Friday, November 30, 2007

1878: first female telephone operator
(replacement for 11/28 entry)

For much of the 20th century, women played an important role in telecommunications system of the United States. As telephone operators, they helped customers make long distance calls, provided information, and made sure the whole system worked smoothly.

Although remembered primarily as a female profession, the first telephone operators who worked for the Bell System (later known as AT&T) in the 1870s were teenage boys.

Unfortunately the boys frequently proved rude and unruly, so young women, believed to be naturally more polite, were hired instead. The first female telephone operator was Emma McNutt, who was hired in New York City by a manager who happened to be a neighbor and who thought Emma was a nice girl. Little is known about Emma's career, although she was in the vanguard of women who established telephone operator work as an almost exclusively female job.

On September 1, 1878, Emma became the first woman telephone operator located at the Telephone Dispatch Company in Boston. The early telephone operators were prim and proper, obedient, virtuous and of course, single. (Marriage was not allowed in New England Telephone until 1942.)

In the 1880s and 1890s women telephone operators often served the same small group of customers every day. This created an intimacy between client and customer as customers grew to recognize operators' voices and know them as people. In many areas, operators could be counted on to have all sorts of information, such as the names and addresses of customers, the latest news, weather, sports results, time of day, and gossip.

Operators working in small, remote offices also had to take on most of the technical work, because there was no one else to do it. One operator, Mary Kennedy, who worked in New York City in the late 1870s, said she did every kind of telephone work except climbing a pole. Every Sunday morning, she recalled, "I had to test trunk lines, and report them for repair. Going up into a cupola to splice a cable or adjust a lightning arrester was part of the day's work."

In terms of job demands, as long as the total number of telephone subscribers remained quite low, the work was fairly easy. But as more and more customers signed up, being a telephone operator became a much more hectic job.

In large cities by about 1910, calls were coming in so rapidly that the operators could hardly take their eyes off the switchboards for a second. The telephone companies decided to take action by installing more and more automatic switching equipment. These automatic switches allowed customers with dial telephones (early telephones had no dials) to make connections themselves without operator assistance. Gradually, the need for operators was eliminated for all calls except long distance and collect calls.

Many operators found employment elsewhere, such as running the switchboards in office buildings, but others dropped out of the workforce to become wives or mothers. At the peak in the late 1940s, there were more than 350,000 AT&T operators, 98% of whom were women. But afterward, the introduction of increasingly sophisticated automatic switching reduced the need for operators.

Unions argued that AT&T intentionally created mass "technological unemployment," but the company argued that most of the lost jobs could be accounted for by normal job turnover and retirement, where workers who left their jobs were simply not replaced.

The career of a telephone operator was one of the few technically oriented jobs available to women in the early 20th century, but it was not open to all women. The telephone company decided that because operators were their direct link to the public, they had to project a "positive" image.

Women with foreign accents, for example, were not employed. Even native English speakers were usually given elocution training to make sure their speech matched the image the company wanted to project. Height was also an issue. Because operators had to sit at the company's equipment for long periods of time, women were selected whose height and weight fit within certain narrow boundaries. Most women under five feet tall, for example, were considered too short to be operators in the early 1900s.

As time progressed the company began setting strict rules about what operators could and could not say. This meant the end to their roles as centers of information. Despite all these restrictions, many women working for AT&T stayed on the job for many years, suggesting that they either liked the work or had few alternatives.

Today, there are only about 80,000 telephone operators still with the telephone companies of the US (many more work as operators in office buildings, however, taking calls and forwarding them to the various offices). The remaining telephone company operators work in several large, central installations that serve giant sections of the US. Usually, the tasks of today's operators are limited to providing directory assistance and transferring subscribers to customer service specialists. (Info from IEEE & CWA, photo (not Emma) from Library of Congress)

1951: direct dialing of long distance calls

On November 10, 1951, Mayor M. Leslie Downing of Englewood, NJ, picked up a telephone and dialed 10 digits. Eighteen seconds later, he reached Mayor Frank Osborne in Alameda, Calif. The mayors made history as they chatted in the first customer-dialed long-distance call, which introduced area codes.

The inauguration of Direct Distance Dialing eliminated the need for a "number, please" operator, accelerated connection speed, and cut the cost of long-distance calls. While direct-dialing had been available since the 1930s within some small areas, Direct Distance Dialing launched a service that ultimately connected people across North America.

Determined to build a better system, an AT&T engineering team investigated using a single set of short codes to divide North America into unique calling areas. The team concluded that a three-digit code - 2-to-9 as the first digit, the second number always 1 or 0 - produced a set of unique area codes with room for growth. Back then, a local phone number started with an exchange name followed by numbers, such as "Murray Hill 5." Since there were no letters above 1 or 0 on the dial, no phone numbers used a 1 or 0 in the first two pulls of the dial. Thus, equipment could distinguish long distance from local calls.

The team assigned area codes with a middle digit of 1 to states needing multiple area codes and area codes with a middle digit of 0 to the rest. Operators memorized area codes. To make the system work, local numbers, which varied in length, began changing to a single pattern - two letters and five numbers, as used in the largest cities. All long-distance calls would be 10 digits.

Shortly after operators began using area codes, AT&T tested its new system, with help from the mayors. Englewood (area code 201) called Alameda (area code 415). The trial being a success, AT&T rolled out Direct Distance Dialing across America.

Ninety area codes in 1951 grew to 135 in 1991. In recent years, cellular phones, fax machines, modems, and local service competition ignited explosive area-code growth. The last code available in the original scheme - 610 - entered service in Pennsylvania in 1994. Codes with second digits other than 0 or 1 came into use. Today, there are over 250 area codes. (info & photo from AT&T)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

1915: first coast-to-coast phone call in the US

The first transcontinental telephone call in the United States took place in 1915, and required five operators and 23 minutes to set up the call, from San Francisco to New York.

For many years, long-distance calls required an operator at the calling end and another at the receiving end, and there were often more operators needed at intermediate points to build the route through the network, one segment at a time.

In 1943, AT&T installed the first automatic toll switch, a number 4 crossbar, in Philadelphia, enabling one operator to complete a long-distance call. But the operator might still dial up to 12 digits of routing codes to build the route to the destination, then dial the local phone number, another four to seven digits.

In 1951, AT&T initiated direct-dialed long-distance service. (info from AT&T, photo from Northern Illinois University Libraries )

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

1965: Head Start starts

Head Start is a US Government program that focuses on assisting children from low-income families. Created in 1965, it has helped more than 24 million children develop social and learning skills needed to start school, and also provides health, nutrition, and parent involvement services.

It is the longest-running program for stopping the cycle of poverty in the US. The $6.8+ billion dollar budget for 2005 provided services to more than 905,000 children, 57% of whom were four years old or older, and 43% three years old or younger. Services were provided by 1,604 different programs operating more than 48,000 classrooms across every state at an average cost of $7,222 per child. The paid staff of nearly 212,000 people is dwarfed by an army of volunteers six times as large.

Head Start was started as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. A key part of the Great Society domestic agenda, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 authorized programs to help meet the needs of disadvantaged preschool children. A panel of child development experts drew up this program at the request of the Federal Government, and the program became Project Head Start.

The Office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. The project was designed to help end poverty by providing preschool children from low-income families with a program that would meet emotional, social, health, nutritional, and psychological needs.

Head Start was then transferred to the Office of Child Development in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Health and Human Services)in 1969. Today it is a program within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the HHS. Programs are administered locally by non-profit organizations and local agencies such as school systems.

Head Start's record of success, and research showing the importance of learning in the early years, have spawned a popular movement to provide quality preschool to all four-year-olds regardless of family income. Universal pre-kindergarten is a staple of the current presidential campaign, and states across the country are looking to increase early-childhood classes. (info from Washington Post & Wikipedia; photo from Youth Development, Inc. -- a service organization in New Mexico.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

2005: first Cyber Monday

The term Cyber Monday refers to today -- the Monday immediately following Black Friday, the ceremonial kick-off of the holiday online shopping season in the US. In 2006, more than 60 million people shopped online on Cyber Monday.

The word "cyberspace" -- from "cybernetics" (information processing) and "space" -- was coined by author William Gibson in his 1982 story Burning Chrome and popularized by his 1984 novel Neuromancer. He wrote: "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data."

Whereas Black Friday is associated with traditional brick-and-mortar stores, Cyber Monday is a busy day for online retailers. The premise was that consumers would return to their offices after the Black Friday weekend, making purchases online that they were not able to make in stores. Cyber Monday has evolved into a significant marketing event, sponsored by the National Retail Federation's division, in which online retailers offer special deals.

The term “Cyber Monday” was coined in 2005 by However, the trend of Cyber Monday was initially recognized several years ago, when many retailers saw spikes in sales and traffic as consumers went back to work after the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Though gave the Monday after Thanksgiving a name, it did not create the trend.

According to a study, two-thirds (63.4%) of retailers saw substantial growth on Cyber Monday in 2006 and a third of online retailers (32.6%) said that their Cyber Monday sales were up more than 30% from the previous year.

At the official "Cyber Monday" site, run by, more than 500 retailers offered discounts for the 2007 holidays. A percentage of the proceeds of the site benefits the Ray M. Greenly Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to students pursuing an education in e-commerce. Greenly was a Vice President of Research and Member Services at who died from lung cancer in 2005. (info from & Wikipedia)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Long Holiday Weekend

I'll be back Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

1621: First Thanksgiving

What is regarded in American tradition as the "First Thanksgiving" was actually a harvest festival, without a name. In the spring of 1621, the Pilgrim colonists planted their first crops in Patuxet, Massachussetts. They had limited success with wheat and barley, but their corn crop proved very successful, thanks to Native American Squanto who taught them how to plant corn in hills, using fish as a fertilizer.

In October of 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with feasting, prayers and games, as was the custom in England. The celebration served to boost the morale of the 50 remaining colonists and also to impress their Native allies.

The Pilgrims would not have called the event of 1621 a "Thanksgiving." The Separatist Puritans recognized three kinds of holidays as sanctioned by the Bible: the Sabbath, days of thanksgiving, and fast days.

Unlike the Sabbath, days of thanksgiving and fast days were not part of the established calendar. They were proclaimed by the governor in response to a specific situation. A religious day of fasting could be invoked by a drought or war. A religious day of thanksgiving could be called to celebrate a particularly good harvest or providential rainfall. Although the event of 1621 is known today as the "First Thanksgiving," that harvest feast had many secular elements and would not have been considered a religious day of thanksgiving by the Pilgrims.

The religious day of thanksgiving gradually evolved into a yearly Thanksgiving customarily held on a Thursday in November. As America grew and New Englanders moved to new states, the custom of an annual Thanksgiving Day took root throughout the country. The religious holiday added secular overtones, celebrating abundance, family, national unity, and reading the ads for Wal-Mart, Sears and Circuit City.

Thanksgiving was not yet part of the national calendar. The governor of each state would determine when (or if) a Thanksgiving would be held. Thanksgiving did not become an annual national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 proclamation. Every President since has proclaimed an annual national Thanksgiving.

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday to the third Thursday in November, to extend the Christmas shopping season. In 1941, this unpopular move inspired Congress to permanently fix the date on the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving has proved one of the most enduring and popular symbols of the Pilgrims. Millions of immigrants who arrived in America between 1880 and 1920 learned "Americanism" from the story of the Pilgrims and their celebration of Thanksgiving. (Painting: The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth by Brownscombe; info from Pilgrim Hall Museum)

Next new posting will be on Monday

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

1963: invention of deep-fried turkey

In Del Rio, Texas on Thanksgiving morning in 1963, Carlos "Cisco Kid" Kelp heated up a big pot of peanut oil to cook french fried potatoes for a tailgate party in the parking lot of Del Rio High School, before a football game between the Del Rio Rams and the South San Antonio Bobcats.

His two drunken buddies, Clyde "Friendly" Frind and George "Goombah" Ferraro, spotted a turkey on the seat of Kelp's pickup truck, that Kelp had purchased earlier that morning for roasting at home in the afternoon, after the game.

Frind and Ferraro removed the 18-lb. bird from the vehicle, unwrapped it, and started throwing it around like a football.

At one point Frind didn't throw it far enough to reach Ferraro, and it dropped into the pot of bubbling oil, splashing some hot fluid on Kelp, who required first-aid treatment by a school nurse on duty at the football field.

The three amigos decided to let the turkey cook for awhile, and eventually removed it with the handle from a bumper jack, cut it up, and served it to other football fans.

Apparently, it tasted good, and the dish became an annual tradition, and quickly spread around the country.

Several companies make specialized turkey fryers, and tools to inject flavoring into the bird. Frying turkeys can be dangerous and messy, and should only be done outdoors. Consumer Reports warns that Underwriters Laboratories has refused to certify any turkey fryer as safe, because all of six cookers examined could overheat oil to the point of combustion. BE CAREFUL.

Monday, November 19, 2007

1957: beginning of the Edsel
1959: end of the Edsel

With great expectations and much fanfare, the Ford Motor Company introduced the 1958 model Edsel on September 4, 1957. The car was named for Edsel Bryant Ford (1893 – 1943), son of company founder Henry Ford, and president of Ford from 1919 to 1943.

Initial Edsel sales were disappointing. Ford had hoped to sell 200,000 of the 1958 model Edsels, but ended up producing just 68,045. Many people were turned off by the shield, or "horse collar" grille. Designed to be instantly recognizable as an Edsel from a distance of several blocks, the grille was said to resemble a toilet seat, and made the car look like "an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon."

In an effort to boost sales, Ford redesigned the car somewhat and removed several unpopular features for 1959, but again sales were very low. Only 47,396 of the 1959 models were produced.

The 1960 model was released in the fall of 1959, but was basically a 1960 Ford with some sheet metal changes, and did not resemble the earlier models. Only 2,846 of the 1960 models were produced, mainly to fulfill dealer contracts.

Ford decided to discontinue the Edsel in favor of smaller cars that were becoming popular at the time, and on November 19, 1959 announced that it would no longer produce Edsels. (Photo and info from

Friday, November 16, 2007

2007: two Koreas allow cross-border
train service, cellphones & Internet

North and South Korea agreed Friday to launch cross-border rail service for the first time in more than half a century, the latest sign of improving relations between the two sides. Since the first summit meeting between the Koreas in 2000, the countries have moved to set aside decades of animosity and have dramatically increased economic ties to the point that the South is the North's No. 2 trading partner behind its communist ally China.

The service, which will be limited to freight transport, will have trains running along a 16-mile track across the heavily armed frontier to a joint industrial complex in the North's city of Kaesong.

Friday's agreement, reached after the first talks between the countries' prime ministers since 1992, also calls for the South to start building shipyards in North Korea and repairing a major highway and a railroad in the impoverished country next year. The two sides will also start setting up a joint fishing area around their disputed western sea border next year as part of efforts to prevent naval clashes around an area that saw deadly skirmishes in 1999 and 2000.

The move is part of a broader project to turn the disputed area into a "peace and cooperation zone," which would also create a special economic zone on the North's southwestern coast.

The two sides also agreed to hold prime ministers' talks every six months, with the next meeting to be held in the first half of next year in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The railway opening is part of measures to give new impetus to the joint venture industrial park, where about two dozen South Korean companies run factories employing some 20,000 North Koreans.

The North also agreed Friday to allow South Koreans to use the Internet and cellphones inside the Kaesong area. Internet use in North Korea is normally limited to elite officials, part of the regime's policies to prevent normal citizens from receiving any information beyond the nationalist propaganda that dominates state-controlled media.

Visitors to North Korea are also required to hand over foreign cellphones upon entry, which are returned to them when they leave.

South Korea hopes the inter-Korean railway will ultimately be linked to Russia's Trans-Siberian railroad and allow an overland route connecting the peninsula to Europe - significantly cutting delivery times for freight that now requires sea transport.

Other points of Friday's agreement include promoting cooperation in the farming, resources development and medical sectors, as well as more reunions of families separated between North and South.

The high-level talks come amid progress in international efforts to rid North Korea of its nuclear programs, with Pyongyang recently beginning to disable its sole operational nuclear reactor under a deal with the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The two Koreas fought the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, which means that the sides are still technically at war. Their relations have warmed significantly since the first-ever summit in 2000, although the reconciliation process has often been overshadowed by the standoff over the North's nuclear weapons programs. (info from The Associated Press, map from SilkRoadAndBeyond)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

2007: first company to be worth a trillion bucks, or 7,458,000,000,000 yuan

PetroChina became the world's first company worth more than $1 trillion earlier this month, surging past Exxon Mobil as the Chinese oil producer's shares nearly tripled in their first day of trading in China.

PetroChina, a unit of state-owned China National Petroleum, is the country's biggest oil and gas producer. Its initial public offering of 4 billion shares raised $8.94 billion — a record for a mainland China stock exchange. The company's total market capitalization ballooned to just over $1 trillion, compared to Exxon Mobil's $488 billion.

PetroChina's status as the world's most highly valued company by market capitalization thus does not necessarily reflect stronger profitability or productivity than its rivals. The company has seen revenues soar amid surging oil prices but has struggled to boost production from its aging domestic oil fields. In refining, it has struggled with a widening gap between soaring world crude oil prices and state-controlled prices for oil products in the domestic market.

Like other Chinese energy giants, PetroChina is investing heavily in both overseas and domestic oil and gas fields as it rushes to meet soaring demand. The company said it plans to use around $5 billion of the proceeds from the Shanghai IPO to help finance five projects aimed at boosting its crude oil output and refining capacity. (info from The Associated Press)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

1995: last state to abolish slavery

In 1588, Lithuania abolished slavery.

In 1772, slavery was declared illegal in England.

In 1777, slavery was abolished in Vermont.

In 1799, New York State introduced gradual emancipation.

In 1863, the US Emancipation Proclamation declared that slaves in Confederate-controlled areas should be freed.

In 1865, the US abolished slavery with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1995, Mississippi abolished slavery, only 130 years later.

Mississippi is also the poorest state in the US; and in 2004, Mississippi was ranked lowest in academic achievement.

OTOH, Mississippi does have good food and good music, and low cost of living.

(info from Wikipedia, map from

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

1931: first legal casino in Las Vegas

Las Vegas was long the home of the Anasazi Indians, but the first non-Indian on the scene was a young Mexican scout by the name of Rafael Rivera. He was looking for water off the Old Spanish Trail, and found it in the Las Vegas Valley around 1830.

It wasn't called the Las Vegas Valley then. In fact, it didn't even have a name, but the area resembled a giant meadow. Hence the name Las Vegas, which means "The Meadows."

The oldest continually-running casino in Las Vegas is the Golden Gate, which opened in 1906.

The Northern Club received the city's first gaming license in 1931 when the State of Nevada legalized gambling. Today the property, at 15 East Fremont, is known as the Coin Castle.

The first casino on the Las Vegas Strip was the Western-themed El Rancho Vegas, which opened in April of 1941 with 63 hotel rooms, a casino, and a 250-seat showroom.

When Thomas Hull opened the El Rancho, it was part of his "El Rancho" chain, including similar hotels in Sacramento, California, and Bakersfield, CA. El Rancho Vegas was designed by architect Wayne McAllister and offered horseback riding, a large swimming pool and top shows in the "Round Up Room" (Later the "Opera House" theater). The resort later went through several changes of ownership.

Legendary stripper Candy Barr was headlining in 1959 when she was arrested by the FBI after her appeal on a Texas marijuana conviction was rejected by the US Supreme Court.

Harry James and Betty Grable were performing a late show on stage when the hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1960.

Despite vows to rebuild the El Rancho Vegas after the fire, plans never materialized. In 1970, billionaire Howard Hughes purchased 60 acres of the land. In 1978, the remnants of the old resort were demolished. (info from Casino City Times and Wikipedia, photo from Visit Las Vegas)

Monday, November 12, 2007

1972: last man on the moon

Eugene Andrew Cernan (born 1934) is a retired US Navy officer and former NASA astronaut. He has been into space three times: as co-pilot of Gemini 9A in 1966; as lunar module pilot of Apollo 10 in 1969; and as commander of Apollo 17 in 1972. He was also a backup crew member for the Gemini 12, Apollo 7 and Apollo 14 missions.

In that final lunar landing mission in 1972, Cernan became "the last man on the moon" since he was the last to re-enter the Apollo Lunar Module during its third and final extra-vehicular activity (EVA).

A native of Chicago, Cernan grew up in the towns of Bellwood and Maywood, IL. He graduated from Purdue University with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He was commissioned into the US Navy through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Purdue, and became a Naval jet flyer. He also holds a M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. In 1976, Cernan retired both from the Navy (as a Captain) and from NASA, and went into private business.

Cernan is one of only three men to voyage to the moon on two different occasions (the others being Jim Lovell and John Young), and one of only twelve men to walk on the moon. Cernan orbited the moon on Apollo 10, and landed on the moon on Apollo 17.

While on the moon during Apollo 17, he and his crewmate Harrison Schmitt performed three EVAs for a total of about 22 hours of exploration. Their first EVA alone was over three times the length Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent outside the LM on Apollo 11. During this time they covered over 35 kilometers using the Lunar Rover and spent a great deal of time collecting geologic samples that would shed light on the moon's early history.

As Cernan got ready to climb the ladder he spoke these words, as of now the last spoken by a human on the moon: "As we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. As I take these last steps from the surface for some time to come, I'd just like to record that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. Godspeed the crew of Apollo Seventeen."

Cernan is the author of The Last Man on the Moon, a memoir of his career with NASA and before. CLICK to order the book. (info & photo from Wikipedia)

Friday, November 9, 2007

2007: first woman to "write" a Torah

Jen Taylor Friedman made history this year when she became the first female scribe ever to complete a Torah scroll. The Torah comprises the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. To Jews, there is no "Old Testament," and the books that Christians call the New Testament are not part of Judaism. Jews have revered the Torah through the ages, as have Samaritans and Christians. It is traditionally accepted as the literal word of God as told to Moses.

The Torah was unveiled September 9 at New York's Drisha Institute for Jewish Education, an Orthodox feminist stronghold, before being transported to the United Hebrew Congregation, the St. Louis Reform synagogue that commissioned the Torah.

Taylor Friedman, 27, is among just a few known female Jewish scribes in the world. She's said, however, that she wasn't trying to make a feminist statement in making the scroll ― she simply wanted to write a Torah.

Torahs are written using a painstakingly careful methodology by highly qualified scribes, resulting in modern copies of the text that are unchanged from millennia old copies. The reason for such care is it is believed that every word, or marking, has divine meaning, and that not one part may be inadvertently changed lest it lead to error.

Written entirely in Hebrew, a Torah contains 304,805 letters, all of which must be duplicated precisely by a trained sofer (“scribe”), which may take as long as 18 months. Any error during inscription renders the Torah invalid. According to the Talmud (the oral law of the Jewish People), all scrolls must also be written on special parchment. Some Torahs have survived intact for over 800 years.

The parchment on which the Torah scroll is written, the hair or sinew with which the panels of parchment are sewn together, and the quill pen with which the text is written, all must come from "kosher" animals. A scribe may never use tools of "base metals," because they are associated with implements of war.

A completed Torah will often be “dressed” externally with ornamental breastplates, scrolls, protective fine fabric, and sometimes a crown, often made of silver. This is not to worship it, but to mark it as sacred and holy, as the living word of God.

In modern times, some scribes are paid to complete a Torah under contract on behalf of a community or by individuals to mark a special occasion. Because of the work involved, they can cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce.

The text of the Torah can also be found in books, which are mass-printed in the usual way for individual use, often containing both the Hebrew text and a translation into another language. (info from the Forward & Wikipedia)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

1963: first woman in space

Valentina Tereshkova, born in 1937, was the first woman in space. In 1963, she spent three days in space and orbited the earth 48 times.

Valentina was the youngest of three children. Her father was killed when she was two years old. As a child she had to help her mother with farm chores and she didn’t attend school until she was ten years old. Eventually they left the farm and went to live in the city, where her mother worked in a cotton mill. At 17 she started working in factories. She finished her schooling by correspondence course, and graduated from the Light Industry Technical School.

She became a full member of the communist party, and joined an amateur parachuting club and became an expert parachutist.

When Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut, went into space, her mother said that next time a woman should go. Valentina was inspired.

Every person in the Soviet Union was entitled to apply to the space program. Valentina applied and was accepted. Her parachuting experience helped her get in, along with three other women. The Soviets wanted to send a woman to space, just once, to see if they could endure the hardships as well as men. In order to become a cosmonaut she had to join the Air Force as an Officer.

She began her training in 1961 and it took 18 months. She had to spend hours studying technical manuals, rocket science and spaceship design. She also underwent strenuous physical training.

On June 16, 1963, as a Junior Lieutenant and chief pilot of the Vostok VI, she became the first ever woman to go into space. She orbited Earth 48 times, and parachuted out of the spacecraft following its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. She had proven that women could withstand the physical and emotional stresses of space flight as well as any man.

She was awarded a medal at the Kremlin three days later and proclaimed as a Hero of the Soviet Union. She never returned to space, but worked in the Space Program and married another Cosmonaut in 1963. One year later their daughter, Elena, was born. She was the first child to be born to parents who had both been to space. Doctors were a little worried that she would not be normal, but Elena, now a doctor, proved them wrong.

She worked for the Communist party and headed the Soviet Union’s International Cultural and Friendship Union from 1987 to 1991. She also worked tirelessly for the Soviet feminist movement, but she said that a woman’s most important job is to be caring and a mother. (info from Online Learning Haven, photo from Moscow Times)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

1955: first wireless TV remote control

Couch potatoes don’t like to leave the couch to adjust the TV, but remote controls go way back before television.

One of the earliest examples of remote control was developed in 1893 by Nikola Tesla, and described in his patent, Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles. The first remote-controlled model airplane flew in 1932, and remote control was used for military purposes in WW2.

By the late 1930s, several radio manufacturers offered remote controls for higher-end models. Most of these were connected to the set with wires, but the Philco Mystery Control (1939) was a battery-operated low-frequency radio transmitter, thus making it the first wireless remote control for a consumer electronics device.

One early TV remote control was a small hand-held unit for a 1948 Garod (?) TV set which was called a Telezoom, it enlarged the picture with the press of a button, but did not change channels, or anything else.

The Zenith Radio Corporation created the very first multi-function television remote control in 1950 called Lazy Bone. The Lazy Bone could turn a television on and off, and change channels. However, it was attached to the television by a bulky cable. People did not like the cable because they tripped over it.

Zenith engineer, Eugene Polley created the Flash-matic, the first wireless TV remote in 1955. It used four photocells, one in each corner of the TV screen. The viewer used a directional flashlight to activate the four control functions, which turned the TV on and off, and turned the channel tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise. However, sunlight sometimes changed channels at random.

The improved Zenith Space Command remote control went into commercial production in 1956. Zenith engineer Robert Adler designed the Space Command based on ultrasonics.

The Space Command transmitter used no batteries; inside the transmitter were four lightweight aluminum rods that emitted high-frequency sounds when struck at one end. Each rod was a different length to create a different sound that controlled a receiver unit built into the television.

The receiver contained a microphone attached to a circuit that was tuned to the same frequency. Some problems with this method were that the receiver could be triggered accidentally by naturally occurring noises, and some people, especially young women, could hear the piercing high-frequency signals. There was even a noted incident in which a toy xylophone changed the channels on these types of TVs since some of the overtones from the xylophone matched the remote's ultrasonic frequency.

The first Space Command units were expensive due to the necessary use of six vacuum tubes in the receiver units that raised the price of a television by thirty percent. In the early 1960s, after the invention of the transistor, remote controls came down in price, and in size. Zenith modified the Space Command remote control with transistor technology (but still using ultrasonics).

Over nine million ultrasonic remote controls were sold. Infrared devices replaced ultrasonic remote controls in the early 1980s. (Info from, TVhistory,com, Wikipedia)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

1973: first use of the 25th Amendment

Spiro Theodore Agnew (1918 – 1996) was the 39th Vice President of the US, serving under Nixon, and the 55th Governor of Maryland. He is most famous for resigning in 1973 after being charged with tax evasion.

Agnew's moderate image, immigrant background and success in a traditionally Democratic state made him an attractive running mate for Nixon in 1968. In line with what would later be called Nixon's Southern Strategy, Agnew was selected as a candidate for being sufficiently from the South to attract Southern moderate voters, yet not as identified with the Deep South, which could have turned off Northern centrists.

His vice presidency was the highest-ranking United States political office ever reached by a Greek-American citizen or a Marylander. Agnew's nomination was supported by many conservatives within the Republican Party and by Nixon. A small band of Republican convention delegates started shouting "Spiro Who?" and tried to place George W. Romney's name in nomination. Nixon's wishes prevailed and Agnew went from his first election as County Executive to Vice President in six years — one of the fastest rises in US political history.

Agnew was a protege of Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York State and a head of the moderate wing of the Republican Party. Rockefeller was Nixon's chief opponent during the 1968 primary season. Going into the 1968 GOP convention neither Nixon nor Rockefeller had enough votes to clinch the nomination, but Nixon had nearly enough. He invited Rockefeller to his hotel room and proposed that Rockefeller throw his support to Nixon in exchange for naming the Vice Presidential nominee. The only condition was that Rockefeller could not name himself. Rockefeller named Agnew.

Agnew was known for his tough criticisms of political opponents, especially journalists and anti-Vietnam War activists. He was known for attacking his opponents with unusual, often alliterative epithets, some of which were coined by White House speech-writers William Safire and Pat Buchanan, including "nattering nabobs of negativism" (written by Safire), "pusillanimous pussyfooters", and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history".

Agnew was Nixon's "hatchet man" when defending the administration on the Vietnam War. Agnew was chosen to make several powerful speeches in which he spoke out against anti-war protesters and media portrayal of the Vietnam War, labeling them "Franco Un-American". Agnew toned down his rhetoric and dropped most of the alliterations after the 1972 election with a view to running for president himself in 1976.

On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office.

Unlike John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat in the Senate, Agnew resigned and then pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) to criminal charges of tax evasion and money laundering, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he accepted $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland.

The bribes were paid to Agnew by people in the construction industry to get their projects approved. When Agnew moved from Baltimore to Washington, DC, he continued to demand payments. Angered, the construction men turned government's witnesses. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years' probation.

The $10,000 fine only covered the taxes and interest due on what was "unreported income" from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked as the "greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop" by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs. Students of Professor John Banzhaf from The George Washington University Law School, collectively known as Banzhaf's Bandits, found four residents of the state of Maryland willing to put their names on a case and sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482 - the amount he was known to have taken in bribes.

After two appeals by Agnew, he finally resigned himself to the matter and a check for $268,482 was turned over to Maryland state Treasurer William James in early 1983. As a result of his nolo contendere plea, Agnew was later disbarred by the State of Maryland. Like most jurisdictions, Maryland lawyers are automatically disbarred after being convicted of a felony, and a nolo contendere plea exposes the defendant to the same penalties as a guilty plea.

His resignation triggered the first use of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution, as the vacancy prompted the appointment and confirmation of Gerald Ford, House Minority Leader, as his successor. It remains one of only two times that the amendment has been employed to fill a Vice Presidential vacancy. The other time was when Ford, after becoming President, chose Nelson Rockefeller to succeed him as Vice President. (info from Wikipedia)

Monday, November 5, 2007

1963: last train robbery in the USA

The Great Dinky Robbery was a prank perpetrated by four Princeton University students on Friday, May 3, 1963. "Dinky" is a common term for a small railroad operation; and this Dinky is the Princeton Branch service then operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and usually a one-car train. At the time, Princeton was an all-male school, and the Dinky was the primary means of transportation for women coming to the campus.

On that afternoon -- the beginnng of Houseparties weekend -- the Dinky was packed with the usual suited commuters and college women traveling to campus. Suddenly, the engineer spotted a driverless convertible straddling the rails, and braked. From out of the woods appeared a horse at full gallop, its masked rider brandishing a six-shooter. As the train ground to a halt, the engineer threw up his hands.

Three other horsemen appeared, all wearing cowboy garb and bandanas over their faces. They dismounted and boarded the train. “Stay in your seats, everyone!” the leader yelled, firing his pistol with a deafening percussion. Several women screamed. Some men in business suits looked amused, but others fumbled for their billfolds. One held out his gold watch.

The intruders sauntered down the center aisle. “That’s the one I want!” the leader shouted, and he grabbed a young woman in a blue dress. The young man beside her put up a fight, then watched the woman being pulled toward the train door, down the metal stairs toward the horses. The three other cowboys followed, each grabbing a wrist and hauling a primly dressed college woman down the aisle. Outside, the riders and the four abductees struggled onto the backs of the horses and rode into the woods. The convertible already had been removed, and the train lurched forward and slowly resumed its journey to Princeton Station.

When it arrived, the campus platform was swollen with undergraduates expecting their dates. “We were just held up,” a young voice shouted. Word spread. A legend had begun.

The spectacular ploy was carried out by three Cap and Gown seniors – George Bunn ’63, now a respected New York attorney but then a well-known prankster who shared his room with an illegal pet ocelot, broke the then-famous cohabitation rule with impunity, and attacked rival Cottage Club with a bulldozer; Sam Perry ’63; and John Williams ’63. Walt Goodridge ’64, an architecture student and cheerleader, did much of the legwork.

Two of the kidnapped women were undergraduates from Smith College. Randol Foote Haffner recalls sitting with her friend Susie Wolfe that Friday when Goodridge, Bunn, and Perry explained the plan and recruited them. A couple of men were planted on the train with the women. Goodridge rented horses from a stable, and a group with the costumes and guns met the riders in the woods. A team was assigned to drive the convertible onto the tracks and then off.

Haffner remembers: “George came into the car with his gun drawn and looked at me and yelled, ‘There’s the one I want!’ My date and I faked a little protest, but allowed him to pull me off the train and onto his horse. Suddenly I was on the back of this wild man’s saddle, hanging on for dear life.”

After robbing the train, the horsemen, each with a woman rider, headed toward campus. “The horses were really into it,” Goodridge recalls. “Mine wanted to gallop, and you have to remember that none of us was an experienced horseman. When we got near Brown Hall, I remember all the freshmen coming out and cheering us as we passed. That’s when my horse rose up on his hind legs, like in a Western.” Bunn rode up the Colonial Club walkway and onto the porch. The other three riders headed over to Cap and Gown, where Bo Diddley was playing out front. Bo and his musicians seemed amused.

It was approaching dark when the horsemen rode back to the stable. The horses were overdue. “The stable owner was furious,” remembers Williams, a retired president of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. “He had no idea that his horses had just taken part in the creation of a legend.”

The train robbery on that spring afternoon would never be tolerated today. But no disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrators. In the simpler life of 1963, a well-executed prank was a tour de force, a source of admiration and campus awe, a way of tweaking the nose of staid tradition and yet staying within it.

Although no actual robbery was committed (the only "items" stolen being the four women), the hold-up of the train was probably the last such event in America. Before 1960, the last train robbery in America took place in Oregon in 1923. (info from Wikipedia and (Selden Edwards ’63), photo by Ben Amster for the Daily Princetonian)

Friday, November 2, 2007

1866: first transatlantic communications cable

One year after the completion of the first telegraph line - between Washington and Baltimore, in 1844 - the first cables were laid across New York Harbor. Unfortunately, these submarine cables lacked physical durability. The only materials to insulate wires at this time were things like caoutchouc, asphalt, wax or shellac. They did not last long for even short crossings, much less reaching 3,000 miles across an ocean. The discovery of a form of rubber called gutta-percha in Malaya 1843 led to suitable insulations by 1847.

The real beginnings of global submarine cable telegraphy began with a wealthy English merchant family named Brett, that financed a cable crossing the English Channel to France in 1850. That cable failed after only a few messages had been exchanged, and was replaced in September 1851.

Also in the 1850-51 period, former aerial crossings of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers that had been wrecked by floods were replaced with submarine telegraph cables. Development continued in Europe, where by 1852 cables were connecting England, Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and another connected Italy with Corsica, Sardinia and even across to Africa.

Meanwhile people in America and Europe had a vision of a telegraph cable cross the Atlantic. Many scientists thought it would be impossible to lay a submarine cable over such a long distance, and the US Congress laughed at Samuel Morse when he proposed this idea. However, several people, including British chief physicist Michael Faraday, supported the plan.

Cyrus W. Field, a wealthy New York paper merchant who had retired from active business at the age of 35, was enthusiastic about the idea. He decided to lay a submarine cable from the US to England, and in 1854 he gathered a number of wealthy New Yorkers to join him. This group founded the New York Newfoundland & London Telegraph Company.

After a failure in 1855, the company finished the first section of the transatlantic telegraph between New York and Newfoundland in 1856. In the same year, Field went to England to get more partners. He founded the Atlantic Telegraph Company in London, and the company tried to lay the cable across the ocean from England to Newfoundland.

After two failed attempts in 1857, the third trial in 1858 was successful. The cable worked for four weeks, though never very well, because the insulation leaked and finally broke down.

The failure made it very difficult to start a new project, and the Civil War in the US delayed a new attempt for many years. But during this time, the science of submarine telegraphy was making progress. The British government appointed a commission to investigate the subject, and spent many thousands of pounds in experiments. The result was a clear conviction that it was possible to lay a telegraph cable across the Atlantic.

In 1863, when the scientific and engineering problems were solved, Field began to prepare a new attempt. On July 15, the cable was taken on board of a giant ship - The Great Eastern - in England.

A new trial began. For a week all went well; they had paid out nearly two thousand kilometers of cable, and had only nine hundred kilometers farther to go, when the cable broke and went down to the bottom of the sea. All trials to lift up the cable failed, so a new attempt had to be started on March 31, 1866.

It took just five months from the day the new cable had been manufactured until the first message was transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean. The first functional telegraph line between Europe and America was finished. (info and illustration from University of Applied Sciences, Germany)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

1947: first man to break the sound barrier
1953: first woman to break the sound barrier

The first man to break the "sound barrier" was Capt. Charles E. ("Chuck") Yeager, of the US Air Force. He reached this milestone of aviation history in 1947 over the test ranges at Muroc Field in California, now known as Edwards Air Force Base.

Yeager accomplished this feat while flying the first Bell XS-1. Later renamed the X-1, this vehicle was a rocket-powered high-speed research aircraft.

The first woman to fly faster than Mach 1 was Jacqueline ("Jackie") Cochran, one of the pioneering women of aeronautics. Jackie originally worked in the cosmetics industry and was encouraged to pursue a pilot's license by her husband in order to travel more efficiently. Cochran managed to complete her pilot training in 1932 in just three weeks! She quickly realized that flying was her passion and set about becoming one of the most accomplished pilots in history. Jackie was the first woman to win the Bendix Race in 1938 and also set several aviation records before 1940, including three speed records and a world altitude record.

Jackie's successes allowed her to become an accomplished test pilot setting many more firsts. As World War II approached, Cochran worked to encourage more women to join the war effort. The British Ferry Command hired Cochran to recruit women to fly planes from factories in the US to bases the UK, and she became the first woman to fly a military bomber on a transatlantic flight in 1941.

Jackie convinced Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, to support efforts encouraging greater participation of women in defense positions. In 1943, Cochran was named director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASP). WASPs proved vital to the war effort, and Cochran helped to train over a thousand auxiliary pilots for the military services. After the war, Cochran was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for her contributions.

Jackie remained committed to the defense effort after the war and earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. She continued to pursue her passion for flying and became a close friend of Chuck Yeager. Yeager helped Cochran make the transition to jet-powered aircraft, and she wasted little time setting new records. In 1953, Jackie flew an F-86 Sabre past Mach 1 becoming the first woman to break the sound barrier. She went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964 and no fewer than eight speed records in 1967 when she was over 60 years old.

An interesting historical sidebar concerns the term "sound barrier." When a British aerodynamicist named W. F. Hilton was interviewed on his high-speed experimental work, he was quoted as describing "how the resistance of a wing shoots up like a barrier against high speed as we approach the speed of sound." The newspapers of the period misconstrued his statement to mean that there was some sort of physical barrier to travel at or beyond the speed of sound, so no aircraft would ever be able to reach those speeds.

In addition, there was some theoretical work done that had indicated the pressures generated on a body as it neared Mach 1 would go to infinity, and the drag would therefore be so great that no aircraft could pass through the barrier. However, these equations turned out to be based of faulty assumptions that were not valid at transonic speeds.

Indeed, engineers had known for many years that the speed of sound could be passed simply because cannon balls and bullets were known to pass through the sound barrier as far back as Isaac Newton's day. The key to finally reaching Mach 1 was simply developing ways of minimizing the increase in wave drag at transonic speeds, developing engines with enough power, and understanding the effect of shock waves on wings and control surfaces so that control problems could be avoided.

The shape of the fuselage on the X-1 research plane had been designed to resemble a .50 caliber bullet since this object was known to exceed Mach 1. Other projectiles, like shells and cannon balls, had also been able to travel faster than the speed of sound for many years. However, it is not known for sure when the earliest projectile exceeded the speed of sound or when guns and cannons might have become powerful enough to accelerate an object to such speeds.

Regardless, another object that has been around far longer than gun-launched projectiles was probably the first manmade object to exceed the speed of sound. Believe it or not, this object is a whip. As the whip's user snaps his wrist back and forth, it sends a wave down the length of the whip that accelerates the tip to very high speeds. This speed can grow fast enough to exceed the speed of sound, particularly if the whip is relatively long.

Whips are known for the distinctive cracking noise they make as the move through the air. This crackling is actually the result of a miniature sonic boom being created by the tip as it travels faster than Mach 1. (info from Aerospaceweb)