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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

uBlock Origin

     uBlock Origin is a highly configurable browser extension that blocks third party advertising, trackers, and malware sites. 
     You will find that most sites render noticeable faster with ads and trackers turned off. And, in some cases, web pages that were not rendering at all previously will look great with all the offending components blocked. 
     It's a free and open source, cross-platform browser extension for content-filtering, including ad-blocking. The extension is available for several browsers:  Safari (Beta), Chrome, Chromium, Edge, Firefox, and Opera. uBlock Origin has received praise from technology websites, and is reported to be much less memory-intensive than other extensions with similar functionality. 
     uBlock Origin's stated purpose is to give users the means to enforce their own (content-filtering) choices. It doesn’t require any technical skill to install or use. For those with some technical knowledge, it is highly configurable. 
     As of 2017, uBlock Origin continues to be actively developed and maintained by founder and lead developer Raymond Hill.  Hill withdrew his support for uBlock, an older branch of the software, citing "serious incompatibilities in the spirit of the project." 
     uBlock Origin includes a growing list of features not available in uBlock which includes a lot of technical stuff, but one handy feature is a site-specific switch that allows you to toggle the blocking of pop-ups. The Firefox version of uBlock Origin has an extra feature which helps to foil attempts by web sites to circumvent blockers. Techies claim it's also less resource intensive in comparison with similar programs such as Adblock Plus. 
  
  
     Turning off filtering for a website is as simple as clicking on the big blue button in uBlock Origin’s pull down window. And, you can permanently unblock a site by adding it to a Whitelist that can be edited right in the browser.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Amazing Lightning Bug

     Sad fact: They are disappearing. Nobody knows for sure why, but most researchers blame two main factors: development and light pollution
     The Lampyridae are a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of bioluminescence during twilight to attract mates or prey. 
     Fireflies produce a "cold light", with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red. 
     About 2,000 species of fireflies are found in temperate and tropical climates. Many are in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. Their larvae emit light and often are called "glowworms" in Eurasia and elsewhere. In the Americas, "glow worm" also refers to the related Phengodidae. 
     In many species, both male and female fireflies have the ability to fly, but in some species, the females are flightless. 
     To learn just about everything there is to know of these amazing creatures go Firefly.org.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Purslane

Purslane
     This summer I discovered an unwelcome guest in my garden and flower pots...Portulaca oleracea, or purslane. 
     Purslane is native to India and Persia but has spread throughout the world and it's regarded as a weed or as an edible plant, depending on where you live. For the record, the US Department of Agriculture classifies it as a "noxious weed." 
     Purslane has fleshy succulent leaves and stems with yellow flowers. Perhaps that's why in Malawi its name translates to "the buttocks of a chief's wife." The stems lay flat on the ground as they radiate from a single taproot sometimes forming large mats of leaves. 
     It's an annual reproducing from seeds and from stem pieces. Seeds of purslane have been known to stay viable for 40 years in the soil. Purslane grows just about anywhere from fertile garden soil to the poor arid soils. The stuff will even grow in rock driveways and it's very drought tolerant. 
     If you are trying to control purslane don't let it go to seed. About three weeks after you notice seedlings, the flowers and seeds will be produced. Also, plants or plant pieces that are uprooted but not removed can root back into the soil. It doesn't germinate well when seeds are more than 1/2 inch deep so tilling will bring the seeds to the surface where they quickly germinate. Mulching will help to control purslane because the seeds germinate best with soil temperatures of 90 degrees so mulching may help to control it. Because it germinates in high soil temperatures it doesn't appear until June and by that time herbicides used in the Spring have likely lost their effectiveness. 
     It was only recently that I became aware that the stuff was actually edible, especially the leaves and stem tips of fresh young plants. You can use it in salads or on sandwiches instead of lettuce or pickles. It's supposed to be really tasty on ham sandwiches. It gets a bit slimy when cooked, but it can be used as a substitute for spinach. 

Purslane contains the following nutrients: 
1) Omega-3 fatty acids, the highest levels of any other green plant 
2) Antioxidents 
3) Calcium and magnesium 
4) Potassium 
5) Iron 
6) Beta-carotene 
7) Glutathione 
8) Betalain 
9) Tryptophan 

    What's it taste like? With some trepidation, I tasted it and found it hard to describe, but others described it as a crunchy, zesty flavor with a slight lemony, peppery taste which sounds about right. Not bad. 
 
Spurge
    WARNING!  It should be mentioned that purslane has a look alike that often grows near it...spurge. You don’t want to eat spurge. You will find yourself suffering from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. 

     In fact, it's best not to touch it with unprotected hands to avoid skin redness, swelling and blistering. Like purslane, spurge kind of has red stems too, but they are woody and thin and when the stems are broken, they emit a milky substance. Spurge also radiates out from the center in a circle while purslane is an erect plant that grows upright.
45 Things To Do With Fresh Purslane

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Dark Net and Deep Web

     I saw an ad on television recently by a company that protects against identity theft that claims to monitor the Dark Net for you and must admit that I didn't know what it is. Almost everything is available on there, drugs, weapons, and kiddie porn, you name it. 
     A Dark Net (often used interchangeably with the Dark Web) is a network that can be accessed only with specific software, configurations, or authorization, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports. Two typical Dark Net types are friend-to-friend networks (usually used for file sharing with a peer-to-peer connection) and privacy networks. 
     I was unaware that there is a hidden Internet underneath what I use. It is hidden from the view of ordinary web users and it sounds scary, full of criminals, difficult to access, requiring technical skill and accessing it probably gets you on the FBI or CIA watch list. 
     The Dark Web is not to be confused with the Deep Web...all parts of the Internet which cannot be accessed by search engines and can't be found through Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. Experts believe that the Deep Web is hundreds of times larger than the Internet you get to via browsers and search engines. 
     Actually, the Dark Web requires no technical skills and takes just a few minutes to get started. It includes large databases, libraries and members-only websites that are not available to the general public. Mostly, it is composed of academic resources maintained by universities. If you've ever used the computer catalog at a public library, you've scratched its surface. It uses alternative search engines for access though. Its contents are not accessible through search engines and it is the anonymous Internet. 
     Normally, when accessing the Internet, your computer directly accesses the server hosting the website. When visiting the Dark Net this direct link is broken, and the data is bounced around a number of places before reaching its destination. The communication registers on the network, but the transport medium is prevented from knowing who is doing the communication. This is referred to as an onion network. 
     Ordinary internet browsing can reveal your location, and even if the content of your communications is well-encrypted, people can still easily see who is talking to whom and potentially where they are located. For many, the military and politicians this presents an unacceptable security risk. 
     The Dark Net is also popular among journalists and political bloggers, especially those living in countries where censorship and political imprisonment are commonplace. Online anonymity allows them to communicate with sources and publish information without fear of retribution. Terrorists also use it to avoid giving away their position to the governments they oppose. Governments, terrorists, law enforcement, and criminals are among the biggest users of the Dark Net. 
     The most popular way to do it is using a service called TOR which stands for The Onion Router. TOR website addresses don't look like ordinary URLs. They are composed of a random-looking strings of characters followed by .onion. Another onion network is The Freenet Project, which is similar but also allows for the creation of private networks, which means that resources located on a given machine can only be accessed by people who have been manually placed on a friends list. 
     The Dark Net also has large criminal marketplaces which accept only digital currency as payment and you can buy everything from drugs to assassinations. One must be careful about these sites though...police stings and con men, you know. 
     The Deep Web is an even scarier place. Also known as the undernet, invisible web and hidden web, it consists of information that you won't locate with a Google search. No one really knows how big it is, but it's hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of times bigger than what you can see with a normal search engine like Google. It's a place where users go when they want to really bury data. These parts of the web are accessible only if you use special browser software that peels away the onion-like layers of the dark web. You don't want to go there.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Worst Automobile Ever Made

     Auto hucksters and impoverished communists desperate for revenue collaborated to create the Yugo, a small car made in the former nation of Yugoslavia that was poorly engineered, ugly, and cheap. 
     Malcolm Bricklin was the entrepreneur who based his career around importing small cars into the US market. His goal was to introduce an affordable, compact car into the US market, which at the time was dominated by large V-8 powered sedans. His bottom line was, of course, to make himself a ton on money. 
     The low Yugoslavian manufacturing costs meant the car, which came to the US in the 1980s and 1990s, could be sold for $3,990 and still make a substantial profit. 
     It was cheap inside. There were only a few buttons and everything was made from plastic with the dashboard and center console one single piece. There were only two air vents, both in the center. And you could see the big bolt holding down the seat belt receiver. “Carpet” was listed as a standard feature and the best thing about its rear-window defroster was that it could keep your hands warm while you pushed it. 
     There were jokes about it. What's included in every Yugo owner's manual? A bus schedule. What do you call a Yugo that breaks down after 100 miles? An overachiever. Most made it to only around 20,000 miles or so, during which time they would often burn through two or three new clutches. 
     The radio lasted a month, while the gear shift was notorious for coming off. Dash lights burned out quickly and rainwater would leak through gaps in the body panels and around the window seals. The ignition switch was prone to simply popping out of the steering column. 
     Handling was scary as the steering floated and the ride harsh and jarring. The body left you with the impression that it was probably best not to park under a tree because bird droppings might leave a dent in the roof or hood. 
     The Yugo was slow and anemic; it was powered by a 55-horsepower 1.1-liter carburetor 4-cylinder engine which, when you looked under the hood, shared its space with the spare tire...and the spare tire was larger. The engine was so weak that carrying four passengers, if they could squeeze in, was nearly impossible. The engine was also prone to self-destruction when its timing belt would disrupt the synchronization between the engine’s pistons and valves, causing them to collide and destroy the engine. 
     It had a stick shift transmission. I knew a lady (one of my employees) whose son had bought her a Yugo so she would not have to ride the bus to get to work and buy groceries. One day while at work I received a call from her asking if she could stop by the office and pick up her check rather than have it mailed. After being told it was OK, about an hour later I got a call from her asking if I could run down the street and pick her up and bring her back to the office. She said the car had broken down in the middle of the street and she had coasted into the parking lot of a shopping center. When I got there I saw a pile of parts in the middle of the street and a trail of small parts leading right up to her car. The transmission had exploded.

Monday, July 17, 2017

River Monsters

     Of all the reality TV shows about fishing this is my favorite. Unfortunately, host Jeremy Wade has hung up his fishing rod. On River Monsters, Wade tried to locate killers and discover which are predators, which are victims, and which are myths and legends. 
     The final season of River Monsters began on April 23rd. Usually such shows end when ratings start to drop, but not in this case...the show is going out on a high note. No reason was given, but Wade said he’s covered everything we wanted to cover. 
     Over the years a few fish have eluded him though. As Wade said, he suspects River Monsters has wide appeal because viewers don’t see it as just a fishing show, but a way to find out about creatures they never knew existed, plus it showcased different areas of the world and different people which is always interesting. 
     One thing Wade has always emphasized it that fish are wild animals and they can be dangerous. Also, fish are sensitive to vibrations in the water, so capturing footage of them requires a measure of stealth on the part of not only Wade, but his crew. 
     The final episodes includes Wade's effort to discover what happened to over one thousand passengers of the RMS Laconia which was torpedoed in the mid-Atlantic. For those that live in the UK Animal Planet has commissioned the creating of a completely new series staring Wade. Details are sparse, but it will explore the health of the world’s rivers and the lives of the people and wildlife dependent upon them. 
     Jeremy Wade (born March 23, 1956) s a British television personality and author of books on fishing who is best known for his television series River Monsters and Jungle Hooks. Wade attended Dean Close School and has a degree in zoology from Bristol University and a postgraduate teaching certificate in biological sciences from the University of Kent. He has also worked as a secondary school biology teacher in Kent. He is fluent in Portuguese, which he studied during the many years he spent fishing in Brazil, and also speaks French and Spanish well.
     Over the years, Wade has caught (and released) some of the slimiest and largest animals lurking in the world's water. Naturally, there is always a risk...remember, fish are wild animals! One of the most dangerous creatures he ever encountered was the electric eel. A big one can deliver about 500 volts and a victim could drown in shallow water since the shock can paralyze a person and even a rescuer can get zapped. When working around them, it's like working on a high tension electrical line. Thick rubber boots and gloves re required. Plus, a defibrillator is always good to have.
     His closest brush with death happened in the Amazon, when he was trying to net an arapaima. The big, ugly arapaima is a very large freshwater fish that can weigh up to 400 pounds. While trying to net a small on weighing about 80 pounds, it suddenly hit him right in the sternum leaving him with pain he could feel for six weeks. 
     When deep in a forest river sometimes weather can be the worst enemy. One time the crew member that did the sound recording was stuck by lightning and a patch of skin on his legs had the hair singed off and left him with a tremendous headache. On a scale of 1 to 10, the gut put it at a ten. See What Happens When Lightening Strikes You HERE.
     One extremely painful experience was getting stabbed on the back of his hand by a small catfish. Not surprisingly, getting snagged by a fish hook is always a painful possibility. Fish aren't the only danger either. Wade has been detained as a suspected spy, caught malaria, been threatened at gunpoint and survived a plane crash. 
     Is the show real or fake? Yes and no. Obviously when filming such a show, you can't make the fish bite and when they do, you can never be sure it's the one you want. When it comes to the fishing, the actual footage is real, but there are also plenty of re-enactments involving fake blood, people drowning, screaming and dying. Those are fake. No doubt the pictures of people who have nasty scars from getting bitten by the fish are real, too. And, to add additional drama, creatures are often described as killers, man-eaters, flesh rippers, executioners, etc. It spices up the program.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Parachutes

     A parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through the atmosphere by creating drag. Parachutes are usually made out of light, strong cloth, originally silk, now most commonly nylon. Parachutes often take the shape of a dome, but shapes may vary including some taking the shape of an inverted dome. Depending on the situation, parachutes are used with a variety of loads, including people, food, equipment, space capsules, and bombs. Drogue chutes are used to aid horizontal deceleration of a vehicle (a fixed-wing aircraft, or a drag racer), or to provide stability (certain types of light aircraft in distress. 
     A parachute works by increasing air resistance during the objects fall. Gravity makes falling objects accelerate, but only up to a point. If you jump off a skyscraper, your body ought to speed up by 32 feet per second every second you're falling. If you were high enough off the ground, then after about a minute and a half, you'd theoretically be falling at about 2200 mph, which is about as fast as the fastest jet fighters have ever flown. In practice, that doesn't happen. 
     After about five seconds, you reach a speed where the force of air resistance increases so much that it balances the force of gravity and at that point, there is no more acceleration and you keep on falling at a steady speed called your terminal velocity. The terminal velocity for a falling person (with arms stretched out) is about 125 mph, which is fast enough to kill you upon impact. 
     Feathers fall more slowly than stones because their terminal velocity is lower. Likewise, a parachute works by dramatically lowering the terminal velocity by increasing your air resistance. Parachutes are designed to reduce your terminal velocity by about 90 percent so you hit the ground at a relatively low speed of about 12 mph. 
     Parachutes are actually three chutes in one, packed into a single backpack called the container. There's a main parachute, a reserve parachute (in case the main one fails), and a tiny little chute at the bottom of the container, called the pilot chute, that helps the main chute to open. 
     Once you're clear of the plane, you trigger the pilot chute and it opens up creating enough force to pull the main chute from the container. The main chute has to be carefully packed so the ropes that connect it to your harness open correctly and straighten out behind you. The main chute is designed to open in a delayed way so your body isn't braked and jerked too suddenly and sharply. 
     The force on a parachute is considerable, so it has to be made from really strong materials. Originally, parachutes were made from canvas or silk, but inexpensive, lightweight, synthetic materials such as nylon and Kevlar are now generally used instead.
     Parachutes were invented about a century ago, but they continue to evolve. The first known written account of a parachute concept is found in da Vinci's notebooks around 1495. The sketch he drew consisted of a cloth material pulled tightly over a rigid pyramidal structure. Although da Vinci never made the device, he is given credit for the concept. 
     Fauste Veranzio constructed a device similar to da Vinci's and jumped from a tower in Venice in 1617, but over a century would pass before further developments would be made by the famous balloonists, Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier. 
     In 1783 they succeeded in lowering animals to the ground from rooftops or balloons. During the same year Sebastian Lenormand jumped from a tower using a 14-foot diameter parachute. The first emergency use of a parachute was made by Jean Pierre Blanchard in 1785 after the hotair balloon he was in exploded. Blanchard also worked on a foldable silk parachute; until then all parachutes were constructed with a rigid frame. 
     In 1797, Andrew Garnerin made the first jump with a parachute without a rigid frame. One of Garnerin's balloon jumps from 8000 feet was observed by a French astronomer, Lalandes. As the parachute descended, severe oscillations were induced in the canopy. Lalandes suggested cutting a small hole near the apex of the canopy to inhibit the oscillations. It worked and this modification is now known as the vent. 
     During the next century, parachute use was confined to carnivals and daredevil acts. Acrobats would perform stunts on a trapeze bar suspended from a descending parachute which was released from a hot-air balloon. Public opinion became very unfavorable towards the use of parachutes when Robert Cocking fell to his death in 1837. Cocking jumped an inverted cone-shaped parachute (point down) from 5000 ft. and distinguished himself by becoming parachuting's first fatality. 
     The next major contribution to parachute systems was the development of a harness by Captain Thomas Baldwin in 1887. The concept of folding or packing the parachute in a knapsack-like container was developed by Paul Letteman and Kathchen Paulus in 1890. Paulus also demonstrated an intentional breakaway...after a first parachute inflated, it was released and pulled open a second parachute. 
     The first jump from an airplane has been claimed by both Grant Morton and Captain Albert Berry in 1911 or 1912. Morton jumped with a silk parachute folded in his arms which he threw out as he left the plane. Captain Berry had a 36 foot parachute packed into a metal case beneath the fuselage. The parachute had a trapeze bar for him to hold on to as he jumped. Also in 1911, an Italian, Pino, invented the pilot chute or drogue chute. He attached a small parachute with a rigid frame to his helmet. The pilot chute would inflate, pull the helmet off and then pull the parachute out. 
     The first free fall jump was made by Georgia "Tiny" Broadwick in 1914, but the military still did not believe that the human body could tolerate the experience of free fall for more than a few seconds before blacking out. The skeptics were convinced in 1919 by Leslie Irvin and Floyd Smith after they demonstrated free fall jumps and developed the ripcord at the parachute testing and training center at Wright Field, in Dayton, Ohio established in 1918.
     From World War I to the early 1930's, conventional round silk parachutes remained unchanged and were primarily used by military air corps in Europe, Russia, and the United States. During the 1930's a German Luftwaffe officer, Kurt Student, came up with the idea a rapid deployment strike force by parachuting men, equipment, and weapons from gliders and aircraft. Germany demonstrated the effectiveness of airborne troops delivered by parachutes during World War II. 
     The development of modern parachutes deployed at high speeds and high altitudes started in the 1930's whe tywo Germans developed a “ring slot” parachute designed to decelerate heavy, high speed payloads. This parachute was used primarily for cargo delivery and aircraft deceleration. 
     H. G. Heinrich invented the guide surface parachute used as a pilot chute or for vehicle stabilization in the supersonic (to Mach 3) deployments. The hyperflo parachute is used as a hypersonic pilot chute for Mach 1 to Mach 5 speeds. 
     The development of sport parachutes began in the early 1960's. Parachutes developed many modifications that allowed the parachutist greater maneuverability. 
     Parachutes are not always reliable as Clem Sohn discovered. Even today they are not 100 percent reliable. Navy Seal Remington Peters recently died in a parachute accident in New York City.

How the US Army's 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment trains Paratroopers...HERE

Monday, July 10, 2017

Flex-seal Tape as Seen on TV

     This tape is frequently seen on television ads along with incredible claims. It is claimed to be super strong.  It is a rubberized, waterproof tape that can patch, bond, seal and repair virtually everything! It is specially formulated with a thick, flexible, rubberized backing that conforms to any shape or object and can be applied hot or cold, wet or dry…..even underwater! 
     The claim is that it instantly seals out water, air and moisture to create a super strong, flexible, watertight barrier. The tape is UV resistant, environmentally friendly, VOC-free and has a wide temperature range so it can be used in extreme weather conditions. It comes in black and white and in three sizes: 4” X 5', 8” X 5' & 12” X 10'. It's extra wide size allows you to quickly cover large cracks, gaps and holes. 
     It also comes with the caveat that it may resist bonding to the following surfaces: plasticized materials, siliconized, greasy, oily, dirty or porous surfaces, waterproof or water-repellent materials and fabrics. 
     Also, the package advises that it is a temporary fix for emergency repairs and is not meant to be a permanent fix. 
     The question is, does it work as advertised? The short answer is, yes. That is, assuming you are using it for its intended purposes; then it works as advertised if used as directed.
     Some people reviewing it only gave it one star and claimed it did not work, but they were using it for purposes for which it was not intended. One person tried to fix a garden hose, but as advertised, it will not stick to things like plastic garden hoses. Another user tried to use it to patch a leaking water pipe in his house, but he may not have applied it correctly, and it is not meant for applications of high temperature and pressure. Also, as the package says, the bond increases with time and pressure. In some cases it may need 24 hours to reach maximum adhesion. All air bubbles must be smoothed out as well. 
     I initially tried it to fix a leaking hose under the kitchen sink, but it did not work because the hose is braided and so the water simply seeped through the braiding and out the end of the tape. 
     However, I have used it for a number of other purposes where it was necessary to stop small leaks and have found it to be more than adequate for the job. It's flexible and extremely sticky. 
     If using long strips be careful that the sticky surfaces do not stick to each other because they will never come apart! Also, it's a bit pricey at $12 for a 4 inch x 5 foot roll. 
     Just remember...it's TAPE, not a magic bullet that will fix everything.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Drowning Facts

     Drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths. There are an estimated 360,000 annual drowning deaths worldwide. 
     Children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning. A 2014 report on drowning shows that age is one of the major risk factors for drowning. This relationship is often associated with a lapse in supervision. The highest drowning rates are among children 1–4 years, followed by children 5–9 years. In the United States drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1–14 years. 
     Males are especially at risk of drowning, with twice the overall rate of females. Studies suggest that the higher drowning rates are due to increased exposure to water and riskier behavior such as swimming alone, drinking alcohol before swimming alone and boating. Individuals with occupations such as commercial fishing or fishing for subsistence, using small boats in low-income countries are more prone to drowning. 
     Children who live near open water sources, such as ditches, ponds, irrigation channels, or pools are especially at risk. In the US, African-American children are particularly at risk with children between 5 and 14 years old drowning nearly three times as often as whites of the same age. This often occurs in swimming pools because majority of African Americans live in urban centers, where they are less likely to encounter pools or learn to swim. 
     Drowning accounts for 75 percent of deaths in flood disasters. Daily commuting and journeys made by migrants or asylum seekers often take place on overcrowded, unsafe vessels lacking safety equipment or are operated by personnel untrained in dealing with transport incidents or navigation.  
     Lake Tahoe which lies in the Sierra Nevada mountains between California and Nevada is a popular vacation destination, but there's a secret the travel brochures won't tell you. The lake is 1,645 feet deep and it is a graveyard. 
     Floaters is the term used for corpses found bobbing on the surface of the water. Soon after drowning bacterial activity inside the corpse causes a buildup of gases and the body floats to the surface. Not in Lake Tahoe. It's is so cold that it inhibits the bacteria and bodies rarely float to the surface. Because of the lake’s elevation is 6,225 feet above sea level, divers cannot descend as deep as they could in other bodies of water and the missing are often never found. In 2011, some divers, whose specialized equipment allows them to go down 350 feet discovered the body of a man who’d been missing since 1995. The water temperature was only 35 degrees F. at 265 feet. The body was in remarkably good condition because the frigid water preserved the body and did not allow bacteria to flourish. No one knows how many thousands of corpses are in Lake Tahoe. 
     You would think that swimming in the ocean is far more dangerous than swimming in a lake with their waves and riptides, but about 90 percent of drowning cases occur in freshwater. The reason involves a bit of chemistry. Fresh water is more similar in composition to our own blood than salt water. When it is inhaled into the lungs, it passes into the bloodstream through osmosis. When the blood is so radically diluted, cells burst, leading to organ failure. The entire process takes two to three minutes. Ocean water contains far more salt than human blood. When it is aspirated, the body attempts to regulate itself by transferring water into the lungs, thickening the blood. It takes considerably longer to kill a person, between 8 to 10 minutes, allowing a much greater chance of rescue. 
     Delayed drowning is possible, especially in children. A child may inhale a little water, but after sputtering and coughing, appear to return to normal. They can actually inhale a sufficient amount of water to slowly drain the oxygen from their body and kill them. While this could happen to anyone, children are the most susceptible and if kids show any of the following symptoms after swimming: problems breathing, exhaustion or odd behavior, you should seek immediate medical attention. 
     The Dead Sea, located between Israel and Jordan, is so named because its salinity leaves it practically devoid of life. The myth goes that since the water is so salty it is too dense for a person to drown. While it is true that it is almost impossible to become fully submerged under water and drown, if a person gets turned over on their face, it can be hard for them to right themselves. Even a few swallows of the water, dense with salt and minerals, is toxic to the body and disrupting to the electrolyte balance. Those who are rescued before dying face a tough recovery, suffering internal burns and chemical pneumonia. In the most severe cases, dialysis may be required. 
     Drowning has been used as a means of execution. It was considered a rather cultivated method of capital punishment so was often reserved for women or men of privilege. Most countries outlawed the practice during the 17th century, but it saw a resurgence during the Salem witch trials and the French Revolution. 
     In Salem the process of determining whether one was a witch could be brutal. In what was considered one of the most reliable methods, the suspect was hog tied, weighted and thrown into the water. A human would drown, whereas a witch would float. Of course, if one floated, proving they were indeed a witch, the punishment was death. It was best to hope you never got accused of being a witch! 
     During the French Revolution, so many people were killed that novel methods had to be devised to allow for mass execution. The guillotine was efficient, but could only handle one person at a time. The period between November 1873 and February 1874, known as the Reign of Terror, on orders from Jean-Baptiste Carrier, thousands of people in Nantes, France were killed on suspicion of being loyal to the crown. Members of the clergy were specifically targeted; they were stripped, loaded onto barges, and drowned in a river Carrier called “the national bathtub.” 
     Humans do not have any particular adaptations for survival in the water. We’re poor swimmers when compared to other animals. However, humans, like whales and seals, are able to stay submerged for a time; it's called the mammalian diving reflex. When a human’s face touches water, a series of involuntary physiological responses begin: the airway closes, the heart rate slows, and the capillaries in the skin and extremities constrict, sending blood toward the vital organs. This keeps organs oxygenated and insulated. Unfortunately, it also saps strength from the limbs for swimming. This reflex is most frequently seen in drowning children who actually have a better chance of recovery than adults. The colder the water, the better, as it slows the metabolism and allows the body to enter a protective state much like hibernation. Due to this reflex, the bodies of children who have been submerged for many minutes have been resuscitated with no lasting damage. 
Kangaroo defending itself
     Animals are often very clever. Raccoons aren’t particularly dangerous, but can be savage fighters if cornered. If a 'coon is attacked by, say, a domestic dog and they are near water, the 'coon will swim out a little way and if the dog follows, the raccoon will plunge the dog’s head under the water, attempting to drown it. In Australia, kangaroos will use a similar tactic to defend themselves from attacking dingoes. Otters breed in the water and the female is occasionally drowned during the process. A group of otters were observed attacking and drowning a taunting monkey at the Bronx Zoo.

Mayo Clinic-Water safety: Protect your child from drowning 
Parents Magazine-Drowning Dangers: Keeping Kids Safe Near Water

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Big Mac

     The Mackinac Bridge (pronounced MAK-in-aw), generally known as “the Big Mac”, is a suspension bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. Opened in 1957, the 26,372-foot (4.995 miles) bridge is the world's 19th-longest main span and the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. 
     The weather can get so terrifying and the lanes are so narrow that the bridge authority offers to help drive overwhelmed motorists across. Despite its scary reputation, the Mackinac Bridge is actually one of the safest bridges in the country and offers incredible views. The Big Mac ranks as one of the scariest bridges in the U.S. Others are: 

Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. It's just 65 feet above the Gulf of Mexico. The bridge might spark concern not just to drivers who fear bridges, but also those who have a fear of water. 
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland reaches nearly 200 feet high and measures 4.3-miles long from end to end. Some motorists find driving across the bridge out of the question and so there's a service offering to drive people across the bridge. 
Deception Pass Bridge,Washington State's two-lane, 1,486-foot-long bridge, was built in 1932 and is 180 feet high above water. When the fog and mist mix on the driver’s windshield it creates tough driving conditions and poor visibility. It's hair-raising size and weather can be a danger for pedestrians as well. The pedestrian lane of the bridge is very narrow and as cars drive by and water rushes from below, pedestrians can find it frightening. 
Cape William Moore Bridge, located outside Anchorage, Alaska looks ordinary, but it's over an active earthquake fault. Designers says is designed to withstand quakes though.
Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California stretches three miles long and is a mile wide. It was declared as one of the “Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It has become has become synonymous with suicide due to the number of people who have plunged to their deaths from the bridge. It's scary for drivers because they feel the wind whipping across the bridge. It was built to withstand 100 mile-per-hour winds and even earthquakes. 
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana is the longest bridge over water in the world. The four-lane bridge stretches for 25 miles across Lake Pontchartrain and is just 25 feet above water. 
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City is the longest suspension bridge in the world. The double-decker bridge spans just over two-and-a-half miles and rests 228 feet above water. It opened in 1964 and connects Brooklyn to Staten Island. Due to the intimidating size of the bridge, it is paralyzing to some drivers who want to go across. 
Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is the country’s highest suspension bridge. It rests 90 stories between two tall cliffs over the Arkansas River. It features a 100-foot-tall pendulum swing known as the Royal Rush Skycoaster and even a zip line. The bridge is constantly under threat from wildfire. In June 2013, the bridge had to be evacuated after it was damaged by flames. It reopened in January 2014. 
Gold Brooke Bridge, a quaint Vermont bridge, is also known as Emily’s Bridge and is said to be haunted. According to legend, a girl named Emily killed herself on the bridge in the 1920s. Visitors to the spot still claim they hear footsteps and see apparitions. 

     As for the Big Mac, which is part of Interstate 75 and connects the city of St. Ignace on the north end with the village of Mackinaw City on the south, an 1884 newspaper article pointed out that an experiment to provide all-year service across the Straits by boat had failed, and a bridge or tunnel would be required. The big question was the enormous cost. 
     During the ensuing years there were a few far fetched ideas about the connection of Michigan’s two peninsulas. In 1920 the state highway commissioner suggested a floating tunnel. One engineer came suggested a series of bridges and causeways. In 1923 the Legislature ordered the State Highway Department to establish a ferry service at the Straits. Within five years traffic on this facility became so heavy that the Governor ordered a study of bridge feasibility. The report was favorable and its cost was estimated at 30 million dollars. Some efforts were made to get the project underway were taken but it was eventually dropped. 
     Early in 1934 the question of a bridge was revived. Although limited funds didn't allow for a full preliminary study, the conclusion was that it was feasible to construct a bridge directly across the Straits at an estimated cost of not more than $32.4 million. Between 1934 and 1936 two attempts to obtain loans and grants from the Federal government were refused despite endorsement by the Army Corps of Engineers and President Roosevelt favoring the bridge. 
     From 1936 to 1940 the route was selected, borings were made, traffic, geologic and ice and water current studies were completed. A causeway jutting 4,200 feet into the Straits from St. Ignace south was constructed. Preliminary plans for a double suspension span were drawn and the possibility of a bridge became very real. World War Two intervened and in 1947, the State Legislature abolished the Bridge Authority. 
     By 1950 new legislation was enacted, but it limited the newly created Authority to only determining the feasibility of constructing a bridge. In January of 1951 the Authority submitted a favorable preliminary report, stating that a bridge could be built for $86 million. This time there was a shortage of materials because of the Korean War and legislation to finance and build the bridge was delayed until early in 1952. Bonds to finance constructions were offered in March of 1953. There weren't enough takers though because of a weak economy. To help take up the slack, the Legislature passed an act whereby the operating and maintenance cost of the structure would be paid for out of gasoline and license plate taxes and by the end of 1953 the market recovered and bonds were bought by investors all over the country. 
     Today's bridge was designed by engineer David B. Steinman and was opened to traffic on November 1, 1957 according to schedule, despite the many hazards of marine construction over the turbulent Straits of Mackinac. 
     The last of the Mackinac Bridge bonds were retired July 1, 1986. Fare revenues are now used to operate and maintain the Bridge and repay the State of Michigan for monies advanced to the Authority since the facility opened to traffic in 1957. 

Fun Facts: 
# Fifth longest suspension in the world, and longest in the Western Hemisphere. 
# The total length of the bridge is 26,372 feet. 
# The main suspended span between the two towers is 3,800 feet long. 
# 31 expansion joints allow the center of the bridge deck to move as much as 35 feet to accommodate high winds and temperature changes. Normal movement is much less and unnoticeable to drivers. 
# Total Weight of Bridge is 1,024,500 tons. 
# The height of the main towers is 552 feet. 
# The bridge took 48 months to complete with over 3,500 workers and $99.8 million. 
# Total number of steel bolts used in the bridge: 1,016,600 
# Total number of engineers employed: 350 
# The main bridge cables are made from 42,000 miles of wire.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Albert Woolson

     Albert Henry Woolson (February 11, 1850 – August 2, 1956) was the last surviving member of the Union Army who served in the American Civil War. He was also the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. 
     On December 19, 1959, Walter Washington Williams, reputed near the time of his death to be the last surviving veteran of the Confederate States Army, died in Houston, Texas. Williams's status as the last Confederate veteran already had been debunked by a September 3, 1959. 
     When Williams's status was disproved, attention turned to the alleged second longest surviving Confederate veteran, John B. Salling of Slant in Scott County, Virginia. Records showed that when he applied for a pension in 1933, officials could not find a war record for him in the records of the Department of Confederate Military Records Salling received a pension anyway after providing a notarized statement attesting to his service. 
     Every one of the last dozen recognized Confederates was bogus. When researchers were able to prove they were only small children during the Civil War. The motive for claims of Confederate Army service almost always was to obtain a pension during the hard times of the Great Depression. 
     Woolson was born in Antwerp, New York; he claimed to be born on February 11, 1847, but his entry in the 1850 United States Census lists him as born in 1850 and entries in the later census records and in the 1905 Minnesota State Census support the conclusion. 
     His father, Willard Woolson, enlisted in the Union Army and was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and was transported to an Army hospital in Windom, Minnesota, where he eventually died of his wounds. Albert and his mother moved to Windom to be with Willard and enlisted as a drummer boy in Company C, 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment on October 10, 1864 as a drummer boy. He served as head drummer boy and later became drum major. 
     The regiment was assigned to the garrison of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it was in charge of the heavy guns and forts because it was feared General John Hood might try and retake the city. The regiment, which saw no combat action, remained there until the close of the war. The 1st Minnesota "Heavies" were mustered out of service on September 27, 1865. Woolson was discharged on September 7, 1865. 
     Many soldiers who fought in the Civil War were still in their teens even though the Union Army rule was that soldiers had to be 18; many younger boys answered “I’m over 18, sir,” when the recruiter asked and that was sufficient. 
     Many of the youngest boys served as drummers. They did not fight, but they did a very important job. In the noise and confusion of battle, it was often impossible to hear the officers’ orders, so each order was given a series of drumbeats to represent it. As the drummer beat other drummers in hearing distance would repeat the orders. Drummer boys also served as stretcher bearers, walking around the battlefield looking for the wounded and brought them to medical care. The Civil War's most famous drummer boy was John Klem.
     For 16 years in St. Peter, Minn., he was a wood turner in a furniture factory. He also played cello and guitar with a 20-member band and was general manager and treasurer of a minstrel group. He moved to Duluth in 1905 from Michigan where he had worked in mills and logging camps. In Duluth, he worked at various jobs. He was a stationary engineer and also did pattern work. He retired at 85 to take life easy and after the death of his second wife in 1949, he made his home with his daughter and son-in-law. 
     As the years went by, and he looked forward to interviews with newspaper, radio and television reporters and on his birthday each year he was deluged with greetings from throughout the nation and foreign countries. He tried to answer all personally. On his 106th birthday he received more than 8,000 cards. 
     Even after his 100th birthday, Woolson took walks and shoveled snow from the walk of his home. And one of his proudest moments came in 1952 when he was elected to Duluth’s Hall of Fame.  Woolson claimed he remembered seeing Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., in 1859 on a trip there with his father. He also said he cast a vote for Lincoln in 1864 at age 17, under special rules that allowed Union soldiers to vote even if underage. 
     Woolson was a celebrity during his final years. Thousands mourned his passing and his funeral in the Duluth, Minnesota Armory was attended by high government and military officials and thousands lined the route of the four-mile procession to the cemetery. 
     The death of Woolson also meant the end of the Grand Army of the Republic. A few hours after learning of Woolson’s death, President Eisenhower said:  “By the death of Albert Woolson, the American people have lost the last personal link with the union army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.” 
      Woolson's favorite president was Ulysses S. Grant and he was an expert on Grant’s life and times. In 1956 a monument of Woolson was erected in Gettysburg as a memorial to the Grand Army of the Republic.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Strange Case of Mercy Brown

     An incident involving Mercy Brown occurred in 1892 and is one of the best documented cases of the exhumation of a corpse in order to perform rituals to banish an undead manifestation. 
     Several cases of consumption (tuberculosis) occurred in the family of George and Mary Brown in Exeter, Rhode Island. Tuberculosis was called "consumption" at the time and was a devastating and much-feared disease. 
     In the case of the Brown family, friends and neighbors believed that this was due to the influence of the undead. The mother Mary was the first to die of the disease, followed in 1883 by their eldest daughter Mary Olive. In 1891, their daughter Mercy and son Edwin also contracted the disease. 
     Friends and neighbors of the family believed that one of the dead family members was a vampire and had caused Edwin's illness. This was in accordance with contemporary folklore linking multiple deaths in one family to undead activity. Consumption was a poorly understood condition at the time and the subject of much superstition. 
     George Brown was persuaded to give permission to exhume several bodies of his family members. Villagers, the local doctor, and a newspaper reporter exhumed the bodies on March 17, 1892. The bodies of both Mary and Mary Olive had undergone significant decomposition over the years, but the more recently deceased Mercy was still relatively unchanged.
     Opening Mercy’s coffin, the onlookers were shocked to see that Mercy’s body was in pristine condition. And some sources say her body was not in the position it had been buried and that her fingernails and hair had grown significantly. There was no decay. Upon further examination, liquid blood was found in her heart and other areas of her body. It was quickly concluded that Mercy was a vampire and that she was the culprit of Edwin’s lingering disease. 
     At this point many of the villagers had heard of about Mercy being a vampire. They claimed to have seen Mercy walking through the graveyard and neighboring fields at night. Why they hadn’t mentioned this earlier is unknown. 
     Her lack of decomposition was more likely due to her body being stored in freezer-like conditions in an above-ground crypt during the 2 months following her death.  This wouldn’t explain the movement of the body or the hair and nail growth, but these accounts are likely folklore added to the story later. 
     As superstition dictated, Mercy's heart was cut out, burned, and the remnants mixed with water and given to the sick Edwin to drink. It was thought that giving the victim of consumption ashes of the "vampire's" heart would cure them. In Edwin's case, it didn't work...he died two months later. What remained of Mercy's body was buried in the cemetery of the Baptist Church in Exeter after being desecrated. 
Baptist Church in Exeter

     The incident was the inspiration for Caitlin R. Kiernan's short story "So Runs the World Away", which makes explicit reference to the affair. It has also been suggested by scholars that Bram Stoker, the author of the novel Dracula, knew about the Mercy Brown case through newspaper articles and based the novel's character Lucy Westenra upon her. The Mercy Brown incident has also been the basis of several other books and films. 

For further reading:
Smithsonian article The Great New England Vampire Panic 
History of Vampires in New England 
Tuberculosis and the Vampire Myth