Little Bits of History

A Fix

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2015
29 Teralogy_web

Tetralogy of Fallot

November 29, 1944: Surgery to correct blue baby syndrome is first done. Blue baby syndrome can be caused by a number of different heart defects, but the results are the same. The baby’s blood isn’t properly oxygenated which leads to a blue coloring of the fragile skin. The most common of these cardiovascular problems is called Tetralogy of Fallot. The first part of that refers to the four usual heart problems found in the condition. To get a diagnosis, all four are usually present, but at least three have to be. The major problem is that the heart has an opening between the right and left lower chambers (ventricles) allowing both the oxygenated and unoxgenated blood to mix before it pumped out to the body.

The condition was first described in 1672, again in 1773, and finally in 1888 by French doctor, Étienne-Louis Arthur Fallot, who got naming rights. It’s only treatment even today is surgical intervention and that doesn’t get the patient completely cured. While parts of the issues can be surgically corrected, there are lifelong problems stemming from the condition which lead to heartbeat irregularities and sometimes the need for other surgical procedures later, as well as other problems. The condition presents in about 3.9 births per 10,000 live births in the US and is responsible for about 10% of congenital heart problems.

Dr. Helen Taussig was a pediatric cardiologist and working at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was presented with many babies with Tetralogy of Fallot and had no good way to treat them. She approach Dr. Alfred Blalock, a surgeon, and asked for his help in developing a treatment plan. Blalock’s surgical technician, Vivien Thomas, had developed a procedure which joined the end of the subclavian artery to the pulmonary artery for another purpose. It was thought that modifying this procedure would allow for the blood to be shunted properly to the lungs and then pumped out to the body with more oxygen.

The procedure was done for the first time on this day. Called the Blalock-Taussig shunt, the idea quickly caught on and spread throughout the world. As time passed, Thomas’s contribution to the procedure was finally recognized and his name was added as well. For his efforts, in 1976, Thomas was given an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. The procedure had been practiced in the lab using dogs so that Thomas could instruct Blalock on the procedure. Although Thomas was the man responsible for the technique, he could not operate on a human because he was not a doctor. Eileen Saxon was the 15-month-old patient who was the first human to be treated with the procedure. While it was initially successful, a few months later, Eileen was once again turning blue. It was hoped that a second procedure done on the opposite side would correct the problem, but she died soon after. They team learned the procedure was best done on older toddlers, but Eileen could not have waited as she was near death before the first surgery.

Advances in medicine and agriculture have saved vastly more lives than have been lost in all the wars in history. – Carl Sagan

Formerly, when religion was strong and science weak, men mistook magic for medicine; now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic. – Thomas Szasz

Medicine sometimes snatches away health, sometimes gives it. – Ovid

Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability. – William Osler

Also on this day: Warren Commission formed – In 1963, the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.
Going South – In 1929, the first fly-over of the South Pole occurred.
Video Games – In 1972, Pong came out.

Video Games

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2014


November 29, 1972: Atari announces their new game – Pong. One of the earliest arcade video games, it was the first successful venture into this new market. It is a tennis sports game and is played using simple two-dimensional graphics. Other games hit the market prior to Pong’s release, but this was the first mainstream game to make it big. Allan Alcorn created Pong as a training exercise for Atari Incorporated. The game was based on an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey. This would later result in a lawsuit. The lawsuit wasn’t filed immediately but eventually Sanders, Associates prevailed and Atari decided to settle with Magnavox and Sanders out of court.

Atari had hoped to develop more games and license them to other companies. They hired Alcorn who had no experience with video games and gave him the task of developing something. He produced Pong. Alcorn had looked over schematics for Computer Space, but found them impossible and so he created his own game. He based his design on knowledge of transistor-transistor logic but felt the game was too boring. He divided the paddle into eight segments with each returning the ball at a different angle. The ball also accelerated the longer it was in play and the paddles were limited to which part of the screen they could traverse.

Three months into development, Bushnell told Alcorn to add realistic sound effects and the roaring of a crowd. Dabney, company-owner of Atari, wanted boos and hisses to emit from the machine after a missed ball, but the space available did not allow for this. A new method was devised and the different sounds were added. Alcorn purchased a $74 Hitachi black-and-white TV set from a local store and put it into a 4-foot wooden cabinet. He added the necessary circuitry and presented his prototype. In August 1972, Bushnell and Alcorn put a prototype game into a local bar, Andy Capp’s Tavern. They picked the spot because they had a good relationship with Bill Gattis, the manager, since they provided the bar’s pinball machines.

The game was played the first night and continued to have players amused for the next ten days. After that time, the game showed some problems and Alcorn went on site to fix it. The problem was that the coin mechanism was overflowing with quarters. Since the game was such a local success, Bushnell announced on this day, that it was available. They found a manufacturer and shipping began soon after with international sales coming in 1973. The game was such a success in arcades and bars, that a home version was made. It was first rejected as too expensive. Marketing kept trying and finally the Sears Sporting Goods department helped get the game into private homes in 1975.

Some of the best projects to ever come out of Atari or Chuck E. Cheese’s were from high school dropouts, college dropouts. One guy had been in jail.

I had an awful lot of my soul invested in Atari culture.

We had some really powerful technology – Atari always was a technology-driven company, and we were very keen on keeping the technological edge on everything. There’s a whole bunch of things that we innovated. We made the first computer that did stamps or sprites, we did screen-mapping for the very first time, and a lot of stuff like that.

Selling Atari when I did – I think that’s my biggest regret. And I probably should have gotten back heavily into the games business in the late Eighties. But I was operating under this theory at the time that the way to have an interesting life was to reinvent yourself every five or six years. – all from Nolan Bushnell

Also on this day: Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.
Going South – In 1929, the first fly-over of the South Pole occurred.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2013
Thomas Alva Edison and his phonograph

Thomas Alva Edison and his phonograph

November 29, 1877: Thomas Alva Edison demonstrates the phonograph for the first time. Record players and gramophones (Gramophone in the US was a trade name) refer to the same invention. As the technology progressed, they were also called turntables, record changers, or hi-fis. The term phonograph is from the Greek for “sound writer” and early machines did, in fact, both record and play back the sounds. F. B. Fenby coined the term in 1863 and received a patent for something called the Electro-Magnetic Phonograph. No workable model was ever made of the device which was to record musical notes on paper. It was the forerunner of the player piano.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville patented a machine that transcribed words to paper in 1857. This device could not play the sounds back. Charles Cros of France produced a theoretical phonograph bur no actual machine in 1877. Edison saw the invention as more of a “talking machine” than a music machine. From May to July 1877, he tried to record and play back sounds in order to record telegraph messages. He announced his first workable machine on November 21 and gave a public demonstration on this date. The machine was patented on February 19, 1878, US Patent #200,521.

Edison’s early recordings were made on tinfoil cylinders. Various types of cylinders with varying playback capabilities were tried over the years. Emile Berliner introduced a flat disc as the medium of choice where a single groove carried a needle ever inward. The ease of stamping or pressing the discs was a point in their favor. Discs have a higher linear velocity at the outer rim whereas cylinders have a constant velocity, a point in their favor. Both types of recording media were used until the 1920s when discs became the preferred method.

Berliner’s original discs were five inches in diameter and used only one side. The discs grew first in size to seven and then ten inches. By 1908, two sided recordings were on the market. This was the deciding factor for the move away from cylinders. Different types of records played at different speeds. The turntable was set for 78, 45, or 33 revolutions per minutes. Records were pressed either as singles with one song per side or as albums with several songs on each side. Vinyl was first used in the 1940s. The sound quality was improved in the 1970s with high fidelity records and precision playback equipment. By the late 1970s, a new recording option was developed – the compact disc.

“I was experimenting on an automatic method of recording telegraph messages on a disk of paper laid on a revolving platen, exactly the same as the disk talking-machine of to-day.” – Thomas Alva Edison

“Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank, and the machine enquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.” – Alfred Beach

“PHONOGRAPH, n. An irritating toy that restores life to dead noises.” – Ambrose Bierce

“The greatest Electrical Pioneer of them all was Thomas Edison… Edison’s first major invention, in 1877, was the phonograph, which could soon be found in thousands of American homes, where it basically sat until 1923, when the record was invented.” – Dave Barry

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Thomas Alva Edison was born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio. He is the fourth most prolific inventor in history with 1,093 US patents in his name. (Kia Silverbrook of Australia has 4,629, Shunpei Yamazaki of Japan has 3,193, and Paul Lapstun also of Australia has 1,266.) Edison contributed greatly to several different areas of communication. He is responsible for a motion picture camera and the stock ticker. He was interested in electric power and invented a long lasting light bulb. He was a proponent of Direct Current in the war of currents with Nikola Tesla. He is sometimes called “The Wizard of Menlo Park” as he applied principles of mass production to the discovery of new idea. His idea of teamwork to gain patents was credited as being the first industrial research laboratory. His first bride was 16 years old and they married only months after meeting. They had three children and she died at age 29 of unknown causes. He married again when he was 39 and his new bride was 20. They had three more children. Edison died in 1931 at the age of 84, with his second wife surviving him.

Also on this day: Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.
Going South – In 1929, the first fly-over of the South Pole occurred.

Going South

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2012

The first fly-over of the South Pole

November 29, 1929: The first fly-over at the South Pole takes place. Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. was a naval officer and an avid explorer. He was also a navigator in early aircraft flights. He served in the US Navy during both World Wars. On May 9, 1926, Byrd and Floyd Bennett took a flight in a Fokker F-VII Tri-motor. Their trip was from Spitsbergen and back. The two claimed to have flown over the North Pole. Both were hailed as heroes. In 1958, Bernt Balchen cast doubt upon the feasibility of such an undertaking. Byrd’s diary was released in 1996 and the data included is different from the official report. It is still unknown if the duo actually reached the North Pole on that day. If not, Roald Amundsen and his crew made the trip just three days later.

Byrd next tried to cross the Atlantic in a specially modified plane. There was a contest afoot for the first to fly non-stop from the US to France. On a practice flight, the plane crashed and Bennett, once again the pilot, was severely injured. Byrd, slightly hurt, was still intent on getting across the Pond. While their plane was being repaired, Charles Lindbergh won the prize. Byrd, with a new pilot, still wanted to make the trip. They plane took off from East Garden City, New York on June 29, 1927 and made it to France. However, due to heavy cloud cover, they could not land in Paris and made a crash-landing in Normandy on July 1. No one was injured.

Byrd next took off for Antarctica. In 1928, with two ships and three planes at his command, he left for the great south siren. The race for the South Pole was as hot for that of the North. A base camp was set up on the Ross Ice Shelf and scientific expeditions were launched from that site. There were many ways to travel across the ice: snowshoe, dog-sled, snowmobile, and airplane.  All were used and photographs were taken of the wonderful landscapes. Geological data was collected. Constant radio communication was kept up throughout the summer. As winter approached, they hunkered down for the cold season.

With the next balmy summer, expeditions resumed. On this day, Byrd was in the plane with Bernt Balchen as pilot and with Harold June as co-pilot/radioman. Ashley McKinley was the photographer for the flight. The plane was a ford Trimotor and the flight lasted for 18 hours and 41 minutes. They had difficulty with maintaining altitude and had to dump any extraneous supplies to gain the Polar Plateau. They were successful and this time there was no doubt. They continued to explore for the rest of the arctic summer and returned home on June 18, 1930.

A static hero is a public liability. Progress grows out of motion.

Few men during their lifetime comes anywhere near exhausting the resources dwelling within them. There are deep wells of strength that are never used.

I paused to listen to the silence. My breath, crystallized as it passed my cheeks, drifted on a breeze gentler than a whisper. The wind vane pointed toward the South Pole.

My frozen breath hung like a cloud overhead. The day was dying, the night being born — but with great peace. Here were the imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless. – all from Richard E. Byrd, Jr.

Also on this day:

Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2011

Woodcut of the Zong Massacre

November 29, 1781: The Zong Massacre takes place. At the time, it was known as “The Zong Affair” rather than being labeled a massacre. Those who used the term “massacre” were thought to be “dangerous radicals” of the era. The Zong was a British ship owned by James Gregson. On this day, much of his “cargo” was destroyed. The Zong was carrying Africans captured to be sold as slaves.

The ship was originally Dutch and was called Zorg, but when the British captured her, she was renamed. She sailed from Liverpool and took on more slaves than she could comfortably handle. She sailed from Africa, heading for Jamaica on September 29, 1781. There was not enough food aboard and the Africans were crowded together. Due to malnutrition and overcrowding, death ran rampant aboard ship. Seven of the crew and approximately sixty of the slaves had died by this date. The trip was taking longer than expected due to bad sailing conditions.

Captain Luke Collingwood had so many sick slaves below decks that he was faced with an economic problem. If he delivered these sickly, weakened specimens and they died on shore, the company would be without funds from the sale of slaves. However, he reasoned that if the slaves were killed at sea, the insurance company would pay the jettison clause of £30 per head. The captain and crew decided to throw the sick overboard. On this day, the first 54 were sent over the rails. On the next two days, 42 and 26 more were sent to their watery graves.

The ship’s owners filed a claim with their insurance company, but the claim was disputed. Although it had been asserted that the slaves were thrown overboard because there wasn’t enough water, there had been water and Jamaica was near. The case was brought to the court system when the insurers failed to pay. The courts found that the ship-owners could did not have a legal claim against their insurers. Even so, no one on the ship was ever prosecuted for the murder of 133 Africans who were being transported against their wills.

“Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

“And who is responsible for this appalling child slavery? Everyone.” – Mary Harris Jones

“Death is better than slavery.” – Harriet Ann Jacobs

“Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery.” – Wayne Dyer

Also on this day:
Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.

Warren Commission formed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2010

Lee Harvey Oswald posing with his mail order weapons in May 1963

November 29, 1963: President Lyndon B. Johnson forms a commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The Warren Commission was headed by Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren and consisted of Representatives Hale Boggs [D- Louisiana] and Gerald Ford [R- Michigan], Senators John Sherman [R-Kentucky] and Richard Russell, Jr. [D-Georgia], Allen Dulles – former director of the CIA, and John J. McCloy – former president of the World Bank.

The conclusion reached by the Commission after exhaustive study was that Lee Harvey Oswald was working alone. Oswald could not be questioned as he had been shot and killed by Jack Ruby in front of millions of television viewers while Oswald was in police custody on November 24, 1963. Oswald is said to have fired three shots. The first shot struck President Kennedy in the upper back, passed through his body and then struck Governor John Connally. The second shot is said to have missed its target. The third shot struck the President in the head. The total time for the shots was 4.8 to 5.6 seconds.

Was the Commission merely a cover-up? There is controversy over the issue even today. Three later US government investigations agree with the Warren Commission’s finding of the number of shots fired and Oswald acting alone. The 26 volumes of testimony is not without criticism. Only one of the 94 witnesses were heard by everyone on the Commission. The star witness, Howard Brennan, had inconsistencies in his testimony. The Commission found fault with the Secret Service pointing out the total inadequacy of the security.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations felt that there was a fourth shot fired, by someone on the “grassy knoll” based on acoustic evidence. This fourth shot missed, but it meant that Oswald was not acting alone. The debate continues, books and movies have been produced siding with lone shooter or conspiracy theory. We may never really know.

“It is important that all of the facts surrounding President Kennedy’s Assassination be made public in a way which will satisfy people in the United States and abroad all that the facts have been told and a statement to this effect be made now.” – Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, November 25, 1963

“What was really drawing me to the material was entirely unresolved feelings I still had from the age of 17. The Kennedy assassination was something that to me made no sense.” – John Weidman

“The ’50s was the last good decade of American history. It was really a 10-year vacation between the horror of World War II and the assassinations [John F. and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr.] and Vietnam War of the 1960s. The ’50s was the last feel-good era.” – Richard Lindberg

“Assassination has never changed the history of the world.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Also on this day, in 1877 Thomas Alva Edison demonstrated the phonograph.