Arsenal Explosion

Just as Antietam would prove the costliest day in military dead, an Arsenal explosion would produce the largest civilian death tally in the Civil War.

Throughout the Union and Confederacy on Sept. 18, 1862, front-page news was the Battle of Antietam, but not in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Around 2 p.m. on September 17, 1862, a series of powerful explosions ripped through the U.S. Army Arsenal in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Residents of Allegheny and nearby Pittsburgh, many of whom had become aware of a major battle taking place that day at Antietam Creek in Maryland, believed this was a Confederate invasion.

But the explosion was not from a Confederate attack.

By 1862 the U.S. Army regularly employed women and young girls to make cartridges at a number of arsenals situ­ated in urban areas in the North. They were dubbed the “Noble Union Girls”.

The roof of the Arsenal building where young women and girls worked assembling cartridges had collapsed, and flames enveloped its remains. Powerful blasts caused by exploding barrels of gunpowder had blown out the windows and doors of surrounding buildings.

One large structure, known as the laboratory, “was laid in ruins — having been heaved up by the force of the explosion and then fallen in fragments, after which it caught fire and was consumed.”

Witness J.R. Frick had been delivering different types of powder to the various workrooms in the laboratory where armaments were assembled that afternoon. “I saw a fire [in the] powder on the ground between the wheels of the wagon and the [laboratory] porch,” he said, according to the Sept. 20 edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette. “The powder in the roadway … evidently ignited from the fore wheel of my wagon. …”

He also said he recalled seeing several barrels of powder that had been left uncovered.

The fire from the loose powder spread to one of the open barrels, Mr. Frick said. When it blew up, “the action of the air cast me out of the wagon against the palings of the fence,” but he was unburned and uninjured by debris.

Eyewitnesses described a ghastly scene. Terrified girls ran screaming from the building with their clothes on fire, their faces blackened and unrecognizable. Some jumped from the windows, while panic-stricken workers trampled others under foot. Many of the witnesses tried to help the victims, who pleaded with onlookers to tear the burning clothes from their bodies. Mary Jane Black was just returning to her post after picking up her pay when she heard screams and, turning in the direction of the sound, saw “two girls behind me; they were on fire; their faces were burning and blood running from them. I pulled the clothes off one of them; while I was doing this, the other one ran up and begged me to cover her.”

Onlookers discovered remains riddled by shells, cartridges and Mini balls. Bodies as well as stray limbs, bones and scraps of clothing were found hundreds of feet from the explosion—on the streets, in the Allegheny River and suspended in the trees that lined the arsenal grounds. Newspaper reporters searched for words to describe the pitiful remains of the victims:

“In some places [bodies] lay in heaps, and burnt as rapidly as pine wood, until the flames were extinguished by the firemen. In other places nothing could be seen but the whitened and consuming bones, the intensity of the heat having consumed every particle of flesh. The steel bands remaining from the hoop skirts of the unfortunate girls marked the place where many of them had perished.”

More than a year later, it was confirmed that 78 people, mostly women and young girls, had actually died in the accident. The remains of most were never identified, but the majority of the victims were young.

Before many of the fallen could be identified—and before anyone could be sure how many had actually died—townspeople turned out to bury the victims at a cer­emony held in front of what was described as a “large deep pit” holding the remains of some of the fallen women. The Rev. Richard Lea, whose church was close to the arsenal, pleaded with them to forget the grim disaster scene and instead remember how they had come together in an effort to help the “Noble Union Girls.”

The decision to hire women at arsenals had been based on a matter-of-fact assessment of labor needs. In Indianapolis, for example, an observer visiting a factory noted with approval the arrival of women at that facility in June 1861:

“[N]inety blushing young virgins and elderly matrons are constantly employed, making Colt’s revolver cartridges, common musket, rifled musket, Mini, Enfield, ball and buckshot cartridges. It is a beautiful and patriotic sight to see the young and tender happy in the bloody work. They laugh and chat gaily…as they roll up the balls and fix the fatal charge intended to let daylight through some man’s heart.”

The Army’s decision to open munitions work to women was based on commonly held assumptions that girls and women were more obedient than men. The workers who did this kind of labor were often young, and, unlike the women who sought nursing appointments, armory workers were more motivated by wage earning than idealism. The work was simple and repetitive, but it required extreme care. Cartridge-formers placed lead balls in paper tubes, filled the tubes with gunpowder, then tied up the loose ends. Colonel Thomas B. Brown of the arsenal in Washington, D.C., where 20 women would die in a July 1864 fire, referred to the process as “choking cartridges.” Spilled gunpowder was carefully swept from workbenches and floors several times a day. Workers wore special slippers or moccasins, and movement in and out of the rooms containing gunpowder was severely restricted.

Although the U.S. Army Ordnance Department issued strict rules regarding the safe handling of gunpowder and other explosive materials, unofficial experimentation was common on arsenal grounds. Investigations at both the Allegheny and Watertown arsenals revealed that some of the men had been conducting unauthorized experiments with gunpowder. And at Watertown those experiments were conducted in close proximity to the cylinder room.

Three men were charged with being grossly negligent in the explosion, including Arsenal Commander John Symington, who went on sick leave and retired the following summer. He died before the war’s end, his sterling 45-year military career, like the Arsenal, blown to pieces.

Symington’s subordinate, Lt. John Edie, would die a decade later, in a government-run insane asylum.

Also charged was the Arsenal’s laboratory superintendent, Alexander McBride. McBride’s own daughter, 15-year-old Kate, was among those killed. McBride’s sworn testimony was heartbreaking. He had to try to take control of the mayhem. All that hadn’t blown up or burned needed to be guarded. He ran around throwing buckets of water on burning screaming people. All the while, he was a father desperately concerned for his daughter.
Alexander McBride lived a life of seclusion after the explosion.

But, in the late 1890s he met with 300 former employees to sign a petition demanding that Congress award $30,000 to be split among victims and families. Nearly 40 years had passed without compensation.

Regardless, Congress did not oblige. By that time money was needed to finance the Spanish-American War.

Attribution: Post Gazette, History.net

Millennium Falcon Found?

Sceptics expected that a deep-water dive would debunk the slew of extra-terrestrial theories surrounding an unidentified object sitting at the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

But the Swedish expedition team that took the plunge surfaced with more questions than answers and certainly no solution to its origins.

The divers found that the object, which some have likened to the Millennium Falcon because of its unusual round outline, was raised about 10 to 13ft above the seabed and curved in at the sides, giving it a mushroom shape.

They added that the object has ’rounded sides and rugged edges’

‘First we thought this was only stone, but this is something else,’ diver Peter Lindberg said in a press release.

At the center of the object, which has a 60-meter (197 feet) diameter, it has an “egg shaped hole leading into it from the top”.

Surrounding the hole, they found a strange, unexplained rock formation. Adding fuel to the speculative fire, they said that the rocks looked “like small fireplaces” and the “stones were covered in something resembling soot”.

“Since no volcanic activity has ever been reported in the Baltic Sea the find becomes even stranger”, Mr Lindberg continued.

“As laymen we can only speculate how this is made by nature, but this is the strangest thing I have ever experienced as a professional diver.”

The soot also proved cause for concern for Mr Lindberg’s colleague on the Ocean X explorer team, Stefan Hogeborn.

“During my 20-year diving career, including 6,000 dives, I have never seen anything like this. Normally stones don’t burn”, Mr Hogeborn said in the release.

“I can’t explain what we saw, and I went down there to answer questions, but I came up with even more.”

Another find that they saw in person for the first time was the 985-foot trail that they described “as a runway or a downhill path that is flattened at the seabed with the object at the end of it”.

The object was first found in June last year, but because of a lack of funding and bad timing, they have were not able to pull a team together to see for themselves – just the strange, metallic outline, and a similar disk-shaped object about 650 feet away.

As it was before the recent dive, the story behind the object is anyone’s guess.

“We’ve heard lots of different kinds of explanations, from George Lucas’s spaceship – the Millennium Falcon – to ‘it’s some kind of plug to the inner world,’ like it should be hell down there or something”, Mr Lindberg said.

Speaking to Fox News, he said: “We don’t know whether it is a natural phenomenon, or an object. We saw it on sonar when we were searching for a wreck from World War I. This circular object just turned up on the monitor.”

While the Ocean Explorer team is understandably excited about their potentially earth-shattering find, others are slightly more sceptical and are questioning the accuracy of the sonar technology.

In the past, such technology has confused foreign objects with unusual- but natural- rock formations.

Part of the trouble they face, however, is that they have no way of telling what is inside the supposed cylinder- whether it is filled with gold and riches or simply aged sediment particles.

They’re hoping for the former, and history seems to be in their favor.

The Baltic Sea is a treasure trove for shipwreck hunters, as an estimated 100,000 objects are thought to line the cold sea’s floor.

The company have created a submarine that they hope will appeal to tourists and wannabe shipwreck hunters who will pay to take a trip down to the bottom of the Baltic Sea to see for themselves.

Attribution: Mail Online

Anyone Interested in the VMT?

by: Tim Brown & the Common Constitutionalist

It never ceases to amaze me how government can come up with new ways to milk people of their money, but find it impossible to cut their spending.

 Such is a new method that states are trying to come up with by tracking the mileage on your car and taxing it appropriately.

The new technology is already being explored by Minnesota and Oregon. The GPS-like box would be mounted inside a person’s vehicle and they can purchase “miles” ahead of time.

 “As the (national vehicle) fleet becomes more fuel efficient … we’re going to lose a lot of revenue from the gas tax. If it’s not replaced, we’re going to see our transportation infrastructure deteriorate,” says Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington, D.C.

He expects to see a state vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) tax within the next 5 to 10 years.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in VMT as one of the potential solutions to transportation funding gaps that states are dealing with,” says Jaime Rall, senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Many say the greatest obstacle to a miles-traveled tax has been privacy concerns. When Oregon ran a pilot program six years ago, motorists’ major objection was to in-vehicle boxes used to track miles driven, said James Whitty of the Oregon Department of Transportation. “They didn’t like the government boxes. They didn’t like the GPS mandate,” he says.

Of those 2 words, GPS and mandate, my guess is they objected more to ‘mandate’.

So let’s see if I have this right. In most states, we purchase a vehicle and pay a tax to either the city or town & the state. Then we must register it; another tax. Then we buy gas for it and pay tax on the gas. We then pay a toll to drive on the road; that’s a tax. Now they’re going to tax us on the miles we drive due to diminished revenue because they have forced us into more economical cars with escalated fuel costs and bogus CAFE standards?

 Next, some state or federal bureaucrat will propose a new tax (actually more of a penalty) for non-mass transit users. An additional fee when you register your vehicle. By purchasing a car, it is assumed you will not be using mass transit. The intent of said bureaucrat is to nudge people toward the use of trains and buses.

 If the program has any success, the government will soon discover the revenue shortfall was caused by it’s own action & must then invent another tax or fee to subsidize that shortfall.

 This is what governments do. They constantly cause more problems than they ever solve.

Xbox Surgery

THE surgeon enters the operating room, covered in sterile blue scrubs. Machines beep and hiss. Nurses wait, tools at the ready: scalpel, forceps, bandage, Xbox… Xbox?

A surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London began trials of a new device that uses an Xbox Kinect camera to sense body position. Just by waving his arms the surgeon can consult and sift through medical images, such as CT scans or real-time X-rays, while in the middle of an operation.

Maintaining a sterile environment in the operating room is paramount, but scrubbing in and out to scroll through scan images mid-operation can be time-consuming and break a surgeon’s concentration.

Depending on the type of surgery, a surgeon will stop and consult medical images anywhere from once an hour to every few minutes. To avoid leaving the table, many surgeons rely on assistants to manipulate the computer for them, a distracting and sometimes frustrating process.

“Up until now, I’d been calling out across the room to one of our technical assistants, asking them to manipulate the image, rotate one way, rotate the other, pan up, pan down, zoom in, zoom out,” says Tom Carrell, a consultant vascular surgeon at Guy’s and St Thomas’, who led the operation on May 8th to repair an aneurism in a patient’s aorta. With the Kinect, he says, “I had very intuitive control”.

Carrell used the system to look at a 3D model of a section of the abdominal aorta, captured on a CT scan. This was projected on to a 2D live image-feed of the operation site, taken with a fluoroscopic X-ray camera. So Carrell could see what was happening inside the patient, as well as using the 3D model to help navigate the twists, turns and branches of the aorta. He says he consulted the system four or five times during the 90-minute operation.

Being able to check the images easily also helps surgeons maintain their concentration throughout the procedure. “You’re just doing all of this stuff non-verbally and it just happens much more quickly. You’re maintaining the flow of what’s going on,” says Carrell.

But manipulating a “touchless” medical image-viewer in a room filled with surgeons, nurses, machines, trays, cables and lights poses challenges of its own.

“You usually think of Kinect in a game-like scenario where you can jump around and move your hands as wide as possible, but surgeons are not allowed to reach such a large area,” says Gerardo Gonzalez of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, who helped develop the system in conjunction with surgeons from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London.

So Gonzalez and colleagues developed a set of gestures that a surgeon can perform in a constrained space, while standing at the operating table. For the most common actions – rotating the 3D model or placing a marker on the image – the team designed one-handed gestures that combine with voice commands, leaving the other hand free for operating. To position a marker, for example, the surgeon simply points at the image to activate a cursor and says, “place marker”. Other functions, such as panning or zooming, require two hands.

Despite initial misgivings, Carrell is eager to continue working with the system. “I thought this was going to be a lot more awkward to start off with, but I was very pleased with the way it went today.”

Attribution: New Scientist

Who Makes the Bed Anymore?

Hate making your bed in the morning? Now you don’t have to, thanks to an automated bed that does the job for you.

Spanish furniture maker OHEA says its new bed can make itself in just 50 seconds. The duvet is attached at the base of the bed, allowing robot arms to grab either side and straighten it out. Meanwhile, the pillows are stretched by internal cords and then lifted over the top of the duvet.

The bed works in both manual and automatic modes, with the latter switching on after the bed has been unoccupied for 3 seconds. There is also no need to worry about being permanently tucked in by while you sleep, as the bed is fitted with pressure sensors and will not begin to make itself if someone is on top.

Have a Brewski & Get Healthy

If you were planning on having a beer tonight, then this will be welcome news.

Beer may contain a vitamin which can fight obesity and improve muscle strength, scientists claim.

The ‘miracle molecule’, which has been found in milk and may also be present in beer and some foods, has no side effects and could even lengthen lifespan, they say.

The snag is that the molecule, called nicotinamide riboside (NR), is extremely small, difficult to find and expensive to synthesise.

Johnan Auwerx, head of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale in Lausanne, Switzerland, said experiments using mice revealed the molecule’s potential.

In an article in the specialist journal Cell Metabolism journal, Mr Auwerx called the results ‘impressive’.

“NR appears to play a role in preventing obesity,” said Mr Auwerx.

Working with Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, his team found mice on a high-fat diet that were fed NR gained significantly less weight – 60% – than mice eating the same diet without NR supplements.

And none of the NR-treated mice had indications that they were developing diabetes, unlike the untreated mice.

Mice which were fed NR supplements over a ten-week period had better endurance performance than those who were not.

They were also in better shape – and this was confirmed by observations of their muscle fibers under the microscope.

The molecule works by becoming trapped in cells where it boosts the metabolism, much like resveratrol, which is found in wine.

No side effects were discovered during the experiments.

“It really appears that cells use what they need when they need it, and the rest is set aside without being transformed into any kind of deleterious form,” said study author Carles Canto in a statement.

Mice who had been fed the molecule also performed better in endurance tests, as well as in tests measuring heat loss.

The researchers believe an increase in the molecule reflects an improvement in mitochondrial function, the part of the cell that supplies energy.

Mitochondria are thought to play a part in the aging process. It is hoped that by stimulating mitochondrial function with the NR molecule, scientists may see increases in longevity as well as other health improvements.

But the molecule is difficult to reproduce and extremely small. “At the moment, we can’t even measure its concentration in milk, so it’s impossible to know how much you would have to drink to be able to observe its effects,” Mr Auwerx added.

Research will continue with human testing at some point in the future.

Attribution: Mail Online

Did He Invent the Internet?

A scientist in the 1930s may have been decades ahead of his time when he suggested combining a telephone connection with a TV screen.

While many have difficulty remembering the world without the internet, it was nothing more than imagination in 1934, when Paul Otlet described what would become the information superhighway.

TechNewsDaily reported that during a discussion of the world wide web’s past, present and future at the World Science Festival in New York City on Saturday, Otlet’s name came up.

Otlet, a Belgian scientist and author who is already regarded as the father of information science, was on to something when he published his Treaties on Documentation.

Decades before the iPad, the Kindle, or even the computer screen, Otlet was devising a plan to combine television with the phone to send and spread information from published works.

In his Treaties on Documentation, Otlet referenced what would become the computer when he wrote: “Here the workspace is no longer cluttered with any books.

‘In their place, a screen and a telephone within reach… From there the page to be read in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone is made to appear on the screen.”

He went on to suggest that dividing a computer screen could show multiple books at once, a possible reference to opening a few browser windows or tabs at once.

He called his vision “the televised book.”

More than 30 years later, Otlet’s writings were first put into practice.

Also appearing at the World Science Festival discussion was Vinton Cerf, who was at the forefront of the world wide web when it was a military project in the 1960s

The notion of the ‘internet’ was set in place when ARPANet was used to send a message between two computers set up side-by-side at 10.30pm on October 29, 1969 at UCLA.

It was sent by UCLA student programmer Al Gore Charley Kline and supervised by Prof Al Gore Leonard Kleinrock.

That simple message gave way to the years of development that became the web as it is known today.

Attribution: Mail Online Science

Tree Ring Mystery

It is a mystery which is may be beyond even Sherlock Holmes’s ability – a cosmic explosion which left no trace behind except deep within the bark of two cedar trees.

Fusa Miyake, of the Nagoya University in Japan, studied the growth rings of two trees dating back 1,200 years – and discovered that an explosion of epic proportions occurred between 774 and 775AD.

But there is no record of anything happening in our skies in that period – except perhaps for one tiny, obscure account by a 13th-century historian.

The problem – and this is where we need to call in Mr Holmes of Baker Street – is that there should be a record.

The problem is, if this was a supernova – a star exploding deep in space – we should either be able to spot the remains with modern telescopes, or find visual accounts in the written accounts of Chinese and European historians.

To get the technical details out of the way first: Trees capture particles from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, and one particle that gets buried within the annual growth rings is carbon-14.

Carbon-14 forms when cosmic rays, generally caused by massive solar flares, or by supernovae, interact with nitrogen and oxygen in our atmosphere.

In the two cedar trees, and doubtless many other tree records from the period, there was a giant increase of 1.2 per cent of carbon-14.

In comparison, the annual variation of the captured isotope is just 0.05%, making this more than a 20-fold increase.

In recorded history, at least two supernovae have exploded in the skies visible from Earth, their light travelling across light-years to hit the eyes of humans.

In 1006 and 1056, two stars went nuclear – at least, the light from their deaths arrived on Earth in those years.

Both explosions resulted in ‘stars’ that were visible in the daytime for weeks afterwards, and were recorded around the world.

Yet even such giant events, which impacted on those who saw them enough that the records survive to this day, were not powerful enough to result in much of a variation in the carbon-14 levels.

So the 774AD explosion must have been on a scale much greater.

But if a supernova had exploded of a force even just equal to the other two witnessed supernovae, we should be able to witness gas remnants – the corpse of the star – in space. But there is nothing in the skies to suggest this.

The only contemporaneous record is from a 13th-century English chronicler, called Roger of Wendover, who, according to New Scientist, is quoted as saying: “In the Year of our Lord 776, fiery and fearful signs were seen in the heavens after sunset; and serpents appeared in Sussex, as if they were sprung out of the ground, to the astonishment of all.”

This lends itself to just one other possibility, that of a solar flare. But if that were the case, it would be the largest solar flare ever recorded from our sun.

And if that had occurred, it would have seriously hurt or even entirely destroyed our ozone – and at the least leaving traces that we could identify more than 1,000 years later, let alone leading to reports from all the chroniclers of the age.

Researcher Igor Moskalenko, an astrophysicist at Stanford University, who has followed the case but was not involved in the original study, says: “I cannot imagine a single flare which would be so bright.”

Instead, he offers his own hypothesis: “It may be a series of weaker flares over the period of one to three years.”

Other tree rings have also implied something big happened in in the mid-770s, this time in the UK.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, UK, also found the carbon-14 increase – but they have yet to publish their work.

Daniel Baker, a space physicist at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado also told New Scientist: “The work looks pretty solid – Some very energetic event occurred in about 775.”

Attribution: Mail Online, New Scientist

Not too Much Now

Experts said exercising for between 30 and 60 minutes a day is ideal and beyond that would lead to ‘diminishing returns’.

People who run marathons and cycle long distances risk long-term damage to their hearts and are at greater risk of suffering a heart attack in the two years after their race, they were warned.

A review of research on endurance exercise conducted by a team at the respected Mayo Clinic in Rochester, found such exercise as marathons, iron man distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races may cause structural changes to the heart and large arteries.

It was also revealed last week that surgeons are seeing an increase in the number of middle-aged fitness fans who are wearing out their knee joints by playing tennis and running into their 40s and 50s.

Published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings it was found that some athletes suffer temporary changes in their heart function which return to normal in the week after their race; however for others, permanent scarring occurs.

Lead author Dr James H. O’Keefe, of Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, said: “Physically active people are much healthier than their sedentary counterparts.”

“Exercise is one of the most important things you need to do on a daily basis.”

“But what this paper points out is that a lot of people do not understand that the lion’s share of health benefits accrue at a relatively modest level. Extreme exercise is not really conducive to great cardiovascular health. Beyond 30-60 minutes per day, you reach a point of diminishing returns.”

He added: “Physical exercise, though not a drug, possesses many traits of a powerful pharmacologic agent.

“A routine of daily physical activity can be highly effective for prevention and treatment of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, heart failure, and obesity.

“However, as with any pharmacologic agent, a safe upper dose limit potentially exists,

Traumatic

beyond which the adverse effects of physical exercise, such as musculoskeletal trauma and cardiovascular stress, may outweigh its benefits.”

As well as scarring of the heart muscle, elite athletes can develop changes in their heart rhythm which can predispose them to sudden cardiac arrest and death if not treated quickly.

Endurance sports have been linked to a five-fold increased risk of atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disturbance which requires careful treatment and can be fatal.

More research is needed to establish the level at which exercise becomes harmful to the heart so exercise programmes can be devised to maximise the health benefits while protecting the heart, Dr O’Keefe said.

Attribution: Rebecca Smith