What’s better than sliced bread? Advice on how to actually slice bread

Wednesday, 29 March, 2017

Gallager's cigarette card

Earlier last year, the New York Public Library made a huge number of digitised images freely available. Included were cards like the one above, once sold with packets of cigarettes, that offered all sorts of useful tips.

Some of the advice these inserts dispensed may still be useful today. For instance, even in this age of sliced bread, by warming a bread knife in hot water, you should be able to slice bread like a pro, should you encounter an unsliced loaf.

See the rest of the set, there’s one hundred, I think, and useful tips from another age, here.

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The life of the late Jamie Livingston in daily polaroid photos

Wednesday, 22 March, 2017

Jamie Livingston was a New York based photographer and filmmaker, who died in 1997. During the last eighteen years of his life though, he a took a photo daily, with a polaroid camera.

Needless to say, these images record various ups and downs, including his wedding, and later, treatment for the brain tumour that eventually ended his life.

What’s also poignant are the stories people viewing his photos tell, with many making the comment a particular photo was taken on the day they, or a loved one, was born.

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Chuck Berry, he could play the guitar just like a ringing a bell

Monday, 20 March, 2017

US musician and guitar legend, Chuck Berry died over the weekend, aged 90. Here is a live rendition of Johnny B. Goode, recorded in 1958. His signature tune?

And he is, in 1987, live again, singing Nadine. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is performing with him. You may have to look twice, but you’ll eventually recognise Richards.

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Recently released video footage of once classified US nuclear tests

Monday, 20 March, 2017

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a US federal research facility based in California, has spent the last five years digitising thousands of film clips of nuclear bomb tests conducted by the US, between 1945 and 1962.

The footage had been classified by the US government, but now several hundred recordings of nuclear detonations have been made public. This is footage that you want to see, that you don’t want to see. Isn’t what we’re witnessing here – such as this explosion, that was part of Operation Teapot – terrifying?

Another sixty-plus videos of nuclear blasts can be found here.

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Revisit the Cold War decades through Soviet Logos

Monday, 13 March, 2017

Image by Rokas Sutkaitis

If you pine for the Cold War decades, and the USSR, or Soviet Union, let Soviet Logos take you on a trip down memory lane, through a growing collection of logos of Soviet era companies and enterprises, curated by Lithuanian brand designer Rokas Sutkaitis.

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Apollo astronauts were fantastic photographers, here’s the proof

Friday, 10 March, 2017

Photo by John Young, Apollo 16

Apollo astronauts weren’t just heroes, they were fantastic photographers. So believes Dutch designer Simon Phillipson, and that’s not something I’m going to argue with.

To make his point, Phillipson has collected two hundred and twenty five photos, taken by thirty three NASA astronauts, during the Apollo Moon flights, and published them in a book, Apollo VII – XVII, that he wrote with Floris Heyne, Joel Meter, and Delano Steenmeijer.

See a selection of photos from the book here.

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Destino, a Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí film, 60 years in the making

Tuesday, 7 March, 2017

Destino, an animated collaboration between US film producer Walt Disney, and Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, was nominated for the Best Animated Short Film award in 2003. Yet the film almost never saw the light of day, after spending over fifty years sitting in a vault.

Although work on the production had started in earnest in 1945, eight months in, the Walt Disney Company ran into financial problems. It wasn’t until 1999, when Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, was working on Fantasia 2000, that the project was rediscovered.

I know films can take a long time to make, but a lead time of nearly sixty years must be a record. A story about a young girl in search of true love, you can watch Destino here. It makes me wonder how many other part completed film projects there are, started by well known filmmakers, that sit, forgotten, in cupboards somewhere.

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The Septentrionalium Terrarum, first known map of the North Pole

Monday, 6 March, 2017

Septentrionalium Terrarum, Arctic map by Gerard Mercator

It sounds like the storyline of a Tolkien novel, the presence of a magnetic mountain at the North Pole. Yet the notion itself wasn’t fantasy. In centuries passed, people believed it to be so.

Or at least so did Gerardus Mercator, a Flemish cartographer and geographer, who in the sixteenth century created the Septentrionalium Terrarum, the first known map of the Arctic.

In this instance, Mercator’s efforts relied more on imagination than facts, and the would-be endeavours of an English monk, who wrote of travelling to the Arctic in the fourteenth century.

By the 1500s, not very many people had ventured up to the Arctic – no explorer would set foot on the Pole itself until 1909. This didn’t stop Mercator, who dug into some dicey sources to suss out what he should include. The most influential, called Inventio Fortunata (translation: “Fortunate Discoveries”) was a 14th-century travelogue written by an unknown source; in Mercator’s words, it traced the travels of “an English minor friar of Oxford” who traveled to Norway and then “pushed on further by magical arts.” This mysterious book gave Mercator the centerpiece of his map: a massive rock located exactly at the pole, which he labels Rupus Nigra et Altissima, or “Black, Very High Cliff.”

Even if you’ve not heard of the Septentrionalium Terrarum, you probably know Mercator’s name. That’s because he devised the Mercator projection, the cylindrical map projection that shows maps of the world as being flat on charts.

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Five Came Back, a story of film and World War II, by Steven Spielberg

Monday, 6 March, 2017

Directors Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan, examine the impact World War II had on cinema, and the effect cinema had on the conflict, in Five Came Back, a three part documentary produced by Netflix.

Based on the book of the same name, the series will focus on the experiences of filmmakers John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens, who ceased working to serve in the conflict.

Going by the trailer, Five Came Back promises to be a treat for those who are interested in the Second World War, and film, and will available for viewing by Netflix members from 31 March.

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Why did it take 250 years for washing machines to become popular?

Thursday, 2 March, 2017

Washing machine design, 1766. Image via ETH-Bibliothek

There’s nothing new about the washing machine. A patent for a device, or engine, for the “washing of cloathes”, and other purposes, such as “milling of sugar canes, pounding of minerals”, was issued in 1691.

The illustration above is taken from a book published in 1766, by Jacob Christian Schaeffer, a German pastor and professor. For their labour saving virtues, isn’t it strange then that washing machines didn’t come into wide use until almost two hundred and fifty years after their advent?

It’s not as if there was some other option hindering their uptake either. Like the humble washboard, for example. They were first patented in 1833, quite some time after the washer.

So what gives? I know there are people averse to things shiny and new, but isn’t holding off on adopting what will surely save much time and effort, taking matters a little too far? Of course, the earlier versions predated the supply of electricity, and required manual operation.

But that would only have been an imposition, if you allowed it to be. For instance, you could have recited some verse as you churned the machine through its cycle. Come on now, at least you weren’t getting your hands dirty.

Justin Fox – no, not that Justin Fox – writing for Bloomberg View, decided to investigate. He found people wanted their washing machines to be electrical, fully automatic – to hell with reciting verse – and reliable, and cheap. Then, and only then, would they ditch the washboard.

It was only with the invention of the electric washing machine by Alva Fisher in Chicago in 1907 that something dramatically better than the washboard came along, and even then it took decades more for the machines to become cheap and reliable enough to change how people cleaned their clothes (and of course in much of the world, washboards still rule). In the U.S., according to a 2013 paper by Benjamin Bridgman of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the big gains in household productivity enabled by the washing machine, dishwasher and other such devices occurred between about 1948 and 1977.

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