Little Bits of History

February 15

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2017

1493: Christopher Columbus writes an open letter discussing his discovery. The Genoese sailor had left Spain under the Crown of Castile in August 1492 to discover a faster way to China. His inaccurate mathematics led him to believe the circumference of the world was much smaller and there was a good chance he could sail westward to reach the Far East. Luckily for him, there is a large landmass in the way. He did not, as he had intended and thoroughly believed he did, land in the East Indies. Instead, he landed on several Caribbean islands in what would eventually come to be known as the Americas. After a few months of travelling in the Gulf of Mexico, he boarded the Nina on January 15, 1493, and sailed back to Spain to tell of his adventures. On February 14, they ran into a storm which damaged this ship.

Surviving the storm but unsure of reaching port, Columbus wrote an account of what they had found, calling them the “islands of the Indies”. He wrote two versions of the missive. The first in Spanish to be delivered to Luis de Santangel (a major financier of the trip) and a second in Latin was sent to Barcelona and the King and Queen. Many copies were made and translations were also made for those not able to work with the Latin or Spanish versions. The printing press had only recently been brought online and so it was possible to print out thousands of copies, making this a veritable best seller of its day.

Columbus called the region he discovered “India beyond the Ganges” which was what we might call Indonesia. They were the islands outside of the subcontinent proper, called “India within the Ganges”. The letter does not describe the voyage itself but skips right to the wonders found at the end of the journey. He stated how he renamed six of the islands he landed on and gave rather florid and not-quite-accurate descriptions of the land and people already there. He talked much about Cuba and Hispaniola making them sound perfect for future colonization. He claimed there was much gold to be found, as well.

He claimed the natives were docile and without government or religions of any kind, although they were said to have believed the Europeans were delivered from the heavens. He didn’t want to discount them completely and vouched for their ability to work, both men and women. He noted that he was told of cannibals in the region but disregarded it as a myth and assured his readers he did not see any. He finished his letter and added a postscript in Lisbon on March 4 when they put to port there to repair the ship before sailing back to Barcelona. He sent his letters ahead of him.

Riches don’t make a man rich, they only make him busier.

I saw a boy of the crew purchasing javelins of them with bits of platters and broken glass.

The Indians on board said that thence to Cuba was a voyage in their canoes of a day and a half; these being small dug-outs without a sail. Such are their canoes. I departed thence for Cuba, for by the signs the Indians made of its greatness, and of its gold and pearls, I thought that it must be Cipango.

For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps. – all from Christopher Columbus


Money Conversion

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2015
Decimal Day

Decimal Day

February 15, 1971: It is Decimal Day in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Britain’s monetary system was, prior to this day, based on the pound worth 240 pence. Pence was designated in writing with the letter d for the Latin word, denarius. There were 12 pence in each shilling and 20 shilling (denoted by the letter s for the Latin word solidus) in a pound. With this base 12 method of money, it was extremely difficult to do monetary calculations and make change. It also confused visitors since things like a “half-crown” were wroth 2s 6d or one eighth of a pound. The penny was the same size as a US half-dollar but was of little value and the farthing (one-fourth of a pence) went out of use in January 1961 since with inflation it was truly obsolete.

There were several different coinage systems in place from abound 600 AD on. The French franc went to a decimal system in 1795 and prompted the first legislation introduced to Parliament by Lord Wrottesley in 1824. It was rejected. The Decimal Association was founded in 1841 to promote both decimalization of coins and the metrication of other measuring systems. With the Great Exhibition in 1851, the importance of international trade was brought home and support for a standard measure was boosted. The first report, the Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage (1856-57) considered both the benefits and costs to the issue but made no recommendations. Nothing happened.

The Royal Commission on Decimal Coinage (1918-20) thought the only feasible way to go was to divide the pound into 1000 mills but it would be too inconvenient. Again, nothing happened. In 1960, a report by the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce noted the success of decimalization in South Africa and the government set up the Committee of the Inquiry on Decimal Currency. Their report came out in 1963 and on March 1, 1966, it was announced. The Decimal Currency Board was created to manage the transition from the old 240 per pounds to 100 per pound challenges.

The day went smoothly overall but there were some glitches. After this day, businesses continued to accept the old coins but always gave change in the new version. On this day, the new ½p, 1p, and 2p were introduced. Within two weeks, the penny (1d) and threepenny (3d) coins had left circulation. The decimal halfpenny, ½p, was taken out of circulation in 1984. The 50p piece was reduced in size in 1997 after the success of smaller 5p and 10p coins. The only coins minted in 1971 that are still valid money today are the 1p and 2p although newer coins have changed in composition and are also in use.  The last design change came in March 2014 when the £1 coin was revamped to combat the 45 million forgeries in circulation.

Silver and gold are not the only coin; virtue too passes current all over the world. – Euripides

Every side of a coin has another side. – Myron Scholes

Many gold and silver experts will recommend you buy numismatic coins – rare and old coins. If you are not a rare coin expert, I’d encourage you to stay away from them. New investors often pay too much for rare coins that are not really rare. – Robert Kiyosaki

The ‘crownd’ is still the unit, the favourite coin of the labourers, especially the elder folk. They use the word something in the same sense as the dollar, and look with regret upon the gradual disappearance of the broad silver disc with the figure of ‘St. Gaarge’ conquering the dragon. – Richard Jefferies

Also on this day: Teddy Bear – In 1903, the first official teddy bear was introduced.
Oh, Canada! – In 1965, Canada adopted a new flag.
Hemlock – In 399 BC, Socrates drank hemlock.
Video – In 2005, You Tube went online.
DEWy Eyes – In 1954, the Distant Early Warning Line was agreed upon.

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DEWy Eyes

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2014
DEW Line

DEW Line and strategic defense

February 15, 1954: The US and Canada agree to build the Distant Early Warning Line. The DEW Line was a series of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada and along the North Coast and Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Also included were the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Iceland. Constructed during the Cold War, it was hoped this line of radar stations would give early warning if the Soviets sent up bombers to attack the West. It was hoped that the line of stations could give an early enough warning in the event of any sea-and-land invasion for defensive action.

This was one of three lines with the Pinetree Line and the Mid-Canada Line being the other two. Pinetree planning began in 1946 and the line ran from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island. The Mid-Canada Line was begun soon after the Pinetree Line’s construction and cut across the middle of Canada. The DEW line was both the most northern and the most capable. The earlier stations were better suited to detect incoming bomber planes and the impetus of the Cold War shifted from plane delivery system to ICBMs.

The DEW Line initiative stemmed from a detailed study made by some of the leading scientists of 1952. The Summer Study Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the US and Canada were vulnerable to aerial bombing attacks and concluded the best defense against this was an early warning system. The system’s timeliness would depend on the location of the radar tracking stations as well as more local ability to track the gathered data. SAGE (Semi Automatic Ground Environment) computer system allowed for this to take place. It operated from the Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado command hub of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command).

The first two lines to be built had served their purpose but as Russian technology advanced, a newer and more precise detection system was needed. The line would run along the 69th parallel north or about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Initially, the US Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force provided the design and built an experimental system. Improvements were made which allowed state-of-the-art systems to withstand weather conditions up north and much of the actual construction was subcontracted out to others with military supervision on the project. About 25,000 skilled laborers were hired to complete the project. Getting the supplies up to the construction zone was also a problem as it was hampered by the climate, too. The Line stood active until the 1990s. Today, the sites are still undergoing clean up from toxic materials, mostly PCBs, which were used during construction.

History is a vast early warning system. – Norman Cousins

I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it. – Marshall McLuhan

A man’s conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn’t do – but it does not keep him from doing it. – Frank A. Clark

The warning message we sent the Russians was a calculated ambiguity that would be clearly understood. – Alexander Haig

Also on this day: Teddy Bear – In 1903, the first official teddy bear was introduced.
Oh, Canada! – In 1965, Canada adopted a new flag.
Hemlock – In 399 BC, Socrates drank hemlock.
Video – In 2005, You Tube went online.

Oh, Canada!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2013
Maple Leaf flag

Maple Leaf flag

February 15, 1965: Canada adopts a new flag – the Maple Leaf or l’Unifolié. The new flag shows a white square in the center of two red bands, each half the size of the white portion and a red 11-point stylized maple leaf in the center of the white field. The flag’s design was approved on December 15, 1964 by the House of Commons and by the Senate on December 17. It was later approved by Queen Elizabeth II and the order took effect on this date.

Prior to the Maple Leaf flag’s adoption, a series of other red backed flags were used and were called the Canadian Red Ensign. There was a British Union Jack in the upper left corner and over the years, a variety of seals on the right side. Blue backed flags of similar design had been used as the jack of the Royal Canadian Navy. As with all changes, this new flag design caused much debate.

On June 15, 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson opened the great debate on the flag issue. It lasted for six months and bitterly divided the citizens of Canada. Pearson sought a flag that embodied the historical tradition as “proclaimed by His Majesty King George V on November 21, 1921” and distanced Canada’s historical link with the United Kingdom. John Diefenbaker led the opposition, hoping to retain the Canadian Red Ensign.

A 15-person flag committee was formed after Pearson yielded to a filibuster on September 10 and was charged with creating a new flag in just six weeks. Over 3,500 designs were submitted. Rather than the three maple leaves as envisioned by King George, there was one central red leaf. King George had proclaimed red (St. George’s Cross) and white (French royal emblem since King Charles VII) to be Canada’s official colors. Since 1700 the maple leaf had been a symbol of the Canadian environment and habitat. There is no significance to the 11 points on the maple leaf. Early designs had 13 or 15 points. The 11-point leaf was adopted because of the way the leaf looked as the flag fluttered in the wind.

“Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts. Our main imports are baseball players and acid rain.” – Pierre Trudeau

“Canada is a good country to be from. It has a gentler slower pace – it lends perspective.” – Paul Anka

“Canada evolved within the British Empire: it inherited the Parliamentary system, the Cabinet system and all the other features of the British constitutional system which had been in place, for the most part, for several centuries before Canada was even thought of.” – Stockwell Day

“Canada is the only country founded on the relentless pursuit of the rodent.” – Preston Manning

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Lester B. Pearson served as the 14th Prime Minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968. He was also a professor, historian, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. In 1957 he had organized the United Nations Emergency Force to help resolve the Suez Canal crisis and was awarded for his efforts. It was his minority government that helped moved Canada forward and they introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Order of Canada (an award available to all Canadians, except those actively holding offices and is the highest degree of merit for contributions to Canada and humanity). He also helped get Canada a new flag.

Also on this day: Teddy Bear – In 1903, the first official teddy bear was introduced.
Hemlock – In 399 BC, Socrates drank hemlock.
Video – In 2005, You Tube went online.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2012

Chad Hurly, Steve Chen, Jawed Karim

February 15, 2005: The domain name is activated. The video sharing site was started by three former employees of PayPal, an e-commerce site used for fund transfers for online vendors. YouTube videos are usually user-generated video but some media organizations also use the site. Anyone with computer access can view videos, but only registered users can upload them. There are certain limitations regarding uploaded media including content and copyright issues. Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim sold the company to Google, Inc. in November 2006 for $1.65 billion in stock.

Steve Chen was born in Taiwan and moved to the US when he was eight. He was involved with Facebook in its early years. He remains with YouTube as Chief Technical Officer. Chad Hurly, a Pennsylvania native, is a user interface guru. He was the person responsible for the tagging and video sharing aspects of YouTube. He remains Chief Executive Officer of the company. Jawed Karim was born in East Germany and moved to the US as a teen. While at PayPal, he worked with real-time anti-fraud systems. He left YouTube after the Goggle buyout to return to college for post-grad work. He recently began a venture fund called Youniversity Ventures.

The three young men registered the domain name and then spent the next few months developing the website. The first video uploaded was Me at the Zoo and is Karim’s trip to the San Diego zoo. It was uploaded on April 23, 2005 and is still available. Beta testers were permitted to upload videos beginning in May 2005 and the site went live in November of that year. By July 2006 there were more than 65,000 videos arriving daily and more than 100 millions videos were viewed each day. YouTube had more than 5 billion views in July 2008. Today, about 48 hours worth of video are uploaded every minute.

The bandwidth used by YouTube in 2007 was more than the entire Internet used in 2000. In March 2008 estimates put the cost of daily bandwidth usage at $1 million. They are the third most visited site on the Internet, as rated by Alexa, after Facebook and Google with 800,000,000 unique visitors per month. Nothing is without criticism and this is no exception. Even with warnings, many copyrighted videos have made it online. Privacy issues are also at stake and there have been instances of inappropriate videos placed for public viewing. Legal groups have been invoked.

Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable. – William Pollard

We must beware of needless innovation, especially when guided by logic. – Winston Churchill

Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation. – Milan Kundera

Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. The act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. – Peter F. Drucker

Also on this day:

Teddy Bear – In 1903, the first official teddy bear was introduced.
Oh, Canada! – In 1965, Canada adopted a new flag.
Hemlock – In 399 BC, Socrates drank hemlock.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2011

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David

February 15, 399 BC: Socrates drinks hemlock. Socrates didn’t write about his philosophical views. Rather, we know about his thought through the writings of the dialogues of Plato, the writing of another philosopher named Xenophon, and the plays of Aristophanes. Socrates was said to be a devotee of the oral form of teaching and shunned writing. This tendency towards non-permanence has led to what is termed the Socratic problem. Aristotle, Plato, and Xenophon are our best sources of Socrates’ philosophy, but they may be colored by their own philosophical thoughts.

Aristophanes’ plays are usually written as parodies and so much of what is written needs to be interpreted. It can’t be taken at face value – we hope. In The Clouds, Socrates is shown as a clown who teaches his students how to bamboozle their way out of debt. Although said to be an ugly man, Socrates married and had three children. It is unclear how he made a living. Some theorize that he simply didn’t work while there is some allusion to military service. His major contribution to society seems to have been discussing philosophy.

Socrates lived during the height of Athenian society and through its downfall and defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. With the failure of the war, Athens may have been doubtful about the merits of democracy as efficient governmental control. Socrates appears to have been a critic of democracy and his trial and execution may have been a result of political infighting and intrigue. He also used the public speaking venue to praise Sparta, mortal enemy of Athens. He remained a social and moral critic as well.

Plato asserts that Socrates was attempting to spur the government into better behavior, but that his “gadfly” method led to irritation of the people and the government. The oracle at Delphi had named Socrates as the wisest man in Athens. Socrates wasn’t buying this praise and went about asking questions of men who the citizens of Athens considered wise. According to Plato, Socrates was doing this to refute the oracle, but the statesmen, poets, and artisans so questioned felt demeaned. Socrates was brought to trial and even then was somewhat sassy, proving possibly not to be so smart. Some say he knew it was his time to die, and so made sure to be given the opportunity.

“As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”

“As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will, he will be sure to repent.”

“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”

“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.” – all attributed to Socrates

Also on this day:
Teddy Bear – In 1903, the first official teddy bear was introduced.
Canadian flag – In 1965, Canada adopted a new flag – the Maple Leaf or l’Unifolié.

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Teddy Bear

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 15, 2010

An adorable teddy bear

February 15, 1903: The first official Teddy Bear is introduced. The bear was made by Morris and Rose Michtom. On November 14 of the previous year, Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President, was helping settle a border dispute between Louisiana and Mississippi.

While in the area, he went on a hunting expedition and was faced with an already captured bear, tied to a tree, that he could kill for “sport” or as a trophy. (Another version of the story is that it was a wounded, young bear that had attacked a dog.) He refused to shoot the bear. An editorial cartoon was published portraying the event. At first the bear was drawn as fierce but before the Washington Post printed Clifford K. Barryman’s bear, he changed it to a cuddly cub.

Stuffed bears were already on the market, but they were not called “Teddy Bears” until after the cartoon made the papers. Morris Michtom, a 1887 refugee from European pogroms, was living in New York City with his wife, Rose, and owned a small store. Like all Americans, they were following the story of the President and his bear hunt. The fact that the President did not shoot the bear touched Morris and he asked his wife to sew a replica to put in their shop window.

She did so and they labeled it “Teddy’s bear.” They had several offers to buy the bear. They were afraid of offending Mr. Roosevelt and so they shipped him the original bear and asked for permission to use his name. Permission was granted, the bear served as a rallying point in the 1904 election. The Michtoms’ business of making the toys later turned into the Ideal Toy Company.

“A bear teaches us that if the heart is true, it doesn’t matter much if an ear drops off.” – Helen Exley

“There are few sadder sights than a wet bear hanging from a clothesline by its ears. Its says a lot for them that they never complain.” – Pam Brown

“I don’t think my parents liked me. They put a live teddy bear in my crib.” – Woody Allen

A Teddy bear is a faithful friend.
You can pick him up at either end.
His fur is the color of breakfast toast,
And he’s always there when you need him most.  – unknown

Also on this day, in 1965 Canada adopted a new flag.

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