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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thursday links

It's St. Bartholomew's Day - some history (including the massacre), a brief documentary, and Monty Python.




Movie Roles That Were Only Ever Offered To One Actor.

The Stanford Professor Who Fought the Tax Lobby.

ICYMI. Wednesday's links are here, and include some of the dumbest inventions of the 20th Century, Gene Kelly's birthday, NASA's plan to save the earth from a supervolcano, and a 1957 film on how grocery stores work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Extremely cool - wind-propelled sculptures

From Theo Jansen's Strandbeest Webshop, set to "Spartacus Ballet Suite No. 2: Adagio" by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov/John Fraser. Miniature Strandbeest kits are available on Amazon - see Mythbusters' Adam Savage putting one together below.


August 24: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii in A.D. 79

Plaster casts of people who died (buried by ashfall) in
Pompeii during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius
He [Pliny the Elder] was at Misenum* in his capacity as commander of the fleet on the 24th of August, when between two or three in the afternoon my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance. He had had a sunbath, then a cold bath, and was reclining after dinner with his books. He called for his shoes and climbed up to where he could get the best view of the phenomenon. The cloud was rising from a mountain - at such a distance we couldn't tell which - but afterwards learned that it was Vesuvius. I can best describe its shape by likening it to a pine tree. 

Vesuvius viewed from the ruins of Pompeii
It rose into the sky on a very long "trunk" from which spread some "branches." I imagine it had been raised by a sudden blast, which then weakened, leaving the cloud unsupported so that its own weight caused it to spread sideways. Some of the cloud was white, in other parts there were dark patches of dirt and ash. The sight of it made the scientist in my uncle determined to see it from closer at hand.

~ Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (Pliny the Younger (wiki)) (letter to Tacitus, ca A.D. 95, describing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the death of Pliny the Elder (wiki)) 


Natura vero nihil hominibus brevitate vitae preaestitit melius.

~ Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) (Historia naturalis, VII, 50, 168)  

(Nature has granted man no better gift than the shortness of life.)

Today is the anniversary of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and the death of Pliny the Elder (born A.D. 23) in that event. The eruption, which followed several years of precursor ground movements, buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and is thought to have killed as many as 15,000 people. 

A view of Naples at the height of the eruption of Mount 
Vesuvius in 1944. Photo by Melvin C. Shaffer
Subsequent major eruptions occurred in 1631, 1906, and 1944, the last just after the Allies had taken the city of Naples in World War II. Pliny the Elder is remembered primarily for his "Natural History," a comprehensive compendium of ancient knowledge of the natural world. His scientific curiosity led him to take ship across the Bay of Naples to see the Vesuvius eruption at close quarters, and he was killed there by ash and poisonous fumes from the volcano. The account of his nephew and adopted son, Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-ca. 114), is the only eyewitness description we have of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and it goes on to provide further detail about on-site conditions near the disaster and his own experiences farther afield. 

* N.B. Misenum (near modern-day Bacoli) was on the opposite shore of the Bay of Naples from Mount Vesuvius. During ancient times, it was Rome's principal naval base on the west coast of Italy. 

Here's a brief re-enactment:


If you have some time, this BBC documentary is worth it:


And a newsreel about the eruption in 1944:


Recommended reading:

I first read Pliny the Younger's account of  the eruption in the excellent Eyewitness to History, a book that I've also given to several kids and grandkids. 

The thoroughly engaging novel Pompeii by Robert Harris is the story of a Roman engineer trying to repair an aqueduct in the lead-up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Full of interesting technical and historical detail.

Wednesday links

It's Gene Kelly's birthday: here the famous "Singin' In The Rain" dance.




NASA's ambitious plan to save Earth from a supervolcano.


ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include a latitude/longitude digits explainer, ranking sci-fi spacesuits, a Navy SEAL explains what to do if you're attacked by a dog, and the weird journey of Dorothy Parker's ashes.

Monday, August 21, 2017

This 1957 film on how grocery stores work is a hoot

The joys of shopping at a new-fangled supermarket in 1957: If you’re a baby boomer who went grocery shopping with Mom back when you were a young whippersnapper, this will bring back memories. Watch all the way to the end to see how much an this mother paid for a shopping cart full of groceries in 1957 - the total is at 10:40 if you don't have the patience to sit through the whole shopping trip.

Monday links


Latitude/longitude digits explainer: The 5th decimal place is worth up to 1.1 meters: it distinguishes trees from each other.


It's Dorothy Parker's birthday: quotes, poems, a brief bio, and the weird journey of her ashes.

18 Science Fiction Spacesuits, Ranked. They may look cool, but how safe and usable would they be in real life?


ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include hundred year old fruitcake, all about Genghis Khan, the invention of the Illuminati conspiracy, and gin infused with vintage Harley-Davidson parts.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday links

The Polish Doctors Who Used Science to Outwit the Nazis.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Genghis Khan: founder of the Mongolian Empire, prolific spreader of DNA, and climate change hero. Related: Why Genghis Khan’s tomb can’t be found.


ICYMI, Thursday's links are here, and include a still-updating set of solar eclipse links and resources, a brief history of mooning, Davy Crockett's birthday, and a bunch of recipe videos in the styles of famous directors.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's the anniversary of the death of Genghis Khan: founder of the Mongolian Empire, prolific spreader of DNA, Conan the Barbarian inspiration, and climate change hero

Roused by the lash of his own stubborn tail
Our lion will now foreign foes assail.
~John Dryden (Astraea Redux)

Heaven has abandoned China owing to its haughtiness and extravagant luxury. But I, living in the northern wilderness, have not inordinate passions. I hate luxury and exercise moderation. I have only one coat and one food. I eat the same food and am dressed in the same tatters as my humble herdsmen. I consider the people my children*, and take an interest in talented men as if they were my brothers. We always agree in our principles, and we are always united by mutual affection. At military exercises I am always in front, and in time of battle am never behind. In the space of seven years, I have succeeded in accomplishing a great work, and uniting the whole world in one empire. 

The greatest pleasure is to vanquish your enemies and chase them before you, to rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, to ride their horses, and clasp to your bosom their wives and daughters.**

John Wayne as Genghis in The Conqueror
One arrow alone can be easily broken, but many arrows are indestructible.

~Genghis Khan (variously attributed) 

Today is the anniversary of the death of Genghis Khan (wiki) (ca. 1162-1227), the founder and emperor of the Mongol Empire, the largest contiguous empire in history. Born in the Khenti Mountains of modern-day Mongolia, Genghis rose to power amid a grouping of warring tribes in northwest Asia and eventually united them into a powerful nomadic army that conquered most of the Chin empire of northern China (1213-15). Subsequently, from 1218 through 1224, he subjugated Turkistan, Transoxonia, and Afghanistan and raided Persia and eastern Europe. (For a generation after his death, his sons and grandsons pushed the Empire even farther, but ultimately, it fractured into several khanates and faded away.) Genghis Khan was one of history's most inspired - and ruthless - military leaders, yet he is buried in an unmarked grave at some unknown location (Why Genghis Khan’s tomb can’t be found). At one point in his ascendancy he is said to have remarked, 

"Conquering the world on horseback is easy: it is dismounting and governing that is hard."

Conan, not Ghengis
**This is the origin of the similar line in Conan the Barbarian (musical version here): when Conan is asked what is best in life, he responds. "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."

*Many of the people, as it turns out, were his children. Here is an interesting article about the latter-day demographics that resulted from the Mongol conquest:
Genghis Khan, the fearsome Mongolian warrior of the 13th century, may have done more than rule the largest empire in the world; according to a recently published genetic study, he may have helped populate it too.
An international group of geneticists studying Y-chromosome data have found that nearly 8 percent of the men living in the region of the former Mongol empire carry y-chromosomes that are nearly identical. That translates to 0.5 percent of the male population in the world, or roughly 16 million descendants living today.
Mother Nature Network considers him a climate change hero, based on the fact that he killed lots of people (and people are a scourge upon the earth):
"Over the course of the century and a half run of the Mongol Empire, about 22 percent of the world's total land area had been conquered and an estimated 40 million people were slaughtered by the horse-driven, bow-wielding hordes. Depopulation over such a large swathe of land meant that countless numbers of cultivated fields eventually returned to forests."
Not sure why they left out Stalin and Mao.

This map from Wikipedia shows the growth of the Mongol Empire:




Adapted from Ed's Quotation Of The Day, only available via email. If you'd like to be added to his list, leave your email address in the comments.

Friday links


ICYMI, last Friday's links are here, and include an online version of Leonardo da Vinci’s 570-page notebook, a map of the Roman roads of Britain, plane crashes that changed aviation, and Erwin Schrödinger's (he of the famous half-dead cat) birthday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Solar eclipse links and resources

These links are for the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. I'll be updating (at the bottom of the post) as I find interesting stuff - if you have anything you think should be included, leave it in the comments. 

On Monday, Agust 21, the moon will completely eclipse the sun, and people all over the U.S. will be able to watch. NASA has put together an impressive collection of resources and data.

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon, the sun and the Earth all line up such that the moon completely obscures the sun to viewers on part of Earth's surface.
The path and timing of Monday's eclipse:


NASA on how a solar eclipse works:



How to make a pinhole projector out of a cereal box:



Smithsonian Air and Space will have a Solar Eclipse Special: Live From the Path of Totality.

Planning To Watch The Eclipse? Here's What You Need To Protect Your Eyes, and here's an interactive map of libraries giving away glasses for free (until they're gone).

Watching an eclipse - Paris, 1911



585 B. C.: Was the First Eclipse Prediction an Act of Genius, a Brilliant Mistake, or Dumb Luck?


A Century of Eclipse Watching, in Photos

Cool app, just enter your zip code: Here's what you'll see where you live.

5 Tips from NASA for Photographing the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21. The secret is preparing ahead of time.

A history of solar eclipses and bizarre responses to them.

A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really, Really Weird.

5 Mythic Eclipse Monsters Who Mess With the Sun and Moon

The Last Solar Eclipse. There will come a time when the moon is too far away to produce a solar eclipse.



Throughout most of human history, an eclipse was something to fear. The gods were angry, and who knew what would happen next?

Chasing the Total Solar Eclipse From NASA's WB-57F Jets.