Archive | History

The Myth of the Perpetual Motion Machine

A diagram showing Redheffer's machine.

A diagram showing Redheffer’s machine.

History is rife with intriguing stories of conmen and their ploys. The pathetic, but interesting, story of Charles Redheffer is a testament to the fact that smart men will always expose the dumb man (especially when they are as arrogant as Charles Redheffer).

In 1812, Mr. Redheffer arrived in Philadelphia claiming that he had invented a “perpetual motion machine.” He claimed that it required nothing to run. Quickly Redheffer became something of a celebrity in Philadelphia, where he charged the locals to witness his fantastical machine at work.

Redheffer’s downfall in Philadelphia began after he brazenly asked the city to help fund a larger version of the machine. City officials arrived to inspect the machine, but were only allowed to view “through a barred window, as Redheffer was concerned anyone going near the machine might damage it” or, you know, they might discover his fraudulent claims. One of the inspectors’ sons was skeptical of Redheffer’s machine and “noticed that the gears of the perpetual motion machine were worn in the wrong direction if it was really powering the other device.… Read the rest

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“The Thing” – Storyboard to Film Comparison

If you haven’t figured it out through previous posts of mine, I’m fascinated by the ingenuity and brilliance of film directors and the people they work with. I’m biased, but I do think that film is by far the most challenging and rewarding of the arts. It’s one of the only art forms that can easily transcend societal barriers. The only other art I’d consider to have such an effect is music, but what’s unique about cinema is that it’s inclusive of all art forms. You will find that the fine arts, music, photography, and writing all play an integral role in the creation of a quality film.

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Still from the The Thing (1982)

Take for example, The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982). Artist Michael Ploog crafted two of the most visually stunning scenes via beautifully drawn storyboards. In the video below (thanks to Vashi Visuals), you can see the comparison between Ploog’s highly impressive drawings and the brilliant special effects and cinematography of the actual film.… Read the rest

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You (Had) The Right to Resist Unlawful Arrest

600px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svg

Seal of the United States Supreme Court.

1893 – ‘If in the course of arresting it becomes necessary for the citizen to take the life of the officer, the charge against the citizen shall not exceed manslaughter.’ Plummer v. State, 136 Ind. 306.

1900 – In the historic ruling of John Bad Elk v. U.S., the Supreme Court stated:

“Where the officer is killed in the course of the disorder which naturally accompanies an attempted arrest that is resisted, the law looks with very different eyes upon the transaction, when the officer had the right to make the arrest, from what it does if the officer had no right. What may be murder in the first case might be nothing more than manslaughter in the other, or the facts might show that no offense had been committed.”

Although the precedent of this ruling has since been overturned, it was actually stated by the Supreme Court in the year 1900.  What are the chances these days you would be indicted of manslaughter if you took the life of an unlawful-law-officer?  Maybe you need to have the middle name “Bad.”  And the last name “Elk.”

Read more about “Your Right of Defense Against Unlawful Arrest” here.… Read the rest

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World War I Propaganda 100 Years On

100 years ago this month, hostilities broke out in the most hellish war the world had seen at the time.  Naively, we thought that this was the “War to End All Wars,” as though the memory of atrocity and suffering were the best safeguard against it!  Here is some World War I propaganda various nations used to incite people to participate in throwing away lives for no reason. What will the propaganda inciting people to participate in throwing away lives for no reason look like in our next war?

See more propaganda on a previous post here.

Head over to WW1 Propaganda.com for the entire collection.

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America’s Love of All Things Nuclear: Starfish Prime

Have you heard of Starfish Prime? In the 1960s, the US government shot a nuclear bomb into space where it detonated. It’s assumed that the blast caused many satellite failures in ensuing months.

via The Huffington Post:

The resulting nuclear explosion in space, reports Discover Magazine, was a pulse of energy so strong it affected electrical circuits, power lines, and streetlights in Hawaii, nearly 600 miles away.

The purpose of this test was, basically, just to see what would happen, notes HowStuffWorks. Specifically, researchers wanted examine how the explosion would affect the Van Allen Radiation Belts — bands of high-energy protons and electrons that follow the Earth’s natural magnetic field — to see if they could be manipulated for national defense purposes.

Scientists learned plenty from the experiment, and bystanders from Hawaii to New Zealand were treated to a view of “rainbow skies,” but according to NPR, this “greatest man-made light show” actually resulted from radioactive particles coming into contact with oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere.

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THE BAYESIAN CONSPIRACY: Not World Domination, Just Optimization, or: How to be right almost all of the time, or at least not wrong most of the time

225px-Thomas_BayesOne of my favorite H.L. Mencken quotes is the following: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” I find this as accurate now as it was when Mencken first wrote it, and I imagine it won’t only be the cynics in the audience agreeing with me. But is the reverse also true?  Is the urge to rule humanity ever a false front for the urge to save it? The Bayesian Conspiracy would like to think so, but then that’s exactly what a group dedicated to ruling humanity would say.

But first: Thomas Bayes is behind all this. Thomas Bayes, born in 1702 to a reverend Joshua Bayes, was a fellow of the Royal Society and was “one of the first non-conformist ministers to be publicly ordained in England.” His Philosophical Transactions became the basis of a statistical technique, now called Bayesian Estimation, for calculating the probability of the validity of a proposition on the basis of a prior estimate of its probability and new relevant evidence.Read the rest

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Pythagorean Cup: The Cup For Gluttons

I’d venture to say there’s a glutton hiding inside all of us. Some of us are gluttons for food, some for money, and some for that enchanting nectar – alcohol. Alcohol addiction has plagued human kind since we first discovered the joys of that sweet, fermented liquid. The ancient Greeks were no less immune to gluttonous drinking and Pythagoras of Samos cleverly designed a cup that would expose the greedy: the Pythagorean Cup.

Pythagorean cup, (Author: Nevit Dilmen)

Pythagorean cup diagram, (Author: Nevit Dilmen)

From Wikipedia:

A Pythagorean cup (also known as a Pythagoras cup, a Greedy Cup or a Tantalus cup) is a form of drinking cup that forces its user to imbibe only in moderation. Credited to Pythagoras of Samos, it allows the user to fill the cup with wine up to a certain level. If they fill the cup only to that level, the imbiber may enjoy a drink in peace. If they exhibit gluttony, however, the cup spills its entire contents out of the bottom (onto the lap of the immodest drinker).

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