The railplane, a town of one, Islamic sex therapist, the first porno, a computer you fixed by dropping, bee battle, and February 30th

Sorry for the lack of recent updates; this is a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future. I'm ramping up to go on terminal leave as my contract draws closer to expiration, and there are many things to do as I prepare to become a civilian again. On top of that, the date I can finally file for divorce approaches, and there is sudden doubt that this will actually occur. The patience of my only follower is needed as my personal life tumults.

Today, we will examine the career of Dr. Heba Kotb, Le Coucher de la Marie, the ill-designed Apple III, Monowi, Nebraska, the Battle of Tanga, February 30, and the Bennie Railplane.

I don't know what the age demography of my audience is, but I imagine most of you don't really remember the old Apple IIs. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, the Apple II family was the first successful mass-produced microprocessor computer, and was what really brought the personal computer into homes and businesses. Co-founder Steve Wozniak's leadership on the project was really groundbreaking... but the other co-founder, Steve Jobs, proved with the Apple III that he should stop messing with the gadgets and stick to the business side of the house. Jobs's theory was that a computer with no fans or air vents or other active cooling would be a quiet computer; correct in theory, but he failed to make adequate cooling designs to make up for it. The idea of using the case as a heat sink failed utterly (though Panasonic made it work with their Toughbooks fifteen years later), to the point that it would damage floppy disks or dislodging chips when the metal warped. Also, faulty logic board design allowed poorly soldered chips to make connections and short circuit, and real-time clock chips delivered from a vendor that weren't tested before being installed. Apple tech support would literally suggest dropping the device from several feet to reseat the chips. The high price and design flaws led Apple to make over 14,000 free warranty replacements, and when discontinued in 1984, was one of their least successful products ever.
Seriously? They thought this would actually work? And they still sold it when they figured out it wouldn't?

What's so great about planes? Well, they can travel pretty much wherever they please and they're the fastest mode of civilian transportation available to humans as of 2010. But, they can be quite expensive to ride. What about trains? What's so good about trains? Well, they have to stick to a very specific path, and most aren't particularly fast, but they're comparatively cheap to travel on. So obviously, the only solution here is to merge the two. <image of the Back to the Future III Time Machine train here>
The railplane was, in essence, a monorail powered by propellers. See, back in the 1930s, a plane was the fastest vehicle around, and all of them had propellers. By that token, someone figured that if you put a propeller on a train, it would go faster, bravely ignoring the whole weight distribution thing involved with aeronautical engineering. The idea was to build rails above regular train tracks so the railplane could travel over top of the standard steam-powered locomotives.
The other problem was that the railplane didn't actually go faster at all, and in fact was pretty goddamn slow. Also, the steam generated by the trains running underneath it would make it shake around like a Yahtzee cup. This isn't even mentioning the safety hazard of having a large four-bladed propeller come roaring through a crowded platform. The project went bankrupt in 1937.
Nothing says "safe" like giant spinning propellers and packed crowds of commuters.

So, February 30: if you ever saw it on a form or calender or something, you'd instantly assume it was a hoax or joke or placeholder, right? Well, unlike February 31, the Twelfth of Never, and times when the hours go above 12 and the minutes above 60, February 30th has actually been a legitimate date. Early Soviet and Julian calendars were claimed to use Feb 30th to make a more even calendar, though there is no proof of this. Swedish calendars in 1712 used it to help their transition to the Gregorian calendar. The majority of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, which sets aside 28 days for the month of February, and 29 on leap years. Because most civil calendars are based on lunar cycles and align themselves on equinoxes and solstices (adjusting by adding time to keep from drifting), there is usually not a significant drift on measuring our days based on the Earth's rotation, and we compensate for the fact that a solar orbit (a year) is actually 365.2425 days long. Since the difference between a solar year and a calendar year is less than a quarter, we've never had to add more than one day before; in fact, periodically skipping a leap year about once a century. That means our modern calendar is unlikely to ever see a Feb 30th again.
This one is actually just an error. Oopsie.

Dr. Heba Kotb was the first licensed sexologist in Egypt, and as far as I can tell, the first Arab sex therapist... though Islamic sexual jurisprudence was always dispensed as ecclesiastical law and guidance. The Western world actually has a rather flawed concept of sex in the Muslim world, which probably stems from what is an otherwise gender-unequal society in most nations. However, despite asserting that sexual gratification should be equal among partners (even noting that a man who avoids foreplay is weak), most Muslims take a conservative stance on other aspects, such as premarital sex, homosexuality, sodomy, masturbation, and abstinence during certain periods (such as menstruation and fasts). Dr. Kotb in particular mixes religious law with medical credibility, but contends that the sexual conservatism in the Arab world is cultural rather than religious. While viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not unknown in the West, that view is a minority, but she compares it to alcohol and drug use. She also discourages female masturbation, saying "a woman has to remain blank until she gets married and by masturbating she's forming her sexuality." Even though she seems rather archaic to us (she does teach from the Koran and refuse to discuss haram), she's pretty liberal by Arab standards, which can only be a good thing for an area of the world torn by constant conflict.
Yes, you went to med school at Cairo University, but I'm still not going to ask you about the G-spot.

Speaking of sex, Le Coucher de la Marie (French for "Bedtime for the Bride") is probably the world's first pornographic film. Shot in 1896, it was about 7 minutes long, though only about 2 minutes of foreplay survive today. Louise Willy stars with an unknown man, as directed by Albert Kirchner (under the name "Léar").

When I think of World War I, I think of futility and boundless slaughter. But when I read the article on Battle of Tanga, I realized it was so bad that even Mother Nature had to step in and kick some ass. An Indian expeditionary force of about 8,000 men under British leadership attacked a seaport of a German colony in Africa, near where the modern Tanzania-Kenya border meets the Indian Ocean. The defending Schutztruppe (likewise filled with locals lead by European officers and noncoms) numbered about a thousand men, and they lucked out in that the British warships declined to bombard the town before landing their troops. On 3 November, 1914, the landing force had put ashore most of its men in a day, but were stopped cold in the city the next day. That's when the bees showed up: swarms of angry bees attacked the troops fighting hand-to-hand in the streets and nearby jungles, and entire battalions of British Indians broke and ran. Some clever ambushes routed the invaders, who left behind much of their equipment, and the Germans faced relatively light casualties. Even though the East Africa Campaign is generally the least known part of the First World War, it contributed one of the worst failures in British military history.
"Battle of Tanga, 3rd-5th November, 1914" by Martin Frost

The last article today is one that was recently featured on Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy: the village of Monowi, Nebraska, and its only resident, Elsie Eiler. There are many places with few or no residents, most of them are islands or political divisions where people commute to for work. Monowi was once a booming town of 130 residents in the 1930s, but like many of the communities in the Great Plains, experienced a negative population growth as people left for jobs or college and didn't return. In the 2000 census, only Elsie and her husband Rudy remained, though the latter passed away in 2004. Elsie serves as the town clerk, and pays her taxes to herself and cuts her own paycheck. She also maintains the village library as a memorial to her late husband, who collected most of the 5,000 books, and also is the proprietor of the Monowi Tavern, which draws regular customers from the surrounding communities. On Larry's visit, he helped raise funds for two municipal projects: to restore the library and repair the main street, which is primarily gravel.
She needs to get the sign replaced too. It's at least seven years out of date!

That's all for today, and probably the week. Happy reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment