The fight over the Doves

From The Economist: .

ON DARK evenings in late 1916, a frail 76-year-old man could often be seen shuffling furtively between The Dove, a pub in west London, and the green and gold turrets of Hammersmith Bridge. Passers-by paid no attention, for there was nothing about Thomas Cobden-Sanderson’s nightly walks to suggest that he was undertaking a peculiar and criminal act of destruction.

Between August 1916 and January 1917 Cobden-Sanderson, a printer and bookbinder, dropped more than a tonne of metal printing type from the west side of the bridge. He made around 170 trips in all from his bindery beside the pub, a distance of about half a mile, and always after dusk. At the start he hurled whole pages of type into the river; later he threw it like bird seed from his pockets. Then he found a small wooden box with a sliding lid, for which he made a handle out of tape—perfect for sprinkling the pieces into the water, and not too suspicious to bystanders.

Those tiny metal slugs belonged to a font of type used exclusively by the Doves Press, a printer of fine books that Cobden-Sanderson had co-founded 16 years earlier. The type was not his to destroy, so he concealed his trips from his friends and family and dropped his packages only when passing traffic would drown out the splash. There were slip-ups, all the same. One evening he nearly struck a boatman, whose vessel shot out unexpectedly from under the bridge. Another night he threw two cases of type short of the water. They landed on the pier below, out of reach but in plain sight. After sleepless nights he determined to retrieve them by boat, but they eventually washed away. After that he was more careful. [continue]

Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their jobs and don’t know very much about the world.

This blog post by Adam Curtis is a great read.

The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they – and all the reactions to them – had one enormous assumption at their heart.

That the spies know what they are doing.

It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what’s going on in ways that we don’t.

It doesn’t matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.

But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different. [continue]

Bag designed by Leonardo Da Vinci

From discovery.com: Leonardo Da Vinci: Bag Designer.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) was an artist, inventor, scientist, architect, engineer, writer and even a musician. Now we know that he was also a fashion designer.

After several months of meticulous research, scholars have reconstructed some fragmented drawings of a unique bag designed by the Renaissance genius around 1497. (…)

Overlooked for more than three decades, it has been reconstructed and reassembled by Agnese Sabato and Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, where da Vinci was born in 1452. [continue]

Dog food in classical Greece

From Wonders and Marvels: Ancient Puppy Chow: Dog Food in Classical Greece.

Chasing game (rabbits, deer, bear, boar) for food and sport was extremely popular in classical antiquity, and dog owners took good care of their hunting companions. Ancient hunting manuals by two Greek historians, Xenophon (b. 430 BC) and Arrian (AD 86) preserve lively practical advice on raising hounds.

So, if you lived in Athens at the time of Socrates and owned a Laconian hunting hound like those depicted on Greek vases, what would you feed them? Ordinary pups get barley bread softened with cow’s milk or whey. But more valuable puppies eat their bread soaked in sheep or goat milk. You might add a little blood from the animal you expect your puppy to hunt. At dinner with your family, you scoop soft chunks of bread from the center of a loaf to wipe grease from your fingers—and toss them to your dog, supplemented with bones and other table scraps, perhaps even a basin of meat broth. After a sacrifice or banquet, you make a special treat: a lump of ox liver dredged in barley meal and roasted in the coals. Naturally, as a matter of professional courtesy, you share any rabbits, stags, or boars with your faithful hunting partners. [continue]

How your cat is making you crazy

From the Atlantic: How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy.

Jaroslav Flegr is no kook. And yet, for years, he suspected his mind had been taken over by parasites that had invaded his brain. So the prolific biologist took his science-fiction hunch into the lab. What he’s now discovering will startle you. Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?

1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed

From The Guardian: 1,000 years on, perils of fake Viking swords are revealed.

It must have been an appalling moment when a Viking realised he had paid two cows for a fake designer sword; a clash of blade on blade in battle would have led to his sword, still sharp enough to slice through bone, shattering like glass.

"You really didn’t want to have that happen," said Dr Alan Williams, an archaeometallurgist and consultant to the Wallace Collection, the London museum which has one of the best assemblies of ancient weapons in the world. He and Tony Fry, a senior researcher at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, south-west London, have solved a riddle that the Viking swordsmiths may have sensed but didn’t quite understand.[continue].

When the woolly mammoth ran out, early man turned to roasted vegetables

From the L.A. Times: When the woolly mammoth ran out, early man turned to roasted vegetables.

Long before early humans in North America grew corn and beans, they were harvesting and cooking the bulbs of lilies, wild onions and other plants, roasting them for days over hot rocks, according to a Texas archaeologist.

The evidence for this practice has long been known of in fire-cracked rock piles found throughout the continent, but archaeologists have tended to ignore it "because a new pyramid or a Clovis arrow point is much sexier," said archaeologist Alston V. Thoms of Texas A&M University. [continue].