On the road from Kingston…

December 22, 2009 at 5:34 am | Posted in Technology, World History, World of Ideas | 2 Comments

On our way back from a night’s stay in Kingston, we tried to stop in at a Canadian Penetentiary Museum in town, but alas, it was closed. As we were turning to leave, a red fox streaked by at a fast run.

Later, we stopped in at the Canadian Aviation Museum (or maybe the Canadian Airforce Museum?). I didn’t expect to be engaged, but ended up finding it fascinating. The planes themselves were the most interesting. They had a full-scale replica of an early flying machine. The wings were of stretched silk, the body of wood, with copper strips and rivets holding the separate pieces of luminous, varnished planks together. It had a single “ski”, instead of dual pontoons, for a water takeoff or landing, and the two wings had tiny little wooden pontoons at the very ends. The seats for the two riders were miniscule, and I cannot imagine even a regular-sized adult fitting into either of them, today.

The device, the gears, the rest of it was all lashed together with an exquisitely crisscrossed mass of thin metal cables. It looked beautiful–a strange mix of organic warmth (the wood, the silk) and rigorous, symmetrical structure. It also looked dauntingly fragile–those cables were thin, and I can only imagine the kinds of stresses they would be subjected to in flight. And nothing–no protective metal covering or any other kind of reinforcement to help alleviate that stress. A few, key snaps of cable and it all would come tumbling down.

Somehow, it felt like it had been pulled from a dreamer’s fancy–and, too, it seemed like a testament to the amazing, fragile wondrousness of our ability to imagine, and plan and then bring those imaginings into the world and to give them solid form.

We envisage dreams and nightmares both, and they come when called. This, at least, was a dream, though the nightmares came too–and were hinted at in other parts of the museum (the boys whose planes were shot down–who were immolated in midair, or lived out years in prison camps).

All this (and more), on the road between Toronto and Kingston.


Imperial History of the Middle East in 90 seconds

May 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Posted in World History | Leave a comment

This looks to be a fascinating website. With the use of a timeline and a world map, the above video graphically depicts the different Imperial expansions that swept through the middle east throughout history–in 90 seconds. It’s really interesting to visually observe the scope of some of those empires, like that of Alexander the Great. To imagine that he conquered such a vast territory over the course of his short life, in a period where such distances would not have been easily traversed really fascinates me. Of course, as I watched, I was waiting for the Mongol empire–and truly, it was an impressive spectacle.

The website also has maps that show the history of religion as well as of various long-term conflicts.

Imperial History of the Middle East.

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