Thursday, December 11, 2008

Eye Candy

The Elements

I'm continuing my series of posts on the elements on the periodic table. Today's selections represent the full pantheon in terms of their discovery and use: one has been used since ancient times, one was especially popular in the Middle Ages, and the other was discovered at the dawn of the modern era.
To the right is an early version of the Periodic Table, developed by John Dalton in 1805. It is interesting to note that several substances which were known by chemists of the time are not represented: although they were in use, no one had yet realized that they were unique elements.
In terms of the year of their discovery, we begin with the most recent element first...

Atomic Symbol: In
Atomic Number: 49
Discovered in 1863 by Ferdinand Reich, who was investigating a metal ore which he believed contained the recently discovered element of thallium. His spectroscope revealed a series of lines which were not associated with thallium, however; and since he was color blind, he called on a colleague to examine the spectrum. What was immediately evident was a brilliant, indigo colored line from which they derived the name "indium".
Although people were interested in the element, little use has been found for it except in a few low melting-point alloys, such as those used in sprinkler systems. Indium metal will "glue' itself to glass when evaporated, producing a mirror as good in quality as that of silver but more resistant to corrosion.

Atomic Symbol: Sn
Atomic Number: 50
The chemical symbol comes from the latin stannum. When copper is alloyed with a small amount of tin, it produces bronze; which not only melts at a lower temperature, making it easier to work with, it also makes the metal harder, which is ideal for producing weapons and tools. This discovery is commemorated in the term "Bronze Age", which was a recognized stage in the development of civilizations. How bronze was discovered is unknown, but the people of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India were using bronze by 3000 BC.
Tin can decay to dust, an effect known as "tin plague" which has been responsible for several famous disasters. The Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912 left tin cans of fuel at vaious points on their trek. When they returned on the way back in need of fuel, the cans were found to be empty: it had drained away through tiny holes as the metal corroded. The explorers all perished as a result. Canned food which they'd left behind was found to be still edible fifty years later.

Atomic Symbol: Sb
Atomic Number: 51
Roman physicians prescribed antimony sulfides for skin conditions, but it was in the sixteenth century that antimony medications really came into vogue and were used to treat all kinds of ailments. Mozart may well have been prematurely killed by it. When he became ill his doctors prescribed antimony tartrate, and he was fond of dosing himself with it. When he died, his symptoms were identical to those of acute antimony poisoning.
In the Middle Ages, antimony metal pills were sold as reusable laxatives. People suffering from constipation would swallow a small antimony ball about the size of a pea, and its toxic action would aggravate the intestines, causing them to become more active to expel the irritant pill. It was then recovered from the excrement and stored for future use!

There's an outstanding book covering all of the elements in the Periodic Table, filled with fascinating information about each, called Nature's Building Blocks, by John Emsley.

For my previous posts on the elements, click here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Eye Candy


In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)

To avoid criticism do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.
Elbert Hubbard (1856 - 1915)

First weigh the considerations, then take the risks.
Helmuth von Moltke (1800 - 1891)

He will always be a slave who does not know how to live upon a little.
Horace (65 BC - 8 BC)

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.
Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.
Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC)

A torn jacket is soon mended; but hard words bruise the heart of a child.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

When there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph.
Pierre Corneille (1606 - 1684)

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
Thomas A. Edison (1847 - 1931)

Ye children of man, whose life is a span,
Protracted with sorrow from day to day,
Naked and featherless, feeble and querulous,
Sickly calamitous creatures of clay,
Attend to the words of the sovereign birds,
Immortal, illustrious lords of the air,
Who survey from on high, with a merciful eye,
Your struggles of misery, labor, and care.

Aristophanes, "The Birds" (414 BC)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eye Candy

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging, by Arianna Huffington et. al
$10.20 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 1439105006
There are more than 112 million blogs in the blogosphere, and the author's Huffington Post is one of the most popular. She's a political commentator and self-styled blogging evangelist who has compiled this book full of information for new bloggers and suggestions for increasing visibility for those of us who have been at it for a while.
Why blog? For one thing, it's a great way to make an extra $1.65 per month through Google AdWords or the Amazon affiliate program. But more important, it's a terrific way to share your passions with the world, especially if your friends and family are tired of hearing you talk about them. 
It's also the first time we've ever had a really free press, so that an unknown writer in a small village can compete with the New York Times and CNN.
Most of the book is composed of excerpts from other blogs. Sorry to say, Hansisgreat was not included. A rather major oversight, if you ask me. Many of them involve hot-button political issues, guaranteed to bring in traffic because they add lighter fluid to an already 
simmering fire.
Your own blog needn't be so controversial, however. In a recent appearance on the Daily Show, Huffington admits that she likes to blog about one of her secret passions: cheese. Every area of interest, no matter how narrow, is bound to have millions of followers, after all.
Famous bloggers include President-Elect Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Nora Ephron, Al Franken, Edward Kennedy, Barbara Ehrenreich, and many others. Maher is my favorite: humorous, sarcastic, and incredibly handsome. If you ever go queer, Bill, come to me.
The book is remarkably funny, very broad in its appeal, and many of the suggestions were actually quite helpful. Quite a few of the celebrities mentioned above contributed, and their blogs are listed so that you can check them out if you're curious. This would make a great holiday gift for the blogging enthusiast in your life: it's easy to read in small doses and is fun to pass around with your friends. Top notch writing on a very timely and relevant subject.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Eye Candy


Hansisgreat features a regular column on the Nations of the World. It's difficult to really summarize an entire nation in just a few paragraphs. This is especially difficult today, as this country has a long, rich, and complicated history. Noted for outstanding food, wine, art, architecture, science, and education; I'm sure there are lots of crucial details I'm leaving out, so please be forgiving as we consider France.

Total Area: 176,460 sq. mi. (slightly less than twice the size of Colorado)
Population: 60,876,136
Language: French
Monetary Unit: Euro
Capital: Paris
President: Nikolas Sarkozy (since 2007)
Religion: 88% Catholic, 10% Muslim, 2% Protestant, 1% Jewish

Archaeological evidence suggests that people have lived in what is now France for over 100,000 years. The oldest known cultures are those of the Paleolithic Age (50,000 BC - 8,000 BC), the most famous of which left elaborate cave paintings at Lascaux. Contact with Mediterranean culture was established when Greek colonists explored the western Mediterranean in the 7th Century BC, establishing a town at Marseille, and trading with the interior by way of the Rhone River.

In 121 BC the Roman Empire took over the Greek colonies in Franvce (then known as Gaul). Julius Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul several decades later, between 58 and 51 BC. Gaul became a prosperous province of the Roman Empire, and Christianity was introduced in the 1st century AD.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the area was overrun by Barbarian tribes. In 468 Clovis, chief of the Franks, unified the country by accepting Christianity. Soon France was invaded by Muslim Saracens, who were defeated by Charles Martel in 732. His grandson, Charlemagne, was crowned Emperor of the West in 800 after defeating the Lombards in Italy. Charlemagne expanded the kingdom of France, established a vast administrative system, and is generally considered one of the finest rulers of the Middle Ages.

Unfortunately, soon after Charlemagne's death, the area was invaded again, this time by Vikings from Scandinavia. This weakened the power of the French monarchy, but established the territory of Normandy which conquered Britain and intertwined he cultures of France and England.

During the 14th Century Black Plague, peasant rebellions, and the Hundred Years' War (with England) further weakened the French monarchy. England's king Henry III claimed that he was the true king of France, sparking a long and bitter war in which France experienced repeated losses until the tide was turned by Joan of Arc in 1429. By 1453 the English lost all their territory on the continent except for Calais.

Economic and social recovery accompanied the political recovery. The strength of the economy and size of the population returned to their pre-plague levels, as King Louis XI (r. 1461-83) consolidated royal authority over the country, effectively ending the system of feudalism which characterized the Middle Ages.

The king's absolute power reached its apogee in Louis XIV. He organized councils to advise him and carry out his orders, and he staffed them with able men who were completely dependent on him for position and income. The power of Parliament to veto royal decrees was effectively silenced. The power to appoint bishops gave the king a firm grip on the hierarchy of the church. He ruled as the representative of God on earth, and an obedient clergy gave theological justification of this divine right. The great palace that Louis XIV built at Versailles remains unmatched in size and magnificence.

Louis' successors were well-intentioned rulers who lacked the abilities needed to adapt their country's institutions to the changing conditions of the 18th century. The government's financial problems were made worse by the renewal of costly wars, which resulted in the loss of France's colonies in India and America. In 1789, 1200 deputies elected to the Estates-General declared themselves the National Assembly of France. When the government moved to disperse the Assembly by force, the people of Paris rebelled, seizing the royal fortress of the Bastille, and forcing the king to accept the National Assembly. A peasant revolt spread across the countryside, ending the privileges of aristocracy and causing the execution of thousand of nobles and clergy.

In the chaos that followed the French Revolution, a number of men in key positions saw the need for a more effective government, and they selected the young general Napoleon Bonaparte to stage a coup d'etat.In 1799 he and his supporters overthrew the Revolutionary government and established the French Empire. In the next few years he defeated Austria, Prussia, and Russia and made himself master of most of Europe.His efforts to invade Spain and blockade England led to his undoing. After the destruction of his army in 1814, he abdicated and went into exile on the tiny island of Elba.

After World War II, France drafted a new Constitution in 1958. President Charles De Gaulle was determined to raise France's international prestige and to restore its independence in foreign affairs. He worked for a strong Europe, strengthening the country's commitment to the European economic community. Working with West Germany's chancellor, he virtually ended the centuries of hatred between France and Germany.

France has produced many world famous painters, including the impressionists, and is renowned for its great Gothic churches and outstanding Baroque buildings. French education has had a far-reaching influence, beginning with the French universities of the Middle Ages, particualrly the University of Paris, founded in the 12th Century. Among the French educators who had notable influence are Peter Abelard in the 12th century and Jean Jacques Rosseau in the 18th. 
The famous Eiffel Tower has become a global icon of France, and is one of the most famous monuments in the world, visited by more than 200,000,000 people since its construction for the World's Fair in 1889.

Whew! I'll have to pick an easier country next time!
For my previous posts on Nations of the World, click here.