Why a Georgia man’s grave has a bell installed in it

From Atlas Obscura: “Taphophobia—the fear of being buried alive—was at a zenith in the 19th century. The horror of premature burial was magnified in southern port cities like Savannah, Georgia, that experienced periodic yellow fever epidemics. Inventors and entrepreneurs capitalized on this phobia by marketing a variety of solutions to facilitate the resurrection of those buried before actually dead. Many of these solutions involved alarms that could be triggered by the entombed if they were buried alive. The remnants of one such device can be seen at the grave of Charles F. Mills at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. Mills was a prominent and wealthy Savannah businessman in the 19th century.” Note: Contrary to popular belief, this is not where the term “saved by the bell” originated; it likely came from boxing.

Inside the great Canadian multi-million-dollar maple syrup heist

Rich Cohen writes for Vanity Fair: “Maple syrup is more expensive than oil. Is it Arab sheikhs who did this, Russian oligarchs? No. It’s Canadians, who, organized into an ironfisted cartel, have established a stranglehold on that honey-flavored elixir. In short, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is OPEC. Formed in 1966, the federation was tasked with taking a business in which few could make a decent living and turning it into a respectable trade. This was accomplished in the classic way: quotas, rules. You control supply, you control price. Thus was born the Canadian Maple Syrup Reserve, And then in 2012, nearly 540,000 gallons of syrup was stolen—12.5 percent of the Reserve—with a street value of $13.4 million. It was the Great Maple Syrup Heist.”

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What your therapist doesn’t tell you

“Maybe from my own point of view, I’m like: ‘Yes! Break up with that person! Run as fast as you can!’ But from a therapy perspective, I have to empower them to make that choice. I’m only seeing a person for one hour a week, and I might not have the full picture, so I shouldn’t make decisions for someone else. It comes with practice. Honestly, sometimes you do really just want to jump out and be like ‘Do not do this.’” (via)

The 19th century fascination with daredevils

Note to readers: In yesterday’s newsletter, in a post about how Dr. Seuss wrote ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ on a bet with his publisher, Bennett Cerf, I mentioned parenthetically that Vinton Cerf, one of the inventors of the Ethernet communication standard, was Bennett’s nephew. I remembered reading this somewhere, but I should have checked further: Vint debunked this rumor in a reply on Quora. My apologies for the error, which was 100 percent my fault! We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, which is already in progress:

From Betsy Golden Kellem for The JSTOR Daily: “The so-called Jersey Jumper, a millworker named Sam Patch, became blindingly famous between 1827 and 1829, and for an unusual reason: he liked to jump off high waterfalls for paying crowds. Jumping off river dams or high cliffs was common entertainment for bored New England mill workers, and Patch was determined to make a name for himself taking this sport, as it were, to a new extreme. He survived many jumps, including one from a tall wooden platform into the Niagara River below the famous falls. He died in 1829 at the age of thirty, in an attempt to jump the Genesee Falls in Rochester, New York. He’d made the same jump successfully before, but he didn’t feel it had drawn enough crowds or revenue.”

What automobile navigation was like before the GPS came along

Caitlin Dempsey writes for GISLounge: “In the 1920s, the Plus Fours Routefinder made its debut.  Worn like a watch, a small map was embedded where the watch dial would normally be found.  The maps were wound around small wooden pegs like scrolls and could be switched out of the wristband depending on the route needed.  The knobs would be turned to advance the map and directions as needed.  The maps were unidirectional. The Baldwin Auto Guide was a scrolled map that attached to the steering wheel.  Similar to how film is wound inside a canister, the Auto Guide contained custom map directions which the driver would scroll through by hand.  The device even came with a battery operated light for night map reading.  An Italian company took this a step further.”

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Mind-reading AI allows paralyzed man to walk again

Oliver Whang writes for the New York Times: “Gert-Jan Oskam was living in China in 2011 when he was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the hips down. In a study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers in Switzerland described implants that provided a “digital bridge” between Mr. Oskam’s brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections. The discovery allowed Mr. Oskam, 40, to stand, walk and ascend a steep ramp using a walker. The brain-spine interface, as the researchers called it, takes advantage of an artificial intelligence thought decoder to read Oskam’s intentions as electrical signals in his brain and match them to muscle movements.”

The worst translation mistake in history led to the Hiroshima bombing

From Carla Estefania: “The National Security Agency in the US declassified a document which points to what is likely to be the worst translation mistake in history. In July 1945, when the allied countries meeting in Potsdam submitted a declaration of surrender terms, the Japanese Prime Minister stated that he had no comment, using the term ‘mokusatsu,’ which has several interpretations. Media agencies and translators interpreted his use of the term as ‘treating with silent contempt,’ suggesting that the ultimatum was ‘not worthy of comment.’ The Hiroshima bomb was dropped ten days later.”

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Nikola Tesla’s doomed attempt at wireless power

Gilbert King writes for Smithsonian magazine: “In the last days of America’s Gilded Age, Nikola Tesla made a dramatic attempt to change the future of communications and power transmission around the world. He managed to convince J.P. Morgan that he was on the verge of a breakthrough, and the financier gave Tesla more than $150,000 to fund what would become a gigantic, futuristic and startling tower in the middle of Long Island, New York. In 1898, as Tesla’s plans to create a worldwide wireless-power transmission system became known, Wardenclyffe Tower would be Tesla’s last chance to claim the recognition and wealth that had always escaped him.”

Good Will Hunting: An oral history

From Janelle Nanos for Boston magazine, originally published in 2013: “It’s hard to remember life without Matt and Ben. But there was a time—before Jason Bourne, before Bennifer, and, yes, before Gigli—when they were just two struggling actors from Cambridge. Then came their script about a bunch of kids from Southie scraping their way through life. The hook: One of them, Will Hunting, is a genius, a guy who wows MIT, humiliates Harvard grad students, and turns down job offers from the National Security Agency. Upon its wide release in January 1998, Good Will Hunting became a sleeper hit, eventually grossing $226 million worldwide and garnering nine Academy Award nominations. Robin Williams won the Oscar for best supporting actor, and Matt and Ben walked away with the award for best screenplay. How did we get here?”

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When wearing a straw hat after September caused a riot

We all know that fashions were different in earlier times, but who knew something as simple as when someone chose to wear a hat could cause a massive riot, leading to dozens of arrests and injuries? That’s what happened in New York City in 1922, during the infamous “Straw Hat” riots, which started when gangs of hooligans began attacking anyone wearing a straw hat, and lasted for more than a week. Why did they start attacking people wearing these hats? Because at the time, it was considered unseemly or even ridiculous to wear such a hat after September 15th. For some reason that year, the ridicule turned to violence. The New York Times reported: “Gangs of young hoodlums ran riot in various parts of the city last night, smashing unseasonable straw hats and trampling them in the street. In some cases, mobs of hundreds of boys and young men terrorized whole blocks.”

How two 19th-century sisters documented nature in their hyper-realistic paintings

From Maria Popova in The Marginalian: “Daughters of the Bombay-born Australian entomologist Alexander Walker Scott, Helena and Harriet were barely out of childhood when they started harmonizing their father’s scientific studies with their shared artistic gift. When the girls were in their teens, the family moved from Sydney to Ash Island, where they filled their days and their minds with activities. The sisters spent twenty years adventuring into nature and documenting their curiosity, in field notebooks and collecting boxes and elaborate paintings. They stayed up at night to observe and illustrate in real time the metamorphoses unfolding in creatures with life-cycles of days — transformations so subtle that the sisters often used the single hair of a paintbrush to render the details.”

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How the Black Death gave rise to British pub culture

From Richard Collett for Atlas Obscura: “In the summer of 1348, the Black Death appeared on the southern shores of England. By the end of 1349, millions lay dead. According to historian Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History, one of the many repercussions was the rise of pub culture in England. Drinking pre-Black Death was comparably amateurish. Anyone could brew up a batch of ale in their home, and standards and strengths varied wildly. Homebrewed ale was advertised with “an ale stake,” which consisted of a pole covered with some kind of foliage above the door. By the 1370s, though, the Black Death had caused a critical labor shortage. Eventually, this proved a boon for the peasantry of England, who could command higher wages for their work. As a result, households selling leftover ale were replaced by more commercialized, permanent establishments.”

Why this scientist hasn’t had a shower in more than fifteen years

From Dan Lewis: “As of 2019, David Whitlock hadn’t taken a bath or a shower in over 15 years. And, apparently, he doesn’t smell. Whitlock, a chemist, got his start as a never-showerer in 2003 or so when he was on a date with his future girlfriend. She — connecting with his science background — asked him what she probably thought was an innocent question: why do horses roll around in the dirt? Humans tend to avoid doing that; do horses know something we don’t? Whitlock found out that horses rub living bacteria into their skin to protect the flora living there. So he started to collect bacteria from the soil of barns, pigsties, and chicken coops, and separated out the good bacteria from the bad. Then he gathered some of these good bacteria, which neutralize dangerous organisms and hazardous substances on the skin, and made them into a spray that he uses for his daily hygiene.”

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What life is like on the inside as a locked-in patient

Josh Wilbur writes for The Guardian: “Jake Haendel was a hard-partying chef from a sleepy region of Massachusetts. When he was 28, his heroin addiction resulted in catastrophic brain damage and very nearly killed him. In a matter of months, Jake’s existence became reduced to a voice in his head. To outside observers, Jake exhibited no signs of awareness or cognition. “Is he in there?” his wife and father would ask the doctors. No one knew for sure. An electroencephalogram (EEG) of his brain showed disrupted patterns of neural activity, indicating severe cerebral dysfunction. “Jake was pretty much like a houseplant,” his father told me. They had no way of knowing Jake was conscious. In medical terms, he was “locked in”: his senses were intact, but he had no way of communicating.”

Think you know who invented the toaster? You may have been taken in by the Great Toaster Hoax

From Marco Silva at the BBC: “For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster. His lies fooled newspapers, teachers and officials. Then a teenager flagged up something that everyone else had missed. “I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”. At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom. But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

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