Monday, December 24, 2012

Looking back at what was

It's that end-of-the-year time, when people look back on what was.

But sometimes it's fun to look back even farther.

So, without further ado, a handful of fun, unrelated stories, each looking further and further back in time:

  • History in the humblest of places. Dana MacKenzie takes a trip back in time and considers the first chess tournament of Ray Robson, who has gone on to become one of America's greatest chess players.
    When I go to tournaments with lots of kids running around, I confess that they get on my nerves sometimes. They make so much noise, there are so many of them, and I know that 90 percent of them will quit in a few months or years.

    But Robson’s history is a good reminder that every child matters and every game matters. See that player on board 146 in the beginner’s section, the one who is barely tall enough to see over his pieces? Take a good look, because one day you might see him on board 1 in the national championship.

  • Moving back in time 150 years or so, don't miss this extraordinary tale of adventure right here in the San Francisco Bay, from William Brewer's diary: December 22, 1862: San Francisco Bay
    Now came the most intense excitement, the boatload of passengers struggled in the water, several others jumped in, excited men were rushing frantically about, and, to increase the confusion, the boat took fire in the hold, and to extinguish it the steam from the boiler was blown there, which filled the whole vessel. Most luckily the lifeboat was righted and all were rescued from the water, the boat was bailed out, the wet passengers were put in, and she pushed off.
    Having trouble imagining the scene? Here's a wonderful visual to accompany Brewer's story: Birdseye Map: Vue de San Francisco (1860). Unfortunately the artist's perspective is east, taking in Yerba Buena Island with Mount Diablo in the background; Alcatraz Island would be just to the left of the field of view.

  • Of course, San Francisco Bay wasn't always a bay. The world has changed many times over. California State Archaeologist Breck Parkman (what better name for someone who works for the California State Parks?) takes a much longer step back in time, and considers what the Bay Area was like in the late Pleistocene era: The California Serengetti: Two Hypotheses Regarding the Pleistocene Paleoecology of the San Francisco Bay Area
    Perhaps the greatest diversity and concentration of wildlife in existence today is found on the Serengetti Plains of East Africa. Paleontologists note that the Serengetti of the late Pleistocene was many times richer in terms of its wildlife. The California Serengetti is thought to have been even richer yet. Indeed, a magnificent array of wild animals characterized the San Francisco Bay area during the late Pleistocene. While some of the Rancholabrean species still exist in the area (e.g., deer and mountain lion), many others went extinct between 13,000-10,000 yrbp (e.g., mammoth and saber-tooth cat). The animals of the late Pleistocene can be categorized by whether they were predator or prey species and whether they were loners or moved in packs, prides, and herds.

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