The sound of a point being missed (by quite some distance)

September 17th, 2013

Notes from scholar and social critic W W Crotch, written in 1933 for the New Statesman, on his occasional encounters over the preceding decade or so with the new German chancellor. No huge surprises as regards what a misfit Hitler was before he ascended to the national stage, but I couldn't help but boggle at this tale of what might just be the most woefully inadequate headline of the 20th century:

One thing that struck me about Hitler was his extreme abstemiousness. He ate every night a dish of vegetables, and mineral water was his only drink. He never smoked. This reminds me of an amusing incident when Hitler became Chancellor. The German vegetarians have a central organ of their league, and this paper came out with flaming headlines:


[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Curta Calculators

July 3rd, 2013

Fact of the day: the world's first pocket calculator was designed by a concentration camp inmate.

Curt Herzstark's fate seemed to be sealed in 1943 when the Nazis sent him to Buchenwald concentration camp. But then Herzstark, the son of a Jewish industrialist, received the unexpected opportunity to become an Aryan.

"Look, Herzstark," one of the camp commandants said to him, "we know that you are working on a calculating machine. We will permit you to make drawings. If the thing is worth its salt, we'll give it to the Führer after the final victory. He'll certainly make you an Aryan for that."

The engineer had made a pact with the devil. Night after night, after daily forced labor in the camp, Herzstark made detailed design plans for the world's smallest mechanical calculating machine. He was given special rations as motivation, and he eventually survived the concentration camp. […]

I'd seen a CURTA Calculator before, but I didn't know the story behind it.

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The Sorcerer's Apprentice

June 22nd, 2013

For some reason I find this wonky electrical pylon immensely appealing:

Artists have reimagined a power pylon as an electrified dancing silhouette for a summer exhibition in Germany's Ruhr region. Through an optical illusion the art work "Zauberlehrling" (sorcerer's apprentice), by the art collective Inges Idee, seems to dance as the viewer approaches.


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The spy in your pocket

June 9th, 2013

The most interesting thing about this exploration of how much a German phone company knew about the movements of one particular politician is that it's really just scratching the surface:

Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet. […]

Don't get me wrong: the animated map and correlation of the location data with blog entries and tweets to account for what Spitz was up to on a given day in a given place is neatly done, but it's hardly news that having your mobile phone on you allows the phone company to know roughly where your phone is.

The fun bit is the data mining and cross-matching of data. Throw in the sort of information every self-respecting law enforcement agency is itching to get access to, about what phone numbers you called, who you emailed and what web sites you accessed and it's relatively straightforward to build up a picture of what you're doing, where you're doing it and1, who you're doing it with and – crucially – whether you're deviating from your normal pattern of activity.

Imagine a world where we didn't have the internet and mobile phones to make collecting all this data easy and painless. Now imagine the government in that wireless-free world announcing that it would start gathering this sort of information by having a civil servant follow you around, listening to your conversations with people and monitoring what books and magazines you read and taking notes as you go. I think it's fair to say that there would be hell to pay.

Why should governments have an easier time of it just because they can have Internet Service Providers and telecoms companies do the surveillance for them?

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Given enough data to establish a pattern of behaviour over time.

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Coming next: a study of how Wile E Coyote survived all those falls

July 3rd, 2011


Academics have carried out a detailed analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered by characters in the Asterix comic books, in a paper published by a respected medical journal.


The researchers, led by Marcel Kamp of the Neurosurgical department at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, conclude: "The favourable outcome is astonishing, since outcome of traumatic brain injury in the ancient world is believed to have been worse than today and also since no diagnostic or therapeutic procedures were performed." […]

[Via Ansible 288, July 2011]

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August 21st, 2010

It's a shame that Apple Germany have taken legal action to block the production of the eiPott. So cute.

[Via The Null Device]

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Bloodsports on the Rhine

August 1st, 2010

The Guardian has unearthed a nice little vignette from the National Archives about the reaction of officers in the British Army of the Rhine to a proposal to ban fox hunting in post-war West Germany:

Officers' enthusiasm for bloodsports was evident in a letter sent by the commander of the British army of the Rhine (BAOR), Sir John Harding, to the secretary of state for war, Anthony Head, in March 1952.

By then there were 14 packs of hounds run by British soldiers in the zone occupied by UK forces after the war.

"There is … under consideration in the German Bundestag the draft of a bill forbidding hunting of wild game by hounds … which is likely to reach its final stages in 2-3 weeks," a worried Harding informed the war secretary.


"The action proposed by the Germans in this respect is somewhat the same as if we were to introduce a law in the UK making baseball illegal for the American Air Forces," he suggested.


However, in October 1952 Churchill's private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne, wrote to the War Office confirming the government's final position. "The prime minister has expressed the following view: 'Do the Germans really object to fox hunting by British troops in Lower Saxony? If they do, it should be stopped. You may occupy a country, but that does not give you unlimited freedom to indulge in sports which annoy the inhabitants.'"

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True crime

July 8th, 2010

How can you resist a news story that includes this comment from the German police?

"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," a police spokesman said.

[Via The Law West of Ealing Broadway]

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June 1st, 2010

Although this article about the Oberammergau passion play focuses on the recent tensions over modernisation of the play, what really struck me was the way the event takes over the entire town:

[…] For months, even the village's elderly and sick residents have been doing their part, while younger people have been reshaping their plans to accommodate the event. This year's Philip the apostle interrupted his doctoral studies, and one of the two actors who will play Jesus gave up his job, which was too far away. The mayor issued a "hair and beard decree" on Ash Wednesday of last year, and since then men, women and children have left their hair and beards largely uncut, so that they will look the way people supposedly did in ancient Jerusalem.

Locals use phrases like community, homeland and identity when they attempt to explain the event to outsiders. Anyone who was born in Oberammergau or has lived there for at least 20 years is entitled to take part in the festival. One of the many attractions of the event is that it brings a welcome change to residents who have spent the last nine years working in their ordinary jobs, as teachers, plumbers or landscapers, and who now get the chance to appear in the global spotlight. In fact, it must be painful not to be a part of it.

It would have been nice to have seen some comments in the article from locals who are ineligible to take part because they've only been living there for, say, a decade. Do they find themselves counting the years until they can take part, or do they live a life in parallel with that of their longer-established neighbours for the duration of the festivities?

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Back and forth

November 8th, 2009

The New York Times published a cleverly designed slideshow that lets you compare photographs of parts of Berlin that were once divided by the Berlin Wall. Nice work.

[Via Memex 1.1]

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