Alan Turing: The Mind and Man

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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P.S.

Enjoy this piece? Read about other badass engineering projects:

And don’t forget to explore new arrivals in the shop!

 

Edith Cavell: Sentenced to Death for Giving Life

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Never Heard from Again: Percy Fawcett’s Last Journey

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

Pollution

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Brilliance & Grit: Isaac Newton

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One of the most influential scientists in history, Isaac Newton was nothing short of a badass.

But while you might be familiar with the story of him getting cracked on the head with an apple and three of his laws, you might not have learned about some of his other achievements.

Besides being undeniably brilliant, Newton was a tireless worker who understood how to assemble elements of previous scientific giants that came before him.

Today we dive into Newton’s inability to half-ass anything, and the way that his grit and determination allowed him to impact the world in so many ways.

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1. He wrote a book that not only revolutionized physics and math, but changed the scientific method.

Newton’s magnum opus, “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (often referred to as the “Principia”) is regarded as one of the most important scientific books ever written. Among other things, the three-book work stated Newton’s famous laws of motion and universal gravitation, laid the foundations of classical mechanics and used mathematical methods that would end up being the basis for calculus. However, Newton’s book did more than introduce world-changing laws; it created a new standard for the scientific method and changed the way future scientists would approach problems, build hypotheses and submit theories.

In “Principia,Newton said that every discrepancy between observation and theory—no matter how tiny—is telling us something important about the world. In his search to understand these discrepancies, Newton raised the bar for the scientific theory; while previous scientists generally only put one theory forward to account for an observation, Newton would lay out several and then give “them a full range of alternate possibilities, allowing the empirical world to select them.” Giving multiple theoretical possibilities versus only one was a massive improvement, building on work by Galileo and Christiaan Huygens.

Another gift to the scientific world within “Principia” would also be the most controversial. Newton’s method included withholding any thoughts on the reasoning for the phenomena he observed, giving only his dispassionate scientific calculations to explain it.

Instead of giving any personal thoughts on why gravity works the way it does, for instance, Newton said:

“I have not as yet been able to deduce from phenomena the reason for these properties of gravity, and I do not feign hypotheses. For whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this experimental philosophy, propositions are deduced from the phenomena and are made general by induction.”

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2. When the tools of the time wouldn’t suffice, Newton constructed his own

In Newton’s day, observers looking through telescopes would often see a fuzzy corona of light that made it difficult to observe celestial bodies in great detail. This distortion (chromatic aberration) was mainly due to the lenses in refracting telescopes. Newton had a theory that this distortion was caused by white light actually being composed of a spectrum of colors and that the lenses within these refracting telescopes were the cause. Wanting to prove his theory but finding himself without the necessary tools to do so, Newton decided that he’d just build his own damn telescope.

Using the ideas of Galileo and Giovanni Sagredo, Newton grounded his own lenses out of metal, polishing and perfecting the metal himself. Using this new telescope, he found that it worked without any of the distortion found on other telescopes, allowing him to view four of Jupiter’s moons as well as Venus.

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3. He got a cushy job and then took it super fucking seriously

When Newton was made Warden of the Mint in 1696 it was intended to be a quiet cushy job usually reserved for wealthy, lazy aristocrats. Newton, however, had no interest in sitting quietly.

At the time, counterfeiting in England was rampant, with around 10 percent of England’s coins being known fakes. Newton had no interest in letting these crimes go unpunished and sprang into action, immediately organizing what was then called the ‘Great Recoinage.’ This effort repossessed millions of pounds of coins and re-minted them at their correct values. The effort was so massive that it took a 500-man production line in the Tower of London over four years to complete.

But Newton was just getting started.

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Now that he’d made a serious dent in the number of fake coins on the streets, he needed to sniff out the leaders of these counterfeiting efforts and see that they were punished to the full extent of the law.

At the top of Newton’s shit list was a well-respected man named William Chaloner. Chaloner appeared to be on Newton’s side in the quest to sniff out counterfeiters, writing to the Lord’s Justices claiming to have hard evidence that men working in the mint had been selling off copies of casts. However, Newton had a hunch that Chaloner was actually the brains of the operation.

Newton presented a report to parliament detailing Chaloner’s involvement, but the case was dismissed and Chaloner again went back to pleading for a job at the mint. It was then that Newton applied his legendary energy, acquiring enough hard evidence to put Chaloner away.

Newton went undercover and quietly gathered evidence, ultimately conducting over 100 cross-examinations of witnesses, suspects and informants which led to the successful prosecution of 28 forgers, including Chaloner. Thanks to the piles of evidence and witnesses, Newton finally had Chaloner cornered with no escape. The jury only needed a few minutes to reach the verdict of guilty. A fortnight later, Chaloner was hanged.

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Newton had been one of the most active Wardens of the Mint, made huge strides in reducing the counterfeiting and helped stabilize England’s currency — all from a position that basically required him to sit, collect revenue and do nothing.

While we might not be world-class geniuses like Newton, we can apply and learn from his methods. Newton made theories based on his observations, and didn’t let the limitations of what he felt was testable affect his pursuit of his truths. Newton threw himself fully into his work, regardless of its perceived importance. By attacking each problem with this attention, he quickly grew far beyond the bounds of his peer’s expectations. Instead of just surpassing standards, Isaac Newton redefined them.

 

The Perseverance and Legacy of the Golden Gate Bridge

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It’s hard to imagine anyone in the developed world and certainly the United States not immediately recognizing the international orange-colored steel spanning across the strait where the Pacific Ocean meets the San Francisco Bay, displaying sharp and bold through sunrise or sunset, midday haze or heavy fog; to think one of the most distinguished engineering projects in the world almost ended up looking like a giant hideous bumble bee.

A beacon of awe for locals and tourists around the world alike, let’s look at why the Golden Gate Bridge is simply magnificent.

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1. Natural Challenges

The idea of building a bridge at the strait of a busy bay and ocean entrance was ambitious to say the least. Many said it couldn’t be done and those who did say it could be done forecasted astronomical totals, like San Francisco City Engineer M.M. O’Shaughnessy, who estimated the bridge would cost $100 million. O’Shaughnessy, thankfully, wasn’t a stubborn prideful man, so he openly asked other engineers what the bridge could be built for, which connected him with Joseph Strauss.

There was a lot to consider, such as how to span nearly a mile gap of an extremely deep channel. There was rising tide to consider, busy ship traffic to account for, strong constantly swirling gusts of wind in the construction zone, and of course, the risk of earthquakes with the San Andreas Fault line located just 12 miles away.

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2. Construction Faced Countless Roadblocks

Despite the proposition for the bridge first being made in 1872, it began to build real momentum by the early 1920s. However, when an actual project proposal finally was made, it faced resistance from multiple angles.

A successful court ruling from the State legislature as well two favorable Federal hearings gave way for approval to be sought from the Department of War, which owned the land on both the San Francisco side and Marin side. However, they had reservations about the bridge interfering with ship traffic. The Navy was also against the bridge, fearing an event where a ship collision or damage to the bridge would block traffic to one of its biggest harbors. Then there was the business of the ferry being infringed upon. Before the Golden Gate Bridge, the only decent way to get across was by ferry, and the massive Southern Pacific Railroad owned 51 percent of the company solely responsible for doing so—the Golden Gate Ferry Company. Naturally, Southern Pacific filed a lawsuit, but interestingly enough, thousands of other lawsuits were filed against the project as well—2,300 in total! Many were from environmentalists, such as Ansel Adams, fearing the bridge would ruin the natural beauty of the strait. Even though all these folks turned out to be completely wrong, I guess we can try to understand when looking at one of Adams’ pre-Golden Gate Bridge photos in 1932.

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3. Inspired Future Engineering Safety Standards

As far as engineering projects go, particularly those in the first half of the 20th century before federal safety standards and during the Great Depression of all eras, the Golden Gate Bridge was a extraordinarily safe project. In total, only eleven men died during construction, and none during the project’s first three years. By contrast, bridge projects of that era were expected to suffer roughly one fatality per million dollars spent. The Golden Gate Bridge was roughly a $35 million project, making the eleven lives lost a breakthrough in construction safety.

A central reason for this was chief engineer Joseph Strauss’s innovative safety net, installed around all work platforms for an extremely cost-effective $130,000. The safety nets saved 19 lives during construction, with survivors bonded together in a group called the Halfway to Hell Club. In addition to installing the safety net, Strauss introduced hard hats, safety lines, glare-free goggles, required workers to use hand and face cream to protect their skin from the aggressive winds and had no tolerance for workers messing around. He even reportedly had workers go on special diets to battle dizziness. Strauss’ methods were unprecedented and met with resistance by workers, but he stifled any opposition by firing them on the spot. Even the most talented of iron workers weren’t good enough to not follow the rules, as detailed in this video below:

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Strauss’ safety standards ultimately improved workers’ morale and sped the construction process up considerably.

As far as the eleven men that perished, one was killed by a crane, and then, during a regular workday morning, a dozen men fell 200 feet to the frigid waters after a 5-ton section of scaffolding failed and forced the safety net to give way. A handful of the men miraculously survived the fall, but only two would hold on to be saved by a crab fisherman that was in the area.

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4. What the Golden Gate Bridge Is Made Of

Though the original design penned by chief engineer Joseph Strauss included a cantilever design with steel-girder sections on both ends with a suspension span in the middle, advances in metallurgy would give way to a full suspension design.

The bridge’s load-bearing ability would hang from 250 pairs of vertical suspender ropes, attached to two main cables. These cables passed to the two main towers, each filled with over 22,000 tons of concrete. The main cables are comprised of 27,572 strands of wire, the total length of the galvanized steel estimated to be 80,000 miles long. And if you’ve ever walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve surely noticed the giant rivets throughout. There are approximately 1.2 million in the bridge.

So, how many hours do you think something like this took to construct? It wasn’t too laborious; just 25-million man hours. (Gorge on more numbers that make up the Golden Gate Bridge.)

Perhaps the coolest part of the bridge though, is its ability to fluctuate depending on wind, load and temperature.

For example, as part of the bridge’s 50th anniversary in 1987, 250,000 people filled the bridge to celebrate, putting the biggest load on the bridge to-date. And as Joseph Strauss predicted long before, the bridge held, flattening in its middle span to accommodate the extreme weight

The bridge also constantly goes through a process called thermal expansion that causes it to rise and fall by as much as 16 feet depending on the climate. Essentially, it works like this: sun hits the bridge and expands the metal, causing the bridge cables to stretch and the bridge to dip. When fog and its cooler temperatures roll in, the metal cools and cables contract, making the bridge rise again.

Here’s a video below describing the bridge thermometer that the Outdoor Exploratorium built a few miles away from the bridge in the Presidio to capture the bridge’s elevation per the current weather.

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5. The Dream Team

Amazing engineering projects—especially in the 1930s—usually aren’t built with maintenance in mind, and the Golden Gate is no exception. In fact, it takes a squad of a few dozen full-time painters to constantly upkeep and prevent rust on the 10-million square feet of steel. Rather than systematically going from one end to the other, the work is a never-ending series of touch-up jobs in surreal circumstances; from getting disoriented by the undulation of the water below and touching up hard-to-reach places in the bridge’s underbelly to being distracted by the abrupt sound of navy horns below and, of course, the many jumps toward death the bridge plays host to each year.

While it’s fallen victim to hundreds of millions of selfies from people around the world, the Golden Gate Bridge’s image exceeds well beyond. It overcame several natural and legal roadblocks during the worst economic era in America’s history to help usher new standards for construction safety, grow the San Francisco Bay Area into its present-day self and become one of man’s most impressive achievements the world over.

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6. Additional Tidbits

  • Oddly enough, the Golden Gate Bridge isn’t part of the interstate system, yet it carries both U.S route 101 and California State Route 1 through it.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge was named one of the Seven Wonders of the United States in 1994 by the American Society of Civil Engineers, joining the ranks of the Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, the Interstate System, Trans-Alaska Pipeline, World Trade Center and Kennedy Space Center.
  • Excitingly, the steel sections for the two towers were fabricated in Pennsylvania and sent by boat to San Francisco through… the Panama Canal.

Upon completion of the bridge in May 1937, chief engineer and poet Joseph Strauss penned “The Mighty Task is Done” — read the poem here.

 

Charlie Chaplin, Virtuoso of Sorts

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Can you imagine trying to become a famous actor without your words? What about going from workhouse rags to the most recognizable face in the world? Charlie Chaplin captivated audiences worldwide over an 82-film, 75-year-career that single handedly elevated the medium for which motion pictures were judged.

Chaplin was a do-it-all artist with the most illustrative facial expressions the world had ever seen. He pioneered slapstick antics with emotional depth and created films rooted in social commentary.

He did this mostly through the everyman persona of his one true character—The Tramp. In roles spanning janitors, (ex-)convicts, factory workers, drunks, apprentice assistants and many others—Chaplin portrayed poverty through an uplifting, comedic lens — a style that would resonate with audiences for decades, even as cultural and film styles rapidly changed.

Charlie Chaplin’s legacy is ubiquitous enough for many to have seen his trademark mustache and know he was a silent film comedic actor, but let’s take a closer look at the life and work of cinema’s first true artist.

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1. Too Talented, Determined to Let Early Hardship Stop Him

Chaplin’s upbringing was anything but smooth. His parents’ relationship was unraveling around the time he was born, and they’d become estranged two years into his life. After the split, Charlie’s father was completely out of his life; no financial support or emotional relationship.

Without any assistance, Charlie’s mother supported Charlie and his half brother by making dresses at home and occasional nurse work, but they struggled to make consistent ends meet, which led Charlie to two stays at workhouses before age nine.

To make matters worse, Charlie’s mother, increasingly suffering from what was later thought to be syphilis, was committed to a mental asylum. This landed Charlie and his half brother with their father for the first time ever. Unfortunately for the two young boys, Chaplin Sr. was deep in the throes of alcoholism by that point, and as one would imagine, didn’t treat his sons very well. He would die from cirrhosis two years later at age 37.

Charlie was briefly homeless afterward, until his half-brother returned from the British Navy and took care of him. The tormented emotional cycle continued when his mother was released from the asylum after eight months, only to be institutionalized again in 1905—this time for life (though after making it big, Charlie brought her to California in 1921 to live with him). All the hardship wasn’t enough to stop a young, talented and determined Chaplin from succeeding; just a year later in 1906 he would join Fred Karno’s renowned comedy circuit, quickly becoming a standout performer.

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2. Passion Through a Vision

Chaplin wanted perfection. But instead of it hindering his artistic production, it only seemed to accelerate his output—and to several different roles in the film process: composer, director, screenwriter, producer and editor. This in large part was because of his confidence and vision; Chaplin couldn’t have achieved what he achieved without it.

For example, when Chaplin wanted to start directing films, he got his foot in the door by promising to pay Keystone Studio boss Mack Sennett $1,500 (Chaplin’s entire savings) if the films could not be released. Chaplin’s bravado resulted in him directing many of the Keystone films he appeared in (along with a $25 bonus).

Later in his directorial career, while filming 1931’s “City Lights,” Chaplin reportedly made actress Virginia Cherrill do 342 takes for one sequence. He also publicly berated Marlon Brando for keeping him waiting on set of 1967’s “A Countess in Hong Kong” to which Brando would later reference in his autobiography — describing the 77-year-old Chaplin as “probably the most sadistic man I’d ever met” and a “fearsomely cruel man.”

Chaplin may have been a fierce septuagenarian (or just in general), but that’s hardly surprising given his dedication and focus to his crafts throughout his life. Even after sound films emerged in the late ‘20s, Chaplin rebelled, stating his case in the New York Times in 1931:

“BECAUSE the silent or non-dialogue picture has been temporarily pushed aside in the hysteria attending the introduction of speech by no means indicates that it is extinct or that the motion picture screen has seen the last of it. “City Lights” is evidence of this.”

“City Lights” certainly achieved acclaim, but Chaplin couldn’t veil his own denial for long, later admitting, “although City Lights was a great triumph, I was obsessed by a depressing fear of being old-fashioned.”

Chaplin would eventually succumb to his contemporaries with his first talkie: 1940’s “The Great Dictator” — a political comedy-drama satirizing Adolf Hitler which ended up as one of Chaplin’s most commercially successful films. Today it’s preserved in the National Film Registry for its cultural and historical significance.

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3. Charlie’s Recipes

Food was a theme and interest throughout Chaplin’s career and personal life. Among many, the cafeteria scene in “Modern Times” comes to mind where he eats a ton of food without paying in a second attempt to be arrested and save the orphan girl.

Chaplin was asked to submit recipes to cookbooks throughout his life (mostly for charitable proceeds). Some of his favorites include:

  • Apple roll
  • Steak and kidney pie
  • Sour cream hot cakes
  • “The Gold Rush Shoestring Spaghetti Dinner” (spaghetti with clam sauce, filets de sole w/ grapes, asparagus salad, boiled new potatoes, creme brulee, and Parker House rolls)

Get the full recipes here.

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4. Uniquely Recognized

Being the unprecedented performer and individual he was, Chaplin garnered many triumphs throughout his career.

In 1925, he became the first actor to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, which probably would have been more exciting for him had he not released “The Gold Rush” a month earlier; a film that was a smashing success, grossing over $4.2 million (the fifth-highest-grossing silent film ever).

Chaplin was vocal in saying it was the film he wanted to be remembered by.

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Here’s the opening scene to the 1925 film:

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But that’s small potatoes compared to Chaplin’s three Oscars. While the only competitive win came for his composition work in “Limelight,” widely thought to be his last great motion picture and a project inspired by his novella entitled “Footlights” — his other two Oscars are as unique as they get.

Chaplin was recognized at the very first Academy Awards for his versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing 1929’s “The Circus.”

Chaplin’s second honorary Oscar came in an even bigger way: in 1972, 20 years after being exiled from the U.S. for being labeled a communist sympathizer (a whole other article in itself) Chaplin was back on U.S. soil, receiving a 12-minute standing ovation for the “incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.” This is still the longest standing ovation in Oscar history!

Watch his acceptance speech below:

Chaplin gave the world never-before-seen entertainment but did so through a social commentary that resonated beyond laughs. Chaplin was about the whole process; the music, the laughs, the message, the story and the shot all stood on equal ground. Chaplin — like many of the people we feature at VK Nagrani — lived his life with purpose and tenacity, something we can all use a bit more of from time to time.

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5. Other interesting tidbits

  • It was no secret that Chaplin liked younger women, but in 1943 it backfired into an ugly paternity suit. Read how Chaplin’s case helped redefine paternity laws in the U.S.
  • Chaplin received widespread criticism for not fighting in WWI as a British soldier, but played a role anyway when cutouts of his Tramp character were propped up in British trenches “so the Germans would die laughing.” His films were also projected on the ceilings of military hospitals.
  • His look was so famous and recognized that he couldn’t even win a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest, instead placing third. Actually, just kidding.
  • His first Oscar, valued at over $1 million, was stolen from Paris offices in 2015, but it’s the memories that count, right?
  • Graverobbers excavated Chaplin’s dead body in hopes for a $600,000 ransom. Instead, they were caught, wrote apology letters to Charlie’s wife and were given minimal sentences.

 

Badass Gal: Nellie Bly

Journalism’s First Original Gonzo-Immersionist

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Best known for her record-breaking globe-trotting journey and ten undercover days spent in a madhouse, Nellie Bly, born Elizabeth Cochrane, lived with a tenaciousness most could only dream of possessing.

Her life should serve as one vivid example on how to take control of life and spend our days exactly as we’d like.

Learn more about the queen of investigative journalism and lifelong badass, Nellie Bly, below.

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1. Operated on a No-Bullshit Policy

It’s staggering the amount of people waiting for someone else to take control of their lives. For anyone struggling with personal empowerment, Bly is the poster child of motivation.

She first received attention as a teenager after writing a passionate response to the editor of the “Pittsburgh Gazette” due to a column it ran titled, “What Girls Are Good For,” which based its central thesis arguing that girls are strictly good for birthing and housekeeping. Bly’s heated prose resonated so well that the Gazette’s editor published an ad calling on the writer to identify themselves. When Bly did, she was offered an assignment with the paper.

Later at the Gazette, when she was confined to women-centric topics commonly known in journalism as “pink topics,” she didn’t bite her lip and play it professional. Instead, she quit and went to Mexico, spending half a year as a foreign correspondent reporting on the lives and customs of Mexicans. Her Mexico experiences were chronicled in a collection called “Six Months in Mexico.” Bly was only 21 years old at the time.

While in Mexico, Bly protested the imprisonment of a local Mexican journalist, ultimately landing her on the radar of Mexican officials. Under threat of arrest, Bly fled to the U.S., but didn’t stop criticizing then-dictator Porfririo Diaz about suppressing the Mexican people and controlling the press.

Bly would end up leaving the Gazette a second time after Mexico due to more soft assignments and because, as we know by now, she operated on a no-bullshit policy.

When the male senior staff at the “New York World” first learned of her around-the-world proposal, they wanted to send a man. Bly said she’d work for another paper and beat whatever man they’d send. Bly got her way with the senior staff, and a year later she stood at Hoboken Pier in New Jersey waiting to depart.

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2. An Unprecedented Investigative Journalist

Bly’s first assignment at the Dispatch was titled “The Girl Puzzle,” a piece advocating for divorce reform. It impressed the editor enough for him to offer Bly a full-time job. She got started with an investigative series covering the conditions of women working in factories.

She later found herself in Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” offices, ultimately taking an assignment to act insane as part of an expose into the neglect and harsh treatment at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum. Bly was reportedly so convincing in feigning insanity that a roommate of hers at a boarding house (prior to the asylum) refused to sleep in the same room as her. Bly passed the demented test with flying colors and transferred to Blackwell Island and its 1,600 women patients.

While at Blackwell, Bly experienced cruel treatment in the form of ice cold baths, minimally supplied clothing, and sparse meals. Her investigative work, aptly titled, “10 Days in a Madhouse,” led to massive system reform, including cleaner facilities, more funding, and better treatment of patients. It also paved the way for a new kind of journalism that others would (less successfully) mirror.

Eventually, she decided to follow in the fictional footsteps of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg and go around the world in 80 days. By herself. She ended up only taking a record-breaking 72 days to do it. Afterwards, and as a bona fide celebrity drawing high acclaim for all over, Bly would continue covering social justice pieces, including the orphan market in New York, a look into zoo cruelty, and a piece on the homeless. At the end of her career, Bly covered WWI and women’s suffrage.

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3. Fashion Sense

Not much is spoke of regarding Bly’s fashion sense, but she displayed it on her jaunt around the world. Bly traveled by herself, and with her main concern being speed, didn’t bring much. In fact, Bly’s luggage would make today’s backpackers look like hoarders. Photos of her from the trip show her holding a bag only sixteen inches wide by seven inches high packed with only the essentials:

  • spare underwear
  • toiletries
  • writing instruments
  • tennis blazer
  • dressing gown
  • a cup
  • two caps
  • three veils
  • pair of slippers
  • needles and thread
  • handkerchiefs

Oh, and the most important items, one jar of cold cream and a flask.

As if these life accomplishments weren’t enough, Bly held many patents, including for a 55-gallon oil drum, stackable garbage pail, and an improved version of the milk jar. She also briefly owned a company after her late husband past away and gave her control. A woman in 1907 as president of a company was unprecedented. It’s still uncommon these days.

Though Bly would succumb to pneumonia at age 57, she lived a full life full of assertiveness and excitement. Her story should inspire anyone with passion, but particularly those who don’t know how to channel and direct it into greater life gains.

Be like Nellie Bly: don’t take no for an answer and be fucking fearless!

Keep visiting the VK Nagrani blog for more accounts of truly badass people throughout history.

 

Ellen DeGeneres, Never More Than Purely Herself

She’s won 30 Emmys, 20 People’s Choice Awards, and a treasure trove of others for charitable efforts. She was featured on Forbes’ list of top celebrity annual earners, raking in 77 million last year alone. But how did Ellen DeGeneres achieve such iconic status?

Through a unique blend of wit, quirk, kindness and a fearlessness to be herself. Let’s take a closer look at why Ellen DeGeneres is truly larger than life.

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1. No Last Name Needed

Ellen’s hosted the Grammy’s, Emmy’s, and Academy Awards. Twice. She’s also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. And arguably most reflective of her icon status—she’s on a very short list of people worldwide (think: Oprah, Bono, Beyonce, Madonna) who doesn’t need a last name for everyone to know the person being talked about. That speaks volumes in itself.

Ellen receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama

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It’s also refreshing that she’s the sixth most-followed person on the planet on Twitter. Not because social media followership means a damn thing but because there’s one less person famous for nothing who doesn’t have the world’s eyeballs on command. Like it or not, social media influences the masses, and more Ellens under a spotlight in this world would be pretty fucking all right.

2. “Yep, I’m Gay”

 

After nearly four seasons being the cute, sweet, girl-next-door bookstore owner Ellen Morgan on the sitcom “Ellen” — DeGeneres’ character came out on “The Puppy Episode” to a live studio audience and estimated 44 million viewers. Of course, viewership was way up because two weeks prior, a Time Magazine cover featured DeGeneres alongside the quotes, “Yep, I’m Gay.” DeGeneres had also publicly come out on Oprah’s show, which aired just hours before “The Puppy Episode.”

It’s easy to remember the good parts of the coming out, live cheers from the studio audience every time a joke or reference was made leading up to the end of the episode, even guest appearances by Oprah and Laura Dern because they wanted to be a part of the moment. However, there was plenty of backlash too, with people claiming she was trying to force her sexual orientation on people. “Ellen” lasted just one more season. Oprah received hate mail, death threats and racial slurs. Dern didn’t work for a year following her appearance as Ellen’s love interest in the episode.

DeGeneres wasn’t the first TV character to be depicted as gay, but she was the first to come out on live TV. Her character wasn’t invisible or negatively portrayed as those in the past. She helped usher in a new, more open era of LGBQT characters on television.

It was a turbulent time to come out. These days we live in a much different era of transparency, but it was Ellen who gave that movement considerable momentum.

3. A Sense of Humor We Can All Learn From

 

With all that she’s faced and accomplished, it’s easy to forget that Ellen is hilarious, and in a sweet, endearing type of way that’s atypical for famous comedians. When she tore a ligament in her back in 2007, instead of putting her on hold, a decision that would have been completely understandable, she decided to host it from her bed, with guests sitting in the bed next to her.

She opened a televised version of the Emmys following the 9/11 attacks with this apt joke:

“We’re told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?”

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Some other quotes that perfectly illustrate her witty humor:

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”

“I’m a godmother, that’s a great thing to be, a godmother. She calls me god for short, that’s cute, I taught her that.”

“One time I actually cleaned out my closet so good I ended up on the cover of Time Magazine.”

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A true reflection of her character:

“Contribute to the world. Help people. Help one person. Help someone cross the street today. Help someone with directions unless you have a terrible sense of direction. Help someone who is trying to help you. Just help. Make an impact. Show someone you care. Say yes instead of no. Say something nice. Smile. Make eye contact. Hug. Kiss. Get naked.”

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On forging your own path:

“Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. Then by all means follow that path.”

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And finally, one final observation on the irony of real life:

“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.

Read about other inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.