Archive | Historical RSS feed for this section

Food Preparation – Feb 1921

6 Feb

From the annals of Popular Mechanics (p276):


Because long-strand human hair makes an almost ideal filter for straining soup, and other liquid foods, in preparation for canning, a certain manufacturer is reported to have bought recently some $800,000 worth of Chinese queues. These will be used in place of the goat-hair filters formerly employed because of their comparative cheapness. Human hair for various purposes has long been an article of Chinese export, but when the wearing of “pigtails” went out of fashion in the celestial land several years ago, an enormous supply of the material was created. The enterprising buyer was able to obtain for his money a total of 2,450,000 of the long plaits, composing a load for about 28 freight cars.


Ergonomics Fail

9 Oct

An illustration for an article titled “At the Controls of an Aircraft of the Future” from May 1932 Popular Mechanics:

  • An artist’s conception of the way rockets will be guided in the flights through space by pilots strapped in a sealed compartment.

Even when this was written, aircraft, trains, and submarines – to say nothing of radio equipment – would have been more heavily instrumented than shown here.

D2O – A Proven Technique for Extending Lifespan

29 Sep

Here’s the optimistic theory advanced in June 1937 (Popular Science Magazine):

  • Dr James E. Kendall, the British scientist who advanced the startling theory that “heavy water” might prolong life

Is “Heavy Water” the Fountain of Youth?

Add ten years to your life!

That is the fascinating hope held out to men and women by a magic new fluid called “heavy water,” according to Dr. James E. Kendall, head of the department of chemistry at Edinburgh University, Scotland. Discovered only six years ago, it may soon be sipped by everybody, he foresees, as a means of prolonging the human life span.

Heavy water boils at a temperature three degrees higher, and freezes at a temperature seven degrees higher, than the common variety. Unlike the tasteless water you are accustomed to drink, heavy water has a sweetish flavor.

Would heavy water prove an elixir of life, a deadly poison, or a neutral substance like ordinary water? Daring experimenters have swallowed small amounts of it without ill effects. But mice fed with relatively larger quantities of the mysterious liquid died, as did tadpoles and small fish placed in tanks of it. Why? Nobody knows for sure, as yet, but chemists have discovered one significant clew. Many chemical reactions, they have observed, take place more slowly in heavy water than in common water. Thus heavy water may “apply the brakes” to life processes, with more or less effect according to the amount consumed.

  • Increasing amounts of “heavy water” have been sipped by Prof. Klaus Hansen to test its effect

Here is the basis for Dr. Kendall’s bold idea. By taking carefully regulated quantities of this heavy water, perhaps an elderly person could “throttle down” his internal mechanism thereby making it last longer by preserving it from all unnecessary wear and tear!

“In other words,” Dr. Kendall says, “the person drinking heavy water would be living only half as fast as the person drinking ordinary water. Doubtless, this would have drawbacks to men and women of working age, but it would be a positive boon to those in the Indian summer of life, who have retired from active work and wish only to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

“The heavy-water drinker’s reactions would probably be slowed, and possibly his mental processes also, but who wants to be fast at sixty? Fantastic as this development may sound. I believe than within the next ten or fifteen years drinking of heavy water by those who have passed sixty, as a means of prolonging the ‘reward years’ of life, will be commonplace.”

One formidable obstacle to be overcome, he admits, is the cost of producing heave water. Scarcer than the rarest wine, it once
sold for $300 a teaspoonful, and even today the same outlay will buy only a couple of glassfuls. At the current price, a year’s supply for drinking purposes would bankrupt a millionaire.

  • This complicated apparatus at Columbia University, produces the mysterious liquid by electrolysis. It was in this laboratory that “heavy water” was discovered six years ago

And here’s the current thinking, as per our friends at Wikipedia:

Effect on biological systems

Heavy water is the only known chemical substance that affects the period of circadian oscillations, consistently increasing the length of each cycle. The effect is seen in unicellular organisms, green plants, isopods, insects, birds, mice, and hamsters. The mechanism is unknown.

To perform their tasks, enzymes rely on their finely tuned networks of hydrogen bonds, both in the active center with their substrates, and outside the active center, to stabilize their tertiary structures. As a hydrogen bond with deuterium is slightly stronger than one involving ordinary hydrogen, in a highly deuterated environment, some normal reactions in cells are disrupted.

Plants stop growing and seeds do not germinate when given only heavy water, because heavy water stops eukaryotic cell division. With over 50% of deuterium in the water molecules, plants die. Experiments conducted by Skladnev, Mosin et al. show that microorganisms can live in 98% heavy water.

It has been proposed that low doses of heavy water can slow the aging process by helping the body resist oxidative damage via the isotope effect. A team at the Institute for the Biology of Ageing, located in Moscow, conducted an experiment to determine the effect of heavy water on longevity using fruit flies and found that while large amounts were deadly, smaller quantities increased lifespans by up to 30%.

I first came across this idea many years ago, in a the science fiction novel “The Time Masters” (1953) by Wilson Tucker.

This rather interesting novel starts out with a detective plot as the protagonist is hired to find the missing wife of a scientist. It quickly develops, however, that both the detective and the wife have a surprising, and extremely ancient, past. They are survivors of a spacecraft disaster thousands of years ago. The detective had come from a planet where heavy water was normal and without it he was prematurely aging – indeed, he was showing signs of age after a mere 10,000 years!

“It was a peculiar kind of water, natural enough if one remained on the island during his lifetime, but really quite rare if one visited the other islands and discovered how unusual it was. It was a water with certain, special qualities not found in very many other places that the ships visited. Hence, those ships must carry huge stores of it to enable them to make complete round-trip voyages without refilling the tanks. The water of the other worlds was drinkable in emergencies — yes, but it was water of a  drastically altered nature which failed to yield the mineral qualities necessary to sustain the lengthened life span. It was a poor substitute which, if one were forced to rely on it alone, would not sustain life the natural span. It was, in short, a thin liquid to prolong life a short while — nothing more. The natural water of the island on which one was bom and raised was needed for a healthy life.”

The girl had been sitting very quietly, listening to his voice and watching his profile against the nickering fire-light. Now she said, “So Gilgamesh became a sailor. Despite the dangers to the mariner, despite the need for the peculiar water of his home world, he became a sailor. And he was shipwrecked.”

Before there was CGI

24 Sep

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, there were a number of movies made where most, or all, of the action took place underwater. I’m slightly puzzled as to why they were made, but this article from 1941 shows just how tricky they were to make. I suspect that Health and Safety would shoot down any attempt to do this nowadays.

Wonders of Underwater Movies

  • Firing a stove in undersea classroom. Dry ice is used to give a realistic effect in movies of smoke pouring from chimney.

DOWN on the ocean’s bottom a school for mermaids is in session. Each damsel sits at her desk, taking down with pencil and paper the lecture of the “teacher,” who illustrates the lesson with chalk on a blackboard.  Now one of the fair students raises her hand. “I’m cold, sir,” she complains. “Would you mind firing up the stove a bit?” Teacher pokes around in the stove, and a cloud of smoke pours up the chimney.

This scene from a recent underwater movie is realism to the nth degree. The players look so natural and comfortable you’d insist they were in their subsurface classroom 15 minutes or more.

  • This sketch shows the cameraman crouched in his floating tank, shooting movies through glass window.

For 12 years, Newton Perry has been acting, directing, and writing scrips for underwater films. Perry has made about 15 feature films and a score or more of news-reel shorts.

How are underwater movies filmed? The photographer goes down in a steel tank four feet square and seven feet deep. One section is glass and the top is open. The cameraman can shoot as deep as 20 feet, or tilt his camera to film the surface. Usually no special lighting is required, for the shots are made in sunlight.

  • Enjoying soft drinks at a submarine soda bar; stage “props” are weighted down to keep them in position.

Before each scene the actors are carefully rehearsed. If Perry is directing, he simply asks: “Ready all?” Cameraman nods, cast does likewise, they dive in and the “take” is made. Most scenes require 20 to 30 seconds; a few have taken twice as long. For instance, in the wedding scene of “Underwater Romance,” it took the preacher, the bride and groom and congregation a minute and 15 seconds to file through the underwater church doorway. Perry’s actors and actresses range in age from about 16 to 25. Three out of four are girls.

A good surface swimmer isn’t necessarily a competent underwater swimmer. Perry would rather start with an average swimmer and teach her his methods than try to train a girl who has had quite a bit of surface swimming and imagines she’s a topnotcher. Give him a good novice with sturdy heart and lungs, strong physique and a will to work and Perry is satisfied he can teach her the technique. A main requirement is that all the actors learn to hold their breath at least 45 seconds. With this in mind Perry teaches them to “bob“; that is, to take a mighty breath just before they submerge and then exhale vigorously. They’re all called upon to do this 100 times in succession. For two weeks prior to making a picture they bob at least an hour and a half each day.

Next they learn a special stroke Perry has developed for underwater high jinks, a variation of the crawl that utilizes a trudgen kick, or four beats and one scissors kick. All his girls learn to swim in unison as if they were ballet dancers. Each must learn to stay under water for at least a minute and swim under water at least 60 feet at a stretch. With a couple of weeks’ training they’re able to do this with considerable grace and ease. The training starts with surface dives, followed by underwater swims of 20 feet, gradually increased to 60 feet or more.

No More Australasia

23 Sep

Alas, this movement from 1928 (reported in Popular Science Magazine), never got very far:

New Zealand Opposes Burial of Identity in “Australasia”

GEOGRAPHIES must revise their nomenclature if the commercial interests of New Zealand succeed in a new movement to suppress the use of the term “Australasia.” The New Zealanders are tired of bring the tail to the kite of Australia, due to the use of the general geographic name applied to the island groups of the Pacific. The name “Australasia” was coined to indicate that the islands were an extension of Asia and that their central and most important division was the continent of Australia. In its restricted sense Australasia embraces Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

In a circular to foreign consular officers, the associated Chambers of Commerce of New Zealand say: “These offending terms both ignore our identity and submerge our individuality. Many people regard the words as descriptive of a greater Australia. We are separated from that country in ways other than the 1200 miles of ocean between us, and we want the world to know of the existence of New Zealand, and that our identity is separate from that, of Australia.

A Test of Character

22 Sep

This theory (from August 1931 Popular Mechanics) is rather strange, but – without actually trying it – who knows whether it worked?

Color-Matching Test Shows Your Character

Color sense, the ability to match various tints of colors, has been found to have a definite relation to character, since it indicates mental balance. Dr. William S. Wadsworth, coroner’s  physician of Philadelphia, has evolved a color test to guage a man’s mental make-up and show whether or not he is capable of certain acts. From the results of such tests, he claims, it is possible to determine whether an individual is mentally well-ordered, whether he is whimsical and, aside from showing possible criminal tendencies, demonstrate also if he is fit to be put in a position of trust upon which the lives and safety of others may depend.

The equipment consists of a blackboard on which are pasted ten colored slips of paper with a small box back of each slip. The person taking the test is handed a package of 100 slips of tinted paper and asked to place in the receptacle the tints most nearly matching the sample in front of each. After the test, the papers are pasted on a large chart, each near the sample with which the person associated it. Provided the individual is not color-blind, he would be classed as whimsical, unstable and unreliable if he placed orange tints near greens and blues near yellows. The combinations may reveal a hysterical extent. Some artists and painters taking the tests have shown a queer color sense, and one etcher who works in blacks and whites was found to be color-blind.

Heart Rate … High

20 Sep

A note found in the March 1932 Popular Mechanics:

Plane Shot Over Waterfall to Make it Take Air

One of the most dangerous and thrilling take-offs in the history of aviation was recorded recently by a geologist and his mechanic upon their return from nothern Saskatchewan where they had been forced down on a small lake on an exploring trip. A piston was broken, which they repaired as best they could with native copper found on the shore. Attempts to take off, however, were vain, as the crippled engine had not sufficient power. Cruising over the lake, they discovered a 400-foot waterfall at one end. At its base were trees in a rock-studded ravine. Taxiing back to the opposite end, they raced the plane with all the speed it would master over the waterfall. It dropped sickeningly for about half the distance of the fall, then took the air slowly and the explorers were able to return to within a few miles of their base.

“Which they repaired … with native copper found on the shore” !  This sounds like MacGyver’s father was the pilot. Unfortunately, it’s all rather apocryphal. Especially so, as finding a 400 foot waterfall in Saskatchewan might be challenging – it’s a particularly flat province.