Thursday, October 20, 2016

History: The Year is 1887

I've uploaded year 1887 to the TSP Wiki...

Here are some one liners...

The Big Die and the End of the Range Cattle Era -- A VERY bad winter in the Western USA causes a 90% die-off of open range cattle.

The Second Scientific Revolution Has Begun -- Two scientists prove that the ether that was supposed to carry light waves does not exist... yet light travels.

IBM and the Growing Problem with the US Census -- Hollerith invents a card punch and sorting machine to handle the US census. I talk about collection of data to find people.

In Other News -- Dunlop tires, Bosch ignition and Pearl Harbor.

The Big Die and the End of the Range Cattle Era

"It would have been all right, if it hadn't been for the weather"
--An old rancher, remembering the Hard Winter of 1887. [1]
Last year it was an unusually hot, dry summer followed by a deadly cold winter. Record-breaking snowfall has heaped almost 4 inches in San Francisco and 7 inches in the hills. (It has snowed there about 6 times in the last 150 years.) Of course, Krakatoa blew it's top and spread volcanic ash throughout the upper atmosphere, dropping global temperatures. The change has hit the cattle industry in the United States hard. Normally, cattle in the West are allowed to free range across everyone's property. If you want cattle to stay off your property, you must put up a fence to keep them out. But when the foliage died off last summer and the waterholes dried up, the stress on the cattle was severe. Then a hard winter followed with very little forage left. One rancher in Montana reports 20 to 40 degrees below zero and heavy storms for 6 days. He projects a 25 to 40 percent loss of his cattle. In fact, about 90% of the open range cattle will not make it through the winter. Those that survive will be thin and frostbitten by roundup time, so it will be difficult to get a good price. Many ranchers will go out of business, and while the practice of raising cattle on the open range won't stop, it will no longer be the preferred method. [2] [3] [4] [5]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
Texas is an "open range" state to a limited extent... which is a contradiction in terms. The general rule is that livestock are allowed to range at large, and fences are meant to keep livestock out of areas where property owners do not wish them to be. But the exceptions are so many that one should not depend on the general rule. Some counties do not allow open ranging. Federal highways do not allow open range livestock. Although the winter of 1887 marked the year when the practice was greatly reduced, the weather was not the only reason. The invention of barbed-wire made it cheaper to fence cattle in rather than hire cowboys to round up strays. More railways meant pressure on cattlemen to keep stray cows off the tracks. The additional fencing resulted in the Fence-Cutting Wars of the 1880s and 90s and some really great westerns in the 1960s and 70s. Open ranging remains a controversy into the modern day with some ranchers believing they have carte blanche to range their cattle on public lands. This leads to accusations of overgrazing, and so it goes. [6] [7]

The Second Scientific Revolution Has Begun

Something fundamental in the way scientists view the Universe has just changed. The basic assumption about light and gravity is that they are carried along like waves on a pond. Scientists have assumed that some medium like water must exist to carry those waves. By tradition they call this invisible medium "the ether." Since (presumably) the Earth is traveling through this ether, it should be possible to measure our relative speed in relation to it by measuring the time it takes for light to travel in a vacuum, going in perpendicular directions. There should be a difference if the ether exists, but when Michelson and Morley take their measurements there is no difference. They have proven that the photons do not require an invisible medium to convey them through a vacuum.... Oh dear God! This is like primitive man suddenly realizing that the Earth is not traveling on the back of a giant turtle. What is holding it up? If light is not a wave then it must be a particle, but it doesn't act like a particle. It is going so fast it should drill holes through everything! And what about gravity? How can that possibly work if there is not an underlying medium? The Universe has just taken a flying leap into the void. They must rethink everything. [8] [9] [10]
My Take by Alex Shrugged
At this point Albert Einstein is about 8 years old so no help there. Even though I've given the impression that Michelson and Morley have shaken the foundations of science... that is a judgment looking back in time. They did not enjoy immediate, widespread acceptance, and why should they? They upset the delicate balance of centuries of pet theories, and the prestige of academic leadership. You can't just throw that all away for truth and beauty. Can you? To be fair, it always takes time to verify findings and then figure out what it all means. I remember the great disagreements over String Theory. With several competing String theories, which one was right? Supergravity eventually pulled it all together, showing that the competing theories were actually different aspects of a larger idea called M-theory. I'm not going into an explanation, but in academic circles there are fads, competitions and even petty jealousies. The fellow who came up with Supergravity had been working in obscurity for years, struggling to find grant money, and trying to convince the all important graduate students to join him in his struggle. Such decisions can be career-killers. He was finally vindicated, but watching him interviewed on a TV science show, it seemed like a bitter victory. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

IBM and the Growing Problem with the US Census

International Business Machines does not yet exist as a company, but the founder, Herman Hollerith does. He is an intense and meticulous man, born of German immigrants. He graduated as an engineer, but he was hired as an census assistant by his former professor who is working for the government on the US census. The department has been handed an impossible task... the tabulation of data from the USA census... seven years ago. Yes. They are still working on it. They fear that population growth will soon require the NEXT census to start before the PREVIOUS census is compete. That is why Hollerith's old professor has come to him for an answer. Hollerith works out an ingenious system called the Hollerith Code, a series of holes punched into cards to encode data. Each card represents a record filled with basic data. Then he builds a sorting machine that "reads" the code on the card, sorting for specific criteria such as marital status, age, number of children, etc. This produces new stacks of cards that can be sorted in additional ways. He puts in a bid for the next census. What took 7.5 years to process, he will complete in 2.5 years. He calls his business the Tabulating Machine Company which will be renamed IBM. Hollerith will lease these machines rather than sell them to allow closer control over their usage. He likes control. So does the government. In a few years, the Nazis will be delighted with IBM. Without those sorting machines they will never be able to sort out the so-called "Master Race" from the undesirables. You can guess what will happen next.
My Take by Alex Shrugged
Let's put aside the issue of the Nazis for another time. After the attacks of 9-11 there was a consensus that we should NOT perform mass arrests, but there was a desire to sort out the sheep from the goats. Several credit card companies came forward, suggesting that they already used a customer's buying patterns to identify when a card is stolen. Often one of the first things a thief will do is to buy two tanks of gas and pair of sneakers. The card is shut down when that happens, but they suggested that other patterns can be seen in the data like whether a customer is preparing for a trip, or is sick or pregnant, or possibly a terrorist. I recall a few short years ago when the government issued criteria to identify domestic terrorists... like... if you protest when you are asked to provide identification, or if you pay in cash rather than a credit card. One should be able to avoid credit card debt without fear of being wrestled to the ground as a possible terrorist. We provide a lot of information about ourselves on Facebook and even in email. Apparently, NOT participating is a red flag, so the only way to avoid the notice of my government is to lose myself in the clutter of normal usage.... like a good sheepdog. [17] [18]

In Other News

  • Dunlop tires for all your tricycle needs. John Dunlop develops the first inflatable tire. He mounts it on a wooden disk for his kid's tricycle. [19]
  • Robert Bosch adapts a magneto ignition system to a stationary engine. Ten years later he will adapt a similar magneto system to fire the spark plugs on a vehicle. [20]
  • The US Navy signs the lease on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It begins as a coal and repair station. [21]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1887, Wikipedia.

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