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Thu May 28, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

The Birth of The Armored Tank

by Lenny Flank

By 1917, World War One was a stalemate. Both the Entente and the German armies were bloodied and exhausted. The development of the machine gun and the shrapnel artillery shell had given the defensive side an enormous advantage in warfare. Both sides were locked inside extensive trench networks from which they would send waves of men to storm across No-Man’s-Land to try to take the enemy’s trenches—only to be mowed down by machine guns and artillery. For years, hundreds of thousands of men were cut down in futile attacks that gained only scant yards, which were often then lost in a counter-attack. In desperation, both sides tried every conceivable method to break through the trenches and reach open ground where they could maneuver, and new weapons were introduced at a furious pace—airplanes, hand grenades, trench mortars, poison gas, submachine guns, flamethrowers, aerial bombs. None of them worked. It seemed as if the war would never end.

Then came the tank . . . .

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No, it's not a Hollywood scifi movie about a caped superhero . . .  In World War Two, the US military had actual plans in the works to use bats--Mexican Free-tailed Bats, to be specific--as living incendiary bombs to win the war by setting fire to entire Japanese cities. It was called "Project X-Ray". And here is its strange story.

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Florida is of course famous for its sandy sunny beaches. Most people assume that this sand comes from broken and crushed coral, and for a small portion of the state that is true. But for most of Florida, the source of all that beach sand is far more interesting.

The Daily Bucket is a regular series from the Backyard Science group. Here we talk about Mother Nature in all her glory, especially the parts that live nearby. So let us know (as close as you are comfortable) where you are and what's going on around you. What's the weather like? Seen any interesting plants, bugs or critters? Are there birds at your feeders? Deer, foxes or peahens in your yard? Seen any cool rocks or geological features? Post your observations and notes here. And photos. We like lots of photos.  :)  
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Sat May 23, 2015 at 07:22 AM PDT

Photo Diary: Safety Harbor, FL

by Lenny Flank

Safety Harbor is a little town of about 18,000 people located on the Pinellas County side of Tampa Bay. The Spanish conquistadors Narvayez and De Soto both landed here. The name comes from the 17th century, when pirates prowled the Caribbean area--this part of Tampa Bay was considered a "safe harbor" to escape from the raiders. The area became known for its mineral-water springs, which were reputed to have curative powers. Around 1900, the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa was established to cater to wealthy northeasterners who traveled to Florida to heal themselves by soaking in the mineral springs. The Spa is still open today, and is now a National Historic Landmark.

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Everyone knows that the passenger liner Titanic hit an iceberg in 1912 and sank. Some people also know that the Titanic's sister ship Britannic, used as a World War One hospital ship, hit a mine and sank in 1916. And a few people even know that the third ship of the group, the Olympic, was damaged in an accidental collision with the British Navy cruiser HMS Hawke in 1911. But virtually forgotten is Violet Jessop, the White Star Line stewardess who worked on all three ships, survived all three accidents, and earned the nickname "Miss Unsinkable".

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Wed May 20, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

Mr Colt's Peacemaker

by Lenny Flank

It was called "the gun that won the West". It was the first really practical revolver, used by many of the most famous gunslingers and outlaws in the American West, and was such a successful design that it is still being manufactured today. It was the 1873 Colt .45 Peacemaker.

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Tue May 19, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

The Viking Mars Mission

by Lenny Flank

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik. Over the next 20 years, the Space Race saw the USSR and the USA compete in a series of space spectaculars as each tried to show off their economic and technological superiority. But during this time, there was also some excellent science being done, which got far fewer headlines. One of the most successful of these was the Viking program to study the planet Mars.

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A few days ago, I happened upon a Green Heron hunting for his lunch. Green Herons are much more shy than other herons and egrets, so when he saw me watching him he froze completely still for a good ten minutes, until finally deciding I wasn't a threat and going about his birdie business:

The Daily Bucket is a regular series from the Backyard Science group. Here we talk about Mother Nature in all her glory, especially the parts that live nearby. So let us know (as close as you are comfortable) where you are and what's going on around you. What's the weather like? Seen any interesting plants, bugs or critters? Are there birds at your feeders? Deer, foxes or peahens in your yard? Seen any cool rocks or geological features? Post your observations and notes here. And photos. We like lots of photos.  :)  
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The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary is located in Palm Harbor, FL, a bit north of St Petersburg. They take in primates and a few other animals that have been kept as pets and are no longer wanted. Alas, it is a pretty depressing place: while the animals are at least given an opportunity to live out their lives while being well-cared for, it was sad to see row after row of prison cages holding animals that should never have been purchased in the first place (seriously, who on earth thought that keeping a BABOON as a pet was a good idea?). The Sanctuary is currently raising money to purchase the empty lot behind them so they can expand for more space.

Some photos from an afternoon at the Sanctuary:

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Wed May 13, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

Monte Verde: The First Americans?

by Lenny Flank

For decades, archaeologists have concluded that the first humans entered the Americas over the Bering Straits land bridge about 13,000 years ago, when an ice-free corridor opened up in Canada, But in 1976, a discovery was made in Chile which forced that conclusion to be re-written.

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Tue May 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM PDT

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871

by Lenny Flank

In 1871, the most famous fire in American history swept across Chicago and destroyed much of the city. According to legend, the Great Chicago Fire was started when a cow owned by an Irish immigrant named Mrs O'Leary kicked over a lantern in the barn. But from the ashes, Chicago was rebuilt, and the city's rebirth changed the face of every major American urban center.

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Photos from a recent walk at Sawgrass Lake Park in St Pete FL:

The Daily Bucket is a regular series from the Backyard Science group. Here we talk about Mother Nature in all her glory, especially the parts that live nearby. So let us know (as close as you are comfortable) where you are and what's going on around you. What's the weather like? Seen any interesting plants, bugs or critters? Are there birds at your feeders? Deer, foxes or peahens in your yard? Seen any cool rocks or geological features? Post your observations and notes here. And photos. We like lots of photos.  :)  
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