7 Things You May Not Know About Caligula

7 Things You May Not Know About Caligula

1. Caligula wasn’t his real name.

Think of it as the ancient equivalent of miniature Nikes and tuxedo-imprinted onesies: Even in Roman times, parents liked to proudly dress their progeny in tiny versions of grownup gear. And so, when the respected general Germanicus brought his son Gaius on campaign, the tyke sported soldier’s footwear, or caligae, scaled down to his size. (Some scholars think his wife Agrippina, granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, chose the getup to emphasize her family’s imperial pedigree.) Either affectionately or mockingly, Germanicus’ troops called the boy “Caligula,” meaning “Little Boots” or “Booties.” The nickname stuck, but Gaius reportedly hated it.

2. His mother was one tough lady.

Growing up, Agrippina the Elder had a close relationship with her grandfather, the Emperor Augustus, who personally oversaw her education. After marrying Germanicus, she defied tradition by accompanying him on his military campaigns in Germania, reportedly acting as an adviser and diplomat. When Germanicus died under suspicious circumstances, Agrippina boldly accused one of his rivals of poisoning him. A prominent figure in political circles, she also spoke out against Augustus’ successor Tiberius, whom she hated. All this rabble-rousing didn’t sit well with the emperor, who had Agrippina flogged—supposedly until she lost an eye. She then starved herself to death while in prison, four years before her son Caligula came into power.

3. Reports of his incest were greatly exaggerated.

It was Suetonius who first published claims that Caligula committed incest with his three sisters. (The Roman historian added that these trysts even occurred during banquets, as guests and Caligula’s wife gathered around.) But Suetonius wrote “The Lives of the Caesars” in 121 A.D., 80 years after Caligula was assassinated at age 28 by members of the Praetorian Guard. Earlier chroniclers who actually lived under Caligula, namely Seneca and Philo, make no mention of this type of behavior despite their harsh criticism of the emperor. And Tacitus, during a lengthy diatribe in which he accuses Caligula’s sister Agrippina—wife of the Emperor Claudius—of incest with her son, never implicates her brother.

4. He may not have built his famous floating bridge, but he did launch pleasure barges in Lake Nemi.

According to Suetonius, Caligula in his infinite profligacy once constructed a temporary floating bridge across the Bay of Baiae just so he could ride triumphantly from one end to the other. No traces of the stunt have ever materialized, so most historians dismiss it as myth. However, evidence of the emperor’s extravagant lifestyle has surfaced at Lake Nemi, where workers salvaged two massive pleasure barges—complete with marble décor, mosaic floors and statues—in the late 1920s and early 1930s. One of the wrecks included a lead pipe bearing the inscription “Property of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.” A fire caused by Allied shells largely destroyed the ships in 1944.

5. He set in motion the conquest of Britain.

Caligula is often remembered as a selfish and capricious ruler whose ineptitude weakened the Roman empire during his four-year reign. But if his leadership skills were so abysmal, some scholars have argued, how did he wind up annexing new provinces, expanding westward and formulating a feasible plan to take over Britain? Although Caligula got no further than the English Channel and was murdered soon after, his preparations for the invasion would allow Claudius to begin Rome’s successful conquest of Britain in 43 A.D.

6. If Caligula was indeed crazy, a physical ailment might have been to blame.

These days, many historians reject the notion that Caligula terrorized Rome with his unbridled madness, talking to the moon, ordering arbitrary executions and trying to make his horse a consul. For one thing, his fellow lawmakers would likely have whisked him out of power for such conduct. But assuming the much-maligned emperor was the loon his chroniclers describe, some scholars have suggested that an illness made him come unhinged—possibly temporal lobe epilepsy, hyperthyroidism or Wilson’s disease, an inherited disorder that can cause mental instability.

7. The most (in)famous depiction of Caligula’s life is still banned in Canada and Iceland.

In 1979 the film “Caligula,” directed by Tinto Brass and starring Malcolm McDowell, shocked the world with its explicit portrayal of the emperor’s cruel and salacious escapades. It was the first major motion picture that juxtaposed segments featuring respected, mainstream actors with scenes that were essentially pornographic. To this day, the highly controversial movie remains banned in some countries.

7 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Final Fantasy 7

Final Fantasy 7 Remake Intergrade has now arrived on PlayStation 5, bringing shinier graphics and a whole new adventure featuring Yuffie Kisaragi. Thanks to the success of the PS4 version released in 2020, it feels safe to say that the world definitely has FF7 fever again. But with the original PlayStation version of Final Fantasy 7 now well over two decades old, there are plenty of stories about its development and stranger elements out in the wild. To top up your knowledge of the game’s more obscure side, here’s seven things about Final Fantasy 7 you (probably) didn’t know.

Roman Emperor Caligula and the Floating Bridge of Baiae

Roman leader Caligula is well-known for his brief stint as the emperor of Rome, from 37 AD through 41 AD. Some say that Caligula displayed signs of madness during his reign. According to historical accounts, one of these displays of madness was Caligula’s demand for the construction of a floating bridge across the Bay of Baiae so that he could ride triumphantly across it. Some historians dispute the building of this bridge. With differing accounts of exactly what happened during Caligula’s reign as emperor, we may never know whether the floating bridge of Baiae was actually constructed, but it remains a lasting story of power, madness, and what happens when the two intertwine.

Caligula’s father, Germanicus, was nephew and adopted son of Tiberius, the emperor of Rome. Tiberius died in 19 AD, leaving Caligula and his mother, Agrippina, to believe that Tiberius had poisoned Germanicus due to a political rivalry. Agrippina publicly declared she would seek revenge on Tiberius, which led to her imprisonment, and the imprisonment of Caligula’s siblings. They all perished in prison, while Caligula was spared due to his young age. Caligula was left to be taken in by Tiberius, the very man who Caligula believed to be responsible for his family members’ deaths. Eventually, Caligula became the emperor of Rome, with his leadership being overshadowed by his alleged acts of madness. One of the most infamous acts of madness was his demand for the construction of a floating bridge across the Bay of Baiae.

Baiae was an integral part Portus Julius, home port of the Western Imperial Fleet of ancient Rome, and towards the end of the Roman Republic it was a fashionable resort, popular with the super-rich, and notorious for the ‘hedonistic temptations’ on offer, and for rumours of scandal and corruption.

Baiae (Baia) across the Bay of Naples. Did Caligula cross this distance with a floating bridge? Credit: Wikimedia

It is said that in 39 AD, construction of the bridge began. Caligula wanted a bridge that he could ride triumphantly across it in his carriage. This idea alone seems to confirm that Caligula may have been suffering from some form of madness, as it is hard to imagine an emperor spending his time riding a carriage across a bridge with no real purpose for doing so. According to Roman historian Suetonius, the bridge spanned more than 3 miles across the bay, from the town of Baiae to the neighboring port of Puteoli. Pontoons from around the region were used to build the bridge, with sand poured over them. Caligula then draped himself in a gold cloak, donned the breastplate of Alexander the Great and crossed the bridge on his horse. The bridge was constructed to contain resting points for pauses in Caligula’s ride. These resting points also contained drinkable water.

A remaining hull from massive vessel which served as an elaborate floating palace to the emperor. Could this have been much like the rumored Bridge of Baiae? Credit: Wikipedia

Some say that Caligula did this in defiance of a prediction from Roman astrologer Thrasyllus. Supposedly, Thrasyllus predicted that Caligula had “no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Gulf of Baiae.” This may shed some light on Caligula’s reasoning for having the floating bridge constructed for his seemingly pointless activity of riding his horse across it in triumph. Maybe rather than a sign of madness, this was a boastful display over having proved Thrasyllus and other naysayers wrong. Others say that the construction of the bridge was merely Caligula’s attempts at laying the framework for his military glory.

Due to a lack of physical evidence, many historians believe that accounts of Caligula’s floating bridge are fictional stories. There is very little written evidence of Caligula’s reign to begin with. Many historians who wrote about Caligula were considered to be biased, and it remains unclear which stories are fiction, and which are fact. Some scattered remains in the area were being shown to tourists as the “Bridge of Caligula” as recently as the 18 th century. However, it cannot be confirmed that these remains are the floating bridge. With such uncertainty as to the events that occurred during Caligula’s reign, we may never be able to confirm the existence of the floating bridge. To this day, the idea of the bridge remains a symbol of Caligula’s power, whether it is viewed as a sign of his madness, a sign of his military power, or simply a sign of Caligula showing the naysayers that they were wrong, and that he would eventually become the emperor of Rome.

7 Things You May Not Know About the Sign of the Cross

Making the sign of the cross seems like such a simple action. It takes less than a minute to complete. And, as Catholics, we do it so often that it&rsquos all too easy to take it for granted and do it without giving it much thought.

But, in reality, it is the simple things that have the greatest impact on our lives. It&rsquos also those simple things that can either empower us or weaken us as we deal with the more complex things in life. The former is true of the sign of the cross.

In September 1984, Saint John Paul II gave a homily to Canadian Catholics. To honor the solemn celebration for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross of Christ, he spoke about what the cross means to all of us. &ldquoThe Cross contains in itself the mystery of salvation, because, in the Cross, Love is lifted up,&rdquo the then holy pontiff said to the crowd. &ldquoThis is the lifting up of Love to the supreme point in the history of the world: in the Cross Love is lifted up and the Cross is at the same time lifted up through Love. And from the height of the Cross, love comes down to us.&rdquo

Whenever we make the sign of the cross, we testify to the salvation found in that love. But there are many things that most of us don&rsquot know about this sacramental. Here are just seven facets of the sign of the cross that you may not be aware of.

1. It has been important since the early church.

The sign of the cross has been made before and after praying and at the beginning and at the end of Mass since the early years of the Church. Not only that, but in the 4th Century, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem reiterated what the early Church fathers &ndash including Terullian &ndash had said about the importance of making the sign of the cross in all things, even in those parts of our daily lives that seem mundane.

In his Catechetical Lectures, the saint powerfully wrote about how vital it is to purposefully make the sign of the cross every day. He wrote &ldquoLet us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake when we are traveling, and when we are at rest."

2. Originally the sign of the cross was made from right to left.

Around the 400s, a formal way of making the sign of the cross was instituted. But while it is still the way that Eastern Rites and Orthodox Catholics follow, it is different from the gesture that Catholics in the Western Church use to make the sign. Through around the 1100s, the sign was made with the thumb and fingers held together in a specific manner that symbolized two incredibly important aspects of our faith. It steadfastly affirmed our belief in the Holy Trinity, which also refuted heretics&rsquo belief that Jesus wasn&rsquot both God and man. And the positions of the thumb, forefinger and middle finger represented the Greek abbreviation IXC (Iesus Christus Soter, Jesus Christ Savior).

And it was made from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. Around the beginning of the 1200s, Pope Innocent III explained why. He said &ldquoThis is how it is done: from above to below, and from the right to the left, because Christ descended from the heavens to the earth, and from the Jews (right) He passed to the Gentiles (left).&rdquo

3. It's now made from left to right.

From around the beginning of the 1200s onward, the formal way of making the sign of the cross changed for Catholics in the Western Church. Even though making the sign reminds us that Jesus is our Savior, we no longer hold our fingers and thumb in a specific way to form the Greek abbreviation IXC (Iesus Christus Soter, Jesus Christ Savior). Instead, we now use our open hands to make the sign, since we are blessing ourselves (mind, body and soul). And although our hands are open, we still affirm our belief in the Holy Trinity when we say &ldquoIn the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.&rdquo

The other distinctive difference for Catholics in the Western Church is that we now make the sign from left to right. Pope Innocent III also documented how this change occurred &ndash due to priests beginning the tradition &ndash and what it symbolizes. He wrote &ldquoOthers, however, make the sign of the cross from the left to the right, because from misery (left) we must cross over to glory (right), just as Christ crossed over from death to life, and from Hades to Paradise. [Some priests] do it this way so that they and the people will be signing themselves in the same way. You can easily verify this &mdash picture the priest facing the people for the blessing &mdash when we make the sign of the cross over the people, it is from left to right. "

4. The sign of the cross is made with purpose.

Despite the fact that Western Church Catholics make the sign in a different way than the Catholics in the Eastern Rites and Orthodox Churches, we should be united in the sanctity of the action. We should allow the holy action to deepen our commitment to our faith. We should also offer our love and gratitude to the Holy Trinity when we make the sign of the cross.

In 2016, Reverend William Saunders wrote about the sign of the cross in the &ldquoArlington Catholic Herald.&rdquo &ldquoNo matter how one technically makes the sign of the cross, the gesture should be made consciously and devoutly,&rdquo Rev. Saunders wrote. &ldquoThe individual must be mindful of the Holy Trinity, that central dogma that makes Christians Christians. Also, the individual must remember that the cross is the sign of our salvation: Jesus Christ, true God who became true man, offered the perfect sacrifice for our redemption from sin on the altar of the cross. This simple yet profound act makes each person mindful of the great love of God for us, a love that is stronger than death and promises everlasting life. The sign of the cross should be made with purpose and precision, not hastily or carelessly.&rdquo

5. It prepares us for the Mysteries of Faith.

In 2008, during the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the many pilgrims who had travelled to the holy place where Blessed Mother had first appeared to Saint Bernadette. In his homily, he spoke of how the sign of the cross was an important part of the life-changing apparitions.

&ldquoThis is the great mystery that Mary also entrusts to us this morning, inviting us to turn towards her Son,&rdquo Pope Benedict XVI said. &ldquoIn fact, it is significant that, during the first apparition to Bernadette, Mary begins the encounter with the sign of the Cross. More than a simple sign, it is an initiation into the mysteries of the faith that Bernadette receives from Mary. The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith, for it tells how much God loves us it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us. It is this mystery of the universality of God&rsquos love for men that Mary came to reveal here, in Lourdes.&rdquo

6. The sign of the cross is connected to our baptism.

For those of us who were born and raised in the Catholic faith, one of the first times we encountered the sign of the cross was during one of the most important events in our lives. We experienced the blessing when we received the holy sacrament of Baptism.

At the beginning of the Baptism ceremony, the sign of the cross is made on our heads and close to our hearts. It signifies that we will belong to Christ. It also is a sign of the grace of redemption that Jesus gave us when He gave His life to redeem us.

Then, as children and adults, we are reminded of our Baptism through the sign. In most Catholic churches, Baptismal fonts filled with holy water are located near the church&rsquos entrances. When we make the sign of the cross using the holy water, after entering the church, we once again make a commitment to Jesus in a special way. And we prepare ourselves to worship God. Later, when we make the sign of the cross before exiting the church, we prepare ourselves to take the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist that we received out into the world.

7. It prepares us for the Word of God.

While we make the sign of the cross at the beginning of the Mass and at the conclusion of the Mass, we also make it before and after we pray after receiving the Holy Eucharist. Additionally, we are asked to make the sign of the cross in a completely different way before the bishop, priest or deacon reads from the Gospel. At that part of the Mass, each person is expected to use his thumb and forefinger to form a little cross. Then, we must use those little crosses to trace tiny crosses on our foreheads, lips and hearts.

Making the sign of the cross in this way is actually an unspoken prayer. With it, we are asking God to permanently engrave the message of the Gospel on our minds, our lips and our hearts. It&rsquos a beautiful way of asking God to enlighten and sanctify our thoughts, our words and our souls with the Word of God, so that we may live holy lives that are pleasing to God.

Although making the sign of the cross is a simple action, it is also a profound one that can empower us by strengthening our faith. It&rsquos wonderful to reflect on several different aspects of this sacramental. But, above all, we honor the Holy Trinity and renew our commitment to our faith when we remember the infinite, miraculous sacrificial love present in the &ldquoName of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit&rdquo lifted up and pouring down from the Cross.

Holiday returned the favor, choosing to rename him "Pres" (or "Prez" depending on the source). The nickname was short for president of the saxophone, according to Donald Clarke&aposs Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon. The pair became friends in the mid-1930s and later toured together with Count Basie. They also recorded together on a number of different projects, including her 1957 television special The Sound of Jazz. Biographer Farah Jasmine Griffin described Young as Holiday&aposs "creative soulmate." 

The song&aposs lyrics came from a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a teacher and social activist. He was inspired to write it after seeing a photograph of a lynching. The image so deeply disturbed him that he penned the poem in protest of racial violence. Meeropol later set the poem to music, and the resulting song found its way to Holiday. She started performing it at Café Society, an integrated nightclub in New York. Columbia, her record label at the time, didn&apost want her to record the song at first because of its controversial subject matter. Holiday ended up releasing the song on the Commodore label in 1939, and it went on to sell a million copies. 


In 1960, the population of Spring Hill was only 700. But it was still a bustling town that served as the rural center of the rolling farmland the stretched for miles around. So when ten days into the new year of 1963 a tornado struck the town, it did damage to the town and area not seen for a century since the Battle of Spring Hill.

There were, in fact, two tornadoes that day that hit Spring Hill. Both were magnitude 3 twisters, which is the second most powerful classification. The first tornado started near where Spring Hill Elementary is today, and cut southeast across Main Street, ending near where Popeye’s Chicken is today. It was estimated to be 400 yards wide and caused $2.5 million in damage. The tornado traveled 1.3 miles. The second tornado touched down right where the first one left off. It, also, was 400 yards wide but traveled 2.7 miles, ending at the Alexander property, between where I-65 is now and Thompson’s Station Road.

Damage was extensive. The roof was blown off of the town bank and many other buildings were damaged.

From the Columbia Daily Herald a few days after the damage was assessed:

“The task of settling insurance claims resulting from the tornado which struck Spring Hill the night of January 10, has almost reached the halfway mark, insurance spokesmen say.

The General Adjustment Bureau handling the claims for the capital stock insurance companies has inspected the majority of the damaged homes and other buildings, and by last Thursday had settled with more than forty per cent of the insurance policyholders. The adjustors speak of the fine cooperation being received and are especially pleased with the manner in which local contractors have pitched in to help get Spring Hill back on its feet.

The spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute reports that now that more facts are in, a revised estimate on the tornado damage to be handled by the General Adjustment Bureau, will approximate $200,000. Most policyholders realize the magnitude of the adjustment task and have shown great patience in awaiting their turn.

A spokesman for the insurance firms suggested that all property owners in the path of the storm make an effort to have their roofs inspected and if they detect wind damage, report this to their agency immediately. If this is done prior to the spring rains, additional and costly damage may be prevented.”

It started here:

Ended here:

And then started again and ended here finally:

7 things you may not know about the history of Muslims in Central Asia

1) There are both narrow and broad notions of Central Asia. The narrow one relates to the 5 Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, which until 1991 were part of the Soviet Union. The broader notion, however, also includes the southern Caucasus, northeastern Iran, northern Afghanistan, western China, Tibet and Mongolia. In the last 3 decades the narrow definition has become increasingly dominant, its origins going back to the 1920-30s when the Bolsheviks created 5 new ethno-territorial polities on the territory of the former Russian Turkestan and adjacent eastern territories of the Russian empire. Prior to the Russian conquest in the late 19th century the region did not possess well defined political borders. Throughout history the political, cultural and religious centre of the region was situated in the Ferghana valley which, in Arab sources, was referred to as Mawarannahr (What is Beyond the River, i.e. Amu Darya).

2) When, in the 7th century AD, Arabs brought Islam, the region was politically and economically shaped by eastern Persian-speaking Sogdians who played a central role in the lucrative trans-continental trade Silk Road. The Sogdian cultural input formed the cornerstone of Central Asian identity, which persisted long after the demise of Sogdiana in the 8th century. Under the Sogdians’ successors, the western Persian-speaking Samanids, who dominated the region in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Ferghana valley’s cities of Bukhara and Samarqand became world centres for science, art, philosophy and Islamic scholarship. They produced great thinkers of the Middle Ages, including Rudaki, Al-Farabi, Ferdowsi, Al-Biruni and Ibn Sina, as well as al-Bukhari, the author of one of the most authoritative hadith collections, and al-Maturidi, the founder of al-Maturidi Islamic scholastic theology (kalam). Later on, al-Maturidiyyya provided the doctrinal framework for the flexible, adaptable and syncretic Hanafism-based Central Asian Islam.

Monument to Amir Timur (photograph by author, Tashkent, June 2013)

3) Another formative influence on present-day Central Asians was the succession of militarily superior Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking nomads who dominated the region as well as wider Eurasia, including Rus, between the 10th and 16th centuries. Of special significance was the lengthy existence of Central Asia and Rus (as well as other parts of the Eurasian continent) within the Genghizid Islamised space. Its legacy accounts for the notable similarities in their political, military, economic, juridical and fiscal organisation, their court and diplomatic ceremonies, as well as their culture and belief system despite Rus’s official affiliation to Orthodox Christianity from the 10th century. In the religious sphere the Genghizid/Timurid period was responsible for the ‘making’ of a distinctive Central Asian Islam centred on oral, rather than book-based Islam infused with Sufism, shamanism and the Persian musical and poetic heritage.

4) In the late 19th century Central Asia was incorporated within the Russian Empire which, early in the 20th century, was superseded by the USSR. Arguably, this incorporation was made easier by the structural and ideational commonalities between Russia and Central Asia. Significantly, following the Russian conquest, many Central Asian ulama continued to regard the region as the Abode of Islam (Dar al-Islam). At the same time, the Russian conquest further deepened the distinctive nature of Central Asian Islam by politically separating the various Muslim peoples of Central Asia from their ethnic and religious brethren in Xinjiang, Iran and Turkey.

5) Soviet rule had a transformative impact on Central Asians for 4 major reasons. First, it created ethno-national and territorial divisions into the previously loosely defined region and established the primordially understood Uzbek, Tajik, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Turkmen nations. Second, it introduced Central Asians to comprehensive Sovietised modernization, which put them much ahead of their co-ethnic brethren and co-religionists abroad, as well as generating new affinities with other Soviet peoples, of both Islamic and non-Islamic heritage. Third, it drastically reduced the societal and political role of Islam by forging a Soviet Islam represented by the pro-government muftiate while pushing other practices of Islam underground. Finally, and most importantly, the Soviet system, which drew on the Eurasian political and social model, was appropriated and internalised by the Central Asian national elites and populace.

Tashkent schoolchildren (photograph by one of the pupils, Tashkent, June 2013)

6) For these reasons the Central Asian elites and people reacted particularly negatively to the weakening and subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, remaining the most ardent supporters of its preservation. Having been excluded from decision-making regarding the future of the USSR by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the leaders of the 5 ex-Soviet Central Asian republics were left with the existential challenge of creating nation-states within the Bolshevik-imposed borders which cut across homogeneous ethno-cultural communities. In doing so, most Central Asian elites, with the initial exception of Kyrgyzstan, mobilised the Soviet model whilst promoting ethno-nationalism instead of the discarded communist ideology.

Non traders in Samarqand (photograph by author, Samarqand, June 2013)

7) The break-up of the USSR and the reintegration of newly independent Central Asian republics into the world ummah have been conducive to the so-called Islamic revival, which has challenged both Central Asian Islam based on al-Maturidiyya-defined traditionalism and pro-government Soviet Islam. Moreover, in the 1990s Islam entered politics and provided an ideological platform for the opposition in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Since the 2000s all the Central Asian republics have effectively returned to the Soviet model of state-Muslim relations though the model itself has been increasingly challenged by globalised Islamic influences, including those of an Islamist and jihadist nature, which may strongly affect the younger generation in particular through their presence online and on social media.

Galina M.Yemelianova has researched and taught for over 30 years on various aspects of Middle Eastern and Eurasian history and contemporary Muslim politics. Among her books are Yemen under the Ottoman Rule: 1538-1635 (1988), Russia and Islam: A Historical Survey (2002), Islam in post-Soviet Russia (2003) and Radical Islam in the former Soviet Union (2010) and Muslims of Central Asia: An Introduction (2019).

Muslims of Central Asia: An Introduction by Galina M. Yemelianova is publishing in January 2019.

7 things you may not know about catalysis

Computational modeling produces both prospects for better catalysts and beautiful images, like this model of a platinum catalyst interacting with oxygen atoms (red) and hydrogen atoms (white). Image by Rees Rankin, Center for Nanoscale Materials.


Almost everything in your daily life depends on catalysts: cars, Post-It notes, laundry detergent, beer. All the parts of your sandwich—bread, cheddar cheese, roast turkey. Catalysts break down paper pulp to produce the smooth paper in your magazine. They clean your contact lenses every night. They turn milk into yogurt and petroleum into plastic milk jugs, CDs and bicycle helmets.

What is catalysis?

Catalysts speed up a chemical reaction by lowering the amount of energy you need to get one going. Catalysis is the backbone of many industrial processes, which use chemical reactions to turn raw materials into useful products. Catalysts are integral in making plastics and many other manufactured items.

Even the human body runs on catalysts. Many proteins in your body are actually catalysts called enzymes, which do everything from creating signals that move your limbs to helping digest your food. They are truly a fundamental part of life.

Small things can have big results.

In most cases, you need just a tiny amount of a catalyst to make a difference. Even the size of the catalyst particle can change the way a reaction runs. Last year, an Argonne team including materials scientist Larry Curtiss found that one silver catalyst is better at its task when it’s in nanoparticles just a few atoms wide. (The catalyst turns propylene into propylene oxides, which is the first step in making antifreeze and other products.)

It can make things greener.

Industrial manufacturing processes for plastic and other essential items often produce nasty by-products which can pose hazards to human health and the environment. Better catalysts can help solve that problem. For example, the same silver catalyst actually produces fewer toxic by-products—making the whole reaction more environmentally friendly.

At its heart, a catalyst is a way to save energy. And applying catalysts on a grand scale could save the world a lot of energy. Three percent of all of the energy used in the U.S. every year goes into converting ethane and propane into alkenes, which are used to make plastics, among other things. That’s the equivalent of more than 500 million barrels of gasoline.

Catalysts are also the key to unlocking biofuels. All biomass—corn, switchgrass, trees—contains a tough compound called cellulose, which has to be broken down to make fuel. Finding the perfect catalyst to disintegrate cellulose would make biofuels cheaper and more viable as a renewable energy source.

Often, we have no idea why they work.

The precise reasons why catalysts work are often still a mystery to scientists. Curtiss works in computational catalysis: using computers to tackle the complicated interplay of physics, chemistry and math that explains how a catalyst operates.

Once they’ve figured out the process, scientists can try to build a catalyst that works even better by simulating how different materials might work instead. Potential configurations for new catalysts can run to thousands of combinations, which is why supercomputers are best at dealing with them.

When Edison was building the lightbulb, he tested literally hundreds of different filaments (likely testing the patience of his lab assistants as well) before discovering the carbonized filament. By taking advantage of supercomputers and modern technology, scientists can speed up the years of testing and expense to get to breakthroughs.

Curtiss runs simulations on Argonne’s Blue Gene/P supercomputer to design possible new catalysts. ​ “ As supercomputers have gotten faster, we’ve been able to do things we’d never have been able to do 10 years ago,” he said.

They could be essential for the next big revolution in batteries.

Newly efficient lithium-ion batteries helped turn clunky car phones into the slim, elegant cell phones and laptops available today. But scientists are already searching for the next revolution in batteries—one that could someday make a battery light and powerful enough to take a car 500 miles at a go. A promising idea is lithium-air batteries, which use oxygen from the air as a primary component. But this new battery will require totally revamping the internal chemistry, and it will need a powerful new catalyst to make it work. A lithium-air battery works by combining lithium and oxygen atoms and then breaking them apart, over and over. That is a situation tailor-made for a catalyst, and a good one would make the reaction faster and make the battery more efficient.

How do you make a new catalyst?

Understanding the chemistry behind reactions is the first step then scientists can use modeling to design potential new catalysts and have them tested in the lab. But that first step is difficult unless you can get down to the atomic level to see what is happening during a reaction. This is where big scientific facilities like Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source ( APS ) shine.

At the APS , scientists can use the brightest X-rays in the United States to track the reactions in real time. At the laboratory’s Electron Microscopy Center, researchers take photos of the atoms while they react. Curtiss and the team have used both of these in their search for better catalysts.

Join us September 29-30 for the Core77 Conference in Downtown Los Angeles. Buy your ticket today!

Like the rest of California, L.A. is known for a culture of experimentation—architect Richard Neutra said it best when he wrote that L.A. attracted "people who were more 'mentally footloose' than those elsewhere"—and it's these people who have helped to create an environment where design can flourish. Here are a few ways how:

An early polyurethane foam and fiberglass surfboard from 1956 made by Dave Sweet. Photo via the collection of the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center Preston "Pete" Peterson and a friend ride one of his custom boards

1. Technology from L.A.'s aircraft industry created a surfing craze

During World War II, Los Angeles's aircraft manufacturers ramped up not only their production efforts but also their research and development of new materials and manufacturing techniques, playing an important role in supporting America's war efforts. After the war, these innovations began to trickle down to the region's designers, who were keen to experiment with new commercial applications of military materials. Those materials also found their way into Southern California's surf community when avid surfer and Douglas Aircraft plastics engineer Brandt Goldsworthy and surfer Preston "Pete" Peterson teamed up in 1946 to create a revolutionary new fiberglass board. Previously used for aircraft nose cones and radar domes, fiberglass was the key to transforming the surfboard's humble (and heavy) wooden design into a sleek new object that could be enjoyed by the masses. With the advent of even lighter and cheaper boards in the mid-1950s that used polyurethane foam covered in fiberglass and resin, a nationwide surf craze was born.

Earl customized the above Pierce-Arrow for Fatty Arbuckle in 1919 at an estimated cost of $32,000 (a huge amount of money at the time).

2. A car design legend got his start in Hollywood

Long before Pimp My Ride, L.A.'s rich history of automotive design and manufacturing produced a number of influential figures, including Harley J. Earl, General Motors' first design chief. Born into a family of coachbuilders and automotive body makers, Earl honed his skills in his father's L.A. factory before taking over the company's custom body designs. He found himself in high demand in Hollywood, where he customized cars for wealthy movie stars and directors like Fatty Arbuckle, Mary Pickford and Cecil B. DeMille. In 1926, G.M. approached Earl to design the first Cadillac LaSalle the following year, it asked him to join G.M. permanently to create the auto industry's first full-time design department. Earl would lead G.M.'s design from 1927 until 1959, introducing America to the tail fin and the Corvette, and famously hiring the so-called Damsels of Design. Many consider him the Los Angeles–born father of modern automotive design.

The 1927 LaSalle Roadster was Earl's first design for General Motors. Photo from the collections of The Henry Ford Mattel's original Barbie doll from 1959

3. Everyone's favorite busty blond was designed in L.A.

It may come as a surprise that one of America's largest toy designers and manufacturers was launched from a garage-workshop in El Segundo in 1945. From this unassuming base, Mattel, founded by Ruth and Elliot Handler and Harold "Matt" Matson, created a sensation when they introduced the Barbie doll in 1959. In her striped bathing suit and cat-eye sunglasses she quickly became an ambassador of Southern California style and design, witnessed in her original mid-century modern Dream House (with Eames-inspired couch) from 1962—and, for better or worse, in her new 2014 McMansion with not one but two elevators.

4. An L.A.–hating transplant gave the city a stylish new look

When architect John Lautner arrived in Los Angeles in 1938, it was far from love at first sight: "When I first drove down Santa Monica Boulevard it was so ugly I was physically sick for the first year I was here." Known for his cinematic homes like the Chemosphere ("Body Double"), the Sheats-Goldstein house ("The Big Lebowski") and the Elrod home ("Diamonds Are Forever"), Lautner also inspired a completely new style of commercial architecture with his 1949 Googie's coffee shop in West Hollywood. His space-age architecture was quickly adopted by other coffee shops, bowling alleys and gas stations in the region, and the term "Googie" was coined to describe their upswept roofs, large glass windows and deployment of starbursts, amoebas and flying saucer forms. Leaving his mark on L.A.'s urban fabric must have made the city a little easier for Lautner to stomach: he stuck around another five decades until his death in 1994.

Lautner's 1949 Googie's coffee shop in West Hollywood. Photo © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10) Another example of Googie architecture, the UFO-shaped Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport designed by Pereira and Luckman, 1961 Henry Keck's 1957 designs for the Dripcut Starline Corporation

5. An L.A. industrial designer modernized the tabletop

While Googie architecture revolutionized the exterior of Southern California's coffee shops, Los Angeles–based industrial designer Henry Keck was busy modernizing the humble implements inside. His glass-and-chrome syrup dispenser will be familiar to anyone who has ever climbed into a diner booth and ordered a short stack of pancakes. It matches his equally well-known salt, pepper and sugar shakers, which he designed for the Dripcut Starline Corporation in 1957 (and which are still available today). Keck estimates that more than 25 million sugar shakers alone have been sold since his design was introduced.

Neutra's 1929 Lovell Health House in Los Angeles

6. L.A.'s design emigrants helped create California Modernism

L.A.'s design and architecture community was enhanced by an influx of European modernists who found a welcoming climate and an openness to experimentation. Austrian architects R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra arrived in the city and were immediately besot by the idea of "healthful" indoor-outdoor lifestyles, finding clients that enthusiastically sought new ways of living. Meanwhile, Swedish furniture and industrial designers Greta Magnusson Grossman and Greta von Nessen found L.A. consumers were hungry for Scandinavia's austere designs. L.A.'s design emigrants also played a key role in developing what would become known as the "California look" by mid-century. As Wendy Kaplan writes in her introduction to Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930–1965, "California modernism became a different, and hugely influential, model for the rest of the country and was widely admired abroad because it reflected the way people really wanted to live."

Desk and chair by Grossman for Glenn of California lamp by Grossman for Ralph O. Smith. Photo by Sherry Griffin/R & Company The Tamale, built in 1928. Photo via the Los Angeles Conservancy

7. L.A. became the capital of novelty architecture

What better way to advertise your "hot tamale pies" and other "Spanish delights" than to serve them up from a giant tamale-shaped building? With the rise of L.A.'s car culture in the late 1920's, programmatic architecture quickly sprang up to capture the attention of passing motorists with whimsical structures that telegraphed exactly what was being sold inside. While the Tail o' the Pup and the Wilshire Coffee Pot are now sadly gone, the Tamale (now a salon), along with the Darkroom (now a Tex-Mex restaurant) and the Donut Hole, all await your roadside pilgrimage.

The drive-through Donut Hole, built in 1968. Photo via the Los Angeles Conservancy from the Tom Gardner Collection/Conservancy archives

Much to Learn You Still Have: 7 Things You Might Not Know About Togrutas

Much to Learn You Still Have is a rundown of trivia and fun facts, both in-universe and behind-the-scenes, about the aliens of the Star Wars galaxy. Whether you’ve never set foot in a cantina or you’re a well-traveled Jedi Master, you’ll find the intel you need.

Ahsoka Tano. Shaak Ti. Governor Roshti. Though we can easily tell a Togruta by their unmistakable facial patterns and head tails, there are only a few Star Wars characters that have been given a proper storyline in the saga. Let’s take a closer look at what we do know about the beautifully fascinating Togrutas.

1. Their horns are called montrals.

What sets Togrutas apart from other humanoid species is their interesting head cones, or montrals as they are properly called. Starting as just small bumps in infancy, the horns grow as Togrutas age, soaring high above their heads and reaching to their waist. The montrals are hollow inside and the species uses them to sense the movement of objects around them. This echolocation can reach up to 85 feet, making Togrutas extremely perceptive. This paired with natural Force powers makes for quite a successful Jedi, hence the familiar Togrutas in the Jedi Order.

Fun fact #1: Montral length isn’t the only thing that changes with age. The facial markings of a Togruta can also slightly transform over the years.

2. Their appearance influenced their landscape.

The montrals that sit atop the heads of Togrutas can also be seen in their beautiful surroundings on the planet Kiros. Fifty thousand Togrutas inhabit the planet that is located in the Expansion Region of the galaxy and is known for being a vast green territory filled with waterfalls, rivers, valleys, and some really cool horn-shaped towers. The artistic species doesn’t only live on Kiros, however. Most Togrutas were born on Shili, a planet known for its colorful grasslands that allowed them to use their distinct facial markings to blend into their surroundings.

Fun fact #2: Kiros is also home to the Kiros bird, a pudgy airborne creature with the unique ability to understand conversations.

3. They were saved by the Jedi.

Life on the idyllic planet Kiros wasn’t all happiness and sunshine. During the Clone Wars, the Togrutas under the leadership of Governor Roshti were taken over by Zygerrian slavers after Count Dooku forced the population to a new location on Kadavo. Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Ahsoka Tano eventually came to their rescue, preventing the 50,000 inhabitants from being a part of the royal slave auction, an old tradition that Zygerrians wanted so greedily to return. When the Togrutas returned to Kiros, they were fully armed and even received proper combat training from clone troopers after declaring they would no longer remain neutral and officially side with the Republic.

4. They can’t quite sport the Padawan braid.

Padawan are easily recognized by a single braid as sported by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, but with rigid montrals, Togrutas would have difficulty showing their dedication to the Jedi Order. That’s where silka beads come in. You may have seen the beads slung over Ahsoka’s head, but the beads are also used by other hairless species like Twileks.

(Not-so) Fun fact #3: Ahsoka’s silka bead braid is pulled off by a Jedi Temple Guard after she is expelled from the Jedi Order.

5. Ahsoka once went by a more Force-related name.

When Star Wars: The Clone Wars was being developed, Ahsoka went by a different name. In the above early drawing by Kilian Plunkett, she’s labeled with the name of Ashla — which has origins in the earliest incarnations of Star Wars. In early drafts of Star Wars by George Lucas, the Force was divided into the light (Ashla) and the dark (Bogan), which inspired this name and was later incorporated into canon in Star Wars Rebels . The name still got proper usage for a character, however. In the Bear Clan of Padawan seen being trained by Master Yoda in Attack of the Clones , the tiny Togruta in the front row goes by the name Ashla.

6. If you slay the beast, you can wear the trophy.

If you’ve ever taken a close-up look at Jedi Master Shaak Ti, you may have noticed the shimmering ornamentation at the crown of her head. Though the headdress may look like simple decoration, it holds an interesting story. In addition to pearls, metal, and various stones, the headdress holds the teeth of an akul, a creature native to the Togruta homeland of Shili. Akul are large quadrupeds that roam the grasslands and have potential to do damage based on their destructive nature. Any Togrutas who have the strength to slay an akul get to wear the teeth as a sort of trophy. Needless to say, Shaak Ti is a pretty fierce warrior and she’s got the teeth to prove it.

7. Shaak Ti has died several times.

Speaking of Jedi Master Shaak Ti, you may be familiar with the stories of her multiple tragic deaths. Her demise has been depicted in video games, films, and television series, but only one can truly be canon. In The Force Unleashed, Vader’s apprentice Starkiller dueled with the Jedi Master on Felucia, ultimately leading to her fall into the sarlacc. In Revenge of the Sith , two death scenes were filmed though both cut from the finished movie. In one clip that can be viewed in the film’s deleted scenes, Shaak Ti was held hostage by General Grievous in an attempt to get Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to come to her rescue. When they arrive, Grievous sends a lightsaber through the Togruta after she declares that she has failed them. In the other scene, Master Ti is killed by the newly dubbed Darth Vader while meditating in the Jedi Temple. Though it’s her haunting demise seen in Yoda’s vision in The Clone Wars episode “Voices” that determines her official death was at the hand of Vader during Order 66.

Fun fact #4: Orli Shoshan, the actress behind Shaak Ti in the prequels, is actually trained in melee weapon and hand-to-hand combat.

How’s that for a decent dose of Togrutas? Have anything more to share? Leave it in the comments below and check out all of the previous Much to Learn posts!

Sources: Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know, Adam Bray, Cole Horton, Michael Kogge, Kerrie Dougherty, DK Children, 2015 Star Wars: Aliens of the Galaxy, Jason Fry, Studio Fun International, 2016 Star Wars Galactic Maps: An Illustrated Atlas of the Star Wars Universe, Disney Lucasfilm Press, 2016.

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