The Baker Street Irregulars’ guide to camouflage and disguise

Thursday, 20 August, 2015

The Special Operations Executive, or SOE, was effectively a guerrilla warfare squad, that was formed by the British government in 1940, after the Nazis occupied France.

Made up of volunteers, the European based unit, that was also known as the Baker Street Irregulars, was tasked with disrupting the invaders in whatever way they could. Typically this meant destroying bridges and railway lines, as well as blowing up factories and the like.

To aid SOE members in their operations, they were supplied with a number of manuals, that included a guide to concealment, or camouflage and disguise.

It quickly becomes apparent that the irregulars frequently had to improvise, and make do with with whatever happened to be in the vicinity, when it came to blending into the background during a mission.

Where there is no background that is very like your clothes, use natural camouflage – that is, leaves, grass, heather, branches, etc. – to cover partially and break up the color mass of your body. Pockets, button-holes, waist-band, collar – all these can receive and hold pieces of vegetation which will partially obscure your clothes and help you to mingle with your background. (When using natural camouflage, remember that under a hot sun it withers quickly, and may be worse than useless at the end of a few hours.)

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The sushi craze before the sushi craze

Friday, 14 August, 2015

It seems US residents were enjoying sushi, and other Japanese dishes, not fifty years ago, but one hundred years ago. At least for a time, that is. Until other restaurateurs, and labour unions, of the early twentieth century, felt the cuisine’s popularity was detrimental to their livelihoods:

The truth is that two generation earlier, in the first two decades of the 20th century, Americans knew all about Japanese food and enjoyed it so much that labor unions and American restaurant owners conspired to run the Japanese out of business and out of the country. Worse, these angry agents of change were mostly successful in that effort, launching a thirty-year-long campaign of hysteria, intimidation and misinformation, one that ended in 1924 with the passage of the Japanese Exclusion and Labor Act.

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The danger posed by another eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Friday, 7 August, 2015

Despite its spectacle, Pompeii was a less than memorable film, made in 2014, depicting the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, that destroyed the Roman city of the same name. Nonetheless, it gave audiences some idea of what residents of the hapless town would have experienced.

Vesuvius has erupted numerous times since then, and today scientists and volcanologists are concerned about the possibility of another eruption, especially as some three million people reside in the vicinity of the volcano.

We can be sure that Vesuvius hasn’t gone down for the count. Looking back over the last few thousand years, which for a volcano is a very short period of time, Vesuvius has had 42 eruptions that rank as VEI 3 or larger. On that Volcano Explosivity Index, VEI 3 means that over 10,000,000 cubic meters (2.9 billion gallons!) of volcanic ash and debris erupted.

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Photos of Nirvana’s first ever gig

Thursday, 6 August, 2015

For the Nirvana completists out there… Maggie Poukkula, daughter of Seattle musician Tony Poukkula, recently posted a photo of some photos of one the Seattle band’s first performances, in March 1987, on Twitter. The images feature Kurt Cobain, Aaron Burckhard, and Krist Novoselic who, at the time, played drums.

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To see the internet in fifty years time, look at the internet today

Wednesday, 29 July, 2015

San Francisco based computer programmer Maciej Ceglowski predicts that the internet in fifty years time will look much like the internet of today. The apparent lack of innovation over the next half century may not be quite as bad as it appears to be though.

This contempt for the past also ignores the reality of our industry, which is that we work almost exclusively with legacy technologies. The operating system that runs the Internet is 45 years old. The protocols for how devices talk to each other are 40 years old. Even what we think of as the web is nearing its 25th birthday. Some of what we use is downright ancient – flat panel displays were invented in 1964, the keyboard is 150 years old. The processor that’s the model for modern CPUs dates from 1976. Even email, which everyone keeps trying to reinvent, is nearing retirement age.

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The potato… the world’s most nondescript game changer?

Friday, 24 July, 2015

The potato, such a nondescript vegetable, yet it has played a surprisingly significant part in shaping the world we live in today.

Geographically, the Andes are an unlikely birthplace for a major staple crop. The longest mountain range on the planet, it forms an icy barrier on the Pacific Coast of South America 5,500 miles long and in many places more than 22,000 feet high. Active volcanoes scattered along its length are linked by geologic faults, which push against one another and trigger earthquakes, floods and landslides. Even when the land is seismically quiet, the Andean climate is active. Temperatures in the highlands can fluctuate from 75 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing in a few hours – the air is too thin to hold the heat.

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Philippe Petit’s high-wire Twin Towers walk reenacted in “The Walk”

Wednesday, 15 July, 2015

The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, of Back to the Future fame, is a dramatisation of the death defying 1974 attempt by French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, to walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City, on a tightrope slung between both buildings.

The illicit undertaking was also the subject of a documentary, Man on Wire, made in 2008 by James Marsh. Aside from what I imagine will be protracted scenes of Petit making the walk, some six hundred metres above the ground, it’ll be interesting to see what the Zemeckis production, that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, can add to the story.

There is no actual motion footage of Petit’s… walk, the accomplice charged with its filming was too tired to operate the camera, when the time came. Knowing that somehow made “Man on Wire” a little easier to watch, though I’m not sure I could sit through an actual reenactment, something the trailer for “The Walk”, offers a glimpse of.

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Was the American Revolution was a mistake?

Wednesday, 15 July, 2015

It’s not easy to miss an article with a title making that sort of a statement.

Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox, makes the argument that the American Revolution was a mistake, for three main reasons:

  • The abolition of slavery would have been otherwise swifter
  • Native Americans would have been better off
  • The British system of government is better

Jeff Stein, also writing for Vox, repudiates Matthews’ thoughts, by countering that Native Americans would not have been better off, that slaves may not have been freed, even in the north, and that the revolution inspired other independence, and anti-slavery, movements.

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Then and now photos of American Civil War locations

Thursday, 2 July, 2015

An interactive collection of photos taken during the American Civil War, compared with images of the same locations from this year. How serene is what we see in the latter day pictures, when the bloodshed of the earlier photos is contemplated.

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Counting down the top fifty prog rock albums of all time

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015

Progressive rock, or prog rock… a list of the fifty greatest albums of the genre. You’ll never guess what the number one title is.

Think I’ll buy me a Pink Floyd record…

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