Wikipedia articles of interest

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these and my collection of ‘articles I’d like to blog at some point’ has accumulated for a while, so I decided to post a few more links than I usually do while also limiting coverage of specific articles a little:

i. Halifax Explosion.

“The Halifax Explosion occurred near Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of Thursday, December 6, 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship fully laden with wartime explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo[2] in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. Approximately twenty minutes later, a fire on board the French ship ignited her explosive cargo, causing a cataclysmic explosion that devastated the Richmond District of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, and collapsed buildings, and it is estimated that nearly 9,000 others were injured.[3] The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons[4] with an equivalent force of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT. […]

While the exact number killed by the disaster is unknown, a common estimate is 2,000. The Halifax Explosion Remembrance Book, an official database compiled in 2002 by the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management identified 1,950 victims.[66] As many as 1,600 people died immediately in the blast, the tsunami, and collapse of buildings. The last body, a caretaker killed at the Exhibition Grounds, was not recovered until the summer of 1919.[67] An additional 9,000 were injured, 6,000 of them seriously; 1,630 homes were destroyed in the explosion and fires, with 12,000 more houses damaged. This disaster left roughly 6,000 people homeless and without shelter and 25,000 without adequate housing. The city’s industrial sector was in large part gone, with many workers among the casualties and the dockyard heavily damaged.

The explosion was responsible for the vast majority of Canada’s World War I-related civilian deaths and injuries, and killed more Nova Scotian residents than were killed in combat. Detailed estimates showed that among those killed, 600 were under the age of 15, 166 were labourers, 134 were soldiers and sailors, 125 were craftsmen, and 39 were workers for the railway.

Many of the wounds inflicted by the blast were permanently debilitating, with many people partially blinded by flying glass or by the flash of the explosion. Thousands of people had stopped to watch the ship burning in the harbour, with many people watching from inside buildings, leaving them directly in the path of flying glass from shattered windows. Roughly 600 people suffered eye injuries, and 38 of those lost their sight permanently.”

ii. Taman Shud Case.

“The Taman Shud Case,[notes 1] also known as the Mystery of the Somerton Man, is an unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead at 6:30 a.m., 1 December 1948, on Somerton beach in Adelaide, South Australia. It is named for a phrase, tamam shud, meaning “ended” or “finished”, on a scrap of the final page of The Rubaiyat, found in the hidden pocket of the man’s trousers.

Considered “one of Australia’s most profound mysteries” at the time,[1] the case has been the subject of intense speculation over the years regarding the identity of the victim, the events leading up to his death, and the cause of death. Public interest in the case remains significant because of a number of factors: the death occurring at a time of heightened tensions during the Cold War, what appeared to be a secret code on a scrap of paper found in his pocket, the use of an undetectable poison, his lack of identification, and the possibility of unrequited love.

iii. Bird strike. These are actually a much bigger deal than I’d imagined:

“A bird strike—sometimes called birdstrike, avian ingestion (only if in an engine), bird hit, or BASH (for Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard)—is a collision between an airborne animal (usually a bird or bat[1]) and a human-made vehicle, especially aircraft. The term is also used for bird deaths resulting from collisions with human-made structures such as power lines, towers and wind turbines (see Bird-skyscraper collisions and Towerkill).[2] A bug strike is an impairment of an aircraft or aviator by an airborne insect.

Bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety, and have caused a number of accidents with human casualties.[3] The number of major accidents involving civil aircraft is quite low and it has been estimated that there is only about 1 accident resulting in human death in one billion (109) flying hours.[4] The majority of bird strikes (65%) cause little damage to the aircraft;[5] needless to say, the collision is usually fatal to the bird.

Most accidents occur when the bird hits the windscreen or flies into the engines. These cause annual damages that have been estimated at $400 million[3] within the United States of America alone and up to $1.2 billion to commercial aircraft worldwide.[6] […]

Jet engine ingestion is extremely serious due to the rotation speed of the engine fan and engine design. As the bird strikes a fan blade, that blade can be displaced into another blade and so forth, causing a cascading failure. Jet engines are particularly vulnerable during the takeoff phase when the engine is turning at a very high speed and the plane is at a low altitude where birds are more commonly found.

The force of the impact on an aircraft depends on the weight of the animal and the speed difference and direction at the impact. The energy of the impact increases with the square of the speed difference. Hence a low-speed impact of a small bird on a car windshield causes relatively little damage. High speed impacts, as with jet aircraft, can cause considerable damage and even catastrophic failure to the vehicle. The energy of a 5 kg (11 lb) bird moving at a relative velocity of 275 km/h (171 mph) approximately equals the energy of a 100 kg (220 lb) weight dropped from a height of 15 metres (49 ft). […]

The largest numbers of strikes happen during the spring and fall migrations. Bird strikes above 500 feet (150 m) altitude are about 7 times more common at night than during the day during the bird migration season.[17]

Large land-bound animals, such as deer, can also be a problem to aircraft during take off and landing, and over 650 civil aircraft collisions with deer were reported in the U.S. between 1990 and 2004.

An animal hazard reported from London Stansted Airport in England is rabbits: they get run over by ground vehicles and planes, and they pass large amounts of droppings, which attract mice, which attract owls, which become another birdstrike hazard.[18] […]

The energy that must be dissipated in the collision is approximately the relative kinetic energy [Ek] of the bird, defined by the equation  [Ek=1/2*mv2] where [m] is the mass and [v] is the relative velocity (the difference of the velocities of the bird and the plane if they are flying in the same direction and the sum if they are flying towards each other). Therefore the speed of the aircraft is much more important than the size of the bird when it comes to reducing energy transfer in a collision. The same can be said for jet engines: the slower the rotation of the engine, the less energy which will be imparted onto the engine at collision.

The body density of the bird is also a parameter that influences the amount of damage caused.[24]

iv. Tacoma Narrows Bridge (1940).

“The 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Washington that spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7 of the same year. At the time of its construction (and its destruction), the bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the world in terms of main span length, behind the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge.

Construction on the bridge began in September 1938. From the time the deck was built, it began to move vertically in windy conditions, which led to construction workers giving the bridge the nickname Galloping Gertie. The motion was observed even when the bridge opened to the public. Several measures aimed at stopping the motion were ineffective, and the bridge’s main span finally collapsed under 40-mile-per-hour (64 km/h) wind conditions the morning of November 7, 1940.”

Don’t miss Barney Elliott’s video footage (roughly in the middle of the article)  of the disaster!

v. Myrtle Corbin.

Josephine Myrtle Corbin (May 12, 1868 in Lincoln County, Tennessee[1] – May 6, 1928 in Cleburne, Texas) was born a dipygus. This referred to the fact that she had two separate pelvises side by side from the waist down, as a result of her body axis splitting as it developed. Each of her smaller inner legs was paired with one of her outer legs. She was said to be able to move her inner legs, but they were too weak for walking.”

Here’s an image from the article:

“At the age of 19 she married Clinton Bicknell, and she would go on to give birth to four daughters and a son.”

vi. Black mamba. (Add to the list of reasons why I’m glad I don’t live in Africa…)

“The black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), also called the common black mamba or black-mouthed mamba,[4] is the longest venomous snake in Africa, averaging around 2.5 to 3.2 m (8.2 to 10 ft) in length, and sometimes growing to lengths of 4.45 m (14.6 ft).[5] It is named for the black colour of the inside of the mouth rather than the colour of its scales which varies from dull yellowish-green to a gun-metal grey. It is also the fastest snake in the world, capable of moving at 4.32 to 5.4 metres per second (16–20 km/h, 10–12 mph).[6] The black mamba has a reputation for being very aggressive, but it usually attempts to flee from humans like most snakes, unless it is threatened.[7] Without rapid and vigorous antivenom therapy, a bite from a black mamba is almost always fatal.[7][8][9] […]

Among mambas, toxicity of individual specimens within the same species and subspecies can vary greatly based on several factors, including geographical region (there can be great variation in toxicity from one town or village to another).[30] […] It is estimated that only 10 to 15 mg will kill a human adult, and its bites delivers about 50–120 mg of venom on average.[40][14] The largest envenomation on record is 400 mg.[36] Its bite is often called “the kiss of death” because, before antivenom was widely available, the mortality rate from a bite was 100% since this species always delivers fatal dosage of venom during every envenomation.[7][8][9] Severe black mamba envenomation can kill a person in 30 minutes,[9] but sometimes it takes up to 2–3 hours,[15][9] depending upon many factors.[9] […] Due to antivenom, a bite from a black mamba is no longer a certain death sentence. But in order for the antivenom to be successful, vigorous antivenom therapy must be administered very rapidly post-envenomation.”

Despite how dangerous these animals are, it’s not the snake species that causes the most deaths in Africa. That’s this one.

vii. Wernher von Braun.

Wernher Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) was a German, and later naturalized, American rocket scientist, aerospace engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany during World War II and, subsequently, in the United States. He is credited as being the “Father of Rocket Science”.

In his 20s and early 30s, von Braun was the central figure in Germany’s rocket development program, responsible for the design and realization of the V-2 combat rocket during World War II. After the war, he and some select members of his rocket team were taken to the United States as part of the then-secret Operation Paperclip. Von Braun worked on the United States Army intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) program before his group was assimilated by NASA. Under NASA, he served as director of the newly formed Marshall Space Flight Center and as the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.[1]

viii. Taiwan under Japanese rule.

“Between 1895 and 1945, Taiwan (including the Pescadores) was a dependency of the Empire of Japan. The expansion into Taiwan was a part of Imperial Japan’s general policy of southward expansion during the late 19th century.[2]

As Taiwan was Japan’s first overseas colony, Japanese intentions were to turn the island into a showpiece “model colony”.[3] As a result, much effort was made to improve the island’s economy, industry, public works and to change its culture.

The relative failures of immediate post–World War II rule by the Kuomintang led to a certain degree of nostalgia amongst the older generation of Taiwanese who experienced both. This has affected, to some degree, issues such as national identity, ethnic identity and the Taiwan independence movement. Partly as a result, the people of Taiwan in general feel much less antipathy towards the legacy of Japanese rule than other countries in Asia.[4] […]

As part of the colonial government’s overall goal of keeping the anti-Japanese movement in check, public education became an important mechanism for facilitating both control and intercultural dialogue. While secondary education institutions were restricted mostly to Japanese nationals, the impact of compulsory primary education on the Taiwanese was immense.

On July 14, 1895, Isawa Shūji was appointed as the first Education Minister, and proposed that the Colonial Government implement a policy of compulsory primary education for children (a policy that had not even been implemented in Japan at the time). The Colonial Government established the first Western-style primary school in Taipei (the modern day Shilin Elementary School) as an experiment. Satisfied with the results, the government ordered the establishment of fourteen language schools in 1896, which were later upgraded to become public schools. During this period, schools were segregated by ethnicity. Kōgakkō (公學校, Public Schools) were established for Taiwanese children, while shōgakkō (小學校, Elementary Schools) were restricted to the children of Japanese nationals. Schools for aborigines were also established in aboriginal areas. Criteria were established for teacher selection, and several teacher training schools such as Taihoku Normal School were founded. Secondary and post-secondary educational institutions, such as Taihoku Imperial University were also established, but access was restricted primarily to Japanese nationals. The emphasis for locals was placed on vocational education, to help increase productivity. […]

By 1944, there were 944 primary schools in Taiwan with total enrollment rates of 71.3% for Taiwanese children, 86.4% for aboriginal children, and 99.6% for Japanese children in Taiwan. As a result, primary school enrollment rates in Taiwan were among the highest in Asia, second only to Japan itself.[8]

ix. LGM-118 Peacekeeper.

“The LGM-118A Peacekeeper, also known as the MX missile (for Missile-eXperimental), was a land-based ICBM deployed by the United States starting in 1986. The Peacekeeper was a MIRV missile; it could carry up to 10 re-entry vehicles, each armed with a 300-kiloton W87 warhead/MK-21 RVs. A total of 50 missiles were deployed after a long and troubled development period.”

Long and troubled indeed:

“The operational missile was first manufactured in February 1984 and was deployed in December 1986 to the Strategic Air Command, 90th Strategic Missile Wing at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming in re-fitted Minuteman silos. However, the AIRS was not yet ready and the missiles were deployed with non-operational guidance units. AIRS had 19,000 parts and some of these required as many as 11,000 testing steps.[28] Bogged down in paperwork due to government procurement policies, managers started bypassing official channels and buying replacement parts wherever they could be found, including claims that some of the parts were sourced at Radio Shack. In other cases, managers had created false shell companies to order needed test equipment.[28]

When these allegations were released by 60 Minutes and the Los Angeles Times, the fallout was immediate. Northrop was slapped with a $130 million fine for late delivery, and when they reacted against employees they were countersued in whistleblower suits. The Air Force also admitted that 11 of the 29 missiles deployed were not operational. A Congressional report stated that “Northrop was behind schedule before it even started” and noted that the Air Force knew as early as 1985 that there were “serious system deficiencies as well as a lack of effective progress”.[28] They complained that the Air Force should have come clean and simply pushed back the deployment date, but instead, in order to foster the illusion of progress, the missiles were deployed in a non-operational state.[28]

x. The Middle Ages (featured). Much of this stuff’s known to me of course, but there’s still a lot of good stuff here.


September 22, 2013 - Posted by | Biology, Engineering, History, Wikipedia, Zoology

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