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Digitized items from the Carl Sagan archive go live on the Library of Congress site


The Library of Congress has acquired The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive, and has begun to catalog and digitize the materials in it, posting them to the library's website. The scanned materials include Sagan's personal papers, and are divided into three categories: models of the cosmos throughout history; history of the possibility of life on other worlds; Carl Sagan's life and contributions to science and society."

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A midnight army at the dawn of the web

Leigh Alexander recalls her adventures working with porn spambots in the 1990s, and the strange mixture of nostalgia and disappointment that remains.

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Detailed timeline of the Bletchley Park mess

Gareth Halfacree, who has a long history with both the Bletchley Park trust and the National Museum of Computing Trust, has published a detailed timeline of the two institutions, showing how they got into the current (and disgraceful) situation. Halfacree's article includes some very sensible recommendations to both trusts. Cory 1

Pete Seeger, aged 2, with family (1921)


Here's a photo of Pete Seeger, aged 2, with his family in 1921. It comes from a National Photo Co. Collection glass negative. Seeger, who was persecuted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee died yesterday. He was 94.

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More Victorian portraits of "London types"


Spitalfields Life has posted more Victorian portraits of London characters and tradesmen a (here's the last batch). The new set has some absolute gems, including the Muffin Man (above). Also not to be missed (below): "itinerant," "lounge lizard," and "portcullis raiser at the bloody tower."

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Truth to power: Pete Seeger vs HUAC


In honor of Pete Seeger's passing today, please take a moment to read his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which is a cross between a witch-hunt and a Marx Brothers' routine. It is inspired and inspiring. Goodbye, Mr Seeger.

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UK National Museum of Computing trustees publish damning letter about treatment by Bletchley Park trust


Here's some further detail on yesterday's disturbing news about the Bletchley Park trust's management of the museum -- firing volunteers with decades of service with no notice, evicting collections, and doing everything it can to separate the Bletchley Park exhibits from the National Museum of Computing, which is on the Bletchley site and pays a substantial rent to the trust.

Now the trustees of the National Museum of Computing -- which contains a replica of the Colossus II and the Tunny, early computers that played a key role in Bletchley's wartime history -- have written an open letter detailing their grievances against the Bletchley Trust, which appears to be doing everything it can to marginalise and exclude the National Museum and its exhibits.

I'm a donor to Bletchley and the NMOC, and was a member of the Bletchley Friends until recently. The National Museum of Computing is an important facility that complements Bletchley's own exhibits, and without which, Bletchley is much poorer. The Bletchley Trust's repudiation of the people and institutions that kept the site open and operational, saving it from ruin, is a disgrace. Even worse, of course, was the business of surrendering editorial control of its exhibits to corporate sponsors, but there's something especially contemptible about gratuitous cruelty that goes beyond a mere breach of intellectual integrity.

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Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun!


Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.

The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were.

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Eyes on the Prize, famed civil rights documentary series, is back on DVD and Youtube

Eyes on the Prize is a famed documentary series on the civil rights movement that all but disappeared because of trouble clearing the copyrights to clips of leaders like Martin Luther King for the reissue. Nearly ten years ago, a civil disobedience campaign brought attention to society's loss as a result of this series no longer being available for home and classroom use, and the resulting furore brought the intransigent rightsholders back to the bargaining table, and this indispensable video back from the dead -- you can even buy it on DVD now.

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Mercury Waltz, a sequel to Kathe Koja's Under the Poppy

It's been nearly four years since Kathe Koja's amazing novel "Under the Poppy" was published, plunging readers into a dark world of eros, war, and puppetry (seriously). Koja is a chameleon of a writer, whose career began with grotesque, lascivious, splatterpunk horror novels like The Cipher, then transitioned into spare, quietly brilliant YA novels like Buddha Boy, and then emerged in the entirely indescribable territory of Under the Poppy, to which she has now returned with a new novel called The Mercury Waltz.

Koja stopped in at John Scalzi's blog Whatever for an online interview about the book:

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Portraits of London's 19th century poor


Thomas Lord Busby's 1820 volume Costume Of The Lower Orders was part of a genre of books that featured colourful paintings depicting working people in the streets of London, generally viewed through the lens of an aristocratic voyeur. They're a kind of visual companion to Mayhew's classic London Labour and the London Poor (though this latter dates 20 years after Busby's book).

Another important volume is Thomas Rowlandson's Characteristic Series of the Lower Orders, which Spitalfields Life has excerpted in two posts (1, 2).

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Why was marijuana outlawed to begin with?

"This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others." — Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (an early predecessor of the DEA). Maggie 55

What blogging meant


David Weinberger has published a short personal memoir of what blogging meant to him in the early years, and how it contrasted with the media of the day. And he documents the moment at which he started to feel like blogging might not be all that he'd hoped, and where it's ended up now. I've been blogging for 14 years now, and reading David's piece prompted me to reflect as well, and I find myself agreeing with his account of things.

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Freedom Maze: brave, uncomfortable YA time-travel novel about race


The paperback edition of Delia Sherman's The Freedom Maze is out today. It's a subtle, nuanced, uncomfortable and brave young adult novel about racism and time-travel. I reviewed the hardcover in 2011 (I've reproduced the review below), and since then, the book's gone on to win a slew of awards and recognition: the Norton award, the Prometheus award, the Mythopeoic award, the Tiptree honors list, the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, and the Kirkus best of 2011 list.

I can't recommend it highly enough. Here's my original review:

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The oldest known decimal multiplication table would not have been terribly convenient to carry around

It's made of 21 half-meter-long strips of bamboo that were preserved for 2500 years in a tomb. Maggie 8