Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s December 17, and it snowed last night in Chicago. It’s going to snow again late this afternoon or this evening, but not as much as predicted. And remember: there are only 7 shopping days till Christmas and until the beginning of Koynezaa, my own personal 6-day holiday that extends from Christmas to my birthday (Dec. 30).

I’m happy to announce that today is National Maple Syrup Day, but the nation appears to be not Canada but the U.S. Remember, always buy the darkest and lowest-grade maple syrup you can find (the grades and names keep changing, like the sizes of eggs): the darker the syrup, the better the flavor. It’s also National Day in Bhutan (a country I long to visit), a day that celebrates the coronation of Ugyen Wangchuck as the first Druk Gyalpo of modern Bhutan. On this day in 1790, the Aztec Sun Stone, perhaps the most famous piece of art from that civilization, was rediscovered under the cathedral in Mexico City, having been buried there after the Spanish conquest in 1521. The stone probably dates from a few decades before that, and its meaning is still disputed. Here it is (I’ve seen it where it resides: in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, one of the finest museums on the planet. It’s unbelievably good):


Another famous event on this day: on December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made their first “official” flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the date at which the era of modern aviation begins. As Wikipedia notes:

Following repairs, the Wrights finally took to the air on December 17, 1903, making two flights each from level ground into a freezing headwind gusting to 27 miles per hour (43 km/h). The first flight, by Orville at 10:35 am, of 120 feet (37 m) in 12 seconds, at a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour (10.9 km/h) over the ground, was recorded in a famous photograph. The next two flights covered approximately 175 and 200 feet (53 and 61 m), by Wilbur and Orville respectively. Their altitude was about 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground.

Here’s that famous photo:


Exactly 100 years later, SpaceShipOne, a rocket-powered plane, broke the sound barrier.

Notable people born on this day include Nobel Laureate Willard Libby (1908, chemist), William Safire (1929), and Pope Francis (1936). Those who died on this day include Kaspar Hauser (1833; read his story), Captain Beefheart (2010), and my former Chicago colleague Janet Rowley (2013), who discovered that some forms of childhood leukemia were produced by a chromosomal translocation (bits of chromosomes 9 and 22 swapped places). Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili reluctantly heads to the orchard; apparently the call of the wild is stronger than the lure of the hearth. This is the first picture of Hili I present that was taken with Andrzej’s new camera:

Hili: I’m going to the orchard.
A: It’s cold.
Hili: So I see, my paws may freeze.
In Polish:
Hili: Idę do sadu.
Ja: Zimno jest.
Hili: Właśnie tak patrzę, że mogą mi łapki zmarznąć.
Lagniappe: Some cat history from reader jsp:


  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Hey, when is it not cat feeding time?

    If you want to read a bit on the Wright brothers, recommend David McCullough, The Wright Brothers.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Hey, when is it not cat feeding time?

      That would be a question for Heisencat?

  2. Billy Bl.
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Also, don’t be duped by “organic” maple syrup at a 50% markup. The probability that any syrup that can be found on any store shelf has been made from trees that have been fertilised or treated with any chemical is very low.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Organic honey is even worse – how can you be sure all the bees only sipped nectar from organic blooms? You know at least one went rogue! 🙂

  3. rickflick
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    National Maple Syrup Day, is it? I love the stuff. I prefer light/medium-dark. The very dark, I find, can be a bit woody or musty. Much of the difference can be attributed to the mix of blossoms used by the bees, I’m told. Ragweed(Ambrosia) is a bit harsh. Purple loosestrife(Lythrum salicaria) is pleasantly chewy. Clover(Trifolium), you might find, lacks complexity.

    I’m going back to bed until the snow storm ends – here in the Hudson valley.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      I think you might be thinking of honey. No bees were used or harmed in the making of maple syrup. 🙂

      • rickflick
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I blacked out do to lack of coffee and reawakened on a side track. What I meant to say was:

        “…maple syrup is graded solely by its color. This difference in color has mostly to do with when the syrup is made. As the spring warms up, the sap coming from the trees becomes darker in color, producing a darker syrup….the darker the syrup is, the stronger its flavor.”

        This comes from Vermont. They should know.

  4. stephen castleden
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly a powered aircraft in 1901.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      I doubt it! Read this:

      The early days of heavier than air, CONTROLLED, powered flight are a little contentious, but I think the Wright Bros. great achievement was their experiments in control systems. The principles they developed are still used today in most airplanes. I think this is more important than who was first to stay in the air for x minutes.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        Very good information from both. It seems possible that Gustave Whitehead did achieve flight or could have. Obviously his achievements are confused and not well documented. My speculation on Whitehead is that it is not surprising he is little known. The history of the Wright Brothers will surprise many because they were not given much thought or credit at the time they first were flying either. For several years basically, nobody paid much attention. They were interested in making money with their work and wanted contracts with the govt. The Americans essentially blew them off.

        The Wrights pack up their airplane and tools and went to Europe. And it was in Europe, specifically France, that they achieved the recognition they were after. Upon returning to the U.S. suddenly they became known. So my recommendation to Whitehead would be, he should have gone to Europe to get the recognition for his work.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

          To your advice of going to Europe I would add “…and get yourself a competent patent lawyer”

          The Patent Wars up until the start of WWI are interesting – the Wrights were somewhat hard done by by competitors ‘interpreting’ their control system to swerve around the Wright patent.

          • Randall Schenck
            Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

            Yes, I believe Orville became obsessed with legal battles against many and spent lots of time and money on this. He would have been better off to just let some of them go. People are going to copy your ideas.

            As far as controls go, I believe it was Curtis who invented the elevator which became the common control on most wings. The wing warping used by the Wrights was only useful in the early cloth covered planes. Lots of their ideas came from birds who got no credit at all.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              The Curtis ‘aileron’ was his attempt to circumvent the Wright patent. The Wright patent was worded intentionally in broad enough terms to go beyond wing warping to cover developments such as the aileron.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

              I spelled Curtiss wrongly

              Here is the distinction between ‘elevator’ & ‘aileron’ BTW:

              • Randall Schenck
                Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                Sorry, I was not thinking. I meant aileron. And I misspelled Curtiss as well. I have a bother named Curtis. However, the idea that the patent would protect them from someone inventing the aileron is a real stretch. Now if they were attempting to stop someone from the use of an elevon vs elevator, that might make sense but I can’t believe either would justify patent suit.

              • Michael Fisher
                Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                Patents and lawsuits

                Regardless of the 1868 Boulton patent and the extensive prior art created by multiple other experimenters, the Wright Brothers’ Ohio patent attorney Henry Toulmin filed an expansive patent application, and on May 22, 1906 they were granted U.S. Patent 821393. The patent’s importance lay in its claim of a new and useful method of controlling an airplane. The patent application included the claim for the lateral control of aircraft flight that was not limited to wing warping, but through any manipulation of the “….angular relations of the lateral margins of the airplanes [wings]…. varied in opposite directions”. Thus the patent explicitly stated that other methods besides wing-warping could be used for adjusting the outer portions of an airplane’s wings to different angles on its right and left sides to achieve lateral roll control.


                Multiple U.S. court decisions favoured the expansive Wright patent, which the Wright Brothers sought to enforce with licensing fees starting from $1,000 per airplane and astoundingly said to range up to $1,000 per day. According to Louis S. Casey, a former curator of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and other researchers, due to the patent they had received the Wrights stood firmly on the position that all flying using lateral roll control, anywhere in the world, would only be conducted under license by them.


                the brothers were consequently blamed for playing “…a major role in the lack of growth and aviation industry competition in the United States comparative to other nations like Germany leading up to and during World War I”. Years of protracted legal guerrilla warfare ensued with many other aircraft builders until the United States entered World War I, when its government imposed a legislated agreement between all U.S. parties which resulted in royalty payments of 1% to the Wrights.


              • Randall Schenck
                Posted December 17, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

                Yes, as I mentioned earlier, Orville was obsessed with the patients and protecting what he thought was his due. I think the lawyers were wrong on this and as you said, he did not do much for the progress of aviation in some ways. It is almost like saying, anything you make that flies is a violation of our patent.

                Aviation was probably stuck more by WWI and the Jenny because there were thousands of Jennies and OX5 engines after the war. All of this went to army surplus sales and flooded the market with these items. In 1927 my grandfather learned how to fly in, guess what, a Jenny. His first airplane he bought, an American Eagle, had an OX6 engine.

    • W.Benson
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      Alberto Santos Dumont was the first to pilot an airplane that could take off under its own power (and not slung into the air by a catapult), confirmed by independent observers.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        What date though? Are you referring to his 12th Nov. 1906 flight?

        Dec. 17th 1903 the Wrights conducted four flights, the last of which was witnessed by five people other than the Wrights. I think at least one of those people might qualify as an independent observer [I’m not sure]

    • nicky
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Well, Clement Ader flew 50m (altitude of about half a meter) in a powered (steam engine!) airplane in 1890. The landing did not really go according to plan. Still, he should be considered the first.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        In raw terms I am with you on this, but it’s not a meaningful achievement given that it was a dead end in design terms

        It wasn’t what I’d call a controlled flight which is the point I make in my first post here in this thread. His altitude was 8″ [20 centimetres] & he had absolutely no ability to control his ‘plane. The steam engine could only produce power for a very short time [to keep the weight down] using steam already built up prior to launch external to the flight engine which is a bit of a cheat IMO. [While on the ground the engine built up steam by being manually fed fuel]

        The problem of powered flight had been semi-solved decades before the Wrights & what was required now was sustainably powered & controlled flight & on that basis your guy was on a side-branch to history given that his engine couldn’t deliver constant, unsupervised power & it wasn’t really a directed vehicle.

        The Wrights deserve the medal for the first controlled, controllable heavier than air manned flight. There was a man from [I think] Bradford in England who flew an airplane with a steam engine decades before Ader, but with no man on board. Other solutions required the man to move around to direct the vehicle. The Wrights provided a mode of practical transport. A commercial product.

        • nicky
          Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

          I agree with your assessment that it was a kind of dead end.
          There appears to have been a New Zealander, New-something (?) who preceded the Wright brothers too.
          [Not to detract from the Wright brothers, I highly admire them. They weren’t the first, but indeed, they made it viable].

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        It is hard to call it flight when you never really leave ground affect. Kind of like the Hughes spruce goose.

  5. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    In honour of maple syrup day, I’m making waffles, to be smothered in butter and maple syrup, for brunch. We are in the middle of a snow storm here, so sleeping in and brunch by fire and then a good book (reading Sapiens) seems only sensible. Until it’s time to go outside and shovel, that is.

    • Billy Bl.
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I highly recommend vanilla panna cotta topped with maple syrup.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink


    • Blue
      Posted December 17, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Oooo, Happy Hygge to you, Ms Baker, today !
      Sounds like living Danishingly !

      Now for a sauna – or a steam room – stint and
      one’s accompanying s o l i t u d e there !

      YES !

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        And a roll about in the snow! 🙂

  6. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Humphry Davy, chemist, inventor, poet, and more, was born on Dec. 17, 1778. Perhaps his most dubious (nonetheless very important) contribution was to introduce nitrous oxide as a mind expanding agent to the British Romantic poets, Coleridge, Southey, et al. , also the chemist and inventor James Watt. (It also became the party drug of its day for the British upper class). One usually associates the Romantics with opium, but the use of laughing gas as a creative force should not be overlooked. Here’s a link to a very interesting article on that subject, “O, Excellent Air Bag”

  7. Posted December 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Why not start Coynezaa with Saturnalia?

  8. bric
    Posted December 17, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I think Werner Twerzog speaks for us all

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