New Technology

German History doc on new technology.

“Uncle Gustav owns a lamp that you can put on the table lengthways and nothing catches fire.” One day my brother came home from the city with these words, and to me they announced for the first time the advent of electric lighting. We had grown up with kerosene lamps; in the middle of the long hallway between the living rooms on the one side and the bedrooms and kitchen on the other was a narrow table upon which lamps were lined up like grenadiers. At the head was father’s study lamp with the green lamp-shade. When it got dark he would light it himself, after smoothing out the wick so that it would not smoke. Attached to the wall were lamps without lamp-shades, behind which round brass discs reflected the light. They were reserved for the corridor, the staircase, and the kitchen. Apart from that, there were insert lamps for the chandeliers, the largest one for the lamp above the dining table, where we sat even after supper, as father read to us, while we drew or carved, or pasted stamps in slip-folds into the album. Those were cozy hours, and though the lighting was not very effective, it emitted a dim but agreeable warmth. I cannot even imagine the novels our father read to us without the kerosene lamp – Gustav Freytag’s Ahnen, Viktor von Scheffel’s Ekkehard, and Fritz Reuter’s Ut mine Stromtid.

The kerosene, which always left its unpleasant smell in the hallway, was now banished. First there were chandeliers and wall lamps with gas flames that often hissed alarmingly so that you never knew whether the house was going to explode the next minute. But then we, too, got electric light. It was unpleasantly bright; because it was so expensive, after all, one did not think of dimming the bulbs or hiding them behind lamp-shades. One element of comfort ceased to exist. And yet: we had the new lighting now and went with the trend. Father, though, kept his study lamp; for we had stove heating that cooled down at night so that the heat radiating from the kerosene lamp felt good.

At about the same time the first telephones arrived in Weimar. Such a telephone did not sit on the table but was attached to the wall and was turned on with a crank. As I accompanied father to the Gothaische Bank one day, where he deposited some savings each month that would later pay for his sons’ university studies, the bank clerk showed me the new invention and lifted me onto a chair in order to make a phone call. But I did not know whom to call or what to say. So he put me through to the hotel “Zum Elefanten,” instructing me to simply ask whether Director Müller from Berlin had already arrived and surely the porter would give me an answer, allowing me to hear his voice from the distance. I was overwhelmed with astonishment and delight at this incredible occurrence. As we left the bank, I snuck from my father straight to the “Elefant” at the market square. It took me at least four or five minutes to cover the distance, and yet the porter’s voice had reached my ear the instant he had spoken at the hotel. Our father then bought us a toy that had recently come into fashion, a children’s telephone. It consisted of a cardboard frame covered with parchment and a long string between the discs. My brother and I each had our own special tree in the garden, from which we could easily talk to one another. But now one of us held the new instrument to his ear, the other to his mouth, and we tried to communicate by means of the string. This was certainly much more difficult than simple conversation beforehand, but it was technical and up-to-date.

20 Years Ago Today

The Berlin Wall fell.

It seems to me like a lifetime ago, but I know to those in Europe, particularly in Germany, it seems far more recent.

I Disagree

I read Clayton Cramer on a regular basis and I absolutely agree with him on many things, including his discussions of mental illness.

But he went beyond what I can agree with in this post when he said there was little that clearly showed that people were committed for no reason. There weren’t very many who proved that, so it must not be true.

Er, no.

Most cases don’t make it to the courts. If your family puts you in a mental hospital, who will help you get out?

Elizabeth Packard was committed by her husband. Her children helped her get out.

Nelly Bly was committed because she acted unusually. Her editor got her out.

My colleague’s uncle was sent to an asylum because he had grand mal seizures and people still thought that meant demon possession. He never got out. The treatment he received in the asylum made him lose his mind. He was put in to the State Hospital in the 30s. He was still there in the 80s. I assume he’s dead by now, but if not, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is still there.

That’s only anecdotal, but that’s three that I know of who were sent to the mad house who did not belong there.

Fragment from Codex Sinaiticus

The Independent has the news that a fragment from the world’s oldest Bible has been found in an Egyptian monastery.

Nikolas Sarris spotted a previously unseen section of the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from about AD350, as he was trawling through photographs of manuscripts in the library of St Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt.

The Codex, handwritten in Greek on animal skin, is the earliest known version of the Bible. Leaves from the priceless tome are divided between four institutions, including St Catherine’s Monastery and the British Library, which has held the largest section of the ancient Bible since the Soviet Union sold its collection to Britain in 1933.

The Codex Sinaiticus is available online.

Thinking about the Past

“100 Things Your Kids May Never Know About” from Geek Dad

Terminals accessing the mainframe.
Screens being just green (or orange) on black.
Tweaking the volume setting on your tape deck to get a computer game to load, and waiting ages for it to actually do it.
Daisy chaining your SCSI devices and making sure they’ve all got a different ID.
Counting in kilobytes.
Wondering if you can afford to buy a RAM upgrade.
Blowing the dust out of a NES cartridge in the hopes that it’ll load this time.
Turning a PlayStation on its end to try and get a game to load.
Having to delete something to make room on your hard drive.
Booting your computer off of a floppy disk.
Recording a song in a studio.

There are a lot more.

We’re seeing history pass by us, like a rushing river, and we are the stones.

1888 description of insanity

The description, by Mary Putnam Jacobi, perfectly matches bipolar. She is discussing what kinds of people develop mental illnesses.

The psychic characteristics… The disposition is strikingly irritable and touchy; psychic pain arises for trifling cause; at the least occasion the most vivid emotions are excited. The subjects of this temperament alternate rapidly from one extreme to the other; their sympathies and antipathies alike are intense; their entire life is passed between periods of exaltation and depression, leaving scarcely any room for healthy indifference. (184)

from Essays on Hysteria, Brain-tumor, and Some Other Cases of Nervous Disease.

Of course, then she goes on to describe the savant and other mental illnesses, all under the same heading… So while it is accurate, it isn’t a useful description because it includes too many other descriptions.

Blessings and Absolution

Working on a chapter on the Civil War. I cried as I read about Father William Corby who prayed over the entire battalion and gave them absolution before the battle of Gettysburg. It is said that everyone, atheist and Catholic alike, fell to their knees as he made the sign of the cross.

His is the only statue at Gettysburg honoring a chaplain.

India Pale Ale

A Scottish brewery claims to have produced the first authentic India pale ale (IPA) in almost 200 years by ageing the beer aboard a trawler in the North Sea.

BrewDog, a Scottish micro-brewery based in Fraserburgh, has used an original recipe to produce the ale, which was traditionally matured during the 100-day sea journey from Britain to India.

I don’t think this counts, though. They only did it for 7.5 weeks (7.5 x 7 = 54). Not exactly 100 days. But it’s certainly closer than anything else that has been done recently.

from The Times Online

Vampire discovered in Mass Grave

New Scientist has the news.


A SKELETON exhumed from a grave in Venice is being claimed as the first known example of the “vampires” widely referred to in contemporary documents.

Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found the skeleton of a woman with a small brick in her mouth ….

At the time the woman died, many people believed that the plague was spread by “vampires” which, rather than drinking people’s blood, spread disease by chewing on their shrouds after dying. Grave-diggers put bricks in the mouths of suspected vampires to stop them doing this, Borrini says.

The belief in vampires probably arose because blood is sometimes expelled from the mouths of the dead, causing the shroud to sink inwards and tear. Borrini, who presented his findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Denver, Colorado, last week, claims this might be the first such vampire to have been forensically examined. The skeleton was removed from a mass grave of victims of the Venetian plague of 1576.

However, Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas says he has found similar skeletons in Poland and that while Borrini’s finding is exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”.

Borrini says his study details the earliest grave to show archaeological “exorcism evidence against vampires”.

I would never have thought this was a vampire, if I hadn’t been told already. It also makes me a bit interested in seeing Peer Moor-Jansen’s work. I’ll say that Borrini did an incredibly better job at making his dig exciting, if PMJ has found multiple skeletons and no one has heard about it.

I think this would be good to use for my next popular culture paper, or something else. I’ve got the vampire religion article to go with it. This has to be useful someway.

Belief in vampires was rampant in the Middle Ages, mostly because the process of decomposition was not well understood.

For instance, as the human stomach decays, it releases a dark “purge fluid.” This bloodlike liquid can flow freely from a corpse’s nose and mouth, so it was apparently sometimes confused with traces of vampire victims’ blood.

The fluid sometimes moistened the burial shroud near the corpse’s mouth enough that it sagged into the jaw, creating tears in the cloth.

Since tombs were often reopened during plagues so other victims could be added, Italian gravediggers saw these decomposing bodies with partially “eaten” shrouds, Borrini said.

from National Geographic

And this from the Scotsman:

During the Black Death period in the Middle Ages the cemetery was the final resting place for more than 1,500 corpses, and dozens of well preserved remains have been found. But the “vampire” discovery is the first of its kind at Lazzaretto Vecchio, the island used to quarantine and bury plague victims.

Dr Matteo Borrini, an anthropological archaeologist of Florence University, said the woman’s skull had been impaled through the mouth with a brick – a traditional method of ensuring the “undead” could no longer feed. Dr Borrini said there was a widespread belief that the plague was spread by female vampires.

But CNET has a far more chatty, and popular culture approach, along with an explanation for a line in other articles.

Oh, what would Buffy say to this? They’ve finally dug up a vampire.

[When PMJ says he found a lot in Poland.] Ah, countered Dr. Borrini, but this is the first time we have seen “exorcism evidence against vampires.”
So there we have it. I blame the early Van Helsing family myself. I believe they performed a large number of these mouth-brickings for many centuries before they decided that a stake through the heart was far more commercial.

Buffy references abound when you go looking for them (which I did).

Metro UK wrote:

It’s not quite in the vein of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer sacrifice.

Those trying to save us from evil bloodsuckers 500 years ago didn’t rely on a stake through the heart – they used a humble brick.

Or we can have the same story with a riff on “The Lady is a Tramp” by the title The Lady is a Vamp from Mirror UK.

The body of a “vampire” from 500 years ago has been found with a stake through her mouth.

The gruesome discovery was made at a burial ground for victims of the Black Death in Venice.

Experts say people thought putting a stake through a skull stopped vampires in their tracks.

Cool stuff.

Mirabilis writes about scientists trying to understand an ancient, previously lost Iberian language.

This article said:

When archaeologists on a dig in southern Portugal last year flipped over a heavy chunk of slate and saw writing not used for more than 2,500 years, they were elated.

The enigmatic pattern of inscribed symbols curled symmetrically around the upper part of the rough-edged, yellowish stone tablet and coiled into the middle in a decorative style typical of an extinct Iberian language called Southwest Script.


Update: No. Not Atlantis. The lines came from Google’s sonar equipment. Drats.

The Sun:

THIS is the amazing image which could show the fabled sunken city of Atlantis.
It shows a perfect rectangle the size of Wales lying on the bed of the Atlantic Ocean nearly 3½ miles down.

A host of criss-crossing lines, looking like a map of a vast metropolis, are enclosed by the boundary.