Saturday, June 28, 2014

Physics comics from Comic Book Plus

"7 Public Domain Physics Comics Worth Reading"

June 23rd, 2014

Physics Central

The Golden Age of comic books stretched from the 1930s through the 1950s and overlapped with a time of unbridled optimism about the progress of science. People wanted to know about how the latest technology worked, and LOTS of people wanted to read comic books, so putting the two together seems like a no-brainer.

Comic Book Plus is an amazing archive of public domain comics from this era. sprinkled amongst long forgotten titles like Lars of Mars and The Adventures of Captain Havoc and The Phantom Knight are a plethora of scanned comic books about real science. They run the gamut. Some are illuminating, funny and really helpful while others are just weird, wildly inaccurate and are terribly dated. So, my list of the top seven public domain science comics worth reading are...

7- How Atomic Energy Works

Golly wilikers! Who wouldn't wanna learn how atomic energy works from a man in a fedora?! In all seriousness, this Bill Cosmo character is a bit over eager to tell little Johnny more than he actually knows. His explanation of nuclear fission is pretty muddled, his metaphors don't make a lot of sense and he has a hard time telling the difference between weight and mass as well as speed and velocity. He claims to work in a physics lab, but I have my doubts.

In the heady early days of the atomic age, nuclear power seemed like it was going to change everything. However the race to explain how this new technology worked was hampered by the fact that in 1946 everything was still so new and a lot of information about nuclear technology was still secret.

"How Atomic Energy Works" appeared in the Summer 1946 issue of Future World Comics. Page 41.

6- Radar: It Sees the Invisible

Apart from splitting the atom, radar was the other, big physics breakthrough of World War II. It let pilots see in the dark, and was instrumental in turning the tide of the war. "Radar: It Sees the Invisible" is actually a pretty good, no frills rundown of how pilots use bouncing radio waves to see. When the comic was published in March of 1946, it was another military technology transitioning into peacetime use.

"Radar: It Sees the Invisible" appeared in the March 1946 issue of Science Comics. Page 10

5- Adventures Inside the Atom

By the time 1948 rolled around, it seemed like people started to "get" nuclear energy. General Electric published their "Adventures in Science" series to highlight the work they doing to develop telephones, power generators, lightbulbs, aerospace technology and of course, nuclear energy. All together, GE produced 68 million comics over the entire series run. They're well done too, with imaginative illustrations and creative analogies.

In "Adventures Inside the Atom, the prototypical Johnny is eager to learn all about how fission works, and Ed here seems to know quite a bit more about the process than the aforementioned Bill Cosmo. He takes Johnny on a tour from the prognosis of atomic theory in ancient Greece, to the atom-powered world of tomorrow! It's a pretty solid introduction to nuclear energy, plus bonus points for recognizing the often overlooked contributions of Lise Meitner to fission's discovery.

Adventures Inside the Atom was a standalone comic published in 1948.

4- How Sonar Works

I know I'm always ready for a science lesson after dispatching the nefarious plot of a brawny murderer. In "How Sonar Works," adventurer Jack Boyd takes some time to explain to the salty ol' cap'n how that newfangled sonar technology works, following a harrowing treasure hunt. Actually, seeing the ocean floor using bouncing sound waves was invented around World War I, but hey, it's never too late to learn.

"How Sonar Works" appeared in the fall 1946 issue of Future World Comics. Page 28.

3- Adventures in Electricity: Generation

More General Electric goodness, except this time Johnny and Ed are exploring the science of electricity and how industry (read: your friends at General Electric) harnesses it. After little Johnny almost electrocutes himself, Ed takes him around the world to learn how magnets induce electrical currents, and the many ways that energy gets converted into electricity. This time, Ed's got some help in the form of an army of tiny, friendly, anthropomorphized electrons.

Illustrator George Roussos drew a bunch of GE's "Adventures" series, only some of which are available on Comic Book Plus. In an interview in 1983, he said that at the time "Comics were selling so good it was obvious that children would rather read them than their school books so someone had the idea to do comic books about electricity."

"Adventures in Electricity: Generation" was published in 1946.

2- Andy's Atomic Adventures

This may be the outright weirdest of the bunch. Andy loses his dog around the atomic bomb proofing grounds in Nevada, which is possibly the worst place in the world to lose your dog. When the army finds the pooch, they take little Andy on a tour of the top secret weapons facility and tell him a little bit about radiation.

Apparently, if your dog is covered in radioactive fallout, don't worry, everything will be fine in a week.

"Andy's Atomic Adventures" took up the whole September 1953 issue of Picture Parade.

1- Hero Scientist of the Atom Bomb

This one's downright cool! It's the real life story of smuggling Nobel laureate physicist Niels Bohr out of Nazi-occupied Denmark in 1943, followed up by the British and Norwegian secret mission to blow up a critical part of the German's atomic bomb program. I had no idea that his escape was as harrowing as it was, Bohr almost died of asphyxiation while hiding in a British airplane's bomb bay! Fair warning though, there are a couple of fist fights and shootouts in it that didn't actually happen; It is a comic book after all. It's a bit light on the science, but action packed and a great read.

"Hero Scientist of the Atomic Bomb" appeared in the March 1946 issue of Marvels of Science. Page 7.

What is the "right" philosophy?

"Philosophy You Can Use: The Ancient, Practical Wisdom in Stoic Thinking"


Ryan Holiday

June 27th, 2014

The Huffington Post

When most people think of "philosophy," their eyes glaze over. It's the last thing they want, let alone something they need.

But this, as you already know, is silly and naive.

Philosophy is not just about talking or lecturing, or even reading long, dense books. In fact, it is something men and women of action use -- and have used throughout history -- to solve their problems and achieve their greatest triumphs. Not in the classroom, but on the battlefield, in the forum, and at court.

It was jotted down (and practiced) by slaves, poets, emperors, politicians and soldiers, as well as ordinary folks to help with their own problems and those of their friends, family and followers. This wisdom is still there, available to us.

Specifically, I am referring to Stoicism, which, in my opinion, is the most practical of all philosophies.

A brief synopsis on this particular school of Hellenistic philosophy: Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Cato, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy asserts that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don't control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.

But at the very root of the thinking, there is a very simple, though not easy, way of living. Take obstacles in your life and turn them into your advantage, control what you can and accept what you can't.

In the words of Epictetus:

    In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.

Amazingly we still have access to these ideas, despite the fact that many of the greatest Stoics never wrote anything down for publication. Cato definitely didn't. Marcus Aurelius never intended for Meditations to be anything but personal. Seneca's letters were, well, letters and Epictetus' thoughts come to us by way of a note-taking student.

And so it was from their example, their actions, we find real philosophy.

Because other than their common study of the philosophy, the Stoics were all men of action -- and I don't think this is a coincidence. Marcus Aurelius was emperor of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. Cato, the moral example for many philosophers, defended the Roman republic with Stoic bravery until his defiant death. Even Epictetus, the lecturer, had no cushy tenure -- he was a former slave.

And this shouldn't really be that surprising...

The modern-day philosopher and writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines a Stoic as someone who, "transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking."

Using this definition as a model we can see that throughout the centuries Stoicism has been a common thread though some of history's great leaders. It has been practiced by Kings, presidents, artists, writers and entrepreneurs. Both historical and modern men illustrate Stoicism as a way of life.

Prussian King, Frederick the Great, was said to ride with the works of the Stoics in his saddlebags because they could, in his words, "sustain you in misfortune."

Meanwhile, Montaigne, the politician and essayist, had a line from Epictetus carved into the beam above the study in which he spent most of his time.

The founding fathers were also inspired by the philosophy. George Washington was introduced to Stoicism by his neighbors at age seventeen, and afterwards, put on a play about Cato to inspire his men in that dark winter at Valley Forge. Whereas Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Seneca on his nightstand when he died.

The economist Adam Smith's theories on the interconnectedness of the world -- capitalism -- were significantly influenced by the Stoicism that he studied as a schoolboy, under a teacher who had translated Marcus Aurelius' works.

The political thinker, John Stuart Mill, wrote of Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism in his famous treatise On Liberty, calling it "the highest ethical product of the ancient mind."

But those influenced by the Stoics goes on...

Eugène Delacroix, the renowned French Romantic artist (known best for his painting Liberty Leading the People) was an ardent Stoic, referring to it as his "consoling religion."

Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave who challenged an emperor by leading the Haitian revolution, read and was deeply influenced by the works of Epictetus.

Theodore Roosevelt, after his presidency, spent eight months exploring (and nearly dying in) the unknown jungles of the Amazon, and of the eight books he brought on the journey, two were Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and Epictetus' Enchiridion.

Indeed, Teddy seems to represent the temperance and self-control of the philosophy beautifully when he said, "What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can get only by practice." Likewise he expressed the necessity of action advocated by the Stoics when he famously remarked: "We must all wear out or rust out, everyone of us. My choice is to wear out."

Today's leaders are no different, with many finding their inspiration from the ancient texts. Bill Clinton rereads Marcus Aurelius every single year, while Wen Jiabao, the former prime minister of China, claims that Meditations is one of two books he travels with and has read it more than one hundred times over the course of his life.

You see, Stoicism -- and philosophy -- are not the domains of idle professors. They are the succor of the successful, and the men and women of action. As Thoreau put it: "To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school... it is to solve some of the problems of life not only theoretically, but practically."

The mantle is ours to pick up and carry and do with what we can.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Radio Shack near death

Well, all good things must come to an end eventually. And that includes Radio Shack. At one time it was the a place for electronic components, electrical accessories...Heathkits. Big Box stores and the Internet have killed the business.

"RadioShack Is Now a Penny Stock"


Justin Worland

June 20th, 2014


RadioShack faced the prospect of being removed from the New York Stock Exchange on Friday when its stocked dipped below $1 a share for the first time ever.

The milestone follows a long decline for the one-time electronics retail giant. The company has struggled to adapt to consumers shopping for electronics products outside traditional stores. That evolving market killed off Circuit City in 2009. Other retailers that met a similar fate include Tweeter Home Entertainment and CompUSA.

RadioShack’s stock peaked at more than $75 in the late 1990s. Some of the most dramatic losses have come in recent years. The company lost $400 million in 2013, and, earlier this year, it announced the closing of up to 1,100 stores.

RadioShack’s shares closed at $0.92 on Friday.

Old Radio Shack catalogs

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Schrödinger’s Cat's perspective by Sarah Donner

Krypton Radio...

We’ve spent decades wondering whether the cat in the box was dead, or alive, or how it could be both at once. The biggest problem, according to geek chanteuse Sarah Donner, is that in all this time nobody has bothered to ask the cat what it thought.

Sarah has a clear bright voice, a charming presence, and that so-necessary sense of humor that makes each of her songs a delight. This song, called The Rebuttal of Schrödinger’s Cat  was filmed entirely on location at the Princeton Plasma Physics Library. And it’s brilliant.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Patrick Harran plea bargains

"UCLA chemistry professor avoids prison time in fatal lab fire case"


Kim Christensen

June 20th, 2014

Los Angeles Times

UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran on Friday struck a deal with prosecutors that all but frees him from criminal liability in a 2008 laboratory fire that killed staff research assistant Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji.

Harran, charged with four felony counts of willfully violating state occupational health and safety standards, had faced up to 4-1/2 years in prison if convicted.

Instead, under an agreement approved by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge George Lomeli, Harran, 44, was ordered to pay $10,000 to the Grossman Burn Center and to perform 800 hours of community service.

Harran admitted no wrongdoing in what is thought to be the first criminal case arising in an academic lab accident. The charges will be dropped if he successfully fulfills the terms of the agreement.

Sangji, 23, was not wearing a protective lab coat and suffered severe burns on Dec. 29, 2008, when a plastic syringe she was using to transfer t-butyl lithium from one sealed container to another came apart, spewing a chemical compound that ignites when exposed to air. She died 18 days later.

Harran and UCLA contended that her death was a tragic accident, not a crime.

For more on this topic use the blog's search engine.

Last gasp for A. C. Gilbert?...1963

Attached copy...

Not so much a commercial as an infomercial.  This 10 minute 1963 promotional reel for the A.C. Gilbert company highlights childrens' microscopes, telescopes, physics sets, electrical engineering sets, chemistry sets, electronics sets, and the ever-popular Erector sets.  An extensive TV ad campaign was planned the same year that this film was produced, but the country went into mourning over JFK's death, the networks slowed airing toy commercials, and toy sales plummeted.  The A.C. Gilbert company went out of business in 1967, though the Erector Sets managed to survive, having been released by various other toymakers over the years. 

Use the blog's search engine for much more.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Great...hyper astronauts high on coffee

"Coffee on its way to space station, made by ISSpresso coffee machine (really)"


Trevor Mogg

June 16th, 2014

Digital Trends

After a hard day’s space walking, astronauts would probably love nothing more than to strap themselves securely into their favorite armchair and relax with a cup of freshly brewed coffee as they…ahem…watch the world go by.

With Starbucks yet to open an outlet 250 miles above Earth (hey, give it time), space travelers have been faced with a limited number of options when it comes to beverages, though thanks to a recent collaboration between space-food specialists Argotec and coffee company Lavazza, that looks set to change.

For over a year the pair have been working on the – OK, prepare to cringe – ISSpresso coffee machine, describing it as “the first capsule-based espresso system able to work in the extreme conditions of space.”

The companies, both Italian (well, what did you expect?), said their revolutionary machine can deliver the “perfect espresso” in a weightless environment, as well as other drinks such as tea, infusions and broth.

It gets better – the machine will apparently be placed in a new ‘corner cafe’ on the ISS, “a hub for socializing on board the station.” Corner cafe?!? It seems Starbucks really does have a chance to open a branch in space.

Designing the ISSpresso was clearly no easy task, with engineers forced to overcome challenges like how to handle liquids at high pressure and high temperature in microgravity conditions.

“The machine is so complex that it weighs about 20 kilograms since there are back-ups of all the critical components for safety reasons in accordance with the specifications agreed upon with the Italian Space Agency,” Lavazza said in a release. Company VP Giuseppe Lavazza added that he hoped the ISSpresso will help “improve the living and nutrition quality of astronauts engaged on long missions.”

The coffee maker is set to be blasted skyward in November – together with Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy’s first female astronaut – offering coffee-loving ISS inhabitants their first taste of the bean-based drink in space (albeit via a pouch and tube).

Blame Kenneth Arnold for the "flying saucer"

"The Man Who Introduced the World to Flying Saucers"

Kenneth Arnold saw something, said something, and ushered in the UFO-industrial complex.


Megan Garber

June 15th 2014

The Atlantic

The plan was to launch a flying saucer. NASA's supersonic braking device—technically known as the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, less technically an enormous inflatable disk—was designed to deliver heavy payloads to the surface of Mars. Payloads, the thinking went, that could include humans. The experimental craft was meant to launch last week; this weekend, that launch was postponed because of a very earthly impediment: uncooperative winds.

That the LDSD would be so subject to environmental vagaries explains in large part why its broader category of craft—the flying saucer—has figured relatively rarely in NASA's engineering repertoire. So what, then, accounts for their ubiquity—in our imagination, if not in our airspace? Why are the spaceships of Star Trek and Star Wars and Independence Day shaped the way they are?

Why, if saucers are relatively rare in science, have they been such a long-standing element of science fiction?

Nine Flashes of Light

If you wanted to put a precise date on the origins of our obsession with saucers, the most-cited contender is June 24, 1947. That was the day that Kenneth Arnold, an amateur pilot from Idaho, was flying his little plane, a CallAir A-2, over Mineral, Washington. The skies were clear; there was a light breeze. Arnold, who was en route to an air show in Oregon, was doing a little exploring on the side, near Mount Rainer: A Marine Corps C-46 transport airplane had gone down in the area recently, and there was a $5,000 reward for the person who found the wreckage.

Suddenly, as Arnold would later recall, he saw a bright light—just a flash, like a glint of sun as it hits a mirror when the glass is angled just so. It had a blue-ish tinge. At first, he thought the light must have been coming from another plane; when he looked around, though, all he could see was a DC-4. It seemed to be flying about 15 miles away from him. It was not flashing.

And then the lights came again—this time, in a series. Nine flashes, in rapid succession.

What did Arnold see that day? Or, more to the point, what would he say that he’d seen? As Ted Bloecher writes in his Report on the UFO Wave of 1947, released in 1967, Arnold would later describe the airborne objects as flying in "a diagonally stepped-down, echelon formation," the entire assemblage "stretched out over a distance that he later calculated to be five miles." The objects seemed to be flying on a single, horizontal plane, but they also weaved from side to side, occasionally flipping and banking—darting around, Arnold would say, like “the tail of a Chinese kite.” They moved in unison, Arnold said. They didn't seem to be piloted, he said. Once Arnold realized the objects were not, in fact, commercial jets—or, as he’d also thought for a moment, a skein of geese—he figured he was witnessing the testing of military aircraft.

If so, though, the objects would be very advanced aircraft. Arnold, still trying to figure out what he was looking at as he flew over Mount Rainier, decided to focus on the vehicles’ speed. He calculated the time it took the objects to travel between Mount Rainer and Mount Adams, a distance of about 50 miles: a minute and 42 seconds. Which was a rough approximation—but which would also mean that the objects were traveling at a rate, rough-approximation-wise, of 1,700 miles per hour. Which would mean that they were traveling around three times faster than any aircraft was capable of at the time. The formation of flying objects was flying, actually, more than twice the speed of sound. Chuck Yaeger wouldn’t make his supersonic flight—the one generally acknowledged to be the first—until later that year, in October.

Flying Objects, Unidentified

Arnold wasn’t sure what he’d seen; the flying objects he’d go on to describe remained, in the most literal sense, unidentified. What he did know was that the sighting gave him, he would later say, an "eerie feeling.”

An hour later—around 4 p.m. local time—Arnold landed his plane at the air strip in Yakima, Washington. He was a frequent visitor there, and told the staff, friends of his, about the strange objects he'd seen. The story, as you’d expect, spread quickly throughout the small-town airfield. And then, Arnold went about his planned trip: Refueling, he proceeded on to an air show in Pendleton, Oregon. What he didn’t know, however, was that, after he left, one of the guys from Yakima had called someone in Pendleton, spreading the news of the sighting outside of Washington.

And then reporters, as reporters are apt to do, got wind of the story. On June 25, Arnold ended up at the offices of the East Oregonian, a Pendleton newspaper. He told reporters about his sighting. He emphasized the “unidentified” as much as the “flying objects.” He described their movements, saying that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.”

The reporters seem to have believed him. As the historian Mike Dash explains,

    Arnold had the makings of a reliable witness. He was a respected businessman and experienced pilot ... and seemed to be neither exaggerating what he had seen, nor adding sensational details to his report. He also gave the impression of being a careful observer.... These details impressed the newspapermen who interviewed him and lent credibility to his report.

But what happened next—the precise manner in which flying saucers, as a concept, transferred from the mind of Kenneth Arnold to that of the nation—remains unclear. We know that Arnold had mentioned saucers in his discussions with reporters; but was he being literal, or metaphorical? Stories of the time credit Arnold with using the terms "saucer," "disk," and "pie-pan" in his description of the objects he'd seen.

Arnold himself, however, would say that he was misquoted—or, at least, taken out of context. Some argue that the entire idea of a flying saucer was based on a reporter's misunderstanding of Arnold's "like a saucer" description as describing a saucer itself—making it "one of the most significant reporter misquotes in history." A 1970 study reviewing U.S. newspaper accounts of the Arnold UFO sighting concluded that the term had been introduced by an editor or headline writer, since the bodies of the early Arnold news stories didn't mention "flying saucers" or "flying discs."

Arnold would corroborate this. In a 1950 interview with Edward R. Murrow, he discussed the interviews he'd given to military intelligence officers about what he'd seen. Murrow noted that the officials had doubted the accuracy of some of Arnold's descriptions of that sighting; Arnold blamed some of that on the media.

From the transcript:

    MURROW: On three different occasions, Mr. Arnold was questioned by military intelligence. They expressed doubt as to the accuracy of some of his reported observations.

    ARNOLD: That's right. Now of course some of the reports they did take from newspapers which did not quote me properly. Now, when I told the press, they misquoted me, and in the excitement of it all, one newspaper and another on got it as ensnarled up that nobody knew just exactly what they were talking about, I guess.

    MURROW: Here's how the name "flying saucer" was born.

    ARNOLD: These objects more or less fluttered like they were, oh, I'd say, boats on very rough water or very rough air of some type, and when I described how they flew, I said that they flew like they take a saucer and throw it across the water. Most of the newspapers misunderstood and misquoted that too. They said that I said that they were saucer-like; I said that they flew in a saucer-like fashion.
    MURROW: That was an historic misquote. While Mr. Arnold's original explanation has been forgotten, the term "flying saucer" has become a household word.

Was it a "historical misquote," or the second thoughts of reluctant source? (Just after the sighting, on June 27, Arnold would tell reporters that "I haven't had a moment of peace since I first told the story.") More than a half century later, it's even more difficult than it was back then to determine the lines between phantom and fact. The first draft of history can be a rough one.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers

What is clear, in retrospect, is that, starting on June 26, the flying saucer—as an idea, if not an object—was introduced to Americans. Newspapers began using the terms "flying saucer" and "flying disk" (occasionally: "flying disc") to describe the objects Arnold had seen. And the concept spread; once the idea had been planted in people’s minds, they, too, began seeing saucers. Or, perhaps: “seeing” them. On July 4, a United Airlines crew reported seeing another collection of nine disk-like objects in the skies over Idaho. Bloecher, in his 1967 paper, collected reports of 853 flying disc sightings in 1947 alone—gathered from 140 newspapers from nearly every U.S. state and Canada. “After the reports,” the Houston Chronicle recently noted, “people everywhere were scanning the skies for flying the saucers. And when enough people look for something, some people will think they see something. Reports of flying saucers started coming in from all over.”

Will Smith may not have been born in 1947; nonetheless, that year, the Will Smith effect was alive and well.

And it would remain vital in the years to come. Over the next decade, flying saucers would become a ubiquitous feature of popular culture, starring—with tones of both wonder and fear—in comic books and TV shows and movies. There was 1950’s The Flying Saucer. And Flying Disc Man from Mars. 1956 brought Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. And 1957 brought Invasion of the Saucer-Men.

The concept was born into a culture, some have argued, that was primed for the obsession. June 24, 1947 marked not merely the origin of the flying saucer; it also, in some sense, marked the beginning of the ET-industrial complex. “At that time there was still some thought that Mars or perhaps Venus might have a habitable surface,” Robert Sheaffer, an author of UFO-related books, told the blog Life’s Little Mysteries. “People thought these UFOs were Martians who had come to keep an eye on us now that we had nuclear weapons.”

Arnold himself, who at first emphasized that he figured the objects were military vehicles, would become one of those people. Speaking with Murrow for that 1950 broadcast, the pilot discussed the fact that, as he told it, he had had three more sightings of nine mysterious spacecraft. Murrow asked him what he made of those sighings. Arnold replied: 

    I more or less have reserved an opinion as to what I think. Naturally, being a natural-born American, if it's not made by our science or our Army Air Forces, I am inclined to believe it's of an extra-terrestrial origin.

Others, of course, were inclined to believe the same. On July 8, 1947—two weeks after the world was introduced to the concept of the "flying saucer"—Roger Ramey, the Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force, issued a statement informing the public that the personnel on an Army airfield in New Mexico had recovered the wreckage of an experimental military weather balloon that had crashed in the area. He released that statement because another press release had gone out earlier that day: one informing the world that personnel from the field's 509th Operations Group had recovered a craft that had crashed on a ranch in the area.

The ranch was in Roswell. And the object that had crashed was not a weather balloon, that first statement had said, but a "flying disk."

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Deceased--Carla Laemmle

Carla Laemmle
October 20th, 1909 to June 12th, 2014

"Carla Laemmle, link to Hollywood's past, dies at 104"


Claire Noland

June 13th, 2014

Los Angeles Times

Carla Laemmle, a dancer, actress and niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle who grew up at her uncle's studio watching movies being made, died Thursday night at her home in Los Angeles. One of the last links to Hollywood's silent film era, Laemmle was 104.

"Her heart just stopped," Laemmle's great-niece, Rosemary Laemmle Hilb, said Friday, noting that she had been in good health.

She was born Rebekah Isabelle Laemmle on Oct. 20, 1909, in Chicago, where her father, Joseph, and his brother, Carl, had emigrated from Germany. Her uncle opened a theater in Chicago to show the then-new medium of motion pictures and founded the Universal Film Manufacturing Co. in 1912 with a group of partners before buying them out. A few years later, he moved to Los Angeles and created Universal City as a vast production facility. Carl's cousins, Max and Kurt Laemmle, later founded the chain of theaters that today shows art-house films.

In 1921, with Joseph in poor health, Carl invited his brother's family to live in a bungalow on the movie lot. His niece, who changed her name to Carla in the '30s, was 11 when they moved.

"It was like a little city," Laemmle told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012. "It had everything. It had a hospital, a school, a police and fire department and even a zoo."

In later years, she told stories of wandering the facilities during production of the 1923 version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," starring Lon Chaney, and other silent films.

She became a ballet dancer and actress and, after having a screen test with director Erich von Stroheim, was put under contract.

Her film appearances included "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) and "Dracula." For that 1931 classic starring Bela Lugosi, she spoke the film's first lines: "Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age .... "

Laemmle (pronounced LEM-lee) continued to dance in Los Angeles and had other small movie roles.

In a 2012 interview with The Times [below], film historian Scott Essman called Laemmle nearly "the last tie to an era that is pretty much gone. When you talk about these great Universal films of that period — we are at a point now that it is all memory."
At the time, Laemmle was looking forward to her 103rd birthday party.

"I never thought about age," she told The Times. "I always had a feeling that I was in my 20s."

Laemmle, who had a brief marriage that was annulled, had no children and is survived by extended family members.


"Life on Universal Studios lot"

As a niece of then Universal Studios chief Carl Laemmle, Carla lived on the lot with her family in the 1920s and '30s and appeared in films. She marks her 103rd birthday with a party at the Silent Movie Theatre.


Susan King
October 18th, 2012

Los Angeles Times

Carla Laemmle lived a fairy tale existence after she and her parents moved to the Universal Studios lot in 1921 when she was 11.

Her father, Joseph, was the brother of Universal Studios chief Carl Laemmle and when Joseph's health began to fail, Carl invited the family to leave Chicago and live on the lot because the climate would be better in California.

"There were two houses with a long front lawn and a little hospital," recalled Carla Laemmle, who is celebrating her 103rd birthday Saturday with a party at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. She will also be appearing Oct. 30 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' screening of the 1925 classic "The Phantom of the Opera," in which she briefly appears.

Carla Laemmele remembers the family frequently being visited by a camel who wandered over from the lot.

"They had a wonderful zoo," she said. "A camel would get loose and somehow he would trek up from the back lot and start grazing on our lawn. I would take out a little bowl of oatmeal and lead it to one of the garages and call [the zoo workers] and say, 'Your animal is here."'
Her on-screen history is just as fantastic. She was in 1931's iconic "Dracula," and "Phantom of the Opera," and got to know screen legends such as director-actor Erich von Stroheim.

Film historian Scott Essman, who specializes in Universal horror films and knows Laemmle, said that she is almost "the last tie to an era that is pretty much gone. When you talk about these great Universal films of that period — we are at a point now that it is all memory."

Today Laemmle is a tiny woman with curly, white hair and bright dancing eyes. She welcomes her visitor with a warm hug. Her house, where she's lived for some 60 years off of Melrose Avenue near Normandie Avenue, is decorated with several photos of her including one in which she is rather scantily clad.

"I have some pictures that I'm not able to hang up there," she confided with a smile.

"Tell her the story about the nude pictures," piped up Laemmle's grand-niece, Rosemary Hilb, who is an organizer of the birthday party. "Carl Laemmle was so upset," said Hilb. "He thought he had destroyed them, but she was able to keep a set."

"Everybody said you have a beautiful body and at that time, I thought, well I don't mind showing it," Laemmle said, smiling. "They are in very good taste but he frowned on that."

Laemmle didn't go to a regular school while she lived on the lot from 1923-36. "I had a private teacher," she said. "At that time she taught at the Hollywood Hotel. She had a little table and there was a little room."

When she wasn't at school or taking ballet lessons, Laemmle would hang out on the sound stages at Universal. "I could go anyplace," she said.

She visited the lavish set of 1923's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," which starred Lon Chaney as the hunchback Quasimodo. "It was a church scene and he was climbing down [the church]," she said. "That was pretty fabulous to see."

Two years later, she appeared as a prima ballerina in the Paris Opera House dance sequence in "Phantom of the Opera," with Chaney. She also appeared with ballet companies in various movies during her years on the lot. "One was 'The Hollywood Revue of 1929,''' noted Hilb. "She had a big scene that Erte designed and she has a dance where she dances out of a clamshell."
Laemmle famously uttered the opening line in "Dracula," in which she tells the fellow passengers in the coach: "Among the rugged peaks that frown down upon the Borgo Pass are found crumbling castles of a bygone age...."

There are myriad ties to Hollywood's fabled past. "My father was very good friends with Erich von Stroheim," said Laemmle of the famed director ("Greed") and actor ("Sunset Boulevard"). "Once he made a screen test with me and that was wonderful. He and my father spoke German together."
Laemmle appeared on stage in her teens and early 20s as an actress and a dancer in 1928-29 in light operas at the Shrine Auditorium. She was married very briefly.

"He was in the service and I met him during the war," Laemmle said. "He was very handsome and he was a singer, but it was one of those stupid things for me to do. I was only married for three weeks because he had another wife...."
"And children," added Hilb.

"You had a very important boyfriend, Ray Cannon," Hilb said to her aunt. Cannon wrote the play "Her Majesty the Prince," which Laemmle starred in at the Hollywood Music Box in 1936.

"Oh yes, I had a wonderful, wonderful relationship with Ray Cannon. He was a writer and director at Universal. He lived with my mother and me until he died [in 1977]. It was a beautiful experience to be with him."

During the 1940s, Laemmle worked at dance clubs like the Paris Inn in Los Angeles, and according to Hilb, saved her money and invested it wisely.

She's continued to act occasionally, appearing in low-budget independent films. She just finished a part in a new Web series called "Broken Dreams Blvd," written and directed by Kevin Jordan.

The birthday party Saturday evening, said Hilb, will feature film clips and a slide show of vintage photographs of Laemmle. "There will also be a performer who does '20s music," she said.

"We are incredibly honored to have one of the last living links to the silent film era at our home at the Silent Movie Theatre," said Mya Stark, director of development and outreach at Cinefamily. "Our audience skews young and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to experience and celebrate somebody who was at the birth of cinema."

So what is Laemmle's secret to longevity?

"I never thought about age," she explained. "I always had a feeling that I was in my 20s."

Carla Laemmle [Wikipedia]


Among the Rugged Peaks: An Intimate Biography of Carla Laemmle Paperback


Rick Atkins

ISBN-10: 1887664912
ISBN-13: 978-1887664912

Friday, June 13, 2014


"Why Do We Use The Letter X To Represent The Unknown?"


Lauren Davis

June 10th, 2014


In algebra, we're often asked to solve for x, and, in the English language, the letter x is often used to signify the unknown—X marks the spot, X-rays, and Mr. X, for example. But how did this particular letter become associated with so much mystery?

In the 2012 TED Talk above, Terry Moore traces the use of the letter x in algebra to the Arabic word al-shalan, which means "the unknown thing," claiming that, in translations of the writing of Arabic mathematicians, that word became linked to the Greek letter chi and then reached us through Latin and, eventually, Spanish. It's a neat story—and a similar explanation even appears in Noah Webster's Dictionary—but is it true?

In fact, the use of x (as well as y and z) became common thanks to René Descartes' use of the last three letters of the alphabet to represent unknown quantities in his treatise La Géométrie. In his classic study A History of Mathematical Notations, Florian Cajori says that there is no historical evidence for the Arabic connection to Descartes' use of x, and, in fact, lists a number of other stories associated with the letter: Some writers have claimed that Descartes' printer wanted to use x as the unknown quantity because the letter appears relatively infrequently in French and Latin, making it convenient for typesetting. (However, Descartes used x as an unknown long before the book was typeset, although some writers have wondered if this accounts for x's eventual predominance over y and z.) Others have noted the similarities between the letter x and the common German mathematical symbol for the unknown, and have proposed that Descartes rendered that German symbol as an x. (Descartes actually uses that symbol alongside x.) Yet another hypothesis proposed that the x was a crossed numeral 1, based on Cataldi's notation of the first power of the unknown.

It may not be as sexy an explanation, but Descartes may have simply viewed the letters at the end of the alphabet as convenient notations for the unknown—by contrast, he had a, b, and c represent the known. Other mathematicians of the era were playing with their own notations, such as J. H. Rahn, who used lowercase letters to represent unknown quantities and capital letters to represent known quantities. Perhaps there are other reasons (such as the printer hypothesis) why x eventually became more common in Descartes' writing than y and z.

That still leaves the question, however, as to whether the algebraic x is responsible for our use of the letter for other mysterious contexts.


A History of Mathematical Notations


Florian Cajori

ISBN-10: 0486677664
ISBN-13: 978-0486677668

Scripps National Spelling Bee becoming racist?

"The Spelling Bee: America’s Great Racial Freaks-and-Geeks Show"

When the public tunes in to see Indian Americans dominate the Scripps competition, is it to cheer for the precocious minority kids—or to gawk at them?


Sameer Pandya

June 11th 2014

The Atlantic

If you are an Indian American obsessed with American sports, occasions for ethnic fandom have been scant at best. After the two Vijays—the tennis player Amritraj and the golfer Singh—who do we really have?

And so it is only with a slight hint of irony that I watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee year after year with great pleasure and anticipation. With the crowning of the co-winners Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe late last month, it makes seven straight years that Indian Americans have won the national bee. From my place of lack, this is nearly as exciting as living in Chicago in the Jordan era, or being a New Yorker when Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, and Mo were young and winning rings.   

Every time a Sameer or an Arvind wins, I get some variation of this text from a friend: “Why are your people so good at spelling? Is it b/c of all the Bengal tiger moms?”

As Indian Americans have been winning the bee, the explanations for the streak are often boiled down to a static notion of culture. Including: memorization as a reflection of Indian learning; the parents of the competitors, featured prominently in ESPN’s coverage of the bee, as tigers in sheep’s clothing; competition, academic rigor, and discipline as values that align with Indian American immigrant life; and the practice the spellers get in regional Indian American bees.

However, figuring out some all-encompassing answer to why these kids are winning ultimately raises thorny questions about the tenuous relationship between cultural characteristics and success in particular fields. It is also not the most interesting thing about this phenomenon.

Rather, what’s interesting is the rising cultural obsession over Indian American spelling stars. Watching the bee, I suspect, allows many Americans to simultaneously celebrate the American Dream and ease their anxieties about the success of one particular race.

During these years when Indian Americans have been dominating the national bee, television viewership has increased as ESPN airs the various rounds across its different television platforms. The run up to and the aftermath of the bee have become fodder across the media landscape. As the comic Hari Kondabolu has joked, the bee has quickly become the “Indian Super Bowl.” 

On television, the bee plays out as pure meritocracy. You spell the word correctly, you move on in the competition. No quibbling about home-field advantage, no refs making questionable calls. In this context, Indian Americans have been perfect winners, affirming the perception of them as model minorities. They are quiet politically, loud academically—characteristics ostensibly emanating from Asian cultural values. They are perceived as geeks, not only in the pejorative sense, but also as studious kids who represent the American ideal. Every time an Indian American wins, one more angel of America gets its wings.

Meritocracy and the existence of “model minorities” are seductive ideas because they suggest race doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Asian American success can be understood as the triumph of cultural values—hard work, family—over structural impediments such as race and class. In the bee especially, cheering for the Asian kid means cheering for a colorblind society.

Last year’s winner, Arvind Mahankali, was a media darling, before and after the bee. Mahankali had three previous top 10 finishes before he finally won. Some of the coverage on Mahankali was notable for not making mention of his race at all. When he appeared on Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN, the host, perhaps himself cognizant of how too often particular markers of identity tend to overdetermine other parts of one’s life, stuck mostly to spelling. Similarly, Grantland sent a writer to talk to Mahankali as he was working through the rounds of the bee. In the piece, Shane Ryan goes out of his way to show that the only different thing he notices about Mahankali is his remarkable devotion to words.

But Cooper’s and Ryan’s well-intentioned colorblindness obscures the presence of race and racism rather than simply reflecting its absence. For race is certainly present in the bee.

It is hard to know how many tweets need to go out for there to be a proper sample size. But this year, same as the last, the Indian American victory was met with a bit of predictable complaining about why an American institution like the spelling bee cannot produce an American winner. More than just coupling whiteness and Americanness, the tweets also represent an anxiety about these winners.

Several years ago, a young contestant named Akshay Buddiga was asked to spell the word “alopecoid.” (Fox-like, if you were wondering.) Buddiga listened to the word, and then something happened that remains a bit of a mystery. His eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets, he swayed a bit, and then fell to his side. Perhaps from the pressure, perhaps from a skipped lunch, Buddiga passed out on live national television. But after being on the ground for just a few seconds, he got up, fixed his glasses, walked up to the mike, spelled the word correctly, and casually walked back to his seat. The applause he received was thunderous. The other children on stage watched him, dumbfounded. The clip became something of a viral hit, before viral hits were really a thing. The whole scene was at once inspiring and disturbing, or alternately alopecoidian on the part of Buddiga, who didn’t win the bee, but is still talked about.

On one hand, Buddiga seems to prove the cultural argument—that these kids are wildly driven in their desire to succeed, no matter the cost. But there is also something more going on here. The allure in the fall and rise of young Buddiga, as well as the allure of watching these kids perform these unusual feats, is the same allure there is in watching the freakish and exotic. The particular cruelty of the spelling bee has been to take kids in their most awkward preteen years and then air them on national TV for our enjoyment.  The bee is a freak show. And while there are white freaks—see the viral hit that Jacob Williamson became after this year’s competition—they are mostly brown freaks.

In her excellent book Sideshow U.S.A: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination, Rachel Adams writes that freak shows are a stage for playing out “many of the century’s most charged social and political controversies, such as debates about race and empire, immigration, relations among the sexes, taste and community standards of decency.”

So what controversy does the spelling bee play out? Behind the scenes of the falling Akshay Buddiga there must have been tiger moms and dads pushing him too far. To see these children as weird and freak-like is to show that there is a price to be paid for the type of success they have. And that price is the loss of normalcy. What these kids are able to do, and the role their parents are perceived to play in their victories, seems to help some in the audience manage its anxieties about Indian American success—which is tied in with a long history of anxiety about immigration, newcomers, and the browning of America. Thus the tweets.

The bee, both great fun to watch and a very complicated spectacle, fulfills an American desire to see Indian Americans as both freaks and geeks. The presence and absence of race operate together, transforming the bee from a historic curiosity to a yearly ritual of must-see TV. 

What is color?...the "Physics Girl" knows

"Meet ‘The Physics Girl’, Winner of Alan Alda’s “What is Color?” Video Contest"


Joanne Manaster

June 9th, 2014

Scientific American

Imagine you are a 5th grader while watching this video. Would you love it?

If it caught your interest, as it did mine, you are in good company. This is the winning entry for the 2014 Flame Challenge put on by Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science. The challenge this year was for someone to explain “What is color?” so that a 5th grader would understand.

The competition is judged by 27,000 5th graders from around the world and Dianna Cowern AKA +Physics Girl captured their attention with her snappy, fun video full of comedic energy. I reached out to Dianna and asked her a few questions about her deserving-to-win video AND a few other things about her road to physics outreach.

Looking at your youtube page, I notice that you began airing videos about two years ago, trying to answer “What can you do with a Physics degree?” What made you decide to do videos in the first place?

The “Science Dating Show” started it all! My senior project in high school was a video podcast where three contestants would compete for a date with the host by proving to be the most scientifically literate. I think the idea still has promise! (joking) But it did spark my interest in video editing. And the motivation for the show applies to what I do now – take a popular topic and sneak in some science. Though now, I am not so subtle with the science.

Fast forward four years through college, I had just graduated with a degree in physics. I was not sure what I wanted to do. I decided to have some fun with the career uncertainty many recent graduates face and made a “101 things to do with a physics degree” video. It was pretty silly, and was meant for my friends and family. But the videos I made subsequently got more attention than I had imagined (we’re talking 10s of views!), especially on topics related to physics. It was at that point I thought I could possibly make something, albeit small, of my channel in the realm of science communication and education.

Your winning video format is quite a departure from your initial video format. I love the creative way you demonstrated the concept of color. It is clear you were thinking of your target audience of 5th graders as you designed this. Did you script the entire video yourself? Did you have a team assisting you? Tell us a bit about how you went about creating this video and your transition to this new video presentation style.

The creation process was more stressful than I had hoped. I was in Ireland when I got an email about the competition. I made the decision to enter on the plane ride back, which meant I had four days until the deadline. It was a rushed process of writing, filming and editing, and my editing file became corrupted the day of the deadline. It kept crashing and deleting portions of the video which I had to redo multiple times. I thought I was not going to make it!

Also, thank you for the compliment! It was definitely a different style from my other videos. In past videos, I made do with what resources I had—namely a black sheet, a camera, and my room. But for the Flame Challenge, I wanted to try something much more colorful. The only thing I needed was a cameraman. A friend of mine was nice enough to stand and press record as I pranced around the neighborhood in ridiculous outfits, ran repeatedly into my car, and frantically shouted filming directions. Thinking back on it, this video was so much fun to make.

Since your physics degree is what brought you to video creation, please tell us about your path to physics and then to physics outreach.

I loved physics in high school. I had two fantastic teachers who lit the flame with lessons on neutron stars, launching cars – all the cool stuff. So when I got to MIT I decided to take the hardest physics class, or as it was affectionally nicknamed, “physics for masochists.” I passed my first physics exam by only a few points, with a score of 35%. Because that class challenged me so much and taught me to think about the world in a whole new way, I was hooked. And I was doing much better than a 35 by the end of the class.

As for physics outreach, it started as way to give back to kids. I participated in Physics Nights where the undergraduate physics students would do live physics demos at local elementary. It was not until Physics Girl that I became more involved in outreach. I was hired as an outreach coordinator by my former professor, Adam Burgasser (the same professor from the masochistic physics class!) who is now at UCSD. And since then have also started working at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center as a science educator. I hope to spark curiosity in young minds so that one day, that curiosity may turn into a science career.

My readers may know that my daughter is studying physics in the College of Engineering at UIUC. This means she’s a rare breed. What do you think are the unique challenges for women in physics?

The most obvious challenge is simply that physics is hard (but extremely rewarding)! So, congratulations to your daughter for choosing it. There are more subtle challenges, though. Showing our feminine side is something I think a lot of women in physics struggle with. I felt very self-conscious walking through the physics halls to meet with my advisor wearing a girly dress. I tried to stand confidently, but I could not help feeling like I was being judged for looking so girly. I toned down makeup, jewelry, and style when I was in the physics department at MIT which seems so silly now. I should have just been myself. Then there are the tougher challenges. I would say the male-dominated physics culture is uncomfortable for many women. There is pressure to compete with, work with, and work for male physicists of very different demeanors and advising styles.

Sometimes the internet is unkind to women (Emily Graslie addressed this in her video “Where My Ladies At?”).  How do you deal with comments, etc?

I have received my fair share of comments that are, let’s say, unrelated to physics. The most common is about the size of my eyes, like my favorite, “baby your eyes are big.. like a bugs life or cartoon.” There have been comments about looking pregnant, marriage proposals, and some “creative”, explicit language. I think you have to have a sense of humor about the harsh comments. For me, laughing at explicit comments is much more productive than getting mad every time. If the comments are negative, yet have nothing constructive to offer, they are easy to ignore. Otherwise, I do take into consideration what I consider useful criticism.

Thank you, Physics Girl, for your enthusiastic videos and for being a voice of women in science! We’ll be looking forward to many more of your informative creations ahead!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Robert H. Goddard's super-train

"The SciFi Story Robert H. Goddard Published 100 Years Ago"


Ron Miller

June 7th, 2014


In 1904, while Robert H. Goddard was a student at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, his professor of creative writing asked his class to write a theme on the subject of what travel might be like in 1950. Goddard imagined what it might be like to travel in a mag lev train that shot at high speed through an airless tunnel.

Goddard's super-train.

His fellow students enjoyed Goddard's ideas even if they thought them a little over-imaginative. In 1906, Goddard rewrote and expanded the theme into a short story called "The High-Speed Bet" which he eventually sent to Scientific American. The magazine published a condensed version—more a summary in fact—along with an editorial critique under the title, "The Limit of Rapid Transit."

Meanwhile... French-born American scientist Emile Batchelet had been working on magnetic levitation since the turn of the century. He patented the idea in 1910 (patent #1,020,942). In 1914, a demonstration of a working model of one of his trains in England made national news. Goddard, who all his life vigorously defended his priority regarding an idea or invention (even if he really didn't come up with it first), submitted his story to the WPI Journal solely in order to prove his precedence. He included a preface that carefully explained how he had advanced the idea of a magnetically propelled train years before Batchelet.

You can read Robert Goddard's story exclusively  here .