“12th and Clairmount” upcoming documentary on the 1967 Detroit riots.

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog entry about the 40th anniversary of the Detroit riots. Now we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary and there’s a new documentary being produced in remembrance of those events:

Trailer for new Detroit ’67 riot film ’12th and Clairmount’

Drawing from more than 400 reels of donated home movies from the era, the documentary is being produced by the Free Press in collaboration with Bridge Magazine and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) and a group of metro Detroit cultural institutions, led by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The film combines archival and new interviews with witnesses to the events with footage from the home movies. Those five days in July were among the most pivotal — and divisive — in the city’s history, with the turmoil leaving 43 dead. While the 50th anniversary of the summer of ’67 was the impetus for the film, the home movie footage in “12th and Clairmount” captures a wide spectrum of Detroit life, from proud streetscapes to dance parties to neighborhood sporting events.

As I wrote back in 2007, this topic is a fascinating one for me because I was born in late August at Brent General Hospital just blocks from where the riot started while Detroit was still dealing with the aftermath. Right now it appears viewings are limited to the upcoming  Freep Film Festival in March and then at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in July. The DIA is continuing to collect home movies of the riot for those interested in contributing:

The film is part of a larger project led by the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA, with funding from the Knight Foundation, is collecting amateur films from the era since the fall as part of an ambitious effort by several organizations — including the Free Press, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Society, the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University, Bridge Magazine and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative — to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that pivotal year.

The DIA is continuing to collect footage and is regularly screening them in their raw form. Its effort will culminate with a marathon screening on July 29. “12th and Clairmount” and the DIA screenings will be among a broad swath of cultural events happening in Detroit throughout the year that will reflect on the 50th anniversary of the riot, its cause and lasting impact.

Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t embeddable (or at least the link to do so isn’t working) so if you’re interested click through to the news article to check it out and for information on how to contribute footage.

Science History: Celsius didn’t invent the scale that bears his name.

Here’s a video from Veritasium that was quite a surprise to me. It turns out that what we know as the Celsius temperature scale we use today wasn’t invented by the man whose name it bears. At least, not entirely:

Despite having lived through the big push to learn the Metric system in the 70’s, like most Americans, I never really got my head wrapped around it. Thanks to Reagan the United States Metric Board (USMB) was disbanded in 1982 bringing an end to any official attempt to make the Metric system the U.S. standard. Outside of the popularity of the 2-liter pop bottle and the 9-millimeter bullet, the vast majority of measurements in the United States is still done using the United States customary system (USCS or USC) which is a mish-mash of different systems none of which are as elegant as the Metric system. There’s been a couple of half-hearted attempts to get adoption going again over the years, but they’ve been mostly voluntary efforts that no one wants to volunteer for. Sure, you’ll find it in use in various science-y professions, but the average American is largely clueless on whether they would need to wear a coat when it’s 32°C outside*.

*Hint: No, most definitely not.

The claim that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery is false.

The recent brouhaha over the Confederate flag after the mass shooting by Dylan Roof of black members of a Charleston church brought out a lot of old arguments about the Civil War by folks defending the flag. The most common of which is the claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. A claim that is clearly wrong to anyone who has spent much time studying American history.

In a (possibly vain) attempt to settle the matter, the folks at Prager University enlisted the aid of Colonel Ty Seidule, Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, to speak on the topic:

That explanation is simple and concise and is something you can share with your crazy right-wing uncle the next time he starts ranting about slavery not being the reason the Civil War happened. It probably won’t convince him because those folks tend to be immune to reality, but at least you can save some typing.

Updated to add: This video should be particularly persuasive to Conservatives given that Prager University is the brainchild of Conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager. So this isn’t the work of one of us wussy liberals, but of one of your own.

Nothing worse than an aging I.T. nerd.

WDHDsaleI’m sitting in my cube at work this morning going through my daily routine of checking my work and personal email when I come across an ad from Newegg.com that includes the item over on the right. A 1TB Western Digital HD for a little under $50.

As it is my habit to try and get other people to spend money on stuff they don’t need, I engage in a ritual of reading off this deal to my cubemate who is roughly eleven years older than I am. We both stop to marvel at this price because we’re both old enough to remember life before hard drives.

At this point he pulls out a dry erase marker and starts to write things down on his whiteboard. Back in the day he used to sell computers for a living and he can remember that in 1984 a 10MB hard drive went for about $500. In today’s dollars that comes out to around $1,148.48.  A 10MB drive is equal to about 0.000009536743164063 terabytes. To put it another way, the cost per MB of that 10MB drive in today’s dollars works out to around $114.85. The price per MB of a 1TB drive in today’s dollars is roughly 0.00005.

I can remember a time when us computer nerds spoke of a one terabyte hard drive in hushed, reverent tones as though describing a unicorn. A fantastic, mythical thing that could exist, but probably never would and if it ever did surely it would be so fantastically expensive that we’d never afford one in our lifetime. Oh, but if we did get our hands on one we’d never need another hard drive again cause there’s no way we’d ever fill it up! Just imagine having a hard drive you’d hand down to your children and them to their children and even then it’d probably take another generation of kids to come close to filling it up!

You know you’re getting old when you waste time figuring shit like this out and then shaking your head at how spoiled kids are these days.

Addendum: The first computer I ever bought with my own money was my venerable Amiga 1000. I got a job at McDonalds and took out my first ever loan from a credit union to pay for it. The machine itself cost $1,295 at launch and the CRT monitor was another $300 bringing the total to $1,595 not including sales tax. In today’s dollars that works out to $3,537.43. That boggles my mind.

Today Disneyland is 60 years old.

On July 17th, 1955 the gates to Disneyland first opened to throngs of waiting people. The event was covered by ABC with an hour long special that amounted to a massive commercial for Disney’s new venture. That special is available in its entirety on YouTube:

This was 12 years before I was born and it’s fascinating to look back and see how it was covered at the time. Seeing Ronald Reagan show up not as a politician, but as an actor, is really weird.

The park cost Disney $17 million to build (about $151 million in today’s dollars). An amazing amount of money at the time, but the park quickly turned a profit and continues to do so today. Average yearly attendance these days is 14 million people spending around $3 billion while they’re there. Not bad for a 60 year old amusement park. It helps that the park has been expanded and attractions refreshed several times over the years giving folks a reason to come back. I’ve never been to Disneyland myself, but I have been to Walt Disney World in Florida which is only 4 years younger than I am.

Anyway, I thought the ABC special made for interesting viewing so I thought I’d share it here.

PoliTech asks college students basic history questions…

… the results of which are very disheartening. Granted, this is in Texas where there’s an effort to have textbooks rewritten to push a Conservative slant on all topics, but these aren’t even politically fraught questions. These are basic facts that it’s stunning to think anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size doesn’t know.

Check it:

headdeskBut, hey, if you want to know what show Snooki was on or who Brad Pitt is/was married to then these kids have got you covered!

To be fair, I can’t recall the last time knowing who won the civil war was critical to my day to day life and knowing that the Vice President is Joe Biden doesn’t help me fix a client’s computer any faster. In the interest of being completely honest I’ll admit that while I do know who we gained our independence from, I wasn’t entirely certain what year it was as it’s a bit of a vague question. My knee-jerk response is 1776, but that’s the year we declared independence. The war itself didn’t actually end until 1783. You could argue we didn’t actually gain it until the war ended. The really sad part is that I do know what show Snooki was on in spite of NEVER HAVING WATCHED THE FUCKING SHOW. I also know who Brad Pitt is/was married to because it’s all anyone talked about back when he dumped one to go to the other.

These people don’t strike me as stupid. They’re just ignorant about the history of their country. I suppose we could debate over how important knowledge of these questions really is, but the point is that you have to work hard at being that ignorant given these are basic facts first taught in elementary school and repeated throughout the years. Given how many times this was covered in my time in public schools I find it hard to imagine there’s any way you could finish K-12 and not know these facts by heart. OK, the Joe Biden one doesn’t really count. I can understand not knowing the dates of important historical events because I was pretty crappy at remembering dates myself, but I at least have a general idea of the time period they happened in.

Are they just not teaching these things in school anymore?

The more things change…

Today’s XKCD shows us that bitching about the pace of modern life and the ongoing debasement of the general public’s IQ has been a popular pastime for many, many years…

The transistor revolution put in perspective.

Adam Savage gives us a guided tour of how far along computing has come in 60 or so years:

You’ve come a long way, baby! It’s interesting to note that the massive 1GB HD they have is from 1981 back when I was cutting my teeth on a Commodore 64 with a 177K 1541 floppy drive.

Those who fail to learn from history…

Happy 175th Birthday, Michigan!

"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Today is my home state’s 175th birthday and she doesn’t look a day over 130. Interestingly enough, the founding of the state wasn’t without conflict:

Neighboring Ohio attained statehood in 1803 and engaged in a running dispute with Michigan over ownership of land known as “the Toledo Strip” along the Maumee River. Tensions ran so high in the mid-1830s that both states sent militia units into the region, but no shots were ever fired or prisoners taken.

[…] In 1835, the territory formally applied for admission to the union as a free state, where slavery was outlawed. At the time, federal law required admission of a free state to be offset by the entry of a slave state, in this case Arkansas, which also had applied.

In June 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill admitting Arkansas but, with Ohio kicking up a fuss, told Congress to settle the border issue before he’d approve statehood for Michigan. The resulting compromise awarded the Toledo Strip to Ohio but gave the Upper Peninsula to Michigan.

This looks like a great deal now, but back then, Michigan initially rejected the offer. It took two conventions before the deal was sealed in December 1836. Congress then passed a Michigan statehood bill that Jackson signed on Jan. 26, 1837.

via Ron Dzwonkowski: Michigan is 175 years old and vital as ever | Detroit Free Press | freep.com.

The dispute with Ohio was known as the Toledo War and/or the Michigan-Ohio War:

Originating from conflicting state and federal legislation passed between 1787 and 1805, the dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical features of the Great Lakes at the time. Varying interpretations of the law caused the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim sovereignty over a 468-square-mile (1,210 km2) region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. When Michigan sought statehood in the early 1830s, it sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries; Ohio’s Congressional delegation was in turn able to halt Michigan’s admission to the Union.

Beginning in 1835, both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side’s capitulation. Ohio’s governor Robert Lucas and Michigan’s 24-year-old “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason were both unwilling to cede jurisdiction of the Strip, so they raised militias and helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other’s authority. The militias were mobilized and sent to positions on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the “war” ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.

During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and approximately three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan at the time, nearly all of it was still Indian territory, and voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected it.

In December 1836, the Michigan territorial government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the “Frost-bitten Convention”) which accepted the compromise which resolved the Toledo War.

It’s hard to imagine Michigan without the Upper Peninsula, especially when the other result would’ve been a much smaller strip of land and would’ve stuck us with Toledo.

Another interesting historical note, for me anyway, is that the first convention that rejected the proposed compromise took place right here in Ann Arbor, but in the end it was money (natch) that prompted Michigan to acquiesce:

As the year wore on, Michigan found itself deep in a financial crisis and was nearly bankrupt, because of the high militia expenses. The government was spurred to action by the realization that a $400,000 surplus in the United States Treasury was about to be distributed to the states, but not to territorial governments. Michigan would have been ineligible to receive the money.

The “war” unofficially ended on December 14, 1836, at a second convention in Ann Arbor. Delegates passed a resolution to accept the terms set forth by the Congress. However, the calling of the convention was itself not without controversy. It had only come about because of an upswelling of private summonses, petitions, and public meetings. Since the legislature did not approve a call to convention, some said the convention was illegal. Whigs boycotted the convention. As a consequence, the resolution was rejected and ridiculed by many Michigan residents. Congress questioned the legality of the convention, but accepted the results of the convention regardless of its concerns. Because of these factors, as well as because of the notable cold spell at the time, the event later became known as the “Frostbitten Convention.”

Turns out the only state that actually lost anything in “the war” was Wisconsin:

At the time of the Frostbitten Convention, it appeared that Ohio had won the conflict. The Upper Peninsula was considered a worthless wilderness by almost all familiar with the area. The vast mineral riches of the land were unknown until the discovery of copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula and iron in the Western Upper Peninsula; this discovery led to a mining boom that lasted long into the 20th century. Given the current value of the port of Toledo to Ohio, it can be reasonably suggested that both sides benefitted from the conflict.

Consequently, the only state that definitively lost was not even involved in the conflict. The mineral-rich land of the western Upper Peninsula would have most likely remained part of Wisconsin had Michigan not lost the Toledo Strip.

Suck it Wisconsin!

If you have lived in Michigan or Ohio for any amount of time you’ll be aware of the intense rivalry between the two states that most often comes up in the arena of collegiate sports, particularly college football. If you’re not aware of the history you might think it’s just a result of school spirit, but it’s clear that it stretches way back in time. These days it’s a much more friendly rivalry that’s generally limited to making disparaging remarks about how much the other state sucks, again particularly it’s collegiate football teams. Ultimately we can’t be too upset with them because the U.P. ended up being a much better deal than we had expected.

If you’re interested you can learn a lot of other interesting facts about Michigan in its Wikipedia entry. Stuff like the fact that we have the second longest shoreline of any state in the Union. Or the fact that you’re never more than 6 miles from an inland lake when you’re here.