Novelist William Sharp had a feminine alter ego with her own literary career

When the Scottish writer William Sharp died in 1905, his wife revealed a surprising secret: For 10 years he had kept up a second career as a reclusive novelist named Fiona Macleod, carrying on correspondences and writing works in two distinctly different styles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore Sharp's curious relationship with his feminine alter ego, whose sporadic appearances perplexed even him.

We'll also hunt tigers in Singapore and puzzle over a surprisingly unsuccessful bank robber.

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The neuroscience of changing your mind

This is the first of three You Are Not So Smart episodes about the "backfire effect." In it, I interview a team of neuroscientists who put people in a brain scanner and then challenged their beliefs, some political and some not, with counter-evidence and then compared which brain regions lit up for which beliefs. The crazy takeaway was that for political beliefs, but not for others, people seemed to react as if their very bodies were being threatened by the challenging evidence.

We don’t treat all of our beliefs the same.

If you learn that the Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made object visible from space, and that, in fact, it’s actually very difficult to see the Wall compared to other landmarks, you update your model of reality without much fuss. Some misconceptions we give up readily, replacing them with better information when alerted to our ignorance.

For others constructs though, for your most cherished beliefs about things like climate change or vaccines or Republicans, instead of changing your mind in the face of challenging evidence or compelling counterarguments, you resist. Not only do you fight belief change for some things and not others, but if you successfully deflect such attacks, your challenged beliefs then grow stronger.

The research shows that when a strong-yet-erroneous belief is challenged, yes, you might experience some temporary weakening of your convictions, some softening of your certainty, but most people rebound and not only reassert their original belief at its original strength, but go beyond that and dig in their heels, deepening their resolve over the long run. Read the rest

Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast covers Westworld episode nine, "The Well-Tempered Clavier"

As HBO's Westworld nears its conclusion, Boars, Gore, and Swords is there to keep up with all the twists and turns. For this week's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," Ivan and Red discuss Arnold's true identity, the relative lack of value of human cognition, Logan wearing a "Hand of The King" pin, when and where Dolores is, and the male nudity everyone's been waiting for.

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To catch up on previous episodes of Westworld, previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the A Song of Ice And Fire books, and other TV and movies, check out the BGaS archive. You can find them on Twitter @boarsgoreswords, like their Facebook fanpage, and email them. If you want access to extra episodes and content, you can donate to the Patreon. Read the rest

2 million gallons of molasses wreaked havoc in Boston in 1919

In 1919 a bizarre catastrophe struck Boston's North End: A giant storage tank failed, releasing 2 million gallons of molasses into a crowded business district at the height of a January workday. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which claimed 21 lives and inscribed a sticky page into the city's history books.

We'll also admire some Scandinavian statistics and puzzle over a provocative Facebook photo.

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Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast covers Westworld sequel Futureworld

Having watched the 1973 Westworld film last week, Boars, Gore, and Swords moves on to the Crichton-less sequel Futureworld. Ivan and Red discuss how much more it influenced the HBO series, Yul Brynner's guest appearance, and the advantages of roboticizing the workplace. Over on the BGaS Patreon, you can listen to the last exclusive episode of Ivan and Red's politics podcast and suggest what future bonus content you'd like to see

To catch up on previous episodes of Westworld, previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the A Song of Ice And Fire books, and other TV and movies, check out the BGaS archive. You can find them on Twitter @boarsgoreswords, like their Facebook fanpage, and email them. If you want access to extra episodes and content, you can donate to the Patreon. Read the rest

Six lateral thinking puzzles

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Read the rest

The story behind the Christmas truce of 1914

In December 1914 a remarkable thing happened on the Western Front: British and German soldiers stopped fighting and left their trenches to greet one another, exchange souvenirs, bury their dead, and sing carols in the spirit of the holiday season. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Christmas truce, which one participant called "one of the highlights of my life."

We'll also remember James Thurber's Aunt Sarah and puzzle over an anachronistic twin.

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What Mark Twain learned from a palm reader

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some more curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a pilot who saved Buckingham Palace, a ghost who confronted Arthur Conan Doyle, what Mark Twain learned from a palm reader, and a bedeviling superfluity of Norwegians.

We'll also discover a language used only by women and puzzle over a gift that's best given sparingly.

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In 1944 hysteria swept Mattoon, Illinois, as residents reported a paralyzing gas being sprayed into their bedrooms

In 1944, a bizarre criminal assaulted the small town of Mattoon, Illinois. Victims reported smelling a strange odor in their bedrooms before being overcome with nausea and paralysis. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll pursue the mad gasser of Mattoon, who vanished after ten days, leaving residents to wonder whether he had ever existed at all.

We'll also ponder the concept of identical cousins and puzzle over a midnight stabbing.

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A Union soldier's determined efforts to break out of an "escape-proof" Confederate prison

Libby Prison was one of the most infamous prison camps of the Civil War -- thousands of Union prisoners were packed together in a converted warehouse, facing months or years of starvation and abuse. The Confederates thought the prison was escape-proof, and in this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll show how a determined group of prisoners set out to prove them wrong.

We'll also duel with a barrel and puzzle over why an admitted forger would be found innocent.

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Kodachrome, Pt. 2

This week on HOME: Stories From L.A.:

Who were we? How did we live, and what did it look like? The vast archive of castoff slides captures, in vivid colors, images of the American family at midcentury. But the stories that go with the pictures are most often lost, and we’re left to create our own, and reflect on millions of conscious decisions to untie the knot of memory.

HOME is a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network. If you like what you hear, please take a second to leave the show a rating and/or review at the iTunes Store. It's a little thing that means a lot, so thanks. And don't forget to subscribe, at any of the usual places:

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This 61-year-old potato farmer won an ultramarathon in 1983

Australia's Westfield ultramarathon had a surprising entrant in 1983: a 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young who defied all expectations to win the 500-mile race against a field of professional runners. In today's show we'll learn about Cliff's unorthodox style and the remarkable strategy that carried him to victory.

We'll also learn the difference between no and nay and puzzle over a Japanese baby shortage.

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The Voynich manuscript has been bewildering scholars for more than a century

In 1912, bookseller Wilfrid Voynich discovered an illustrated manuscript that was written in a mysterious alphabet that had never been seen before. The text bears the hallmarks of natural language, but no one has ever been able to determine its meaning. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll learn about the Voynich manuscript, which has been bewildering scholars for more than a century.

We'll also ponder some parliamentary hostages and puzzle over a tormenting acquisition.

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James Burke’s new project aims to help us deal with change, think connectively, and benefit from surprise

In this episode of the YANSS Podcast, we sit down with legendary science historian James Burke, who returns to the show to explain his newest project, a Connections app that will allow anyone to search and think “connectively” when exploring Wikipedia.

He launched the Kickstarter for the app this month. This is a link to learn more.

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For much of his career, science historian James Burke has been creating documentaries and writing books aimed at helping us to make better sense of the enormous amount of information that he predicted would one day be at our fingertips.

In Connections, he offered an “alternate view of history” in which great insights took place because of anomalies and mistakes, because people were pursuing one thing, but it lead somewhere surprising or was combined with some other object or idea they could never have imagined by themselves. Innovation took place in the spaces between disciplines, when people outside of intellectual and professional silos, unrestrained by categorical and linear views, synthesized the work of people still trapped in those institutions, who, because of those institutions, had no idea what each other was up to and therefore couldn’t predict the trajectory of even their own disciplines, much less history itself.

In The Day the Universe Changed, Burke explored the sequential impact of discovery, innovation, and invention on how people defined reality itself. “You are what we know,” he wrote “and when the body of knowledge changes, so do we." In this view of change, knowledge is invented as much as it is discovered, and new ideas “nibble at the edges” of common knowledge until values considered permanent and fixed fade into antiquity just like any other obsolete tool. Read the rest

Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast covers Westworld episode five, "Contrapasso"

Now that Boars, Gore, and Swords has switched to full coverage of HBO's Westworld, they've returned to their schedule of posting episodes following that night's airing. For this week's "Contrapasso," Ivan and Red are joined by comedian Allison Mick to discuss ever-expanding fan theories, dude robot full frontal, and Ed Harris's frontier medicine. They've also concluded their Patreon-exclusive coverage of the Great British Bake Off finale, so kick in a buck for some high-class cake talk.

To catch up on previous episodes of Westworld, previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the A Song of Ice And Fire books, and other TV and movies, check out the BGaS archive. You can find them on Twitter @boarsgoreswords, like their Facebook fanpage, and email them. If you want access to extra episodes and content, you can donate to the Patreon. Read the rest

Kodachrome, Pt. 1

This week on HOME: Stories From L.A., a member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network:

Color slides were once the state of the art in family photography -- vibrant, immersive, ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in fact, that millions, maybe billions of them survive. A conversation with midcentury pop culture expert Charles Phoenix: What can we learn from the vast shadow world of abandoned slides about the way we used to live in our homes?

If you like what you hear, please drop by the iTunes Store and leave the show a rating and/or review. And don't forget to subscribe: 

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The strangest battle of World War II took place at this medieval Austrian castle

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