Books Government History Podcasts SOI Blog

The Nazi Saboteurs in America

Several years ago I came across this amazing story on the This American Life program about a bungled Nazi plot of sabotage only six months after Pearl Harbor. When this program first aired, it drew comparisons to present day efforts to try Islamic terrorists in military tribunals. The legal precedent they were siting was the case of these Nazi saboteurs. It’s a great story and well worth a listen. It shows how legal justice is a very complicated thing and is often manipulated to fulfill agendas.
Recently another podcast, Retropod, brought this story up again. A mysterious stone memorial was found in 2006 in Washington, D.C. on government property, a memorial to these Nazi spies.

This American Life story

Retropod story

Michael Dobbs’s excellent book, Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America

CSPAN Book TV interview with Michael Dobbs

Books Podcasts Science

Palm Trees Are Not Actually Trees

palmsListening to the podcast 99% Invisible I learned that palm trees are not actually trees. They are kind of a super grass, according to Jared Farmer who wrote Trees in Paradise: A California History. From the podcast, “palm trees don’t make bark or branches. If you cut them down you won’t find any rings in the trunk, all their roots grow in a compact ball…” This is an interesting story about palms in California and how demand has caused some mature trees to sell for as much as $20,000. Also great podcast.”


Books History Technology

The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894

Seems America had an “emissions” crisis near the turn of the 20th century. Although no one had an answer to the problem it seemed to take care of it self thanks to a new mode of transportation. I first read about this in Levitt and Dubners “Super Freakonomics,” and googling gave me a few articles that seem to predate the book.


Books Humanities

10,000 Hours to become a Master

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he states research suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something. He relates how well know “masters” put in the extra practice time to help them make it to the top. And they did not achieve that place until they had first accomplished at least 10,000 hours. Which is roughly three hours a day for ten years.

Books History Technology

Goodyear Tire has no affiliation with Charles Goodyear.

Goodyear tire company borrowed the Goodyear name.

One thing needs to be said up front: Charles Goodyear, the American in this story, didn’t start the tire company. The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was started by people he never knew, in a city he never visited, thirty-eight years after his death. Given the understandable (and not entirely accidental) confusion on this point, it bears mentioning that among the hundreds of potential uses for rubber envisioned by Charles Goodyear, the automobile tire was one he never foresaw, for the simple reason that the automobile had yet to be invented.

This is a very interesting book, and a highly cautionary tale. It tells the, often sad, story of Charles Goodyear and his fight to profit from his discovery. I highly recommend it.
Note: Ordering this book using this link generates a few pennies to help maintain the cost of this site. No extra fees are added to your purchase.

Books Technology

Getting Things Done

As I’ve learned I may have been practicing this new productivity method with this blog. I started this blog to make a note of one interesting thing or discovery a day. And maybe spread some of that information to others who may have similar interests as mine. I haven’t been very succesful in updating it everyday, in fact as you can see from the calendar on the side bar, I’ve left big gaps with no posts. But I’ve realized that I’ve also created a little depository of interesting things I’ve gleaned that I can go back to later. I will investigate this method better.

link iconNPR story

Books Government History

Sitting US President Under Enemy Fire

In a little known battle just outside Washington DC during the American Civil War, President Lincoln came out to see the battle and became the only sitting US President to come under enemy fire during a war. In fact a surgeon standing next to him was wounded by a confederate sharp shooter.

The story is chronicled in Marc Leepson’s book Desperate Engagment.

link iconMarc Leepson’s Web site

link iconMarc Leepson appears on CSPANs BookTV and tours the battlefields describing events. (WARNING may only be enjoyable by die hard History and Civil War Fans)

Books Science

Western Diet most unhealthy

Michael Pollan writes in his book, In Defense of Food that “we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be intimidated by studies of new reports or especially food labeling. Humans can thrive on all sorts of diets. Some live healthy lives on nothing but cattle or seafood. In fact, he says, there’s only one diet that has consistently proved hazardous to our health.”

It’s actually, you know, people who have done the sort of ethnographic research around food have found this astonishing array of different traditional diets on which people have been extremely healthy. But there is one diet that it appears that we are poorly adapted to, and that is what we call the western diet.

And this diet makes people fat. It makes them diabetic. It gives them heart disease. It gives them an assortment of cancers. It’s just very toxic to our bodies.

Some of his rules for eating healthy are:

…don’t eat anything that doesn’t rot, don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, don’t eat anything that has an unfamiliar, unpronounceable name, don’t eat anything with high fructose corn syrup, don’t eat food that features health claims on their labels.

The following interview on the radio show with a Nutrition Expert helps reinforce Pollan’s claims.

Books History

The high cost of early adoption

In James Tobin’s book To Conquer the Air, I was amazed to learn that the Wright Brothers paid a premium for their first bicycles, even in today’s money, it sounds like a lot for a bike!

In the Wright family, Orville was infected first, in the summer of 1892, when he bought a fine new Columbia for $160, a very substantial sum at the time when relatively few workers earned more thatn $500 per year. He soon entered races and did well. Will bought his own model-used, for $80- several weeks later.

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Books Science

34 words for do-do

I caught a very interesting lecture by Stephen Pinker author of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature on CSPAN this weekend. Pinker discussed some of the interesting or in his words crazy aspects of our language. Such as why we use terms like underground and underwater when we mean surrounded by ground or water. He also delved into his theories as to why we use profanity. He says that when we use profanity, it triggers a unique part of our brain. And his research determined there are 34 words in the english language for feces.

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