Alan Turing: The Mind and Man


Though he didn’t get to enjoy a long life, Alan Turing achieved an array of significant accomplishments in his 41 years spanning mathematics, science, logic, cryptanalysis, and even biology.

The eccentric genius who kept his tea mug chained to the radiator and wore a gas mask on his bicycle commute to combat his hayfever was always eager to solve the next challenging problem—and he certainly did, with enthusiasm and to the biggest scales possible.

Here’s why Alan Mathison Turing was one badass mind and man.


1. The Father of Computer Science

Computing contributions from Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and countless other brilliant minds wouldn’t have been possible without Alan Turing theories on computing. His 1936 paper, “On Computable Numbers,” introduced the concept of a “Turing machine” — which consisted of symbols being manipulated on a continuous strip of tape based on a system of rules. Turing surmised that the model could be simulated to work with any computer algorithm to carry out a specific function, like solving mathematical equations.

Turing’s idea didn’t end there, though. Instead of one machine dedicated to a specific task, he envisioned one machine that could carry out various tasks via a memory system. Turing called this the “universal computing machine.” The concept would later come to fruition with the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), which wasn’t the first design of an electronic stored-program computer, but it was certainly the fastest — accessed at a speed of 1 MHz with high speed memory of 25 kilobytes.


2. Cracking the U-Boat Enigma

At the height of World War II, German submarines were sinking 60 ships of cargo per month headed for Britain — putting the country at risk for starvation if the pace continued. The situation was so alarming that even Winston Churchill admitted the German U boat peril was the only thing that ever really frightened him during the war.

The German advantage laid in their cryptic enigma machine, which contained 10,114 variations. Turing worked in the top-secret British government division at Bletchley Park trying to decipher the German Navy’s communication. The code-cracking operation consisted of 12,000 people working three round-the-clock sessions.

In 1939, and just a few weeks after arriving at Bletchley Park, Turing sparked British intelligence efforts with his development of an electromechanical machine called the bombe. The bombe was an improvement of the Polish “bomba” created a year earlier to decode Nazi messages. Upon its implementation in March 1940, a bombe could translate an Enigma key in about an hour. As more bombes were developed, the decryption time decreased. By 1943, over 200 operating bombes were helping the British crack two messages per minute, and over 80,000 messages per month.

Turing’s breakthrough changed the scope of WWII; with Nazi location coordinates known, British ships could navigate away from German submarine striking distance, and U.S. Navy ships could attack. WWII’s momentum, which was looking grim, suddenly shifted to the Allies. It’s estimated that the code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park shortened World War II by two years, and saved anywhere from 14–21 million lives.


3. More Than a Test

Today’s companies are starting to implement artificial intelligence and deep learning in industries across the board. From analytics and transportation to healthcare and retail, AI is the face of the future. How did we get here? In 1950, Turing kick-started efforts writing a paper called, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which discussed the intelligence of machines. What arose was the Turing Test, which suggested that for a machine to be intelligent, its behavior would need to be indistinguishable from a human. A popular, but reverse example would be the CAPTCHA test, which identifies whether the user is a human or a computer.

Turing wasn’t looking for machines to be geniuses; he wanted them to be normal (and maybe funny):

“No, I’m not interested in developing a powerful brain. All I’m after is just a mediocre brain, something like the President of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.”

Turing also wrote a chess program in 1950 called the Turbochamp. The program was so advanced that there wasn’t a computer in existence powerful to run it. In 1952, Turing tried running it on a computer but to no avail. Eager to play a game of chess with his creation, he manually ran his program by going through his algorithm and carrying out is instructions on a chessboard. A determined Turing took a half hour per move in the game. The program lost most of the games it played but did so making familiar moves. And it did win a game against the wife of one of Turing’s colleagues.


4. Morphogenesis

Turing’s mathematical mind wasn’t restricted to technological concepts. In 1952, he extended his theoretical work to biology, with a paper titled, “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis.” Turing’s paper talked about the mathematical growth rate of an organism’s patterns (unsurprisingly now called “Turing patterns”) that stem from a uniform state of life (e.g. cheetahs, snails, frogs). Turing’s prediction was that an organism’s stripes, spirals or spots formed were based on active and deactive chemical growth that took place decades before the actual formation of the pattern. Turing’s concept — now known as the reaction-diffusion theory — was proven correct a year later when the structure of DNA was discovered.


5. The Man

In society, we don’t usually associate smart people with sports and athleticism, let alone a superior mind like Turing’s, but he was actually quite the runner, regularly taking 30-mile runs to clear his stress and mind. It almost went further than a hobby, though.  Turing finished fifth in a qualifying event for the 1948 Olympic games. His time of 2 hours, 46.03 minutes, while not impressive by today’s standards, was only 10 minutes behind the winning time at the 1948 Olympics. A leg injury would force Turing to give up serious running for good, but he’d still participate in occasional races when he could.


6. Underserved Decline

You’d think a person who provided even half of what Turing did would be given a castle and a lifetime honorable status to his country. Turing, who had always been open about his sexual preferences to friends, became the victim of his own comfortability. What was a routine burglary report ended up, upon questioning, resulting in Turing being charged with gross indecency. Turing had been seeing a 19-year-old boy days prior to the burglary, and he shared the details with police thinking the boy may have been implicated in the crime.

During prosecution, Turing never went back on his actions, and instead of facing imprisonment, chose to receive chemical castration and DET (defunct estrogen treatment). The estrogen shots made him develop breasts and gain weight. In attempting to reduce Turing’s libido. the chemical castration impaired his ability to think and concentrate. With his charge banning him from the United States, stripping his top-level security clearance and humiliating his sense of self, Alan Turing was experiencing a life nobody with his track record should have to face.

I mean, one would think that monumental contributions to modern computing, artificial intelligence and World War II would be enough to solidify anyone as a national hero. Turing didn’t get to enjoy that luxury, though. His wartime efforts went mostly unknown because his top-secret government work at Bletchey Park wasn’t declassified in the 1970s, a few decades after his death. Turing was of the most remarkable thinkers of any time period in history, yet his work and self were largely unknown during his life.


7. A Bittersweet Admission

It’s hard to imagine that such a brilliant man who accomplished so much was treated so poorly by his country. In 2009, some closure and justice were finally given, after an internet campaign prompted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to officially apologize on behalf of the British Government for how Turing had been treated. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon. In 2017, a law inspired by Turing’s treatment was enacted, which would retroactively pardon men convicted by old legislation that punished homosexual acts.


As humans, our lives are subjected to the time period in which we live. Unfortunately for Alan Turing, he lived in the mid-20th century and not 21st-century Though his punishment was unjust, and the end of his life a rocky decline because of it, his legacy is entrenched as one of the most important people to ever live. Turing was a genius, sure, but more importantly, he was a doer.

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”

Straight to the Point: Why the Gotthard Base Tunnel Is an Engineering Dream


When imagining a railway through the Swiss Alps, one wouldn’t be remiss to picture a slow-moving train car winding its way up and around slopes, a beautiful interaction between man-made triumph and natural wonder.

The vision would be similar to the Gotthard Railway line, a decade-long late-19th-century project that first connected the north of Switzerland to its isolated southern cantons, and through gaining access to the Italian border, served as a key linkage between northern and southern Europe.

As time evolves though, what was once only thinkable becomes possible. In 1999, 52 years after an original design was proposed, and over a century after the completion of the Gotthard Railway line, four 1,400 foot-long drill machines weighing 3,300 tons each started boring ground for a new project called the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Seventeen years later, it would open as the longest and deepest railway tunnel in the world at over 35 miles long and almost a mile and a half under the surface of the Alpine barrier.

Here’s why the Gotthard Base Tunnel is one badass engineering development.


1. Project for the People

Moving at speeds between 125-155 miles per hour, what used to take four hours and change to travel between Zurich and Milan now takes two and a half hours, resulting in significant time savings for any and all travel routes in between. While that time savings might allow people to extend their day or weekend trip a little longer, the Gotthard Base Tunnel serves higher purposes.

Originally coming into existence from a 1992 referendum calling for a high-speed railway to be built through the Alps, in 1994, voters supported an additional measure from environmental groups to shift all freight volume from trucks to trains. Moving most of the large trucks from roadways would not only considerably reduce carbon emissions and cut down on the rate of fatal road crashes, but return the Alpine roadways to their picturesque selves.


2. Economical, Ecological, Efficient

A signature of the New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA), the Gotthard Base Tunnel traverses the Alps within 20 minutes. A hallmark of its efficiency ias its straight, mostly flat route. How straight?

The tunnel is 35.47 miles long and its geodesic distance between the two stations—Uri and Bodio—is 34.66 miles. This design allowed train cars to be extended from roughly 1,800 feet to over 2,400 feet. Longer trains mean fewer are needed to ship more goods, and faster.

Five freight trains run per hour on the Gotthard, and thanks to that beautiful straight line path under the Alps, freight is no longer subject to the temperamental Alp weather patterns. Trains stay on schedule, making overall costs are more predictable for all parties. Due to these unmatched benefits, the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) estimates a 20 percent increase in freight volume by 2020 in the Rotterdam-Genoa corridor, two essential hubs of European trade.

As Imogen Foulkes writes for the BBC ahead of the GTB’s opening in 2016:

“Today, Italian olive oil destined for the Netherlands or German cars for Greece all still have to cross the Alps. So too do many thousands of tonnes of goods from China or India: they may dock in Rotterdam, but their final destination could be Rome, Vienna or Zagreb.”

Too slow and overburdened with freight traffic, the Gotthard Railway line proudly cedes the task of facilitating trade in across Europe and with Asia while reducing emissions and streamlining shipping costs in the process.


3. The Numbers

Like all great engineering projects, it took a lot of hands to build the Gotthard Base Tunnel — 5,200 hands, to be exact. Well, assuming all 2,600 workers had two hands. Constructing the GTB also required that giant quad of heavy-duty drilling machines. After all, more than 28 million tons of 73 different types of rock with consistencies that ranged from soft to brittle to solid were excavated to build the tunnel. Much of the suitable rock was recycled into the 4 million cubic meters of concrete, enough to fill the Empire state building 84 times.

And a true testament to GTB’s span is the fact that its south and north sides have an average temperature difference of 4–5 degrees Fahrenheit, varying on certain days by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The project, completed on time and within the $12.2 billion budget wasn’t completely flawless, however; nine men died during the tunnel’s construction. They are honored on a plaque at the north end of the tunnel.


For its novel design, reduced ecological footprint, importance in world trade and convenience it’s bringing travelers around the globe, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is a hallmark example of how smart engineering infrastructure can merge convenience and economic growth without further jeopardizing the planet.

It’ll also go down as the engineering achievement with the most… inventive opening ceremony ever.

Sure makes a giant pair of gold scissors seem insignificant, eh?



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Egypt’s Queen of Mystery and the Radical Shift She Oversaw


About 3,500 years ago, Egypt was undergoing radical social and religious changes fueled by one of the most influential women ever — Queen Nefertiti.

Nefertiti positioned herself to be Queen when she married Amenhotep IV before he assumed Egypt’s throne. Unlike most marriages that had to do with royal power in that time period, Nefertiti and Amenhotep were actually in love. Amenhotep wanted Nefertiti to be his equal when it came to ruling Egypt, which gave Nefertiti more power than any woman in Egypt had ever possessed. Their love and public display of affection was also something new to the Egyptians, as most Kings and Queens usually married for political reasons.


But Amenhotep IV, or Akhenaten, as he would later be known after his fifth year of rule, wasn’t exactly a genius for being all about Nefertiti; she had quite the captivating presence. Her name literally means, “the beautiful one has come.”

Let’s learn more about one of the world’s first true power couples.


1. Divine Royalty with a Twist

When Nefertiti became the Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep IV (whom would later be known as Akhenaten after his fifth year of rule), she oversaw arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history. When the royal couple decided to start their own religion to worship the sun-disk Aten, they built the city of Akhetaten, demanding the faithful move there to stay in their good standing.

Under Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Egypt’s long-standing polytheistic religious structure had been turned on its head. Instead, a monolatry religion was instituted in which many gods were recognized but only one—Aten—was worshipped. In the practice of Atenism, the rays of the sun disk only offer life to the royal family; the rest of society then receives life from Akhenaten and Nefertiti in exchange for loyalty. At face value, it seems that the pair did whatever they wanted with their power. According to experts, it’s likely that the royal couple’s actions threw Egypt’s power structure between the pharaoh’s court and head temple priests into disarray. But at least publicly, there are no records to suggest Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s rule over society ever wavered.


2. King Tut’s Stepmother

King Akhenaten wanted a son to take over his seat on the throne, but Nefertiti instead had six daughters. This led to Akhenaten going outside of his marriage to father a son. He was the King, so whether or not he had a hall pass from Nefertiti is a moot point, but he certainly made the most of his efforts to father a son. His son and Nefertiti’s step-son was a baby boy named Tutankhamun or better known as King Tut, who grew up to become one of the greatest Pharaohs in Egyptian history.

There was a theory in 2015 from British archaeologist Nicholas Reeves that suggested the possibility of another chamber in King Tut’s tomb for Nefertiti, though it was disproved a few years later. There are still no clear indications as to where Nefertiti’s remains could be.


3. No One Knows When or How Nefertiti Died

Right around the 12th year of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’s reign of Egypt, Nefertiti stopped showing up in historical texts and images. Unsolved mysteries led to plenty of speculative theories. We know that Nefertiti was elevated to the status of co-regent shortly after she stopped showing up in records, meaning she would have had equal power to the pharaoh. But typically, when a person disappeared from historical documentation, that meant they died.

The plague would be the most speculated cause of death if she did die in the 12th year of their reign. However, in December 2012, a barely legible 5-line inscription from Year 16 of Akhenaten’s reign was discovered, mentioning Nefertiti as the Great Royal Wife. Her mummy has not been found, but some suggest it is the Younger Lady Mummy that was found n 1898.


4. Maybe She Changed Her Name and Dressed as a Man to Continue Ruling?

One of the more popular theories surrounding Nefertiti’s disappearance is that she began to dress as a man and continue ruling Egypt after Akhenaten’s death. This aligns with records of her disappearing after she was made a co-regent before Akhenaten’s death. Depictions in different archaeological sites represent Nefertiti in scenes that fit a pharaoh. Archaeological evidence indicates that a woman ruled as pharaoh from ca 1334 to 1332 BC.

As Nefertiti’s name vanished from historical records, the name of co-regent Neferneferuaten appeared. It is presumed by many that Nefertiti ascended the throne as Pharaoh Neferneferuaten succeeding the short-lived Pharaoh Smenkhkare in the late 18th dynasty. Other theories suggest she became known as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, ruling Egypt after her husband’s death or that she was exiled when the worship of the deity Amen-Ra made a comeback among the Egyptians.

Nefertiti was one of the first Queens to exercise her power. She was also one of the first Queens to have a husband/King who saw their Queen as an equal. Her leadership, actions and beauty give her status as one of the most revered women in history. While plenty of uncertainty surrounds her life, one thing is quite clear: she was one of the first female badasses to grace the world.


Edith Cavell: Sentenced to Death for Giving Life


World War I pushed people across the world to every limit imaginable. One of those people was Edith Cavell, who found herself working as the matron of a nurse’s training school in Brussels, Belgium when Germany invaded in 1914 at the start of World War I.

Instead of trying to flee, Cavell remained, saying she was needed at a time like this more than ever.

She’d go on to back up that statement, becoming a beacon of humanity for the Allied Powers and someone we should all aspire to be more like.


1. Treating the “Enemy”

In September 1914, Cavell was ordered to help two British soldiers wounded behind German lines. She treated the men in her hospital and then arranged to have them smuggled out of Belgium into neutral Holland (current day Netherlands).

This feat led her to join a network of people focused on sheltering Allied soldiers and Belgians eligible for military service to help them escape. Over the next 11 months, Cavell helped around 200 British, French and Belgian soldiers, keeping them in the hospital and arranging for guides to take them to the border.

The Germans asserted that while Cavell was aiding in the process of returning Allied soldiers to the enemy forces to fight against Germany, her network was relaying information to British intelligence.

Reports and first-hand testimonies in the Belgian archives from the end of WWI regarding Cavell’s network show that some intelligence tactics may have taken place. One account was from Herman Capiau, a Belgian engineer who had brought the first British soldiers to Cavell in 1914:

“Whenever it was possible to send interesting intelligence on military operations, this information was forwarded to the English intelligence service punctually and rapidly.”

Capiau referred to information about a German trench system, the location of munitions dumps and the whereabouts of aircraft. The details were hidden ingeniously in clothes. Messages were written on strips of fabric and sewn into clothes or concealed in shoes and boots.


2. The Trial

After nearly a year of successful transporting, Cavell was captured and accused of harboring Allied soldiers. German police were suspicious of Cavell’s activities, but a Frenchman named Gaston Quien ultimately did her in. Gaston would later be convicted by a French court for his treasonous behavior with the Germans and betrayal to Cavell.

For Cavell, after three days of meandering questioning, German authorities tricked her into talking by telling her they already had the necessary information to convict her, and the best way to save her co-conspirators would be to make a full confession. Cavell believed the interrogators and confessed with names, dates and locations.

It took the German military court just two days to convict her. When Cavel heard the death sentence pronounced, she accepted without reaction. Her, along with 33 other conspirators were sentenced to death by firing squad.


3. Firing Squad Execution

The night before her execution, Cavell met with a chaplain who recorded their conversation. With the clock on her life down to the final hours, Cavell said to the chaplain:

“I have told you that devotion will give you real happiness and the thought that you have done, before God and yourselves, your whole duty and with a good heart will be your greatest support in the hard moments of life and in the face of death.”

Cavell was found guilty on October 7, and five days later at dawn, the 49-year-old heroine was shot by firing squad in Brussels where it all began.

Her execution was legal under international law, but following worldwide demand for her release, triggered severe outrage.

Cavell’s unjust execution made her a symbol for the Allied cause, and her legacy was used in recruiting messages around the world. After the war, her body was exhumed and escorted to Britain where she was later reburied in Norwich Cathedral.

A lot of people have morals, but Edith Cavell unflinchingly followed through on hers, and in the most perilous of circumstances. Even in the waning moments of her life, Cavell stood by her actions with grace, dignity. Today’s—and any—world could use more badasses like her.



Ellis Chesbrough’s Upstream Battle to Reverse the Chicago River


1. Part One: The Waste Pours In

By the turn of the mid-19th century, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. People were flooding in from all corners of the United States, clamoring for one of the many jobs stemming from the city’s industrial explosion. But with rapid population growth came a proportional spike in waste, and the question of how to dispose of it grew from a problem to a crisis nearly immediately.

In 1855, a brilliant engineer named Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough designed one of the country’s first comprehensive sewer systems to combat Chicago’s waste issue. The sewer improved sanitation for a short time, but waste had to empty out somewhere. That somewhere was Lake Michigan, the city’s fresh drinking water source.

As Chicago’s cattle industry boomed, more animal waste than ever was making its way through the sewers and into the lake. Soon enough, outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, and dysentery afflicted the city’s booming populous. After 1,400 people died in an especially bad cholera outbreak, it became clear how dire it was to find a better solution to the waste crisis.


2. Part Two: The Tunnel

These outbreaks spawned Ellis’ second brilliant idea: build a tunnel 60 feet under Lake Michigan and two miles out into the lake to draw drinking water from further offshore. With this plan, waste could be dumped without spreading deadly diseases.

Three years later, tunnel work completed and the city relaxed a bit as disease outbreaks declined. But Chicago’s population continued to skyrocket and so too did river waste. Soon, all it took was heavy rain for the dirty river water to reach the intake tunnel two miles out.

At this point, I’d like to imagine that Mr. Chesbrough walked into his bedroom, quietly shut the door, and screamed into a pillow as loud as he could before dusting himself off and taking a tormented walk.


3. Part Three: The Final Hope

What we do know is that Chesbrough sure as hell didn’t give up, nor let the failure of a three-year project bring him down. Ellis Sylvester Chesbrough rolled his sleeves up his burly forearms and devised a plan that would rid Chicago of its filthy sewer once and for all.

The beauty of his idea was in its simplicity; he wanted to use gravity to move the water from one side of the state to the other.

28 miles west of Chicago is a high point called a subcontinental divide. It’s difficult to see since the land is as flat as a pancake in that region, but it’s a high point nonetheless. On the west side of this divide, rainwater slopes westward towards the Mississippi River. On the east side, it flows eastward towards Lake Michigan. If a canal could be dug through this divide, gravity would do the rest of the heavy lifting and take the water towards the Mississippi and away from Chicago’s precious lake.

Work started right away as ditch diggers began deepening a canal that followed that route, but it didn’t work—it wasn’t big enough. Chesbrough called for a bigger ditch—a name that would stick, funny enough, as citizens would call it ‘The Big Ditch.’ But as the workers were ready to put part two of Sylvester’s grand plan into action, tragedy struck…twice.


In April 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter. What ensued was the bloodiest conflict ever on American soil. The Civil War would lead to the slaughter of over 750,000 Americans, and shove Chicago’s problems down to the bottom of America’s list.

Ten years later was no better. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire consumed the city for three days, burning over 2,000 acres and leveling 17,500 buildings to the ground. With the city’s homes mostly made of wood and topped with tar or shingle roofs, the fire made quick work of Chicago and its insufficient firefighting force. It also further pushed back Chesbrough’s plans, and in August 1886 he died — never to see the completion of his life’s work.

But his legacy nor his plans were forgotten. Six years after his death, thousands of laborers armed with picks, dynamite and state-of-the-art steam-shovels embarked toward Chesbrough’s dream. Over the next ten years, workers excavated over 42 million cubic yards of rock and soil—enough to fill up the Sears Tower 20 times. When opened, the canal would connect to the Des Plaines River and send Chicago’s waste down the Mississippi to the gulf, just like Chesbrough had envisioned.

As you might imagine, the folks downstream of this planned sewage track weren’t thrilled, and the state of Missouri began prepping a major lawsuit against the City of Chicago. As the legal heat turned up, workers were rushed to finish the canal as fast as possible.

Finally, on the morning of January 2, 1900—14 years after Ellis Chesbrough’ death—the canal trustees blew up the final damn to solidify Ellis’ dream. Ever so slowly, something previously thought impossible had happened: an entire river’s flow reversed. Chicagoans went wild with celebration. The newly cleaned river drew thousands of spectators and swimmers as the whole city celebrated one of the most audacious engineering feats in U.S. history.


The Chicago River project is still one of the largest municipal earth-moving projects ever completed, and the engineering techniques and machines developed would make future monumental engineering feats like the Panama Canal possible.

While the project was widely panned as foolish and impossible, Chesbrough never let the criticism and lack of faith around him alter his vision. The Chicago River project is a testament to a combination of creative thought and resiliency to achieve the desired outcome. From Chesbrough’s efforts, we learn that all battles — especially the most uphill ones — are always worth fighting.


Never Heard from Again: Percy Fawcett’s Last Journey


For some people, the allure of a mystery is too enticing to pass up. British explorer Percy Fawcett is one of them. Unable to get past the idea of a lost city in the Amazon jungle. His infatuation would cost him his life.

Fawcett vanished in the Mato Grosso state of west-central Brazil in 1925 looking for a lost city supposedly in the middle of the Amazon rainforest he called “Z.”

Fawcett was a complicated man, and 90 years later, the circumstances surrounding his crew’s disappearance are still unclear.

The English World War 1 veteran and trained surveyor was fascinated with exploring and mapping areas that nobody had ever been. One of the world’s last territorial explorers usually ventured into the unknown with only a machete and a compass. A true badass if there ever were one.

Plenty of books and movies such as Indiana Jones borrow from Fawcett’s legacy and the tales of his expeditions, but let’s dive into the facts below.


1. Early Explorations

Fawcett began exploring uncharted areas in Brazil and Bolivia in 1906. These expeditions gave him worldwide recognition as his ventures included dodging venomous snakes, disease and hostile tribes. Fawcett was known for his ability to befriend different tribes, which allowed him to map these unknown areas safely. His exploits even won him a prestigious medal from the Royal Geographical Society. Fawcett also inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write the 1912 novel “The Lost World.”

Fawcett’s interactions with indigenous people made him believe that it was possible for city-sized groups to thrive in the unforgiving environment of the Brazilian rainforest. Fawcett found references to advanced settlements in the histories of the European Conquistadors. He was particularly enthralled by a Portuguese fortune hunter’s 1753 account of a stone jungle metropolis of great “size and grandeur.” As the years passed, Fawcett became obsessed with seeking out his modern-day El Dorado, which he dubbed “Z.”


2. The Lost City of Z

Once Fawcett mind was set on finding Z, he began to organize expeditions. He led two explorations for Z in the early 1920s, but both were unsuccessful as his groups were halted by weather, fever and exhaustion. Never one to adopt the defeatist mindset, Fawcett began to raise money for his third trip into the jungle to find the lost city. The campaigning process took longer than expected, but after three years, Fawcett had enough money to begin his journey. Many of his friends and colleagues told Fawcett that he was wasting his time searching for something that didn’t exist. Fawcett was convinced otherwise.

In April 1925, Fawcett’s crew — which included his son Jack, Jack’s friend Raleigh Rimmell, two Brazilian porters, two horses, eight mules and two dogs — set off into the Amazon. The goal: find the remains of Z at all costs.

Fawcett’s last correspondence was about five weeks into the expedition on May 29, 1925. He had sent the two Brazilian porters back as the journey became too much for them to continue. At this point, it was he, Jack and Raleigh to continue into the forest alone in search of the lost city. Fawcett had left behind strict instructions that should he not return, no rescue missions should be attempted because of the Amazon’s dangerous conditions. However, many attempts were made to find Fawcett’s group—both immediately following his disappearance and in the years that followed—but to no avail.


3. What Happened to Fawcett?

After Fawcett’s last correspondence, the crew fell off the face of the earth. Since no concrete evidence has surfaced as to what happened to the explorers, the minds of many have run with some wild ideas of the group’s demise. The most logical assumption would be that the group was either killed by a hostile jungle tribe, contracted a jungle disease or starved to death.

These theories didn’t sit well with those who knew Fawcett; no way would he succumb to death like that—he had to have gone out with a bang.

The closest thing to a written history is from the Kalapalos tribe, who have an oral tradition of three white men visiting their home area. According to one theory, there was an older man and two younger men, both of whom were injured. That description certainly fits Fawcett’s party. For the following five nights, the tribe observed the smoke from the expedition’s campfire. On the sixth night though, it disappeared.

Another theory claims the Kalapalos tribe that killed the three men because Fawcett’s group committed three actionable insults towards the tribe. The first, Fawcett’s son, Jack urinated in the river near the Kalapalos village, which is where the tribe sourced their drinking water. The second insult occurred when the explorers killed an animal for food and refused to share with any of the tribe members. The third and final insult was when a child from the tribe began to play with some of the items the explorers brought with them. Someone from the group struck the child, and the Kalapalos tribe never hits their children. The theory says that after these three insults, the tribe let the explorers gain some distance down the trail before ambushing and killing all three men.

According to previously hidden private papers, it appears that Fawcett had no intention of ever returning to Britain. It’s even suggested that he was lured by a native she-God or spirit guide whose beautiful image haunts the family archive. Supposedly, Fawcett planned to set up a commune in the jungle based on a bizarre cult. Fawcett hoped to follow what he privately described to friends and family as ‘the Grand Scheme.’ He wanted to set up a secret community which would be based on a mixture of unusual beliefs involving both the worship of his son Jack and the tenets of the then-fashionable credo of theosophy.

Mystery continues to swirl around Fawcett and how he met his maker in the Amazon rainforest. Maybe Fawcett discovered his lost city, or perhaps the group died shortly after their last correspondence. It’s likely that no one will ever know what happened to the group. Fittingly, the ending is consistent with the obsession that initially started the expeditions: to Fawcett, a lost city that may or may not exist was worth venturing into uncharted, hostile territories — even if it eventually meant he’d be lost to the mystery himself.


The Things We Do for Money: Annie Edson Taylor’s Legendary Barrel Ride


If you’ve ever been to Niagara Falls and ventured close enough to the Niagara River, it’s easy to see the speed and power with which it moves. It seems like a death trap if anyone were to ride the river over the falls, but tell that to Annie Edson Taylor and she’d laugh in your face if she were still alive today.

Annie Edson Taylor is not a household name, but she is the first person to go over Niagara Falls and live to talk about it. Taylor didn’t grow up living life as a daredevil or with a background you’d expect for someone who decided to go over the falls in a barrel. She was raised in a well-off family and was a teacher for most of her life. After a few personal and financial hardships, she felt her only option to live a comfortable life in retirement was to go over the falls at age 63. That’s right, six-three, sixty-three!


1. The Personal Road That Led to the Jump

Annie Edson Taylor was born in 1838 and was one of eight children. Her father owned a flour mill in Auburn, NY and was able to provide the family with a comfortable lifestyle. Taylor’s father died when she was 12, but he left enough money for the family to continue living well. Taylor ended up going to school to become a teacher at age 18, meeting her husband, David Taylor, in the process. Life was going pretty well for Taylor early on, but then the dominos started to fall.

After Taylor’s marriage, she birthed a baby boy, but he died just days later. Then the Civil War erupted: David was called for duty. David Taylor never made it back, leaving Annie a widow. After seven years of marriage and now widowed, Taylor had a tough time making ends meet. She bounced around, from New York to Michigan, to Texas, to Mexico City and back to Michigan to find steady work.

As the years passed and retirement approached, Annie found herself with no savings to live off, so she conceived an idea for a one-shot, get-rich-quick stunt that would send her off into the sunset with a full bank account.


2. Preparation for the Jump

As Taylor made it into her early sixties moving around the country with varying success finding work as a traveling teacher, she hadn’t been able to save enough money to stop working. She was a teacher most of her working life and even tried to open a dance studio during one of her stops in Michigan, but none of her endeavors kept enough money coming in consistently. The trend around the Falls was for people to ride the whirlpool below in a barrel, so Taylor decided to one-up the whirlpool riders with a stunt that would send her over the top of the Falls in a barrel. And to her, this seemed like a fine way to earn her retirement money — going upwards of 68 mph over a 188-foot drop into a 100-foot pool of water surrounded by rocks. What could possibly go wrong?

Taylor didn’t merely hop in the barrel and go over the falls, though. She did some testing before her jump, ultimately designing a barrel approximately 4.5 feet tall by 3 feet wide that gave her just enough room to fit inside along with some padding. A 200-pound anvil was placed at the bottom of the barrel to keep it upright. Now, all she needed was a test subject; she decided her cat would be the best option. Taylor and her team put the cat in the barrel and sent it over the falls. The barrel and cat survived, giving Taylor plenty of hope that, she too, would be fine.


3. October 24, 1901

As people from all over flocked to Buffalo, NY for the Pan American Exposition, Taylor reasoned it was a good time to jump the falls and capture maximum attention. She decided on her 63rd birthday for the stunt date: October 24, 1901. In front of a few thousand spectators and some reporters, Annie Edson Taylor was ready to descend.

After members of her team tried to talk her out of the stunt at the last minute, Taylor was sealed in the barrel with a boat towing her down the Niagara River. The towboat cut Taylor and the barrel loose. Her next destination: the whirlpool at the bottom of Niagara Falls. At approximately 4:30 p.m., Taylor’s barrel careened over the edge. The barrel was lost in the water and mist but surfaced just about a minute later, when it came to rest against a rock on the Canadian shore.

Once the team got to the barrel and popped the top, Annie Edson Taylor emerged as the first person to survive a jump over Niagara Falls. The only injury she suffered was a cut on her head, which happened when she was getting out of the barrel. With the stunt completed, now it was time to sit back and collect the spoils.


4. Perfect Jump, Not so Perfect Money Scheme

The only reason Taylor jumped Niagara Falls was to collect enough money to retire. However, the problem with that strategy is that she didn’t surround herself with trustworthy people. Taylor’s manager stole the barrel shortly after the jump, and it never surfaced again. Taylor intended to use the barrel as a prop for speaking engagements, but at least had a small level of fame to parlay into money. She posed for photos and gave speeches about her grand stunt, but the buzz quickly fizzled. She was poor again, trying to find new ways to make money.

Taylor never capitalized on her stunt, eventually dying penniless in 1921 at age 82. She actually didn’t have enough money to her name to pay for a proper burial, but her friends pooled some funds together and were able to bury Taylor in Niagara Falls Cemetery, where she rests in a section among other daredevils.

Annie Edson Taylor was a different breed of women, especially during the time period in which she lived. She endured losing her husband at an early age, moved around North America to explore every possible work opportunity and when most would have given up and accepted a poverty-ridden elderly decline, had the zeal to be the first person, not the first woman, to jump over Niagara Falls and live to tell the tale. Annie Edson Taylor was a badass when women weren’t so much allowed let alone encouraged to be one. Though she didn’t achieve what she ultimately set out to do, her story should empower us all never to stop battling and always think of less traditional ways of making our end goal come true.


2,000 ft. and Climbing: The Race to Complete the Shanghai Tower


When it comes to constructing massive skyscrapers, battles of compromise rage: between the ideal scenario and pragmatic solution, balancing deadlines and flawless execution. Building these incredible structures requires taking severe gambles that won’t pay off for years. And nowhere are all of these forces more prevalent than in the booming financial hub of the world’s third most populous city: Shanghai.

Learn how the Shanghai tower came to be with seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges, a tight timeline, and unique building obstacles, below.


Many issues arise in a city of over 24 million people, especially when cars are involved. The Shanghai Tower project aimed to solve three problems plaguing the city: pollution, vehicle congestion, and a lack of space.


With over one billion gallons of raw sewage hitting the waters of Shanghai every day and substantial air pollution, the city lacked clean areas for people to congregate. Thus, filtering in clean air to reduce the amount of smog for tower occupants became a key project initiative.

Vehicle Congestion

In under a decade, the number of cars in Shanghai increased five-fold, creating the 22nd most congested roadways in the world. By planning to serve as a workplace for over 30,000 people, the Shanghai Tower would help reduce the commute of thousands and significantly curb emissions.

Lack of Space

In Shanghai, every inch of real estate is precious, and very little is set aside for public parks or green space. The green areas that do exist are so small that locals call them “postage stamps.” Fearing that poor urban planning and limited access to green spaces could affect people’s mental and physical health, and with no space available for public use, building up became the only option. With this in mind, architects intended to incorporate lush gardens and open glass areas, allowing for unpolluted views.


1. The Plan

The idea of solving three massive urban challenges through constructing one building was an ambitious goal requiring a unique plan. The architects knew they’d need a design that allowed ample light and gave the feeling of being in an outside area. Additionally, it had to be spacious enough so that people didn’t feel claustrophobic in such a tight vertical area. The building would need to accommodate residential and business clientele, along with cafeterias, spa, gyms, pools, and observation space. In other words, it needed to be immense.

Gensler, the architecture consulting firm behind the project, decided on a 121-floor building that would be divided into nine sections. A solid core one-third of a mile high would make up the main support structure. A massive glass curtain wall would encase the entire building to give occupants the feeling of being outdoors. This “second skin” of glass would provide gaps in the structure for gardens with up to 180 feet of headroom.


2. The Challenges

The Glass Skin

Problem: While the idea of building two skins of glass on a single building was an ingenious solution, there was no precedent for this design. It’s like putting one skyscraper inside of another. The first question to be tackled: how to support this outer glass wall? Ideally, a glass wall that large would be supported structurally with steel beams. However, this would ruin the aesthetic, so large and bulky beams were out of the question. If engineers tried to make the beams slimmer and less intrusive, it wouldn’t be strong enough to support itself and would collapse under its own weight. With just one floor of the curtain wall weighing 115 tons, the engineers would have to find a different way to support it.

Solution: Instead of creating one enormous stacked structure to hold all of the glass at once, the engineers decided to hang each floor of glass from the floor above. The “ring beam structure,” would extend from the bottom of the floor above to the atrium of the current floor. This solution solved the problem for the engineers, but it posed a new problem for builders. This design would require builders to start at the top floor and work their way down, but they’d need a place to stand as they worked. Traditional scaffolding, which builds upward, was out of the question. This led builders to a brilliant solution: a moving scaffold. Later termed the “flying saucer,” the 100-ton scaffold was first hoisted to the top level of the building and then slid down to each floor below.


Monsoon Winds

Problem: China’s monsoon season is among the worst in the world. The building needed to withstand sustained winds from 120–170 mph and pounding rain. The building would also need to be stable enough to limit sway. While engineers concede that all buildings will sway a small amount, a force as small as one percent of a person’s body weight will be noticeable and disliked by the occupants. The architects were told that any perceived sway wouldn’t be acceptable, even for people on the 90th floor.

Solution: To reduce sway, the engineers rounded the corners of the building and shifted its edges by twisting the structure as it climbed. These tweaks could cut the wind load by up to 24 percent compared to a square building since the pressure’s dispersed more effectively. While twisting limited the building’s drag, too much twisting would make it unstable. Therefore, a balance needed to be struck. Wind tunnel experts advised that a twist of 180 degrees would be both rigid and aerodynamic. However, it would be prohibitively expensive due to the increased cost of materials to support such a structure. In the end, they decided on 120 degrees as the optimum amount of twist for rigidity, structural integrity, and budget.


The Glass

Problem: The outer glass structure was optimal in theory, but there were a lot of practical challenges. For one, it needed to be able to minimize the sun’s reflection. It also had to block excessive glare that would be blinding to occupants while allowing enough sun to pass through that it still succeeded in giving people the impression that they were in an outdoor space. On top of that, it needed to be able to withstand both the winds and the rains from the typhoon season.

Solution: The end result was a special type of advanced laminated glass. While most buildings only require one layer, the double-layered glass eliminated the need for either layer to be opaque. Additionally, the extra layer was built to reduce lateral pressure loads and save energy. In Shanghai’s varied climate in which massive temperature swings aren’t uncommon, the energy-efficient glass drastically decreases heating and cooling costs.


3. The Build

“Topping out,” or placing the last beam atop the structure, was important both as a right of passage and to secure the building before the early August typhoon season. As far as the engineers and builders had come to this point, the project’s final stages looked to present very little in the way of major obstacles.

Then, on June 23rd, a rainstorm pounded Shanghai for several days. With the outer skin only partially finished, flooding in several portions of the building cost workers five precious days. Seven floors still sat unfinished, requiring the builders to hang 50 panels of glass per day to finish in time, all on wet, dangerous beams 2,000 ft up.

By July 17, the team had nearly finished the outer glass panels. It was time to install two 20-ton chiller units called “lungs.” These units, responsible for regulating temperature and air quality, must be installed at the top and bottom of the building. Each one is the size of an SUV and cost $500,000. Once installed, the lungs can never be removed, so ensuring they stay undamaged is critical.

While the first unit was lowered into the basement without issue, the second unit got stuck on the 82nd floor. The team couldn’t get it to budge. Moments later, the crane tried lowering the lung to loosen it. Instead, to the horror of onlookers, it began tilting backward away from the edge. With winds increasing, battering the crane and the building, the workers tried repositioning their winch to unstick it. Finally, after 30 minutes of tussling, the team succeeded in pulling the unit inside safely.

By August 3rd, all that’s left is one last 7-ton steel brace to be installed. To massive applause from the crowd, the final piece—festooned in flags and banners—lowers into place. The workers have somehow done it; they’ve beaten monsoon season.


The Shanghai Tower is the tallest of the world’s first triple-adjacent super-tall buildings in Pudong and the tallest building in China. Today, it houses over 30,000 workers and is a daily spectacle for locals and tourists alike.

But the real marvel is the project itself: the architects who didn’t sacrifice their designs merely to meet the project’s goals; the engineers who went to great lengths to achieve the vision of the architects; and the builders, who executed on the unprecedented design and construction method to beat the monsoon season and ensure that a costly, monumental project succeeded.

The Shanghai Tower project wasn’t a product of compromise like the vast majority of large-scale building projects are destined to become. Instead, it’s a testament to how a strong vision can unify a team and yield something truly astonishing.


Henry Ford: Humble Roots to Idealist Capitalist

Henry Ford left behind quite the legacy with Ford Motor Company, his direct contribution to the boom of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s and the assembly line, which revolutionized production speed and efficiency.

Ford was a unique mind when it came to engineering, but his life could have gone a variety of ways and altered history completely. He could have been a farmer, a politician or possibly the creator and leader of a city in the middle of the Amazon. You read that last one correctly — automobile mogul Henry Ford could have ended up in his own city in the Amazon. But we’ll get to that a little later.


1. Ford and the Farm Life

Starting with his grassroots, Henry Ford’s family owned farmland just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, Michigan. As a teenager, Ford helped his family make ends meet by working on the family farm but that all changed in 1876 when his mother, Mary Ford, passed away. Her death took a toll on Ford, and while his father, William Ford, wanted Henry to take over the family farm, he told his father that he had no interest in doing so. He tolerated farming because he loved his mother while she was on the farm but he hated the inefficiencies of farming.

That would not be the last song and dance between Ford and a life of farming. When Ford was 25, he came back to work on the family farm to support his new wife and family. By this time, Ford had already built a steam engine, and within the next two years, he became the Chief Engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company’s main plant. Ford was on-call all day, every day, tasked with keeping the electricity running in the city of Detroit. Ford officially closed the book on his life as a farmer, moving on to bigger and better things.


2. Senator Ford? President Ford?

Once the Ford Motor Company and his Model T got up and going, the local support for Ford was through the roof. In 1916, Ford won the Michigan Republican Primary without even campaigning. Imagine having that kind of support from the people around you? Zero campaigning and no real intention of running for President, yet he still won the Michigan Primary. In 1924, people were starting Ford-for-President clubs across the country, rallying behind Ford again to run for the Oval Office. Just like the farm work though, Ford had no interest in being President.

The people loved him, and he was getting high praise from the top of the government hierarchy. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson convinced Ford to run for a Democratic seat in the Senate. Ford felt that spending money on a campaign was a complete waste of money, so he ran but just like the Michigan Republican Primary two years prior, Ford didn’t spend a penny on his campaign. Ford ended up losing by only 4500 votes, which is an extremely slim margin. If we’re being honest, Ford probably preferred to lose this election anyway. His interested laid elsewhere and eventually took him into the Amazon.


3. You Are Building Your Own City? In the Amazon Rainforest?

Ah yes, Fordlandia! Ford was a brilliant mind, and many of his ideas and inventions have revolutionized our lives. But Fordlandia, Ford’s city in the Amazon Forest was one of Ford’s off-the-wall ideas driven purely out of capitalism. In 1927, with plenty of money at his disposal and his idealistic views, Ford bought a chunk of land in the Amazon about the size of Connecticut. This land was to serve a specific purpose though; the people who lived there would harvest rubber to make tires for his automobiles.

Fordlandia, an 18-hour boat trip from the nearest city, was meant to be a utopian paradise while supplying the Ford Motor Company with rubber to make tires. Sounds like a great idea but like many things that look good on paper, this one didn’t work out. Some early revolts and riots required assistance from the Brazilian Army to subdue the violence, many rubber trees were not growing, and insects ravaged the ones that did develop.

Fordlandia never became the rubber resource that Ford had intended it to be. The city had been around for about a decade, but once World War II began, Ford’s focus turned to aid war efforts and Fordlandia started to fall by the wayside. When WWII ended, Ford’s health was diminishing, so the control of Fordlandia was given to his grandson, Henry Ford II. Ford II saw Fordlandia as an underperforming asset and quickly sold the land back to the Brazilian government for a fraction of what his grandfather originally paid for it. And just like that, Fordlandia was no more.


If Henry Ford was alive, he’d rock VKN.

4. Interesting Ford One-Liners:

  • Built his first steam engine in 1878 when he was 15
    years old. Fif-teen.
  • Built his first gasoline engine in 1893.
  • Started in airline company during WWI but it failed
    due to poor sales.
  • Ford Motor Company was his third attempt at an
    automobile company.
  • Henry Ford Company and Detroit Automobile Company were
    his first two ventures and both failed.
  • Holds 161 unique patents in his name.


5. Wrapping Up Ford

We all know about Henry Ford and his impact on the automobile industry, but his mind was something that we don’t see today. In a 1928 interview with the Detroit Times, Ford revealed that the source of his inspiration and his work was a mysterious force. He dedicated his brilliance to a ‘Master Mind.’ He said: “Somewhere is a Master Mind sending brainwave messages to us. There is a Great Spirit. I never did anything by my own volition. I was pushed by invisible forces within and without me.”

Master Mind or not, Henry Ford was a badass. Family pressure could have forced him into being a farmer for the rest of his life, but he decided he knew better. Society tried to pressure him into running for political office, and while he gave it a brief shot, he only put his name on the ballot. Even though Fordlandia was one of his failures, it showed Ford was an off-the-wall thinker whose capitalistic views pushed him to do anything to help his company. This was the type of guy, even with his shortcomings, who could do anything he wanted and didn’t care what anyone else thought.