I do a lot of crafts. I mean, a lot variety-wise, and a lot quantity-wise. When I’m not writing, managing our household, planning meetings or teaching students (I’m a vocal coach and an English teacher for adults), I’m usually doing some kind of craft, and it more often than not involves some form of upcycling – turning “trash” into “treasures”. Recently, I’ve been making sheets of plastic-confetti-filled bubble wrap, ironed into what’s known as “ploth” (plastic cloth). These can then be sewn into bags, etc. It got me to thinking about just how bubble wrap came to be. I have tons of the stuff, stashed here and there in the craft room, for such projects – and I’m constantly on the lookout for creative uses for that poppable fun.
Did you know that originally it wasn’t intended as packing material but as wallpaper? In 1957, Swiss chemist Marc Chavannes and his business partner, Alfred Fielding, wanted to make a wallpaper that would appeal to the emerging Beat culture [for those of you unfamiliar with that term, it was a generation of post-war, anti-establishment rebels who were more or less the precursor to the 60’s hippie and counterculture movements]. What the partners did was simple enough: They put two layers of a plastic shower curtain through a heat-sealing machine. But it came out in what they first saw as a failure, with air bubbles trapped between the two layers. They figured they were onto something, failure or not, and so they got a patent and then began experimenting to find other uses. Wallpaper wasn’t popular; neither was their suggestion to use it as insulation for greenhouses (perhaps that was simply a matter of marketing to the wrong demographic). Then, around 1960, IBM began shipping their newly-designed 1410 computers and needed a way to protect the delicate dinosaurs – eh, I mean, computing mammoths. That’s a LOT of bubble wrap. The rest is, as they say, history. And in case you’re wondering, yes, people have been popping the bubbles from the beginning, just for fun. So much fun, in fact, that the last Monday of every January is officially “Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day”.
Click on the image below to watch an IBM recruiting film (1 minute), from 1960. You can also see one of IBM’s massive scientific mainframes being used by the original “computers” of NASA in the film “Hidden Figures“.
IBM’s 1410 computer promotional photo, 1959. Credit, Computer History Museum archives
Mississippi and Chinese are not two terms one usually expects to see in the same sentence; yet it’s a slice of history worth undusting (though, for those who grew up in this subculture of the South, it’s not history, but reality): An industrious, well-educated but small population of Chinese immigrants made a significant impact on the economy and social environment of their communities along the Mississippi Delta.
The first influx of Chinese to America came in the pioneering days, when they worked in gold mines, along railroads, and provided laundry services in the Old West. More came to work in the cotton fields of the South when the plantation owners could no longer count on free slave labour. Most of these Chinese came from Guangdong province in China, which has a similar climate to the Delta. The opportunity for work in America afforded them the chance to help support their family members who remained behind in China. They quickly established themselves in a niche market between the whites and the blacks, serving both communities with segregated grocery stores.
During the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), they were unable to own property, so the families lived behind their stores in the same building; their children all attended one-room schoolhouses, some of which were built by the Southern Baptist church (which remains a big part of their lives). [The fact that there was such a law implemented to restrict a specific ethnic group is the greatest remaining witness to the number of Chinese immigrants of the initial wave (during the California Gold Rush, 1848-1855), as records or censuses of that time period have all but vanished.] The parents worked 365 days a year to send their children to college; many of those children went on to be pharmacists, NASA scientists, veterans (the Delta was represented by 182 Chinese men who served in World War 2), doctors, and many other professions.
For a fascinating look at an almost unknown community in the heart of America’s South, click on the photo below and the links provided below that.
E. Samantha Cheng: Discovering the Mississippi Delta Chinese Legacy
Heritage Series: Honor and Duty: The Mississippi Delta Chinese
For you Sci-Fi buffs out there, that title will be very familiar, as it is the opening line of the Star Trek manifesto. The novel I’m working on at the moment is just that – Sci-Fi, albeit not Star Trek. It nevertheless takes me into space, and that’s always a fascinating thing! So here are a few fun facts about what lies beyond our atmosphere:
- Jupiter’s Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and is even larger than the planet of Mercury.
- Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system, with a surface temperature of 460°C. A day on Venus is 243 Earth-days long, but its year is only 224.7 days; Venus spins backwards on its axis.
- Oxygen is the third most common element on the Sun, after helium and hydrogen.
- A neutron star is the strongest known magnet in the universe, and such stars are among the fastest-spinning objects observed, spinning up to 500 times per second.
- Since 1992, when the first exoplanet was discovered, there have been 3,728 confirmed planets in 2,794 systems, with 622 systems having more than one planet.
- About 1 in 5 stars comparable to our sun have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone (known to scientists as the “Goldilocks Zone”). It is assumed that there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone; based on that, there would be 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in our galaxy (and up to 40 billion if you count red dwarf stars as well).
- Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to us beyond the Sun.
- Russia is larger than the entire surface area of Pluto.
- The largest known star is Westerlund 1-26, which is 2,000 times bigger than the Sun.
- Olympus Mons, on Mars, is the largest volcano in the solar system. Due to the low gravity of Mars and the lack of plate tectonics, it has been able to grow to three times higher than Mount Everest.
- Dark matter and dark energy are thought to make up nearly 95% of all matter in the universe.
- The Boomerang Nebula (also known as “the Bow Tie Nebula”) is the coldest known place in the universe, with a temperature of 1 K (−272.15°C; −457.87°F).
- The Sun is growing, but we won’t have to worry about it for a few billion years, when it will become close enough to swallow the Earth.
- On Mercury during the day, the Sun rises, stops, and then sets where it rose. It rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun, meaning that, if you lived on Mercury, you would only see one day every two years.
- The Sun’s core releases the equivalent of 100 billion nuclear bombs every second, and its energy is emitted as heat and light.
- The storm on Jupiter known as the ‘Great Red Spot’ has been going on for at least 350 years; it’s so large that dozens of Earths would fit into it.
- A supermassive black hole is thought to be present in the centre of nearly every galaxy, including our own (ours is a runt compared to the average size).
- Shooting stars really aren’t stars; they’re meteors – and even then, they are often only dust particles falling through our atmosphere that vaporize due to the heat of friction with the atmospheric gases. If they are large enough to survive the journey through our atmosphere and impact on the ground, they are called meteorites.
- We are in constant motion; planets move within the solar system, the solar system moves within the Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn moves within The Local Group of Galaxies; the local group is moving toward the Virgo Cluster.
- Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard left two golf balls on the Moon in 1971. They’re still there: One is in the Javelin Crater, and the second fell near where the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment) was deployed.
- The Moon’s Javelin Crater gets its name because on the Apollo 14 mission, fellow astronaut to Shepard, Ed Mitchell, threw the Solar Wind Collector staff as a make-shift javelin.
- Uranus has 27 known moons, all of which are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.
- Jupiter has 69 known moons.
- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have no solid surface to land on, being comprised of gas.
- Did you know that the Earth is actually a ringed planet by now? At the last official count (2013), more than 170 million pieces of space junk debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 670,000 debris 1–10 cm, and around 29,000 larger debris were estimated to be in orbit; these clouds (in both the geosynchronous Earth orbit and the low Earth orbit) make it hazardous for spacecraft, due to the dangers of collisions; they basically sandblast craft, which makes the launch of equipment like telescopes or solar panels extremely susceptible to damage.
- Below 2,000 km (1,200 mi) Earth-altitude, debris are denser than meteoroids; most are dust from solid rocket motors, surface erosion debris like paint flakes, and frozen coolant from RORSAT nuclear-powered satellites (according to Wikipedia). Maybe it’s actually a good thing that we can’t make it to other planets to colonize…
Below are images from APOD – enjoy!