Tuesday, January 30, 2007

50, 100, 150 Years Ago


BOREDOM --"In this age of semi-automation, when not only military personnel but also many industrial workers have little to do but keep a constant watch on instruments, the problem of human behavior in monotonous situations is becoming acute. In 1951 McGill University psychologist Donald O. Hebb obtained a grant from the Defense Research Board of Canada to make a systematic study. Prolonged exposure to a monotonous environment has definitely deleterious effects. The individual's thinking is impaired; he shows childish emotional responses; his visual perception becomes disturbed; he suffers from hallucinations; his brain-wave pattern changes."

ANXIETY --"In the past year and a half prescription sales of the tranquilizing drug meprobamate, better known as Miltown and Equanil, have jumped to the rate of $32.5 million a year. More than a billion tablets have been sold, and the monthly production of 50 tons falls far short of the demand. Some California druggists herald each new shipment with colored window streamers reading, 'Yes, we have Miltown today!'"


AUTO CHIC --"The improved appearance of this year's cars is largely aided by the considerable increase in the wheel base which, in the case of some of the heavier machines, is now as great as 123 inches. Furthermore, the use of six-cylinder motors has brought with it a considerable increase in the length of the bonnet, and this also adds to the generally rakish and smart appearance of the up-to-date machine. By a judicious attention to these principles, the builders of even the low-powered and low-priced machines have succeeded in giving to their output a style which was altogether lacking in the earlier models."

FLYING FOR SPORT AND WAR --"With mechanical aeroplane flight an accomplished fact, we may now look for a diversion of interest from the dirigible balloon to the aeroplane proper. Its field of usefulness will be found chiefly in military service, where it will be invaluable for reconnoitering purposes and for the conveyance of swift dispatches. In all probability its chief development ultimately will be in the field of sport, where it should enjoy a popularity equal to that of the automobile."

TEA MONEY --"The queerest use to which brick-tea (tea leaves compressed into a block) has ever been put in the Orient is in the capacity of money. It is still in circulation as a medium of exchange in the far-inland Chinese towns and central Asian marts and bazaars. Between the Mongolian town of Urga and the Siberian town of Kiakta, there is as much as half a million taels (say $600,000) of this money in circulation. At the latter place it ceases to be used as currency, and enters into the regular brick-tea trade of Siberia and Russia, where it is largely used in the Russian army, by surveying engineers, touring theatrical companies, and tourists in general."


REALITY THEATER --"A severe test of the strength of the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls was afforded by the gale on the evening of the 13th of last month, when the toll gatherers deserted their posts at either end, and crowds assembled to see it fall, but it stood like a rock."

DR. LIVINGSTONE'S TALES --"The celebrated traveler Dr. Livingstone has been lecturing since his return to England. During his unprecedented march, alone among savages, to whom a white face was a miracle, Dr. Livingstone was compelled to struggle through indescribable hardships--he conquered the hostility of the natives by his intimate knowledge of their character and the Bechuana tongue. He waded rivers and slept in the sponge and ooze of marshes, being often so drenched as to be compelled to turn his arm-pit into a watch-pocket. Lions were numerous, being worshiped by many of the tribes as the receptacles of the departed souls of their chiefs; however, he thinks the fear of African wild beasts greater in England than in Africa."

Scientific American, Jan2007

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