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Anecdotes from the Archive

The Big Guns, 1915

A 42-centimeter German shell that failed to explode, displayed as a trophy by the French. Image: Scientific American, July 17, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: March 6, 1915 World War I was an artillery war. Even as new technology—tanks, airplanes, submarines and poison gas—changed the nature of fighting, it was the power of mass manufacturing that had the most profound effect on the conduct of war. The size and number [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

American Fear, 1915

U.S. Marines at the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, 1914. Image: Scientific American, February 27, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 27, 1915 The size, speed and ferocity of the Great War was unprecedented. By the time this issue was published on February 27, 1915—only seven months after the war began—the vast and well-armed military forces of Europe had lost in dead and wounded 10 [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

Airborne Scouts, 1915

Aircraft scouts: Before two-way radio was developed, it was suggested that an Edison recording machine might be useful for airplane observers. Image: Scientific American, February 20, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 20, 1915 The usefulness of scouting from the air had been demonstrated in the early days of the Great War. But gathering information from an airplane is one thing; it is another thing to give that information to people on the ground who could [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

Air Defenses Against Zeppelins, 1915

zeppelin

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 13, 1915 German Zeppelins (airships with rigid frames) bombed Liège, Belgium, on August 6, 1914, only a few days after the Great War broke out. Over the next few weeks, Zeppelins carried out raids throughout Europe on military and civilian targets. The actual damage [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

Deception and Camouflage, 1915

German commerce-raider SMS “Emden” added a fourth, dummy, funnel to look more like a British ship. The ruse worked well. Image: Scientific American, February 6, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: February 6, 1915 The archetypical historical scene from World War I involves straight-ahead charges of huge numbers of soldiers against masses of artillery and machine guns. But those fighting the war also needed to be adept at the art and craft of subtlety, feint and [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

X-Rays at War, 1915

The most modern field medicine, 1915: a van that can provide X-rays to mobile hospitals. Image: Scientific American Supplement, January 30, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 30, 1915 X-rays were used for medical operations within a couple of months after they were discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in late 1895. Their usefulness was also quickly recognized by military surgeons: suddenly it became easy to find broken bones, bullets and chunks of [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

Fortress of Water, 1915

“Night attack by German armored motor boats in a flooded section of Flanders” in late 1914 or early 1915.  Image: Scientific American, January 23, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 23, 1915 The cover of this issue of the magazine has a boisterous scene from the opening months of the First World War, titled “Night attack by German armored motor boats in a flooded section of Flanders.” There is no story inside relating to [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

Extreme Submarine, 1915

The Simon Lake design for the ultimate sneaky submarine: crawling around on the seafloor and nudging mines out of the way. Image: Scientific American, January 16, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 16, 1915 Before the First World War, Simon Lake designed and built some innovative submarines for the U.S. Navy—and also for the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Imperial German navies. A few months after the outbreak of the war, he seems rather smugly pleased by the [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

An American Pilot at War, 1915 (Part III)

1915-01-09-Hild3-image3MB

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 9, 1915 In this issue of Scientific American from 1915, we published the last installment of a three-part account: “War Experiences of an Air Scout: A Battle in the Clouds,” by Frederick C. Hild, an “American volunteer with the French Aviation Corps.” Hild joined [...]

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Anecdotes from the Archive

An American Pilot at War, 1915 (Part II)

An early aerial weapon: steel darts. Hild called them steel “pencils” or “arrows” and accurately stated “after a fall of say, 6,000 feet, they will penetrate almost anything.” However, they were not accurate when dropped from 6,000 feet and only occasionally effective. Aerial darts have been used occasionally as skyborne weapons since 1914. Image: Scientific American, January 2, 1915

Reported in Scientific American, This Week in World War I: January 2, 1915 In this issue of Scientific American from 1915, we published the second installment of a three-part first-hand account: “War Experiences of an Air Scout: Patrol of the Sky” by Frederick C. Hild, “American volunteer with the French Aviation Corps.” We were introduced [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Our public affair with food porn

Image by Phil Thomas, CC. Click on image for license and information.

Do you ever feel like your social feed is overrun by pictures of food? A report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project from October 2013 found that more than half of all Internet users have posted original photos or videos to a website. Thanks to the portability of cell phone cameras and the [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Why did Pirates Fly the Jolly Roger?

Photo by eddiemcfish. Click on image for license and information.

The “pirate brand” has long been tied to the skull and crossbones—the Jolly Roger—as a symbol of terror on the high seas. A 2011 article in The New York Times hails the ominous design as a magnificent exercise in collective hybrid branding, noting that economics drove pirates to adopt a version of this particular symbol [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

How Did Patterns Help Reveal an Older Origin of Mummies?

Coffin and Mummy of Nesmin (Around 250 BC). Photo by Daniel Decristo. Click on image for license and information.

I want to talk about patterns. We take them for granted but they shape our lives. That morning coffee you need to start your day has more meaning than you think. We build our sense of self on repetition, and we draw upon continuity to shape our society. Patterns can provide valuable clues about our [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Labor Day: It’s About Time

CC, Tom Blackwell. Click on image for license and information.

The first Monday in September is a federal holiday in the United States. It marks Labor Day—a tribute to contributions made by American workers to the growth and development of the country (or at least those in a position to contribute without being exploited). The history of labor day is the history of labor—and laborer [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

What troubles us about unfaithful politicians?

Creative Commons, Maegan Tintari

History is littered with private indiscretions made public—some have just been more public than others: It is believed the Leonardo da Vinci was a passionate instructor to his students; one in particular remained in da Vinci’s favor for 26 years. Cleopatra made no secret of the nature of her political alliances, which included a close [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

The Global Connection at the Heart of Baseball

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Baseball season is officially underway! And what better way to celebrate than by looking at the ball that drives the game? A few years ago, I talked S into helping me take apart a baseball. I wanted to understand the properties that Johan Santana can hold in his hand and with the flick of his [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

You Are What You Eat: Unraveling the Truth in Food Records

A Roman Feast, Roberto Bompiani late 1800s. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 72.PA.4.

The last time I browsed the cookbook section of a bookstore, the options were dizzying. The present day culinary record of our habits and inclinations is diverse. It reflects the need to both speed up and slow down, have quick meals and lingering dinner parties, and preserve the tried and true and dabble with the [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland rocks. Or so the saying goes. I’ve been traveling for work this week, and have spent the last two and a half days in Cleveland, Ohio. It was my first visit, and it offered me a chance to do the things I love most: talk to people, see places through the eyes of others, [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

A Right to Be Clean: Sanitation and the Rise of New York City’s Water Towers

These iconic structures are as much a part of New York City's skyline as any famed landmark. But they play a larger role in New York City's history.

During the morning rush hour in New York City, tourists stand out as being the ones looking up. It’s possible that they see more clearly what most New Yorkers take for granted: water towers. Those archaic looking wooden structures that grace the rooftops of almost every New York City building play an integral, though often [...]

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Anthropology in Practice

Spin Cycle: The Social Realm of the Laundromat

Sunday afternoons should never be spent in a laundromat if you can avoid it. One of the outcomes of our recent move is that I went from having my own washer and dryer to having a washer that floods the basement and a landlord who isn’t inclined to fixing it. That means I’ve had to [...]

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Cross-Check

Thanksgiving guilt trip: How warlike were Native Americans before Europeans showed up?

The approach of Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday, has me brooding over recent scientific portrayals of Native Americans as bellicose brutes. When I was in grade school, my classmates and I wore paper Indian headdresses and Pilgrim hats and reenacted the "first Thanksgiving," in which supposedly friendly Native Americans joined Pilgrims for a fall feast [...]

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Food Matters

Variolation, Aviation, and Genetic Modification: Progress in the Face of Fear and Danger

The Wright Brothers' Plane (click for source)

In 1721, a small pox epidemic was ripping through the colonial city of Boston. Cotton Mather, a Reverend and Royal minister, convinced the physician Zebadiah Boylston to perform an arcane medical procedure on two slaves and Mather’s own son. The procedure, called “variolation,” involved piercing the skin of the patient with needle that was contaminated [...]

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Observations

Internet Shopping, as Conceived in 1961: Plenty of Rocket Deliveries Thursday Morning [Video]

I know, you’re disappointed that we don’t have the flying cars and moving sidewalks as promised in those old film reels from the 1950s and 60s that you may have seen in school. But this clip, from the AT&T Archives and History Center, does do a great job predicting how we shop in the digital [...]

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Observations

Yes, Government Researchers Really Did Invent the Internet

“It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet,” writes Gordon Crovitz in an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. Most histories cite the Pentagon-backed ARPANet as the Internet’s immediate predecessor, but that view undersells the importance of research conducted at Xerox PARC labs in the 1970s, claims Crovitz. In fact, Crovitz implies that, [...]

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Observations

Google Pays Homage to Zipper Engineer Gideon Sundback

Google zipper page as of April 24, 2012

Today, an image of a zipper runs down Google’s home page in celebration of the 132nd birthday of Gideon Sundback, who helped make the device an indispensable item for today’s man on the go. (Read that as you will.)  Sundback did not invent the slide fastener, as it is generically called (“zipper” is actually a [...]

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Observations

Aliens and Nazis and Electric History, Oh My!

Red sprites can be 50 kilometers tall but were proved to exist only in 1994. Credit: D. Sentman, G. Wescott, Geophysical Institute, U. Alaska Fairbanks, NASA

I received an odd e-mail recently asking whether an article from December 18, 1886, was likely to have been fact-checked, the implication being whether or not it was “true”: Here’s the 1886 article: The following brief account of a recent strange meteorological occurrence may be of interest to your readers as an addition to the [...]

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Observations

The line between science and journalism is getting blurry….again

Human #1: "Hello, nice weather today, isn’t it?" Human #2: "Ummm…actually not. It’s a gray, cold, windy, rainy kind of day!" Many a joke depends on confusion about the meaning of language, as in the example above. But understanding the sources of such confusion is important in realms other than stand-up comedy, including in the [...]

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Observations

Old oyster shells reveal dry, salty details of Jamestown settlers’ hardships

oyster shells jamestown settlers starvation drought

What can a handful of old oyster shells reveal about the trials some of the New World’s early European settlers? A lot, it turns out. As a prevalent resource in the Chesapeake Bay, eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) ended up being a crucial food source for the first full-time European settlers in North America, who arrived [...]

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Streams of Consciousness

Trouble at the Heart of Psychiatry’s Revised Rule Book

By Edward Shorter* Part 3 in a series One might liken the latest draft of psychiatry’s new diagnostic manual, the DSM-5, to a bowl of spaghetti. Hanging over the side are the marginal diagnoses of psychiatry, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, important for certain subpopulations but not central to the discipline. At [...]

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Symbiartic

Before Manned Spaceflight There Was “Chimpanned” Spaceflight

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On January 31, 1961, a brave 3-year-old chimpanzee was strapped into a capsule inside the Mercury Redstone rocket and launched 160 miles above the earth. For 16 minutes, he orbited at a speed of 5857 mph before crashing down into the Atlantic Ocean, a little dehydrated, but otherwise unharmed. This furry astronaut, dubbed HAM (for [...]

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Symbiartic

A September Afternoon on the Grand River, 1825

Damstra_Davisville_mini

One of the most powerful contributions of scientific illustration is to give us an informed visual where it is typically impossible to find one. While creating images for for a nature walk along the Grand River Walter Bean Trail near Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, illustrator Emily Damstra incorporated archaeological evidence as well as records about the [...]

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Symbiartic

Atmosphere and Action: Interview with illustrator Tyler Jacobson

Yuri-Gagarin-Tyler-Jacobson

When I opened the November 2011 issue of Scientific American and leafed through it, I was immediately drawn to one of the highlights of the issue: illustrations for the cover story about The First Americans. They were done by illustrator Tyler Jacobson, with art direction by Michael Mrak and Jen Christiansen. Here in the interview below, [...]

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Symbiartic

SciArt Plugs 1: Lectures, Exhibits, News and More

The intersection of science and art is bustling with activity. With this weekly-ish post, we’ll try to keep you abreast of the most happenin’ happenings around the country. Don’t miss out! SCIART LECTURES/EVENTS Beacon, NY’s Annual Open Studio Event (Beacon, NY) September 24-25, 2011; 12-6pm | Take a tour of scientific illustrator Chris Sanders‘ and [...]

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Symbiartic

Spongelab: gaming the art of science education

Spongelab_NerveSystem-ava

“What famous painting does this remind you of?” I was sitting in the offices of Spongelab Interactive about a month ago speaking with  Jeremy Friedberg, molecular genetics and biotechnology professor, now science education game-guru, and we were discussing the interactive opening image of History of Biology, an expansive mystery game. The image in question, above, contains [...]

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Symbiartic

The Dudley Bug

Coat of Arms of the Dudley County Borough Council, Dudley, U.K. {link url="http://www.civicheraldry.co.uk/worcs_ob.html"}Image source here.{/link}"

One of the things that fascinates me most about the current state of science-based art, are the roots we can retroactively look to in pre-scientific eras. Most artistic movements claim ancestry from previous movements, such as the Surrealists arising out of the Symbolists, who in part arose out of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who claimed the [...]

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