Friday, January 30, 2009

1870: first US governor removed by impeachment

Furry-headed Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was thrown out yesterday. The impeachment case included not only the criminal charges against Blagojevich, but allegations he broke the law when it came to hiring state workers, expanded a health care program without legislative approval and spent $2.6 million on flu vaccine that went to waste. The 118-member House twice voted to impeach him, both times with only one "no" vote. Illinois never before impeached a governor, despite its long and rich history of graft.

Seven other U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment

In 1870, William Holden (R-N.C.) was the first governor to be impeached on charges of high crimes and misdemeanors and put out of office; among them for suspending the right of habeas corpus and sending the militia to confront the Ku Klux Klan that had been intimidating blacks from voting.

In 1871, David Butler (R-Neb) was impeached and convicted on a number of charges, including appropriating funds into the treasury that to be used for his personal use, and loaning money that was used recklessly without proper authority.
In 1913, the New York Assembly impeached and removed from office William Sulzer (D-N.Y.) on charges of filing false campaign receipts and misusing contributions to his campaign fund.

In 1917, the House prepared 21 articles of impeachment against James Ferguson. (D-Texas). The Senate subsequently convicted the governor on 10 charges, nine of them involving criminal activity, including the misuse of public funds. A day before the Senate was to vote, Ferguson resigned from office.

In 1923, Governor John C. Walton (D-Okla.) was convicted and permanently removed from office on a number of charges, including illegally collecting campaign funds, abusing his pardoning powers and general incompetence.

In 1988, Evan Mecham (R-Ariz.) was removed from office when the Senate convicted him of obstructing justice and misusing $80,000 in state money that he was charged with funneling into his car dealership. (info from The Associated Press, & Wikipedia)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

2008: first decline in money sent home by Mexicans in the US

The amount of money that Mexicans working in the US sent back home dropped 3.6% in 2008, as the rising US jobless rate took a toll on immigrants. It was the first decline in remittances recorded since Mexico began tracking money flows from abroad 13 years ago.

The drop to $25 billion from $26 billion in 2007, reported Tuesday by Mexico's Central Bank, is nearly twice what the government forecast. It could foreshadow a bad year ahead for Mexico. After oil, remittances are Mexico's second-biggest source of hard currency, ahead of tourism and manufactured goods, two other suffering sectors.

Mexico's remittance woes aren't unique. In the past two decades, workers in poor countries have grown increasingly dependent on job opportunities in countries experiencing sustained growth -- the US for Latin American and Caribbean migrants; Western Europe for Africans and Eastern Europeans; the Gulf Emirates for Pakistanis and Filipinos.

Hunter College researcher Margaret M. Chin, who surveys immigrants in New York, reports Lunar New Year remittances to China are showing an average decline of 20% this year. She says many restaurant workers, livery drivers and others in the service economy have had to cut back on the number of hours they work each week.

Remittances are the single largest source of national income in many countries. The Inter-American Development Bank reports high levels of dependence in Haiti (26%), Guyana (24%), Jamaica (18.5%) and El Salvador (18%).

The drop in capital flows from migrants working abroad is an indicator of how closely Mexico's economy is tied to that of the US, particularly its housing and services sector. Whereas decades ago most Mexicans working in the US were in agriculture, a report revealed just 5% of migrants today work on US farms, while 38% are in construction and manufacturing, and another 57% in services.

That shift has led to a broad contraction of employment opportunities for immigrants across the US economy. In December, the Pew Hispanic Center reported 239,000 immigrant Hispanics joined the ranks of the US unemployed during the year ending with the third quarter of 2008. Almost 100,000 jobs were in construction alone, the report estimated. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

1960: first electronic wristwatch

"Accutron" tuning fork watches, first sold by Bulova in 1960, use a 360-Hertz tuning fork to regulate a mechanical watch movement. It's inventor was Max Hetzel, who joined the Bulova Watch Company in 1948. Hetzel was the first engineer to use an electronic device, a transistor, in a wrist watch, and his Accutron was the first watch that truly deserved the adjective electronic. More than 4 million were sold until production stopped in 1977.

Few developments in timekeeping technology created a stir like the introduction of a watch that used a tuning fork as a timing standard rather than a rotating balance wheel. Eight years in development, the Accutron had only 12 moving parts and 27 parts total, compared with 26 moving parts and 130 parts total in a typical self-winding mechanical watch.

Accutrons are supposed to neither gain nor lose more than one minute per month. Prior to the Accutron, it was unusual to find a mechanical watch of this accuracy, even a certified chronometer.

Before Accutron, the method of keeping time mechanically had not changed much in over 300 years. Suddenly in 1960, a timepiece went on the market which was inherently accurate and made the use of escapements and balance wheels obsolete.

The original Accutron 214 is an American icon, born at a time when America felt threatened by Russian advances in space technology. It was brought into existence by Bulova under the leadership of retired general Omar N. Bradley, the WW2 hero for whom the Bradley Fighting Vehicle was named.

During the 1960's it was worn by most of the pilots of the X-15 rocket plane, and Accutron played a part in every US Space mission during the 60's and 70's including the Moon landings. There are several Accutron 214 timing devices sitting on the Moon's "Sea of Tranquility," placed there by astronauts.

The Omega Speedmaster Professional chronograph wristwatch (known as the "Moon watch") was designated by NASA for use by the astronauts in all manned space missions, becoming the first watch on the moon in the wrist of Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin.

However all the instrument panel clocks and time-keeping mechanisms in the spacecraft on those space missions were Bulova Accutrons with tuning fork movements, because at the time, NASA did not know how well a mechanical movement would work in zero gravity conditions.

The Accutron 214 was declared the American "Gift of State" by President Linden Johnson and given to hundreds of visiting dignitaries. The 214 was made into panel mount clocks and installed in the instrument panels of thousands of military ships and aircraft including "Air Force One". The 214 can reasonably be considered the prototype for all modern quartz watches. No other timepiece has had a greater impact on the way we keep time today. (info from Finer Times, Bulova, Wikipedia, Accutron214)

Friday, January 23, 2009

2008: first company to get 4,000 patents in one year

Back in 2001, IBM. was granted 3,411 patents by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the first time any company collected more than 3,000 in a single year. At that time IBM led the patent rankings for the ninth consecutive year, and the 2001 patent total for IBM represented an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2000, when it had 2,886 patents.

IBM is known for pursuing patents and for reaping royalty income from them. With a work force that includes a huge number of engineers and scientists, IBM. makes big investments in research and development to generate innovations that can be patented.

In 2008, they were the first company to ever win more than 4,000 in a single year, more than Microsoft and Intel combined. IBM picked up 4,186 U.S patents in 2008, while Microsoft won 2,030 and Intel earned 1,776. Second place winner was Samsung, with 3,515. (info from The New York Times & Reuters)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

1881: first president to re-do the presidential oath

Barack Obama was not the first US president to take the presidential oath twice for the same term -- he was the third one.

Chester Arthur (1829 – 1886) was the 21st president. He was vice president under James Garfield. Garfield was mortally wounded on July 2, 1881, but did not die until September 19, at which time Arthur was sworn in as president, serving until March 4, 1885.

Arthur took the oath of office twice. The first time was just past midnight in his Manhattan home on September 20 with New York Supreme Court Justice John R. Brady. The second time was upon his return to Washington two days later.

On August 2, 1923, President Warren Harding died while on a speaking tour in California. Vice-President Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933) was visiting his family home in Vermont, with no electricity or telephone, when he received word by messenger of Harding's death. Coolidge dressed, said a prayer, and came downstairs to greet the reporters who had assembled.

His father, a notary public, administered the oath of office in the family's parlor by the light of a kerosene lamp at 2:47 a.m. on August 3, 1923; Coolidge then went back to bed.

Coolidge returned to Washington the next day, and was re-sworn by Justice A. A. Hoehling of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, as there was some confusion over whether a state notary public had the authority to administer the presidential oath.

This week, after the flub heard around the world, President #44 Barack Obama had his re-do. Just like the first time, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the oath to Obama -- on Wednesday night at the White House. The surprise moment came in response to Tuesday's much-noticed stumble, when Roberts got the words of the oath a little off, which prompted Obama to do so, too.

The White House says: Obama has still been president since noon on Inauguration Day. Nevertheless, Obama and Roberts went through it again out of what White House counsel Greg Craig called "an abundance of caution."

This time, the scene was the White House Map Room in front of a small group of reporters, not the Capitol platform before the whole world.

"We decided that because it was so much fun ...," Obama joked to reporters who followed press secretary Robert Gibbs into the room. No TV camera crews or news photographers were allowed in. A few of Obama's closest aides were there, along with a White House photographer.

Roberts put on his black robe. "Are you ready to take the oath?" he said.

"Yes, I am," Obama said. "And we're going to do it very slowly."

Roberts then led Obama through the oath without any missteps.

The president said he did not have his Bible with him, but that the oath was binding anyway.

The original, bungled version on Tuesday caught observers by surprise and then got replayed on news shows. It happened when Obama interrupted Roberts midway through the opening line, in which the president repeats his name and solemnly swears.

Next in the oath is the phrase " ... that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States." But Roberts rearranged the order of the words, not saying "faithfully" until after "president of the United States."

That appeared to throw Obama off. He stopped abruptly at the word "execute."

Recognizing something was off, Roberts then repeated the phrase, putting "faithfully" in the right place but without repeating "execute."

But Obama then repeated Roberts' original, incorrect version: "... the office of president of the United States faithfully."

Craig, the White House lawyer, said: "We believe the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. Yet the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of the abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath a second time." (info from The Associated Press and Google)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1860-something: First presidential pardon
of a turkey

Each year the President of the United States officially grants a pardon to a bird fortunate enough to be selected as the National Thanksgiving Turkey. This somewhat odd tradition has evolved through the years, with its earliest roots dating back to the Lincoln administration.

Although the details are not documented, apparently President Lincoln spared the life of a turkey named Jack because his son wanted to keep it as a pet. Later presidents were intermittently presented with both live and dead turkeys for Thanksgiving.

In 1947, the tradition stepped up a notch when President Harry Truman was presented the first "National Thanksgiving Turkey" by members of the Poultry and Egg National Board and other turkey industry representatives. At this point, however, the National Thanksgiving Turkey usually ended up in the White House kitchen roasting pan.

In 1961, however, President Kennedy spared the life of that year's 55-pound tom turkey, saying "We'll just keep him," at which point the reprieved bird was returned to his farm home.

In 1989, under President George H.W. Bush, the tradition of an official presidential pardon for the National Thanksgiving turkey began with the words, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now."

In addition to the chosen turkey, there is also a National Thanksgiving Turkey first runner up, in case the winner is not able to fulfill its duties for some reason. Both the winner and the runner up receive pardons, and for 15 years were retired to live out a life of leisure at a Virginia park, ironically named Frying Pan Park. In 2005 the winners, reminiscent of celebrity athletes, were chosen to go to Disneyland in California to "strut their stuff" as honorary Grand Marshals for the annual Disneyland Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In 2003, the White House launched a contest on its website for naming the National Thanksgiving Turkey by democratic process. Members of the National Turkey Federation, who previously selected names for the turkeys, provide several name choices and visitors to the web site are able to cast votes for their favorites. Winning names for the pair have included such names as Stars and Stripes, Biscuits and Gravy and Marshmallow and Yam. (info from

Friday, January 16, 2009

2009: first plane crash due to birds being sucked into two engines

Birds getting sucked into an engine is a routine hazard for pilots. But the multiple bird strikes suspected of disabling both engines of the US Airways plane Thursday may be a first for a modern jetliners.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration official, the pilot reported flying through a flock of geese, sucking several of the birds into both engines and forcing an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

Air safety experts put the odds of two engines simultaneously being disabled by birds at less than one in several million. Airplane engine maker General Electric has no record of such a dual hit causing an accident in at least two decades.

Preliminary indications were that the plane, which departed from New York's LaGuardia Airport, suffered several bird strikes and the speed of the impact -- which can amount to being hit by something weighing a ton or more -- was significant enough that some passengers believed they were going through an area of turbulence.

Pilots are trained to routinely inform controllers and fellow pilots if they spot even a single bird or balloon or some other object floating in the path of landing aircraft. The danger is greatest at takeoff and in low altitude, when turbine blades in jet engines are sucking in lots of air.

The FAA and airport operators have long conducted research on how to keep birds from flocking around busy airstrips -- but have never completely succeeded. Over the years, federal regulators have tightened safety regulations to try to reduce the danger of bird strikes. Before they are approved for commercial use, engines are tested repeatedly to assure that they can withstand the impact of birds that weigh several pounds apiece. Engine makers test their product design by throwing frozen poultry into the spinning fan blades to make sure the engines don't disintegrate.

Those standards have gotten tougher in recent years, but experts say it's impossible to build a failsafe engine. The Airbus engines were tested to withstand the impact of a single bird weighing less than five pounds, but some geese can weigh more than three or four times that. "It's like throwing bowling balls into engines," says Greg Feith, a former National Transportation Safety Board investigatorr. "You can't build engines to handle that because they would weigh so much that the plane would never get off the ground."

In 2007 in Rome, a Delta Air Lines Boeing 767 sucked birds into both of its engines shortly after talking off. The widebody jet barely managed to climb, keep one engine running and limp back to the airport, without any injuries.

Bird Strike Committee USA, a voluntary organization that includes representatives from the FAA, the Defense Department, airports and the airline industry, estimates that bird and other wildlife strikes to aircraft have resulted in 219 deaths world-wide since 1988 and hundreds of million of dollars of damage annually.

The group exchanges information and researches new technology to reduce such hazards. The FAA has a Web site where pilots and others can report bird strikes. The FAA says that overall, bird strikes have been climbing in recent years and the current average of more than 7,000 annual incidents is almost three times what they were at the beginning of the decade. Most experts say growing bird populations and changing migration patterns are largely to blame.

Some large international airports, including New York's Kennedy International, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport and several fields in India are renowned among pilots for having a persistent problem with flocks of birds. In some cases, pilots have urged changes in arrival or departure routes to minimize such dangers. (info from The Wall Stree Journal)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

1901: US president's house named The White House

The White House, formerly known as the Executive Mansion, is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., it was built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style and has been the executive residence of every US President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the home in 1801, he, with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades which were meant to conceal stables and storage.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior walls. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817.

Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Due to crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had nearly all work offices relocated to the newly-constructed West Wing in 1901.

Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; both new wings were connected by Jefferson's colonnades.

East Wing alterations were completed in 1946 creating additional office space. By 1948, the house's load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled, resulting in the construction of a new internal load-bearing steel framework and the reassembly of the interior rooms.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence (in which the First Family resides), the West Wing (the location of the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Roosevelt Room), and the East Wing (the location of the office of the First Lady and White House Social Secretary), as well as the Old Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.

The White House is made up of six stories: the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The term White House is regularly used to imply the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president's administration and advisors in general. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President's Park.

The building was originally referred to variously as the "President's Palace", "Presidential Mansion", or "President's House". The earliest evidence of the public calling it the "White House" was recorded in 1811. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake color; this is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798.

The name "Executive Mansion" was used in official contexts until President Theodore Roosevelt established the formal name by having the de facto name "White House–Washington" engraved on the stationery in 1901. The current letterhead wording and arrangement "The White House" with the word "Washington" centered beneath goes back to the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (info from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1814: first bathtub in the White House

The White House is like a five-star hotel filled with the latest gadgets and appliances. One of the last things the president has to think about, is whether the plumbing works; but many earlier first families suffered with poor plumbing and heating.

Congress can be blamed for a least part of the problem, because necessary appropriations weren't made, and the building decayed. The White House was in such bad condition before a major renovation in 1948, that officials considered demolishing and replacing it.

President Millard Fillmore (1850-53) is most often credited for the first bathtub in the White House, in 1851; but he doesn't deserve the credit. Journalist and satirist H.L Mencken wrote a fictional history of the bathtub for the The New York Evening Mail in 1917, and mentioned the Fillmore tub's installation. Mencken recanted the Fillmore tub tale later, saying "My motive was simply to have some harmless fun in war days. It never occurred to me that it would be taken seriously."

In reality, fourth president James Madison was probably the first to bathe in the White House, in 1814; but the water had to be heated on a stove and carried in a bucket. Real plumbing apparently came in 1834 during the Andrew Jackson administration. (info from Plumbing World, Trivia Library; tub picture from Chief Symbols)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

1841: beginning and end of shortest US presidency

William Henry Harrison was president only 30 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes. He was the first president to die in office, and served the shortest term of any American president

When Harrison arrived in Washington, he wanted to show that he was still the mighty hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, an extremely cold and windy day. He wore no overcoat and delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. It took nearly two hours to read, even after his friend Daniel Webster had shortened it.

Harrison later caught a cold, which then got much worse. His doctors tried everything, applying opium, castor oil, plants, and even snakes. The treatments made Harrison worse and he went into delirium. He died on April 4, 1841, of pneumonia, jaundice, and septicemia.

  • When Harrison died, there was no 25th Amendment to the Constitution to specify the vice president's actions when the president became disabled or when there was a vacancy before the end of the incumbent's term.
  • An episode of the fourth season of The Simpsons, "I Love Lisa", includes a song titled "We are the Mediocre Presidents", which was a tribute to lesser-known presidents. It included the lyric: "There's Taylor, there's Tyler, there's Fillmore and there's Hayes. There's William Henry Harrison, 'I died in thirty days!'"
  • According to a legend which has no historical basis, Tecumseh (who was defeated by Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811), placed a curse on Harrison, claiming that every president elected in a year ending with zero (which happens every 20 years) would die in office. Harrison, Lincoln (elected 1860), Garfield (elected 1880), McKinley (elected 1900), Harding (elected 1920), Roosevelt (elected 1940), and Kennedy (elected 1960) all died in office, falling prey to the Curse of Tecumseh, sometimes called the "zero-year curse." Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, broke the curse, though there was an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981.
  • Harrison is the first -- but not the only -- American president to have no military vessel named after him. (info from Wikipedia)
  • Monday, January 12, 2009

    1533: first high-heeled shoes

    While high heels today are mostly associated with women's shoes, many shoe designs worn by both genders have elevated heels, including cowboy boots and cuban heels.

    Raised heels may have been a response to the problem of a horse rider's foot slipping forward in stirrups. The "rider's heel," about 1-1/2" high, appeared around 1500. The leading edge was canted forward to help grip the stirrup, and the trailing edge was canted forward to prevent the elongated heel from catching on underbrush or rock while backing up, such as in on-foot combat. These features are evident today in riding boots, notably cowboy boots.

    In 1533, Catherine de Medici, the diminutive wife of the Duke of Orleans, commissioned a cobbler to fashion her a pair of heels, both for fashion, and to increase her stature. They were an adaptation of chopines (elevated wooden soles with both heel and toe raised not unlike modern platform shoes), but unlike chopines the heel was higher than the toe and the "platform" was made to bend in the middle with the foot.

    The simple riding heel gave way to a more stylized heel over its first three decades. Beginning with the French, heel heights among men crept up, often becoming higher and thinner, until they were no longer useful while riding, but were relegated to "court-only" wear. By the late 1600s men's heels were commonly between three and four inches in height.

    France's King Louis XIV (1638-1715) was only five feet, three inches tall until he grew five inches wearing shoes with curved heels constructed of cork and covered with red-dyed leather symbolizing nobility. On special occasions, his high heels were ornamented with hand-painted scenes of his military victories. Today, curved heels preserve his legacy and are known as Louis or French heels. Other heel-wearers used their footwear to boast of their wealth; the heels were so high that servants had to break them in, so to wear high heels also proved one could afford servants.

    High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with the fashion-conscious men and women of the French court, and spread to pockets of nobility in other countries. The term "well-heeled" became synonymous with opulent wealth. Both men and women continued wearing heels as a matter of noble fashion throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When the French Revolution drew near, in the late 1700s, the practice of wearing heels fell into decline in France due to its associations with wealth and aristocracy. Throughout most of the 1800s, flat shoes and sandals were usual for both sexes, but the heel resurfaced in fashion during the late 1800s, almost exclusively among women. (Photo from Wikipedia) (Info from Wikipedia and

    Thursday, January 8, 2009

    Every Year: Samoa is the last nation to celebrate the new year

    On January 01, 2009 at At 11.00am GMT, the island nation of Samoa became the last nation to officially enter 2009, 25 hours after the first nation.

    Samoa is in the South Pacific, about half way between Hawaii and New Zeeland.

    In the South Pacific the International Date Line swings east so that Wallis and Futuna, Fiji, Tonga, and New Zealand's Kermadec Islands have the same date, but Samoa is one day earlier.

    The International Date Line (IDL) is an imaginary line on the surface of the Earth opposite the Prime Meridian which offsets the date as one travels east or west across it. Roughly along 180° longitude, with diversions to pass around some territories and island groups. It mostly corresponds to the time zone boundary separating +12 and −12 hours Greenwich Mean Time (UT1). Crossing the IDL traveling east results in a day or 24 hours being subtracted, and crossing west results in a day being added.

    For two hours every day, however, at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) 10:00–11:59, there are actually three different days observed at the same time. At UTC time Thursday 10:15, for example, it is Wednesday 23:15 in Samoa, which is eleven hours behind UTC, and it is Friday 00:15 in Kiritimati (separated from Samoa by the IDL), which is fourteen hours ahead of UTC. For the first hour (UTC 10:00–10:59), this phenomenon affects inhabited territories whereas during the second hour (UTC 11:00–11:59) it only affects an uninhabited maritime time zone twelve hours behind UTC.

    The first date-line problem occurred in association with the circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan's expedition (1519–1522). The surviving crew returned to a Spanish stopover sure of the day of the week, as attested by various carefully maintained sailing logs. Nevertheless, those on land insisted the day was different. This phenomenon, now readily understandable, caused great excitement at the time, to the extent that a special delegation was sent to the Pope to explain this temporal oddity to him.

    The International Date Line can cause confusion for airline travelers. The most troublesome situation usually occurs with short journeys from west to east. To travel from Tonga to Samoa by air, for example, takes approximately two hours but involves crossing the International Date Line, causing the passenger to arrive the day before they left.

    If someone circumnavigates the globe in an airplane from east to west (the same direction as Magellan), they should subtract one hour for every 15° of longitude crossed, losing 24 hours for one circuit of the globe. But 24 hours are added when crossing the International Date Line (from east to west). The International Date Line must therefore be observed in conjunction with earth's time zones: the net adjustment to one's watch is zero.

    If someone crosses the International Date Line at precisely midnight, going westward, one skips an entire day; while going eastward, one repeats the entire day.

    The effect of ignoring the date line is also seen in Jules Verne's book Around the World in Eighty Days, in which the travelers, led by Phileas Fogg, return to London after a trip around the world, thinking that they have lost the bet that is the central premise of the story. Having travelled the direction opposite that taken by Magellan, they believe the date there to be one day later than it truly is. (info from Wikipedia)

    Wednesday, January 7, 2009

    2008: first commercial broadcast
    to extra-terrestrials

    On June 12, 2008, Doritos made history, as they broadcast the first ever commercial directed towards possible extra terrestrial beings.

    The transmission, aided by the University of Leicester in England, was undertaken as part of the Doritos Broadcast Project, which invited the British public to create a 30 second video clip that could be beamed out to the universe offering a snapshot of life on earth to anyone "out there." Some 61% of the UK public believe this is just the start of communication with ET life and that we will enter into regular communication with an alien species at some stage in the future.

    The winning space-ad entitled "Tribe" was voted for by the British public and directed by 25-year-old Matt Bowron. It will officially be entered into the Guinness Book of Records and was aired on the more conventional medium of television after the interplanetary transmission during a soccer game.

    The space message was pulsed out over a six-hour period from high-powered radars at the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle.

    EISCAT Director, Professor Tony van Eyken who supervised the transmission said: “The signal is directed at a solar system just 42 light years away from Earth, in the Ursa Major or Great Bear Constellation. Its star is very similar to our Sun and hosts a habitable zone that could harbor small life-supporting planets similar to ours.”

    Peter Charles, Head of the Doritos Broadcast Project said: “We are constantly looking to push the boundaries of advertising and this will go further than any brand has gone before. By broadcasting the winning ad to the Universe, Doritos is delivering a world first and Matt Bowron, the winner, will go down in advertising folklore. We also shouldn’t be too surprised if the first aliens start arriving on planet Earth immediately demanding a bag of Doritos.”

    The broadcast received praise from Nick Pope, former Head of the MoD’s UFO project. Nick, a leading authority on UFO sightings and alien abductions commented: “I support this bold new venture in space communication. As humanity reaches out to the stars, this broadcast could lead to us finding the real ET. This is a historic day in our continuing search for alien life.”

    Dr. Darren Wright, a Lecturer of the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy said: "The University is particularly committed to outreach programs along with the National Space Centre - the brainchild of the University of Leicester - and engaged in a number of programs with the wider public."

    The commercial features a tribe of Doritos escaping from the pack and sacrificing one of their own to the God of Salsa, as soon as there are no humans around. (info from Science Daily)

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    1922: first 3D movie

    Hollywood had a lot of trouble in the early 1950s. In addition to the repercussions from Joe McCarthy's anti-communist blacklisting of actors, writers and directors, the movie industry had to contend with the growing popularity of television.

    Ticket sales were miserable and studio executives eagerly searched for a gimmick to get people to return to theaters. The gimmick that emerged was the three-dimensional movie.

    On November 26, 1952, a low budget independent feature film called Bwana Devil opened to sold-out crowds with lines of people waiting to get in spanning several blocks.

    The film, about an attack on railroad crews by man-eating lions, proved so successful that United Artists purchased the rights for the film and released it nationally. However, it was not actually the first 3D movie.

    In September, 1922, the movie Power of Love was released. This film featured the "anaglyph process" which involved simultaneously shooting two views of a scene and then printing the film in two different colors and combining them with layered film on one reel.

    The moviegoer viewed the film wearing a special pair of glasses with one red lens and one green lens. The red lens would draw the viewers attention to the green view of the scene and the green lens would draw the other eye towards the red view of the scene. This would cause an "overlap" which made certain objects appear closer than they were and others seem to move out of the screen towards the viewer.

    Unfortunately, the anaglyphic process could not accomodate full color movies and often caused viewers to suffer from headaches.

    This led to the development of the Polaroid 3D system which used two lenses filming lightwaves passing in perpendicular planes to each other. It was this process that was used in Bwana Devil.

    A year later, the movie House of Wax was released starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson. Considered the finest 3D movie ever made, it caused a 3D craze throughout Hollywood, with most major studios rushing to show their attempt at the novelty including Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Nebraskan and Kiss Me Kate.

    Unfortunately, even the prospect of Jane Mansfield's ample chest being thrust out towards the audience was not enough to continue the craze.

    Still mired by a propensity to cause headaches, 3D movies fell out of favor so much that two-dimensional versions often significantly outearned the 3D version. The public rebuke was such that Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, originally filmed in 3D, was released only in 2D.

    Since its initial craze in the 1950s, 3D movies have been produced very sporadically with moderate levels of success. The most successful of these was The Stewardesses, a soft-core porn movie released in 1969. It became the highest earning 3D film ever.

    In recent years TV makers have been experimenting with bringing the three-dimensional experience into the home. This week Panasonic will be showing "3D HD" at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (info & photo from Bad Fads Museum)