Inside the Harvard Business School Ponzi scheme

From New York magazine: “Vlad Artamonov told prospective investors, many of them his former classmates from Harvard Business School, that he’d discovered a hidden way to learn which stocks Warren Buffett was buying early, an edge that would make him a lot of money. It involved, he said, combing through esoteric state financial disclosures and then trading on the information — essentially, a way to obtain insider tips legally. “Have an insane idea,” he told one investor in the fall of 2022. But it seemed plausible coming from Artamonov, who, in addition to his Ivy League credentials, had spent more than five years at Greenlight Capital, the highly regarded hedge fund run by David Einhorn, a self-described admirer of Buffett. He told investors he aimed for returns of as much as 1,000 percent.”

Nikola Tesla claimed to have invented a death ray that would end all war


From JSTOR Daily: “Nikola Tesla, the audacious futurist and groundbreaking inventor, is best known for his advances in electricity, circuits, and mechanical design. Fewer people remember that in the 1930s, he announced the invention of a beam so powerful, it could make war obsolete. Tesla’s concept—a concentrated energy beam capable of bringing down aircraft and killing thousands—was not new. In fact, writes Fanning, it was just one of a long line of proposed death rays that took the world by storm during the 1920s and 1930s. Though H.G. Wells wrote about a deadly heat ray in 1898, talk about death rays really heated up after World War I. In July 1934, Tesla announced that he had invented a way to send concentrated particles through the air. The “death beam” would be a defensive weapon that could kill an army of one million in an instant and “make every nation safe against any attack by a would-be invader.”

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What happened to members of the Carlos Castaneda cult?

From Alta magazine: “After moving to Los Angeles, Dee Ann found her guru: the famous writer Carlos Castaneda. She joined his cult and became a witch—as his female followers called themselves—or a chacmool, a word from ancient Mexico for revered statues depicting guardians of the gods. As part of her initiation, she changed her name. She became Kylie Lundahl. Then she disappeared. Days after Castaneda died, in the spring of 1998, Dee Ann and five other chacmools mysteriously vanished. More than 25 years later, they are still missing. Castaneda was among the top-selling authors of the ’70s. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge had started as a thesis project in the early ’60s and became a New Age franchise. The Don Juan series—12 titles in all—is estimated to have sold more than 28 million copies.”

Mount Everest is covered in dead bodies and tons of frozen garbage left by climbers

From NPR: “The highest camp on the world’s tallest mountain is littered with garbage that is going to take years to clean up, according to a Sherpa who led a team that worked to clear trash and dig up dead bodies frozen for years near Mount Everest’s peak. The Nepal government-funded team of soldiers and Sherpas removed 11 tons of garbage, four dead bodies and a skeleton from Everest during this year’s climbing season. Ang Babu Sherpa, who led the team of Sherpas, said there could be as much as 40-50 tons of garbage still at South Col, the last camp before climbers make their attempt on the summit. It took two days to dig out one body near the South Col which was frozen in a standing position deep in the ice, he said. Part way through, the team had to retreat to lower camps because of the deteriorating weather, and then resume after it improved. Another body was much higher up at 8,400 meters (27,720 feet) and it took 18 hours to drag it to Camp 2, where a helicopter picked it up.”

New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison used to have a professional caliber football team

Revisiting the Complicated History of Sing Sing's Football Team - InsideHook

From JSTOR Daily: “In the 1930s, a prison football team was so successful that New York State legislation was enacted to curtail their appeal to fans outside the prison, a concept that may have percolated into other states. On November 15, 1931, the Sing Sing Black Sheep drew a crowd of over 2,000 incarcerated individuals and 500 spectators in their debut win (33-0) over the Ossining Naval Militia. The Black Sheep football team was active from 1931 to 1936 and posted winning seasons every year. Tim Mara, the founder and then-owner of the New York Giants, coached and partially funded the 1931 inaugural team. The Black Sheep were not only unique as one of the nation’s first prison football teams, but also because the team was racially integrated during a time when there were to be no Black players in organized professional football.”

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What global warming means for northern communities whose culture is based on ice


From Vox: “When Priscilla Frankson thinks about home, she thinks about ice — thick sea ice stretching out toward the horizon. Frankson, an Iñupiaq masters student in Tribal Leadership and Governance at Arizona State University, is from Point Hope (Tikiġaq), Alaska, a small city about 125 miles above the Arctic Circle and one of the northernmost communities in the United States.hen Priscilla Frankson thinks about home, she thinks about ice — thick sea ice stretching out toward the horizon. In Point Hope, where summer temperatures rarely break 60 degrees, ice and cold are a part of life. Thick, reliable sea ice is essential for harvesting whales, a key part of the subsistence diets, a lifestyle built around harvesting wild foods for personal and community use, of Point Hope’s Iñupiaq residents. But climate change is threatening all of this.”

Scientists are trying to understand why some people don’t have an inner voice

What is Your Inner Voice? -

From Scientific American: “Most of us have an “inner voice,” and we tend to assume everybody does, but recent evidence suggests that people vary widely in the extent to which they experience inner speech, from an almost constant patter to a virtual absence of self-talk. A new study shows that not only are these differences real but they also have consequences for our cognition. Participants with weak inner voices did worse at psychological tasks that measure, say, verbal memory than did those with strong inner voices. Psychologists think we use inner speech to assist in various mental functions. Past research suggests inner speech is key in self-regulation and executive functioning, like task-switching, memory and decision-making. Some researchers have even suggested that not having an inner voice may impact areas important for a sense of self. In both experiments the group with less inner speech was less accurate in their responses.”

Mysterious 4,000-year-old palace with maze-like walls found on Greek island of Crete

From Live Science: “A 4,000-year-old circular structure discovered on a hilltop in Greece may have been used for ancient Minoan rituals, archaeologists report. Consisting of eight superimposed stone rings with small walls intersecting them to form rooms, the building is almost labyrinthine, representatives from the Greek Ministry of Culture said. The unique structure, which measures 157 feet in diameter, was discovered about 32 miles southeast of Heraklion, the capital of Crete, while construction workers were installing a surveillance radar system for a new airport. Located on the very top of a hill near the town of Kastelli, the ancient building appears to have had two main zones: a circular building with a diameter of 49 feet at the very center and an area radiating out from it. Based on the style of pottery fragments, archaeologists have tentatively dated the building to 2000 to 1700 B.C., in the middle of the Minoan civilization.”

Pakistan’s hilarious dancing goats

Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as “serendipity engines,” such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Jodi Ettenberg’s Curious About Everything, Dan Lewis’s Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton’s The Browser, Clive Thompson’s Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy’s Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova’s The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me at mathew @ mathewingram dot com

The extraordinary survival story of ultra runner Mauro Prosperi

From Historic Flix: “Mauro Prosperi, a former police officer from Italy, is a seasoned ultramarathon runner. His hobby saw him enter the Marathon des Sables in 1994, an annual six-day ultramarathon that takes participants through over 150 miles of scorching Moroccan desert. For their whole week in the desert, competitors have to carry all their own equipment and food and are penalized for exceeding their designated rations. They also have a minimum pace of 3 kilometers per hour. Mauro’s passion for adventure would end up taking him on an unexpected journey for survival – during this time, he had no food, water, or any idea of which way to head for help. He wandered the vast and inhospitable desert alone for more than a week, was forced to drink his own urine to stay alive, and was eventually found 180 miles from the race course.”

Buffalo Calf Robe Woman was a Cheyenne warrior who probably killed Custer

Three Cheyenne warriors on horseback.

From Mental Floss: “For the Native Americans of the Northern Plains, the Battle of Little Bighorn was a glorious victory against U.S. government forces intent on claiming their land. Fought on June 25, 1876, in Montana Territory, the battle saw Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors quickly overwhelm and kill some 260 U.S. troops. George Armstrong Custer, the Civil War hero sent to remove the Native Americans to their reservations, was among them. Though the exact circumstances surrounding Custer’s death have long been the subject of debate, a new and intriguing account of his final moments surfaced in June 2005 when members of the Northern Cheyenne broke more than a century of silence to recount their tribe’s oral history of the battle. According to their account, it was a female fighter named Buffalo Calf Road Woman who knocked Custer off his horse that day, leaving him vulnerable, and who may have killed him.”

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That time Ben Franklin jumped naked into the Thames river

From Literary Hub: “It was a fine early summer afternoon in England, and the port at Chelsea was just slipping out of sight when Benjamin Franklin—­at the urging of his fellow passengers—­kicked off his buckled shoes and tossed aside his heavy jacket. John Wygate, a fellow printer whom Franklin had taught to swim, had been regaling the gentlemen aboard the ferry with stories of Franklin’s fishlike agility in the water and the peculiar aquatic tricks he could perform. They had spent the morning viewing taxidermied crocodiles and rattlesnakes at Don Saltero’s curiosities shop and weren’t ready for the day’s amusements to end, even as they headed back to Blackfriars. Franklin likely put on a good show of modesty, demurring at first to the group’s excited requests for a demonstration, but was no doubt secretly pleased as he undressed for his dip in the Thames—­he loved both an audience and any excuse to get in the water.”

This computerized love-letter generator was a precursor to ChatGPT

Christopher Strachey of the National Research Development Corporation demonstrates the memory drum of the Ferranti Mark 1, (also known as the Manchester Electronic Computer), which has 2,000 leads and functions in a similar way to the human brain, Moston, Manchester, February 1955.

From JSTOR Daily: “In the early 1950s, small, peculiar love letters were pinned up on the walls of the computing lab at the University of Manchester. The history behind them is even stranger; examples of the world’s first computer-generated writing, they’re signed by MUC, the acronym for the Manchester University Computer. In 1952, decades before ChatGPT’s computer generated writing was integrated into mainstream media outlets, two gay men—Alan Turing and Christopher Strachey—essentially invented AI writing. Alongside Turing, Strachey worked on several experiments with Artificial Intelligence: a computer that could sing songs, one of the world’s first computer games, and an algorithm to write gender-neutral mash notes that screamed with longing.”

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The 1910 monorail that used gyroscopes to stay upright

From Hackaday: “The Brennan Monorail was a train from the early 1900’s that seemed to defy the laws of physics. Not only did it keep itself perfectly balanced on a single rail, but it mysteriously leaned into corners without any driver input. This was a real invention – and it was unveiled to the public in 1910 by its inventor Louis Brennan. The idea was that using a single rail instead of two would make trains faster and railways cheaper to build. His train could take corners at greater speeds without being thrown off the tracks and railways would only need half the material. Unlike the monorails we’re familiar with today, which wrap themselves around tracks built high in the air, Brennan’s monorail could run on existing tracks. Although it looked a bit sketchy, it was very stable. At the heart of the train was a gyroscope that would correct the train’s tilt before the passengers noticed. This was a mind-blowing piece of engineering, especially for 1910.”

From Paul Kedrosky: “Something strange has happened to the word “delve” in the last two years. Its usage has exploded in everything from Amazon reviews, to undergraduate essays, to academic papers. There were, for example, more papers with the word “delve” in them in 2022 and 2023 together than in the prior 500 years combined. Everyone is on the delve train. It all has to do with a weird quirk of large language models (LLMs), understanding which requires a trip back through the Lord of the Rings, early American settlements, a 17th-century pastor, and Milton. Delving into something is a grandiloquent cliché and a quest for implied certainty. But it is also a cultural signifier, one with a thousand years of history at the intersection of religion, politics, science, risk, and literature, and one that is now being reflected back to us. Models are channeling all that history, in which is embedded our uneasy relationship with technology.”

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The Brazilian town where the American Confederacy lives on

From Vice: “One day last spring, near an old rural cemetery in southern Brazil, a black man named Marcelo Gomes held up the corners of a Confederate flag to pose for a cell-phone photo. After the picture was taken, Gomes said he saw no problem with a black man paying homage to the history of the Confederate States of America. “American culture is a beautiful culture,” he said. Some of his friends had Confederate blood. Gomes had joined some 2,000 Brazilians at the annual festa of the Fraternidade Descendência Americana, the brotherhood of Confederate descendants in Brazil, on a plot near the town of Americana, which was settled by Southern defectors 150 years ago. On the morning of the festa, a public-address system was blaring the Confederate song ‘Stonewall Jackson’s Way’ and Brazilians in ten-gallon hats and leather jackets called out greetings.”

Two cities received millions of dollars from Benjamin Franklin 200 years after he died

From Why Is This Interesting: “Imagine waking up one day to find out that someone from the past had left you a vast sum of money. Not just the recent past, but hundreds of years ago. Now, imagine they left you £1,000 at the time, but because it was compounding, it’s now worth millions.  That’s what happened to the city of Philadelphia & Boston, who in 1887 both received the equivalent of millions of dollars today, from none other than the long-deceased Benjamin Franklin. Then, a hundred years later, in 1987, the two cities received an additional $2m and $4.5m respectively. You see, Benjamin Franklin had declared in his will that a sum of money be left in a trust for 200 years. The resulting funds were only to be used to help out young tradesmen in either city, to help them access initial capital to make their start. After 100 years, the cities were to receive 75% of the funds, with the rest to continue compounding for another 100 years.”

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Harvard Medical School and the trade in human body parts

From WBUR: “hat’s most shocking about Jeremy Pauley isn’t his tattooed eyeball or the metal spikes protruding from his scalp. It’s his openness about trading in human remains. Standing in the doorway of his rural Pennsylvania home, dressed all in black, he greets an unannounced reporter with patience. Pauley makes his living in what’s called the “oddities” market, buying and selling human remains and even binding books in human skin. It’s all legal — provided the remains aren’t stolen. “It’s a niche field,” he says of his work, like “a collector or a preservation artist.” He won’t say much more, because of the sprawling criminal investigation in which he’s a prominent figure. It was Pauley’s arrest that pointed investigators to a nationwide network of stolen human remains trafficking and led them to Harvard Medical School. There, a lone morgue manager allegedly plundered parts from bodies donated for science, and sold them online for profit.”

How coffee helped the Union caffeinate their way to victory in the Civil War

Union soldiers sit will coffee and bread in a portrait

From the Smithsonian: “Ten months into the Civil War, the Union was short on a crucial supply, the absence of which threatened to sap the fighting strength of the Northern army: coffee. This critical source of energy and morale was considered almost as vital as gunpowder; Union General Benjamin Butler ordered his soldiers to carry coffee with them always, saying it guaranteed success: “If your men get their coffee early in the morning, you can hold” your position. But by 1862, imports of coffee were down by 40 percent since the start of the war. The Union blockade of Southern ports, including New Orleans, had slowed coffee imports from Brazil to a trickle—and Union merchants and military contractors were able to reroute only a portion of that Brazilian coffee northward; even with Union port cities trying to pick up the slack, the U.S. imported 50 percent less by value from Brazil in 1863 than it did in 1860. A new source was badly needed.”

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An Austrian heiress let a group of strangers donate her fortune

From the New York Times: “After six weekends of deliberating, a group of Austrian citizens decided how to divvy up the riches of the heiress Marlene Engelhorn, who is donating the bulk of her inheritance to charity in an attempt to challenge a system that allowed her to accumulate millions of euros. The Guter Rat für Rückverteilung (“good council for redistribution” in German), a group of 50 residents in Austria advised by experts, chose 77 organizations that would receive money from Ms. Engelhorn’s fortune over the coming years. Ms. Engelhorn, 32, turned to the public to help redistribute her wealth, challenging the lack of inheritance tax in her native Austria. In January, she sent invitations to 10,000 Austrian residents, asking them for help spending 25 million euros (about $26.8 million) of her fortune, which she inherited when her grandmother died. The research group Foresight selected 50 of those residents.”

Vikings never wore helmets with horns on them, so why do we always picture them that way?

TIL: Vikings never wore horned helmets. The notion that the Vikings wore horned  helmets actually comes from a costume designer for the 1876 performance of  Wagner's classic Norse saga, Der Ring des

From Vox: “Popular imagery of Vikings is filled with lots of horned helmets. It’s everywhere from football mascots (like the Minnesota Vikings) to far too many New Yorker cartoons. The only problem is that those horned helmets are a complete myth. The main culprit? Costume designer Carl Emil Doepler, who included horned helmets in his gorgeous costume designs for the 1876 performance of Wagner’s classic Norse saga, Der Ring des Nibelungen. The opera was so influential that Vikings with horned helmets became a new standard — despite the fact that they were mythical. Germans were fascinated by Vikings, at least in part because they represented a classical origin story free from Greek and Roman baggage. So Doepler and other scholars intertwined German and Norse history in a surprising way: They put stereotypical ancient German headdresses — like horned helmets — on Viking heads.”

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