Archive | June, 2012

Historical Hotties: Hedy Lamarr

29 Jun

It’s been a while since my last installment in the “Historical Hotties” series, but while roaming across the internet yesterday, I can across my new favorite historical woman. I’m going to put aside my bias against the 20th century (it’s not history yet!). Seriously, this lady is awesome. Her name is Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler). Besides seriously considering naming my fictional first-born child Hedwig (boy, girl, doesn’t really matter- its a fictional child. How awesome is that name?), Ms. Lamarr is very cool is several respects. First, she was born in Austria-Hungary in 1913 (now-defunct country at a really critical time period- you’ll recall that thing they call the “Great War”; she was interesting even before she was born).

Of course, she is also world-renowned for her beauty (she is a Historical Hottie after all). She was a huge movie star in the Golden Age of Cinema, and was contracted (back in the day, a studio basically “owned” an actor via contract, actors couldn’t just run around making movies with any studio they wanted) with the biggest, baddest studio of them all, MGM (the roaring lion one). She was more than just any average pretty lady in a movie- she was a straight up sex symbol, right from the beginning of her career. At age 18, she starred in a movie called Ecstasy, in which she shockingly simulated lady-pleasure (this was in 1933 people!). Her husband was not pleased. (It didn’t help that the movie was about the stifled young wife of an evil older man- and her husband was more than a decade older than Ms. Lamarr.)

As you might know, things got rough for Jewish folks in central Europe right around the mid-1930s (Austria: the land of Hedy’s birthplace…also Hitler). The ingenious Ms. Lamarr disguised herself as her maid (very Padme Amidala) and fled the country in 1937. During the next year, Hedwig went from Paris to London, where she met studio executive Louis B. Mayer (the second “M” in MGM). Consequently, she moved to Hollywood and changed her name from Hedwig Kiesler to Hedy Lamarr.

In Hollywood, she became an even bigger star, usually playing super sexy roles. She made a ton of film between her arrival in the States in 1938 and the end of her cinema career in 1957. While balanced a very successful movie career and a pair of World Wars, she was married six times and had six children.

While that is all very well, what really makes her awesome in my book is the fact that, in addition to everything else going on in her life, she was also an influential computer scientist. I don’t know about you, but I can’t name very many famous female computer scientists (although, I admit, it isn’t my area of expertise- I can name a large number of influential medieval nuns). This famous computer scientist also happens to be a famous movie star (okay, I challenge you to think of a famous computer scientist/movie combo). She (and a neighbor named George Antheil) patented something called a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum communication system. I’m a little blurry on the technicals, but the technology she invented is the basis for everyday essentials like Bluetooth, CDMA (used by cell phones), and COFDM (used for wi-fi. Wi-fi, people- this is huge!)

The moral of this story is that Hedy Lamarr is undoubtedly a serious Historical Hottie (and general all-around total package).


Archaeology in the News: I Wish the News were Better

27 Jun

Usually, I get really excited when archaeology makes the national or world news. (The same type of excitement I reserve for archaeology-themed TV specials and particularly well-researched historical video games and movies.) Unfortunately, the news in this case is really bad.

“Archaeology is destruction” is an oft-used phrase, but it is especially tragic to learn about a site that is slowly self-destructing. I recently read a feature article from the BBC about the site of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan. The site represents a gigantic Bronze Age (my favorite Age) city- okay, not terribly gigantic under today’s definition, but in the Bronze Age its population of 35,000 would have been positively metropolitan. In fact, it was one of the largest cities in the Indus River Valley civilization. The city is thought to have been first constructed in 2,600 BC and abandoned around 1,800 BC. It is very well laid out (who doesn’t love excellent ancient town planning?), with nice straight streets and amenities like public baths, venues that could hold thousands of people, and is overall a great example of urban infrastructure. (We aren’t talking mere Minoan palace complexes here, people! It’s a whole beautiful city full of innovation!)

The Great Bath and Granary


An aerial view of the impressive city

So what is the sad part of this, you ask? Unfortunately, now that the city has been largely excavated, is had begun to self-construct. The exposed brickwork has been crumbling, which means that the site, which is an amazing example of an Indus (or Harappa) civilization city is at risk of being lost to future visitors and academics. Protected underground for thousands of years, the excavated parts of the site are now exposed to harsh climate conditions and issues. Worse, the site’s lagging popularity as a tourist site means that it had lost needed funding as well (funding issues have put another important site, Pompeii in danger, too). Possibly the most upsetting part of the situation is that “restoration” work (done presumably by archaeologists) is actually contributing to the site continued destruction.

Hearing about things like this makes me depressed. rarely is there the power of funding to help sites like these (and at best, they can only attempt to “arrest” the decay. Thousands of years- it was in the ground for thousands of years! But now, it has been suggested that if there isn’t drastic action, the site could be completely destroyed in the next 20 years. Some birds have longer lifespans than that! These things can’t just be replaced.

Here is the original article from the BBC:

When the Mutally Unintelligible is Intelligible

6 Jun

Aw heck, I just like the word “intelligible”. Always kinds of sounds like its tying your tongue in knots when you’re saying it. Ties my fingers in knots typing it.

I was preparing myself for the upcoming Disney/Pixar film Brave, which follows a young Scottish lass and she tries to save her family from an ancient curse. Everyone already knows how much I love Disney movies, and anything claiming to be set pretty much anywhere in history (fictional, magical, medieval Scotland? You’ve got me pinned down, Pixar!), so naturally (or if you’re German, naturlich, which is like one of their favorite phrases, as far as I can tell) I’m excited for this movie, which comes out June 22nd. Seeing the preview, I noticed that Pixar has decided to go with voice actors who have (or are using) Scottish accents, which in my opinion is a pretty bold move. I mean, the movie is primarily aimed at a market of American children, so Pixar appears to be pretty confident about those kids’ ability to understand one of the more difficult English-language dialects (which, at times isn’t really English at all). I consider myself fairly talented at understanding accents and dialects (I watch the BBC all the time, that should do it, right?), but even I was having some trouble following what the characters were saying in the minute-long preview.

So I decided to brush up on my “och aye”s and do some researching into Scottish accents on the good old internet (and any number of novels set in Scotland). Whilst doing that, I came across the phrase “Och aye, I ken it,” which means something along the lines of “yeah, I know”.

And then it hit me. Try to say it with a Scottish accent. If that is a challenge, go google it and see if you can come up with a soundbite of it. Now, German speakers, can you back me up here- doesn’t it sound a lot like “ich kenne es”, which would translate directly (if not really awkwardly) into “I know it”. Grammarians, bite your tongues, since I know that it wouldn’t be the native German speaker’s way of saying “yeah, I know”, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still translate with the same meaning. Anyways, a German speaker listening to Scottish English isn’t going to think it’s entirely sensible anyways, so I doubt they’ll hold the grammar against you. Still- think about it- the languages aren’t as mutually unintelligible as you might think! A German and a Scot might be able to understand eachother, if only for that one phrase! Isn’t that cool?! I’m just sitting here trying to imagine that situation.

I’m not a linguist, but if I was, I would greatly enjoy speculating why or how those two phrases in separate languages might sound similar. (The linguists, they are clever folks, I’m sure they could find a real explanation that isn’t just “hey, it’s a coincidence.”) As for me, I’m going to root for some sort of 8th century Anglo-Saxon connection.