It's a bird, it's a plane ... well, it's kind of both

To be exact, it's a new species of dinosaur, recently discovered in China, called the microraptor gui. They're about as big as a turkey, they've covered in feathers, lived 125 million years ago, and they flew -- or at least glided gracefully -- from tree branch to tree branch. What's the big deal, you ask? After all, we know about other flying dinosaurs. But the micro, it turns out, had four wings, not two. It dropped its wing-like hind legs below its body and raised its powerful feathered arms to form an aerodynamic design not unlike that of a World War I-era bi-plane. According to a BBC article,

If one accepted the evolutionary importance of the bi-plane formation, there were striking parallels between bird flight and the development of aircraft, said Dr Chatterjee. Archaeopteryx, regarded as the earliest fossil bird, has what could be described as a monoplane design. The shift from a bi-plane to a monoplane design could have been facilitated by a much broader wingspan which would have provided increased lift. This mirrors historical developments in aviation.

"We see that the Wright brothers came up with a design for which there was no precedent in nature at the time," said Dr Chatterjee. "This shows us that if there is a problem in engineering, sometimes there are only one or two possible solutions."

biplane.jpgAll the best ideas, it seems, come from Mother Nature. Let's just hope our engineers and scientists don't mimic the evolution of dinosaurs too much, or we'll invent ourselves right into extinction!

Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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