The latest of The Oatmeal makes a pretty compelling case for hating Christopher Columbus, whose achievements ("discovering" America, sailing from Europe to America, proving the curvature of the Earth) are all BS. More importantly, though, is what Columbus did do: launched a campaign of genocide in order to terrorize indigenous people gold-mining slavery, a program buoyed up by mass slaughter, mutilations, and systematic sexual slavery of girls as young as nine or ten.
Matthew Inman, the Oatmeal's author, proposes celebrating the life of Barolome de las Casas, who also set out to slave and murder his way through the New World, but changed his mind, took the cloth, and spent 50 years defending indigenous people. That's a nice idea, but if we're going to celebrate the struggle of indigenous people against genocide and slavery, maybe the right people to celebrate are the indigenous heroes and victims of Europeans, not Europeans who thought better of the unconscionable, no matter how thoroughly they repented.
Inman cites Howard Zinn's excellent People's History of the United States as a primary reference for the piece, and I concur: Zinn's work and those derived from it (like the graphic novel and the audio of dramatic readings) are important and fantastic works.
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The front lines shift, not evenly or chaotically, but in punctuated surges: first one way, then the other. [via Kottke]
The Vander-Ende Onderdonk House, on the border between Brooklyn and Queens, is the oldest surviving Dutch Colonial house in NYC. It is not just a museum. Real people live in it
, too, navigating low ceilings, strange angles, and a creepy cellar full of almost four centuries of artifacts. — Maggie
English — along with a whole host of languages spoken in Europe, India, and the Middle East — can be traced back to an ancient language that scholars call Proto Indo-European. Now, for all intents and purposes, Proto Indo-European is an imaginary language. Sort of. It's not like Klingon or anything. It is reasonable to believe it once existed. But nobody every wrote it down so we don't know exactly what "it" really was. Instead, what we know is that there are hundreds of languages that share similarities in syntax and vocabulary, suggesting that they all evolved from a common ancestor.
Of course, that very quickly leads to attempts to reconstruct what said ancestral language might have sounded like. In the track above, you can listen to University of Kentucky linguist Andrew Byrd recite a fable in reconstructed Proto Indo-European. Archaeology magazine helpfully provides a translation:
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NOVA's Tim De Chant posted this awesome photo of the Kilby Solid Circuit, the first working example of a miniaturized electric circuit that combined all the necessary structures onto a single chip. Back in 2000, when he won the Nobel Prize for this achievement, inventor Jack Kilby gave a really nice talk about the history of electronics and the context that lead to his creation. It's definitely worth a read.
The Skinner Box, as applied to human infants, was not what you think it was. Psychologist B.F. Skinner did not raise his daughter inside a box without human contact. Nor did she later grow up to be crazy and commit suicide because of said lack of contact. In fact, just a few years ago, Deborah Skinner Buzan wrote a column for The Guardian debunking those powerful urban legends herself.
Instead, what Skinner did was build his daughter the sort of crib that you might expect a scientist raised in the era of mid-20th-century Popular Science-style scientific futurism and convenience to build. He called it the "Air-Crib" and it was designed to maintain a perfectly comfortable temperature, provide baby Deborah with built-in toys to keep her entertained, be simple to clean, and make it easier to stick to the "cry it out" and heavily regimented feeding/sleeping schedules that were, at the time, standard parenting advice.
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The Manhattan Project was a secret, but it wasn't as secret a secret as you've been lead to believe, writes Rebecca Rosen at The Atlantic. Not only was the construction of an atomic weapon a topic of Washington gossip, but the entire "secret city in the desert" thing got blown open in 1944 when a columnist for a Midwestern newspaper ran across Los Alamos while on vacation. In light of our current debates about state secrets and security, it's probably less interesting that columnist Jack Raper found
Los Alamos, and more interesting that he, and his paper, chose to buck the self-enforced system of silence that characterized World War II media
. — Maggie
If a Saturn V rocket had ever exploded on the launchpad, it would have been a catastrophic event. NASA engineers once calculated that the resulting fireball would have been 1048 feet wide and would have hit temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. In the hopes of not losing astronauts or launch crew to the inferno, NASA tricked out the Apollo launchpad with some safety systems that still exist today, including an underground, rubber-lined bunker that was accessible from the launch platform via a 200-foot twisty slide. (Which almost sounds like fun, until you consider the context.)
Amy Shira Teitel is one of the few people who have been inside the rubber room recently. In the video above, and she shares photos and stories about it in the video above, at her blog, and on Discovery.com.
Surprisingly, there are a good half-dozen medical eponyms that come from Nazi doctors who performed experiments on unwilling human subjects or used bodies of executed prisoners in their work — often in the course of discovering the very things that now bear their names. Clara cells, for instance, are a type of cell that lines small airways in your lungs. They're named for Max Clara, who discovered them by dissecting executed political prisoners
. — Maggie
Popular Science has a great (and occasionally horrifying) slideshow of gadgets it once suggested were essential for enlightened, tech-minded parents. A lot of the inventions merely look way sketchy. For instance, the infant-sized "sleeping porch" that is actually a screened box bolted into an apartment window frame is probably mounted well enough that it's not going to kill anybody. It's just that, from the vantage point of a 100 years later, it seems a little disturbing to stick your baby into something that looks like a large AC window unit.
Other suggestions, though, are legitimately concerning. Above, you can see an image of a nurse "branding" a newborn by essentially sunburning its parent's initials onto its flesh with a UV lamp. In 1938, somebody thought this would be a good way to ensure that nobody left the hospital with the wrong baby.
Islandersa1 has scanned Welcome to Fear City, an amazing, never-distributed 1970s flier aimed at scaring the pants off of tourists in NYC, produced by the police union, who were looking for more funding. (via Super Punch)
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This brilliant mushroom cloud Jesus ad was the work of the Psychiana movement of Moscow, Idaho, led by Dr. Frank B. Robinson, who was quite a chap.
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Nate DiMeo is a master storyteller whose wonderful podcast The Memory Palace reveals hidden, forgotten, and surprising bits of history through short narratives. At Boing Boing: Ingenuity, our live theatrical event on August 18, Nate presented the Memory Palace on stage for the first time, complete with sound effects that he manually triggered. Nate shared three stories, taking the audience on a captivating journey from the construction of the first Ferris Wheel in 1893, to a time when massive lobsters beckoned to us from the seashore, and closed with the tragic tale of why painter S.F.B. Morse invented the telegraph. I hope you enjoy this video of the experience.
Boing Boing: Ingenuity in partnership with Ford C-Max.
A reader writes, "The early history of role-playing games seems like a constant battle between the creators of Dungeons & Dragons and its fans. Sometimes, like with critical hits, the fans wanted the game to be one way, but Gary Gygax and the folks at TSR just wouldn't have it. The case of critical hits shows that the fans have the real power, and that even if it takes decades, eventually D&D will implement critical hits, damn it."
The history of critical hits was written by Jon Peterson, author of the fantastic-looking Playing at the World, a history of wargames and RPGs. Looks like an excellent companion to David Ewalt's Of Dice and Men.
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Wait But Why has a fantastic series of graphs that aim to help us wrap our heads around the enormous timescales on which forces like history, biology, geography and astronomy operate. By carefully building up graphs that show the relationship between longer and longer timescales, the series provides a moment's worth of emotional understanding of the otherwise incomprehensible.
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