Design, History

Einstein Tower / Erich Mendelsohn

The Einstein Tower in Potsdam, Germany, designed by the German architect Erich Mendelsohn, is one of the best-known examples of German expressionist architecture. Designed as an amorphic structure of reinforced concrete, Mendelsohn wanted the tower to represent as well as facilitate the study of Einstein’s radical theory of relativity — a groundbreaking theorem of motion, light and space — via ArchDaily

Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing to be given posthumous pardon

Alan Turing, the Enigma codebreaker who took his own life after being convicted of gross indecency under anti-homosexuality legislation, is to be given a posthumous pardon.

The government signalled on Friday that it is prepared to support a backbench bill that would pardon Turing, who died from cyanide poisoning at the age of 41 in 1954 after he was subjected to chemical castration.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a government whip, told peers that the government would table the third reading of the Alan Turing (statutory pardon) bill at the end of October if no amendments are made. If nobody tables an amendment to this bill, its supporters can be assured that it will have speedy passage to the House of Commons, Ahmad said.

The announcement marks a change of heart by the government, which declined last year to grant pardons to the 49,000 gay men, now dead, who were convicted under the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act. They include Oscar Wilde — via

World’s oldest calendar discovered in Scottish field

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world’s oldest lunar calendar in an Aberdeenshire field.

Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months.

A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago.

The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004.

The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.

The Mesolithic calendar is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology — via

How Thor’s Hammer Made Its Way Onto Soldiers’ Headstones

To summarise, Thor’s hammer represents heroism, nobility, self-reliance, and honour. It’s a symbol with a history that extends back a thousand years to pre-Christian Europe. And adherents of Odinism, the religion that Thor’s hammer represents, tend to make natural soldiers. Oh, and it also shares a pretty strong cultural heritage with a superhero who is, in his own weird, Technicolor, space viking way, as American as apple pie. How strange would it be, then, if the US Department of Veterans Affairs — the organisation that oversees cemeteries dedicated to US veterans and ultimately says which symbols can be used therein to represent your religious faith — had a problem with Thor’s hammer?

But for decades, the VA did have a problem with Thor’s hammer. Not so much for what Mjölnir stood for but because it was a pagan symbol, and pagan symbols were verboten.

If you look at all the symbols the Department of Veterans Affairs have approved for use on headstones over the years, pagan symbols were really the final frontier, Pitzl-Waters says. Hinduism, Humanists, Atheists, all these other symbols had been approved. But there wasn’t a single pagan symbol on the approved list — via

New York teacher’s remains found behind wall 27 years on

The skeleton of a New York state teacher who vanished in 1985 has been discovered behind a false wall in the home she shared with her late husband, police say.

The remains of JoAnn Nichols were found in a foetal position, tied with rope and wrapped in plastic in the house in the town of Poughkeepsie.

A post-mortem examination found she had been killed by a blow to her head.

Her husband, James Nichols, died in December of natural causes aged 82 — via

Yuri Gagarin air crash details emerge

New details have emerged about the air crash on 27 March 1968 that killed Yuri Gagarin — the first man in space.

Fellow cosmonaut Alexey Leonov claims an unauthorised plane flew too close to Gagarin’s fighter jet, sending it into a spin.

Gagarin and his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin died when their MiG-15 went down near the town of Novoselovo, about 90km from Moscow.

Secrecy surrounding the crash has led to vigorous speculation down the years.

A government investigation of the accident (which Mr Leonov was part of) concluded that the MiG tried to avoid a foreign object — such as geese, or a hot air balloon.

On the conclusions of this original investigation, Mr Leonov said: That conclusion is believable to a civilian — not to a professional.

In an interview with Russia Today, the cosmonaut — who, in 1965, became the first person to walk in space — claimed he had been permitted to share a declassified report showing that a Sukhoi fighter jet flew too close to Gagarin’s MiG, disrupting its flight — via

Rose Engine Lathe No.1636 / Holtzapffel & Company

Rose Engine Lathe No.1636 / Holtzapffel & Company

A rose engine lathe (Wikipedia) is a type of geometric lathe used to produce complex radial engravings called Guilloché, which are used both for decorative and security (ie, anti-counterfeiting) purposes.

Those of you with more than $238,000 of disposable cash lying around may be irked to discover that the auction for this stunningly beautiful antique specimen is long closed. At least we can all still enjoy the gorgeous photographs, courtesy Massachusetts-based Skinner Auctioneers, who sealed the deal back in December. Their site is actually chock-a-block with beautiful old tools, instruments, and apparatus — via MAKE

German WWII Dornier bomber lifted from sea off England

A British salvage team has lifted a German World War II bomber from the seabed off the coast of south-east England.

The Dornier Do 17 was shot down during the Battle of Britain in August 1940, but was only discovered by divers in 2008.

Covered with barnacles and missing a wing, the dripping wreck of the plane was slowly raised 15 metres to the surface at Goodwin Sands, Kent, at the mouth of the English Channel — via

Blood, Sweat, and Steel

Blood, Sweat, and Steel

When I got this sword, it was completely covered in blood rust. Sword maker Francis Boyd is showing me yet another weapon pulled from yet another safe in the heavily fortified workshop behind his northern California home.

You can tell it’s blood, he says matter-of-factly, because ordinary rust turns the grinding water brown. If it’s blood rust it bleeds, it looks like blood in the water. Even 2,000 years old, it bleeds. And it smells like a steak cooking, like cooked meat. I’ve encountered this before with Japanese swords from World War II. If there’s blood on the sword and you start polishing it, the sword bleeds. It comes with the territory.

Blood rust: I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it would turn water red, but the steak comment is kind of creeping me out, as is the growing realization that if these swords could talk, I couldn’t stomach half the tales they’d have to tell — via Collectors Weekly

World War II Code Is Broken, Decades After POW Used It

It’s been 70 years since the letters of John Pryor were understood in their full meaning. That’s because as a British prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, Pryor’s letters home to his family also included intricate codes that were recently deciphered for the first time since the 1940s.

Pryor’s letters served their purpose in World War II, as Britain’s MI9 agents decoded the messages hidden within them — requests for supplies, notes about German activities — before sending them along to Pryor’s family in Cornwall.

There were two types of information buried in these letters, Pryor’s son, Stephen. There is military intelligence going back about munitions dumps, about submarines that have been sunk, and information requests for British Military Intelligence in London to send maps and German currency and German ID, to help them with their escape plans — via

Rare Liberty Head nickel sells for $3.1m

A century-old US five-cent coin, once branded a fake, has been sold for $3.1m (£2m) at auction.

The 1913 Liberty Head nickel, one of only five such coins, had a pre-sale estimated price of $2.5m.

The coin’s intriguing provenance — it was illegally cast, found in a car crash, deemed a forgery and abandoned for decades — explains its high value.

It was located after a nationwide search and put up for sale by four siblings in the state of Virginia.

Not only is it just one of only five known, genuine 1913-dated Liberty Head design nickels, this particular one was off the radar for decades until it literally came out of the closet after a nationwide search, said Todd Imhof, vice-president of Heritage Auctions, where the coin was sold — via

Hydro-Plane: 1940 / Howard McGraw

Hydro-Plane: 1940 / Howard McGraw

My grandfather Howard McGraw, a photographer for the Detroit News, likely saw the scene in his neighbourhood and stopped for the shot. The airplane is an early 1940’s Murray Pursuit pedal car with Army decals and machine gun mounts — worth over $1000 today if restored! And the gas pump would likely go for about $3000 restored! Scanned from a 4×5 negative — via Shorpy Historical Photo Archive

New York’s Sidewalk Clock / William Barthman

In lower Manhattan, blocks from where the World Trade Centre once stood, embedded deep into the sidewalk, is a clock. It’s a simple clock, the hours and minutes are neatly displayed by spade hands, while Roman numerals and train track minutes markers circle the dial. All of this is cloudy, but visible under the scratched and stained crystal that occupies a break in the pavement at the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway. And it has been ticking away there, under the feet of Manhattan, for over a century. — via HODINKEE + Vimeo

Pyramids / Marat Dupri

Pyramids / Marat Dupri

Recently a troop of Russian photographers surreptitiously scaled the Great Pyramid of Giza and documented the unseen vistas from its summit. How’d they do it? Seems like the group waited several hours after closing time, hiding from guards until they saw their chance. As one of the photographers would later point out, climbing the Pyramids is a punishable crime and can carry sentences of up to three years — via Architizer)

Russell Brand on Margaret Thatcher

When I was a kid, Thatcher was the headmistress of our country. Her voice, a bellicose yawn, somehow both boring and boring — I could ignore the content but the intent drilled its way in. She became leader of the Conservatives the year I was born and prime minister when I was four. She remained in power till I was 15. I am, it’s safe to say, one of Thatcher’s children. How then do I feel on the day of this matriarchal mourning?

I grew up in Essex with a single mum and a go-getter Dagenham dad. I don’t know if they ever voted for her, I don’t know if they liked her. My dad, I suspect, did. He had enough Del Boy about him to admire her coiffured virility — but in a way Thatcher was so omnipotent; so omnipresent, so omni-everything that all opinion was redundant.

As I scan the statements of my memory bank for early deposits (it’d be a kid’s memory bank account at a neurological NatWest where you’re encouraged to become a greedy little capitalist with an escalating family of porcelain pigs), I see her in her hairy helmet, condescending on Nationwide, eviscerating eunuch MPs and baffled BBC fuddy duddies with her General Zodd stare and coldly condemning the IRA. And the miners. And the single mums. The dockers. The poll-tax rioters. The Brixton rioters, the Argentinians, teachers; everyone actually — via

Ding Dong!: Margaret Thatcher’s foes celebrate death of former PM

Usually, when a public figure dies, even their staunchest enemies briefly suspend hostilities in respect for the dead.

But with Margaret Thatcher that was never going to be the case. She was loathed by too many, for too long.

For some, the wounds left by Thatcher’s Britain are still raw.

By mid-afternoon on the day of Lady Thatcher’s death, the editor of the London Daily Telegraph announced he had closed comments on every Thatcher story.

Even our address to email tributes is filled with abuse, he said — via

The Kissinger Cables: WikiLeaks Releases 1.7M Historical Records

The cables are all from the time period of 1973 to 1976. Without droning about too many numbers that can be found in the press release, about 200,000 of the cables relate directly to former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. These cables include significant revelations about US involvements with fascist dictatorships, particularly in Latin America, under Franco’s Spain (including about the Spanish royal family) and in Greece under the regime of the Colonels. The documents also contain hourly diplomatic reporting on the 1973 war between Israel, Egypt and Syria (the Yom Kippur war). While several of these documents have been used by US academic researchers in the past, the Kissinger Cables provides unparalleled access to journalists and the general public. The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longerHenry A Kissinger, US Secretary of State, 10 March 1975 — via Slashdot

The British Library saves the .uk web, starting 20 years too late

A long-running scandal finally ended on Friday with the signing into law of new legislation that allows the British Library and other legal deposit libraries to archive around 5 million websites in the .uk domain. British content on other domains, such as .com and .org, will be added later.

While the legislation is to be applauded, it’s two decades too late to capture the early history of web development in the UK. Massive amounts of valuable data have presumably been lost forever, and there will always be a digital black hole in British history. The consolation is that the Internet Archive, founded by American digital activist Brewster Kahle in 1996, scooped up and preserved some of it in its Wayback Machine.

The British Library has been one of the UK’s copyright libraries since 1662, which means publishers have been legally obliged to give it free copy of everything they print. This has resulted in a priceless archive, albeit one that takes up 500 miles of shelf space.

It would have been logical to make the BL similarly responsible for storing copies of web-based publications as well. If it didn’t feel it had the legal right, or the money, the British government should speedily have provided both — via

Unexploded WWII bomb found near Berlin station

Residents have been evacuated and traffic diverted in Berlin as sappers defused an unexploded WWII bomb near the capital’s main train station on Wednesday.

A police spokesman said the 100 kilogram explosive was dropped by an Allied plane during the Second World War. Media reports said it was a Soviet bomb.

The site lies about 1.5 kilometres north of the main station and the rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, said up to 50 regional and long-distance trains had to be re-directed to other hubs from 9:00am (local time).

The bomb was found [on Tuesday] afternoon on property belonging to the rail company, the police spokesman said.

The changed travel plan was expected to last three hours, with suburban train links unaffected and the main station itself still open.

It took just half an hour for the disposal team to complete the delicate operation — via

Isle of Wight girl Daisy Morris has flying prehistoric beast named after her

A nine-year-old girl has had a prehistoric beast named in her honour after fossilised bones she found turned out to be an undiscovered species.

Daisy Morris from the Isle of Wight stumbled upon the remains on Atherfield beach four years ago.

A scientific paper stated the newly discovered species of pterosaur would be called Vectidraco daisymorrisae.

Fossil expert Martin Simpson said this was an example of how major discoveries can be made by amateurs — via

Ashes of Charlotte Gray heroine scattered in France

The ashes of an Australian second world war spy who was the inspiration for the book and film, Charlotte Gray, have been scattered at a ceremony in France.

Nancy Wake requested that her ashes be scattered near the village of Verneix in central France where she worked with the French resistance.

The ceremony was attended by the mayor of Verneix and Brigadier Bill Sowry, the Australian military attache.

We are here today to pass on our respects, to give her the respect she deserves, Sowry said. It’s great the people of Verneix have done so much to recognise her and make this little part of France part of Australia as well — via

Viking sunstone found in shipwreck

A crystal found in a shipwreck could be similar to a sunstone — a mythical navigational aid said to have been used by Viking mariners, scientists believe.

The team from France say the transparent crystal may have been used to locate the Sun even on cloudy days.

This could help to explain how the Vikings were able to navigate across large tracts of the sea — well before the invention of the magnetic compass.

However, a number of academics treat the sunstone theory with scepticism — via

New Texas Rangers Web page hopes to breathe new life into cold cases

Say the name Kathleen Suckley to Corpus Christi Police Captain Tim Wilson and his response is immediate: 8 April 1993.

He never met her, but he thinks about her often. He checks the file he has checked a million times before, looking for something, anything, to solve the homicide cold case he first responded to 20 years ago.

Suckley was 29 when her throat was slashed and she was stabbed about 40 times inside her rented duplex, while her two sons, ages 4 and 1, were home.

I haven’t forgotten, Wilson said. It’s just a tragic incident; she was a young girl, she had a good life before her, she had two infants, she had a nice family. To me it seemed like such a useless crime.

The Department of Public Safety last week unveiled a new Web page dedicated to unsolved cold case homicides. It will rotate through the Texas Rangers Top 12 Cold Case Investigations, and Suckley is among the first 12 to be featured. Like Wilson, DPS spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said the goal of the new website is to make sure the victims are not forgotten and to try to catch a break in even the coldest of cases — via

Ancient languages reconstructed by computer program

A new tool has been developed that can reconstruct long-dead languages.

Researchers have created software that can rebuild protolanguages — the ancient tongues from which our modern languages evolved.

To test the system, the team took 637 languages currently spoken in Asia and the Pacific and recreated the early language from which they descended.

The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science — via

Peru archaeologists find ancient temple in El Paraiso

Archaeologists in Peru say they have discovered a temple at the ancient site of El Paraiso, near the capital, Lima.

Entry to the rectangular structure, estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, was via a narrow passageway, they say.

At its centre, the archaeologists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture found a hearth which they believe was used to burn ceremonial offerings.

With 10 ruins, El Paraiso is one of the biggest archaeological sites in central Peru.

The archaeologists found the structure, measuring 6.82m by 8.04m, in the right wing of the main pyramid — via

St Dunstan-in-the-East / City of London

St Dunstan-in-the-East / City of London
Photo Credit: Peter Trimming

One bombed-out ruin that has been positively re-imagined for the postwar world is the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East in the City of London. Now a public garden, the church was originally built around 1100, and was first damaged during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Patched-up in 1695 and partially rebuilt during 1817, the church served the Anglican parish of St Dunstan’s Hill for another 124 years before being gutted by German bombs during the Blitz of 1941. The tower, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, survived the bombs, along with the north and south walls.

In 1967 the City of London Corporation decided to transform St Dunstan-in-the-East into a public garden rather than rebuilding it. Opening in 1971, a lawn and trees were planted within the ruins, with a fountain placed in what was the former nave. The All Hallows House Foundation occupies Wren’s tower — via Urban Ghosts

Police website raises hope of identifying 1,000 mystery bodies

The body of an unidentified man recovered from the sea off north Wales 30 years ago will be exhumed this month in the hope that it can be returned to his family.

The exhumation, from an unmarked grave at Menai Bridge cemetery, on Anglesey, is part of a nnationwide attempt by police forces around Britain to put names to more than 1,100 unidentified bodies dating back to the 1950s.

The national Missing Persons Bureau, which is the driving force behind the work, has established a website containing images and identifying features of the individuals who have remained nameless for so many years, in the hope of closing some of the cases. The site is one of only a few such facilities in the world.

As well as 1,029 men and women, the site contains details of 105 babies in unmarked graves, unclaimed by families, sometimes for decades — via

David Wright House Saved

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has facilitated the purchase of the David and Gladys Wright House in Phoenix, Arizona, through an LLC owned by an anonymous benefactor. The transaction closed on 20 December for an undisclosed price. The property will be transferred to an Arizona not-for-profit organization responsible for the restoration, maintenance and operation of the David Wright House.

Planning has begun for the restoration of the house and grounds, and additional donations from the public will be sought for the costs of restoration at the appropriate time. The new owner will request that the City of Phoenix grant landmark designation to the house. The goal after restoration is to make the house available for educational purposes.

This purchase is a magnificent and generous action, said Larry Woodin, president of the Chicago-based Conservancy. It is a gift to the people of Phoenix, a gift to the worldwide architectural community and to everyone that cares about the history of modern architecture. We are enormously grateful to this benefactor for making sure there will be a new chapter in the life of this important and unique Frank Lloyd Wright building — via

Has World War II carrier pigeon message been cracked?

An encrypted World War II message found in a fire place strapped to the remains of a dead carrier pigeon may have been cracked by a Canadian enthusiast.

Gord Young, from Peterborough, in Ontario, says it took him 17 minutes to decypher the message after realising a code book he inherited was the key.

Mr Young says the 1944 note uses a simple World War I code to detail German troop positions in Normandy.

GCHQ says it would be interested to see his findings — via

Casablanca piano sold at auction

A piano that features in the classic 1940s film Casablanca has been sold for more than $600,000 (£370,000) at an auction in New York.

The upright piano appears in one of the film’s most iconic scenes, in which Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick utters the line: Here’s looking at you, kid.

It was sold to an unknown buyer at Sotheby’s in New York — via

Milan cathedral puts gargoyles up for adoption

Milan’s Duomo cathedral is putting its gargoyles up for adoption in an attempt to raise money for renovations.

The cathedral is raising money for essential maintenance amid cuts to Italy’s culture budget.

Donors looking for a new idea for their charity dollars can now adopt one of the cathedral’s 135 gargoyles.

For $123,000 donors will have their name engraved under their very own gothic gargoyle — via

Enigma coding machine beats auction estimate in London

A rare Enigma encoding machine has sold at auction in London for £85,250.

That is more than its £40,000-£60,000 estimate, but less than the £131,180 price an Enigma sold for last year.

The typewriter-like devices were used by the Nazis in World War II to encrypt and decode messages sent between the military and their commanders.

Interest has been high as this is the centenary year of Alan Turing’s birth — the British mathematician who played a key role in breaking the Enigma code — via

Bulgarian archaeologists find golden treasures in ancient Thracian tomb

Bulgarian archaeologists have discovered bracelets with snake heads, a tiara with animal motifs and a horse-head piece in a hoard of ancient golden artefacts unearthed during excavations at a Thracian tomb in the north of country.

The artefacts have been dated to the end of the fourth or the beginning of the third century BC. They were found in the biggest of 150 ancient tombs of the Getae people, a Thracian tribe that was in contact with the Hellenistic world. The hoard also yielded a golden ring, 44 female figure depictions and 100 golden buttons.

These are amazing findings from the apogee of the rule of the Getae, said Diana Gergova, head of the archaeologist team and a researcher of Thracian culture with the Sofia-based National Archaeology Institute. From what we see up to now, the tomb may be linked with the first known Getic ruler, Cothelas.

The site is at the ancient Getic burial complex near the village of Sveshtari, about 250 miles north-east of Sofia. One of the tombs there, the Tomb of Sveshtari, is included in the Unesco world heritage list for its unique architectural decor showing half-human, half-plant female figures and painted murals — via The Guardian

Wright House historic designation could be delayed

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has applauded the likely $2.38 million-sale of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Phoenix to an anonymous buyer, saying the transaction is the first of many more steps to come in order to permanently protect the property.

However, a planned city vote on designating the property as historic is likely to moved back because of the pending sale.

In a letter to his supporters Thursday, the day after the announcement of the Wright-home’s sale, DiCiccio said the property was one of the most important treasures in Phoenix and the anonymous buyer’s intent to preserve the iconic home was fantastic news — via

Pristine WWII German Enigma machine could be yours

A World War II German Enigma cipher machine is on the block at Bonhams, the London auction house, this month.

The 1941 oak model, described as an extremely rare example, is expected to go under the hammer on 14 November for an estimated £40,000-£60,000.

In 2010, a 1939 Enigma fetched £67,250 at auction — that model was furnished with a modern power supply and had some restoration. The Bonhams machine is in working order, completely untouched and unrestored, Bonham’s Laurence Fisher, says — via