Jan. 18, 2012
It's so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I've done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers' breath.
But instead of resting, I'd smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I'm not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything's fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I'm driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I've got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I'll be home by dawn.
The X-ray machine was exhibited for the first time on this date in 1896. Heinrich Joseph Hoffmans, a Dutch headmaster and physicist, developed the machine just a month after Wilhelm Röntgen had discovered (and named) X-rays in Germany. An X-ray machine could be constructed out of materials common to most science labs: iron rods, a glass plate, a battery, electric wire, and a glass vacuum bulb. Hoffmans built his out of spare parts in his classroom.
The quality of the images in 1896 was pretty impressive, but they came at a cost. Exposure time was about 90 minutes, and the total dose of radiation was 1,500 times greater than what is used today. Subjects and experimenters received radiation burns, suffered eye problems, lost their hair, and developed cancer. Many people ended up having to amputate the hands that had been X-rayed. Hoffmans' original machine quickly became obsolete, and was abandoned on a shelf in a warehouse in Maastricht until a documentary film crew discovered it in 2010. Dr. Gerrit Kemerink, of the Maastricht University Medical Center, put Hoffmans' machine to the test, and was able to produce an image of a cadaver hand on the 115-year-old machine. Kemerink said, "Our experience with this machine, which had a buzzing interruptor, crackling lightning within a spark gap, and a greenish light flashing in a tube, which spread the smell of ozone and which revealed internal structures in the human body was, even today, little less than magical."
Today is the birthday of physician and philologist Peter Mark Roget (books by this author), born in London in 1779. He was a physician, trained at the University of Edinburgh, and he helped to found the University of London as well as a medical school at the University of Manchester. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, served as its secretary for over 20 years, and invented a slide rule that was widely used until the invention of the pocket calculator. He was interested in optics, and published a paper in 1824 called "Explanation of an Optical Deception in the Appearance of the Spokes of a Wheel Seen Through Vertical Apertures." He was the first to notice something called "persistence of vision" — the illusion of movement when looking at a series of still photographs in rapid succession — which formed the basis for future motion picture technology.
But we remember Roget for his thesaurus — which is the Greek word for "treasury" — a little project he started in his retirement. It took 12 years to complete, but Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition has been in print continuously since its publication in 1852.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®