Today in History: August 24

The International Astronomical Union published an article, “Definition of a Planet in the Solar System: Resolutions 5 and 6,” ten years ago today. (The link is to a PDF file.)

In popular culture, what the IAU did ten years ago today was demote Pluto (seen above) from one of the classic nine planets of the solar system, the nine whose names we all grew up memorizing and reciting, to one of several or many or thousands of “dwarf planets,” leaving us with eight planets. Schoolchildren everywhere possibly find it odd that this elicited as much controversy as it did.

The article employed in an official way a term that had been around since the early 1990s: dwarf planet. A dwarf planet is an object that is massive enough to be a ball (in scientific terms, it is a spheroid that is in hydrostatic equilibrium) and orbits the Sun, but it is not massive enough to have cleared its lane through space.
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Today in History: August 23

The execution of the Scottish independence fighter Sir William Wallace (above) was considered so important that even though it took place more than seven centuries ago, we know that it took place on precisely this date in 1305.

Wallace’s main argument in his own defense was that he needed no defense against the charge of treason because he had not committed treason—”I could not be a traitor to [King] Edward, for I was never his subject”—which was considered treasonous in itself. The manner of his execution was brutal and has not been performed in almost two centuries in Great Britain (which means that it was performed for almost five more centuries). Post-execution, Wallace’s body parts were displayed for decades after.
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traffic jam

Hindsight is 50/50

One of my favorite expressions, one that I used to employ frequently but no longer do, is, “This is X number of minutes I am never getting back.” I would say this after experiencing something incredibly boring and frustrating, like waiting on line only to discover that I was waiting on the wrong line the entire time, or when I was in a traffic jam in which I learned that the hold-up was people gawking at an accident which by itself would not have created the traffic jam.

The worst, the most empty and useless, four-word sequence in the English language is, “You should have done … .” It is hindsight—something no one likes to be accused of using—masquerading as foresight, something everyone likes to be credited with possessing. “You should have driven this route instead of the one with the traffic accident-gawking crowd that no one knew was going to show up.” It is really a way of saying, “I knew better.” Those particular three words are more honest and would be welcomed if they were said more often, but more honest punches might be thrown more frequently as a result.
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PresidentRoosevelt car

Today in History: August 22

On this date in 1902, the presidential motorcade was born.

In 1899, President William McKinley became the first president to ride in a car, a Stanley Steamer, but it was President Theodore Roosevelt who was the first to do so publicly. On August 22, 1902, while in Hartford, Connecticut, he rode in a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. Because the car could reach thirteen miles per hour, the police could not keep up on foot, so they rode horses in front and bicycles alongside.

American automobile manufacturing was in its infancy in 1902, so designs were many and many designs were experimental/guesses at what might work or be popular: about half the cars on the market were electric and the other half gasoline-fueled. Roosevelt rode in a Hartford-built Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton, which seated the driver in an external box behind the passengers at the rear of the car; two 20-volt batteries that totaled approximately 800 pounds; rubber tires; and car offered the driver four speeds, with the maximum speed thirteen miles an hour. The driver controlled the vehicle with a tiller, seen in the photo at top.
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Today in History: August 21

Today is not the 175th birthday of the Venetian blind, but it is the 175th anniversary of John Hampson’s patent, “Manner of retaining in any desired position the slats of Venetian blinds” (Patent 2223). The inventor, who was based in New Orleans, developed a tool for holding the slats in place—which we still see in use in today’s blinds in the use of a rod to twist the slats to any desired angle.

* * * *
And more in Inventions Today: William Seward Burroughs I was awarded four patents on this date for his “Calculating-machine,” the invention of that led to his company, the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. (A model from the 1890s, above.)
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Meeting Myself

The child has few memories, so those he has are detailed.

We were in my hometown for some reason one summer Sunday afternoon a couple years ago and I said to my girlfriend that I wanted to show her where I grew up. (As if I have grown up.) We drove down roads I used to bike on, walk on.

I grew up in the suburbs, in upstate New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, a neighborhood without sidewalks, where kids biked across their neighbors’ lawns (well, I did) without fear of criticism. I remember that I knew which houses had dogs that were poorly restrained (so I could avoid those lawns or else find a new speed in my pumping little legs) and which houses were simply scary for reasons no one could explain but everyone knew which houses simply seemed scary.

(Years later, in high school, I was fundraising or campaigning for something and I dared, out of my OCD-ish sense/need to knock on every single door in the neighborhood, I knocked on the door of one of the houses that I always thought was scary. The owner was as friendly and nice as could be. I felt like I had discovered something.)
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HunterThomspon funeral

Today in History: August 20

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson designed his funeral plans with his friend, the artist Ralph Steadman, in the 1970s: he wanted his ashes to be fired from a cannon along with red, white, and blue fireworks. Further, the cannon was to sit atop a 150-foot-tall replica of his Gonzo logo: a two-thumbed clenched fist holding a “peyote button.”

Thompson committed suicide on February 20, 2005, and friends including Johnny Depp (a fellow Kentucky native who portrayed Thompson in film and became a friend) saw to it that his final wishes were granted. Depp largely financed the fifteen-story tower.

On this date in 2005, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were fired into the Colorado sky with “Spirit in the Sky” playing and former presidential candidates, senators past and present, actors, and journalists in attendance. (Video featuring Steadman and Thompson and the event itself below the jump.)
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my glasses

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of Wherever I Left My Glasses

One recent morning, I became a grown-up: I attempted to remove glasses from my face that were already in my fist.

For those of you who are lifelong glasses-wearers (it is almost 40 years for me), you know that there are several distinct methods of removing eyeglasses—and, even better, there are several non-verbal messages that can be communicated in the manner of their removal.

Off the top of my head, which is not where I keep my glasses, there is “Two-handed and Thoughtful,” “One-handed and from the Right and Peeved” (I usually accidentally fling my glasses to the floor or across my desk with that one), and “One-handed and from the Left and Trying to (Honestly) Get to the Heart of Things.” There are some others. Putting them on in front of people usually communicates this: “Enough Fun, Everyone. It’s Time to Get Back to Work.”

It can be like semaphore, but not at all and with glasses.
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