Paternoster elevators

Well. These seem awesome! From the Guardian: Lovin’ their elevator: why Germans are loopy about their revolving lifts.

As the paternoster cabin in which he was slowly descending into the bowels of Stuttgart’s town hall plunged into darkness, Dejan Tuco giggled infectiously. He pointed out the oily cogs of its internal workings that were just about visible as it shuddered to the left, and gripped his stomach when it rose again with a gentle jolt. “We’re not supposed to do the full circuit,” he said. “But that’s the best way to feel like you’re on a ferris wheel or a gondola.”

The 12-year-old German-Serb schoolboy was on a roll, spending several hours one day last week riding the open elevator shaft known as a paternoster, a 19th-century invention that has just been given a stay of execution after campaigners persuaded Germany’s government to reverse a decision to ban its public use.

That the doorless lift, which consists of two shafts side by side within which a chain of open cabins descend and ascend continuously on a belt, has narrowly escaped becoming a victim of safety regulations, has everything to do with a deeply felt German affection for what many consider an old-fashioned yet efficient form of transport. [continue]

Why we should add food to the cultural canon

From Why we should add food to the cultural canon.

One summer afternoon in the city of Sumter in South Carolina, three men – a farmer, a scholar, and a landscape architect – stood in a field boiling watermelon juice. They had pressed the juice themselves from Bradford watermelons, a favoured fruit of the antebellum South. The Bradford has white seeds, deep ruby flesh, and a rind so soft it can be scooped with a spoon. It had been thought extinct since the early 1900s, when watermelons with tough rinds suitable for shipping displaced it. But it had been quietly growing for more than 100 years in the backyards of eight generations of Bradfords, endangered but not dead, like the African southern white rhino.

Glenn Roberts (the farmer), David Shields (the scholar) and Nat Bradford (the architect, and heir to the 180-year-old Bradford watermelon breed) had been labouring under a blistering sun for most of that August day in 2013, cutting open watermelons in the dusty field, straining the seeds out, pressing and heating the liquid in a sorghum evaporator – a huge steam pan lofted over a propane-fired field oven – until it flared to a fiery red. Finally, towards evening, it was ready: a molasses that had not been made since the end of the Civil War.

Shields recalls the taste as a revelation on the tongue. ‘It had a base note of sugary molasses and a middle range of this deep watermelony thing and a sort of honeysuckle top note. And I thought to myself, of all the lost melons of yesteryear, this is the one I wished would return. And it has. It’s the taste of the past but it’s also the taste of the future.’ [continue]

Linguist explains secret language of Gulliver’s Travels

From Science Daily: Linguist explains secret language of Gulliver’s Travels.

Irving N. Rothman, a professor of English literature and Jewish studies at UH, says the mystery words are, in fact, variations of Hebrew. His conclusions are published in the summer 2015 edition of Swift Studies, an annual review of scholarship on the work of novelist Jonathan Swift from the Ehrenpreis Center.

In the article, “The ‘Hnea Yahoo’ of Gulliver’s Travels and Jonathan Swift’s Hebrew Neologisms,” Rothman points out a number of clues he used to reach this conclusion. Swift, he notes, was an Anglican minister who studied Hebrew at Trinity College.

“Gulliver’s Travels,” published in 1726, is Swift’s best-known work, a satire on human nature, politics and the traveler’s tales popular at the time. [continue]

Combating book theft in medieval times

From Chain, Chest, Curse: Combating Book Theft in Medieval Times.

Considering these two practical theft-prevention techniques – chaining your books to something unmovable or putting them into a safe – the third seems kind of odd: to write a curse against book thieves inside the book. Your typical curse (or anathema) simply stated that the thief would be cursed, like this one in a book from an unidentified Church of St Caecilia: “Whoever takes this book or steals it or in some evil way removes it from the Church of St Caecilia, may he be damned and cursed forever, unless he returns it or atones for his act” (source and image). Some of these book curses really rub it in: “If anyone should steal it, let him know that on the Day of Judgement the most sainted martyr himself will be the accuser against him before the face of our Lord Jesus Christ” (source). [continue]

(Link found here on the Schneier on Security blog.)

Easy DNA editing will remake the world

From Wired: Easy DNA Editing Will Remake the World. Buckle Up.

Using the three-year-old technique, researchers have already reversed mutations that cause blindness, stopped cancer cells from multiplying, and made cells impervious to the virus that causes AIDS. Agronomists have rendered wheat invulnerable to killer fungi like powdery mildew, hinting at engineered staple crops that can feed a population of 9 billion on an ever-warmer planet. Bioengineers have used Crispr to alter the DNA of yeast so that it consumes plant matter and excretes ethanol, promising an end to reliance on petrochemicals. Startups devoted to Crispr have launched. International pharmaceutical and agricultural companies have spun up Crispr R&D. Two of the most powerful universities in the US are engaged in a vicious war over the basic patent. Depending on what kind of person you are, Crispr makes you see a gleaming world of the future, a Nobel medallion, or dollar signs.

The technique is revolutionary, and like all revolutions, it’s perilous. Crispr goes well beyond anything the Asilomar conference discussed. It could at last allow genetics researchers to conjure everything anyone has ever worried they would—designer babies, invasive mutants, species-specific bioweapons, and a dozen other apocalyptic sci-fi tropes. It brings with it all-new rules for the practice of research in the life sciences. But no one knows what the rules are—or who will be the first to break them. [continue]

Do the world’s ‘uncontacted’ tribes deserve to be left alone?

From the Washington Post: Do the world’s ‘uncontacted’ tribes deserve to be left alone?

For the first time, anthropologists working for the Peruvian government will attempt to make contact with members of a remote tribe living in the Amazon jungle. The move follows growing concerns about the behavior of the Mascho Piro people, which has included attacks and raids on neighboring communities.

South America, and in particular the vast Amazon region, is home to some of the world’s last remaining “uncontacted” tribes — indigenous communities that, for whatever reason, have managed to exist almost entirely outside the purview of the nation-states in which they technically live. Experts fear a whole slew of risks that may follow should these tribes come into full contact with the outside world, from exploitation by rapacious mining and logging companies to the devastating transfer of pathogens to which they have no immunity.

In recent decades, some governments have taken a protective stance, working to shield these communities from outside contact mostly because of the health risks involved. After all, some estimates suggest contact with outside diseases killed up to 100 million indigenous people following the European arrival in the Americas. [continue]

Did you follow the article’s link to That’s a fascinating site.

Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout

From Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout.

The old tent creaks and buckles under the force of the fierce wind blowing from the west as I sleep. The tall windows of the nearby fire lookout tower rattle and shake. The sun sets behind a distant peak, clouds roll in and the clear blue sky slowly turns to the burnt orange of dusk. It took the better part of a day’s travel to get to the top of this mountain.

The journey began at a small town on a gravel road. With only a general store, a handful of houses, a seasonal restaurant and a hostel, it is really more like an outpost than a town. Where the twisted gravel road stopped, a footpath began. The narrow path moved through a moss-encrusted forest riddled with downed trees and followed the drainage of a cold, clear alpine creek. Near the top, the trees separated on the ridge to reveal an expansive view of a long valley. Just beyond this spot was my destination, a tiny shack balanced on the brow of a mountain. This is the place where Leif Haugen has spent the past several summers. I’ve come to talk with Haugen and get a first-hand peek behind the often-romanticized veneer of what it means to be a fire lookout.

Haugen is a fire lookout with the U.S. Forest Service. During the summer months, his job is to maintain watch over the pristine wilderness that surrounds his remote post a few miles south of the Canadian border in northwest Montana. He’s from Minnesota and learned about the lookout life through literature, securing his first job as a lookout with the help of a friend in 1994. He’s been returning ever since. “It’s a great way to spend the summer,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of choices, but all of the choices are things I enjoy doing: walking, reading, writing, carpentry and taking a good long look around.” [continue]

Bathing machines’s post,Victorian Beach Life: Photos of 19th Century Bathing Machines in Operation, is good fun.

The gist of the blessing bathing machines brought life in the budding modern industrial era is fairly simple. The passenger enters a horse or human drawn carriage, which is transported some distance out into the water. The van’s human cargo changes into whatever shapeless sack was deemed suitable at the time. [continue]

There are lots of photos.

What happens to the carbs?

Health. Diabetes. Pre-diabetes. Diabetes and the link to heart disease. How the body processes carbs. What causes people to get fat, anyway? If any of this interests you, you’ll want to read blogs like the one Dr Malcolm Kendrick writes. His latest post is What happens to the carbs – part II. It begins:

My interest in nutrition began many years ago as part of my over-riding interest in cardiovascular disease. This means that, unlike many other people, I backed into this area with no great interest in the effect of food on health. For most doctors nutrition takes up about an hour of the medical degree course. We are pretty much given to understand that it is of little medical significance. Eat a balanced diet…end of. I also paid nutrition about that much heed.

However, because of the power and influence of the diet/heart hypothesis I felt the need to understand more about this whole area, and how the system of digestion and metabolism actually worked. At first my interest was purely to find out if there was any clear and consistent association between diet and cardiovascular disease (which I shall call heart disease from now on, as it is simplest to do so).

Like many others, before and since, I could not find any such association. Nor could I find any biochemical or physiological reason why saturated fat, in particular, could cause heart disease. That issue, of course, represents a long and winding road that I am not going down here.

However it did not take long before I became side tracked by the very powerful and consistent association between heart disease and diabetes. People with diabetes have far higher rates of heart disease than people who do not. In the case of women with diabetes, the increase in risk hovers around five times the rate of non-diabetics. So it became clear that I would need to understand diabetes, if I was going to fully understand heart disease. [continue]

Who needs an official postal address?

From the Guardian: Postman turns detective to deliver letter with cryptic address in Ireland.

A sharp-eyed Irish postman demonstrated his detective skills after tracking down a Co Donegal house with only the vaguest of instructions on a letter to go by.

The letter was sent from Belfast across the border into the Irish Republic to the home of a PHD student.

In full, the envelope contained the message on the front: “Your man Henderson, that boy with the glasses who is doing a PhD up here at Queen’s in Belfast. Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland.”

A friend sent the letter to Barry Henderson who is studying for a PhD in history at Queen’s University Belfast with the potentially confusing address at his home in Buncranca, which has a population of 7,000. [continue]

Would an address like that get the post to you? Let’s see. Your last name, one fact about your appearance, one fact about your occupation. Would that do it? It would certainly work in my community!

For more fun, proceed to the BBC for Mind blowing mail: the Irishman who took on the postal service. And then: he has a blog!

The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator

The Guardian brings us today’s dose of strange: The mysterious German fad for posing with a polar bear imitator.

It could be a series of scenes from a novel dreamed up by Günter Grass. The author of The Tin Drum, The Flounder and other surreal stories of modern Germany would surely have seen the magic-realist poignancy of these bizarre images, found by Jean-Marie Donat, a French collector of photographs. Perhaps he could even help to explain why so many people in early and mid-20th-century Germany seem to have wanted to pose for their pictures with a polar bear.

In a Grass novel, we might follow the adventures of a polar-bear imitator as he puts on his hot, sweaty, furry white costume to appear beside a variety of Germans for their photographs. Here he is with a couple beside the Baltic sea. The man has taken off his top, but still wears long black trousers.

In another beach picture, the bear holds someone’s dog. Is it Hitler’s dog? I only ask because in another shot, inevitably, the two jolly fellows arm-in-arm with the polar bear are in Wehrmacht uniforms. One has a cigarette, another a sword – they are clearly officer class. Perhaps posing with the Arctic bear was a joke before they headed off to the Eastern Front. If so, the smiles would soon be frozen off their faces. Who knows what became of these soldiers. Who knows, too, what became of the aristocratic couple sitting on a rock in the forest with a bear. The bear cosies up to the woman, leaving the bespectacled man looking isolated and uneasy. [continue]

How do you speak American? Mostly, just make up words

From Atlas Obscura: How Do You Speak American? Mostly, Just Make Up Words.

Residents of the United States hung on to words that dropped out of British English: guess, gotten, cabin, junk, molasses. We also began using words lifted from native languages—maize, canoe. But, mostly, Americans would just make words up. Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a friend to neology,” created the word “belittle.” British writers despaired over it; he simply made up more.

And ever since, speaking American has meant enjoying the use of a whole vocabulary that originated here. We have stolen words from other languages, massaged them into new words, turned nouns into verbs and verbs into nouns, and smushed two words together to make new ones.

For starters, just think about some words we borrowed from Dutch and decided to keep: boss, cookie, stoop, scow, sleigh, snoop, waffle, poppycock, pit, when used to describe the seed of a stone fruit. Dumb might be Dutch, or it might be German, or it might be a bit of both, but it’s a uniquely American bit of English.[continue]

The root cause of violence?

I followed a poorly labelled link yesterday, which took me to a Guardian article by Jon Ronson about some woman I’ve never heard of. This was the interesting tidbit Ronson included:

I once interviewed a prison psychiatrist, James Gilligan, who told me that every murderer he treated was harbouring a central secret – which was that they felt humiliated. “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed,” he said. His conclusion: “All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.”


Inuit’s risky mussel harvest under sea ice

Do you ever search for something and find that you get distracted by something else altogether? Here is the ‘something else altogether’ that caught my attention today. From the BBC: Inuit’s risky mussel harvest under sea ice.

The Inuit of Arctic Canada take huge risks to gather mussels in winter. During extreme low tides, they climb beneath the shifting sea ice, but have less than an hour before the water returns.

The 500 people of Kangiqsujuaq, near the Hudson Strait, go to great lengths to add variety to their diet of seal meat, seal meat and yet more seal meat.

This settlement and a neighbouring community on Wakeham Bay are thought to be the only places where people harvest mussels from under the thick blanket of ice that coats the Arctic sea throughout the winter.

The locals can only do this during extreme low tides, when sea ice drops by up to 12m (about 40 feet), opening fissures through which the exposed seabed – and its edible riches – can be glimpsed. The best time to go is when the moon is either full or brand new, as this is when the tide stays out the longest. [continue]


The Norwegian town where the sun doesn’t rise

From The Atlantic: The Norwegian Town Where the Sun Doesn’t Rise.

In Tromsø, the prevailing sentiment is that winter is something to be enjoyed, not something to be endured. According to my friends, winter in Tromsø would be full of snow, skiing, the northern lights, and all things koselig, the Norwegian word for “cozy.” By November, open-flame candles would adorn every café, restaurant, home, and even workspace. Over the following months I learned firsthand that, far from a period of absolute darkness, the Polar Night in Tromsø is a time of beautiful colors and soft, indirect light. [continue]

India’s traditional ear de-waxing business is waning

From the LA Times: India’s traditional ear de-waxing business is waning.

Squatting on a low wooden stool, Sayed Mehboob adjusts his red turban, gently faded from countless hours in the afternoon sun. On this patch of sidewalk near the busy Grant Road train station in central Mumbai, modern India flies by in its customary hurry.

Young laborers with rough hands and precise haircuts set off on lunch break. Packs of students race to after-school tutoring sessions or home to play video games. Air-conditioned sedans pull over, their rear doors disgorging upper-class housewives from buttery leather seats.

Unfazed by the din, Mehboob, 45, slides a smaller stool toward a visitor and flashes an inviting smile.

“Would you like me to clean your ear?” he asks. [continue]

Inspired by 1970s Manitoba, Dutch city tests guaranteed income

From the CBC: Inspired by 1970s Manitoba, Dutch city tests guaranteed income.

As an experiment in the 1970s in Dauphin, Man., residents were provided a guaranteed minimum income, with no strings attached. Now Utrecht, in the Netherlands, is hoping a similar experiment will determine the best approach to help people struggling in that city.

The experiment will focus on people who are unemployed. One group will continue to collect benefits. A second group will receive benefits based on incentives and rewards. A third group will receive an unconditional basic income, meaning they’ll get paid even if they find new work — or if they make no effort to find a job. [continue]

I love this idea, and will be interested to hear if Utrecht goes ahead with it.

Seaweed that tastes like bacon

This could be yummy: seaweed that tastes like bacon. From Oregon State University:

Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon. [continue]

That is an interesting novelty, and I’m sure that it will encourage some people to eat more seaweed. But for tastes like bacon… well. I’ll be eating real bacon for that, thanks.

The web we have to save

The Web We Have to Save is an important and thoughtful article by Hossein Derakhshan, who was jailed for blogging in 2008. He’s free now, and sad about what the web has become. I’m sad about this, too.

Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online. Writing on the internet itself had not changed, but reading — or, at least, getting things read — had altered dramatically. I’d been told how essential social networks had become while I’d been gone, and so I knew one thing: If I wanted to lure people to see my writing, I had to use social media now.

So I tried to post a link to one of my stories on Facebook. Turns out Facebook didn’t care much. It ended up looking like a boring classified ad. No description. No image. Nothing. It got three likes. Three! That was it.

It became clear to me, right there, that things had changed. I was not equipped to play on this new turf — all my investment and effort had burned up. I was devastated. [continue]

I was on the web for years before blogs existed. Were you? In those days, you needed to know things about HTML in order to publish anything on the web. (The original version of was hand-coded, you know: HTML, typed by hand, with no blogging software in sight.)

When blogging platforms like Movable Type and then WordPress appeared, suddenly it was easy for all kinds of people to start blogs of their own and write what they pleased. And they did!

I loved the bloggy world of those days, and I miss it. Now so many people use Facebook and Twitter instead of blogging, and I think that’s sad. Why put your content on a commercial network that views you as the product? Why give your content to some entity that does not respect your privacy, and does not give you full control over your own stuff? The answer is usually “convenience” or “because everybody else does” or some such. I understand this, but I mourn for the days when everybody wanted to blog, instead of post to Facebook. I loved the decentralized, quirky, independent feel of the blogosphere.

And that is, in part, why I’m here, blogging. I will not give my content to some commercial entity, no matter who else does. You’ll not find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or what-have-you.

What about you? Do you value independent voices on the web? Independent sites, like blogs? Do you have a blog of your own? Or do you, too, let some commercial company host your social interactions?

And what do you think of Hossein’s article?

The Victorian anti-vaccination movement

From The Atlantic: The Victorian Anti-Vaccination Movement.

The dewy chill over Leicester, England, in March 1885 did not deter thousands of protesters from gathering outside nearby York Castle to protest the imprisonment of seven activists. Organizers claimed as many as 100,000 people attended, although historians estimate it was closer to 20,000.

The cause they rallied against? Vaccination.

This movement has faded from popular memory, obscured by the controversy of more recent anti-vaccination efforts, which gained momentum in the 1990s. However, the effects of the Victorian anti-vaccination movement still echo in the debate over the personal belief exemption, which was banned in California in June.

On the day the Leicester protesters gathered, vaccination was mandatory in England. Nearly a century before, Edward Jenner, a Scottish physician, had invented a method of protecting people against the raging threat of smallpox. The treatment was called variolation, and it involved [continue]

In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood

From The Guardian: In more innocent days, you could write about cocks and not be misunderstood.

The brave and resourceful small girl in Arthur Ransome’s 1930 classic, Swallows and Amazons, is called Titty. But not, we learn, in the new film version being made by the BBC. There she will be renamed Tatty, to avoid “too many sniggers”.

It’s not the first time this indignity has befallen Titty, who was named after the traditional English fairytale, Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse, in a more innocent age. (According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word “tits” only started being associated with breasts in about 1928.) She was rechristened Kitty when the story was televised by the BBC in 1963, though she re-emerged with her original name in the 1974 film adaptation, and in a later radio broadcast in 2012. [continue]

One wonders how many words have undergone a similar transformation. A few years ago The Beaver, a magazine about Canadian history, had to change its name. Remember? The NYT wrote about it: Web Filters Cause Name Change for a Magazine.