Category Archives: Your History Moment

Visting the Udvar-Hazy Center,29 Dec 16

Since we aren’t currently on a Cruise ship in the Carribean, sipping sugary rum drinks and wondering how the hoi polloi get by (this is a subject for another post, perhaps– we had to cancel our cruising plans) we decided to go visit the Udvar Hazy museum of flight and aeronautical technology near Dulles Airport, Chantilly, VA today. I took about 109 pictures, which I’d love to embed as an album on here, or even a slideshow. Sadly, Google’s move from Picasaweb to Google Photos makes identifying single albums in Google Photos next to impossible. So it goes. Below are a few links to many pictures of aircraft. The slide show works, but you won’t be able to read my comments. Mass adding of photographs also eliminates captioning somehow, so if you want to read my reverant, sometimes snarky, sometimes awe-struck commentary, you’ll have to go directly to the album, below.

Click here for SLIDESHOW

Click below to see the album

Enjoy. We had a blast visiting this museum.. it always has something new tucked away in a corner I haven’t seen yet.


Alexander Graham Bell was a noted authority on Kites

Here’s an interesting fact of the day.  Alexander Graham Bell, the man credited with the discovery of the modern telephone device, was absolutely gaga about heavy lifting Tetrahedral style kites.   Indeed, he spent the last part of his life feverishly working on kite design and launches at in his laboratory in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.  Bell began building kites in 1899. He was led to experiment with them because of his interest in the flying machine problem.  Orville and Wilbur Wright’s accomplishment at Kitty Hawk was still several years off, and the idea of lifting a manned heavier than air contraption was most decidedly not only on their minds.  Bell’s belief (shared by a large cadre of men) was that a successful kite will also make a successful flying machine. A kite that will support a man and an engine in a ten mile breeze will probably also support the man and engine when driven by a motor at the rate of ten miles an hour. This proposition had not been actually proved at the time, and it was a driving preoccupation with Bell.

A cross section of Bell's efforts during his lifetime, compared to the Wright Brothers and other early kite designers.

A cross section of Bell’s efforts during his lifetime, compared to the Wright Brothers and other early kite designers.

Bell’s earliest involvement with kite-building and heavy lifting designs arose from a preoccupation with the Box Kits of Lawrence Hargrave:

Early Hargrave Kite. there was a series of these.

Hargrave was an inventor and early aeronautical engineer from Australia, who had been designing box style kites since 1892. The problem with his designs was that they worked very well in smaller sizes but rapidly lost efficiency the bigger you made them.  Bell connected greater lifting area to greater wing size, and his designs sought to arrive at the efficiency point where lifting was not compromised by the weight of a larger sized wing.  To accomplish this, Bell designed some of the most beautiful aerial contraptions ever– tetrahedral kite designs.

Tetrahedrons are a sided polygon, connected in a pyramid shaped framework which is an inherently strong structure. A tetrahedral kite is formed when two sides of the four sided figure are joined, then a number of these are joined together into a large tetrahedral kite.

As you can see, the kite designs were in a number of shapes and sizes, and gradually larger with more lifting ability.

Bell was able to prove that you can create a large kite, of any size desired, without any increase in the weight to sail area. Extra bracing in larger kite structures is not really required as the tetrahedral cell braces itself. In theory the more cells you add to a structure the stronger it becomes.   Bell’s tetrahedral cells were made separately and are were 10 inches on a side. They were made from spruce rods, and covered with bright red silk. Each cell weighed about an ounce, and were joined with metal fittings. The towns people of the nearby small town Baddeck, in Nova Scotia, Canada, enlisted to make tetrahedrons, providing employment for many people.

The Cygnet, not on its barge. You can spot the pilot and the mount for an engine in this picture.

The apogee of Bell’s work with lifting kites was probably the Cygnet (above).  This was a gigantic unholy monster of a kite, with 3,393 cells assembled by Bell’s loyal Nova Scotian citizenry.   It was so large and unwieldy that it was difficult to launch from land.  So Bell and his associates built a small steam ship to launch her from and performed launches from a local lake.

The Cygnet I was launched on 6 December 1907, a certain Thomas Selfridge,* already getting a name in early aeronautical circles, piloted the kite as it was towed into the air behind a motorboat, eventually reaching a height of 168 ft. before crashing. This was the first recorded heavier-than-air flight in Canada.  The kite definitely could hold a person in the air, but further experiments with the design demonstrated many limitations.; the most obvious being the great difficulty in steering such a large rigid structure in the air.    Further experiments with a powered version of the Cygnet, the AEA Cygnet and the Cygnet III, were judged unsatisfactory — the kite could lift a man, but steered around in the air with only great difficulty.

Bell continued with the notion of powered heavier than air aircraft even in the wake of the Wright Brothers until 1909, with the launch of his last experiment, the heavier than air craft Silver Dart, which was more of an early airplane than an actual kite.

Conclusions:  Lifting kits were hardly a failure from the perspective of design, but they ultimately couldn’t provide the military functional requirement to have a steerable aircraft that could carry significant loads up into the air and land again.   Bell was a pioneer in the effort, contributing as much or more to the study of aeronautics as he did to audio technology.. yet he is hardly a footnote in the science of flight today, when compared to his other great contribution, the telephone.

* Lt. Selfridge had also become the first person killed in a powered heavier-than-air flight in a crash of the Wright Flyer at Fort Myer, Virginia, on September 17, 1908.

Your History Moment: The Antietam Campaign

This is for the last All Hands back in November 2012.  The focus was on the Antietam campaign, which had recently enjoyed its 150th Anniversary.

Your History Moment: The Great Mud March of 1863

My place of work is big on having ALL HANDS meetings once a month, where we discuss events of importance both inside and outside the wire (command interest, that is).  I have been informally tasked in recent months to create a “History Moment” to start off the meeting with, mostly because we are experiencing the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War at the moment.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to put together a little sniglet of history for these meetings and will try to keep up the practice in the months to come.  In the meantime, here’s the recent one for the January meeting, the infamous “Mud March” of the Jan 1863 Winter offensive:

Your History Moment: War is a Racket, by Smedley Butler

I will depart from usual practice of posting my own reading on Airy Persiflage and post an excellent recording of the signature work of a hero of mine, General Smedley Butler.  General Butler was the real thing. A Major General in the United States Marine Corps, he participated in several campaigns and little “Banana Wars” around the turn of the century and was twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. By the end of his career, he hadreceived 16 medals, five for heroism. He is one of 19 men to twice receive the Medal of Honor, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only man to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

In his 1935 book War is a Racket, he described the workings of the military-industrial complex and, after retiring from service, became a popular speaker at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists and church groups in the 1930s.  Attached to this post is a recording of WAR IS A RACKET, read by a Librivox reader named Jules Harlock.  The recording is posted under the Creative Commons License.

War is a Racket, by Smedley Butler.

Listen live:″

Your History Moment: A1 Skyraider Low Level Attack

A U.S. Navy Douglas AD-6 Skyraider attack plan...

A U.S. Navy Douglas AD-6 Skyraider attack plane (BuNo 139769, after 1962 A-1H) and an AD-5W early warning aircraft (BuNo 139605?, after 1962 EA-1E) in flight. Note the differences between the two aircraft, both a develpment of the Skyraider design. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just playing around with film editor tonight..

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Your History Moment: Royal Navy Toasting memes

Source: via Walt on Pinterest

ROYAL NAVY TOASTS: On board RN or Canadian Navy warships, toasts were a daily occurrence in the wardroom.

There was a traditional one for each day of the week, sometimes with a refrain.

  • Monday: “To our ships at sea”
  • Tuesday: “To Our Men”
  • Wednesday: “To Ourselves” (as nobody else cares).
  • Thursday: “A bloody war & a sickly season”
  • Friday: “A Willing Foe and Sea Room”
  • Saturday: “Sweethearts & wives” (May they never meet)
  • Sunday: “Absent Friends”.

Needless to say, much imbibing went on in the Royal Navy messroom back in the days of wooden ships and iron men.  Toasts to the reigning monarch were officially allowed to be drunk sitting down, because of the low-hanging beams in many wardrooms.  Port or wine was passed clockwise from the first lieutenant’s place, after being placed in front of him by the wardroom steward. It could never be raised from the table unless the port was actually being poured into a glass.  Passing it the wrong way leads to another round being bought by the miscreant.


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Your History Moment: Reno the Peeper

(expanded from a Pinterest Post)

RENO THE PEEPER: Today’s Your History Moment is presented in honor of the Anniversary of the Battle of Little Big Horn.   Major Marcus Reno, Custer’s Senior Staff Officer and second in command, led a shabby post Little Big Horn career.

After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, Reno was assigned the command of Fort Abercrombie in December 1876, he was charged with making unwanted advances toward the wife of another officer of the 7th Cavalry, Captain James Bell, while Bell was away from the fort. An Episcopal minister, the Rev. Richard Wainwright, was staying with the Bells, and became concerned enough about Reno’s behavior to persuade Capt. Bell to file charges against Reno for immoral conduct.  Complaints of public indecency we duly filed but dropped by the Commander of the 7th, Col. Samuel Sturgis.  Most of the incidents happened at parties and public gatherings where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed, and in the 19th century U.S. Army on the Plains, being a drunkard hardly made you a standout.

Responding to charges of cowardice and drunkenness at the Little Big Horn, Reno later demanded and was granted a Court of Inquiry. The court convened in Chicago in January 1879, and called as witnesses most of the surviving officers who had been in the fight. Enlisted men later stated they had been coerced into giving a positive report to both Reno and Benteen. The court reporter who contacted General Nelson Miles, then head of the Army, later wrote that the entire inquiry was a whitewash. While the court did not sustain any of the charges against Reno, neither did it single him out for praise.

Once court-martialed for drunkeness and conduct unbecoming an officer, and having survived a Regimental Court of Inquiry that was hardly a prop to his reputation, one might have thought the chastened Reno would have turned over a new leaf and applied himself, but that did not happen.  A second, and far more damning incident where Reno was witnessed peeping at the daughter of his commanding officer,  Col. Sturgis, while she was dressing, occurred.  This time, (to no one’s great surprise) Col. Sturgis was in a less forgiving attitude towards Reno.  The second court martial resulted in Reno being kicked out of the army, where he lived in obscurity & poverty until age 54 in 1889.

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Your History Moment: the REICHARBEITDIENST or RAD

Source: via Walt on Pinterest

(via Pinterest)

The German Labor Service Battalions performed a service similar to the Civilian Construction Corps in America– they provided labor for infrastructure and highway projects for the vast numbers of unemployed workers. Formed in 1934 they continued in force until the end of the war, though many of them were drafted into the fighting by war’s end, and provided auxiliary service as combat engineers.

Your History Moment: The Code of Hammurabi

THE CODE OF HAMMURABI is a large black basalt stela inscribed with ancient Babylonian text. It was discovered intact in 1901 by Jean-Vincent Scheil. The Stela depicts, front and back, almost 300 laws, in conditional if/then format. The Code is a surprisingly sophisticated depiction of the justice system of the time, & demonstrates that it many ways the Babylonians were almost modern in theories of jurisprudence. The Stela isn’t unique; fragments of identical codes have been found elsewhere.

Happy Earth Day.

Carlin said it best.  I miss him.

Rest in peace George.

Your History Moment: John Quincy Adams’ diary from the great hereafter

John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United StatesWell, not exactly the great hereafter.  John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, left a voluminous set of diaries and personal papers for his son, Charles Francis Adams, to sort out and publish after he passed away.   John Q. Adams was a prolific diarist, and he wrote in nicely truncated, terse entries that filled several volumes.  If you’ve been reading this journal for a while, you may realize where this is going.  As it turns out Adam’s diary style is perfect for adapting to Twitter, the micro-blogging phenomenon of recent years.  Following in the footsteps of Samuel Pepys and George Orwell, John Quincy Adams now maintains a daily Twitter account.. from beyond the grave.  The J.Q. Adams Twitter feed is the project of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who retains possession of many of the Adams papers (from both President Adams) and a full set of original published diaries.  Jeremy Dibbell, a librarian with the Massachusetts Historical Society, says that:  “His short entries are surprisingly rich, full of wonderful details about his reading, meals, weather, and shipboard activities.” In short, they are perfect for the 140 word format imposed by the Twitter service.   I love reading journal entries from the past such as the Pepys, Orwell, and Adams diaries.  They offer a window into an entire other world– not from the perspective of great events and earth-shaking historical moments, but from the day to day struggle of living.  I tend to be cynical about many things related to Social Media networks.  For every nugget such as Pepys and Adams twittering we seem to have five waifish college girls trying to get me to see explicit pictures  or ten self-acknowledged network marketing experts earnestly trying to propel me into the world of .. something, I can’t figure out what they’re talking about.   Still, when I discover something like this, it’s all worth it.  I can always filter out the junk.  In honor of this discover, I have added John Q. Adams and his Twitter feed on the right sidebar here on the Third Point of Singularity blog.  This can easily be added to whatever RSS feed aggregator you use, such as bloglines, or yahoo, or Facebook.  Here is the RSS feed:

Related: John Quincy Adams on Twitter

Your History Moment: Father of His Country

George Washington

George Washington

Happy Birthday, George Washington, pioneer, surveyor, inventor, soldier, statesman, first President of the United States. I grew up in a country that venerated our first president, and time has done little to tarnish his image. I respect the courage and sacrifice it took to lead the rough and tumble gang of militia from being several disconnected and chaotic gangs of short-term armed rabble to the instrument of war that became the Continental Army.

Why does this man have such a hold on our affections, even to this day?   Because of the moral courage and rigid self-discipline he displayed all his life.  There have been plenty of modern history works that take potshots at our founding fathers– portraying them in less than glowing terms so that the reader can see the whole man, warts and all.  Such a work was McCullough’s JOHN ADAMS, recently turned into an excellent miniseries on HBO.  Adams was a complicated man, as McCullough portrays him, and not above self-interest.   Yet he was also a great man, and it took just as much moral courage for him to do the dog-work of building a nation as it took for Washington to lead the Continental Army.  Somehow, Washington consistently avoids being tarnished by revisionist historians seeking to breathe new life into an old subject.  I recently read HIS EXCELLENCY by Joseph Ellis, and everything you  might expect from the new breed of historian seeking the warts and all approach was there: political and family patronage in the young Virginia colony, political maneuvering, self-promotion, slaveowning, marrying for profit, and other things.  A fascinating and worthwhile biography of a man who left little personal papers (of his early life, in any rate) for historians and biographers to build upon.  With all that acknowledged, Washington remains a product of his century and STILL is deserving of the accolades history has heaped upon him.  It took personal and moral courage to make such a public break with England at the time.  The Founding Fathers often were one jump ahead of the hangman’s noose.  For such a prominent and already wealthy Virginia planter to throw his lot in with this rabble of political animals from New England– it’s as if George Bush suddenly joined the Peace Corps and started building houses for poor people in New Guinea.  Possible, sure, but highly unlikely.  Once Washington volunteered to lend both his services and his prestige to leading the Continental Militia (and later national Army), he did not shrink from the hardship, nor the task ahead.  Centuries later, the mind still has a hard time grasping the obvious facts of the matter.  A divided organization of colonies, nowhere holding a universal majority of opinion on whether to break from the parent country, sets out to enter into hostilities with the Super Power of the day, using a motley carnival of state troops armed with almost nothing, with no uniforms, no logistical experience, and hardly any artillery or cavalry.  Washington grasped, early on, that he had to discard the European notions of victory on the battlefield and battlefield control.  To ultimately win against the British, he had to keep his army alive and avoid losing.  Just that…  against a force of overwhelming power, with supreme (almost arrogant) control of the seaways, and a burgeoning force of German mercenaries at its disposal.  ANY man would have been daunted.  George Washington certainly was.  But he rarely showed it.  Victory was a long, hard slog and yet he endured the struggle with a supernatural calm and rigid self-control that rarely seems to have faltered.  From the snippets left by biographers and memoir writers, Washington, the general, rarely demonstrated anger– but when he did, it was monumentally well deserved.  When the time came to make peace with Great Britain, Washington was adamant that our former foes be treated amicably and honorably.  He realized we would not benefit as a nation by making an enduring enemy of our former parent country.   His foreign policy, such as it was in the first years of the Republic, did what it could to reestablish ties with the UK and France whilst staying manifestly unconcerned with their internal troubles– a foreign policy stance that would not radically change for decades. 
So hats off to General Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.  In the person of George Washington, the man and his hour were met, and our country can continue to be thankful for that happy alignment of the planets that brough the man and his times together.  Happy birthday, George!

Your History Moment: What if Leonardo da Vinci wrote a resume? Oh yeah, he did.

Having my resume out there from time to time has had me show up on a lot of career advice and headhunting websites.  One of them,, sent me an interesting post last night.  What if Leonardo Da Vinci wrote a resume?  The rest of the email was about allegory and advice, but the CEO of theLadders must be a history geek like me, because he did in fact find an example of a resume written by Leonardo himself, sent to the Duke of Milan when Da Vinci was in his 30s.  Here it is:

Leonardo's Resume

Leonardo's Resume! Click to see larger image.

If your Renaissance Italian is rusty, it reads like so:

“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

3. If, by reason of the height of the banks, or the strength of the place and its position, it is impossible, when besieging a place, to avail oneself of the plan of bombardment, I have methods for destroying every rock or other fortress, even if it were founded on a rock, etc.

4. Again, I have kinds of mortars; most convenient and easy to carry; and with these I can fling small stones almost resembling a storm; and with the smoke of these cause great terror to the enemy, to his great detriment and confusion.

5. And if the fight should be at sea I have kinds of many machines most efficient for offense and defense; and vessels which will resist the attack of the largest guns and powder and fumes.

6. I have means by secret and tortuous mines and ways, made without noise, to reach a designated spot, even if it were needed to pass under a trench or a river.

7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

8. In case of need I will make big guns, mortars, and light ordnance of fine and useful forms, out of the common type.

9. Where the operation of bombardment might fail, I would contrive catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other machines of marvelous efficacy and not in common use. And in short, according to the variety of cases, I can contrive various and endless means of offense and defense.

10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

11. I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.

Again, the bronze horse may be taken in hand, which is to be to the immortal glory and eternal honor of the prince your father of happy memory, and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the above-named things seem to anyone to be impossible or not feasible, I am most ready to make the experiment in your park, or in whatever place may please your Excellency – to whom I comment myself with the utmost humility, etc.”

The email was focused on how Leonardo marketed his skills– not by listing his artwork, sculpture, and artistic achievements, but on the engines of war that he had built or could build for the Duke of Milan. Good marketing, thought the guy from TheLadders. And he’s right. It was an excellent email from the headhunter, too, as it illustrates these principles marvelously. But put that aside for a second. Read some of these statements.

7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

Makes one wonder, does it not? Is this not a description of armored support for an infantry attack?

How much of this was actually realizable to Leonardo in this time period, and how much was flights of fancy? No one can really say… only intriguing fragments like this letter can really provide a testament to that time.

Your History Moment (Sort of): Danged straight it’s too late to apologize!

As I firmly maintain on this journal and elsewhere, I am resolutely ignorant of popular music beyond the occasional delightful surprise.  So I didn’t “get” the musical reference here until I heard my daughter listening to the original song.  THEN, well.. it’s just hilarious.  Have a look, TJ and the Revos are the bomb.