Rats' nests are rich with unrecorded history and urgent scientific data

Pack rats, aka woodrats, build their nests, called middens, from plant debris, rocks, animal parts, paper, and almost any other bits of detritus nearby. Frequently, they urinate on their middens. The urine crystalizes and encases the nest material, preserving it for as long as 50,000 years by some estimates. For paleobotanists, middens are a great source of information about how flora has changed over time. Zoologists study the animal remains and poop. And climatologists analyze the material for insight into past climates, even the most recent ice age that ended more than 11,000 years ago. In Smithsonian, Sadie Witkowski digs into the topic, including a story about what historians learned excavating rats' nests in the walls of the 1808 Charleston, South Carolina home of slave trader Nathaniel Russel:

Among the mass of organic matter, they found sewing pins, buttons, marbles, part of a uniform waistcoat, and even fragments of printed paper that could be dated to November 1833. The paper was darkened and curled but still legible once it was gently opened.

“It was protected from rain and moisture, and even though it’s sooty, it didn’t burn,” (University of Delaware art conservator Susan) Buck says. “So we just have all these fragile materials that normally wouldn’t survive.” Among the material, the team recovered scraps of an early writing primer, suggesting some of the enslaved workers living in the kitchen house has been learning to read and write.

To move beyond the written record, historians and conservators have looked for new clues in unlikely places.

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alt.interoperability.adversarial

Today, we are told that the bigness of Big Tech giants was inevitable: the result of "network effects." For example, once everyone you want to talk to is on Facebook, you can't be convinced to use another, superior service, because all the people you'd use that service to talk to are still on Facebook. And of course, those people also can't leave Facebook, because you're still there. Read the rest

Beautiful footage of Parisian life from more than 100 years ago

A clip from director Hugues Nancy's "Paris 1900, the City of Lights," featuring restored and colorized film footage from the fin de siècle. From C21Media:

Thanks to incredible archives restored and fully colorized, this film presents a previously unseen journey through time and space. Discover, Paris in 1900 at the time of the Exposition Universelle and the very beginning of modern art and cinema. The City of Lights became a showcase city, displaying the latest technical and scientific inventions, and also boasting avant-garde art galleries, lively cabarets, the ultimate in high fashion, and… the Parisiennes. The myth of “La Belle Epoque” reigned supreme.

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Jeannette Ng was right: John W Campbell was a fascist

My latest Locus Magazine column is Jeannette Ng Was Right: John W. Campbell Was a Fascist, which revisits Jeannette Ng's Campbell Awards speech from this summer's World Science Fiction convention. Read the rest

The mystery of brass Roman dodecahedrons

Brass dodecahedrons keep turning up in the European soil. They're of Roman antiquity, but no-one knows for sure what they were for. Thankfully, "mundane ornamentation or maybe a childrens' toy" is not what anyone wants to hear. Mental Floss:

Historians have found no written documentation of the dodecahedrons in any historical sources. That void has encouraged dozens of competing, and sometimes colorful, theories about their purpose, from military banner ornaments to candleholders to props used in magic spells. ... Amelia Sparavigna, a physicist at Italy’s Politecnico di Torino, thinks the dodecahedrons were used by the Roman military as a type of rangefinder. In research published on the online repository arXiv in 2012, Sparavigna argued that they could have been used to calculate the distance to an object of known size (such as a military banner or an artillery weapon) by looking through pairs of the dodecahedrons' differently sized holes, until the object and the edges of the two circles in the dodecahedron aligned. Theoretically, only one set of holes for a given distance would line up, according to Sparavigna.

Or, perhaps, an astronomic measuring instrument for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain. [romandodecahedron.com]

My favorite explanation: a glove-knitting gadget.

Photo: Lokilech (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

Belgian synthesizer master Mario Mathy in action

Mario Mathy still lives, but even when he is gone, the jumping dance will live forever. Mathy was recently Keyboard Mag's featured artist.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CRAZY VIDEO WITH KEYBOARDS AND HORSES: The video clip for "Jumping Dance" was actually a joke between my wife and my record company. Of course I also realize that my videos were exaggerated, but that was the only way to stand out in Belgium. My wife who is 23 years younger than me put that clip on YouTube together with my record company. And of course, it became quite popular after 32 years! It featured only Casio instruments like the CZ-3000 and 5000 and the CZ-1, because I was Casio demonstrator.

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The 2019 Halloween Candy Hierarchy

A HISTORY

It began, as all things do, with a geology joke. We ranked candy based on their location in various geological strata, both real and imagined. The strata, not the ranking. In 2006, we compiled years of lived experience into a hierarchy of candy preference for Halloween. Not all candy. Not all times. But for trick or treating purposes. 

Let’s talk candy rankings, then, which have become a kind of cottage industry in the last decade’s social-media age of the internet. In fact, candy rankings and arguments over their perceived accuracy might be the perfect distillation of what a certain kind of internet is good for. It lets people argue over opinion; its conclusions thus have to be constantly modified and adjusted; also there are no conclusions, of course, because it is a fickle game of idle speculation; it’s low stakes fun; and reasonable people can disagree with unreasonable arguments. These are great things for hashing out the enjoyment of various shapes of sugar. Good on you, social media. They are not necessarily great things that go beyond idle speculation, for actual democratic society, for governance or policy or the protection of human dignity. 

Candy, though. And Halloween. There will be rankings (immediately below), then deliberations on history (further below) and a beautiful chart (furthest below). There is a hierarchy. We are making our priority claim.

 

The Candy Hierarchy (2019)

Any full-sized candy barReese’s Peanut Butter CupsKit KatTwixSnickersCash, or other forms of legal tenderPeanut M&M’sRegular M&MsNestle CrunchTolberone something or otherMilky WayLindt TruffleRolosThree MusketeersHershey's Dark ChocolateYork Peppermint Patties100 Grand BarSkittlesStarburstHershey’s Milk ChocolateHeath BarJunior MintsCaramellosNerdsMilk DudsHershey's KissesJolly Ranchers (good flavor)Cadbury Creme EggsSwedish FishGummy Bears straight upSmarties (American)LemonHeadsGlow sticksMint JulepsVicodinPixy StixLicorice (not black)LaffyTaffyLollipopsMint KissesMinibags of chipsBottle CapsSmarties (Commonwealth)

Candy Corn

Now'n'LatersDotsKinder Happy HippoGoo Goo ClustersFuzzy PeachesHard CandyGood N' PlentyLicorice (yes black)Reggie Jackson BarChicletsTrail MixHugs (actual physical hugs)Bonkers (the candy)MaynardsSweetums (a friend to diabetes)Healthy FruitBlack JacksPencilsThose odd marshmallow circus peanut thingsJolly Rancher (bad flavor)Spotted DickGeneric Brand AcetaminophenBox'o'RaisinsWhole Wheat anythingAnonymous brown globs that come in black & orange wrappers (Mary Janes)Creepy Religious comics/Chick TractsKale smoothieWhite BreadDental paraphenaliaGum from baseball cardsCandy that is clearly just the stuff given out for free at restaurantsBroken glow stick

 

We revised the original hierarchy each year between 2006 and 2009 to include feedback from readers and onlookers back at our blog The World’s Fair. Read the rest

What the London Underground used to be like

From the Kino Library comes this set of film clips shot on the London Underground in the 1960s and 1970s.

View at end of tube platform looking up at crowded platform and tube train, Victoria, pulling in. Men and women passengers board train, pushing on. POV from front of train through tunnel and past passengers waiting on platform as it comes to a halt. Shot on board tube carriage, sun streams through windows as it rides through London suburbs. Men in bowler hats reading newspapers. One woman in 1960s outfit sits in FG. Commuters. Passengers bounce around as train moves. Scene gets darker as train goes through tunnel. INT dark tube carriage. Men and women sit reading, quiet. INT tube station great shot at base of escalator, people coming down. Lots of miniskirts. Late 1960s fashions. 1960s passengers out of tube and up stairs, poster just seen ‘Heals Sale Now On’. People walking up stairs. People coming down escalator.

I lived in London in the late 1970s, when it was as depicted here but more run down, and the late 1990s, when it was all being renovated into a clean new sci-fi set. Different worlds! (Except for the Northern Line, which for some reason was not being upgraded and I guess is still exactly like this video.) Read the rest

The wonderful You Must Remember This podcast returns to tell the secret history of Disney's most racist movie, Song of the South

Song of the South is one of the most obscure and most popular of all the Disney movies: despite the fact that Disney has not made it available for a generation, the movie is the basis for the "Splash Mountain" flume rides at the Disney parks, and the movie's theme, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" remains a familiar anthem. Read the rest

Vintage Asteroids costume is surprisingly terrifying

Costumes in the early 80's were little more than decorated plastic bags. And before Disney's IP came to dominate Halloween shops, costume makers had to come up with creative ways to let kids embody concepts like an Asteroid or Rubik's Cube. The resulting costumes may have lacked padded muscles, but made up for it with surprisingly disturbing masks:

Someone made the call that it was worth spending resources to make a costume based on the cyclops from Krull:

You can find more costumes from the 70's and 80's here and here.

(Via Attract Mode.) Read the rest

2,500 MS-DOS games enter the Internet Archive

A huge trove of ancient MS-DOS games are now available at the Internet Archive, with in-browser DOSbox emulation and metadata. Read the rest

"Halloween in a Box" tells the story of plastic costumes of yore

My mom always sewed my Halloween costumes when I was a kid, so I never got to wear one of the many licensed ones featured in the recently released documentary, "Halloween in a Box." I'm not really complaining but the plastic-masked ones you'd find at Woolworth did have a real charm to them. In any event, this film follows the history of these costumes and how its manufacturers had to work together to keep trick-or-treating alive after the Tylenol poisonings of the early eighties. Read the rest

A Tangled Weave: when Louis XIV made owning calico cotton a crime

[Michael Skeet – my longtime friend and sometime collaborator -- has just finished his latest novel, A Tangled Weave, which revolves around the weird historical moment when possession of cotton was a serious crime in France. In this essay, occasioned by the publication of A Tangled Weave, Mike gives us some backstory on the odd circumstances that gave rise to a prohibition on Indian cotton, and how they inspired a novel. You can read a sample chapter here. -Cory]

Prohibition just never works. If the U.S. Congress had been a bit more historically literate when contemplating the Volstead Act they wouldn’t even have tried. There was a seventeenth-century example that would have demonstrated the foolishness of trying to ban something people want. Whether the reason for the ban is moral, economic, or whatever. Read the rest

Subtle problem with bayonet design

The bayonet on the MAS-36 rifle seems a straightforward, no-nonsense design. But there's a problem with it: bored soldiers. Read the rest

Tolkien’s Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is probably a misogynist satire of women's rights campaigner Victoria Sackville-West

Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is a Lord of the Rings Hobbit, one of the few, rare female characters in that series, and she's a nasty piece of work: a bitter enemy of Frodo and Bilbo, she is mostly depicted trying to either steal their stuff or buy it at deep discounts from them: she ends her days first imprisoned and starved, and then dead shortly after she's sprung. Read the rest

The Folio Society is releasing a gorgeous edition of Octavia Butler's "Kindred"

Octavia Butler (previously), the brilliant Afrofuturist, McArthur Genius Grant-winning science fiction writer, died far, far too soon, leaving behind a corpus of incredible, voraciously readable novels, and a community of writers who were inspired by her example. Read the rest

New timeline of dino extinction day, 66m years ago

Scientists drilled into the Chixclub crater in the Gulf of Mexico to learn more about the end of the mesozoic era. They learned more than they expected, reports Katherine Kornei in The New York Times.

The first day of the Cenozoic was peppered with cataclysms. When the asteroid struck, it temporarily carved a hole 60 miles across and 20 miles deep. The impact triggered a tsunami moving away from the crater. It also catapulted rock into the upper atmosphere and beyond.

“Almost certainly some of the material would have reached the Moon,” Dr. Gulick said.

The largest pieces of debris rained back down to Earth within minutes, Dr. Gulick and his team say, pelting the scarred landscape with solidifying rock. Smaller particles lingered for longer periods, and glassy blobs known as tektites, formed when falling, molten rock cools, have been found across North America and dated to the Chicxulub impact. Within about 30 minutes, ocean water began to flood back into the crater through a gap in its northeastern rim, the researchers suggest.

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