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September 20th in Science and Engineering

Sep 20, 1819: The first patent leather manufactured in the U.S. was produced in Newark, N.J., by Seth Boyden. Boyden also invented a variety of other things including malleable cast iron, a nail-making machine, a cut-off switch for steam engines, a method for refining zinc from its ore and he developed a hybrid strawberry.

Sep 20, 1842: Scottish chemist and physicist, Sir James Dewar, who blurred the line between physics and chemistry was born. He gave dazzling lectures and his study of low-temperature phenomena led him to invent the Dewar flask, an insulating double-walled flask that uses a vacuum between two silvered layers of steel or glass. These are sometimes called vacuum flasks, but usually just “Dewars”. A domestic “Thermos” bottle is a Dewar flask. In June of 1897, it was reported that Dewar had succeeded in liquefying fluorine gas at a temperature of -185 degrees Celsius or 88 degrees Kelvin. He obtained liquid hydrogen in 1898, which requires a temperature below 33 Kelvin. Dewar also invented cordite, the first smokeless powder.

Sep 20, 1848: The first meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was held at noon, in the library of the Academy of Natural Science, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The goal of the organization recorded in its original Rules and Objects included “to give a stronger and more general impulse, and a more systematic direction to scientific research in our country; and to procure for the labours of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.”

Sep 20, 1853: Elisha Graves Otis sold his first safety elevator equipment. His customer was Benjamin Newhouse in New York City who used it for moving freight. In May 1854, at the Crystal Palace in New York City, Otis created public interest with a daring demonstration. He was hoisted high in the air on a platform fitted with his safety feature. When the rope was cut, the safety device stopped his fall. By 1857, he had installed the first department store passenger elevator. In 1889 he introduced the electric motor to power elevators.

Sep 20, 1859: A patent for the electric range was granted to George B. Simpson of Washington, D.C.. Simpson called his invention, an “electroheater.” Heat was generated by passing electricity through wire coils.

Sep 20, 1862: A patent for a revolving turret for battleships was granted to Theodore Ruggles Timby. The patent described “a revolving tower for defensive and offensive warfare, whether placed on land or water.” John Ericsson incorporated this design when building the ironclad ship, Monitor, the world’s first turret battleship. Timby was paid a royalty for the use of his patent.

Sep 20, 1888: American pathologist, David Marine, was born. His research on the treatment of goiter with iodine led to the iodizing of table salt. Goiter is a disease that causes major swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck. During 1917-22 he ran a trial on a large group of schoolgirls to show that an iodine supplement dramatically reduced the incidence of goiter. The results clearly showed the importance of iodine in the diet. Iodized table salt was first sold on May 1, 1924. Marine then worked with the World Health Organization to spread this knowledge around the world.

It’s interesting to note that French chemist Jean-Baptiste Boussingault observed that iodine-rich salt could treat goiter, but nothing was done with this information.

Sep 20, 1892: Wired glass or wire glass was patented by Frank Schulman. Wire glass, is plate glass with a wire mesh inside, which is useful for fire safety and security.

Sep 20, 1904: The first circular flight in an airplane happened on this day. On Sep 15, 1904, Wilbur was able to fly a half-circle. As the brothers improved the control of their airplane’s flight, a few days later, a complete circuit was accomplished. The flight was made by Orville Wright at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton, Ohio. The flight covered about 4,080 feet in 1-1/2 minutes. The flight was made in the Flyer II, an improved aircraft built after the first Flyer was overturned and damaged by wind in North Carolina.

Sep 20, 1952: Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase published a report confirming that DNA holds hereditary data.

Sep 20, 1954: On this day, the first successful compilation and execution of a computer program using what became FORTRAN was run by Harlan Herrick at IBM. It took until 1957 to develop an operational commercial product. FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslator) was designed as a high-level language aimed at technical and scientific applications that performed calculations, rather than primarily working with characters.

John Backus at IBM supervised the development of FORTRAN, which allowed users to express problems as commonly understood equations. By 1958, the language had grown to become Fortran II, which included subroutines, functions, and common blocks. Fortran IV was introduced by IBM in 1962.

Sep 20, 2013: The Deep Impact spacecraft was declared dead by NASA after nine productive years making fly-bys of comets. Radio contact was lost on Aug 8, 2013, possibly caused by solar panel failure. Without power, the craft likely froze up. Deep Impact released an impactor craft to crash into the comet Tempel 1 on July 3, 2005. On July 4, 2005, the plume of debris created by the impactor was studied to reveal its composition. Deep Impact performed fly-bys of several other comets.

Understanding Whipped Cream

I use cream for cooking and also make whipped cream for desserts, a quart at a time, about once a day. Sometimes I make it several times a day. These are sweetened with sugar and flavored with vanilla, sometimes banana, lemon, or chocolate.

Doing this for years with a hand mixer, I’ve noticed big differences between brands and types of cream. My favorite that I use the most is Glenville Farms Heavy Cream. It whips fast, becomes very stiff, and is stable. You can quickly ice a cake with it and it stays put. It never creeps or sags. This cannot be said of any other brandsI’ve tried, and I’ve tried all kinds.

If you make things with whipped cream, you might like to know why Glenville is the best I’ve found and what to look for. Cream is cream, right? It’s the stuff at the top of raw milk. Not exactly. It varies.

What varies is the fat content. The higher the fat, the faster it will whip and the more stiff and stable it will be. Fat is expressed as a percentage. Finding out the percentage can be challenging because it’s usually not printed on the carton or bottle.

The minimum fat content needed for it to whip is 30 percent. The result will be okay for some purposes but will be soft, light, less stable. This is often labeled “whipping cream”. A much better result occurs with fat content of 37 to 38 percent and this often labeled “heavy cream”. Glenville has 40 percent and its superiority is evident in the result.

I was going to publish a list comparing different brands, but accurate info is difficult to get hold of, so I decided not to, for now.

However, I did notice something to beware of if you are a dieter or paying close attention to your nutrition. I found that several nutrition sites on the web do not show accurate information. Some sites allow you to search products by brand and type. I found that the information they publish for all brands and types of cream is identical. They just copy-pasted the exact same information on every brand and type — the same calories per tablespoon, the same grams of fat per 15 ml. We know that’s not true.

September 19th in Science and Engineering

Sep 19, 1783: Jacques Etienne Montgolfier launched a duck, a sheep and a rooster aboard a hot-air balloon at Versailles in France.

Sep 19, 1838: Ephraim Morris patented the railroad brake.

Sep 19, 1839: George Cadbury, English businessman, Quaker, social reformer and chocolate manufacturer, was born in Birmingham, England. He joined his father’s chocolate business at the age of 21, along with his brother, Richard. When their father retired, the two brothers took over and built the famous business of Cadbury Brothers. They developed new cocoa bean processing methods. The resulting pure cocoa essence was a major breakthrough and resulted in new food laws prohibiting adulturation of foods.

Sep 19, 1848: Hyperion, the eighth moon of Saturn, was discovered in the U.S. by William Cranch Bond and his son George Phillips Bond and in England by William Lassell.

Sep 19, 1851: It can be said that Lever Brothers cleaned up the world. William Hesketh Lever (1st Viscount Leverhulme) was born on this day. He was a British manufacturer and philanthropist who formed the Lever Brothers soap manufacturing company. It was one of the first companies to manufacture soap from vegetable oils instead of animal tallow. In 1888, Lever established Port Sunlight, a model community providing housing for the company’s workers, who enjoyed conditions, pay, hours, and benefits far better than found in similar industries. By 1900 the factory was producing brands such as Lifebuoy, Lux, Monkey Brand, Vim, and Rinso.

Sep 19, 1876: On this day a patent was issued to American inventor Melville Bissell for the carpet sweeper (182,346). At his a crockery shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his wife’s health was affected by dust from the packing materials. Out of desperate need for self-preservation, he invented the carpet sweeper. They recognized the sweeper’s marketing possibilities and began to assemble them in a room over the store. The inner workings and cases were made by women working in their homes. Tufts of hog bristles were bound with string, dipped in hot pitch, inserted in brush rollers and then trimmed with scissors. Anna Bissell gathered the parts together in clothes baskets and brought them back to the store for assembly.

Sep 19, 1878: Charles-Victor Mauguin, French mineralogist and crystallographer was born. He was one of the first to make a systematic study of the silicate minerals. Using X-ray diffraction techniques, he determined the structure of a large number of micas. He also published the atomic structure of cinnabar, calomel, and graphite and devised a system of symbols to indicate the symmetry properties of crystals. It became an international standard.

Sep 19, 1888: James Waddell Alexander, American mathematician, was born. He founded the branch of mathematics now called topology. In 1912, he joined the faculty of the mathematics department at Princeton. Soon after, Alexander generalised the Jordan curve theorem and, in 1928, he discovered the Alexander polynomial which is much used in knot theory.

Sep 19, 1908: Viktor Frederick Weisskopf, Austrian-American theoretical physicist and administrator was born. He was a doctoral student of Max Born at Göttingen, and was a major contributor in the golden age of quantum mechanics. Weisskopf worked with Heisenberg, Schrödinger, Bohr and Pauli. To escape Nazism, he moved to the U.S. in 1937. He joined the Manhattan Project in 1943, where he became associate head of the theoretical division. After the war he taught at MIT. Murray Gell-Mann was one of his students. Weisskopf developed the “clouded crystal ball” model of the atomic nucleus. He served as director-general of CERN from 1961 to 1965, then returned to MIT, retiring in 1973.

Sep 19, 1947: Torunn Atteraas “Teri” Garin, a Norwegian chemical engineer, was born. After attending university in Norway, she moved to the U.S. for degrees in chemical engineering (1971) and environmental engineering (1977). Garin helped develop aspartame sweetener as a sugar substitute while working for General Foods. Earlier in her career, she researched ways to minimize water pollution caused by food production. She co-patented an adsoption process to extract caffeine from coffee (4,113,887) and a method to derive food dyes from natural sources to replace possibly cancer-causing synthetic dyes (4,409,254), for example, non-toxic betanin, a natural red pigment from red beet. These patents were assigned to General Foods Corp. She died from lung cancer.

Sep 19, 1957: The United States conducted its first underground nuclear test, in the Nevada desert, at Area 12 of the Nevada Test Site. This was the Atomic Energy Commission’s first fully contained underground nuclear detonation named the Rainier event. It was detonated in a horizontal tunnel, drilled about 1600 feet into the mesa and 900 feet beneath the top of the mesa.

Sep 19, 1982: Streetcars stopped running on Market St. in San Francisco after 122 years of service.

Sep 19, 1988: Israel launched its first satellite, Offeq-1 aboard a Shavit rocket, launched from the Negev Desert over the Mediterranean, thus becoming the ninth country in space. The satellite carried scientific data collection instruments but it’s believed to have included experimental surveillance functions.

Sep 19, 1991: Ötzi, the Iceman, a Stone Age traveler and the most ancient human being ever found, was discovered in the Similaun glacier in the Ötzal Alps on the Italian-Austrian border. His frozen body was found along with artifacts of his way of life. An examination of his gut contents showed the man took his last meal not long before setting out on a hike from which he never returned. The meal was a simple affair, consisting of a bit of unleavened bread made of einkorn wheat, one of the few domesticated grains in the Iceman’s part of the world at that time, some other plant, possibly an herb or other green, and meat. An Austrian reporter named him Ötzi.

Sep 19, 1994: The U.S. DNA Identification Act became law as part of comprehensive federal crime legislation. It authorized the FBI director to establish a national DNA database, but the system did not become operational until 1998. The Combined DNA Identification System (CODIS) was designed to enable the states to pool their crime-investigation resources. The central index includes identification records of criminals, and forensic analyses of DNA samples collected from crime scenes and unidentified human remains. The Act included requirements for proficiency testing and privacy protection requirements, with penalties for violations.

Sep 19, 2015: The Aerovelo Eta human-powered speedbike reached a top speed of 139.45 kmh or 86.65 mph on a highway outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada. The nearly-level and straight state highway 305 was the venue for the annual World Human-Powered Speed Challenge. The bicylist, Todd Reichert, was recumbent, encased in a lightweight, low-profile aerodynamically designed shell, which also shrouded most of the wheels. During several years of development the engineering team worked to overcome wobbles at high speed and steering issues to build the world’s most efficient vehicle.

September 18th in Science and Engineering

Sep 18, 1752: Adrien-Marie Legendre, French mathematician who contributed to number theory, celestial mechanics and elliptic functions, was born.

Sep 18, 1819: French physicist, Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault was born. Using a long pendulum that would swing for many hours, Foucault directly proved that Earth rotates on its axis. The plane under the pendulum rotated, relative to the pendulum, at a rate related to the latitude of the site and Earth’s angular velocity. He made accurate measurements of the velocity of light. He proved that light travels slower in water than in air. He invented an accurate test still used today to measure the spherical and chromatic aberrations of lenses and telescope mirrors.

Sep 18, 1830: On this day, the first railroad locomotive built in the U.S., B&O locomotive Tom Thumb, the first locomotive built in America, lost a 14 kilometer race with a horse due to a boiler leak.

Sep 18, 1831: German-Austrian inventor, Siegfried Marcus, was born. He built four of the world’s first gasoline powered automobiles. He first began working on self-propelled vehicles in 1860. He made many inventions including an electric lamp, a carburetor, and an igniter for explosives. He also taught physics.

Sep 18, 1839: John Aitkin, Scottish physicist and meteorologist, John Aitkin is born. He’s know for his studies on atmospheric dust, the formation of dew, cyclones and evaporation. He invented instruments to study dust particles. Most importantly, Aitkin determined that condensation of water vapor from the air begins on the surface of microscopic particles, now called Aitken nuclei. This is critical to the formation of dew and rain.

Sep 18, 1895: Daniel David Palmer gave the first chiropractic adjustment to Harvey Lillard in Davenport, Iowa – now the home of Palmer Chiropractic College.

Sep 18, 1907: U.S. physicist Edwin Mattison McMillan was born. McMillan shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Glenn T. Seaborg for their discovery of element 93, neptunium. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element (92). By bombarding uranium with fast neutrons or deuterons, isotopes of the first element (93) beyond uranium were produced at a laboratory at UC Berkeley. By 1940, McMillan, Seaborg, and other colleagues found that the radioactive decay of neptunium produced element 94, which they named plutonium.

Sep 18, 1927: Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System, the first radio network, first went on the air with 47 radio stations. The radio network lost money in its first year. On Jan 18, 1929, Columbia sold out to a group of private investors for $400,000, headed by William S. Paley, a Philadelphia cigar manufacturer. The radio network was renamed The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).

Sep 18, 1980: Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo-Mendéz became the first person of color and the first Latin American to fly into space. He flew on Soyuz 38, one of two men comprising the seventh international crew of the Intercosmos program. Tamayo-Mendéz spent several days aboard the Soviet space laboratory Salyut 6. He engaged in several experiments and measured the speed at which sugar crystals grow in space.

September 17th in Science and Engineering

Sep 17, 1683: Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society reporting his discovery of microscopic living animalcules (live bacteria). He had made observations on the plaque between his own teeth.

Sep 17, 1822: Jean-François Champollion, at the French Academie Royale des Inscriptions, read a paper on his solution to the mystery of the triple inscriptions on the Rosetta Stone. He had worked on deciphering the hieroglyphics for 14 years.

Sep 17, 1844:  Thomas F. Adams of Philadelphia, PA is issued the first U.S. patent (3,744) for a printing press that applied different colors of ink in one impression. The inventor called it polychrome printing.

Sep 17, 1871: The world’s first major mountain tunnel, the Mont Cenis Tunnel is opened. It burrows eight miles through granite under the Alps, linking Switzerland and Northern Italy. The tunnel is wide enough to accommodate two railroad tracks. Started in 1857, for the first three years, progress was only 8 inches a day. Then, Germain Sommeiller introduced the first high-powered pneumatic tools to tunneling, greatly speeding up the work.

Sep 17, 1872: Phillip W. Pratt is issued the first U.S. patent (131,370) for an automatic fire sprinkler system. This first system used valves held closed by springs and cords. The cords were equipped with fuses. Fire would ignite the fuses, burning the cords and releasing the valves.

Sep 17, 1901: Peter Cooper Hewitt is issued the first U.S. patents (682,692-682,699) for a mercury vapor light. The design consisted of a long glass tube with a mercury electrode at one end and an iron one at the other. Electric current through the tube produced a stark blue-green light with no red. Lamps of this type were common for street lighting in the middle of the 20th Century. They were ugly but much more efficient than incandescent lights, and were manufactured by the Cooper Hewitt Electric Company of New York. Hewitt’s invention was a forerunner of modern fluorescent lamps.

Sep 17, 1906: Three men from Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition, Douglas Mawson, Edgeworth David and Alistair Mackay, walk over 1,200 miles across perilous Antarctica and claim to have located the Magnetic South Pole, which they claimed for the British Empire.

Sep 17, 1908: Thomas Etholen Selfridge becomes the first airplane fatality in the U.S. at Arlington Heights, Virginia. He was a passenger with Orville Wright, demonstrating the Wright Flier airplane to the Army. Wright had installed new, longer propellers the day before but had not flight tested them. One of the propellers struck one of the wings’ guy wires and disintegrated. The aircraft fell 75 feet and crashed. Selfridge was 26 and an officer with the Balloon Corps. He died of a fractured skull. Wright suffered a fractured thigh and several fractured ribs.

Sep 17, 1911: “Cal” (Calbraith Perry) Rogers began the first transcontinental flight across the U.S. in a 35 horsepower Wright biplane. Forty-nine days, 30 stops, 82 flying hours, and 19 crashes later, he completed the flight in Pasadena, California. By the time he arrived he had completely rebuilt the aircraft at least once. He was sponsored by a soft drink maker, Vin Fiz. William Randolph Hearst was offering a $50,000 prize to the first person to complete such a flight in 30 days or less. Rogers was 19 days too slow to win the prize.

Sep 17, 1931: Early 33 RPM long-playing (LP) records were first demonstrated at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York by RCA (Radio Corporation of America). The equipment was too expensive to become a practical product. The first vinyl LP records and more practical equipment came out in 1948, produced by RCA’s competitor, Columbia.

Sep 17, 1953: The first successful surgical separation of siamese twins took place at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carolyn Anne and Catherine Anne Mouton were connected at the waist and were born in July of 1953.

Sep 17, 1991: Birth of the Linux operating system. The first Linux kernel was released by Linus Torvalds.

Consistent Forecast Temperature Error

A weather forecasting question:

For the past two months we’ve had one heat wave after another here in West Virginia. It’s been awful. High temperatures in the low 90s (Fahrenheit) with humidity giving a heat index around 100F. These conditions are 15 to 20 degrees above normal. Sometimes, it goes on for four or five days at a time without a single break. Then, there’s a one or two day break in the 80s, and then another heat wave. It’s now the middle of September, almost fall, and it continues. The forecast shows another heat wave next weekend, after the first day of fall.

An odd new thing I’ve never seen before that’s happening this summer is that forecast temperatures, both highs and lows, are consistently four or five degrees lower than the temperature actually reached. The forecast says 90, but it reaches 95. The forecast is 87, but it reaches 92. An error the other way around never happens.

As an engineer, I know that true errors are like noise and vary randomly to either side of the correct value. If the error is consistently to one side or the other, then there’s a systemic problem or calibration error.

Here’s the question. As an amateur meteorologist for over 50 years, this got me thinking. Long ago, before the powerful computer weather models of today, the historical average temperature was factored into a weather forecast. I don’t know if that’s still the case today. Might it be that I’m observing one of the effects of climate change? The climate is changing, today’s temperatures are above normal, and the historical weather data is biasing the forecast several degrees too low? Is that what’s going on?

I invite anyone who might know the answer to comment below. Thank you.

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