In Warsaw, clams help protect the city’s water supply

From Judita at Bored Panda: “While most people probably think of clams and mussels as a part of some fancy dinner, it appears they have a much higher significance in some places. For example, the water quality in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, is monitored by… well, yes, clams. The city of Warsaw gets its water from a river and the main water pump has 8 clams that have triggers attached to their shells. If the water gets too toxic, they close, and the triggers shut off the city’s water supply automatically. Apparently, the mollusks first undergo an acclimatization process after being caught and brought to the laboratory. During that time, scientists also determine the natural opening of their shell—clams leave a slight opening and feed by filtrating water. Within one hour, one clam can filter and thus analyze the quality of 1.5 liters of water.”

The story behind the Chicago newspaper that bought a bar

From Andy Wright at “By 1976, reporter Pam Zekman was well-acquainted with the everyday corruption that permeated Chicago. Zekman was part of a four-person Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team at the Chicago Tribune, where she had gone undercover in a nursing home, for a collections agency, in a hospital, and at a precinct polling place, exposing wrongdoings ranging from medical malpractice to election fraud. When Zekman was poached by a rival paper, the feisty Chicago Sun-Times, she proposed a daring project that would go down in the annals of journalism history as both a feat of reporting and a focal point for ethics debates still raging today.”

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The life and death of the last Hawaiian princess

From Kathryn Armstrong for the BBC: “Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, Hawaii’s so-called ‘last princess,’ passed away in 2022 at the age of 96. Known to her friends as Kekau, was one of the last living links to the royal family and was celebrated for her philanthropic support of traditional Hawaiian culture. She died peacefully at home in Honolulu on Sunday with her wife by her side, according to a statement released by Iolani Palace, America’s only royal residence. Abigail was born in Honolulu in 1926 and attended school in Shanghai and California. Her wealth, estimated to be $215m, came from her great-grandfather, an Irish businessman who owned a sugar plantation. His daughter married Prince David Kawānanakoa, who was third in line for the throne of the Kingdom of Hawaii when the royal family was overthrown by American businessmen in 1893.”

Celine Dion says she suffers from “stiff-person syndrome.” What is it?

Nicole Stock writes for The New York Times: “Pop superstar Celine Dion has cancelled tour dates after being diagnosed with stiff person syndrome, a rare neurological condition. The syndrome, which causes progressive stiffness in the body and severe muscle spasms, is “exquisitely rare” and affects perhaps one in a million people, according to the medical director of comprehensive pain recovery at Cleveland Clinic. Stiff person syndrome is a rare autoimmune neurological condition that affects the central nervous system and can cause rigidity throughout the body and painful muscle spasms. It was first coined in the 1920s (as “stiff man syndrome”) after doctors described patients falling over like “a wooden man.” The exact cause of the condition is not clear.”

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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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