Tag: Diffraction

Day 996: The Greatest Prank In The History Of History


“That putz, Bolton. This will totally blow his mind.”

The above may have been uttered between the cool gusts of sharp giggles at a gathering of the Berkeley chapter of E Clampus Vitus, an organization designated either as a “historical drinking society” or a “drinking historical society”, depending on whom you ask. These are folks who are dedicated to the noble history of the American West, though they prefer to cozy up to their history with a frothy glass of smirk. Call them deviant scholars, outlaw students of the distant past and the eternal spirit of yeeha. Practical academics and impractical jokers.

The brass plate left by Sir Francis Drake near the bubbly Pacific coast is little more than a whopping banana peel, left on the ground to trip up one unfortunate mark but soon elevated into an established part of the natural vegetation. The so-called plaque that signifies the terminus of European exploration across our happy little continent is a hoax, a forgery, a one-off gag that exploded into accepted fact.

The lesson here is that history, for all her dates and names and oft-inexplicable motivations, can be a blast. Especially when iniquitous historians with a smirking sense of humor mess it up on purpose.


Herbert Eugene Bolton was one of the most respected historians of American western expansion, the author of a now-commonplace theory that asserts that we should look at colonial expansion across all the Americas holistically, rather than piece by piece. He was a brilliant man, the fantastic mind who established the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley as the preeminent historical resource it is today. He was also a member of E Clampus Vitus. One would expect he’d have been on the lookout for shenanigans. Read more…

Day 572: Understanding Today’s Google Doodle – Dr. Rosalind Franklin


When I opened up Google this morning, this was my string of thought:

–          “Hooray! A new Google Doodle!”

–          “Oh, it doesn’t have a built-in game or anything.”

–          “Rosalind who?”

–          “Oh. Something-something-biology. DNA. Never heard of her.”

Well that’s hardly the breed of wide-eyed curiosity and insufferable openness that has led to the 570,000 words I’ve plunked onto this website in the past year and a half. And after skimming through the numerous articles about her life, I realized that Dr. Rosalind Franklin is a person everyone should know about. Not only did she contribute immensely to our understanding of the most fundamental building block of life, but she did it as a woman in a world of deeply-entrenched sexism.

She also got royally screwed over by her peers. If that ain’t worth a story, nothing is.


Rosalind was born into a family who already had a bit of overachieving greatness on the shelf. Her father’s uncle was Herbert Samuel, later the Viscount Samuel (that’s a title two notches up from knight), the first Jew to serve in the British Cabinet, and also the guy who oversaw the British Mandate of Palestine, prepping it for its future use as Israel. Herbert was well-respected by the Brits, loved by the Jews… not so much by the Arabs. Read more…