Monday, February 09, 2009

17 Connected Things

1. One of the earliest Christian missionaries in Iceland was Thangbrandr. He arrived in Iceland in 997 with the backing of the King of Norway. Thangbrandr wasn't too successful. He got into fights with the pagans. Thangbrandr killed a berzerker and a poet who wrote derogatory poems about him. His enemies used swords, but Thangbrandr killed his foes with a crucifix. A sorcerer cast a spell that would cause the earth swallow up Thangbrandr. The spell worked, but Thangbrandr escaped the pit. He eventually went back to Norway and told the king that the people of Iceland were too pagan to be converted.

2. Bjork might be the most famous Icelander in modern times. Everyone seems to remember her swan dress from the Academy Award. Bjork started out in a band called the Sugar Cubes.

3. Sugar cubes are a recurring visual device in the Watchmen graphic novel. The masked vigilante Rorschach is constantly chewing on Sweet Chariot brand sugar cubes. The sugar cubes become a clue at one point in the story.

4. The characters in Watchmen were variations of little known super-heroes in the Charlton Comics line in the 1960's. The author of Watchmen, Alan Moore, wanted to use those heroes and write a story that would presume what the world would genuinely be like if super-heroes were a reality. DC Comics had recently acquired the rights to the Charlton characters and had other plans for them. Moore invented other heroes based on the originals. Here's the substitution list with the Watchmen character named alongside his Charlton original: The Comedian = The Peacemaker, Dr. Manhattan = Captain Atom, Rorschach = The Question, Nite Owl = Blue Beetle, Ozymandias = Peter Cannon/Thunderbolt. Silk Spectre is an amalgam of every 1940's/1950's scantily clad super-heroine.

5. The Rorschach Inkblot Test was developed by Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1921. Making symmetrical inkblot patterns on paper was an art form and pastime long before Rorschach used it in psychoanalysis. Hermann Rorschach's nickname in high school was "Klecks," which is German for inkblot, because he often made inkblot art.

6. Switzerland grew out of a confederacy of small communities. The earliest documentation of this confederacy is the Federal Charter of 1291. This charter is consider the founding document of the Swiss Confederacy.

7. Also in 1291, May 10 to be exact, the nobles of Scotland agreed to let Edward I of England negotiate their crisis of succession when King Alexander III of Scotland died without an heir. He died from being thrown off his horse. He had stayed late at a meeting a meeting of royal advisers in Edinburgh. He wanted to get home and see his wife in Fife. His advisers begged him not to ride during the night as it was not only dark, but also inclement weather. He found dead the next day.

8. The nobles would come to regret their decision to trust Edward I. Edward refused to relinquish his control of Scotland. This led to the Wars of Independence and rebel uprisings led by William Wallace. Robert the Bruce eventually succeeded in turning the English back and establishing independence for Scotland in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn.

9. Robert the Bruce is mentioned in an episode of the original Star Trek (The Savage Curtain). Of course it was Scotty who mentioned him. In the scene, Scotty and Dr. McCoy are incredulous that Abraham Lincoln is going to beam aboard the Enterprise. Kirk has ordered everyone to stand ready in the transporter room in dress uniforms and take the event seriously. McCoy says, "President Lincoln, indeed!" To which Scotty replies, "No doubt to be followed by Louis of France and Robert the Bruce."

10. I once worked with a fellow who honestly believed that the government had developed the the technology for teleportation but it was ultra-top secret. I asked him why it hadn't put us out of business (we were working for a trucking warehouse) and he pointed out to me that the technology was unpredictable and objects were often teleported into the side of buildings or ships. I think he was getting his story from the urban legend about the Philadelphia Experiment, especially because he talked about test subjects being beamed into the side of a battleship. When I asked him how he knew about this top-secret information he told me that he reads a lot.

11. The Philadelphia Experiment is a fascinating conspiracy theory/urban myth involving the U.S. Navy's attempt to develop a cloaking device that rendered the USS Eldridge invisible. This allegedly took place in October 1943 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. In some accounts, the Eldridge was surrounded by a glowing green fog. Other accounts claim that the Eldridge was displaced in time. A more pedestrian explanation is that the Eldridge, or a ship docked nearby, was undergoing a degaussing procedure that would make the ship invisible to magnetically guided torpedoes and mines.

12. The process of degaussing is named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, a German mathematician and scientist in the 18th and 19th century. Gauss was a child prodigy and mathematical wizard who calculated logarithms in his head rather than relying on charts. Gauss contributed to the discovery of the dwarf planet, Ceres that lies between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter.

13. The existence of dwarf planets and hidden planets are often presumed before their discovery. The behavior of other planets and objects in the solar system give a clue to their existence. Since the 5th century BC, astronomers and mathematicians have imagined the existence of another planet that lies directly opposite of Earth on the other side of the Sun. Writers from antiquity forward have imagined what this "Counter-Earth" would be like.

14. One of the earliest notable female astronomers and mathematicians was Hypatia of Alexandria. Although she was pagan, she was respected by many of the Coptic Christians of her homeland, Egypt. Yet, she was killed in 415 by a mob of angry Christians stirred up by a zealot.

15. Some of the earliest copies of the New Testament are written in Coptic. Coptic is the language of the Egyptians written with Greek letters. Writing in little images likes birds and snakes probably got old. Coptic had to invent seven additional letters in order to make sounds not available in Greek.

16. Likewise the Icelandic alphabet had to create four letters not available in the Latin alphabet to produce all the sounds in the Icelandic language.

17. In the year 1000, the nation of Iceland converted to Christianity. The ruling council, the Althing, decided that two religions was not in their best interest. So they appointed a pagan priest named Thorgeirr to decide whether Iceland should be Christian. Thorgeirr spent a day and night in meditation under a fur blanket and finally decided that Iceland should be Christian. The Althing accepted his decision but allowed pagans to worship their faith in private. Thorgeirr later took his pagan idols, threw them into a waterfall and became a follower of Christ.

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