The search for dark matter depends on shipwrecks

From The Atlantic: “Plenty of everyday objects, from ceramics and glass to metals and bananas, are radioactive, to varying degrees. Should the particles from their decay hit the detectors of particle-physics experiments, they could give scientists false positives and dig potholes on the road to scientific discovery. Even the experiments themselves, built from all kinds of metals, have lightly radioactive components. Just a few inches of lead can shield detectors from all kinds of rogue radiation, and one of the best ways to block sneaky, unwanted particles is to surround them with lead that itself is barely radioactive. The best source of such lead just so happens to be sunken ships, some of which have been corpses near coastal waters for as long as two millennia.”

She’s 116 years old and her entire town has become her family

From the New York Times: “When Edith Ceccarelli was born in February 1908, Theodore Roosevelt was president, Oklahoma had just become the nation’s 46th state and women did not yet have the right to vote. At 116, Ms. Ceccarelli is the oldest known person in the United States and the second oldest on Earth. She has lived through two World Wars, the advent of the Ford Model T — and the two deadliest pandemics in American history. For most of that time, she has lived in one place: Willits, a village tucked in California’s redwood forests that was once known for logging but now may be better known for Ms. Ceccarelli. At Willits City Hall, where 100-foot redwoods tower overhead, a gold-framed photograph of Ms. Ceccarelli sits in a display case.”

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Her cousin’s murder has never been solved

From Mary Spicuzza for the Milwaukee Journal: “Florence Grady and Augie Palmisano reached the elevator doors at the same time. Both were tenants at Juneau Village Garden Apartments in downtown Milwaukee. And shortly before 9 a.m. that Friday — June 30, 1978 — both were heading to the basement of the apartment complex. They chatted about the weather and Summerfest. When they reached the basement, he walked to his car, a 1977 Mercury Marquis. Less than a minute later, there was a massive explosion. The blast shook the city. Paintings fell from walls and books tumbled off shelves. Tenants ran from the building as firefighters and police rushed to the scene. Augie Palmisano was my cousin. His murder has never been solved.”

The Black female engineer who played a pivotal role in developing GPS

Meet Gladys West, The African-American Woman Who Played A Pivotal Role ...

From Tanasia Kenney for the Atlanta Black Star: “From cell phones to cars and even social media, most folks in this day and age are familiar with the Geographical Positioning System, or GPS. Little known is the fact that an African–American woman mathematician was a part of the original team of engineers tasked with developing the highly useful system. West, 87, enjoyed a 42-year career as a mathematician at the Naval Support Facility in Virginia where she, and fellow engineers saw the early beginnings of the popular tracking system. She was just one of four Black Americans employed at the base when she first started in 1956, her calculations eventually leading to GPS satellites.”

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Legislators continue to push Kids Online Safety Act despite ongoing criticism

Last week, executives from some of the world’s largest social platforms—Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, as well as TikTok, Snap, Discord, and X, formerly known as Twitter—testified at a Senate hearing about children’s safety online. The session featured the sort of grandstanding by senators that often occurs in such hearings, including a bizarre detour into whether Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok (which is based in China), is a member of the Chinese Communist Party (even though he is from Singapore). One particularly striking moment came after Josh Hawley, the Republican senator from Missouri, asked Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, to apologize to some of the families present at the hearing, including Maurine Molak, whose son David died by suicide at sixteen after he was cyberbullied, and Todd and Mia Minor, whose son Matthew died at twelve after he took part in an online “blackout challenge.” Zuckerberg complied. “No one should have to go through the things that your families have suffered,” he said.

Parents in the viewers’ gallery, including Molak and the Minors, weren’t just there for an apology from Zuckerberg or the other executives, but to pressure legislators to pass the Kids Online Safety Act, a law that, according to its supporters, could help prevent the kinds of dangers that their children were exposed to. Molak told NBC News that she and other parents are up against a “billion-dollar lobby campaign” funded by the tech platforms and aimed at blocking the legislation. She added that she and the other parents in attendance are “sick and tired of [tech platforms] deploying all of these people to crush the work that we’re doing.”

KOSA was first proposed in 2022 by Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, and Marsha Blackburn, the Republican senator from Tennessee. Blumenthal has said that he was inspired to craft the legislation after Frances Haugen—a former Facebook staffer turned whistleblower, whose disclosures from inside the company were widely covered by numerous major news outlets in 2021—appeared before Congress that year. As part of her testimony, Haugen submitted internal documents that appeared to show that bosses at Meta knew that Facebook and Instagram were harming teenagers, by encouraging emotionally or physically harmful behavior, but had taken little or no action to prevent by way of mitigation. Blumenthal said that KOSA was necessary because Haugen had showed that Facebook knowingly “exploited teens using powerful algorithms that amplified their insecurities.”

Note: This was originally published as the daily newsletter for the Columbia Journalism Review, where I am the chief digital writer

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She made history with a hair-raising flight across the Atlantic

From Alec Marsh for Outside magazine: “On September 5 of 1936, a pair of fisherman came across a woman floundering her way through a bog on the eastern shores of Nova Scotia. In the background was her single-engined Percival Vega Gull aircraft, its nose buried deep in the moss. Blood streamed down the woman’s face and black peat went up to the waist of her formerly white overalls: ‘I’m Mrs Markham,’ she told them. ‘I’ve just flown from England.’ Taken to a local farmhouse, the aviator asked for a cup of tea and for a phone. She was directed to ‘a little cubicle that housed an ancient telephone’ built on the rocks, ‘put there in case of shipwrecks,’ she recalled. Over the line she told the operator: ‘Could you ask someone to send a taxi for me?’ Beryl Markham, 33, had just become the first person to fly non-stop, solo, from Europe to North America.”

The Donner party might have survived if they hadn’t rejected help from indigenous tribes

What the Donner Party consumed in their last days

From Julie Schablitsky for Archeology Archive: “Until now the Native American perspective has been left out of the telling of the Donner tragedy, not because the wel mel ti did not remember the pioneers, but because they were never asked, or perhaps were not ready to share. Their oral tradition recalls the starving strangers who camped in an area that was unsuitable for that time of year. Taking pity on the pioneers, the northern Washoe attempted to feed them, leaving rabbit meat and wild potatoes near the camps. Another account states that they tried to bring the Donner Party a deer carcass, but were shot at as they approached. Later, some wel mel ti observed the migrants eating human remains. Fearing for their lives, the area’s native inhabitants continued to watch the strangers but avoided further contact. The migrants at Alder Creek were not surviving in the mountains alone—the northern Washoe were there, and they had tried to help.”

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Tracy Chapman does Fast Car at the Grammys

This performance was mesmerizing — more than 35 years after its debut in 1988, Fast Car is just as great as it was when I heard it for the first time. Tracy Chapman, who hasn’t performed in public in almost a decade, did it with Luke Combs at the Grammy Awards and got a standing ovation. Combs’ version of the song won a Country Music Association award for Song of the Year, and hit #1 on the country charts, making her the first Black woman to have a solo songwriting credit on a country music #1 hit.

And here’s one of the first public performances of that song, at a concert at Wembley Stadium in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. Chapman wasn’t even supposed to perform it — Stevie Wonder had flown in from the US and was supposed to play a surprise set, but the hard drive containing all of his synthesizer backing tracks did not make it to England and so he refused to go on. Scrambling to fill the void, the concert organizers asked Tracy Chapman if she would agree to perform — she came out in front of 70,000 ornery concertgoers, played Fast Car with just her voice and an acoustic guitar and the stadium went crazy. She sold about two million records in the next two weeks.

She stole a man’s memory card and discovered a serial killer

From Mark Thiessen for AP: “A woman with a lengthy criminal history including theft, assault and prostitution got into a truck with a man who had picked her up for a “date” near downtown Anchorage. When he left her alone in the vehicle, she stole a digital memory card from the center console. Now, more than four years later, what she found on that card is key to a double murder trial set to begin this week: gruesome photos and videos of a woman being beaten and strangled at a Marriott hotel, her attacker speaking in a strong accent as he urged her to die, her blanket-covered body being snuck outside on a luggage cart. Smith has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges in the deaths of Kathleen Henry, 30, and Veronica Abouchuk, who was 52 when her family reported her missing in February 2019.”

An African-American man named Osbourn Dorsey invented the doorknob in the 1800s

How to Remove a Doorknob - This Old House

From Same Passage: “Osbourn Dorsey invented the doorknob and doorstop in December of 1878. He successfully obtained a patent for his work in the same year. Because of the time in which he lived and the fact that he was African-American, very little is known about his life. Historians still wonder if the man was born free or if he was a freed slave, and they don’t really know where Dorsey lived or what other inventions he created if any, or even what he did for a living. Most of the information about him and his inventions comes from his patent application. Before Dorsey’s invention people closed and secured doors in a variety of ways. Many people used some type of latch to keep doors closed, whereas others used leather straps as handles. Even after the doorknob was invented it took years for people to embrace them fully and begin installing them.”

Note: This is a version of my personal newsletter, which I send out via Ghost, the open-source publishing platform. You can see other issues and sign up here.

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