Videos from the University of Chicago "Censorship and Information Control" seminar

This year, I helped University of Chicago science fiction writer and renaissance scholar Ada Palmer and science historian Adrian Johns host a series of interdisciplinary seminars on "Censorship, Information Control, & Revolutions in Information Technology from the Printing Press to the Internet."

Read the rest

Archaeologist dug up a 500-year-old skeleton wearing boots

Archaeologists at an excavation site for London's Thames Tideway Tunnel (the "super sewer") dug up a 500-year-old skeleton who died with his boots on. Based on the location of the find, the boots, and other signs, the fellow may have been a fisherman or sailor. From National Geographic:

"It’s extremely rare to find any boots from the late 15th century, let alone a skeleton still wearing them," says Beth Richardson of the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). "And these are very unusual boots for the period—thigh boots, with the tops turned down. They would have been expensive, and how this man came to own them is a mystery. Were they secondhand? Did he steal them? We don't know."..

The position of the body—face down, right arm over the head, left arm bent back on itself—suggests that the man wasn’t deliberately buried. It’s also unlikely that he would have been laid to rest in leather boots, which were expensive and highly prized.

In light of those clues, archaeologists believe the man died accidentally and his body was never recovered, although the cause of death is unclear. Perhaps he fell into the river and couldn't swim. Or possibly he became trapped in the tidal mud and drowned...

Read the rest

What if Doggerland had survived?

Countries surrounding the North Sea imposed an outsize impact on world affairs. But the sea itself was once land, and might have stayed that way had world temperatures been a degree or two different. Lee Rimmer wonders: What if Doggerland had survived?

The cultural impact of changing the movement of tribal groupings within northwestern Europe would be immediately evident in terms of language. ...The languages spoken in modern Doggerland and its neighbouring states may sound vaguely familiar to us, but we wouldn’t understand them. ...Doggerland’s more sheltered, lower-lying peninsula may have been a more agreeable farming region than the windswept highlands of the British Isles, leaving them with a much lower population distribution. Stonehenge, or something like it, may have been built on the plains of Doggerland rather than Salisbury Plain.

Wild, impossible counterfactuals. My favored parallel-world Doggerland is one that remained as a small island (even now its uplands lie barely feet under the waves). A strange spooky pinewood backwater where the signs are in three languages and the kids speak them all, and where the rain washes the blood leaching from the deep earth.

The (real) Dogger is to serve as the foundations of a vast offshore wind farm, which will provide 4.8GW of sustainable power. Read the rest

World War II Enigma cipher machine up for auction

A rare, fully-operational Enigma cipher machine from World War II will go up for auction at Sothebys tomorrow as part of an amazing History of Science & Technology auction (also including Richard Feynman's Nobel Prize). The Enigma is expected to go for around $200,000.

From a 1999 article I wrote for Wired:

German soldiers issued an Enigma were to make no mistake about their orders if captured: Shoot it or throw it overboard. Based on electronic typewriters invented in the 1920s, the infamous Enigma encryption machines of World War II were controlled by wheels set with the code du jour. Each letter typed would illuminate the appropriate character to send in the coded message.

In 1940, building on work by Polish code breakers, Alan Turing and his colleagues at the famed UK cryptography center Bletchley Park devised the Bombe, a mechanical computer that deciphered Enigma-encoded messages. Even as the Nazis beefed up the Enigma architecture by adding more wheels, the codes could be cracked at the Naval Security Station in Washington, DC - giving the Allies the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic. The fact that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code was not officially confirmed until the 1970s.

Read the rest

The secret history of science fiction's women writers: The Future is Female!

Eminent science fiction scholar Lisa Yaszek (Georgia Tech Professor of Science Fiction in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication) has edited "The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin," a forthcoming anthology of science fiction (and scientifiction!) by woman writers from the 1920s published last month by Library of America. Read the rest

Video: What fascism is...and isn't

Fascism is a word we've been hearing a lot of over these past few years, but are the mouths it's falling out of using it correctly? Some times, yeah. Many times, not so much.

This brief video delves into the history of the word "fascism" and explains that, while we're collectively barreling towards a particular flavor of this unsavory state of being, there's plenty of ways, with left and right-wing leanings, to be a fascist. Read the rest

An illustrated tour of Unix history

Unix pioneer Rob Pike was there from the start, physically transporting key elements of the "Toronto distribution" of Unix to Berkeley when he started grad school, and then to Bell Labs, working alongside Dennis Ritchie and other key Unix programmers to develop and refine everything from modern editors to compilers to windowing systems. Read the rest

Gorgeous, illustrated Japanese fireworks catalogs from the early 1900s

The Yokohama Board of Education has posted scans of six fantastic catalogs from Hirayama Fireworks and Yokoi Fireworks, dating from the early 1900s. The illustrated catalogs are superb, with minimal words: just beautiful colored drawings depicting the burst-pattern from each rocket. Read the rest

Bram Stoker's reference materials for Dracula discovered at the London Library

Bram Stoker's working notes for Dracula were discovered in 1913 (but not published until 2008); now researchers at the London Library have pulled the titles Stoker referenced and shown that these were the very books that Stoker used -- they can tell because he defaced the library books, circling the phrases he later made notes on. Read the rest

Old dentists' office walls are full of thousands of "buried teeth"

For at least the third time, construction workers in Georgia have opened up the walls of a former dentist's office only to discover thousands of teeth in the wall cavity. Read the rest

Man arrested while attempting to destroy the Magna Carta

The Salisbury Journal's Rebecca Hudson reports that a 45-year-old man was arrested today after "smashing the case of the Magna Carta with a hammer and trying to destroy it."

A spokesman for Salisbury Cathedral said: "We can confirm that at the end of the afternoon yesterday, a man attempted to break into the case which houses Magna Carta in the Cathedral’s Chapter House. He was arrested by police shortly afterwards and taken into custody. We are very relieved that no one was hurt during the incident and that the Magna Carta itself is undamaged."

Magna Carta 1215 is the best surviving copy of one of Britain's most influential legal documents, and is on permanent display at Salisbury Cathedral. It is regarded by historians as the foundation of constitutional liberty in the English-speaking world.

Raging at limits on a monarch's absolute authority over other agents of the feudal state? Now that's dark enlightenment. The Forest Charter was the good one anyway, as far as the rest of us are concerned.

Photo: Wiltshire Police. Read the rest

Last chance to back the Kickstarter for our interdisciplinary seminar series on censorship today and in the Renaissance

I have been collaborating with science fiction writer, singer, librettist and Renaissance scholar Ada Palmer and science historian and piracy expert Adrian Johns to put on a seminar series at the University of Chicago called Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions: every Friday, we gather a panel of interdisciplinary scholars to talk about parallels between censorship regimes during the Renaissance and the dawn of the printing press and the censorship systems that have arisen since in response to other new forms of information technology. Read the rest

An extinct dog breed once labored in our kitchens, running on spit-turning wheels

The Vernepator Cur was once a ubiquitous dog breed in the UK and the American colonies, and it had a job: for six days a week, it ran tirelessly in a wheel in the kitchen that was geared to turn a meat-spit over the fire (on Sundays it went to church with its owners and served as their foot-warmer). Read the rest

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, RIP

Paul Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, philanthropist, science fiction fan, and founder of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Experience Museum Project), has died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.

"From technology to science to music to art, I’m inspired by those who’ve blurred the boundaries, who’ve looked at the possibilities, and said, “What if...? In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way." -- Paul Allen

Allen's professional timeline is quite something:

1953: Paul Allen is born January 21, 1953 in Seattle, Washington 1968: While at Lakeside School, Paul meets Bill Gates. A friendship that would later produce one of the world’s most innovative companies, Microsoft. 1969: Attends first rock concert, where he sees Jimi Hendrix at Seattle Center Coliseum 1975: Founds Microsoft  1982: In September, Paul is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nearly eight months later, doctors said he had beaten the disease. 1983: Officially resigns from Microsoft in March 1986: Founds Vulcan Inc. in Seattle as an investment and project management firm with his sister, Jody Allen 1988: Establishes The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation 1988: Purchases the Portland Trail Blazers 1988: Rescues Seattle Cinerama from demolition by purchasing and restoring the theater 1990: The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation makes its first grant. 1990: Becomes a billionaire at age 37 1995: Makes his single biggest investment to date by purchasing a 18.5% stake in Dreamworks 1996: Purchases the St. Read the rest

Color footage of Berlin weeks after the end of World War II

Stalin's pose and expression in the propaganda poster makes it look like he's just noticed there's a goose coming toward him and it's dawning on him that he has no idea how to deal with geese. Read the rest

Legendary cultural icon John Law to speak on 'How Everything Started in San Francisco'

This looks great. For the San Francisco History Association, John Law is giving a presentation on "How Everything Started in San Francisco (While We All Thought We Were Just Fooling Around)" at Congregation Sherith Israel on Tuesday, October 30.

Here are the details:

John Law will discuss how the Free University movement and other pivotal former scenes, including the hippies, Beats, Situationists, Dada, adventure and pulp fiction, B-films, and a ton of other stuff prominently influenced San Francisco (and national) scenes. He will also examine related influences on the rise of Silicon Valley and its connection to the SF underground “art” scene.

John Law has been involved in the S.F. underground art and pranks scene since 1977. He co-founded the Billboard Liberation Front and the Burning Man Festival, and has crewed for Survival Research Labs and S.F. Cyclecide. He was an original member of the infamous San Francisco Suicide Club, and helped to establish the Cacophony Society. He is the coauthor of Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society (out in paperback from Last Gasp in 2019), the definitive history of the group that birthed Burning Man and SantaCon (sorry 'bout that one!) and influenced underground culture worldwide. He is owner and steward of the Doggie Diner Dog Heads, the ten-foot-tall, six hundred pounds (each) fiberglass symbols of an iconic post-computer-age San Francisco. He lives in North Beach and has an office atop the signature Oakland Tribune Tower.

Doors open at 7 p.m. with refreshments and a historical book sale; presentation begins at 7:30 p.m.

Read the rest

Tomorrow: come to our University of Chicago seminar on Renaissance censorship and internet censorship

Ada Palmer is a University of Chicago Renaissance historian (and so much more: librettist, science fiction novelist, and all-round polymath); she has convened a series of seminars at the University in collaboration with science and piracy historian Adrian Johns, and me! Read the rest

More posts