Special Event – Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Election

Abraham LincolnAs the current day political conventions get ready to officially name Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as the Democratic and Republican nominees, it brings us back to when a relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln unexpectedly gained the nomination – and won the election – of 1860.

Going into the Republican convention of 1860 the most likely nominee was New York Senator William H. Seward, with Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase a close second and likely strong showings by Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania and former Congressman Edward Bates of Missouri. Oh, and then there was Abraham Lincoln, who hadn’t held political office since his one term as a U.S. Congressman ended a dozen years before.

The surprising results of the nomination convention and election will be the subject of a special event sponsored by the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia (LGDC).

On Saturday, August 13, 2016, the group will discuss Lincoln’s 1860 Election including his road to the Republican presidential nomination and his victory in the November election. Parallels to this year’s party nominations and the impending campaign will be explored by experienced LGDC Open Discussion leaders John O’Brien, chair of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church History Committee, and LGDC president John T. Elliff.

More information is available on the Lincoln Group website.

NY Avenue Church window

The event is being held at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC (“Lincoln’s Church), which features a beautiful stained glass window highlighting Abraham Lincoln. There is also a Lincoln Parlor containing artifacts and a John Quincy Adams room. Tours of these historic areas follow the program.

I am happy to say that I was recently elected Vice President of Programs for LGDC. We already have an excellent line-up of speakers for our fall program 2016 and are working on filling slots for 2017. Anyone with ideas for speakers can contact me any time.

Please put Saturday, August 13th on your calendar and join us for this entertaining and informative event. Check out the LGDC website for more about our group.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Catching Up with Life on the Blogs

I’ll shortly be heading out on another science traveling expedition. More on that in a bit. Be sure to check out recent travel-related posts here on Science Traveler (see below). In addition, here’s my monthly roundup of the other blogs.

Connected father and son fishingHot White Snow is where you’ll find my more “creative” writing, includiing responses to writing prompts, some memoir-ish works, and articles “On Writing.” Lately I’ve been writing responses to the Daily Post, a daily writing prompt feature on WordPress. Featured recently (click on the title to read the post):

  • It’s Just a Phase: “He’ll grow out of it,” she insisted, as blood oozed from her husband’s stab wound. And if that isn’t Monty Pythonesque enough…
  • The Circus of Life: A bit of social commentary blending The Lion King with The Lyin’ King.
  • Connected: A heartfelt reminiscence of connecting with my father while fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee many years ago.
  • A Struggle to Write: A painful day of non-writing.

Arctic_Antarctic sea iceThe Dake Page focuses on communicating science to the general populace, often with an emphasis on climate change. That said, this month’s features begin with chemicals law. Recent articles:

Beijing Aquarium jellyfishOf course, here on Science Traveler we focus on traveling to exotic lands and stories about Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, and other books I’m working on. Here are some of the recent travel posts:

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern WorldBut wait, there’s more. I also received my first advance copy of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World, which will be in stores next month. And Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity has hit yet another success milestone (more on that soon)!

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Remembering the Alamo

Recently I was in San Antonio and visited the world-famous Alamo. I was surprised that the real-life Alamo and the battle was a little different than the Disney version I remembered as a kid. There was also some science.

My view of what the Alamo looks like was correct – it looks like this:

Alamo

But apparently it didn’t look like that during the famous 1836 battle in which between 182-257 Texians were killed in a siege and attack by General (and Mexican President) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The iconic bell-shaped top was only added much later. I was also surprised to learn that the Alamo complex was actually a much larger compound inside sturdy walls and a series of outer buildings. It was only after the Mexican army overwhelmed those walls that the few remaining Texians, including Davy Crockett, James Bowie (of Bowie knife fame), and William Travis, finally retreated to the mission chapel that stands as the symbol of the Alamo today.

In the grounds behind the chapel I came across a surgeon with his tools of the trade.

Alamo doctorThe good doctor regaled us with stories of the medical practices of the day. You can see the hacksaw on the table used for amputations. There are also leeches for bloodletting, stiff brandy for medicinal painkilling, and a variety of other instruments that range from precursors of today’s instruments to objects that seemed more appropriate for the Marquis de Sade.

Great-Tailed Grackle

Interrupting the demonstration was a beautiful Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) with its iridescent feathers, rudder-like tails, and haunting yellow eyes. These birds are much bigger than the Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) I normally see, or even the much closer Boat-Tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major) that are less common and hang out near marshes. While the male Great-Tails were getting all the attention, the less iridescent and smaller females were busy grabbing plant material to repair the nests and grubs to feed the young.

Doctor at Alamo

By now the doctor was finishing up his presentation. Little did I know he wouldn’t be the last doctor I would see that day. But that’s a story for another time.

That’s all folks! At least for now.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Thomas Edison is Here!

There was an ominous knock on the door around 7 p.m. last night. By the time I opened it there was nothing to be seen except a package, a manila envelope the same size I generally use to send out books to those who request signed copies via my website. And then it dawned on me – Edison was here!

Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World

I finished the writing of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World just as summer was turning to fall. Then copy editing, design, printing, scheduling (all thankfully done by my great editorial team and publisher). It seemed it would be forever before I would see the book in print, and now the day had come. I was holding it in my hands.

The book was an advance copy sent by my editor. “Congratulations!,” the card inside said. More copies would come when the printer’s shipment reached the warehouse. That would be in July. Next month. It was finally happening.

I’ve been through this before, of course. Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity followed a similar schedule and my heart raced when I held that first copy. That thrill returns, just as I hope it will for every advance copy of every book I write.

Check out a preview of Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World.

Monday had been a bad day – it seemed everyone had their hand in my pocket, the roof was leaking, and nagging problems just didn’t seem to want to go away. But Tuesday made up for all that. A day later, I’m still thrilled.

I’ll be doing a Goodreads giveaway of both books, Tesla and Edison, shortly so check back soon for details. The Edison book in both hardcopy and e-book formats will be available for pre-order on the Barnes and Noble website any time now, and you’ll find the book in Barnes and Noble bookstores in late July.

Stay tuned!

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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The Bats and the Birds of Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad CavernsCarlsbad Caverns National Park is a 46,000 acre expanse of land in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico. It’s a fabulous area to see the desert southwest, but the main attraction is underground in the extensive caverns. Oh, and the bats.

Everywhere you go in the region, which isn’t much of anywhere outside of Whites City, you hear about the bats.  Whites City, by the way, has a population of 7 according to the last census. It consists of a couple of teeny motels, a gas station (last one for 130 miles!), one restaurant, and a combo building housing the Post Office, a grocery, a gift shop, and public bathrooms. A rock thrown in any direction from the middle of Whites City would land outside the city limits. The city exists solely as a stopover for people visiting the caverns.

Mexican free-tailed bat

And the bats. Mexican free-tailed bats (or, for some reason, often called Brazilian free-tailed bats, Tadarida brasiliensis) are the highlight of the twilight. Each night, as everyone reminds you, they fly out at dusk in large masses from the underground caves. Most spend the day in the appropriately named “bat cave,” 200 feet below the surface. In the evening the tourists (okay, including me) gather in a rock amphitheater to listen to a park ranger explain the bats (and the birds, more on those in a moment). As soon as the bats start spiraling out of the cave, an eerie silence creeps over the crowd to avoid disrupting their departure. You can hear the rustle of leathery wings as thousands of flying insectivores race for the nearby Black and Pecos Rivers for a drink before roaming most of the night eating half their weight in moths.

Mexican free-tailed bats

Watching the bats exit the cave is fascinating, as was the recent scientific finding that the bats can emit ultrasonic vocalizations that “jam” the echolocation calls of rival bat species. This jamming disrupts the other bat’s signal, increasing the chance it will miss its prey, thus giving the Mexican free-tailed bat a competitive edge in grabbing the moth for itself. Given the estimated 400,000 bats that live in the cave, one has to wonder just how many moths must be out there to survive the nightly feeding frenzy.

Cave swallow

And now the birds. While the bats were hidden in the darkened bat cave, the Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva) were easy to spot as they flit in and out of the natural cave entrance all day long and into the evening. The swallows also eat insects, but forage during the day and eat a wider variety than do the moth-loving bats so competition between the two species is limited. Nesting in the ubiquitous crevices and creases in the upper cave, the swallows are fascinating to watch.

As you can hear in the video, the adults emit five main vocalizations that include a song, a “che” note, and three types of chattering. They do this all day at the cave entrance, but then an interesting thing happens. Just before the bats begin their nightly spiral out of the cave, the swallows sneak into their nests. The volume of bats can be so great that any bird who hasn’t made it back into the cave in time will be trapped outside for up to three hours or so while the bats make the airspace too congested to make the attempt.

Watching these two species in their night and day dance is fascinating. Of course, the bats and the birds are merely one aspect of Carlsbad Caverns, and one that most people likely don’t fully appreciate. After all, the caverns themselves are striking. I’ll have more on the caves shortly.

[Attributions: Photos of bats and bird from Wiki commons (photography not allowed during bat flight). Photo of Carlsbad sign and video are David J. Kent]

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Remembering Arthur Hardy and the Vietnam War

VietnamMemorialwall

On this Memorial Day, memories of a man I never met suddenly flooded my mind this morning. Arthur H. Hardy died in Laos during the Vietnam War in 1972. I didn’t know him. But yet I remember him.

All of this began with an extraordinary tribute to Captain Hardy by Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris. Please take a moment to read it.

I was in my first year of high school when the plane piloted by Hardy was shot down. For many years he would be listed as a POW, then MIA, before his remains were finally found and returned to his family in 1983. In a small town like ours, everyone felt the weight of his premature demise.

Flash forward to 1992, when I moved to the Washington, D.C. area. One of my first forays into town included a sedated viewing of the imposing Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. A long line edged along the narrow path, eyes scanning the wall for the names of loved ones lost. A guidebook helped locate the one veteran from my home town I knew to be listed. Like everyone else, I stared in quiet reverence at the name; it likely seemed an eternity to others, but passed in milliseconds to me.

I still have the rubbing I made that day. Half-sized papers with black borders, along with hard graphite pencils, could be placed over the etched names and the impression kept in remembrance. I have a pair in a single frame that have followed me through several relocations. Another rubbing was taken by my parents, and many years later my mother was able to give it to Arthur Hardy’s mother. Tears flow like rivers even still.

So I thank Gordon Harris for writing his tribute and bringing back such vibrant memories. It is only fitting that the photo accompanying this post is of “The Wall” by Norman Rockwell. Like in the painting, the first thing you notice is the grief of the people looking in…but delving deeper you feel the men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion still reaching into our lives today.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Reposted from Hot White Snow

Beijing Aquarium – Home of the Rare Chinese Sturgeon

After visiting Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Mao’s Mausoleum in Beijing, head on over to the Beijing Aquarium. Located within the Beijing Zoo, the aquarium is the largest inland aquarium in the world. One of its specialties is the Rare Chinese Sturgeon Hall.

Beijing Aquarium

The building itself is shaped like a huge conch shell. It relies on over 18,000 tons of artificial seawater to highlight seven main sections: Rainforests, Coral Reefs, Sharks, Whales, a Touch Pool, a Marine Theater, and the aforementioned Sturgeon Hall. Over 1000 marine and freshwater species are bred on site.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

Of the 41 aquariums around the world I’ve visited, this one is unique in that it has a large area devoted to sturgeon. These ancient fish in the family Acipenseridae are an oddity of nature. Their skeletons are almost entirely cartilaginous, like sharks, despite being classified as bony fishes since their ancestors actually had bony skeletons. Sturgeons also are at least partially covered with bony plates called scutes instead of scales. Like catfish, they have four barbels, sensory organs near their wide, toothless mouths, that they drag along the bottom substrate as an aid in navigation and food gathering. They are an odd fish indeed.

Most aquariums toss one or a few sturgeon into the big tanks with sharks and other common fish. In Beijing there are dozens of representatives of the 27 known species of the world. The highlight is the Chinese sturgeon (Acipenser sinensis), a critically endangered species considered, like the giant panda, a national treasure in China. Sadly, like many species of sturgeon, the Chinese sturgeon is nearly extinct in the wild due to overfishing and habitat loss.

The aquarium doesn’t stop there. There are also large tanks with beautiful white beluga whales…

Beijing Aquarium beluga

…many species of moray eels…

Beijing Aquarium moray eels

…and quite a few sea turtles.

Beijing Aquarium sea turtles

Given my previous work with jellyfish I’m always drawn to that section of aquariums and the Beijing Aquarium has one of the best displays I’ve seen. Quite a few tanks exhibit different species, with a variety of light effects to highlight their beauty.

Beijing Aquarium jellyfish

Overall I was greatly surprised – and impressed – by the size and quality of the aquarium. During my visit it seemed clear that the zoo and aquarium cater more to local Chinese rather than tourists, most of whom never get beyond the major tourist attractions mentioned in the first sentence above. This focus is emphasized by the signage, most of which is only in Chinese.

Beijing Aquarium sturgeon

So if you’re in Beijing, take a side trip to the Beijing Aquarium. It’s about 3 miles or so northwest of Tian’anmen Square in the Beijing Zoo, reachable by taxi, bus, or even easier, via subway line 4. You won’t be disappointed. More information here.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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Hot White Snow and The Dake Page – Catching Up

Life has been busy, so in case you missed it, let’s do some catching up on Hot White Snow and The Dake Page.

fake smileHot White Snow is where you’ll find my more “creative” writing, includiing responses to writing prompts, some memoir-ish works, and articles “On Writing.” Featured recently:

Two headsThe Dake Page focuses on communicating science to the general populace, with a sometimes emphasis on climate change. Recent articles:

I’ll save the update on Science Traveler posts for another day.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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The Thundering Wet Dry Tortugas

Our small De Havilland Otter hovered a few hundred feet over the seas as the thundering clouds released torrents of rain highlighted by jagged bolts of lightning. The Dry Tortugas were anything but dry.

Most people think of Key West as the end of the Florida keys, but there are several smaller keys stretching beyond the famed home of Hemingway. About 70 miles west of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, accessible only by boat or float plane. I flew, though we almost didn’t take off. Cooling our heels at the small Key West airport, we watched the early morning lightning bring in wind-swept squalls. After an hour or so delay we got the okay and eagerly rushed the tarmac to board our 10-person flight. Storm clouds and rain parted in Moses-like fashion, just enough for our plane to squeeze through. Passing over reefs and wrecks we a lit on the water and coasted to the pier moments before the rain doused us once again.

Approaching Dry Tortugas - Ru Sun

For the record, the “dry” part of the name refers the lack of fresh spring water, a major problem for the inhabitants. Tortugas is Spanish for turtles, the name thanks to Ponce de León after seeing several sea turtles around the island.

Dry Tortugas

The main feature of the Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson. The largest all-masonry fort in the United States, it was constructed from 1846 to 1875 but nevertheless was never quite finished. During the Civil War concerns grew that the weight of the brick and cannons was causing the small island it sat on to sink. It served as a Civil War prison, though it’s most famous use was to house the four conspirators sentenced for their role in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Edmund Spangler, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen served time in the fort; Mudd’s medical service during a yellow fever epidemic that killed many prisoners (including O’Laughlen) would result in his pardon and release by President Andrew Johnson. This fact is one of the main reasons I went out to the Tortugas.

Dr Mudd cell Dry Tortugas

Another reason is the rich ocean life adjacent to the fort and the other small islands that encompass the 100 square mile National Park. Due to the weather we had only a short time for snorkeling, but still saw many fish and pelicans.

Pelican Dry Tortugas

Rain again cleansed the plane as we skimmed the sea surface, briefly glimpsing a couple of the famed tortugas on the flight back. The skies seemed to light up as we touched down at the Key West airport. At least we could look forward to a delightful afternoon exploring Duval Street and Mallory Square. The Dry Tortugas could have been drier, and we could have seen more turtles, but the experience was still heavenly. This trip included time in the Everglades, in the Keys, and on the reefs, so there is much more still to show and tell. Stay tuned.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Note: All photos David J. Kent except first one by Ru Sun]

Walking Up Waterfalls in Jamaica

You read that right – walking UP waterfalls. Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, to be exact, and the experience is magical.

Jamaica is the land of Bob Marley, reggae, and all-inclusive resorts hugging the coast. The adventure began in one of those resorts, at the Grand Bahia Principe Hotel not far east of Montego Bay and nestled into Runaway Bay on the northern beaches.

Jamaica

Squeezed in between rum punches and peaceful beach enclaves were ample reminders of the science all around us. The most noticeable geology near the resort were karst formations in the limestone. Plant life ranges broadly from various palms, bamboo, ferns, mahogany and rosewood in wet areas to cactus in dry areas.

Jamaica

But one of the biggest attractions was a little further east along the coast near Ocho Rios.  Dunn’s River Falls is a terraced waterfall system over 600 feet long. As the river flows downward it cascades over dozens of mini-precipices, dropping from one ledge to another down the hillside, occasionally resting in small pools interspersed in the vertical walls. That vertical is a mere 180 feet or so but the varied dips and dives is what makes the waterfall so special. As does the fact that you can climb it.

Dunn's River Falls, Jamaica

The falls are a major tourist attraction in Jamaica, drawing thousands of visitors a year. We started on the white sandy beach at its base, then joined a line of other intrepid souls carefully hiking up the slippery rocks while lush tropical vegetation cooled us from the morning sun. The water shoes we purchased the night before came in handy as we battled the splashing streams pushing us downward while we forged our way upward. Steadying ourselves in the hands of total strangers a minute before, now suddenly friends (or perhaps, co-conspirators in our survival quest), we reached the top in fulfillment of our goals after about an hour and half trek. Being drenched from head to toe was overwhelmed by the smiles on our faces that warmed us from skin to soul.

Jamaica

Relaxing back at the resort, we reveled in the joy of listening to live reggae music on the veranda while sipping another rum punch and marveling at the science that is all around us.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (now in its 5th printing) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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[Note that all photos were taken by me except the one of the waterfall, which is a stock photo I grabbed off the internet. After all, I was busy being wet at the time.]