Michael Kirk Douglas

April 5, 2010

Cover of "Spartacus"
Cover of Spartacus

Michael Kirk Douglas, born in 1944, American film actor and producer, who won a best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a ruthless entrepreneur in Wall Street (1987).

The son of actor Kirk Douglas, he made his feature-film debut in Hail, Hero! (1969). Douglas first achieved recognition for his acting in the television series The Streets of San Francisco from 1972 to 1976. He also produced the Academy Award-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

Douglas produced and starred in such films as Coma (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), Romancing the Stone (1984), and Jewel of the Nile (1985). Among his other films are Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1991), Falling Down (1993), Disclosure (1994), The American President (1995), and Wonder Boys (2000).


Kirk Douglas, born in 1916, American motion-picture actor and producer, famous for portraying tense, aggressively masculine characters whose bravado often masked inner turmoil. Born Issur Danielovitch (subsequently changed to Isidore Demsky, then to Kirk Douglas) in Amsterdam, New York, he graduated from Saint Lawrence University in 1938 and later worked his way through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He appeared in several minor roles in plays on Broadway both before and after serving in the United States Navy during World War II (1939-1945).

Spotted by talent scouts, Douglas moved to Hollywood and made his film debut in the melodrama The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). He went on to play suavely menacing gambler Whit Sterling in Out of the Past (1947) and achieved stardom with an Academy Award-nominated performance as a self-destructive prizefighter in Champion (1949). He was also nominated for Academy Awards for his roles as a driven movie producer in The Bad and The Beautiful (1952) and as tortured painter Vincent van Gogh in Lust For Life (1956).

In 1955 Douglas formed his own production company. He later hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the script for his epic film Spartacus (1960). Trumbo had been blacklisted following accusations of involvement with the Communist Party (see Blacklist). Douglas’s other movies include The Big Carnival (also known as Ace in The Hole, 1951), Paths of Glory (1958), and Two Weeks in Another Town (1962). In 1995 he received a special Academy Award honoring his contribution to motion pictures in some 70 films. Active in a variety of civic and political causes, Douglas received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and the French Legion of Honor in 1985. He is the author of two novels and an autobiography, The Ragman’s Son (1988), and the father of Hollywood actor and producer Michael Douglas.

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Hudson River

February 3, 2010

Hudson (river), river, eastern New York, rising in the Adirondack Mountains and flowing south for 492 km (306 mi) to Upper New York Bay (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) at New York City.

The Hudson has a winding upper course and flows almost directly south below Hudson Falls. The headwaters of the river are the outlets of several small lakes in the Adirondacks; the largest headstream is the Opalescent River, which flows out of Lake Tear of the Clouds. The river falls rapidly in the upper waters, having a drop of about 15 m (about 50 ft) at Glens Falls, the first sizable city on its course. At Cohoes the Hudson is joined by its principal tributary, the Mohawk. From Troy to the mouth of the Hudson the effects of tides are observable. The depression of the Hudson valley floor and the effects of tidewater make the river navigable by small oceangoing vessels to Albany and Troy, about 240 km (about 150 mi) from its mouth. As a tidal estuary, the Hudson has a large volume of water, far out of proportion to the area it drains, which is about 34,630 sq km (about 13,370 sq mi).

Below Albany the channel of the river is in places very narrow, and the banks are lined with some high, steep hills and mountains. Flowing past the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Highlands, below Newburgh, the river is famous for beautiful scenery. Emerging from the highlands, the river widens into a lakelike expanse called Tappan Zee. Farther south, near its mouth, the river forms the boundary between New York and New Jersey for about 29 km (about 18 mi). In this region the western shore is formed by a great cliff of traprock known as the Palisades.

The Hudson River is one of the most important commercial waterways in the eastern U.S., forming part of a trade route to the interior of North America. The river is joined just north of Albany by divisions of the New York State Canal System, which link the Hudson to Lake Champlain, the Great Lakes, and the St. Lawrence River. The commercial importance of the Hudson declined somewhat after the opening, in 1959, of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which provides an alternate route from the Atlantic to the interior. A major problem of the 20th century has been the severe pollution of the Hudson by industrial wastes and sewage.

The Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 became the first European to sail on the Hudson. The river was first explored in 1609 by the English navigator Henry Hudson, for whom it is named. The Hudson Valley was settled early in the 17th century by the Dutch and was of great commercial and military importance during the pre-Revolutionary period. During the American Revolution the Hudson was a strategic waterway and the site of many historic events, especially in the region around Newburgh and West Point. In 1807 the U.S. inventor Robert Fulton launched the Clermont, one of the first practical steamboats, on the Hudson. Trade on the river flourished after the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. The Holland (1927) and Lincoln (completed 1957) vehicular tunnels and railroad tubes were built under the river as means to enter Manhattan (New York City). Among the Hudson bridges are the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (1935), at Catskill; the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge (1957), near Kingston; the Mid-Hudson Bridge (1930), at Poughkeepsie; the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge (1963), at Newburgh; the Bear Mountain Bridge (1924), near Peekskill; the Tappan Zee Bridge (1955), at Tarrytown; and the George Washington Bridge, at New York City. Points of interest along the Hudson include the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, and the estate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at Hyde Park. A noted movement of 19th-century U.S. landscape painting that included Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand is known as the Hudson River School.


February 2, 2010

Kamikaze (Japanese, “divine wind”), suicide squadrons organized by the Japanese air force in the last months of World War II. The term was originally applied by grateful Japanese to a typhoon that destroyed a Mongol invasion fleet in 1281. It was revived in 1945 and applied to pilots who flew their aircraft, loaded with explosives, directly into U.S. naval vessels. Kamikaze pilots, sacrificing their lives in a last-ditch effort to stop the American advance, sank about 40 U.S. ships.

Rajiv Gandhi

February 1, 2010

Rajiv Gandhi (1944-1991), sixth prime minister (1984-1989) of India, the third member of his family to attain that post.

Rajiv Gandhi was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). His grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s prime minister from 1947 to 1964; his mother, Indira Gandhi, held the same post from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984. Rajiv was raised in his grandfather’s home. He went to the elite Doon School in Dehra Dūn, then studied at the University of London and at Trinity College, Cambridge in Britain. Returning to India, he became a commercial airline pilot. His younger brother Sanjay, also a pilot, became his mother’s chief political lieutenant, while Rajiv showed no interest in politics. After Sanjay’s death in a plane crash in 1980, Indira Gandhi recruited Rajiv to seek his brother’s parliamentary seat, which he won by a landslide in 1981.

Rajiv had only a few years of political apprenticeship before Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh members of her bodyguard in October 1984. The attack was apparently in revenge for her military operation in June 1984 against an extremist Sikh group occupying the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Upon her death, Rajiv was chosen prime minister by the cabinet. In the next days Hindu mobs killed thousands of Sikhs until Rajiv called out the army to restore order. He then called general elections for December 1984 and, on a wave of national sympathy, led the Congress Party to its greatest victory since Indian independence. With 80 percent of the seats in the lower house, he had a popular mandate to negotiate a settlement with the Sikhs and to try to restore calm to India. He signed an accord in 1985 with a moderate Sikh leader who was then assassinated by extremists, and Sikh radicalism did not cease during Rajiv Gandhi’s term in office.

Gandhi removed many restrictions on imports and encouraged foreign investment, helping propel India to strong economic growth under the government’s 1986-1990 economic plan. However, critics accused him of being indecisive. He fired his mother’s aides and frequently changed the membership of his cabinet, appointing a series of young technocrats and old friends. Although Gandhi promised to end corruption, he and his party were themselves implicated in corruption scandals. Gandhi ordered troops into northern Sri Lanka in 1987 to support that country’s efforts to suppress Tamil separatists, and he stepped up army actions against Muslim separatists in Jammu and Kashmīr State.

In elections in November 1989 Gandhi won his seat, but the Congress Party lost its majority and he resigned as prime minister. He led the opposition to the politically left-leaning government of Vishwanath Pratap Singh for a year, then briefly backed the government of Chandra Shekhar before toppling it in March 1991 by blocking passage of a new budget. In 1991 while campaigning in Tamil Nadu State for upcoming elections, Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide bombing by Tamils taking revenge for his intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war. In 1998 26 members of a separatist guerrilla group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were convicted of Gandhi’s murder and sentenced to death.

Peter Jennings

January 31, 2010

Peter Jennings (1938-2005), Canadian-born television journalist, longtime anchor of the ABC network’s World News Tonight.

Peter Charles Jennings was born in Toronto, Ontario. His father was a leading journalist with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and at the age of nine the young Jennings hosted a weekly children’s radio show for the network. He became an interviewer for an Ontario radio station after dropping out of preparatory school, then joined the CBC as host of a public-affairs program.

In 1962 Jennings became coanchor of Canada’s first national commercial-network newscast. He moved to New York City in 1964 and became a correspondent for ABC. At the age of 26 Jennings was named anchor of ABC’s nightly newscast, a post he held from 1965 to 1967. Although he was praised for his on-the-spot coverage and for his documentary Southern Accents: Northern Ghettos (1967), his youth and inexperience proved to be a disadvantage and he returned to reporting in 1968.

In the early 1970s Jennings was appointed head of the ABC News Middle East bureau in Beirut (Bayrūt), Lebanon. In 1971 he received the National Headliner Award for his reporting on the civil war in Bangladesh, and in 1974 his profile of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat earned him a Peabody Award. Jennings served briefly as Washington correspondent for A.M. America from 1974 to 1975 and then went to London, England, as the network’s chief foreign correspondent.

In London Jennings coanchored World News Tonight, and he was appointed sole anchor when the show moved to New York City in 1983. His 1990 interview with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein just before the Persian Gulf War was one of the few interviews Hussein granted to Western reporters. In the 1990s Jennings distinguished himself with his coverage of the political scene in the United States.

In 1998 Jennings published The Century, cowritten with Todd Brewster. The book, featuring hundreds of photographs, is a survey of the 20th century with a focus on the American experience. He also hosted a companion television special with the same title.

Jennings received numerous honors during his career, including 16 Emmy Awards. In 2003 he became a U.S. citizen. In 2005 Jennings left his post at ABC for medical reasons and died several months later.

Oprah Winfrey

January 30, 2010

Oprah Winfrey, born in 1954, American talk-show host and actor, whose nationally syndicated program became one of the most popular on television and won numerous Emmy Awards. A major factor in the show’s success is Winfrey’s ability to connect emotionally with her guests.

Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to unmarried parents who separated after her birth, Winfrey had a difficult childhood as a victim of sexual abuse. At the age of 13 she went to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee, where she became an excellent student and won a scholarship to Tennessee State University. While in college Winfrey became the first black woman to anchor the news on the local Nashville television station.

After graduating from college in 1976, Winfrey worked as a television newscaster and then as a talk-show host in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1984 she became the host of the talk show A.M. Chicago, which was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1985. Dealing openly with controversial subjects, it achieved national syndication in 1986. That same year, Winfrey formed Harpo Productions to produce her show and other projects. One of her show’s most popular segments is “Oprah’s Book Club.” Beginning in 1996 this book discussion has aired several times a year, each time focused on a work chosen by Winfrey.

In addition to her work on her long-running talk show, Winfrey appeared in several motion pictures. The most prominent were adapted from well-known novels by African American writers. Winfrey’s role as Sofia in The Color Purple (1985; adapted from the book by Alice Walker) won her a 1986 Academy Award nomination as best supporting actress. She also appeared in Native Son (1986; from the book by Richard Wright) and produced and costarred in the television miniseries The Women of Brewster Place (1989; from the book by Gloria Naylor). In 1998 Harpo Films, a division of Harpo Productions, produced the film Beloved, which was based on the novel by Toni Morrison and directed by Jonathan Demme. Winfrey appeared in the film as Sethe. In 2005 The Color Purple opened as a Broadway musical, with Winfrey as coproducer.

Winfrey’s advice to women continues in the lifestyle periodical O: The Oprah Magazine, which debuted in 2000 with Winfrey as its guiding force. Winfrey is also active in philanthropy. She set up The Oprah Winfrey Foundation in 1987 to aid women, children, and families. Oprah’s Angel Network, established in 1998, raises money for charitable causes around the world. She received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the Emmys in 2002.

Robert Frost

January 29, 2010

Robert Frost (1874-1963), American poet, who drew his images from the New England countryside and his language from New England speech. Although Frost’s images and voice often seem familiar and old, his observations have an edge of skepticism and irony that make his work, upon rereading, never as old-fashioned, easy, or carefree as it first appears. In being both traditional and skeptical, Frost’s poetry helped provide a link between the American poetry of the 19th century and that of the 20th century.

Robert Lee Frost was born in San Francisco, California, the son of William Prescott Frost, Jr., of New Hampshire and Isabelle Moodie of Scotland. He was named after Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate armies during the American Civil War (1861-1865). When Frost was 11 years old, his father died of tuberculosis. The Frost family then moved to Massachusetts, where William Frost wanted to be buried. Frost attended high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and began writing poetry. He attended Dartmouth College briefly but withdrew during his first year and went to work. In 1895 he married Elinor White. The couple eventually had six children, two of whom died young. From 1897 to 1899 Frost attended Harvard College, but he left before receiving a degree. In the early 1900s the family owned a small poultry farm in New Hampshire, and Frost taught at a small private school nearby.

Frost continued to write poetry, but he was unsuccessful at publishing his work. Seeking better literary opportunities, the Frosts sold their farm and moved to England in 1912. In England, Frost achieved his first literary success. His book of poems A Boy’s Will (1913) was printed by the first English publisher that Frost approached. The work established Frost as an author and was representative of his lifelong poetic style: sparse and technically precise, yet evocative in the use of simple and earthy imagery. His second collection, North of Boston, was published in 1914 and also won praise.

In England Frost met other American poets, including fellow New Englander Amy Lowell and the avant-garde writer Ezra Pound. But Frost’s work during this time was associated with that of the Georgian poets, a group of English writers whose lyric poetry celebrated the English countryside. The Georgian poets included Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Edward Thomas.

In 1915 Frost and his family returned to the United States, where his poetry had become popular. He continued to write for the rest of his life, while living on farms in Vermont and New Hampshire and teaching literature at Amherst College, the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Dartmouth College. In 1961, at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, Frost became the first poet to read a poem—’The Gift Outright”—at a presidential inauguration.

cell phone

January 21, 2010

Cellular Radio Telephone, also called cellular telephone or cell phone, low-powered, lightweight radio transceiver (combination transmitter-receiver) that provides voice telephone and other services to mobile users. Cellular telephones primarily operate like portable or cordless telephones. However, unlike conventional wire-based cordless phones, cellular telephones are completely portable and do not require proximity to a jack to access the wire-based networks operated by local telephone companies. A new generation of services for cell phones includes videoconferencing and Internet access with the ability to send e-mail. Enhanced cell phones known as smartphones can have many additional features and capabilities that make them similar to handheld personal computers and personal media devices. Cellular telephones have become very popular with professionals and consumers as a way to communicate while away from their regular, wire-based phones—for example, while commuting, at work, shopping, or traveling, as well as when in remote locations lacking regular phone service. As cellular radio service proliferates and achieves greater market penetration, some users have begun to use cell phones as an alternative to conventional wire-based services. Worldwide, cell phone use has expanded greatly since the beginning of the 21st century, growing to more than 4 billion registered subscribers in 2008.

Cellular telephones work by transmitting radio signals to cellular towers. These towers vary in their capability to receive cellular telephone signals. Some towers can receive signals from distances of only 1.5 to 2.4 km (1.0 to 1.5 mi), while others can receive signals from distances as far as 48 to 56 km (30 to 35 mi). The area a tower can cover is referred to as a cell. However, more than one tower may exist in a given cell area. The cells overlap so that the system can handle increased telephone traffic volume. The towers within these cells are networked to a central switching station, usually by wire, fiber-optic cable, or microwave. The central switching station handling cellular calls in a given area is directly connected to the wire-based telephone system. Cellular calls are picked up by the towers and relayed to another cell telephone user or to a user of the conventional wire-based telephone network. Since the cells overlap, as a mobile caller moves from one cell into another, the towers “hand off” the call so communication is uninterrupted.

Cellular phone networks exist in nearly every metropolitan area throughout the world, and cellular coverage is expanding in rural areas. Due to the convenience and mobility of cellular telephones, users typically pay a higher fee than they would for normal telephone use. A newer generation of cellular radio technology, called Personal Communications Services (PCS), operates much like earlier cellular services, but at higher frequencies, the number of times a radio wave oscillates or completes a cycle, which is measured in a unit known as a hertz (Hz). (The higher frequencies of PCS operate at around 1900 megahertz [MHz] in the United States.) PCS also utilizes completely digital transmissions, rather than both the analog and digital transmissions that many cellular telephones use. Digital transmissions convert sound into digital form, which can be transmitted more efficiently than analog signals. Digital technologies can also generate more channel capacity over the same amount of the radio spectrum. Telephone companies have also developed so-called 3G (for “third generation”) cellular networks that provide wide-area Internet access at broadband-like speeds.


January 19, 2010

Nanotechnology, the creation and use of materials or devices at extremely small scales. These materials or devices fall in the range of 1 to 100 nanometers (nm). One nm is equal to one-billionth of a meter (.000000001 m), which is about 50,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Scientists refer to the dimensional range of 1 to 100 nm as the nanoscale, and materials at this scale are called nanocrystals or nanomaterials.

The nanoscale is unique because nothing solid can be made any smaller. It is also unique because many of the mechanisms of the biological and physical world operate on length scales from 0.1 to 100 nm. At these dimensions materials exhibit different physical properties; thus scientists expect that many novel effects at the nanoscale will be discovered and used for breakthrough technologies.

A number of important breakthroughs have already occurred in nanotechnology. These developments are found in products used throughout the world. Some examples are catalytic converters in automobiles that help remove air pollutants, devices in computers that read from and write to the hard disk, certain sunscreens and cosmetics that transparently block harmful radiation from the Sun, and special coatings for sports clothes and gear that help improve the gear and possibly enhance the athlete’s performance. Still, many scientists, engineers, and technologists believe they have only scratched the surface of nanotechnology’s potential.

Nanotechnology is in its infancy, and no one can predict with accuracy what will result from the full flowering of the field over the next several decades. Many scientists believe it can be said with confidence, however, that nanotechnology will have a major impact on medicine and health care; energy production and conservation; environmental cleanup and protection; electronics, computers, and sensors; and world security and defense.


January 19, 2010

Microprocessor, electronic circuit that functions as the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer, providing computational control. Microprocessors are also used in other advanced electronic systems, such as computer printers, automobiles, and jet airliners.

The microprocessor is one type of ultra-large-scale integrated circuit. Integrated circuits, also known as microchips or chips, are complex electronic circuits consisting of extremely tiny components formed on a single, thin, flat piece of material known as a semiconductor. Modern microprocessors incorporate transistors (which act as electronic amplifiers, oscillators, or, most commonly, switches), in addition to other components such as resistors, diodes, capacitors, and wires, all packed into an area about the size of a postage stamp.

A microprocessor consists of several different sections: The arithmetic/logic unit (ALU) performs calculations on numbers and makes logical decisions; the registers are special memory locations for storing temporary information much as a scratch pad does; the control unit deciphers programs; buses carry digital information throughout the chip and computer; and local memory supports on-chip computation. More complex microprocessors often contain other sections—such as sections of specialized memory, called cache memory, to speed up access to external data-storage devices. Modern microprocessors operate with bus widths of 64 bits (binary digits, or units of information represented as 1s and 0s), meaning that 64 bits of data can be transferred at the same time.

A crystal oscillator in the computer provides a clock signal to coordinate all activities of the microprocessor. The clock speed of the most advanced microprocessors allows billions of computer instructions to be executed every second.


Because the microprocessor alone cannot accommodate the large amount of memory required to store program instructions and data, such as the text in a word-processing program, transistors can be used as memory elements in combination with the microprocessor. Separate integrated circuits, called random-access memory (RAM) chips, which contain large numbers of transistors, are used in conjunction with the microprocessor to provide the needed memory. There are different kinds of random-access memory. Static RAM (SRAM) holds information as long as power is turned on and is usually used as cache memory because it operates very quickly. Another type of memory, dynamic RAM (DRAM), is slower than SRAM and must be periodically refreshed with electricity or the information it holds is lost. DRAM is more economical than SRAM and serves as the main memory element in most computers.


A microprocessor is not a complete computer. It does not contain large amounts of memory or have the ability to communicate with input devices—such as keyboards, joysticks, and mice—or with output devices, such as monitors and printers. A different kind of integrated circuit, a microcontroller, is a complete computer on a chip, containing all of the elements of the basic microprocessor along with other specialized functions. Microcontrollers are used in video games, videocassette recorders (VCRs), automobiles, and other machines.