10 July 2017

measuring temperature

One way to gain some immortality is by having something named for you. Unfortunately, not every geographic, invention, species or other item that is an eponym is known for the person behind the name. A good example are some words we use to measure temperatures.

In the United States and a few other countries we measure the temperature inside and outside in Fahrenheit. But it would be unusual for an American to know that it was Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
(1686–1736), a Dutch physicist is be the source of that measurement. It was the first standardized temperature scale to be widely used. Mr. Fahrenheit also the invented alcohol and mercury thermometers that most of us have used (pre-digital). In his temperature scale, 0 degrees marks the temperature of a 1:1 mix of ice and salt.

Most of the world measures temperature using the scale created by Anders Celsius (1701–1744). He was a Swedish astronomer and professor at Uppsala University. His Celsius (also called centigrade) temperature scale marks 0 degrees as the temperature at which water freezes, and 100 as when it boils.

Americans traveling outside their homeland are always baffled at readings in Celsius. To convert temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit to Celsius, you can subtract 32 and multiply by .5556 (or 5/9).
Example: (50°F - 32) x .5556 = 10°C. But that is tough math for most of us without a calculator. Nowadays, people are more likely to ask their phone to do it for them. "Siri, what is the current temperature in celsius?"  AS I am typing this, my thermometer says 78 degrees, and Siri tells me it is 26 Celsius.

William Thomson (1st Baron Kelvin and popularly known as Lord Kelvin) was a Scots-Irish mathematical physicist and engineer. He was born in Belfast in 1824. His work at the University of Glasgow in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics helped unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form. His work on the transatlantic telegraph project gained him a knighthood, so he was also Sir William Thomson.

But it is for his work on absolute temperatures that units of kelvin were named for him. The lower limit to temperature (absolute zero) was known prior to his work, but Thomson determined its correct value as approximately −273.15 degree Celsius or −459.67 degree Fahrenheit and gave us our third temperature scale. In this scale, 0 is equivalent to absolute zero, the theoretical coldest temperature possible. It isn’t measured by degrees, but by individual kelvins.

Red Cubanelle chili peppers
American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville gave us another kind of "temperature" measurement. This one won't show up on a thermometer but on your tongue, and it matters when you are eating foods with hot peppers. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) are used to measure the "heat" of Capsicum.

He devised the test and scale in 1912 while working at the Parke-Davis pharmaceutical company to measure pungency, "spiciness" or "heat", of various chili peppers.

The common sweet bell pepper is measured at 0 Scovilles, so it is very mild. The world's most popular chili pepper is the jalapeno chili pepper which is measured at 2,500 - 8,000 Scovilles. A chipotle is a smoked jalapeno chili pepper. The serrano pepper can range from 5,000 - 23,000 Scovilles. This smaller version of the jalapeno can be dark green to reddish in color.

Chili peppers vary in heat based on their cultivation and harvesting. The New Mexico Scorpion is a super-hot chile rated at 1,191,595 Scoville Heat Units by an independent laboratory. And the Naga Viper (capsicum chinense) has been rated at 1,382,118 SHU, according to tests conducted by the Warwick HRI Mineral Analysis Laboratory, UK.

But, according to chilipeppermadness.com, the Carolina Reaper has a Guinness-submitted 1,569,383 SHU and more recently measured peak levels of over 2,200,000 SHU to top the super-hot chili charts.

03 July 2017

Macintosh - an apple, a raincoat and a computer

In 1823, a Scottish chemist named Charles Macintosh sold the first raincoat.

He had been trying to find uses for the waste products of gasworks. He discovered that a substance called coal-tar naphtha dissolved India rubber and allowed the melted rubber to bond to wool. That created a waterproof fabric.

These first raincoats unfortunately smelled like coal tar and rubber. They also were stiff in cold weather, and gummed up in hot weather, but they found a market. Farmers, fishermen, and firemen were early fans.

The coats were so popular in Great Britain that people said “Mac” or a “Mack” when they meant the generic raincoat, even if it wasn't actually a Mackintosh. The Mac or Mac-style raincoats are still made today.

Another eponym story is that of the the McIntosh apple variety. Popularly known as a Mac, this apple cultivar is the national apple of Canada.

The fruit has red and green skin, a tart flavour, and tender white flesh, which ripens in late September. It is considered an all-purpose apple, suitable both for cooking and eating raw.

John McIntosh discovered the original McIntosh sapling on his Dundela farm in Upper Canada in 1811. He and his wife bred it, and the family started grafting the tree and selling the fruit in 1835.

Once one of the most common and popular of apples in North America, the fruit's popularity has fallen the past few decades, but U.S. Apple Association website says it is still one of the fifteen most popular apple cultivars in the United States.

Speaking of apples, Apple Inc. Macintosh computer has been with us since 1984. It has been branded as the "Mac" since 1998, though the Mac name was popularized by users almost as soon as it was introduced.

This series of personal computers was the company's first mass-market personal computer featuring an integral graphical user interface and mouse

Apple Inc. employee Jef Raskin is credited with conceiving and starting the Macintosh project for Apple in the late 1970s and for selecting that variety of apple as the name for the new computer line that followed the Apple IIe computer.

29 June 2017

The Quarrymen

The Quarrymen are a British skiffle/rock and roll group that is best known for being the earliest incarnation of The Beatles.

The group was formed by John Lennon in Liverpool in 1956 with Lennon and several friends from school.

The group took their name from a line in their school song from Quarry Bank High School.

Lennon's mother, Julia, taught John to play the banjo and taught him and his friend Eric Griffiths how to tune their guitars in a similar way to the banjo, and some simple chords and songs. His mother, who was forced to turn him over to his aunt Mimi, stayed in contact with John and he wrote several songs about her, including "Julia" and "Mother".

Lennon started playing skiffle music with his mates as The Blackjacks, but changed the name before any public performances to the Quarrymen. They played at parties, school dances, cinemas and amateur skiffle contests. Members included Colin Hanton, Len Garry and Rod Davis.

Paul McCartney joined the band in October 1957. George Harrison, then only 14, hung out with the group but was initially thought to be too young. He would join officially in early 1958.

The new members brought more rock and roll to the group and since McCartney and Harrison didn't attend Quarry Bank HS, they had no ties to the name. (Paul and George attended the Liverpool Institute.)

The group's amateur recording debut was a 1958 take of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" and also "In Spite of All the Danger" which is a song written by McCartney and Harrison. It includes Colin Hanton on drums and John "Duff" Lowe, on piano.

I discovered those tracks on The Beatles' "Anthology, Volume 1" CD set. 

The move from skiffle towards rock and roll caused members to quit leaving Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison. Their rockier band performed as Johnny and the Moondogs (which sounds like a surf band) and as the trio Japage 3 (a version of their first names), but then back the Quarrymen in 1959, and finally in 1960 as The Beatles.

In 1997, four surviving original members of the Quarrymen reunited to perform at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the garden fete performance at which Lennon and McCartney met for the first time. The band decided to continue playing, and since 1998 have performed in many countries throughout the world, releasing four albums. The current Quarrymen lineup includes the original members Len Garry, former tea-chest bass player, Rod Davis, from Quarry Bank School, at first the banjo player but now on guitar, and Colin Hanton on drums, who played with John, Paul, George and John Duff Lowe on the recording session for "In Spite of All the Danger" and "That'll Be the Day."