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Eighteen hundred and froze to death


I’ve heard that expression all my life without realizing it was a real year. 1816. Also known as “the Year Without a Summer” and “the Poverty Year.”

“February, according to old records, was rather warm and spring-like, but cold and storms held away in March. Vegetation had gotten well underway in April when the real cold weather set in. Snow and sleet fell on 17 different days in May.

In June there was either frost or snow every day but three. July was cold and frosty. In August there was an ice storm, the formation being nearly an inch thick, killing every green thing in the United States. In the spring of 1817, corn kept over from 1815, sold from $5 to $10 a bushel for seed only.”

That was in New England. It wasn’t relentlessly cold; there were terrible temperature shifts, from normal or above to far below. From nearly 100 degrees to nearly freezing in hours.

In hindsight, climatologists think it was down to three things. Volcanic activity, especially one particular eruption in Indonesia in 1815. The “Dalton Minimum” — a time of low sunspot activity that lasted from 1795 to 1823. And the peculiar dance the sun does around the center of the solar system, thanks mostly to the gravitational pull of Jupiter and Saturn.

It hit worst in the US Northeast, Northern Europe and China. There was widespread famine. Europe, still smarting from the Napoleonic wars, had food riots. Americans hitched their wagons and moved West.

It snowed brown in Hungary. It snowed red in Italy. It rained so much, Mary Shelley couldn’t go out to play, so she stayed in and wrote Frankenstein. Joseph Smith had crop failures, moved to New York and turned religious, leading inevitably to the Book of Mormon. There were vivid sunsets, leading inevitably to Turner.

Oh, it was a terrible thing.

I ran across an article on this while looking up nervous goats for McGoo. So don’t be hating on a weasel. Be hating on McGoo. I also nicked some stuff from Wikipedia and this PowerPoint presentation on the sun.


Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 6:49 am

OK – who’s gonna be the first to mention the (arguably) greatest movie blooper in history?

Oops. Uh…I guess it was me. Go ahead – hate me.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 7:22 am

What? That Krakatoa is, in fact, West of Java?

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 11:58 am

Yep. Nice wholesome flick, though. Only thousands killed. The SFX could use an upgrade, but not bad for the time.

I still find it difficult to believe that some pumice floats in seawater. Then, again, I float in seawater, so how hard can it be?

Comment from Lokki
Time: June 1, 2007, 12:34 pm

The period 1812-1817 was one of exceptional volcanic activity, and the sheer volume of volcanic dust pumped into the atmosphere by these volcanic eruptions caused a general, temporary cooling in the earth’s climate around this time.

This temporary climatic cooling peaked during the summer of 1816 was the peak of this cooling and the reason the peak fell in the summer of 1816 is almost certainly die to the eruption of the Tamboro volcano east of Java in April 1815 (believed to be one of the most explosive eruptions of the last 10,000 years). At the time sunspots were blamed for the unseasonable weather (Laskin 1996). Anyway, this eruption put more than 150 million tonnes of dust in the atmosphere which gradually spread around the globe acting as a veil reflecting incoming solar radiation back into space and cooling the earth (temporarily) which in turn caused a change in the world’s, and in particular the northern hemisphere’s, weather patterns. Some dust from volcanic eruptions in the West Indies in 1812 and Philippines in 1814 was also probably still the atmosphere (Lamb 1995) and this will have helped the global cooling process too.

So if Tamboro erupted in 1815 why wasn’t the summer of 1815 rather than the summer of 1816 the year without a summer? Well, the answer is that there is a time lag between a volcanic eruption and a change in weather patterns caused by the length of time needed for stratospheric winds to distribute the volcanic dust particles around the world.

Comment from Lokki
Time: June 1, 2007, 12:36 pm

I just had a thought….. If global warming is a problem, couldn’t we solve that by putting MORE Pollution into the atmosphere?

“Uncle Sam wants YOU to drive an SUV

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 2:06 pm

Oooooh! Lokki gots data.

Yes, didn’t somebody propose that earlier this year? Throwing a bunch of carbon balls up into the atmosphere or something? Apparently proposing a technological fix to a moral issue wasn’t nearly hair-shirty enough: he got shouted down immediately.

Comment from whitishrabbit
Time: June 1, 2007, 2:10 pm

Yeah, weather patterns, volcanos, alright, but Mary Shelley! Talk about a pistol!

I had a lit professor who liked to refer to Percy Shelley as a ‘prig’, but he was very fond of Mary. He was also a pervert, and drew all these sexual connotations between snippets of Frankenstein and the penetration of virginity, feminine lusts for phalluses, etc. The whole class would be crossing their legs by the time he was done. That was where I first heard about the genesis of Frankenstein, that Mary and Percy visited Lord Byron during that icy summer and he issued a challenge that they should all write a ghost story.

Our prof said Frankenstein was actually written from the inside out. The core of the story, the creation of the monster and it’s first encounters with society were written first, and then Mary wrapped it up with the beginning and the end of the tale.

Wiki says of the contest: “Byron managed to write just a fragment based on the vampire legends he heard while travelling the Balkans, and from this Polidori created The Vampyre (1819), the progenitor of the romantic vampire literary genre. Thus, the Frankenstein and vampire themes were created from that single circumstance.” (quite a day)

Mary’s mum died shortly after Mary was born, and her pop remarried. I guess she didn’t care for the step-mum, but she liked her sister, Jane. This site called ‘litkicks’ claims that “In 1814, Mary and Percy ran off to France with Mary’s stepsister Jane. By most accounts, Jane not only shared in their daily adventures of sailboating and siteseeing, but also in their nightly adventures in bed.”


Maybe that’s bogus, though. That seems the kind of tidbit our prof woulda mentioned.

Comment from blanco lagomorph
Time: June 1, 2007, 2:18 pm

An aside- ‘Percy’ the short form of ‘Percival’ seems like a wussies name, but it actually means ‘piercing the valley’. Oooh la la.

It’s a French name.

(Of course it is.)

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: June 1, 2007, 3:20 pm

Yeah, the connection between sunspot activity and global temperature average is pretty well established scientifically by this point. You’ll never guess what’s been happening to the solar activity during this latest warming trend.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: June 1, 2007, 3:33 pm

No! Don’t tell me SUVs are responsible for sun spots, too!!!!

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 5:35 pm

“Apparently proposing a technological fix to a moral issue wasn’t nearly hair-shirty enough: he got shouted down immediately.” – S Weasel –

Yep. At the risk of offending….nope. Nope. No!

REM Begin antique program
For I = 1 to 100
Print “I. Will. Not. Talk. Politics. At. Weasels.”
Next I

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 6:29 pm

I bet someone in Weaselville can tell me what the origin and meaning(s) of “Hair-shirt” is(are). Its one of those “I kinda know it by context but have never researched it” things.

I mean – Christ! – you-all have posted on everything from Mary & Valley-Piercer Shelley (love it!) to epileptic goats (with protectively crossed legs) and poor Aunt Fan’s smack habit. C’mon…

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 6:54 pm

Awwww…and to think, I started this blog for the express purpose of talking politics. It’s just…every time I start, all I end up saying is, “I too am upset about that thing everyone is upset about!” It just doesn’t seem pointful, somehow.

Hair shirt. Ascetics, martyrs and other mixed nuts wore them to ‘mortify the flesh.’ Mr Wikipedia, he say:

A cilice was originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt). In more modern religious circles, the word has come to simply mean an object that can be worn to induce some degree of discomfort or pain.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 7:20 pm

I am enlightened! Thanks sir. That’s pretty much what I thought.

That political “I will not…” was my self-abuse for starting down a road that has no end. It wasn’t aimed at you. No way! I would not presume. I was gonna agree with you anyway.

How’d you like that Ye Olde Programming Language? Basic has been around since before sex.

I’m still giggling about Percy. That the Shelley et al relationships were – enlightened – has been well documented. But even his name? I never suspected. Wabbit scored big-time today.

Why aren’t you asleep? I read that viagra helps jetlag.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 7:28 pm

Oh, good. For a second there, was I was afraid you were some kind of filthy hippie, McGoo. Because Alissa is doing a pretty good job as our token, and I sometimes have my doubts about Leeuwenhoek, ifyouknowwhatImean. “The leftosphere’s pet winger” would be a wretched tagline.

I didn’t recognize the Basic because you didn’t number the lines. I always thought that made Basic programs like a permissive parent trying to lay down the law. “Okay, Billy, I’ll give you to the count of three to get down from there! One! Two! Two and a half! Two and three quarters! I’m serious, Mister!”

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 8:17 pm

Damn. I considered numbering the lines and putting “Let” in front of all the statements like I originally learned (back when JFK was Prez), but I figured no one would notice. Silly me – the eyes of weasels are sharpsy, yes they is. But I wanted something real that anyone would be able to decipher – to get my – uh – joke, see? Assembler was straight out in this case, Fortran is to unwieldy, and a compact C# function would have been (I believe) gibberish to many.

The weird thing about my politics is that I do – to a certain extent – deeply understand and kinda sympathize with the Liberal position and mindset – in spite of its flaws. It makes me all the more sad, my being a fairly rightwing AntiqueCon. I had you pegged as right-leaning but occasionally straddling the fence – and tolerant of all here.

Ah! The Weekend Weasel is up. The WW is a gloriously blank page provided by a courteous host: one never know what will appear there.

Comment from Dawn
Time: June 1, 2007, 8:26 pm


I learned Pascal in high school in the late 80s. Is that ancient enough?

🙂 : Integer;
for 🙂 := 1 to 100 do
Writeln(‘I. Will. Not. Talk. Politics. At. Weasels.”);

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: June 1, 2007, 8:35 pm

Basic is all grown up now and it’s actually used out in the real world as Visual Basic. I use the a version of Visual Basic for the short-bussers – Visual Basic for Applications. Alas, Microsoft will soon stop supporting VB and I guess it will go back to being a beginner’s instruction language again.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 8:39 pm

Ah, well…I was raised by a roving band of hippies in the great back-to-the-land movement of the early Seventies (my mother claimed she was the only judicially-declared hippie in the country; the issue was raised in her divorce papers). This enables me to speak the secret language of the hippies and move unnoticed in their world, passing from Lammas Festival to drum circle to Whole Foods Market. Invisible, like the wind.

I still love the taste of welfare strawberry jam and the smell of patchouli. Hate the politics, though.

And I swear to god, if one more hippie had gotten up in my face and gushed about about the miracle of goat afterbirth, I was going to start laying about with a 2×4.

Goats. It’s always goats, isn’t it?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 8:46 pm

Stop supporting VB? Now, that’s a damn shame. First Microsoft product I ever genuinely loved.

My first language was ANSI C. I didn’t come within miles of mastering it, but I loved its cool, clinical precision and rigid format. It’s the OCD language. Not long after I began to get hold of it, along came C++. Looking back, not that big a deal, but at the time they billed it as a revolution in computing. My hold on programming was so tenuous at that point, I gave up in despair. I wasn’t up to a revolution.

After that, it was brain-dead, artist-oriented scripting languages for me.

There’s a definite generational divide: all the young guys in the office think Object Oriented. When I ask for help, they always try to rewrite my code with properties in place of variables. Frankly, I don’t see the difference in processing burden.

Oh, but from the little taste I’ve had, I think god intended me to be a PERL coder. TMTOWTDI, baby!

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 9:16 pm

Dawn – Basic predates you by about 20 years, I think. I really was coding in it when Kennedy was assassinated. But your pgm is perfecto AFAIK! I like your 🙂 variables!

RE Basic, C, C++, C# VB: They’re all blending together now. If you’ve learned 5-6 of ’em they all start looking the same. last time I did any program tweaking, I honestly had to pause and think to myself “What language is this, anyway?”

My fav is VB, too. And assembler, of course.

Ansi C’s original claim to fame was (I think) portability between platforms. That was a feature that never “quite” got there IMHO. Now its pretty much moot.

IMHO the object-oriented view is an absolute necessity if an APPLICATION is being written by multiple coders. But if you are writing a one-time for-yourself quicky program, its a waste of time and a pain in the ass.

For hardware control, nothing beats assembler, or C with a really good, agile compiler.

And – shit – I had no idea the Weasel Minions were so Au Courant on things code-like! (Crosses legs protectively)

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 9:22 pm

You were a hippie child? Whoa.

So…so…you speak Toke – the secret hippie language?

Far out, man. Right on. If there’s ever another war, you can be a code-talker and baffle the Pigs and save the squad.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 9:25 pm

McGoo, I was three when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember it well, though. I was watching Romper Room when they cut in with the announcement. The maid went apeshit, running around the house screaming for my mother, “Miz Weasel, Miz Weasel, they dun kilt de President wif a SWORD!”

She distinctly pronounced the ‘w’ in ‘sword.’ I guess she thought death by sWord was what “assassinate” meant.

And I will go to hell for that small, condescending but accurate sample of old negro dialect.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 10:00 pm

PC crap – ya gotta hate it. Why should it be bad to accurately depict the speech of another in order to convey the emotion and setting at the time?

You had a maid!?

My memories of the JFK whacking are intense. Remember my comment on hearing Pictures at an Ex the first time? Well, when the radio (on the PA system at school) anounced that he was dirt-napping, they played the most beautiful dirge I’d ever heard. I swore an oath right then and there to find that musical piece. It was Mozarts Requiem Mass in D minor.

That day was also my turn to type in all us kids’ programs on the tape(!) keypunch machine and run ’em on the 150 baud modem. I had a really bad minute then, as I was torn between doing the keypunching (which I loved) or listening to the amazing news.

You had a maid!?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 1, 2007, 10:10 pm

Everybody had a maid. It was the South in the 1960s. That was, obviously, before hippies.

You had modems in 1963?!? Seriously?! Because I thought 150 baud modems were twenty years later.

1966. I remember the heady smell of mimeograph ink, but that’s about as high tech as we got.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 1, 2007, 10:39 pm

Yeah, it was one of those the put-the-phone-in-the-two-rubber-cups thingies on the side of the teletype machine/keypunch gismo. Wasn’t that the first modem?

I think it was 150 baud (uh, not KILObaud, dude. Just baud), but it might have been less. I do remember that it was sssslllloooowwww. Some people can type faster.

Whatcha did was dial up the McDonnel Douglas mainframe and then feed the punched tape program into the tape reader. Then you typed “run” on the keyboard. The program results printed out on the teletype. Real high-tech. It read those tapes at a whopping 20 characters per second or sumpin.

Oh, yeah. The South. I forgot. Yessim, Mizzer Weasel.

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 2, 2007, 4:46 am

Mmmmm… ‘acoustic couplers’ they called ’em. My first taste of the bastiches was trying to send copy down one from a busy magazine office. If the cat farted, the guy at the receiving would get a page of crap instead of text for setting. I often wondered how he could tell.

Mind you we were high-tech. They ran at 300 baud. Oh, and the fax machine was kewl too. You had to strap individual sheets of silvery paper to the drum, which used to spin round and fill the room with the stink of ozone.

It was like Frankensetin’s lab in there.

We even had the monsters.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 2, 2007, 8:37 am

That’s the term I was trying to remember – acoustic coupler. I assume the coupler hooked to a modem-like gadget inside. I don’t actually know the baud rate, but they were pretty much limited to audio speed since they used the actual speaker/microphone to send tones.

If ya give me a week, I’ll remember the original brand of BASIC. It weren’t Microsoft or IBM.

Yes Badger, as we both know, it was primitive back then: if a sabertooth tiger roared or mastodon trumpeted nearby, the coupler really screwed up. 🙂

I never operated one of those spinny faxes. But I saw ’em in motion. Neato.

Comment from Gnus
Time: June 2, 2007, 2:22 pm

$stringvalue is all I’m sayin’.

I was at work at the first discount department store in Knoxville the day Kennedy was shot. I remember how quiet and empty the normally busy store got and how the drive home looked like a Sunday – nobody much out on the street. It was like a hush came over the world.

Yes, I’m ancient. 🙂

Comment from Fictitious Grandson McGoo
Time: June 2, 2007, 2:36 pm

*Sigh* All those old farts do is sit around telling “remember when” stories! I already bluetoothed them all to my I-pod and to Sis’s in Singapore, and posted ’em on the family website AND alternate d/l site. Geez!

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: June 2, 2007, 2:40 pm

Your a minimalist, Gnus. I bet you’re truly lethal with assembler. No prisoners.

Comment from Gnus
Time: June 3, 2007, 7:30 pm

Push, pop, poke, mov, wiggle – like pron, I knows assembler when I sees it. That’s about it. Anything I wrote in ssembler would indeed be lethal, though not in a good way.

I’m gonna take up Lolcode.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 3, 2007, 7:34 pm

The O’Rly Guide to Lolcode is one of the funniest things I’ve seen since…umm…that really funny thing I saw.

Includes updated GIMMEH scripts and CAN HAS examples.

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