Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Terror Of Tiny Town


Bekonscot in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, is the oldest original model village in the world.

It portrays aspects of England mostly dating from the 1930s. Bekonscot has been run by the Church Army since 1978 and donates large amounts of money to charity. It has raised the equivalent of almost £5,000,000 so far and has been visited by more than 14,000,000 visitors.

Bekonscot was first created by Beaconsfield resident, accountant Roland Callingham (1881-1961), in the 1920s. Roland developed the master plan for his miniature empire as an addition to his large back garden, drawing in help from his staff: the gardener, cook, maid and chauffeur. Together they developed the model landscape portraying rural England at the time. The swimming pool became the first "sea" and the undulating rockeries were built up as hills. Bassett-Lowke, the well-known large-scale model railway manufacturers, were commissioned to build an extensive 7+ 1/4 in (184 mm) gauge railway network, which exists to this day. Callingham named the village 'Bekonscot' after Beaconsfield and Ascot where he previously lived.

It was not conceived as a commercial visitor attraction but as a plaything to entertain Roland and his guests. It was only after 1930 that its existence became widely known, catching the imagination of the press and public alike. Frequent newsreels such as Pathe, international and national newspaper coverage ensure a steady stream of visitors, all of whom were invited to make a donation to the Railway Benevolent Institution.

Bekonscot is acknowledged to be the inspiration for many other model villages and miniature parks across the world, including Babbacombe, Southport, Madurodam, Bourton-on-the-Water, Wimborne, Great Yarmouth, Clonakilty and Mini-Europe. As such, it is regarded as the "grandfather" of the model village and miniature park movement.

The village expanded in size throughout the first half of the 20th Century. Callingham sold off much of the land surrounding the model village, all of which is now a housing estate. The village is now entirely surrounded by urban development so further expansion is impossible.

Bekonscot popularised the miniature park movement, put Beaconsfield on the map and has a continuing financial legacy in donations to charitable organisations both national and local.

The site is approximately two acres of which just over half is a miniature 1:12 landscape. Buildings are constructed in natural materials, concrete, or dense foamboard; many are originals from the 1920s.

There are six model villages set within the miniature landscape. These are entirely fictional towns, but many buildings within them are based on UK prototypes. Successive generations of modelmakers, gardeners and craftsmen have left their mark on their subjects, which display a wide range of vernacular architectural styles.

Names of shops and other features include some very silly puns, such as Lee Key Plumbers' Merchants and the Mark Owney Wireless and Gramophone stores. Other model villages have run with the playful nature of the miniature businesses and it has become something of a model tradition to continue.

Bekonscot is famed for its complex outdoor model railway (in Gauge 1), possibly the largest public garden railway in the UK, at ten scale miles. A custom-built PC-based interface controls the block signalling system, directing up to 12 trains at any one time on prototypical routes. In addition there are two manual lever frames, one ex-BR and the other from London Underground. The British Rail lever frame is still in use as a manual override for the trains. Some original Bassett-Lowke stock from the 1930s is still in daily use, albeit with new running gear. New locomotives and stock are added annually.

A miniature railway giving passenger rides was built along the perimeter of the site in 2001. Of 7+ 1/4 in (184 mm) gauge this was extended in 2004 to a new terminus. Three battery-electric locos haul trains: one a Bo-Bo tram, one a Pfeifferbahn-based engine and one a large 0-4-0 built by Maxitrak. The latter was named "Sprocket" in 2004; the third birthday of the railway and the 75th of the Model Village.

Currently there are 12 full-time staff who maintain the village throughout the year; during the open season a further 20 or so seasonal staff are employed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trickery ... In Four Moves

The Turk has already been mentioned, but here's another fun bit of faux-technology:


Ajeeb was a chess-playing "automaton", created by Charles Hooper (a cabinet maker), first presented at the Royal Polytechnical Institute in 1868. A particularly intriguing piece of faux mechanical technology (while presented as entirely automated, it in fact concealed a strong human chess player inside), it drew scores of thousands of spectators to its games, the opponents for which included Harry Houdini, Theodore Roosevelt, and O. Henry.

The genius behind "Ajeeb" were players such as Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Albert Beauregard Hodges.

In the history of such devices, it succeeded "The Turk" and preceded "Mephisto".

After several spectacular demonstrations at Coney Island, New York, Ajeeb was destroyed in a fire in 1929.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.


Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (1867 – in or after 1925) was a British archaeologist and an explorer.

Along with his son, Fawcett disappeared under unknown circumstances in 1925 during an expedition to find what he believed to be an ancient lost city in the uncharted jungles of Brazil.

Percy Fawcett was born 1867 in Torquay, Devon, England to Edward B. and Myra Fawcett. His Indian born father was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Percy's elder brother Edward Douglas Fawcett (1866-1960) was a mountain climber, Eastern Occultist, and popular writer of adventure novels. In 1886 Percy received a commission in the Royal Artillery and served in Trincomalee, Ceylon where he also met his wife. Later he worked for the British secret service in North Africa and learned the surveyor's craft. He was also a friend of authors H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Fawcett's Amazonian field reports as an inspiration for The Lost World.

Fawcett's first expedition to South America was in 1906 when he travelled to Brazil to map a jungle area at the border of Brazil and Bolivia at the behest of the Royal Geographic Society; the society had been commissioned to map the area as a third party, unbiased by local national interests. He arrived in La Paz, Bolivia, in June. Whilst on the expedition, Fawcett claimed to have seen a giant anaconda, for which he was widely ridiculed by the scientific community. He reported other mysterious animals unknown to zoology, such as a small cat-like dog about the size of a foxhound, which he claimed to have seen twice.

Fawcett made seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. He mostly got along with the locals through gifts, patience and courteous behaviour. In 1910 Fawcett made a trip to Heath River to find its source. Following his 1913 expedition, he supposedly claimed to have seen dogs with double noses - these may have been Double-nosed Andean tiger hounds. He returned to Britain for active service in the army during World War I, but after the war he returned to Brazil to study local wildlife and archaeology.

In 1925, with funding from a London-based group of financiers called The Glove, Fawcett returned to Brazil with his older son Jack for an exploratory expedition. Colonel Fawcett had studied ancient legends and historical records and was convinced a lost city existed somewhere in the Mato Grosso region, a city Fawcett named "Z." Fawcett left behind instructions stating that if his expedition to discover the lost city of Z did not return, no rescue expedition should be sent, lest the rescuers suffer his fate.

For a first-hand account of the encounter of Fawcett and his companions with the Kalapalo, told by a Kalapalo leader in Kalapalo to anthropologist Ellen Basso, please see Ellen Basso's The Last Cannibals (University of Texas Press)

The last sign of Fawcett was on May 29, 1925 when Fawcett telegraphed his wife that he was ready to go into unexplored territory only with Jack and Jack's friend Raleigh Rimmell. They were reported to be crossing the Upper Xingu, a south-eastern tributary of the Amazon River. Then nothing more was heard of them.

Many presumed that local Indians had killed them, several tribes being posited at the time – the Kalapalos who last saw them, or the Arumás, Suyás, or Xavantes tribes whose territory they were entering. Both of the younger men were lame and ill when last seen, and there is no proof they were murdered. It is plausible that they died of natural causes in the Brazilian jungle.

In 1927, a nameplate of Fawcett was found with an Indian tribe.

In June 1933, a theodolite compass belonging to Fawcett was found near the Baciary Indians of Matto Grosso by Colonel Aniceto Botelho ...

... Fawcett is said to have been an inspiration for Indiana Jones, the fictional archaeologist/adventurer, and a fictionalised version of Fawcett aids Jones in a novel. Also, according to an article in Comics Scene #45, he was also the inspiration of Kent Allard, the alter ego of the Shadow.

Arthur Conan Doyle also based his Professor Challenger character partly on Fawcett, and stories of the "Lost City of Z" became the basis for his novel The Lost World.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.


Bog bodies, also known as bog people, are preserved human bodies found in sphagnum bogs in Northern Europe, Great Britain and Ireland. Unlike most ancient human remains, bog bodies have retained their skin and internal organs due to the unusual conditions of the surrounding area. These conditions include highly acidic water, cold temperature, and a lack of oxygen, combining to preserve but severely tan their skin.

Although their skin is preserved, their bones are generally not, as the acid in the peat dissolves the calcium phosphate of bone. Some of the bodies retain intricate details like tattoos and fingerprints. Fingerprint expert C.H. Vogelius Andersen was astonished to find that Grauballe Man's hand prints were clearer than his own. The stubble and facial features of Tollund Man are particularly well preserved.

There are a limited number of bogs which have the correct conditions for preservation of mammalian tissue. Most of these are located in the colder climes of northern Europe near bodies of salt water. For example, in the area of Denmark where the Haraldskær Woman was recovered, salt air from the North Sea blows across the Jutland wetlands and provides an ideal environment for the growth of peat. As new peat replaces the old peat, the older material underneath rots and releases humic acid, also known as bog acid. The bog acids, with pH levels similar to vinegar, conserve the human bodies in the same way as fruit is preserved by pickling. In addition, peat bogs form in areas lacking drainage and hence are characterized by almost completely anaerobic conditions. This environment, highly acidic and devoid of oxygen, denies the prevalent subsurface aerobic organisms any opportunity to initiate decomposition. Researchers discovered that conservation also required the body to be placed in the bog during the winter or early spring when the water temperature is cold—i.e., less than 4 °C (40 °F). This allows the bog acids to saturate the tissues before decay can begin. Bacteria are unable to grow rapidly enough for decomposition at temperatures under 4 °C.

The bog chemistry environment involves a completely saturated acidic environment, where considerable concentrations of organic acids and aldehydes are present. Layers of sphagnum and peat assist in preserving the cadavers by enveloping the tissue in a cold immobilizing matrix, impeding water circulation and any oxygenation. An additional feature of anaerobic preservation by acidic bogs is the ability to conserve hair, clothing and leather items. The Bronze Age Egtved Girl, also discovered in Jutland, Denmark, is a good example. Modern experimenters have been able to mimic bog conditions in the laboratory and successfully demonstrate the preservation process, albeit over shorter time frames than the 2,500 years that Haraldskær Woman's body has survived. Most of the bog bodies discovered had some aspects of decay or else were not properly conserved. When such specimens are exposed to the normal atmosphere, they may rapidly begin to decompose. As a result, many specimens have been effectively destroyed ...

... Preserved bodies of humans and animals have been discovered in bogs in Britain, Ireland, northern Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark (both Jutland and Zealand), and southern Sweden. Records of such finds go back as far as the 18th century, when the Kibbelgaarn body was discovered in the Netherlands in 1791. A 1965 German study cataloged more than 1850 bog bodies found in Northern Europe; however, discrepancies found in the documentation has reduced the actual number of bog bodies to several hundred.

Until the mid-20th century, it was not readily apparent at the time of discovery whether a body has been buried in a bog for years, decades, or centuries. However, modern forensic and medical technologies (such as radiocarbon dating) were developed that allowed researchers to more closely determine the age of the burial, the person's age at death, and other details. Scientists have been able to study their skin, reconstruct their appearance and even determine what their last meal was from their stomach contents. Their teeth also indicate their age at death and what type of food they ate throughout their lifetime. The earliest bog body, that of Koelbjerg Woman from Denmark, has been radiometrically dated to circa 3500 BC. The newest is from the 16th century AD, a woman in Ireland who may have been buried in unhallowed ground following a suicide. The majority of bog bodies have been dated to the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

Many bog bodies show signs of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, or a combination of these methods. The corpses were sometimes decapitated before burial and staked down with stakes or twisted willow or hazel withies. Some bodies show signs of torture, such as Old Croghan Man, who had deep cuts beneath his nipples. Interpretations of the forensic examinations vary; it is debated whether they were ritually slain and placed in the bog as an execution for a crime or as a human sacrifice. Some bog bodies, such as Tollund Man from Denmark, have been found with the rope used to strangle them still around their necks. Some, such as the Yde Girl in the Netherlands and bog bodies in Ireland, had the hair on one side of their heads closely cropped, although this could be due to one side of their head being exposed to oxygen for a longer period of time than the other. The bog bodies seem consistently to have been members of the upper class: their fingernails are manicured, and tests on hair protein routinely record good nutrition. Strabo records that the Celts practiced auguries on the entrails of human victims: on some bog bodies, such as one of the Weerdinge Men found in southern Netherlands, the entrails have been partly drawn out through incisions.

Modern techniques of forensic analysis now suggest that some injuries, such as broken bones and crushed skulls, were not the result of torture, but rather due to the weight of the bog. For example, the fractured skull of Grauballe Man was at one time thought to have been caused by a blow to the head. However, a CT scan of Grauballe Man by Danish scientists determined his skull was fractured due to pressure from the bog long after his death.

Friday, September 25, 2009

All I Ask Is A Tall Rock And A Star To Sail Her By


The sailing stones (sliding rocks, moving rocks) are a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention. They have been recorded and studied in a number of playas around Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement is not understood and is subject to research.

Racetrack stones only move every two or three years and most tracks develop over three or four years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and leaving a different track in the stone's wake.

Sliding rock trails fluctuate in direction and length. Some rocks which start next to each other start out travelling parallel, but one may abruptly change direction to the left, right, or even back the direction it came from. Length also varies because two similarly size and shaped rocks could travel uniform, then one could burst ahead or stop dead in its track.

Speed is an unknown variable. Since these stones are rarely transported and nobody has witnessed the movement, the speeds the rocks travel at are not known.

Most of the so-called gliding stones originate from an 850 foot (260 m) high hillside made of dark dolomite on the south end of the playa, but some are intrusive igneous rock from adjacent slopes (most of those being tan-colored feldspar-rich syenite). Tracks are often tens to hundreds of feet (low to high tens of meters) long, a few to 12 inches (8 to 30 cm) wide, and typically much less than an inch (2.5 cm) deep.

A balance of specific conditions are thought to be needed for stones to move:

  • A saturated yet non-flooded surface,
  • Thin layer of clay,
  • Very strong gusts as initiating force,
  • Strong sustained wind to keep stones going.

Geologists Jim McAllister and Allen Agnew mapped the bedrock of the area in 1948 and made note of the tracks. Naturalists from the National Park Service later wrote more detailed descriptions and Life magazine featured a set of photographs from The Racetrack. Speculation about how the stones may move started at this time. Various and sometimes idiosyncratic possible explanations have been put forward over the years that have ranged from the supernatural to the very complex. Most hypotheses favored by interested geologists posit that strong winds when the mud is wet are at least in part responsible. Some stones weigh as much as a human, which some researchers such as geologist George M. Stanley who published a paper on the topic in 1955 feel is too heavy for the area's wind to move. They maintain that ice sheets around the stones either help to catch the wind or move in ice flows.

Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey started a Racetrack stone movement monitoring program in May 1972. Eventually thirty stones with fresh tracks were labeled and stakes were used to mark their locations. Each stone was given a name and changes in the stones' position were recorded over a seven year period. Sharp and Carey also tested the ice flow hypothesis by corralling selected stones. A corral 5.5 feet (1.7 m) in diameter was made around a 3 inch (7.5 cm) wide, 1 pound (0.5 kg) track-making stone with seven rebar segments placed 25 to 30 inches (64 to 76 cm) apart. If a sheet of ice around the stones either increased wind-catching surface area or helped move the stones by dragging them along in ice flows, then the rebar should at least slow down and deflect the movement. Neither appeared to occur; the stone barely missed a rebar as it moved 28 feet (8.5 m) to the northwest out of the corral in the first winter. Two heavier stones were placed in the corral at the same time; one moved five years later in the same direction as the first but its companion did not move during the study period. This indicated that if ice played a part in stone movement, then ice collars around stones must be small.

Ten of the initial twenty-five stones moved in the first winter with Mary Ann (stone A) covering the longest distance at 212 feet (64.5 m). Two of the next six monitored winters also saw multiple stones move. No stones were confirmed to have moved in the summer and some winters none or only a few stones moved. In the end all but two of the thirty monitored stones moved during the seven year study. At 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) in diameter Nancy (stone H) was the smallest monitored stone. It also moved the longest cumulative distance, 860 feet (262 m), and the greatest single winter movement, 659 feet (201 m). The largest stone to move was 80 pounds (36 kg).

Karen (stone J) is a 29 by 19 by 20 inch (74 by 48 by 51 cm) block of dolomite and weighs an estimated 700 pounds (about 320 kg). Perhaps not surprisingly Karen didn't move during the monitoring period. The stone may have created its 570 straight and old track from momentum gained from its initial fall onto the wet playa. However, Karen disappeared sometime before May 1994, possibly during the unusually wet winter of 1992 to 1993. Removal by artificial means is considered unlikely due to the lack of associated damage to the playa that the needed truck and winch would have done. A possible sighting of Karen was made in 1994 a half mile (800 m) from the playa.

Professor John Reid led six research students from Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts in a follow-up study in 1995. They found highly congruent trails from stones that moved in the late 1980s and during the winter of 1992-1993. At least some stones were proved beyond a reasonable doubt to have been moved in ice flows that may be up to half a mile (800 m) wide. Physical evidence included swaths of lineated areas that could only have been created by moving thin sheets of ice. So wind alone as well as in conjunction with ice flows are thought to be motive forces.

Physicists studying the phenomenon in 1995 found that winds blowing on playa surfaces can be compressed and intensified. They also found that boundary layers (the region just above ground where winds are slower due to ground drag) on these surfaces can be as low as 2 inches (5 cm). This means that stones just a few inches high feel the full force of ambient winds and their gusts, which can reach 90 mph (145 km/h) in winter storms. Such gusts are thought to be the initiating force while momentum and sustained winds keep the stones moving, possibly as fast as a moderate run (only half the force required to start a stone sailing is needed to keep it in motion).

Wind and ice both are the favored hypothesis for these mysterious sliding rocks. Noted in Don J. Easterbrook's "Surface Processes and Landforms", he mentioned that because of the lack of parallel paths between some rock paths, this could be caused by the breaking up of ice resulting in alternate routes. Even though the ice breaks up into smaller blocks, it is still necessary for the rocks to slide.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Even Better Than The Real Thing ....


The Silver Swan is an automaton dating from the 18th Century and is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham, England.

The swan, which is life size, is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. The swan sits in a "stream" that is made of glass rods and is surrounded by silver leaves. Small silver fish can be seen "swimming" in the stream.

When the clockwork is wound the music box plays and the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water. The swan turns its head from side to side and also preens itself. After a few moments the swan notices the swimming fish and bends down to catch and eat one (ornithologically inaccurate, as swans do not eat fish). The swan's head then returns to the upright position and the performance, which has lasted about 40 seconds, is over. To help preserve the mechanism the swan is only operated once each day at 2pm.

It is believed that the mechanism was designed by John Joseph Merlin (1735-1803) and the first recorded owner of the swan was James Cox.

The swan was described in a 1773 United Kingdom Act of Parliament as being 3 feet (0.91 m) in diameter and 18 feet (5.49 m) high. This would seem to indicate that at one time there was more to the swan than remains today as it is no longer that high. It is said that there was originally a waterfall behind the swan, which was stolen while it was on tour.

It is known that the swan was sold several times and was shown at the World's Fair (Exposition Universelle (1867) held in Paris, France. The United States novelist Mark Twain observed the swan and recorded his observation in a chapter of the Innocents Abroad.

The swan was purchased by John Bowes in 1872 for the museum where it currently resides. The Bowes Museum believes that it is their most well known artifact, and it the basis of the museum's logo.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”


On April 28, 1905 William H. Pickering, who had seven years earlier discovered Phoebe, announced the discovery of a tenth satellite of Saturn, which he promptly named Themis. The photographic plates on which it supposedly appeared, thirteen in all, spanned a period between April 17 and July 8, 1904. However, no other astronomer has ever confirmed Pickering's claim.

Pickering attempted to compute an orbit, which showed a fairly high inclination (39.1° to the ecliptic), fairly large eccentricity (0.23) and a semi-major axis (1,457,000 km) slightly less than that of Hyperion. The period was supposedly 20.85 days, with prograde motion.

Pickering estimated the diameter at 38 miles (61 km), but since he also gave 42 miles (68 km) as the diameter of Phoebe, he was clearly overestimating the albedo; using the modern figure for Phoebe gives Themis a diameter of 200 km.

Oddly, in April 1861, Hermann Goldschmidt had also believed that he had discovered a new satellite of Saturn between Titan and Hyperion, which he called Chiron. Chiron also does not exist (however, the name was used much later for the comet/asteroid 2060 Chiron).

Pickering was awarded the Lalande Prize of the French Academy of Sciences in 1906 for his "discovery of the ninth and tenth satellites of Saturn".

The actual tenth satellite of Saturn (in order of discovery) was Janus, which was discovered in 1966 and confirmed in 1980. Its orbit is far from the supposed orbit of Themis.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"I wrecked trains because I like to see people die. I like to hear them scream."


Sylvestre Matuschka (Hungarian: Szilveszter Matuska, January 24, 1892, Csantavér (now Vojvodina) - cerca 1945), a former officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, was arrested in October 1931 and charged with arranging the derailment of several trains. It is conjectured that he caused the crashes in order to obtain sexual gratification.

Matuschka's most notorious crime was the derailment of the Vienna Express headed towards Vienna as it was crossing the Biatorbágy bridge near Budapest at 12.20am on 13 September 1931. The incident resulted in the death of 22 people and the wounding of 120 others, 17 of them severely.

Matuschka carried out his crime by blowing up a portion of the bridge, causing the engine and nine of the eleven coaches forming the train to plunge into a ravine 30 meters deep. Matuschka was discovered at the scene of the crime but, having passed himself off as a surviving passenger, he was only arrested one month later, on 10 October 1931.

At his trial, Matuschka claimed to have been ordered to derail the express by God. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted and the former army officer reportedly escaped from jail in Vác in 1944. According to some reports, he served as an explosives expert during the latter stages of World War II; he was never recaptured and his fate is unknown.

Matuschka has been quoted as explaining his crimes by saying: "I wrecked trains because I like to see people die. I like to hear them scream." It was reported that he achieved orgasm while watching the trains he had sabotaged crash.

In 1990 Matuschka became the subject of a song, Sylvestre Matuschka, by the band Lard. In 1982 a Hungarian/German TV film based on the case, titled The Viaduct, was broadcast.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Hands Resist Him

The Hands Resist Him, also known as the eBay Haunted Painting, is a painting created by Oakland, California artist Bill Stoneham in 1972. It depicts a young boy and female doll standing in front of a glass paneled door against which many hands are pressed. According to the artist, the boy is based on a photograph of himself aged 5, the doorway is a representation of the dividing line between the waking world and the world of dreams and possibilities, and the doll is a guide who will escort the boy through it. The hands themselves represent alternate lives or possibilities. It became the subject of an urban legend and a viral internet meme in February 2000, when it was posted for sale on eBay along with an elaborate backstory implying that it was haunted.

The painting was first displayed in an Los Angeles gallery during the early 1970s, at which point it was reviewed by the art critic at the Los Angeles Times. It was then purchased by actor John Marley, notable for his role as Jack Woltz in The Godfather.

At some point in time after Marley's death, the painting was said to have come into the possession of a California couple, after being found on the site of an old brewery.

The painting appeared on the auction website eBay in February 2000. According to the seller, the aforementioned couple, the painting carried some form of curse. Their eBay description claimed that the characters in the painting moved during the night, and that they would sometimes leave the painting and enter the room in which it was being displayed. Included with the listing were a series of photographs that were said to be evidence of an incident in which the female doll character threatened the male character with a gun that she was holding, causing him to attempt to leave the painting. A disclaimer was included with the listing absolving the seller from all liability if the painting was purchased.

News of the listing was quickly spread by internet users who forwarded the link to their friends or wrote their own pages about it. Some people claimed that simply viewing the photos of the painting made them feel ill or have unpleasant experiences. Eventually, the auction page was viewed over 30,000 times.

After an initial bid of $199, the painting eventually received 30 bids and sold for $1,025.00. The buyer, Perception Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, eventually contacted Bill Stoneham and related the unusual story of its auction on eBay and their acquisition of it. He reported being quite surprised by all the stories and strange interpretations of the images in the painting. According to the artist, the object presumed by the eBay sellers to be a gun is actually nothing more than a dry cell battery and a tangle of wires .

Stoneham recalls that both the owner of the gallery in which the painting was first displayed, and the art critic who reviewed it, died within one year of coming into contact with the painting.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Soul Is In The Sky

The Colditz Cock was a glider built by British prisoners of war for an escape attempt from Colditz Castle in Germany, which was used as Oflag IV-C.

Following the execution of 50 prisoners who had taken part in the "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III, the Allied High Command had discouraged escape attempts. However the plan to build a glider was encouraged to divert the energies of the prisoners. The idea for the glider came from Lieutenant Tony Rolt. Rolt, who was not even an airman, had noticed the chapel roof line was completely obscured from German view. They realised that the roof would make a perfect launching point from which the glider could fly across the River Mulde, which was about 60 metres below.

The team was headed by Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best. Goldfinch and Best were aided by their discovery in the prison library of "Aircraft Design", a two-volume work by C.H. Latimer-Needham which explained the necessary physics and engineering and included a detailed diagram of a wing section. The glider was assembled by Goldfinch and Best and 12 assistants known as "apostles", in the lower attic above the chapel. The runway was to be constructed from tables and the glider was to be launched using a pulley system based on a falling metal bathtub full of concrete, using a gravity-assisted acceleration to 30 mph (50 km/h).

The officers who took part in the project built a false wall, to hide the secret space in the attic where they slowly built the glider out of stolen pieces of wood. Since the Germans were accustomed to looking down for tunnels, not up for secret workshops, they felt rather safe from detection. However, they still placed many lookouts, and created an electric alarm system, to warn the builders of approaching guards.

Hundreds of ribs had to be constructed, predominantly formed from bed slats, but also from every other piece of wood the POW's could surreptitiously obtain. The wing spars were constructed from floor boards. Control wires were made from electrical wiring in unused portions of the castle. A glider expert, Lorne Welch, was asked to review the stress diagrams and calculations made by Goldfinch.

The glider constructed was a lightweight, two-seater, high wing, monoplane design. It had a Mooney style rudder and square elevators. The wingspan, tip to tip, was 32 ft (9.75 m), and it was 19 ft 9 in (6 m) from nose to tail. Prison sleeping bags of blue and white checked cotton were used to skin the glider, and German ration millet was boiled and used as a form of dope to seal the cloth pores. The materials they had to work with caused it to weigh a mere 240 lb (109 kg).The take-off was scheduled for the spring of 1945 during an air raid blackout but by then the Allied guns could be heard and the war's outcome fairly certain. The British escape officer decided that the glider should be available for use in case the SS ordered the massacre of the prisoners as a way to get a message out to approaching American troops. The glider was approaching completion when the American Army liberated the camp on 16 April 1945.

Although the Colditz Cock never flew in real life, the concept was fictionalized, depicting a successful flight and escape, in the 1971 TV movie The Birdmen starring Doug McClure, Chuck Connors, Rene Auberjonois and Richard Basehart.

The fate of the glider is not known but the castle was in the zone controlled by the Russians who did not co-operate with its reclamation. The only evidence of its completion was a photograph, said to have been taken by an American soldier. However Goldfinch, had kept his drawings, which enabled a one-third scale model to be constructed. This was eventually launched from the castle roof in 1993.

Six years later a full-sized replica of the Colditz glider was commissioned by Channel 4 and was built by Southdown Aviation Ltd at Lasham Airfield. The glider was flown successfully by John Lee on its first attempt at RAF Odiham with Best, Goldfinch and about a dozen of the veterans who had worked on the original more than 55 years earlier proudly looking on. Jack Best died later that year. The replica is now housed at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton.

The programme was shown in 2000 by Channel 4 in the UK as part of a 3-part documentary series called "Escape from Colditz". The Channel 4 material was edited to 60 minutes and shown in the US in 2001 as "Nazi Prison Escape" on the NOVA television series.

Friday, September 18, 2009

He Made The Future Futuristic: Frank Bellamy

Frank Bellamy (21 May 19175 July 1976) was a British comics artist, best known for his work on the Eagle comic, for which he illustrated Heros the Spartan and Fraser of Africa. He reworked its flagship Dan Dare strip. He also drew Thunderbirds in a dramatic two-page format for the weekly comic TV Century 21. He drew the newspaper strip Garth for the London Daily Mirror. His work was innovative in its graphic effects and sophisticated use of colour, and in the dynamic manner in which it broke out of the then-traditional grid system.

Born in Kettering, Nothamptonshire, He started work at William Blamire's studio, in Kettering in 1933. Bellamy met his wife Nancy whilst he was stationed near Bishop Auckland during World War II and was married in 1942. In 1944 David Bellamy was born to the couple. After the war, they lived in Kettering until 1949, when they moved to Morden in south London to be closer to publishers, most of whom were based in London. Bellamy worked freelance from home from the time he left Norfolk Studios in 1953. In 1975 the couple moved back to Kettering.

Whilst in the army, Bellamy had a weekly illustration published by the Kettering Evening Telegraph. Later, he worked in advertising (for Gibbs Dentifrice). In 1953, he began his first comic strip, called Monty Carstairs in Mickey Mouse Weekly. Shortly after he moved to Swift where his work included Swiss Family Robinson, King Arthur and Robin Hood.

In 1957, he moved to Eagle and began working in colour on their back page biography strips: The Happy Warrior (the life of Winston Churchill), The Shepherd King (the life of the biblical King David), and The Travels of Marco Polo for which Bellamy only did eight episodes before moving to Dan Dare.

Bellamy took over Dan Dare part way through the Terra Nova storyline, replacing creator Frank Hampson. It was an awkward set-up: the new owners of Eagle thought the strip looked dated, so gave Bellamy the brief of redesigning everything, from the costumes and spacecraft to the page layouts. Bellamy was left to draw the title page unaided (in contrast to Hampson's many-hands approach, where the drawing, inking, lettering and coloring were all separately completed by a team of artists), while two of Hampson's former assistants, Keith Watson and Don Harley, had to do the second page. Bellamy's redesigns were somewhat controversial and, after he left the strip a year later, the next artist was instructed to reintroduce the original designs.

Bellamy then went on to draw two of his most celebrated strips, Fraser of Africa and Heros the Spartan. He also drew Montgomery of Alamein (the life of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery) and did some work for Look and Learn.

Fraser of Africa, one of Bellamy's artistic high-water marks, was not his idea but, as he was obsessed with Africa, he was the perfect choice to draw it. Bellamy used a monochromatic sepia color palette to reflect the sun and desert locale, with occasional bursts of bright color. It was a challenging and unusual approach and Fraser of Africa became the Eagle's most popular strip. Bellamy insisted on proper research and even had a reader living in East Africa supplying reference material.

Heros the Spartan, a sword and sorcery adventure set in Roman times, was another artistic triumph. Drawn as a two page spread and usually organized around a complicated splash in the centre of the two pages, Heros was a bravura display of skill. The battle scenes displayed a vividness and complex layout rarely seen in comics and it won Bellamy an award (for 'Best Foreign Artist') from the American Academy of Comic Book Arts in 1972.

In November 1965, Bellamy left the fading Eagle to work for TV Century 21, where he drew the centrespread Thunderbirds strip. Rather than faithfully draw puppets, he took the artistic license of rendering the characters as real people for a more exciting strip, as was already being done by the comic's other artists (including Ron Embleton and Mike Noble) in their strips. Apart from one short break, Bellamy drew Thunderbirds throughout its run in TV Century 21 and TV21, leaving shortly after the comic merged with Joe 90 Top Secret to become TV21 & Joe 90 in 1969. He also drew the colour splash pages for five Captain Scarlet strips.

Bellamy's break from the Thunderbirds strip in the autumn of 1966 enabled him to work on an episode of the British TV series The Avengers entitled The Winged Avenger. The story featured a villainous strip cartoonist and Bellamy was asked to create all the illustrations used in the episode. He also designed the artist's studio set and the costume of the Winged Avenger himself. Filmed in December 1966, the episode aired in February 1967.

In June 1971, Bellamy began drawing the newspaper comic strip Garth which appeared in the Daily Mirror. This was the period in which intense competition with the new tabloid The Sun encouraged large helpings of nudity to be seen in British tabloids, and the strip reflected this. Bellamy's style was much more vivid than that of the original artist John Allard, and he was probably brought in to spice up the strip. Jim Edgar had been writing the strip since 1966 and shared the byline credit with Bellamy. Bellamy applied all the graphic tricks in his arsenal from stippling and crosshatching to chiaroscuro inking to create a modern and eyecatching look for Garth unlike anything else appearing in newspapers at the time.

Bellamy worked continuously on Garth for the next five years, although drawing in black and white rather than colour gave him time to maintain a number of other regular commissions. During this period he drew the first comic strips The Sunday Times had ever run in its magazine as non-fiction journalism. He also regularly produced illustrations for the BBC's Radio Times television listings magazine, in particular for the Doctor Who television programme.

Frank Bellamy died suddenly in 1976, a tragic loss to the British comics industry and indeed to the world, at the height of his powers. He had plans for many projects including a western strip he was to write himself, inspired by the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, but none of that work survives.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your Fallout May Vary -


The Ford Nucleon was a nuclear-powered concept car developed by Ford Motor Company in 1958. The design did not include an internal-combustion engine, rather, the vehicle was to be powered by a small nuclear reactor in the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle featured a power capsule suspended between twin booms at the rear. The capsule, which would contain a radioactive core for motive power, was designed to be easily interchangeable, according to the performance needs and the distances to be travelled.

The passenger compartment of the Nucleon featured a one-piece, pillar-less windscreen and compound rear window, and was topped by a cantilever roof. There were air intakes at the leading edge of the roof and at the base of its supports. An extreme cab-forward style provided more protection to the driver and passengers from the reactor in the rear. Some pictures show the car with tailfins sweeping up from the rear fenders.

The drive train would be integral to the power module, and electronic torque converters would take the place of the drive-train used at the time. It was said that cars like the Nucleon would be able to travel 8000 km (5,000 miles) or more, depending on the size of the core, without recharging. At the end of the core's life, it would be taken to a charging station, which research designers envisioned as largely replacing gas stations. The car was never built and never went into production, but it remains an icon of the Atomic Age of the 1950s, when concerns and dangers such as radiation poisoning, nuclear waste and the possibility of nuclear meltdown were not completely understood or acknowledged.

The mock-up of the car can be viewed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

It is very doubtful, if it would be possible to build a vehicle in the size of a standard car with a reactor as propulsion, as it emits neutrons, which require thick absorbers. It is also not possible for physical reasons to build a reactor under a certain size, which depends on the used nuclear fuel. So it is very doubtful, if this car was ever realizeable.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Via Omnibus:

"Often using little more than a pen-knife, many of these drifters pain-stakingly altered the extremely hard copper-nickel alloy, transforming the Indian's head into profile portraits of friends and loved ones (both male and female), of other hobos, or of themselves. Rare examples also feature alterations of the "buffalo," typically into donkeys or elephants. These "Hobo Nickels" were a way for the vagabonds to increase the value of the coin so that it brought a more advantageous exchange when used to barter for food and drink, or for lodging or transportation." Via: Lord-whimsy

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Triebflügel: German For "No Way Am I Flying That Thing!"

The Focke-Wulf Fw Triebflügel (Triebfluegel if the ü-umlaut is not used), or Triebflügeljäger, literally meaning "powering wing" or "powered-by-wings fighter", was a German concept for an aircraft designed in 1944, during the final phase of World War II. It was a Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) tailsitter interceptor design intended for local defense of strategically important factories or areas with no or only small airstrips against the ever-increasing Allied bombing raids on central Germany. The Triebflügel had only reached wind-tunnel testing when the Allied forces reached the production facilities. No complete prototype was ever built.

The design was particularly unusual. It had no wings, and all lift and thrust were provided by a rotor/propeller assembly in the middle of the craft (roughly halfway between cockpit and tailplane). When the plane was sitting on its tail in the vertical position, the rotors would have functioned similarly to a helicopter. When flying horizontally, they would function more like a giant propeller.

The three rotor blades were mounted on a ring assembly supported by bearings, allowing free rotation around the fuselage. At the end of each was a ramjet. To start the wings spinning, simple rockets would have been used. As the speed increased, the flow of air would be sufficient for the ramjets to work and the rockets would expire. The pitch of the blades could be varied with the effect of changing the speed and the lift produced. There was no reaction torque because the rotors were free-spinning. Fuel for the ramjets was carried in fuselage tanks, and was piped through the centre support ring and along the rotors to the jets.

A cruciform empennage at the rear of the fuselage comprised four tailplanes, fitted with moving ailerons that would have also functioned as combined rudders and elevators. The tailplane would have provided a means for the pilot to keep the fuselage from spinning in case of a slight friction against the rotor ring as well as controlling flight in pitch, roll and yaw.

A single large and sprung wheel in the extreme end of the fuselage provided the main undercarriage. Four small castoring wheels on extensible struts were placed at the end of each tailplane to steady the aircraft on the ground and allow it to be moved. The main and outrigger wheels were covered by streamlined clamshell doors when in flight.

When taking off the rotors would be angled to give lift as with a helicopter or more accurately a gyrodyne. Once the plane had attained sufficient altitude it could be angled into level flight. This required a slight nose-up pitch to give a downward thrust as well as primarily forward thrust - the rotors would have provided the only significant lift. Consequently, the four cannons in the forward fuselage would have been angled slightly downward in relation to the horizontal centre line of the fuselage.

To land, the craft had to slow its speed and pitch the fuselage until the craft was vertical. Power could then be reduced and it would descend until the landing gear rested on the ground. This would have been a tricky and probably dangerous manoeuvre given that the pilot would be seated facing upward and the ground would be behind his head at this stage. Unlike some other tailsitter aircraft, the pilot's seat was fixed in the direction for forward flight. The spinning rotor would also obscure rear vision.

This design was unique among 20th-century VTOL craft, and other German concept craft. However, some early design studies for the Rotary Rocket Roton spacecraft in the 1990s showed a free-spinning rotor with tip-driven rotors providing lift. The lift concept was later abandoned and rotors would only have been used to provide autorotation drag for re-entry and landing.

In the 1950s, the USA built prototype tail-sitter aircraft (the Lockheed XFV, and Convair XFY Pogo) but these were powered by conventional turboprops, with nose-mounted contra-rotating propellers to counter torque. They also used conventional wings for lift, though their cruciform tails with integral landing gear were broadly comparable to the Triebflügel.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The War of Currents ... And The Sparking Deaths of Topsy And William Kemmler

An image from Thomas Edison's film Electrocuting an Elephant, 1903

In the "War of Currents" era (sometimes, "War of the Currents" or "Battle of Currents") in the late 1880s, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison became adversaries due to Edison's promotion of direct current (DC) for electric power distribution over alternating current (AC) advocated by Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla ....

.... Edison carried out a campaign to discourage the use of alternating current, including spreading information on fatal AC accidents, publicly killing animals, and lobbying against the use of AC in state legislatures. Edison directed his technicians, primarily Arthur Kennelly and Harold P. Brown, to preside over several AC-driven executions of animals, primarily stray cats and dogs but also unwanted cattle and horses. Acting on these directives, they were to demonstrate to the press that alternating current was more dangerous than Edison's system of direct current. He also tried to popularize the term for being electrocuted as being "Westinghoused". Years after DC had lost the "war of the currents," in 1902, his film crew made a movie of the electrocution with high voltage AC, supervised by Edison employees, of Topsy, a Coney Island circus elephant who had recently killed a man.

Edison opposed capital punishment, but his desire to disparage the system of alternating current led to the invention of the electric chair. Harold P. Brown, who was at this time being secretly paid by Edison, constructed the first electric chair for the state of New York in order to promote the idea that alternating current was deadlier than DC.

When the chair was first used, on August 6, 1890, the technicians on hand misjudged the voltage needed to kill the condemned prisoner, William Kemmler. The first jolt of electricity was not enough to kill Kemmler, and only left him badly injured. The procedure had to be repeated and a reporter on hand described it as "an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging." George Westinghouse commented: "They would have done better using an axe."