Monday, June 30, 2008

1890: first state allows women to vote

Esther Hobart Morris (1814 – 1902) was a leader in the American woman's suffrage movement. She was also the first woman to serve as a justice of the peace in the United States.

She was born in Tioga County, New York as Esther Hobart McQuigg. Orphaned at age 11, she was apprenticed to a seamstress and became a successful milliner and businesswoman. As a young woman she was active in the anti-slavery movement. She married Artemus Slack in 1841 but was widowed in 1845. She moved to Peru, Illinois, to settle the property in her husband's estate.

There she realized the legal difficulties faced by women because in Illinois, women were not allowed to own or inherit property. She married John Morris, and in 1869 they moved to a gold rush camp at South Pass City, Wyoming Territory.

To promote the idea of giving women the right to vote, Morris organized a tea party ("The Wyoming Tea Party") for the electors and candidates for the first territorial legislature. With the national woman suffrage movement still being organized, Wyoming's enactment of such a law in 1869 was a legislative milestone. Laws were also passed giving married women control of their own property and providing equal pay for women teachers.

When appointed justice of the peace for the South Pass District on February 17, 1870, she became the first woman to hold judicial office in the modern world. During the statehood celebration in 1890 she was honored as a suffrage pioneer. In 1895, at age 80, she was elected a delegate to the national suffrage convention in Cleveland.

A statue of Morris by sculptor Avard Fairbanks is displayed in front of the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne. In 1960, the state of Wyoming donated a bronze casting of the statue to the US Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.

Through her efforts, the territory of Wyoming passed a women's suffrage law in 1869 that became a model for later suffrage laws. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, it was the first state to permit women to vote. (info from Worldbook & Wikipedia; photo by Einar Einarsson Kvaran)

Friday, June 27, 2008

2008: Bill Gates retires from Microsoft.

Today is Bill Gates' last day as a full-time employee of Microsoft. He will remain as Chairman of the Board. In 2006 Gates announced his plans to withdraw from day-to-day duties at Microsoft so he can focus on his charitable foundation.

In 1975, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, friends who had co-written a programming language for the Altair hobby-kit personal computer, licensed it to the makers of the Altair. This programming language was the first Microsoft product.

In 1980, Microsoft was chosen by IBM to create the operating system for its first PC. Microsoft bought the software for $50,000 from another company and called it MS-DOS. In the same year, Steve Ballmer joined Microsoft. (info from The Associated Press)

In 1986, Microsoft's stock went public.

From 1995 through 2007 Gates was ranked as the world's richest man. In 2008 Forbes magazine said Gates had slipped to third place. The magazine estimated Warren Buffett's worth at $62 billion, Carlos Slim came in second with an estimated $60 billion, and Gates' fortune was not too far behind at $58 billion.

Bill Gates gave a speech to students at a high school about things they will not learn in school.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won’t care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won’t be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

1861: first Unisex hair salon in Nevada

Until the mid 1960's, most American men had their hair cut in barber shops, and most American women had their hair "done" or "styled" in beauty parlors.

At the height of the hippie era, when men let their hair grow long, some beauty salons starting treating the tresses of both genders, and proclaimed themselves to be "Unisex" salons, to welcome men.

While it was their intention to imply that they provided the same services for both males and females, the terminology was inaccurate. A unisex salon would be one that provided service for members of just one sex. A business that served both men and women should be considered bisexual... but a large neon sign that promoted bisexuality might not draw many customers.

Actually, there was at least one "we clip anyone" salon long before the hippie era. In 1861, Arthur's Tonsorial Parlour in Virginia City, Nevada provided service for short-haired women during the population boom caused by the Comstock Lode silver discovery. Virginia City was such a boomtown that for a long time it housed the only elevator to be found between California and Chicago.

Virginia City is one of the oldest cities in Nevada, and also one of the oldest west of the Mississippi River. It is one of the most famous boomtowns in the Old West as it virtually appeared overnight as a result of the silver discovery in 1859. At its peak, Virginia City had a population of nearly 30,000. When the Comstock Lode ended in 1898, the city's population declined sharply. Today, Virginia City is but a shadow of its former glory, with about 1,500 people.

Virginia City could be considered the birthplace of Mark Twain, because in 1863 Samuel Clemens, then a reporter on the local newspaper, first used his famous pen name. Virginia City is also known for being the nearest town to the Cartwright Ranch on the Bonanza television series. It is also the name and the setting of a 1940 Errol Flynn movie set during the civil war, and the place where Marty McFly, the lead character in the Back to the Future trilogy, was killed. (info from Wikipedia and other sources)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

1923: high gasoline prices fought by a state government; Supreme Court supported the oil companies

In 1923, gasoline was typically selling for 20 to 25 cents a gallon. In the summer, gas reached 29 cents a gallon in Rapid City, South Dakota. That price seems like an amazing bargain now, but by the standards of the day anything over 20 cents a gallon was considered exorbitant.

South Dakota's Republican governor Bill McMaster responded by ordering the state highway department to begin selling gas for 16 cents a gallon. He directed state employees to buy gasoline in Chicago and ship it west it by tank car.

The oil companies were outraged, and complained of "socialism," but the "Governor's Gas War" was successful in forcing prices down at the commercial pumps. Thereafter every time the gas stations tried to raise their prices McMaster responded with another state sale.

South Dakota's war on high gas prices received nationwide attention and triggered price reductions throughout the Midwest and eventually from coast to coast. Motorists were delighted with the low prices. South Dakota's politicians involved the state in several other projects normally reserved for the private sector including a cement plant, a coal mine, and grain elevators. The US Supreme Court finally stepped in and ruled that selling gas was not a proper function of state government.

Complete control and domination of the oil industry by the Standard Oil Companies, in violation of the 1911 dissolution decree of the Supreme Court, was charged by the La Follette Oil Investigation Committee in its report presented to the Senate after a three months' inquiry into conditions and prices in the oil business, also in 1923.

The methods of control as set forth in the report include division of marketing territory between the various Standard Oil Companies on almost the same basis as before the dissolution, ownership of the principal pipe lines, interlocking stock ownership, fixing of prices in the producing fields, excessive and discriminatory freight rates, and ownership of the basic patents for reducing crude oil to gasoline.

"If a few great oil companies are permitted to manipulate prices for the next few years as they have been doing since 1920," the report asserts," the people of this country must be prepared before long to pay at least a dollar a gallon for gasoline."

Prominent oil men in the Standard Oil companies in New York, headed by Walter C. Teagle, President of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, declared that dollar gasoline was an economic impossibility. (From & Time magazine)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

1996: man begins perpetual erection

Charles "Chick" Lennon received a Dura-II penile implant in 1996, about two years before Viagra went on the market. The implant is designed to allow impotent men to position the penis upward for sex, then lower it. It consists of a series of plastic plates strung together with steel surgical wire, almost like a roll of wrapped coins. Springs press against the plates, creating enough surface tension to simulate an erection.

But Lennon could not position his penis downward. He said that because of a defective implant, he could no longer hug people, ride a bike, swim or wear bathing trunks because of the pain and embarrassment. He became a recluse and was uncomfortable being around his grandchildren, said his attorney Jules D'Alessandro. "I don't know any man who for any amount of money would want to trade and take my client's life. He's not a whole person."

Lennon cannot get the implant removed because of health problems, including open-heart surgery, the lawyer said. Impotence drugs could not help Lennon even if he were able to have the device taken out, because tissue had be to removed for it to be implanted.

In 2004, a jury awarded him $750,000. A judge called that excessive and reduced it to $400,000. Later the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed that award in a ruling that turned on a procedural matter.

Dacomed maintained that nothing was wrong with the implant. Dacomed was later acquired by a California company whose sales dropped when Viagra was introduced. The company filed for bankruptcy the following year. The medical device maker's insurance company argued that since the device's now-defunct manufacturer, Dacomed Corp., can't be held liable for the device, it can't be either.

In a recent interview, Lennon said "I'm suffering with it right now", he said. "It never stops. It's like a constant headache." (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, June 23, 2008

2008: death of George Carlin

George Carlin, the dean of counterculture comedians whose biting insights on life and language were immortalized in his "Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV" routine, died of heart failure Sunday. He was 71.

Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died later that evening. He had performed as recently as last weekend in Las Vegas.

"He was a genius and I will miss him dearly," said Jack Burns, who was the other half of a comedy duo with Carlin in the early 1960s.

Carlin's jokes constantly pushed accepted boundaries of comedy and language, particularly with his routine on the "Seven Words" -- all of which are taboo on broadcast TV and radio to this day. When he said all seven at a show in Milwaukee in 1972, he was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace, freed on $150 bail -- and typically unapologetic on his release.

A Wisconsin judge dismissed the case, saying the language was indecent but citing free speech and the lack of any disturbance.

When the words were later played on a New York radio station, they resulted in a Supreme Court ruling in 1978 upholding the government's authority to sanction stations for broadcasting offensive language during hours when children might be listening.

"So my name is a footnote in American legal history, which I'm perversely kind of proud of," he told The Associated Press.

Carlin served as host of the first epidsode of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975 and he appeared about 130 times on "The Tonight Show."

He produced 23 comedy albums, 14 HBO specials, three books, a few TV shows and appeared in several movies. Carlin hosted the first broadcast of "Saturday Night Live" and noted on his Web site that he was "loaded on cocaine all week long."

He won four Grammy Awards, each for best spoken comedy album, and was nominated for five Emmy awards. On Tuesday, it was announced that Carlin was being awarded the 11th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

When asked about the fallout from the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show that ended with Janet Jackson's breast-baring "wardrobe malfunction," Carlin said, "What are we, surprised?"

"There's an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body," he said. "It's reflected in these prohibitions and these taboos that we have."

Carlin was born in 1937 and grew up in Manhattan, raised by a single mother. After dropping out of school in the ninth grade, he joined the Air Force in 1954. He received three court-martials and numerous disciplinary punishments, according to his website.

While in the Air Force he started working as an off-base disc jockey at a radio station in Louisiana, and after receiving a general discharge in 1957, took an announcing job at WEZE in Boston. His website says he was "Fired after three months for driving a mobile news van to New York to buy pot."

From there he went on to a job on the night shift as a deejay at a radio station in Texas. Carlin also worked a variety of temporary jobs including a carnival organist and a peanut brittle marketing director.

In 1960, he left with a Texas radio buddy, Jack Burns, for Hollywood to pursue a nightclub career as comedy team Burns & Carlin. He left with $300, but his first break came just months later when the duo appeared on the Tonight Show with Jack Paar. Carlin said he hoped to would emulate his childhood hero, Danny Kaye, the kindly, rubber-faced comedian who ruled over the decade that Carlin grew up in -- the 1950s -- with a clever but gentle humor reflective of its times.

Only problem was, it didn't work for him.

"I was doing superficial comedy entertaining people who didn't really care: Businessmen, people in nightclubs, conservative people. And I had been doing that for the better part of 10 years when it finally dawned on me that I was in the wrong place doing the wrong things for the wrong people," Carlin reflected recently as he prepared for his 14th HBO special, "It's Bad For Ya." (info from The Associated Press)

Friday, June 20, 2008

2008: first presidential candidate rejects public campaign money

Barack Obama became the first candidate to reject $85 million in public money for the presidential election. The decision will allow him to raise and spend as much as he wants - and, thus, implement his strategy to expand the Electoral College playing field.

Shortly after announcing that he would rely on his vast network of private donors, Obama launched a bold new advertising campaign that signaled a desire to compete in a mix of traditional battleground states and Republican strongholds while trying to win over independents and disaffected Republicans after eight years of President Bush.

Obama is seeking to become the first black president and race has proved a hurdle; he reminds voters he's of mixed race with pictures of his white Kansas mother and grandparents though none of his black Kenyan father. He also emphasizes his modest, middle-class upbringing, an attempt by the Harvard-educated senator to counter the notion that he's an elitist and to connect with working-class voters who largely preferred rival Hillary Rodham Clinton during the primaries. With a flag pin on his lapel, Obama tries to allay concerns about his patriotism as well.

The campaign chose to compete, at least for now, in 11 swing-voting states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - and seven others that have reliably voted for Republican presidential candidates in the past several elections - Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia.

With his newfound financing freedom, Obama intends to test his theory that his appeal allows him to make Democrats competitive in states the party typically ignores, particularly in the South and Mountain West, and thereby give Democrats a better chance to rack up the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

It's possible that Obama doesn't expect to be competitive in all of his initial target states come the fall. He may simply be going on the air in some of them now to see whether he can move poll numbers to close any advantage the Republican candidate, John McCain, may have simply because he's a Republican. At the very least, Obama can force McCain, who will accept public funding and the spending limits that come with it, to spend money in states Republicans have long viewed as safe.

McCain, for his part, is running ads in 11 states, most of which are states where Obama also now is on the air. Overall, Obama's decision to opt out of the Watergate-era public financing system puts him at huge advantage over McCain, who is lagging in fundraising.

With his announcement, the Democrat reversed an earlier stance.

In a questionnaire last year, Obama answered "yes" when asked: "If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?" He added: "I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

Obama described the public financing system as "broken" when he announced his decision to supporters. But even watchdog groups that have advocated for Obama-backed changes in campaign law said the presidential public financing system is one feature of the law that is working properly.

"A million dollars a day doesn't look to me like chicken feed," said Michael Malbin, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, who said the system likely would have worked well again this year.

Malbin also said there's been no development within the financing system that could account for Obama changing his mind.

By rejecting the public money, Obama can now raise millions just as he has in the primary campaign. As of the end of April, he had amassed more than $265 million in contributions. He was expected to reveal his May fundraising in a report to the Federal Election Commission on Friday.

McCain, on the other hand, had raised only $115 million as of the end of May. Both candidates rejected public financing for the primaries, allowing them to raise and spend money until their party conventions in late summer.

On Thursday, McCain said he will accept the public money, which means he can't accept private contributions for his campaign.

Still, Obama's clear financial advantage over McCain is offset in part by the resources of the Republican National Committee, which has far more money in the bank than its Democratic Party counterpart. Both national parties can spend money on behalf of the presidential candidates. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

1984: end of the Bell System

On January 1, 1984 the Bell System ceased to exist.

Twenty-two Bell Operating Companies were combined to form seven Regional Bell Operating Companies; and a new AT&T that retained its long distance, manufacturing, and research operations.

Over the succeeding years, AT&T was broken up more, but the Bell Operating Companies recombined into just three companies. One of them uses the AT&T name.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

1926: first SAT

Originally used mainly by colleges and universities in the northeastern United States, the SAT was developed as a way to eliminate test bias between people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

The first administration of the SAT occurred on June 23, 1926, when it was known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. This test, prepared by a committee headed by Princeton psychologist Carl Brigham, had sections of definitions, arithmetic, classification, artificial language, antonyms, number series, analogies, logical inference, and paragraph reading. It was administered to over 8,000 students at over 300 test centers. Men composed 60% of the test-takers. Slightly over a quarter of males and females applied to Yale University and Smith College respectively. The test was paced quickly, with 315 questions asked in about 90 minutes.

In 1928 the number of verbal sections was reduced to seven, and the time limit was increased to nearly two hours. In 1929 the number of sections was reduced to six. These changes loosened time constraints on test-takers. Math was eliminated entirely for these tests, instead focusing only on verbal ability

In 1930 the SAT was first split into the verbal and math sections, a structure that would continue through 2004. The verbal section of the 1930 test covered a more narrow range on content than its predecessors, examining only antonyms, double definitions (somewhat similar to sentence completions), and paragraph reading.

In 1936, analogies were re-added. Between 1936 and 1946, students had between 80 and 115 minutes to answer 250 verbal questions (over a third of which were on antonyms). The mathematics test introduced in 1930 contained 100 free response questions to be answered in 80 minutes, and focused primarily on speed. From 1936 to 1941, like the 1928 and 1929 tests, the mathematics section was eliminated entirely. When the mathematics portion of the test was re-added in 1942, it consisted of multiple choice questions

Paragraph reading was eliminated from the verbal portion of the SAT in 1946, and replaced with reading comprehension, and "double definition" questions were replaced with sentence completions.

Between 1946 and 1957 students were given 90 to 100 minutes to complete 107 to 170 verbal questions. Starting in 1958 time limits became more stable, and for 17 years, until 1975, students had 75 minutes to answer 90 questions.

In 1959 questions on data sufficiency were introduced to the mathematics section, and then replaced with quantitative comparisons in 1974. In 1974 both verbal and math sections were reduced from 75 minutes to 60 minutes each, with changes in test composition compensating for the decreased time

The inclusion of the "Strivers" Score study was implemented. This study was introduced by The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, and has been conducting research on how to make it easier for minorities and individuals who suffer from social and economic barriers.

The original "Strivers" project, which was in the research phase from 1980 - 1994, awarded a test-taker who was identified as a minority an additional 10 - 200 points, depending on the race and gender.

The belief was that this would give minorities a better chance at being accepted in to a college of higher standard, i.e. an Ivy League school. In 1992, the Strivers Project was leaked to the public; as a result the Strivers Project was terminated in 1993. After Federal Courts heard arguments from the ACLU, NAACP and the Educational Testing Service, the courts ordered the study to alter its data collection process, stating that only the age, race and zip code could be used to determine the test-takers eligibility for "Strivers" points. These changes were introduced to the SAT effective in 1994.

In 1994 the verbal section received a dramatic change in focus. Among these changes were the removal of antonym questions, and an increased focus on passage reading.

The mathematics section also saw a dramatic change in 1994, thanks in part to pressure from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. For the first time since 1935, the SAT asked some non-multiple choice questions, instead requiring students to supply the answers. 1994 also saw the introduction of calculators into the mathematics section for the first time in the test's history. The mathematics section introduced concepts of probability, slope, elementary statistics, counting problems, median and mode.

The average score on the 1994 modification of the SAT I was usually around 1000 (500 on the verbal, 500 on the math). The most selective schools in the United States (for example, those in the Ivy League) typically had SAT averages exceeding 1400 on the old test.

In 2005, the test was changed again, largely in response to criticism by the University of California system. Because of issues concerning ambiguous questions, especially analogies, certain types of questions were eliminated (the analogies from the verbal and quantitative comparisons from the Math section).

The test was made marginally harder, as a corrective to the rising number of perfect scores. A new writing section, with an essay, based on the former SAT II Writing Subject Test, was added, in part to increase the chances of closing the opening gap between the highest and midrange scores. Other factors included the desire to test the writing ability of each student in a personal manner; hence the essay.

The New SAT (known as the SAT Reasoning Test) was first offered on March 12, 2005, after the last administration of the "old" SAT in January of 2005. The Mathematics section was expanded to cover three years of high school mathematics. The Verbal section's name was changed to the Critical reading section.

In 1990, because of uncertainty about the SAT's ability to function as an intelligence test, the name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test. Finally, in 1994, the name was changed to simply SAT (with the letters not standing for anything). Now the test is commonly referred to as the SAT Reasoning Test. The scoring categories are now the following: Reading, Math, Writing, and Essay. The essay has its own score now.

The test scoring was initially scaled to make 500 the mean score on each section with a standard deviation of 100. As the test grew more popular and more students from less rigorous schools began taking the test, the average dropped to about 428 Verbal and 478 Math. The SAT was "recentered" in 1995, and the average "new" score became again close to 500. Scores awarded after 1994 and before October 2001 are officially reported with an "R" (e.g. 1260R) to reflect this change. Old scores may be recentered to compare to 1995 to present scores by using official College Board tables, which in the middle ranges add about 70 points to Verbal and 20 or 30 points to Math. In other words, current students have a 100 (70 plus 30) point advantage over their parents.

A famous example of alleged bias in the SAT I is the oarsman-regatta analogy question. The object of the question was to find the pair of terms that have the relationship most similar to the relationship between "runner" and "marathon". The correct answer was "oarsman" and "regatta".

The question relied upon students knowing the meaning of the two terms, referring to a sport popular with the wealthy. Fifty-three percent (53%) of white students correctly answered the question, and 22% of black students did. Analogy questions have since been replaced by short reading passages.

A few liberal arts colleges have responded to this criticism by joining the "SAT optional movement" and do not require the SAT for admission. (info from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2008: first hydrogen powered mass market car

On Monday, Honda celebrated the start of production of its FCX Clarity, the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production. It looks like an ordinary family sedan, costs more to build than a Ferrari and may have just moved the world one step closer to a future free of petroleum.

Honda will make just 200 of the futuristic vehicles over the next three years, but said it eventually planned to increase production volumes, especially as hydrogen filling stations became more common. On Monday, Honda announced its first five customers, who included actress Jamie Lee Curtis.

Honda said even the small initial production run represented progress toward a clean-burning technology that many rejected as too exotic and too expensive to gain wide acceptance. “We can mass produce these now,” said Kazuaki Umezu, head of Honda’s Automobile New Model Center, where the FCX Clarity is built. “We are waiting for the infrastructure to catch up.”

Fuel-cell vehicles have been a sort of holy grail of the auto industry, offering the promise of driving without polluting. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen from ordinary air to make electricity, in a process whose only byproducts are water and heat. They have drawn renewed attention in an era of climate change, $140 a barrel oil, and rising competition for dwindling fossil fuels.

“This is a must-have technology for the future of the earth,” said Takeo Fukui, Honda’s president. “Honda will work hard to mainstream fuel-cell cars.”

Fuel cells have an advantage over electric cars, whose batteries take hours to recharge and use electricity, which, in the case of the United States, China and many other countries, is often produced by coal-burning power plants.

Honda says its FCX Clarity can be filled easily at a pump, can drive 280 miles on a tank, almost as far as a gasoline car. It also gets higher fuel efficiency than a gasoline car or hybrid, the equivalent of 74 miles a gallon of gas, according to the company.

But the technology has faced many hurdles, not the least of which has been the prohibitive cost of the fuel cells. Honda says it has found ways to mass produce them, which promises to drive down costs through economies of scale. On Monday, it showed reporters its fuel-cell production line, which resembled a semiconductor factory more than an auto plant with its humming automated machinery and white smocked workers in dust-free rooms.

Fukui said the cars cost several hundred thousand dollars each to produce, though he said that should drop below $100,000 in less than a decade as production volumes increase. In the meantime, the car company will be effectively subsidizing its customers, who will lease the vehicles for $600 a month. That is not much more than the leasing price of one of Honda’s top Acura line of luxury cars.

At Monday’s ceremony, Fukui presented an oversize key to the first FCX Clarity customer, a film producer from Los Angeles. Honda said it would offer the car in Southern California first because the state has been a leader in building hydrogen filling stations.

Honda said the five had been chosen after the company got a wave of queries from American consumers when it publicized the car last year. On Monday, Honda also announced three dealerships near Los Angeles that will be the first to start leasing FCX Claritys.

Fuel-cell vehicles have been a big gamble for Honda, which has spent the last 16 years and millions of dollars. For a time, the company was criticized for pouring money into unproven technologies while refusing to follow the rest of the industry into large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

Now, with gas prices soaring, Honda is in an enviable position of not being burdened with large inventories of gas-guzzling trucks that require hefty incentives to sell, or the factories that build them. Analysts have said Honda and the rival Japanese carmaker Toyota have seized a commanding lead in more efficient, green technologies like hybrids as well as fuel cells.

Honda says one big breakthrough was shrinking the size of its fuel cells. In the FCX Clarity, they fit in a box-shaped unit the size of a desktop PC that weighs about 150 pounds, less than half of their size a decade ago.

The FCX Clarity’s fuel-cell unit can generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity, enough to accelerate the car from zero to 60 miles an hour in less than nine seconds, and give it top speeds of 100 miles an hour, Honda says. Even at high speed, the FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan that looks like a sleeker version of the Accord, drives with the hushed whine of a golf cart.

Honda said a big remaining hurdle to true mass production is the lack of filling stations that sell hydrogen. Even in California, where the state government has led a push to build hydrogen stations, there are still very few public stations, Honda said. That will make it hard to drive the car far from home, limiting its appeal, the company said.

For now, the first batch of customers seem drawn by the car’s novelty as much as anything else. The first owner, film producer Ron Yerxa, said he did not plan to drive it far, just to work and to eat out — far enough to draw admiration of passers-by. “When I drive it to breakfast, people will ask about it,” Yerxa said. “They’ll want one, too.” (info and photo from The New York Times)

Monday, June 16, 2008

1849: first Chinese restaurant in the US

In China, there are about 300 McDonalds restaurants; but in the US, where there are about 13,000 McDonaldses, there are more than 40,000 Chinese eateries.

McDonalds opened in China in late 2005, but apparently the first US Chinese restaurant was opened in 1849 in San Francisco.

Chinese food arrived in America in the mid-1800s with laborers imported to work the California gold rush. By the 1890s, Chinese restaurants had opened in big cities on both coasts. Most early Chinese immigrants were from Canton, in southern China, and brought that city's cuisine. As Chinese cooks adapted to their new land, they came up with new dishes, including chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young, and the fortune cookie.

Chinese restaurateurs, aware of how intimidating the new cuisine could be, encouraged ordering "family style" and devised the "one from Column A, one from Column B" system to simplify selection. Chinese restaurants also welcomed blacks and Jews when other establishments shunned them. Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant is still a tradition for many American Jewish families.

Chinese-American cuisine changed after 1965, when increased immigration from Asia was permitted. Spicier Sichuan and Hunan dishes from northern Chinese provinces, began replacing former Cantonese favorites. New immigrants sought opportunities throughout the US. For example, in 1971 there were 28 Chinese restaurants in Utah. Now there are more than 250. (info from U.S. News & World Report, and other sources)

Friday, June 13, 2008

2008: ex-planet Pluto is now a plutoid

Pluto was stripped of its status as a planet and will now be classified as a "plutoid" -- a new category of celestial body. It has taken nearly two years of arguing and negotiations, but astronomers have finally settled on a new way to refer to the former ninth planet.

In the revised naming system, all small and nearly spherical objects orbiting beyond Neptune, which is now the most distant planet from the sun, will fall under the new label.

The change was decided by a committee of the International Astronomical Union, which in 2006 took the controversial decision to demote Pluto from planet into a sub-class called dwarf-planets. The move sparked world-wide furor and many scientists opposed the idea of abandoning a planet that been a feature of the Solar System for about 70 years.

Teachers and text book writers were also left with the task of drastically revising the view the solar system. Dr. Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society in England, said: "School books are going to have to be rewritten again after this change. "From a scientific point of view, it makes sense to bring a more consistent approach to the way we classify objects in the Solar System."

The International Astronomical Union's Executive Committee approved the new Plutoid classification at a meeting in Oslo, Norway this week. They said that they expected more plutoids to be named as new objects are discovered orbiting around the sun.

There are now two known plutoids -- Pluto and Eris, a 1,500-mile-wide sphere of rock spotted orbiting beyond Pluto in an icy region known as the Kuiper Belt in 2003. Eris has since been found to be bigger and heavier than its famous neighbor.

The International Astronomical Union said: "Plutoids are celestial bodies in orbit around the sun at a distance greater than that of Neptune that have sufficient mass for their self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces to that they assume a near spherical shape, and that have not cleared the neighborhood around their orbit."

Astronomers now hope that the decision to classify Pluto as a plutoid will put an end to the debate. British astronomer Sir Martin Rees said, "The reclassification reflects that Pluto is part of a newly recognized and growing number of objects in the solar system."

The International Astronomical Union has been responsible for naming planetary bodies and their satellites since the early 1900s.

But Alan Stern, a former NASA space sciences chief and principal investigator on a mission to Pluto, was scathing in his condemnation of the decision. He said: "It's just some people in a smoke-filled room who dreamed it up. Plutoids or hemorrhoids, whatever they call it. This is irrelevant." (info from Telegraph Media Group)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

1806: slavery ends in Britain
1865: slavery ends in the United States
1995: Mississippi finally agrees

There were Black people in Britain in Roman times, and there has been a continuous Black presence since 1555.

The 18th century saw a great expansion in Britain’s Black population. After the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713, British slavers dominated the infamous Atlantic slave trade. Some slaves were landed and sold at London, Liverpool or Bristol, but many Black people were brought as domestic servants by returning ship captains, colonial administrators and plantation owners.

For the English aristocracy and the newly rich, a Black page or handmaiden was an asset to be shown off as evidence of exotic wealth.

By the 1760s, there were an estimated 20,000 Blacks in London -- a city of 676,250 people. Many had attained freedom or run away from their masters. In 1772, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s historic decision in the case of runaway John Somerset ruled that a slave could not be deported from Britain against his or her will. This was the beginning of the end of slavery in Britain, and an encouragement to Black people and to abolitionist campaigners. The abolition of slavery was confirmed in 1806 by an Act of Parliament.

Slavery in the US did not end until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the legislatures of 27 of the then 36 states.

The amendment was adopted on December 6, 1865, when Georgia ratified the amendment. It was declared, in a proclamation of Secretary of State William Seward, dated December 18, 1865.

A number of states "changed their minds."

New Jersey ratified in 1866, after having rejected it in 1865. Delaware ratified in 1901, after having rejected it in 1865. Kentucky ratified in 1976, after having rejected it in 1865.

The most recent ratification occurred in 1995 in Mississippi, which was the last of the 36 states in existence in 1865, and had rejected it back then. (info from Black History Month UK, and Wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

1935: first major league night baseball game

Although there were a number of earlier minor league nighttime baseball games, the first major league game under the lights was at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 24, 1935. The home team Reds beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 2 to 1.

According to Time Magazine, these were objections to night games:

(1) In eastern cities it is not pitch dark until after 9PM most of the summer. Because teams must warm up before starting and because lights are useless except in pitch dark, games will not start till 9:30, and will end near midnight, too late for most fans.

(2) Every team would have to spend some of the increased revenue from night games to pay for two teams, one for days and one for nights. Once they were used to one set of conditions, players could not switch from one team to the other.

(3) Old-time managers, opposed to change on principle, dislike the experiment. Of 16 managers, only two were slightly interested.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

2057: last cigarette maker leaves the US

British American Tobacco Plc -- which produces such venerable American cigarette brands as Kent, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Benson & Hedges, KOOL, and Viceroy -- has announced that as of the end of 2057 it would stop production and distribution of cigarettes in the United States because of poor sales.

This follows similar moves from the other cigarette manufacturers, as health-oriented cigarette taxes pushed the price per pack over $100 since 2050.

Cigarette smoking was once common among teenagers, blue collar workers, military personnel and entertainers; but in recent years has been limited to certified addicts whose habits have been subsidized by the government, or are wealthy enough to afford it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

2008: Average US gas price hits $4 per gallon

The average price of gasoline in the US reached $4 a gallon for the first time Sunday, the latest milestone in a run-up in fuel prices that is sapping consumer confidence and threatening to put the nation into recession, if it's not there already.

The record nationwide average for regular-gasoline prices, announced by the AAA, follows Friday's near-$11 surge in oil prices to a record $138.54 a barrel. Both are part of what, by some measures, is the worst energy-price shock Americans have faced for a generation, in terms of its toll on their pocketbooks.

In recent days, soaring fuel prices and disappointing employment data have reignited fears that the nation's economy -- which has taken a pounding over the past year from a housing downturn, credit crunch and weakening job market -- will slip into recession, or pull back further if a recession is already under way. Rising fuel prices are straining household budgets, damping the spending that drives more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

Gasoline prices, which have risen 29% over the past year, have been high for months, and in some markets, such as Alaska and California, consumers have been paying more than $4 a gallon at the pump for weeks. But the latest increase at the nationwide level from a previous average of nearly $3.99 a gallon seems likely to deliver at least a psychological blow to many Americans.

The current drain on consumers' income from rising fuel prices is greater than it was during most of the worst energy-price run-ups of the past. Spending on fuel as a share of wage income has shot above 6%. That exceeds the percentage seen during the 1974-75 and 1990-91 oil-price shocks and approaches the 7% to 8% seen during the 1980-81 price surge.

Some economists hold out hope the current oil-price surge won't be as devastating as some in the past. For one thing, consumers and businesses are far more fuel-efficient today than they were during the oil shock of the mid-1970s, requiring half as much energy to produce a unit of economic output.

Oil prices have been rising steadily from around $30 a barrel in 2003, at the start of the Iraq war. But the first few years of those increases occurred in "a period of strong growth, rising credit availability and rising house prices," said Jan Hatzius, chief US economist at Goldman Sachs.

The key question: Will oil prices go back down, or remain elevated for the long run? A swift plunge in oil prices, even back to the relatively high level of $100 a barrel, would send gasoline costs lower and ease pressure on consumers and improve confidence.

But if oil stays above $135 a barrel and gasoline tops $4 a gallon into the fall, that could reshape businesses and lead Americans to change their spending patterns in broader ways.

Already, auto makers, airlines, chemical companies and others that rely on oil are feeling the pain. Last week, Continental Airlines said it would cut 3,000 jobs, slash capacity by 11% and remove 67 airplanes from its fleet because of soaring jet-fuel prices. The move followed similar moves to cut capacity by United Airlines and American Airlines. Dow Chemical is planning to raise its product prices up to 20% as a result of soaring costs for crude oil and natural gas. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Yesterday, on the way home from a weekend trip, I paid a frightening $4.60 per gallon of Mobil near the Bear Mountain Bridge in northern Westchester County, New York. At that greedy price I didn't fill up. I just bought enough to get me to Costco where I could buy some more gas at the "bargain" price of $4.07.

Friday, June 6, 2008

1937: first shopping cart

Sylvan N. Goldman (1898 - 1984) was an American businessman and inventor of the first shopping cart. He introduced the device on June 4, 1937, in the Humpty Dumpty supermarket chain in Oklahoma City, which he owned.

Goldman had long thought about how to expand the natural limits of a grocery shopper’s purchases. His stores, like others of that era, had a supply of wicker or wire market baskets. These baskets became heavy as they were loaded with food items, particularly for the woman buyer who did most of the shopping.

With the assistance of mechanic Fred Young, Goldman constructed the first shopping cart, basing his design on that of a wooden folding chair. They built it with a metal frame and added wheels and wire baskets. Another mechanic, Arthur Kosted, developed a method to mass produce the carts by inventing an assembly line capable of forming and welding the wire.

The cart was awarded patent number 2,196,914 on April 9, 1940 titled, "Folding Basket Carriage for Self-Service Stores". They advertised the invention as part of a new "No Basket Carrying Plan."

In an 1977 interview with Charles Kuralt, Sylvan N. Goldman recalled his reaction to seeing customers reject the shopping cart.

I got down to the store about 10 o’clock in the morning waiting for the time when people’ll start coming in, and this right on a Saturday when it’s your biggest day, and I knew that I’d be seeing people lined up at the door to get in to get the merchandise and see what the dickens it was. And when I got there, I went into our largest store, there wasn’t a soul using a basket carrier, and we had an attractive girl by the entrance that had a basket carrier and two baskets in it, one on the top and one on the bottom, and asked them to please take this cart to do your shopping with. And the housewives, most of them decided, “No more carts for me. I have been pushing enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push anymore.” And the men would say, “You mean with my big strong arms I can’t carry a darn little basket like that?” And he wouldn’t touch it. It was a complete flop.

The only people who accepted the shopping innovation at all were the elderly.

Over the weekend Goldman considered how to get public acceptance of his carriers, whose utility he did not doubt. “Wednesday evening it happened to dawn on me, an idea we put that into effect.” His goal was to show that the carts weren’t wheeled monsters. His plan was simple but effective.

Goldman said, "I hired for each store a young lady in her late twenties, another lady in her forties, and someone else about in their late fifties, and I hired a couple of men about thirty years old and about fifty years old and they were in the store, pushing the carts around. They had merchandise in the top basket, and bottom basket. These people were shopping right by the entranceway to the store."

Here Charles Kuralt interrupted Goldman to ask, “Shills?”

Goldman replied: "That’s right, that’s exactly what it was. So, I told this young lady that was offering the carts to the customer to say, “Look, everybody is using them; why not you?” and immediately it became a huge success. All because of the fact that somebody else had to get the ball rolling.

Within a few weeks all the stores in Goldman’s chain were using the carts, and they were a huge success. Goldman began manufacturing shopping carts by the end of 1937. By 1940 Goldman had a seven-year waiting list for new shopping carts. Goldman's concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more

Shopping carts became extremely popular and Goldman became a multimillionaire by collecting a royalty on every shopping cart in the United States until his patents ran out. (info from and Wikipedia)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

1890: last state to consider women to be owned by their fathers or husbands

Early suffragists including abolitionists saw a woman's condition not much better than a slave's, since she could not own property, control her own income, or seek custody of her children if divorced.

Kentucky in 1890 was the last state to consider women as "chattel property." Women were owned by their husbands or fathers, but could not even own the clothes they wore, even if they made the clothes themselves with cotton they planted and picked.

Temperance advocates thought that if women could vote, they could pass reform legislation that would protect women and children. Kentucky's Carry Nation was a leader in the movement. One contemporary remarked "It's easier to see a drunk than a principle". (info from the University of Louisville)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

2008: first Black man claims presidential nomination in major political party in US

Senator Barack Obama claimed the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday evening, prevailing through an epic battle with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in a primary campaign that inspired millions of voters from every corner of America to demand change in Washington.

A last-minute rush of Democratic superdelegates, as well as the results from the final primaries, in Montana and South Dakota, pushed Obama over the threshold of winning the 2,118 delegates needed to be nominated at the party’s convention in August. The victory for Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, broke racial barriers and represented a remarkable rise for a man who just four years ago served in the Illinois Senate.

“Tonight, we mark the end of one historic journey with the beginning of another -- a journey that will bring a new and better day to America,” Obama told supporters at a rally in St. Paul. “Because of you, tonight I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America.” (info and photo from The New York Times)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

1905: first gas station in the US

Apparently, the first places that sold gasoline were drugstores.
Henry Ford's mass-production of cars lowered prices and greatly increased car sales, and the need for filling stations.

The world's first gas station was built in St. Louis, Missouri in 1905 at 412 S. Theresa Avenue. The second gas station was constructed in 1907 by Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) in Seattle, Washington. (info from Wikipedia)

Monday, June 2, 2008

1898: first radio-controlled robot

On May 25, 2008 after a 422-million-mile journey from Earth, NASA's Phoenix spacecraft delivered a robot researcher on Mars. Only five of Earth's 11 previous attempts to land on Mars were successful.

In 1997 the NASA robot Sojourner landed on Mars and became the first radio-guided vehicle to roam the Red Planet.

Radio remote controlled robots actually started roaming around much earlier, when Nikola Tesla demonstrated the invention of the robot in New York City.

In 1898 he filed and was granted a patent which described radio remote control for use in guided vehicles. Space exploration developed from his invention.

Tesla publicly demonstrated his first working model of a robot boat in a pool of water to astonished viewers at the Electrical Exposition at Madison Square Garden in May 1898. This was front page news at that time. It was the first time that radio waves were used to guide a movement of a robot, and 11 years before Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of radio in 1909.

This historic moment New York City showed what could be achieved by using radio waves, and was the beginning of robotics, radio guided missiles and remote control.

Tesla built a laboratory in Colorado in 1899, to experiment with high frequency electricity and other phenomena. He received and recorded cosmic radio waves. He announced that he received extraterrestrial radio signals. The scientific community did not believe him, because knowledge of cosmic rays did not exist at that time. (info from The Tesla Society, illustration from Popular Science - July 1956)