Friday, August 31, 2007

1848: first publicly supported free municipal library in US

Founded in 1848, by an act of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts, the Boston Public Library (BPL) was the first large free municipal library in the United States.

The library's first building of its own was a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street that was opened to the public on March 20, 1854. The library had about 16,000 books, and it was obvious from the first day that the facility was too small.

In December of that year the library's Commissioners were authorized to locate a new building upon a lot on Boylston Street. The present Copley Square location has been home to the library since 1895, when architect Charles Follen McKim completed his "palace for the people."

In the latter half of the 19th century, the library worked vigorously to develop and expand its branch library system. Viewed as a means to extend its presence throughout the city, the branch system evolved from an idea in 1867 to a reality in 1870, when the first branch library in the United States was opened in East Boston.

Between 1872 and 1900, twenty-one more branches began serving communities throughout Boston's diverse neighborhoods. In 1972 the library expanded its Copley Square location with the opening of an addition designed by Philip Johnson. Today, the McKim building houses the BPL's vast research collection and the Johnson building holds the circulating collection of the general library and serves as headquarters for the Boston Public Library's 26 branch libraries.

In addition to its 6.1 million books, the library boasts over 1.2 million rare books and manuscripts, a wealth of maps, musical scores and prints. Among its large collections, the BPL holds several first edition folios by William Shakespeare, original music scores from Mozart to Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf;" and, in its rare book collection, the personal library of John Adams. Due to the extent of the collections, many items are displayed on a rotating basis. These unique Special Exhibits are shown in the Research Library and offer the public an opportunity to view books and documents which are usually available only to research scholars.

Over 2.2 million patrons visit the BPL each year, many in pursuit of research material, others looking for an afternoon's reading, still others for the magnificent and unique art and architecture

In addition to being the first publicly supported free municipal library in the world, the Boston Public Library has many other distinctions such as:

The first library to allow its citizens to borrow books and materials, a truly revolutionary concept at the time.

The first public library to issue an Annual Report by Library Trustees (1852), a notable inspiration to the American public library movement.

One of the original 22 public libraries in the country designated as Patent Depository Libraries by the Department of Commerce in 1871.

The first library to establish a space specifically designated for children, in 1895, with more than 3,000 books within the reach of young children.

The first library to introduce the art of formal storytelling. Celebrated European storyteller Marie Shedlock first appeared in the Children's Room of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square in 1902.

The first public business reference library to be established through a 1930 gift from Boston businessman and Library Trustee Louis E. Kirstein in honor of his father.

A pioneer in establishing audiovisual services for libraries. In 1950, the first Audiovisual Department in a New England library was established at the Boston Public Library, and AV materials, including 16 mm films and LP recordings, were regularly loaned to patrons throughout the area.

The library offers free wireless Internet access at all neighborhood locations, and has more than 3,500 classics, including works by Homer and Shakespeare in eBook format. (info from BPL)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

1958: first submarine reaches North Pole

Expeditions to the South and North Poles began as early as the 1500s, but many of them encountered extreme conditions that forced them to turn back. Other expeditions suffered great tragedy and losses due to rampant illness among crew members, violent encounters with indigenous peoples, and navigation difficulties. The earliest seafaring vessels were wooden ships powered only by sails, hardly a worthy match for the extreme ice conditions at the ends of the Earth. But as sea trade increased, ships became more powerful, sturdy, and capable of enduring the severe conditions faced by crews as they made their way north and southward.

The timeline below represents some of the milestones in exploration and science in the Earth's polar regions during the last 200 years or so.

1773: Using his exceptional navigation skills, Captain James Cook and his crew become the first to cross the Antarctic Circle, confirming that the southern continent is an extremely icy and forbidding place. Previously, there had been hopes of a "second Europe" somewhere at high southern latitudes in the South Pacific.

1823: Englishman James Weddell sails to 74° South and penetrates the sea that bears his name today. This is the farthest south reached up to that time. The Weddell Sea would not be reached again until 1914, by Ernest Shackleton.

1827: Sir William Edward Parry, with James Clark Ross, attempts to reach the North Pole by sledge from Spitsbergen. He is forced to turn back, due to the fatigue of his party, but gets as far as 82° 45' North, establishing a Farthest North record that will stand for 50 years.

1881-84: As America's contribution to the International Polar Year, Adolphus Greely leads an expedition to the Arctic to establish a station at remote Lady Franklin Bay on Ellesmere Island. A major goal of the expedition was to try and reach the Pole, or at least plant the U.S. flag on a new Farthest North point. Although he managed to reach 83° 24' North, farther than any previous attempts, he never reached the North Pole, and 19 of his 25 men died waiting for a rescue expedition.

1882-83: The first International Polar Year (IPY) is established, with eleven nations agreeing to establish 15 new observation stations in the Arctic and Antarctica.

1892: Norwegian Carl Larsen lands his ship, the Jason, near the Antarctic Peninsula on Seymour Island. He discovers fossils that become the first evidence of a previous warmer climate in Earth's polar regions.

1893-95: One man's demise was another man's claim to fame. When wreckage from the ill-fated Jeannette expedition was found on the southwest coast of Greenland, it was quickly deduced that the wood fragments had drifted across the Arctic Ocean. Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen concluded that perhaps a ship could do the same thing. In a new, state-of-the-art ship designed to rise under lateral pressure from the ice, called the Fram, Nansen and Otto Sverdrup drifted across the Arctic Ocean. When the ship became frozen in the Arctic pack ice near the New Siberian Islands, Nansen and Frederik Johansen left the Fram and tried to reach the North Pole by traveling over the ice. Although they were forced to turn back, they surpassed 86° North and established a new Farthest North Record. The entire expedition took nearly three years, during which time a significant amount of scientific data were collected.

1903-05: Roald Amundsen completes the first successful navigation of the Northwest Passage on his ship, the Gjoa. The survival skills he learned from the Inuit people while wintering at Gjoa Haven played a large role in his future exploration successes.

1908: Explorers Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall, and Jameson Adams attempt to reach the South Pole. Within 30 days, they surpass Robert Scott's 1903 effort, but illness and under-nourishment forces them to turn back, despite having come within 97 nautical miles of the South Pole. Shackleton reaches a greater latitude during this trip than had yet been reached in the North.

1909: After two previous attempts (1902 and 1906), Robert Peary reaches the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Peary had learned from his assistant Matthew Henson the value of observing Eskimo ways, and he also believed that his chances of success would be greater by starting in late winter, when the ice was firmer, than in summer. The expedition set off from Ellesmere Island on March 1, 1909, with 23 men, 133 dogs, and 19 sleds. Only six men (Peary, Hensen, and four Eskimos) completed the final 133 miles to the North Pole, the remaining men having returned to land after completing their portions of the expedition. Peary's claim comes just days after Frederick Cook's false claim of having reached the North Pole a year earlier.

1911-12: Both Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott reach the South Pole. Amundsen's team arrives first on December 14, 1911, after discovering a new route that took only 57 days. Scott's team arrives on January 18, 1912, only to find that Amundsen had already been there and planted a Norwegian flag. Completely dispirited by their failure to reach the Pole first and physically ravaged by a tortuous journey, Scott and all five members of the team that accompanied him to the Pole perish on the return trip.

1926: In a joint American-Italian-Norwegian expedition, Roald Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth set out from Spitsbergen on the airship Norge, commanded by Umberto Nobile and piloted by Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen. After a 16-hour flight, the crew reaches the North Pole on the morning of May 12, 1926, where they drop the Norwegian, Italian, and American flags.

1930: On November 29, flying from a base at the Bay of Whales, Richard Byrd and three fellow explorers become the first to fly over the South Pole in a flight that lasted 18 hours, 41 minutes.

1932-33: The Second International Polar Year takes place, with 40 nations participating in Arctic research. Due to the worldwide depression, the second IPY is smaller than originally envisioned.

1957-58: The Third International Polar Year (later renamed the International Geophysical Year) begins with a strong Antarctic effort by scientists from 67 countries. The Amundsen-Scott Base at the South Pole is constructed to facilitate Operation Deepfreeze, a series of scientific expeditions to Antarctica.

1958: On August 3, the USS Nautilus becomes the first submarine to reach the North Pole. After 96 hours and 1830 miles submerged under the Arctic ice cap, it surfaces in the Greenland Sea. (info from the University of Arizona)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2007: first car meets Japan's 2015 fuel economy standard

Japan is shaking up its fuel economy standards and Toyota has announced that the Prius has already met the new, tougher 2015 fuel efficiency procedures.

Under Japan’s older "10.15" mode fuel cycle system, the Prius manages a class leading 83.5 mpg. Many in Japan have wondered for some time about that rating, which is pretty unrepresentative of what the Prius typically achieves in real world duty.

The impression is that the 10.15-mode test actually works too well for a gas-electric vehicle, since for much of it, hybrids are able to run in electric-only mode, which obviously makes for a great economy figure.

Now the Feds in Japan have woken up to this and devised a stricter test which involves higher speeds, sharper acceleration and a longer overall test duration.

Under this, the Prius returns 63.3 mpg, which is still quite good. A newer and presumably better Prius is due in 2009. (info from WindingRoad.com)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

2008: last paper airline tickets

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced yesterday that it placed its final order for paper tickets. Some 16.5 million paper tickets were ordered to supply 60,000 accredited IATA travel agents around the world until May 31 2008. Starting June 1, 2008, all tickets issued through the IATA Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP) will be electronic.

“This is last call for paper tickets,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “It’s been 38 months since we launched the drive for 100% e-ticketing as part of IATA’s Simplifying the Business initiative. E-ticketing went from 16% in June 2004 to 84% today. And in just 278 more days the paper ticket will become a collector’s item.”

IATA’s systems issue over 400 million tickets annually. With the volume of paper tickets now at 16% of the total and an approaching deadline for the elimination of paper, the final order of tickets was made. The order volume of 16.5 million took into account an estimate of current paper ticket stocks and estimated demand in order to ensure a robust supply of tickets to meet demand.

“We are changing an industry with tangible benefits for travellers, agents, airlines and the environment,” said Bisignani. “Consumers enjoy the convenience and flexibility of paperless travel. Agents have the opportunity to broaden the scope of their business and serve their customers remotely. The cost saving of $9 for every e-ticket compared to a paper ticket adds up to $3 billion in annual savings for the industry. And eliminating paper will save the equivalent of 50,000 mature trees each year.”

(info from IATA, photo from iStockphoto)

Monday, August 27, 2007

1954: man runs a mile in less than four minutes

Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister (born in 1929) is a British former athlete best known as the first man to run the mile in less than four minutes. Bannister became a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford and retired in 2001.

This historic event took place on May 6, 1954 during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. It was watched by about 3,000 spectators. With winds up to 25 miles per hour prior to the event, Bannister had said twice that he was reluctant to run, to conserve his energy and efforts to break the 4-minute barrier at another meet.

However, the winds dropped just before the race was scheduled to begin, and Bannister did run. His time was 3 min 59.4 s. Two other runners, Brasher and Chataway, provided pacing while completing the race. Both went on to establish their own track careers. The race was broadcast live by BBC Radio and commented on by Harold Abrahams, of "Chariots of Fire" fame.

The stadium announcer for the race was Norris McWhirter, who went on to publish and edit the Guinness Book of Records. He famously "teased" the crowd by drawing out the announcement of the time Bannister ran as long as possible:

"Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event 9, the one-mile: 1st, No. 41, R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which - subject to ratification - will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire, and World Record. The time was 3..."

The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement.

The claim that a 4-minute mile was once thought to be impossible by informed observers was and is a widely propagated myth cooked up by sportswriters and debunked by Bannister himself in his memoir, The Four Minute Mile, 1955.

The reason the myth took hold was that 4 minutes was a nice round number which was slightly better (1.4 seconds) than the world record for nine years—longer than it probably otherwise would have been because of the effect of World War II in interrupting athletic progress in the combatant countries.

Swedish runners Gunder Hagg and Arne Andersson, in a series of head-to-head races in the period 1942–45, had already lowered the world mile record by 5 seconds to the pre-Bannister record. What is still impressive to knowledgeable track fans is that Bannister ran a 4-minute mile on very low-mileage training by modern standards.

Just 46 days later on June 21 in Turku, Finland, Bannister's record was broken by his rival John Landy of Australia, with a time of 3 min 57.9 s, which the IAAF ratified as 3 min 58.0 s due to the rounding rules then in effect.

On August 7, at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, B.C., Bannister competed against Landy for the first time in a race billed as "The Miracle Mile". They were the only two men in the world to have broken the 4-minute barrier, with Landy still holding the world record.

Landy led for most of the race, building a lead of 10 yards in the third lap (of four), but was overtaken on the last bend, and Bannister won in 3 min 58.8 s, with Landy 0.8 s behind in 3 minutes and 59.6 seconds.

Bannister and Landy have both pointed out that the crucial moment of the race was that at the moment when Bannister decided to try to pass Landy, Landy looked over his left shoulder to gauge Bannister's position and Bannister burst past him on the right, never relinquishing the lead. A larger-than-life bronze sculpture of the two men at this moment was created by Vancouver sculptor Jack Harman in 1967 and stood for many years at the entrance to Empire Stadium; after the stadium was demolished the sculpture was moved a short distance away to the Hastings and Renfrew entrance of the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) fairgrounds. Regarding this sculpture, Landy quipped that "While Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back."

Bannister went on that season to win the "metric mile", the 1,500 m, at the European Championships in Berne on August 29, with a championship record in a time of 3 min 43.8 s. He then retired from athletics to concentrate on a career in neurology. (info from Wikipedia)

Friday, August 24, 2007

1892: first voting machine

The paper ballot system, with standardized voting forms, was first adopted in the Australian state of Victoria in 1856, and in the remaining Australian states over the next several years. The paper ballot became known as the "Australian ballot," and New York was the first American state to use it, in 1889.

The first official use of a lever type voting machine, known then as the "Myers Automatic Booth," was in Lockport, NY in 1892. Four years later, they were employed on a large scale in Rochester, NY, and soon were adopted statewide. By 1930, lever machines had been installed in virtually every major city in the US, and by the 1960’s well over half of US votes were being cast on these machines.

On mechanical lever voting machines, the name of each candidate or ballot issue choice is assigned a particular lever in a rectangular array of levers on the front of the machine. A set of printed strips visible to the voters identifies the lever assignment for each candidate and issue choice. The levers are horizontal in their unvoted positions.

The voter activates the machine with a lever that also closes a privacy curtain. The voter pulls down selected levers to indicate choices. When the voter exits the booth by opening the privacy curtain with the handle, the voted levers are automatically returned to their original horizontal position. As each lever returns, it causes a connected counter wheel within the machine to turn one-tenth of a full rotation. The counter wheel, serving as the "ones" position of the numerical count for the associated lever, drives a "tens" counter one-tenth of a rotation for each of its full rotations. The "tens" counter similarly drives a "hundreds" counter.

If all mechanical connections are fully operational during the voting period, and the counters are initially set to zero, the position of each counter at the close of the polls indicates the number of votes cast on the lever that drives it. Interlocks in the machine prevent the voter from voting for more choices than permitted.

Because these machines are no longer made, the trend is to replace them with computer-based or direct recording electronic systems. (info from About.com, photo from the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

1894: women no longer owned by men

At one time, married women in the US could not make wills, be the guardian of their children, receive wages earned, or own or inherit property.

Upon saying "I do," a woman became chattel property of her husband, not even owning the clothes she wore. By 1890, Kentucky was the only state in in the US where such laws still existed.

Josephine Henry, a dynamic speaker and powerful writer from Versailles, was a major activist in the fight for women's equality. Her greatest accomplishment was the Married Woman's Property Act, or the Husband and Wife Bill, passed in 1894.

Henry regarded the Property Act as the first step toward women's suffrage because she understood the importance of economic independence and security. She called for women to no longer be "treated as outlaws and all their property confiscated at marriage." After years of speeches, articles and lobbying, the Property Act, though criticized as anti-family and unladylike, finally passed the General Assembly and was signed into law.

Henry was the first woman in Kentucky, and in the South, to run for state office. She was the 1890 Prohibition Party candidate for Clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and received nearly 5,000 votes. She was also nominated in 1894 for State Superintendent of Public Instruction and was discussed as a possible candidate for President.

A woman of courage and conviction far ahead of her time, Henry questioned the values of the time and discussed topics such as divorce, restoration of the maiden name, birth control, dress reform, economic security, and sex education, and dedicated her life to the pursuit of justice and equality for women. (info from WFPL radio, photo from Woodford County Historical Society)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

1876: first major league home runs

Ancient baseball history is a little fuzzy, but it appears that both Ross Barnes and Charlie Jones hit homers in a game between the Chicago White Stockings (Barnes) and the Cincinnati Red Stockings (Jones) on May 2, 1876. Barnes may have homer-ed before Jones, or maybe not.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium on the day it opened in 1923, against Boston.

The all-time, verified professional baseball record for home runs is 868, held by Sadaharu Oh, a former player and manager of the Yomiuri Giants and current manager of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan's league (called Nippon Professional Baseball).

As of today, in US Major League baseball, the record is 760, held by Barry Bonds, who broke Hank Aaron's record on August 7, 2007, when he hit his 756th home run at AT&T Park. Only four other major league players have hit as many as 600: Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660), and Sammy Sosa (604). The single season record is 73, set by Bonds in 2001.

Negro League slugger Josh Gibson's Baseball Hall of Fame plaque says he hit "almost 800" home runs in his career. The Guinness Book of World Records lists Gibson's lifetime home run total at 800. Gibson's true total is not known due to poor recordkeeping. The 1993 edition of the MacMillan Baseball Encyclopedia attempted to compile a set of Negro League records. Although sparse, their records demonsrate that Gibson and Ruth were of comparable power. The book has Gibson hitting 146 home runs in the 501 games they were able to account for in his 17-year career, about 1 homer every 3.4 games. Babe Ruth, in 22 seasons (several of them in the dead-ball era), hit 714 in 2503 games, or 1 homer every 3.5 games.

Other legendary home run hitters include Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle (who on September 10, 1960, mythically hit "the longest home run ever" at an estimated distance of 643 feet, although this was measured after the ball stopped rolling), Reggie Jackson, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Mike Schmidt, Dave Kingman, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Ken Griffey Jr. and Eddie Mathews.

The longest verifiable home run distance is about 575 feet, by Babe Ruth, to straightaway center field at Tiger Stadium (then called Navin Field and prior to the double-deck), which landed nearly across the intersection of Trumbull and Cherry.

The location of where Hank Aaron's record 755th home run landed has been monumented in Milwaukee. The hallowed spot sits outside Miller Park, where the Milwaukee Brewers currently play. Similarly, the point where Aaron's 715th homer landed, upon breaking Ruth's career record in 1974, is marked in the Turner Field parking lot. (info from Baseball Almanac, MuseumSpot, Wikipedia)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2007: first hole-in-one by a blind woman

Sheila Drummond used her driver on the 144-yard fourth hole at a country club in Mahoning Valley, PA on Sunday -- a hole that's given her and other golfers plenty of trouble over the years.

Her shot cleared the creek in front of the tee box, split two sand bunkers that guard the front of the par 3 and rolled to the hole. Drummond heard the clack as the ball struck the flagstick, but she didn't see it drop.

That's because diabetes robbed her of her sight in 1981.

With the ace, the 53-year-old woman joined a select list of golfers who have accomplished the feat. After all, the odds of an amateur golfer getting a hole in one are 12,000-to-1, and the odds for a pro are 7,500-to-1, according a company that provides insurance for golf outings that give prizes for aces.

And the list is even smaller for those who are blind or whose vision is badly impaired.

Phil Blackwell, president of the US Blind Golf Association, said he knows of just three blind golfers who have aced a hole, and several golfers who have done it with badly impaired vision. He pointed out that blind golf is a team game, and the swing coach gets just as much satisfaction. In Drummond's case, the coach is her husband, Keith. "I never had a hole in one, but I get to say that I coached one," he said.

When they're on the course, Sheila takes a practice swing, and Keith places the ball and lines her up. Then Sheila repeats the swing. She regularly shoots in the 120s.

Sheila said her husband called her Sunday shot as it was in the air, telling her it split the sand traps and shouting that it went into the hole. He drove up and confirmed it went in.

Then the celebrating started. "We all stood there and screamed," Sheila said, adding she didn't play well for the rest of the nine-hole round because of the excitement.

Drummond took up the game 15 years ago, long after she lost her vision. She had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 8. After the disease blurred her vision in 1981, she had five surgeries to try to restore her sight, but went blind that same year. Despite that, she continued to be active, and even skied.

In 1991 she was looking for a new challenge when a friend who played blind golf asked her to try the game. This year, she's tournament director for the Blind Golf Association's 62nd national championship. The field includes 40 blind golfers and their coaches, including the Drummonds. (info & photo from Allentown Morning Call)

Monday, August 20, 2007

1997: last Woolworth's in the USA

The F. W. Woolworth Company (often referred to as Woolworth's) was a retail company that was one of the original American five-and-dime stores. The first Woolworth's store was founded, with a loan of $300, in 1878 by Frank Winfield Woolworth. He later became one of the richest men in the world.

Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains through most of the 20th century, competition led to a decline beginning in the 1980s. In 1997, F. W. Woolworth Company converted itself into a sporting retailer, closing its remaining retail stores operating under the "Woolworth's" brand name and renaming itself Venator Group, and in 2001, Foot Locker Inc.

Chains using the Woolworth name survive in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Mexico, and South Africa. The similarly named Woolworth's supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand are operated by Woolworths Limited, a separate company with no historical links to the F. W. Woolworth Company or Foot Locker. Much more in Remembering Woolworth's, by Karen Plunkett-Powell -- an extremely interesting book marred by a bunch of stupid errors. (photo by Fred "Scoop" Jonson)

Friday, August 17, 2007

1924: first commercial parking lot

The first commercial parking lot appeared in downtown Detroit in 1924, according to Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture.

When the car was first introduced, few Americans predicted its fundamental impact, not only on how people would travel, but on the American landscape itself. Instead of reducing the amount of wheeled transport on public roads, the advent of mass-produced cars caused congestion, at the curb and in the right-of-way, from small farm towns to major cities.

Lots of Parking examines a neglected aspect of this rise of the automobile: the impact on America not of cars in motion but of cars at rest. While most studies have tended to focus on highway construction and engineering improvements to accommodate increasing flow and the desire for speed, John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle examine a fundamental feature of the urban, and suburban, scene: the parking lot.

The book traces the history of parking from the curbside to the rise of public and commercial parking lots and garages and the concomitant demolition of the old pedestrian-oriented urban infrastructure. The authors also discuss the role of parking in downtown revitalization and, by contrast, its role in the promotion of outlying suburban shopping districts and its incorporation into our neighborhoods and residences. (info from University of Virginia Press, photo from Voitures Anciennes du Qu├ębec

Thursday, August 16, 2007

2007: first fine for selling tickets to Cuba

In a first for an online travel company, Travelocity.com has been fined by the feds for booking trips between the US and Cuba, in violation of a 45-year-old embargo.

Travelocity.com this month paid $182,750 to settle a complaint brought by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which said the company violated the prohibition nearly 1,500 times between January 1998 and April 2004.

The complaint said Travelocity "provided travel-related services in which Cuba or Cuban nationals had an interest by arranging air travel and hotel reservations to, from, with or within Cuba without an OFAC license."

A Travelocity spokesman said "The trips to Cuba were unintentionally permitted to be booked by consumers online because of some technical failures several years ago, and it's just now being finally settled with OFAC. In no way did the company intend to allow bookings for trips to Cuba, and the company has fully cooperated with OFAC and implemented corrective measures." (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

1527?: first pineapples in Hawaii

The pineapple has become so connected with Hawaii that many people think it originated there, or is grown only there.

Actually, the pineapple (which has nothing to do with apples, but does resemble a giant pine cone) is believed to have originated in Paraguay. Carried aboard 15th and 16th century trade ships, the fruit was grown in Mexico, Australia, China and India.

Christopher Columbus brought pineapples home from his travels in the "New World" and they soon became a gourmet treat in Europe. Even George Washington grew them in Mount Vernon.

No one is certain of when pineapples were first grown in Hawaii, but historians believe that a Spanish shipwreck in 1527 on the South Kona coast on the Big Island of Hawaii brought tools, stores, garments and plants, including pineapples, from Mexico to Hawaii.

In later years, more Spanish explorers arrived in Hawaii, planting pineapples and other fruits. Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish adventurer who arrived in Hawaii in 1794 and became a trusted friend and advisor to King Kamehameha the Great, experimented with raising pineapples in the early 1800s.

Captain John Kidwell is credited with founding Hawaii’s pineapple industry. In the 1880’s he imported and tested a number of varieties and selected Smooth Cayenne for its shape and uniform texture.

James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawaii in 1899 with $1,000, degrees in business and horticulture and a love of farming. The following year he bought a 61-acre tract of land in Wahiawa where he established his first pineapple plantation. James Dole wasn't the first person to grow pineapple in Hawaii, but he was certainly the most influential.

Early on, James Dole knew that there would be a huge market for pineapple outside of Hawaii. However, the only logical way to reach this market was to pack and seal the pineapple in cans. As a result, in 1901, James Dole built a pineapple cannery in Wahiawa, which marked the start of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company. In 1907, the cannery was relocated to Honolulu harbor, which is closer to the labor pool, shipping ports and supplies. The Honolulu cannery, at one time the world's largest cannery, remained in operation until 1991.

As the demand for pineapple grew, so did the need for more land. In 1922, James Dole bought the island of Lanai and converted it from a cactus-covered island with 150 people into the largest pineapple plantation in the world with 20,000 pineapple-producing acres and over a thousand pineapple workers and their families. For nearly 70 years, Lanai was operated as a pineapple plantation and became widely known as "Pineapple Island" and was the supplier of nearly 75 percent of the world's pineapple!

By the 1930's, Hawaii was known as the pineapple capital of the world. Dole's Hawaiian Pineapple Company was now processing over 200,000 tons of pineapple a year, helping to make pineapple Hawaii's second largest industry, responsible for 90 percent of all the canned pineapple produced in the world.

By the 1940's, there were eight pineapple companies operating in Hawaii. By far the largest was James Dole's Hawaiian Pineapple Company, with plantations on Oahu and Lanai and the cannery in Honolulu. At the time, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company controlled over half of all the pineapple land in Hawaii and employed nearly 3,000 permanent employees and over 4,000 seasonal employees.

James Dole died in 1958 at the age of 80. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company he founded is now known as Dole Foods Company, and the "Dole" brand is one of the most recognized brands in the world.

Competitor Del Monte recently announced that after 90 years growing pineapple in Hawaii, they will cease all operations by 2008 when that year's crop is harvested. Citing the expense of growing pineapple in Hawaii when it can be produced much cheaper elsewhere, Del Monte's decision will leave about 700 pineapple workers jobless.

By the middle of the 20th Century, Hawaii was growing over 80 percent of the world's pineapple. Pineapple production was Hawaii's second largest industry, second only to sugar cane. With rising costs of labor and production, this is no longer the case. Hawaii now produces only about two percent of the world's pineapple. Fewer than 1,200 workers are employed by the pineapple industry in Hawaii.

Today, Hawaii's pineapple production does not even rank within the top ten of the world's pineapple producers. The top producers are Thailand (13%), the Philippines (11%) and Brazil (10%).

Over the years, Hawaii’s agricultural land has shifted from being dominated by sugar and pineapple to a multitude of crops ranging from pineapple to coffee to tomatoes to flowers. In fact, today there are over 40 different crops grown commercially compared to only 28 grown commercially in the 1950s. Hawaii’s agricultural industry is now much more diversified, and although its role has diminished, it still remains an important part of the state’s economy, generating nearly $3 billion annually and providing for over 40,000 jobs. (Info from Dole and about.com, photo from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

2005: last country stops executing children

No, it wasn't Rwanda or North Korea or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia or Albania or Haiti.

It was the good old USA.

In March of 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the execution of juvenile offenders was unconstitutional, outlawing the practice. The United States had previously been a world leader in juvenile executions.

"Though it remains a national shame that the United States was the last country to formally reject executing juvenile offenders, we applaud the Supreme Court's ruling and hope it proves to be a harbinger of things to come in this country," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Amnesty International USA's Director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The 60 prisoners executed in the United States in 2005 brought to 1,004 the total number executed since the use of the death penalty resumed in 1977. Approximately 3,400 prisoners were on death rows across the United States as of January 1, 2006. The death penalty is on the books in 38 states and is retained under military and federal law. (Info from The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty)

Monday, August 13, 2007

2005: last Louisianans get phone service

In February 2005, 14 homes in a remote community in southwest Louisiana finally received a telephone service after decades of campaigning. The hamlet of Mink is believed to be one of the very last places in the US to get land lines.

The benefits of the new service came immediately. A query as to whether a neighbor can lend a cup of sugar no longer requires a car journey or a hike through the woods.

The people in Mink, set in deep forest about 100 miles south-west of Shreveport, had been pestering the state authorities for years about getting phones but the remoteness of the community and the associated cost were stacked against them.

The villagers did the best they could. Some had analog cellular “bag phones” that worked in a very limited number of locations. Moving just a few yards, from the kitchen to the living room for instance, would lose the signal.

Mink resident Julian Ray said one of the places blessed with a signal was the crossroads at the local store. He said you would regularly see the locals gathered at the spot, their bulky phones pressed to their ears.

Ray was luckier than most. His home also had a hotspot so he could make and receive incoming calls, though not to or from any of the villagers -- unless they happened to be standing at the crossroads when he called.

The phones have not come cheap. BellSouth (now part of AT&T, which used to be SBC) spent $700,000 installing 28 miles of cable, plus equipment. "It was a lot of expense," admitted Kevin McCotter, a BellSouth spokesman, who said the Louisiana Public Service Commission ordered the company to install the lines last year after decades of pestering from the locals. "It is a very, very rural area. The people just chose to live out in the middle of a forest. It's not a town or even a municipal district. They just live there." The completion was marked by a ceremonial phone call from Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

While most villagers appreciate the benefits of their new phones and have talked enthusiastically about the new freedom it has given them, they have also learned some of the perils that can associated with modern telecommunications. Just 15 minutes after Elaine Edwards' phone was installed on Monday, she received a call from a telemarketer. (info from Independent Newspapers UK Limited)

Friday, August 10, 2007

1902: first woman on a US postage stamp

In 1902, 65 years after Queen Victoria appeared on an English postage stamp, and 55 years after the first US postage stamp was issued, the 8-cent Martha Washington was the first US stamp to feature a woman.

The year before, the Post Office Department had enjoyed a successful run of the commemorative Pan-American Exposition stamps. But, at more than a decade old, all its regular-issue designs were becoming a bit dated. In an attempt to jazz up its offerings, the Postal Department commissioned new stamps for 1902, giving artists and engravers free rein to show off their intricate handiwork.

Mrs. Washington's stamp was introduced at a time when Americans began recognizing the importance of women's contributions to society. Although women had not yet earned the right to vote, the suffrage movement was a major topic of conversation. Legend has it that after much squabbling over which prominent woman should be the first to grace a US stamp, Mrs. Washington -- the first first lady -- evoked the least controversy.

She later appeared on 1, 1-1/2 and 4-cent stamps. (info from Yahoo and other sources)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

1975: first digital camera

Digital cameras evolved from the technology that recorded television images.

In 1951, the first video tape recorder (VTR) captured live images from television cameras by converting the information into electrical impulses (digital) and saving the information onto magnetic tape. Bing Crosby laboratories created the first early VTR. By 1956, VTR technology was perfected, and the Ampex VR1000 was in common use in the television industry.

During the 1960s, NASA converted from using analog to digital signals with space probes to map the surface of the moon (sending digital images to earth). Computer technology was also advancing at this time and NASA used computers to enhance the images. Digital imaging also had another government use at the time -- spy satellites -- and government use of digital technology helped advance the science.

Texas Instruments patented a film-less electronic analog camera in 1972. The first recorded attempt at building a digital camera was by Kodak engineer Steven Sasson (photo) in 1975. It used then-new solid state CCD chips developed by Fairchild Semiconductor. The camera weighed 8 pounds, recorded black and white images to a cassette tape, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixel (10,000 pixels), and took 23 seconds to capture its first image. The prototype camera was a technical exercise, not intended for production.

In 1981, Sony released the Mavica, the first commercial electronic camera. Images were recorded onto a mini disc and then put into a video reader that was connected to a television monitor or color printer. However, the early Mavica cannot be considered a true digital camera even though it started the digital camera revolution. It was a video camera that took freeze-frames.

The first digital cameras that worked with home computers were the Apple QuickTake 100 (1994), the Kodak DC40 (1995), the Casio QV-11 (1995), and Sony's Cyber-Shot (1996).

Kodak entered into a co-marketing campaign to promote the DC40 and to help introduce the idea of digital photography to the public. Kinko's and Microsoft both collaborated with Kodak to create digital image-making software workstations and kiosks which allowed customers to produce Photo CD Discs and photographs, and add digital images to documents. IBM collaborated with Kodak in making an internet-based network image exchange.

Hewlett-Packard was the first company to make color inkjet printers that complemented the new digital cameras. (info from About.com and Wikipedia. Photo from AP)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

1980: last WW2 Japanese soldier surrenders

The last Japanese soldier from World War 2 to surrender was Captain Fumio Nakahira, who held out until 1980 (35 years after Japan surrendered to the US) before being discovered at Mt. Halcon, Mindoro Island, in the Philippines.

In the 1970s, other Japanese soldiers were found on Guam and other Pacific islands.

In 1944, Lt. Hiroo Onoda was sent by the Japanese army to the remote Philippine island of Lubang to conduct guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately, he was never officially told the war had ended; so for 29 years, Onoda continued to live in the jungle, ready for when his country would again need him. Eating coconuts and bananas and deftly evading searching parties he believed were enemy scouts, Onoda hid in the jungle until he finally emerged in 1972. (info from About.com & other sources)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

1888: first long car ride

Bertha Benz (1849 - 1944) was the wife of automotive pioneer Karl Benz, and the first person to drive a car over a long distance.

On August 5, 1888, without her husband's knowledge, she drove their teenage sons in one of Benz's new "Patent Motorwagens" from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit their grandmother, becoming the first person to drive an automobile over more than a very short distance. The distance was more than 60 miles. Previous trips were short, and merely trials with mechanics to help with problems.

Although the primary purpose of the trip was social, Bertha Benz also had another motive: to show her husband — who had failed to consider marketing his invention adequately — that the automobile would become a financial success once it was shown to be useful to the general public.

She solved numerous problems during the trip. She had to find fuel which was available — sometimes — only at chemists' shops. A blacksmith had to help repair a chain. Brake linings needed replacement. She had to use a hairpin to clean a fuel pipe, and to insulate a wire with a garter. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day.

Along the way, several people were frightened by the automobile, and the novel trip received a great deal of publicity. as she had sought. The drive was very helpful for Karl Benz, as he was able to introduce several improvements after his wife reported everything that had happened along the way. She made important suggestions, such as the introduction of an additional gear for climbing hills.

Berta Benz died at the age of 95 in Ladenburg, where Karl's first workshop had been. In Germany, a festive annual holiday with antique automobiles celebrates her historic trip. (info and photo from Wikipedia)

Monday, August 6, 2007

1907: UPS predecessor delivers first package

In 1907, two teenage entrepreneurs created what would become the world's largest package delivery service. Starting in a Seattle basement with a $100 loan, Claude Ryan and Jim Casey opened the American Messenger Company. With telephones and automobiles scarce, the company fulfilled a range of tasks, from running errands and carrying notes on foot or on bicycle, to making home deliveries for drugstore customers. Their fledgling business entered a competitive marketplace, facing numerous firms that also specialized in message and parcel delivery.

Already experienced in business when he began the company, Jim hired other teens as messengers, and his younger brother George joined the firm's leadership ranks.

A merger with Evert McCabe's competing package delivery business helped the company redefine its primary charge. With enhancements to telephones reducing dependency on messenger companies, in 1913 the American Messenger Company shifted its focus to delivering packages from grocery and drug stores to customers' homes. The company's name changed to Merchants Parcel Delivery, highlighting its new mission.

After adding Evert's motorcycles and a Ford Model T to its transportation reserve, the company began to consolidate its deliveries so that all packages for a specific neighborhood would be loaded onto the same vehicle, maximizing use of resources while keeping expenses low.

The final founding member of the company, Charlie Soderstrom, joined the firm in 1916. With his expert knowledge of automobiles, he helped manage the company's rapidly expanding fleet of delivery vehicles.

The young company's leaders saw a new opportunity to promote their business, and ultimately persuaded retailers to outsource delivery services to their company. 1918, three of Seattle's leading department stores became customers, abandoning their own internal delivery efforts, and turning over business to Merchants Parcel Delivery.

In 1919, the company made its first expansion beyond Seattle to Oakland, California, where the name United Parcel Service debuted. "United" reflected the company's consolidated shipments, while "Parcel" indicated the kinds of deliveries the company made, and "Service," noted Charlie Soderstrom, "is all we have to offer." During the same year, Charlie was credited with the idea of painting all the company's cars brown, chosen for its stately appearance.

In 1922, the company acquired a business in Los Angeles that offered "wholesale delivery" service, shipping products from the manufacturer to the distributor. This section of the company quickly began providing its product transportation services to the public, in the same way that the US Postal Service did. This was known as to common carrier service. The acquisition of common carrier rights enabled the company to deliver packages to private and commercial customer addresses. This step placed UPS in direct competition with the USPS. The offerings included daily pickups, COD payment acceptance, automatic return of undeliverable packages, and weekly billing, all at rates competitive with the post office.

The 1920s marked a period of technological and service innovation. A major new development occurred in 1924, when the company introduced an innovative conveyor belt system used for package handling. Then in 1929, UPS began to offer air service through private airlines. The economic downturn in the US, along with a lack of volume, led to the end of the service two years later.

Geographic expansion emerged as a bold new opportunity for the company. Through the end of the 1920's, UPS expanded its retail delivery service to encompass all major cities along the coastline of the Pacific US, including San Francisco, San Diego and Portland, Oregon. In spite of the economic conditions after the stock market crash of 1929, UPS expanded eastward the following year, opening operations and moving its headquarters to New York City.

UPS grew throughout the 1930s and early 1940s by acquiring delivery responsibilities for department stores in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia. Fuel and rubber shortages during World War II, combined with rationing of most retail goods, led stores to limit delivery services and encouraged customers to carry their packages home themselves.

After the war ended, America witnessed the development of the suburbs, and new consumer trends emerged. More Americans were buying cars and shopping at suburban malls with large parking lots. UPS recognized that its role in home delivery services for department stores was limited, and its management pursued new growth opportunities.

UPS management sought to expand its breadth of services. In 1953 UPS began common carrier operations by providing package transportation services to the public in cities where the company did not require authorization by the state commerce commissioner or the Interstate Commerce Commission. During the same year, Chicago became the first city outside of California in which UPS offered common carrier service. Amid the determined pursuit of common carrier service deregulation, the company reintroduced air service, offering two-day delivery to major East and West Coast cities in 1953. As with the previous effort, UPS shipments flew on regular commercial flights.

Strict state and federal regulations limited access and entry to major markets. In some instances, shippers were required to transfer a package between several carriers before it reached its final destination. UPS faced unprecedented legal battles to obtain the proper certification to operate over areas wide enough to satisfy growing public demand for its unique services. Over the course of 30 years, UPS pursued more than 100 applications for additional operating authority. By winning these challenges, UPS effectively laid the groundwork for other delivery companies to compete in the marketplace. In 1975, UPS became the first package delivery company to serve every address in the 48 continental United States.

UPS increased its reach in the mid-1970s by growing internationally and at home. In 1975, the corporate headquarters moved from New York City to Greenwich, Connecticut. That same year , UPS went abroad for the first time when it began offering services in Toronto, Canada. The following year saw the start of operations in Germany. Over the next decade, UPS expanded its service throughout the Americas and Europe. After purchasing IML, a British document and parcel delivery company, in 1989, UPS extended service to the Middle East, Africa, and the Pacific Rim.

The need for air shipment increased in the 1980s, and UPS focused on expanding its presence in the skies. Deregulation of the airline industry allowed new opportunities for UPS, as some established commercial carriers reduced flights and even abandoned some routes completely. In order to ensure the company's reputation for dependability, UPS took steps toward creating its own fleet of airplanes.

With increasing public demand for quicker service, UPS entered the overnight air delivery business. By 1985, UPS Next Day Air service was available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. That same year, UPS introduced international air package and document service between the U.S. and six European nations. In 1988, UPS won approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate its own aircraft, thus launching UPS Airlines. Organized in slightly more than one year with all the needed technology and support systems, UPS Airlines was the fastest airline start-up in FAA history. Today, it is the world's eighth largest airline.

Currently, UPS runs an international package and document network in more than 200 countries and territories. With its worldwide services, UPS moves nearly 15 million packages through its network each business day.

The early 1990s marked the start of another era of change at UPS. With an eye toward improving cost efficiencies, in 1991 UPS announced plans to move its corporate headquarters to Atlanta.

E-commerce emerged as a potent force for changing the ways companies and consumers did business. Technology linked buyers and sellers in new ways that propelled globalization. Since the late 1990s, UPS has invested billions of dollars in technology development and infrastructure.

In 1993 UPS delivered 11.5 million packages and documents daily for more than one million regular customers. With such massive volume, UPS needed to develop new technology to maintain efficiency, keep prices competitive, and provide additional customer services. Operational technology at UPS spans a broad range, from small handheld devices, to specially designed package delivery vehicles, to global computer and communications systems.

The handheld Delivery Information Acquisition Device (DIAD), carried by all UPS drivers, was developed to capture and upload delivery information to the UPS network. The DIAD even includes digital images of a recipient's signature, giving shippers quicker confirmation of final delivery. This proprietary device also allows drivers to stay in contact with their operational centers, staying abreast of changing pickup schedules, traffic patterns, and other important messages. Finding technological efficiencies have led to environmental benefits. Use of the DIAD eliminates the use of 59 million sheets of paper, equal to 5,187 trees per year.

In 1992, UPS began tracking all ground shipments electronically. In 1994, UPS.com debuted, and provided the interface to make what was primarily internal operational information available to customers. The following year, UPS added functionality to its Website that enabled customers to track packages in transit. The resulting popularity of online shipment tracking surpassed all expectations. Today UPS.com receives 15 million online tracking requests daily.

Toward the end of the 1990s, UPS began another transition. While the core business continued to focus on package delivery, UPS expanded its vision to become an enabler of global commerce. The strategy that emerged was to drive growth through a new set of global services to meet the needs of customers seeking more efficient supply chains.

Services added included transportation and distribution for larger shipments via road, rail, air, and ocean. Specialty services were developed for high-tech, automotive, and consumer goods industries, because they increasingly were sourcing globally. UPS began to acquire companies with supply chain management and target industry expertise. In 1998 the company also established UPS Capital, a financial services business unit, expediting the flow of funds and mitigating trade risk throughout the supply chain. In its beginning, UPS Capital offered COD enhancement services, and eventually purchased First International Bank, allowing commercial lending capabilities.

In 1999, UPS offered 10 percent of its stock to the public for the first time. This initial public offering gave UPS the ability to use a publicly traded security to make strategic acquisitions. Prior to this, UPS had been owned primarily by management employees, a practice established by Jim Casey in the 1920s when he gave staff the opportunity to purchase company shares.

In 2001, UPS ventured toward retail business by acquiring Mail Boxes Etc., Inc., the world's largest franchisor of retail shipping, postal and business service centers. Within two years, approximately 3,000 Mail Boxes Etc. locations in the United States re-branded as The UPS Store and began offering lower UPS-direct shipping rates. The stores remain locally owned and operated, and continue to offer the same variety of postal and business services, with the same convenience and world-class service.

UPS continues to expand service worldwide. In Europe, Asia, and South America, customers enjoy an unmatched portfolio of time-definite and supply chain services. Two major enhancements to international service came with the expansion of Worldport, the air hub in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as the European air hub in Cologne, Germany. With Asia identified as a primary growth target, in 2005 UPS launched the first non-stop delivery service between the U.S. and Guangzhou, China. That same year, UPS acquired the interest held by its joint venture business partner in China, giving it access to 23 cities that cover more than 80% of the country's international trade.

UPS continually gains wider access to various markets through acquisitions. The 1999 acquisition of Challenge Air made UPS the largest express and air cargo carrier in Latin America. Purchasing Menlo Worldwide Forwarding in 2004 added heavy air freight shipment capability, while the acquisition of Overnite in 2005 expanded the company's ground freight services in North America. Other recent acquisitions in the U.K. and Poland present new opportunities for growth in Europe.

Over the past 100 years, UPS has become an expert in transformation, growing from a small messenger company to a leading provider of air, ocean, ground, and electronic services. The most recent public change came in 2003, when the company introduced a new brand mark, representing a new, evolved UPS, and showing the world that its capabilities extend beyond small package delivery. The company went another step further, adopting the acronym UPS as its formal name, another indicator of its broad expanse of services. (info & photo from UPS)

Friday, August 3, 2007

2002: euthenasia became legal

Euthanasia became legal on April 1, 2002 in the Netherlands, making it the first country to permit mercy killing for terminally ill people who are desperate to die.

Parliament set off a worldwide controversy a year earlier when it voted to legalize a practice the Dutch have tolerated for two decades. Opponents drew scary parallels with the killing of disabled and mentally ill people in Nazi Germany, but Dutch doctors must obey strict rules or face prosecution.

Among the conditions, patients must face a future of unbearable, interminable suffering and must make a voluntary, well-considered request to die. Doctor and patient must be convinced that there is no other solution, another physician must be consulted, and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way.

Some doctors say the fact that euthanasia is allowed is often a sufficient comfort in itself. "For many terminally ill people, the fact that they can choose to die is an immense consolation," said Coot Kuipers, a general practitioner in Uden, in the south.

Independent experts associated with the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticized the Dutch, saying it could lead to routine and insensitive mercy killing. The experts said they were not convinced that the system would detect and prevent cases where pressure could be exerted on a patient to evade the legal criteria. It also expressed concern that children from 12 to 16 years old are eligible for euthanasia with parental backing and that inquiries would be conducted only after patients died.

Fears of an influx of "euthanasia tourists" were fanned in 2001 when magistrates in Turin began questioning an Italian man suspected of helping terminally ill people travel to the Netherlands to die.

But the Dutch say the legal clause insisting that doctor and patient must have a close relationship precludes such visits. The Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society says it fields many inquiries from foreigners but always says no. "People from abroad have always thought it was easy to do it in the Netherlands, but in fact it's not," said the society's spokeswoman, Walburg de Jong.

The society's figures show 2,123 reported cases of euthanasia in 2000 in the Netherlands, though some cases are not reported to coroners.

A Dutch doctor was convicted in late 2001 because in 1998 he assisted in the death of a former senator who said he was "tired of life." The doctor was not given a prison sentence because the court ruled that he acted out of compassion. Though the new law was not yet in force, the court considered the legislation in reaching its judgment, in what was seen as a test of the limits of euthanasia. (info from The New York Times)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

1984: first PDA

Introduced in 1984, the Psion 1 can be considered the first PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). It allowed people to store contact information and a schedule, and had a clock and calculator.

Promoted as "world's first pocket computer," it sold for $200. Today, a PDA can do much more, and cost much less.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

2007: first female president of India

Pratibha Patil, India's first female president was sworn on July 25, vowing to eliminate the practice of aborting female fetuses and to empower women, who are often treated as second-class citizens.

Despite being touted as an important step for gender equality, Patil's election to the largely ceremonial post has elicited only a lukewarm response from many women who say it has given them little more than a symbol -- not a leader who represents them.

The 72-year-old Patil had been largely silent on her goals, particularly after drawing criticism for calling on Indian women -- Muslims and Hindus alike -- to abandon wearing head scarves. Although head scarves are more often seen in rural areas, some women in cities also wear them. Patil wore one, as she often does, for her inaugural address to Parliament.

''Empowerment of women is particularly important to me as I believe this leads to the empowerment of the nation,'' Patil told lawmakers, calling for universal education in India. She promised to fight for the vast mass of underprivileged in this country of about 1.1 billion people as it strives to transform itself into a modern, economic giant. ''We must banish malnutrition, social evils, infant mortality and female feticide,'' Patil said.

Last year, an international team of researchers estimated up to 10 million female fetuses had been aborted in the past 10 in years in India. The result is a gender ratio increasingly skewed in favor of men -- the 2001 census found 927 women for every 1,000 men, down from 945 women per 1,000 men in 1991.

Daughters are often seen as a burden because tradition requires that a bride's family pay the groom's family a large dowry of cash and gifts. Women's education is often neglected, and many do not get adequate medical treatment.

While the presidency is a largely ceremonial post, Patil can lend the prestige of her office to causes she supports.

But many women were skeptical about Patil. ''She was chosen for her loyalty and has moved from one post to another because of that same loyalty,'' said Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi, a feminist and human rights magazine.

''I have always believed that it's not everything to just have sari-wearing creatures in politics. It's more important that politics stands for and enables honest, upright people to survive. But sycophancy is the only token that works,'' Kishwar said, referring to Patil's known devotion to India's powerful Nehru-Gandhi family.

Patil was picked for the presidency by Sonia Gandhi, head of the governing Congress Party. While India has had several women in positions of power -- most notably Gandhi and her mother-in-law, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi -- women still face discrimination. (info & photo from The New York Times)