Boing Boing 

Listen: Marlene Dietrich plays musical saw (with bonus Star Trek theme)

Marlene Dietrich always wanted to be a classical musician. Since her cabaret act and film career left little time for her to do the required practice, she played the musical saw instead. Throughout World War II she wowed USO audiences with the novelty. Here she is playing "Aloha Oe" in 1944 with the comedic setup she did in her cabaret act.

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1871 plans map out the first circuit of the globe by telegraph

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The Library of Congress site contains gems like this map showing the proposed final link of the original world wide web: the proposed trans-Pacific telegraph line, envisioned with Civil War-era technology.

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Plan C: The top secret Cold War plan for martial law in the USA


Michael from Muckrock sez, "Starting on April 19, 1956, the federal government practiced and planned for a near-doomsday scenario known as Plan C. When activated, Plan C would have brought the United States under martial law, rounded up over ten thousand individuals connected to 'subversive' organizations, implemented a censorship board, and prepared the country for life after nuclear attack. There was no Plan A or B."

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When shirts cost $3,500


An eye-popping parable about the benefits of automation: 200 years ago, it took 479 hours worth of labor to make a shirt (spinning, weaving, sewing), or $3,472.75 at $7.25/hour.

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History of the World in 1,000 Objects

History of the World in 1000 Objects opens up with a simple stone handax for cutting and digging made around 1.65-million years ago and ends, 999 artifacts later, with satellites and smart phones.

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Watch two women compare a century of beauty trends

YouTuber Cut Video mashed up two remarkable videos showing models cycling through 100 years of fashion trends, decade by decade.

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Rare photos from a 1965 Selma March participant's POV

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To celebrate the film Selma and its two Oscar nominations today, here's a rare collection of Selma March photos by participant James Barker. The Smithsonian has Barker's back story:

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Jo Walton's "The Just City"

Time-travelling godess Athena assembles on a volcanic island every man and woman in history who has ever prayed to her to live in Plato’s Republic, and sets in motion a social experiment that shows just how heartrending, exciting, and satisfying philosophical inquiry can be.

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Leif the Lucky – A gorgeously illustrated bio on Leif Erikson, the first European to set foot in America

Leif Erikson, the Viking explorer, is usually just briefly touched on in elementary school classrooms. But his rich story is a captivating one that any child – or adult – would enjoy. As a boy he moved from Iceland to icy Greenland, where his father established the continent’s first settlement. Eric grew up learning how to sail ships, throw spears, and catch sea animals for dinner. He played with baby polar bears and dreamed of adventures.

As a young adult Leif sailed to Norway and charmed the king with a Greenland falcon on his fist and a bear cub at his side. The king granted him permission to explore the west (Leif’s father had once seen a speck of something west of Greenland on an earlier exploration), and Leif became the first European to set foot in America (Canada) – 500 years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” it. Soon Leif’s relatives settled in this new land – for a while – until, well, I won’t give the whole story away, but let’s just say they were chased off the new land and forced to hightail it back to Greenland.

As soon as I laid my eyes on this book I was blown away by the stunning art: the bold popping colors on some pages, the beautifully shaded black and white images on others, and the saturated details and texture that all of the illustrations enjoy. And then I found out the book was first published in 1941 by Doubleday, created by the bohemian husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, who wrote 27 illustrated books in all (many of them tales about Scandinavian heroes and mythology). Leif the Lucky is one of three of their books to be reprinted by University of Minnesota Press, and I now need to get my hands on the other two (Children of the Northlights and Ola).

Leif the Lucky, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

See sample pages of Leif the Lucky at Wink.

Difficult questions posed to the NYPL reference desks before the net


In the New York Public Library's Instagram account, Information Architect Morgan Holzer is posting images of 3x5 cards pulled from a shoebox collecting 50 years' worth of weird questions that were posed to the system's reference desks, which were strange and notable enough to warrant addition to the collection.

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Donald Duck promoting birth control? Sex ed history

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Collector's Weekly presents Slut Shaming, Eugenics and Donald Duck: The Scandalous History of Sex-Ed Movies, exploring the strange, often awkward and puritanical history of education about birth control and disease prevention through the years.

At one point, the Comstock Law even blocked anatomy textbooks; the idea of students learning how their own sex organs function in books was apparently scandalous to Victorians. While social purity leaders urged parents to teach their children proper sexual morals, by the end of the 1800s they were looking to school as the next-best place to teach proper behavior. In 1892, the National Education Association teacher’s union, which was proposing a standard 12-year school curriculum, passed a resolution endorsing “moral education” in schools.

Whoa. Yet by the 1910s, there were already apparently a number of graphic films about venereal diseases -- and later on, films about how the "brassy", low-income girl from under the bleachers would probably be the vector by which "nice boys" spread it to their "nice" girlfriends.

And that's before we even get into "stranger danger" films:

Former child actor Sid Davis became the driving force behind “stranger danger” guidance films. “Sid Davis is very much his own phenomenon,” says Prelinger, who was friends with the director before his death. “He was a chancer himself. He had been a juvenile delinquent and a bit of a gambler, and he’d made fortunes and lost them. Before he died, he told me the story of how he was working as John Wayne’s stand-in on the set of ‘Red River,’ and he was talking with the Duke about a case of kidnapping and child molestation in L.A. And the Duke said, ‘Why don’t you make a film?’ and staked him money to make ‘The Dangerous Stranger’ (1950), which was the first film about abduction and sex crimes—the sex crimes being suggested, if not shown.
It's a long read, but an educational and amusing one.

The strange history of Disney's cyber-psychedelic "Computers Are People Too"

The cult favorite documentary was produced to promote Tron's release, featuring a trippy plot and the strangest computer graphics this side of SIGGRAPH -- and it quickly became a staple of the LA club scene as visual accompaniment for whatever was floating your boat that night.

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Stross's Merchant Princes books in omnibus editions


Charlie Stross's "Merchant Princes" series-- a sly, action-packed romp that blends heroic fantasy, military science fiction, economics, politics, and alternate worlds -- originally published as six mass-market paperbacks, is now available in three handy trade-paperbacks.

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Reminder: some US police departments reject high-IQ candidates


Even if you think that IQ tests are unscientific mumbo-jumbo, it's amazing to learn that some US police departments don't, and furthermore, that they defended their legal right to exclude potential officers because they tested too high.

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Interview with fantasy writer Tim Powers about being a "secret historian"

Mitch writes, "I interviewed fantasy novelist Tim Powers about how he writes. We talked about working through story problems, using YouTube as a secret weapon, why he avoids social media, and his obsessively detailed outlines and research notes. 'In order to build a building, you put up so much scaffolding that the scaffolding outweighs the building.'"

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The secret sidekicks of history

When we talk about George Washington, how many of us think about his dentist, John Greenwood, who crafted four sets of dentures during the first U.S. president’s career. Were it not for Greenwood, Washington may never have been elected as president sporting only one tooth in his mouth. And then there’s Amelia Earhart’s husband (after he proposed six times), publicist G.P. Putnam, who dedicated himself to Earhart’s career, using his connections, finances and skills as a publicist to help her rise to stardom.

In The Who the What and the When, 65 of celebritydom’s unsung sidekicks are celebrated with a one-page bio along with a striking image. What kind of artist would Andy Warhol have been without his influential mother, Julia Warhola? Would Charles Darwin have been credited as the father of evolution instead of his competitor, Alfred Russel, were it not for the public support of botanist and BFF Joseph Dalton Hooker? Would Lolita have survived the flames of fire without Vladimir Nabokov’s wife, Vera Nabokov? Following in the footsteps of The Where the Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, each 2-page entry is written by a different writer and illustrated by different artist, making this book a fun, pretty and eclectic collection of fascinating mini-bios.

See sample pages of The Who the What and the When at Wink.

Long-forgotten plans for a Haunted Mansion boat-ride


From the Long Forgotten blog, a characteristically excellent and thorough going-over of the aborted plan to build the Haunted Mansion as a boat ride-through, much like Pirates of the Caribbean (which may have cannibalized some of the aborted watery Mansion plans).

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Pretend cities to fool bombers through history


Starting with a fake Paris built to lure Kaiser Bill's incendiary bombs, through to the pretend industrial towns used in WWII England to divert 900 tonnes of munitions, to the pretend airbases built in the Pacific Northwest and through to the Viet Cong's pretend villages to disguise tunnel complexes.

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Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague

In Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, “Ray” recounts his brave, quixotic, tragicomic adventures as an experimental AIDS drug smuggler who funded his operation by selling weed out of his New York apartment, during the early years of the “gay plague.” It’s a strangely fitting subject for a graphic novel, and Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli graphic novel make it work as a history book that’ll make you laugh and cry. Cory Doctorow reviews.

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Kickstarting a coloring book of bygone Hollywood stars


Chloe from Portland's Reading Frenzy bookstore writes, "Portland based, self-taught artist, Alicia Justus, is Kickstarting her first coloring book in collaboration with Show & Tell Press (publisher of Crap Hound)."

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How the Enigma code-machines worked


With the release of the Alan Turing biopic "The Imitation Game," interest in the Enigma cipher used by the Axis powers and broken by Turing and the exiled Polish mathematicians at Bletchley Park has been revived.

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When the FBI told MLK to kill himself (who are they targeting now?)


We've known for years that the FBI spied on Martin Luther King's personal life and sent him an anonymous letter in 1964 threatening to out him for his sexual indiscretions unless he killed himself in 34 days. Now we have an unredacted version of the notorious letter.

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Buster Keaton narrowly avoids certain death


As Millionmovieproject puts it: "Crew members threatened to quit and begged him not to do it, the cameraman looked away while rolling. A six ton prop, it brushes his arm as it comes down, and he doesn't even flinch."

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UK cultural institutions leave their WWI cases empty to protest insane copyright


They want the term of copyright changed to life plus 70 years, instead of 2039 for unpublished works of uncertain date, a standard that makes it impossible to reproduce or display things like letters home from the front.

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Recreations of pornographic Middle Ages badges [NSFTT]

"Whether these badges were worn to celebrate the misrule of carnival days, attract good sexual luck, or merely amuse and titillate their owners, they show us a whole new side of medieval culture."

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How Dali and Halsman made "In Voluptas Mors"


One of the most iconic images of Salvador Dali's career was the photo of a skull composed from the artfully arranged bodies of nude models.

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UK psyops created N. Irish Satanic Panic during the Troubles

During the 1970s, when Northern Ireland was gripped by near-civil-war, British military intelligence staged the evidence of "black masses" in order to create a Satanism panic among the "superstitious" Irish to discredit the paramilitaries.

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How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson blends the history of science with keen social observation to tell the story of how our modern world came about—and where it’s headed. Cory Doctorow reviews How We Got to Now, also a six-part PBS/BBC series, which ties together a lifetime of work

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Great ideas that changed the world, and the people they rode in on

To inaugurate the publication of his brilliant new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (also a PBS/BBC TV series), Steven Johnson has written about the difficult balance between reporting on the history of world-changing ideas and the inventors credited with their creation

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Steven Johnson: the flashbulb and urban poverty

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Over at Medium, Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, writes about how the 19th century invention of flash photography shined a light on poverty.

"Flash Forward: How We Got To Know"