Forced prison labor put downward pressure on wages at American companies, worsening inequality

In Economic Consequences of the U.S. Convict Labor System, UCLA economist Michael Poyker uses data on prisons and their surrounding areas from 1850 to 1950 to examine the role that free/extremely low-waged forced convict labor had on wages. Read the rest

The Secret History of Mac Gaming

Richard Moss's been working on The Secret History of Mac Gaming [Amazon] for years, and now it's finally out.

Written by Richard Moss , with additional contributions by Craig Fryar Designed by Darren Wall Illustrated by JJ Signal Published by Unbound Made possible by 1,265 crowdfunding backers

Available March 22 online and in the UK; April 15 in Australia

You can read excerpts on Ars Technica and Gamasutra .

The Ars Technica excerpt is the chapter on Apple's doomed game console; Gamasutra's is on the legendary Mac-first game Dark Castle, video of which is embedded below. The official website has more, and a great Mac OS Classic theme to boot.

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Public goods are REALLY good: thousands of years later, the Roman roads are still paying dividends

Social scientists often promote the value of public provision of infrastructure as a sound, long-term investment in development and prosperity, pushing back against the neoliberal tendency to abandon public goods in favor of private development. Read the rest

Introducing Faces of Auschwitz

The Auschwitz Memorial Archives preserves 38,916 photos of registered prisoners: 31,969 photos of men & 6,947 photos of women. These photographs were taken from the first quarter of 1941 until spring 1943. In total, 400,000 people were registered as prisoners of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The math on this suggests that we've got photos of less than 10% of the prisoners that were held, murdered, or, if they were very lucky, survived the camp. The lives of each and every one of these individuals deserves to be honored. In collaboration with photo restoration and colorization specialist Marina Amaral and the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, I'm working on a project that aims to do exactly that.

Faces of Auschwitz is a project that will tell the story of each of the 38,916 registered prisoners that we have photos of, based on what records of their lives we have. Each week, we'll talk about the story of another prisoner of Auschwitz. Some will have survived. A few managed to escape. Most of those we profile will have died behind the barbed wire perimeter of the concentration camp. Marina's talents in photo restoration and colorization will breathe new life into the fading pictures of prisoners, bringing their faces into the modern era, while at the same time, ensuring that the colors used in the process are historically accurate.

 

While the Auschwitz Concentration Camp is infamously known for its role in Nazi Germany's plans to eradicate European Jewry, other groups were also tortured and senselessly murdered inside the camp’s walls as well: members of Poland's leadership, intellectuals, clergy and resistance activists, Sinti & Roma, Soviet POWs, Jehovah witnesses and homosexuals. Read the rest

This man is capturing the memories of World War II veterans while he still can

The Second World War came to an end 73 years ago. The men and women who served during the war are rapidly succumbing to the ravages of old age. In my lifetime, I know I'll mourn the loss of the last surviving WWII soldier, as I did the loss of Florence Green, the last surviving veteran of the First World War, in 2012. What the veterans of these horrific conflicts saw and in many cases, were forced to do in combat, should never be forgotten: their deeds and memories give color to every discussion we could have about why war should be avoided at all cost. While there's no stopping their deaths, one man has dedicated his life to preserving as many of the life experiences that the veterans of the Second World War lived through as possible.

The CBC recently ran a fascinating profile on Rishi Sharma. He's a 20-year-old man from California that's dedicated years of his life to interviewing the surviving veterans of World War II. According to the CBC, Sharma has conducted over 870 interviews with U.S. veterans in 45 American States. Recently, he made his way to Canada to hear what our old soldiers had to say about their time at war.

From the CBC:

Sharma says he's been interested in the Second World War since he was a child. He'd pore over books, watch the History Channel and once aspired to be a marine. When he realized how easily accessible war veterans are, he began reaching out to them.

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National Geographic calls itself to task for its racist past

As a species, we've got a long history of being shitty to one another for no other reason than skin color. White folks, myself included, have arguably earned the right to drop the mic on bigotry. Over the centuries, we honed systemic racism to such a razor edge that the cuts our ugly worldview made are still being suffered today. As our world's recent politics have illustrated, a lot of people still buy into this superiority-of-the-white-man bullshit. But it's getting better. Views are changing, albeit slowly, and we're crawling on our knees towards equality.

I think that one of the reasons that it's taking us so long to get there is that no one likes to admit that they're wrong. Doing so puts you in a perceived position of weakness, which is ironic given that owning one's faults can be so powerful. Believing this as I do, I was really surprised to read this morning that National Geographic decided to call itself to account for the racist reporting that its correspondents have written and they've published over the decades:

Instead of wasting their time on naval gazing, the magazine's editorial team asked an outsider, historian John Edward Mason, to hunt down all of the ugly, racist writing he could find from National Geographic's archives. As National Geographic's current Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg explains, examining the publication's past was both painful and necessary:

I’m the tenth editor of National Geographic since its founding in 1888. I’m the first woman and the first Jewish person—a member of two groups that also once faced discrimination here.

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Why animals near the ancient Roman "gate to hell" really dropped dead

Thousands of years ago in Hierapolis (now Turkey), tourists visited a temple named Plutonium built at a cave thought to be a gateway to the underworld. Magically, large and small animals would drop dead at the entrance to the cave while priest somehow survived. This isn't legend, it's reality. And now scientists have determined why. From CNN:

Research published by the journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences in February shows that a fissure in the earth's surface, deep beneath the site, emits carbon dioxide at concentrations so high it can be deadly.

Using a portable gas analyzer, Hardy Pfanz and his team of volcanologists found CO2 at levels ranging from 4-53% at the mouth of the cave, and as high as 91% inside -- more than enough to kill living organisms...

Pfanz's research adds another possibility: the fact that the animals and priests are different heights. CO2 is a heavier than oxygen, therefore it settles lower, forming a toxic gas lake above the ground. "The nostrils of the animals were way in the gas lake," he says, whereas the priests stood taller, above the gas lake.

Above: digital rendering of the temple Read the rest

Meet vintage videogaming's archivist extraordinaire

Back in 2012, we published a feature about Frank Cifaldi, one of the world's leading collectors of rare vintage videogames and related ephemera. Since then, Cifaldi founded the Video Game History Foundation, dedicated to preserving this vibrant art form's history and culture for the ages.

(Vice) Read the rest

You need to drill a hole in your head like you need a hole in the head

Back in 1999, I wrote a Boing Boing Digital article called "Head Like A Hole," about trepanation, the intentional drilling of a hole in your skull for medical reasons or, according to its contemporary DIY practitioners, to achieve higher consciousness. But while trepanation has been around since ancient times, Katherine Foxhall argues that the commonly-held belief that the procedure was once used to cure migraines is just a myth. From Smithsonian:

In 1902, the Journal of Mental Science published a lecture by Sir Thomas Lauder Brunton, a London physician well-known for his work on pharmacology and ideas about migraine pathology. The lecture mixed neurological theory and armchair anthropology, and ranged over subjects including premonitions, telepathy, hypnotism, hallucinations, and epileptic and migrainous aura. In one notable passage, Brunton proposed that visions of fairies and the sound of their jingling bells were “nothing more” than the zigzags of migraine aura, and the aural results of nerve centre stimulation.

Brunton proposed that openings bored into ancient Stone Age skulls during life had been made to cure migraine. His suggestion followed considerable excitement during the 1870s when the French physician and anthropologist Paul Broca claimed that ancient skulls discovered in Peru and France had not only been opened surgically during life in order to release evil spirits, but that the patients had survived. To Brunton, it seemed obvious that the holes would have been made at the request of migraine sufferers in order to “let the headache out”.

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This is why museums matter

"History isn't a a cold, dead thing but always contested and in flux." In this short video, PBS's The Art Assignment does a fine job explaining why museums matter:

The powerful and privileged have hoarded precious artifacts in museums for centuries, and it's only recently that these treasures were made available to the rest of us. What purpose did museums serve? And why does every city have one today?

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Watch an informative overview of early animated films

Many people think animated feature films started Disney's Snow White, but this interesting video essay counts at least seven before the appearance of the seven dwarfs. Read the rest

This book explains how to tell when your country's going to hell and how to stop it

You may have noticed of late that things in America are becoming less, well, American.

A cruel misogynist with dangerously racist beliefs is running the show. Nazis and bigots of all stripes no long fear giving voice to their hatred in public. The nation's journalists and the free flow of information are under attack. The government is working hard to defund the healthcare apparatus designed to protect the country's most vulnerable citizens. Piece by piece, the country's institutions, its heart and soul are being torn asunder, paving the way for something new. After reading Timothy Snyder's most recent book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, I gotta tell you, if you're scared of the outcome of all of this, chances are you're likely not scared enough.

Snyder is a scholar who specializes in the history of the the 20th century and, more pointedly, the holocaust. His knowledge of how a country's slow slide into fascism at the whim of a tyrant can occur is beyond reproach, given his academic street cred: he's the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale, a Committee on Conscience member at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. What I'm getting at is that he knows from bad shit, how it starts and historically, how it's gone down. With the current political and popular climate in a number of nations around the world, he's concerned that the ugliest parts of humanity are ready to rear their heads once again.

On Tyranny's only 126 pages long. Read the rest

A huge trove of vintage movie posters from the University of Texas's Ransom Center archive

The University of Texas's Ransom Center (previously) has posted a gorgeous selection of digitized movie posters from its Movie Poster Collection, from the 1920s to the 1970s. Read the rest

Making computer games from scratch in 1987

I enjoyed reading David Joiner's (aka Talin) retrospective about game development in the early days of the Commodore Amiga: like many creators of the era, he not only had to cultivate his artwork, but also needed to devise incredible technical hacks just to get his ideas working on the frustratingly limited (yet wildly malleable) hardware.

Loading the data in the background was a challenge, and I could not figure how how to get the Amiga filesystem layer (AmigaDOS) to load data without pausing the program. So instead, I cheated: instead of writing out the terrain as files on disk, I wrote them directly to the floppy tracks as raw data blocks. I could then use the low-level floppy device driver to load the data in the background while the game was running.

This meant that when you put the Faery Tale disk into the computer and listed the files on it, all you would see was a few files needed to ‘bootstrap’ the game — most of the game content was hidden from view.

His game, Faery Tale Adventure, is an essential minor classic of the 16-bit era. It's offbeat and seems superficially rough-edged compared to the arty tours de force that would define the Amiga when it had to compete with Japanese consoles, but has a dedicated fanbase to this day, because it has soul. One of the counterintuitive lessons that we can draw from Joiner's retrospective is that a lot of one-person indie game devs would benefit from not trying to do everything themselves. Read the rest

It took 83 engines to get to the moon

Amy Shira Teitel of Vintage Space shares lots of cool facts about the golden age of space exploration. Here, she enumerates the engines (and motors) it took Apollo to get to the moon. Read the rest

Analysis of North America's weeds reveal the crops, trade, and cuisine of early indigenous people

Cornell archaeobotanist Natalie Mueller harvests "weeds" from across North America, seeking the remnants of "lost crops," the plants cultivated by the people who lived here 2,000 years ago.

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Recording metal on an Edison wax cylinder phonograph

Musician Rob Scallon thought it would be cool to one-up the vinyl hipsters and record some metal on century-old Edison wax cylinder recording equipment. And he was right! Read the rest

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