Daily Q.I.

Who invented the telephone?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="75" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]Antonio Meucci (1808 - 1889), inventore del te...[/caption]

An erratic, sometimes brilliant, Florentine inventor, Meucci arrived in the USA in 1850. In 1860, he first demonstrated a working model of an electric device he called the teletrofono. He filed a caveat (a kind of stopgap patent) in 1871, five years before Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent.
In the same year, Meucci fell ill after he was badly scalded when the Staten Island ferry’s boiler exploded. Unable to speak much English, and living on the dole, he failed to send the $10 required to renew his caveat in 1874. When Bell’s patent was registered in 1876, Meucci sued. He’d sent his original sketches and working models to the lab at Western Union. By an extraordinary coincidence, Bell worked in the very same lab and the models had mysteriously disappeared.
Meucci died in 1889, while his case against Bell was still under way. As a result, it was Bell, not Meucci who got the credit for the invention. In 2004, the balance was partly redressed by the US House of Representatives who passed a resolution that ‘the life and achievements of Antonio Meucci should be
recognized, and his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged.’ Not that Bell was a complete fraud. As a young man he did teach his dog to say ‘How are you, grandmamma?’ as a way of communicating with her when she was in a different room. And he made the telephone a practical tool.
Like his friend Thomas Edison, Bell was relentless in his search for novelty. And, like Edison, he wasn’t always successful. His metal detector failed to locate the bullet in the body of the stricken President James Garfield. It seems Bell’s machine was confused by the President’s metal bed-springs.
Bell’s foray into animal genetics was driven by his desire to increase the numbers of twin and triplet births in sheep. He noticed that sheep with more than two nipples produced more twins. All he managed to produce was sheep with more nipples.
On the plus side, he did help to invent a hydrofoil, the HP 4, which set the world water-speed record of 114 kph (70.84 mph) in 1919 and stood for ten years. Bell was eighty-two at the time and wisely refused to travel in it. Bell always referred to himself first and foremost as a ‘teacher of the deaf’. His mother and wife were deaf and he taught the young Helen Keller. She dedicated her autobiography to him.

How many trees in the Garden of Eden ?

Contrary to popular belief, Adam and Eve did not eat an Apple in the book of Genesis. The fruit is not actually named at all – it is referred to only as the fruit of “the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil”. The reason this misconception has come about is most likely due to the fact that in Middle English, the word “apple” was used to refer to all fruit and nuts (except berries). Over the centuries, this word has stuck in reference to the Genesis fruit. [Genesis 2:17]

Where was the guillotine invented?
Halifax in Yorkshire. The Halifax Gibbet consisted of two fifteen-foot wooden uprights between which hung an iron axe mounted on a lead-filled cross-beam controlled by a rope and pulley. Official records show at least fifty-three people were executed using it between 1286 and 1650. Medieval Halifax made its fortune from the cloth trade. Large quantities of expensive cloth were left outside the mills to dry on frames. Theft was a serious problem and the town’s merchants needed an efficient deterrent.

This, and a similar, later, Scottish device called the Maiden, may well have inspired the French to borrow the idea and come up with their own name. Dr Joseph Ignace Guillotin was a humane, mild-mannered doctor who disliked public executions. In 1789, he put to the National Assembly an ambitious
plan to reform the French penal system and make it more humane. He proposed a standardised mechanical method of execution which didn’t discriminate against the poor (who were hanged in a rough manner), as opposed to the rich (who were relatively cleanly beheaded).
Most of the proposals were rejected out of hand, but the notion of an efficient killing engine stuck. Guillotin’s recommendation was picked up and refined by Dr Antoine Louis, the Secretary of the Academy of Surgeons. It was he, not Guillotin, who produced the first working device with its
characteristic diagonal blade in 1792. It was even called, briefly, a Louison or Louisette, after its sponsor. But somehow, Guillotin’s name became attached to it and, despite the best efforts of his family, there it has stubbornly remained. Contrary to popular folklore, Guillotin was not killed by his eponymous machine; he died in 1814 from an infected carbuncle on his shoulder.
The guillotine became the first ‘democratic’ method of execution and was adopted throughout France. In its first ten years, historians estimate 15,000 people were decapitated. Only Nazi Germany has used it to execute more, with an estimated 40,000 criminals being guillotined between 1938 and 1945.
The last French person to be guillotined was a Tunisian immigrant called Hamida Djandoubi, for the rape and murder of a girl in 1977. The death penalty was finally abolished in France in 1981. It is impossible to test accurately how long a severed head remains conscious, if at all. The best estimate is between five and thirteen seconds.

When does ‘ring-a-ring o’ roses’ date from?
The seventeenth century, surely? It’s about the plague: the rings of roses are skin lesions, the first signs of infection; the posies are the doomed attempts to keep the disease at bay; the sneezing is a symptom of the advancing sickness; ‘all fall down’ is death.
Like most attempts to attribute precise historical meaning to nursery rhymes this doesn’t hold water. It was first advanced in 1961 by the popular novelist James Leasor in his racy account of life in seventeenth-century London, The Plague and the Fire. Until then, there was no obvious connection
(and no evidence) that the rhyme had been sung in this form for almost 400 years as a way of preserving the trauma of the plague. That’s because it hadn’t. The very earliest recorded version comes from Massachusetts in 1790:

Ring a ring a rosie
A bottle full of posie,
All the girls in our town
Ring for little Josie.
There are French, German and even Gaelic versions. Several have a second verse where everyone gets up again; others mention wedding bells, pails of water, birds, steeples, Jacks, Jills and other favourite nursery images. A more credible theory is that the rhyme grew out of a ring game, a staple element of the ‘play-parties’ which had grown up in Protestant communities in eighteenth-century America and Britain where dancing was forbidden. ‘Ring-a-ring o’ roses’ remains our most popular ring game today.
Henry Bett in his 1924 collection of Nursery Rhymes and Tales took the view that the rhyme is of an age ‘to be measured in thousands of years, or rather it is so great it cannot be measured at all.’

Which eye did Nelson wear his eye-patch on?
Neither. Nelson never wore an eye-patch.
He didn’t wear anything at all over his damaged right eye, though he had an eye-shade built into his hat to protect his good left eye from the sun. Nelson didn’t have a ‘blind’ eye. His right one was badly damaged (but not blinded) at the siege of Calvi in Corsica in 1794. A French cannon ball threw
sand and debris into it, but it still looked normal – so normal, in fact, he had difficulty convincing the Royal Navy he was eligible for a disability pension. There is no contemporary portrait of Nelson wearing an eye-patch, and despite what most people recall having ‘seen’, the Trafalgar Square column shows him without an eye-patch. It was only after his death that the eye-patch was used to add pathos to portraits.
He used the damaged eye to his advantage. At the battle of Copenhagen in 1801, he ignored the recall signal issued by his superior Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Nelson, who was in a much better position than Parker to see that the Danes were on the run, said to his flag-captain: ‘You know, Foley, I only
have one eye – I have the right to be blind sometimes.’
He then held his telescope to his blind eye and said: ‘I really do not see the signal!’ This is usually misquoted as: ‘I see no ships.’ Nelson was a brilliant tactician, a charismatic leader and undeniably brave – had he been alive today he would have been eligible for at least three Victoria Crosses – but he was also vain and ruthless.
As captain of HMS Boreas in 1784 he ordered 54 of his 122 seamen and 12 of his 20 marines flogged – 47 per cent of the men aboard. In June 1799, he treacherously executed 99 prisoners of war in Naples, after the British commander of the garrison had guaranteed their safety. While in Naples, Nelson began an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton, wife of the British ambassador. Her father had been a blacksmith and she a teenage prostitute in London before marrying Sir William. She was enormously fat and had a Lancashire accent. Another admirer of Nelson was Patrick Brunty, a Yorkshire parson of Irish descent, who changed his surname to Brontë after the King of Naples created Nelson Duke of Bronte. Had he not done so, his famous daughters would have been Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brunty.
In contrast to the public grief at news of Nelson’s death, Earl St Vincent and eighteen other admirals of the Royal Navy refused to attend his funeral.

What’s the commonest material in the world?
a) Oxygen
b) Carbon
c) Nitrogen
d) Water
None of the above. The answer is perovskite, a mineral compound of magnesium, silicon and oxygen.
Perovskite accounts for about half the total mass of the planet. It’s what the Earth’s mantle is mostly made from. Or so scientists suppose: nobody has yet taken a sample to prove it. Perovskites are a family of minerals named after the Russian mineralogist Count Lev Perovski in 1839. They may prove to be the Holy Grail of superconductor research – a material that can conduct electricity without resistance at normal temperatures.
This would make a world of ‘floating’ trains and unimaginably fast computers a reality. At present, superconductors only function at unhelpfully low temperatures (the best so far recorded is –135 °C).
Apart from perovskite, it is thought that the mantle is made from magnesio-wusstite (a form of magnesium oxide also found in meteorites), and a small amount of shistovite (named after Lev Shistov, a graduate student at Moscow University, who synthesised a new high-pressure form of silicon oxide in his lab in 1959).
The earth’s mantle sits between the crust and the core. It is generally assumed to be solid, but some scientists believe that it is actually a very slowmoving liquid. How do we know any of this? Even the rocks spewed out of volcanoes have only come from the first 200 km (125 miles) below the surface and it’s 660 km (over 400 miles) before the lower mantle starts. By sending pulses of seismic waves downwards and recording the resistance they encounter, both the density and the temperature of the Earth’s
interior can be estimated.
This can then be matched to what we already know about the structure of minerals we do have samples of – from the crust and in meteorites – and what happens to these minerals under intense heat and high pressure. But like much else in science, it’s really only a highly educated guess.