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Archive for the ‘Trivia’ Category

Attack at Pearl Harbor a Bold, Desperate Gamble

December 7th, 2007 by iDunzo

December 7, 1941: Air raid, Pearl Harbor. The Japanese, concluding that war with the United States is inevitable, attempt to knock out the U.S. Pacific fleet based in the Hawaiian Islands at Pearl Harbor.

Japan knew it could not defeat the Americans in a conventional war, lacking as it did sufficient manpower and raw materials (notably oil) for such a sustained effort.

By destroying the U.S. fleet all at once as war began, the Japanese were gambling that they would be able to complete their Asian conquests before the Americans could recover.

A successful raid, the Japanese believed, would delay America’s entry into the war by months, if not years. Faced with the reality of an unassailable Pacific empire, the Americans might then choose negotiation over fighting.

Minoru Genda, one of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s most innovative officers, was the primary architect of the Pearl Harbor raid. Success, he knew, could only be achieved through total surprise.

Relying on carrier-based dive bombers, fighters and torpedo planes, his targets included not only the ships anchored at Pearl but the nearby airfields and oil storage facilities.

Observing strict radio silence, the Japanese task force put to sea November 26 and steamed undetected to within striking distance of the Hawaiian Islands.

The first wave of attackers left their carriers upon receipt of the signal “Climb Mount Niitake” and were guided in by picking up the signals from a Honolulu radio station.

Early on a Sunday morning, Pearl Harbor was not exactly on combat alert even though the Americans knew — from having broken the Japanese codes — that an attack somewhere was imminent.

They never dreamed an attack would come this far east, however. When a couple of radar operators working a test problem near Pearl reported a huge blip headed their way, they were essentially told to forget about it.

The attack unfolded almost exactly as Genda had drawn it up and might have succeeded strategically, too, if the American aircraft carriers had been in port on December 7.

As it was, the three carriers were at sea that day and escaped unscathed, a fact that would come back to haunt the Japanese seven months later at Midway.

The raid must be considered only a partial tactical success as well. Surprise was achieved, and the American fleet took a beating, particularly the battleships. The major airfields were put out of action, and most of the planes were destroyed on the ground.

However, the Japanese failed to get the carriers — which would prove to be the decisive weapon of the Pacific war — and also committed a major blunder by failing to destroy the oil reserves on Oahu, reserves that would have taken months to replenish from mainland refineries.

A third wave was to have attacked these tank farms, along with U.S. Navy machine shops, stores and administrative centers.

The commander of the Japanese task force, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, canceled the third wave and withdrew, fearing that his own ships were vulnerable to an American counterattack.

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It’s Like Video Ping-Pong, With No Skill Required

November 29th, 2007 by iDunzo

November 29, 1972: Pong, the first popular videogame, is released in its original arcade-game form.

If it seems crude by today’s standards, well, it was crude then, too and it was meant to be.

Pong was the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, a founder of Atari, who was inspired to develop it after playing an electronic table-tennis game at a trade show.

Nolan Bushnell, having recently designed an arcade game he deemed too complicated because you had to read the instructions before you could play, Bushnell strove for utter simplicity.

“I had to come up with a game people already knew how to play, something so simple that any drunk in any bar could play,” Bushnell said later. The game, actually designed by Atari engineer Allan Alcorn, was Pong. It was indeed a game that drunks could play, and they did.

The first coin-operated Pong arcade game was installed at Andy Capp’s, a tavern in Sunnyvale, California, where Atari was located. It was an instantaneous hit, confirming Bushnell’s suspicions and vindicating, yet again, H.L. Mencken’s famous dictum.

Four months after its appearance at Andy Capp’s, there were upwards of 10,000 Pong arcade games scattered across the land. This caught the eye of Magnavox Odyssey, developer of the game that had inspired Bushnell to dream up Pong.

A lawsuit followed, resulting in an out-of-court settlement in Magnavox’s favor. By then, however, Pong had moved to a home-console model, which was very different from the original.

Bushnell cut a deal with Sears to act as Pong’s exclusive retailer, and the 1975 Christmas shopping season was a lucrative one. This can fairly be said to have ushered in the era of home videogaming.

Source: Wikipedia

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Artificial Snow Falls for the First Time

November 13th, 2007 by iDunzo

November 13, 1946: Artificial snow is produced for the first time in the clouds over Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts.

While not exactly a blizzard — in fact, no snow ever hit the ground — it was the harbinger of a new industry and was an overnight sensation.

Using pellets of dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide), Vincent Schaefer, a scientist working for General Electric, seeded the clouds from an altitude of 14,000 feet. He was carrying out the first field experiment resulting from lab work in which he had successfully created precipitation by placing dry ice in a chilled chamber.

Flying over Mt. Greylock (the highest point in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts), Schaefer dropped his pellets and produced a similar effect in the clouds, which resulted in snow that fell an estimated 3,000 feet before evaporating in the dry air.

Artificial snow, like so many other scientific innovations, was born out of wartime necessity. In this case, it began during World War II and experiments with the creation of artificial fog, meant to conceal ships at sea.

Schaefer, a research associate under Nobel Prize-winner Irving Langmuir, began examining the physics of cloud formation. This work led him to his postwar experiments with cloud seeding, and the ultimate development of artificial snow.

Despite protests that artificial snow shouldn’t be used because it messed with Mother Nature’s design, it only took a few years for ski resorts to begin looking for ways to create the fake stuff for use during bad snow years.

Nowadays, artificial snow is made using a variety of machines and seeding methods. In addition to the ski industry, artificial snow is also popular on movie sets and in places where snow doesn’t normally fall.

Source: Massmoments.org and Sciencedaily.com

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Jack the Ripper Strikes for the Last Time … Or Does He?

November 9th, 2007 by iDunzo

November 9, 1888: The mutilated body of Mary Jane Kelly is found on the bed of her squalid room in the Spitalfields-Whitechapel area of London’s East End. She is generally considered to be the fifth and final victim of the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper.

In fact, Kelly — a tall, amiable young woman who dabbled in prostitution to make ends meet — may not have been the Ripper’s final victim at all.

Although five is the number accepted by most so-called “Ripperologists,” no exact body count has ever been established. The killer’s identity likewise remains unknown, defying even current research using the tools of modern forensic science.

Trying to discover Jack the Ripper’s identity remains one of criminology’s enduring puzzles. Several potential suspects exist, and have existed since the murders were committed. But the relatively primitive police work of the day — forensic science as we know it didn’t exist in Victorian England — and the loss of physical evidence over time means the mystery may never be solved.

That hasn’t prevented a cottage industry of Ripper sleuths, Ripper enthusiasts and Ripper nut balls from thriving. Books purporting to have solved the Whitechapel murders (there were 11 in all, not all of them associated with the Ripper) appear from time to time, alongside fictional accounts and more-scholarly works, but most are completely worthless except as titillation.

Whether the killer was a member of the royal family, as one popular theory has it, or a surgeon with a grudge, at least two things are certain: Jack was skilled with a knife and certainly a sexual psychopath. All the Ripper’s victims had their throats cut and all were sexually mutilated: the unfortunate Ms. Kelly worst of all. When discovered by her landlord’s rent collector, she was barely recognizable as a human being.

Nearly 120 years later, research continues. In fact, there’s more of it being done now than at any time since the case was officially closed in 1892. With modern forensic techniques, a few new details have emerged, including the fact that in carving up Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper used an ax as well as a knife.

As to where that will lead us, who knows?

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A Welcome Sight for Those in Peril Upon the Sea

November 1st, 2007 by iDunzo

November 1, 1859: The second lighthouse at Cape Lookout, North Carolina, is lit for the first time.

Cape Lookout is situated along the Outer Banks, a treacherous stretch of coastal shoals and storm-tossed seas that has always presented a navigation hazard to mariners.

The original lighthouse, built in 1812, proved an unreliable navigational aid, so Congress appropriated $40,000 (about $900,000 in current dollars) for the construction of a much larger lighthouse.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands 163-feet high — almost 70 feet taller than its predecessor — and its powerful Fresnel lens casts a light that is visible up to 19 miles out to sea. This was a marked improvement over the original and set the standard for lighthouses up and down the eastern seaboard.

Painted in a distinctive black-and-white diamond pattern, the tower is itself a navigational aid, at least in fair weather.

The lighthouse, with nine-foot-thick walls at its base, was built to withstand the pounding made inevitable by its exposed location. It would ultimately save the structure — but from a landward threat.

Just 18 months after the lighthouse opened, North Carolina seceded from the Union. As Federal troops advanced through the Carolinas in 1862, retreating Confederates destroyed a number of lighthouses, including the Cape Hatteras light. They tried to dynamite the Cape Lookout light, but those nine-foot-thick walls defeated them. They did, however, succeed in damaging the lens, knocking the lighthouse out of service.

After the war, repairs were made, and the lighthouse has remained in continuous service since. The last resident keeper left in 1950, when the lighthouse was fully automated.

In 1972, the original Fresnel lens was replaced by two 1,000-watt aerobeacons, each measuring 24-inches across.

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Alaska Highway Opens as a Hedge Against Invasion

October 29th, 2007 by iDunzo

October 29, 1942: The Alaska Highway officially opens to military traffic.

Until the early 1940s, Alaska was a neglected U.S. territory. The Klondike gold rush of the 1880s and ’90s was a distant memory, and oil had not yet been discovered.

There were a bunch of trees and rivers and snow, but nothing really worth exploiting, so the vast wilderness was pretty much left to the bears and the hardy few who lived on the frontier.

Although proposals had existed since the 1920s for building a highway through western Canada into Alaska, the Canadian government wasn’t very keen, and the plans were shelved.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, coupled with their military incursions into the Aleutian Islands, changed things in an instant.

Suddenly, Alaska became a potential Japanese invasion route to Canada and the Lower 48, so both governments agreed that the road would now be built.

Military necessity dictated the route. It was a far cry from the original highway-commission blueprints and their more topographically friendly, meandering roadways.

The Alaska Highway — like the Burma Road for moving Allied supplies from northern Burma to China — would take little account of mountains, wilderness, water or elevation.

The U.S. Army assumed control of the project, and the Corps of Engineers — augmented by thousands of civilian contractors — began construction through the northern wilderness. By any measuring stick, it was grueling, backbreaking work.

A Canadian army observer remembers:

Those U.S. troops — I felt sorry for them to begin with — then was amazed at what they did. If you weren’t there, you just couldn’t understand it. I saw fellows so tired, they were ready to drop in their tracks. It was rush-rush-rush. Fellows were doing 18 to 20 hours a day on bulldozers. One was up to his neck in ice water repairing timbers in subzero weather. God, I admired them. Most were southerners — they’d never experienced cold like that. And in the summer, it was mosquitoes — like they’d eat you right there, or pack you away to eat at home.

In the end, the 1,500-mile highway, stretching from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Fairbanks, Alaska, was completed in an astounding eight months.

In many places, it was a “highway” in name only, instead resembling a glorified footpath with stretches of unpaved road, murderous switchbacks and no guard rails or shoulders.

Apparently vehicles had a tough time negotiating the road, and traffic didn’t really pick up until 1943.

After the war, major improvements were made to the highway, and it opened to general traffic in 1947 after wartime travel restrictions were lifted.

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