December 15, 2014
[sea] Tjipetir mystery: Why are rubber-like blocks washing up on beaches?‘The word Tjipetir turned out to be that of a rubber plantation in West Java, Indonesia, which operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blocks were not strictly rubber – they are most likely gutta-percha, the gum of a tree found in the Malay Peninsula and Malaysia. It was used in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to insulate telegraph cables on the seabed. Before modern plastic began to be widely used, gutta-percha was also made into such items as golf balls, teddy bear noses, picture frames and jewellery, among many others.’
November 27, 2014
[war] A new report shows nuclear weapons almost detonated in North Carolina in 1961 … Eric Schlosser discusses various nuclear weapon accidents …

The Goldsboro bomb that almost detonated was known as Weapon No. 1. As the plane was spinning and breaking apart, the centrifugal forces pulled a lanyard in the cockpit–and that lanyard was what a crew member would manually pull during wartime to release the bomb. This hydrogen bomb was a machine, a dumb object. It had no idea whether the lanyard was being pulled by a person or by a centrifugal force. Once the lanyard was pulled, the weapon just behaved like it was designed to.

The bomb went through all of its arming steps except for one, and a single switch prevented a full-scale nuclear detonation. That type of switch was later found to be defective. It had failed in dozens of other cases, allowing weapons to be inadvertently armed. And that safety switch could have very easily been circumvented by stray electricity in the B-52 as it was breaking apart. As Secretary of Defense McNamara said, “By the slightest margin of chance, literally the failure of two wires to cross, a nuclear explosion was averted.” That’s literally correct, a short circuit could’ve fully armed the bomb.

November 25, 2014
[history] The Very First Written Use of the F Word in English (1528)‘Here the word appears (for the first time if not the last) noted down by hand in the margins of a proper text, in this case Cicero’s De Officiis.’

"Fuckin Abbot"

November 22, 2014
[war] Five Men Agree To Stand Directly Under An Exploding Nuclear Bomb … an unbelievable true story with video … ‘They wait. There is a countdown; 18,500 feet above them, the missile is detonated and blows up. Which means, these men intentionally stood directly underneath an exploding 2-kiloton nuclear bomb. One of them, at the key moment (he’s wearing sunglasses), looks up. You have to see this to believe it.’
November 18, 2014
[people] An Investigation into the Weirdest Ronald Reagan Photo You’ve Probably Never Seen‘I like trifling historical mysteries, and this obscure, bizarre photo of a famous man—this image utterly devoid of context—fits the bill. Who shot it? Where? What were the circumstances of the occasion? And who is the boy? I talked to Krassner first. I’d been looking for an excuse to interview him; how many people do you know that rode the bus with the Merry Pranksters, edited Lenny Bruce, and claims to have coined the term soft-core pornography?’
October 13, 2014
[space] Turds in Spaaaace! … a highlight from the Apollo 10 spaceflight transcript‘Give me a napkin quick. There’s a turd floating through the air.’

Turds In Space

October 12, 2014
[www] The Secret History of Hypertext … interesting look at some pre-computer visions of the World Wide Web … ‘Paul Otlet, a Belgian bibliographer and entrepreneur who, in 1934, laid out a plan for a global network of “electric telescopes” that would allow anyone in the world to access to a vast library of books, articles, photographs, audio recordings, and films. Like Bush, Otlet explored the possibilities of storing data on microfilm and making it searchable, with a web of documents connected via a sophisticated linking system. Otlet also wrote about wireless networks, speech recognition, and social network-like features that would allow individuals to “participate, applaud, give ovations, sing in the chorus.” He even described a mechanism for transmitting taste and smell.’
September 9, 2014
[crime] Police vow to stop Jack the Ripper before he kills again‘The investigation has so far interrogated 180,000 suspects, 140,000 of them black, 20,000 Polish, two Frenchman and the Duke of Clarence.’
May 7, 2014
[tech] How Steve Wozniak Wrote BASIC for the Original Apple From Scratch‘The problem was that I had no knowledge of BASIC, just a bare memory that it had line numbers from that 3-day high-school experience. So I picked up a BASIC manual late one night at HP and started reading it and making notes about the commands of this language. Mind that I had never taken a course in compiler (or interpreter) writing in my life. But my friend Allen Baum had sent me xerox copies of pages of his texts at MIT about the subject so I could claim that I had an MIT education in it, ha ha. In my second year of college I had sat in a math analysis class trying to teach myself how to start writing a FORTRAN compiler, knowing nothing about the science of compiler writing.’
April 29, 2014
[trolling] The Compleat Troller, Or, THE ART OF TROLLING

The Compleat Troller

April 18, 2014
[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.’
April 16, 2014
[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.’
April 14, 2014
[life] Remembering the sinking of The Titanic – 100 years later…

Inflatable Titanic Slide

April 11, 2014
[titanic] This is what the menu on the Titanic looked like‘We’re down with roast beef and brown gravy for lunch, but jacket potatoes for breakfast?’
March 24, 2014
[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.’
March 15, 2014
[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…’
February 28, 2014
[ships] Russia’s Giant Secret Spy Ship Killed Rats, Ruined Careers and Almost Got Blown Up TWICE … fascinating story of the Russian ship Ural… ‘Ural didn’t just kill turtles. She also became what Russian Navy Blog described as “one of those rare ships free of rats.” When her electronics were all switched on, something—radiation, perhaps—swiftly killed all the rodents aboard. Rats “only reappeared when the ship moored at the pier.”’
February 24, 2014
[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.’
February 10, 2014
[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.’
February 9, 2014
[crime] Mug shots from Newcastle in the 1930’s

George Coulson Criminal

February 6, 2014
[watergate] The Red Flag in the Flowerpot … a writer looking at the personal archives of Ben Bradlee (Woodward and Bernstein’s editor) exposes doubts about some of the reporting of Watergate …

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?’

December 13, 2013
[weird] An amazing list of actual reasons for admission into the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum from the late 1800s‘Venereal Excesses.’
November 25, 2013
[web] 17 Ancient Abandoned Websites That Still Work … I remember CNN’s O.J. Simpson trial website from 1996. I feel old.
November 13, 2013
[retro-computing] Google BBS Terminal … How Google search would behave if it had been created in the 1980’s.
September 17, 2013
[history] Early recollections of Adolf Hitler: “Eccentric but quite a pleasant fellow” … a profile of Adolf Hitler published in the New Statesman in 1933 …

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.

September 3, 2013
[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.’
August 8, 2013
[history] The Great Train Robbery … Diamond Geezer visits the site of the Great Train Robbery.
July 2, 2013
[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.’
April 9, 2013
[life] What remains of Noel Edmonds’ ‘Blobbyland’ … An urban explorer photographs the ruins of a Mr Blobby themepark that closed in 1999.
April 8, 2013
[news] Evening Standard – Margaret Thatcher Dies

Evening Standard Headline Board: Margaret Thatcher Dies

April 5, 2013
[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.’
April 4, 2013
[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.’
February 18, 2013
[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…’
December 10, 2012
[christmas] Vintage British Argos 1976 Catalogue … this set of scans might come in handy if you’re searching for a retro christmas gift and have a time machine. [More: Vintage British Argos 1985 Catalogue | Vintage British Argos 1986 Catalogue]
November 20, 2012
[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.’
November 19, 2012
[words] First Known Use Of OMG – – in a 1917 letter to Winston Churchill …

First Known Use Of OMG

August 23, 2012
[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)’
August 15, 2012
[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.”

July 19, 2012
[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…’
May 18, 2012
[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…’
May 1, 2012
[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…’
April 2, 2012
[war] 30 Years Since the Falklands War … some fascinating pictures from the Falklands War – and not just the usual ones you see published in British Newpapers.
March 30, 2012
[history] Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts‘Now I’ve written the whole thing: for Christ’s sake give me a drink.’
February 28, 2012
[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]
February 21, 2012
[history] BBC Transcript To Be Used In Wake Of Nuclear Attack‘Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes. Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away.’
February 17, 2012
[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.’
February 14, 2012
[vd] The First Kiss On Film … filmed by Thomas Edison in 1896 – Happy Valentines Day.

November 15, 2011
[books] Errol Morris Interviews Stephen King … on his new book about time travel, J.F.K. and Lee Harvey Oswald …

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.

November 3, 2011
[history] London, Summer, 1976 … a small collection of evocative photos of London from the mid-1970s [via Unreliably Witnessed]
October 25, 2011
[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]

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