Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shady Side of History

It's summer here in the United States of America.  And a strange one it has been.  We've experienced some cool weather for this time of year.  But the really hot weather will still make its presence known.  And when that happens, we will all be searching for some cool, cool shade.

It has been that way everywhere throughout history.  Mankind prefers his climate to suit his own preferences, rather than submitting himself meekly to what the climate delivers to him.  The proof exists all over the world.  Whether it's sculptures on monuments in Egypt, paintings on Ancient Greek vases, or ancient artifacts found in China, man has been bringing his own shade with him wherever he traversed in the form of parasols (protection from the sun) or umbrellas (protection from the rain).

Of course, the devises were available to the nobility of the world, carried by the common man to protect his "betters."  But at least 600 years before Christ, portable shades were popping up all over the world.

People are still looking for ways to improve on this simple design.  In fact, there are so many designs submitted to the U.S. Patent Office, that it is said they have four full-time workers to assess the designs. I read that by the end of 2008, the U.S. Patent Office had registered 3,000 active patents.  Many of these involved making designs to make them more aerodynamic for better wind flow and control.

For all these patents, we rarely see umbrellas in use around the country.  Of, yes, when it is raining they will pop up here and there.  But many dash from car to building using anything at hand to try to keep a bit of the weather off the head.  Maybe it's a newspaper or book, a plastic bag, or a shirt collar pulled up as high on the head as possible.  But you don't see folks just strolling around the area with that bit of material to keep the hot sun at bay.  Or perhaps, I just live in the wrong part of the country to see them on a regular basis.

In fact, we seem to use the umbrella more with our outdoor furniture.  Whether on a patio, a deck, or a porch, we do like to sit out under the shade as we sip our sweet tea.  (This is the south, after all.)

I myself carry an umbrella with me at all times.  It's under the driver's seat of my car.  But that is really where it remains.  I do intend to put it to better use, but then the notion just slides away from the brain and the item stays in place in the car.

Maybe I'll do better.  But then again, maybe not.  What about you?  Do you use the brolly?  That's a term more often associated with our friends in Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, and Australia - among other countries.  How do we bring it to the forefront of the grey matter and put this very handy item to more use?  Let me know if you have any ideas.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Legal Final Ten

Today we look at the final ten of the fifty states and some laws that made it on the books, though one must wonder how and why.  Something must have happened to make the laws seem reasonable at the time, but for the life of me, it is difficult to decipher just what that reasoning could possibly be.  So here we go, one more time.

     South Dakota     -   It is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a cheese factory.  (Does that
                                    mean it is okay to do so in any other type of factory?)
     Tennessee          -   You can't shoot any game other than whales from a moving
                                     automobile.  (Again, Tennessee is not a coastal state.  I just can't see
                                    where or why one would even see a whale, in or out of a vehicle.)
     Texas                -   It is illegal to take more than three sips of beer at a time while standing. 
                                   ( I don't have any experience in this area, but from all the old westerns
                                   I watched over the years, sipping beer does not seem to be the custom
                                   in the state of Texas.  The participants seemed to be more intent on
                                   guzzling than sipping.)
     Utah                  -   It is illegal not to drink milk.  (Okay, if you have lactose problems,
                                   you might want to inquire about getting a waiver for this law.)
     Vermont           -   Women must obtain written permission from the husband to wear false
                                   teeth.  (Is this an attempt by the men to get the women to keep their
                                   mouths shut?  Just a thought.)
     Virginia            -   In the town of Culpepper, you may not wash a mule on the sidewalk.
                                   (Funny, I've never even considered mule washing, on or off the walk.)
     Washington      -   All lollipops are banned.  (Do you suppose a legislator had just gotten
                                   a large dental bill for kiddos eating too much candy?)
     West Virginia   -   Whistling underwater is prohibited.  (Is it just me, or does the mere idea
                                   of underwater whistling seem way too quirky to make sense?)
     Wisconsin         -   It is illegal to serve apple pie in restaurants without cheese.  (Now I have
                                   to admit, I do see some sense to this one.  Wisconsin is famous for their
                                   cheeses, and apple pie is certainly enhanced by its addition.)
     Wyoming          -   You may not take a picture of a rabbit from January to April without an
                                    official permit.  (I'm totally lost on this.  Why just in the winter time?
                                    (Why rabbits?  Are they the only animals requiring this permit?)

There you have it.  Laws that amuse, and may even make sense to someone in some unknown way.  I heard someone say once, that all lawmakers should spend equal time discarding old or unwanted laws as they do on coming up with new ones.  Because you know that any law written requires large amounts of regulations on just how these laws should be administered.  Lord, deliver us from this never-ending deluge of bureaucracy.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Creative Solar Thinkers

I read an interesting article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.  Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer in Idaho State, has come up with an intriguing idea.  Why not use solar power to do more than provide light and heat?  Why not put them on the ground and use solar energy to make parking lots, driveways, and bike trails?  No, not to make solar covers for these items, but to cover the parking lots, etc. with the solar panels.  Lay them down and drive on them just as you would do with asphalt or other roadway materials.

Brusaw's company, Solar Roadways, uses a knobby, tempered glass to create the road covering.  He has tested the panels by driving heavy equipment on them, and is convinced they can eventually be used for highways as well.  That would be something to see.  They should keep the snow and ice melted away, and, he says, that there could be lighted LED messages in the panels as well.

They have installed a prototype parking lot already for their testing and to demonstrate their durability and use.  Evidently they still must figure out how to store the energy generated.  But at least they are thinking in a creative manner, looking for something that we may all be using at some point in the future. 

Personally, I hope they are successful, and the solar panels are one day taking us from one part of the country to the other.  And when the blizzards come, and the snow is so deep on the road sides, wouldn't it be wonderful to travel a clean, brightly lit, precipitation free highway?  Can you imagine transportation without cars sliding all over the place and winding up in ditches or worse?  I think it would be a treat to see and use. 

So good luck to you, Mr. Brusaw.  May your tribe increase and prove beneficial to all of us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Pat Cleburne Steam Fire Engine

The Little Rock, Arkansas, fire department received a new steam fire engine in 1867, which was put into use as The Pat Cleburne.  This was celebrated in the news media of the day as follows:

          From the New Orleans, Louisiana, Crescent dated April 6, 1867, as reported in the
          Arkansas Gazette, April 14, 1867. 

     The New Steam Engine Pat Cleburne  The second class double Amoskeog engine Pat Cleburne, on its passage through (New Orleans) to Little Rock, was tried yesterday afternoon at the head of Canal Street.  ... it is the first fire engine of the kind that has been seen in this city.

          From the Arkansas Gazette, reported April 16, 1867.

     The Pat Cleburne  The new steam fire engine was taken ... for a trial of its capacities.  ...
     One of the streams was then cut off and an inch and one-eighth nozzle put on the other.  Through this, the water was sent to such a height that it was painful to the eyes to follow it upwards. ...
     The water in the cistern was beginning to get low, and the engine was removed ... and ... soon pumped the cistern full, showing that the Pat would make a first class garden pump or street sprinkler.         


Thursday, July 10, 2014

You Say What Is Against The Law??

Let's take a look at another ten legal issues that have arisen across the states over time.  Again, someone somewhere decided at some time or other that constituents were upset over a specific issue, enough to push this issue to some legislature's attention, enough to get the laws passed.  Remember, I found these laws on the Internet so I cannot vouch for their veracity or the time of their passage.

New Mexico       -  In the town of Las Cruces you may not carry a lunchbox down
                               Main street.
New York           -  It is against the law to slurp your soup.
North Carolina   -  Attention all cotton farmers!!  You may not use elephants to plow
                               your cotton fields.
Ohio                   -   And fishermen must also be diligent when enjoying their passion.  It is
                               illegal to get a fish drunk in this fair state.  (If you take booze to the
                               lake or river, plan on consuming it yourself.)
Oklahoma          -   It is illegal to wear your boots to bed.  (Do you think the ladies had
                               something to do with getting this law enacted?)
Oregon               -  One must wear "suitable clothing" when bathing.  (Is the "suitable
                               clothing specified in the law?  I just don't know.)
Pennsylvania      -  This law is related to the one in Oregon.  In William Penn's namesake
                               state you may not sing in the bathtub. (I wonder if they later updated
                               it to include singing in the shower?)  
Rhode Island      -  In this state, you may not bite off the leg of another person.  (I don't
                               even want to think about the reasoning behind this law.)
South Carolina   -  Evidently a pious state at the time, the powers that be passed a law
                               making it illegal to do any work on Sunday.  (I have a feeling this
                               one has gone by the wayside by now.)

So watch your actions, fellow citizens.  You do not want to run afoul of the law in any of our fair states.  In reading this and the past lists, how many are you in danger of doing?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Future Looks Good

As you travel through life you are always running into the perpetual nay-sayers.  So often folks predict a dire future for all of us because the young people don't want to learn or do anything productive.

Now it is true that the negative captures the public attention far more than the positive.  But the positive is out there, and sometimes it rears a beautiful view of something wonderful that is about to happen.  Oh, what a wonderful thing it is to see that fine future and the possibilities that loom before us, stretching far into the future.

One such story came our way this week.  Two years ago a 12 year old Florida girl, Lauren Arrington, won 3rd place in a the zoology category of a science fair.  The daughters of a couple of scientists, she used her inquiring mind to ask questions of some value about lionfish.  Her results came to the attention of Craig Layman, a professor working with graduate students from Florida.  They replicated Lauren's study and came up with results that supported her findings.

Their studies have now been published in the Environmental Biology of Fishes, and the good professor gives Lauren credit for her work.  Good for her for getting her study extended by the grownups, and good for the professor and his group for including her work by citing it in the journal.  This is the way things should be done, in my opinion, with all working together to figure things out, and showing a willingness to share in the glory when the results are in.

With folks like this in the world, we must get some good information that can eventually be of value to the world.  Way to go, people.  My hats off to all of you.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Summer Becomes Bearable

It's July.  And in the Northern Hemisphere that can mean a lot of long hot days.  It's a time you want to get out early in the day or later after dark.  To traipse about outside in the full blast of summer heat in late afternoon can be miserable.

Yet, what could it be without man's inventive spirit?  We have come to expect comfort even in the heat of summer, the cold of winter.  We not only expect it, we demand it.  Why?  Because we are now used to it and oh, how we hate to lose something we really enjoy.

I'm glad I live in a time with such creature comforts.  Back in the 1880's there was no air conditioning.  Some of the history of creation and inventions can be a little murky without clear documentation.  But I've read that in 1882 Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invented the fan.  A few years later Philip Diehl added an electric motor.  Then a few more years later, Diehl added an electric light to it.

Ceiling fans, of course, do not cool the air.  It moves the air around people and in a still, hot atmosphere the air movement makes one feel cooler.  It was a big improvement to man's life.  And the fans became common in a large part of the country, especially in the more urban areas.

In the more rural areas of the country, such amenities were not as available.  Many years ago we met a lady who was quite elderly.  The discussion turned to ceiling fans.  She said one day her family got in the wagon and their father took them to a town not too far away, for he had heard of a family there with an electric fan.  All the way over they discussed what they expected to see.  She said they decided before they arrived the contraption would be shaped like a paper hand fan with a motor moving it up and down to blow the air on them, just as a paper fan pushed the air across the face.

They were wrong, of course.  But can you imagine the excitement of going to see an unusual (to them) contraption that would make life easier and more enjoyable, even in the pulsing heat of deep summer?  When was the last time you were excited to see something new?