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Showing posts from 2022

From Holy Water to the Automat: Great Strides in Self-Service

  One of the greatest inventors of the ancient world was Heron Alexandrinus, aka Hero of Alexandria, who racked up an incredible 80 inventions throughout his lifetime in the first century CE.  One of Heron’s remarkable inventions was an early (and possibly the first) steam engine.  But one that we moderns might least expect is one that we seldom associate with the ancient world: the vending machine. Heron’s vending machine sold one thing: holy water.  He invented it in order to stop the theft of holy water from the temples.  The way it worked was you’d put a 5 drachma coin in a slot.  The coin would land on one end of a lever which, when depressed, would allow holy water to trickle out of a spout.  As long as the coin was balanced on the end of the lever, the water would keep coming.  The coin would remain balanced for a short while.  When it dropped off the lever, a counterweight was released, closing the spout and preventing anyone from taking more holy water than they paid for.  It

The Bayou Hippopotamus

Few ecologists will disagree that there are often problems that stem from introducing a new species into an environment. If the species succeeds in breeding in that new environment, the results are not always immediate, but they’re certainly felt before too long. In 1910, the introduction of a new species was proposed for the Louisiana bayou which, had it been successful, would have been all too easy to notice, had it started breeding successfully. That species was the hippopotamus, a creature that is very hard to miss. Hippopotamus in hyacinth, Kenya In the early 20th century, with its population growing nationwide and immigrants flooding into the large cities of the East Coast, America saw the beginning of a meat crisis. Supply of beef out West was consistent, but demand was just growing too fast to keep up. Meat was getting expensive, and it looked like we’d soon run out of room to raise cattle on. Congressman Robert Broussard (D-LA) came up with a plan to take care of th

Is It Ukraine or The Ukraine?

  If you were paying attention to international affairs before the year 1991, you might have noticed that the name of the former Soviet Socialist Republic of the Ukraine, often referred to as “the Ukraine,” started to be referred to simply as “Ukraine” since then.  The definite article the was dropped from the name at the time, just like it appeared on the map for Hasbro’s Risk board game.  But why did it go?  And why was it there in the first place?  For that matter, why are many media outlets referring to the nation’s capital as Kyiv recently instead of Kiev, which has been the English name for the city for centuries? Hasbro Risk board.  Ukraine is even bigger than the Kievan Rus’ ever was!  Note: no article. Let’s start with the name of the country.  For years in English, the place was referred to as The Ukraine , whether it was under Russian domination, Soviet domination, or independent.  This is not exactly a direct translation out of Ukrainian or Russian.  It can’t be, since