No. 559: Flying saucers, supervillains and mutant viruses – are we living in an
Going to be a big day: Welcome to Wednesday, dear readers, as we brave another wintry week of socioeconomic innovation – with the fate of the Republic hanging in the balance, once again.
Wish you were here: It’s Jan. 13 out there, and while out-of-control pandemics and potential revolutions continue to darken American skies, the rest of the world goes on: Liberation Day in Togo, Constitution Day in Mongolia, Democracy Day in Cape Verde and so on.
Here in the leaderless United States, amid the “armed protests” and impeachments, we mark National Peach Melba Day, so that should balance the scales.
Moon walk: In otherworldly news, Galileo discovered what would become known as Callisto – the fourth “Galilean moon” around Jupiter – on this date in 1610.
The Italian astronomer’s original naming system (“Medicean Planets,” numbers I, II, III and IV) was phased out in the 1800s, when the Galilean moons adopted their current identities: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Good enough to eat: Automobile magnate Henry Ford drove home a U.S. patent on Jan. 13, 1942, for a lightweight “soybean car.”
Other U.S. patents associated with this date include one in 1903 for Massachusetts inventor Thaddeus Fairbanks, who weighed in with a platform scale for railroad cars.
Outta here: German test pilot Helmut Schenck became the first person to successfully use an airplane ejector seat on this date in 1942, bailing out of his Heinkel He-280 jet fighter.
The experimental aircraft was being towed to a midair start when it iced up, forcing Schenck to take an alternate flight.
Disc drive: Wham-O began production of what would later become the Frisbee on Jan. 13, 1957.
The toy was first known as the Pluto Platter, to capitalize on the 1950s flying saucer craze.
Blind ambition: And it was this date in 1976 when inventor Ray Kurzweil introduced the prototype Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first electronic device that converted print to speech.
Had it with your “rules”: Radical Austrian scientist Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994) – a philosophical anarchist who outraged the establishment by challenging scientific methods and promoting freedom of thought – would be 97 years old today.
Also born on Jan. 13 were German physiologist Oskar Minkowski (1858-1931), who discovered pancreatic diabetes; Russian-born American singing, burlesque and vaudeville standout Sophie Tucker (1884-1966), the “Last of the Red-Hot Mamas”; American statistician Gertrude Cox (1900-1978), the “First Lady of Statistics”; Hollywood tough guy Robert Stack (1919-2003), who led “The Untouchables” and dug into “Unsolved Mysteries”; and perennial gameshow panelist Charles Nelson Reilly (1931-2007).
Marlboro man: And take a bow, William B. Davis – the Canadian actor (and acting school founder) known best as “X-Files” villain The Cigarette Smoking Man turns 83 today.
Scully? Mulder? Scully!?! Mulder!?! Scuuulllyyy! Muuulllderrr!