FYI January 15, 2018

On This Day

1919 – Great Molasses Flood: A wave of molasses released from an exploding storage tank sweeps through Boston, Massachusetts, killing 21 and injuring 150.

The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919 in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. A large molasses storage tank burst and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event entered local folklore and for decades afterwards residents claimed that on hot summer days the area still smelled of molasses.[1]

The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919. The temperature had risen above 40 °F (4 °C), climbing rapidly from the frigid temperatures of the preceding days.[2]:91, 95

Molasses can be fermented to produce rum and ethanol, the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions.[2]:11 The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge.

At about 12:30 in the afternoon near Keany Square,[3] at 529 Commercial Street, a molasses tank 50 ft (15 m) tall, 90 ft (27 m) in diameter, and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700 m3), collapsed. Witnesses variously reported that as it collapsed they felt the ground shake and heard a roar, a long rumble similar to the passing of an elevated train (coincidentally, with a line of that type close by), a tremendous crashing, a deep growling, or “a thunderclap-like bang!” [emphasis added], and as the rivets shot out of the tank, a machine gun-like sound.[2]:92–95

The collapse unleashed a wave of molasses 25 ft (8 m) high at its peak,[4] moving at 35 mph (56 km/h).[1] The molasses wave was of sufficient force to damage the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway’s Atlantic Avenue structure and tip a railroad car momentarily off the tracks. Author Stephen Puleo describes how nearby buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm). Puleo quotes a Boston Post report:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form‍—‌whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings‍—‌men and women‍—‌suffered likewise.[2]:98

The Boston Globe reported that people “were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet.” Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor. About 150 people were injured; 21 people and several horses were killed. Some were crushed and drowned by the molasses. The wounded included people, horses, and dogs; coughing fits became one of the most common ailments after the initial blast. In a 1983 article for Smithsonian, Edwards Park wrote of one child’s experience:

Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him.[1]

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Born On This Day

1850 – Sofia Kovalevskaya, Russian-Swedish mathematician and physicist (d. 1891)
Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya (Russian: Со́фья Васи́льевна Ковале́вская), born Sofia Vasilyevna Korvin-Krukovskaya (1850–1891), was a Russian mathematician who made noteworthy contributions to analysis, partial differential equations and mechanics. She was the first major Russian female mathematician and a pioneer for women in mathematics around the world. She was the first woman appointed to a full professorship in Northern Europe and was also one of the first women to work for a scientific journal as an editor.[1] Her sister was the socialist Anne Jaclard.

There are several alternative transliterations of her name. She herself used Sophie Kowalevski (or occasionally Kowalevsky), for her academic publications. After moving to Sweden, she called herself Sonya.

Background and early education
Sofia Kovalevskaya (née Korvin-Krukovskaya), was born in Moscow, the second of three children. Her father, Lieutenant General Vasily Vasilyevich Korvin-Krukovsky, served in the Imperial Russian Army as head of the Moscow Artillery before retiring to Palibino, his family estate in Vitebsk province in 1858, when Sophie was eight years old. He was a member of the minor nobility, of mixed Russian–Polish descent (Polish on his father’s side), with possible partial ancestry from the Royal Korvin family of Hungary, and served as Marshall of Nobility for Vitebsk province. (There may also have been some Romani ancestry on the father’s side.[2])

Her mother, Yelizaveta Fedorovna Shubert (Schubert), descended from a family of German immigrants to St. Petersburg who lived on Vasilievsky island. Her maternal great grandfather was the astronomer and geographer Friedrich Theodor Schubert (1758−1825), who emigrated to Russia from Germany around 1785. He became a full member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Science and head of its astronomical observatory. His son, Sophie’s maternal grandfather, was General Theodor Friedrich von Schubert (Shubert) [1789−1865), who was head of the military topographic service, and an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, as well as Director of the Kunstkamera museum.

Her parents provided her with a good early education through a private Polish tutor Y.I. Malevich. When she was 11 years old, she was intrigued by an unusual premonition of what she was to learn later in her lessons in calculus; the wall of her room had been papered with pages from lecture notes by Ostrogradsky, left over from her father’s student days.[3] After she displayed an unusual, original flair for mathematics, she was provided with a tutor in St. Petersburg (A. N. Strannoliubskii, a well-known advocate of higher education for women), who taught her calculus. During that same period, the son of the local priest introduced her sister Anna to progressive ideas influenced by the “Movement of the 1860’s”, providing her with copies of radical journals of the time discussing nihilism.[4]

Despite her obvious talent for mathematics, she could not complete her education in Russia. At that time, women there were not allowed to attend universities. In order to study abroad, she needed written permission from her father (or husband). Accordingly, she contracted a “fictitious marriage” with Vladimir Kovalevskij, then a young paleontology student who would later become famous for his collaboration with Charles Darwin. They emigrated from Russia in 1867.[5]

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History of Wikipedia
Wikipedia began with its launch on 15 January 2001, two days after the domain was registered[2] by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Its technological and conceptual underpinnings predate this; the earliest known proposal for an online encyclopedia was made by Rick Gates in 1993,[3] but the concept of a free-as-in-freedom online encyclopedia (as distinct from mere open source)[4] was proposed by Richard Stallman in December 2000.[5]

Crucially, Stallman’s concept specifically included the idea that no central organization should control editing. This characteristic was in stark contrast to contemporary digital encyclopedias such as Microsoft Encarta, Encyclopædia Britannica, and even Bomis’s Nupedia, which was Wikipedia’s direct predecessor. In 2001, the license for Nupedia was changed to GFDL, and Wales and Sanger launched Wikipedia using the concept and technology of a wiki pioneered in 1995 by Ward Cunningham.[6] Initially, Wikipedia was intended to complement Nupedia, an online encyclopedia project edited solely by experts, by providing additional draft articles and ideas for it. In practice, Wikipedia quickly overtook Nupedia, becoming a global project in multiple languages and inspiring a wide range of other online reference projects.

According to Alexa Internet, as of 8 October 2017, Wikipedia is the world’s fifth-most-popular website in terms of overall visitor traffic.[7] Wikipedia’s worldwide monthly readership is approximately 495 million.[8] Worldwide

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