[history] On the Hunt for the Lost Wonders of Medieval Britain … A modern search for the location of some lost wonders of Ancient Britain. ‘Standing on the 2,000-year-old stones of the Roman baths, however, and dipping a finger into the warm mineral water did transmit a touch of awe. But the experience of standing in Caerwent, looking out from the port wall to see the one-time path of the River Severn and finding the dips of the dried-up Whirlyholes, while not spectacular, had its own power. The wonders list can act as a decoder for the landscape, revealing secrets in a nondescript underpass, a featureless field, an ordinary intersection. These places might seem like they have no history, but once they were remarkable.’ [via As Above]
[tech] Confessions of a Disk Cracker: the secrets of 4am. … Interview with 4am – a modern software cracker cracking old programs. ‘Nobody got kudos for cracking “Irregular Spanish Verbs in the Future Tense,” no BBS would waste the hard drive space to host it, and no user would sacrifice their phone line to download it. So it never got preserved in any form. And even the things that did get cracked weren’t fully preserved. Those same technical constraints led to a culture where the smallest version of a game always won. That meant stripping out the animated boot sequence, the title screen, the multi-page introduction, the cut scenes, anything deemed “non-essential” to the pirates. The holy grail was cutting away so much that you could distribute the game (or what was left of it) as a single file that could be combined with other unrelated games on a single floppy disk.’
[rorschach] The Eye of the Beholder … A look at the history, art and theories behind Rorschach’s inkblots. ‘The science of the Rorschach, to the extent that one can refer to it as a science, is a science of artistic response as the key to personality.’
The Alto was introduced in 1973. To understand this time in computer hardware, the primitive 4004 microprocessor had been introduced a couple years earlier. Practical microprocessors such as the 6502 and Z-80 were still a couple years in the future and the Apple II wouldn’t be released until 1977. At the time, minicomputers such as the Data General Nova and PDP-11 built processors out of hundreds of simple but fast TTL integrated circuits, rather than using slow, unreliable MOS chips. The Alto was built similarly, and is a minicomputer, not a microcomputer. The Alto has 13 circuit boards, crammed full of chips. Each board is a bit smaller than a page of paper, about 7-5/16″ by 10″, and holds roughly 100 chips (depending on the board).
Flat-Earth logic is by turns mesmerizing and maddening. There is no gravity, nothing to restrain it, but as a theory it explains fewer phenomena than the theory it seeks to supplant. In the corridor, I met a documentary filmmaker—there were several milling around at the conference—who had been following the flat-Earth community for months. His face bore a look of despair. “If you’re going to dismiss everything as a hoax, you’d better have something clear to replace it,” he said, his voice rising toward apoplexy. “If you tell me your car isn’t blue and I ask you, ‘Well, what color is your car?,’ don’t fucking tell me, ‘I don’t know, but it’s not blue.’ What color is your fucking car?!”
[fiction] Why is pop culture obsessed with battles between good and evil? … A look at why the structure of stories has changed over time and the connection to Nationalism. ‘As part of this new nationalist consciousness, other authors started changing the old stories to make a moral distinction between, for example, Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Before Joseph Ritson’s 1795 retelling of these legends, earlier written stories about the outlaw mostly showed him carousing in the forest with his merry men. He didn’t rob from the rich to give to the poor until Ritson’s version – written to inspire a British populist uprising after the French Revolution. Ritson’s rendering was so popular that modern retellings of Robin Hood, such as Disney’s 1973 cartoon or the film Prince of Thieves (1991) are more centrally about outlaw moral obligations than outlaw hijinks. The Sheriff of Nottingham was transformed from a simple antagonist to someone who symbolised the abuses of power against the powerless. Even within a single nation (Robin Hood), or a single household (Cinderella), every scale of conflict was restaged as a conflict of values.’
[weird] 16 Weird Things You Won’t Believe People Used To Believe, Believe Me … ‘Preformationism was another of Aristotle’s theories. He claimed that inside each human sperm was a tiny person, and inside that tiny person was more people-sperm (i.e, sperm = Russian dolls). What’s more, he believed this embryonic sperm was all that was needed to generate life: the woman was just the oven, and the resulting baby took 100% of its characteristics from the man. Cheers, Aristotle.’
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January 29, 2018
[history] Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace … a fascinating deep-dive blog post on the life of Ada Lovelace from Stephen Wolfram. ‘When Ada wrote about Babbage’s machine, she wanted to explain what it did in the clearest way—and to do this she looked at the machine more abstractly, with the result that she ended up exploring and articulating something quite recognizable as the modern notion of universal computation. What Ada did was lost for many years. But as the field of mathematical logic developed, the idea of universal computation arose again, most clearly in the work of Alan Turing in 1936. Then when electronic computers were built in the 1940s, it was realized they too exhibited universal computation, and the connection was made with Turing’s work.’
[lsd] A Fateful Hunt for a Buried Stash of the Greatest LSD Ever Made … a wonderful gonzo tale about the history behind a legendary lost stash of LSD – a gentle Breaking Bad set in Wales in the 1970s. ‘Over the years, Smiles hasn’t featured in any of the books or TV documentaries about Operation Julie, so I assumed he didn’t want to speak about those years any more. But I knew he was still around: I’d heard from a good source that he’d recently appeared at the funeral of one of the other men convicted in the 70s, and that he’d got everyone stoned in the smoking area of the wake. If anyone knew whether there was still some mythical LSD buried in the ground, it would be Smiles. In the end, finding him wasn’t too hard at all, and after a day of correspondence he invited us round for tea.’
[truecrime] The Bloody History of the True Crime Genre … Examining the origins of True Crime … ‘Reputable authors became increasingly interested in crime as a site of social, aesthetic, and scientific inquiry. Reform-minded writers like Charles Dickens (“A Visit to Newgate,” 1836) and William Thackeray (“Going to See a Man Hanged,” 1840) decried the institutional punishments of the era. Perhaps the most notorious essay was the satirically titled “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” first published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1827 by the self-confessed opium-eater Thomas De Quincey. The essay was so well received it inspired a “Second Paper” in 1839 and a collected edition including a “Postscript” in 1854. Adopting the absurd persona of a member of the “Society of Connoisseurs in Murder,” De Quincey articulates his aesthetics of murder. He does not condone violence or make moral claims, but instead compares the effect of murder to Kant’s theory of the sublime…’
[mac] The Twiggy Mac Lives! The Quest To Resurrect The World’s Oldest Macintosh … ‘How did this Mac survive? Was this the only one? The owner of the mysterious machine, posting as “mactwiggy” and known publicly only as Jay, said at the time that he bought the system after seeing it advertised online. “The elderly gentleman I purchased it off of is a retired engraver,” Jay wrote on Applefritter’s forums. “The company he worked for was hired to make some award medallions for a ceremony at Apple. It would have been some point in 1983 I personally think, but he really couldn’t recall. They sent over this Mac to use as a model for him to work off of. When the job was done, they tried to make arrangements to send it back. Apparently after several attempts, Apple just told them to keep it.” The seller knew he had a highly collectible computer, but was willing to sell the piece at a less-than-maximum price to avoid dealing with potential buyers. “He was really just happy it was going to someone who knew what it was and would appreciate it,” Jay wrote. It was major find — truly a Mac collector’s dream.’
[wikipedia] 19 Wikipedia Pages That’ll Send You Into A Week-Long Wikihole … a great time wasting list … List of common misconceptions: ‘This list is basically what it says on the tin: a bunch of facts that you think you know but aren’t really facts at all. For example, I was upset to learn that Thomas Crapper (the guy in the above photo) didn’t actually invent the flushing toilet. He just made them more popular. Also, less surprisingly, Einstein didn’t really fail maths, and when he heard this claim he said “before I was 15 I had mastered differential and integral calculus.” No need to brag, Albert.’
[crime] What Crime Most Changed the Course of History? … Various people suggest a varied bunch of crimes … Josh Braun, executive producer, The Keepers: ‘The Manson-family murders were one of the first crimes that became a celebrity spectacle. They also changed people’s day-to-day perception of how safe they were at home: Suddenly the bogeyman was real.’
[tech] Atomic City … The story behind the only recorded nuclear fatalities in the US (reads like a James Ellroy story) … ‘McKinley was struck in the head by a piece of radioactive shrapnel that tore off half his face. Byrnes was thrown into concrete blocks, breaking ribs that pierced his heart. Legg was skewered in the gut by a flying control rod that launched him thirteen feet in the air and pinned him to the ceiling. (It took a week to get him down, requiring a pole with a hook to push him into a net attached to a crane operated by a man shielded in lead.) The men’s bodies were wrapped in several hundred pounds of lead, placed in steel coffins, and buried under a foot of concrete.’
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All the newest technologies have been thrown at Zapruder. The limitation, ultimately, isn’t the resolution of the 8mm film stock, but the quality of the lens. A rash of theories about JFK continue to revolve around the film, which, despite being such a landmark testament to what happened, hasn’t brought questions about the assassination to rest. “It’s one of the great ironies that, despite the existence of the film, we don’t know what happened,” says Begley.
“We’re still in the dark. What we finally have are patches and shadows. It’s still a mystery. There’s still an element of dream-terror. And one of the terrible dreams is that our most photogenic president is murdered on film. But there’s something inevitable about the Zapruder film. It had to happen this way. The moment belongs to the twentieth century, which means it had to be captured on film.”
[shipwrecks] The Last Great Arctic Shipwreck … a look at the history behind the wrecks of HMS Erebus and Terror whose wrecks have recently been found in the Arctic … ‘When it was John Franklin’s turn to etch his name in this roster of arctic disaster he was no noob: a previous harrowing expedition in search of the Passage had earned him the oddly specific nickname “the man who ate his boots.” But the style of expedition Franklin came to represent—what modern British explorer Benedict Allen has described as “the siege, where you took your world with you and set about defeating the place”—was one of the last of its kind. Like the many doomed voyages that came before, Franklin’s ships quickly encountered what British explorer James Clark Ross described as the unforgiving solidity of ice, “not less solid than if it were a land of granite … meetings as mountains in motion would meet, with the noise of thunder.”’
[space] The Wold Newton Meteorite … the history behind a meteorite that crashed into Yorkshire in 1759 and later fell into fiction … ‘In addition to almost killing a farm labourer and kickstarting the modern scientific study of meteorites, the “EXTRAORDINARY STONE” which fell to Earth two centuries ago was also the catalyst for some of the most inventive and influential crossover fiction of the twentieth century. If you’re are a fan of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula novels, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or even Bryan Talbot’s Grandville, or Showtime’s Penny Dreadful then you have the Wold Newton Meteorite to thank. All these worlds filled with characters from different novels, films, and TV series owe a huge debt (acknowledged by both Newman and Moore, I might add) to the writing of Philip Jose Farmer…’
[mystery] The Unsolvable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript … decoding the hidden meaning of a famous coded medieval manuscript … ‘Readers will probably never stop forming communities based on the manuscript’s secrets. Humans are fond of weaving narratives like doilies around gaping holes, so that the holes won’t scare them. And objects from premodern history—like medieval manuscripts—are the perfect canvas on which to project our worries about the difficult and the frightening and the arcane, because these objects come from a time outside culture as we conceive of it. This single, original manuscript encourages us to sit with the concept of truth and to remember that there are ineluctable mysteries at the bottom of things whose meanings we will never know.’
[tech] Secrets of
the Little Blue Box … the text of Ron Rosenbaum’s fascinating 1971 article from Esquire magazine of his investigation into early phone phreaking … ‘People like Gilbertson and Alexander Graham Bell are always talking about ripping off the phone company and screwing Ma Bell. But if they were shown a single button and told that by pushing it they could turn the entire circuitry of A.T.&T. into molten puddles, they probably wouldn’t push it. The disgruntled-inventor phone phreak needs the phone system the way the lapsed Catholic needs the Church, the way Satan needs a God, the way The Midnight Skulker needed, more than anything else, response.’
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October 28, 2016
[books] In ‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue … Nicely done book review on the rise of Donald Trump Adolf Hitler … ‘Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”’
For Hitler, though, a crisis was coming. When the factories where Pervitin and Eukodal were made were bombed by the allies, supplies of his favourite drugs began to run out, and by February 1945 he was suffering withdrawal. Bowed and drooling and stabbing at his skin with a pair of golden tweezers, he cut a pitiful sight. “Everyone describes the bad health of Hitler in those final days [in the Führerbunker in Berlin],” says Ohler. “But there’s no clear explanation for it. It has been suggested that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. To me, though, it’s pretty clear that it was partly withdrawal.” He grins. “Yeah, it must have been pretty awful. He’s losing a world war, and he’s coming off drugs.”
[tv] Teletext time travel … a fascinating look at how lost Teletext pages are being recovered from VHS tapes … ‘The pages are a snapshot of life in the 1980s – British Rail train times, Mrs Thatcher’s opinions, new pound coins and Gus Honeybun – and therefore fascinating for historians of modern life…’
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April 14, 2016
[tech] How the Ballpoint Pen Changed Handwriting … An interesting look at the history of the ballpoint pen and it’s role in the decline of cursive handwriting … ‘My fountain pen is a modern one, and probably not a great representation of the typical pens of the 1940s—but it still has some of the troubles that plagued the fountain pens and quills of old. I have to be careful where I rest my hand on the paper, or risk smudging my last still-wet line into an illegible blur. And since the thin ink flows more quickly, I have to refill the pen frequently. The ballpoint solved these problems, giving writers a long-lasting pen and a smudge-free paper for the low cost of some extra hand pressure.’
[gaming] The man who made ‘the worst video game in history’ … How Atari’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was made… ‘Warshaw’s stock was high at Atari. The 24-year-old had just finished the video game of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg considered Warshaw a “certifiable genius” and 36 hours earlier Warshaw had been hand-picked for their next collaboration. “It was a day that will live in infamy in my life forever,” says Warshaw. “I was sitting in my office and I get a call from the Atari CEO. He said, ‘Howard, we need the ET video game done. Can you do it?’ “And I said, ‘Absolutely, yes I can!'” Games for the Atari 2600 were distributed on cartridges that took weeks to manufacture. If ET was to be in the shops for Christmas, Warshaw had a tight deadline…’
[books] Promised You a Miracle: UK 80-82 by Andy Beckett review – how today’s Britain was born in the early 80s … some interesting thoughts on how lucky Margaret Thatcher was in the early 1980s … ‘The readying and departure of the taskforce became in Beckett’s words “an epic, brilliantly manipulative piece of public theatre … that would run, to credulous rave reviews in most of the British media, for the rest of the Falklands conflict, and indeed [for more than a year] right up to the next general election”. Those scenes and the victory that followed did wonders for a prime minister who only a few months before had registered lower approval ratings than any of her predecessors; who, according to John Hoskyns, the head of her policy unit, could be found in the summer of 1981 sitting on a seat at the end of her garden thinking: “It’s all gone wrong. I don’t think it will ever come right. I’m the most unpopular prime minister ever. I will go down as a total disaster.” A year later, even as the taskforce was still heaving and wallowing its way homeward, the Tories were suddenly leading Labour by 20% in the polls and Thatcher was chastising “the waverers and the faint hearts … who thought we could no longer do the great things which we once did”, and announcing that Britain had “found herself again in the South Atlantic and will not look back”. In the election the following year, the Tories won their biggest victory since Harold Macmillan’s in 1959.’
[codes] They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside … fascinating story of how the code of a long-forgotten secret society was cracked … ‘There were at least 10 identifiable character clusters that repeated throughout the document. The only way groups of letters would look and act largely the same was if this was a genuine cipher—one he could break. “This is not a hoax; this is not random. I can solve this one,” he told himself. A particular cluster caught his eye: the cipher’s unaccented Roman letters used by English, Spanish, and other European languages. Knight did a separate frequency analysis to see which of those letters appeared most often. The results were typical for a Western language. It suggested that this document might be the most basic of ciphers, in which one letter is swapped for another—a kid’s decoder ring, basically. Maybe, Knight thought, the real code was in the Roman alphabet, and all the funny astronomical signs and accented letters were there just to throw the reader off the scent. Of course, a substitution cipher was only simple if you knew what language it was in.’
[tech] Why Activists Wanted to Destroy Early GPS Satellites … fascinating story about an axe attack on an unlaunched GPS satellite in the 1990s and the motivations behind it … ‘GPS’ major media debut took place on the battlefield during the 1991 Gulf War, where GPS-guided cruise missiles took out Iraqi infrastructure and soldiers carried commercial GPS receivers (the system was still incomplete in 1991, and as a result all GPS operations during the Gulf War had to be coordinated within specific time windows to be sure there were enough satellites overhead). When explaining the Gulf War’s influence on the Brigade, Lumsdaine noted that “most of the civilian casualties of Operation Desert Storm came after the war because the infrastructure was targeted; the water, the electric lines, the generating stations. GPS was critical for taking out the electric grid of Iraq… with the electricity came repercussions with water filtration plans and so forth.” Crippling infrastructure is a long-term attack strategy, and GPS let the military enact it with ruthless precision.’
These questions should inspire two feelings. The first is humility. We can never know what a universe without Hitler would have looked like. But the implicit argument that his removal would improve history must also consider that his removal could make it worse. Indeed, recent experience should make us doubt our abilities to bend the course of human events towards our will. The Bush administration naively claimed that toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003 would produce a vibrant liberal democracy in the largely illiberal Middle East. Instead it brought about regional instability, ethnic cleansing, civil war, and ISIS.
The second is relief. We live in cynical times, which masks the fact that we live in extraordinary times. Atrocities still occur, but human rights are now a normative value throughout most of the world, even if their enforcement is imperfect. Conflicts are still fought, but the great powers have avoided another world war for seven decades. Racism and anti-Semitism still exist, but pre-war forms of colonialism and pogroms have largely disappeared. This is not the future for which Nazi Germany fought and fell. Removing Hitler from history would gamble with one irrefutable truth: He lost.
[war] Behind the Design of the Doomsday Clock … the story behind one of the most memorable information designs of the last century … ‘Langsdorf and his fellow scientists began circulating a mimeographed newsletter called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In June 1947, the newsletter became a magazine. Langsdorf’s wife, Martyl, was an artist whose landscapes were exhibited in Chicago galleries. She volunteered to create the first cover. There wasn’t much room for an illustration, and the budget permitted only two colors. But she found a solution. The Doomsday Clock was born.’
[tech] The Room Where the Internet Was Born … A visit to the place where the first messages over the internet were sent from … ‘In a strikingly accurate replica of the original IMP log (crafted by UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History) on one of the room’s period desks is a note taken at 10:30 p.m., 29 October, 1969—“talked to SRI, host to host.” In the note, there is no sense of wonder at this event—which marks the first message sent across the ARPANET, and the primary reason the room is now deemed hallowed ground.’
[tech] A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge … a fascinating historical article from the early days of Spreadsheets by Steven Levy … ‘The computer spreadsheet, like the transcontinental railroad, is more than a means to an end. The spreadsheet embodies, embraces, that end, and ultimately serves to reinforce it. As Marshall McLuhan observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” The spreadsheet is a tool, and it is also a world view — reality by the numbers. If the perceptions of those who play a large part in shaping our world are shaped by spreadsheets, it is important that all of us understand what this tool can and cannot do.’
[war] The man who sleeps in Hitler’s bed … a visit to the world’s biggest collection of Nazi memorabilia and a profile of the man who built it … ‘Later, among engine parts and ironwork, I came across a massive bust of Hitler, sitting on the floor next to a condom vending machine (“I collect pub memorabilia, too,” Wheatcroft explained). “I have the largest collection of Hitler heads in the world,” he said, a refrain that returned again and again. “This one came from a ruined castle in Austria. I bought it from the town council.” “Things have the longest memories of all,” says the introduction to a recent essay by Teju Cole, “beneath their stillness, they are alive with the terrors they have witnessed.” This is what you feel in the presence of the Wheatcroft Collection – a sense of great proximity to history, to horror, an uncanny feeling that the objects know more than they are letting on.’
[cheese] Cheese changed the course of Western civilization … How cheese was discovered 9000 years ago by lactose-intolerant nomads. ‘With the discovery of cheese, suddenly those early humans could add dairy to their diets. Cheese made an entirely new source of nutrients and calories available for adults, and, as a result, dairying took off in a major way. What this meant, says Kindstedt, is that “children and newborns would be exposed to milk frequently, which ultimately through random mutations selected for children who could tolerate lactose later into adulthood.” In a very short time, at least in terms of human evolution—perhaps only a few thousand years—that mutation spread throughout the population of the Fertile Crescent.’
[mac] Plugging a 1986 Mac Plus into the modern Web … It’s surprisingly difficult to plug a vintage computer into the modern web … ‘So, with the Raspberry Pi, MacTCP, and MacWeb all in place, it was time to surf the Web! Right? Right?! No. No surfing yet. The MacWeb developers apparently took a look at the HTTP 1.0 spec, decided, “Who would ever need name-based virtual hosting?” and left out the feature that 99 percent of the sites on the modern Web relied on. No support for virtual hostnames meant you got whatever you saw when you used the server’s IP address alone in the HTTP request, and for most sites, that was jack squat. Oh, and HTTPS, cookies, and CSS hadn’t been invented yet. AAARGH!!!’
[history] Daily Mash: Richard III a great guy apart from killing those kids … ‘Cheering crowds lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the former king’s coffin, with supporters claiming the princes in the tower were probably pretty annoying anyway. Historian Mary Fisher said: “If you look at paintings of Richard’s nephews who were entrusted into his care, you get the impression they were really demanding. I bet they were always pestering Uncle Richard to buy them ponies, and playing with his sword then not putting it back in the armoury. “So you couldn’t really blame him if they met with a little accident. I mean, we’ve all thought about it when our kids kick off in the supermarket.”’
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March 21, 2015
[philosophy] ‘Kant is a moron’: vandals critique the philosopher’s home … 210 years after his death an unknown critic vandalizes Immanuel Kant’s home … ‘The Russian word used is a relatively mild term of abuse for a slow-witted or foolish person, and could also be translated as “loser,” “dumb-ass,” or “chump”. The vandals did not, however, leave any accompanying critique of Kant’s thinking to justify the smear on his intellectual powers. Kant (1724-1804) is generally considered one of the most formidable philosophers to have lived, and is credited with breakthroughs in epistemology and moral philosophy that continue to define the fields to this day.’
[life] What is blue and how do we see color? … a look at why the Ancient Greeks could not see the colour blue … ‘Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it is much harder for us to notice what is unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way. So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they did not know they were seeing it. If you see something yet can’t see it, does it exist? Did colors come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have…’
Inserting and removing socketed electronic assemblies had, until then, been an activity reserved for trained technicians, engineers, and military personnel. Taking a sensitive circuit board and putting it into the hands of a consumer—who might be prone to stepping on it, dunking it in the toilet, or leaving it baking in the sun—posed a considerable design challenge. Obviously, the board needed a protective shell of some kind.
Talesfore zeroed in immediately on the familiar form of the 8-track tape cartridge, an audio recording format which gained significant traction in the 1970s through its use in car audio systems. Relatively rugged, easy to insert and remove with one hand, and vibration-resistant, the 8-track tape proliferated where the comparatively delicate vinyl record feared to tread. He chose a shape and size for his new game cartridge enclosure that closely matched the 8-track tape standard. Then he added ribbing around the edges for improved grip, and selected a bright yellow plastic color to make a statement. Cartridges were the true star of the show, he figured, so they deserved to stand out.
[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.’
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.
[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.’
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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?’
[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.’
[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.’