Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Mysterious Tunguska Event

Impact of the Tunguska Event

On June 30, 1908, seismic stations all across Europe registered an enormously powerful shock wave, which originated from a location near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. The so-called Tunguska event ever since has challenged the fantasy of scientists, who related it to the impact of a meteor or comet fragment, or even have developed theories that speak of black holes, anti matter or less exotic geothermical hypotheses.

In the morning of June 30, 1908, inhabitants of the sparsely populated area north west of the famous Lake Baikal noticed a blue light, as bright as the sun making its way quickly across the sky. Just a few minuted after, a crash was heard moving from east to north along with a gigantic shock wave. It knocked down entire woods and crashed windows hundreds of kilometers away, even though an explosion was not seen. The shockwave itself is approximately comparable with an earthquake of 5.0 on the Richter scale and as a consequence of the light passing through high-altitude ice particles, the night sky above Asia and Europe was incredibly illuminated.

Surprisingly, the scientific interest on the event was hardly even noticed and the first serious expedition to search for an explanation was sent 17 years later. Leonid Kulik, a Russian mineralogist eventually convinced the government to sponsor his trip. His hypothesis was, that a meteorite impact caused the damage but he was just not able to find a crater and prove his theory.

Today's leading theory considering the cause of the explosion is an air burst of an object passing Earth about 10 kilometers above its surface. Eugene Shoemaker calculated that events like these occur about every 300 years. It was highly discussed, if the event was caused by an asteroid or comet. The comet hypothesis is supported by the glowing of the sky above Europe and Asia and gained lots of acceptance in the 1960's. in 1983, scientist Zdeněk Sekanina published his idea, an asteroid could have been the object they were looking for, which was later supported by further astronomers who noticed that the object presumably came from the asteroid belt. For years, supporters of the asteroid and comet theory battled each other with new findings. Vladimir Alexeev led an expedition on 2010. His team found a crater about which he was able to prove that a gigantic piece of ice caused most damage, which highly supports the comet hypothesis.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short talk by Phil Plait about how to avoid asteroids and comets on Earth in the future.


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Saturday, June 29, 2013

John Gorrie and the Wonders of Air Condition

John Gorrie (1803-1855),
Courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida,
Florida Photographic Collection, RC12666.
On June 29, 1855, American physician, scientist, inventor, and humanitarian John Gorrie passed away. He is considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning. Today, refrigeration as well as air condition has become a commodity. But, the importance of refrigeration to modern civilization as a means for conservation of food cannot be overestimated.

Actually, even already in prehistoric times men was using ice to refrigerate and thus preserve food. Through the ages, the seasonal harvesting of snow and ice was a regular practice of most of the ancient cultures: Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Persians. Ice and snow were stored in caves or dugouts lined with straw or other insulating materials. Rationing of the ice allowed the preservation of foods over the warm periods. This practice worked well through the centuries, with icehouses remaining in use into the 20th century. In the 16th century, the discovery of chemical refrigeration was one of the first steps toward artificial means of refrigeration. Sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate, when added to water, lowered the water temperature and created a sort of refrigeration bath for cooling substances. During the first half of the 19th century, ice harvesting became big business in America. New Englander Frederic Tudor, who became known as the "Ice King", worked on developing better insulation products to ship ice long distances, especially to the tropics.

The technology behind artificial refrigeration depends on thermodynamics, i.e. there is a relation between gas pressure and temperature, which first has been stated French physicist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac in his eponymous gas laws, and has already been observed earlier already by Guillaume Amontons in 1700. If a gas' temperature increases, then so does its pressure if the mass and volume of the gas are held constant. In reverse this means that if the gas`pressure decreases, its temperature will decrease likewise if the mass and volume of the gas are held constant. Thus, artificial refrigeration requires pumps to lower gas pressure inside the refrigerator.

It all started in 1650, when Otto von Guericke designed and built the world's first vacuum pump and created the world's first ever vacuum known as the Magdeburg hemispheres. In 1656, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke built an air pump on Guericke's design and the way was open towards refrigeration. Although this should take another century. The first known method of artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by Scottish physicist William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in 1756. Cullen used a pump to create a partial vacuum over a container of diethyl ether, which then boiled, absorbing heat from the surrounding air. The experiment even created a small amount of ice, but had no practical application at that time.

In 1842, American physician, John Gorrie, designed the first system to refrigerate water to produce ice. John Gorrie was born on the Island of Nevis on October 3, 1803, and spent his childhood in South Carolina. He received his medical education at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York in Fairfield, New York. His medical research involved the study of tropical diseases. At the time the theory that bad air caused diseases was a prevalent hypothesis and based on this theory, he urged draining the swamps and the cooling of sickrooms. For this he cooled rooms with ice in a basin suspended from the ceiling. Cool air, being heavier, flowed down across the patient and through an opening near the floor. Since ice had to be brought by boat from the northern lakes, Gorrie started to experiment with making artificial ice. Thus, Gorrie`s aim was not neccessarely to build a refrigerator to preserve food, but an air condition system to col down rooms and buildings. After being successful with his experiments, he gave up his medical practice after 1845 to pursue further refrigeration projects.

Gorrie`s system used a steam engine to compress air, then partly cooled the hot compressed air with water before allowing it to expand while doing part of the work needed to drive the air compressor. That isentropic expansion cooled the air to a temperature low enough to freeze water and produce ice, or to flow "through a pipe for effecting refrigeration otherwise" as stated in his patent, which was granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 1851. Gorrie successfully built a working prototype, but unfortunately for him his system was a commercial failure. Impoverished, Gorrie sought to raise money to manufacture his machine, but the venture failed when his partner died. Humiliated by criticism, financially ruined, and his health broken, Gorrie died in seclusion on June 29, 1855.

At yovisto you can learn more about the physical principals behind refrigeration: the gas laws of Gay Lussac in a video from

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Peter Paul Rubens and the Baroque Extravaganza

The Three Graces (1635)
by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

On June 28, 1577, German-born Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens was born. He is best known for his extravagant Baroque style that emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality.

Rubens received a good formal education in mostly Latin and literature, starting with his artistic career under Tobias Verhaeght at the age of 14. To exercise, Rubens copied various images, mostly woodcuts and engraving from famous contemporary artists. After he finished his education, Rubens traveled to Italy, first stopping in Venice. The trip highly influenced his later career, as he was fascinated by Titan's and Tintoretto's paintings. He enjoyed their compositions as well as their coloring styles and after the Duke promised the artist a tolerable financial aid, he moved along to Rome and Florence. The Greek and Roman art, he studied during his stay influences his very mature way of painting. Rubens also stated to have been highly inspired by the works of Caravaggio, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, to name just a few. In this period, he completed the altarpiece commission St. Helena with the True Cross. In the following years, Rubens also created several portraits and a book illustration of the palaces of Genoa.

Due to his mother's severe illness, Rubens moved back to Antwerp, becoming a court painter under Albert VII, Archduke of Austria now combining a diplomat and artistic career. Rubens focussed more and more on teaching young talented artists, such as Anthony van Dyck who became famous for his numerous portraits. During these years, famous pictures like 'The Elevation of the Cross' or the portrait of 'Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia' from 1615 were completed, increasing Ruben's fame critically. But his fame also led to many people copying his works, mostly in the Netherlands, but also in Spain, France, and Egnland, wherefore he established a copyright for nearly all of his pictures.

After 1621, Rubens began focussing more and more on his job as a dimplomat, travelling through Europe and being knighted several times and receiving a few honorary dimplomas from several universities he visited. Still, he found time to complete several paintings like the 'Allegory of Peace and War', which he finished in 1629 and gave it to Charles I as a gift.

Rubens' images mostly focussed on religious subjects as he often dedicated his works to churches or members of the church. Also he enjoyed playing with mythological creatures and historical contexts and completed several portraits of friends as well as landscapes. He became widely known for the full figures women he passionately painted, wherefore these styles became known as Rubensian or Rubinesque. His paintings are exhibited in the most prominent art museums around the world and are worth several million dollars.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short documentary lecture on the artist Peter Paul Rubens, as well as detailed information on his most important works and influences.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Augustus de Morgan and Formal Logic

Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871)
On June 27, 1806, British mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan was born. He formulated De Morgan's laws and introduced the term mathematical induction, a method of mathematical proof typically used to establish a given statement for all natural numbers. As a computer scientist, I am of course familiar with De Morgan's laws, which are fundamental for Boolean logic. De Morgan's laws are merely transformation rules for two of the basic operators of logic: conjunction and disjunction. The trick, how De Morgan succeeds to transform a conjunction into a disjunction is by applying negations. But, don't worry. We won't go deeper into that. If you are further interested in the subject, simply refer to the wikipedia article of De Morgan's Laws. Instead, let's take a look at the man Augustus De Morgan.

Augustus De Morgan was born in Madurai, India as son of Colonel Augustus De Morgan of the East India Company. Augustus De Morgan became blind in one eye a month or two after he was born and the family moved to England when Augustus was seven months old. At age ten, Augustus' father died and his mathematical talents went unnoticed until he was fourteen, when a family-friend discovered him making an elaborate drawing of a figure in Euclid with ruler and compasses. His mother being an active and ardent member of the Church of England desired that her son should become a clergyman. In 1823,De Morgan entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he came under the influence of George Peacock, from whom he derived an interest in the renovation of algebra, and William Whewell, who raised his interest in the renovation of logic. He received his Bachelor degree but, because a theological test was required for the Master, something to which De Morgan strongly objected despite being a member of the Church of England, he could go no further at Cambridge being not eligible for a Fellowship without his Master.

The two ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge were so guarded by theological tests that no Jew or Dissenter outside the Church of England could ever be appointed to any position. Thus, De Morgan had to change plans and traveled to London to enter Lincoln’s Inn to study for the Bar, but found law unpalatable. At the age of 21, despite having no mathematical publications, on the strength of the strong recommendations of Peacock and Whewell he was unanimously elected to the chair of mathematics at the newly founded University of London. As being a new institution, the relations of the Council of management, the Senate of professors and the body of students were not well defined at the University of London. A dispute arose between the professor of anatomy and his students, and in consequence of the action taken by the Council, several professors resigned, headed by De Morgan. De Morgan regained his position five years later when his replacement accidentally drowned, and held it for thirty years until 1866.

In 1837 De Morgan married Sophia Elizabeth Frend, with whom he would have seven children. The next year, in his article “Induction” in the Penny Cyclopedia he put “mathematical induction,” a process already in use, on a rigorous and clear basis. De Morgan was a rather prolific writer. Were the writings of De Morgan published in the form of collected works, they would form a small library. Besides his general mathematical writings he wrote biographies of Newton and Halley and published Arithmetical Books, in which he described the work of more than 1,500 mathematicians and discussed the history of various mathematical ideas.

De Morgan never sought to become a Fellow of the Royal Society, and he never attended a meeting of the Society, holding the opinion that it was too much affected by social influences to be an effective scientific institution. His son George, who was a very able and promising mathematician, conceived the idea of founding a Mathematical Society in London. In difference to the Royal Society, the Mathematical Society should not only receive mathematics papers, but actually read and discuss. Founded in 1866 at University College, Augustus De Morgan became its first president. A few years later after the tragic loss of his son and his daughter, De Morgan’s health rapidly declined and he died of nervous exhaustion at his home on March 18, 1871.

By the way, one of Augustus De Morgan's most famous students was Ada Augusta King, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, who should become the assistant of mathematician and computer pioneer Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical general purpose computer...but this is already another story.

At yovisto, you can learn more about formal logics and esp. also about De Morgan's laws in my lecture 'Canonical Forms' from the Spring 2013 OpenHPI course 'Semantic Web Technologies'.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Charles Messier and the Nebulae

Charles Messier
(1730 - 1817)
On June 26, 1730, French astronomer Charles Messier was born. He is best known for his publication of an astronomical catalogue consisting of nebulae and star clusters that came to be known as the 110 "Messier objects". The purpose of the catalogue was to help astronomical observers, in particular comet hunters such as himself, distinguish between permanent and transient visually diffuse objects in the sky.

Charles Messier was born into a prominent family and with 14 years he already showed high interest in astronomy. It is assumed that his first motivations in the field were caused by the observation of the Great Comet of 1744, also known as the Comet Klinkenberg-Chéseaux. It was visible with the naked eye for several months and Messier was immediately fascinated by the object. At the age of 21, he decided to study astronomy in Paris under Nicholas Delisle the main astronomer of the Marines. There he learned to work and observe very precisely while creating celestial charts.

In his mid-30's, Messier established his main interest to be the observation of and search for comets. During his life time he discovered approximately 20 of them. In 1757 he searched for Halley's Comet and found it unfortunately too late due to a calculating error by Delisle. In 1761 he observed the famous transit of Planet Venus as well as several galaxies, star cluster, and nebulas. In 1771, he became Delisle's successor, but lost his position a few years later due to several illnesses.

Messier's work was highly influenced by the publications of Edmond Halley, Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, Jacopo Filippo Maraldi, and Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil. During hiscomet hunt, Messier often tended to mix up real comets with objects outside our solar system. To avoid these in the future, the astronomer established a catalogue with all observed objects. The first one to be recorded was M1 - also known as the Crab Nebula. Even though his catalogue was not the first one in the field, it was the most exact and with 110 entities the most complete to be found. Most objects are still known by the number Messier gave them.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture at Gresham College titled 'Clusters of Galaxies' byCarolin Crawford.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, PhD

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia
(1646 – 1684)

On June 25, 1678, Venetian philosopher of noble descent Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, was the first woman to receive a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia's intellectual ability was noticed early, wherefore the local priest encouraged her family to enable Piscopia a formal education. She was then taught Latin, Greek, and Arabic starting at the age of seven. Later on, she also began learning mathematics, philosophy, theology, astronomy, and several other languages. In the 1660's the multi talented young woman became widely known as a musucian, since she was able to play various instruments, such as the clavichord, the harp, the violin and she also composed music pieces by herself.

Around 10 years later, Elena Piscopia intended to enter the Benedictine Order, which her father forbid. Instead, he made her enroll at the University of Padua, one of the most prominent universities of her time.

With her father's support, she applied for a doctorate in theology, but again she met resistance, this time it was the university itself. The Bishop of Padua, who was also the university's chancellor strongly resisted in letting a woman receive a degree in theology. She again applied for a doctorate degree, and this time she received the doctorate degree in philosophy. She received her degree in 1678 as the first woman globally. The news about the female scientist spread widely, wherefore her graduation ceremony had to be relocated several times into larger buildings. Elena Piscopia became very famous as her teachers always emphasized her brilliant writings and the incredibly flourishing discussions they have had with her.

You would maybe think, that her success caused more women to feel encouraged reaching similar goals and that the overall acceptance towards women in science would improve. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. After her graduation, the hostility towards female candidates longing for university degrees grew. The next candidate was presumably Carla Gabriella, who applied for examination a few years later, but her request was not granted. The next woman to achieve the doctorate degree had to 'wait' several decades.

However, after Piscopia's great accomplishment, she started giving lectures in mathematics, but soon after decided to finally join the Benectine Order.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on the History of Women in Science by Susan Williams.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Lucrezia Borgia - Femme Fatale or Political Tool?

Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519)
On June 24, 1519, Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei, passed away. Lucrezia's family later came to epitomize the ruthless Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption alleged to be characteristic of the Renaissance Papacy. Lucrezia was cast as a femme fatale, a role she has been portrayed as in many artworks, novels, and films. The extent of her complicity in the political machinations of her family is unclear, but she had to obey to several arranged marriages to important or powerful men in order to advance their own political ambitions.

Lucrezia Borgia was born on April 18, 1480, at Subiaco, near Rome. Her mother was Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of the many mistresses of Lucrezia's father Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who later became Pope Alexander VI. By the age of eleven, she had been betrothed twice, but both times Rodrigo had rescinded the betrothals. When Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI he was eager to be allied with powerful families and founding dynasties of Italy. As being the Pope, Rodrigo was able to call off Lucrezia's previous engagements and arranged for her to marry Giovanni Sforza, a member of the House of Sforza, a powerful Milanese family, on 12 June 1493 in Rome. Thus, the girl already faced her third husband at the age of merely thirteen. The marriage was by proxy, and for four months after her marriage, until the arrival of her new husband in Rome, Lucrezia lived in a handsome palace next to the Vatican with the Pope's new mistress, Guilia Farnese.

While in Rome, Lucrezia served as her father's hostess at diplomatic receptions. When the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforzas at the papal court, he was looking for new, more advantageous political alliances, so he may have covertly ordered the execution of Giovanni. The generally accepted version is that Lucrezia was informed of this by her brother Cesare, and she warned her husband, who fled Rome. Thus, Rodrigo turned to Giovanni's uncle, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, to persuade Giovanni to agree to a divorce, which he refused. Instead, Giovanni accused Lucrezia of paternal and fraternal incest. In return, Rodrigo applied the only valid argument for annulment of the marriage and asserted that his daughter's marriage had not been consummated and was thus invalid. In the end, Giovanni signed confessions of impotence and documents of annulment before witnesses in return for Lucrezia's dowry. Actually, it is reported that Lucrezia was delighted to be rid of her boring husband. So much for husband number one.

During the bargaining over the divorce, Lucrezia retired to a nearby convent. However, Lucrezia consummated a relationship with someone, perhaps Rodrigo's chamberlain Pedro Calderon, also named Perotto, who served as her only communication with her father during her enforced stay. Six months later and pregnant from the liaison with Perotto, Lucrezia participated in a ceremony in which Vatican judges attested that she was 'intacta', that is, a virgin. In March 1498, the Ferrarese ambassador claimed that Lucrezia had given birth, but this was denied by other sources. However, one month earlier in February 1498, the bodies of Perotto, and a maid, Pantasilea, were found in the Tiber. Next, Lucrezia was married to the 17-year-old Neapolitan Alfonso of Aragon, to forge another alliance with a second important kingdom. The marriage was a short one, lasting from 1498 until Alfonso's murder in 1500. It is widely rumored that Lucrezia's brother Cesare was responsible for Alfonso's death. This was husband number two, who did not have the luck to get away alife...

Now, Lucrezia's father, Pope Alexander VI, arranged a third marriage with Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara in early 1502 in Ferrara, who should become Lucrezia's final husband. She gave her third husband a number of children and proved to be a respectable and accomplished Renaissance duchess, effectively rising above her previous reputation and surviving the fall of the Borgias following her father's death. But, this did not mean that Lucrezia - nor her husband - were faithful to each other. Both had affairs and lovers. In 1503, Lucrezia enjoyed a long relationship with her brother-in-law, Francesco II Gonzaga as well as a love affair with the poet Pietro Bembo. Lucrezia Borgia died in Ferrara on 24 June 1519 from complications after giving birth to her eighth child. When the Romantic poet Lord Byron visited the Ambrosian Library of Milan in 1816, he was delighted by the letters between Borgia and Bembo. He considered them "the prettiest love letters in the world") and claimed to have managed to steal a lock of her hair held there on display.

At yovisto, you can learn more about powerplay in the times of renaissance in the lecture of Prof. Dr. Stephen B. Smith from Yale university on Machiavelli's famous book 'The Prince'.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pierre de Coubertin and the Idea of the Olympic Games

Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937)
On June 23, 1894, French educator and historian Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Because of his initiative he is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games, the first one organized in Greece only two years later in 1896.

The Olympic Games have a long tradition dating back to ancient Greece, where the games were both, a religious and an athletic festival held every four years at the sanctuary of Greek god Zeus in Olympia. Competition was among representatives of several city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece. The ancient Olympic Games featured mainly athletic but also combat sports such as wrestling and the pankration, horse and chariot racing events. As being also a religious festival, all conflicts among the participating city-states were postponed until the Games were finished, which was known as the Olympic peace or truce. The Olympic Games reached their zenith in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but then gradually declined in importance as the Romans gained power and influence in Greece. But, over centuries the Olympic tradition hold on until the 4th or 5th century AD. While there is no scholarly consensus as to when the Games officially ended, the most commonly held date is 393 AD, when the emperor Theodosius I decreed that all pagan cults and practices be eliminated. Another date commonly cited is 426 AD, when his successor, Theodosius II, ordered the destruction of all Greek temples. Thus, the Olympic Games fell into oblivion and it should take more than 1,500 years until the Olympic Spirit sparked off again by an enthusiastic French educator and historian.

Pierre de Frédy was born in Paris on 1 January 1863 into an established aristocratic family as the fourth child of Baron Charles Louis Frédy, Baron de Coubertin. Coubertin grew up in a time of profound change in France: France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the establishment of the French Third Republic, and later the Dreyfus Affair. Despite his rebelliousness at home, Coubertin adapted well to the strict rigors of a Jesuit education. Rather uncommon for his position as an aristocratic offspring, Coubertin did not choose a prominent role in the military or politics, but pursued a career as an intellectual, studying and later writing on a broad range of topics, including education, history, literature, and sociology.

But his most favourite subject was education. Especially the inclusion of physical education in the curriculum of French schools would become an ongoing pursuit and passion of Coubertin's -- following the antique spirit 'mens sana in corpore sano' (a healthy spirit in a healthy body). When visiting England, he was rather impressed especially by the study of Thomas Arnold’s (1795-1842) conception of physical education and the English school's playing fields of Rugby as he experienced how “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. Not only did organised games help to set the mind and body in equilibrium, it also prevented the time being wasted in other ways. As a historian, Coubertin romanticised ancient Greece. Thus, when he began to develop his theory of physical education, he naturally looked to the example of the Greek gymnasium, a training facility that simultaneously encouraged physical and intellectual development.

In the 1880s and early 1890s Coubertin made several trips to America and England to study the administration of athletics. The French government was impressed with his work, and commissioned him to hold "athletic congresses," which featured events such as horseback riding, fencing, and track and field. The ambitious plans of Coubertin to revitalize the educational system of France never really materialized, but his experiences inspired him with an even more grandiose plan. He began thinking about having countries compete in athletic events based on the Olympic festivals of ancient Greece. In 1892, Coubertin introduced the idea of a modern Olympics at the French Union of Athletic Sports Societies. His idea was fairly vague, and it seems that even Coubertin himself did not have a clear idea what form such games would take. But, two years later on June 23, 1894 at the Sorbonne in Paris, Coubertin organized a meeting which brought 79 delegates from 12 countries together to discuss how to revive the Olympic games. The meeting established the first International Olympic Committee, and the basic framework of having the games every four years, with the first to take place in Greece, was decided upon.
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well." (Pierre de Coubertin)
The decision to hold the first modern Olympics in Athens, at the site of the ancient games, was symbolic, and proved to be problematic as Coubertin had concerns about the ability of a weakened Greek state to host the competitions. However, Coubertin visited Greece and became convinced the Greek people would be happy to host the games. Funds were raised to mount the games and the first modern Olympics began in Athens on April 5, 1896 with 245 athletes participating from 14 countries.. Since the Games were not well publicized internationally, contestants were not nationally chosen but rather came individually and at their own expense. Some contestants even were tourists who happened to be in the area during the Games.

At yovisto you can learn more about Coubertins ideas of education through sport as the cornerstone of Olympic ideology in the lecture of Dr. Jim Parry from Gresham College.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wilhelm von Humboldt and Prussia's Education System

Wilhelm von Humboldt
(1767 – 1835)

On June 22, 1767, Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt was born. He was a Prussian philosopher, government functionary, diplomat, and founder of the University of Berlin. He is especially remembered as a linguist who made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education. In particular, he is widely recognized as having been the architect of the Prussian education system which was used as a model for education systems in countries such as the United States and Japan.

Wilhelm von Humboldt along with his brother Alexander experienced a decent education by prominent teachers and published articles in early age. His first works focused on Socrates and Plato and his most important influences during school were the works by Leibniz, Hume, Locke, and Rousseau. After finding no intellectual challenges at the Prussian University of Frankfurt Oder, Humboldt enrolled at the University of Göttingen, where he studied law, philosophy and natural science.

Their mother foresaw a future in the office of state for both of the Humboldt brothers, but both chose a different way. Wilhelm began showing interests in experimental physics, and the history of nature. Already during his studies, Humboldt made several trips around Germany, getting to know Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Weimar. He increased his studies on Ancient Greece, which later influenced his ideas on the changes in the education system.

After his mother passed away, Wilhelm von Humboldt moved to Paris for a few years, getting to know influential politicians, philosopher and artists. From there, he traveled to Spain learning from the country's culture as well as its political system and its language.

Humboldt began working in Rome in the early 1800's, but was sent back to Germany after Prussia's defeat against France. He was then occupied with reforming the educational system in Germany to help improving the country's resources in any way. Even though Humboldt did not ask for this position, he began changing Prussia's education system dramatically and with lots of enthusiasm. He soon developed completely new teaching methods, new plans for schools and important topics to be studied. He adjusted his systems to the various school types and developed significant ideas on didactics. Critiques often noted how Humboldt was not the right person for this position, since he never experienced public schools by himself, but their doubts were later proved unfounded. Humboldt proposed his idea to establish a three step schooling system with a primary school, a grammar school and the university. He introduced the final exams for teachers, a uniform obligation of the school leaving exams all implemented in between 1810 and 1834.

However, to Wilhelm von Humboldt's most significant contributions belongs the founding of the University of Berlin in 1810. He managed to occupy prominent professors like Friedrich Carl von Savigny, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and many more. His goal was to connect contemporary research with new teaching methods and a well balanced relationship between educators and students.

Since Wilhelm von Humboldt was so active in improving the educational system, you may enjoy a lecture by Charles Leadbeater, talking about Education innovation in the slums.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Black Vinyl at 33⅓ RPM

Neumann Record Cutting Machine
Image: JacoTen

On June 21, 1948, Columbia Records introduced the long-playing record album, in short the LP, in a public demonstration at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, New York, which soon was adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. Apart from relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound capability, it has remained the standard format for vinyl "albums".

To take a look at the origins of the LP, we must start with the player piano. It was a self playing piano with a pneumatic or electro-mechanic mechanism operating the instrument with programmed music. The music was mostly 'written' on perforated paper or metallic rolls. It became very popular in American households, even though it was not able to play emphasized notes intended by the artist. In 1877, Thomas Edison published his idea on the phonograph, which made him famous. It contained a wax cylinder driven by a mechanical motor. An acoustic playback head then picked up different depths converting them into acoustic energy. About ten years later, a revolutionary change hit the "record industry". Emile Berliner knew about the many limitations, the cylinders had in the sense of quantity and usability. He decided to build a flat disc on which the grooves were pressed. However, development went further and in 1946, the very first LP was produced, but it took further changes , since many issues in equalizing the inner grooves, vinyl formulations and many others still appeared.

Columbia Records started their research on the LP in 1941 and resumed their work in 1945 due to the difficulties during World War II. When the LP was introduced, the first two long-players were Frank Sinatra's The Voice and Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor.

The LP immediately succeeded. It was a perfect format for Broadway musicals, and shows like My Fair Lady and South Pacific boosted the distribution of the new format. To the LP's success also belonged the fact that smaller labels were able to produce and distribute music with a high quality sound without a high technology studio. This paved the way for independent bands and helped the music industry to broaden with a greater variety of music styles.

The advantage of the LP was, of course, its playing time. An average LP has approximately 460m of groove on each side. Some bands began to play 'tricks' on the LP like the Beatles. Their track A Day in Life is located at the end of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album and runs a continuous loop unless the player is turned off.

At yovisto you may enjoy a historical documentation, following the process of recording music and bringing it to American households in the 1950's via LPs.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

George Lemaître and the Big Bang Theory

George Lemaître (1894-1966)
On June 20, 1966, Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics George Lemaître passed away. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble, and is best known for his proposal of what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe.

Maybe, if you are interested in astronomy, you might have heard about famous astronomer Edwin Hubble and the theory of the expanding universe. But even I didn't know that Hubble adapted his theory from the original ideas of George Lemaître. But, who was this Belgian priest with these profound insights about our universe? George Lemaître was born on July 17, 1894 in the Belgian town of Charleroi. After a classical education at the Collège du Sacré-Coeur, a Jesuit secondary school, he began studying civil engineering at the Catholic University of Leuven at the age of 17. In 1914, he interrupted his studies to serve as an artillery officer in the Belgian army at World War I, where he received the Belgian War Cross with palms. After the war, he studied physics and mathematics, and began to prepare for priesthood, obtaining his PhD in 1920. In 1923, he was ordained a priest.

In 1923, he became a graduate student in astronomy at the University of Cambridge, working with Arthur Eddington who initiated him into modern cosmology, stellar astronomy, and numerical analysis. After spending a year at Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he returned to Belgium in 1925, where he became a part-time lecturer at the Catholic University of Louvain. There he worked on the publication of his most famous paper "A homogeneous Universe of constant mass and growing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae", where he presented his new idea of an expanding Universe. Actually, he also derived Hubble's law and provided the first observational estimation of the Hubble constant. But, when the universe is expanding, how did it begin its expansion and what was its initial size? Up to this point in time, Lemaître supposed the initial state as a finite-size static universe based on Einstein's model. Unfortunately, the paper had little impact because it was not widely read by astronomers outside of Belgium. Even after translating the paper into English with the help of Arthur Eddington, for some unknown reasons the part with the Hubble constant didn't occur in the English version.

Finally, after Eddington published a paper commenting Lemaître's work as being a "brilliant solution" to the outstanding problems of cosmology, Lemaître was invited to London, where he proposed that the Universe expanded from an initial point, which he called the "Primeval Atom" and developed in a report published in Nature. Lemaître himself also described his theory as "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation", but it became better known as the "Big Bang theory" a pejorative term coined by Fred Hoyle who was a proponent of the steady state universe. Lemaître's proposal met skepticism from his fellow scientists at the time. Eddington found it unpleasant, while Albert Einstein found it suspect because he deemed it unjustifiable from a physical point of view. But, when Einstein and Lemaître met at a series of conferences and seminars, where Lemaître found sufficient time to explain his ideas in sufficient detail, it is reported that Einstein stood up, applauded, and said, "This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened."

Lemaître received various honors and prizes for his scientific work, as e.g., the Francqui Prize, the highest Belgian scientific distinction. In 1936, he was elected member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. He took an active role there, becoming its president in March 1960 and remaining so until his death. In 1941, he was elected member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Belgium, and in 1953, he was given the inaugural Eddington Medal awarded by the Royal Astronomical Society. He died on 20 June 1966, shortly after having learned of the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation, which provided further evidence for his intuitions about the birth of the Universe.

At yovisto, you can learn more about George Lemaître's ideas about the origins of our universe in the talk of Prof. Stephen Hawking on 'Asking Big Questions about our Universe'.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Around the World in a Balloon

Steve Fossett
(1944 - 2007)

On June 19, 2002, American businessman, and a record-setting aviator, sailor, and adventurer Steve Fossett launched the 10-story high balloon Spirit of Freedom from Northam, Western Australia, for a journey around the world.

In his youth, Fossett's career as an adventurer began when he joined the boy scouts. He began climbing his first mountains and through the years he seeked higher mountains, bigger adventures and longer distances. As an adult he remembered his boy scout years as some of the most important and most inspirational of his life. After enrolling at Stanford University, he found more and more challenges, like swimming to Alcatraz or the Dardanellez.

Steve Fossett became, next to his flourishing businesses, widely known for his numerous adventures as a balloonist, sailor, and pilot as well as for his skiing ans climbing activities. His world record in ballooning was accomplished in 1995. Fossett landed on February 21 in Saskatchewan, Canada after flying solo across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon for the first time. In 2002, the adventurer set several records in ballooning. He flew around the entire world non stop by himself in a 10-story high balloon. Fossett launched in Western Australia on June 19 and returned 13 days later on the continent. The top speed he reached during the journey was about 299km/h over the Indian Ocean, which was recored by the control center located at Washington University in St. Louis. Fossett set records for being the fastest, the fastest around the world, and the longest flown completely solo in a balloon and the record for the 24 hour balloon distance.

Despite his success in the air, Fossett also seeked further challenges in the water. He counted as one of the most successful sailors, setting 23 world records and further racing records. With the maxi-catamaran Cheyenne, he set several records including the famous 24 hour record of sailing. In 2004, he circumnavigated the world in only 58 days with a crew of 13. Fossett also planned on being the first person to reach the Challenger Deep solo, but the submarine was still under construction during the time of his passing.

As an aircraft pilot, Steve Fossett also set several records, including the absolute world speed record in 2004, and the record for the first solo nonstop unrefueled fixed-wing aircraft flight around the world in 2005.

On September 3, 2007, the adventurer left for a flight with a single engine Bellanca Super Decathlon airplane at Nevada. Knowing that his fuel would reach for a five hour flight, the search for Steve Fossett began about six hours later. For days and weeks the search for Fossett and the plane wreck went on, but nothing was found, but further crash sites from previously missing pilots. Several search bases were set up across the United States ranging from California to Oregon and Pennsylvania. Even Google helped searching for Fossett with their connections to companies providing the Google Earth data. Almost a year after his disappearing, Fossett's identification cards were found by a hiker. Further fragments of the aircraft were found after a detailed ground search and also some human bones later confirmed to be Fossett's were discovered.

Steve Fossett is remembered for his amazing achievements in the various fields of sports and his support of younger adventurers, for which he was honored several times. At yovisto you can watch the video of young scientist Josh Taylor, who also became a balloon pioneer by achieving his goal of recording video footage at heights of 100,000 feet. His balloon reached even 118.000 feet (35.97 kilometers) and recorded astonishing material from above the earth.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Waterloo and the European Balance of Power

Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler
On June 18, 1815, a battle was fought near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, which should be Napoleon's last. An Imperial French army under the command of Emperor Napoleon was defeated by the armies of the Seventh Coalition, comprising an Anglo-Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington combined with a Prussian army under the command of Gebhard von Blücher. The defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon's rule as Emperor of the French, and made way for a shift in the European balance of power.

Maybe Waterloo is the most prominent location in Belgium, at least for non-Europeans. Nowadays, of course every European knows Brussel as the capital of Belgium, because it is also the seat of the EU parliament. But, back in the 19th century, an insignificant spot on the landscape thirteen kilometres south of Brussels called Waterloo should become known to almost everybody, because one of the most important battles ever fought in Europe took place. The strategic location of Waterloo on a paved road towards Brussels explains why the battle took place just south of Waterloo. It was important for the allies to stop Napoleon from reaching Brussels, and Waterloo was the last settlement to cross before negotiating the forest and getting to Brussels.

But, lets get back a little bit further to understand the Prelude that lead to this most significant battle. The European powers were meeting in Vienna to re-establish the territorial balance in Europe when news came of Napoleon's escape from his exile in Elba on 1st March 1815 and his re-entry into Paris on 20th March. The powers immediately renewed their declaration of war on Napoleon and the 7th Coalition between Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia was formed on 25th March and they began assembling their troops in readiness for war. Their intention was to attack along the French borders and march on Paris from different directions with enough strength to crush Napoleon and the French. But, only the armies of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians under Marshal Blucher were in place in Belgium, while the others arrived only after Napoleon had been defeated. 23,000 British troops together with 44,000 allied troops and 160 guns stood against 74,000 French troops and 250 guns. Seizing the moment, Napoleon led his troops north with the aim of defeating his enemies individually before they had the chance to unite. Together they would be too much for his forces. While his efforts were initially successful, in a clash at Ligny on June 16, Napoleon routed the Prussians at a high cost.

The Prussian centre was destroyed and Blucher almost killed, they were forced to withdraw to Wavre. The Prussians had lost about 16,000, and another 8,000 deserted during the night. Napoleon then turned his attention to the British who made a stand at the small town of Waterloo. On the morning of June 18, the two armies faced off against each other. However the incessant rains of the previous days had soaked the ground to a muddy morass hampering all movements of men, horses and artillery. This postponed the battle until midday when Napoleon opened up with an artillery barrage. The fighting seesawed back and forth throughout the day with high casualties on both sides. Towards evening Wellington's exhausted troops seemed on the verge of breaking, but the timely arrival of the Prussians reinvigorated their efforts and doomed Napoleon. ccording to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life."

Napoleon abdicated, surrendering to the British, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. The battlefield is in present-day Belgium, about 12 km south of Brussels, and about 2 km from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield is today dominated by a large mound of earth, the Lion's Hillock. As this mound used earth from the battlefield itself, the original topography has not been preserved.

At yovisto, you can learn more about Napoleon, the Napoleonic Wars including the Battle of Waterloo in the lecture of Prof. John Merriman from Yale talen from his course on European Civilization: 1648-1945.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Phantastic Worlds of M. C. Escher

Hand with Reflecting Sphere
by M.C. Escher
On June 17, 1898, Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, better known as M. C. Escher, was born. He is known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints, which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

M. C. Escher always glanced with his drawing abilities as a child, but also arrested attention with his otherwise poor grades. After school, he enrolled at the Haarlem Schoof of Architecture and Decorative Arts, finishing in 1922. During these years he got in touch with and gained lots of experience in drawing as well as woodcuts. Very influencing to his artist career was the journey Escher made in 1922 through Europe. Escher visited Italy, and Spain, being mostly fascinated by the countrysides and the building's designs. Due to the positive impressions and influences the artist gained, he visited Italy in the future more often, eventually living there, wherefore the country became an important fragment of his life and work. During his time in italy, Escher created 'Still Life and Street', one of his most famous prints of an impossible reality. The image's inspiration depicted a street in Savona, Italy. The picture was an early example of his playful way handling perspectives, as it looks like the books on his table leaned against the far away buildings.

Due to the political unease in Italy, M. C. Escher moved along with his family to Switzerland, where he was never really able to settle, while in search of the same beautiful landscaped he saw in Italy. In Belgium he could not stay because of World War II and he moved to the Netherlands. As depressing as this period seems, it was also the most productive in Escher's life. The dark and cloudy weather made him focus on his work and he completed numerous pictures during his time there with almost no break.

Escher's prints of impossible realities made him famous. Next to Still Life and Street, the Drawing Hands, published in 1948 in which the two hands draw each other. M. C. Escher knew how to portray mathematical relationships of shapes and bodies as well as playing with their perspectives brilliantly without having a higher mathematical education. The mathematical importance in his pictures evolved also during his stay in Italy, where he began gaining interest in orders of shapes and symmetry. Escher's brother once sent him a paper by the mathematician George Pólya on plane symmetry groups that increased Escher's attention and he decided to focus more on the mathematical issues in his works, wherefore the artist is liked by so many scientists. He spent more time figuring out how to combine infinity of objects with two-dimensional planes, which he began discussing with several mathematicians.

Through his works, Escher was able to open up whole new art creations and bring the mathematical component in art to a whole new level. At yovisto, you may enjoy the video lecture Gödel, Escher, Bach as part of a whole series by Justin Curry at MIT, bringing the character's interests in art, mathematics, logics, physics and numerous other scientific fields together.

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