Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Poetry of Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman
(1819 – 1892)
On May 31, 1819, American poet, essayist and journalist Walt Whitman was born. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.

Walt Whitman ended his formal education at the age of 11 in order to work and support his large family financially. First, he was an office boy and later he was apprenticed at the weekly Long Island newspaper, the Patriot. It is assumed that occasionally, he was able to write filler material for the paper. Before he turned 16, Whitman took a position at the shop of Alden Spooner, editor of the leading Whig weekly newspaper the Long-Island Star, where he began attending theater performances, joined a town debating society, and and anonymously published some of his earliest poetry.

The young poet then moved to New York City in order to find some work as a compositor, but had some difficulties. After this failed attempt, Whitman moved back in with his family at Long Island and started a teaching career. In the following period, Whitman started an attempt to create his own newspaper, but was again forced to teach. Still, he published a series of ten editorials, called "Sun-Down Papers—From the Desk of a Schoolmaster", between the winter of 1840 and July 1841. He went back to New York to work for several newspapers, with modest success. Still, he determined to become a poet and in 1850, he began writing what would become Leaves of Grass, a collection of poetry which he would continue editing and revising until his death. At the end of June 1855, Whitman surprised his brothers with the already-printed first edition of Leaves of Grass. Unfortunately, his brother George "didn't think it worth reading". However, the book received a good attention and was praised the most by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote a flattering five-page letter to Whitman and spoke highly of the book to friends. The more critical responses tended to focus on the potentially offensive sexual themes.

Whitman was highly influenced by the Civil War. He was worried that his brother was wounded and made his way to find him. Luckily, George had only small wounds, but seeing the wounded soldiers and the heaps of their amputated limbs affected the author. Whitman volunteered as a nurse in army hospitals and published a book called 'Memoranda During the War' about 12 years later. Whitman soon started working for the government, but was fired on June 30, 1865, presumably because of his 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. However, his friend Douglas O'Connor highly protested and published a biased and exaggerated biographical study, The Good Gray Poet, in January 1866, which defended Whitman as a wholesome patriot, established the poet's nickname and increased his popularity. Also important for Whitman's fame in this period was the publication of "O Captain! My Captain!", the famous poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln. Poems of Walt Whitman was published in 1868 in Enland, which became highly popular.

Due to his declining health, Whitman moved in with his brother and still was very productive in this period, publishing three versions of Leaves of Grass among other works. He was also last fully physically active in this house, receiving both Oscar Wilde and Thomas Eakins. After Whitman had moved into his own house, he prepared a final edition of Leaves of Grass, a version that has been nicknamed the "Deathbed Edition".

Walt Whitman passed away on March 26, 1892

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on Walt Whitman and the Civil War by Terrence Pratt.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Elly Beinhorn and her Love for Aviation

Elli Beinhorn arrives at Berlin Tempelhof in 1931
Image Source:  German Federal Archive, Accession number: 102-11633
On May 30, 1907, German aviatrix and stunt pilot Elly Beinhorn was born. In the 1930s she broke several long distance flight records including flying over three continents in a single day. When it comes to the history of aviation, there seem to be less gender issues compared to other technological disciplines, as our growing list of women aviation pioneers here at yovisto blog can proof (cf. below). We already reported on Amy Johnson and her flight to Australia as well as about famous Amelia Earhart, who got lost during one of her record breaking flights over the Pacific. Today, we want to draw the focus to a German aviatrix, Elly Beinhorn. There is actually also a personal connection with today's story, because my grandmother made a piloting license for gliders back in the 1930s. From her tellings when I was a child, I know that she pretty much admired Elly Beinhorn as an example for her own ambitions.

An only child, Elly Beinhorn was born into a merchant family in Hannover, Germany, where she grew up dreaming of travel and adventure in foreign lands. At the age of 20, she attended a lecture by famed aviator Hermann Köhl, who had recently completed a historic East-West Atlantic crossing, which must have been the initial spark that ignited her lifelong interest in aviation. On the next day, Elly was reporting to the president of the aviation club in Hannover to take flying lessons. But, he tried to persuade her that as being a woman she would have no chance to get a job as an aviator. Nevertheless, Elly was sticking to her idea. Her mother was crying and her father doubted about her reasoning. Against all odds, with funds from a small inheritance she moved to Spandau in Berlin where she took flying lessons, at Berlin-Staaken airport, under the tutelage of instructor Otto Thomsen. She soon made her solo flight in a small Klemm KL-20. With her money running out, it was suggested that she give aerobatic displays on the weekends. She found this financially rewarding, but personally unsatisfying.

Long distance flying should become her real passion and in 1931 she seized the opportunity to fly to Portuguese Guinea, West Africa on a scientific expedition. On the return journey, engine failure resulted in a crash-landing in the Sahara. With the help of nomadic Tuareg tribesmen, Elly joined a camel caravan to Timbuktu. She subsequently returned to the crash site to recover parts of the plane. Word of her plight reached the French authorities and they sent a military two-seater plane to collect her. In April 1931, fully recovered, she was able to fly herself back to Berlin to a warm reception from the crowds.

Soon after this, she embarked on another flight, her Klemm monoplane developing mechanical problems near Bushire, Persia. She found Moye Stephens, another pilot, in Bushire, who helped her fix the problem on her Klemm. Stephens and travel-adventure writer Richard Halliburton were flying around the world in a Stearman C-3B biplane, they called the Flying Carpet. She accompanied them on part of their flight, including the trip to Mount Everest. She flew on to Bali - and eventually Australia. In the process, she became only the second woman to fly solo from Europe to Australia, after Amy Johnson.

Having landed in Darwin, North Australia, Elly headed down to Sydney, arriving in March 1932. Her plane was dismantled and shipped to New Zealand, then Panama where it was reassembled. There Elly resumed her flight, following the western coast of South America, where she was presented with a medal in Peru. An ill-advised trip across the Andes followed. The plane was dismantled once more in Brazil and shipped to Germany. Elly arrived in Berlin in June 1932.

Now famous but in debt to the tune of 15,000 marks or more, she was pleasantly surprised to be awarded the Hindenburg Cup, 10,000 marks and several other monetary awards from the German aeronautical industry which enabled her to continue her career. She also continued to write articles and sell photographs of her travels to raise funds. Free of debt, she took off for Africa using a Heinkel He 71, flying down the east coast, then back up the west coast. The following year, Elly shipped the plane to Panama, then flew through Mexico and California before crossing the United States to Washington DC and Miami. Elly and the plane returned to Germany by ship, arriving in January 1935. She was now a true German heroine

On 29 September 1935 Elly attended the Grand Prix, held in the town of Brno in Czechoslovakia. She congratulated the winner, Bernd Rosemeyer, who seemed smitten with her. They danced together that night and were married on 13 July 1936. A true celebrity couple – an adventurous aviator and the fearless racing driver – they were the toast of Nazi Germany. Heinrich Himmler ordered a reluctant Bernd to become a member of the SS. Just ten weeks after the birth of their son in 1937, Rosemeyer was killed while attempting a speed record. As a national hero he was mourned by much of Germany. After World War II she briefly took up gliding due to the ban on powered flight in Germany. But she soon moved to Switzerland to continue flying planes. In 1979, at the age of 72, she surrendered her pilot's licence. Elly Beinhorn died on 28 November 2007, at the age of 100.

At yovisto, you may be interested in extracts of interviews with Elly Beinhorn herself [in German].

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Johann Heinrich von Mädler and the First Accurate Map of the Moon

The Moon
On May 29, 1794, German astronomer Johann Heinrich von Mädler was born. He ist best known for producing the first exact map of the Moon, the Mappa Selenographica.

Even though Mädler's talents were discovered very early into his childhood. Unfortunately, his parents passed away very early and he had to care care of his younger siblings, even though he had always wished to study mathematics and astronomy. He financed his family though private tutoring and eventually managed to receive an official teaching licence. Starting from 1818, Mädler finally studied mathematics at the University of Berlin under the well known mathematician Martin Ohm. Also, he received many lessons in astronomy. His first published obervations were performed in 1822.

In this period, Mädler also got to know the wealthy hobby astronomer Wilhelm Beer. Mädler taught the man in science and was able to use his private observatory, where he observed mostly the moon and later planet Mars together with Beer. The first accurate maps of Mars and the Moon were created in the 1830s. Mädler drew a huge map of the moon, which was published in 1834. In later years, smaller maps were also published and soon became standard reading in the scientific community. These works made Mädler very popular and his reputation as an astronomer increased, wherefore he was announced professor of astronomy in 1837.

The scientists spent some time observing the Moon in Estonia in order to create an even bigger map, but unfortunately, the weather was not suitable most of the time and he was only able to make some detailed drawings. However, Mädler also found some time to perform observations on double stars and fixed stars. During his life as a scientist, Mädler also worked as a scoentific journalist and wrote about the young pioneer photographic pioneer Henry Fox Talbot. It is assumed that Mädler coined the term 'photographie' in 1839.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by Ross Beyer, who talks about "Making maps to explore the Earth, Moon, and Mars".

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thomas Moore - Ireland's National Bard

Thomas Moore
painting by Thomas Lawrence
On May 28, 1779, Irish poet, singer, songwriter Thomas Moore was born. He is best remembered for the lyrics of "The Minstrel Boy" and "The Last Rose of Summer". Moreover, he was responsible, with John Murray, for burning Lord Byron's memoirs after his death.

Thomas Moore had ambitions to become an actor from early age, as he appeared in plays with his friends in his early school years. He enrolled at Trinity College in 1795 in order to become a lawyer instead, since this was his mother's wish. Even though his grades were good at the beginning, Moore put only few effort into his studies. His law studies then continued in London even though writing became his major passion. During his time in London, Moore's works became increasingly popular. They included 'The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls' or 'The Meeting of the Waters':
There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet,
As the vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh, the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart.
In the poem, Moore describes the river Avoca in County Wicklow, Ireland. It starts life as two rivers, the Avonmore and the Avonbeg. These join together at a spot called the Meeting of the Waters. In this period, the artist had already finished several ballads, which were published as Moore's Irish Melodies in 1846 and 1852. His influence in literature and society grew and Moore soon managed to meet the Prince of Wales on several occasions. Also, he enjoyed the patronage of the Irish aristocrat Lord Moira in particular. Lord Moira was known to own a very large library in his house at Donnington Park in Leicestershire, which Moore visited quite often in this period.

In the early 1800s, Moore became registrar to the Admiralty in Bermuda, but found his tasks not inspiring as he stated that there was not much to do and found that he did not have much in common with the society there. However, during his period in Bermuda, he wrote his Ode to Nea, which caused quite a scandal since it suggested a love affair. Very soon, Nea was identified with Hester Tucker, the young wife of one of his colleagues.

In the following period, Moore travelled across the United States and Canada and developed a deeply critical view of the United States. He came to dislike Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Party. During his journey in Canada, Moore wrote one of his most famous works, Canadian Boat Song. In 1804, he returned home. His book, Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems was published after his return and the criticisms of the United States in the book provoked outrage in America and led to a number of rebuttals. In Britain, the work led to Moore challenging the editor Francis Jeffrey to a duel. However, the duel was interrupted by the arrival of governmental officials. It was then reported that Moore's opponent had been given an empty pistol and the persistent mockery of the author continued. Moore was especially angered by Lord Byron's comment on the event. He wrote "on examination, the balls of the pistols, like the courage of the combatants, were found to have evaporated". As a response, Moore wrote to Lord Byron, that unless the remarks were clarified Moore was prepared to fight Byron. But, when the two met each other, the dispute was settled and they became close friends.

Beginning with the year 1806, Moore dramatically changed his style of writing. He started writing lyrics to a series of Irish tunes, in collaboration with John Stevenson. He became best known for these Irish Melodies which were enormously popular containing songs such as The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose of Summer, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms and Oft, in the Stilly Night. Thomas Moore began another trip, this time across France, Switzerland, and Italy. In Venice, he briefly spent some time with Lord Byron, which is considered as their last meeting. Byron gave Moore his memoirs with instruction to publish them after his death. Moore was much criticized later for allowing himself to be persuaded to destroy Byron's memoirs at the behest of Byron's family because of their damningly honest content. Moore did, however, edit and publish Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, with Notices of his Life in 1830, six years after Byron's 1824 death in Greece.

In his later life, Thomas Moore settled in Wiltshire, England. He has become a novelist and biographer as well as a successful poet. In 1830 he sang in front of the future Queen Victoria in a duet with her mother, and later composed a song Sovereign Woman in her honor. Thomas Moore passed away on 25 February 1852. He is considered Ireland's National Bard and many composers have set the poems of Thomas Moore to music, including Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz, Charles Ives and many more. Also James Joyce cited many of his songs for example Silent, O Moyle!

At yovisto you may enjoy the two part video lecture by Tim McGee talking about Lord Byron and English Romanticism in general.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Niccoló Paganini - the Devil's Violinist

Niccoló Paganini
(1782 – 1840)
On May 27, 1840, Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini passed away. He was the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time, and left his mark as one of the pillars of modern violin technique.

Already Paganini's father made his living from music. He used to play the mandolin and also taught his third son Niccolò how to master the instrument. At the age of seven, the young boy moved to the violin and immediately turned out to be successful. He earned himself several scholarships and was taken to Parma by his father in order to being taught by the famous Alessandro Rolla, who sent him to his own teacher, Ferdinando Paer. At the age of 18, Paganini already worked as first violin of the Republic of Lucca and along with his incredible skills came his reputation as a womanizer and gambler.

After playing at court for a while, Paganini toured through Genoa and Parma. His fame in the area was enormous, in contrast to the rest of Europe, where he was unfortunately only little known. However, things changed after a concert in Milan around 1813. Paganini became well known by further leading musicians and during his tour starting in Vienna in 1828, he became famous far beyond Italy's borders. The musical genius played in Germany, Poland, Britain and France.

In the following period however, Paganini faced serious problems concerning his health. He was reputed to have been affected by Marfan syndrome and additionally, the stress coming from the many concerts and his lifestyle took their toll. Even though he was officially cured quite fast, he had to cancel many concerts due to various health problems and it is also assumed that he suffered from a severe depression at some time. Around 1834, he retired from his career as a concert musician. He now devoted most of his lifetime to composing and publishing further works as well as teaching.

Niccoló Paganini passed away on May 27, 1840 and he was buried in Parma several years later. His major works were presumably created between 1805 and 1809 and they are known for being technically imaginative. The solo piece Duetto Amoroso became known as one of his most brilliant, depicting the sighs and groans of lovers on the violin. It is assumed that Paganini influenced many musicians, such as Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and George Rochberg. In 2013, a movie titled "The Devil's Violinist" was released starring David Garrett as Niccoló Paganini.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a concert of Niccolò Paganini's Caprice No. 24 In A Minor, played by James Ehnes.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

August von Parseval`s Airships

Parseval in Augsburg
source: German Federal Archive
On May 26, 1906, August von Parseval succeeded launching his new airship at Berlin Tegel military field. In contrast to his rival Zepellin, Parseval's airships - also in honor of their inventor called Parsevals - were non-rigid or semi-rigid airships, with little or no stiffening structure inside the fabric envelope.

While studying in Augsburg, August von Parseval met his future business partner Hans Bartsch von Sigsfeld. Together, they made early developments of balloons. Von Parseval devoted his life to aeronautics pretty early and learned the principles autodidactic. His first developments were even used for military purposes, especially for reconnaissance and faced a big success for the engineer. They soon started building a navigable airship and it is assumed that the first successful models appeared around 1901.

While trying to land one of the airship one year later a horrible accident occurred and Parseval's partner Sigsfeld passed away. This resulted in a construction and developing break until 1905. As the development of engines moved forward, Parseval became able to use these for his airship. In the 1920s and 30s, the engineer built several keel-airship and Parseval also increased his interest in the construction of crafts heavier than air. His first experiments considering actual planes mainly took place on the water due to safety reasons. However, the first attempts were very unsatisfying and even after a complete re-developments, the planes would never lift off the water. On October 7, 1910, Parseval attempted another lift off. This time however, he made sure that the plane would have enough speed for lift off and was successful. In the following months, Parseval reached altitudes of approximately 75 meters, and distances of three to four kilometers. In 1911, the engineer retired from his experiments and started teaching the theories of flight that he had learned during his career.

Between 1909 and 1919, about 22 airship were constructed under Parseval's name. The engineer's airship were very popular and seen as a great competition to Zeppelin. In order to stabilize his airship, Parseval used the ability to change the temperature of the gases inside the balloon. In contrast, Zeppelin had used huge metal rods.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by Randy Friedl on the Opportunities of Airships in Earth Science.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

The First US Space Station Skylab

Skylab as SL2 mission departs
Image by NASA
On May 25, 1973, the first crew of astronauts reached the US space station Skylab. Skylab was the first US space station and orbited Earth from 1973 to 1979.

Already in the 1950s it was expected by space scientists, that a space station would be a necessary step in space exploration. Wernher von Braun envisioned a very large space station with room for about 80 people including astronomers, meteorologists and soldiers to guard the station.

After the 1969 moon landing however, NASA was concerned about losing the numerous workers associated with the project. Therefore, von Braun, who was then head of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center then advocated for a smaller station in order to start the project soon. He proposed a concept that became widely known as 'wet workshop'. The station was supposed to be built from the S-II second stage of a Saturn V. Inside the shell was a 10-foot (3.0 m) cylindrical equipment section. On reaching orbit, the S-II second stage would be vented to remove any remaining hydrogen fuel, then the equipment section would be slid into it via a large inspection hatch. Power was to be provided by solar cells lining the outside of the S-II stage. This concept was son succeeded by the 'dry workshop' due to financial cuts. The new plan simplified the interior for the station and also the living conditions for the astronauts were improved from previous missions. Space food was re-developed as previous astronauts found the taste and composition, in the form of cubes and squeeze tubes very unpleasant.

The Orbital Workshop was renamed "Skylab" in 1970 and three years later, on May 14, it was launched by the modified Saturn V. Unfortunately, severe damage was sustained during the launch including the loss of the station's micrometeoroid sun shade and one of its main solar panels. The first manned mission SL-2 involved repairs to the station, which included two space walks. In total, three manned missions were made to Skylab and the last crew returned on February 8, 1974. In this period, Skylab logged about 2,000 hours of scientific and medical experiments, 127,000 frames of film of the Sun and 46,000 of the Earth.

When the missions were completed, the future of Skylab was highly debated. Several scientists proposed plans for reusing the station again in 1978 but the plans turned out quite risky, since the attitude control system needed refueling and that the station's gyroscopes had failed. The re-entry of Skylab faced great media attention. The station's debris landed southeast of Perth, Australia.

At yovisto, you may be interested in an entertaining video on the 40th anniversary of Skylab by NASA.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Aviatrix Amy Johnson and the Flight to Australia

Amy Johnson in India
Image by Wikimedia User Dabbler
On May 24, 1930, American aviatrix Ami Johnson safely landed in Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia after a 18.000km flight, becoming the first woman pilot to fly solo from England to Australia.

Amy Johnson earned her Bachelor if Arts degree in economics at the University of Sheffield. She was introduced to flying and gained the "A" pilot licence in 1929, followed by the "C" licence shortly after. She was highly supported by her father and he also helped her to purchase her first plane, which she named "Jason". She managed to fly from England to Australia in 1939 as the first known woman all by herself. On 5 May the pilot left London and landed in Darwin on 24 May. She flew about 18.000 km and immediately received great attention for her achievements. Johnson received the Harmon Trophy, which is usually awarded annually to the world's outstanding aviator, female aviator, and aeronaut.

In July 1931, Johnson and her co-pilot Jack Humphreys, became the first pilots to fly from London to Moscow in only one day. They completed the 2,830 km journey in approximately 21 hours and from there, they continued across Siberia and on to Tokyo, setting a record time for flying from Britain to Japan. The flight was completed in G-AAZV de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth, named "Jason II". Only one year later, the pilot set a solo record for the flight from London to Cape Town, South Africa in a Puss Moth, "G-ACAB", named Desert Cloud. Her next flights were as a duo, she flew nonstop from Pendine Sands, South Wales, to the United States.However, their aircraft ran out of fuel and crash-landed in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In the accident, both pilots were injured, but received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street.

Johnson was promoted to a First Officer around 1940, when she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, which was responsible for transporting Royal Airforce aircraft around the country. Only one year later, the brave pilot flew an Airspeed Oxford for the ATA from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford. She went off course in adverse weather conditions and it is assumed that she ran out of fuel. Johnson bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary. Her parachute was spooted as she went down into the water and it is known that she was still alive at that point. However, conditions were poor and the woman faced a very heavy see and a strong tide. Also, snow was falling and it was intensely cold. During an attempt by a near by boat crew to rescue her, she died and her body could never be recovered. The circumstances under which the woman died are still quite a mystery. The exact reason for the flight is still a government secret and there is some evidence that besides Johnson and Fletcher, who attempted to rescue her, a third person was also seen in the water and also died. Who the third party was is still unknown. In 1999, it was officially reported, that Amy Johnson may have been shot down. Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex claimed that "he reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day (a signal to identify aircraft known by all British forces) over radio". Apparently, it became clear that it was Amy Johnson, who flew the plane only at the next day and Mitchell said that "the officers told us never to tell anyone what happened".

At yovisto, you may be interested in a historical video documentation on Amy Johnson.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow
between 1932 and 1934
On May 23, 1934, the American robbers Bonnie and Clyde are ambushed by police and killed in Black Lake, Louisiana. Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow became American pop folklore as outlaws and robbers when traveling the central United States with their gang during the Great Depression.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker got married to Roy Thornton shortly after they had dropped out of high school. The marriage was not considered as happy and they broke up quite soon even though they never got divorced. She worked as a waitress in Dallas and to her frequent customers belonged Ted Hinton, who would join the Dallas Sheriff's Department in 1932 and participated in her ambush. Clyde Chestnut Barrow's career as a criminal started when he was 17 and he first got arrested for the possession of stolen turkeys and for running from the police after failing to return a rental car on time. After several further crimes, he was sent to Eastham Prison Farm and there, he was sexually abused in and killed one man for doing so. His sister stated that "something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn't the same person when he got out". Barrow continued his 'career' robbing grocery stores and gas stations, but it was said that "Barrow's goal in life was not to gain fame or fortune from robbing banks, but to seek revenge against the Texas prison system for the abuses he suffered while serving time". It is assumed that Bonnie and Clyde met on January 5, 1930.

Clyde and his companions started a series of robberies in order to collect enough money and firepower to launch a raid of liberation against Eastham prison. They killed several people during their robberies including lawmen and by then, Clyde was accused of murder for the first time. Bonnie and Clyde brushed the law quite often already in this period. The gang attracted the police's attention while discharging an automatic rifle while someone cleaned it. The officers assembled a five-man force in two cars on to confront what they suspected were bootleggers living in the garage apartment. The gang killed the detective and wounded another officer immediately and they fled the apartment while getting wounded themselves as well. The gang left most of their belongings including weapons, poems by Bonnie, undeveloped film rolls and official documents in the apartment. The group became quickly known as the Barrow Gang across the country. They continued their robberies ranging from Texas to Minnesota, not hesitating to kill or wound anyone.

However, life got more and more difficult as the crimes continued. They avoided public places and got used to washing themselves in the rivers as well as preparing their food over camp fires. In 1933, the gang checked into the Red Crown Tourist Court in Missouri and started to attract attention through the way they dressed and behaved. Quickly, the police put the cabins under surveillance and shortly after the sheriff led a group of officers armed with Thompson submachine guns toward the cabins. This time, the gang was not as successful evading the law. One member was shot in the head and died a few days after surgery and another was captured. The remaining trio ranged far afield from their usual area of operations. When another member of the gang got arrested, Bonnie and Clyde were the only remaining gang members for a while.

In January 1934, Clyde organized a jailbreak for Raymond Hamilton. During the attempt, prison officer Major Joe Crowson was shot, which resulted in a full power manhunt by the Texas and federal governments. Former Texas Ranger Captain Frank Hamer was contacted and persuaded to hunt down the Barrow Gang. In April of the same year, Bonnie and Clyde were accused of firing fatal shots at two young highway patrolmen and a 1000 USD reward was offered for the couple's bodies. The public hostility towards the gang increased when a widower single father was killed. Hamer started tracking the gang in February, 1934 and studied their movements. The gang's itinerary centered on family visits, and they were due to see their new partner's family in Louisiana. Hamer expected this, and had obtained a quantity of civilian Browning Automatic Rifles and 20-round magazines with armor-piercing rounds.

The posse concealed in the bushes, knowing the couple's approximate location. When Clyde approached with his stolen Ford V8, the lawmen opened fire, killing Bonnie and Clyde while shooting a combined total of about 130 rounds. Researchers have said Bonnie and Clyde were shot more than fifty times and the officers inspected the vehicle and discovered an arsenal of weapons, including stolen automatic rifles, sawed-off semi-automatic shotguns, assorted handguns, and several thousand rounds of ammunition, along with 15 sets of license plates from various states. A large crowd gathered at the scene and policemen had to guard the bodies. Still, a woman managed to cut off bloody locks of Bonnie's hair and pieces from her dress, which were then sold. One man even attempted to to cut off Clyde's trigger finger. Within hours, the small town was estimated to swell in population from 2,000 to 12,000.

At yovisto, you may be interested in video footage recorded shortly after the couple was shot.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hergé and the Adventures of Tintin

Hergé's signature
On May 22, 1907, Belgian cartonist Georges Prosper Remi, better known under his pen name Hergé, was born. His best known and most substantial work is the 23 completed comic books in The Adventures of Tintin series.

Georges Prosper Remi grew up in the suburbs of Brussels, Belgium, which he considered as extremely boring. However, he developed a great interest in movies, especially the ones of Charlie Chaplin and Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur. Furthermore, he enjoyed British and American novels like Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and The Pickwick Papers. He also began to sketch out scenes from his everyday life, which increased his enthusiasm in drawing. He was highly supported by his boy scout master, who published one of his drawings in a newsletter. Further publications in the Belgian boy scout newsletter followed and the young artist began experimenting with several pseudonyms, such as "Jérémie" or "Jérémiades". "Hergé" is based on the pronunciation of his reversed initials (R.G.) and he first used his now famous pseudonym in December 1924. Hergé's first published comic strip was titled "Les Aventures de Totor, C.P. des Hannetons" and revolved around the adventures of a Boy Scout patrol leader. He also sought guidance from an older cartoonist, Pierre Ickx, and together they founded the short lived Atelier de la Fleur de Lys, an organisation for Christian cartoonists.

The young artist enrolled at in the École Saint-Luc art school, which he found boring and left after only one lesson. Due to his boredom, he enlisted for military service before he was called up, and in August 1926 was assigned to the Dailly barracks at Schaerbeek. He was still bored by the military training, but in his free time, he managed to continue sketching and producing episodes of Totor. When he met the editor of Le XXe Siecle, the Abbé Norbert Wallez, he was hired as a photographic reporter and cartoonist for the paper. In 1928, Wallez founded a newpaper supplement for children, Le Petit Vingtième. It appeared once a week and Hergé illustrated L'Extraordinaire Aventures de Flup, Nénesse, Puosette et Cochonet for the paper. However, he increasingly felt the need to publish a comic strip of his own. The front page of the 1 May 1930 edition of Le Petit Vingtième declared that "Tintin Revient!" ("Tintin Returns!") from his adventure in the Soviet Union.

The famous Tintin character was born. He was a Belgian boy reporter who traveled the world with his fox terrier, Milou. Although Hergé wanted to send his character to the United States, Wallez instead ordered him to set his adventure in the Soviet Union. The story was published as a series and even a book of Tintin's adventured followed shortly after, which increased his fame even more. In his next adventure, the character was sent to Congo. Unfortunately, in later decades the story would be accused of racism, but at the time, it was un-controversial and popular. Tintin in America was serialized from September 1931 to October 1932. Hergé became quite famous and international newspapers started requesting his works.

Further works of the period were The Lovable Mr. Mops and The Adventures of Tim the Squirrel Out West. From August 1934 to October 1935, Le Petit Vingtième serialised Tintin's next adventure, The Blue Lotus. It was set in China and Hergé's production work was highly influenced by his friend Zhang Chongren, a Catholic Chinese student. Zhang gave him lessons in Taoist philosophy, Chinese art, and Chinese calligraphy, influencing not only his artistic style but also his general outlook on life. Hergé added another character to his series, a young Chinese boy named Chang Chong-Chen who meets and befriends Tintin. The Blue Lotus has been widely considered as "Hergé's first masterpiece", due to high attention to accuracy, resulting in a largely realistic portrayal of China. In 1936, they also began production of Tintin merchandise, something Hergé supported,. He even developed the idea of an entire shop devoted to The Adventures of Tintin, which was accomplished about 50 years later.

Hergé was mobilized as a reserve lieutenant during the Second World War and had to interrupt Tintin's adventures. Le Petit Vingtième was shut down by the Nazi occupiers and Hergé launched The Crab with the Golden Claws, the first of six Tintin stories which he produced during the war. In the future, Hergé had to move the focus of Tintin's adventures away from current affairs, in order to avoid controversy. Also, the comic strip was changed to a daily three- or four-frame strip instead of two complete pages every week. Therefore, Hergé had to introduce more frequent gags and faster-paced action. Hergé invented stories including an expedition to a meteorite, an intriguing mystery and treasure hunt, and a quest to undo an ancient Inca curse. During and after the German occupation Hergé was accused of being a collaborator because of the Nazi control of the paper, and he was briefly taken in for interrogation after the war.

One of the last of Tintin's adventures took place in Tibet. Tintin was sent to the Himalayas in search of Chang Chong-Chen, the Chinese boy he had befriended in The Blue Lotus. Hergé came to regard this highly personal and emotionally Tintin adventure as his favorite. Hergé's financial success allowed him to travel across Europe, America, and Asia in his later working period. He passed away on 3 March 1983 and left the twenty-fourth Tintin adventure, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture titled "How to Create Characters" with an artist named Jazza.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Marcel Breuer - Master of Modernism

A Ski Resort in France designed by Marcel Breuer
On May 21, 1905, Hungarian-born modernist, architect and furniture designer of Jewish descent Marcel Breuer was born. Being one of the masters of Modernism, Breuer extended the sculptural vocabulary he had developed in the carpentry shop at the Bauhaus into a personal architecture that made him one of the world’s most popular architects at the peak of 20th-Century design.

Marcel breuer
(1905 - 1981)
Marcel Breuer was one of the first students at the Bauhaus arts and craft school in Weimar, Germany. There, his talents were detected early and he became a faculty member of the school after it had moved to Dessau. Breuer was first recognized by the community for his steel furniture and he managed to make his living from these designs. Later on, Gropius assigned him Interiors at the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung and led him to his first house assignment for the Harnischmachers in Wiesbaden in 1932. The designer moved to London due to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s. There, he was employed by Jack Pritchard at the Isokon company. The company was one of the earliest proponents of modern design in the United Kingdom and Breuer designed his Long Chair as well as experimented with bent and formed plywood there. His career moved on with F. R. S. Yorke. Breuer had designed several houses with the English Modernist before accepting the invitation by Gropius to follow his teacher and mentor to Massachusetts.

Both designers created a completely new style of American housing, which was spread by their great collection of wartime students. The Geller House I of 1945 is one of the first to employ Breuer's concept of the 'binuclear' house. It is characterized by separate wings for the bedrooms and for the living, dining, and cooking area. They are typically separated by an entry hall, and with the distinctive 'butterfly' roof. Breuer's first two important institutional buildings were the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in 1955. The projects were followed by nearly 100 houses in 30 years and he went through several design phases.

Marcel Breuer passed away in 1981 in New York City. Breuer's buildings were always distinguished by an attention to detail and a clarity of expression. He is widely considered one of the last true functionalist architects and he is believed to have shifted the bias of the Bauhaus from "Arts & Crafts" to "Arts & Technology". Many pieces of modern, tubular steel furniture are still in use today, including the Cesca and Wassily chairs by Breuer himself. They are still in production and their origins can easily be traced back to the Breuer experiments of the mid-20's.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on 'Architecture in the Early 20th Century - Modernism' by Kenny Mencher.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Abraham Ortelius and the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

Ortelius World Map - Typus Orbis Terrarum
On May 20, 1570, Belgian cartographer and geographer Abraham Ortelius publishes the first modern atlas, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, in Antwerp. It consisted of a collection of uniform map sheets and sustaining text bound to form a book for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved.

Abraham Ortelius was born in Antwerp, but grew up with his uncle after his father passed away at young age. In 1575, he was appointed geographer to the king of Spain on the recommendation of Arias Montanus, who vouched for his orthodoxy. During his life, Ortelius spent much time traveling through Europe and it is known that he spent much time in France, eastern Germany and Italy. However, Ortelius also started a career as a map engraver and entered the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke as an illuminator of maps in 1547. He traded books, pints, maps, and even visited the book fair in Frankfurt and a print fair where he met the German cartographer, philosopher and mathematician Gerardus Mercator. The two men traveled to Trier, Lorraine, and Poitiers and Ortelius was highly influenced by Mercator and motivated to become a scientific geographer.

Ortelius' famous first map, Typus Orbis Terrarum was published in 1564 and depicted a large wall map of the world. In the following years, he also published a map of Egypt, a plan of the Brittenburg castle on the coast of the Netherlands, and maps of Asia and Spain. An important milestone for Ortelius himself, but also for the research work in ancient geography was the masterpiece Synonymia geographica, published in 1578. In the expanded form of the work, Ortelius writes about the possibility of continental drift. This hypothesis was proven correct several centuries later. Alfred Wegener played a major role in the later research work on the topic around 1912.

The first modern atlas, as it is called today, was published on 20 May 1570 and titled Theatrum Orbis Terrarum. It consisted of 53 maps and it was translated in several languages, such as Dutch, German, and French. During Ortelius' lifetime, 25 editions were published and several others followed posthumously. The masterpiece inspired a six volume work entitled Civitates orbis terrarum, edited by Georg Braun and illustrated by Frans Hogenberg with the assistance of Ortelius himself. In In 1573 Ortelius published seventeen supplementary maps under the title Additamentum Theatri Orbis Terrarum. Next to his maps, Ortelius also had a great interest and gathered an impressive collection of coins, medals and antiques, and this resulted in the book Deorum dearumque capita ... ex Museo Ortelii.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a short explanation of the Abraham Ortelius' World Map from 1571.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Alcuin of York and the Carolingian Renaissance

Carolingian Manuscript, Rabanus Maurus (left), with Alcuin (middle), dedicating his work to Archbishop Odgar of Mainz (right)
On May 19, 804 AD, English scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher Alcuin of York passed away. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. According to Einhard's Life of Charlemagne, Alcuin was "the most learned man anywhere to be found".

Alcuin grew up in Yorkshire as the son of a nobleman. He attended the internationally well known school in York, mostly famous for its liberal arts, literature, and science, as well as in religious studies. He graduated, became a teacher and deacon in the church in the 750s. Even though he used to live his life as a monk, he was never ordained a priest or became a monk officially.

It is assumed that he met Charlemagne for the first time in 781 in Parma. He convinced Alcuin to follow his invitation to Aachen, where he was appointed teacher of a renowned school. Later on, Alcuin is believed to have said that "the Lord was calling me to the service of King Charles". He was welcomed at the Palace School of Charlemagne in Aachen around 782. The school was founded by Charles' ancestors as a place to educate the royal children. Charlemagne also wanted to include liberal arts as well as religion. Alcuin not only taught the royal children, but also the king himself and his sons Pepin and Louis. Alcuin managed to create a personalized atmosphere of scholarship and learning, and the school became later well known as the "school of Master Albinus". Alcuin had a great influence on the young elite of the area and was already considered as one of the greatest scholars of his time.

Next to his teaching duties, he took his role as a religious and political advisor very seriously and his ideas were highly respected by the emperor. Alcuin tackled him over his policy of forcing pagans to be baptised on pain of death, arguing, "Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptised, but you cannot force them to believe". These arguments seem to have prevailed, because Charlemagne decided to abolish the death penalty for paganism in 797. Charlemagne was known to befriend many of his men at court and they used to refer to him as 'David'. Also Alcuin found himself on intimate terms with Charlemagne and the other men at court.

Alcuin returned to England in 790, but came back to help Charlemagne in the fight against the Adoptionist heresy which was at that time making great progress in Toledo. Alcuin is believed to have had contacts with Beatus of Liébana, from the Kingdom of Asturias, who fought against Adoptionism. He upheld the orthodox doctrine and obtained the condemnation of the heresiarch Felix of Urgel. Having failed during his stay in Northumbria to influence King Æthelred in the conduct of his reign, Alcuin never returned home. He continued working at Charlemagne's court and retired from his duties in 796. Alcuin passed away on 19 May, 804.

During his lifetime, Alcuin wrote numerous letters that are now an important source of information concerning the literary and social conditions of the time and a reliable authority for the history of humanism during the Carolingian age. Today, he is considered as the most prominent figure of the Carolingian Renaissance.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture by Professor Paul Freedman, who discusses the Carolingian dynasty from its origins through its culmination in the figure of Charlemagne

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Beaumarchais and Figaro's Wedding

Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais
On May 18, 1799, French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais passed away. Bonmarchais, who also was a watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, horticulturalist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary (both French and American), is best known for his theatrical works, most notably the three Figaro plays.

Born in the Rue Saint-Denis, Paris on 24 January 1732 as a provincial watchmaker's son, Beaumarchais rose in French society and became influential in the court of Louis XV as an inventor and music teacher. At the time, pocket watches were commonly unreliable for timekeeping and were worn more as fashion accessories. In response to this, young Beaumarchais spent nearly a year researching improvements. In July 1753, at the age of twenty one, he invented an escapement for watches that allowed them to be made substantially more accurate and compact. One of his greatest feats was a watch mounted on a ring, made for Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of Louis XV. The invention was later recognised by the Academy of Sciences, but only after a dispute with Lepaute, the royal watchmaker, who attempted to pass off the invention as his own. The affair first brought Beaumarchais to national attention and introduced him to the royal court at Versailles.

In 1756, at age 24, Beaumarchais married a rich widow who died a year later. He found himself with a fortune -- the first of several he made and then lost. Musically talented, he became harp teacher to the daughters of Louis XV in 1759. In 1764 he made a journey to Spain to protect or vindicate his sister, who had been abandoned by her betrothed, Clavigo. His account of this mission in his Mémoires suggested the drama Clavigo to Goethe. He brought from Madrid a knowledge of things Spanish that was later of much use to him. He now turned to the drama, wrote Eugénie (1767), a fairly successful domestic drama, and Les deux amis, a decided failure in the pathetic vein. Meantime he had become engaged in financial speculations that led to lawsuits, and these to a series of Mémoires, appeals to the public that are among the most vigorous, audacious, clever, and witty polemics in literature. Their attack on judicial injustice gave them a universal interest. They were eagerly read and deepened the discontent with the existing state of society that was to culminate in the French Revolution.

Beaumarchais thus became a political personality. In 1776, after the remnants of George Washington's American army had crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania in 1776, and British troops prepared to seize the rebel capital of Philadelphia, Beaumarchais wrote to French foreign minister Vergennes: "The Americans will triump, but they must be assisted in their struggle. We must . . . send secret assistance in a prudent manner to the Americans." France joined the American War of Independence against Britain officially in 1778, but Beaumarchais had already supplied arms to the American colonies. Beaumarchais was confidentially employed by Louis XV and later by Louis XVI; but before this he had snatched a sensational dramatic triumph out of failure by rearranging a comic opera into a five-act comedy-his Barbier de Séville (1775), Spanish in scene, but essentially French at the heart; the most famous comedy of the century, save only its sequel from the same hand.

The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro showed Beaumarchais sympathy for the lot of the under-privileged people and the lower classes. In both plays the hero is a valet, Figaro, who is more clever than his noble employers, especially his master Almavira. In these class-conscious plays Beaumarchais mocked aristocracy although he was well-aware of his dependance on its favour. This also created a constant tension in his dramas – much is said and much is written between the lines. Mozart's opera version of the play was based on the libretto written by Lorenzo da Ponte. It gained a huge popularity. "Here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro," wrote Mozart to a friend from Prague. By his writings, Beaumarchais contributed greatly, though quite unconsciously, to hurry on the events that led to the French Revolution. When the French Revolution broke out, Beaumarchais was no longer the idol he had been a few years before. He was financially successful, mainly from supplying drinking water to Paris, and had acquired ranks in the French nobility.

Nevertheless, Beaumarchais pledged his services to the new republic. He attempted to purchase 60,000 rifles for the French Revolutionary army from Holland, but was unable to complete the deal. While he was out of the country, Beaumarchais was declared an émigré (a loyalist of the old regime) by his enemies. He spent two and a half years in exile, mostly in Germany, before his name was removed from the list of proscribed émigrés. He returned to Paris in 1796, where he lived out the remainder of his life in relative peace.

Although we don't have anything directly related with Beaumarchais, at yovisto you can listen to a lively introduction into Mozart's Magic Flute opera from San Diego Opera talk.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Antikythera Mechanism - an Ancient Analog Computer

The Antikythera mechanism
On May 17, 1902, Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais discovers the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical analog computer, designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses.

The famous mechanism was discoverey in a shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. In October 1900, a group of sponge divers discovered the wreck and retrieved a great number of artifacts dating back to the end of the second century BC, which included bronze and marble statues, pottery, glassware, jewelry, coins, and of course, the mechanism. All together, they were brought to the National Museum of Archaeology in Athens for research purposes. However, the mechanism itself stayed unnoticed for over two years. The big clot of corroded bronze and wood looked pretty inconspicuous to the museum staff and they decided that other pieces had a higher priority. It took two more years until archaeologist Valerios Stais found out that one of the pieces belonging to the mechanism had some kind of gear wheel embedded in it. The scientist immediately thought of an astronomical clock, but most of the archeologists examining the mechanism from then on believed it to be prochronistic due to its incredible complexity. Unfortunately for Stais, the investigations on the device were dropped. The physicist, historian of science, and information scientist Derek J. de Solla Price increased his interest in the mechanism in 1951. Along with the Greek nuclear physicist Charalampos Karakalos he took X-ray and gamma-ray images and published a very large scientific paper on their findings in the 1970s. It was quickly realized, how important the mechanism was and Cardiff University professor Michael Edmunds, who led a 2006 study of the mechanism, described the device as "more valuable than the Mona Lisa".
Antikythera Machine mechanical model
Image: Mogi Vicentini

Derek Price concluded that the device was an astronomical computer capable of predicting the positions of the sun and moon in the zodiac on any given date. A new analysis, though, suggests that the device was even more complex than the scientist thought and reinforces the evidence for his theory of an ancient Greek tradition of complex mechanical technology. Today, the device is often called the first analog computer. However, it is also assumed that the mechanism may have had predecessors during the Hellenistic Period that remained undiscovered. One of the things that astonished the experts the most was the high level of miniaturisation and overall complexity that was for example seen in 14th century astronomical clocks. Since research on the device progressed only slowly and needed decent funding, the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project was initiated in 2005. It is an international collaboration of academic researchers, which aims to completely reassess the function and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism. Recent findings of the project suggest that the concept for the mechanism originated in the colonies of Corinth, since some of the astronomical calculations seem to indicate observations that can be made only in Corinth area of ancient Greece. Also, a connection to the school of Archimedes is assumed, since Syracuse was a colony of Corinth and the home of the inventor, mathematician and engineer. But this is not the only theory regarding the device's origin. Some historians assume that it may have been built in the ancient Greek city of Pergamon.

It was found out that the mechanism was operated by turning a small hand crank which was linked via a crown gear to the largest gear. This allowed the setting of the date on the front dial and the calculation of the position of the Sun and Moon and other astronomical information was possible. It is known that the device has at least 30 gears, but on this day it is still argued whether the mechanism had indicators for all five of the planets known to the ancient Greeks. It is assumed that the gears were created from a blank bronze round using hand tools and with the help of X-ray images, the precise number of teeth and size of the gears within the located fragments could be determined and thus, the basic operation of the device was revealed. Another point that was highly discussed was the question whether the mechanism was based on the geocentric or even the heliocentric model. It was then found out that since the device's purpose was to position astronomical bodies with respect to the celestial sphere, in reference to the observer's position on the Earth, the device was based on the geocentric model.

In 2012, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the United States received permission from the Greek Government to conduct new dives around the deep shoals of Antikythera. The researchers hope to find other small pieces of the Antikythera mechanism on the sea floor as well as to locating and surveying the wrecks of other ships that foundered near the island.

At yovisto, you may be interested in a discussion about 'The Technology of the Antikythera Mechanism' at the Getty Museum.

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