Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Oldest Tunnel in New York City





There are a variety of types of tunnels that can be built. Primarily they are the cut and fill and the true tunnel.  In the cut and fill method, which is used because it is much cheaper to construct, a trench is dug, the tunnel walls and ceiling are constructed of masonry or other materials, and then the earth is returned to the trench to "bury" the tunnel.  The true tunnel is constructed by literally digging from one end to the other (or, more often, digging from both ends towards the middle). Some true tunnels are dug in dirt, and others through stone. The advantage of stone, many times, is the lack of need for a supporting structure, but the disadvantage, of course, is that the tunnel must be cut from the very strong stone, which makes it much more difficult and time consuming, not to mention the cost.

The oldest true tunnel in NYC for rail traffic, or any kind of traffic, is the Mount Prospect Tunnel in Manhattan, opened in 1837. It now forms the center two tracks of Metro North from 92nd St. to 94th St. under Park Ave. The tunnel north and south of it, and the one-track tunnels on each side of it, were added in 1873-1875, but the Mount Prospect Tunnel was left in place and became part of the larger “Fourth Avenue Improvement”

The following illustration that appeared in the November 14, 1874 issue of the Scientific American shows the ground elevation and other pertinent information on the underground rail line from 42nd St to the Harlem River which was completed in 1875.  Of course, Fourth Avenue, became Park Ave.
In the center frame I have enlarged below you can clearly see that the section between 92nd and 94th Streets is labelled "Rock Tunnel."

Interestingly, the area that the Mount Prospect Tunnel is located is now called the Carnegie Hill area of the upper East side of Manhattan.  That name, Carnegie Hill, became the new name for Mount Prospect after Andrew Carnegie purchased land (1897) and built his residence (1903) at 91st Street and 5th Ave., a few blocks away from the tunnel.

The Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (also referred to as the Cobble Hill Tunnel) in Brooklyn was built in 1844-45 and is touted as the oldest Railway Tunnel in the world, it has been cited that the Mount Prospect Tunnel, while having been built earlier, was originally built for street cars and only converted to be a railway tunnel in the mid 1870s.


Cobble Hill Tunnel


There is a belief that a true tunnel was constructed for the Croton Aqueduct in upper Manhattan which opened in 1842, but that has not been documented as of this writing. Clearly, that tunnel, if it exists, was not for traffic at all, but rather a viaduct for water and appears to be constructed around five years after the Mount Pleasant Tunnel was completed.




The Abrams Universal Sun Compass

I have had an Abrams Universal Sun Compass in my 
collection for quite a few years now.

Shortly after I got my Abrams, about 10 years ago, I 
searched for the company and found that they were still 
in business in Lansing MI.  In the directions that come with 
the device it explains how to adjust the sundial to get a 
correct reading for each day of the year.  I have a pretty 
good understanding of sundials and know why that is the 
case.  There is a plate on the device that has the dates for 
adjusting for the specific days for that specified year.  I was 
wondering if they continued to make additional plates for 
other years.  --- and how many years did they continue 
to produce them.  I called the company and I spoke to 
someone there about the item.  After describing the item 
and what I was looking for she broke out into laughter.  
Nobody had asked her for one of those since the end of WWII.  
I was amazed that she had been there that long and that she 
remembered the item.  Anyway, I got a good laugh out of it 
too.

The following information is contained in a post at 
Collecting Military Compassesand was provided by Ted Brink 
for inclusion here thanks to his permission:

The U.S. Army Sun Compass was produced during WW2 in 
the early 1940s by Abrams Instrument Co. of Lansing, MI, 
designated Model SC-1. In operation, it could determine 
direction accurately by noting the angle of the sun at a known 
time of day. It was designed for daylight use, but could  
navigate at night by orientation to the Polar star, mounted on a 
vehicle in environments where a magnetic compass might not 
work properly, such as inside an aircraft or truck due to the 
metal content or electrical circuits nearby.The exterior of the 
box is painted olive drab and the lid is lettered:

                        C. of E.
                                     U.S.A.
                             SUN COMPASS

The  C. of E. stands for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 
responsible for military compasses and other instruments 
during World War II. 

In World War II the SC-1 was used in the North African 
desert by the Long Range Desert Patrol (the famed Desert 
Rats) and other American, British or Australian units. Other 
uses were in B-24 Liberator bombers and by Army ground 
troops in the PhilippinesIt is reported to have been used 
through the 1970s for polar region expeditions where 
magnetic readings are unreliable or in the Sahara desert.

company is still in operation today but it has not made this instrument for a long time. Abrams Instrument
specialised in instruments for the aviation industry and made the Sun Compass under contract for the American
government during the Second World War. (The manual in our possession is dated 1943)
Liberator bombers were equipped with this instrument so that, in case of a crash, the survivors could orientate
themselves in the desert.
45° north and south of it, in 3° divisions. Several different length styluses were provided, the tallest of which 
would have been used within the tropics and the shortest in conjunction with the others for night navigation by 
orientation to Polaris, the north polar star. The tips of the styluses contained a tiny glass capsule apparently filled 
with a luminous substance and was presumably used at night but its exact function and method have yet to be 
discovered. The date plate was calibrated for both northern and southern latitudes. Thus the instrument was 
which American patent 2441636 later applied.11 It was calibrated for both hemispheres and from the Equator to 
45° north and south of it, in 3° divisions. Several different length styluses were provided, the tallest of which 
would have been used within the tropics and the shortest in conjunction with the others for night navigation by 
orientation to Polaris, the north polar star. The tips of the styluses contained a tiny glass capsule apparently filled 
with a luminous substance and was presumably used at night but its exact function and method have yet to be 
discovered. The date plate was calibrated for both northern and southern latitudes. Thus the instrument was  3
most others. 
 
immediately usable in either hemisphere and so was consistently universal within its calibrated latitudes, unlike 
The Sun Compass was manufactured by the Abrams Instrument company in Lansing, Michigan, USA. The
company is still in operation today but it has not made this instrument for a long time. Abrams Instrument
specialised in instruments for the aviation industry and made the Sun Compass under contract for the American
government during the Second World War. (The manual in our possession is dated 1943)
The Sun Compass seems to have been used mainly in the North African desert by the American Army. B24
Liberator bombers were equipped with this instrument so that, in case of a crash, the survivors could orientate
themselves in the desert.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

After Court Battle Equifax Admits that God Exists


As reported in the Canadian Globe and Mail and the New York Daily 
NewsEquifax consents to the existence of God.

"Without a decent credit rating it's tough to borrow for large purchases, as
a Russian-American discovered.  The New Yorker, owner of a business
called Gold Hard Cash, was refused a car loan because credit rating
agency Equifax would not provide financial details on the man.
The problem! God Gazarov was told by Equifax that it "could not process
his name as God."  The suit alleged that an Equfax official told Gazarov it
could not provide him or a lender with his credit file "because it could
not process his name as 'God' and suggested that he should consider
changing it."
After appearing before Brooklyn Federal Magistrate Judge Ramon Reyes,
the two parties to the suit struck an agreement, and Equifax will
now acknowledge God's name.  He will also receive an undisclosed
monetary settlement from the company...
Mr. Gazarov claims his name is not uncommon in Russia, and that he
was named after his grandfather.  Still, he's used to the jokes.  "My
principal in junior High School would walk by me in the cafeteria and 
say, 'Oh my God, there he is.'""
What is also interesting here is that I personally know people by the
name "Jesus."  I don't think the credit reporting agencies have had trouble
with that name.  So, what was the big deal recognizing "God."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Joseph Priestley, the Discoverer of Oxygen




Joseph Priestley, the Discoverer of Oxygen, 1912


Ernest Board, British (1877 - 1934)
Wellcome Library (Wellcome Trust) - London 
Painting - oil on canvas
Height: 61.5 cm (24.21 in.), Width: 91 cm (35.83 in.) 
I just found this painting by Ernest Board of Joseph Priestley. I had not run across it before and I wanted to share it with my readers. It is relatively modern painting of him. Ernest Board was a distinuished British painter of historical subjects and portraits; mural decorator. Born at Worcester, 1877 and was educated in Bristol. Studied art at the Royal College of Art, at the Royal Academy Schools, and later in the studio of Edwin Austin Abbey. Exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1902.  Died on 26th October 1934 aged 57.  Board was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters (R.O.I.) and the Royal West of England Academy (R.W.A.).




Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thomas Holloway's Engraving of Joseph Priestley after William Artaud, 1795

Image provided with permission by Glenn Holgersen
This copper plate engraving was accomplished and published by Thomas Holloway in 1795 based upon a painting by William Artaud of 1794.  There are originals of this engraving at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. D.C.

Thomas Holloway (1748-1827) was a noted British engraver and portrait painter, not to be confused with Thomas Halliday (1771-1844) the British engraver who executed the death medal of Joseph Priestley in 1804, which is also in the National Portrait Gallery.  I have a post on the Thomas Halliday Medal elsewhere on this blog. Holloway studied engraving at the Royal Academy starting in 1773.  Initially, Holloway's main direction was line engraving.  His earliest published plates were small portraits for magazines, chiefly of nonconformist ministers, of which Priestley was a noted one, especially after his admission as a Fellow of the Royal Society.






Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Twist on Touchstones of Time

My original post on Touchstones of Time back in February, 2014 seems to have made a very positive impression on quite a few people. Thanks for all the many comments both public and private that I have received.  I had occasion to be thinking about the royal family again and had some interesting factoids that I would like to share with you.

For the purposes of this quick sketch I will be referring to Queen Elizabeth II as Liz and to Queen Victoria as Vicky and Prince William as Willy.  Of course, Vicky is the great great grandmother of Liz, or, to put it in terms of the Touchstones post Vicky's grandson was George V, and George's granddaughter was Liz and Liz's grandson is Willy, and Willy's grandchild doesn't exist yet.  But, Willy already has a child, another George again.

Here are some vital statistics, assuming that Liz makes it to 9/11/2015 alive:


At that time (9/11/2015) Liz would be the longest serving Monarch in the history of the British Empire.  There is a pretty good chance that she will make it to more than 63 and 1/2 years on the throne.  Liz is already considerably older than Vicky was at her death (89+ vs. 81+ years).  One reason that Vicky was on the throne for so long was that she was only just over 18 when she ascended, versus Liz's almost 26 years of age).

One interesting point is that Liz was born only a little over 25 years after Vicky died. 
Will the time come when I have to change the Touchstones connections (holding hands) from grandparent to great grandparent, and from grandchild to great grandchild?  This would make the span in years even greater.

There are a number of factors that would influence the answering of that question.  First, the average age of mortality is increasing, which makes having great grandchildren (while you are still alive) more possible.  However, since the average age of first marriage is also increasing, this makes having great grandchildren (again, while you are still alive) more difficult.  What is the compound effect of these two trends?  Since the age of mortality and age at marriage are averages, there will be some people, no doubt, who get married young and live longer, making the likelihood of having generations of great grandchildren more likely than ever before. However, given the averages, the number of such families with such luck will be limited.  Let's look at the numbers.

Life Expectancy

In the developed world the average life expectancy has increased from about 66 years before 1900 to about 78 years in 2015, an increase of about 12 years in about 125 years, or about 1 year increase in life expectancy for every decade.  In fact, if we look to the projected life expectancy for 2050 which is about 82 years, we will increase by 4 more years in the next 35 years. Basically on the same trend.



Age of First Marriage

Average age of first marriage seems to have bottomed out around 1960 and has steadily increased since then.  In 1960, males were about 23 years of age and females were just over 20 years of age.
In 2010 the equivalent numbers were 28 and 26.  For one thing, the gap in age between males and females is diminishing.  In the last 50 years the average age has increased (male and female combined) from 21.5 to 27, or an increase of about 5.5 years.  That is just over one additional year per decade.

So, we now have a better handle on the demographics. Both life expectancy and the age of first marriage are increasing at the rate of about one year per decade.

An average marriage today at age 27 means that the couple will live until age 84 (52 more years).  Their offspring will be married at age 29 (when the couple is aged 56 with the parent's average life expectancy of another 28 years).  Those offspring when married will have offspring at about age 32, which is after the grandparents have already died).

But, if someone were to buck the trend and marry, say, at age 18, with children to follow almost immediately, and those children to marry young (age 18), and so on, then there would be a strong likelihood that more parents and great grandchildren would hold hands due to the longer life expectancy.

So, while, Liz has, no doubt held hands with her great grandchild, George, she will most likely never hold hands with her great great grandchild, whomever that might be.  While Vicky missed the opportunity to do so with Liz by some 25 years, I doubt that there will be a 25 year gap from Liz's death to George's offspring's birth.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Russia, Population, Alcoholism, and Associated Mortality Rates

I have been watching with some interest the developments in Russia lately.  In particular, this perfect storm that is brewing in Russia between annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, the sanctions to counter this action by the Western Developed Nation, and the plummeting prices of oil.

During this brief period of 2014 we have already seen the exodus of massive amounts of capital from Russia resulting in the plummeting in the value of the Rouble (nearly 50%), the skyrocketing interest rates (currently 17%), and massive inflation (currently 11.4%), the decline in oil revenues (more than 50%), and the embargo on importation of western goods into Russia, just to mention a few items.

Today, I understand that Russia has now reduced the price of vodka.  I suppose this is to allow the citizenry to drown themselves in a drunken stupor so that they do not see what is going on economically.  But, I also recall that Russia has been struggling with a huge alcoholism problem for years.  So, I decided to look into this a little deeper.  I have decided to compare what is going on in Russia on this issue as compared to the US.

First, population.  Since Russia did not exist as a country before 1989 I am including here only information since about that date. Results are stated in millions.


Year                Russia                 US                Notes

1990                148.5                 249.6  
2000               140.7                 282.2
2010                141.8                 309.3       CIA estimate for Russia is 138.7
2014                142.5                 318.3        Population of annexed Crimea not
                                                                      included.  Currently, birth rate has
                                                                      declined and death rate has
                                                                      increased.

Next, alcoholism.

I have read that alcoholism is and has been a substantial problem in Russia.  There was a campaign in the late 1980s to reduce alcohol consumption in the country.  That resulted in a  tremendous decrease in the mortality rate.
I have seen charts showing alcoholism rates fluctuating between 20% and 40% during the post Soviet years.  In recent years there was another attempt to reduce alcoholism.  Estimates of 500,000 deaths per year are reported for Russia in the very recent past. This puts the current rate of alcoholism at about 20%.  The equivalent number for the US is put at 88,000 deaths per year.

Since the Russian population is only 44.8% of the US population (2014), the equivalent number of deaths for Russia to have the same death rate from alcoholism would be 39,400.  Since Russia experiences a rate of 500,000, that means that the death rate in Russia is 12.69 times greater.
If the alcoholism rate for Russia were to increase once again to around 40% as has been the case in the not too distant past, then it might be reasonable to expect as many as 1,000,000 deaths per year attributable to alcoholism.  This would be a death rate exceeding 25 times the rate in the US.

Russia has been struggling to have its population increase.  As the population decreases, the number of working age citizens is also decreasing.  This makes economic growth difficult to impossible. I also can't imagine that a 40% alcoholism rate would add to productivity either.

This does not make for a great economic future for Russia.

So, the question is -- Given the above information, what is the first major shoe to drop, so to speak?
I would enjoy hearing your ideas.  If you have any more specific information regarding the information I have presented I would like to hear from you also.