Automaton from “Hugo,” alive and well and living in Philadelphia

February 20, 2012

You saw and loved Scorsese’s “Hugo.”  You rushed home and Googled “Georges Melies,” and you rediscovered a thrilling character from history You wondered:  Surely the automaton was wholly fictional, right?  No one could really make something like that!

Oh, but they did.  The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has one restoredCBS Sunday Morning reported it:

(And then CBS disabled embedding — you’ll have to go watch at YouTube.  Sorry.)

Here, watch this longer piece demonstrating the device:

Steampunkers everywhere are suddenly filled with hope.

But, should we be surprised that mere mechanical devices can do such seemingly wonderous stuff?  Remember the “bird pistols” that were auctioned a few months ago?  And what about all those mechanized clocks in towns and cities across Europe? See the clock tower in Poznan, Poland, for example:

At Mid day everyday, 2 mechanical goats bang their heads together and a guy plays a trumpet.

Amazing stuff was possible, without electronics.  2D animation on film is fantastic.  3d animation of a real object?  It appears just short of miraculous, and then only because we know something about how it was done.  Arthur C. Clarke’s famous Third Law screams to be noted here:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  But of course, no one is making such automata today.  Maybe they are miracles, no?  Bugs Bunny sang, “Carrots are sublime/You get a dozen for dime/It’s magic!”

Magic of and on film, one of the great themes of the movie “Hugo.”

Updated:  More sources (courtesy of Zemanta): 


Get your Texas Drought Survival Package from Texas Parks & Wildlife

February 20, 2012

We’ve had serious rain in Dallas, but most of the state still resides well in the thrall of drought.  Plus, the rains in Dallas have been unseasonal, which suggests the drought is not done with Dallas yet, either.

Texas Parks & Wildlife has words of advice:

More information from TPWD:

The drought has taken a toll on everything from wildlife to water bills. To help Texans cope, Texas Parks and Wildlife is offering a Drought Survival Kit http://www.texasthestateofwater.org/


Presidents Day 2012: Fly your flag today

February 20, 2012

Presidents Day is February 20, 2012 — fly your U.S. flag today.

National Park Service photo, Lincoln Memorial through flags at Washington Monument

The Lincoln Memorial, seen through flags posted at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.; National Park Service Photo via About.com

Oddly enough, some controversy arises from time to time over how to honor President Washington and President Lincoln, and other presidents.  Sometimes the controversy simmers over how to honor great Americans — if Lincoln deserves a day, why not FDR?  Why not Jefferson? — and sometimes the controversy covers more mundane ground — should the federal government give workers a day off?  Should it be on a Monday or Friday to create a three-day weekend to boost tourism?  About.com explains the history of the controversy:

Presidents’ Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or “Old Style” calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split – some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd.

When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn’t seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift three existing holidays (including Washington’s Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington’s Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington’s identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday “Presidents’ Day”, but the idea didn’t go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition.

Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday “President’s Day.” From that point forward, the term “Presidents’ Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales.

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington’s Birthday be “officially” called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.

Fly your flag, read some history, enjoy the day.

More, Resources, and Related Articles:

English: Air Force One, the typical air transp...

President's airplane, Air Force 1, flying over Mount Rushmore National Monument, in South Dakota - Image via Wikipedia


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