The Unrepeatable Architectural Moment of Yugoslavia’s “Concrete Utopia”
> Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, in Petrova Gora, Croatia. Abstract, boldly expressive memorials once dotted the Yugoslavian countryside by the thousands.
The 3 A.M. Phone Call
> It went to a national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was awakened on 9 November 1979, to be told that the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the combined U.S.–Canada military command–was reporting a Soviet missile attack. Just before Brzezinski was about to call President Carter, the NORAD warning turned out to be a false alarm. It was one of those moments in Cold War history when top officials believed they were facing the ultimate threat. The apparent cause? The routine testing of an overworked computer system.
Thirty years after the Berlin Wall fell, a Stasi spy puzzle remains unsolved
> In the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago, East Germany’s secret police frantically tried to destroy millions of documents that laid bare the astounding reach of mass surveillance used to keep an iron grip on citizens.
> As shredders that were available jammed or broke down, Stasi officers resorted to tearing the documents by hand, stuffing them into bags to later be burned or pulped. But the effort came to a premature halt when citizens groups stormed and occupied Stasi offices to preserve the evidence.
> Three decades later, in the same rooms behind the foreboding gray facade of the former Stasi headquarters, Barbara Poenisch and nine fellow archivists are trying to piece those documents, and the history, back together.
History of Information
Lots of little facts organized in various ways.
The Berlin Wall Fell 30 Years Ago. Where Did It Go?
How these American dishes evolved from foreign roots
> Gumbo. Chile con queso. California roll. Spaghetti and meatballs.
> The names are as familiar as household brands. Yet how much do you know about these dishes? Based on the names alone, with their roots in other languages and other cultures, each dish sounds like an import. In some ways, they are. But each dish also morphed and adapted to its new environment, transforming into something uniquely American.
How to Read “Gilgamesh”
> The heart of the world’s oldest long poem is found in its gaps and mysteries.
History of Cartography
> The first volume of the History of Cartography was published in 1987 and the three books that constitute Volume Two appeared over the following eleven years. In 1987 the worldwide web did not exist, and since 1998 book publishing has gone through a revolution in the production and dissemination of work. Although the large format and high quality image reproduction of the printed books (see right column) are still well-suited to the requirements for the publishing of maps, the online availability of material is a boon to scholars and map enthusiasts.
> On this site the University of Chicago Press is pleased to present the first three volumes of the History of Cartography in PDF format.
The pain of tracking down changes in U.S. law
> But this didn’t tell me when the coffee exception was introduced or in what legislation. Most of Title 23 dates from 1958, but the coffee sign exception was added later. When Congress amends a law, they do it by specifying a patch to the existing code. My use of the programmer jargon term “patch” here is not an analogy. The portion of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1978 that enacted the “free coffee” exception reads as follows:
> To track this down, I had no choice but to grovel over each of the links to the Statutes at Large, download each scan, and search over each one looking for the coffee provision. I kept written notes so that I wouldn’t mix up the congressional term numbers with the Statutes volume numbers.
Grumman X-29: The impossible fighter jet with inverted wings
> There’s no airplane quite like the Grumman X-29. Its astonishing forward-swept wings were just one of its many bold innovations.
> Created at the height of the Cold War by a conglomerate of giants -- NASA, the US Air Force, the “men in black” at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and aerospace behemoth Grumman -- it first flew in 1984 as part of a quest to build the ultimate fighter jet.
Confession of Kim Philby made public for first time
The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway
> There is a commonly held belief that Helvetica is the signage typeface of the New York City subway system, a belief reinforced by Helvetica, Gary Hustwit’s popular 2007 documentary about the typeface. But it is not true—or rather, it is only somewhat true. Helvetica is the official typeface of the MTA today, but it was not the typeface specified by Unimark International when it created a new signage system at the end of the 1960s. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? What was chosen in its place? Why is Helvetica used now, and when did the changeover occur? To answer those questions this essay explores several important histories: of the New York City subway system, transportation signage in the 1960s, Unimark International and, of course, Helvetica. These four strands are woven together, over nine pages, to tell a story that ultimately transcends the simple issue of Helvetica and the subway.
What it was like to fly the baddest airplane the world has ever known
> The X-15 was not the first rocket-powered aircraft, but it is probably the best one ever built and flown. Before the first X-15 took flight in the late 1950s, the fastest speed airplanes had reached was Mach 3. The X-15 doubled that. And, remarkably, it also went on to fly into space more than a dozen times.
How the woman who broke the news about World War II was also first to the ‘Third Man’ spy
> Much of the coverage following the death of Clare Hollingworth has focussed upon her reporting on the outbreak of World War II and the fact that she broke the first stories about Germany’s invasion of Poland. But a little more can perhaps be said about her role in another major 20th-century news story. Hollingworth played a significant part in the outing of Kim Philby as the so-called “Third Man” in the Cambridge Spy Ring, following his disappearance from Beirut in January 1963.
The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History
> In 1994, Cesare Marchetti, an Italian physicist, described an idea that has come to be known as the Marchetti Constant. In general, he declared, people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes each day. This principle has profound implications for urban life. The value of land is governed by its accessibility—which is to say, by the reasonable speed of transport to reach it.
> But the endurance of the Marchetti Constant has profound implications for urban life. It means that the average speed of our transportation technologies does more than anything to shape the physical structure of our cities. To see how, let’s travel back in time by more than 2,000 years, and move towards the present.
The Cold War spy technology which we all use
What is Haberman?
> I’d never heard of “Haberman” before. The name of the neighborhood that people who live here would recognize is Maspeth (which you can see up-and-to-the-right of Haberman). Is Haberman even a real neighborhood? Why did Google put this giant Haberman label on the map?
The Stranding of the MV Shokalskiy
> Mawson’s experience distills the Victorian age of Antarctic exploration to its essence, combining an unbelievable personal fortitude with the overall pointlessness of the endeavor. Even by Antarctic standards, George V Land was unexciting. The best thing you can say about it today is that sometimes a meteorite lands there.
> But Mawson left behind a hut, and by the iron laws of Antarctic nostalgia that apply to any human structure below the 70th parallel, that hut is now an object of veneration, and must be visited.
> In 2011, the Australian climate scientist Chris Turney heard the call of the Antarctic. As readers of this blog know, that can be an expensive call to hear. But the approaching centenary of Mawson’s expedition gave Turney a unique fundraising hook.
And then things went a bit sideways.
On colonialism, imperialism, and ignoring medieval history
> We have a lot of fun, don’t we, when we talk about how people argue that the medieval period was the Dark Ages based on the fact that the feel some type of way about it? Now, can I call people who think this ridiculously incredulous and basic? Yes. And I do. Thanks for asking. Having said that, the general ignorance of the medieval period is not from nothing.
I feel like every mention of the dark ages comes with the disclaimer that they weren’t that dark so I’m not sure how widespread the misperception still is. But there’s also some neat historical facts here.
> This ended up completely changing fashion in England. Anne is the girl who introduced those sweet horned headdresses you think of when you think of medieval ladies, riding side-saddle, and the word “coach” to England, (from the Hungairan Kocs, where the cart she arrived at court the first time came from). Sweetening her transition to English life was the fact that she didn’t have to pay a dowry to get married. Instead, the English were allowed to trade freely with Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire and allowed to be around a Czech lady. That was reward enough as far as the Empire was concerned. That’s how much England was not a thing.
A literary appreciation of the Olson/Zoneinfo/tz database
> What I didn’t appreciate, until I finally unzipped and untarred a copy of ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/pub/tzdata2009o.tar.gz, is the historical scholarship scribbled in the margins of this remarkable database, or document, or hybrid of the two.