Remembering Abraham Lincoln at the Hill Center, Old Navy Hospital

On January 18, 2017, in celebration of the Old Naval Hospital’s 150th anniversary, Hill Center and the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia will hold a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address.  In 1864 President Lincoln authorized $25,000 for construction of the (Old) Naval Hospital, which was completed in 1866, and the building has been restored to its 1860s condition to serve as Hill Center.
You can join us by signing up here: http://hillcenterdc.org/home/programs/3039.  You can also pay at the door.
The program will recall how Abraham Lincoln faced the gravest challenge that ever confronted a new president. The program will include delivery of the First Inaugural Address and a panel discussion about its context and significance. Michelle Krowl, president of the Abraham Lincoln Institute and a Lincoln specialist at the Library of Congress, will moderate the discussion. Panelists will include Lincoln scholar John Elliff, president of the Lincoln Group of DC and former associate professor at Brandeis University, and Michael F. Bishop, Director of the National Churchill Library and Center at George Washington University and former executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.  Other co-sponsors are President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, DC and the Abraham Lincoln Association headquartered in Springfield, Illinois.
The Inaugural Address will be delivered by George Buss of Freeport, Illinois, a professional educator who has performed as President Lincoln widely in Illinois and other states. He delivers the Gettysburg Address at the annual November commemoration at the Gettysburg Cemetery. Mr. Buss portrayed President Lincoln skillfully at a mock press conference hosted by the Capitol Historical Society in 2015 where he took questions from members of the National Press Club.  Mr. Buss is admired for the depth of his knowledge of Lincoln and his ability to represent Lincoln’s principles and historical perspective in both formal and informal settings.
The following organizations are co-sponsors of this event:
The reception with light hors d’oeuvres will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the John Phillip Sousa Hall, and the program will follow in the Abraham Lincoln Hall at 7:00 p.m. Sign up here, or just show up and pay at the door.

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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2017 Travel Preview

The thing about traveling is that travel plans change. They changed a lot last year, with anticipated trips to Machu Picchu, China, and Michigan being bumped. Now here we are a third of the way through January 2017 and travel plans are nearly non-existent, in part because of the lingering uncertainties from 2016.

Two trips are /more-or-less committed, if not actually planned. October should bring us to Australia/New Zealand in a tour being arranged by Sherry Kumar (who organized the Serbia/Montenegro/Croatia trip where we got to meet Tesla royalty). We are thinking of going a week early so we can drive down to the 12 Apostles and side-trip to Uluru (aka, Ayer’s Rock). More imminent is a trip to China this spring to replace the visit postponed from last fall. The (albeit, still incredibly tentative) plan is to see South Korea either on the way there or back.

Beyond that plans are still in the “thinking about” stage. They include the twice bumped Machu Picchu, but that seems unlikely this year given time constraints. This month I will participate in a special Abraham Lincoln event at the Hill Center. At some point I’ll start making “day” trips to Lincoln-related sites such as the USS Monitor Center at Marine Mariner’s Park in Newport News, Virginia (where the Monitor ironclad is displayed and preserved); the Tredegar Iron Works site near Richmond; and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland. I’ll also need to visit the confederate submarine Hunley and Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina as I continue research for my upcoming Lincoln book.

Other possible trips include a Michigan writer’s retreat, Mt. Rushmore, a 4th of July road trip to New England, and maybe, just maybe, Cuba. I’ll definitely be going to Gettysburg in November for the annual Lincoln Forum.

Of course, I’m always open to last minute changes, so feel free to provide suggestions (and plane tickets).

Meanwhile, my Lincoln: The Man Who Save America book is in the final stages of design before going to the printer for a July 2017 release. I’m back working on my other Abraham Lincoln book, which hopefully will see the light of day in 2018. Oh, and I’m working on another Lincoln-related project that I hope to announce soon. Stay tuned!

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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[Photo credit: David J. Kent, Erfurt, Germany, 2008]

 

New Study Confirms Climate is Warming, Pause Never Happened

NOAA buoy“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” This was the conclusion of the most recent IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5). Also, human activity has been “the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” There has been no pause.

The climate is warming and we are the dominant cause, primarily through activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation that emit huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and oceans. The data are clear on this conclusion.

So why do politicians (universally, Republican politicians) claim the climate has not warmed? The facts prove them wrong. Unequivocally. Undeniably. The year 2016 just set the new record for warmest year, surpassing the previous record year of 2015 (which surpassed the previous record year of 2014). All of the hottest years have been recent years (aka, since the date lobbyists like to claim started a period of “no warming”). How someone can argue the climate isn’t warming when we keep setting climate heat records is a big question, one whose answer is obvious.

In any case, climate deniers desperately need the “pause” talking point, no matter how unsupportable the notion. In 2015, a scientific study was published that put the rest the false idea of a pause. Led by NOAA scientist Thomas Karl (and co-authored by nine other scientists), the study showed that any slowing was an artifact of changes in measurement methods and not a reflection of actually decreases in the rate of warming.

Republican lawmakers reacted to the Karl study by attacking the authors. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and House Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) and other similarly fossil fuel-dependent politicians began harassment campaigns against the scientists involved, supported with talking points written by fossil fuel and libertarian lobbying groups/campaign contributors.

And now a new scientific study by a completely independent group of scientists has confirmed what the earlier study had effectively demonstrated – there was no pause, and the earlier scientists were correct in their analysis. The new study just published in Science Advances by UC-Berkeley researcher Zeke Hausfather confirms that the Karl analysis was correct. Further, Hausfather and his co-authors demonstrate that other researchers should reassess their own data sets accordingly.

Which gets us back to the pause that was not a pause. This talking point was invented by the denier lobbying industry through several steps of cherry picking. First, they chose 1998 as the starting date because it was a year of a huge spike in temperatures due to the strongest El Nino event in recent history. That artificially high spike was, not surprisingly, followed by “normal” high temperatures that appeared less because of the selected starting point. Shifting the start date one year forward or back eliminated the faux pause effect. Second, they use only a single satellite data set, the only one that gave them a trend that they could misuse to show their preferred narrative. The fact that the data set and investigators are highly adjusted and uncertain (and, arguably, irrelevant) may also explain the sometimes questionable choices made in its interpretation. Third, they choose to ignore all the surface level temperature data sets that inconveniently for them refute their conclusions.

In addition, there is the fact that there are long-term trends, and there are short-term variations in those trends. We had several years of events that tend to slow warming (e.g., La Nina) with fewer events that increase warming. In the last few years we’ve seen more “speed up” events (El Nino), which has helped the records set in 2014, 2015, and 2016 spike even warmer (i.e., they would have have been warmer even without the El Nino, but the El Nino pushed the spikes even higher, just as they did in the 1998 event that deniers like to cherry pick to start their “it hasn’t warmed” falsehood.

So there was no pause. The newest data confirm what we already new. The climate system is warming. Unequivocally. Undeniably. As John Abraham notes in his Guardian article:

Finally, and for those who read my posts regularly, I am sounding like a broken record. Global warming is happening, it never stopped, it never paused, and the models have gotten it right.

As he notes, and has been offered repeatedly on this page, humans are warming the climate. As with all other previous problems identified, it’s time to take responsibility and do something about it.

[Cross-posted from The Dake Page]

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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Reading Time – 2016

library booksI write a lot. But I also read a lot, which all the writing books says is required to be a good writer (and I concur). My book counts have slowly been creeping up, from 84 in 2014 to 96 last year and now to 106 in 2016.

I also wrote a book. Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is scheduled for release in July 2017.

The breakdown of books read follows my usual pattern. As always, I read a lot about Abraham Lincoln – 26 books this year (last year it was 29). Some were newer books, e.g., Sidney Blumenthal’s A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1854 (2016), which is the first of four planned volumes (the second is due out spring 2017). Some were older books, e.g. Lincoln in the Telegraph Office by David Homer Bates (1907). One was a monster: Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume 1. [The first of two 1000-page books author Michael Burlingame calls his “Green Monster,” both a reflection of the two massive green-covered volumes and the left field wall in Fenway Park they resemble.]

Other Lincoln books run from the quirky (Abe and Fido, about Lincoln’s dog) to the lawyerly (An Honest Calling) to the dangerous (Villainous Compounds, about chemical weapons in the Civil War).

I have a habit of reading mostly non-fiction, and indeed 72 of the 106 books fell into that broad category. But I also continued picking away at a “100 Books to Read Before You Die” list, all of which are fiction. This year I read another 16 off that list, which gets me to a total of 87. I will try to read 12 of the remaining 13 this year. Why not the 13th? Because it is Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (A Remembrance of Things Past; also known as In Search of Lost Time), which like it’s ungainly title weighs in at a hefty 4211 pages. I’ll likely save one that for next year.

That’s a decision for later. In 2016 the books on that list ranged from classics like The Ambassadors by Henry James to the magic mystery of Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron to the chemically-induced On the Road by Jack Kerouac to the heavy Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Other books include a wide variety of classic and modern fiction plus a range of science, writing, and biographical non-fiction. The only thing missing (as usual) was poetry, which for some reason scares me. Which sounds like a challenge if I ever heard one.

One of the non-fiction books that fits in science and biography was one that I wrote: Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World came out in summer of 2016. Even though I wrote it, I don’t count it as read until the final hardcover book hits the stories (and after I’ve read it at least once or four times).

My reading goal on Goodreads for 2016 was originally set at 50 but I knew that would be adjusted, which I did in May, pushing it up to 75. For 2017 I’ve set the initial goal at 75 but expect to approach 100 again. The determining factors will be how much time I spend writing books this year, along with the length of books read. In 2016 my average book length was 324 pages. I also take a lot of notes on all the Lincoln books read, both for my book review column in The Lincolnian and as research for the Lincoln book I’m writing. That keeps the overall number of books read lower.

I’m not sure if it’s viewable by anyone but me, but here is a link to my official Year in Books on Goodreads. If that doesn’t work, try my Challenge Page.

So far I have finished 0 books in 2017. Time to catch up.

[NOTE: The above is cross-posted from my creative writing/memoir blog, Hot White Snow]

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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The Year in a Writer’s Life – 2016

The WriterAfter writing hundreds of thousands of words it is safe to say that 2016 was a productive year. To recap the highlights:

As I write this I’m doing the final citations on Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America for Fall River Press of Sterling Publishing. The book will be released in late July of 2017. The opportunity to write the book came about through a combination of luck and the success of my previous books. My Sterling editor approached my literary agent with an idea: because Tesla and Edison were doing well, the publisher wanted to start a similar series on historical figures. First up was Alexander Hamilton (the Broadway musical has everyone all atwitter about this otherwise little-known early politician) and Abraham Lincoln. Did my agent know anyone who might be interested?

Given that I had already provided my agent with an early draft of a proposal for a Lincoln-related book, she immediately contacted me. After convincing my editor that my lifetime of independent Lincoln studies showed I knew as much (and more) about Lincoln than I did about Tesla/Edison. I got the project. Look for it next summer. Here is an early version of the prologue to give you a flavor.

Of course, I also had a book come out in stores this year. As noted in last year’s update, my big writing project last year was Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (again for Fall River/Sterling). The book was released officially in late July 2016, though to be honest, it wasn’t put on display until months later because of Barnes and Noble’s bizarre promotion of “adult coloring books.” Now that it finally is being displayed its sales are doing well.

Meanwhile, Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity is into its 7th printing and has been translated into several languages. The book continues to be a huge success.

Phew. That’s already a rather busy writing year, but to this I added hundreds of blog posts on Science Traveler, Hot White Snow, and The Dake Page, not to mention way too much time writing long discussions about climate change on sites such as Facebook.

But wait, there’s more. I also contributed to the CPRC newsletter (science) and began a recurring book review column in the Lincolnian, the quarterly newsletter of the Lincoln Group of DC. During the year I also gave a short presentation on the group’s “Looking for Lincoln in Illinois” trip.

Oh, and somehow I found time to read 107 books, 27 of which were related to Abraham Lincoln and from which I took copious notes.

So by anyone’s standards this was a busy writing year. I also had a busy year traveling, which I summarized in my year-end “Year in Science Traveling” post.

And 2017 looks like it will be more of the same.

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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Photo Credit: Ru Sun

[Daily Post]

 

Abraham Lincoln Book Acquisitions for 2016

booksAnother year, another suite of acquisitions for my Abraham Lincoln book collection. In 2016 I acquired only 43 new additions, far less than the 59 and 60 books obtained in 2015 and 2014, respectively, and less than half the 98 books in 2013. Some of this reduction in new items is correlated to my reduced acquisition fund, but mostly it is because books not already in my collection are getting harder and harder to find.

I purchased six books published in 2016, including A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal, which is the first of a series on the political life of Abraham Lincoln. Blumenthal is not a Lincoln historian, per se, but you’ll recognize his name as a Clinton confidant with great political insights. He’s already agreed to be a speaker this coming year at the Lincoln Group of DC.

The other new books are The Annotated Lincoln by Harold Holzer and Tom Horrocks, Lincoln’s Greatest Journey by Noah Andre Trudeau, The Lincoln Assassination Riddle by Frank Williams and Michael Burkhimer, and Herndon on Lincoln: Letters by Doug Wilson and Rodney Davis. All but the latter and the Trudeau book have been inscribed to me by the authors, and I plan to get Trudeau’s inscription when I meet him in February.

Aside from new books there were several classic authors and publications making their way onto my shelves this year, including books by Gabor Borritt, Wayne Temple, Ruth Painter Randall, Allen Nevins, and William Hesseltine. The oldest book, The True Abraham Lincoln by Curtis Leroy Wilson, was published in 1902. I also picked up recent books from modern day historians Edna Greene Medford (Lincoln and Emancipation) and Terry Alford (Fortune’s Fool).

One of the more unique books obtained was Matthew Algeo’s Abe & Fido, which is what it sounds like, a book about Lincoln and his dog. What? You didn’t know he had a dog? Then you need to read this book. Another unique book is one put out by Parke-Bernet Galleries called The Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection: Public Auction Sale, February 19 and 20.  This volume lists all of items sold at auction in 1952 belonging to legendary Lincoln collector, Oliver Barrett. Next to each item description is written in pencil the price paid by the winning bidder.

Needless to say, with over 15,000 books and pamphlets reportedly published about our 16th president there are quite a few more books I can add to my collection. More are being published every year, and I’m happy to say that my own book will be joining the parade next year. Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America is due out in July 2017.

See the 2016 list below my signature blurb below.

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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Here is the 2016 list:

Alford, Terry Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth 2015
Algeo, Matthew Abe & Fido: Lincoln’s Love of Animals and the Touching Story of his Favorite Canine Companion 2015
Bedini, Silvio A. Jefferson and Science 2002
Bedini, Silvio A. Thomas Jefferson: Statesman of Science 1990
Blumenthal, Sidney A Self-Made Man 1809-1849: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln 2016
Bogar, Thomas A. Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford’s Theatre 2013
Boritt, Gabor Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream 1994
Burleigh, Nina The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum, The Smithsonian 2003
Chaffin, Tom The H.L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy 2008
Curtis, William Leroy The True Abraham Lincoln 1902
deKay, James Tertius Monitor: The Story of the Legendary Civil War Ironclad and the Man Whose Invention Changed the Course of History 1997
Emerson, Jason The Madness of Mary Lincoln 2007
Gossett, Thomas F. Race: The History of an Idea in America 1993
Grahame-Smith, Seth Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 2010
Gramm, Kent November: Lincoln’s Elegy at Gettysburg 2001
Hesseltine, William B. Lincoln and the War Governors 1948
Hodes, Martha Mourning Lincoln 2015
Holzer, Harold and Horrocks, Thomas A. The Annotated Lincoln 2016
Howe, Daniel Walker What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 2007
Johnson, Clint Pursuit: The Chase, Capture, Persecution & Surprising Release of Confederate President Jefferson Davis 2008
Lewin, J.G. and Huff, P.J. Lines of Contention: Political Cartoons of the Civil War 2007
Mahin, Dean B. One War at at Time 1999
Maxwell, William Quentin Lincoln’s Fifth Wheel: The Political History of the U.S. Sanitary Commission 1856
Medford, Edna Greene Lincoln and Emancipation 2015
Miller, William Lee President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman 2008
Morel, Lucas (Ed.) Lincoln & Liberty: Wisdom for the Ages 2014
Nevins, Allan The Emergence of Lincoln 1950-1951
Parke-Bernet Galleries The Oliver R. Barrett Lincoln Collection: Public Auction Sale, February 19 and 20 1952
Prokopowicz, Gerald J. Did Lincoln Own Slaves? And Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln 2008
Randall, Ruth Painter The Courtship of Mr. Lincoln 1957
Schwartz, Thomas F. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: Official Commemorative Guide 2011
Silvestri, Vito N. and Lairo, Alfred P. Abraham Lincoln’s Intellectual Development 1809-1837 2013
Steers, Edward Jr. The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia 2010
Strozier, Charles B. Lincoln’s Quest for Union: Public and Private Meanings 1987
Temple, Wayne C. Lincoln’s Connections With the Illinois Michigan Canal, His Return From Congress in ’48, and His Invention 1986
Temple, Wayne C. By Square and Compasses: The Building of Lincoln’s Home and Its Saga 1984
Temple, Wayne C. Lincoln’s Surgeons at His Assassination 2015
Toomey, Daniel Carroll The War Came by Train: The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad During the Civil War 2013
Trudeau, Noah Andre Lincoln’s Greatest Journey: Sixteen Days that Changed a Presidency, March 24-April 8, 1865 2016
Williams, Frank J. and Burkhimer, Michael (Eds) The Lincoln Assassination Riddle: Revisiting the Crime of the Nineteenth Century 2016
Wills, Chuck Lincoln: The Presidential Archives 2007
Wilson, Douglas L. and Davis, Rodney O. Herndon on Lincoln: Letters 2016
Lincoln Herald Spring 1997 1997

The Year in Science Traveling – 2016

My third year of science traveling ended up being a lot different in execution than it was in design. Trips planned were dropped, trips not planned were added, and I was forced to work around an unforeseen distraction. And yet I still managed to hit several new countries, at least one new state, and enjoyed what most would consider a very good year in Science Traveling. I’m finished traveling for the year so it’s time for a quick recap.

February: My first travel ran from January 29 through February 6, which entailed flying to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten and boarding a large sailing yacht for a week-long journey around several sub-tropical islands. Highlights included the most interesting airport landing in the world, boarding a yellow submarine in St. Barts, and exploring the land of the frigates in Barbuda.

April: Spring saw my first trip ever to Springfield, Illinois, but it wouldn’t be my last this year (see September). I spent a hugely productive two days chasing the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Later in the month I drove to Charlottesville in southern Virginia to check out Thomas Jefferson’s home and attend the annual CPRC scientific meeting.

May: Spring also saw my first time in San Antonio, Texas. The city offered a wonderful river walk, great food, and the Alamo. From there we drove cross state and went underground – literally – to see the amazing bats and birds of Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico.

July: In early July I met the Crown Prince and Princess of Serbia. This was as part of a grand tour of Serbia, Montenegro, and Croatia, with quick stops in Amsterdam and Frankfurt on the way there and back again.

September: After undergoing major eye surgery in August, by the end of September I was ready to get out of the house. This trip took me back out to Springfield, Illinois and surrounding area where, along with 20 others from the Lincoln Group of DC, I went Looking for Lincoln (See Part I and Part II for quick summaries). The total immersion in Lincoln’s life was a fantastic experience for this particular Lincoln buff.

November: The fall saw my now annual trek up to Gettysburg for a meeting of the Lincoln Forum, one of the preeminent Abraham Lincoln societies in the country. I got to meet up with a new old friend, Abraham Lincoln himself (compliments of George Buss). A week later I drove up to visit family in my old home town, a trip I had delayed from my usual July excursion because of the Serbian trip.

December: Normally I take a quick hop trip in December just to get away from the approaching winter (last year was New Orleans), but this year we decided to stay close to home, both to catch up and catch a breather. This was a demanding year – psychologically, medically, and literately. The latter is not a typo; besides reading more than 100 books, I wrote one. In addition, the book I wrote last year (Edison) come out in stores. More on that in my writing wrap up post.

So the year was a busy one, science traveling wise, despite many changes and challenges. Originally the plans included a trip to Machu Picchu, which for the second year in a row got bumped (it’s on our list again for this year, maybe). Planned trips to Michigan (writer’s retreat) and China were also bumped because of the aforementioned unplanned distractions. Overall, however, it was a very good year for traveling. The best part was that science and Abraham Lincoln were present virtually everywhere I went.

I’ll do a 2017 year in preview in a few weeks. So many places to go!

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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A Little Bit of Science Traveling in Scotland

Several years ago I had the privilege of living and working in Scotland for three months. I was based in Edinburgh but made several trips out into the Scottish countryside. Here are some of the highlights.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh is best known for its castle, and for good reason. The wonderful old fortress overlooks the city from its perch on a high volcanic rock precipice. Dating back to the 12th century (ironically, from the reign of David I), the castle is the home of the annual military tattoo each August, in which parades of Scottish regiments, replete with pipes and drums, wow the crowds. When I was there a certain Edinburgh resident, J.K. Rowling, used the castle as a place to sign her newest Harry Potter book (written in many of Edinburgh’s cafes). The line stretched out the castle entrance and down the entire Royal Mile.

August is also the year of Edinburgh’s annual Fringe festival, which fills the city with over 50,000 performances of over 3,300 shows in over 300 venues. I was there in summer and got to experience the wackiness of the Fringe first hand. It is not to be missed.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

The city sits among seven hills, including Castle Rock (where the castle stands), Calton Hill, and Arthur’s Seat, the name of the latter of which may (or may not) have been derived from the legends of King Arthur.

But there is more to Scotland than Edinburgh. Hopping into my summer rental car, and making sure to drive clockwise around roundabouts (since they drive on the left side of the road in all the UK), I headed north towards the Isle of Skye. Along the way I passed the amazing Pap of Glencoe:

Pap of Glencoe, Loch Leven, Scotland

The five sisters…

Five Sisters, Scotland

Black Mount at Loch Tulla

Black Mount, Loch Tulla, Scotland

And the Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle

Of course, you can also drive east from Edinburgh along the coast, where you’ll see Bass Rock, home to thousands of gannets.

Bass Rock, Scotland

Back in Edinburgh the weather is turning raw, a common occurrence in the Scottish fall. So joining up with my colleagues, we relax in the exclusive private rooms of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to try out some single malts, from the light delicacy of Glen Spey to the full-bodied smokiness of Laphroaig. Aaaah.

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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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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