Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 711 - Visigoths Notice Umayyad Invasion

The Gothic kingdom of Hispania had fallen to a time of all but straightforward civil war. King Wittiza had become sole ruler upon the death of his father, Egica, in AD 702. Initially, Wittiza looked to be a good king as he “redressed grievances, moderated the tributes of his subjects, and conducted himself with mingled mildness and energy in the administration of the laws", but after consolidating his powerful, he "showed himself in his true nature, cruel and luxurious," according to biographer/storyteller George Irving. Roderic, a young nobleman who had been exiled to Italy, invaded the kingdom at the behest of the people and usurped Wittiza in 710. Roderic worked to subdue the kingdom, many in the northwest supporting Wittiza's young son Achila II as king, the Basque in the north rebelling, and some in Toledo even supporting Wittiza's half-brother Oppas.

Amid the chaos, the Umayyad Caliphate province to the south watched carefully. Governor Musa bin Nusair decided to test the Goths for weakness, ordering an expedition by his Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, whose armies had recently converted to Islam and had taken a small foothold at the southern tip of Hispania in a raid months before. Tariq began transporting thousands of troops across the strait from Africa, which the locals took as merchant parties until they noticed the war horses and weapons of an invading army. Word was sent to King Roderic, who was fighting the Basque in the north. Rather than finishing his campaign, he set immediately for the south. On his travels, he realized that the growing might of the unified Muslims could not be stopped by his few loyal lords alone. Over the past decades, the Umayyad Caliphate had swept westward and had taken Tangiers in 705, which allowed them to raid the south of Hispania with immunity. If Roderic's civil war continued, his kingdom would be utterly lost.

Instead of facing the Muslim army alone, Roderic called council in Toledo with his lords and those of the young king Achila as well as the political supporters of other campaigning parties. Since he had invaded Hispania to liberate it from tyranny, Roderic decided he could not hold power in his own hands. Rather than fighting to consolidate, he determined to share strength in a confederation of lords with a dual kingship of himself and Achila. With the army of Tariq marching northwest, the lords agreed, and a charter was drawn up (notoriously as anti-Jewish as it was anti-Muslim) out of organization, self-protection, and unity that would be similar to works achieved by the Franks in later years.

In 712, Tariq's force (estimated by various sources to be between 2,000 and 100,000) met with Roderic's unified army (between 2,900 and 200,000). Although the Berber cavalry were much feared, the larger Goth force cut off their supply trains and slew nearly the whole Muslim force as it retreated back to Africa. Musa bin Nusair determined Hispania's weakness to be solved, and he spent much of the rest of his career maintaining defense from Gothic raids.

Hispania, which would later transition to the Empire of Spain, became a center of strength rivaling the Kingdom of the Franks. As the Viking influence spread over Europe, the Spanish, especially their Gothic ruling minority, adapted to their naval techniques as an invasion force. They expanded through exploration and conquest, such as domination of the Canary Islands as well as wresting the Balearic Islands from the Byzantine Empire. In the Viking/Gothic fashion, they sailed southward for trade and domination, eventually coming to a long series of wars with the Forest Kingdoms of Western Africa.

The Franks, later to be known as French, were caught between the post-Crusade trade dominations of the Spanish to the south and the Italians in the Mediterranean until their own discovery of a New World to the west, where they would build an enormous empire through conquest of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca.


In reality, the locals in Hispania (soon to be dubbed al-Andalus as it was conquered), according to historian Ibn Abd-el-Hakem, took no notice of the Muslim expedition, "thinking that the vessels crossing and recrossing were similar to the trading vessels which for their benefit plied backwards and forwards." By the time King Roderic turned south with his army in 712, Tariq's forces were well readied, and they utterly routed the Goths at the Battle of Guadalette, slaying King Roderic (whom many historians considered abandoned on the field by feudal lords hopeful to take up an empty throne). Order was restored on the tumultuous peninsula, now in the hands of the Caliphate. Centuries later, American Washington Irving would write about the campaign in his Legends of the Conquest of Spain.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9, 1625 - Bacon Announces Preservation of Meat by Freezing

Days after a spontaneous beginning to the experiment, Bacon announced by letter to the King his findings on the ability to preserve raw meat through freezing. According to biographer John Aubrey, the idea had come to him suddenly while riding with the King's physician through the snow in Highgate. They attempted the experiment immediately, purchasing a fowl from a peasant woman at the bottom of the hill. Bacon prepared to stuff it with snow, but the physician warned him of the medical dangers of chill, and Bacon duly protected himself with gloves borrowed from the coachman.

His frozen bird proved preserved and ready for cooking when it was thawed upon Bacon's return to his home. Following his philosophy, Bacon attempted the experiment repeatedly and duly observed results, measuring rates of decay after various times with what grew into an enormous stock of frozen food. He wrote a letter to King James noting its practicality in preserving food for warfare or famine, and the king rewarded him with a small sum. The money was a pittance in comparison to Bacon's massive debts, but the fame would prove more than enough to keep the scientist's name in the popular memory until his publication of New Atlantis, which served as a model for an idealized scientific community.

Despite his incredible mastery of experimental science (what would become known as the "Baconian Method"), Bacon was not mindful of his expenses and spent most of his life buried in debt. He received puritanical tutelage at home and higher education at Trinity College, Cambridge, with his older brother Anthony, where he studied under future Archbishop of Canterbury Dr John Whitgift and met Queen Elizabeth, who affectionately referred to him as "the young Lord Keeper." Bacon extensively traveled abroad, learning much about political science during his time in France, Italy, and Spain. When his father died in 1579, young Bacon returned to England finding that he had only one-fifth of his expected inheritance, and the money he had borrowed became officially debt. He took up practice of law to support himself and entered Parliament after a few years of struggles. Bacon rose through politics quickly to become Attorney General and then Lord Chancellor, but was found guilty of repeatedly taking gifts as a judge (a common practice at the time). Also accused of sodomy and pedantry, he bowed out of political life, as well as much of his family life when he discovered his wife Ålice Barnham carrying on an affair with John Underhill.

Instead, Bacon dedicated himself to science. Upon the publication of his thoughts on Utopia, Bacon found himself a chance to return to the social scene not as a politician, but with a seat as an official scientific researcher for the king. Charles I had been intrigued with his freezing techniques for food as useful in the war effort against Spain. Bacon had campaigned for a Minister for Science and Technology during the reign of Elizabeth, and now his ideas had come to fruition. While his research primarily was dedicated to preservation through freezing, alchemy, and boiling (building the groundwork for Germ Theory to be understood over the next century by microscopist Henry Powers), Bacon also used his political contacts in the increasingly Protestant Parliament to ensure the continuation of his office.

Minister Bacon died in 1634, reportedly writing at his desk with quill in hand, and the Ministry of Science did indeed continue. Many thought that the seat would be given to Thomas Hobbes, but the philosopher's proposed research into political theory did not match Bacon's posthumous requirements for direct application. Instead, the seat went to a young physician, Thomas Browne, who would be instrumental in developing battlefield medicine. Later, the ministry would be held by great thinkers such as Henry Powers, Robert Boyle, and, especially known, Isaac Newton, whose works in optics, metallurgy, mathematics, and many other fields would set London apart as a great center of development. As per Bacon's sentiments, all of the new science has since been handed down through the engineers of the Ministry of Science, who determine practical applications such as Powers' use of pressure (particularly steam) to drive an engine, Newton's interchangeable parts for mass production, and Charles Babbage's later use of automation.


In reality, Bacon died as a result of pneumonia contracted from a damp bed after developing a chill during his snow-research. He left substantial debts of £23,000, which is some £3 million adjusted for 2009. Bacon's legacy would ultimately be his philosophy of scientific experimentation, which would contribute to the founding of the Royal Society in 1662.

Friday, April 8, 2011

April 8, 1904 – Entente-Cordiale Talks End without Agreement

England and France had long stood as rivals and outright enemies for many centuries. Massive campaigns had been fought between the two in the Hundred Years' War, Seven Years' War, Napoleon's Wars, just to list a few. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, England had grown to dominance and merged with Scotland and Ireland into Great Britain, only to have its American colonies lost by French intervention. Britain struck back by ending Napoleon's empire, and then, over the course of the nineteenth century, the two political juggernauts came to something of a truce. First used in 1844, Entente-Cordiale ("cordial understanding") became the term for the common interest and mutual advantages between France and Britain. The two had even worked as allies in the Crimean War to halt the expansion of the Russian Empire, but old colonial rivals kept them apart.

Even by 1900, the happy agreements toward peace between the two were still informal. Britain had long enjoyed its policy of Splendid Isolation, focusing on its empire and leaving alone the matters of the Continent. However, with the taxing and often humbling Boer Wars and the growth of German power both in Europe and in Africa, Britain looked back toward Europe to reevaluate its position. Talks were held about Britain potentially becoming a member of Germany's Triple Alliance, but Edward VII nixed the idea in preference to isolation. The position of neutrality became more and more difficult to maintain as Britain's new ally Japan and France's longtime ally Russia turned toward war in 1904. Diplomats led by British Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne and French foreign minister Théophile Delcassé scrambled in an attempt to sort out the colonial matters that still plagued France and England to draw up a fashionable alliance. For a time, an agreement looked promising, but arguments over Newfoundland fishing rights broke down talks. Finally, two months after Russia and Japan had gone to war, the talks ended with simple neutrality as the best the France and Britain could muster.

While the old empires watched, young empires came fully onto the scene. Japan won the war effectively against Russia, whose people erupted in revolt. US President Theodore Roosevelt ended the war with the Treaty of Portsmouth through back channel diplomacy that won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. Britain returned to its policies of isolation and protecting her vast empire. France, meanwhile, made brisk attempts to aid Russia and to coax Italy away from Germany's Triple Alliance, which it did by supporting the Italo-Turkish War in 1911.

The web of international treaties and alliances broke with the single shot that killed the Archduke Ferdinand. Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, Russia invaded Austria-Hungary, Germany invaded Russia, and France declared war on Germany. With Britain and its neutral ally Belgium diplomatically out of the war without antagonism, German command saw fit to alter the Schlieffen Plan and assault the French forces more directly rather than invade through innocent Belgium. Initially, the French stood in a mighty defense against the German onslaught, but the German wehrmacht enabled the resources to roll the trench warfare backward toward Paris. With the collapse of Russia and Italy quickly changing sides, the war ended in 1917 with the Treaty of Berlin inside a suddenly powerful Germany. Britain and the United States felt grateful for being spared the massive bloodshed of the war and in fact prospering as Europe hurried to rebuild.

Renewed nationalism in the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire spurred its collapse in 1931 as the Great Depression ground on. Socialism, which had been long nurtured in France and triumphant in Russia, took the losing countries of the war by storm. A grand socialist alliance grew powerful as the nearly fascist monarchies of Germany and Japan struggled. In 1942, the World War broke out as Stalin invaded Poland and much of Eastern Europe in an attempt to "liberate and unify the workers of the world." His expansionism continued into the Middle East while France fought to take German colonies in Africa, and Italy fell to civil war. Britain was finally drawn into the war it had always feared when the French Mediterranean fleet struck Egypt and blockaded the Suez Canal while other troops occupied disputed territories in West Africa. Socialist riots broke out in India, and the widespread war caused Britain simply to evacuate one of its greatest jewels. The United States, too, lost its neutrality as Russia pressed through Japanese forces in China and made a surprise attack on Midway Island.

Bitter warfare continued to 1952 when Russia finally capitulated under the onslaught of American atomic bombs and it became known that Josef Stalin had died due to heart failure.


In reality, the Entente-Cordiale was a great diplomatic success. Conflicts between the empires were solved with recognition of influence in Morocco, Madagascar, Siam, New Hebrides, and West Africa, free use of the Suez Canal guaranteed, and British supremacy in Newfoundland. France and Britain became allies, and Germany followed the Schlieffen Plan, which brought Britain into World War I in defense of Belgium, as it would have soon in aid of France.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 1, 2008 - Virgle Project Begins

Announced on the Google homepage and Youtube as well as by Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, the Virgle Project would prove one of humanity's greatest steps and one nearly missed. Initially, the project was an elaborate hoax including actual NASA imaging, calculations on survival in a hostile environment, and even practical means of terraforming. People would be allowed to "apply" for the project by going to the Virgle website , filling out a form, and submitting videos.

Most persuasive of the hoax was the fake press release in which Branson outlined his ideals of "Virgle [as] an 'interplanetary Noah's Ark.'" Google co-founder Larry Page commented, “Virgle is the ultimate application of a principle we’ve always believed at Google: that you can do well by doing good." They envisioned Mars as a true "open-source" project: thousands, perhaps millions, of people working together for a common good without monetary reward. Projects such as Linux and Wikipedia revolutionized computing and information, so why not colonization?

Like many others, they held a dream of colonizing Mars, but ultimately held it impractical, admitting on a fake 404 page , that "It isn't real. There. Are you happy? Does it please you to drag us out of our lovely little fantasy world, to crush all our hopes and dreams? Is that really what you need to hear? Fine, you've heard it. Virgle isn't real."

As the days passed, however, more and more public support cheered on the idea of Virgle. Branson, Page, and Brin had opened a Pandora's box of public interest. Lesser men may have settled the applause with admissions of the joke and going on with their daily lives, but the three stepped up to be named among the greatest leaders of the twenty-first, or any, century. Setting aside the comforts of terrestrial business, Branson continued his entrepreneurial experiments with the Galactic White Knight and space-tourism, busily creating advanced chemical-burn rockets and horizontal launches that could effectively jet necessary cargo into Earth orbit. Working alongside NASA, Roskosmos, and other international space institutions, the International Space Station served as a central ground for the interplanetary launch craft.

Meanwhile, Page and Brin used their software expertise to sort incoming capital for the project. While donations were welcome, the true breakthrough came as Virgle became a joint-stock company, the same kind that had colonized North America and other parts of the world hundreds of years before. With crashing housing markets and banks looking for bailouts, Virgle as a long-term investment took Wall Street by surprise, becoming an investment as welcome as bonds of First World nations. While a good deal of capital was required for setup, little pay was required for the Virgle volunteers, who gladly gave up their earthly savings to live a dream of exploration. Even without offering a salary and sorting out the phony applicants, Virgle took in so many skilled volunteers that Branson would be kept busy for decades ferrying them to their new world.

While the initial schedule of a manned mission to Mars of 2016 was missed by three years, Richard Branson became the first human to set foot on the Red Planet after a months-long voyage. Virgle Base was established as planned on the Lunae Planum, "the transition between the high Tharsis rise, a giant volcanic bulge, and the northern lowland plains" as mentioned in the initial press release, now housed in the Electronic Wing of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Drilling discovered ice, which made the first settlement inhabitable, but the pioneering process was difficult with required protective gear and cavern housing. A number of times looked like the end for the Virgle Project with accidents or lack of funds, but the unnerved leadership by Branson, Page, and Brin allowed the pioneers to press on.

Virgle City, then a connected series of tubes underground, was formally proclaimed in 2050 as per the initial schedule. Real estate sales, low-gravity refining of native raw materials, and cheap storage for data served as the primary economy of the young Mars until the discovery of a rich gold deposit approximately midway between Virgle City and Olympus Mons. The Martian Gold Rush began, and by 2108, the population surged well beyond the hypothesized 100,000 to over nine million. Settlers continued to flow, skyrocketing the value of old Virgle stock and supplying the capital necessary for the Martian Artificial Magnetic Field, a key component to terraforming. Long-term interplanetary gas-harvesting built up an atmosphere rich in greenhouse gases to stabilize warmth so that, by the sesquicentennial in 2169, a human Martian could run barefoot through an idyllic meadow safer and more comfortable than any on Earth.


In reality, Virgle was an April Fool's joke. Virgin and Google never colonized Mars because... why?

Big Nothing

On this day, 13,700,000,000 BC, The Singularity achieved equilibrium. It had often threatened to explode a universe into existence. After equilibrium, nothing happened. Ever.

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