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May 2007 Archives

May 31, 2007

The First Digital Image

FirstScanImage.jpg That's it to the right. The first film photo registered by a computer and recreated in pixels—30,976 to be exact. In 1957, Russell Kirsch, a scientist at what is now the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used a drum scanner connected to the SEAC (Standards Electronic Automatic Computer) to scan an image of his three-month-old son Walden.

As I understand it from reading Kirsch’s original report (PDF), the scanner used a very sensitive light-detecting tube called a photomultiplier to translate the parts of the image into black or white square pixels. If light was reflected off a scanned spot on the photo, SEAC registered a 0 (white). If no light signal was received, it’d register a 1 (black).

Kirsch has posted a brief video describing the event. He has a surprise guest too.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology Museum has an online exhibit based on a 1998 report by Kirsch.

Credit: NIST

This Day In History: May 31

This Day in History

1660: Mary Dyer is hanged in Boston, Massachusetts, under a law condemning Quakers.
1790: Pres. George Washington signs the first U.S. copyright law.
1793: The Reign of Terror begins in France, targeting opponents of the French Revolution.
1864: At the Battle of Cold Harbor, VA (May 31 to June 12) the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee are victorious against Union troops under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
1889: After heavy rains cause the Connemaugh River Dam to burst, a huge flood engulfs Johnstown, PA, killing 2,200.
1916: During World War I, the Battle of Jutland is fought between British and German fleets off the Danish coast. Although British losses are greater, Allied supremacy on the North Sea remains unchallenged for the duration of the war.
1955: The Supreme Court orders "all deliberate speed" in the integration of public schools.
1974: After mediation efforts by Henry Kissinger, Israel and Syria sign a truce on the Golan Heights.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 31" »

May 30, 2007

The Other 90 Percent

This morning on the New York Times website, the most e-mailed article spotlights the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum's new exhibit, "Design for the Other 90%." On view in New York through September 23, the exhibition focuses on the ways "designers, engineers, students and professors, architects, and social entrepreneurs from all over the globe are devising cost-effective ways to increase access to food and water, energy, education, healthcare, revenue-generating activities, and affordable transportation for those who most need them."

OLPC.jpgFor example, the Pot-in-Pot cooler—made of two clay pots, water, and sand—creates an affordable and accessible electricity-free refrigeration system for food transportation and preservation. The LifeStraw, a portable water-filtration device, aims to make water safe for 1.1 billion people in the world without permanent access to clean drinking water, at a cost of a few dollars per person. And the durable XO Laptop (at right), the basis of the One Laptop per Child program, costs as little as $100 and can produce its own electricity when its user cranks a handle, pulls a cord, or pushes a pedal.

View more of these ingenious solutions to critical problems at the links below. (Both the LifeStraw and XO Laptop are also featured in the World Almanac for Kids 2008, which will appear on bookshelves in June.)

Design For the Other 90% [Cooper Hewitt]
Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor [NY Times]

This Day In History: May 30

This Day in History

1431: French heroine and leader Joan of Arc is burned at the stake by the English after having been convicted of heresy.
1498: Christopher Columbus sets sail on his third voyage, visiting Trinidad and the coast of Venezuela.
1854: The Kansas-Nebraska Act becomes law, leaving the issue of slavery to the vote of settlers.
1868: Memorial Day is observed for the first time, on the order of Gen. John Alexander Logan, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the American Civil War dead.
1909: The National Conference on the Negro opens, leading to the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
1922: The Lincoln Memorial is dedicated in Washington, DC.
1943: In World War II, the U.S. infantry retakes the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese after 3 weeks of fighting.
1966: The U.S. launches the lunar probe Surveyor 1, which makes a soft landing on the moon and sends back thousands of photographs.
2002: During an emotional ceremony, one final girder is removed from the World Trade Center clean-up site in New York City.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 30" »

May 29, 2007

This Day In History: May 29

This Day in History

1453: In a battle that marks the end of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople falls to the Turks, who rename it Istanbul.
1660: Charles II is restored to the English throne, marking the restoration of the monarchy after 11 years as a commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.
1790: Rhode Island becomes the 13th state to ratify the Constitution.
1848: Wisconsin is admitted to the Union as the 30th state.
1932: World War I veterans launch the Bonus March on Washington, DC, to demand that Congress pay their bonuses in full.
1953: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first mountain climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
1985: British soccer fans go on a rampage at the European Cup Final in Brussels, Belgium , killing some 40 people and injuring 400.
1919: Arthur Eddington confirms Albert Einstein’s light-bending prediction and consequently his theory of relativity.
2002: FBI Director Robert Mueller III announces a sweeping reorganization of the agency to shift its focus from law enforcement to terrorism prevention.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 29" »

May 25, 2007

This Day In History: May 25

This Day in History

1787: The Constitutional Convention opens in Philadelphia , with George Washington presiding.
1793: Stephen T. Badin becomes the first Catholic priest to be ordained in the U.S.
1946: Transjordan (later called Jordan ) is proclaimed an independent kingdom under King Abdullah.
1961: President John F. Kennedy announces his goal to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
1963: 30 African states meeting at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia found the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
1965: Muhammad Ali keeps his world heavyweight boxing title after besting Sonny Liston in just 1 minute, 56 seconds.
1969: The film Midnight Cowboy—the only X-rated movie to ever win an Academy Award—is released.
1979: An American Airlines DC-10 crashes after takeoff from Chicago's O'Hare, killing 275 people.
2003: Israel votes to accept steps outlined in an internationally endorsed "road map" for peace with the Palestinians.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 25" »

May 24, 2007

20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women

9to5.jpgThe Department of Labor has compiled a list of the 20 most common jobs for employed women in 2006, along with median pay for each occupation and the percentage of people in each job who are women. The most common occupation is secretary or administrative assistant, accounting for one in 20 (3.4 million) employed women. I found that nearly half (43.7%) of all employed women hold one of these 20 jobs, most of which involve office and administrative support (10.9 million), sales and retail (6.5 million), or teaching (4.3 million).

Women in these 20 occupations receive $100 less a week in median earnings than the total for all employed women. Out of the 20, Registered nurses are paid the most on average ($971/week) while cashiers are paid the least ($327/week).

The top ten, and number of women in each occupation:

  1. Secretaries and admin. assistants (3,348,000)
  2. Registered Nurses (2,309,000)
  3. Cashiers (2,291,000)
  4. Elementary and middle school teachers (2,220,000)
  5. Retail salespersons (1,740,000)
  6. Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides (1,694,000)
  7. First-line supervisors/managers of retail sales workers (1,436,000)
  8. Waiters and waitresses (1,401,000)
  9. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (1,364,000)
  10. Customer service representatives (1,349,000)

For a more general overview of employment in the U.S., check out pages 101-109 in the 2007 World Almanac.

20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women

The Name Game

223971102_2fa6202dd1_m.jpg Yesterday marked the tercentenary of Carl Linnaeus's birth (May 23, 1707). A medical doctor and botanist, Linnaeus is remembered as the so-called "Father of Taxonomy," because he was one of the first scientists to consistently apply binomial names to life. In other words, Linnaeus is at the root of why every living thing on Earth is classified by a genus and species name—including Homo sapiens. The Wired website has a bunch of interesting features in celebration of Linnaeus's tercentenary, and in examination of the legacy of his work. For example:

He was one of the first to try to scientifically classify humans into different races or species according to place of origin and skin color, placing white Europeans at the top of the heap. He also insisted that creatures like the troglodyte, satyr, hydra and phoenix were real, humanlike creatures.
There's also some discussion of the need for different biological classification systems, such as the Phylogenetic code. It's a pretty fascinating examination of how we classify information about ourselves and the world around us.

Organizing the World in the Age of DNA
What's in a Name? The Future of Life (This link includes a demonstration of an interactive browser that visualizes the taxonomic system.)
Order is in the Eye of the Tagger

Flickr photo by tico_bassie.

This Day In History: May 24

This Day in History

1337: The Hundred Years' War begins with French king Philip VI's seizure of Guyenne from the English.
1819: The Savannah, , the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean, sails from Savannah, Ga., reaching Liverpool, England on June 20.
1822: Ecuador is liberated from Spanish colonial rule when a patriot army triumphs over the Royalist forces at Pichincha.
1830: The first stretch of railroad in the U.S. opens to the public. It runs from Baltimore to Ellicott's Mills, a distance of 21 km (13 mi).
1844: Samuel Morse sends the first official message over a telegraph line--"What hath God wrought?"--from Washington, DC, to Baltimore.
1856: Abolitionist John Brown and his sons kill five pro-slavery adherents at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas.
1883: The Brooklyn Bridge opens in New York City.
1935: The first night baseball game is played, at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, OH.
1962: Scott Carpenter circles the Earth 3 times, in the Aurora 7, becoming the 2nd American to orbit the Earth.
1976: The Concorde, a supersonic transport airplane, begins flights to the U.S., flying from London and Paris to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
1993: Eritrea, formerly part of Ethiopia, becomes independent.
2000: Israel ends its 22-year military occupation of Southern Lebanon.
2001: Senator James Jeffords of Vermont switches his party affiliation from Republican to Independent, breaking a 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate and throwing control of the organization to the Democrats.
2002: Pres. George W. Bush and Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin sign a treaty in Moscow which binds both nations to cut nuclear weapons forces by two-thirds.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 24" »

May 23, 2007

This Day In History: May 23

This Day in History

1498: Italian preacher and reformer Girolamo Savonarola, who helped establish a republic in Florence and fought against the power of the Medici family, is executed.
1533: England's King Henry VIII is divorced from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
1618: Protestants in Prague, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), invade the royal palace, seize two of the king's ministers, and throw them out a window. This act, known as the Defenestration of Prague, is the beginning of a national Protestant uprising.
1701: Anglo-American pirate Captain Kidd is hanged in London, England.
1788: South Carolina becomes the 8th state to ratify the Constitution.
1846: Mexico declares war on the United States.
1900: Sergeant William Harvey Carney is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for an act of heroism during the American Civil War - the first African American to win the award.
1949: The Federal Republic of Germany is officially established from the postwar occupation zones administered by the Western Allies.
1991: The Supreme Court upholds rules barring federally funded family planning clinics from providing information on abortion.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 23" »

May 22, 2007

China's Business Relationship with Sudan

Sudan_divest.jpgMutual fund company Fidelity Investments recently sold off most of its U.S. holdings in PetroChina. The significance of that action lies in the following fact, which the Financial Times points out:
China National Petroleum Corp, PetroChina's state-owned parent company and the country's largest oil and gas enterprise, owns the largest single share in the consortium that dominates Sudan's oil industry, in partnership with other foreign investors.

Investors in holding company Berkshire Hathaway, on the other hand, have voted not to divest shares of PetroChina. A commentary posted on Berkshire Hathaway's Web site states that the company does not believe "divesting our PetroChina holdings would in any way have a beneficial effect on Sudanese behavior" and the ongoing atrocities occurring in that country.

"Darfur Activists Claim Fidelity Success" (Financial Times)
"Should Berkshire Divest PetroChina?" (The Motley Fool)
"Commentary as to Berkshire's Holdings in PetroChina Company Limited" (Berkshire Hathaway)

Previously: Visualizing Genocide

Photo: Sudan Divestment Rally in New York City, 3/10/07, by Genocide Intervention Network.

Record Amount of Taxes Filed Online

efile.gifThe IRS has received a record amount of returns through the Internet this tax season—76,771,000 so far. That’s nearly 60% of all returns, although the agency believes the final number will be closer to 58%. Not surprising, considering that the IRS had to extend the deadline for TurboTax users who saturated Intuit Inc.’s servers on April 17.

2007 Tax Season Sets Records for E-file, Direct Deposit (IRS.gov)

This Day In History: May 22

This Day in History

1807: Former vice president Aaron Burr is indicted for treason.
1856: Anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner is caned and severely injured by a member of the House of Representatives whose uncle Sumner had criticized.
1947: The Truman Doctrine, meant to contain Communism, is signed into law.
1967: The Mister Rogers Neighborhood children's TV show premieres on PBS.
1972: Pres. Richard Nixon arrives in Moscow for a week of summit talks, beginning the first visit by a U.S. president to the city.
1992: Johnny Carson hosts his last appearance on The Tonight Show on TV, after almost 30 years.
2002: 71 year-old former Ku Klux Klansman Bobby Frank Cherry is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1963 Birmingham, AL, church bombing that killed four young black girls.
2003: Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that overthrew Saddam Hussein's regime, the UN Security Council votes 14-0 to lift the sanctions which had been imposed on Iraq following the 1991 Gulf War .

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 22" »

May 21, 2007

Major League Baseball: Salary vs. Performance

teams.jpgIt's always good when your boss sends you a link to check out while at work. It feels sort of like a company-sanctioned recess period. C. Alan Joyce, a man with an abnormal passion for visual representations of numerical data, sent this link over to me the other day knowing full well that I’d be amused. It’s a table that shows team salary vs. performance for all Major League Baseball teams. You can see which teams are getting a good return on the dollars they spent, and which aren’t.

For those of you who have partaken in debates over whether or not MLB needs a salary cap, this is a good table to reference. One thing to note: team salaries change during the season, so the salaries given in the table may not be the most current. However, they’re never that far off and they don’t take away from the overall point of the table.

Salary vs. Performance in Major League Baseball

[Ed. note: Go Mets! -CAJ]

The [Insert Your Name Here] Almanac

personal-almanac.jpgHere at World Almanac HQ, we spend most of our days compiling facts and statistics about large populations in the U.S. and around the world. But there are people out there who focus on much smaller populations... like, say, a population of one. Check out Feltron's 2006 Annual Report for an entertaining look at a year in the life of one man, rendered exclusively in charts and tables. Some of the highlights:
  • Plants killed
  • Museum visits
  • Date first gray hair discovered
  • Air miles traveled
  • Ratio of social:solo dinners
  • Genre distribution of books read

Also worth a look: Craig Robinson's Personal Pies. Not as comprehensive as Feltron's report, but illuminating nonetheless.

Feltron's 2006 Annual Report
Personal Pies

This Day In History: May 21

This Day in History

1856: The free-soil town of Lawrence, KS, is sacked by proslavery protestors from Missouri.
1881: The American Red Cross was established.
1927: Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh reaches Le Bourget airfield in Paris, completing the first nonstop flight from New York in 33 hours.
1972: A Hungarian named Lazlo Toth attacks Michelangelo's sculpture Pieta in Rome, Italy, seriously damaging the Madonna image.
1991: Former Indian Prime Min. Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated by a bomb during a campaign rally.
1998: Following a long and autocratic rule, Indonesian Pres. Suharto resigns amid violent protests. Kipland Kinkel, 15, is arrested in Springfield, OR, and charged with the fatal shootings of his parents and 2 students at his high school.
2003: More than 2,260 people are killed and more than 10,000 injured in an earthquake near Algiers, Algeria.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 21" »

May 20, 2007

This Day In History: May 20

This Day in History

1498: Portuguese explorer and navigator Vasco da Gama becomes the first European to reach India by the sea route, landing in Calicut (now Kozhikode).
1862: Pres. Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act, granting free family farms in the West to settlers.
1902: Cuba gained its independence from Spain.
1922: On the first noteworthy attempt to climb Mt. Everest, British explorers attain a record height of 8225 m (26,985 ft).
1927: Capt. Charles A. Lindbergh leaves Roosevelt Field, NY, in his plane Spirit of St. Louis to begin the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris.
1932: Amelia Earhart leaves Newfoundland, Canada, for Ireland to begin the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman.
1961: The "Freedom Rides" are launched from Washington, DC, across the deep South to protest segregation in interstate transportation.
2002: Formerly part of Indonesia, East Timor becomes fully independent.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 20" »

May 19, 2007

This Day In History: May 19

This Day in History

1536: Anne Boleyn, the 2d wife of England's King Henry VIII, is beheaded.
1906: The Federated Boys' Clubs (later the Boys' Clubs of America ) is founded.
1921: Congress sets a national quota system and sharply curbs immigration.
1962: Marilyn Monroe infamously performed a seductive rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Pres. John F. Kennedy, a week before his birthday.
1984: The Edmonton Oilers ice hockey team win the Stanley Cup, ending the NY Islanders' streak of 4 consecutive NHL titles.
2003: Telecommunications giant WorldCom agrees to pay the SEC $500 million in settlement of civil fraud charges.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 19" »

May 18, 2007

This Day In History: May 18

This Day in History

1291: The last major stronghold of the Crusaders in Palestine , Acre (now Akko, Israel), falls to the armies of the Mameluke dynasty.
1917: A conscription law is passed, requiring the registration of all U.S. males aged 21 to 31.
1933: An act of Congress creates the Tennessee Valley Authority.
1969: The Apollo 10 spacecraft is launched, the first lunar module to orbit the Moon.
1974: India sets off its first nuclear device.
1980: The volcano Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington state after lying dormant for 123 years.
1998: The Department of Justice and 20 states filed an antitrust case against Microsoft.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 18" »

May 17, 2007

Cool Things from Kansas

caryhamm.gif The Kansas State Historical Society has an online counterpart to their collection called Cool Things. And you know what? They really do have some cool things like Carry Nation's Hammer, a dumbbell belonging to George Armstrong Custer, and Mickey Mouse Undies from the 1930s.

Read up on why so many of today's cowboys and cowgirls need to thank Charles Hyer or how Agnes the Frog ran for Douglas County Commissioner in 1986 and received nearly 30% of the vote.

Carry on my wayward Kansas, carry on.

Cool Things (Kansas State Historical Society)

This Day In History: May 17

This Day in History

1792: The New York Stock Exchange is formed.
1875: The first Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.
1954: In the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court unanimously rules that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
1973: The Senate Watergate Committee opens hearings, under Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr.
1987: An Iraqi warplane missile kills 37 sailors on the frigate USS Stark in the Persian Gulf.
1999: Ehud Barak defeats incumbent Israeli Prime Min. Benjamin Netanyahu in national elections.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 17" »

May 16, 2007

Fun With Primary Sources!

hinden.jpgAs discussed before on this blog, the resources available on the National Archives website are pretty incredible. The problem with the site is the sheer volume of their resources—it would take forever to review them all. But the National Archives' multimedia "Eyewitness" exhibit helpfully whittles the collection down to a few dozen original letters, diaries, and recordings documenting eyewitness views on major crises at home and abroad—covering everything from General George Washington's fear of bioterrorism during the American Revolution to George H.W. Bush's firsthand account of Richard Nixon's last hours in the White House.

It's all pretty fascinating, especially the audio recordings, but be advised that some of the content is of a violent or upsetting nature.

Eyewitness: American Originals From the National Archives

Lingering Questions on Climate Change?

sunset.jpgIt’s tough keeping track of all the numbers and data surrounding climate change. It’s even a little tough for me sometimes, a person who has to sift through this stuff week in and week out. There’s always some new crackpot theory or vital piece of research popping up. So for those of you either somewhat confused by or not quite sure about the many facts and myths surrounding climate change, here’s a great article that addresses the “26 most common climate myths and misconceptions," including:

  • It's too cold where I live - warming will be great
  • CO2 isn't the most important greenhouse gas
  • The oceans are cooling
  • It was warmer during the Medieval period, with vineyards in England
  • Mars and Pluto are warming too
  • Many leading scientists question climate change
  • Polar bear numbers are increasing

Good stuff there for both the expert and lay person.

Link: “Climate Change: A Guide for the Perplexed,” May 16, 2007, NewScientist.com.

Image from watch4u's Flickr stream.

This Day In History: May 16

This Day in History

1863: Union forces under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant defeat the Confederates at the Battle of Champion's Hill, MS.
1868: President Andrew Johnson is acquitted in his impeachment trial by one Senate vote.
1929: The first Academy Awards are presented.
1974: Helmut Schmidt becomes chancellor of West Germany.
1992: The space shuttle Endeavour completes its first mission, which included a 3-person spacewalk.
2003: More than a dozen suicide bombers carry out 5 separate attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, killing 29.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 16" »

May 15, 2007

What Type of Technology User Are You?

chex-mailz.JPG To coincide with their new report, the Pew Internet & American Life Project has created a survey to let you figure out what type of technology user you are. I most closely resemble the “Omnivores” typology group:
Members of this group use their extensive suite of technology tools to do an enormous range of things online, on the go, and with their cell phones. Omnivores are highly engaged with video online and digital content. Between blogging, maintaining their Web pages, remixing digital content, or posting their creations to their websites, they are creative participants in cyberspace.

Quiz: Where Do You Fit?
Report: A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

(LOLcat from icanhascheezburger.com)

Robinson and Reese

The beginning of the 2007 MLB season marked the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first season in the majors. As we all know, Robinson was the first black athlete to play in the majors, and he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. During that difficult season, on May 14, 1947, one of the greatest moments in sports history took place. The Brooklyn Dodgers rolled into Cincinnati for a two-game series against against the Reds at Crosley Field. During the second game of the series (a day game following a night game), white racists in the stands yelled nasty racial insults at Robinson, who stood at first base. When the insults grew louder, Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ team captain and shortstop--and a white southerner himself--did something that sent a message to those hecklers and to his teammates as well.

You can get the full story on page 237 of the 2008 edition of The World Almanac for Kids, on sale June 26. Pre-order your copy now...and in the meantime, get a few more takes on the story at the links below.

Standing Beside Jackie Robinson, Reese Helped Change Baseball,New York Times, March 31, 1997
Pee Wee Reese Obituary, The Sporting News, August 23, 1999, via findarticles.com

This Day In History: May 15

This Day in History

1525: At the Battle of Frankenhausen, Thomas Münzer, a Protestant reformer and leader of peasant revolts, is taken prisoner and later executed.
1911: The Supreme Court dissolves Standard Oil Co.
1918: The U.S. launched its first regular airmail service.
1947: Congress approves Pres. Harry Truman's request for aid to combat Communist terrorism in Greece and Turkey, launching what becomes known as the Truman Doctrine.
1955: Ten years after the end of World War II, the USSR, the U.S., Great Britain, and France sign the State Treaty with Austria, formally reestablishing the Austrian republic.
1970: Pres. Richard Nixon names the first 2 female generals in U.S. history.
1972: While campaigning in Laurel, MD, for the Democratic presidential nomination, Alabama Gov. George Wallace is shot and seriously wounded by Arthur Bremer.
1988: Soviet troops begin withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 15" »

May 14, 2007

This Day In History: May 14

This Day in History

1607: Jamestown, VA, is founded, becoming the first permanent English settlement in America.
1796: English physician Edward Jenner begins an experiment that leads to his discovery of the smallpox vaccine.
1804: The Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis to explore the Northwest.
1940: In World War II, the Dutch army surrenders to Germany several hours after the bombing of Rotterdam.
1942: The Women's Army Corps is established.
1948: Israel is proclaimed an independent state.
1973: Skylab, the first U.S. space station, is launched.
2002: NATO and Russia agree on a partnership deal that will increase Russia's influence in NATO affairs without admitting it as an equal partner.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 14" »

May 13, 2007

This Day In History: May 13

This Day in History

1846: Following a border clash, the United States declares war on Mexico.
1940: As Nazi Germany’s conquest of France begins, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives his first speech to Parliament, rallying support for the Allied cause.
1943: During World War II, the Allies declare victory in North Africa over the Germans and Italians in Tunis.
1981: Pope John Paul II is seriously wounded by an escaped Turkish murderer, Mehmet Ali Agca, while riding in an open vehicle through Rome's St. Peter's Square.
1985: Police efforts to evict the radical group MOVE from a Philadelphia house result in a shootout and fire, leaving 11 dead and destroying 2 city blocks.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 13" »

May 12, 2007

This Day In History: May 12

This Day in History

1780: During the American Revolution , Charleston, SC falls to the British.
1932: The son of Charles Lindbergh , kidnapped on March 1, is found dead.
1949: The Soviet blockade of West Berlin, begun in June 1948, is lifted.
1975: Cambodian forces seize the U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez in the Gulf of Siam.
2003: Four al-Qaeda-instigated bomb attacks kill 34 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, including 9 Americans.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 12" »

May 11, 2007

A Citadel of Civilization

Bird%20in%20Space.jpgThat's what President Franklin Roosevelt called the Museum of Modern Art when it first opened at its current digs, 11 West 53rd St. in New York City, on May 10, 1939. "Crush individuality in society and you crush art as well,” Roosevelt said in the radio address. “In encouraging the creation and enjoyment of beautiful things we are furthering democracy itself. That is why this museum is a citadel of civilization." Take that, fascists!

The opening exhibition, entitled "Art in Our Time," was timed to coincide with the influx of tourists to the World’s Fair in nearby Flushing, Queens. Planned as a summary of modern art since the late 1800s, it included pieces by many artists that still make the MOMA a popular destination: Alexander Calder, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Duchamp, and Picasso to name a few.

MOMA has a very nice online archive of its art. I found a New York Times article from 1939, in which the museum’s first director, Alfred Barr Jr., chose some examples from "Art in Our Time" that he believed were good examples of modern art. I can’t reproduce the page here, but I found most of the pieces on the MOMA website, like Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” (right).

Click through for the rest, with Barr’s remarks.

Continue reading "A Citadel of Civilization" »

This Day In History: May 11

This Day in History

1858: Minnesota is admitted to the Union as the 32d state.
1894: The Pullman strike begins at a railroad car plant in Chicago.
1969: The Battle of Hamburger Hill begins during the Vietnam War. Americans suffer heavy casualties.
1996: A ValuJet DC-9 crashes in the Everglades, killing all 110 aboard.
1997: World chess champion Garry Kasparov is defeated by a computer, IBM's Deep Blue, in a 6-game match.
2003: The New York Times newspaper reveals that at least half of the 73 national news articles penned by former reporter Jayson Blair contain serious errors and fabrications.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 11" »

May 10, 2007

This Day In History: May 10

This Day in History

1775: The Green Mountain Boys under Col. Ethan Allen capture Fort Ticonderoga, NY, from the British. The Second Continental Congress convenes at Philadelphia, PA.
1849: A riot involving a rivalry between actors takes place at the Astor Place Theatre, New York City. 22 persons are killed and 36 are injured.
1857: The Sepoy Mutiny, an uprising of the native troops employed by the English East India Co. begins near Delhi, India.
1869: The transcontinental railroad is completed as a golden spike is driven at Promontory, UT, marking the junction of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific.
1871: A final treaty is signed ending the Franco-Prussian War. France loses much of Alsace and Lorraine and pays a large war indemnity.
1940: Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Great Britain.
1948: To avert a nationwide strike, Pres. Harry Truman orders the Army to operate the railroads.
1968: Peace talks aimed at ending the war in Vietnam begin in Paris.
1994: Nationalist leader Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as president of South Africa.
2002: Israeli forces end their 39-day siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem after an agreement is reached with Palestinian forces hiding inside the church.

Continue reading "This Day In History: May 10" »

May 9, 2007

The Five-Second Rule

seconds.jpg With a nod to Vincent's earlier post on bacteria-eating maggots, some more food for (unappetizing) thought: the Five-Second Rule, a hallowed hallmark of elementary-school cafeterias everywhere, has officially been debunked. According to an article published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, we really shouldn't be comforting ourselves with the notion that dropped food, picked up in less than five seconds, is clean enough to eat (unless you'd be willing to eat off the floor itself).

The authors of the article build on the work of Jillian Clarke, who as a high school intern pioneered research on the Five-Second Rule, for which she received the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in public health. (The Ig Nobel is bestowed on scientists whose research "first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK.") Among Clarke's findings? Sweet treats are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than vegetables.

The Five-Second Rule, or How Dirty is That Bologna [NYT]
Clarke's Findings
Journal of Applied Microbiology [article abstract]

Photo from cavitationjunkie's flickr stream

This Day In History: May 9

This Day in History

1862: During the Civil War , Confederate forces evacuate Norfolk, VA, leaving valuable material behind for the Union troops to claim.
1907: Mother's Day is unofficially observed for the first time.
1936: Italian dictator Benito Mussolini formally annexes Ethiopia and proclaims King Victor Emmanuel III emperor.
1950: French foreign minister Robert Schuman presents his proposal for European integration, called the "Schuman declaration."
1961: Newton Minow, newly appointed chairman of the FCC, gives a speech to broadcasters in which he described network TV as a "vast wasteland."
1972: During the Vietnam War , the United States begins mining Haiphong and other North Vietnamese ports.
1974: The House Judiciary Committee opens impeachment hearings against Pres. Richard Nixon.

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May 8, 2007

This Day In History: May 8

This Day in History

1864: Union forces under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee fight inconclusively and with heavy losses at Spotsylvania Courthouse in Virginia, just days after the Battle of the Wilderness.
1886: The first Coca-Cola is sold in Atlanta, GA.
1902: The eruption of Mont Pelée, a volcano on the island of Martinique, destroys the city of Saint-Pierre and kills about 30,000 people.
1945: At the end of World War II , Americans celebrate Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day.
1953: Pres. Dwight Eisenhower announces that the United States has given France $60 million for fighting the Indochina War.
1954: After a 55-day siege by Viet Minh forces, the French surrender the fortress of Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam.
1972: Pres. Richard Nixon announces United States will begin mining North Vietnamese ports.
1973: A standoff in South Dakota between federal authorities and American Indian Movement activists ends with the surrender of the activists.
1984: The Soviet Union announces it will not participate in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, fearing uncontrolled anti-Soviet protests.
1987: Democrat Gary Hart pulls out of the 1988 U.S. presidential race.

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May 7, 2007

Medicinal Maggots

You may have seen that delightful scene in Gladiator when one of the slave guys uses maggots to clean Russell Crowe’s character’s wound. It may seem the stuff of somebody's deranged imagination, but it's not. Maggots, or fly larva, have been used to clean wounds since ancient times. The way it works is that the little larva wriggle around in the wound, eating away the dead skin and bacteria that lead to infection. After a while, hopefully once treatment is over, the maggots turn into flies and, well, fly away. Gruesome stuff, but highly effective according to researchers at the University of Manchester in England who put maggots to the test. In their study, whose abstract can be found here, the doctors found that maggots are highly effective in stemming MRSA infections, which is a huge concern in hospitals. The patients who were tested suffered from ulcers on their toes due to complications from diabetes, but the researchers think that maggots can be used to treat almost any other open wound on the body where the risk of infection is high.

"Larval therapy: a novel treatment in eliminating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from diabetic foot ulcers (abstract)," February 2007, Diabetes Care.
"Maggots Rid Patients Of Antibiotic-resistant Infection, MRSA," May 5, 2007, Science Daily . WARNING: In this link, there's a particularly disgusting up-close photo showing maggot therapy on an open wound located a patient's toe.

This Day In History: May 7

This Day in History

1915: The British ship Lusitania, traveling from New York to Liverpool, is torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland.
1942: The Battle of the Coral Sea, a two-day air engagement of World War II near Australia, marks a turning point in the war because it effectively checks the Japanese advance to the south.
1945: Germany unconditionally surrenders in World War II.
1984: Vietnam War veterans reach an out-of-court settlement with 7 chemical companies in a class-action suit over the herbicide Agent Orange.
1992: The 27th Amendment, finally ratified 203 years after it was written by James Madison, provides that any pay raise Congress votes itself will not take effect until after an intervening congressional election.
1999: A U.S. Stealth bomber accidentally bombs the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Serbia during air raids on the city, killing 3 Chinese citizens and wounding 27 people.
2000: Acting Pres. Vladimir Putin is sworn in for a full term as Russian president.

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May 6, 2007

This Day In History: May 6

This Day in History

1835: The first issue of the New York Herald newspaper is published by James Bennett.
1915: Babe Ruth hits his first major league homer for the Boston Red Sox baseball team in a game against the NY Yankees.
1935: The New Deal's Works Progress Administration is instituted.
1937: The dirigible Hindenburg explodes while landing in New Jersey after a transatlantic flight, killing 36 people.
1942: In World War II, the Japanese take Corregidor in the Philippines.
1954: Roger Bannister runs the first sub-4 minute mile.
1994: The Channel Tunnel , linking England and France, is inaugurated.
2003: Retired diplomat L. Paul Bremer 3rd is named civilian administrator in Iraq.

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May 5, 2007

This Day In History: May 5

This Day in History

1862: The Mexican army defeats the French army in the battle of Puebla; this day later becomes the "Cinco de Mayo" holiday.
1864: In the two-day Battle of the Wilderness, the Union forces under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant suffer heavy losses against Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's army, but do not retreat.
1891: Carnegie Hall (then the Music Hall) has its grand opening, with Peter Tchaikovsky as guest conductor.
1893: The stock market crashes, setting off a financial panic and 4 years of economic depression.
1895: The first American comic strip, drawn by Richard Felton Outcault, appears in the New York Sunday World.
1904: Cy Young becomes the first baseball player in major league history to pitch a perfect game.
1961: Alan Shepard lifts off from Cape Canaveral, FL, in the Freedom 7, the first Mercury mission, and becomes the first American in space.
1985: Pres. Ronald Reagan arouses controversy when he visits a German military cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany .
1987: Congress begins holding hearings on the Iran-Contra affair.
2002: Incumbent French Pres. Jacques Chirac trounces right-wing Jean Marie Le Pen in the second round of balloting, garnering 82 percent of the vote.
2003: India and Pakistan restore diplomatic ties.

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May 4, 2007

How's Your Air?

469939617_67fdb65cda_m.jpg The American Lung Association just released its 2007 State of the Air report, which tracks levels of particle pollution and ozone in the air nationwide. Air pollution doesn't just contribute to global warming; it also can have a serious effect on a person's health, in both the short- and long-term. According to the report, 46 percent of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

Ten Most Polluted Cities (Short-Term Particle Pollution)
1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA
2. Pittsburgh-New Castle, PA
3. Fresno-Madera, CA
4. Bakersfield, CA
5. Logan, UT-ID
6. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, AL
7. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, UT
8. Detroit-Warren-Flint, MI
9. Eugene-Springfield, OR
10. Cleveland-Akron-Elyria, OH

Look up the status of your city, county, or state, or find more information about the health effects of air pollution in the full report at the links below.

State of the Air: 2007 [customizable]
Cleanest and Most-Polluted Cities and Counties
Health Effects of Ozone and Particle Pollution

NASA photo of pollution in the atmosphere over Northern New York.

Lincoln's Long Funeral Procession

Lincoln.jpgPres. Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, but his body didn’t rest until May 4, when he was buried in his hometown of Springfield, IL. In between was an epic 1,662-mile, 14-day funeral procession by railroad that passed through 442 communities in nine states. The winding route actually retraced, in reverse, Lincoln’s “whistle stop” tour to Washington D.C. before his inauguration in 1861.

That gave mourners (and opportunists) plenty of time to make mourning badges, ribbons, cards, poems, and other mementos. The Smithsonian has some examples in their Life and Death in the White House online exhibit. It seems that many state and local historical societies have their own collections.

I was surprised by how many people wrote funeral marches. The Library of Congress has digitized the sheet music of several compositions.

This Day In History: May 4

This Day in History

1493: Pope Alexander VI defines the spheres of Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the New World by drawing the Line of Demarcation.
1494: Christopher Columbus reaches Jamaica.
1776: Rhode Island becomes the first colony to officially abandon allegiance to Great Britain.
1886: Following bitter labor unrest, a riot and bombing occur in Chicago's Haymarket Square, leaving 7 police and 4 workers dead.
1961: Militant students joined James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to conduct "Freedom Rides" on public transportation in the South.
1970: At Ohio's Kent State University, 4 students are shot and killed by the National Guard during a protest against the Vietnam War.
1989: Former National Security Adviser Oliver North is convicted on 3 of 12 charges related to the Iran-Contra affair . (The decision was later reversed.)
2000: The National Park Service starts a "prescribed burn" in New Mexico which devours 50,000 acres, destroys 400 homes, and comes within 300 yards of a plutonium storage facility at Los Alamos.

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May 3, 2007

Visualization of the Day (#2): Wikipedia's 100 Most Visited

chart-wikipedia.jpg Not quite as earth-shattering as today's first visualization, but still interesting: a detailed paper that compares monthly lists of the 100 most visited Wikipedia pages for the months from Sept. 2006 to Jan. 2007, using a variety of visualization techniques to tease out interesting trends:
Using the Cluster View, it becomes apparent that topics related to “Sexuality” represent a large percentage of the pages that are contained in all five lists (see Figure 2). Using the Spiral View, pages related to “Entertainment”, such as music, films or video games, are becoming increasingly frequent as you move away from the display center (see Figure 3). There are also many pages related “Geography”, such specific countries or places. Further, pages that are related to “Politics”, such as political figures, or to “History”, such as wars and specific events, represent a major group of popular Wikipedia pages.

Specifically, pages about “World War I”, “World War II” and the “Vietnam War” are highly visited in Wikipedia. However, the current war in Iraq is not represented by a set of pages that make it into the Top 100 in any of the months studied.

Visualizing the Overlap Between the 100 Most Visited Pages on Wikipedia for September 2006 to January 2007 (firstmonday.org)

Image: Spiral View of 230 unique Wikipedia pages that are contained in the monthly “Top 100” lists for September 2006 to January 2007

Visualization of the Day (#1): Mammal "Supertree"

chart-mammals.jpg An international team of researchers has produced a new family tree for mammals, showing relationships between different mammal groups and when they diverged from each other. According to Kate Jones, from the Zoological Society of London:
The [supertree] is a new way of showing all the mammal species on the planet, starting with a common ancestor. Species relationships can be inferred from morphological characteristics and genetic sequences.

If we had done this from scratch, we would have had to get molecular and morphological data for 4,000 different species.

What we did instead was use already published information from hundreds of researchers around the world. We used a new technique called supertree construction which allows us to get all the information that's out there, re-code it and re-analyse it as if it's all part of one dataset.

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Paying for Your Incarceration

jail-cell.jpg In at least two counties in Utah, if a person is incarcerated for a misdemeanor that results in a jail sentence, that person will be presented with a bill after their time has been served. What is the bill for?


As reported in this Daily Herald (Provo, Utah) article, Utah County and Cache County are billing inmates for their room and board to offset the cost of housing them. This applies only to people convicted of misdemeanors and not most federal crimes.

In general, county governments have to pay for incarcerating misdemeanants, while the federal government picks up the bill for federal crimes. Faced with budget problems, these counties decided to have the inmates pick up some of the cost.

One thing we can all take away from the article is this: if you’re planning on committing a misdemeanor that may result in jail time, do it in Utah County, where your stay will cost only $10 per day. In Cache County, you'll be billed $43 per day. Not good if you’re serving a 30-day sentence.

Jail May Start Charging ‘Rent,’Daily Herald, May 3, 2007 (Provo, Utah).

Image from bradleyjames's Flickr stream

This Day In History: May 3

This Day in History

1936: Joe DiMaggio gets 3 hits in his major league baseball debut for the NY Yankees.
1946: A war-crimes trial against Japanese leaders in World War II opens in Tokyo , Japan.
1979: Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female prime minister of Britain .
1999: The northern and southern plains states are struck by 76 tornadoes , which cause some 50 deaths and more than 700 injuries.
2001: The United States is voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the first time since the organization's inception in 1947.
2002: As the economic downturn continues, U.S. unemployment hits 6 percent, an 8-year high.

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May 2, 2007

The Birth of Spam (And I Forgot to Get a Present!)

362270357_63d4d50f88_m.jpgAccording to Wired, today we celebrate the birth of spam, or unsolicited bulk e-mail, which now accounts for more than 80 percent of e-mail messages sent. (Not to be confused, of course, with the Hormel spiced ham SPAM®, which is considerably older. Hormel's take on being associated with the bane of Inboxes everywhere can be found here.)

The first piece of bulk e-mail was written May 1, 1978 and sent to more than 400 people the next day via ARPAnet, the precursor to today's Internet. The e-mail announced the product presentations of a new computer system. More interesting than the e-mail itself, which you can read here, was this response:






Spam: From Novelty to Nuisance in a Couple of Decades [wired] First Commercial E-mail
Spam [FTC, includes info on the CAN-SPAM Act]

Ethical Considerations in Space Travel

55Cancri.jpgEver watched the original, 1968 version of Planet of the Apes? Remember that scene where they crash land after traveling in deep space, and Charlton Heston's character discovers one of his crew members died while in hibernation because of an air leak in her chamber?

I swear I haven't ruined anything for those who have yet to see the movie, but I was reminded of that scene after reading an Associated Press article from Tuesday. The article details what NASA must consider as it sets its sights farther into the universe:

"How do you get rid of the body of a dead astronaut on a three-year mission to Mars and back?

When should the plug be pulled on a critically ill astronaut who is using up precious oxygen and endangering the rest of the crew? Should NASA employ DNA testing to weed out astronauts who might get a disease on a long flight?"

The article mentions that NASA already has some policies in place, like the amount of radiation an astronaut can safely be exposed to. As for the other stuff, an "ethical framework" will have to be constructed, according to a quote from NASA's chief health and medical officer.

"On Trip to Mars, NASA Must Rethink Death" (AP)
C. Alan Joyce's previous blog entry about The World Almanac's picks for Top 10 Celestial and Space Exploration Events of 2007

Image: Artist's concept of a large, rocky extrasolar planet. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

This Day In History: May 2

This Day in History

1611: The first edition of the King James Bible is published.
1863: The Battle of Chancellorsville, an engagement of the American Civil War, begins near Fredericksburg, Va., and results in a Confederate victory, frustrating Union plans for an assault on Richmond.
1923: Lt. Oakley Kelly and Lt. John A. Macready start the first nonstop transcontinental flight, from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, to Rockwell Field, San Diego, Calif., arriving the next day.
1939: NY Yankees great Lou Gehrig ends his playing streak of 2,130 consecutive baseball games.
1945: The German Nazi government surrenders to the Soviet Union, as Berlin falls to Red Army troops.
1997: White House and congressional negotiators reach agreement on a pact intended to achieve a balanced federal budget by 2002.
1999: Denver Broncos football team quarterback John Elway, the winningest starting quarterback in NFL history, announces his retirement.

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May 1, 2007

Address Her as "Ma'am" (rhymes with jam)

Queen.jpgEngland’s Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh are in the United States this week to help mark the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia. So brush up on your royal etiquette, because there will be a chance to watch the queen do a walkabout in Richmond (like this) on May 3, present a gift to people of Virginia at Williamsburg on May 4, or show off one of her iconic hats at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 5. Or just wait until the Annie Leibovitz photos of the queen are released (is there anyone she hasn’t photographed?). This is the queen’s fourth official State Visit but technically her fifth time in the U.S. The British Monarchy Media Centre has posted a full curriculum.

80 key facts about The Queen (so you have something to talk about)
America's 400th Anniversary

Appendectomy, Through Your Mouth

An appendectomy, or removal of the appendix, is considered a very simple operation. The surgeon makes a small incision in the patient’s abdomen, cuts through some muscle, finds the appendix, and removes it. The patient feels some discomfort (read: annoying pain) for a few days afterward as the incision heals, and then under normal circumstances, the patient is out the door. Here’s an article about a new technique that involves snaking surgical instruments down the patient’s esophagus, cutting through the stomach lining, and removing the appendix from, well, the inside. It sounds a little unsettling and there are numerous risks: stomach bacteria getting into the body cavity, internal bleeding, possible punctures in places that are best left unpunctures. But there also may be some rewards: no scar, possible lower chance of post operative infection, less recovery time.

Appendix-removal via the mouth leaves no scar,” New Scientist, April 30, 2007.

This Day In History: May 1

This Day in History

1707: England and Scotland unite to form Great Britain.
1739: John Wesley and a group of his followers, meeting in London, England, form the first Methodist society.
1840: Great Britain releases the world's first officially issued adhesive postage stamp , a one-penny denomination universally referred to as the Penny Black.
1862: In the Civil War, Union forces take New Orleans, LA.
1898: During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. naval fleet under George Dewey destroys the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines.
1931: The Empire State Building opens in New York City.
1960: A U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane is shot down over the Soviet Union, and pilot Francis Gary Powers is captured.
1971: Amtrak, established by Congress the previous year, takes over operation of most intercity passenger trains.
1986: Proceedings of the U.S. Senate are televised for the first time.
1991: Baseball player Rickey Henderson breaks the all-time record of 938 career steals set by Lou Brock.
2003: Speaking from the deck of an aircraft carrier, Pres. George W. Bush declares major combat operations in Iraq over.

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About May 2007

This page contains all entries posted to The World Almanac in May 2007. They are listed from newest to oldest.

April 2007 is the previous archive.

June 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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