The most underrated invention in history


Perhaps the most underrated invention in history is the humble hourglass.  Invented in Europe during the late 13th or early 14th century, the sand glass complemented a nearly simultaneous invention, the mechanical clock.  The mechanical clock with its bell was a centralized way of broadcasting the hours day and night; the sand glass was a portable way of measuring shorter periods of time.  These clocks were made using very different and independent techniques, but their complementarity function led to their emergence at the same time and place in history, late medieval Europe.

The sandglass was more portable than a water clock. Since its rate of flow is independent of the depth of the upper reservoir, it was also more accurate.  And, important in northern Europe, it didn’t freeze in winter.

An advancing technology in 13th century western Europe very different from mechanics was glass-blowing. The origin of the sandglass is quite obscure, but its accuracy relies on a precise ratio between the neck width and the grain diameter. It thus required extensive trial and error for glass-blowers to arrive at hour glasses for sand, ground marble, eggshell, and other sized grains, and techniques for mass producing these precisely sized works of glass, besides a ready of market of users, which Europe turned out to be.

There are no demonstrated cases of sandglasses before the 14th century. Manufacture and use of the sand-glass was widespread in western Europe by the middle of the 14th century. In 1339 Ambrosio Lorenzetti painted a fresco in Siena, one of the commercial cities of northern Italy, which shows a sandglass as an allegory for temperance (self-control). Mariners in the Mediterranean were likely using sandglasses to measure time and velocity by 1313. By 1394 French housewives were using recipes to make, along with food, glue, ink, and so on, marble grains for an hour-glass:

“Take the grease which comes from the sawdust of marble when those great tombs of black marble be sawn, then boil it well in wine like a piece of meat and skim it, and then set it out to dry in the sun; and boil, skim and dry nine times; and thus it will be good.”

Such a recipe presumably creates grains of a size in a precise ratio to a standard hour-glass neck size, thus producing an accurate time.

The sandglass, not the mechanical clock, became between the 13th and 16th centuries the main European timekeeper in activities as diverse as public meetings, sermons, and academic lectures. It was also the main navigational and scientific clock during that period.

From the point of view of later engineers, the mechanical clock was the more important invention — they were on the cutting edge of technology from the time of their invention until the industrial revolution.  However,

For contemporaries….the sandglass was equally or more important.   Until the widespread use of small table-top mechanical clocks, the sandglass was the primary means of fair timekeeping.    The sand glass was visible to all in a room, and it could only be dramatically and obviously “reset”, it couldn’t be fudged like a mechanical clock.

As I detail here,  the sand glass also played an essential role in the technique of dead reckoning for ocean navigation, also developed in late medieval Europe.  A strict regimen of turning the glasses was kept non-stop throughout a voyage:

During the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan around the globe, his vessels kept 18 hourglasses per ship. It was the job of a ship’s page to turn the hourglasses and thus provide the times for the ship’s log. Noon was the reference time for navigation, which did not depend on the glass, as the sun would be at its zenith.[8] More than one hourglass was sometimes fixed in a frame, each with a different running time, for example 1 hour, 45 minutes, 30 minutes, and 15 minutes.

Arab and Chinese navigators lacked this crucial piece, and thus by the time of the exploration explosion had not developed navigation techniques that could rival those of Western Europe.

Found at Unenumerated.

Today, guess what? The SMURFS are 56 years old! Yep, those blue people came about in 1958.

Read about them HERE.

i work at the dmv

New blood test works in real-time, simply by shining a light through the skin

(Nanowerk News) Blood tests convey vital medical information, but the sight of a needle often causes anxiety and results take time. A new device developed by a team of researchers in Israel, however, can reveal much the same information as a traditional blood test in real-time, simply by shining a light through the skin. This optical instrument, no bigger than a breadbox, is able to provide high-resolution images of blood coursing through our veins without the need for harsh and short-lived fluorescent dyes.”We have invented a new optical microscope that can see individual blood cells as they flow inside our body,” says Lior Golan, a graduate student in the biomedical engineering department at the Israel Institute of Technology, or Technion, and one of the authors on a paper describing the device that is published today in the Optical Society’s (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express (“Noninvasive imaging of flowing blood cells using label-free spectrally encoded flow cytometry”).By eliminating a long wait-time for blood test results, the new microscope might help spotlight warning signs, like high white blood cell count, before a patient develops severe medical problems. The portability of the device could also enable doctors in rural areas without easy access to medical labs to screen large populations for common blood disorders, Golan notes.

Read all of this HERE.

kindness is everything

A Cut Below

Does time have a future?

Could Life Have Existed Just 15 Million Years After The Big Bang?

A lawyer and a senior citizen are sitting next to each other on a long flight.

The lawyer is thinking that seniors are so dumb that he could put one over on them easily.

So, the lawyer asks if the senior would like to play a fun game.

The senior is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks.

The lawyer persists, saying that the game is a lot of fun… “I ask you a question, and if you don’t know the answer, you pay me only $5. Then you ask me one, and if I don’t know the answer, I will pay you $500,” he says.

This catches the senior’s attention and, to keep the lawyer quiet, he agrees to play the game.

The lawyer asks the first question. “What’s the distance from the Earth to the Moon?”

The senior doesn’t say a word, but reaches into his pocket, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the lawyer.

Now, it’s the senior’s turn. He asks the lawyer, “What goes up a hill with three legs, and come down with four?”

The lawyer uses his laptop to search all references he could find on the Net.

He sends E-mails to all the smart friends he knows;all to no avail. After an hour of searching,he finally gives up.

He wakes the senior and hands him $500.

The senior pockets the $500 and goes back to sleep.

The lawyer is now going nuts not knowing the answer.

He wakes the senior up and asks, “Well, so what goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?”

The senior reaches into his pocket, hands the lawyer $5, and goes back to sleep

Why Do We Carve Pumpkins?

When you think about it, scooping the innards out of a large squash, carving a scary face into it, and jamming a candle inside is a bit weird. But so is the story behind the first jack-o’-lantern. As far back as the 1500s, Irish storytellers regaled about a blacksmith named Stingy Jack, who invited the Devil to the bar. When their night of carousing ended, Jack needed cash and the Devil, handily, transformed himself into a coin so Jack could pay the tab. Ever the trickster, Jack pocketed the coin and used a cross to prevent Satan from changing back. He later let the Devil loose under the condition that his soul would never go to hell.

But there was a problem. When Jack died, God wouldn’t let him into Heaven, so his soul was stuck on Earth. Feeling bad that his old buddy would be wandering the world in the dark, the Devil gave Jack a lump of burning coal that Jack, for reasons untold, placed in a carved-out turnip. Thus: jack-o’-lantern.

The tale was devised to explain will-o’-the-wisps, the mysterious flashes of light created by flaming gas around swamps and bogs, and it became tradition for the Irish to carve turnips, beets, and potatoes to trick friends into thinking Stingy Jack was lurking nearby. Immigrants took the custom to the U.S, where the plentiful pumpkin became the veggie of choice.

From HERE.

rolled a blunt


Just in time for flu season, a new Michigan State University study of “the mother of all pandemics” could offer insight into infection control measures for the flu and other epidemic diseases.

Siddharth Chandra, director of MSU’s Asian Studies Center and professor in MSU’s James Madison College, and Eva Kassens-Noor, assistant professor of urban and transport planning with a joint appointment in the Global Urban Studies Program, studied the evolution of the 1918 influenza pandemic, aka the “Spanish flu.” In 1918, the virus killed 50 million people worldwide, 10 to 20 million of whom were in India. In the United States alone, the Spanish flu claimed 675,000 lives in nine months.

“We need to pay more attention to public health,” Chandra said. “If we get another flu pandemic and it infects tens of millions in the U.S., killing half a million people, that’s going to be worse than anything that’s happened to us in at least the last 50-to-100 years.”

Chandra and Kassens-Noor studied weekly death rates in 213 districts from nine provinces in India, information contained in reports from the sanitary commissioner’s office. According to their research, the virus entered India in Bombay, which experienced a three-week flu wave and a peak death rate of 54.9 people per 1,000. As it spread east, the flu epidemic lengthened to eight weeks and fewer people died.

Simply put: When the flu hit, it hit hard and fast.

“This has all sorts of implications for pandemics that are happening now or might be threatening to happen,” Chandra said. “In scenarios resembling the 1918 pandemic as it unfolded in India, locations close to an entry point will have extremely short windows of time to deal with a virulent pathogen, placing emphasis on the emergency management of a short and severe wave of illness.”

Possibly a severe wave like the Ebola virus in West Africa, he said.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 9,216 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola in seven countries and 4,555 deaths. While Chandra acknowledges Ebola is far less contagious than the flu, and it’s not moving as quickly, if there had been 9,000 cases of the 1918 flu, there would’ve been fewer than 900 deaths.

“One of the things this research could shed light on: Are viruses like the Ebola virus going to get less virulent or more virulent as they move on?” he said.

Economically, an epidemic of any sort would wreak havoc. Chandra, an economist, said that if the United States lost 1 million people, who produce an average of about $50,000 in gross domestic product each, the country would lose about $50 billion in productivity. Not to mention, the movement of goods and services could stop, as could public transportation, he said.

The study was published in the most recent edition of the journal BMC Infectious Diseases as an “Editor’s Pick.”

From HERE.

New Drone Fits in Your Pocket, Flies for Two Hours


Read it all HERE.

To prettify this post, I present this beauty…

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