The “bothie” huts of rural England

This is such a fascinating piece, about the rustic buildings called “bothies” that dot the hillsides in rural England, Wales and Scotland — free for hikers to use.

My overnight home, the Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, which I visited in late October, is one of more than 100 rustic shelters scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland that are frequented by a motley assortment of outdoor adventurers. Left unlocked, free to use and with most offering little more than a roof, four walls and perhaps a small wood-burning stove, the buildings, called bothies (rhymes with “frothy”), are an indispensable — if for many years underground — element of British hill culture.

Source: In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote – The New York Times

A Beautifully Restored Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina

This is incredible: A professional restorer has painstakingly recreated a Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, something I didn’t even realize existed until now — like a giant player piano but with violins:

Three violins (each with only one active string) mounted vertically were played by a round rotating bow made of 1300 threads of horse hair, according to the program on the roll of perforated paper. The small bellows replaced the violin player’s fingers, pressing on the strings to obtain the necessary notes. The piano can be driven either unaccompanied or together with the violins. It controls 38 accompaniment keys with 12 high notes (one octave) in extension. The whole pneumatic systems are controlled by an electric engine of uninterrupted current.

Source: A Beautifully Restored Hupfeld Phonoliszt-Violina, A Self-Playing Mechanical Violin Orchestrion Player

Facebook says it plans to put $300M into journalism projects

Here’s my latest piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, about Facebook’s announcement that it plans to put $300 million into various journalism projects over the next three years:

While Facebook described the funding news as a commitment to local journalism, and entitled its blog post, “Doing More to Support Local News,” Brown says the $300 million figure includes all of the social network’s funding of media and journalism, including the money it has been spending to get media companies to produce content for its Watch video feature. And while a focus on reporting sounds like a valuable thing, the funding Facebook is providing for both the Local Media Consortium and the Local Media A

Source: Facebook says it plans to put $300M into journalism projects – Columbia Journalism Review

The Mail Order American Dream

The author of the blog McMansion Hell does a deep dive into the history of the “mail-order home” or kit home — a time when you could order a three-bedroom bungalow from a catalog for just $900 (via

The kit house, a product of mass-production took the pattern-book concept even further. For each kit house, every piece of lumber, siding, doors, windows, columns, etc. were produced to exact precision in a factory, numbered for easy assembly, and sent to the site by rail and delivered to the lot via cart or truck.

Source: The Mail Order American Dream: An Introductory… | McMansion Hell

A 1950s TV show had a fear-mongering conman named Trump who wanted to build a wall

This seems almost too good to be true, but Snopes and others have proven that this TV show actually existed

On May 8, 1958, art imitated life in 2018. In an episode of a TV show called Trackdown, there was a conman named Trump, who tried to scare the bejeezus out of a town by preaching, “at midnight tonight, without my help and knowledge, every one of you will be dead.” The only way he could save them is by building a wall.

Source: A 1950s TV show had a fear-mongering conman named Trump who wanted to build a wall / Boing Boing

Medieval woman’s art career revealed by blue teeth

About 1,000 years ago, a woman in Germany died and was buried in an unmarked grave in a church cemetery. When modern scientists examined her dug-up remains, they discovered something peculiar — brilliant blue flecks in the tartar on her teeth. And that has cast new light on the role of women and art in medieval Europe. Scientists concluded the woman was an artist involved in creating illuminated manuscripts — a task usually associated with monks.

Source: Medieval woman’s hidden art career revealed by blue teeth

30,000 Never Before Seen Images From a Soviet-Era Photographer

Masha Ivashintsova was born in Russia, in 1942. At 18 she started taking photographs, and became involved the underground arts movement in St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad. She shot prolifically on the streets of the city, with either her Leica IIIc or Rolleiflex. But she never showed her work to anyone—some of it she didn’t even develop. When she died, in 2000, she left 30,000 photographs—in the form of negatives and undeveloped film—in a box, where they remained, untouched, for 17 years.

Source: 30,000 Hidden Images Reveal the World of a Soviet-Era Photographer – Atlas Obscura

TV show invents astronomical event, later found to be true

A consultant for the TV show Stargate: Atlantis came up with a type of neutron star for the show and it was later shown to exist:

For one episode, the writers needed a destructive radioactive event that repeated every 45 minutes. They wanted to use a pulsar, a particular type of neutron star that sends out periodic waves of radiation. But a regular pulsar’s radioactive pulse wouldn’t be powerful enough. So McKinnon imagined a fictional binary pulsar system where a second star fed the energy of the first. As she told me later, “My pride and joy is that a couple of years ago, astronomers found a system like the one I described.”

Source: ‘First Man’ and the Scientific Impact of Sci-Fi Consulting – The Atlantic

The mysterious “fishing cats” of Sri Lanka

This is fascinating — I didn’t realize there were cats that not only like water but actually have webbed feet so they can catch fish. And they make a sound that’s a little like a duck quack.

Ratnayaka immediately recognized the animal: a fishing cat. Unlike almost every other species in the feline family, fishing cats love water. They live in swamps—specifically, the reedy wetlands that dot Asian nations from India to Malaysia. And they swim. With partially webbed feet and short, rudder-like tails, they coast along the waterways of their riparian homes, making grumbly chirps that sound like duck quacks. True to their name, they dive like Olympians from riverbanks to snag unsuspecting fish.

Source: Are Cities Making Animals Smarter? – The Atlantic