Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Interesting

Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell created the first color photograph in history, entitled “Tartan Ribbon”; ca. 1861


Best known for his development of electromagnetic theory, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell dabbled in color theory throughout his life, eventually producing the first color photograph in 1861. Maxwell created the image of the tartan ribbon shown here by photographing it three times through red, blue, and yellow filters, then recombining the images into one color composite.


Prokudin-Gorsky photography



Signal tower in the village of Burkovo

These are actually not colorized photographs, they’re color photographs by a man named Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. He’s a Russian who really pioneered in, and made the field of color photography something worth funding. He was given funding by Tsar Nicholas II to take 2 trips through Russia photographing everything that came to mind. He went on 2 trips, one in 1909, and one a bit later in 1915.

Gorsky was one of the later photographers in this medium, but he certainly wasn’t someone who fades in comparison. The earlier individuals are people who were experimenting with different methods, cameras, exposures, and emulsions (The light-sensitive coating that was smeared on the glass plate to permanently imprint the image after the exposure). Individuals like Adolf Miethe (who was active in 1902 onwards), and Edward Raymond Turner (The Englishman who filmed the first color photographs in 1902) have one thing in common –They all used the same three-color process of photographing three individual glass plates in red, green, and blue, and then combining them in one channel.

The three-color process was first theorized by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, and put in to practice by a man named Thomas Sutton in a photograph captured in 1861, a very famous one nonetheless! It was a simple tartan ribbon, but it reproduced permanent color. There’s been earlier examples of possible color photographs, like the Hillotypes (Named for the inventor, a minister by the name of Levi Hill), but this is an entirely different story altogether, and one with which I’m not familiar enough to comfortably answer.

All in all, after Maxwell’s successful ‘experiment’ conducted by Sutton, a man named Louis Ducos du Hauron caught an interest in the medium. Before 1877, he had patented several processes related to color photography, and finally in ’77, he took the first confirmed color photograph. There’s been rumors of this photograph being from 1869, but others put it at 1879. It’s currently disputed enough to really not make the running, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, Hauron is my favorite person of this era.

Moving along to the late 19th century, the Lumière brothers come in to play. Louis Lumière and Auguste Lumière (Lumière meaning Light in French!) held a little get together in 1895, screening early motion pictures. The 2 brothers also invented the dry-plate, which was necessary for commercially viable color photography, but that’s for later! They theorized that a plate, with a single exposure, could produce viable color photographs, instead of the previously tiring 3 exposures for a single photograph. So, they set about trying for the different ways of achieving this. They didn’t actually receive any success until 1903, when they filed the following patent for an Autochrome Lumière (A small excerpt):

  • The colored particles are grains of starch, ferments, leavens, bacilli, pulverized enamels, or other pulberulent and transparent materials. They are colored by means of colors also transparent in orange, green, and violet, or else in red, yellow, and blue, or even in any number of colors, such that the grains of these different colors being mixed as intimately as possible in the state of dry powder and in suitable proportions and then applied to the glass they do not communicate to the surface of the plate any appreciate coloration.

So essentially, in 1907, they launched the Autochrome Lumière to great success. It was affordable (Not compared to B/W photography though!), it was simple, and it was user friendly. Pop in a plate, expose, color photography! Quite simple, really. However, Gorsky, used the three-color method to great success. He achieved unprecedented results and a stunning quality compared to his colleagues, mostly due to something called ‘digichromatography’. Gorsky’s camera is also unknown as he likely designed it himself, but a fun fact is he might’ve drawn inspiration from Adolf Miethe who he met while traveling through Germany, Miethe having had his camera designed by a cabinet maker while in Berlin.

In the later years, more pioneers entered the field. People with inventions that were brilliant, but not commercially viable, and inventions that were quite funky, but, well, ingenious. All in all, a quick wrap is easy.

Here’s a video covering this subject quite nicely, from the annals of the craft to the modern 20th century:


German soldier lighting his cigarette with a flamethrower; ca. 1940s.

I don't always say nice things about Nazis, but that's about the most badass way to light a cigarette. Although, I'm sure it was a pretty common way for people with flamethrowers to light a cigarette.

I don’t always say nice things about Nazis, but that’s about the most badass way to light a cigarette. Although, I’m sure it was a pretty common way for people with flamethrowers to light a cigarette.

Flamethrowers had two fuel lines. The line he is lighting is cigarette with is sort of like a pilot line. It is a smaller fuel line that stays lit and can produce a bit of a larger flame when its trigger is pressed. The second line is for the big fire. This contains a thicker gelatinous type of fuel. So the flamer will pull the first trigger making the pilot flame larger, then pulls the second trigger emitting the thicker fuel which gets lit by the pilot flame raining hellfire upon anyone in its path. So technically its not really a blowtorch, but just a little pilot flame.

A computer programming classroom in the Soviet Union; a poster on the wall reads ‘Train BASIC Everyday!’; ca. 1985

Top line says: "Programming - the second grammar. The first grants knowledge. The second enables realization of knowledge in earnest"

Top line says: “Programming – the second grammar. The first grants knowledge. The second enables realization of knowledge in earnest”

The Soviets had a very diverse and powerful set of computational hardware and languages, and having developed in relative isolation from the rest of the world (*They had to wait for it to be released, reverse engineer it, and then attempt to reproduce it), they’ve built some pretty unique stuff.

There are websites out there dedicated to documenting this fascinating subject.

A trained photo pigeon during WWI; date unknown.

Go-Pro 1.0

Go-Pro 1.0

Captain John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage.



The loss of Franklin and his men was a huge mystery, how could so many men and two state of the art ships just disappear? Search parties scoured the arctic (and in the process charted most of the up til then unexplored regions of the arctic archipeligo, and McClure even technically made it through the passage in his “search” for Franklin) for more than a decade before any real traces of the expedition turned up. Many other expeditions suffered and lost men in the same era of arctic exploration, but none disappeared completely! To this day, there’s a lot we don’t know about how such a well equipped and large expedition could fail so completely and quickly.

Here’s what we’ve found and what we know at this point: The ships spent their first winter at Beechey Island, and all seemed well. The next summer, they travelled south, and were frozen in near King William Island that Fall. They wintered here, and the next summer the ice failed to melt, trapping them for a second winter on King William Island. This alone is not out of the ordinary for arctic expeditions, many ships were frozen in for several years without a great loss of life.

In the summer between the first and second winters at King William Island, in 1847, the crew leave a note in a cairn on King William Island saying “all is well”. After the second winter stuck in the ice, the note is dug up and in the margins someone writes that 24 men have died, including Franklin, and that the crew is abandoning their ships and marching south towards the mainland of North America. It’s important to point out this second note contained several errors, but we’ll get to that.

The crew’s march is a death march, the local eskimo later report seeing dozens of white men dying in their tracks. Some men may have made it all the way to the mainland, but none survive. By the early 1850s it’s likely that all or almost all of the expedition is dead.

McClintock in 1859 finds the note in the cairn on King William Island, a single skeleton, and finally a life boat with two skeletons in it. The contents of the lifeboat add to the mystery- “a large amount of abandoned equipment, including boots, silk handkerchiefs, scented soap, sponges, slippers, hair combs, and many books, among them a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield.” The lifeboat was being man-hauled, but was pointing north, not south. A decade later Hall finds more graves and campsites, all on the King William Island. This is pretty much the extent of the evidence known up until contemporary scientific expeditions.


So, the mysteries- Scurvy, starvation, and cold had killed men on previous and subsequent expeditions, but many expeditions had survived much longer than Franklin’s without anything so catastrophic. In all, the Franklin’s men had spent only three winters in the arctic before abandoning their ships. They were equipped for five.

The mysterious contents of the lifeboat and the inconsistencies in the note point to a deteriorating mental situation. Why would dying men man-haul heavy books and silverware? Why was the boat facing north, were the men trying to return to the abandoned ships?

So, what could the ships tell us?

When scientific autopsies were conducted on the bodies on King William’s Island, it was found that lead poisoning contributed to the deaths of those men. It’s believed the solder on the tins of food was the source, but there are other theories- perhaps the ship’s water system was the source. The men also were suffering from TB and Pneumonia.

Finding the ships could finally help resolve the issue, for instance if there are more bodies on or near the ships then we know some men may have turned around from their march and made it back. Plus finding more bodies would inevitably help our understanding of what killed the men. We could also get more insight into why the men were carrying such strange items in their lifeboat, by seeing the things they chose not to take. And obviously examining more of the food tins, as well as the ship’s water system, might better explain the presence of lead.

More than anything, we don’t know exactly what the ships might tell us, but there’s so little we know as it is, it’d be amazing to find any new bits of evidence.


[*History got a little breaking news this morning that one of the ships of the lost Franklin Expedition has been discovered in the Canadian arctic.]

British ship found

Napoleon’s Exile.

Painting : Napoleon at Fontainbleau

The first abdication was originally conditional. Tsar Alexander had then proposed that Napoleon be exiled to Elba. Even after the unconditional abdication, the marquis de Caulaincourt convinced Alexander to keep the proposition open. Napoleon wasn’t seen as a criminal, an upstart perhaps, but his rule was legitimate and the wars were often declared by the Coalition.

There wasn’t widespread support for Elba, and most diplomats and politicians had their own ideas on where to send him. The United States, Corsica, Sardinia, and the British fort of St. George on Beauly Firth were other possibilities. Alexander insisted on Elba as it would put him at an advantage to Austrian interests, and the other nations went along with it due to the other choices not being entirely pleasing — along with some threats from Alexander that were Napoleon not sent to Elba he would rescind his support for the Bourbons.

When Napoleon escaped, he was declared as much as an enemy of humanity and that he would banished from Europe if captured. He could, in theory, be executed. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Prussians stated that he would be executed if captured by them. For personal reasons, Napoleon refused to surrender to the Austrians and Russians — though they were unlikely to execute him. Napoleon made his way to Rochefort where he planned on embarking to the United States, though he delayed in doing so and the British blockaded the port in the meantime. Napoleon sent his aides to the captain of the HMS Bellerophon to see what terms he might get for surrendering to them. Captain Maitland suggested that asylum in England may be possible, but would have to clear it.

After some deliberation, Napoleon decided to surrender himself to the Bellerophon. When it arrived at Torbay, Napoleon was kept on board — an amusement for sight seers to come and see. The British government debated what to do with him. The three main figures (being the Prince Regent, Prime Minister, and Secretary of War) all hated him and previously instructed the Bourbons that they should execute him. They declared Napoleon a prisoner of war, which put Bonaparte in a grey area of legality. He couldn’t technically be a prisoner of war since Britain and France were no longer at war. Napoleon was no longer considered to even be a citizen of France. The possibility of him being tried and executed as an outlaw or pirate was raised, but then he couldn’t have been detained as a prisoner of war.

The government’s response to this scenario was to exile Napoleon to St. Helena as a retired general on half pay. Napoleon’s response to this was bewilderment and confusion, stating that if his coming aboard the Bellerophon was simply a trick to make him a prisoner, Britain had shamed itself. One of his remarks was, “They may as well call me Archbishop, for I was head of the Church as well as the army.” The Allies approved of the action, though the British Parliament later admitted that the government had no legal basis for Napoleon’s exile.

So, specifically as for why Napoleon wasn’t executed basically comes down to the unique position he was in. The concept of war criminals wasn’t yet around, and Napoleon was neither a figure that could simply be executed nor given asylum. If Napoleon had been given a *writ of habeus corpus, he could have been put on trial. However, the British government didn’t want the possibility for Napoleon to be let off, so they quickly decided to exile him. Even that was outside of their legal jurisdiction, but it caused a lot less fallout than an execution would have.

[*Napoleon technically had received a writ of habeus corpus. A sympathetic former judge came up with an excuse (an admiral failing to perform his duties) to have Napoleon appear as a witness in a trial. The writ was obtained, but Napoleon was whisked away before he could set foot on land.]


Finland: The Swedish Period.


The earliest period of Swedish colonization of Finland proper (in the area around the city of Turku) occurred at the end of the 12th century, and could be considered a part of the religious and political movement known as the Northern Crusade. The Swedish monarchs and nobles would have had numerous reasons for the effort including

•suppression of piracy in the Gulf of Finland and Aaland archipelago.
•conversion of Finnic tribes to Catholic Christianity.
•creation of markets, establishment of feifs, and access to raw materials.
•to check the influence of Novgorod, and counter the spread of the “heretical” Orthodox creed.

Indeed, the spread of Swedish language and construction of fortresses goes hand in hand with the construction of Catholic churches and cathedrals in the early period.

Skipping ahead from the 1200s up to the 1400s, Sweden joined Denmark and Norway in a union of the skandinavian kingdoms called the Union of Kalmar, which was dominated by Denmark. Under Gustav Erikson, later King Gustav I Vasa, Sweden (and Finland) left the Kalmar Union in 1523. Gustav Vasa profoundly changed the Swedish monarchy, weakening the power of the nobility and church to enhance his own power. Following a dispute with the Pope about the appointment of Bishops, Gustav allowed the spread of the Lutheran church in his kingdom. This period also saw the administration of the provinces in Finland come under the supervision of royally appointed bailiffs, rather than being administered by local Bishoprics and noble families (who tended to be Germans appointed by pre-Kalmar kings).

Following Gustav I, his sons Eric XIV and John III ruled. John originally ruled as Duke of Finland during his brother’s reign, and used his power base in Finland to depose his mentally unstable brother. John had strong catholic sympathies, and under his reign and that of his son Sigismund, Sweden would see the reintroduction of many Catholic ceremonies and the drift back towards Catholicism being the state religion.

Sigismund was troubled in that his Catholicism as well as his duties as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth put him at odds with his Swedish nobles, and he was deposed in turn in favor of Gustav I’s youngest son Charles IX. During this conflict in Sweden proper, the provinces of Finland saw what has been called the Cudgel War, where peasants rebelled against burdensome and exploitative nobles and military garrisons. Charles IX expressed support for the peasantry, but his forces were engaged fighting Sigismund in Sweden.

The period of Charles IX reign would see the lessening of the old rivalry with the Russian principalities (Muscovy was descending into the Time of Troubles) and a heightening of rivalry with Poland-Lithuania ruled by the disgruntled Sigismund who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Sweden. In fact, this period would see Russia as the playground for Polish and Swedish invasions and puppet Czars (something never mentioned in discussions of Charles XII/Napoleon/Hitler).

Charles IX was succeeded by his illustrious son Gustav Adolph, also known by his latinized name Gustavus Adolphus. Gustav Adolph’s reign saw the conquest of Skane from the Danes by the young monarch, an extended war against his cousin, Sigismund, in Prussia, and eventually Swedish intervention in the 40 years war. During this long period of war, Finnish cavalry regiments known as Hakkapeliitas made a name for themselves for their endurance and savagery. Actually, Jean Sibelius wrote a concerto about them known as the Hakkapeliita March.

At the end of Gustav Adolph’s reign, Sweden could be considered one of the “great powers” of Europe to come out of the 40 years war, along with France.

However, Swedish strength would ebb away with the reforms of Peter the Great of Russia. King Christian XII fought the Russian Czar to a standstill in the early phases of the Great Northern War in 1700, but the Swedish monarch made the drastic mistake of engaging in a long and inconclusive war with Poland while the Russians recouped their strength. The result was Russia took over the territory of Estonia, gained access to the Gulf of Finland including the site on which St Petersburg was constructed, as well as the loss of Viipuri/Vyborg, the lynchpin of the eastern defenses of Finland.

Finally, Sweden would lose the entirety of Finland in the 1808-09 Finnish War.

American intervention in the Russian Civil War:

DDD0918489TAmerican involvement in Russia was part of an Allied Intervention into Russia rather than an actual invasion. President Wilson authorized limited military force in Russia but no formal declaration of war was ever authorized by the American Congress. Wilson ordered 5,000 men to occupy Arkhangelsk and around 8,000 to Vladivostok, a port city on the far eastern reaches of Russia. The American “expeditionary” forces were not part of a concerted American war effort but rather an American commitment made out of the emerging European debates that followed the First World War. Wilson was also known to use limited occupational forces to achieve political goals. One example is his 1914 occupation of the Mexican port city Veracruz to influence the success of a U.S. friendly Mexican government, obviously Veracruz is a different story but it demonstrates that Wilson used Executive power to authorize military occupations that were not necessarily outright invasions or declarations of war.

Importantly the number of around 13,000 thousand American soldiers was considerably less than the commitments of Czechoslovakia’s (50,000), France’s (12,000) and Britain’s (40,000). Moreover the strategic importance of the areas occupied by America were also minor in comparison to other zones of conflict and the role of America was manifestly less significant than the contributions of her Allies. General Graves who commanded the American contingent present in Siberia (American Expeditionary Force Siberia) had the aim of protecting American military equipment and American capital investment that was still in Russia after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Graves’ other objectives included safe guarding the exit of the Czech legion from Russian territory and to assist the reorganization of the new Russian government.

You have to take into account that Russia in 1918 was vastly different from the Communist state that we understand it to have been throughout the twentieth century. In 1918 it was not clear that the Bolsheviks would emerge as victors, the Red Army faced opponents on four fronts to control a comparatively small area compared to the huge country we know Russia is today. The map I’ve linked at the bottom shows the extent of Bolshevik control in 1919, Archangelsk is just at the top, Vladivostok where most of the Americans were stationed is located thousands of kilometers to the east and Americans stationed there engaged in a limited role against Russian Cossacks, a group separate to the Revolutionary Bolsheviks.

Wilson’s motivations for sending American troops were numerous but stemmed from his willingness to see through his own vision for a post war peace process. He was pressured by allies to commit to Russian intervention and he likely did so in a diplomatic measure to ensure he had some leverage in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Undoubtedly Wilson was more concerned with fostering a democratic environment in Europe (and protecting physical American interests in Russia) rather than in participating in a huge mobilization against Russia after the toll of the First World War. The intervention was certainly no secret, Congressmen, Newspapers and Citizens were alert to the experiences of American soldiers stationed in the frozen port cities and campaigned for the men to be returned. Generally Americans opposed intervention and largely felt that their commitment in the First World War had been sufficient enough in aiding allied European nations. Additionally many Americans did not share the international spirit that Wilson pushed in the post-war peace conferences. President Warren Harding who followed Wilson’s administration condemned the intervention as a complete mistake.

Here are a couple of good sources if you want to develop some of the ideas that I’ve written here:

(It wasn’t an invasion, it was an intervention authorized by the President and not Congress and the American people knew about it.)


*Maybe the best quick read to get the bet settled that isn’t a wikipedia article.

*The introduction here will help you get a better idea on some of the context surrounding the intervention.


Man posing with dead shark caught during Jersey Shore shark attack frenzy; ca. July 1916