Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Classic Ages: Stone, Bronze & Iron

The Great Sahara Desert  & Sub-Saharan Africa
The Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age each refer to the chief material used for tools and weapons associated with the various stages in the history of man.
At first, these ‘ages’ were used as classifications for dating historic artifacts found in areas such as Europe or Asia, but they’re not referred to quite as often as they once were, because, as it turns out, dates varied drastically for the uses of these materials around the world.
Some civilizations even skipped a period; for example Sub-Saharan Africa went straight from stone to iron skipping the Bronze Age altogether and the American natives never got out of Stone Age until after the era commonly known as European exploration.

Beginning a few hundred years before 10,000 BC all tools and weapons were made of stone / flint, this included axes, spear points, arrow heads, and such.   During the latter years (about 7,000 hard years later) of the Stone Age or the Neolithic period, humans began to make limited use of copper (there were / are small amounts of pure copper found in nature), which could be hammered or melted and then formed into tools or weapons.  As time marched on in the Neolithic period, the technology of smelting (“melting” out of ore by heating it with fire) emerged in Southwest Asia, thus allowing copper to be extracted from copper ore.   While copper can be used for tools and weapons, it is considered to be too soft a material to be reasonably effective. It was eventually discovered that by blending copper with tin, a much harder metal can / could be created that came to be known as bronze.

In any given region, the Bronze Age is considered to have begun when bronze became a material used for constructing tools and weapons. The term “Bronze Age” is typically not used if only a few bronze tools were being made, or if bronze was only being used for creating jewelry.

The Bronze Age of Eurasia (Europe & Asia) spanned from about 3000 BC to 1000 BC. Like the Neolithic period, it began in Southwest Asia, and spread in all directions. It took roughly a thousand years for the Bronze age to cover the entire east-west span of mainland Eurasia, from the Atlantic (Western Europe) to the Pacific (China); naturally, it also spread northward and southward during this time span. So, by 2000 BC, most of Eurasia had made the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.

Although the Bronze Age spread to North Africa, the Sahara Desert, that’s located in the northern portion of Africa and is the largest hot desert on earth, prevented the Bronze Age from ever reaching that portion of Africa located south of the Sahara Desert, often called Sub-Saharan Africa.

The story of the Iron Age is quite similar. It began in Southwest Asia as well, in about 1000 BC, shortly after smelting pit designs had advanced sufficiently to produce the higher temperatures needed to smelt iron ore. Within about five hundred years, it completely covered the east-west span of Eurasia; within this time line, most of Eurasia had transitioned to the Iron Age by 500 BC.

The Iron Age (like the Bronze Age before it) spread easily to North Africa, but the Sahara Desert greatly delayed its spread to Sub-Saharan Africa. Accordingly, the Iron Age did not reach the southern tip of the African continent until sometime around 500 AD, and remember, this region of southern Africa completely missed the Bronze Age.
The transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age was critical not because of any superior physical property of the metal itself as most folks might think, in fact although the Bronze Age came before the Iron Age, bronze is actually superior to iron in several ways; for example: it is less brittle, it has a lower casting temperature, it resists corrosion and rust, and it’s stronger, but then iron is overwhelmingly more abundant than copper and tin. This fact enabled man-kind, for the first time in history, the ability to truly mass-produce metal tools and weapons for both agricultural purposes and warfare alike. Such metal implements are far more effective than stone in both endeavors, a fact that the good folks of the era eagerly accepted.

As for the pre-colonial Americas, the Bronze and Iron ages have little relevance. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the late 1400’s (think Columbus in 1492), the Bronze Age was reached only by the South American Inca Empire who was conquered by the Spanish in 1532.  Even though gold, silver, and copper were commonly used in pre-colonial American art, the Iron Age did not occur at all.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Laser; Beams / Pens / Pointers

Laser beams (color: red, green, & blue)

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification or in general terms, the amplification of a light signal.  Laser beams are famously employed as advanced weapon systems in science fiction flicks, but today’s actual laser weapons are still in the experimental stage. The general idea behind laser-beam weaponry is to hit a target with a short train of brief light pulses. The resulting rapid evaporation and expansion of the surface causes shockwaves that damages or destroys the target. But, the power needed to project a high-powered laser beam of this kind is beyond the limit of current modern mobile powered technology.

A laser pointer or laser pen is a small portable device which has a power source, most usually one or more AAA batteries, with a laser emitting a very narrow low-powered beam of visible light, intended to highlight something of interest with a small bright spot of colored light that is some distance away. Its power is typically restricted in most jurisdictions so as not to exceed 5 milliwatts (mW) or 5 thousandths of a watt, and yes devices such as these are available in today’s market place which display colors that include: Red, red-orange, blue, yellow, violet and green.

The small width of the beam coupled with the low power of a typical laser pointer makes the beam itself invisible when displayed in a reasonably clean atmosphere; a point of light is shown or illuminated when striking a solid surface, otherwise you wouldn’t know it was there.  However, higher-power and higher-frequency green or blue lasers may produce a beam that is visible to the unaided eye even in clean air because of the process known as “Rayleigh Scattering” (the elastic scattering of light ) of air molecules through which the beam passes, especially if viewed in moderately or dimly lit environments.  Rayleigh scattering is also demonstrated by the blue hue of the daytime sky and the reddening of the sun at sunset.

Green laser light beams appear brighter than other colors, red or blue for example, because the human eye is more sensitive at low light levels in the green region of the light spectrum which has a wavelength of 520 to 570 nanometers (one nm = 1 billionth of a meter); all visible light ranges from 400 nm to 710 nm but human sight sensitivity progressively decreases for redder and bluer wavelengths.    
Laser pointers are typically used as a signaling tool, even in daylight, and are able to produce a bright signal for potential search and rescue vehicles by using an inexpensive, small and lightweight device of the type that can readily be carried in an emergency kit or even a shirt pocket.  The down side is that if aimed at a person’s eyes the result may cause temporary disturbances to vision; there is limited evidence of rare though minor permanent harm, however, low-powered laser pointers (5 mW or less) are not considered to be seriously hazardous to anyone’s health.

Accurately aligned laser pointers are now often used as laser gun sights, wherein “red” marks the deadly spot; a low-powered laser is known to scare away wild animals for those confronted by such beasts during a leisurely hike in the woods or may serve as an excellent detection or locator device in the event that you find yourself on the wrong end of a hunt and rescue mission. Add to those obvious benefits the ever popular “laser” amusement shows or the curious fact that for some reason, housecats and even servals (medium sized African wild cats), are attracted to the motion of the dot produced by laser pointers.

Laser pointers have become readily available, so naturally they have been misused, which has led to the development of laws and regulations specifically addressing the use of such lasers, but the long range of the devices makes it very difficult to find the source of a laser spot. 

Currently there is legislation limiting the power output of laser pointers in some countries, but higher-power devices are presently produced in other regions like China and Hong Kong that are frequently imported by customers who purchase them directly via e-mail orders from on-line stores. The legality of such transactions are not always clear and to make matters worse, such high powered lasers are frequently sold in packaging similar to that for low-powered laser pointers.

There have been numerous villous incidents regarding such devices, in particular, those involving aircraft, and as should be the case, the authorities in many countries take them extremely serious. Many people have been convicted and sentenced, sometimes to several years’ imprisonment; in fact in the United States shining a laser pointer of any class (low / high powered) at an aircraft is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $11,000.

It has been established that at around 200 to 300 milliwatts, the beam from a laser can be felt on the skin; at roughly 500 milliwatts, the laser’s beam begins to be a skin burn hazard, but only if the person is within a few meters or yards of the beam.  Incidentally, even powerful industrial lasers cannot cause deep burns or severed limbs; create gun-type injuries or other adverse effects as is often seen in science fiction movies. Although multi-watt laser beams are most definitely serious eye hazards, they are ineffective at causing debilitating bodily injuries.

This easily explains why laser pointer sales are restricted, but why would anyone want a laser pointer with high powered capability in the first place? Brightness of the light / beam is typically the answer. However, anything above a 50 milliwatts pointer is over shadowed by the potential hazards from the general use benefits one gains from a brighter beam / light.

Surprisingly, there is not a generally accepted definition of a laser “pointer” and there is no “maximum” power in the U.S. as is the case in many other countries. A person can buy a laser of whatever power they want, even tens of watts.  Prior to 2010, in the U.S., the FDA described pointers as “hand-held lasers that are promoted as those for pointing out objects or locations” with output power of 5 milliwatts or less. Some folks considered this to be a “loophole” by making the argument that if a hand-held laser is not promoted or advertised for pointing or amusement purposes, then it can legally be sold.

So, beginning in 2010, the FDA started classifying handheld portable lasers as “surveying, leveling and alignment” (SLA) lasers, and will be trying to further restrict sales of lasers above 5 milliwatts based on this new rules interpretation.

There apparently is no federal law against an individual owning a laser, regardless of power in the U.S.; in spite of this, some states and localities may have their own laws that do just that. Therefore, at the federal level, an “illegal laser pointer” is illegal only from the manufacturer's or seller's standpoint. An “illegal” laser may be too powerful to be sold or promoted for pointing purposes, or it may be lacking in some required safety feature(s), and that only applies to the seller or manufacturer of the product; not the individual.

Although it is sometimes argued that an individual residing in the United States is required by law to report to the federal government the ownership of any type of laser product; this is in all likely-hood a fallacy.  Otherwise that MP3 player or the CD player you have tucked away in your room which utilizes a type of laser would undoubtedly constitute guilt for most all of us. In any event, perhaps the best way to determine if you have in your possession a laser product that places you outside the law, the advice of an attorney with valid experience in the field is called for.

Sources:                                                                                                                    /RadiationEmittingProducts /sandProcedures/HomeBusinessandEntertainment/LaserProductsandInstruments/ucm116373.htm

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grooved Spheres of South Africa?

                             “Klerksdorp Spheres”                    

Klerksdorp spheres are small objects, often spherical to disc-shaped, that have been collected by miners from 3-billion-year-old pyrophyllite (a mineral composed of aluminum silicate hydroxide) deposits mined by Wonderstone Ltd., just east of the central part of South Africa. They have been cited by alternative researchers and reporters in books, popular articles, and many web pages, as inexplicable out-of-place artifacts that could have only have been manufactured by intelligent beings.

They typically range in diameter from 0.5 to 10 centimeters (.20 inches to 3.94 inches). They vary widely in shape from either well-defined ball like discs (displayed above) or nearly flattened spheres (displayed left). Through petrography’s (the description and classification of rocks) and X-ray diffraction’s (method used to determine information about a crystal’s structure) evaluations of the objects or discs, have established that they consist either of hematite (the mineral form of iron III oxide) or sometimes wollastonite (a calcium silicate, which is the largest class of rock-forming minerals), in which case minor amounts of hematite and goethite, which is an iron bearing oxide mineral are incorporated into the their composition.

Further scientific observations have indicated that many of the Klerksdorp Spheres / discs that were found in unaltered pyrophyllite mineral deposits also consist of the mineral pyrite.

The color of the specimens studied (those make of hematite or wollastonite) ranged from dark reddish brown, red, to dusky red. The color of those objects composed of pyrite is not known for sure, none the less, “fools gold” or pyrite is generally known to have a metallic luster with a pale-brass-yellow hue.

As you might expect, there have been other reports which have resulted in rather disquieting mystery reports especially about their physical make-up or their inherent properties; which goes something like this: “Over the last few decades, miners in South Africa have been finding mysterious metal spheres encased within solid rock formations they’ve encountered during their mining operations. These spheres of unknown origin, measure approximately an inch or so in diameter, and some are etched with three parallel grooves running around the equator. Two types of spheres have been found: one is composed of a solid bluish metal, that’s harder than steel and unknown to modern man, with flecks of white; while the other is hollowed out and filled with a spongy white substance. The kicker is that the rock formation in which they where found is dated to be about 2.8 billion years old! Who made them and for what purpose is unknown”

“In addition, it appears that the spheres / discs are so delicately balanced that, even with modern technology, zero gravity would be needed to re-produce them.”  “As the story goes scientists at NASA were mystified when they examined them, and were unable to come up with any explanation.”

Theories abound as to where they came from and for what purpose they could possibly have served; such as:  The Spheres were artificially created by aliens or some lost and forgotten civilization and are of extreme ancient origin, but for what rationale function, you ask? Several theories have been offered of late:

The discs were a form of ancient currency. It’s known that some ancient cultures used objects other than coins and paper as money.
They are a “signal” or “message” from outer space. After all, some folk insist that “physical signals” are more reliable over the vast distances of space than electromagnetic or other energy based signals.

Then there’s the theory of ancient ammunition, which had either been stored or fired at the current location a really long time ago.

The idea that they hold some unknown magical purpose; question has been raised about research or study results by someone with the ability to see auras or someone skilled in psychometrics, which is the measurement of mental traits, abilities, and processes.
There’s always the possibility of ancient art.
It’s also been said that they are some yet unknown form of ancient information storage devices designed for record keeping.
Perhaps a kind of extraterrestrial surveillance device is a better guess. By having such physical artifacts here on earth, naturally the equipment on a distant planet used for surveillance technology will function a lot better.  Kind-a-like a radio / TV signal satellite repeater.
Then there’s the classic: the discs were produced by the billions as part of an extraterrestrial program to “seed” life across the Milky Way, thus including Planet Earth.

And one of my favorites is some speculation that they are connected in some way to Iapetus or Japetus, the third largest moon of Saturn which has unusual rings on its surface.

In any event, all of the specimens of those objects / discs, which were cut open by researchers, exhibited an extremely well defined radial structure terminating at the center or centers of each Klerksdorp Sphere. Several of the spheres exhibit well-defined and parallel grooves or ridges, thus enhancing the “out-of-place” concept. This parallel groove is an observable fact and applies to both specimens, those consisting of flattened spheres and those formed into ball like discs.

On the other hand, most credible Geologists who have studied these objects argue that the discs are not manufactured, but are the result of a natural process. 

Apparent valid arguments have been submitted that the spheres made from wollastonite minerals at least were formed by the process in which rocks are altered in composition, texture, or internal structure by extreme heat, pressure, and the introduction of new chemical substances resulting from silica-rich fluids such as those generated during volcanic deposits.

A similar process in coarser-grained sediments which created similar ridges and grooves are exhibited by innumerable iron oxide concretions that have been found within the Navajo Sandstone of southern Utah, USA, and they’re called “Moqui Marbles”.

When initially discovered, there were claims that these South African objects are either “perfectly round” or perfect spheres, but that claim is now known to be false.  Each specimen varies widely in shape, from noticeably flattened spheres to distinct ball shaped disks.  Similarly, inquiries by scientists, who have studied these objects, found that those claims stating that NASA found these objects to be either puzzling, perfectly balanced, or simply unnatural, are completely unsubstantiated.

Finally, a few published descriptions of these spheres as being made of some unknown metal that’s harder than steel are also fictitious. There is a complete lack of published data in any formal scientific paper, which proves or supports the argument that any of these spheres are abnormally hard; in fact, such implications are purely unreliable non-scientific accounts.


Sunday, March 4, 2012


Prohibition disposal  
(public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Prohibition was a period of almost fourteen years of American history in which the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor, or alcoholic beverages were made illegal. It resulted in the first and only time an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed; the law was responsible for a number of other unforeseen things as well.

Starting in 1920 and thank goodness (for several reasons) ending in 1933, the often called “Noble Experiment” was a time that’s most often characterized by speakeasies, glamour, and gangsters; it was a time during which the typical citizen was guilty of breaking the law.

Following the American Revolution, consumption of alcoholic beverages was on the rise. In an effort to combat this, a number of groups were organized as a part of the new Temperance (self-control) movement which come up with the idea that people in general should not become intoxicated. In their infancy or early years, these organizations recommended moderation, but after several decades, the movement’s focal point changed to absolute prohibition of alcohol consumption.
The Temperance movement blamed alcohol for any number of society’s ills, particularly crime and murder. Saloons came to be considered little more than a social haven for bad men who lived in the still untamed “wild west”.  They were viewed by many, especially women, as places of outright wickedness and evil. A nation wide law requiring prohibition, members of the Temperance movement argued, would put a stop to husbands spending all of the American family’s income on liquor and at the same time prevent accidents in the workplace caused by all those workers who drank during lunch.
Technically it was the 18th Amendment that went into effect on January 16, 1920 that established Prohibition, but it was the Volstead Act (passed on October 28, 1919) that made the law crystal clear. The Act stated that “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous (resembling or containing wine) liquors” pertained to all beverages that contained more than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The Act also stated that owning any items designed to manufacture alcohol (like moonshine stills) were illegal and the Act further set specific fines and jail sentences for those individuals caught violating the Prohibition law.

As is the case with many other unreasonable laws, there were several loopholes which allowed people to legally drink during Prohibition. For example, the 18th Amendment did not mention the actual drinking of liquor. So when Prohibition went into effect after the 18th Amendment’s ratification, a lot of folks had planned ahead by buying multiple cases of then-legal alcohol and storing them for personal use at a later date. You might say a lot of people saw it coming, and took the most reasonable action. In addition, The Volstead Act allowed alcohol consumption if it was prescribed by a doctor. As you might guess, there were large numbers of new prescriptions written for alcohol.

Those people who could not or did not buy cases of liquor in advance or know a “good” doctor who would write prescriptions for their alcohol fix; well, there were illegal ways to drink during the Prohibition era. In fact, the circumstance gave rise to a new breed of gangster. These industrious folks quickly recognized the amazingly high level of demand for alcoholic beverages within society and the limited avenues of supply to the average citizen. As a result of this imbalance of supply and demand, gangsters saw a huge profit opportunity.
Can you believe it; these gangsters would hire men to smuggle in rum, whiskey, and bourbon from places like Ireland, the Caribbean Islands, and Germany or simply hijack whiskey from nearby Canada and bring it into the U.S.   Others would purchase large quantities of liquor made in such far off places as homemade stills right here in America.
These very same gangsters would then open up secret bars typically called ‘speakeasies’ for those folks who hadn’t planned ahead, of didn’t have a “good” doctor available, so they could come into a speakeasy to drink illegally, or in the alternative,  just  socialize.
During this era, a lot of the newly hired Prohibition agents were given the responsibility of  raiding speakeasies, finding illegal stills, and arresting gangsters; alas, many of these agents were both under-qualified and underpaid which, you guessed it, resulted in a high rate of bribery.
Almost immediately following the ratification of the 18th Amendment, several organizations were formed, whose sole purpose was to repeal it. Folks soon realized that the perfect world promised by the Temperance movement failed to materialize and more people joined the fight to bring back liquor. As the 1920’s progressed, the anti-Prohibition movement gained strength, often arguing that alcohol consumption was a local issue and not something that should even be considered by / in the U.S. Constitution.

Such re-thinking was hurried along with the Stock Market Crash in 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression. People needed jobs; the government needed money; so making alcohol legal again would open up many new jobs for citizens and create additional tax opportunities for the government; it all began to make pretty good sense.
On December 5, 1933, the “Noble Experiment” was officially killed when the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. This Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment, making liquor once again legal, at least in the eyes of the Federal Government.

Although Congress proposed the Twenty-first Amendment on February 20, 1933, it was not ratified or adopted until December 5, 1933 by state rarifying conventions.  Both, Alaska and Hawaii were not states at the time of ratification, but there remains 8 U.S States that have not ratified the amendment, they include:  Nebraska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Georgia; 38 were required.  It’s the only U. S. amendment to have been ratified by state ratifying conventions, specially selected for the purpose.  All other amendments have been ratified by state legislatures. It also remains the first and only time in American history that an Amendment has been repealed.