Bunny Cakes for Easter

The Amazing True Story of How the Microwave Was Invented by Accident

Matt Blitz wrote . . . . .

The dull halogen light. The spinning glass plate. The humming that terminates in a “BEEP.” Today the sights, sounds, and smells of the microwave oven are immediately familiar to most Americans. There’s a microwave in 90 percent of American homes heating everything from popcorn to pork rinds in a hurry.

The microwave is beloved for its speed and ease of use. But what you might not know about your indispensable kitchen appliance is that it was invented utterly by accident one fateful day 70 years ago, when a Raytheon engineer named Percy Spencer was testing a military-grade magnetron and suddenly realized his snack had melted.

“IT WAS A GOOEY, STICKY MESS”

The Knack

Spencer was no timid lab rat. “Gramps was loud, wanted to make everything happen at all times”—so the inventor’s grandson George “Rod” Spencer Jr. told Popular Mechanics. “There were no ‘challenges,’ simply everything was a goddamn problem that needed to be solved. Everyone trusted him to do just that.”

Growing up poor around the turn of the century in the wilderness of Howland, Maine, Spencer had little formal schooling and, unlike the millions of modern Americans who now heat up their lunch in his invention, often had to hunt for his food. Modern conveniences like the automobile and electricity were unfamiliar to him at young age, but he got into engineering anyway, thanks in large part to a natural curiosity that drew Spencer to the mills that populated the region. At 12 he got a job at the spool mill one town over. At 14 Spencer got hired to install electricity at the nearby paper mill. A few years later he was so inspired by the heroic actions of the Titanic’s radio operators that he joined the Navy and learned the new technology. Spencer would later explain, “I just got hold of a lot of textbooks and taught myself while I was standing watch at night.”

After World War I, Spencer landed a job at the newly-established American Appliance Company, co-founded by engineer Vannevar Bush, who today is most known for organizing the Manhattan Project and predicting many of the innovations that led to the computer revolution and the internet. In 1925, the company changed its name to Raytheon Manufacturing Company. It’s still around today making missiles, military training systems and electronic warfare products.

In the ’20’s, Spencer became one of Raytheon’s most valued and well-known engineers. During World War II, while Raytheon was working on improving radar technology for Allied forces, Spencer was the company’s go-to problem solver. For example, he helped to develop proximity fuses, or detonators that allowed you to trigger artillery shells so they’d explode in mid-air prior to hitting their mark. In an email to Popular Mechanics, current Raytheon engineer and part-time company historian Chet Michalak says Spencer “had a knack for finding simple solutions to manufacturing problems.”

“THERE WERE NO ‘CHALLENGES’—SIMPLY EVERYTHING WAS A GODDAMN PROBLEM THAT NEEDED TO BE SOLVED”

Spencer earned several patents while working on more efficient and effective ways to mass-produce radar magnetrons. A radar magnetron is a sort of electric whistle that instead of creating vibrating sound creates vibrating electromagnetic waves. According to Michalak, at the time Spencer was trying to improve the power level of the magnetron tubes to be used in radar sets. On that fateful day in 1946, Spencer was testing one of his magnetrons when he stuck his hand in his pocket, preparing for the lunch break, when he made a shocking discovery: The peanut cluster bar had melted. Says Spencer, “It was a gooey, sticky mess.”

The Snack

A story this good can’t help but change as it’s passed down over the years. Some tellings of the legend say it was a melted chocolate bar that led to Spencer’s eureka. But if you ask Rod Spencer today, he’ll tell you that’s dead wrong.

“He loved nature (due to his childhood in Maine)… especially his little friends the squirrels and the chipmunks,” the younger Spencer says of his grandfather, “so he would always carry a peanut cluster bar in his pocket to break up and feed them during lunch.” This is an important distinction, and not just for the sake of accurate storytelling. Chocolate melts at a much lower temperature (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit) which means melting a peanut cluster bar with microwaves was much more remarkable.

Understandably curious just what the heck had happened, Spencer ran another test with the magnetron. This time he put an egg underneath the tube. Moments later, it exploded, covering his face in egg. “I always thought that this was the origin of the expression ‘egg in your face’,” Rod Spencer laughs. The following day, Percy Spencer brought in corn kernels, popped them with his new invention, and shared some popcorn with the entire office. The microwave oven was born.

At this point you might be wondering: How did Spencer know cooking with microwaves was safe? According to his grandson, he didn’t. Today, we know that the low doses of electromagnetic radiation emitted by microwaves are generally considered safe (though, the FDA admits that no studies have been done to assess the impact of low levels of microwaves on humans over time, and there are those who still firmly believe microwaves are killing us). But back in the 1940s, this information was not available. “He didn’t care about that,” Rod Spencer ays. “This was when people would wear nuclear stuff around their neck to get rid of cancer.”

In 1947, just a year after Spencer’s snack food serendipity, the first commercial microwave oven hit the market. Called the “Radarange,” it weighed nearly 750 pounds and cost more than $2,000. Needless to say, it wasn’t a big seller. The first domestic microwave was introduced in 1955, but it too failed to launch because it was expensive and because microwave technology was still an unknown. It wasn’t until 1967, two decades after its invention, that the microwave oven finally caught on in American homes in the form of Amana’s compact “Radarange.” By 1975, a million microwaves were sold every year.

Today, Rod Spencer is a project manager and engineer himself. He’s writing a book about his grandfather. “I love telling these stories. I grew up with so many of them, my head is full. Some of the stuff he did – he was crazy, he was smart and everyone loved him.” And thankfully, he liked feeding the squirrels.

Source: Popular Mechanics


Watch video “How a Microwave Oven Works” at You Tube (5:11 minutes) . . . . .

Blood Pressure Differences Between Each Arm Linked to Heart Disease Risk

The University of Exeter Medical School has led an analysis of more than 3,000 people in Scotland who each had blood pressure measurements taken from both arms, published today in the British Journal of General Practice. Researchers say the findings show the importance of routinely measuring blood pressure in both arms.

Up to now, such research has mainly focussed on people who have already encountered heart disease or hypertension. Now, the new research, funded by RCGP, The South West GP Trust, NIHR and the NIHR CLAHRC South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC), analysed a cohort of people who had been identified as having a greater risk of heart disease or hypertension, but who had not yet had any episode of either. They were healthy, but identified as being at higher risk of cardiovascular disease when recruited to the study.

The team found that a difference in systolic blood pressure measurements between the two arms (of 5mm Hg) was associated with almost double the risk of death from heart-related disease, when the cohort was followed up over a period of eight years. In the analysis, which was based on one pair of blood pressure readings, 60 per cent of the cohort had this difference. The researchers wanted to examine this single check of blood pressure in both arms to reflect currently available measurement methods in general practice. It is known, however, that the proportion of people confirmed to have a blood pressure difference will fall substantially on repeated testing.

Dr Chris Clark, a GP andNIHR Clinical Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Current guidelines state that blood pressure should be measured in both arms when assessing patients for hypertension, but often this advice is not followed due to time constraints or lack of awareness amongst clinicians. For accuracy, to overcome natural blood pressure fluctuations, it is important to test both arms simultaneously to confirm any difference. However, our previous research has found that if one arm is tested before the other, with just a single pair of measures, it is still possible to identify nearly all those who will prove to have an inter-arm difference on further testing. This new study confirms that people identified with only a single pair of measurements are still at higher risk of heart disease than those without an inter-arm difference. Repeated assessments to confirm the existence of an inter-arm difference, and suitable lifestyle advice, can then be targeted at individuals identified in this way, and could make a difference to their future health. The next stage of our research is to quantify the extra risk that an inter-arm difference indicates, and after that, to discover the extent to which this can be protected against.”

The cohort was from the Aspirin for Asymptomatic Atherosclerosis (AAA) trial, a randomised controlled trial conducted from April 1998 to October 2008. That study, led by the University of Edinburgh and funded by the British Heart Foundation, recruited 3350 males and females aged 50-75 years living in central Scotland and free of pre-existing clinical cardiovascular disease. The study involved taking blood pressure from both arms, and the Exeter team worked with the authors of the AAA trial to analyse their data.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation which funded the initial clinical trial, said: “Differences in blood pressure between arms has previously been linked with an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in those that already have the condition or are at very high risk. But this study found that healthy people without pre-existing heart disease may also have an increased risk. The findings support current guidance that blood pressure should be measured in both arms when assessing someone for hypertension.”

Source: University of Exeter

Chocolate Cranberry Bread

Ingredients

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1 pkg active dry yeast (or 1 tbsp)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour (approx)

Filling

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp cinnamon

Icing

1/4 cup sifted icing sugar
2 tsp milk
2 tsp butter, melted

Method

  1. In large bowl, dissolve 1 tsp of the sugar in warm water. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.
  2. Meanwhile, in small saucepan over medium heat, heat milk, remaining sugar, butter and salt until butter is melted. Let cool to lukewarm. Whisk 2 of the eggs; whisk into yeast mixture. Whisk in warm milk mixture. Stir in 3-1/2 cups of the flour to make soft, slightly sticky dough.
  3. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead for 10 minutes, adding enough of the remaining flour as necessary to make dough smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease all over. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. Grease 10-inch springform pan and set aside.
  5. Filling: In bowl, mix sugar with corn syrup; stir in dried cranberries, chocolate chips and chopped pecans.
  6. Punch down dough; turn out onto lightly floured surface. Roll out into 18- x 11-inch rectangle. Spread filling over dough, pressing into surface; sprinkle with cinnamon. Starting at long edge, roll up tightly; pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down; cut in half lengthwise. Keeping cut sides facing up, twist halves together; place in prepared pan, shaping into ring. Pinch ends together to seal. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise in warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  8. Beat remaining egg; brush over wreath. Bake wreath for 35 minutes or until golden. Run knife around wreath; remove from pan and let cool on rack.
  9. Icing: In small bowl, mix together icing sugar, milk and butter. Drizzle over bread

Makes 1 loaf or 16 slices.

Source: Style At Home