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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What the embrace of ChatGPT says about modern life

via Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter:

“The way I see it, the jaw-dropping speed of generative AI’s embrace is essentially a large-scale acknowledgement that modern life is sort of miserable and that most people don’t actually care if anything works anymore. Which is, honestly, fair. Our lives are full of tasks that no one wants to do that offer little reward for doing them well. The systems we live, work, and create inside of are simply too large to comprehend or really care about. I mean, at this point, pretty much everyone I know in an office job that isn’t in media is using ChatGPT at work basically all of the time. But as more companies push to integrate themselves into AI platforms, it’s also revealing that they don’t really care either. The institutions and industries responsible for these systems we all hate don’t want to maintain them either. And we know this because there is simply no way you can say you care about something if you replace it with AI. You can’t say you care about audio production if you replace voice actors. You can’t say you care about food service if you replace drive-thru workers. You can’t say you care about advertising if you replace copywriters. What you care about is speed, scale, and, if this stuff works correctly, money.”

Three abandoned children and a 40-year mystery

From Giles Tremlett at The Guardian: “On 22 April 1984, a sandy-haired, ringleted two-year-old girl named Elvira was driven with her brothers, Ricard and Ramón, aged four and five, to a grand railway terminus in Barcelona. The children, dressed in designer clothes, rode in a white Mercedes-Benz driven by their father’s French friend Denis. He parked near the modernist Estación de Francia and walked them into the hangar-like hall, which had shiny, patterned marble floors and was topped by two glass domes. Once there, he told the children to wait while he bought sweets. The three siblings waited, but Denis did not return. Eventually, Elvira started crying. A railway worker asked what was wrong and Ramón, who spoke French and Spanish, explained. The police were called, but when they asked the children their parents’ names, they did not know. Nor could the children give their own surnames, or say where they lived – except that, until recently, it had been Paris.”

How Edgar Allen Poe pranked New York City, and inspired Jules Verne

From Rebecca Romney at Mental Floss: “On April 13, 1844, a special extra of the New York Sun announced: “ASTOUNDING NEWS! … THE ATLANTIC CROSSED IN THREE DAYS! SIGNAL TRIUMPH OF MR. MONCK MASON’S FLYING MACHINE!!!” According to the article, a balloon heading from England toward Paris had been blown off-course and landed safely near Charleston, South Carolina. The “report” was submitted by a journalist who was also a well-known short-story writer: Edgar Allan Poe. There was just one problem. He had made the whole thing up. “The Balloon Hoax,” as it later became known, was Poe’s idea of a calling card. He had just moved to Manhattan. What better way to announce you’ve arrived than to prank an entire city?”

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How to survive a car crash in 10 easy steps

From Anne Lagamayo in Longreads: “Remember when you were advised to stay at least six feet away from people, or else risk getting COVID? Then possibly dying? That four-hour car ride on the final leg of your trip, then, was both a foolish and fitting thing to do. Because it’s on this drive from the coast of Oregon to Bend that your car slips on the snow and crashes into the highway barrier. You find out later that that day was the first heavy snowfall of the season, and you’re in one of many car accidents around town. You have photos of this carnage and general mayhem and, much later — after all this is more or less over — gleefully show them to people who ask, while watching kind of sadistically as they squirm and wince and gravely tell you they’re glad you’re alive.”

Her illness fooled celebs. The truth may be even darker

From Jamie Bartlett and Ruth Mayer at the BBC: “On 10 August 2015, crowds of fans cheered and waved as two members of pop band One Direction posed for photos outside a fundraising ball at London’s Natural History Museum. But inside, the real stars were a group of very ill children – dressed up in gowns and suits, some accompanied by their carers, others midway through chemotherapy. For Megan and her mother Jean, this “Cinderella Ball” was another chance to raise money for their fast-growing charity, Believe in Magic. The guests also knew that Megan – who was just 20 – had organised the ball while very publicly battling a brain tumour of her own. But behind the ball gowns, there was a secret involving one of the medical profession’s most mysterious syndromes.”

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Martin Luther King’s criticism of Malcolm X was a fraud

From Gillian Brockell at the Washington Post: “Jonathan Eig was deep in the Duke University archives researching his new biography of Martin Luther King Jr. when he made an alarming discovery: King’s harshest and most famous criticism of Malcolm X, in which he accused his fellow civil rights leader of “fiery, demagogic oratory,” appears to have been fabricated. “I think its historic reverberations are huge,” Eig told The Washington Post. “We’ve been teaching people for decades, for generations, that King had this harsh criticism of Malcolm X, and it’s just not true.” The quote came from a January 1965 Playboy interview with author Alex Haley, a then-43-year-old Black journalist, and was the longest published interview King ever did, but the entire quote was fabricated.

Brazilian authorities seize a wildlife influencer’s pet capybara

From Matheus Andrade for Rest of World: “Wild animals are not pets,” posted Brazil’s environmental watchdog, Ibama, on social media after what appeared to be a standard confiscation. This, however, was not just any wild animal. On April 27, Ibama had taken Filó — a capybara from the Brazilian Amazon — from wildlife influencer Agenor Tupinambá. The development led to an uproar on social media. Tupinambá’s following on Instagram and TikTok blew up as supporters rallied to the cause of #FreeFiló. The influencer’s Instagram followers have grown from 10,000 at the end of last year to 2.2 million now; his TikTok following has nearly doubled to 1.9 million.  “I am deeply sorry for what is happening,” Tupinambá said in a viral post. “Only I know the pain I am feeling. I chose to be a guardian, not a criminal.”

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The woman who found hydrogen in the stars

From Sidney Perkowitz at Physics World: “Hydrogen, the simplest atom, is a basic building block of the universe. We know that it existed soon after the universe was born and that it still appears as a large part of the interstellar medium in which stars form. It is also the nuclear fuel that keeps stars radiating immense amounts of energy as they evolve over eons to create the chemical elements. But how did we learn that hydrogen is a widespread and fundamental component of the universe? Not enough people know that the cosmic importance of hydrogen was first grasped by a young PhD student, Cecilia Payne (Payne-Gaposchkin after she married), who in 1925 discovered hydrogen in the stars. Indeed, she earned a PhD at a time when it was still extremely difficult for women to do so.”

How an anonymous Twitter account drove a book onto the bestsellers list

From Danika Ellis at Book Riot: “On Saturday, Twitter user bigolas dickolas wolfwood (@maskofbun) tweeted: read this. DO NOT look up anything about it. just read it. it’s only like 200 pages u can download it on audible it’s only like four hours. do it right now i’m very extremely serious. The follow up tweet says “*grabs you personally by the throat* you will do this. for me. you will go to the counter at barnes and noble. you will buy this. i will be greatly rewarded” This is an account that tweets mostly about the anime Trigun to about 14,000 followers. But within days, this tweet would explode in popularity, now with more than 100,000 likes and 10,000 retweets. As the tweet exploded, so did the book. It rose up the charts on Amazon, becoming the bestselling book overall. It took up three of the top four Sci-Fi Bestseller spots.”

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If these people buy your new product, it is doomed to fail

Dan Lewis writes: “In 2015, a team of marketing researchers were looking at the buying habits of customers who frequented an unnamed chain of convenience stores, likely to help the store better understand its customers. And as one researcher, Professor Catherine Tucker of MIT, told the New York Times, they made a discovery that “was really an accident” — there were a handful of customers “who were really good at picking out failures,” so good that “a newly introduced product was less likely to survive if it attracted these buyers. (And if they bought it repeatedly, its chances of survival were even worse.) Professor Tucker called these people harbingers of failure because, statistically speaking, their fondness for a product heralded its demise.”

Who really invented the electric guitar?

From Ben Marks at Collector’s Weekly: “Many places deserve to be called the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll. Memphis often gets the nod because that’s where Sam Phillips recorded Elvis Presley belting out an impromptu, uptempo cover of “That’s All Right” in 1954. For author Ian Port, whose new book, The Birth of Loud, has just been published by Scribner, the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll could also be the former farming community of Fullerton in Orange County, California. That’s where an electronics autodidact named Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender and a friend named Clayton “Doc” Kaufman took a solid plank of oak, painted it glossy black, attached a pickup at one end, and strung its length with steel strings.”

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The electrical hum that helps to fight crime

From Rebecca Morelle for the BBC: “At the Metropolitan Police forensic lab in south London, audio specialists have been continuously recording the sound of mains electricity. It is an all pervasive hum that we normally cannot hear. But boost it a little, and a metallic and not very pleasant buzz fills the air. “The power is sent out over the national grid to factories, shops and of course our homes. Normally this frequency, known as the mains frequency, is about 50Hz,” explains Dr Alan Cooper, a senior digital forensic practitioner at the Met Police. This buzz is an annoyance for sound engineers. But for forensic experts, it has turned out to be an invaluable tool in the fight against crime.”

The prince with no throne

If the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed, 25-year-old Ferdinand Habsburg would eventually be its ruler. Instead he’s a racecar driver. Alyson Krueger writes in the New York Times: “Ferdinand Habsburg-Lothringen sometimes goes for runs around the 1,441-room Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He loves taking in the manicured gardens, the mazes, one of the world’s oldest zoos still in existence, and one of the largest Baroque orangeries in the world. “I go there to wander around the beauty,” he said. But once in a while things can feel a little weird in a way that is unique to Mr. Habsburg.”

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Solving the mystery of the missing Jeopardy tapes

Claire McNear writes: “For decades, whispers have circulated among game show aficionados about a mysterious Jeopardy! contestant from 1986. She went by Barbara Lowe and won five games in a row, which at the time was the upper limit for returning champions. Later that year, when the show aired its Tournament of Champions contest with the best recent players, for which five-day champs automatically qualified, Lowe was nowhere to be found. Then, bizarrely, her episodes seemed to be wiped from the face of the earth. In the 1990s, Game Show Network re-aired Season 2 of Jeopardy!; eagle-eyedfans noticed that the five episodes featuring Lowe were unceremoniously skipped.”

The race to save a historic 18th-century castle in Poland

Alex Webber writes: “For years left to rot, hopes that a stunning palace in the Opole region would regain its former splendour have been put on hold after legal issues were raised concerning its recent purchase. Regarded as one of the area’s finest architectural jewels, the palace in Kopice began life in the 18th century when the architect Hans Rudolph designed a classicist mansion to be built on the ancient seat of the van Borsnitz clan. A century later, the property was purchased by Count Hans Ulrich Schaffgotsch for his seventeen-year-old wife Joanna Gryzik von Schomberg-Godulla. In 1863, the couple commissioned Karol Lüdecke to oversee its complete reconstruction. Of its many standout features, it contained a spectacular rib-vaulted chapel, hand-carved furnishings and priceless works of art. Equally impressive was its sprawling 60-hectare garden.”

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