The sex strike that has shaken the ultra-Orthodox world

From The Cut: “Fifty miles northwest of New York City is a town built as a kind of experiment: an attempt to insulate a religious community from the vagaries of time and assimilation. There, the women serve Sabbath meals that would not be out of place in 19th-century Eastern Europe — gefilte fish, golden challah, buttery kokosh cake — and the men dress in black coats and long sidelocks. In that town, a girl grew up to be a woman, and she got married, and the marriage turned bad. For four years, 30-year-old Malky Gold Berkowitz has been fighting to be freed from her husband, Wolf Berkowitz, a man who she says has subjected her to extensive harassment and physical assault. Malky lives in Kiryas Joel, or the City of Joel, an ultra-Orthodox enclave whose strictures on women make it an outlier even among other ultra-Orthodox sects — a world within a world.”

The rocket scientist who invented the Super Soaker water gun in his spare time

Super Soaker-edit.jpg

From The Smithsonian: “You might think it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to invent a squirt gun like the Super Soaker. But Lonnie Johnson, the inventor who devised this hugely popular toy that can drench half the neighborhood with a single pull of the trigger, actually worked on the Galileo and Cassini satellite programs and at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he helped develop the B2 stealth bomber. Johnson is a prodigious creator, holding more than 120 patents on a variety of products and processes, including designs for lithium batteries and electrochemical conversion systems, heat pumps and a ceramic proton-conducting electrolyte. But Johnson has also patented such amusing concepts as a hair drying curler apparatus, wet diaper detector, and Nerf Blasters, the rapid-fire system with foam darts that tempts the child in all of us.”

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She can see 100 times more colors than the average person

From Popular Science: “When Concetta Antico looks at a leaf, she sees much more than just green. “Around the edge I’ll see orange or red or purple in the shadow; you might see dark green but I’ll see violet, turquoise, blue,” she said. “It’s like a mosaic of color.” Antico doesn’t just perceive these colors because she’s an artist who paints in the impressionist style. She’s also a tetrachromat, which means that she has more receptors in her eyes to absorb color than the average person. The difference lies in Antico’s cones, structures in the eyes that are calibrated to absorb particular wavelengths of light and transmit them to the brain. The average person has three cones, which enables him to see about one million colors. But Antico has four cones, so her eyes are capable of picking up dimensions and nuances of color—an estimated 100 million of them—that the average person cannot. “It’s shocking to me how little color people are seeing,” she said.

He has climbed Mount Everest every year since 1994 and holds the record at 29 times

Getty Images Kami Rita Sherpa waves to supporters from the top of car after arriving back at base camp after his 28th climb in 2023

From the BBC: “Kami Rita Sherpa, 54, scaled the world’s tallest mountain for a 29th time. Already the world-record holder, he beat his own landmark in setting the new standard. A guide for over two decades, he first climbed the summit in 1994 and has made the peak almost every year since. The climbing season has just started on Mount Everest, which is expecting hundreds of climbers to make the trek over the coming weeks. Sherpa reached the 29,000ft summit on Sunday. Last week, he had posted to Instagram from Everest base camp saying he was back to try a 29th summit “to the top of the world”. The sherpa has said his climbs are just work – but he did do the trek twice last year to reclaim his crown from long-time rival and compatriot Pasang Dawa Sherpa.”

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Blue jeans were actually invented in the 1600s

From The Smithsonian: “An upcoming show at Galerie Canesso features two paintings by a mysterious artist who was active in northern Italy in the 1600s. The painter’s oil canvases depict early iterations of the stiff blue fabric beloved today, as worn by Italian peasants. According to a statement, the pieces have proved to be important artifacts in garment history, pushing back the provenance of blue jeans by centuries. When Levi Strauss started selling denim work pants in the late 1800s, he merely added metal rivets and structure to a fabric that already boasted a storied European past. Jeans come from Genoa, while denim comes from the French city of Nîmes. Until the 11th century, no one could wear blue fabric because they didn’t know how to make blue color adhere; the genius of the Genoese was to find the indigo stone in India and make it a low-cost process.”

General Weyler and the New York City Army Cats of 39 Whitehall Street

Heroic Cats Who Served in the Military | Reader's Digest

From Hatching Cat: “General Weyler was a cat. Not just any cat, but a veteran in a troop of Army cats who served their country in the commissary storehouse in New York City’s Army Building at 39 Whitehall Street. In Old New York, most warehouses and other large buildings in Lower Manhattan were infested with mice and rats. The best soldiers cut out for the job of extermination were the Army cats. Cats were first employed by the U.S. Army shortly after the end of the Civil War. In July 1898, America was involved in the short-lived Spanish-American War. During this time, many of the Army cats had names affiliated with Spain and the war. One of the cats serving in New York City was Queen Regent (named for the queen regent of Spain, Maria Cristina De Habsburgo-Lorena). There was also General Blanco (named for Ramón Blanco, the Captain-General of Cuba).”

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Beethoven’s hair may reveal clues about his deafness

From the New York Times: “Why did Beethoven go deaf? A cottage industry of fans and experts has debated various theories. Was it Paget’s disease of bone, which in the skull can affect hearing? Did irritable bowel syndrome cause his gastrointestinal problems? Or might he have had syphilis, pancreatitis, diabetes or renal papillary necrosis, a kidney disease? After 200 years, a discovery of toxic substances in locks of the composer’s hair may finally solve the mystery. This particular story began a few years ago, when researchers realized that DNA analysis had advanced enough to justify an examination of hair said to have been clipped from Beethoven’s head by fans as he lay dying.”

A chunk of trash from the International Space Station hit a house in Florida

This cylindrical object, a few inches in size, fell through the roof of Alejandro Otero's home in Florida last month.

From Ars Technica: “Something from the heavens came crashing through the roof of Alejandro Otero’s home, and it seems likely that the nearly 2-pound object came from the International Space Station. Otero said it tore through the roof and both floors of his house in Naples, Florida. Otero wasn’t home at the time, but his son was. A Nest home security camera captured the sound of the crash at 2:34 pm local time on March 8. That’s a close match for the time that US Space Command recorded the reentry of a piece of space debris from the space station, depleted batteries from the ISS, attached to a cargo pallet that was originally supposed to come back to Earth in a controlled manner.”

These prototype smart contact lenses are powered by your tears

The 10 Best Contact Lenses Sites in 2020 | Sitejabber Consumer Reviews

From the IEEE Spectrum: “The potential use cases for smart contacts are compelling and varied. Pop a lens on your eye and monitor health metrics like glucose levels; receive targeted drug delivery for ocular diseases; experience augmented reality and read news updates. But the eye is a challenge for electronics design: With one of the highest nerve densities of any human tissue, the cornea is 300 to 600 times as sensitive as our skin. Researchers have developed small, flexible chips, but power sources have proved more difficult. Now, a team from the University of Utah says they’ve developed an all-in-one hybrid energy-generation unit specifically designed for eye-based tech, powered by tears.”

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Recovering the dead from Mount Everest is both expensive and dangerous

From Outside: “Every few years, groups of climbers embark on missions to remove bodies from Mount Everest and other peaks above 8,000 meters. These expeditions are arduous and sometimes deadly. This year, the Nepali Army is sending a crew of 12 recovery specialists up Mount Everest to bring down five bodies located high on the peak. No one knows for sure just how many corpses remain on Mount Everest, but a 2015 study by the BBC placed the estimate at more than 200. The highest concentration of bodies lie between Camp IV at 26,600 feet and the summit. Karki estimates the price tag for the 2024 mission to be between $75,000 and $80,000 per body recovered.”

Why do we call it Wi-Fi? It’s a made-up phrase that means nothing

The Wi-Fi Alliance is expanding into the 6 GHz spectrum with Wi-Fi 6E ...

From Gizmodo: “Have you ever thought about where the term Wi-Fi comes from? Most people would logically assume it’s a shortened version of some highly technical description for the tech that allowed computers to access the internet wirelessly. But those people would be wrong. The term Wi-Fi isn’t an abbreviated version of wireless fidelity, as many people believe. Wi-Fi is a pun on Hi-Fi, which was coined in the 1950s by audio equipment manufacturers as a shortened version of “high fidelity.” But there’s no such thing as wireless fidelity. The term was created by the marketing firm Interbrand, which also came up with Prozac and the computer company Compaq.”

The secret history of the Gibson Guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan

From Atlas Obscura: “The classic Gibson guitar might bring to mind its current Nashville home, the guitar’s roots are actually in the Michigan city of Kalamazoo. Built in 1917, the Gibson Factory there created some of the most iconic guitars ever made. But beyond the instruments, the factory was also home to the “Kalamazoo Gals,” a group of over 200 women who kept the guitar manufacturer going during World War II. With the men gone, the factory began hiring women to make munitions. In fact, between 1942 and 1946, it hired more women than any other guitar-turned-munitions manufacturer. But secretly, these women weren’t just making bullets. They were making guitars.”

This container ship doesn’t look that big until you see the people

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 Tampa snow festival that became an epic fiasco

From the Tampa Bay Times: “When Beach Park’s Howard Hilton was planning the Great Tampa Snow Show, he envisioned smiling kids, Santa Claus spreading good cheer, frolicking reindeer and lots of snow. A giant Christmas tree would hulk over the festivities, and there would be a massive, five-story ski slope. To create a festive atmosphere, the concept was to close five blocks of Franklin Street and cover it in ice and snow. Instead, Hilton’s eight-day event turned into the most flawed spectacle in Tampa history. The event took place 45 years ago and was designed to promote downtown businesses during the Christmas season. Even though hundreds of thousands came to the show, it resulted in 47 lawsuits, three dead deer and several sunburned seals.”

A convention where they want to return the Habsburg dynasty to the throne

From The Baffler: “Why did several hundred people in Texas pay good money to spend a beautiful Saturday inside, listening to three living members of the Habsburg family and a scattering of Carlists talk about what ails the world? It’s clear what the Habsburgs got out of it: the conference, held in Plano and organized by a Dallas realtor and right-wing Catholic, was in support of the family’s effort to win a sainthood for Emperor Karl I, perhaps the least successful and most tragic Habsburg monarch, who reigned for the last two years of World War I and then died penniless on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The family hoped to keep their memory alive—and maybe sell a few books. What everyone else might get out of it was unclear, at least at first.”

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Scientists have found microbes six kilometres under the sea

From the MIT Press: “In water nearly 6 kilometers deep, the scientists drilled 100 meters into the seafloor. They found microbes all the way to the bottom of the cores, albeit not as many as in the richer areas closer to the surface. The scientists estimated that the deepest microbes were at least 100 million years old, making it seem they could only be fossils. Surely nothing could survive, whatever that means exactly, for 100 million years. But when brought back to the lab and offered nutrients, the microbes began to grow and multiply. This seemingly fantastic discovery raised the question of what the microbes beneath the gyre had been doing for 100 million years, and where they got their energy.”

An escaped convict lived for six months inside a secret room in a Circuit City

From SFGate: “She had recently ended a 20-year marriage and was juggling work and life as a single mom. One day in October 2004, John appeared at her church. He was funny and romantic. They were soon dating, sharing dinners at Red Lobster and evenings at her home watching movies. At Christmas time, he donated more items to the church toy drive than anyone else in the congregation. Then a police officer approached her at work. He had a photograph of John in his hand. His real name was Jeffrey Manchester, the officer told her, and he was an escaped convict who had been living for the last six months inside hidden rooms he’d created in a nearby Toys R Us and Circuit City.”

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Teens found a trigonometry proof for the Pythagorean Theorem

From CBS News: “Two high school seniors had proved a mathematical puzzle that was thought to be impossible for 2,000 years. Ne’Kiya Jackson and Calcea Johnson were working on a school-wide math contest that came with a cash prize. The seniors were familiar with the Pythagorean Theorem, a fundamental principle of geometry. You may remember it from high school: a² + b² = c². When you know the length of two sides of a right triangle, you can figure out the length of the third. What no one told them was there had been more than 300 documented proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem using algebra and geometry, but a proof using trigonometry was thought to be impossible.”

Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri, was also the voice of the first ATM

From The Hustle: “I did jingle and voice-over work for hundreds of companies — Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Macy’s, Goodyear, Papa John’s, IBM. I am the voice you hear over the loudspeaker at Delta Airlines gates, and also on a bunch of GPS and phone systems. And then in the early ‘70s, The First National Bank of Atlanta, now Wells Fargo, started introducing some of the earliest ATM machines, but nobody would use them! People didn’t trust computers yet. So, they decided to personalize the machine by putting a little face of a smiling girl on it. They called her “Tillie the All-Time Teller,” and they hired me to sing a jingle in her voice. It became the first successful ATM machine in the United States.”

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