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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Firing Up A Steam Locomotive

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Death of Willie Francis – Was Justice Served?

     Willie Francis (January 12, 1929 – May 9, 1947) was a black juvenile offender sentenced to death at age 16 by the state of Louisiana in 1945 for the murder of his employer, Andrew Thomas, a Cajun pharmacy owner in St. Martinville. 
     In 1944, Thomas, a pharmacist in St. Martinville, Louisiana, was shot and killed and his murder remained unsolved for nine months until August 1945, when Willie Francis was detained in Texas due to his proximity to an unrelated crime. Police claimed that he was carrying Thomas' wallet in his pocket, though no evidence of this claim was submitted during the trial. 
     Francis initially named several others in connection with the murder, but the police dismissed these claims. A short time later, while under interrogation, Francis who did not have a lawyer present, confessed to Thomas' murder, writing, "It was a secret about me and him." It's not known what Thomas meant but Gilbert King, in his book, The Execution of Willie Francis, alludes to rumors in St. Martinville that Francis was being sexually abused by his employer. 
     Francis later directed the police to where he had disposed of the holster used to carry the murder weapon. The gun used to kill Thomas was found near the crime scene. It belonged to a deputy sheriff in St. Martinville who had once threatened to kill Thomas. The gun, and the bullets recovered from the crime scene and Thomas' body, disappeared from police evidence just before the trial.
     At trial time even though he had written two separate confessions, Francis pleaded not guilty. During his trial, the court-appointed defense attorneys offered no objections, called no witnesses, put up no defense and even though he had no lawyer present when he wrote his confessions, their validity was never questioned. 
     Two days after the trial began, Francis was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by electric chair by twelve white jurors and the judge despite Francis having been underage at 15 at the time of the crime. Blacks could not serve on the jury because only voters could serve and blacks had been disenfranchised at the turn of the century by Louisiana's state constitution. 
     The electric chair is rarely used in the United States, but at the time it was invented, it was considered cutting edge and the best method available to kill someone who had been sentenced to death. However, if you get executed in Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Virginia you will get a choice between the electric chair or lethal injection. 
     Death in the electric chair is not pleasant. The actual way in which the electric chair kills someone is not known, but the most likely causes are cardiac arrest and paralysis of the part of the brain that controls respiration. The electric shock interrupts the heart's rhythm so that it just stops beating. Most unintentional deaths by electrocution are attributed to heart arrhythmia. 
     The human heart can be stopped with only 7 seven milliamps of direct electricity for a duration of three seconds. That's the amount of electricity conducted by a AAA battery. The reason why people don't get electrocuted from electric shock is that our skin resists electricity, so a much stronger current is needed to break through. The electric chair delivers six amps of electricity. 
     First off, multiple executions by the electric chair have been botched, meaning the prisoner did not die after the first electric shock. 
     In many of these cases, the prisoner actually caught on fire and still had a heartbeat. Human error was blamed. Human flesh will resist the electrical current passing through the victim and this creates heat, which can cause skin to be severely burned. Some of flesh can completely burn off, which means it has to be scraped off the chair when the prisoner is removed. Witnesses have reported hearing a sound like bacon frying and occasionally people to catch fire.
     It's also messy. Victims involuntarily urinate, defecate and vomit blood. By the way, involuntary bowel release can occur if a person gets a strong enough shock from, say, sticking a knife into an electrical socket. 

     Electrocution can cause the body to swell so much that the eyeballs pop out of the head and sometimes the heat actually causes them to melt. That's why prisoners have their eyes taped shut before they are executed. The skin is so hot that it can blister if touched and the internal organs become so hot that a coroner must wait until the body cools down before they can perform an autopsy. 
     Electricity from an external source affects the muscles so electrocution causes involuntary convulsions, sometimes to the point that dislocations or fractures happen. That's why prisoners are strapped down before being electrocuted. 
     All that's what Willie Francis was about to experience on May 3, 1946 in the portable electric chair, known as "Gruesome Gertie", which was set up by an intoxicated prison guard and inmate from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, Louisiana. The problem was they didn't set it up properly and when Francis was strapped in and the switch thrown, witnesses heard him screaming from behind the leather hood, "Take it off! Take it off! Let me breathe!" 
     Francis wouldn't die and he was finally released from the electric chair causing the sheriff, E.L. Resweber, to later say, "This boy really got a shock when they turned that machine on." Sounds like a nice guy. 
     After the botched execution, a young lawyer named Bertrand DeBlanc decided to take Francis' case.  He felt it was unjust, and cruel and unusual punishment, as prohibited in the Constitution, to subject him again to the execution process. DeBlanc had been best friends with the murder victim and his decision was greeted with dismay by whites. 
     DeBlanc took Francis' case to the Supreme Court citing various violations of his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. These included violations of equal protection, double jeopardy, and cruel and unusual punishment. 
     The US Supreme Court rejected the appeal. For the record, the Supreme Court was made up of Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson and the Associate Justices were: Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Frank Murphy, Robert H. Jackson, Wiley B. Rutledge and Harold H. Burton. 
     Willie Francis was returned to the electric chair for a second time on May 9, 1947. He told reporter Elliott Chaze a couple of days before the execution that he was going to meet the Lord with his "Sunday pants and Sunday heart." He was pronounced dead in the chair at 12:10 pm. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Whatever Happened to Quantum Stealth?

     Quantum Stealth was new material which is supposed to be an “Invisibility cloak” which was reported to bend light waves around a target which allowed complete invisibility. It is possible to have "invisibility" at least for specific wavelengths, but a "cloak" that applies to a wide range like the full visible spectrum?! 
     In 2012 a Canadian company called Hyperstealth announced that it had developed Quantum Stealth, a material that renders the target “completely invisible by bending light waves around the target.”  It worked like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. 
     Hyperstealth, in business since 2002, is in the business of designing camouflage patterns for military uniforms, vehicles, and installations. In 2010, at the International Camouflage Symposium, Hyperstealth’s CEO Guy Cramer demonstrated SmartCamo, a material that could reportedly adjust its camouflage markings to match its surroundings. “Reportedly” because Cramer apparently published a video demonstration of SmartCamo, but then US military intervened and asked him to take it down. 
     For security reasons, the company said very little about Quantum Stealth and all the pictures were mock-ups, because Cramer said, “for security issues we can not show the actual technology.” According to Cramer both the US and Canadian military had seen Quantum Stealth in action, and confirmed that the material obscured the target from infrared (thermal) imaging. 
     In 2017, amateur footage of a "quantum invisibility cloak" caused widespread excitement on Chinese social media. The video showed a man standing in the middle of a bush being enveloped by a transparent sheet. He disappeared as the cloth blended into the background entirely. 
     It fooled China's deputy head of Criminal Investigation Department at the Ministry of Public Security, Chen Shiqu, who shared the footage and claimed it could be useful in military matters. "This is a quantum technology-made cloth that is made of transparent material," he wrote. "It can reflect the light wave around the person who wears it, so it can make the person disappear." 
     If Quantum Stealth really exists, though, you’d assume that the US military would be wearing it, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence that this is the case. The whole thing reminds me of the Philadelphia Experiment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Saluting Captain Frederick C. Branch, USMC

     Today the United States Marine Corps is made up of troops of all races working and fighting alongside each other, but it wasn't always so. 
     In 1776 and 1777, a dozen Black Marines served in the American Revolutionary War, but from 1798 to 1942, the USMC followed a racially discriminatory policy of denying African Americans the opportunity to serve as Marines. 
     The USMC opened its doors to blacks in June 1942, with the acceptance of African Americans as recruits in segregated all-black units. Other races were accepted somewhat more easily, joining white Marine units. Spurred by executive orders in 1941 and 1948, the integration of non-white USMC personnel proceeded in stages from segregated battalions in 1942, to unified training in 1949, and finally full integration in 1960. 
     Blacks fought alongside whites in the Continental Army against Great Britain and in every war up to the War of 1812. The first black American to fight in a Marine role was John Martin, also known as Keto, the slave of a Delaware man, recruited in April 1776 without his owner's permission. 
     Martin was recruited by Captain Miles Pennington of the Continental brig USS Reprisal. Martin served with the Marine platoon on the Reprisal for a year and a half, involved in hard ship-to-ship fighting, but was lost with the rest of his unit when the brig sank in October 1777. At least 12 other black men served with various Marine units in 1776–1777; more may have been in service but not identified as blacks in the records. 
     However, in 1798 when the Marine Corps was officially re-instituted, Secretary of War James McHenry specified that no Negro, Mulatto or Indian was to be enlisted. McHenry (November 16, 1753 – May 3, 1816) was an Scotch-Irish American military surgeon and statesman and a signer of the Constitution from Maryland. He was also a slave owner.
     Fort McHenry, best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from an attack by the British navy from the Chesapeake Bay is 1814 was named after him. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland, and the third United States Secretary of War (1796–1800), under George Washington and John Adams. 
     The then Marine Commandant, William Ward Burrows, instructed his recruiters that they could make use of Blacks and Mulattoes, but not enlist them. This policy was in line with long-standing British naval practice which set a higher standard of unit cohesion for Marines so that they would remain loyal, maintain shipboard discipline and help put down mutinies. 
     In the Civil War, some 180,000 African Americans joined the Union Army and mostly served in support roles as teamsters, laborers, construction workers and cooks. A few fought under white officers in segregated units. 
     In later conflicts, the United States Army used black soldiers in the Spanish–American War and in World War I. However, when the United States Army Air Service was formed, only whites were allowed. The Navy used black sailors as cooks, stewards, construction workers and unskilled labor, but did not train them to fight. 
     The Marine Corps, being a combat arm of the Navy, did not recruit any black Marines. Instead, the USMC was serviced by US Navy supply personnel including black laborers. Unlike the US Army which had separate regiments that a soldier could remain in for his entire military career, Marines were individually transferred to various ship's detachments and naval bases. 
     After World War I, the number of blacks in both the Navy and the Army was reduced to about 1.5 percent of the total number of active servicemen. President Franklin D. Roosevelt prohibited racial discrimination in the military mostly because of the growing political power of African Americans in Washington, DC. Civil rights groups were calling for greater equality between the races. 
     After wars broke out in the late 1930s in Africa, China and Europe, black community leaders determined to use the black workforce's loyalty as leverage to gain greater racial equality at home. In June 1940, the NAACP's magazine published a declaration that the fighting around the world was certainly bad, "but the hysterical cries of the preachers of democracy for Europe leave us cold. We want democracy in Alabama, Arkansas, in Mississippi and Michigan, in the District of Columbia, in the Senate of the United States."
     During the 1940 presidential election, both parties courted the black vote and Roosevelt was re-elected partly because substantial numbers of black voters voted for him. In April 1941 the Navy convened a board to discuss expansion of the Marine Corps and Major General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the Marines, who lived in Delaware and Washington, DC in his early years and attended private schools, said that African Americans had no right to serve as Marines. He foolishly declared, "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites."
     Holcomb (August 5, 1879 – May 24, 1965) was the Commandant of the Marine Corps from 1936 until 1943 and was the first Marine to achieve the rank of General. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Holcomb served as Minister to South Africa from 1944 to 1948. Today, at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the main drive entering the base is known as Holcomb Boulevard. 
    In 1941, civil rights activists pressured Roosevelt to order fair employment for blacks in the federal government and threatened to march on Washington, DC. Roosevelt, anxious to avoid a public relations disaster, issued an Executive Order that eliminated racial discrimination from federal departments, agencies, the military, and from private defense contractors. The march was canceled. 
     As directed by Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was forced to accept black recruits and Holcomb proposed a separate battalion of African Americans. They were to be a seacoast defense battalion armed with anti-aircraft and anti-shipping artillery. The battalion would contain a rifle company, special weapons platoons, and a light tank platoon. 
     On June 1, 1942, the initial group of black Marine recruits were admitted, but they were not immediately trained because separate, segregated facilities had not been completed. Black volunteers began their basic training in August at Montford Point in North Carolina, a satellite base to Marine Barracks, New River, later called Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. 
PFC Perry
     The first black recruit to arrive was Howard P. Perry, who died at the age of 42 in 1968.  He was followed later the same day by 12 others; they were organized into the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, an artillery unit intended to hold in case the US was invaded. 
     By October only about half of the planned 1,200 recruits had passed entrance examination. Holcomb required more than half of the recruits to demonstrate proficiency in typing, truck driving and other specialist skills necessary to run the battalion, but the requirements were dropped because of the difficulty in recruiting those with the necessary skills. Instead recruits were taught specialist skills by white Marine instructors or they were sent to nearby Army schools. 
     The black recruits were not allowed in Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a white Marine, and their service papers were stamped "Colored". Even though the U.S. was fully engaged in war, the recruits were assigned to inactive duty in the Marine Corps Reserve. All the enlisted servicemen were black with white officers and drill instructors. The commander of the black Marines at Montford Point was Samuel A. Woods, Jr. (who was white) who worked to enforce segregation, protecting his troops from being detained by local authorities while they were visiting town. 
     At the time the Marines followed the Army's thinking which believed that officers born in the South somehow had the unique ability to command black troops and Woods fit the pattern since he was from South Carolina. The black Marines referred to him (probably derisively) as "The Great White Father,"  but his calmness and fairness earned him their respect.  Under his leadership racial harassment of black Marines became less frequent, mostly because Woods insisted his Marines exhibit pride and self-confidence and look sharp.
Training at Montfod Point

     By early 1943, the white drill instructors were leaving for combat assignments and were replaced by black sergeants and corporals. Eventually the Marines formed the 52nd Defense Battalion and both the 51st and 52nd shipped out to fight in the Pacific War, but were only used as defensive units holding land far behind the front lines. About 8,000 of them worked as stevedores and ammunition handlers served under enemy fire during offensive operations in the Pacific. Following the June 1944 Battle of Saipan, USMC General Alexander Vandegrift said of the all-black 3d Marine Ammunition Company: The Negro Marines are no longer on trial. They are Marines, period. 
     After World War II, the Marines reduced in size and the number of African-American Marines dropped to 2,000 men, about one-tenth of wartime levels. In 1947, African-Americans in the Marines were forced to choose between returning to civilian life or becoming a stewards (a food service position). 
     On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an Executive Order establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the U.S. military regardless of race. By 1949 both the Army and the Marine Corps leadership were still defending their practices of segregation. The Marine Corps had only one black officer among 8,200 white ones. The Navy and the newly formed Air Force announced their intentions to follow the President's order. 
     President Truman won out and by 1949, all-black Marine units still existed, but the Marines had black and white recruits beginning to train together. The few black USMC officers were assigned exclusively to black units and were not asked to lead white Marines into combat. 
     In 1952 after two years of the Korean War, the Marines cautiously integrated blacks into combat units. In the late 1950s, black Marines were not rewarded with preferred or high-visibility assignments, such as embassy guard duty and guard duty in the nation's capital. 
     It wasn't until 1960 that full integration had been completed by the USMC. It has been said that racial tensions flared up through the next decade, a period of civil rights activism in society. I was not aware of any such problems during my time with the Marines in the mid-1960s. I served under black officers and NCOs and they were all respected as much as their white counterparts. In fact, I remember one incident where several white Marines walked out of an eating establishment in segregated North Carolina because the white owner had refused service to a black Marine. 
     The first African-American officer in the United States Marine Corps was Frederick C. Branch. He was born in Hamlet, North Carolina in 1922, the son of an African Methodist Episcopal Zion minister. After graduating high school in New York, Branch enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC before transferring to Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
Captain Branch

     While enrolled at Temple, Branch received his draft notice from the US Army in 1943 and reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training. After reporting to Fort Bragg for induction into the Army, Brach was chosen to become a Marine and was sent to the nearby Camp Montford Point for Recruit Training, becoming one of the more than 20,000 Montford Point (African-American) Marines. 
     After Recruit Training, Brach applied for Officer Candidate School, but was denied due to his race and was sent to serve with a supply unit supporting operations against the Japanese in the Pacific instead. While serving in the Pacific, Branch's outstanding performance earned him a recommendation for OCS from his commanding officer and he was sent to Purdue University in West Lafaeyette, Indiana, to receive his officer's training; he was he only African-American candidate in a class of 250. 
     At Purdue, Branch made the dean's list and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on November 10, 1945. Since World War 2 had already concluded, he went into the Marine Corps Reserve. During the Korean War, Branch was re-activated, commanding an antiaircraft training platoon at Camp Pendleton, California. He was discharged from active duty in 1952 and returned to the Reserve. 
     Three years later, in 1955, having reached the rank of Captain, Branch retired from the Corps due to ongoing discrimination and promises for advanced training were not kept.
     Branch had received his bachelor's degree in physics from Temple University in 1947, so after retiring from the Marine Corps, he taught at Dobbins High School in Philadelphia for more than thirty years before retiring in 1988. 
     In 1999, Branch's wife of 55 years passed away and six years later, in 2005, Captain Frederick C. Branch passed away after a short illness and was buried at at Quantico National Cemetery in Quantico, Virginia. He was 82 years old. 
     Although at the time Branch was shabbily treated by the Marine Corps his bravery and determination cannot be denied. He was a pioneer and others followed. Today the Marines offer the Frederick C. Branch Scholarship that offers recipients four year, three year and two year scholarships for students attending or planning to attend one of 17 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It also pays full tuition and supplementary fees ans pays a monthly stipend. 
     Branch was a reserve officer so the honor of becoming the first first African-American officer in the regular Marine Corps went to John E. Rudder in 1947. In 1968, PFC James Anderson Jr. became the first African-American Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2002, 1st Lt. Vernice Armour became the first African-American female combat pilot in any branch of the American armed forces. And three of the last four Sergeant Majors of the Marine Corps have all been of African descent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Rabbit in the Pea Patch

Rabbit in the Pea Patch is a standard tune in a square dance fiddler's repertoire. It is an African-American folk tale and a different version of the tale is found in the 1883 book Uncle Remus featuring Brer Rabbit.

Friday, October 19, 2018

International Date Line

     The International Date Line is an imaginary line on Earth's surface defining the boundary between one day and the next. The line is one of convenience because a day has to start and end somewhere. 
     The 180 degree meridian was selected because it mostly runs through the sparsely populated Central Pacific Ocean. It was decided at the International Meridian Conference in 1884 in Washington, D.C. where 26 countries attended. 
     The International Date Line is located halfway around the world from the prime meridian about 180 degrees east (or west) of Greenwich, London, UK, the reference point of time zones. 
     It was first noticed when Ferdinand Magellan and his crew returned from their 16th-century westward circumnavigation of the globe that discovered that one day had somehow been lost. 
      It runs from the North Pole to the South Pole and marks the divide between the Western and Eastern Hemisphere. It is not straight but zigzags to avoid political and country borders and to not cut some countries in half. 

When you cross the International Date Line:
* from west to east - subtract a day 
* from east to west - add a day. 

   Depending on which time zone the country follows, the time difference on either side of the line is not always 24 hours. It is actually possible to have three dates on the planet at one time. Every day between 10:00 and 11:59 UTC, three different dates on the calendar are in use at the same time on Earth. For example: 

At 10:30 UTC on May 2, it is... 
11.30 pm on May 1 in American Samoa 
6:30 am on May 2 in New York 
0:30 am on May 3 in Kiritimati 

     The dateline is not defined by international law and countries are free to choose the date and time zone that they want to observe. 
     The international boundaries of Russia and the United States has the IDL jutting far to the west to keep the Aleutian Islands together as well as keeping all of Russian territory on the western side of the line. It would be weird to have Russia in two different dates. 
     Countries near the international date line have moved it over the years to take into account their needs or concerns. One of the biggest zigs occurs around Kiribati, an island nation of 32 atolls that straddles the equator. 
     When the Republic of Kiribati gained independence from being a British colony in 1979 some of the islands were on one side of the dateline and the rest were on the other. They corrected the anomaly in the eastern half of Kiribati by skipping January 1, 1995 and ever since Kiribati has been the first country to enter the New Year. 
     It used to be that Somoa and American Somoa were on different sides of the date line, even though they were relatively close together. Then on December, 2011 at midnight, the date line was moved west to group Somoa with its neighbor American Somoa. In the process, the date suddenly became December 31, 2011. They did this to facilitate trade with Australia and New Zealand, and Tokelau followed Samoa for the same reasons. 
    Three islands that are part of Fiji — Vanua Levu, Rambi and Taveuni — are the only islands actually crossed by the 180-degree line and the line also crosses Wrangel Island, part of the far northeast of Russia and Antarctica. 
      Samoa officially the Independent State of Samoa and, until July 4, 1997, known as Western Samoa, is a country consisting of two main islands Savaii and Upolu with four smaller islands surrounding the landmasses. The capital city is Apia. 
     American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States and consists of five main islands and two coral atolls. The largest and most populous island is Tutuila, with the Manu Ľa Islands, Rose Atoll, and Swains Island also included in the territory. All islands except for Swains Island are part of the Samoan Islands. They are all "nationals" but not citizens of the United States at birth. Most American Samoans are bilingual and can speak English and Samoan fluently. Samoan is the same language spoken in neighboring independent Samoa. 
     Nationals have statutory rights to reside in the United States (the 50 states and Puerto Rico), and may apply for citizenship by natualization after three months of residency
     While American citizens and nationals can freely move to American Samoa, the American Samoa government controls the migration of aliens to the islands.  Special application forms exist for migration to American Samoa based on family-based or employment-based sponsorship.
     Unlike other U.S. territories (Guam, Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands), American Samoa is not considered a U.S. State for the purposes of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. This means that lawful permanent residents of the United States may be considered to have abandoned permanent residence if they have moved to live in American Samoa.  American Samoa is noted for having the highest rate of military enlistment of any U.S. state or territory.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Prime Meridian

     The Prime Meridian is the 0-degree line of longitude that divides the Earth into the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. Since the late 19th century, the Prime Meridian at Greenwich has served as the reference line for Greenwich Mean Time. Prior to that ols maps put it at various locations. Unlike an equator, which is determined by the axis of rotation, it was determined arbitrarily. 
     Before this, almost every town in the world kept its own local time and there were no national or international conventions which set how time should be measured, or when the day would begin and end, or what length an hour might be. With the expansion of the railway and communications networks during the 1850s and 1860s, the worldwide need for an international time standard became imperative so Greenwich was chosen as the center for world time. 
     In the early 18th century when efforts were being made to determine longitude at sea, it lead to the development of the marine chronometer by John Harrison. But it was the development of accurate star charts, principally by the first British Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed between 1680 and 1719 that enabled navigators to use the lunar method of determining longitude more accurately using the octant developed by Thomas Godfrey and John Hadley. Between 1765 and 1811, 49 issues of the Nautical Almanac were published based on the meridian of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. 
     In 1884, at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., 22 countries voted to adopt the Greenwich meridian as the Prime Meridian of the world. The French dissented and abstained from voting and they continued to use the Paris meridian until 1911. 
     There were two main reasons for the choice of Greenwich. The USA had already chosen Greenwich as the basis for the country's national time zone system and secondly in the late 19th century, 72 percent of the world's commerce depended on sea-charts which used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian. Thus, naming Greenwich would be advantageous to the largest number of people. 
     Satellites changed things. Between 1984 and 1988 a new set of coordinate systems were adopted based on satellite data and other measurements and required a prime meridian that defined a plane passing through the center of the Earth. The true prime meridian became the IERS Reference Meridian, which is also known as the International Reference Meridian or IRM. The IRM passes 336.28609 feet to the east of the historic Prime Meridian. However, the plane used to measure Greenwich Mean Time has remained essentially unchanged so watches did not need to be reset. 
     Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is within about 1 second of mean solar time at 0° longitude, and is not adjusted for daylight saving time. In some countries where English is spoken, the term Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is often used as a synonym for UTC. 
     The first Coordinated Universal Time was informally adopted on January 1, 1960 and was first officially adopted in 1963, but the official abbreviation of UTC and the official English name of Coordinated Universal Time were not adopted until 1967. The time is occasionally tweaked by scientist because the Earth's rotational speed is very slowly decreasing and this increases the length of the mean solar day. 
     Nearly all UTC days contain exactly 86,400 seconds with exactly 60 seconds in each minute. However, because the mean solar day is slightly longer than 86,400 seconds, occasionally the last minute of a UTC day is adjusted to have 61 seconds. The extra second is called a leap second. It accounts for the grand total of the extra length (about 2 milliseconds each) of all the mean solar days since the previous leap second.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


    Uncertainty is a situation which involves imperfect or unknown information. It applies to predictions of future events, to physical measurements that are already made or to the unknown. 
     Uncertainty arises in partially observable and/or stochastic environments, as well as due to ignorance, indolence, or both. It arises in any number of fields, including insurance, philosophy, physics, statistics, economics, finance, psychology, sociology, engineering, metrology, meteorology, ecology and information science. 
     The Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge tries to make sense of chance, risk, luck, uncertainty and probability. The site states, “Mathematics won't tell us what to do, but we think that understanding the numbers can help us deal with our own uncertainty and allow us to look critically at stories in the media.” 
     The aim is to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining! 

Welcome to Understanding Uncertainty

Monday, October 15, 2018

Demanding A Pound Of Flesh

     I don't watch professional football for a couple of reasons. First, I don't cotton to what I perceive to be disrespect to the flag and the President of the United States. Players are entitled to their opinions of course and they can work to make whatever social changes they think need to be made, but showing blatant disrespect is, in my opinion, wrong. They are, also in my opinion, nothing more than highly paid entertainers and their opinions are theirs and nothing more. 
     Besides a lot of them are, plain and simple, thugs. Case in point, in December of 2014, Oklahoma State dismissed junior wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the team after he was arrested and accused of punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend. 
     The school issued a statement to announce that Hill was no longer on the team, stating that the university does not tolerate domestic abuse or violence. The statement went on to say that based on the evidence and the serious allegations that were made, Head Football Coach Mike Gundy had not only dismissed Hill from the football team, but he was also kicked off the track team. 
     The allegations were investigated by the Stillwater (Oklahoma) Police and by the OSU Office of Student Conduct. According to a report from the Stillwater PD, a woman said she and Hill had an argument that escalated into physical violence. 
     The woman said she was eight weeks pregnant with Hill's child and was concerned about the fetus because she was in pain after he punched her in the stomach. She said she also was punched in the face, had a busted lip and was choked by Hill. 
     At the time Hill, a 20-year-old junior from Pearson, Georgia, was arrested and allegedly told officers he was being arrested "for being black and she was white." Hill spent the night in jail and was charged with domestic assault and battery by strangulation. He did not enter a plea and his bond was set at $15,000. 
     The woman claimed Hill had a volatile temper and that he thought it was OK to punch and shake her. She also claimed he had been physical with her before, but it had been mostly manhandling and had never been that bad. Why she continued to keep his company is hard to say, but that's often what battered women do. 
     The court gave Hill a break. He entered a guilty plea in August 2015, but it was dismissed after he completed his probation requirements and the court also ordered the case expunged. He had been sentenced to three years probation and ordered to complete an anger management course and batterer’s intervention program. 
     In the fall of 2015, he enrolled at West Alabama University, where he completed his degree. In 2016, Hill was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and it caused some controversy, but the Chiefs rightly defended their decision, saying they believed Hill had learned his lesson. Everyone deserves a second chance.
     Apparently Hill has kept his nose clean, but today the Boston Patriots are taking action against a fan who splashed beer on Hill late in New England's 43-40 win by banning the person from all future games at the stadium and, also, turned the matter over to the local police. The Patriots are to be given an “atta boy” for their actions because throwing beer at people is childish and wrong. Multiple Patriot fans also exhibited unsportsmanlike behavior when they flashed Hill the middle finger during the incident, but there's no penalty for them. Besides, they could never be identified and no harm was done. 
     After the game, when asked about the post-play incident with the fan, Hill took the high road saying the coach told him not to get emotional because it comes with the territory, adding that he was not mad at all. 
     Now, Hill has changed his mind. Apparently he isn't satisfied with just the banning of the fan, a 21-year old, who threw beer on him and letting the court system determine if further action should be taken.  
     Hill and his agent want to take legal action against fan and are talking to the NFL/NFLPA about options. Hill's agent said that type of behavior is unacceptable and the players have to be protected. He added, “We want that fan to be prosecuted.” Hill says it's about player safety; next time it might be something worse than beer that gets thrown at a player. 
     Apparently Hill has forgotten about the time when he was 20-years old and choked and punched his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach and face and busted her lip, but was shown mercy. Now he wants a pound of flesh over getting splashed with beer.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fake News on Yahoo

     Ever read Yahoo news stories? Is Yahoo honestly providing content for its readers with no underlying agendas or are they deceiving users into thinking they are posting informative articles that provide honest and trustworthy content? 
     Look at Yahoo and you will see many of their articles are labeled “SPONSORED.” That means the content of the “story” was paid for and when these “news stories” are mixed in with legitimate news, it is nothing but blatant deceit on the part of Yahoo. 
     Of course, Yahoo isn't the only one that does it. TV programs and movies are often nothing more than a sophisticated attempt at plugging a lifestyle or a social agenda even if they don't tell you they are "sponsored." 
     I remember a television program from the late 1970s to early 1981s called Quincy, Medical Examiner. It was a medical mystery-drama series starring Jack Klugman as a Los Angeles County medical examiner who attempted to ascertain facts about and reasons for possible suspicious deaths. 
     The early programs were interesting because in them Quincy solved challenging and difficult cases that focused on realistic criminal investigations. But, I lost interest when they began to introduce social agendas. 
     Later programs featured damage done by disreputable plastic surgeons, flaws in drunk driving laws, airline safety issues, dumping of hazardous waste, the proliferation of handguns, Tourette's syndrome, anorexia, etc. 
     The dialogue became forced to the point of being ridiculous as we were bombarded with facts and figures to illustrate the point. And, after Quincy quoted a fact or figure, his assistant would repeat it for emphasis. 
     The idiots in the U.S. Congress even had Klugman, rather than real experts, testify before them about some of these issues and describe what he had learned as a result of the issue's discussion on his TV show. 
     If you look closely at many of the stories on Yahoo you will see some of the “news stories” with attention grabbing headlines are labeled “Sponsored.” That's because they are ads disguised as news. Many times clicking on them will send you to adsense or marketing sites where the sponsors make money.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Block Spam Calls on Your Cell Phone

     I saw a television news reporter recommending this free app the other day, tried it and it works very well. It's called Hiya.
     It was originally developed as a Caller-ID app for Whitepages. In February 2016, Hiya reached a deal with Samsung to integrate its caller profile and spam protection services into all Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge phones in 16 countries. The company extended its partnership with Samsung in a separate deal in August, 2016 to include its service on the Galaxy Note 7 and to expand the partnership to a total of 28 countries. 
     In 2016, Hiya launched Hiya Cloud, its network level caller ID and call-blocking offering. After offering only a limited version of its app for iPhones, Hiya later announced that the full version of its app would be available on iOS 10. Soon after Hiya began providing spam protection services to AT&T phones through the AT&T Call Protect product. In 2017, Hiya entered a similar partnership with ZTE to provide call spam protection services for all Axon 7 users. 
     Hiya has a database of 1.5 billion phone numbers that it draws from to identify the source of incoming calls which helps users make a decision about whether or not they want to pick up a call from an unknown number. 
     The service can automatically block calls from numbers that it has deemed to be associated with fraud and notifies the user of the blocked call. In some cases, the app will let the call go through but notify the user that the number is suspected of being spam
     Users can report numbers associated with unwanted calls through the app well as well as block future calls from certain phone numbers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare medical speech disorder that causes a sudden change to speech patterns in which patients are perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent.
     FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Other causes have also been reported including multiple sclerosis and conversion disorder and in some cases no clear cause has been identified. 
     Speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered. 
     The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie and another early case was reported in a Czech study in 1919, conducted by German internist Alois Pick. Other well-known cases of the syndrome have included one that occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman suffered a head injury from shrapnel during an air-raid. After apparently recovering from the injury, she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was shunned by her fellow Norwegians. 
     Its symptoms result from distorted articulatory planning and coordination processes and although popular news articles commonly attempt to identify the closest regional accent, speakers suffering from FAS acquire neither a specific foreign accent nor any additional fluency in a foreign language.  Despite an unconfirmed news report in 2010 that a Croatian speaker had gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma, there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury. 
     FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian. Some common speech changes associated with FAS include: 

Fairly predictable errors 
Unusual patterns of rhythm, including equal and excess stress, especially in multi-syllabic words 
Consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion 
Voicing errors (i.e. bike for pike) 
Trouble with consonant clusters 
Vowel distortions, prolongations, substitutions (i.e. “uh” inserted into words) 

     To the untrained ear, those with FAS sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent, or a native English speaker from Britain might speak with a New York American accent. 
     Researchers at Oxford University have found that certain specific parts of the brain were injured in some foreign accent syndrome cases, indicating that particular parts of the brain control various linguistic functions, and damage could result in altered pitch and/or mispronounced syllables, causing speech patterns to be distorted in a non-specific manner.
     Contrary to popular beliefs that individuals with FAS exhibit their accent without any effort, these individuals feel as if they are suffering from a speech disorder. There is mounting evidence that the cerebellum, which controls motor function, may be crucially involved in some cases of foreign accent syndrome.

     The perception of a foreign accent is likely to be a case of imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist on the part of the listener. Nick Miller, Professor of Motor Speech Disorders at Newcastle University explained, "...(it) is in the ear of the listener, rather than the mouth of the speaker. It is simply that the rhythm and pronunciation of speech has changed."
     British singer George Michael claimed that, after waking from a three-week long coma in 2012, he temporarily had a West Country accent.


Friday, October 5, 2018

How Fast Can A Nightcrawler Crawl?

     Bonus Fact: What kinds of shots would you have to take if a monkey bit you? A monkey bite is the second most common animal bite after dogs in India and are a real risk for travelers. 
     A monkey bite, no matter how trivial, can turn dangerous. Although it's unlikely that a human will get rabies, monkeys do carry the disease. Even a monkey that is not rabid can create dangerous infections and fevers thanks to the high level of bacteria in their mouths. 
     Infectious disease experts say monkeys can carry the Herpes B virus, which can be transmitted through saliva and can be potentially deadly. "Herpes B can lead to encephalitis, a swelling of the brain. 
     First, a specimen for testing should not be obtained from the wound area prior to washing the site because it could force virus more deeply into the wound, reducing the effectiveness of the cleansing protocol. Wash the wound with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine followed by irrigation with sterile saline or bottled drinking water if sterile saline is unavailable as soon as possible. Then most likely rabies immunoglobulin will be injected around the wound and a post-exposure course of four rabies vaccine injections to prevent infection will be given. Tetanus shots should also be up to date. 

Now on to nightcrawlers. 
     Though nightcrawler worms can burrow down to a depth of 6.5 feet, they generally stay close to the surface. This increases the chance of running across one when gardening, playing in the dirt or landscaping. These worms receive their name because you can usually find them feeding above ground at night, but they’re really just your common earthworm. 
     It may take the tiny worms up to a year to reach full size and sexual maturity. How long they live after this in the wild isn't certain, but best guesses are anywhere from 3-8 years; captive worms have been know to live for 10 years.
     When you examine a nightcrawler up close, note their red-gray color and ring-shaped segments called annuli.  Tiny bristles called setae cover each annuli. Nightcrawlers use their setae to slither and move as well as burrow into the ground. If you dissect one of these worms, you will discover that it does not possess a backbone, making it an invertebrate. 
     Nightcrawlers can grow to be a whopping 14 inches long and can weight up to 0.39 oz. The first segment of a nightcrawler's body contains the mouth. As they burrow, they feed on soil. The dirt contains decomposing leaves and roots that provide nutrients. They can eat up to a third of their body weight in a single day. 
     These worms also function as food for birds, rats and toads and fishermen often use them as bait. 
     Nightcrawlers can be divided into two types: European and Canadian. The Europeans usually measure around 3 inches in length. Besides being used for fishing bait, people use them for composting dumping household food garbage into a compost bin where worms eat it and produce compost through their waste. They also make excellent food for pet lizards and turtles. 
     The Canadian nightcrawlers grow larger than European nightcrawlers, up to 14 inches. They make good bait for freshwater fish such as large-mouth bass, trout and catfish. However, Canadian nightcrawlers don’t like warm temperatures and will die in temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
     Earthworms are unable to drown like a human would and they can even survive several days fully submerged in water. Soil experts now think earthworms surface during rain storms for migration purposes. For more information on this subject you will want to read Scientific American's article, Why Do Earthworms Surface After Rain? HERE 
     Now, to answer the question, how fast are they? Underground a large earthworm can move up to 0.05 miles per hour (about 3.5 feet per minute); a small one only travels about one tenth that speed. Their land speed is, as far as I could determine, unknown.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Milk Cartons

     Before the emergence of milk bottles, milkmen would fill the customers jugs. I remember when milk used to come in reusable glass bottles and was delivered to the doorstep by the milk man. After customers finished the milk they were expected to rinse the empty bottles and leave them on the doorstep in a little wire carrier to be exchanged the next time the milkman came. The weekly bill was paid by leaving the money in one of the empty bottle. The quart milk bottles had a couple of inches of cream floating on top and before pouring a glass it was customary to shake the milk vigorously which left big globules of cream floating in the milk. 

     It is not clear when the first milk bottles came into use, but the New York Dairy Company is credited with having the first factory that produced milk bottles and one of the first patents was held by the Lester Milk Jar. 
     A patent for a paperboard milk container with a foldable spout was filed in 1915, but it didn't immediately catch on even though it was better than glass bottles. Paperboard bottles keep Vitamin A and riboflavin from being degraded by ultraviolet light and also ensures that the milk doesn’t develop an off-flavor from exposure to fluorescent lights. The inventor was G.W. Maxwell, but it was in 1915 that John Van Wormer of Toledo, Ohio was granted the first patent for the first "paper bottle." 
     In the United States a lot of rural people still owned cows into the late 19th century and farmers milked cows (by hand) and put it in glass bottles to be delivered to customers. Modern refrigeration didn't exist yet except in the form of an icebox, an insulated box with a clock of ice in it, which tended to melt quickly. 
     Glass is not a good insulator so the milk quickly went bad. The best solution was having the milkman make daily deliveries. The first refrigerators were not tested until the 1910s. In 1915, John Van Wormer invented the milk carton which is basically the same design that we use today… it called a “gable-top.” That's where the spout is glued and opened by pulling it out. The original Van Wormer models were made of paperboard the same as today. By the 1950s milk cartons were coated with wax you could scrape off with your finger. Today they have a polyethylene coating. 
     It took two or three decades for the carton to catch on because people still preferred the glass bottle. Glass is heavy, making up a third of the weight of the milk packaged in glass, but as refrigerators got cheaper and people got used to the idea of throwing packaging away the paper carton began to catch on...that wasn't until the 1950s though! 

How Milk Cartons Are Made 
How To Recycle Milk Cartons 
Reuse Milk Cartons