Let’s face it. Paper maps are a bit out of fashion now that we have smartphones. But old world maps and atlases are chock-full of history, of once-uncharted territories — and if you zoom close, "sea monsters."
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It has been called the new "um" or "like," but linguist Geoff Nunberg says starting sentences with "so" isn’t a new trend. People have been doing it for years. We’re just noticing it more now.
A study analyzes more than a billion pieces of emoji data across 16 languages and regions to gauge how different nations communicate. Most emojis sent are happy faces and other positive symbols.
NASA’s next big space telescope costs $8 billion and is very heavy. New York scientists think they may have found the makings of a cheaper, lighter answer for future space scopes — in a crafts store.
When Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953, one of the first things he addressed was the housing shortage and the need for more food. At the time, thousands of people were living in cramped communal apartments, sharing one kitchen and one bathroom with sometimes up to 20 other families.
"People wanted to live in their own apartment," says Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev. "But in Stalin’s time you cannot find this. When my father came to power, he proclaimed that there will be mass construction of apartment buildings, and in each apartment will live only one family."
They were called khrushchevkas — five-story buildings made of prefabricated concrete panels. "They were horribly built; you could hear your neighbor," says Edward Shenderovich, an entrepreneur and Russian poet. The apartments had small toilets, very low ceilings and very small kitchens.
But "no matter how tiny it was, it was yours," says journalist Masha Karp, who was born in Moscow and worked as an editor for the BBC World Service from 1991 to 2009. "This kitchen was the place where people could finally get together and talk at home without fearing the neighbors in the communal flat."
These more private kitchens were emblematic of the completely new era of Soviet life under Khrushchev. "It was called a thaw, and for a reason," says Karp.
"Like in the winter when you have a lot of snow but spots are already green and the new grass was coming," says Russian writer Vladimir Voinovich. "In Khrushchev times it was a very good time for inspiration. A little more liberal than before."
The exterior of Khrushchev-era apartments in Kazan, Russia.i The exterior of Khrushchev-era apartments in Kazan, Russia.
Untifler/Wikipedia Kitchen Table Talk
The individual kitchens in these tiny apartments, which were approximately 300 to 500 square feet, became hot spots of culture. Music was played, poetry was recited, underground tapes were exchanged, forbidden art and literature circulated, politics was debated and deep friendships were forged.
"One of the reasons why kitchen culture developed in Russia is because there were no places to meet," says Shenderovich. "You couldn’t have political discussions in public, at your workplace. You couldn’t go to cafes — they were state-owned. The kitchen became the place where Russian culture kept living, untouched by the regime."
In a country with little or no place to gather for the free expression of ideas and no place to talk politics without fear of repression, these new kitchens made it possible for friends to gather privately in one place.
These "dissident kitchens" took the place of uncensored lecture halls, unofficial art exhibitions, clubs, bars and dating services.
"The kitchen was for intimate circle of your close friends," says Alexander Genis, Russian writer and radio journalist. "When you came to the kitchen, you put on the table some vodka and something from your balcony — not refrigerator, but balcony, like pickled mushrooms. Something pickled. Sour is the taste of Russia."
Furious discussions took place over pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes, sardines, sprats and herring.
"Kitchens became debating societies," remembers Gregory (Grisha) Freidin, professor of Slavic languages and literature at Stanford University. "Even to this day, political windbaggery is referred to as ‘kitchen table talk.’ "
Even in the kitchen, the KGB was an ever-present threat. People were wary of bugs and hidden microphones. Phones were unplugged or covered with pillows. Water was turned on so no one could hear.
"Some of us had been followed," says Freidin. "Sometimes there would be KGB agents stationed outside the apartments and in the stairwells. During those times we expected to be arrested any night."
As the night wore on, kitchen conversations moved from politics to literature. Much literature was forbidden and could not be published or read openly in Soviet society. Kitchens became the place where people read and exchanged samizdat, or self-published books and documents.
A samizdat collection of poems and song lyrics by Vladimir Vysotsky, published shortly after the famous Soviet bard’s death in 1980.i A samizdat collection of poems and song lyrics by Vladimir Vysotsky, published shortly after the famous Soviet bard’s death in 1980.
Courtesy of Rossica Berlin Rare Books People would type hundreds of pages on a typewriter, using carbon paper to create four or five copies, which were passed from one person to the next — political writings, fiction, poetry, philosophy.
"Samizdat is, I think, the precursor of Internet," says Genis. "You put everything on it, like Facebook. And it wasn’t easy to get typewriters because all typewriters must be registered by the KGB. That’s how people got caught and sentenced to jail."
More From The Kitchen Sisters
The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, are Peabody Award-winning independent producers who create radio and multimedia stories for NPR and public broadcast. Their Hidden Kitchens series travels the world, chronicling little-known kitchen rituals and traditions that explore how communities come together through food — from modern-day Sicily to medieval England, the Australian Outback to the desert oasis of California. "Samizdat was the most important part of our literature life," says Genis. "And literature was the most important part of our life, period. Literature for us was like movies for Americans or music for young people."
In 1973, Masha Karp’s friend got hold of a typewritten copy of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. "She told me, ‘I’m reading it at night. I can’t let it out of my hands. But you can come to my kitchen and read it here.’ So I read it in four afternoons."
Genis’ family read Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in the kitchen. "It’s a huge book, three volumes, and all our family sat at the kitchen. And we were afraid of our neighbor, but she was sleeping. And my father, my mother, my brother, me and my grandma — who was very old and had very little education — all sit at the table and read page, give page, the whole night. Maybe it was the best night of my life."
What happened with samizdat books happened with music, too. Magnitizdat are recordings made on reel-to-reel tape recorders. Tape recorders were expensive but permitted in the Soviet Union for home recordings of bards, poets, folksingers and songwriters, made and passed from friend to friend. People had hundreds of tapes they shared through the kitchens.
"My songs were my type of reactions to the events and news," says songwriter Yuliy Kim, one of Russia’s famous bards, who was barred from giving public concerts. "I would write a song about whatever was discussed. I would sing it during the discussion. If there would be someone with a tape recorder they would tape it and take it to another party. Songs were spread quickly like interesting stories."
"The most famous bard was Vladimir Vysotsky, who was like Bob Dylan of Russia," says Genis. "That’s what you can listen to in kitchen."
Deep beneath the border of France and Switzerland, the world’s most massive physics machine is sending subatomic particles smashing into each other at speeds nearing the speed of light. Physicists working with the 17-mile-long Large Hadron Collider hope it will help solve some of the universe’s mysteries.
But first, researchers must overcome two very mundane hurdles: how to handle all of the data the LHC generates, and how to get non-scientists to care.
One physicist has a novel way to solve both problems: sound.
"I have some musician friends that I was talking to about physics, which I do a lot, if people will let me, and I was doing impersonations of particles — as you do — or maybe not," Lily Asquith says with a laugh. She is a physicist who until recently worked with the LHC at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Here’s How It Works
The concept underlying the LHC Sound project is a principle called sonification — using data to make sound. At the most basic level, sonification correlates any physical property, such as a distance, speed or direction, to a sound property such as loudness, pitch or duration. On her blog, Lily Asquith explains how to make sound out of anything. The audio clip below is sonified data from the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider. Here’s how the sound was made: Enlarge image Lily Asquith/LHC Sound Listen To The Data playlist As a beam of particles is fired through the detector, three data points are collected and mapped to sound parameters: (1) The distance the particle travels away from the beam (dR in the diagram above) becomes the sound’s pitch, (2) the amount of energy a particle has correlates to volume, and (3) how far the particle travels becomes the timing of the notes. Asquith, like many physicists, spends a lot of time thinking about particles like the elusive Higgs boson — the subatomic particle that scientists say endows everything in the universe with mass. Proving the existence of the Higgs boson is one of the main goals of the collider.
"You tend to personify things that you think about a lot," she says. She gives particles personalities, colors and sounds. "I think electrons, perhaps, sound like a glockenspiel to me."
In the process of the search for the Higgs, the collider generates a massive amount of information — more than 40 million pieces of data every second. And that’s just from the ATLAS detector, one of the four main detectors in the deep underground complex that tunnels back and forth across the French-Swiss border.
So Asquith was trying to figure out a new way to understand and sort through all of this data. The LHC currently produces colorful images as an output from the data — sprays of particles in different directions.
"It’s quite easy to step from there, really, to consider that there could be some kind of sound associated with these things," she says.
Making Sound From The Data
She thought about a heart monitor in a hospital; it turns the electrical data from your heart into sound.
"You don’t have to watch the monitor because you can hear it without making any effort," she says. "Just a steady beep — you can quite easily detect if it starts going quicker or if it stops even for a second."
She wondered what would happen if she used music composition software to turn data from the collider into sound. So she fed in a sample of the LHC data — three columns of numbers.
"So we’ll map, for example, the first column of numbers, which may be a distance, to time," Asquith says. "And we may map the second column of numbers to pitch, and the third, perhaps, to volume."
What she got isn’t quite music, but sounds that are more out of this world — bells, beeps and clangs.
Interpreting The Sounds
Right now, Asquith says, the sounds don’t tell scientists very much. But she hopes that in the future, it could help them understand the data in new ways.
Video: Colliding Particles This animation shows a collision between particles in the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider. Note: the video clip has no sound.
Credit: ATLAS Experiment She says that in certain situations, it’s much easier to use your ears than your eyes, particularly with something that’s changing over time. Collider data do that.
"You could certainly have an alarm system which told you when, for example, you have an event which looks ridiculous according to what you’ve expected," she says. "And that’s quite difficult to do using your eyes."
But the project is doing something else — making what’s going on at the collider accessible and interesting to people without a Ph.D. That includes many of Lily’s friends who are musicians.
They are really interested in — even fascinated by — what’s going on at the LHC. But she says they start to look frightened when she brings up the hard science.
"I just think that’s unnecessary that it frightens people — it should be something that everyone should enjoy," she says.
This week, Americans have been remembering Neil Armstrong. But before he walked on the moon, he had to solve a much more prosaic problem.
"You’re about to embark on a mission that’s more dangerous than anything any human has ever done before," Robert Pearlman, a space historian and collector with collectspace.com, told me. "And you have a family that you’re leaving behind on Earth, and there’s a real chance you will not be returning."
Exactly the kind of situation a responsible person plans for by taking out a life insurance policy. Not surprisingly, a life insurance policy for somebody about to get on a rocket to the moon cost a fortune.
But Neil Armstrong had something going for him. He was famous, as was the whole Apollo 11 crew. People really wanted their autographs.
"These astronauts had been signing autographs since the day they were announced as astronauts, and they knew even though eBay didn’t exist back then, that there was a market for such things," Pearlman said. "There was demand."
Especially for what were called covers -– envelopes signed by astronauts and postmarked on important dates.
About a month before Apollo 11 was set to launch, the three astronauts entered quarantine. And, during free moments in the following weeks, each of the astronauts signed hundreds of covers.
They gave them to a friend. And on important days — the day of the launch, the day the astronauts landed on the moon — their friend got them to the post office and got them postmarked, and then distributed them to the astronauts’ families.
It was life insurance in the form of autographs.
"If they did not return from the moon, their families could sell them — to not just fund their day-to-day lives, but also fund their kids’ college education and other life needs," Pearlman said.
The life insurance autographs were not needed. Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon and came home safely. They signed probably tens of thousands more autographs for free.
But then, in the 1990s, Robert Pearlman says, the insurance autographs started showing up in space memorabilia auctions. An Apollo 11 insurance autograph can cost as much as $30,000.
There is nothing new under the sun, says Ecclesiastes, and when it comes to social media Tom Standage has set out to prove the saying right. His day job is as a journalist and the digital editor at The Economist. But he’s also the author of a book called The Victorian Internet. And he’s got another in the pipeline called Cicero’s Web. I began by asking him about a technology which totally transformed Australian life in the Victorian era - the telegraph wire.
Iceland has a big issue at hand at the moment.
And it is not about the kind that we sprinkle on food, but the one that we sprinkle on roads to stop the cars from sliding around the ice.
But maybe it is both.
It seems Icelanders have been seasoning their food with industrial or road salt for about 13 years, without realizing it.
Anchor Marco Werman talks to Thora Arnorsdottir, a news editor at Icelandic National Broadcasting in Reykjavík. She has been covering the salt scandal.
Robin Ince and Brian Cox are joined by Stephen Fry, Simon Singh and Aleks Krotoski to discuss the maths behind 6 degrees of separation and whether there is something special about Kevin Bacon that seems to make him so well connected?
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