Science History

... India, actually.

Today, Wikipedia flagged up a new article, Coffee production in India, with a interesting piece of history.  Quoting in full from the article:
A Waymark Called Hvitsark


The Vikings did not use charts and instruments to navigate the open seas.  Having developed skills in coastal navigation they extended those skills to pelagic navigation, or 'island-hopping'.  Using the sun as a reference to determine where south lies, the Vikings could sail a reasonably accurate course.  If the wind was steady, the wind itself could be used as an aid to direction if the sun was hidden by heavy cloud.  It was only when wind and sun both failed the navigator that he was likely to miss his mark.


A Viking ship sailing on a beam reach.
Screenshot from The Vikings, 1958.
At The Hazard Of His Ears

What has the hazard of a person's ears to do with science history?

The history of Arctic science, exploration and discovery is sprinkled with many as yet unsolved mysteries, many concerning the meanings of words in old documents.  In this, the first article in a short series, I present my thoughts on some of these mysteries for discussion.  By clarifying an obscure passage in an old document we may add to its credibility as a source of historical or scientific data.  Thus the solving of these mysteries will - I suggest - add to our knowledge of Arctic history, and hence of Arctic science.
Having read the biography of Oliver Heaviside, I remain aware that I am not really au fait with inductance as I am with resistance and capacitance.  Searching without much success for a textbook that would explain it in a way I could understand, I came upon A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism - Volume 2 by James Clerk Maxwell.  Turning to the relevant section, my eye fell upon this:

“England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, heresy, anomalies.”
So wrote George Santayana http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana in 1922.
Sydney Brenner and Francis Crick shared a lab from 1956 to 1977 and in boxes of papers donated to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library, some choice bits of biology history were discovered and Nature was first with the story.   Crick thought his earlier personal papers had been thrown out by a secretary, but it turns out some still existed and had been mixed with Brenner's.
Even though Halley's Comet has a regular orbit it's not an easy task to map its appearances throughout history - and it may be that one of those appearances matches an ancient Greek testimony and has only now been realized, write Daniel W. Graham and Eric Hintz in the Journal of Cosmology, which would make it the first scientific claim about the famous extraterrestrial event.

In 1705, Edmond Halley used Newtonian theory and predicted the return of a comet seen in 1682.  It did return as predicted, in 1758, putting Halley on the stellar map and driving a stake into the evil hearts of competing theories to Newton.  

It may surprise those who know of my Ulster Protestant background that I am something of a fan of Flannery O’Connor.  As yet, I have not delved into her novels, but I have read all her stories, and also Mystery and Manners : Occasional Prose, from which I take the following

The Rise Of The Time Machines


Do you own a time machine?  The chances are that if you are reading this, then you own a time machine.  They are fairly cheap nowadays.  Like so many things, the first time machine was built for the military and cost a lot of money.

What do you think happened to the first person to claim to be able to predict the future using a machine built on scientific principles?  You may think he was treated with scorn, treated as a crank.  In fact he was given lots of money.

His invention was funded, not because the government of the day went to school with him, but because he was able to validate his method.  Scientists using the same method were able to predict future events with great accuracy.
The 4th of July is a holiday in the United States because it's the day a group of British citizens decided to throw off the shackles of tyranny and go out on their own, and they inspired a nation to join them.   Or, if you are one of those self-loathing cynical Americans who don't realize how lucky you are to be born in a wealthy western country, it is a day when a bunch of rich guys decided they didn't want to pay their taxes(1).

But the 4th of July is not just history, it's also apple pie, motherhood and ... chemistry.