Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The British East India Company

Boston Tea Party
On December 31, 1600, the British East India Company (EIC) received a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth making it the oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies pursuing trade with the East Indies.

Already 12 years before, the Spanish Armada was defeated and merchants turned to the Queen, asking for permission to sail to the Indian Ocean, which was granted. Some smaller companies formed, but several ships got lost on the sea. On 31 December 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter to 'Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies' and the first voyages took place one year after.

Pirate Henry Every
The first factory in India was established by 1610 and the company faced pretty high profits for the first time. To succeed against the Dutch and Portuguese on the market, the British realized, that they needed to gain territorial foothold at India's mainland. Also, James I instructed Sir Thomas Roe to meet Mughal Emperor Nuruddin Salim Jahangir in order to arrange exclusive trading rights and the possibility of building factories in Surat and the surrounding area, which was successful.

As the company expanded, they were able to establish several trading posts and numerous factories in India. In the 1630s, the Mughal emperor extended his hospitality to the company, but competition with the Dutch grew as well, which resulted in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. King Charles II was motivated to strengthen the power of the EIC and provisioned the EIC with the rights to autonomous territorial acquisitions, to mint money, to command fortresses and troops and form alliances, to make war and peace, and to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the acquired areas.

But not only the Dutch were a danger to the EIC, in 1695, the English pirate Henry Every was able to raid the treasure-laden Ganj-i-Sawai, which became known as the richest ship ever taken by pirates. It is assumed that the loot totalles between £325,000 and £600,000, including 500,000 gold and silver pieces. The English government and the Indian emperor were furious about the loss and angry Mughals threatened to put an end to all English trading in India.

East India House in London
Meanwhile, the company started to develop a lobby in the English parliament and the company's power grew. By 1720, 15% of British imports were from India, almost all passing through the company. With the 'arrival' of the Industrial Revolution, the EIC became the single largest player in the British global market and the British culture, economy and high living standards had a profound influence on overseas trade.

Through the years, the company had to fight and compete in order to expand its trade positions and military power in India. But even though the company became increasingly bold and ambitious in putting down resisting states, it faced financial troubles as well. In 1773, the Tea Act was passed, which gave the Company greater autonomy in running its trade in the American colonies, and allowed it an exemption from tea import duties which its colonial competitors were required to pay. The arrival of tax-exempt Company tea, triggered the Boston Tea Party in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, one of the major events leading up to the American Revolution.

Because of the Indian Revolution in 1857, the company lost all of its administrative powers and on 1 January, 1874 an Act came into effect dissolving the company in the summer of the same year. However, the EIC had a large effect on the Indian culture and global trade. The East India Company was the first company to record the Chinese usage of orange-flavoured tea in which it led to the development of Earl Grey tea and the British trade with India played a key role in introducing English as an official language in India.    

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by John McAlleer about Britains global trade in the Great Days of Sail at Gresham College.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Convention of Tauroggen

Original Signature of Count Yorck von Wartenburg under the Convention of Tauroggen
On December 30, 1812, Prussian General Johann David Ludwig Count of Yorck von Wartenburg on his own initiative without permission of the Prussian King decleared a local ceasefire with the Russian General Hans Karl von Diebitsch-Sabalkanski at Tauroggen. The eponymous Convention of Tauroggen marks the starting point of Europe's Liberation Wars against Napoleon Bonaparte.

Today, Tauroggen, or Taurogé, is a small industrial city in Lithuania not far from the Baltic coast, and almost nobody of you will have heart of it. By the end of the 18th century, Tauroggen belonged to Brandenburg-Prussia, and later - by marriage - to the Russian empire. And in 1812, it should become the starting point of a new age in Europe. On Christmas 1812, a Russian army is approaching East Prussia. At Tauroggen, near the border of Lithuania, they encounter a Prussian supporting army corps, which is by treaty allied with Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, who had conquered almost the entire European continent. But, instead of a fight, there will be a cheerful reunion. This is because at the head of the Russian army are the commanding general Count Diebitsch from Groß-Leipe in Silesia and General Inspector Freiherr vom Stein from Berlin. With great pleasure they recognize in the commander of the Prussians their old friend Count Yorck von Wartenburg from Potsdam. They meet in an old mill in the little village of Poscherunen, near Tauroggen, and together they forge an incredible plan: Count Yorck von Wartenburg, on his own account, should become a renegade and ally with the Russians against Napoleon. This, of course, is high treason, but at the same time it is a plan for the liberation of Prussia from Napoleon's reign!

Yorck relieved his soldiers from their duty, absolved them from their oath to the King and put them in a neutralized state without the consent of their King. On December 30, the memorable Convention of Tauroggen is signed. According to the rules, Yorck from Wartenburg sent a messenger to Berlin to report his treason to the Prussian king. King Frederick Wilhelm III dismissed Yorck from his command immediately. But, the messenger never reached its destination, because Count Diebitsch didn't let the bearer pass through his lines. Thus, Count Yorck von Wartenburg did receive the notice of his pending court-martial from the newspaper only. Yorck refused to resign from his command and ignored the King's order with the following words:
"I will continue unobjectionable with all my duties, because as is well known in the state of Prussia a newspaper is not an official line of command. Up to now, no commanding general has ever received his orders via a newspaper." (Count Yorck von Wartenburg)
Frederick Wilhelm III dared not to throw off the mask and prefered the flight to the unoccupied city of Breslau. Over there he is already received by the ministers and generals Hardenberg, Scharnhorst, Blücher and Gneisenau, followed by the Russian Tsar. The forces of Napoleon are almost overthrown. Russia and Austria are already on standby as forceful allies, as well as England, Sweden and Denmark. Also the Prussian people were in feverish anticipation and full of enthusiasm. Europe is ready to get rid of Napoleon's reign. On March 17, 1813, Frederick William III signed a proclamation prepared by his ministers Stein and Hardenberg, which should become the initial signal to the European liberation wars, also known as the German Campaign, against Napoleon.

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

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom

Richard Feynman
On December 29, 1959, American physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman at an American Physical Society meeting at Caltech entiteled 'There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom', which is generally considered to be a seminal event in the history of nanotechnology, as it inspired the conceptual beginnings of the field decades later. At yovisto blog, Richard Feynman already is some sort of an old acquaintance. Not only that he was a divinely gifted lecturer and tutor, he also made significant contributions to quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics for which he finally received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.

Today's article focusses on Richard Feynman's famous 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology. Feynman considered a number of interesting ramifications of a general ability to manipulate matter on an atomic scale. In particular, he was interested in the possibilities of denser computer circuitry, and microscopes which could see things much smaller than is possible with scanning electron microscopes. These ideas were later realized by the use of the scanning tunneling microscope, the atomic force microscope and other examples of scanning probe microscopy. Feynman also suggested that it should be possible, in principle, to make nanoscale machines that "arrange the atoms the way we want", and do chemical synthesis by mechanical manipulation. Today, this technology is called “e-beam lithography”. Feynman proposed shrinking computing devices toward their physical limits, where “wires should be 10 or 100 atoms in diameter”. Today, Feynman's 100 atoms limit for a wire already has become reality. But, when Feynman spoke, a single computer could fill an entire room.

He also presented the "weird possibility" of "swallowing the doctor," a concept that involved building a tiny, swallowable surgical robot by developing a set of one-quarter-scale manipulator hands slaved to the operator's hands to build one-quarter scale machine tools analogous to those found in any machine shop. This set of small tools would then be used by the small hands to build and operate ten sets of one-sixteenth-scale hands and tools, and so forth, culminating in perhaps a billion tiny factories to achieve massively parallel operations. He uses the analogy of a pantograph as a way of scaling down items. Interestingly, this idea already was anticipated in part, down to the microscale, by science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein in his 1942 story Waldo.

As the sizes got smaller, one would have to redesign some tools, because the relative strength of various forces also would change. Although gravity would become unimportant, surface tension would become more important, Van der Waals attraction would become important, etc. Feynman mentioned all these scaling issues during his talk. At the meeting, Feynman concluded his talk with two challenges, and he offered a prize of $1000 for the first individuals to solve each one. The first challenge involved the construction of a tiny motor, which, to Feynman's surprise, was achieved by November 1960 by William McLellan, a meticulous craftsman, using conventional tools. The motor met the conditions, but did not advance the art. The second challenge involved the possibility of scaling down letters small enough so as to be able to fit the entire Encyclopædia Britannica on the head of a pin, by writing the information from a book page on a surface 1/25,000 smaller in linear scale. In 1985, Tom Newman, a Stanford graduate student, successfully reduced the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities by 1/25,000, and collected the second Feynman prize.

At yovisto, you can watch Feynman in person talking about the physics of light.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and the Expressionism in German Cinema

A screenshot of the 1922 film, Nosferatu
Author: F.W. Murnau
On December 28, 1888, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was born. He was one of the most influential German film directors of the silent era, and a prominent figure in the expressionist movement in German cinema during the 1920s. Murnau's best known work was his 1922 film Nosferatu, an adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was actually born as Friedrich Wilhelm Pumpe. He grew up in a wealthy family and enrolled at the universities of Berlin and Heidelnberg to study the history of art. The famous director Max Reinhardt noticed his talents during a play at university and occupied the young Pumpe as director's assistant and actor. During this period, he also changed his name to Murnau to demonstrate his break up with his family, who could neither accept his choice of living, nor his homosexuality.

During World World War I, Murnau became a pilot and landed in Switzerland in 1917, where he was active in several plays. Many see his experiences during the war a significant influence to his later movies, especially Nosferatu. He came back to Berlin in 1919 and began working on his first movie, "The Boy in Blue". Unfortunately, this movie is lost on this day, but it is known that Thomas Gainsborough's painting "The Blue Boy" and Oscar Wilde's novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" were inspirations for Murnau to create this film.

Soon, Murnau started working for UFA and created several works for them including "The Last Laugh" in which he used the completely new unchained camera technique that opened up whole new perspectives to the art of film in the 1920s. Also, he introduced the subjective camera in the movie that illustrated the plot from the perspective of one specific actor. Murnau became famous, also because he needed almost no subtitles for the audience to understand the plot, which was remarkable back then.

In the United States, Murnau became a well known artist and William Fox offered him a contract as well as complete artistic freedom. As a result, the movie "Sunrise" won three Oscars during the very first Academy Award ceremony in 1929. However, the economic situation in the U.S made it hard for Fox to allow the artistic freedom Murnau was used to and he quit the contract. Willing to follow his own rules only, Murnau created a mixture of a documentary and drama at Bora Bora. The movie was a success but Murnau was broke. Paramount took over this film and offered Murnau a contract for 10 years.

On this day, Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau is mostly remembered for his movie "Nosferatu". It starred Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok and was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker's "Dracula. The company producing the film was "Prana Film" and co-founded by Albin Grau. Since a Serbian farmer told him that his father was a vampire, he wanted to shoot a vampire film. The work remains an important piece of the expressionist art and Murnau reinforced into the public eye. The press praised it as a masterpiece with overall technical perfection.

At yovisto you can learn more about the history of the movie business in the 1948 documentary 'Let's go to the Movies'.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

George Cayley and the Science of Aeronautics

George Cayley
(1773 – 1857)
On December 27, 1773, English engineer and important pioneer of aeronautics Sir George Cayley was born. Many consider him the first true scientific aerial investigator and the first person to understand the underlying principles and forces of flight.

George Cayley was the son of the 5th baronet and inherited several estates himself. He started several engineering projects during his early years, like self-righting lifeboats or caterpillar tractors which he called 'Universal Railway'.  Other projects included seat belts, small helicopters and he made numerous contributions to the fields of optics, ballistics, architecture, and air engines.

However, on this day, Cayley is mostly remembered for his significant findings while studying flying machines. In his early school years, he already developed theories on the physics of flight and in later years, he designed and built a glider by himself. Cayley published several scientific works on flight. The first was published in 1810 and was titled ''On Aerial Navigation". To one of his many developments counts the "whirling-arm apparatus" that built on earlier work in ballistics.

As his developments went further, Cayley began building a cambered airfoil and managed to discover the forces that influence the flight of an aircraft, those were thrust, gravity, lift, and drag. His knowledge led him to the idea to set the center of gravity right below the wings. This was a major achievement and resulted in the development of hang gliders. Cayley developed the wire wheel principle that is on this day still used in bikes or cars.

In 1804, Cayley managed to fly his glider successfully. Its layout looked much like a modern aircraft and even had adjustable tailplane at the back. In 1843, Cayley was the first to suggest the idea for a convertiplane, an idea which was published in a paper written that same year. During some point prior to 1849 he designed and built a biplane in which an unknown ten-year-old boy flew. It is assumed that his grandson George John Cayley was his first pilot back then.

George Cayley passed away on 15 December 1857.

At yovisto, you mey be interested in a short introduction on the Flight Dynamics and Control.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Frederick II - The "Wonder of the World"

Frederick II
(1194 – 1250)
On December 26, 1194, Frederick II, one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages and head of the House of Hohenstaufen was born. Speaking six languages (Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic), Frederick was an avid patron of science and the art, called by a contemporary chronicler stupor mundi (the wonder of the world).

In 1196, the only two year old Frederick was crowned King in 1198 after his father passed away. His mother Constance established herself as regent and dissolved the ties between Germany and the Empire in his name. His mother passed away very soon as well and he was brought to Palermo, where he is thought to have lived like a street youth. However, his guardian was Pope Innocent III until he was declared of age in 1208 and Frederick was able to marry the 25 year old widow Constance, the daughter of the king of Aragon. Otto of Brunswick was crowned Holy Roman Emperor one year after, but he invaded Italy and sided the Pope against him. However, Frederick was elected as German King and was crowned in 1212 and again a few years later after the passing of Pope Innocent III as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome by Honorius III.

Frederick II lived in Germany for some years, which was quite unusual for Holy Roman emperors. He helped Philip II of France and brought an end to the War of Succession in Champagne. In 1237, he returned to Italy and was represented in Germany by his sin Conrad. Frederick managed to built on the reform of the laws in the Kingdom of Sicily that were started by his grandfather. The Kingdom turned into an absolutist monarchy and set a precedent for the primacy of written law.

Birth of Frederick II
Frederick II, who was called "wonder of the world" often astonished his contemporaries with his unorthodoxy on the one hand and his stubbornness on the other. In concerns of religion, he was known to be a skeptic but remained substantially linked to traditional Christianism. However, his skepticism was very unusual and was seen as highly scandalous. Also his papal enemies used this against him as much as they could. During many occasions, Frederick shocked his contemporaries. For example, he chose not to exterminate the Arab-speaking population of Western Sicily, but enlisted them in his army and even as his personal bodyguards, since they had the advantage of immunity from papal excommunication.

Frederick was not only known for his tolerance, but also for his never ending thirst for knowledge and science. It is said that he never believed what could not be explained by reason and the laws he passed have until this day a quite modern character like the prohibition on physicians acting as their own pharmacists. Also the emperor authored several works like 'The Art of Hunting with Birds' in which he approached the subject from Aristotle. 

Historians believe that Frederick also used to perform several experiments on humans like shutting a prisoner up in a cask to see if the soul could be observed escaping though a hole in the cask when the prisoner died. Also he is supposed to have imprisoned children without any contact to see if they would develop a natural language. Frederick II sent many letters to scientists all over the world to seek for answers on the stars as well as mathematics and physics. He founded the University of Neaples in 1224, which is known as the world's oldest state university.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short documentary on the works of Frederick II.

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Goethe's Muse Charlotte von Stein

Goethe and Charlotte von Stein
On December 25, 1742, Charlotte Albertine Ernestine von Stein was born. She was a lady-in-waiting at the court in Weimar and famous for being a close friend to both Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, whose work and life were strongly influenced by her. We already have had several articles on the works and life of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at yovisto Blog. No wonder, he was one of the most prominent German authors, and moreover a philosopher, statesman, and scientist of all times. His work has influenced culture and science worldwide and moreover, since I have lived in his domain and hometown Weimar for several years, I have also developed some kind of relationship to the 'Prince among Poets', who is still omnipresent in today's townscape of Weimar.

Goethe and the women is always some special topic. We have already had an article on his late marriage with Christiane Vulpius, with whom he had lived in concubinage for almost two decades because of their class distinction. Goethe, the aristocrat, and Christiane Vulpius, the maidservant. Nevertheless, both got married soon after the French under Napoleon had occupied the little town of Weimar. Definitely, Christiane had some influence on Goethe's work, but she always remained in the background behind her famous and influential husband. A much more stronger influence on Goethe in his earlier years had Charlotte von Stein, whom Goethe often referred to as his personal Muse.

Born in 1742 in the Thuringian town of Eisenach, Charlotte′s parents were Hofmarschall Johann Wilhelm Christian von Schardt and Concordia Elisabeth von Schardt. While her father was a wasteful eccentric, her mother who had had Scottish ancestors was said to be very quiet and dutiful. Her parents moved to Weimar when Charlotte was yet a little child and she was prepared for working as a lady-in-waiting to Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach whom she served until the Duchess's death in 1807. Her education included literature, art, singing and dancing. They said that Charlotte was unobtrusive, witty, graceful and dutiful like her mother was. In 1764, Charlotte married Freiherr Gottlob Ernst Josias Friedrich von Stein. This was not a marriage out of love, but for social and political interests. Often Charlotte remained alone in Weimar, as her husband had to travel a lot, serving the duke of Jena-Weimar.

In 1774, the seven years younger Johann Wolfgang von Goethe met Charlotte von Stein in Weimar for the first time. It was the beginning of a deep friendship which lasted for twelve years. During this time she had a strong influence on Goethe′s work and life. Goethe took into his house her eleven-year old son Fritz (her darling), in May 1783, and took over the boy′s education to her satisfaction. This period of her life might have been the happiest since she was in the center of social life and attention and met many famous personalities, e.g. also Friedrich Schiller, with whose wife Charlotte she frequently corresponded. Whether the friendship between Goethe and Charlotte was only platonic, or even erotic, was subject of many speculations, which all remained fruitless. Fact is that they influenced each others life stronly.

Suddenly in 1786, the deep friendship between Charlotte von Stein and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ended with his sudden departure to Italy without even telling her he wanted to go. It was not until after 1800 that their relationship began to normalize and even then it never became as close as before. Moreover, now Goethe's relationship with Christiane Vulpius, with whom he lived together in concubinage, made it not easier for the two former friends to reapproach each other. Frau von Stein and Goethe had corresponded abundantly, but after the estrangement she asked for her letters back and destroyed them. His letters to her have been published (Goethes Briefe an Frau von Stein, 3 vols., 1848-51, in 2 vols., 1960). Charlotte's jealousy and indignation at first knew no bounds, and it was only by slow degrees that friendship was restored. Major figures in Goethe's plays 'Die Geschwister', 'Iphigenie auf Tauris', and 'Torquato Tasso' are modelled on Charlotte von Stein. She herself also wrote four plays, notably the prose tragedy Dido written 1794, which deals critically and often ironically with Goethe and the contemporary scene. Charlotte von Stein became a widow in 1793, but continued to live at Weimar until her death there on the 6th of January 1827.

At yovisto you can learn more about Goethe and his philosophical conception of the world in Prof Fred Amrine's lecture 'Kicking away the ladder'

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 1906 - The World's First Radio Broadcast

Penny Postcard of Reginald Fessenden's
Brant Rock, Massachusetts radio tower
It was on Christmas Evening in 1906, when Reginald Fessenden broadcasted the very first radio program in the United States including a speech by Fessenden, music from the phonograph, a violin solo, and a short reading of the bible heard on the US-Atlantic-Coasters.

Reginald Fessenden was educated at the Trinity College in Ontario followed by the Bishop's College School in Quebec. During this period, he already taught mathematics to other students and he continued his studies at the Bishop's University. Shortly after, the young man moved to New York City in order to apply for a job with Thomas Edison. It is reported that he told Edison: "Do not know anything about electricity, but can learn pretty quick" and he replied with "Have enough men now who do not know about electricity". However, Fessenden still got hired and started working at the new laboratory in New Jersey. It is assumed, that Fessenden's serious experiments with wireless telephones began in 1898 at the University of Pittsburgh and that only one year later, a communication system between the university and Allegheny City existed.

Furthermore, it is reported that his interest in radio experimentations started in the 1890s as well, which were highly motivated by Guglielmo Marconi's successful attempts to develop a practical radio transmitting and receiving system. His electrolytic detector meant quite a revolution. It consisted of a fine wire dipped in nitric acid and would set a standard for sensitivity in radio reception for a few years. Another important period was his time at Rock Point, Maryland, where Fessenden transmitted speech over a distance of one mile which marks the day of the first known audio radio transmission. His research was soon funded by the NESCO company and he was able to improve his transmissions in efficiency significantly. But the critics claimed openly to have many doubts, just ike John Ambrose Fleming in 1906. While Marconi had previously achieved one way transmissions across the Atlantic Ocean, Fessenden achieved a two way transmission in January 1906.

On Christmas Eve of the same year, Fessenden accomplished the first voice and music broadcast to ships from Massachusetts. "Oh Holy Night" was played and a few passages from the Bible were read during this magical night. Unfortunately, many scientists today believe that this story is only a wonderful myth. But investors did not quite believe in the one-to-many concep. However, the U.S. government began requiring radio operators to obtain licenses to send out signals in 1912 and the broadcasting pioneer Charles Herrold was on air daily before World War I interrupted their operations.

But also in other countries, especially in Europe, experiments and developments progressed. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was formed in 1922 and in Germany, the first radio program was on air in October 1923.

At yovisto you may enjoy an instruction on the functionality of radio broadcast from 1943.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

The Nuremberg Chronicle and the History of the World

Woodcut of Nuremberg, Nuremberg Chronicle
On December 23, 1493, the German version of the Nuremberg Chronicle - in German 'Schedelsche Weltchronik' - was published. It is one of the best-documented early printed books - an incunabulum - and one of the first to successfully integrate illustrations and text. Moreover, it was the most extensively illustrated book of the 15th century. OK, unless you are not a book history afficionado, a bibliophile eccentric or a historian with focus on early German Renaissance, you might have never heart of today's subject, the Nuremberg Chronicle. But, be reassured, it is worth while.

Nuremberg was one of the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire in the 1490s, with a population of between 45,000 and 50,000. Although dominated by a conservative aristocracy, Nuremberg was a center of northern humanism. The author of the text, Hartmann Schedel, was a physician, humanist and book collector. He earned a doctorate in medicine in Padua in 1466, then settled in Nuremberg to practice medicine and collect books. According to an inventory done in 1498, Schedel's personal library contained 370 manuscripts and 670 printed books, which was a fortune in these times. To compose the text of the World Chronicle, Hartman Schedel used passages from the classical and medieval works in his collection. He borrowed most frequently from another humanist chronicle, Supplementum Chronicarum, by Jacob Philip Foresti of Bergamo. It has been estimated that about 90% of the text is pieced together from works on humanities, science, philosophy, and theology, while about 10% of the Chronicle is Schedel’s original composition. Thus, the Nuremberg Chronicle, is an early Remix or Mashup.

This page of the Nuremberg Chronicle describes
"Saul, the first king of the Jews", David, Samuel, Jonathon
and others.
The Chronicle itself is an illustrated world history, in which the contents are divided into seven ages. The First age starts with the creation of the world and ends with the Deluge, followed by the Second age that covers the time until the birth of the patriarch Abraham. The Third age of the world ends with the reign of King David and the Fourth age ends with the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. The Fifth age ends with the birth of Jesus Christ, followed by the Sixth age until present day (1493 AD), followed by an outlook on the Seventh age, when the end of the world and the Last Judgement will come. The large workshop of Nuremberg's leading artist of the time, Michael Wolgemut provided the unprecedented 1,809 woodcut illustrations. But, as usual in these early times of printing, woodcuts as e.g. for city scapes were reused on several occasions in the book, which finally leads to 645 unique woodcuts. For example, the woodcut that is used to represent Damascus is used to represent Verona and is also used to represent Mantua and Naples elsewhere in the work. Some see evidence that famous Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer helped to prepare several of the woodcuts, as he was an apprentice of Wolgemut in these days.

The illustrations in The Nuremberg Chronicle were not only its most important selling point, they were actually the reason for its being. It was the illustrator and engraver Michael Wolgemut who conceived the idea of preparing a profusely illustrated world history. He tried to get his friend, the printer and publisher Anton Koberger to undertake it, but Koberger felt it was too expensive and risky a project, so Wolgemut obtained the support of two wealthy patrons, the Nuremberg merchants Sebald Schreyer and his son-in-law Sebastian Kamermeister, whereupon Koberger agreed to do the printing. The Chronicle was first published in Latin already in July 1493. A German translation followed quickly and an estimated 1400 to 1500 Latin and 700 to 1000 German copies were published overall. Approximately 400 Latin and 300 German copies survived into the twenty-first century. Many copies of the book are also colored, with varying degrees of skill; there were specialist shops for this. The coloring on some examples has been added much later, and some copies have been broken up for sale as decorative prints. The popularity of the book is shown by the fact that there were five editions in only eight years. The reasons for its success are not difficult to see. It contained more illustrations than any book previously printed from movable type, which was enough to make it a "best seller." Its subject matter also had wide appeal, for history has always been a popular subject.

The publisher and printer of the Nuremberg Chronicle was Anton Koberger, the godfather of Albrecht Dürer, who in the year of Dürer's birth in 1471 ceased goldsmithing to become a printer and publisher. He quickly became the most successful publisher in Germany, eventually owning 24 printing presses with more than 100 craftsmen and having many offices in Germany and abroad, from Lyon to Budapest.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Renaissance art of illustration in the lecture 'Dürer and Beyond: Central European Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1400-1700'.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

The World's Fastest Aircraft - Lockheed SR-71

The SR-71B Blackbird, flown by the Dryden Flight Research Center as NASA 831
slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California
On December 22, 1964, the Lockheed SR-71 Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft started for her maidenflight. Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.

The SR-71's predecessor was the reconnaissance aircraft U-2. But it was known to be very slow and was mostly used by CIA. The SR-71 was designed for flight at speeds beyond Mach 3 with a flight crew of two in tandem cockpits and to minimize its radar cross-section. As a special feature, titanium was used on 85% of the Blackbird. This was special, because most aircraft were equipped with the minimum amount of titanium due to the high costs. Also, the aircraft was equipped with several features to reduce its radar signature, but engineers later conceded that the Soviet radar technology advanced faster than the stealth technology employed against it. The sharp edges on either side of the aircraft generated powerful vortices and additional lift, which significantly improved the aerodynamic performance and stability. The SR-71 could be refueled in air by special tankers on longer missions, and refueling even worked at the tanker's maximum airspeed. The incredible speed that came with the aircraft and its new operational service ceiling of more than 20km, new oxygen masks had to be created to provide more oxygen as well as a heavy-duty cooling system.

What made the SR-71 so innovative were her engines, two Pratt & Whitney J58-P4, which could produce a static thrust of 145 kN. A unique hybrid, the engine can be thought of as a turbojet inside a ramjet. At lower speeds, the turbojet provided most of the compression and most of the energy from fuel combustion. At higher speeds, the turbojet largely ceased to provide thrust; instead, air was compressed by the shock cones and fuel burned in the afterburner. During its maiden flight on December 22, 1964, the SR-71 reached a top speed of Mach 3.4 and the very first aircraft to enter service was delivered to California in 1966. In 1968, the first operating location was reached in Okinawa, where the nickname Habu (a Japanese snake) was created for the aircraft. During the years, a total of 32 planes were built and the SR-71 finally retired in 1998. The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. The New York City - London distance was flown in only 1 hour 54 minutes, which was an hour faster than the fastest commercial Concorde flight. The Boeing 747 would take about 6 hours and 15 minutes for the same distance. The SR-71 finally was permanently retired in 1998. All remaining aircrafts are on display in museums today, except two which remain at NASA.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a detailed interview with a former Blackbird pilot, who discusses his experiences in the air and talks about myths concerning the aircraft and their missions.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Boccaccio and his Decameron

Giovanni Boccaccio and Florentines
who have fled from the plague
On December 21, 1375, Italian author, poet, correspondent of Petrarch, and important Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio passed away. He is best known for his masterpiece 'The Decameron' told as a frame story encompassing 100 tales.

You haven't heart about the 'Decameron'? You definitely should, simply because it is the masterpiece of European Renaissance literature. It its 100 stories it provides us with an intimate contemporary view into medieval and early Renaissance European society. But, before I will tell you more about its content, let me introduce its genius creator to you, the author, poet, and important humanist Giovanni Boccaccio.
“While farmers generally allow one rooster for ten hens, ten men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman.” (Giovanni Boccaccio, from 'The Decameron')
The details of Giovanni Boccacio's birth are rather uncertain. He was born in Florence or in a village near Certaldo where his family was from. He was likely born out of wedlock to his father Boccaccino di Chellino, a Florentine merchant, and grew up in Florence. Boccaccio may have received an early introduction to the works of Dante by his tutor Giovanni Mazzuoli. In 1326, Boccaccio's family moved to Naples, where his father was appointed head of a bank. As usual in these days, Boccaccio was supposed to follow his father into the banking profession. Although already an apprentice at the bank, Boccaccio succeeded to persuade his father to let him study canon law for the next six years, where he also pursued his interest in scientific and literary studies.
“Heaven would indeed be heaven if lovers were there permitted as much enjoyment as they had experienced on earth”. (Giovanni Boccaccio)
It seems Boccaccio enjoyed law no more than banking, but his studies allowed him the opportunity to study widely and make good contacts with fellow scholars. At Naples he began to write first stories in verse and prose, mingled in courtly society, and fell in love with a noble lady whom he made famous under the name of Fiammetta in his writings. After the death of his father in 1348, Boccaccio returned to Florence and became guardian to his younger brother while maintaining public offices in Florence. Meanwhile, he was trying continually to put his financial affairs in order, though he never succeeded in doing so. It was in 1350, when Boccaccio’s lifelong friendship with Petrarch began. Both writers often worked closely with each other and together their works are considered by some to be the foundation of humanist literature.
"A kissed mouth doesn't lose its freshness, for like the moon it always renews itself." (Giovanni Boccaccio, from 'The Decameron')
Boccaccio completed the great Decameron in 1358 in the form in which it is read today. It narrates hundred stories of seven women and three men who reside in a country villa for ten days after escaping from the plague in Florence. In the broad sweep of its range and its alternately tragic and comic views of life, it is rightly regarded as his masterpiece. The tales treat a wide variety of characters and events and brilliantly reveal humanity as sensual, tender, cruel, weak, self-seeking, and ludicrous. Boccaccio presents life from an earthly point of view, with a complete absence of moral intentions. If nothing is sacred, if a corrupt clergy is shown in all its greed and vanity, this offers stuff for amusement but never satire. Stylistically, the Decameron is the most perfect example of Italian classical prose, and its influence on Renaissance literature throughout Europe was enormous, as e.g. great writers such as Shakespeare and Chaucer are known to have borrowed a lot. Also renowned poets such as George Eliot, Tennyson, Keats, Longfellow and Swinburne have written poems revolving around the Decameron. Boccaccio on the other hand was impressed by the works of Dante and conducted lectures on his poems in 1373.
"Do as we say, and not as we do." (Giovanni Boccaccio, from 'The Decameron')
During his last years Boccaccio lived principally in retirement at Certaldo, and would have entered into holy orders, moved by repentance for the follies of his youth, had he not been dissuaded by Petrarch. Soon after the death of his older friend Petrarch, Boccacio passed away at age 62 on Dec. 21, 1375, in Certaldo, where he is also burried.

At yovisto you can learn more about the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio in the lecture of Prof Wayne Rebhorn from New York University on 'Translating Boccaccio'.

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Friday, December 20, 2013

The World's First Nuclear Power Plant

The first four light bulbs lit with electricity generated from the EBR-1 reactor
On December 20, 1951, Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) became the world's first electricity-generating nuclear power plant when it produced sufficient electricity to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs.

The reactor is located in the the state of Idaho between the Idaho Falls and Arco. The construction was designed by Walter Zinn and Enrico Fermi at the Argonne National Laboratory. The famous Italian physicist Fermi became next to his achievements on the projects, known for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics. The Argonne National Laboratory was the first of the national laboratories established by the Manhattan Project and there, Fermi was able to continue his work on experimental physics and investigated neutron scattering. When the Manhattan Project was replaced by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947, they accepted the power plant project and two years later, construction work in the the semidesert of Idaho began.
Assembly of the core of Experimental Breeder Reactor I

The project's objective was the demonstration of power generation and further nuclear research. The reactor's core was able to be replaced and the coolant circuit as well as the primary and secondary circuit were powered by a liquid sodium-potassium alloy (NaK). The secondary circuit would transfer its energy in a heat exchanger into a water-steam-circuit that was finally able to power a combination of a generator and a turbine.

In August 1951, a first attempt failed because the reactor failed to provide the critical mass. However, the core was reconstructed and in December of the same year, a small amount of electric energy was 'produced'. On day one, the energy lasted for only four light bulbs, but after a few days the reactor was able to provide the power for several research projects. The until then only theoretically assumed breeding process was achieved in 1953 for the first time.

During its overall runtime, the reactors core was changed four times. The last was called Mark IV and was installed in 1962. It consisted of plutonium and was therefore globally the first reactor, 'producing' electrical energy from fission of plutonium and that produced more fuel atoms than consumed. The reactor was closed in 1964 and replaced by the Experimental Breeding Reactor II. Shortly after, the area was announced a National Historic Landmark and can be visited during the summer by the general public.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a talk by Steward Brand, who discussed the question 'Does the World need Nuclear Energy'

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Carl Wilhelm Scheele and the Discovery of Oxygen

Plate from Carl Wilhelm Scheele's
"Chemical Observations and Experiments on Air and Fire"
On December 19, 1742 (Gregorian Calendar), Swedish Pomeranian pharmaceutical chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele was born. Scheele is best known for his discovery of oxygen and other chemical elements.

Carl Wilhelm Scheele was born in Stralsund, which was back then under the control of Sweden, but belongs to Germany on this day. During his childhood, friends of the family taught him reading prescriptions and equipped him with further chemical knowledge. At the age of 14, he apprenticed with a befriended pharmacist, where he was able to perform numerous experiments after his daily work. This period was very influential, and he stayed there for about eight years, while learning from the works of Nicolas Lemery, Caspar Neumann, and Georg Ernst Stahl. Staring from 1765, Scheele worked for the apothecary C. M. Kjellström in Malmö and shortly after for A.J. Retzius, a professor at the University of Lund. When he began working as a pharmacist, Scheele discovered tartaric acid and researched on the relation of quicklime to calcium carbonate. Scheele got to know many influential scientists of this field and was able to slowly increase his reputation.

At Locke, Uppsala, Scheele became the director of the great pharmacy where he developed a great friendship with the chemistry professor Torbern Bergman. He was allowed to use Bergman's laboratory and a fruitful working relationship between the scientists evolved. In 1777, Scheele got the chance to take part in a meeting of the Academy of Sciences and later on passed examination as apothecary before the Royal Medical College, with the highest honor. After that, Scheele devoted most of his time to research instead of his business.

Starting during his teenage years, Scheele enjoyed to study air. Back then, the phlogiston theory was widely accepted. It described a fire-like element called phlogiston, contained within combustible bodies, that is released during combustion. It was first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher and when Scheele first learned about the theory of gases he also studied this now obsolete theory. After discovering oxygen, Scheele named it 'fire air', because it supported combustion. Still, he did not think this would disprove the phlogiston theory. But even though he never discarded the theory, historians and chemists on this day do not question Scheele's role in the overturning of the theory. Unfortunately for Scheele, he did not recognize the significance of his discovery. However, during his correspondence with Lavoisier, the French chemist knew about this work's importance very well.

Next to oxygen, Scheele is credited with the discovery of chemical elements like barium, manganese, tungsten and several chemical compounds, such as citric acid, lactic acid, glycerol and more. Scheele also made up a process that is very similar to pasteurization and was a leading figure in Sweden becoming the world's leading producers of matches.

In May 1786, Carl Wilhelm Scheele passed away and it was later found that he died of mercury poisoning. He was known to have been sniffing and tasting every new substance that he discovered and he was exposed to arsenic, mercury, lead and their compounds.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Professor McBride called "Oxygen and the Chemical Revolution" at Yale University in 2008.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Antonio Stradivari and his famous Strings

Illustration of Antonio Stradivari
On December 18, 1737, famous Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari passed away. Besides violins Stradivari also crafted cellos, guitars, violas, and harps. He is generally considered the most significant and greatest artisan in this field.

There is only little known of Stradivari's early life, but his oldest surviving violin was presumably from 1666. It is assumed that he began apprenticeship with Nicolo Amati at the age of about 12 years. Amati was a violin maker who held a great reputation. His way of building instruments was admired and he started teaching important figures from today's perspectives like Matthias Klotz, who also became known for his violins. However, several historians claim, that Stradivari became a woodworker first and then went into designing instruments.

Also, it is assumed that Antonio Stradivari only slowly developed his unique style of building violins, but from the very beginning, his instruments were not much alike with those of Nicolo Amati. Stradivari's were known to be a lot more masculine with less rounded curves. In the 1680s, his reputation grew  and it is assumed that he was supposed to build an entire set of instruments that were presented to King James II of England. After Amati passed away, the demand for Stradivari instruments suddenly grew and in this period, his style changed dramatically as well. Soon, he was known as one of the most brilliant craftsmen world wide.

Another change in style by Stradivari was being noticed after his wife passed away. His patterns got larger and the vanish became darker, opposing Amati's yellow-ish vanish. With the beginning of the 18th century, Stradivari's so called Golden Period began and the quality of his instruments increased as much as his selling rates.

On this day, his instruments count as the finest with the most beautiful sound ever built. Even today, many high professional musicians play the historic instruments and the record price paid as a public auction for a Stradivari was over 2 million USD in 2005. The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra owned the largest known collection of Stradivari instruments, but sold it just recently.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a lecture about the violins made by Stradivari and some background information on his life and work by Peter Skaerved at the Library of Congress

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