Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sonora Aero Club

Charles Dellschau was a butcher by trade who, after his retirement in 1899, filled at least 13 notebooks with drawings, watercolor paintings and collages depicting fantastical airships. His work was in large part a record of the activities of the Sonora Aero Club, of which he was a purported member. Dellschau's writings describe the club as a secret group of flight enthusiasts who met at Sonora, California in the mid-19th century. One of the members had discovered the formula for an anti-gravity fuel he called "NB Gas." Their mission was to design and build the first navigable aircraft using the NB Gas for lift and propulsion. Dellschau called these flying machines Aeros. His collages incorporate newspaper clippings (called "press blooms") of then-current news articles about aeronautical advances and disasters.

According to a coded story hidden throughout the drawings which made up his notebooks the Sonora Aero Club was a branch of a larger secret society known only as NYMZA. Despite exhaustive research, including searches of census records, voting rosters, and death records, nothing has been found to substantiate the existence of this group except for a few gravestones in the Columbia Cemetery where several of the surnames are found. It is speculated that, like Henry Darger's "Realms of the Unreal", the Sonora Aero Club is a fiction by Dellschau.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Goliath Tracked Mine

The Goliath tracked mine - complete German name: Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath (light charge carrier Goliat) - was a remote controlled German-engineered demolition vehicle, also known as the beetle tank to Allies.

Employed by the Wehrmacht during World War II, this caterpillar-tracked vehicle was approximately 1.2 meters long, 0.61 meters wide, and 0.30 meters tall. It carried 75–100 kilograms (170–220 lb) of high explosives and was intended to be used for multiple purposes, such as destroying tanks, disrupting dense infantry formations, and demolition of buildings and bridges.

In late 1940, after recovering the prototype of a miniature tracked vehicle developed by the French vehicle designer Adolphe Kégresse from the Seine River, the Wehrmacht's ordnance office directed the Carl F.W. Borgward automotive company of Bremen, Germany to develop a similar vehicle. The vehicle was steered remotely via a joystick control box that was attached to the Goliath by a 650 meter long triple-strand cable. Two of the strands were used to move and steer the Goliath, the third was used for detonation.

Goliaths were used on all fronts where the Wehrmacht fought, beginning in spring 1942. They were used principally by specialized Panzer and combat engineer units. A few Goliaths were also seen on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, though most were rendered inoperative due to artillery blasts severing their command cables.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vampire Squid

The vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis, lit. "vampire squid from Hell") is a small, deep-sea cephalopod found throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. The vampire squid shares similarities with both squid and octopuses. As a phylogenetic relict it is the only known surviving member of its order, first described and originally classified as an octopus in 1903 by German teuthologist Carl Chun.

The vampire squid reaches a maximum total length of around 30 cm (1 ft). Its body varies in color between velvety jet-black and pale reddish, depending on location and lighting conditions. A webbing of skin connects its eight arms, each lined with rows of fleshy spines; the inside of this "cloak" is black. Its globular eyes, which appear red or blue, are proportionately the largest in the animal kingdom at 2.5 cm (1 inch) in diameter.

The Vampire Squid is almost entirely covered in light-producing organs called photophores. The animal has great control over the organs, capable of producing disorienting flashes of light for fractions of a second to several minutes in duration.

At the shallower end of the Vampire Squid's vertical range, the view from below is like the sky at twilight: The highly sensitive eyes of deepwater denizens are able to distinguish the silhouettes of other animals moving overhead. To combat this, the vampire squid generates its own bluish light in a strategy called counterillumination: The light diffuses the animal's silhouette, effectively "cloaking" its presence from the watchful eyes below.

Like many deep-sea cephalopods, vampire squid lack ink sacs. If threatened, instead of ink, a sticky cloud of bioluminescent mucus containing innumerable orbs of blue light is ejected from the arm tips. This luminous barrage, which may last nearly 10 minutes, is presumably meant to daze would-be predators and allow the Vampire Squid to disappear into the blackness without the need to swim far.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bowie Knife

The most famous version of the Bowie knife was designed by Jim Bowie and presented to Arkansas blacksmith James Black in the form of a carved wooden model in December 1830. Black produced the knife ordered by Bowie, and at the same time created another based on Bowie's original design but with a sharpened edge on the curved top edge of the blade. Black offered Bowie his choice and Bowie chose the modified version.

Bowie returned, with the Black-made knife, to Texas and was involved in a knife fight with three men who had been hired to kill him. Bowie killed the three would-be assassins with his new knife and the fame of the knife grew. Legend holds that one man was almost decapitated, the second was disemboweled, and the third had his skull split open.

Bowie died at the Battle of the Alamo five years later and both he and his knife became more famous. The fate of the original Bowie knife is unknown; however, a knife bearing the engraving "Bowie No. 1" has been acquired by the Historic Arkansas Museum from a Texas collector and has been attributed to Black through scientific analysis.

Black soon had a booming business making and selling these knives out of his shop in Washington, Arkansas. Black continued to refine his technique and improve the quality of the knife as he went. In 1839, shortly after his wife's death, Black was attacked and nearly blinded, after which he could no longer continue his trade.

Black's knives were known to be exceedingly tough, yet flexible, and his technique has not been duplicated. Black kept his technique secret and did all of his work behind a leather curtain. Many claim that Black rediscovered the secret of producing true Damascus steel.

In 1870, at the age of 70, Black attempted to pass on his secret to the son of the family that had cared for him in his old age, Daniel Webster Jones. However, Black had been retired for many years and found that he himself had forgotten the secret.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kelly Gang Armor

Edward "Ned" Kelly was an Irish-Australian bushranger and was considered by some merely a cold-blooded killer, while by others a folk hero and symbol of Irish-Australian resistance against oppression by the British ruling class for his defiance of the colonial authorities

To protect himself and his gang-mates Kelly created four suits of armor, which consisted of an iron helmet and iron back- and breast-plates. Joe Byrne's suit was the only one without an apron to protect the groin and thighs, as a result he died from a shot to the groin. Ned's suit was the only one to also have an apron at the back. The suits' separate parts were strapped together on the body while the helmet was separate and sat on the shoulders allowing it to be removed easily when the need arose. Padding is only known from Ned's armour and it is not clear if the other suits were similarly padded. Ned wore a padded skull cap and his helmet also had internal strapping so his head could take some of the weight. All the men wore dustcoats over the armour.

The Victorian Police had been told three times by informants of the existence of the armour and that it was capable of deflecting bullets but Police Superintendents Hare and Sadlier both dismissed the information as "nonsense" and "an impossibility". Until Ned fell the police questioned whether he was human, one or the other thinking they were against the Devil or a bunyip. Constable Gascoigne, who recognised Ned's voice, told Superintendent Sadlier he had "fired at him point blank and hit him straight in the body. But there is no use firing at Ned Kelly; he can't be hurt". Although aware of the information supplied by the informant prior to the siege, Sadlier later wrote that even after Gascoigne's comment "no thought of armour" had occurred to him.

Following the siege of Glenrowan the media reported the events and use of armour around the world. The gang were admired in military circles and Arthur Conan Doyle commented on the gang's imagination and recommended similar armour for use by British infantry.

After Ned Kelly's capture there was considerable debate over having the armour destroyed, all four disassembled suits of armour were eventually stored by Police Superintendent Hare in Melbourne. Hare gave Ned Kelly's armour to Sir William Clarke, and it was later donated to the State Library of Victoria. Joe Byrne's suit of armour was kept by Hare and now belongs to his descendants. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart's armour are still owned by the Victorian Police force

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay from the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Crete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). It is about 15 cm in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology.

The disc was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, and features 241 tokens, comprising 45 unique signs, which were apparently made by pressing pre-formed hieroglyphic "seals" into a disc of soft clay, in a clockwise sequence spiraling towards the disc's center.

Many attempts have been made to decipher the code behind the disc's signs. While it is not clear that it is a script, most attempted decipherments assume that it is; most additionally assume a syllabary, others an alphabet or logography. Attempts at decipherment are generally thought to be unlikely to succeed unless more examples of the signs are found, as it is generally agreed that there is not enough context available for a meaningful analysis.

Although the Phaistos Disc is generally accepted as authentic by archaeologists, a few scholars have forwarded the opinion that the disc is a forgery or a hoax. This unique object is now on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by some local farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi province, near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

The figures vary in height, according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. It is estimated that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.

Only a portion of the site is presently excavated, and photos and video recordings are prohibited in some areas of the viewing. Only few foreigners, such as Queen Elizabeth II, have been permitted to walk through the pits, side by side to the army.

Perhaps the weirdest finds in the dig were the extremely sharp swords and other weapons which were found coated with chromium oxide, that made the weapons rust resistant. Chromium only came to the attention of westerners in the 18th century. The alloys of tin and copper enabled weapons such as bronze knives and swords to avoid rust and remain sharp in spite of 2000 years of degrading conditions.