Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in review

For the review of the decade, I offer the the chart at the top by way of the New York Times (click for larger version). But for the year in review, I bring you the sun, the moon, and an exhaustive (well, exhausting, anyway!) list of 2009 "Top Tens" and such:

2009 Year in Review: News (slideshow)

Celebrities who Died in 2009 (thumbnails)

Smithsonian Magazine 6th Annual Photo Contest Winners and Finalists: The Natural World (slideshow)

National Geographic's Top 10 Archaeology Finds of 2009 (thumbnails)

Discover Magazine's Top 10 Astronomy Pictures of 2009 (slideshow)

10 Emerging Technologies 2009 (list)

10 Winners of the American Institute of Architects Residential Design Award 2009 (slideshow)

Guardian Readers' Best Travel Photos of 2009 (slideshow)

The Best Art Books of 2009 (slideshow)

Dave Barry's Year in Review: 2009 (column)

The World was an Odd Place in 2009 (article)

2009: A Strange Year in Florida (article)

2009 Darwin Awards (links)

50 Funniest Headlines of 2009 (list)

10 Weirdest Animal Stories in 2009 (slideshow)

Top 10 Cryptozoology Stories of 2009 (list)

Be careful on the roads tonight. I'm sure you don't need a gimmick like this to remind you to designate a driver. Happy New Year from Quigley's Cabinet!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gibson guitar

This was a big year for the guitar manufacturer Gibson:

February 26, 2009 - A California court tossed out Gibson Guitar's patent infringement lawsuit against the maker of the game "Guitar Hero."

April 24, 2009 - Gibson, a sponsor of the Orlando GuitarTown charity event, offered a reward for the return of a 10' guitar sculpted for the event by local artist David Brotherton.

July 13, 2009 - Gibson celebrates the 72nd birthday of its 1st electric guitar, designed by general manager Guy Hart and described as "not a traditional, hollow-bodied guitar getting a boost from a pickup, but rather a guitar that makes noise only when it’s plugged in."

August 12, 2009 - American musician Les Paul, who invented the Gibson solid-body electric guitar - the "quintessential rock instrument," died at age 94.

November 17, 2009 - agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served a search warrant on company officials at a Gibson manufacturing plant where its acoustic and electric guitars are made, possibly in reference to the possible use of banned hardwoods from the rainforest to make premium guitars.

November 20, 2009 - The Gibson Company unveiled the Les Paul Tribute 1952 guitar, which is "anchored by a golden mahogany body, [has a] maple top and rosewood fingerboard, [and is] equipped with an all-new bridge that’s an exact replica of Les’ original 1952 patent."

November 26, 2009 - A Gibson Guitar float - carrying Jimmy Fallon and his TV-band "The Roots," a 2-story-tall guitar, and a tambourine the size of a mini-van - was featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Tomorrow, the year in review - Quigley's Cabinet-style...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More scary paths

My follower Kent Schnake had much to add after seeing my post on the Camino del Rey in Spain.

He sent photos (images 3 and 4) that were taken by some friends of his on a recent trip to Machu Picchu in Peru and remarks, "The second shot definitely qualifies as a scary path in my book."

He sent a link to the trailer for Himalaya (1999) with the comment, "I was astounded by the paths that the salt caravan walked year after year."

And the "scariest path in the world" evoked a memory from 25 years ago, when he was at a family reunion in Estes Park, Colorado. He writes, "The tallest peak in that area is Long's Peak at well over 14,000'. [My wife] Barbara's parents, siblings, and I decided to climb it. There is a popular trail that is basically a 'walk up' of about 7 miles. The first 5 or so miles are mainly tedious as one winds up the much less steep side of the mountain. We all made it to the 'keyhole' [image 1], which is an opening through the sharp spine of the mountain, still several hundred feet of elevation from the top. Wind rushes through the keyhole since it is the lowest east-to-west opening along that ridge. Then you find yourself on a trail that winds along the side of the much steeper face of the mountain. The trail is reasonably wide and level. I remember it resembling a sidewalk set into the side of the mountain [image 2]. The drop-off is not a sheer cliff, but it is far too steep to catch yourself were you to fall. The wind gusted against me and caused me to sway on my feet. I chickened out at that point. It is just as well, the trail only got scarier until you got past a point called 'narrows' where apparently you have to hold an iron spike in the wall and swing around a boulder that protrudes into the path. I hugged the wall with sweaty palms as I went back, and nonchalant hikers passed me as they continued to the top."

Thanks for sharing, Kent! English travel writer Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904), who visited Colorado in 1873, found inspiration in Long's Peak and wrote about it in one of her best-known books, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains:

"Long's Peak, 14,700 feet high, blocks up one end of Estes Park, and dwarfs all the surrounding mountains. From it on this side rise, snow-born, the bright St. Vrain, and the Big and Little Thompson. By sunlight or moonlight its splintered grey crest is the one object which, in spite of wapiti and bighorn, skunk and grizzly, unfailingly arrests the eyes. From it come all storms of snow and wind, and the forked lightnings play round its head like a glory. It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one's imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds, to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice, and the lightnings do it homage. Other summits blush under the morning kiss of the sun, and turn pale the next moment; but it detains the first sunlight and holds it round its head for an hour at least, till it pleases to change from rosy red to deep blue; and the sunset, as if spell-bound, lingers latest on its crest. The soft winds which hardly rustle the pine needles down here are raging rudely up there round its motionless summit. The mark of fire is upon it; and though it has passed into a grim repose, it tells of fire and upheaval as truly, though not as eloquently, as the living volcanoes of Hawaii. Here under its shadow one learns how naturally nature worship, and the propitiation of the forces of nature, arose in minds which had no better light."

The Keyhole Route, Long's Peak's only non-technical - but still very challenging - hiking pathway, is open for hiking for only a short time most summers. This was the route taken by Isabella Bird. Altogether, approximately 50 people have lost their lives on Long's Peak.

Monday, December 28, 2009


A Christmas Carol 12/24/09 A Scottish paper cites a survey that claims people tire of their Christmas turkey leftovers at exactly 2:04PM on December 27th.

Octopus achievement 12/15/09 A fun video (with Spanish text) of experiments showing the intelligence of the pulpos.

Circus animals on the lam 11/13/09 Three tigers escaped from a Mexican circus caravan and only one was recaptured.

Placentas and more 11/12/09 A clinic in Dubai is offering placenta-based facial treatments.

One man band 10/24/09 A video of Canadian street musician Scott Dunbar.

Maldives 10/18/09 Also facing the consequences of global climate change, the Inuits need to raise money to buy communal freezers to store the game they hunt in the Arctic.

Scrabble creator 5/9/09 The "7 Scariest Placed to Play Scrabble."

Accidental fossil discoveries 5/5/09 While studying microraptors, paleontologists have identified the fossil (photo above) of an extinct bird with venomous fangs.

Centenarians and then some 3/23/09 A woman in Brazil celebrated her 100th birthday last month, and this month asked her grandson to book her a skydive. Featured in the print edition of the Orlando Sentinel last Sunday was 99-year-old Cecil Woods of Eustis, Florida, who will celebrate the century mark on New Year's Eve and will also be renewing her driver's license.

Killer chimpanzees 2/17/09 It was revealed this month that chimpanzees were observed using cleavers and anvils as tools to process food and mastering the first step in controlling fire. Scientists had already conceded in April 2007 that chimps are genetically more evolved than humans, and reported in June 2007 that they are able to pass on their culture like we can.

Disturbing decapitations 1/23/09 The man who decapitated his female classmate at Virginia Tech has pled guilty.

Animal accidents 1/16/09 Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management authorizes certain vendors to retrieve, prepare, cook, and serve the deer killed on the state's roads.

Oldest zoo in the world 11/10/08 The Kiev Zoo in the Ukraine is still in a sorry state since being expelled from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in 2007.

Marijuana and embalming fluid

I first heard of joints dipped in embalming fluid on an episode of my favorite series of all time, Six Feet Under. Known as "sherm," "fry," "amp," "illy," "wet," "wack," or "dank," the dipping of the marijuana is said to intensify the high. In fact, the joints are not dipped in embalming fluid, but in a liquid containing PCP - which is referred to in slang as "embalming fluid" because the drug's numbing effects leave the user feeling "embalmed" or "dead." This point of confusion has led to the use of actual embalming fluid which, if purchased on the street, contains PCP. The use of both embalming chemicals and PCP (phencyclidine) are bad ideas. Smoking formaldehyde-based embalming fluid - a known carcinogen - can lead in the short term to headaches and nausea, and in the long term damage to the throat and lungs, including bronchitis, emphysema, and even cancer. Smoking PCP - originally devised as a surgical anesthesia - leads in small doses to numbness, euphoria, intoxication, hallucinations, dissociative states, anger, and addiction, and in large doses (above 20mg) can cause psychosis, brain damage, coma, and even death. One article about smoking embalming fluid and/or PCP references a case in 2000 in which a 14-year-old stabbed a person to death. And a paper on the subject explains the production, procurement, and use of these so-called $10-20 "happy sticks" by adolescents since the 1970s and suggests a tighter control on the legal purchase of formaldehyde.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Bushmeat - the meat of terrestrial wild animals killed and eaten for subsistence - is the focus of a gruesome contest of survival...between those in tropical America, Asia, and Africa who want to butcher the animals for food and profit and those worldwide who want to save the same animals from extinction. The Bushmeat Crisis Task Force describes the issue as follows:

"Commercial, illegal and unsustainable hunting for the meat of wild animals is causing widespread local extinctions in Asia and West Africa. It is a crisis because of rapid expansion to countries and species which were previously not at risk, largely due to an increase in commercial logging, with an infrastructure of roads and trucks that links forests and hunters to cities and consumers."

Bushmeat includes the meat of elephants, hippopotamus, zebras, duikers (forest antelopes), bush pig, pangolin, porcupine, and small monkeys, but is often associated with apes (specifically the gorilla, chimpanzee, and bonobo). Besides conservation, another reason the avoid the meat of wild animals is the threat of contracting a zoonotic disease, which this website warns about as it points out that Nairobi butchers are selling bushmeat disguised as beef. That was one of the dangers cited in the news this month that a New York resident has been sentenced for smuggling smoked monkey meat into the United States from her native Liberia. Bushmeat has in fact made its way to the public market in New York City; Washington, D.C.; and even Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This post was sparked by the news that a man in China has eaten what may have been the last wild Indochina tiger in that country.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dismembered dolls

One of the Christmas gifts from my sister and family this year was a handcrafted conjoined twins doll similar to this one from Devout Dolls! And within the past couple of days, I learned of one of Europe's oldest doll repair shops, the Lisbon, Portugal, Doll Hospital (est. 1830). "I love what I do....You have to have patience and a certain sensibility, including knowing where to stop. The restoration is very delicate and we cannot spoil the historic look....the patina of time has to remain," says restorer Lurdes Cardoso. She's got a cabinet of extra heads and limbs (1st photo) at her disposal. This would give those with a fear of dismembered dolls the creeps, but not nearly as bad as a visit to Mexico's "La Isla de la Munecas” [The Island of the Dolls]. This strange and supposedly world-renowned tourist destination (2nd photo) features mutilated dolls hanging from every tree, compliments of a 50-year compulsion by hermit Don Julian Santana. Santana is said to have drowned in 2001 in the same canal that took the life of the small girl whose spirit he tried to appease with this strange display. Even for people without a distinct phobia, dismembered dolls can be rather disturbing. This December, a U.K. prison psychologist has been intimidated by the placement of doll parts on and around her car. And this past June, a U.S. teacher was fired for assigning his students a project that involved the use of dismembered doll parts. Lastly, there is a doll company that specializes in dismembered dolls - Headless Historicals (3rd photo) - but adds the disclaimer, "These dolls are for display purposes only and are not intended as playthings for children."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Secret rooms

Merry Christmas to all! Today's post was prompted by a biographical fact I learned yesterday about Charles Dickens: his study had a secret door designed to look like a bookcase. The shelves were full of fake books with witty titles, such as Noah's Arkitecture and a nine-volume set titled Cat's Lives.

Didn't you dream of having a secret room like this as a child? If you're serious about it, there are DIY instructions or companies willing to install the door for you. The bookcase-doorway pictured above was improvised without any lease-violating modifications by a couple who wanted to hide their computer room from the rest of their apartment. Here is a bathroom hidden behind a bookcase. The New York Times writes, "Although highly fortified rooms have become more widespread — and the idea reached a large audience with the release of 'Panic Room,' a 2002 movie that starred Jodie Foster — many of those adding hidden rooms are more concerned with creating a sense of wonder than defending against a home invasion. 'I think people like the mystery of them' [California architect Timothy] Corrigan said."

My sister was faced with that mystery when she was invited to a new book group with some local women. I've asked her to tell the story:
I went to my first meeting at the house of a host I was meeting for the first time. 
It was a lovely house in a very nice neighborhood. We sat around chatting,
nibbling, and sipping in the kitchen for a while until someone said "let's go talk
about the book now!" I went over to the fridge to refill my ice water and when
I turned around, they were all gone. I headed in the general direction that I
thought they all went. All gone, completely gone. I didn't know what to do
and I didn't know this house at all (and it didn't take me very long to fill up my
water glass so it was weird). Didn't really want to go poking around on my own.
I saw some stairs that looked like they led to a den or something so I headed
that way. A teenage boy was flopped on the couch watching TV. He did not
address me at all. I stood there for a second feeling like an idiot and then
stammered something like "Um, did a bunch of women come through here?"
Without bothering to look over at me and with an air of utter disregard he said,
"Just pull out the 3rd book on the left of the 4th shelf," or something like that. I
think I made him repeat this. Then, thinking "okayyyy..." I pulled on said book
and the bookcase opened like in a movie and all the women were in there quite
comfortable on chairs and a couch chatting away. I kind of had my jaw hanging
open for a while and didn't have much to say about the book. It was truly bizarre.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Carol

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say.... Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"~said to Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

The novella by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was written over 6 weeks in 1843 and published to immediate critical acclaim. When the handwritten manuscript was returned by his publisher, Dickens had it bound and gave it as a gift to his solicitor. It was eventually sold and changed hands among autograph collectors and booksellers until it was purchased in 1890 by American financier and fan J.P. Morgan (1837-1913). It now resides in the Morgan Library in New York City and is displayed under glass every Christmas, but only open to a single spread. The difference this year is that the library has allowed the New York Times to digitize all 66 pages. So you can see not only where he wrote, but how.

Charles Dickens is credited with being the most influential in reviving Christmas traditions, since the holiday had gone into decline. And we still find the moral of his story applicable today.

Coincidentally, in addition to seeing Dicken's edits, you can see how he cleaned his teeth: his ivory and gold toothpick just sold at auction for $9,150.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Child heroes

Matt Norton, 12, of Ponte Vedra, Florida, heard a truck crash into a pond in his neighborhood last week. He jumped into the cold, murky water, tried the passenger door unsuccessfully, managed to open the driver's door as the vehicle was sinking, and pulled the teenage driver to safety.
An 8-year-old Fern Creek, Kentucky, girl saved the lives of her mother, her teenaged sister, and her 12-year-old brother when she hid in a closet during an armed home invasion by 2 men and called 911.
Alexis Goggins, 7, of Detroit, Michigan, performed her act of heroism in 2007. The epileptic and learning-disabled girl threw herself between her mother and her former boyfriend, who was armed with a 9mm handgun. Alexis took 3 bullets, including one that blinded her in the right eye.
Hannah Hubbel, 6, of Odessa, New York, was in a booster seat last Sunday when the car she was in skidded off the icy road over an embankment and hit a tree, pinning her mother in the driver's seat. She climbed out a broken rear window and flagged down cars on the road to summon help.
Kyle Forbes, 10, an autistic boy from Houston, Texas, saved the life of his elementary school teacher in October by performing the Heimlich maneuver on her when she choked on an apple.
Lachlan "Lochie" Nally, 11, of South Australia, performed CPR on his father last January when he saw that his chest wasn't moving after a rollover accident. He then climbed out the window and ran barefoot 3km in the dark to find someone to call for help.
Derrionna Adams, 12, of East St. Louis, Illinois, helped her 2 younger siblings to safety in 2007 when their house caught on fire. With their parents unable to get to them, she kicked out a second-story window and helped them down, then jumped down herself before firefighters arrived.
Sarah Harmon, 10, was going on a field trip in Denver, Colorado, with her classmates in 2003 when the teacher driving the car passed out on the interstate. Sarah grabbed the wheel, steered the 70mph vehicle through 2 lanes of traffic and over a grassy area to safety, calmed the other students, and retrieved the cell phone from her teacher's pocket to get help.
Jackson Baker, 12, of Centennial, Colorado, saved the life of his younger sister in 2007 by performing the Heimlich maneuver on her when she choked while eating carrots.
Naveah Madyun, 4, of Kearneysville, West Virginia, dialed 911 in October to report that her mother was suffering a severe asthma attack.
Daniel Marsh, 12, of Davis, California, was heading to the hospital in the car with his father earlier this month because Mr. Marsh was having chest pains. When his heart stopped on the way, Daniel brought the car to a halt and performed CPR, resuscitating his father and allowing him to resume the short trip to the hospital, where they told him he had suffered cardiac arrest.
Kerry Maclean, 7, of North Port, Florida, recognized that something was wrong as her mother swerved down the road in June of this year. The girl pressed the OnStar button to alert the police, potentially saving the life of her mother - who was going into a diabetic coma - and her baby sister, who was also in the car.
Ty Kenney, 12, of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was credited in 2004 with saving his diabetic grandmother's life numerous times and for taking an active role in her care while both of his parents were deployed in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Follow-ups 12/9/09 Reader Megan brought this to my attention: a mutant parakeet - the opposite of the bald parrot pictured in this post! And just for good measure, here are a few more oddities: birds in sweaters (scroll down), diapers, a flight harness, and fancy dress.

Hermits - 2 scenarios 12/8/09 An unidentified couple from Indiana have been selected from 250 individuals or families who offered to adopt 2 pugs - Harry and Sally - who had fed on the flesh of their owner after he died.

Happy Thanksgiving! 11/26/09 I mentioned in an e-mail to my previous next-door neighbor Steve that we were going to save ourselves the trouble and order a boxed turkey dinner from the local grocery store this year, and I just have to share his response: "I hear them kind of turkeys are the ones that died in the truck - the brown part of the skin is really broom marks." When I told him we were doing the same thing for Christmas, he responded, "Christmas boxed turkeys are the ones that the homeless shelters rejected on Thanksgiving for smelling worse than the people there to eat them." I hope that doesn't offend anyone. It left me giggling!

Docking cow tails 10/27/09 A jumping cow made the news in Blagdon, Somerset, U.K. In news somewhat related to this post, the RSPCA reports that a "caller was distressed about a 'tumour' hanging off the back of a sheep. When an inspector attended, he found the 'tumour' was, in fact, a tail."

Shackleton 10/28/09 Word of another treasure found in an Antarctic hut - this time the oldest supply of Kiwi butter found near a shelter of Robert F. Scott.

Dinosaur eggs 10/3/09 Every new dinosaur discovery is said to threaten the current knowledge of paleontology. Here's another discovery that promises to "shake the dinosaur family tree."

Pig butchering 9/1/09 Investigations by the U.S.D.A. are underway in Florida to root out unlicensed slaughterhouses.

Human hybrids 8/22/09 Like the artist of this procative sculpture, Australian artist Sam Jinks creates very realistic sculptures like the one pictured above. It reminds me - as it is surely meant to - of the Pietà.

Surviving rabies 8/18/09 An Arizona man was set upon by a rabid bobcat last week and managed to strangle it with his bare hands.

Leonardo's lion 8/17/09 An instrument - the harpsichord-viola - has been reconstructed from the sketches in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.

Ripley's Seeing is Believing 8/14/09 In this post, I link to a video of a pelican swallowing a pigeon. Here is a report of 2 herons whose eyes were bigger than their stomachs - with fatal results.

Pangolins 7/20/09 My sister brought to my attention the recent rescue of some pangolins destined for the Black Market, and I found a number of recent recoveries: 130 and another 31 in December and 98 in August in Malaysia, and 66 in December in Thailand.

Green eggs and ham 5/11/09 Wild pigs are a hazard at the international airport in Harare, Zimbabwe. Dressing as a wild boar while hunting proved fatal in Greece. And walkers in Germany were terrorized by wild boars. (Plenty of weird wild boar news to form a future post about "Hogzilla" and his kin.)

Chihuahuas in the weird news 5/2/09 California animal shelters report an overabundance of chihuahuas and have begun to ship them out of state.

Frozen baby mammoth 4/26/09 "Lyuba" has been preserved and insured in preparation for an international museum tour.

Bears in the news
4/24/09 India's last performing bear has been set free to live out its remaining days in a sanctuary in Bangalore. A zoo in Georgia houses a lion, a tiger, and a bear together in a single habitat.

Centenarians - and then some 3/26/09 The Georgia centenarian mentioned by President Obama in his election night speech has died at the age of 107. Meanwhile, a man in Maine has turned 108. And on the darker side, a Massachusetts centenarian has been killed, purportedly by her 98-year-old roomate, and a 100-year-old sex offender has been released from prison in New York.

Big bunny
2/24/09 Here's a story about a giant pet rabbit who has patterned its behavior after the family's cocker spaniel.

Killer chimpanzees 2/17/09 Monkeys trained in the martial arts revolted and turned on their trainer in China.

Marine creatures 2/15/09 An aquarium in Norfolk, U.K., has lowered the water levels in the turtle tank so the creatures can be given their seasonal and vitamin-rich treat of brussel sprouts without their resultant gassiness triggering overflow alarms. And since we're talking about turtles, here's one with 2 heads and 6 legs.

Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday 2/12/09 The body of the former president of Cyprus has been stolen from his tomb.

Hedgehogs 1/8/09 Here's an overweight albino hedgehog on a swimming regimen to lose the ounces...

Rats! 12/20/09 A capybara - the world's largest rodent - has been accidentally crushed to death in a Canadian zoo.

Birds and dogs 12/15/08 In December, in Apalachicola, Florida, a man saw a medium-sized poodle snatched up by what appeared to be a chicken hawk, and a Pomeranian was carried off by an owl and dropped 2mi away, breaking her tail. Also in December - speaking of big birds - a hawk or falcon gots its talon stuck in the escalator of a metro station in Washington, D.C. and a hawk spent the night in a Wellington, Florida, hardware store [note that the manager's name is Quigley!]. Last year, professional golfer Tripp Isenhour got a lot of bad press and a fine for deliberately killing a red-shouldered hawk with a golf ball because it was interrupting the video he was shooting on an Orlando, Florida, course.

Space chimp 12/5/08 Russia's Cosmonautics Agency is in talks with an institute in the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia to send one of their 350 apes on a mission to Mars, looked after by a robot.

11/21/08 Scientists have revealed that the seismic "plumbing" beneath Yellowstone National Park runs an astonishing 410 miles deep!

Galloping Gertie

I'm trying to get today's post done in a hurry, because I am meeting an early follower (the daughter of my Mom's best friend) and giving her a tour of my Museum! Have you heard of "Galloping Gertie"? This was the nickname for a suspension bridge built across the Tacoma Narrows in Washington State, at a point where the Puget Sound narrows to 1 mile. Shortly after it opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, it started becoming unstable - and people drove on it anyway. It failed (1st photo) 4 months later on November 7th, and the dramatic collapse was caught on 16mm film by a the owner of a local camera shop. The failure of the bridge was aeroelastic flutter due to the high (42mph) winds. The only fatality was a small dog that 2 men had tried to rescue, getting bitten in the process. The bridge was replaced with "Sturdy Gertie," which opened to traffic on November 14, 1950. When it reached capacity, another span was added. The 1st span became the Westbound bridge and the 2nd became the Eastbound bridge. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge as we now know it (2nd photo) opened on November 4, 2002. It doesn't gallop!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Better-known as the saber-tooth tiger, the extinct Smilodon (whichi was not actually a tiger) lived in North and South America as recently as 12,000 years ago. It weighed up to 880 pounds and had retractable claws, but is best known for its large canine teeth (although there is some question whether these made Smilodon a feline can opener or whether its bite strength left it a pussycat). They preyed on bison, deer, horses, American camels, and ground sloths, but could not tackle adult mammoths or mastodons - unless they were already trapped in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. This site in the heart of Los Angeles, California, is one of the most famous sources of Pleistocene fossils, with the largest and most diverse assemblage of Ice Age plants and animals. There are more than 100 tar pits on the 23-acre site and excavation is ongoing. Pit 91, in particular, has yielded 327 saber-tooth cat bones, including 5 skulls - 3 of them in 1998, after I visited in the early 1990s. You can see the fossils, life-sized replicas of the animals, and new finds being cleaned and repaired at the associated Page Museum. And if you would like a replica Smilodon skull to grace your shelf, click here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nipple shields

I was taking an on-line quiz and came to an image of antique nipple shields (2nd photo) from the Wellcome Library. The caption did not answer my questions about why and how early such a thing was used, so I'm sharing what I found out:

Nipple shields have been - and still are - used by women to facilitate breast-feeding their babies. They are placed over the aureola to 1) help a small or weak baby keep a grip, 2) augment a mother who has flat or inverted nipples, or 3) habituate a baby to the breast after it has been bottle-fed, all of which are lumped under "latching problems." It seems that in the past, they have also been used to protect sore nipples and removed to nurse, as described in 1649:
"If when the child's teeth begin to grow, hee chance to bite the nipple of the nurse's breast, there will bee an ulcer verie contumacious and hard to bee cured, becaus that the sucking of the childe and the rubbing of the clothes do keep it alwaies raw..."

Today, nipple shields are formed from flexible silicone. But in the past, they have been made out of materials including glass, wood, ivory, India rubber, leather, and solid silver (1st photo). They were readily available in the 19th and early 20th c. and sold with soft and pliable teats made of animal skin. The August 1922 issue of Hospital Management references a popular lead model designed by British Dr. Wansborough in 1842 (and advertised here in 1862), but prefers the aluminum design by Dr. Charles Edward Ziegler of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1949, the dangers to the baby of lead-poisoning were known, but by then lead nipple shields were already considered antiques.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nero's dining room

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the rotating dining room of Roman emperor Nero (37 A.D.-68 A.D.). It was in this lavish room, the "coenatio rotunda," that the Nero held his banquets. Nero was known for his depravity, but his indulgences specific to the dining room were as follows:
  • The room revolved perpetually in imitation of the celestial bodies.
  • The panels of the ceiling slid back to allow a rain of flowers or perfume on the guests.
  • Nero's feasts lasted from noon to midnight, with guests taking breaks in warm or snow-cooled baths, depending on the weather.
September's discovery on Rome's Palatine Hill was in the form of a perimeter wall and several 13' wide pillars believed to have supported the 50' (or larger) room. It was kept in constant motion by the force of water against 4 spheres underneath. The remnants of the dining room were found during the excavation of Nero's sumptuous palace, which had been stripped, filled in, and built over after his suicide. It had been rediscovered in the 15th c. after someone fell through the ground into it, and many people - including Raphael and Michelangelo - followed to view the remaining frescoes. One archaeologist said, "People have been trying to find the rotating dining room for a long time. We don't have much idea about it except for what Suetonius tells us. It could have had a revolving floor, or possibly a revolving ceiling. If they really have discovered it, that would be exciting." Strange to say, the New York Times reported in 1913 that Italian excavator Commendator Boni had already discovered the dining room.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wound man

The illustration at the top, from Hans von Gersdorff's Feldtbuch der Wundartzney (Strasburg, 1519), is commonly known as "Wound Man." It was one of many similar images used as schematics in European medieval and Renaissance surgical texts. The various injuries that a person might suffer in a battle or accident were keyed to text that described the appropriate treatment.

What I didn't remember until I looked this up (after seeing it in a book I was reading) is that it figures in the plot of Thomas Harris's 1981 novel Red Dragon. In the book, serial killer Hannibal Lecter arranges his 6th victim like the wound man, which helps the detective capture him:
"I think it was about a week later in the hospital I finally figured it out. It was Wound Man--an illustration they used in a lot of the early medical books like the ones Lecter had. It shows different types of battle injuries, all in one figure. I had seen it in a survey course a pathologist was teaching at GWU. This sixth victim's position and his injuries were a close match to Wound Man."
"Wound Man, you say? That's all you had?"
"Well, yeah. It was a coincidence that I had seen it. A piece of luck."
Harris's novel was adapted for film in the well-reviewed but not-very-successful 1986 movie Manhunter, with William Petersen as the detective and Brian Cox as Lecter. After the success of the 1991 sequel The Silence of the Lambs, with Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, Manhunter was remade as Red Dragon (2002). In that film, homicidal character Francis Dolarhyde (played by Ralph Fiennes) - who worships Lector - is obsessed by William Blake's early 19th c. watercolor "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun" (2nd image). In a most memorable scene, Dolarhyde - who has the painting tattooed on his back - gains access to the original at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and eats it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bob Waldmire

American artist and legendary hippie Bob Waldmire reached the end of the road yesterday. You will understand what that means in a minute.

Waldmire loved Route 66 and won the prestigious John Steinbeck Award in 2004 for his contributions toward its preservation. He traveled it over and over, supporting himself by peddling his prolific pen-and-ink drawings at festivals and stores along the way. He had begun his art career by doing an intricate bird's-eye drawing of his hometown, followed by a total of 34 cities and 4 states. He drew the icons on 66, motels (like the Wigwam Motel in Rialto, Calif.), restaurants (Steve's Cafe in Chenoa, Ill.), gas stations (Soulsby's Shell Station, Mt. Olive, Ill.), weird places (the Edsel graveyard in Shamrock, Texas), whole towns (Needles, Calif.), even stretches of the “Mother Road” still in existence (in Hydro, Okla.; Halltown, Mo.; Dwight, Ill.). His posters and postcards featured scenic overlooks, native flora and fauna, famous landmarks, famous quotes, and personal comments that included pleas for peace, anti-nuclear sentiments, and comments about ecology. Waldmire's favorite diner was the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma; his favorite book was Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; and his favorite song was, of course, "Route 66." He was often on the road between Illinois and his home “off the grid” in Arizona, where he had water tanks instead of running water, solar heat, and a windmill for generating his own electricity.

His family owns the Cozy Dog Drive-in Restaurant in my hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where his father perfected the corn dog. Waldmire, a longtime vegan, ate his own meatless version of the Cozy Dog - he substituted sauteed tofu in what he called the "Cozy Not Dog." It was his vegetarian beliefs that caused him to decline the offer from Pixar to name the van in the movie Cars after him - he objected to plans to sell toy versions in McDonald's Happy Meals. There are plans to put his 1972 VW van, which carried him along Route 66 more times than Waldmire could count on permanent display at the Route 66 Alliance museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

He realized about a decade ago that he had abdominal cancer, but refused any invasive procedures that might have prolonged his life at the expense of his life philosophy. He spent his final days in a converted school bus on his family farm south of Springfield. Many of his friends and fellow Route 66 devotees came to say their goodbyes. Waldmire (1945-2009) died peacefully in his sleep yesterday at the age of 64. Some of his ashes will be spread on the road he loved.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fashion backward

Two tintypes: one an antique, the other a contemporary fashion photograph! Yes, the latest trend in men's fashion is the adoption of styles from the Victorian era. The New York Times calls it "the steady infiltration of 19th-century haberdashery into the 21st-century wardrobe," as snappy dressers add bowler hats, greatcoats, knee breeches, suspenders, tweed vests, and capes. There has even been a run on monocles. This follows a revival of Victorian style in art, film, and interior design - the latter of which even runs to the incorporation of taxidermy specimens in the decor. Restaurants and boutiques have sprung up to cater to these trend-setters. And they have begun gathering in both the U.S. and the U.K. for "Tweed Rides," informal and liesurely bicycle excursions of well-appointed ladies and dapper gentlemen. It's not a costume - it's a lifestyle. So look for a dandy - or, in current slang, a metrosexual - near you soon...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Octopus achievement

As of December 14, 2009, the octopus is officially classified - with humans, primates, birds, dolphins, elephants, and sea otters - as an animal that uses tools. Two Australian researchers have documented the 1st case of tool use in an invertebrate animal and published their account in Current Biology. Although octopuses have been known to make use of available shells for shelter, that is not considered tool use. What the veined octopus (1st photo) does is dig out discarded coconut shells from the ocean floor, clean them of mud with a jet of water, cover one or more with its body, walk along on it "tiptoes," and then use the shells to hide under when necessary. This complex behavior shows the planned future use of the shells - and is also hysterically funny to watch: "We were blown away....It was hard not to laugh underwater and flood your [scuba] mask." Also a surprise is the fact that the tool use is an effort by the octopuses to protect themselves, not to catch food. Researcher Julian Finn has observed the octopuses carrying the coconuts up to 65': "I could tell that the octopus, busy manipulating coconut shells, was up to something, but I never expected it would pick up the stacked shells and run away. It was an extremely comical sight — I have never laughed so hard underwater."

More devious than comical is the behavior of the blanket octopus (2nd photo). Since it is immune to the venom, it rips off a tentacle of the poisonous Portuguese man o' war jellyfish and uses it to defend itself. This species of octopus also protects itself by unfurling a large net-like membrane that spreads out like a cape and increases its apparent size, thereby deterring predators.

Monday, December 14, 2009

High-altitude helicopters

My posts have been mechanically-minded lately, and here's one more...

Last night, while looking for news accounts of the hikers stranded on Mt. Hood in Oregon, I learned that history was made in 2005 without my knowledge. When I first began reading about ill-fated mountain climbing expeditions, I wondered why helicopters were not used in the rescues. Then I learned that helicopters can't fly above 15,000' (basically) because the air is too thin. Well, that threshold has been broken - and a French pilot has actually landed on the summit of Mount Everest! Below are 2 incredible machines, both of them record-breakers:

Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama
The Lama was originally designed for the armed forces of India - which operate 72 of them, known as "Cheetahs" - and was 1st flown in 1969. This machine holds the record for reaching the highest altitude - 40,820' - of any helicopter. Bernd van Doornick piloted the Lama at an air show in Switzerland. He co-owns a company that carries out mountain rescues, and has 5,000 rescues to his credit.

Eurocopter AS350
This helicopter - the "Squirrel" - was developed in the 1970s by Aérospatiale (now Eurocopter) to replace the Lama, and is operated in many American law enforcement agencies. On May 14, 2005, test pilot Didier Delsalle alit on top of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world at 29,035'. The flight broke the World Record for the highest altitude landing and take-off ever, for any flying machine on Earth, and sets an undeniable milestone in the history of aviation. This feat did not assure all high-altitude rescues, since there are many weather, weight, and other factors to consider, but it did make them a possibility. Until this point, it was considered extremely dangerous to land at Everest base camp, 10,000' lower, and several pilots have crashed in the attempt.

Here is an first-hand account of a high-altitude rescue in Colorado to illustrate that such flights are definitely not a given. An option to avoid putting lives of rescuers in danger is the remotely controlled alpine rescue helicopter.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Otis elevator, part 2

Elevator superlatives Otis Elevator Co.'s 2 tallest test towers are located in Bristol, Connecticut (117M) and Shubayama, Japan (154M), but last year Otis competitor Mitsubishi Electric Corp. opened the "world's tallest elevator testing tower" in Inazawa City, Japan (173M). Another Otis competitor, Toshiba Elevator and Building Systems Corp., laid claim in 2005 to the "world's fastest elevator" in Taipei, Taiwan (37.7mph), which can go from the 5th to the 89th floor in 39 seconds.

Elevator uses Usually the elevator - or as the British prefer to call it, the lift - is used to convey people or freight from one floor to another in a building. But occasionally, it has alternative uses. One of these is the propensity of some men to use it is a urinal or couples to use it as their bedroom (not blogworthy, so we'll move on). Space is at such a premium in the U.S. Capitol that a disused elevator is being pressed into service (pardon the pun) as an office!

Elevator etiquette The rules about how to behave in the confined space of an elevator are not unwritten - they are offered on a searchable website or, if you prefer, as 10 Commandments. Should you wish to test these rules, here is a list of 50 weird things to do in an elevator.

Elevator safety Fear of riding in elevators is not uncommon and is said to be a combination of acrophobia (fear of heights) and claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces). American elevator attendant Betty Lou Oliver has for years held the record of the longest survived elevator fall: 75 stories! She was at her post in the Empire State Building for her last day before retirement when the building was accidentally struck by a B-29 bomber on July 28, 1945. Oliver was badly burned and rescuers decided to lower her via the elevator, but its cables had been weakened to the breaking point. As soon as the doors closed, the cables snapped and she plummeted from the 75th floor to the sub-basement, a height of about 1,000 feet. She was seriously injured by the fall, but returned to the building 5 months later and rode the elevator to the top.

Elevator tragedy Even so-called safety elevators can be a hazard, both during and after installation. Safety is a concern in the industry, in which the death rate for elevator installers and repairers is higher than average for construction workers. Most deaths are caused by falls, followed by being crushed or struck, and - less frequently - by electrocution. A week ago, a South African man was crushed while repairing an elevator with 3 other workers. This fall, the wife of a Wisconsin millwright who was repairing a freight elevator at a GM plant when he fell to his death, was awarded $2.17 million from Schindler Elevator Co. and Minnesota Elevator, Inc. for negligence in not installin guardrails. Elevator and escalator passengers are killed at an average rate of 30 per year, the majority by falling into the shaft. Just last month, a Brooklyn man was killed by a 50' fall, and this spring, a blind New York man was killed by falling into an elevator shaft. This past summer, an 8-year-old Kentucky boy was crushed to death by the elevator at a family wedding. Perhaps the most stunning accident in recent memory occurred at the St. Joseph Christus Hospital in Houston, Texas, in August 2003: Physician's assistant Karen Steinau was on board an elevator when 35-year-old surgical resident Hitoshi Nikaidoh attempted to step in on the 2nd floor. The doors suddenly closed, pinning him at the shoulders and - before Steinau had time to hit the emergency stop button - severing his head above the jaw when the elevator ascended. Steinau spent 20 minutes inside with the doctor's severed head before she was rescued, and had to be treated for shock. Nikaidoh's body was retrieved from the bottom of the shaft. Sadly, a similar decapitation occurred in Brooklyn, New York, in January 1995. James Godfrey Chenault, 55, was one of 5 people who boarded an elevator at the Kingsbridge Center in the Bronx. The elevator malfunctioned, stopping slightly above the 2nd floor. Chenault straddled the doorway and had helped one of the passengers out of the car when it shot upward to the 9th floor, causing his head to remain in the elevator and his body to remain in the shaft. The remaining passengers, one of whom was pregnant, were treated at the hospital for trauma.

Don't think about this post next time you take the lift.