Saturday, January 20, 2018

Victorian Architecture

The Carson Mansion - is a Queen Anne Victorian mansion at 143 M Street in Eureka, Northern California
Photo: Wikimedia
In Eureka, California sits one of the most beautiful examples of Victorian Architecture. The Carson Mansion, with its 18 rooms and excess of 16,200 square feet was constructed between 1884 and 1886. The cost of this structure was an incredible $80,000.

It is a mix of every major style of Victorian Architecture and is the most written about, most photographed house in California, possibly the U.S.

Victorian Architecture is known by many other names and can be of various styles. The building period of Victorian Architecture overlaps the reign of Queen Victoria, for whom it was named.

These structures are highly decorated and so aptly nicknamed Gingerbread houses for all of their pieces and gingerbread type scrollwork and ornamentation.

Interestingly enough, in the U.S., Toledo, Ohio is recognized as having one of the largest collections of Victorian homes, East of the Mississippi. Boston is noted in the National Register of Historic Places as having the oldest Victorian neighborhood in the U.S.

But of course, the U.S. isn’t the only place where these intricate creations of Victorian Architecture can be found. Notable Victorian-era cities range from London to Glasgow to Melbourne and to New Orleans.

Typical Victorian Architecture is grand in size, containing many functional rooms and passageways throughout the structure. Most throughout the country are not only fancifully decorated with intricate woodwork throughout, but they are usually known for their grand color schemes, both on the exterior and interior. Large inviting rooms welcome guests into their depths.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Stun Guns

Stun Gun - Photo: Wikimedia
The Stun gun is an effective weapon used to subdue a person by administering an electric shock that disrupts muscle function for a limited amount of time.

While the taser fires projectiles that administer the shock, the stun gun is a handheld weapon that causes a shock in direct contact.

Stun Guns use a temporary high voltage low current electrical charge to stun the body’s muscles and immobilize the recipient.

The recipient feels pain and is momentarily paralyzed. It is also reported that applying the stun gun to more sensitive spots on the body will cause more pain.

Tests show the most effective parts of the body to stun are the upper shoulder, below the rib cage, and the upper hip. The resulting shock causes muscles to twitch uncontrollably, like muscle spasms.

The margin of safety on the use of stun guns depends highly on the overall general health of the person receiving the shock. There is some controversy over the use of the stun guns.

The internal workings are basic and simple, based on either an oscillator, resonant circuit, and set-up transformer or diodecapicator voltage multiplier. This is what causes the continuous, direct, or alternating high-voltage discharge.

They are powered usually on one or two batteries depending on the manufacturer. The power of the output current depends on the recipient resistance, skin type, moisture, clothing, and the battery conditions.

A shock lasting about half a second will cause intense pain and muscle contractions, which startle most people. Two to three seconds will often cause the target to become dazed and drop to the ground, and over three seconds will usually completely disorientate and drop an attacker for several seconds.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ashby Castle

A view through the trees of Ashby de la Zouch castle - Photo: Wikimedia
Ashby-de-la-Zouche takes its name from the Zouche family whose line died out in 1399.  In 1464, Ashby was one of the estates granted to William, Lord Hastings, as a reward for his services to Edward IV.  Hastings held the office of Lord Chamberlain and, in 1474, he obtained a license to crenelate his houses at Ashby and Kirby Muxloe.

During the Civil War, Henry Hastings strengthened the castle with earthen redoubts and turned it into the chief center of Royalist resistance in the county.  The garrison endured over a year of siege before surrendering on honorable terms in February 1646.  The Hastings Tower was slighted by order of Parliament, but the rest of the castle remained habitable into the eighteenth century.  It is now all ruined.

Before Lord Hastings, there was only a manor house here, though it was a fine one in keeping with the status of the Zouches.  Hastings made the older buildings the core of his mansion.  They form a range centered upon a late Norman hall, flanked by the solar and a buttery and pantry wing.  In the fourteenth century, the massive kitchen was added to the complex. Lord Hastings modernized these buildings and extended the range with the addition of a fine chapel in the prevailing Perpendicular style.

Following the license to crenelate, he built a curtain around the manor house and raised the mighty square tower, which is named after him.  The curtain cannot have been a very formidable obstacle - only a portion survives-but the Hastings Tower is still impressive.  It is one of the best examples of a late medieval tower house, providing its owner with a dignified but secure residence.  It stands detached from the manorial buildings, facing them across the courtyard.  The tower is built in very fine ashlar masonry.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Life of Leonardo da Vinci

Nacio:Vinci, Toscana, 1452 MuriĆ³: Amboise, Turena, 1519 - Photo: Wikimedia
Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, cartographer, engineer, scientist and inventor in the 15th century. Yet, despite his genius, he referred to himself as "senza lettere" (the illiterate, the man without letters).  For good reason: until late in life, he was unable to read, or write, Latin, the language used by virtually all other Renaissance intellectuals, the lingua franca, akin to English today. Nor was he acquainted with mathematics until he was 30.

Leonardo was born out of wedlock but was raised by his real father, a wealthy Florentine notary. He served at least ten years (1466-1476) as Garzone (apprentice) to Andrea del Verrocchio and painted details in Verrocchio's canvasses. Only in 1478, when he was 26, did he become independent. 

He was not off to an auspicious start. He never executed his first commission (an altarpiece in the chapel of the Palazzo Vecchio della Signoria, Florence's town hall). His first large paintings were left unfinished ("The Adoration of the Magi" and "Saint Jerome", both 1481).

Most of the sketches and studies for Leonardo's works of art and engineering are found on his shopping lists, personal notes, and personal expenditure ledgers.

No one was allowed to enter Leonardo's den, where he kept, as Giorgio Vasari in "Lives of the Artists", describes: "a number of green and other kinds of lizards, crickets, serpents, butterflies, locusts, hats, and various strange creatures of this nature". 

Leonardo's clients were often dissatisfied with his glacial pace, lack of professional discipline, and inability to conclude his assignments. He was frequently involved in litigation. The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception sued him when he failed to produce the Virgin on the Rocks, an altarpiece they commissioned from him in 1483. The court proceedings lasted 10 years. The head of Jesus in "The Last Supper" was left blank because Leonardo did not dare to paint a human model, nor did he trust his imagination sufficiently. Leonardo worked four years on the Mona Lisa but never completed it, either. He carried it with him wherever he went.

Leonardo's terra cotta model for a colossal bronze sculpture of the father of his benefactor and employer, Ludovico Sforza, was used for target practice by invading French soldiers in 1499. The metal which was supposed to go into this work of art was molded into cannon balls.

Leonardo was a member of the commission which deliberated where to place Michelangelo's magnificent statue of David. His cartographic work was so ahead of its time, that the express highway from Florence to the sea - built in the 20th century - follows precisely the route of a canal he envisioned. His scientific investigations - in anatomy, hydraulics, mechanics, ornithology, botany - are considered valuable to this very day. Bill Gates owns some his notebooks containing scientific data and observations (known as the Codex Hammer).

But Leonardo's loyalties were fickle. He switched sides to the conquering French and in 1506 returned to Milan to work for its French governor, Charles D'Amboise. Later, he became court painter for King Louis XII of France who, at the time, resided in Milan. In 1516, he relocated to France, to serve King Francis I and there he died.

Leonardo summed up the lessons of his art in a series of missives to his students, probably in Milan. These were later (1542) collected by his close associate, Francesco Melzi, as "A Treatise on Painting" and published in print (1651, 1817).

Monday, January 15, 2018

Walt Disney: A Short Bio

Walt Disney 1937 - Photo: Wikimedia
Born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, Illinois to parents Elias Disney and mother Flora Call Disney Walter E. Disney was the best thing that happened to show business in the last century. Walt's family moved to Marceline, Missouri after his birth where he was brought up on a farm. Drawing caught his imagination ever since he was seven years old and he sold his sketches to his neighbors. The family moved to Chicago again where Disney concentrated both on Drawing and Photography in his high school. He also attended the Academy of Fine Arts at night. 

Walt was also attracted to the beauty of nature as he grew up and he began to love and appreciate it. Though his father was particularly opposed to his plans her mother and elder brother Roy encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Disney even tried to get into military service but was rejected because he was only 16 years of age and thus was underage to join military. But he joined Red Cross where he was sent to France and he spent a year there driving an ambulance. 

After returning from France he pursued a career in commercial art and even started a small company called Laugh-O-Grams which went bankrupt soon. This prompted him to go to Hollywood. It is said he had only one suitcase and $20 with him when he went to Hollywood. His elder brother Roy was living in California, he pooled in $250 and they borrowed another $500 and constructed a camera stand. It didn't take a long wait before they received an order from New York to make the first Alice Comedy and they started producing cartoons in the rear of a real estate office in Hollywood.  After successfully making Alice Comedies Walt became a famous figure in Hollywood. 

Walt married one of his employees Lillian Bounds and they had two daughters. The cartoon film Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 and his talents were exposed to the world in a silent cartoon called Plane Crazy. The year coincided with the introduction of sound in movies just before the release of the cartoon. The cartoon character Mickey made its screen debut in Steamboat Willie which was the world's first fully synchronized sound cartoon. The cartoon premiered at the Colony Theater in New York on Nov. 18, 1928. 

Walt was never content with his work and his quest for excellence made him introduce Technicolor in cartoons in 1932. He used multiplane camera technique in 1937. On December 21, 1937, Walt released the first full length animated musical film called "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" made at a whopping cost of $1.5 million. The animated film is still regarded as one of the rare feats of the motion picture industry.

Walt had a studio in Burbank constructed which was ready in 1940 and the employee count went up to 1,000 which comprised of artists, animators, story men, and technicians. Disney used to combine live action with the cartoon medium in 1945 in the musical "The Three Caballeros". Walt went to make many award-winning cartoon films such as "True Life Adventure" series, "The Living Desert" and many more. Disneyland was launched in 1955 with a capital of $17 million and the investment increased by 10 fold within a few years. Walt turned to social causes in 1965 and directed a film on Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow to improve the quality of urban life in America. But Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, leaving many achievements and unfulfilled dreams behind him.

Walt Disney envisioned and had directed to purchase about forty-three square miles of land, double the size of Manhattan Island in central Florida. It took about fifty months to complete the planning and construction of the Walt Disney World which was eventually opened to the public on October 1, 1971. Walk Disney was truly a pioneer and visionary of many modern days' technologies. No wonder why he has received more than 950 honors and 48 Oscar awards and 7 Emmy awards. Truly this man stands out for his outstanding contribution to the improvement of the art of cartoon making.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The US Presidency and Tecumseh's Curse

Battle of Tippecanoe - Photo: Wikimedia
In 1840, General William Henry Harrison easily won the US presidency. He was celebrated as a war hero for having participated in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which defeated Tecumseh's Shawnee forces. However, Harrison's presidency would be short-lived. Some say it's a result of "Tecumseh's Curse".

According to legend, Chief Tecumseh sent a prophetic message to General Harrison. The message contained a premonition outlined by Tecumseh's brother, who had accurately predicted a lunar eclipse and gained credibility as a seer. The Shawnee warning stated that if Harrison were to win the presidential election, he would not finish his term. 

Furthermore, "After him, every great chief chosen every twenty years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people." A curse had supposedly been set on the White House and its future occupants. The legend of the curse was not widely known until 1931 when a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" book brought publicity. In 1980 the Library of Congress would be unable to substantiate that Tecumseh had sent this message. 

Nonetheless, Harrison's presidency was indeed brief and unfortunate. He delivered a long inaugural address on a cold and windy day, and then he was caught in a rainstorm. He contracted a cold that quickly led to pneumonia and death. His death would be seen as the beginning of a long pattern: from 1840 to 1960, presidents elected in a year ending in zero would be assassinated or die of natural causes while in office.

The next supposed victim of the curse was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860. He was assassinated during his second term in 1865, just a few days after the Civil War had officially ended. His assassin was the Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. The twenty-year cycle next met President James Garfield. He took office in March of 1881. He was shot within a few months and died in September of that year. His assassin was Charles Guiteau, who was "upset" after being denied a diplomatic post by Garfield's administration. 

Next, William McKinley survived his first presidential term, but he was elected again in 1900. He was shot in 1901 while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died about a week later. The assassin, Leon Czolgosz, was a self-described anarchist who called McKinley "the enemy of the people". 

Warren Harding was the next president to die while in office. He was elected in 1920. During a 1923 cross-country Voyage of Understanding, President Harding died at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The cause of his death is uncertain. Food poisoning and pneumonia may have been underlying causes. Newspapers cited heart attack or stroke, but suspicions of suicide or murder abound. Harding was an unpopular president and publicly stated that he wasn't fit for office! Some have accused Mrs. Harding of ending her husband's life; he was known to have extra-marital affairs, and he secretly had a child with another woman. 

The 1940 presidential election was met with newspapers headlines shouting "Curse Over the White House!" Franklin Roosevelt was then elected to his third presidential term, and then a fourth in 1944. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945. The course's final victim would be President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960. He was assassinated in 1963 while riding in a motorcade through Dallas. There are many conspiracy theories about his assassination, but Lee Harvey Oswald was officially judged to be the lone gunman. 

The Shawnee curse was well-publicized by the 1980 election. President Carter was asked his opinion about it during a campaign stop that year. He replied, "I'm not afraid. If I knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could, for the last day I could." 

President Ronald Reagan, who was ultimately elected in 1980, is believed to have broken Tecumseh's curse. He escaped a serious assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. within months of his inauguration in 1981.

The curse is also known as the Curse of Tippecanoe, the presidential curse, the zero-year curse, and the twenty-year curse. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

How to Pair Cigars and Alcohol

Cigar and Alcohol - Photo: Pixabay
The cigar has long been viewed as a luxury of the rich and powerful.  Images of well-to-do men puffing on a stogie and swirling a glass of good brandy have been well documented and memorialized in films and TV.  If you are just becoming interested in cigars and would like to relax with a stogie and drink after a long day's work, here are a few tips to get you started.  

Traditionally, the cigar has been paired with a strong drink.  Popular spirits include rum, brandy, or whiskey.  Some argue that a good cigar should always be paired with a strong drink that has a hint of sweetness.  Indeed, cigar smokers have long enjoyed these popular pairings.  For years, the idea of pairing cigars with beer has gone overlooked.  But why overlook good old beer?  Recently, the trend has been to pair cigars with various varieties of beer.  It seems that as cigars have entered the mainstream, it has been democratized and popularized.  What better way to enjoy a puff of this newly popularized treat than to pair it with beer?  

 Pairing a good cigar with a good beer is not an easy feat, but when accomplished, it is well worth the effort.  Much of the pairing has to do with your experience level.  If you are a novice, you will probably need help in pairing your specific cigar with an appropriate beer.  If you have a more experienced palate, and you know what you like, you can probably make connections between certain types of cigars and beers.  

Because cigars are so strong and flavorful, one of the challenges in pairing is to find a beer that complements the intensity of most cigars.  Most cigars will pair nicely with a good barley wine or a single malt scotch.  If your cigar can be described as woody, spicy, with hints of cedar, try pairing it with a barley wine.  The fruity hint of bare wine should complement nicely with the spicy flavor of your cigar.  The combination of a spicy cigar with a slightly fruity beer can create an overall creaminess that enhances the flavors of each significantly.

If you have no clue as to what flavor combinations might work, experiment.  First, find a cigar that you enjoy.  Try to identify the characteristics that you enjoy it.  Then, find a beer whose flavors you think might 'match' or complement the cigar.  Many incredible discoveries have been made in much this same way.