2016: Scientists resolve myth about the identity of the Dark Countess

Marie-Thérèse in Vienna in 1796 soon after her exile from France. Image from Wikipedia. The Countess and the Princess In 1807 an enigmatic couple arrived in the village of Hildburghausen in Central Germany and lived in the castle of Eishausen for the next 30 years. The villagers referred to the solitary duo as the Dunkelgrafen or the “Dark Counts” because when the couple was seen outside of the castle they were either in a carriage or the woman hid behind a veil. The woman known as the Dark Countess died in 1837 and was buried under the name of Sophia Botta in a cemetery in Hildburghausen, and her partner, who went by Vavel de Versay, died in 1845. Versay was later identified as Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, secretary of the Dutch embassy in Paris. Drawing of the tomb of the Dark Countess, or Dunkelgräfin from ca. 1863. Image […] Read More

2013: Gods of Eden

The Black Death by William Bramley Europe in the 13th century was beginning to recover from the economic and social disruption caused by the Crusades. Signs of a European renaissance were visible in the widening of intellectual and artistic horizons. Trade with other parts of the world did much to enrich European life. Europe was entering an era in which chivalry, music, art, and spiritual values were playing greater roles. Hardly a century of this progress had passed, however, before a disastrous event abruptly brought it to a temporary halt That event was the Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death. The Black Death began in Asia and soon spread to Europe where it killed well over 25 million people (about one-third of Europe’s total population) in less than four years. Some historians put the casualty figure closer to 35 to 40 million people, or about half of […] Read More

Computer Error

by X When one speaks today of “computer error,” one is most often referring to a flaw in the electronic or mechanical functioning of a programmed machine. An extraordinary case of computer error occurred long before the advent of mechanical and electronic computers, however, as noted by Charles Babbage in an 1827 publication entitled On Errors Common to Many Tables of Logarithms. Early astronomers spent long periods of time making calculations for tracking and predicting the orbits of comets, planets, and moons, and for determining the occurrence of eclipses. For example, in calculating the orbit of Halley’s Comet, the French astronomer Joseph de Lalande (1732-1807) said: During six months, we calculated from morning till night, sometimes even at meals, the consequence of which was, that I contracted an illness which changed my constitution for the remainder of my life. The assistance rendered by Madame Lepaute was such, that without her, we […] Read More