[history] The Last Places … the remarkable story of how Henry VIII’s wine cellar came to be perfectly preserved under the Ministry of Defence Main Building in Whitehall … ‘Writing in a 2010 issue of the AA Files Andrew Crompton describes the design of the poetically named MoD Main Building, which was “so slow in coming out of the ground that it became know as the Whitehall Monster.” In addition to the understandable delay caused by World War Two, Crompton ascribes its astonishing twenty-one year construction to the fact that the MoD Monster has “embedded within it a series of spaces that seem to have more to do with sympathetic magic than functional architecture.” Included among these embedded spaces are a Gothic crypt, a crooked staircase that leads nowhere, “five very fine eighteenth-century interiors” — the first ever preserved outside of a museum — and, of course, Henry VIII’s long-lost wine cellar.’
[email] The First Emoticon May Have Appeared in… 1648 … Alexis Madrigal attempts to push back the history of the Smiley to the 17th Century … ‘Why would anyone care about a smiley face in a poem from the 17th century? For me, it’s like a wormhole that connects our time with theirs. If you’d been alive in 1648, you might have considered that a colon and a parenthesis form a smiley face. Our ancestors looked upon the same marks on the page and saw the possibilities that we take for granted. While emoticons have probably been independently invented many times—the earliest documented use of the smiley face with a nose, :-), comes in 1982—Herrick very well could have been the first.’
[crime] What the Kitty Genovese Story Really Means … turns out most of what I knew about the murder of Kitty Genovese is wrong … ‘The Times story was inaccurate in a number of significant ways. There were two attacks, not three. Only a handful of people saw the first clearly and only one saw the second, because it took place indoors, within the vestibule. The reason there were two attacks was that Robert Mozer, far from being a “silent witness,” yelled at Moseley when he heard Genovese’s screams and drove him away. Two people called the police. When the ambulance arrived at the scene—precisely because neighbors had called for help—Genovese, still alive, lay in the arms of a neighbor named Sophia Farrar, who had courageously left her apartment to go to the crime scene, even though she had no way of knowing that the murderer had fled.’
[histort] The First Ever Selfie … ‘Robert Cornelius, an amateur chemist, took this self-portrait 175 years ago in the back of his family’s silver-plating shop in Philadelphia. On the back, Cornelius wrote: “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.” It was one of the first Daguerreotypes to be produced in America…’
[history] Time travellers: please don’t kill Hitler … Why Killing Hitler is a bad idea … ‘This is overlooked surprisingly often, so it bears repeating: Hitler didn’t win. Whatever you think of the present, we don’t live in some bleak wasteland dominated by a global Reich. Because Hitler and his armies lost. Although it was a costly victory, it was still technically a victory, so why risk going back and interfering with an outcome you favour? And arguably, it was due to Hitler’s incompetence as a strategist that the war panned out the way it did. In a way, Hitler had the perfect combination of drive, charisma, evil and incompetence to unite the world against him and ensure that his forces lost.’
[mac] Unboxing a 30-year-old Macintosh 128K … ‘On eBay, gdavis6610 has been selling classic Apple equipment for a few years. In 2012, he sold a Macintosh 128K for $3519.84, over $1000 more than the original launch price. Fortunately, he takes pretty detailed photographs of his eBay kit. Here are some photos from his memorable unboxing of the original Macintosh 128K.’
Later in the interview, Ben talked about Bob’s famous secret source, whom he claimed to have met in an underground garage in rendezvous arranged via signals involving flowerpots and newspapers. “You know I have a little problem with Deep Throat,” Ben told Barbara.
“Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.”
I read it over a few times to make sure. Did Ben really have doubts about the Deep Throat story, as it had been passed down from newsroom to book to film to history? And if he did, what did that mean?’
In those days in Munich I lived in the Thiersh Strasse, and I frequently noticed in the street a man who vaguely reminded me of a militant edition of Charles Chaplin, owing to his characteristic moustache and his bouncing way of walking. He always carried a riding whip in his hand with which he used incessantly to chop off imaginary heads as he walked. He was so funny that I inquired from neighbours who he might be: most of them, owing to his Slav type, took him to be one of these Russian émigrés who abounded in Germany at that time, and they freely talked of his being probably a trifle mentally deranged. But my grocer told me it was a Herr Adolf Hitler from Braunau in Austria, and that he was leader of a tiny political group which called itself the “German National Socialist Workers Party”. He lived as a boarder in the apartment of a small artisan, wrote articles for an obscure paper called the Völkischer Beobachter, and orated in hole-and-corner meetings before audiences of a dozen or two. Out of curiosity I bought the paper once or twice, and found it a scatter-brained collection of wild anti-Jewish stories and articles interlarded with panegyrics on the Germanic race. My obliging grocer closed his information on Hitler by remarking that he frequently purchased things in his shop and was, despite his eccentric appearance, quite a pleasant fellow, though inclined to talk sixteen to the dozen about anything and everything.
[language] The Rad New Words Added to the Dictionary in the ’90s: Where Are They Now?… Alexis Madrigal investigates what new words added to dictionaries during the 90′s made it into common usage today … ‘Cypherpunk: In the early days of both computing and the Internet, cryptography to keep people from spying on you was all the rage. For obvious reasons, both the term and idea of cypherpunk are coming back, I think.’
[jobs] A Matrix of the Worst Jobs in the World … take your pick between the most treacherous, difficult, disgusting or tedious jobs in world history … ‘Bog-Iron Hunter, circa 800AD, Scandinavia: Wade through bogs and lakes year-round, poking at soil with spear to locate lumps or ore.’
[ww2] Hitler’s Food Taster: One Bite Away from Death … The remarkable story of one of Hitler’s team of food tasters who survived the war … ‘Hitler’s thugs brought her and the other young women to barracks in nearby Krausendorf, where cooks prepared the food for the Wolf’s Lair in a two-story building. The service personnel filled platters with vegetables, sauces, noodle dishes and exotic fruits, placing them in a room with a large wooden table, where the food had to be tasted. “There was never meat because Hitler was a vegetarian,” Wölk recalls. “The food was good — very good. But we couldn’t enjoy it.” There were rumors that the Allies had plans to poison Hitler. After the women confirmed that the food was safe, members of the SS brought it to the main headquarters in crates.’
[tech] The Never-Before-Told Story of the World’s First Computer Art (It’s a Sexy Dame) … the first computer art was apparently created by an anyonymous IBM employee … ‘A young man used a $238 million military computer, the largest such machine ever built, to render an image of a curvy woman on a glowing cathode ray tube screen. The year was 1956, and the creation was a landmark moment in computer graphics and cultural history that has gone unnoticed until now. Using equipment designed to guard against the apocalypse, a pin-up girl had been drawn. She was quite probably the first human likeness to ever appear on a computer screen. She glowed.’
[coke] A Brief History Racist Soft Drinks … fascinating look at the racial divide between Coke and Pepsi … ‘Few realize that Coke marketed assiduously to whites, while Pepsi hired a "negro markets" department. Put more bluntly, Coke was made for white people. Pepsi was made for black people. Over the course of the decades and the seemingly limitless growth of the soft drink industry, the companies have expanded their marketing departments and launched myriad campaigns to discourage the idea that either appealed to a specific race…’
[crime] Don Jimmy Gambino OBE … a look at a another side of Jimmy Savile – was he a gangster? … ‘We may never find out who Jimmy Savile really was: whether the entertainer, the philanthropist, the discotheque pioneer, the loner, the Bevin Boy, the loyal company man, the daft-coiffed eccentric, the secure-mental-hospital administrator, the all-in wrestler, the sociopath, the counsellor to royalty, the morgue attendant, the marathon runner or the serial sex fiend. At various times he was all those things.’
[murder] The Unsolved Murder Of Julia Wallace … Fascinating story of an unresolved very English murder from the 1930s … ‘‘The Wallace case of 1931 is regarded as the classic English whodunnit, a labyrinth of clues and false trails leading everywhere except, it seems, to the identity of the murderer… The setting is wintrily provincial, the milieu lower middle-class, the style threadbare domestic. J.B. Priestley’s fog-filled Liverpool remembrance of “trams going whining down long sad roads” is the quintessence of it. Events turn tantalisingly on finical questions of time and distance; knuckle-headed police jostle with whistling street urchins for star billing, while at the centre of the drama stands the scrawny, inscrutable figure of the accused man, William Herbert Wallace, the Man from The Pru…’ (Roger Wilkes, editor, The Mammoth Book of Unsolved Crimes, 2005)’
[war] War Sand … an interesting look at the microscopic remanants of WWII left on the beaches of Normandy …
Archaeology magazine highlights the presence of spherical magnetic shards—remnants of the D-Day operations of World War II—found hidden amongst natural sand grains on the beaches of Normandy. “Up to 4 percent of the sand is made up of this shrapnel,” the article states; however, “waves, storms, and rust will probably wipe this microscopic archaeology from the coast in another hundred years.”
[history] This Is the Oldest Record In History—Scanned and Recreated From a Photo … a remarkable story about how the worlds oldest recording was been recovered from a picture of the record … ‘[Patrick] Fester is an expert on resuscitating records from photographs. He scanned that image at a very high resolution. Then, using image processing software, he enhanced the resulting image. After obtaining the sound profile hidden in the shadows of the print, he used software to recreate the actual sound. What he heard left him speechless: it was the voice of the father of the gramophone, Emile Berliner…’
[history] Easter island heads have bodies!?? … I never realised the heads on Easter Island had bodies – this blog has some great photos … ‘ It’s generally accepted that the statues were made sometime between 1250 and 1500 AD. There is controversy surrounding why the bodies are buried. Was it time and erosion, or were they buried on purpose? Aliens? The soil surrounding the bodies for so long has preserved interesting carvings…’
[history] Supercalicontentious … fascinating look at the history of the nonsense word Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious … ‘When New York District Court judge Wilfred Feinberg issued his ruling, he threw up his hands at the thicket of spelling variations: “All variants of this tongue twister will hereinafter be referred to collectively as ‘the word,’ he wrote. “The word” had been used since the 1930s, according to sworn affidavits from two people who had grown up in New York. That, along with musical differences between the two songs, was enough for the case to be thrown out Shortly after Feinberg made his ruling, a Disney librarian uncovered a smoking gun: a use of the word, spelled “supercaliflawjalisticexpialadoshus,” in the March 10, 1931 issue of the Daily Orange…’
[war] Never Surrender: The Lonely War Of Hiroo Onoda … the story of the last WW2 Japanese soldier to surrender… in 1974! ‘Onoda was officially relived from military duties and told to hand over his rifle, ammunition and hand grenades. He was both stunned and horrified.
‘We really lost the war!’ were his first words. ‘How could they [the Japanese army] have been so sloppy?” [via YMFY]
[crime] Teddy Boys, Christmas Humphreys and the murder of John Beckley on Clapham Common in 1953 … fascinating true-crime story from London in the 1950′s … ‘It was during the reporting of this trial when the press, for the first time, started to make a connection between the odd-looking clothes of the South Londoners and casual violence. The Evening Standard called Ronald Coleman ‘the leader of the Edwardians… a teenage gang of hooligans’ who wore ‘eccentric suits’. In fact Coleman in his statement to the police proudly described how he was dressed on the night of the murder. Stating that he wore ‘a very dark grey suit, single breasted with three buttons… after the style of what is called Edwardian.’ A Daily Mirror headline during the trial simply said ‘Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits’. It was the Daily Express on September 23rd 1953 who took the word ‘Edwardian’ and shortened it to Teddy and so the Teddy Boy was born.’
Oswald just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He and his wife were effectively done, and she was living with Mrs. Paine out in Irving. He used to come on the weekends, but that week, he came on Thursday — the night before the assassination. And it seems pretty clear from his actions and from the things he said that he had decided to do this, but that he could be persuaded to change his mind. He and Marina went to bed that night and in bed, he asked her, “Is there a chance that we can get back together?” And she was very cold to him. She said, “No, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, Lee.” And in the morning, he left his wedding ring and he left all the money in his pockets in a teacup in the kitchen for her. And that was it. There is this chain of ifs, but really, it’s as simple as that. He wanted to shoot somebody. He wanted to be somebody famous. It’s all there. The pieces all click together pretty nicely.
[war] Last Nuclear ‘Monster Weapon’ Gets Dismantled … ‘[The B-53 Bomb is] the ultimate Cold War weapon, the one that Major Kong would have ridden into Armageddon at the end of Dr. Strangelove. And on Tuesday, it will no longer exist. Out at the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, the last of America’s B-53s is in storage. Come Tuesday, it will be dissected: The 300 pounds of high explosives will be separated from its enriched uranium heart, known as a “pit.” The pit will be placed into a storage locker at Pantex, where it will await a final, highly supervised termination.’ [via jwz]
[apocalypse] Bullets That We’ve Dodged As A Species … Philip Greenspun provides a list of predicted catastrophes that didn’t happen … ‘Famine – Environmentalist Lester Brown predicted imminent famine in 1974, 1981, 1984, 1989, 1994, and 2007, in a 1967 book titled Famine, 1975!, and by MacArthur genius Paul Ehrlich in a 1968 book The Population Bomb (repeated, but without a predicted date, in a 2008 book, The Dominant Animal).’ [via Jorn Barger]
[tech] Information Overload, The Early Years … ‘But around 1500, humanist scholars began to bemoan new problems: Printers in search of profit, they complained, rushed to print manuscripts without attention to the quality of the text, and the sheer mass of new books was distracting readers from the focus on the ancient authors most worthy of attention. Printers “fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness,” wrote Erasmus in the early 16th century…’
[docu] How The ‘Ecosystem’ Myth Has Been Used For Sinister Means … Adam Curtis on the history behind self-organising systems … ‘Field Marshal Smuts was one of the most powerful men in the British empire. He ruled South Africa for the British empire and he exercised power ruthlessly. When the Hottentots refused to pay their dog licences Smuts sent in planes to bomb them. As a result the black people hated him. But Smuts also saw himself as a philosopher – and he had a habit of walking up to the tops of mountains, taking off all his clothes, and dreaming up new theories about how nature and the world worked.’
[history] The Bayeux Tapestry Archiving Model … interesting view of the Bayeux Tapestry as a medium for archiving data … ‘Our understanding is that the Tapestry features 45 to 48 threads per inch which gives us a resolution approximating 47dpi with a colour depth of 8, ignoring later repairs. Thus, in information terms, the tapestry contains 2.429MB of information, assuming 1-bit per colour, 47dpi, and a 51,678.72 square inch surface area.’
[space] James Burke On Thermos Flasks … ‘You see, all three men had understood that certain gases ignite and that the thermos flask permits you to store vast quantities of those gases safely in the frozen liquid form until you want to ignite them; at which point, you take the top off the flask, the gases evaporate, you apply a light, and boom! Now, two gases do that better than any other. It was Oberth’s assistant, who put them together most efficiently. His name was Wernher von Braun…’