(Roughly) Daily

“I said to a bartender, ‘Make me a zombie.’ He said ‘God beat me to it.'”*…

 

Wharram Percy, aerial view

Archaeologists investigating human bones excavated from the deserted mediaeval village of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire have suggested that the villagers burned and mutilated corpses to prevent the dead from rising from their graves to terrorise the living.

Although starvation cannibalism often accounts for the mutilation of corpses during the Middle Ages, when famines were common, researchers from Historic England and the University of Southampton have found that the ways in which the Wharram Perry remains had been dismembered suggested actions more significant of folk beliefs about preventing the dead from going walkabout.

Their paper, titled “A multidisciplinary study of a burnt and mutilated assemblage of human remains from a deserted mediaeval village in England,” is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science

Dig in at “Mediaeval Yorkshirefolk mutilated, burned t’dead to prevent reanimation.”

* Rodney Dangerfield

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As we anticipate the apocalypse, we might recall that it was on this date (as tradition would have it) in 1387 that 30 pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to embark together the next day on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  They agreed to a story-telling contest to be held along the way on their journey, the prize being a free meal on their return.

The pilgrims were, of course, fictional, the product of the glorious imagination of Geoffrey Chaucer.  But their stores– The Canterbury Tales— delight to this day.

A woodcut from William Caxton‘s second edition of The Canterbury Tales printed in 1483

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Written by LW

April 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul”*…

 

DID YOU KNOW:

• Bill Gates is actually worth $1,956
• Canadian pop star Justin Bieber has five times fewer cells in his brain than in his liver
• Top tennis player Serena Williams has 24.5 trillion red blood cells powering her body
• Internet and social media pioneer Mark Zuckerberg’s body contains 800MB of data
• President Barack Obama’s head rules his heart; his brain weighs 1.4kg, his heart just 0.4kg

Welcome to The Making of Me and You, a unique, new digital interactive from BBC Earth that details extraordinary personalised facts.

Just input your date of birth, sex at birth, height and weight, and choose the metric or imperial units that make most sense to you.

And instantly find out:

• The chemical ingredients that make up you, and what your body is worth
• How many atoms you are made of, and what can be made with them
• How many fat, blood, skin and brain cells you have
• How much genetic data is inside you
• How many other microbes live on your body with you
• The size and weight of your internal organs
• How much wee, poo, sperm or eggs you have produced so far
• How many times you have blinked, breathed, yawned and farted
• And so much more

Try it at: “The Making of You and Me.”

* Ludwig Wittgenstein

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As we take our measures, we might recall that it was on this date in 1988 that the United States Patent and Trademark Office granted U.S. Patent 4,736,866 to Harvard College for “a transgenic non-human mammal whose germ cells and somatic cells contain a recombinant activated oncogene sequence introduced into said mammal…”– the first U.S. patent issued on a mammalian life form.  The Oncomouse (as it was known, a mouse altered to be highly susceptible to breast cancer) was called the product of the year by a major financial magazine.

Although the mouse was genetically modified following a process designed by Philip Leder and Timothy A Stewart of Harvard, and the patent was owned by Harvard Medical School, it was developed with funding from DuPont, which scored a commercialization arrangement that entitled DuPont to exclusive license of the patent. Until the patent was ruled expired in 2005, DuPont claimed patent protection on any anticancer product derived from the mice.

The first patent for a life form was issued seven years earlier for a genetically engineered bacterium.

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Written by LW

April 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are the only species on the planet, so far as we know, to have invented a communal memory stored neither in our genes nor in our brains. The warehouse of this memory is called the library”*…

 

The Internet Archive has been saving copies of the web for almost as long as the web has been around. Brewster Kahle, the archive’s founder, studied artificial intelligence at mit in the 1980s. Later he helped found two technology companies — Wide Area Information Server, a system for text-searching databases on remote computers, which was bought by aol, and Alexa Internet, which helped catalog the web and was acquired by Amazon. Kahle launched the Internet Archive in 1996, in a San Francisco attic. Over the years, a few computers have blossomed into one of the largest digital libraries in the world, encompassing 279 billion web pages, 12 million books, and millions more copies of music, films, television shows, and software. (In the lobby, a new arcade machine lets visitors play 500 vintage games from the past 40 years.)…

On the day after the election, Kahle published a blog post addressed to the Internet Archive’s supporters. “I am a bit shell-shocked — I did not think the election would go the way it did,” he wrote. “As we take the next weeks to have this sink in, I believe we will come to find we will have new responsibilities, increased roles to play, in keeping the world an open and free environment.”

The archive had already started backing up copies of every government website that existed during the Obama administration — a practice they began at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. And this January, they released a searchable database containing 520 hours of Trump’s televised speeches, interviews, and news broadcasts.

Still, they were not prepared for the spike in public attention after Trump’s election. A few days after the inauguration, Reuters reported that White House officials had ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to take down its climate change page. People sent messages to the archive, asking if they planned to preserve the information. Similar questions came when the Department of Agriculture abruptly removed thousands of documents from its website, including animal welfare inspection records for some 9,000 labs, zoos, and breeders across the country. “We have all that,” Graham said. Lately the archive has started receiving phone calls from people claiming to have inside information about government websites under threat of getting scrubbed…

More at “Save all- Archiving the Internet in the Trump Era.”

And for an even richer look (and listen) to the Internet Archive and its band of bad-ass librarians (including a fascinating interview with Brewster Kahle), check out “Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive.”

Let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such a multiplication of copies, as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.

– Thomas Jefferson

* Carl Sagan

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As we prioritize preservation and access, we might spare a thought for Judith Fingeret Krug; she died on this date in 2009.  An American librarian, proponent of freedom of speech , and critic of censorship, Krug became Director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association in 1967. In 1969, she joined the Freedom to Read Foundation as its Executive Director. Krug co-founded Banned Books Week (and here) in 1982.  The eighth edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual, published in 2010 by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, was dedicated to Krug’s memory.

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“The generation of random numbers is too important to be left to chance”*…

 

Roman 12mm dice

Random numbers are central to more than we may realize.  They have applications in gambling, statistical sampling, computer simulation and Monte Carlo modeling, cryptography (as applied in both communications and transactions), completely randomized design, even sooth-saying– in any area where producing an unpredictable result is desirable.  So how they’re produced– the certainty that they are, in fact, random– matters enormously.

It’s no surprise, then, that random number generation has a long and fascinating history.  Happily, Carl Tashian is here to explain.

“As an instrument for selecting at random, I have found nothing superior to dice,” wrote statistician Francis Galton in an 1890 issue of Nature. “When they are shaken and tossed in a basket, they hurtle so variously against one another and against the ribs of the basket-work that they tumble wildly about, and their positions at the outset afford no perceptible clue to what they will be even after a single good shake and toss.”…

From I Ching sticks and dice to the cryptographically-secure PRNG, “A Brief History of Random Numbers.”

[TotH to the eminently-numerate Reuben Steiger]

Robert Coveyou

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As we roll the bones, we might spare a thought for Samuel “Sam” Loyd; he died on this date in 1911. A chess player, chess composer, puzzle author, and recreational mathematician.  A member of the Chess Hall of Fame (for both his play and for his exercises, or “problems”), he gained posthumous fame when his son published a collection of his mathematical and logic puzzles, Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles after his father’s death.  As readers can see here and here, his puzzles still delight.

Loyd’s most famous puzzle was the 14-15 Puzzle, which he produced in 1878. His original authorship is debated; but in any case, his version created a craze that swept America to such an extent that employers put up notices prohibiting playing the puzzle during office hours.

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Written by LW

April 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance”*…

 

Interference Archive was founded in 2011 by Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. Our initial collection grew out of the personal accumulation of Dara and Josh… through their involvement in social movements, DIY and punk, and political art projects over the past 25 years…

The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including as exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements…

The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

Through our programming, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation.  We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions…

Visit the Archive online, and if you’re in the New York area, visit their current exhibit.

[TotH to the always-inspirational Ganzeer]

* Thomas Paine

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As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that the U.S. Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The House passed the Amendment January 31, 1865, and it was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption.

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

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Written by LW

April 9, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy”*…

 

If You See Something, Say Something

Here are a few suggestions of what Americans can report to the FBI:

1. Any information about espionage, sabotage, and subversive activities. The FBI is as close to every person as the nearest telephone. See the front of any telephone book for the FBI’s number.

2. Don’t worry if the information seems incomplete or trivial. Many times a small bit of information might furnish the data we are seeking.

3. Stick to the facts. The FBI is not interested in rumor or idle gossip. Talebearing should always be avoided. The FBI is not interested in what a person thinks but what he does to undermine our national security.

4. Don’t try to do any investigating yourself. Security investigations require great care and effort. The innocent must be protected as well as the guilty identified. That is the job for the professional investigator. Hysteria, witch-hunts, and vigilantes weaken our internal security.

5. Be alert. America’s best defense lies in the alertness of its patriotic citizens.

The atmosphere of aggressive concern– if not paranoia– over “foreign” threats that’s so pervasive today is, in fact, nothing new.  The passage above is an excerpt from J. Edgar Hoover’s 1958 opus Masters of Deceit, which combined a flaming warning of the Communist threat with a painfully-specific how-to manual for combating it.

MoD was required reading for countless junior high school students across the U.S.– inclusding your correspondent, for whom it was the text in a six-week “special unit” on Communism, mandated by the Florida State Department of Education.

[via Lapham’s Quarterly]

* Honoré de Balzac

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As we watch both our borders and our backs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1950 that a US Navy Privateer with 10 people on board flew from Wiesbaden, West Germany, to spy over the Soviet Union. Soviet reconnaissance spotted the plane over Latvia. and Soviet La-11 fighters shot down it down just off the coast, over the Baltic Sea.

A U.S. Navy Privateer in flight

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Written by LW

April 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I try to conjure, to raise my own spirits, from wherever they are. I need to remember what they look like.”*…

 

In Margaret Atwood’s The ­Handmaid’s Tale, a Christian sect call the Sons of Jacob creates a male-dominated theocratic state

Margaret Atwood’s evergreen dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about to become a television drama. Published in 1985, it couldn’t feel more fresh or more timely, dealing as it does with reproductive rights, with the sudden accession to power of a theocracy in the United States, with the demonisation of imagined, pantomime villain “Islamic fanatics”. But then, feminist science fiction does tend to feel fresh – its authors have a habit of looking beyond their particular historical moment, analysing the root causes, suggesting how they might be, if not solved, then at least changed.

Where does the story of feminist science fiction begin? There are so many possible starting points: Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 book The Blazing World, about an empress of a utopian kingdom; one could point convincingly to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an exploration of how men could “give birth” and what might happen if they did; one could recall the 1905 story “Sultana’s Dream” by Begum Rokeya, about a gender-reversed India in which it’s the men who are kept in purdah.

And perhaps one of the starting points was here: on 29 August 1911, a 50-year-old man, a member of the Yahi group of the Native American Yana people, walked out of the forest near Oroville, California, and was captured by the local sheriff. He was known at the time and popularised in the press as “the last wild Indian”.

He called himself “Ishi” – a word in the Yahi language that means simply “man”. He was the very last of his people, and had been living in the wilderness alone, travelling to places he remembered from the time when his tribe had flourished, in the hope of finding some remnant of those he’d grown up with. When he realised they were truly all gone, when a series of forest fires meant he was close to starvation, he allowed himself to be found and taken in…

And the link with feminist science fiction? Theodora and Alfred Kroeber’s daughter was Ursula Le Guin, the science fiction author. Her novel The Left Hand of Darkness was published in 1969, at the start of the revolutionary women’s movement, and was one of the earliest pieces of feminist SF. It is about a man from Earth who travels to the planet Gethen, where the people have no fixed gender. He is by turns fascinated, appalled and deeply, sickeningly lonely. Everyone’s “normality” is someone else’s wilderness…

From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, feminist science fiction writers have imagined other ways of living that prompt us to ask, could we do things differently?  More of their history at “Dystopian dreams: how feminist science fiction predicted the future.”

* Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

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As we listen and learn, we might send hauntingly-beautiful birthday greetings to Eleanora Fagan; she was born on this date in 1915.  Better known by her stage name, Billie Holiday (and her nickname, Lady Day), she was a jazz musician and singer-songwriter– a legendary performer who enjoyed both huge popular success and great acclaim from her fellow artists.

 

Written by LW

April 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

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