Category Archives: History

Among Us?

Fun news this week. Astronaut Helen Sharman, one of the first seven Britons to travel to space, has come out as pro-alien lifeform.

“There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life.  Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not.”

Shades of Carl Sagan’s Contact.  And as if that isn’t spectacular enough, she went on to say”

“It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them.”

This of course brings to mind the scene from Men in Black in which Will Smith says he was sure his third grade teacher was an alien:

Anybody you are sure is an alien?

Two Days

Before my trip to Peru, I was well aware that this would be a trip of a lifetime. Even if I hadn’t already thought this, everyone I knew was sure to tell me.  As you all know, one of my life goals is to not have expectations set too high.  So this felt dangerous to me, to hear so many folks talk about bucket lists and dreams come true.

As a way to try to tamp down my expectations, I did not do ANY research on Peru or Machu Picchu prior to the trip. From our hotel in Cusco, we took a minibus to Ollanta Station (1.5 hours) and then took the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu City (another 1.5 hours).  Then there was the tourist coach up the side of the mountain (hint: if you are afraid of heights, always try to avoid the window seats on a trip like this).  On this last leg of the trip to the site, I reflected that I really didn’t know anything at all about Machu Picchu, with the exception of the altitude – 8,000 feet.

Turns out that there isn’t a massive amount to know. The pre-Andeans had abandoned the site centuries before it was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and they left no written record.  In fact “Machu Picchu” is just the name given to the site in the local dialect and means “old mountain”.  Archaeologists and scientist are pretty sure what many of the buildings were for: homes, palace for the Inca when he visited, security look-out and even a temple (although they only believe this because on the winter solstice the sun shines directly through the main window of the building) but other than that, they don’t know much about how life was lived here.

As I stood gazing out over the stone buildings I was struck with a strong desire to go back in time for just a couple of days to see what life was like when Machu Picchu was populated. How did they live, what did they eat, what were their favorite past times?  Of course it would be nice to know why they abandoned the settlement, but if I only have two days, I don’t think I want it to be the last two days!

 Two days to visit a time in the past. Just two.  When and where do you choose?  (And an absolute guarantee you can get back home after the two days!)

Thunder & Lightning

Photo credit:  Javsama

As part of my site inspection in Peru, we spent two nights in Cusco, which is also known as the “Gateway to Machu Picchu”. Cusco is in the mountainous part of Peru and is 11,152 feet in elevation (this is actually HIGHER than Machu Picchu).  While there are certainly spots on the globe higher than this (Kilimanjaro, Mount Everest), Cusco routinely makes the list as one of the highest altitude cities on the planet.  Many of the hotels in Cusco pump extra oxygen into the rooms and almost every establishment of any kind (shops, restaurants, hotels) have access to oxygen tanks, just in case.  If you search the internet, you’ll find a massive amount of information about altitude sickness, what causes it, what you can do about it.

But nowhere are you warned about the thunderstorms. In the mountains and tropical areas of Peru, it’s rainy season right now.  That means a lot of gray days and in Cusco, thunderstorms – three to four a week for a few months.  We experienced a thunderstorm the first afternoon we were there and let me tell you, when you are 11,000 feet up, the thunder and the lightning is MUCH closer to you than down in  the lower climes.  It’s hard to describe the visceral feeling that goes through you when the lightning seems just on the other side of the street from you and the thunder crackles and booms loud enough that you cover your ears.  We were touring a couple of convents during the storm, both with large courtyards and covered walkways; we weren’t actually standing out in the rain (which was intense as well) but close enough that the storm felt startlingly  close by.

The next day, I got to spend a couple of hours with the tour guide all to myself (a serious perk in my estimation) and he told me that in the Andes, the god of thunder is the most popular weather god as he is associated with the health of agriculture and crops. He is not known as Thor there, but as Illapa (pronounced E-yapa) and he even has his own holiday – July 25.  Apparently he is the keeper of the Milky Way which he keeps in a jug and pours out to make the rain.  Did I mention that on a clear night in Cusco, the Milky Way is very bright and visible?

So I came home from my trip with a robust appreciation of the god of thunder and lightning. When thunderstorms season rolls around next year, I’ll have to try to enjoy it more.

Any gods or goddesses that “speak” to you?

80 Days

Today is the anniversary of Phileas Fogg completing his trip  in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 days. He left on October 2 and got back to London on December 21.  I haven’t read much of Verne, but I thought this  plot was fascinating and fun when I read it years ago

What route would you take to go around the world if you mainly took trains and boats and cars?  What would you want to see? 

Valor, Tragedy, and Scandal

Our town was mentioned in the national news over the past couple of days due to an obituary.  I bet in the next couple of days it will make the national news due to a scandal at the local post office. Both stories involve the local newspaper.

Earlier this week our newspaper ran a moving and poetic obituary on a former resident, a Vietnam veteran, who died in a Veterans’ home in Montana. The story made the national news. If you read the article, it also provides a link to the actual obituary.

http://a.msn.com/01/en-us/BBY97ry?ocid=se

Then, late Thursday afternoon, the paper broke a story about thousands of pieces of mail being thrown in dumpsters behind the post office by postal employees.  I believe I have mentioned here my frustration with late or non-existent mail delivery.  Well, now we know what has been happening.

https://www.thedickinsonpress.com/news/4831203-Complaints-on-mail-delivery-at-Dickinson-prompt-investigation-newspapers-other-mail-found-in-dumpsters

Both these stories will elicit Baboon reactions and comments, so my question is simple:

Comment on these stories and your reactions to them.

High Flyers

Today marks the anniversary in 1903 of the first sustained motorized airplane flight by the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, NC. They flew 6.8 miles per hour. Orville was the pilot.  Wilbur ran along side. This is a photo of the 12 second flight.

It amazes me that their three-axis control system  which  allowed the pilot to actually control the plane in flight is still standard on today’s aircraft.

Our plane last month from Minneapolis to New York was pushed along at 600 miles an hour by some strong tail winds. The pilot made a point of proudly announcing this as we arrived well ahead of schedule at LaGuardia airport. I think the Wright brothers would be pretty amazed by that. I don’t know what the would think of the current state of commercial air travel.

How would you change modern air travel?  Be creative.

Physics, Anyone?

Yesterday in 1684, Isaac Newton’s paper on the theory of gravity was read to the Royal Society by Edmund Halley.  I wonder how it was received? Did they nod and say ,“Oh yes, I can see exactly what he is getting at”, or did they scratch their powdered wigs and shrug their shoulders, thinking “Poor Isaac has been spending too much time sitting under the trees.”

Hard sciences were never my strong suit in high school and college. Neither was mathematics. for that matter, although I was  pretty ace at Psychology statistics in graduate school. In college, the Physics majors I knew often said that Physics was a way of investigating God. I was just glad I didn’t have to take any physics classes. Biology, now that was a subject I could embrace.  I don’t know what it means that my poorest grade in college was in bowling,  a physical education class I despised. Maybe if I had taken a Physics class I would have been a better bowler.

What came easily to you in school? What was difficult? What would you like to learn about now?