The Thing About Today – April 30

April 30, 2020
Day 121 of 366

 

April 30th is the 121st day of the year. It is Honesty Day in the United States, a day to encourage honesty and straightforward communication in politics, relationships, consumer relations, and historical education. M. Hirsh Goldberg chose the last day of April for two reasons: First, since the first day of that month, which is April Fools’ Day, celebrates falsehoods; and second, it is the anniversary of the first inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, National Bubble Tea Day, National Bugs Bunny Day, National Oatmeal Cookie Day, National PrepareAthon! Day, National Raisin Day, National Sarcoidosis Day, National Military Brats Day, and National Hairstylist Appreciation Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States.
  • In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million, more than doubling the size of the young nation.
  • In 1812, the Territory of Orleans became Louisiana, the 18th state to join the United States.
  • In 1885, New York State Governor David B. Hill signed legislation creating the Niagara Reservation, New York’s first state park, thus ensuring that Niagara Falls would not be devoted solely to industrial and commercial use.
  • In 1897, J. J. Thomson of the Cavendish Laboratory announced his discovery of the electron as a subatomic particle, over 1,800 times smaller than a proton, at a lecture at the Royal Institution in London.
  • In 1900, Hawaii became a territory of the United States with Sanford B. Dole as governor.
  • In 1905, Albert Einstein completed his doctoral thesis at the University of Zurich.
  • In 1926, actress and comedian Cloris Leachman was born.
  • In 1938, the animated short Porky’s Hare Hunt debuted in movie theaters. This story introduced Happy Rabbit, an early version of Bugs Bunny.
  • In 1945, Adolf Hitler and his newlywed wife Eva Braun committed suicide in the Führerbunker. Soviet soldiers raised the Victory Banner over the Reichstag building.
  • In 1947, Boulder Dam in Nevada was renamed Hoover Dam.
  • In 1965, actor Adrian Pasdar was born.
  • In 1980, actor Sam Heughan was born.
  • In 1982, actress Kirsten Dunst was born.
  • In 1985, actress Gal Gadot was born.

 

April 30 is International Jazz Day.

International Jazz Day was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2011 “to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe.” The idea came from jazz pianist and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Herbie Hancock.

Jazz originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. It is known as “America’s classical music”.

The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, an American non-governmental organization (NGO) also chaired by Hancock, is the lead organizational partner for Jazz Day. The Institute coordinates activities in the UNESCO member states as well as the Global Host Celebration, where events culminate in an All-Star Global Concert. That concert involves over two-dozen jazz musicians from around the world performing in or around a historical landmark in the host city.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

Timestamp #201: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library
Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead
(2 episodes, s04e08-e09, 2008)

 

Seriously, though, who turned out the lights?

 

Silence in the Library

We open on a therapy session with a little girl and Doctor Moon. She describes an immense library in her dreams, a place devoid of all human life. Her vision is interrupted by a pounding at the library door. The door bursts open to reveal the Doctor and Donna. They barricade the door with a book and ask if they can stop for a bit.

Okay, let’s rewind.

The TARDIS materializes in a 51st-century library, which is actually an entire world of books. It’s not a Sunday, the Doctor claims, as Sundays are boring. Donna picks up a volume, but Doctor tells her not to spoil her future. He’s also perplexed as the Library is silent.

Dead silent.

The worldwide computer system only detects the Doctor and Donna as humanoid lifeforms, but registers a million million lives in other forms. That’s one trillion souls, or roughly 125 times Earth’s population in early 2020. Donna presumes that the books may be alive before seeking out a courtesy node to unravel the mystery. There they find a message from the head librarian to run. A second message tells them to count the shadows if they want to live.

The Doctor is intrigued and warns Donna to stay out of the shadows.

They move into the stacks where the Doctor reveals that he was summoned to the Library by a message on the psychic paper. They are chased out by the approaching darkness as the lights switch off. The Doctor sonics the door – not the wood part, obviously – before Donna takes matters into her own soles and kicks the door down.

We’re back where we started, except the little girl is a floating camera. The Doctor analyzes it, which causes the girl pain as the sonic buzzes, but she’s able to warn the travelers that “others are coming.” Donna asks the courtesy node in the room for help – distracted by the human-like face which was donated to the Library like a memorial park bench – before the Doctor notes the moving shadows without origins in the room with them.

The door blows open and people in spacesuits arrive. One of them turns on her face-lamp and smiles at the Doctor with two words: “Hello, sweetie!”

The expedition is staffed with archaeologists who remove their helmets but pretty much ignore the Doctor’s warnings until he points out that the way they came is now shrouded in darkness. The expedition is funded by the Lux Corporation, and one of the team members – Strackman Lux – is a descendant of the family that built the Library.

The Doctor identifies the problem as the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures who hunt in the shadows. The team sets to work as River pulls “pretty boy” Doctor aside. She’s the one who called him, but he doesn’t know who she is. She consults a TARDIS-styled diary and asks him about milestones in his life, but the Doctor hasn’t yet encountered them. In fact, this is the first time that they’ve met. Well, the first time that he’s met her.

The team is interrupted by the ringing of a phone, which is happening in the point-of-view of the little girl. Her father ignores it because he can’t hear it, so she eventually reaches for it. The ringing stops as soon as she touches it. Moments later, the Doctor hacks into her television and makes contact, but the link is soon lost.

The Doctor tries to re-establish contact, momentarily reaching for River’s diary before she tells him that his own rules forbid it. Books fly about the room as the little girl presses buttons on her remote, and Donna consoles Miss Evangelista, Lux’s assistant and the expedition members who is alienated because she’s the stereotypical pretty and dumb one.

The Doctor spots the word CAL on the monitor and asks Lux about it, but he won’t speak about it since the Doctor didn’t sign the expedition contract. River didn’t sign it either, and she shares the confidential bit with him: “4022 saved. No survivors.”

There were exactly 4022 people in the Library when it went silent.

While they discuss the message, Miss Evangelista is ignored and wanders off. Her scream draws the rest of the team, but she’s already been reduced to mere bones. Moments later, she “ghosts,” which is her last moment trapped in the neural relays of the suit communicators. It lasts for an indeterminate amount of time after death until the footprint on the beach fades in the tide.

Donna takes it especially hard since Evangelista asks for her specifically. The Doctor implores Donna to help her pass, and soon the pattern degrades into a loop and she’s gone. River pulls the plug as the Doctor consoles his companion.

River wants a word with the predator that killed one of her crew, and the Doctor offers to introduce them. Using a lunch from River’s pack, he hunts for the Vashta Nerada while River talks to Donna about her relationship with the Time Lord. River recognizes her as Donna Noble, but specifically by her absence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Moon tells the little girl that, given the difference between the real world and her nightmares, her nightmares are the reality and only she can save the team from the shadows.

The Doctor finds the Vashta Nerada and throws a chicken leg into the darkness. Only a bone remains. They are everywhere, like the dust in a sunbeam, but the only way to survive them is to run. Donna spots a potential way out, but the Doctor stops them. It seems that one of the team members, Proper Dave, has two shadows, one of which is being used to keep him fresh. The Doctor has the team don their helmets and alters their suits. River helps with her own advanced sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor uses a teleporter to send Donna back to the TARDIS, but her signal is intercepted. Meanwhile, the second shadow has moved into the victim’s suit. His visor goes pitch black – “Hey, who turned out the lights!?” – before he’s consumed from within. His helmet light is restored to reveal a skull as he attacks the Doctor. The team is cornered as the swarm in a suit expands its shadows, and River blows open a wall with a “squareness gun” to escape.

The little girl has a message: “Donna Noble has been saved.”

The team takes a rest and the Doctor amplifies the lights in the stacks. He notes that River’s sonic is similar to his, and she tells him that she got it from him. The Doctor realizes that Donna never reached the TARDIS, and he finds a courtesy node with her face on it.

In horror, the node repeats “Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved.” The tension ratchets as the lights go out and the swarm in the suit approaches.

 

Forest of the Dead

River blows a hole through the stacks and the team escapes as the little girl watches their progress on her television. She also watches a medical show where Donna is taken by ambulance and rehabilitated over two years by Dr. Moon. In this reality, the facility is named CAL and the adventures were only a dream. Donna meets man named Lee, gets married, and has two kids over the next seven years. The image is interrupted as the Doctor tries to break through the signal.

The survivors find a new room. They’re surrounded by the Vashta Nerada, and as the Doctor scans for a way out, Donna professes her faith in the Doctor to get her team out of this scrape. When the Doctor’s screwdriver isn’t enough, River offers hers. It precipitates an “old married couple” squabble before River whispers something in his ear to prove herself.

Energized, the Doctor tries to figure out what new signal is interfering with his screwdriver. They determine that the moon – the “doctor moon”, a planetary anti-virus – is the source. While the Doctor tries to figure it out, team member Anita gains a second shadow. They’re suddenly visited by Proper Dave’s animated corpse and are back on the run.

In Dr. Moon’s reality, Donna tries to figure out what’s going on. She’s visited by a cloaked figure who leaves a letter stating that the world is wrong and asking her to meet at a local playground. Donna goes the next day and learns that time progresses differently in this dream state. Her visitor is what remains of Miss Evangelista. They are the Dead of the Library.

On the run, the Doctor tries to reason with the Vashta Nerada, asking them for a dialogue. They typically hunt in forests, but hatched in the Library. The Doctor argues that there are no trees in the Library, but then realizes that they’re standing in a forest of dead trees. The Other Dave is consumed, but the Doctor escapes from a trap of Daves by using a trap door as sunset approaches.

River laments that the Tenth Doctor is not her Doctor. This version isn’t yet done cooking, but hers could make armies run with a glance and open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers. The Tenth Doctor arrives with a word – “Spoilers!” – and figures out what saved means in the context of the Library.

At the moment of the Vashta Nerada hatching, the Library evacuated the 4022 survivors in the only way that it could. It saved them to the hard drive, ready to be transmitted when the time was right. Donna is in that same condition, but Evangelista gained considerable knowledge when her signal was warped on transmission. Evangelista brings up the word CAL, but the little girl fights to keep that secret, including removing her father from the world and setting the planetary autodestruct. That act could “crack the planet like an egg.”

Dr. Moon tries to talk her down, but the girl deletes him as well. Luckily, Lux offers to take them to the secret of CAL at the planet’s core. The team of four descends on a gravity platform.

Meanwhile, Donna’s world is fragmenting.

When the team reaches the core, they hear the computer – the little girl – asking for help. The Doctor tries to wake it up because it is dreaming of a normal life. Lux reveals that it is driven by a courtesy node with the girl’s face, and her name is CAL. Charlotte Abigail Lux, Mr. Lux’s grandfather’s youngest daughter, was dying of an incurable disease. She was preserved in the Library with an imaginary world of every tale ever told to live in.

Now she’s suffering from four thousand people in her mind.

The Doctor proposes building another processor to transfer the consciousness into, deciding to use his mind as the vessel despite River’s protests that it will burn him alive without hope of regeneration. He also notices that Anita has been eaten. The Doctor threatens the Vashta Nerada, telling them to look him up in their forest. They withdraw for one day.

Then River sucker punches him.

He wakes up handcuffed, out of reach of the sonic screwdrivers with River on the transfer platform. He trusted her because she knew his real name – it was what she whispered in his ear – and she tells him about their last night together in a future incarnation. About all of the time that they spent together. That they will spend together.

But she refuses to tell him anything else. The countdown ends and she completes the circuit. Four thousand twenty-two people are saved, rematerialized in the Library, but River Song is dead.

Later, the Doctor and Donna are reunited, both mourning lost loves that they barely knew. They take hands and walk to the balcony where they discuss Donna’s future over River’s diary. Together, they decide that peeking at the end would be spoiling the adventure, and they walk away.

“He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give up.”

River’s diary and screwdriver are left behind, but only for a moment until he realizes that her echo remains in the sonic. He grabs it and dives into the planet’s core, sprinting to the computer and plugging in the sonic. River’s essence is uploaded into Dr. Moon’s virtual reality and she is reunited with her expeditionary team.

Triumphant, the Time Lord returns to the TARDIS. He opens the doors with a snap and a smile, and River reads her children a bedtime story with a happy ending: It was a special day, one where the Doctor came to call. It was a day when everybody lived.

 

So much energy, so much talent, so much fun. This is the episode that makes me just a little bit scared of the dark.

The acting and the story are an elegant concert with this story. We have Donna’s joy as her dreams become reality in Dr. Moon’s virtual space, contrasted by her anguish as they disintegrate before her eyes. River tries to balance the conflict between her confidence and faith that the Doctor will triumph, even considering the looming foreshadowing of her own death, and her sorrow that he’s not quite the man that she knew. The Doctor has to keep his own scales in check between saving the innocent and solving a mystery of his own future.

Every one of those plates keeps spinning as the tension continues to ratchet. The two twists in this well-crafted tale – the supposedly useless character becomes a critical piece of the puzzle while the young girl’s story is really at the core of the entire thing – were well concealed underneath the character drama.

We get a lot of nods to the history of the franchise hidden in the stacks: There was an operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe, The French Revolution, A Journal of Impossible Things, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (written by former writer and script editor Douglas Adams), Everest in Easy Stages, and Black Orchid.

We also get another crack at the Doctor’s true name, a question that hearkens back to the early days of Doctor Who and has threaded throughout the years in An Unearthly ChildSilver NemesisThe Girl in the FireplaceThe Shakespeare Code, and The Fires of Pompeii thus far.

This continues Steven Moffat’s theme of childhood fears – Blink had statues that came to life, The Girl in the Fireplace highlighted monsters under the bed, and The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances tackled the fear of war – but we also get a taste of what’s to come from his upcoming run as producer with reference to River as a clever girl. That word is one of his favorites in this universe.

It also highlights his pattern of not letting characters die. That will come back to haunt his run.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Midnight

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – April 29

April 29, 2020
Day 120 of 366

 

April 29th is the 120th day of the year. It is International Dance Day, which is a global celebration of dance, created by the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), the main partner for the performing arts of UNESCO. The event commemorates the birth of Jean-Georges Noverre, the creator of modern ballet, and strives to encourage participation and education in dance through events and festivals held on the date all over the world.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Peace Rose Day, National Shrimp Scampi Day, National Zipper Day, and Denim Day. The last one changes annually.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1429, Joan of Arc arrived to relieve the Siege of Orléans during the Hundred Years’ War.
  • In 1770, James Cook arrived in Australia. He named his landing site Botany Bay.
  • In 1899, pianist, composer, and bandleader Duke Ellington was born.
  • In 1916, The Easter Rising came to an end after six days of fighting when Irish rebel leaders surrender to British forces in Dublin.
  • In 1923, actor, director, and producer Irvin Kershner was born.
  • In 1933, singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actor Willie Nelson was born.
  • In 1936, actor Lane Smith was born.
  • In 1953, the first experimental 3D television broadcast in the United States showed an episode of Space Patrol on Los Angeles ABC affiliate KECA-TV.
  • In 1955, actress Kate Mulgrew was born.
  • In 1957, actor Daniel Day-Lewis was born.
  • In 1958, actress Michelle Pfeiffer was born.
  • In 1960, author and academic Robert J. Sawyer was born.
  • In 1968, the controversial musical Hair opened at the Biltmore Theatre on Broadway. The musical was a product of the hippie counter-culture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, with some of its songs becoming anthems of the anti-Vietnam War movement.
  • In 1992, the Los Angeles Riots began following the acquittal of police officers charged with excessive force in the beating of Rodney King. Over the next three days, 63 people were killed and hundreds of buildings were destroyed.
  • In 2019, Sports Illustrated featured Halima Aden, a Muslim model Halima Aden in a burkini, for the first time in their swimsuit edition. I can only ask, “what took you so long?”

 

In 1944, British agent Nancy Wake parachuted back into France to be a liaison between London and the local Maquis group. She was a leading figure in the French Resistance and the Gestapo’s most wanted person during World War II.

Nancy Wake, AC, GM was a New Zealand-born nurse and journalist who joined the French Resistance and later the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II. She also briefly pursued a post-war career as an intelligence officer in the Air Ministry.

She was living in Marseille with her French industrialist husband, Henri Fiocca, when the war began. After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, she became a courier for the Pat O’Leary escape network under Ian Garrow and Albert Guérisse. She helped Allied airmen evade capture by the Germans and escape to sanctuary in Spain. In 1943, when the Germans became aware of her, she escaped to Spain and continued on to the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, her husband was captured and executed. She was unaware of her husband’s death until the war was over, and she subsequently blamed herself for the tragedy.

In Britain, she joined the SOE under the code name “Hélène”. As part of the three-person SOE team code-named “Freelance”, she parachuted into the Allier department of occupied France to liaise between the SOE and several Maquis groups in the Auvergne region. She was in a battle between the Maquis and a large German force in June 1944, after which she claimed to have bicycled 500 kilometers to send a situation report to SOE in London.

For her bravery and valor, she received the George Medal from the United Kingdom, the Medal of Freedom from the United States, the Legion of Honor from France, and medals from Australia and New Zealand. She published her autobiography in 1985, which was titled The White Mouse after the nickname the Germans gave her during the war.

Nancy Wake died at the age of 98 on August 7, 2011.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – April 28

April 28, 2020
Day 119 of 366

 

April 28th is the 119th day of the year. It is Workers’ Memorial Day and World Day for Safety and Health at Work, an international day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled, injured, or made unwell by their work. In Canada, it is commemorated as the National Day of Mourning.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Blueberry Pie Day, National BraveHearts Day, National Great Poetry Reading Day, and National Superhero Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1253, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Nichiren put forward Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō for the very first time. He declared it to be the essence of Buddhism, effectively Nichiren Buddhism.
  • In 1503, the Battle of Cerignola was fought, noted as one of the first European battles in history won by small arms fire using gunpowder.
  • In 1900, Dutch astronomer and academic Jan Oort was born.
  • In 1908, Oskar Schindler was born. He was the German industrialist and member of the Nazi Party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories in occupied Poland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
  • In 1926, novelist Harper Lee was born.
  • In 1934, novelist and journalist Lois Duncan was born.
  • In 1938, actress Madge Sinclair was born.
  • In 1941, actress, singer, and dancer Ann-Margret was born.
  • In 1945, Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were killed by Walter Audisio, a member of the Italian resistance movement.
  • In 1948, Igor Stravinsky conducted the premiere of his ballet Orpheus at the New York City Center.
  • Also in 1948,  journalist, author, and screenwriter Terry Pratchett was born.
  • In 1952, actress Mary McDonnell was born.
  • In 1965, voice actor Steve Blum was born.
  • In 1971, actress Bridget Moynahan was born.
  • In 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (recorded in Abbey Road Studios) hit number one on the US Billboard chart, beginning a record-breaking 741-week chart run.
  • Also in 1973, actress Elisabeth Röhm was born.
  • Also in 1973, actor Jorge Garcia was born.
  • In 1974, actress and producer Penélope Cruz was born.
  • In 1981, actress Jessica Alba was born.
  • In 1986, the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) became the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to transit the Suez Canal. It navigated from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to relieve the USS Coral Sea (CV-43).
  • Also in 1986, the Soviet Union finally revealed the Chernobyl nuclear accident, two days after the event.

 

This year, National Superhero Day is observed on April 28th.

The unofficial holiday was created by a group at Marvel Comics in 1995. They reportedly celebrated by putting on capes and sending interns on a mission to find out what the public thought about superheroes, and what kind superhero they’d be if they had powers.

Despite the commercial origins, the day also provides an opportunity to discuss the popularity of superheroes, a set of modern myths, and how they impact people through pop culture.

I’ll recommend the 2012 short documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, now available for free on Tubi. If you already know the history of Wonder Woman and other superheroines through recent history, this won’t be anything new, but the personal stories make the presentation worth the time.

Consider talking to the fans in your life about why they love these superheroes and what they mean in their lives.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that one of my favorites is Captain America, primarily from his portrayal in the Marvel films, but also from his ethos of favoring freedom over blind loyalty.

One of my favorite quotes from the character comes from the pen of J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5. It was in The Amazing Spider-Man, Issue #537, which took place during the Marvel universe’s Civil War arc. Spider-Man denounced the Superhero Registration Act, an act that puts him in the crosshairs. He and Captain America, who is currently being seen as a national traitor for his stance on the act, cross paths. This provides Cap a moment to share some philosophy with Peter Parker.

Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — “No, you move.”

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – April 27

April 27, 2020
Day 118 of 366

 

April 27th is the 118th day of the year. It is National Veterans’ Day in Finland.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Babe Ruth Day, National Devil Dog Day, National Prime Rib Day, and National Tell a Story Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1667, John Milton was blind and impoverished, so he sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10.
  • In 1805, the United States Marines and Berbers attacked the Tripolitan city of Derna during the First Barbary War. This was where the “shores of Tripoli” part of the Marines’ Hymn came from.
  • In 1865, the New York State Senate created Cornell University as the state’s land grant institution.
  • In 1891, Russian pianist, composer, and conductor Sergei Prokofiev was born.
  • In 1922, actor Jack Klugman was born.
  • In 1927, activist and author Coretta Scott King was born. She was the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.
  • In 1959, singer, songwriter, and actress Sheena Easton was born.
  • In 1963, screenwriter and producer Russell T. Davies was born.
  • In 1974, ten thousand citizens marched in Washington, D.C., calling for the impeachment of United States President Richard Nixon.
  • In 1976, actress Sally Hawkins was born.
  • In 1981, Xerox PARC introduced the computer mouse.
  • In 1986, actress Jenna Coleman was born.
  • In 1992, Betty Boothroyd became the first woman to be elected Speaker of the British House of Commons in its 700-year history.

 

In 1791, painter, co-inventor of the telegraph, and co-inventor the Morse code Samuel Morse was born.

Following the discovery of electromagnetism by Hans Christian Ørsted in 1820 and the invention of the electromagnet by William Sturgeon in 1824, the technology of electromagnetic telegraphy developed in Europe and the United States. Pulses of electric current were sent along wires to control an electromagnet on the other end. The early instruments used a single-needle system, but an operator had to alternate between watching the needle and transcribing the message.

The advent of Morse code allowed for a system with varying deflections. A deflection to the left corresponded to a dot and a deflection to the right to a dash, and with different stops, the device became audible.

The electrical telegraph was developed by Morse, physicist Joseph Henry, and machinist Alfred Vail. Alongside the invention, they also developed a forerunner to the Morse code. Meanwhile, William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone patented the first commercial electrical telegraph in Britain, and Carl Friedrich Gauss, Wilhelm Eduard Weber, and Carl August von Steinheil developed codes with varying word lengths.

The code used from 1844 was the Morse landline code or American Morse code. The international Morse code was refined using a proposal from German writer Friedrich Clemens Gerke. The code uses an audible series of dots and dashes, representing letters and numbers, to transmit messages.

Used extensively from its conception in wartime and peacetime, Morse code was used as an international standard for maritime distress until 1999 when it was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.

Despite his contributions to the world, it should also be noted that Samuel F. B. Morse was anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, and pro-slavery. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York under the anti-immigrant Nativist Party’s banner, and he allegedly refused to take his hat off in the presence of the Pope while visiting Rome.

He worked to unite Protestants against Catholic institutions (including schools), wanted to forbid Catholics from holding public office, and promoted changing immigration laws to limit immigration from Catholic countries. He was also well known as a defender of slavery, considering it to be sanctioned by God. He considered it a social condition “ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom,” considering the owning of slaves to be on the same level as being a parent or an employer.

He died in New York City on April 2, 1872.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – April 26

April 26, 2020
Day 117 of 366

 

April 26th is the 117th day of the year. It is World Intellectual Property Day, established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to “raise awareness of how patents, copyright, trademarks and designs impact on daily life” and “to celebrate creativity, and the contribution made by creators and innovators to the development of societies across the globe.”

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Audubon Day, National Dissertation Day, National Help a Horse Day, National Kids and Pets Day, National Pretzel Day, National Richter Scale Day, National South Dakota Day, and National Pet Parents Day. That last one is typically observed on the last Sunday in April.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1564, playwright William Shakespeare was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. His actual date of birth is unknown.
  • In 1803, thousands of meteor fragments fell from the skies of L’Aigle, France. The event convinced European scientists that meteors exist.
  • In 1865, Union cavalry troopers cornered and killed assassin John Wilkes Booth in Virginia.
  • In 1933, actress, singer, and producer Carol Burnett was born.
  • In 1954, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was released.
  • In 1958, actor Giancarlo Esposito was born.
  • In 1962, NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft crasheed into the Moon.
  • In 1977, actor Tom Welling was born.
  • In 1979, actress Stana Katic was born.
  • In 1981, Dr. Michael R. Harrison of the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center performed the world’s first human open fetal surgery.

 

In 1986, a nuclear reactor accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine in the Soviet Union, creating the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The accident started during a safety test on an RBMK-type nuclear reactor, which was commonly used throughout the Soviet Union. If you recall the discussion of the SL-1 accident on January 3rd, the common reactor type in the United States uses pressurized water as the moderator to help control neutron production, and as a result, power and heat generation. The RBMK-type reactor uses graphite as a moderator with moving water to cool the core, which was a contributing factor to the accident.

Other contributing factors included active removal of decay heat (the heat generated from the decay of fission products), positive void coefficient properties (an estimate of how much reactivity is added to the core when voids appear in the system), and instability at low power levels.

The test was a simulation of an electrical power outage. This test was being used to help develop a safety procedure to maintain reactor cooling water circulation until back-up electrical generators could provide power to the complex. The blackout duration was about one minute and had been identified as a potential safety problem that could cause the reactor core to overheat. The hope was that residual rotational energy in a turbine generator could provide enough power to last for that minute, but while three tests had been conducted, no solution had been found.

On the fourth attempt, there was an unexpected delay of ten hours. Unfortunately, that pushed the test to a later shift, and the oncoming operators were not prepared for the experiment.

During the planned decrease of reactor power in preparation for the electrical test, the power unexpectedly dropped to a near-zero level. In a pressurized water reactor like those operating in the United States, this would likely result in the reactor shutting itself down due to the inherent negative coefficient of reactivity. But the RBMK’s low-power imbalances limited the ability of the reactor to burn off xenon-135, a fission product that hinders the rise of reactor power.

To overcome the xenon, operators raised power by disconnecting most of the control rods from their automatic control systems. Even worse, they manually extracted most of the rods to their upper limits to maximize positive reactivity and overcome the xenon to increase power.

The operators were able to only partially restore the specified test power, but the instability risk was not evident in the operating instructions, so the operators proceeded with the test. The operation of the reactor at the low power level and high poisoning level was accompanied by unstable core temperatures and coolant flow. Several alarms were triggered, but they were ignored to preserve testing power levels.

The combined effect of actions to this point was an extremely unstable reactor configuration. Nearly all of the 211 control rods had been extracted manually, including all but 18 of the “fail-safe” manually operated rods of the minimum 28 that were supposed to remain fully inserted to control the reactor even in the event of a loss of coolant.

Upon test completion, the operators triggered a reactor shutdown, but circumstances caused an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction. A large amount of energy was suddenly released, vaporizing superheated cooling water and rupturing the reactor core in a highly destructive steam explosion. The result was an open-air reactor core fire that released radioactive contamination in a large plume for about nine days. The fire gradually released about the same amount of contamination as the initial explosion, resulting in a 10-kilometer exclusion zone around Pripyat and the evacuation of 49,000 people. The exclusion zone was later expanded to 30 kilometers when an additional 68,000 people were evacuated.

The explosion killed two of the operating staff. During the emergency response that followed, 134 station staff and firemen were hospitalized for acute radiation exposure. Twenty-eight of them died in the days to months following the accident, and an estimated fourteen cancer deaths were related to the event.

To reduce the spread of radioactive contamination from the wreckage and protect it from weathering, a protective sarcophagus was built by December 1986. This also provided radiological protection for the remaining operational reactors at the site. The sarcophagus was further enclosed in 2017.

Site clean-up is scheduled for completion in 2065.

The Chernobyl disaster is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, both in terms of cost and casualties. The combination of the initial emergency response and later environmental decontamination have involved half a million personnel and approximately $68 billion. The accident resulted in safety upgrades on all remaining Soviet-designed RBMK reactors – as of 2019, ten of them remained operational – and continues to be an in-depth training topic for operators in the United States to this day.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

Culture on My Mind – Quarantine Con

Culture on My Mind
April 25, 2020

 

It’s been a while since time’s been slipping away during shelter-in-place, but some friends are finding ways to help fellow geeks pass the time. This week’s “can’t let it go” is a virtual convention panel.

Live from quarantine in their individual bunkers, three regulars from the Dragon Con American Sci-Fi Classics Track discussed movies from the year 2000! This time around, Classics Track co-directors Joe Crowe and Gary Mitchel are joined by author Michael G. Williams. They chatted about The Cell, X-Men, Mission to Mars, and haircuts.

Joe and Gary will be hosting more of these, so stay tuned to the YouTube channel and the group on Facebook. If you join in live, you can also leave comments and participate in the discussion using StreamYard connected through Facebook.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.