Wednesday, December 31, 2008

For Auld Acquaintance Sake

For Auld Acquaintance Sake--another New Year's card that was never sent; the image is printed on a stiff, translucent yellow material, and the ribbon joins this with the paper inner layers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year, From the Old Country

While my grandma's mom came from Bohemia, her father was from Scotland, and Scots-themed New Years' greetings are well represented in the card collection.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Wishbone and Merry Christmas

That's a mighty large wishbone, to support all that holly and mistletoe! 1907 seems to have been a very festive year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Florence Williamson At Year's End, 1907

It's disconcerting for me to think about my grandma, 101 years ago, a young woman putting her postcard collection in an album. I'm closer in age now to what her mother, Agnes Williamson would have been in 1907. Agnes was born in Bohemia and married to a Scotsman in Iowa. Her childhood included an ocean crossing under sail and labor as a domestic servant in Des Moines, while her married life began with relocating in a covered wagon to a sod house in western Nebraska. She died in 1936, at age 88, from a farm accident. The comparison makes me feel like a sissy, worrying about my troubles.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Snow Report

Evidently, it was snowing in Des Moines on Christmas Eve day in 1909.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Angel

The postmarks on these old cards run through the New Year, so I feel justified in further seasonal displays. May the year end well for you all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, 2008

While I've been paging through my grandma's postcard collection, Sherry and Dave have been making their own seasonal postcards. Meanwhile, needle artists like SharonB have been making fabric postcards. So many wonderful things to see, so little time!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Brick Testament

Brett, newly established at The Hendricksonians, made me aware of The Brick Testament: The world's largest, most comprehensive illustrated Bible. That title fails to mention that the Bible is entirely illustrated by photos of scenes built of Legos. The stories' texts are straight from the Bible, but the Brick Testament is not devotional in intent, nor is it for children. I have found it disturbingly addictive. So far, I particularly liked Acts of the Apostles, which includes stories such as Accept Communism or Die and Paul Gets Stoned. The latest addition, The Book of Job, is also interesting, especially the sight of God speaking out of the whirlwind, constructed of Legos.

If your sensibilities are delicate, you probably want to give this site a pass.

Secular Christmas Images, 1909

Pretty ladies and pretty birds--I don't know if the juxtaposition means anything, but there's nothing overtly seasonal except the holly and the message. I wonder if this is the beginning of Fox News' perceived "War on Christmas?"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas, 1908

Here's a Christmas card my grandma received 100 years ago. She was 24, single, living with her parents on their farm at Williamson. Williamson consisted of her uncles' store and Williamson Hall, a community center still used for dances and reunions when I was a kid. By 1908, Williamson no longer had a post office, and her cards were addressed to Prescott, Iowa.

The text of the card: Front: A Bright and Happy Chrstmas from Margaret to Florence. Back: Florence Williamson, Prescott, RFD #3, Iowa. Postmark: December 22, 6 PM, 1908, Prescott, Iowa

Monday, December 22, 2008

Antikythera Device--The Ancients Knew More Than We Credit

Reproduction of 2,100-year-old calculator deepens mystery: The model of the Antikythera Device is based on the latest discoveries of the mysterious mechanism. I remember reading about the Antikythera device many years ago, in the sort of periodical devoted to Roswell cover-ups, alien encounters, and the evidence about the lost continent of Atlantis. I was really surprised to hear about it again a couple of years ago, and this year, a new article in Nature has prompted a string of articles, and this amazing video. Remember, the original object is 2000 years old!

I've put together a list of links about the Antikythera device below. It's so cool, you'll have to read more about it. My favorite observation comes from New Scientist's December 12 article, Archimedes and the 2000-year-old computer:

Historians have often scoffed at the Greeks for wasting their technology on toys rather than doing anything useful with it. If they had the steam engine, why not use it to do work? If they had clockwork, why not build clocks? Many centuries later, such technology led to the industrial revolution in Europe, ushering in our automated modern world. Why did it not do the same for the Greeks?

The answer has a lot to do with what the Greeks would have regarded as useful. Models of people and animals, like those of the cosmos, affirmed their idea of a divine order. Gadgets like Hero's were also used to demonstrate basic physical laws in pneumatics and hydraulics....

Rather than being toys, devices like the Antikythera mechanism were seen as a route to understanding and demonstrating the nature of the universe - a way to get closer to the true meaning of things. To what better use could technology be put?

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I don't know where I got the wrong idea, but somehow, I thought that "Ponzi" was a mathematician or economist who described the swindle, maybe in the 18th or 19th century, some early student of probability and statistics. The Washington Post set me right with this interesting feature: One Name Stands Alone in The Grand Scheme of It All--Madoff? Meh. History Put Its Money on Ponzi.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Apple Cake

About 10 years ago, someone made me an apple cake. I've been looking for the recipe ever since, and this year, with an abundance of apples, I've tried lots of them. The closest approximation of the cake in my memory came from this recipe. It's based on Cathy Anderson's award-winning apple cake recipe, with some substitutions and additions on my part. The cake is very sweet, and very moist, so it tastes fine unfrosted. Sprinkle a little confectioner's sugar over the top if you want to make it look pretty (like a first snowfall). If you must have frosting, the cream cheese recipe from my old Betty Crocker cookbook works better than most of the richer recipes you'll find on the Internet these days. You can definitely overdose on sweetness with this cake.

Apple Raisin Sheet Cake

  • 4-5 cups chopped apples (cored, but with peels)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/2 cup salad oil
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups flour (1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat works well)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Mix apples and sugar thoroughly. Add oil, molasses, raisins, eggs. Combine dry ingredients (flour, spices, salt, baking soda), add and stir to mix. Bake in a greased 13x9 inch pan for 1 hour, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out without any batter.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 Tbs milk
  • 1 Tsp vanilla
  • 2 1/2 c confectioner's sugar

Blend cream cheese, milk, and vanilla--an electric mixer works best for this. Add the sugar and continue to blend. If frosting is too stiff to spread, add a little more milk.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Florence Nightingale's Graphical Presentation of Data

She's remembered as a nurse, public health advocate, and career-minded woman in a patriarchal society, but I was fascinated to learn that Florence Nightingale was a statistician!

Through her work as a nurse in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in establishing the importance of sanitation in hospitals. She meticulously gathered data on relating death tolls in hospitals to cleanliness, and, because of her novel methods of communicating this data, she was also a pioneer in applied statistics. We explore the work of Nightingale, and in particular focus on her use of certain graphs which, following misreading of her work, are now commonly known as 'coxcombs'.

The article includes links to several interesting sources on Florence Nightingale. I found this November 11 blog post from Understanding Uncertainty via Slashdot (/.), which pointed to Florence Nightingale: The passionate statistician By Julie Rehmeyer, published November 26, 2008 in Science News. This column didn't actually reference Understanding Uncertainty, except in an incorrect URL crediting a graphic, but the whole Science News column seems to be based on the Understanding Uncertainty posting.

Understanding Uncertainty is well worth a visit. Their mission is to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining! and I found plenty to entertain and instruct. Like Slow Food and Slow Bloggers, they even have a manifesto: Manifesto for a statistically literate public. They appear to be using Drupal in a fairly straightforward way, so I'm learning something from their site design, too.