Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Gatlinburg Fires

As I post this the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee is temporarily closed but the animals and workers are all safe. The aquarium will reopen as soon as the downtown area of Gatlinburg is ready, which may take a while; 13 people have died and more than 100 injured as wildfires have destroyed hundreds of surrounding acres.

I visited the aquarium a few years ago as part of my worldwide aquarium tour. It is one of the best aquariums I’ve seen, especially surprising given it is nestled into the Smoky Mountains at least 500 miles from the nearest ocean. Its well-stocked exhibits include a coral reef, various ocean realms, a shark lagoon, stingray bay, and penguin playhouse. A discovery center and “Touch a Ray Bay” entice the kids. They also have a great set of jellyfish displays.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

There are no sea lion, dolphin, or whale shows – which are losing popularity anyway – but they do have divers (and mermaids) periodically swim around the bigger tanks.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Video of the fire flaming the hills behind the aquarium brought back visions of the fire that engulfed the National Marine Fisheries lab where I worked many years ago (see “My Life in a Brick”). Our fish were literally boiled in their aquariums as the fire destroyed the main building (now rebuilt).

Luckily, the Aquarium of the Smokies was spared, though not unaffected – at least 29 employees have lost their homes in the fire. Meanwhile, staff are helping to rescue pets and wild animals, giving whatever immediate care they can. This history-making fire continues to be fought by dozens of first responders, to whom the aquarium staff are providing hot meals. Fire season continues as the region has experienced severe drought, in part a consequence of climate change.

So help however you can. The aquarium is not seeking donations, but welcomes holiday cards that they will put on display once they reopen. Once the situation is stabilized and the downtown area can be back in business, I highly recommend a visit. The aquarium is top notch and the quaint downtown is a wonder to behold (Believe it or Not!), especially in this holiday season.

And while you’re there, check out the jellyfish:

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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Lincoln at Gettysburg

As part of a busy few weeks, I attended the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania just before Thanksgiving. The Forum brings together hundreds of Lincoln enthusiasts and scholars to hear some of the most well-known and respected thinkers in the field. I was lucky enough to meet up with an old friend.

Selfie with George Buss

George Buss has been portraying Lincoln for decades. This year marks his second time commemorating Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on Remembrance Day, November 19th, the 153rd anniversary of that day.

George Buss and Jon Willen

Photo courtesy of Jon Willen

In the photo above, George is joined by another friend, Jon Willen, who is a retired physician who, appropriately enough, plays a surgeon in Civil War reenactments. Between the two of them, it’s possible that George and Jon have spent more time in the 1860s than in any other decade. They were joined by many others on the battlefield for the commemoration.

Both were also at the Forum itself, with George, ahem, Abraham Lincoln, presenting parts of his first inaugural speech. The Forum also featured keynote presentations by Sidney Blumenthal (author of A Self-Made Man), Ron White, Jr. (American Ulysses), and Bud Robertson, Jr. (“After the Civil War”). Robertson also won the annual Richard Current Nelson Award of Achievement.

Lincoln Forum panel

Of course, there were many more speakers and panels led by Frank J. Williams and Harold Holzer (Chair and Vice Chair, respectively). We heard from Joan Waugh, Craig Symonds, John Marszalek, Richard Brookhiser, Catherine Clinton, Edna Greene Medford, Douglas Egerton, and others. All packed into 2-1/2 days of lectures, meet-and-greets, tours, and even a cooking class.

This was my third year attending the Forum, which I had missed all those years it conflicted in timing with my annual SETAC meeting. Now the Forum is on my calendar for every year forward.

Meanwhile, I’m in the final editing phase of my newest book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, due out in 2017.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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Prologue – Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America

Lincoln first inaugurationToday I head up to Gettysburg for the annual Lincoln Forum conference featuring such eminent historians as Frank Williams, Harold Holzer, Sidney Blumenthal, Richard Brookhiser, Edna Greene Medford, and many others.

At the same time I am finishing up the text for my next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Save America, due out in 2017. The following is a snippet from the prologue.

Abraham Lincoln stood beneath the unfinished dome of the United States Capitol, gazing over the crowd gathered below him with melancholy and trepidation. Begun six years earlier to replace the old copper-clad wooden dome, the new cast iron dome augured the duties ahead of him, that of rebuilding the nation. Lincoln was apprehensive, unsure he could accomplish all that awaited him.

The wooden platform constructed on the East side of the building for his inauguration was wet from the morning’s rain, and some people had umbrellas to protect them from the continuing drizzle. The gloomy mood was appropriate, as already between the November elections and March 4, 1861 seven states in the deep South had seceded from the Union. They would be joined by four more shortly after.

Lincoln would give his inaugural address, then be given the oath of the office of the president by Chief Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision a few years earlier had further divided the nation and enlarged the growing rift between free states and slave states. Lincoln wondered if he would be able to keep the Union together.

“We must not be enemies. We must be friends.”

Speaking to the South, Lincoln tried to reassure them that “the government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without yourself being the aggressors.” He pleaded with them not to destroy the goals of the founders, which by establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect union.”

But he was also firm:

“You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it.” 

After being sworn into office, Lincoln road alone in his carriage up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. It would be up to Lincoln over the next four years to find a way to save America.

I’ll have more on the book, and plenty of photos, after my return from the Lincoln Forum.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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Veterans Day 2016

In honor of all our nation’s veterans, in all the wars we’ve waged.

Civil War

Civil War Veterans

World War I Buffalo Soldiers

Wiorld War I Buffalo Soldiers

World War II

World War II Veteran

Korea

Korean war veterans

Vietnam

Vietnam veterans

Gulf War

Gulf War veteran

Iraq/Afghanistan

Iraq-Afghanistan veteran

We sent them to serve us. Now we must serve them.

If you start a war, you don’t get to ignore veterans when they come home.

Veterans Support Foundation

Directory of Veterans Service Organizations

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book is on Abraham Lincoln, due out in 2017.

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I Voted!

Gallery

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Abraham Lincoln was reelected on election day, Tuesday, November 8, 1864. He was the first Republican president. Today I voted for the first woman president. Welcome, Madame President! David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity … Continue reading

Dubrovnik and The Game of Thrones

DubrovnikEven if you’ve never traveled to Dubrovnik, Croatia, if you’ve watched The Game of Thrones you’ve see it. Many of the outdoor scenes of the hit HBO series are filmed in the city, along with other Croatian locations in Split and Trsteno. Ironically, the main filming is done at the Titanic Studios in Belfast, Northern Island. But Dubrovnik provides some of the most stunningly ancient auras of any of the locations.

I visited Dubrovnik as part of my summer tour that included Serbia and Montenegro. The ancient part of the city of Dubrovnik juts out into the Adriatic Sea in a region called Dalmatia (for which the famous spotted dogs of fire trucks are named). The vista is awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Dubrovnik

It takes 2 to 3 hours to walk the high wall surrounding the city. Taking the gondola to the top of the mountain gives you an overview that is guaranteed to take your breath away.

Dubrovnik

For those interested in Game of Thrones, you’ll be swarmed by guides even before you reach the city walls eager to take you on the Game of Thrones tour! To get a preview, check out this guide to the “10 Best Filming Locations” in Croatia. While I didn’t sign up for the formal tour, I did see many of the locations used in filming.

So take the tour if you’re interested, but more importantly, walk the wall, go up to the mountain vantage point, and eat at one of the quaint alley-way restaurants in the old town. One doesn’t just visit Dubrovnik, one experiences it.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Tesla and Edison: The War of the Currents

Thomas Edison engaged in three battles in his quest to electrify New York City. First he fought the gas industry, then arc lighting, and then his most famous battle against the polyphase alternating current system of Nikola Tesla.

Tesla vs Edison War of the Currents

Tesla was a Serbian engineer who had bounced around Austria, the current Czech and Slovak Republics, and Hungary before taking a job working for Continental Edison in Paris. While in Budapest he had envisioned a way to solve one of the biggest problems with direct current, the sparking commutator. Like Edison, Tesla also labored eighteen to twenty hours a day, a habit that occasionally sent him into a serious bout of exhaustion. After one such incident he was walking through a downtown park reciting the epic poem Faust by Johann Goethe when suddenly he stopped:

“The idea came to me like a flash of lightning and in an instant the truth was revealed. I drew with a stick on the sand the diagrams…The images I saw were wonderfully sharp and clear.”

Tesla envisioned the rotating magnetic field that would become his alternating current motor, which solves the problem that had kept alternating current from replacing direct current as a power source. It would be many more years before Tesla would have a chance to build his motor. (He created his prototype while fixing Edison’s direct current dynamos in Strasbourg—the ones that nearly killed Emperor Wilhelm.)

By the time the unknown Tesla arrived in New York in 1884, Edison was already famous and well on his way to establishing a monopoly on providing electricity to New York and other cities. During the year that Tesla worked for Edison, in which he revamped and improved direct current dynamos, he tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to convince Edison that it would be better to use alternating current using his unproven rotating magnetic field induction motor. But Edison had already ruled out alternating current as viable power source, and he was permanently invested in the massive infrastructure he had already created for direct current. Tesla grew fed up, and eventually quit.

Tesla vs Edison

Meanwhile, Edison’s direct current empire continued to expand to other cities and states, although not without competition. In 1882, George Westinghouse—famous for his invention of the air brake for railroad cars—bought out Philip Diehl’s competing induction lamp patent rights, which forced Edison to lower the licensing rate for using his patents, thus reducing the price of electric lamps (and Edison’s profit). Other direct current companies, like Thomson-Houston, also pressured Edison to keep his rates reasonable. The ubiquitous patent lawsuits kept everyone busy trying to protect their own businesses.

Edison was clearly the leader in this field, but that was about to change. Westinghouse formed his own electric company in 1886, and by 1888 Tesla finally had developed his complete alternating current induction motor and all the associated transformers. This revolutionized the industry. Westinghouse purchased the rights to Tesla’s patents and hired him to incorporate them into his own systems. The war of the currents was officially on.

Eventually, Tesla would go on to win that battle. More on that in a future post.

[The above is adapted from my book Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016). Also check out my earlier book, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013). Both are available in Barnes and Noble stores nationwide]

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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How Bloomington Illinois Made Abraham Lincoln Great

I recently returned from a week-long trip to central Illinois, stopping in places where Abraham Lincoln became famous as a lawyer and a politician. Check out Part I and Part II of my travel summaries from that week. The week started in Bloomington, Illinois, and it turns out that this city may very well have brought out the greatness in the man who would become our sixteenth president.

David Davis mansion

David Davis mansion

Lincoln’s first court case in Bloomington took place in 1838, when the 29-year-old lawyer and state legislator was riding the 8th judicial circuit. Bloomington was a stop on that circuit and the home of David Davis, the judge who rode the circuit for six months out of each year with Lincoln and several other lawyers. Davis would go on to be Lincoln’s campaign manager years later when Lincoln ran for president (and during his presidency Lincoln appointed Davis to the U.S. Supreme Court).

The convergence of Purpose

The convergence of Purpose

Another key player in Lincoln’s life was Jesse Fell, a local lawyer, businessman, and founder/editor of the Bloomington Observer (later changed to the Pantagraph, the newspaper greeting us in the hotel lobby today). In the statue above called “The Convergence of Purpose,” Lincoln is joined by Davis and Fell as they discuss the issues of the day, most notably slavery, tariffs, and the railroads. Fell was instrumental in arranging the confluence of two major railroads just north of Bloomington, which is now the sister city of Normal, Illinois.

Jesse Fell telegraph

Jesse Fell telegraph

Fell also had the local telegraph in his office, which was likely the first exposure to this new device for the technology-loving Abraham Lincoln. When Fell wanted to start the first public university (now called Illinois State University) in Normal, it was Lincoln he called in to do all the legal paperwork.

Lincoln presented some 15 of his most important speeches in Bloomington, with his first probably being as early as 1838 when he stood in for his law partner, John T. Stuart, then running for Congress against a certain Stephen A. Douglas. It wouldn’t be the last debate he had with Douglas. In 1854, after listening to Douglas regale the afternoon crowd in support of the recently passed Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln, recently “aroused” back into politics, Lincoln took on giving a rebuttal that evening.

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Bloomington is also the location of Lincoln’s “Lost Speech.” Given in 1856 at the first Illinois Republican Convention, the speech was supposedly so enthralling that reporters present forgot to take notes. An alternative (and perhaps more likely) explanation is that Lincoln asked the hyper-partisan newspapers of the day to suppress the speech, fearing it way too radical for his keen political sense. But perhaps the speech isn’t completely lost? Check the next Lincoln Group of DC Lincolnian for a book that purports to recreate it.

In 1858 Lincoln was trying again for a Senate seat, this time against his old rival Stephen A. Douglas. Bloomington was not one of the seven famed Lincoln-Douglas Debate cities since both candidates had already given speeches there. But Lincoln did give another famous speech that year in Bloomington, the one popularly known as the “House Divided” speech:

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or is advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new – North as well as South.

There is one other speech Lincoln gave in Bloomington that is of note, though it more accurately should be called a lecture. Always interested in the concept that all men should seek to improve themselves, on April 6, 1858, Lincoln prepared and presented a lecture now referred by the name “Discoveries and Inventions.” The lecture covered a wide range of discoveries (and, of course, inventions) beginning with the “fig leaf apron” of Adam and Eve to how patent laws “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.” Apparently the response from the heavily attended Bloomington audience was sufficient to inspire Lincoln to give the lecture several more times, though when he returned to Bloomington a year later for another go at it the lecture had to be cancelled due to poor attendance.

Bloomington would play a large role in making Lincoln president. David Davis, Jesse Fell, Leonard Swett, Asahel Gridley, and others were the prime movers of opinion and action that led to unanimous support by the Illinois delegation for Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican candidate for President in 1860. It’s clear that Bloomington and its influential residents helped make Lincoln great from his days on the 8th judicial circuit through his political speaking appearances and even his lectures on inventions. It was Jesse Fell who prompted the Lincoln-Douglas debates to occur, encouraged Lincoln to run for the presidency, and to whom Lincoln provided his first official biographical account for distribution to eastern newspapers. It was Davis who pulled his substantial weight to garner support and lead the campaign for Lincoln’s nomination and election. Without Bloomington, Illinois, we may never have met Abraham Lincoln.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Catching Up – Part 3 (The Dake Page)

This is the third in a series of catching up posts highlighting writing from the last few months. Part 2 looked at Hot White Snow while Part 1 covered this Science Traveler page. Today is The Dake Page.

blue marbleThe idea behind The Dake Page is to cover science, policy, and the interaction between them. Two primary topics are man-made climate change and communicating science to the public.

Climate change has been the subject of the most recent series of posts. Given the rampant disinformation being pushed by lobbying groups and their more ideological followers, there was a definite need to provide primers on the basics of climate change – both the science and the communication of that science. The goal of the series is to do a walk through progressing in understanding.

mean surface temperatureSo is it “Global Warming” or “Climate Change?”: The logical first step is to talk about some of the terms used because the definitions used by scientists may not always match those used by the general public.

What is the Greenhouse Effect, and What Does it have to Do with Global Warming?: The greenhouse effect doesn’t exactly work like an actual greenhouse, but it’s a good approximation of the concept. This explains why.

So What Are the Greenhouse Gases…And What are Not Greenhouse Gases: The atmosphere is 99% Oxygen and Nitrogen (with a teeny amount of Argon), which aren’t really important to the greenhouse effect. This post explains which gases (in even teenier amounts than Argon) do all the heavy lifting of keeping the planet the temperature it is.

CO2 and Other Radiative Forcings of Global Warming: There are “forcings” (i.e., drivers) of warming, and there are “feedbacks” (i.e., that either amplify or diminish the effect of forcings). Some forcings are natural, some man-made.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – The Smoking Gun of Climate Change: This is why we know that CO2 is the primary driver of the greenhouse effect, both the natural and the man-made.

There will be more in the above series coming. New posts usually go up on Thursday mornings.

War on SceinceIn addition, The Dake Page posts reviews of relevant science policy books. Recent reviews include Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil; The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why it Matters, and What We Can Do About It by Shawn Otto; and The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory by Susan Wise Bauer. Another post provides an additional list of books that can be used as resources for communicating climate change.

trollThree posts deal with specific aspects of communication climate change, including Common Tactics of Climate Change Deniers on the Internet, the challenges of communication when we don’t hit a new heat record, and some tips for How to Talk to People About Climate Change.

Finally, two posts look at the need for having a Science Debate between the two presidential nominees and the signing into law of a new bipartisan (essentially unanimous) Chemical Safety Law updating the nearly 40-year-old (and horribly outdated) TSCA.

New TSCA signing

Now that I’m caught up, it’s back to science traveling for the next post, I promise.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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Catching Up – Part 2 (Hot White Snow)

On Friday I did some long overdue catching up on my Science Traveler posts. Today I’ll catch up Hot White Snow.

hws-header-photo

Hot White Snow

Hot White Snow is all about creativity. Here I respond to writing prompts, experiment with new forms of writing, and offer up some memoir items. I also sometimes ruminate on the meaning of life and the writing process.

Articles on writing include Elusive Focus and A Struggle to Write.

Thoughts on life include Layers of Life, The Radical and the Republican, The Day, and Carry on Keeping Calm.

Memoir (and memoir-ish) posts: Prescience, or the Daring Boy, the Bike, and the Pond; A Sugary Feast; Water, Water, Everywhere; and You Don’t Know Jack.  A special subset of memoir, There’s a Fly in My Eye, include two posts about my Dad’s jokes: Profound Child, and The Joke.

In the mood for romance, or mystery (or both)? Check out Hello Silence, My Old Friend.

Silence

I also read a lot, so one post was my Reading List Halfway Point – 2016. At that time (end of June) I had read 55 books so far in the year. I’m now up to 84.

Feel free to read any that sound interesting, or click on the Hot White Snow header and scroll down in reverse order. There is also a category listing on the left side of the page if you have a particular genre interest.

David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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