Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sexy Astronomers of History [No. 5]

Collect 'em all!

Tycho Ottesen Brahe
(Dec 14, 1546 – Oct 24, 1601)
Birthplace:  Scania, Denmark (modern-day Sweden)
Culture-shaping contribution:  A Danish nobelmen with a gift for math, Brahe shattered the idea of a fixed celestial realm. By building on the work of Copernicus and Ptolemy, and making accurate observations without a telescope, Brahe proved that comets, supernovae were not atmospheric disturbances, but astronomical phenomena happening well beyond the Earth and moon's orbits.
Fun fact:  At a wedding dance on December 19, 1566, Brahe argued with a cousin regarding a math problem (!) -- it escalated into a duel during which Brahe's nose was cut off. For the remainder of his life, he wore a false nose, likely made of copper, glued to his face. It is unknown if Brahe ever got busy in a Burger King bathroom.
Bonus fun fact:  Brahe also had a pet moose that met a tragic end. Ah, the pasttimes of the wealthy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sexy Astronomers of History [No. 4]

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Carl Edward Sagan
(Nov 9, 1934 – Dec 20, 1996)
Birthplace:  (Brookly, NY, United States)
Culture-shaping contribution:  Made astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology appealing to the masses via his unequalled educational television series Cosmos, based on his book of the same name. Is also responsible for the Baloney Detection Kit, an invaluable guide to testing arguments.
Fun fact:  Wrote an essay on the benefits of smoking cannabis for a 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered. Sagan, using the pseudonym "Mr. X", claimed his use of the drug had not only enhanced sensual and intellectual experiences but had also inspired some of his works. Mr. X's true identity was revealed shortly after Sagan's death.

Friday, September 21, 2012

3:49 a.m. Pacific Time

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Sept 22, 2012, the Autumnal Equinox will happen and per the calendar most of us follow, it will officially be fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

No matter when you're reading this, please take a moment to pause and reflect on your summer. The Typing Monkey hopes you had fun and managed to get out and feel the sun on your skin.

And now this:

[courtesy of metalboombox]

A Bedside Grimoire

As you've no doubt read, heard or seen by now, a historian of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School has gone public with the story of an aged piece of papyrus with Coptic script referencing Jesus and his wife.

It's an interesting item, a good story and, if legitimate, something that might force many Christian churches to rethink some of the tenets they've been following for about 1,500 years.

However we're going to use that tale of a lost text as a launching point to talk about another lost text recently resurfaced, The Long Lost Friend. It's a new translation of John George Hohman's Der lange verborgene Freund ('The Long-Hidden Friend') -- a book of practical magic originally published in 1820.

Hohman was an immigrant and published his book in America, with translations making the rounds quickly, as many in and out of the frontier took quickly to the book's German folk medicine and Native American herbal remedies, as well as the easily recited/copied incantations to keep witchcraft and evil at bay.

Friend is practical magic, don't forget. It's not some spell book with oogy verses in dead languages that will bring monsters forth from the bowels of Hell. The spells all apply directly to the things that any reasonable person in the still-wild United States would want to protect.

Friend was so popular for a time that both the medical establishment and clergy in the United States worked hard to discredit Hohman and his text. A major reason for their disdain was not just the medicinal recipies and magic that cut into their respective businesses, the doctors and preachers were defending themselves, as Hohman often derides both in the book.

Read Stefany Anne Golberg's review of Daniel Harms' translation of The Long Lost Friend. Her take casts Hohman's work as America's first (and finest?) self-help book. She might be right.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sexy Astronomers of History [No. 3]

Collect 'em all!

Ibn Yunis
(c. 950-1009)
Birthplace:  Egypt (assumed)
Culture-shaping Contribution:  Collected his celestial observations in a volume, al-Zij al-Kabir al-Hakimi. Half the collection has survived the millennium that's since passed and his calculations are considered incredibly accurate, including predictions of eclipses and conjunctions.
Fun fact:  Yunis, whose full name is Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad ibn Yunus al-Sadafi al-Misri, used a large -- as in 4.5 feed wide -- astrolabe to work out his calculations. Since we don't have a picture of Yunis, we've included a picture of an astrolabe instead.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sexy Astronomers of History [No. 2]

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Percival Lowell
(Mar 13, 1855 – Nov 12, 1916)
Birthplace:  Boston, Massachusetts
Culture-shaping contribution:  Building the observatory that bears  his name on a high-elevation piece of land, away from city lights, in a climate where cloud cover is infrequent, a standard for terrestrial observatories ever since. His search for the apocryphal "Planet X" helped lead to the discovery of Pluto.
Fun fact:  Lowell spent years observing and sketching Mars, convinced that surface features he saw were canals, and thus proof that Martian life was not only real but an intelligent species. Though his notion was doubted even at the time, he set the public's imagination into motion and his thoughts about civilizations on the red planet influenced science fiction writing, including H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Who will do that now?"

The BBC News Magazine recently published a sad, strange story about women in Ghana who are accused of witchcraft. The accused are usually old and the assignment of guilt, just as it was across 16th century Europe and the American colonies in the 17th century, springs from coincidental events that have nothing to do with the women.

In a kinder, gentler twist, the Ghanan women have taken to living in witch camps. Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sexy Astronomers of History [No. 1]

With Labor Day behind us, summer is unofficially over and kids across the country are back in school. So in the spirit of learning stuff, The Typing Monkey proudly presents:

Collect ‘em all!

Nicolaus Copernicus
(b. Feb 19, 1473 – d. May 24, 1543)
Birthplace:  Torun, Poland
Culture-shaping contribution:  The comprehensive heliocentric cosmology.  Copernicus broke the news to 16th century Europe that the Earth was not the center of the universe around which all heavenly bodies revolved. Though he did claim the sun was the center of the universe, his heliocentric theory was a major step in the right direction.
Fun fact:  Copernicus was a true renaissance man. Among other endeavors, he was an artist, physician, lawyer, and spoke at least four languages fluently.