Week ending 14 December

December 9, 1968: A presentation by Stanford Research Institute engineer Douglas Engelbart introduces the computer mouse to the world. Engelbart's first mouse (pictured here) was carved out of wood and had only one button. Underneath the mouse were two wheels connected to potentiometers to record the mouse's movement along the x and y axes. The mouse was just one part of Engelbart's vision for the future of computing; he also proposed "what you see is what you get" editing, windows, hyperlinks and other concepts which have become staples for non-academic people who use computers to aid them in the workplace and home. While the mouse was what people latched onto at the time, the gist of Engelbart's presentation was about making technology more accessible, an idea which created the foundations of personal computing.

Week ending 7 December

week071208December 3, 1984: The people of Bhopal, a city in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, are woken by a dense cloud of toxic gas when a malfunction at the Union Carbide pesticide plant results in the release of 42 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. 520,000 people are exposed to the toxins in what is often called the world's worst industrial disaster. Among the "gas-affected", 200,000 are under the age of 15 and 3,000 are pregnant women. 8,000 people die within two weeks from suffocation, circulatory collapse and pulmonary oedema. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people have died since from related diseases. The site has never been rehabiliatated. In 1999 tests carried out on the groundwater in the area, the mercury levels in the groundwater were still between 20,000 and 6 million times higher than normal.

Week ending 7 September


September 2, 1985: Argo, a submersible robot aboard the French research vessel Le Suroit actually spotted the wreck of the Titanic, the famously doomed passenger liner that hit an iceberg and sank in 1912, on September 1, but the leader of the expedition, Robert Ballard, made the announcement on September 2. To fund the expedition, Ballard secured funding from the US Navy who wanted to find the wrecks of two nuclear submarines USS Thresher and USS Scorpion to find out: 1. Whether the Russians had sunk Scorpion and 2. Whether the ships' reactors were leaking radioactive waste; the theory being that if they were not, then it would be possible for other nuclear waste to be disposed of under the sea. According to Ballard, the Navy never expected him to find the Titanic and because of  the publicity were a little nervous when he did.

Week ending 2 November

week-021108October 30, 1961: The Soviet Union detonates Big Ivan, at 27 tons the largest nuclear or thermonuclear weapon ever constructed. Soviet physicist Andrei D. Sakharov, who later experienced a crisis of conscience and became a celebrated anti-nuclear dissenter, headed the project and was charged with designing the weapon, also known by its official name RDS-220. In the West it was called Tsar Bomba: King of Bombs. The bomb was dropped 10,000 metres above the Mityushikha Bay test range on the Arctic Sea island of Novaya Zemlya (from which writer William Boyd derived the word zemblanity, to mean the opposite of serendipity – "making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries occurring by design"). The explosion sent a cloud 65 kilometres into the sky and obliterated every building in the evacuated village of Severny, about 50 kilometres from ground zero, which, according to a witness who visited the site afterwards looked like an ice rink. Everything was "swept clean, scoured, melted and blown away."

Week ending 19 October

week191008October 14, 1858: "Big Ben" the 14.33-ton bell clock tower of the Houses of Parliament in London is manually hoisted into place. The operation, which requires the bell to be lifted 55 metres up the central shaft of the tower to the clock chamber using a giant windlass hauling a 550 metre chain over huge drums, takes 18 hours spread over two days.The bell is then installed in the belfry, another 6 metres up, and installation of the clock mechanism can begin. On May 31, 1859 the bell first rang the hours but in September it cracked, apparently because committee member amateur horologist Edmund Beckett Denison insisted on a bell hammer that was twice the weight recommended by the foundry. The bell was given a lighter hammer and rotated so that it was struck on a different spot.  The crack is what gives the bell its distinctive sound. The bell is said to be named after "Big Ben" Caunt, the 105-kilogram bare-knuckle Champion of England whose nickname was often used to describe the heaviest thing in any particular category.

Week ending 18 January

week180109January 15, 1797: London haberdasher James Heatherington dons the first top hat in public.  The headgear creates a stir that degenerates into a shoving match that sees Heatherington summoned to appear in court before the Lord Mayor and fined £50 for going about in a manner "calculated to frighten timid people". Within a month he was overwhelmed with orders for the new hat.
January 14, 1914: Henry Ford announces an innovation in assembly line production of 'modern' cars. The continuous motion method reduced assembly time of a car from over 12 hours to 93 minutes.  Because production was so fast the line began to bottleneck at the painting stage forcing the company to drop all colour options. Japan Black was the only paint that dried fast enough to keep pace with production.
January 17, 1909: British explorers Douglas Mawson, Edgeworth David and Alistair Mackay from Sir Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition find the magnetic south pole. Following instruction, David takes formal possession of the area for the British Empire.

Week ending 25 January

January 22, 1997: Lottie Williams, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is struck on the shoulder by a piece of space debris while walking through a park. The 15cm-long piece of metal was presumed by NASA to have come from a second stage Delta rocket which broke up during its re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Williams is the only person ever to have been hit by a piece of re-entering spacecraft. The odds, according to the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris studies, are less than one in a trillion.
January 23, 1911: Nobel Prize recipient, Marie Curie, has her nomination to the French Academy of Sciences voted down by the academy's all-male membership.
January 25, 1799: Scientist Benjamin Thompson presents a paper on heat to the Royal Society. The paper, called Enquiry concerning the Source of Heat which is excited by Friction showed that heat was produced by friction and was therefore a form of motion, and not a liquid, as was the prevailing belief of the time.
January 19, 1915: Parisian George Claude receives a US patent for his System of Illuminating by Luminescent Tubes, the forerunner of the Neon sign.

Week ending 11 January


January 7, 1851: Léon Foucault uses a pendulum to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Foucault hung a 5-kilogram pendulum from a 2-meter cable and observed a small clockwise motion of the pendulum's plane of oscillation.
January 6, 1714: The typewriter is patented by Englishman Henry Mill. Mill failed to perfect his invention and it died with him. The patent's title, granted "by the grace of Queen Anne" was: "An artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, as in writing, whereby all writing whatever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print."
January 10, 1863: The world's first underground passenger railway, London's Metroplitan, opens to fare-paying passengers. Construction  by the "cut and cover" method began in February 1860, resulting in massive traffic disruption in north London.

Week ending 4 January


December 31, 1972: The first "leap" second  is inserted on New Year's Eve by the world's timekeepers, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, in order to keep their official atomic clocks in step with the world's irregular but gradually slowing rotation. The timekeepers added an extra second between 2008 and 2009, the 24th time this has been done.
January 2, 1813: 66 people are put on trial for offenses connected with Luddism in York, England. Taking their name from Ned Ludd, Luddites vowed to destroy the factory mechanisation they blamed for their unemployment. Seventeen trialists were executed.
January 4, 1904: Thomas Edison electrocutes Topsy, a 28-year-old Coney island elephant sentenced to death after she killed three men. Her last victim had fed her a lit cigarette. Edison filmed the event and showed it around the country as part of his effort to discredit George Westinghouse's "dangerous" alternating current.

Week ending 1 February

week-010209January 27, 1967: The first U.S. astronauts die in the line of duty when Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee are killed on the launch pad when a flash fire engulfs their command module during testing for the first Apollo/Saturn mission.
January 28, 1807: London's Pall Mall becomes the first street of any city to be illuminated by gaslight.
January 28, 1896: The first speeding fine is handed out to British motorist, Walter Arnold, caught doing 8 mph (13 km/h) in a 2 mph (just over 3 km/h) zone. Arnold was fined one shilling. The speed limit had been in force since 1865 when the Locomotive Act introduced a 2 mph speed limit in built up zones and 4 mph (6 km/h) elsewhere. In 1903, the limit was raised to 20 mph (32 km/h) and again in 1934 to 30 mph (48 km/h), where it has remained ever since.
January 30, 1790: The first lifeboat, the "Original", is tested at sea by its builder, Englishman Henry Greathead. The boat was 30ft long, had twelve oars, was self-righting, and had seven hundredweight of cork for buoyancy.

Week ending 8 February

week080209February 4, 1998: Bill Gates gets pied. While the Microsoft mogul was visiting Brussels to speak with EU officials, Belgian writer, critic, actor and serial flinger of cream pies appeared from behind a pillar and threw a pie at his face. Afterwards, Godin allegedly said, "My work is done here."
February 7, 1932: A description of the neutron, a neutral particle in the nucleus of atoms is published in Nature by its discoverer, James Chadwick.
February 7, 1984: "David", a 12-year-old boy born without immunity to disease, touches his mother for the first time after being removed from the protective plastic "bubble" which had been his home since birth. He died two weeks later.
February 8, 1928: John Logie Baird's transmission of a TV image is received across the Atlantic ocean using short wave radio, from station 2 KZ at Purley, England to Hartsdale, New York. The image, which was taken with a light sensitive camera behind a rotating disc, was that of the face of Mrs Mia Howe.

Week ending 15 February

week150209February 14, 1747: British astronomer, James Bradley delivers a paper at the Royal Society describing earth's "wobble", a motion he defined as nutation, from the Latin nutare, to nod.
February 14, 2003: Dolly, "the world's most famous sheep" and the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell is euthenased. Dolly had been suffering from a progressive lung disease. She was six-years old.
February 15, 1758: Ed Shoemaker and his cousin Edward Knabusch, design the first La-Z-Boy recliner using a piece of plywood and a yardstick. The upholstered version was introduced the following year.
February 12, 1898: Henry Lindfield becomes the first fatality resulting from a car accident when the steering on his electric car fails. Lindfield crashed at the bottom of a hill at Purley Corner in Surrey. He died of shock after surgeons at Croydon hospital amputated his leg.

Week ending 22 February

week220209February 17, 1869: Dmitri Mendeleev invents a way of arranging the chemical elements in a systematic way. The Russian chemist and inventor had cancelled a previous engagement that day to work on what is acknowledged as the first version of the periodic table of elements.
February 17, 1996: World chess champion Gary Kasparov defeats IBM's chess-playing computer Deep Blue, by winning a six-game match 4-2, in a regulation-style match held in Philadelphia, as part of the ACM Computer Science Conference.
February 18, 1901: British bridge engineer Hubert Cecil Booth files a patent for a "dust removing suction cleaner" which could  suck dirt up instead of blowing it around like earlier dust busters. The mobile cleaning service that he subsequently started using the new device, was built on a horse-drawn cart. The vacuum machine was connected to an engine driving a pump attached to a long hose which was hauled into the houses of his clients. One of Booth's earliest commissions was to clean the huge blue ceremonial  carpet in Westminster Abbey for Edward VII's coronation.

week ending 22 March

March 13, 1989: Father of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee submits a document called Information Management: a proposal, to his supervisor at the CERN alboratory in Switzerland where he was working. It outlined his plans for an information system which could access data via hypertext pages and browsers using an "access protocol". Although it was deemed "vague, but exciting" by his supervisor, the project was given the go-ahead and is today recognised as the beginning of the World Wide Web.

March 19, 1474: The world's first patent law is declared in Venice.Intended to attract inventors and investors to the city it stated: "Each person who will make in this city any new and ingenious contrivance, not made heretofore in our dominion, as soon as it is reduced to perfection ... It being forbidden to any other in any territory and place of ours to make any other contrivance in the form and resemblance thereof, without the consent and licence of the author up to ten years."

March 20, 1987: The US Federal Drug Administration approves the sale of AZT (azidothymidine), an antiviral drug believed to prolong the lives of some AIDS patients. AZT was the first authorised antiretroviral AIDS drug.

Week ending 29 March

week290309March 24, 1989: Oil tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground in the Prince William Sound in Alaska spilling 42 million litres of crude oil across 2,000 kilometres of Alaskan coastline. More than half a million seabirds, 1,000 otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and 22 killer whales are destroyed along with billions of salmon and herring eggs. In terms of environmental damage, it ranks as one of the worst man-made disasters in history. The legacy of the disaster is still in evidence today. Wired magazine reports that a pod of genetically unique killer whales living in the region, known as the AT1 pod, has never recovered. Nine of the pod's 22 whales died after the spill and in the 20 years since  it has not produced any young. Craig Matkin, director of the North Gulf Oceanic Society, says that the whales are acoustically unique as well; their song is like an entirely different language. To Matkin this proves that the whales are individuals with culture, traditions and personalities.

Week ending 5 October

week-051008October 1, 1957: German company, Chemie Gruenenthal, begins marketing thalidomide, a powerful tranquillizing agent, as a "completely safe" method for warding off morning sickness. 46 countries, including South Africa, approve its use. The drug, sold under 40 different brand names, is not adequately tested and results in profound birth defects including deformed and missing limbs, deafness, blindness, cleft palate and other internal problems in the babies of women who take the drug while pregnant. Tony Melendez, whose feet feature in this YouTube video of one of his performances, is one of its victims. Born without arms in Nicaragua in 1962, he taught himself to play the guitar with his feet. He and his band, Toe Jam, have a busy concert schedule.

Week ending 12 October

week121008October 8, 1906: German hairdresser Karl Ludwig Nessler demonstrates the first "permanent wave" for hair, in his beauty salon in Oxford Street, London, to an invited audience of hair stylists. The process Nessler invented involved soaking the hair in an alkaline solution which he concocted from cow urine and water. The hair was then superheated after it had been rolled with metal rods. This took about five hours, during which the client was obliged to wear a dozen brass curlers, each weighing 1¾ pounds. These were kept from touching the scalp by a complex system of countering weights which were suspended from an overhead chandelier and mounted on a stand. He first tested the method on his wife, Katharina Laible. During the first two attempts all her hair was burnt off and she sustained some scalp burns but Nessler made improvements and his electric permanent wave machine was used in London in 1909 on the long hair of the time.