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Out Of This World Priceless

From Scientific American:

A Buddhist statue brought to Germany from Tibet by a Nazi-backed expedition has been confirmed as having an extraterrestrial origin.

Just taking a guess here, I know very little about sculpture, but this might be a rare piece and difficult to insure/replace.

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The History of OMG

Interestingly, OMG (the acronym for “Oh My God”) is much older than most people would think. While associated with chatrooms and most would date it to the 90’s, it actually goes back to at least 1917 when it was used in a letter to Winston Churchill.

Sure enough the Oxford English Dictionary does list it:

1917 J. A. F. Fisher Let. 9 Sept. in Memories (1919) v. 78, I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!

There you have it. Everything old is new again.

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Why Wear Pants?

The Atlantic answered the age old question: Why do we wear pants?:

“Historically there is a very strong correlation between horse-riding and pants,” Turchin wrote in a blog post this week. “In Japan, for example, the traditional dress is kimono, but the warrior class (samurai) wore baggy pants (sometimes characterized as a divided skirt), hakama. Before the introduction of horses by Europeans (actually, re-introduction – horses were native to North America, but were hunted to extinction when humans first arrived there), civilized Amerindians wore kilts.”

So essentially it’s because it allowed for better movement, and keeps our balls (and appropriate lady parts for the ladies) from showing. This however doesn’t answer why we still wear pants. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t remember the last time I was on a horse (was likely a class trip when I was quite young).


History Of The Mac Startup Chime

Interesting history of the Mac startup chime on Quora:

The Apple II made short beep in its boot sequence [1], a courtesy signal that sound was working. (Funny that similar “triple beep” sequences mark issues on boot [2].) Charlie Kellner wrote an algorithm to average adjacent 8-bit square waves for the tone used on the (original) Mac 128K [3].

The sound grew punchier, and by the Mac Classic/Mac II era, it was similar to a “tritone” sound (a music theory no-no). This annoyed Jim Reekes, who took over Sound Manager in 1990 [4]. He sought to use the improved sound cards for a cheerful “palate cleanser” sound, as the tritone wasn’t music to one’s ears during post-crash reboots. He snuck a “fat” C major chord backed with sonic textures into the ROM. The textural properties included stereo reverb, phaser, some sharp transients, and strings [5]. This chime was used through the mid-90s; starting in the Quadras, through the Performas.

The Power Macintosh 6100 (first PowerPC, 1994) used 12-string acoustic guitar harmonics designed by jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan [6]. It was short-lived, because the Power Macintosh 9500 (1995) returned to Reekes’s chime. (He has speculated that perhaps this was due to Jobs’s return, but that was late 1996.) It stayed more or less the same until the iMac G3 (1998), save for the Twentieth Anniversary Mac. It hasn’t changed since.

I liked the earlier chimes more than the recent ones.

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Did The Nazi’s Try To Attack NYC Via Submarine Based Missile?

An interesting story about Andy Rooney’s WWII reporting on USA Today :

Amid the din, Rooney’s buddy, an intelligence officer, shared an astonishing story. The day before, which happened to be Election Day, Army Air Force radar had detected the Germans launching a missile aimed at New York City from a U-boat situated several hundred miles out into the Atlantic. Fighter planes up and down the East Coast had immediately been scrambled.

The officer swore he saw the projectile being tracked on a machine at Mitchel Field in Hempstead, Long Island. It was traveling 250 miles per hour when it disappeared off the screen, either falling short of its target or being shot down by an alert pilot. The enemy’s attempted attack on New York had not come as a complete shock, he told Rooney. War planners had long feared that Adolf Hitler would use one of his Vergeltungswaffen (“vengeance”) weapons against the continental U.S. It was not outside the realm of possibility that German scientists had armed a submarine with a variation of a V-1 buzz-bomb or a V-2 rocket.

This is pretty fascinating in itself. The war could have taken a very different turn had Germany attacked NYC. But is it possible this was true and not just a rumor?

At least as early as 1942 the Germans were experimenting with the idea of launching a rocket from a submarine. That’s two years prior to Rooney hearing about such an incident. They clearly had an intent to do so but didn’t make it in time if the historical record is correct. That’s a big “if”. When wars end the victor has the ability to control what goes public and what doesn’t. As well documented as it was, lots of WWII details are still unknown for various reasons.

Many Americans don’t know this, but German U-boats weren’t uncommon off the US coast. Several were actually sunk by US depth charges during WWII:
German U Boats Sunk Off US East Coast

The green points are major cities, the dark blue were sunk in 1942, orange 1943, light blue 1944, yellow 1945. You can see it’s a fair number and they were within reasonable distance. U-869 is the yellow one closest to NYC was sunk by it’s own torpedo. U-521 was sunk by US depth charges as were some others.

To protect ships coming out the Delaware from Philadelphia there’s actually a bunker in Cape May, NJ dating back to WWII. It was part of a network to help fend off attacks to ships leaving from the coast with some big guns. It’s still there to this day.

Could a U-boat have been within striking distance? I’d say that’s a safe bet. We had primitive ways of detecting subs back then and we found some quite close. Surely a few got close that nobody in the US ever discovered.

Here’s another curious note from the article:

“I have heard from my friends that they launched the first projectile before they were caught but they don’t know what happened to it,” he told Rooney, speculating that the attacking U-boats had been “immobilized” by radio beams that somehow disrupted their electric motors. “They (the U-boat crews) couldn’t move and they were all captured alive,” he said.

This is curious but unlikely as the V2 would not likely have been vulnerable to anything radio. It’s was largely analog with a few gyroscopes. I would guess magnetic interference would cripple the V2 guidance systems more effectively than radio jamming. There was no data link like a modern weapon.

A year earlier (1493) was the alleged, and largely discredited Philadelphia Experiment. Perhaps the origin of that story was some technology developed for this purpose. When the war was over Wernher von Braun and many he worked with were brought to the US under Operation Paperclip. By keeping this secret the US would have effectively gained a huge win in military superiority. The rocket knowledge as well as how to defeat it. It would take some time before the Russians could figure things out. The conspiracy theory the Philadelphia Experiment created would have been an effective cover for any little bits that leaked out.

Even more likely is the weapon simply malfunctioned and the US (at least internally within the War Dept) took credit for it.

Overall this story seems plausible to have actually happened. It would make sense for the US to have wanted to keep it quiet as an attack on the US mainland would have been very concerning to so many Americans. Even today knowing that something came close would be an amazing revelation. If I had to take a guess, I’d say it happened, it malfunctioned and the details were mixed up in history.

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DuMont Telecruiser

DuMont Telecruiser

Here’s an interesting piece of history. Almost nobody knows that there was another broadcast network in the US other than the CBS, NBC, ABC, and more recently FOX (which launched in the last 80’s). DuMont was gone by 1956. It was the original home to The Honeymooners. It’s a slightly strange but fascinating time in history. Back in those days TV networks were pretty innovative as most had ties to the technology side of the business. DuMont was owned by DuMont Laboratories, a TV manufacturer. Among the things they experimented with was mobile TV production, the precursor to the modern day news van. The DuMont Telecruiser still exists. It’s in private hands and is being restored.

It’s pretty impressive to see what they were able to do back then with limited technology. This particular one was apparently in use until the 70’s (post DuMont years) when it was retired.

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New York Songline

Want to kill an hour on a Friday evening? Check out A New York Songline. Walk down one of many NYC streets and learn a ton of trivia about each block. The history buff in me loves this stuff.

In The News

Did Thermal Inversion Lead To The Titanic Disaster?

Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting theory by historian Tim Maltin to explain the Titanic disaster’s mysteries including why it didn’t see an iceberg (yes it was dark, but still), and why the Californian didn’t see it.

Atmospheric conditions in the area that night were ripe for super refraction, Maltin found. This extraordinary bending of light causes miraging, which, he discovered, was recorded by several ships in the area. He says it also prevented the Titanic’s lookouts from seeing the iceberg in time and the freighter Californian from identifying the ocean liner and communicating with it. A 1992 British government investigation suggested that super refraction may have played a role in the disaster, but that possibility went unexplored until Maltin mined weather records, survivors’ testimony and long-forgotten ships’ logs.

Essentially they think thermal inversion may be the culprit.

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300 Year Old Pocket Watch

What do you get when you put a 300-year-old pocket watch through an CT scan? Absolutely amazing pictures. The article in interesting but make sure to check out the slide show.

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WWI Finally Ends

OK, combat ended years ago, but this is still pretty interesting. Germany today pays the last reparations payment for WWI. Apparently WWII and German reunification caused the payment schedule to change a little. Meanwhile there are 4 known surviving veterans left from WWI.