% of Paris's fashion exports and 5% of France's total export revenue.


In 1950, Jacques Rouët, the general manager of Dior Ltd, devised a licensing program to place the now-renowned name of "Christian Dior" visibly on a variety of luxury goods. It was placed first on neckties and soon was placed on hosiery, furs, hats, gloves, handbags, jewelry, lingerie, and scarves. Members of the French Chamber of Couture denounced it as a degrading action for the haute-couture image. Nevertheless, licensing became a profitable move and began a trend to continue "for decades to come", which all couture houses followed.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

"The traumatic transformation of modern society by the First World War and the Fordist assembly line.

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, an English phrase used as the subtitle in the Czech original. It premiered on January 25, 1921 and introduced the word "robot" to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.

R.U.R. quickly became famous and was influential early in the history of its publication. By 1923, it had been translated into thirty languages.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called "robots", out of synthetic organic matter. They are not exactly robots by the current definition of the term; these creatures are closer to the modern idea of cyborgs or even clones, as they may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. They seem happy to work for humans at first, but that changes, and a hostile robot rebellion leads to the extinction of the human race. Čapek later took a different approach to the same theme in War with the Newts, in which non-humans become a servant class in human society.

R.U.R is dark but not without hope, and was successful in its day in both Europe and the United States.

The play introduced the word Robot, which displaced older words such as "automaton" or "android" in languages around the world. In an article in Lidové noviny Karel Čapek named his brother Josef as the true inventor of the word. In its original Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters' lands, and is derived from rab, meaning "slave."

 In 1941 BBC radio presented a radio play version, and in 1948, another television adaptation – this time of the entire play, running to ninety minutes – was screened by the BBC. In this version Radius was played by Patrick Troughton who was later the second actor to play The Doctor in Doctor Who, None of these three productions survive in the BBC's archives. BBC Radio 3 dramatised the play again in 1989, and this version has been released commercially.

One critic has described Čapek's Robots as epitomizing "the traumatic transformation of modern society by the First World War and the Fordist assembly line.".






Monday, 10 February 2014

Going for Gold

Music recording sales certification is a system of certifying that a music recording has shipped or sold a certain number of copies. The threshold quantity varies by type (such as album, single, music video) and by nation or territory (see List of music recording certifications).
Almost all countries follow variations of the RIAA certification categories, which are named after precious materials.

The number of sales or shipments required for these awards depends upon the population of the territory in which the recording is released. Typically, they are awarded only to international releases and are awarded individually for each country in which the album is sold. Different sales levels, some perhaps 10 times lower than others, may exist for different music media (for example: videos versus albums, singles, or downloads).

The original gold record awards were presented to artists by their own record companies to publicize their sales achievements. The first of these was awarded by RCA Victor to Glenn Miller in February 1942, celebrating the sale of 1.2 million copies of "Chattanooga Choo Choo". Another example of a company award is the gold record awarded to Elvis Presley in 1956 for one million units sold of his single "Don't Be Cruel". The first gold record for an LP was awarded by RCA Victor to Harry Belafonte in 1957 for the album Calypso (1956), the first album to sell over 1,000,000 copies in RCA's reckoning.


At the industry level, in 1958 the Recording Industry Association of America introduced its gold record award program for records of any kind, albums or singles, which achieved one million dollars in retail sales. For albums in 1968, this would mean shifting approximately 250,000 units; for singles the number would be higher due to their lower retail price.

The platinum certification was introduced in 1976 for the sale of one million units, album or single, with the gold certification redefined to mean sales of 500,000 units, album or single. No album was certified platinum prior to this year. For instance, the recording by Van Cliburn of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto from 1958 would eventually be awarded a platinum citation, but this would not happen for another two decades after its release. In 1999, the diamond certification was introduced for sales of ten million units.

The plaques themselves contain various items under the glass. Modern awards often use CDs instead of records. Most gold and platinum records are actually vinyl records which have been vacuum metallized and tinted, while trimmed and plated metal "masters", "mothers", or "stampers" (metal parts used for pressing records out of vinyl) were initially used. Rarely does the groove on the record match the actual recording being awarded. Individual plaque-makers produced their awards according to available materials and techniques employed by their graphic arts departments. The plaques, depending on size and elaborateness of design, cost anywhere between US$135 and $275, most often ordered and purchased by the record label that issued the original recording.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Third Dimension

HMS Venturer (P68) was a Second World War British submarine. Her most famous mission, however, was her eleventh patrol out of the British submarine base at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands, under the command of 25-year-old Jimmy Launders, which included the only time in the history of naval warfare that one submarine intentionally sank another while both were submerged.

Sent to the Fedje area, Venturer was then ordered on the basis of Enigma decrypts to seek, intercept and destroy U-864 which was in the area. U-864 was carrying a cargo of 65 tonnes of mercury and Messerschmitt jet engine parts to Japan, a mission code-named Operation Caesar.

On 6 February 1945, U-864 passed through the Fedje area without being detected, but on 9 February Venturer heard U-864's engine noise.In an unusually long engagement for a submarine, and in a situation for which neither crew had been trained, Launders waited 45 minutes after first contact before going to action stations. Launders was waiting for U-864 to surface and thus present an easier target. Upon realising they were being followed by the British submarine and that their escort had still not arrived, U-864 zig-zagged underwater in attempted evasive manoeuvres, with each submarine occasionally risking raising her periscope.

Venturer had only eight torpedoes as opposed to the 22 carried by U-864. After three hours Launders decided to make a prediction of U-864's zig-zag, and released a spread of his torpedoes into its predicted course. 

This manual computation of a firing solution against a three-dimensionally manoeuvring target was the first occasion on which techniques were used and became the basis of modern computer-based torpedo targeting systems. Prior to this attack, no target had been sunk by torpedo where the firing ship had to consider the target's position in three dimensional terms, where the depth of the target was variable and not a fixed value. The computation thus differs fundamentally from those performed by analogue torpedo fire-control computers which regarded the target in strictly 2D terms with a constant depth determined by the target's draft.


The torpedoes were released in 17 second intervals beginning at 12:12, and all taking four minutes to reach their target. Launders then dived Venturer suddenly to evade any retaliation. U-864 heard the torpedoes coming, dived deeper, and turned away to avoid them. The first three torpedoes were avoided, but U-864 unknowingly steering into the path of the fourth. Exploding, U-864 split in two, and sank with all hands coming to rest more than 150 m (500 ft) below the surface. 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Devil Walked in Devon

It's a shame the Devil hadn't gone walking in Somerset as that would be a good reason for all the flooding. But no, Devon it was. 

Snow fell all through the wee hours of February 8, 1855, in Southern Devon, a county in south western England.

When the sun rose at last, villagers throughout the county awoke to find a set of strange footprints stretching over 100 miles throughout the county. But it wasn't the length of the track or its sudden appearance that caused the most alarm. It was that the track at one point went right through a 14-foot-high wall, leaving untouched fresh snow on top of the wall. Elsewhere, the track went through a haystack, emerging on the other side. It was also found to enter a 4-inch drainpipe, and continue out the other end. In some places the track stopped inexplicably, only to reappear elsewhere. Most significantly, the track was found to have crossed a two mile stretch of river, picking right up again on the other side as if the maker of the footprints had walked on water. Theories and explanations abounded, until some clergymen suggested that perhaps the devil was on the prowl. From that moment on, the devil was said to have walked in Devon.

The area in which the prints appeared extended from Exmouth, up to Topsham, and across the Exe Estuary to Dawlish and Teignmouth. R.H. Busk, in an article published in Notes and Queries in 1890, stated that footprints also appeared further afield, as far south as Totnes and Torquay, and that there were other reports of the prints as far away as Weymouth (Dorset) and even Lincolnshire.


There were also attendant rumours about sightings of a "devil-like figure" in the Devon area during the scare. Many townspeople armed themselves and attempted to track down the beast responsible, without success.

There is little first-hand evidence of the phenomenon. The only known documents came to light after the publication in 1950 of an article in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association asking for further information about the event. This resulted in the discovery of a collection of papers belonging to Reverend H. T. Ellacombe, the vicar of Clyst St George in the 1850s. These papers included letters addressed to the vicar from his friends, among them the Reverend G. M. Musgrove, the vicar of Withycombe Raleigh; the draft of a letter to The Illustrated London News marked 'not for publication'; and several apparent tracings of the footprints.

Many explanations have been put forward for the incident. Some investigators are sceptical that the tracks really extended for over a hundred miles, arguing that no-one would have been able to follow their entire course in a single day. Another reason for scepticism, as Joe Nickell points out, is that the eye-witness descriptions of the footprints varied from person to person.


In a Fortean Studies article, Mike Dash concluded that there was no one source for the "hoofmarks": some of the tracks were probably hoaxes, some were made by "common quadrupeds" such as donkeys and ponies, and some by wood mice. He admitted, though, that these cannot explain all the reported marks and "the mystery remains"

Friday, 7 February 2014

Fahrenheit 451

In this day and age, where so much of what we presume to know is media driven, I am always keen to go back to first fundamentals. Before the Tom Hanks vehicle based on the Tom Wolfe novel there was an actual historical event.

Bonfire of the Vanities (Italian: Falò delle vanità) refers to the burning of objects that are deemed to be occasions of sin. The most infamous one took place on 7 February 1497, when supporters of the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy, on the Mardi Gras festival.  

Savonarola denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor. He prophesied the coming of a biblical flood and a new Cyrus from the north who would reform the Church. This seemed confirmed when Charles VIII of France invaded Italy and threatened Florence. While Savonarola intervened with the king, the Florentines expelled the ruling Medici and, at the friar’s urging, established a popular republic. Declaring that Florence would be the New Jerusalem, the world center of Christianity and "richer, more powerful, more glorious than ever", he instituted a puritanical campaign, enlisting the active help of Florentine youth.

Ironically Sanonarola was to end up on a bonfire himself. He was condemned as a heretic and schismatic, and sentenced to death. Stripped of his Dominican garments in ritual degradation, he was hung, while a fire was ignited below him. 

Such bonfires were not invented by Savonarola, however. They were a common accompaniment to the outdoor sermons of San Bernardino di Siena in the first half of the century.


The focus of this destruction was nominally on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards, and even musical instruments. Other targets included books that were deemed to be immoral, such as works by Boccaccio, and manuscripts of secular songs, as well as artworks, including paintings and sculpture.

In case we think book burning has gone away, there have been a few notable examples in recent history.

Anthony Comstock's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, founded in 1873, inscribed book burning on its seal, as a worthy goal to be achieved. Comstock's total accomplishment in a long and influential career is estimated to have been the destruction of some 15 tons of books, 284,000 pounds of plates for printing such 'objectionable' books, and nearly 4,000,000 pictures. All of this material was defined as "lewd" by Comstock's very broad definition of the term — which he and his associates successfully lobbied the United States Congress to incorporate in the Comstock Law.

In Azerbaijan, when a modified Latin alphabet was adopted, books published in Arabic script were burned, especially in the late 1920s and 1930s. The texts were not limited to the Quran; medical and historical manuscripts were also destroyed.[6]

Book burning in Chile following the 1973 coup that installed the Pinochet regime in Chile.

Book burnings were organised regularly in Nazi Germany in the 1930s by stormtroopers to destroy degenerate works, especially by Jewish authors such as Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein.

In the 1950s over six tons of books by William Reich were burned in the U.S. under judicial orders.


The advent of the digital age has resulted in an immense collection of written work being catalogued exclusively or primarily in digital form. The intentional deletion or removal of these works has been often referred to as a new form of book burning.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Séamus an Chaca

James II and VII (14 October 1633O.S. – 16 September 1701) was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The second son of Charles I, he ascended the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. Members of Britain's political and religious elite increasingly suspected him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produced a Catholic heir, the tension exploded, and leading nobles called on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew, William III of Orange, to land an invasion army from the Netherlands, which he did. James fled England (and thus was held to have abdicated) in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was replaced by his Protestant elder daughter, Mary II, and her husband, William III. James made one serious attempt to recover his crowns from William and Mary, when he landed in Ireland in 1689 but, after the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamite forces at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returned to France. He lived out the rest of his life as a pretender at a court sponsored by his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV.

Because he deserted his Irish supporters, James became known in Ireland as Séamus an Chaca or 'James the Shit'.

James is best known for struggles with the English Parliament and his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists against the wishes of the Anglican establishment. However, he also continued the persecution of the Presbyterian Covenanters in Scotland. Parliament, opposed to the growth of absolutism that was occurring in other European countries, as well as to the loss of legal supremacy for the Church of England, saw their opposition as a way to preserve what they regarded as traditional English liberties. This tension made James's four-year reign a struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown, resulting in his deposition, the passage of the English Bill of Rights, and the Hanoverian succession.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Lost: One nuclear bomb.

The Tybee Island B-47 crash was an incident on February 5, 1958, in which the United States Air Force lost a 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) Mark 15 nuclear bomb in the waters off Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia, United States. 

During a practice exercise, the B-47 bomber carrying the bomb collided in midair with an F-86 fighter plane. To protect the aircrew from a possible detonation in the event of a crash, the bomb was jettisoned. Following several unsuccessful searches, the bomb was presumed lost somewhere in Wassaw Sound off the shores of Tybee Island.

The B-47 bomber was on a simulated combat mission from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. It was carrying a single 7,600-pound (3,400 kg) bomb. At about 2:00 AM, the B-47 collided with an F-86. The F-86 crashed after the pilot ejected from the plane, but the B-47, although damaged, remained airborne, albeit barely. The crew requested permission to jettison the bomb in order to reduce weight and prevent the bomb from exploding during an emergency landing. Permission was granted, and the bomb was jettisoned at 7,200 feet (2,200 m) while the bomber was traveling at about 200 knots (370 km/h). The crew did not see an explosion when the bomb struck the sea, and managed to land the B-47 safely at the nearest base, Hunter Air Force Base. The pilot, Colonel Howard Richardson, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross after this incident.

To date, no undue levels of unnatural radioactive contamination have been detected in the regional Upper Floridan aquifer by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (over and above the already high levels thought to be due to monazite, a locally occurring sand naturally high in radiation).

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A vision of connecting the world

Mark Zuckerberg wrote a program called Facemash on October 28, 2003 while attending Harvard as a sophomore. According to The Harvard Crimson, the site was comparable to Hot or Not and "used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the 'hotter' person"

To accomplish this, Zuckerberg hacked into protected areas of Harvard's computer network and copied private dormitory ID images. Harvard did not have a student "Facebook" (a directory with photos and basic information) at the time, although individual houses had been issuing their own paper facebooks since the mid-1980s. Facemash attracted 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views in its first four hours online.

The site was quickly forwarded to several campus group list-servers,[clarification needed] but was shut down a few days later by the Harvard administration. Zuckerberg faced expulsion and was charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. Ultimately, the charges were dropped. Zuckerberg expanded on this initial project that semester by creating a social study tool ahead of an art history final. He uploaded 500 Augustan images to a website, and each image was featured with a corresponding comments section. He shared the site with his classmates and people started sharing notes.

The following semester, Zuckerberg began writing code for a new website in January 2004. He said he was inspired by an editorial about the Facemash incident in The Harvard Crimson. On February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched "Thefacebook", originally located at thefacebook.com.

Six days after the site launched, three Harvard seniors (Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra) accused Zuckerberg of intentionally misleading them into believing he would help them build a social network called HarvardConnection.com. They claimed he was instead using their ideas to build a competing product. The three complained to The Harvard Crimson and the newspaper began an investigation. They later filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, subsequently settling in 2008 for 1.2m in shares (worth $300m at Facebook's IPO).

Membership was initially restricted to students of Harvard College; within the first month, more than half the undergraduates at Harvard were registered on the service.  In June 2004, Facebook moved its operations base to Palo Alto, California. It received its first investment later that month from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. In 2005, the company dropped the from its name after purchasing the domain name facebook.com for $200,000.

A high-school version of the site was launched in September 2005, which Zuckerberg called the next logical step. Facebook expanded membership eligibility to employees of several companies, including Apple Inc. and Microsoft. On September 26, 2006, Facebook was opened to everyone at least 13 years old with a valid email address.

In 2012, Facebook was valued at $104 billion, and by January of 2014 its market capitalization had risen to over $134 billion. At the end of January 2014, 1.23 billion users were active on the website every month, while on December 31, 2013, 945 million of this total were identified by the company as mobile users. The company celebrates its tenth anniversary in the week beginning February 3, 2014.


In January 2014, during the week previous to the company's tenth anniversary, chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, clarified: "He [Mark] always said Facebook was started not just to be a company, but to fulfill a vision of connecting the world."