Posts Tagged ‘History’

What Twitter Looked Like When It Was Born (Screenshot, History)

14 Sep

twttrscreenlogo.jpgTwitter, then known as twttr, was born just over 5 years ago - but in Twitter-time that's ancient history. What did it look like when it launched? I'd never seen a screenshot of the original Twttr home page until old school megablogger Jason Kottke posted one tonight, along with links to a few other oldies.

As you can see below, Twitter didn't have a hard time explaining itself at first. "If you have a cell and you can txt," the home page said, "you'll never be bored again...E V E R!" I guess when you've raised mountain upon mountain of venture capital and changed the world in multiple major ways, you've got to take yourself more seriously than that. (?) None the less, I like this old version of Twitter!



Click for full size.

Look out, little Twttr, the President of the United States, Ashton Kutcher and these ladies you'll learn about in the future called The Kardashians are coming! From dorky simplicity has sprung unfathomable magic and banality.

Just five years, people! Amazing. Kottke's own blog, if you're not yet familiar with it, is almost 3X as old as Twitter and still a great read. You might even say that if you read'll never be bored again...EVER!

The ReadWriteWeb team and myself personally are on Twitter as well. If you follow us there, well - you might be bored less often, I'll say that much ;)



The Newspaper Hoax that Shook the World

08 Aug

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Giant 10th Anniversary Bathroom Reader.

The media’s power to “create” news has become a hot topic in recent years. But it’s nothing new. This true story, from a book called The Fabulous Rogues, by Alexander Klein, is an example of what’s been going on for at least a century. It was sent to us by BRI reader Jim Morton.

Most journalistic hoaxes, no matter how ingenious, create only temporary excitement. But in 1899 four reporters in Denver, Colorado, concocted a fake story that, within a relatively short time, made news history -violent history at that. Here’s how it happened.


One Saturday night the four reporters -from Denver’s four newspaper, the Times, Post, Republican, and Rocky Mountain News- met by chance in the railroad station where they had each come hoping to spot an arriving celebrity around whom they could write a feature. Disgustedly, they confessed to one another that they hadn’t picked up a newsworthy item all evening.

“I hate to go back to the city desk without something,” one of the reporters, Jack Toumay, said.

“Me, too,” agreed Al Stevens. “I don’t know what you guys are going to do, but I’m going to fake. It won’t hurt anybody, so what the devil.”

They other three fell in with the idea and they all walked up Seventeenth Street to the Oxford Hotel, where, over beers, they began to cast about for four possible fabrications. John Lewis, who was known as “King” because of his tall, dignified bearing, interrupted one of the preliminary gambits for a point of strategy. Why dream up four lukewarm fakes, he asked. Why not concoct a sizzler which they would all use, and make it stick better by their solidarity.

The strategy was adopted by unanimous vote, and a reporter named Hal Wiltshire acme up with the first suggestion: Maybe they could invent some stiff competition for the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company by reporting the arrival of several steel men, backed by an independent Wall Street combine, come to buy a large site on which they planned to erect a new steel mill. The steel mill died a quick death; it could be checked too easily and it would be difficult to dispose of later.

Stevens suggested something more dramatic: Several detectives just in from New York on the trail of two desperados who had kidnapped a rich heiress. But this story was too hot; the editors might check the wire services or even the New York City police directly.

Thereupon Toumay and Lewis both came up with the obvious answer. What they needed was a story with a foreign angle that would be difficult to verify. Russia? No, none of them knew enough about Russia to make up an acceptable story. Germany was a possibility or perhaps, a bull-ring story from Madrid? Toumay didn’t think bull-fighting was of sufficient interest to Denverites. How about Holland, one of the reporters offered, something with dikes or windmills in it, maybe a romance of some sort.


By this time the reporters had had several beers. The romance angle seemed attractive. But one of the men thought Japan would be a more intriguing locale for it. Anther preferred China; why, the country was so antiquated and unprogressive, hiding behind its Great Wall, they’d be doing the Chinese a favor by bringing some news about their country to the outside world.

At this point, Lewis broke in excitedly. “That’s it!” he cried, “The Great Wall of China! Must be fifty years since that old pile’s been in the news. Let’s build out story around it. Let’s do the Chinese a real favor, let’s tear the old pile down!”

Tear down the Great Wall of China! The notion fascinated the four reporters. It would certainly make the front page. One of them objected that there might be repercussions, but the others voted him down. They did, however, decide to temper the story somewhat.

A group of American engineers had stopped over in Denver en route to China, where they were being sent at the request of the ruling powers of China, to make plans for demolishing the Great Wall at minimum cost. The Chinese had decided to raze the ancient boundary as a gesture of international goodwill. From now on China would welcome foreign trade.

By the time they had agreed on the details it was after eleven. They rushed over to the best hotel in town, and talked the night clerk into cooperating. Then they signed four fictitious names to the hotel register. The clerk agreed to tell anyone who checked that the hotel had played host to four New Yorkers, that they had been interviewed by the reporters, and then had left early the next morning for California. Before heading for their respective city desks, the four reporters had a last beer over which they swore to stick to their story and not to reveal the true facts so long as any of the others were alive. (Only years later did the last survivor, Hal Wiltshire, let out the secret.)

The reporters told their stories with straight faces to their various city editors. Next day all four Denver newspapers featured the story on the front page. Typical of the headlines was this one from the Times:




Within a few day Denver had forgotten all about the Great Wall. So far, so good. But other places soon began to hear about it. Two weeks later Lewis was startled to find the coming destruction of the Great Wall spread across the Sunday supplement of a large eastern newspaper, complete with illustrations, an analysis of the Chinese government’s historic decision -and quotes from a Chinese mandarin visiting in New York, who confirmed the report.

The story was carried by many other newspapers, both in America and in Europe. By the time it reached China it had gone through many transformations. The version published there- and the only one that probably made sense in view of the absence of any information on the subject from the Chinese government -was that the Americans were planning to send an expedition to tear down the Chinese national monument, the Great Wall.

Such a report would have infuriated any nation. It led to particularly violent repercussions in China at that time. The Chinese were already stirred up about the issue of foreign intervention -Europeans powers were parceling out and occupying the whole country. Russia had recently gotten permission to run the Siberian Railway through Manchuria. A year previously, German marines had seized the port town of Kiachow, and set up a military and naval base there. France followed by taking Kwangchowan. England had sent a fleet to the gulf of Chihli and bullied China into leasing Weihaiwei, midway between the recent acquisitions of France and Germany.

Faced with this danger of occidental exploitation, possibly even partition, the Chinese government under Emperor Kwang-Hsu began to institute radical reforms, to remodel the army along more modern lines, and to send students to foreign universities to obtain vital technical training.

An important segment of Chinese society bitterly resented not only foreign intervention, but all foreign cultural influences, as well as the new governmental reforms. In 1889 Empress Tsu Hsi made herself regent and officially encouraged all possible opposition to Western ideas. A secret society known as the Boxers, but whose full name was “The Order of Literary Patriotic Harmonious Fists,” took the lead in verbal attacks on missionaries and Western businessmen in China by openly displaying banners that read “Exterminate the foreigners and save the dynasty.”


Into this charged atmosphere came the news of America’s plan to force the demolition of the Great Wall. It proved the spark that is credited with setting off the Boxer Rebellion. A missionary later reported: “The story was published with shouting headlines and violent editorial comment. Denials did no good. The Boxers, already incensed, believed the yarn and now there was no stopping them.”

By June 1900, the whole country was overrun with bands of Boxers. Christian villages were destroyed and hundreds of native converts massacred near Peking. The city itself was in turmoil, with murder and pillage daily occurrences and the foreign embassies under siege.

Finally, in August, an international army of 12,000 French, British, American, Russian, German, and Japanese troops invaded China and fought its way to Peking. There, the troops not only brought relief to their imperiled countrymen, but also looted the Emperor’s palace and slaughtered innumerable Chinese without inquiring too closely whether they belonged to the “Harmonious Fists” or just happened to be passing by. The invading nations also forced China to pay an indemnity of $320 million and to grant further economic concessions. All this actually spurred the reform movement, which culminated with the Sun Yat-Sen revolution in 1911.

Thus did a journalistic hoax make history. Of course, the Boxers might have been sparked into violence in some other fashion, or built up to it of their own accord. But can we be sure? The fake story may have well been the final necessary ingredient. A case could even be made that the subsequent history of China, right up to the present, might have been entirely different if those four reporters had been less inventive that Saturday night in the Hotel Oxford bar.

See also: The Great Moon Hoax, Human Oil (and Other Hoaxes), and Joey Skaggs, The Ultimate Hoax Meister.


Reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Giant 10th Anniversary Bathroom Reader, which comes packed with 504 pages of great stories.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.

If you like Neatorama, you’ll love the Bathroom Reader Institute’s books – check ‘em out!


Postcards To The Future

29 Jul
There’s plenty of footage out there showing what people thought the year 2000 would bring from the 1950s and 60s but what about the view from 1900?

A series of postcards from German chocolate company Hildebrands gives us a glimpse into their thoughts on life at the turn of the millennium, a far more whimsical (and corseted) vision of what was to be.

A Quick Stroll on the Water

The Moving Pavement

House-Moving by Train

Televised Outside Broadcasting

Personal Flying Machines

Combined Ship and Railway Locomotive

Weather Control Machine

Undersea Tourist Boats

Roofed Cities

Personal Airships

Police X-Ray Surveillance Machine

Summer Holidays at the North Pole

Source: paleofuture


The Last Launch

05 Jul

Funny business, this. My career spun, substantially, on the first launch of the space shuttle, back in ’81. I was a staff shooter at ABC TV in NY, which was definitely an odd duck of a job. As a still shooter bound up in an organization whose reason to be was making moving pictures, I was often the odd man out, or certainly the last consideration. (It was good I got used to that feeling early in my career:-)

I got sent down to the Cape for ABC to photograph the test firing of Columbia’s engines, and to identify lens throws and positions, work out the credentialing path, and all that stuff you do to prep for a major media blowout. As it happened, Discover, the new Time Inc. science magazine, had a crew of three shooters down there, and all was not well with team Discover. Two of the team members came back to NY, and told their editor, “We need a new third. Hire McNally.”

I was already shooting for the magazine as a freelancer, so the photo editor had no qualms. She called me up and offered me the gig shooting launch and landing. It amounted to about two weeks of freelance day rates, which at the time was the princely sum of $250 per day. I walked into my boss’ office at ABC and quit.

In the early days of the launches and landings, I spent a lot of time in Cocoa Beach, Houston, and out in the desert of Edwards AFB, where they landed the first few. Cocoa at that point was a rusty old space town at the end of the Bee Line Expressway. We would ship roughly 40-50 cases of gear down, and pick ‘em up at air freight. Heavy tripods, wiring, rigging, long glass, 20 or so motor driven Nikons, timers, scopes, film, hi-speed Hulcher cameras, you name it. You shot multiple, multiple cameras, ’cause, as they say, once they light those SRBs (solid rocket boosters) that puppy’s goin’ somewhere, and you don’t want to come up empty.

It was exhausting, but fun, and there was a great sense of launch fever in those heady early days. We would stay in a dogshit Days Inn, eat shoe leather steaks at the Mousetrap, and listen to Shirl the Girl on the piano. One of our team, Hank Morgan, remains a friend to this day. He was a pro’s pro, and I learned much from him. Nothing he couldn’t do with a camera. He didn’t get rattled, which was an essential quality, shooting these launches. The rocket fires, the noise rolls along with the smoke plume, and, like a monster Roman candle, the spaceship climbs, achingly slow at first, towards the heavens. You are 2-3 miles away, on a tower, with a three camera platform, most likely with a 1,000mm, a six and a five on what was at that point, F2′s. You had a single handle push on the platform, and all three cameras would be wired into a foot pedal. Your job was to track with the longest lens. If you did that smoothly, the six hundred and the five hundred (effectively, your wide angles) would also stay on track. Hitch or bobble, you would never again find the shuttle in all that sky with 1000mm of glass clapped to your eye.

Seat of the pants ruled the day, for photogs, and, I suspect, NASA. I love odd shit, so one early morning, I was in hog heaven, photographing Challenger as it was towed through the streets of Palmdale, Ca.

You can’t make this stuff up, right? You look out your window, and there goes the space shuttle.

Down at Houston, I got to photograph a silica space shuttle tile. These conduct heat so poorly, they cover part of the shuttle’s exterior, protecting it from the high temps of re-entry. This tile, glowing hot and fresh from the oven, is being held by unprotected fingers, demonstrating its’ lack of heat transfer. Strange and remarkable stuff goes into this flying cargo ship.

The first landing was rough. Nobody knew what this thing would look like coming down out of space.  Dropping like a rock, approaching at an angle so steep the pilots were virtually looking straight down, the only thing we knew as shooters was that whatever happened would happen fast. I had knocked around doing conventions and political coverages, so the editor wanted me on the longest glass. It wasn’t the prime spot, but it was the spot from which you could track the whole shebang. I was on the roof of the old fire station at Edwards with an ancient 1200mm lens, which came in two parts that you screwed together. With the shade, it extended maybe 5-6′ from the camera, and it was a bear to focus in the best of conditions, much less through desert heat waves. I had the whole thing wrapped in aluminum foil, for fear the 100 plus degree heat would just melt it right into the roof.

And there it is. Close as I got, through 1200mm of ancient glass. The hard part was picking it out of the sky, ’cause it was, at first, just a glowing speck in a sea of blue. I had one camera on the lens, and another looped around my neck, ready to slam it on. (Remember, only thirty six exposures.) I did better later, when I took a large ABC news sticker I still had in my bag, slapped it onto the hood of my car and drove  past Edwards security right onto the runway. Having a TV sticker could get you lots of places back in the day.

Scouting Edwards for approach positions was fun. Miles of open desert, and they pretty much let us have the run of the place. Not that there was anything out there. Hank, driving his own rental car, gave me one of those twisted, “I’m about to do something really fun and stupid” looks and brought the hammer down out there in the big empty. I was in a Buick Regal, and had no choice but to respond. My problem was that I was driving into his dust cloud at about 110 mph and could see absolutely nothing. It occurred to me that this was not advisable when heard an enormous crack from under the car. Desperately looking around, I noticed my gas gauge plummeting. I had driven right over a large, pointed rock embedded in the desert, and  it basically plowed a furrow right through the gas tank. I pulled up and started yanking gear out of the trunk like the crazy fool I was and Hank, thankfully, circled back to pick me up.  We moved away from the vehicle as it was slowly encircled in a sea of gasoline. I called the rental company and told them their car had malfunctioned and I needed a new one, which they obliged me with. They in turn called me back about two days later to tell me they had yet to find my vehicle. I assured them it was out there, gulping a bit and wondering how I could finesse a Buick Regal on my expense account. I never heard back.

It has been, as they say, quite a ride….more tk….


The Social Media World Before Twitter And Facebook [Infographic]

10 Feb

A world without Twitter or Facebook seems distant and almost non existent. Yet still there was a time, long ago (hrmm..), when they didn’t exist. As a matter of fact, Facebook didn’t even exist 8 years ago and Twitter even less. So, if you feel like you’ve been using Twitter or Facebook for ages, well then you’re wrong. Some say Social Media was invented at the same time as the Internet was. The reason why is because at that point we all got a forum where we could interact with people all around the world. However, the real term Social Media really started way later. There are literally hundreds of social networking services on the Internet today, and many that you have never heard of.

You might not know it, but there were actually a few successful social networking services before Twitter and Facebook even though when reading their names you might not recognize them at all. Some of us used the Internet purely to look up information and send files back and forth. Some even used chat rooms and message services like ICQ or AOL Instant Messanger.

But mostly, we never touched the social networking world or even came close to it before Facebook and Twitter. You will be surprised to know that there were actually quite a few services that you would file under the category of Social Networking Services. The whole thing started with an email, and it is on that road that we will soon come to Facebook and Twitter. Watch the whole pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter world unfold in front of your eyes with this awesome infographic designed and created by Online Schools. Interesting indeed!

The History Before Facebook TwitterThe History Before Facebook TwitterThe History Before Facebook TwitterThe History Before Facebook Twitter


Nazi Scientists Proposed Creating a Giant Space Mirror to Burn Enemy Nations

03 Dec

An issue of Life magazine published on July 23, 1945 includes an article about a secret weapon proposed by some Nazi scientists toward the end of World War II. It was a huge mirror that, if placed in orbit, would focus sunlight on enemy nations and burn them:

Plausible schemes to build a station in space were engineered on paper long before the war. European rocket enthusiasts, including Dr. Hermann Oberth, who may have been the designer of the V-2, had planned to use the space station not as a weapon but as a refueling point for rockets starting off on journeys into space. … The only major obstacle: constructing a rocket powerful enough to reach a point where a space station could be built. If the modern German scientists had been able to make such a rocket, they might have ben able to set up their sun gun. Whether the sun gun would have accomplished what they expected, however, is another matter.”

The German idea of using the sun as a military weapon is not new. There is an ancient legend that Archimedes designed great burning mirrors which set the Roman fleet afire during the siege of Syracuse, in which Archimedes later died. This legend, and the German plan for building may be proved physically impossible by a simple axiom of optics. This is that light cannot be brought to a sharp, pointed focus with lenses or mirrors unless it comes from a sharp, pointed source. Since the sun appears in the sky as a disk and not as a point, the best any optical system can produce is an image of this disk. At very short focal lengths, the image is small and hot but as the focal length is increased the image becomes progressively bigger and cooler. At the distance the Germans proposed to set up their mirror (3,100 miles) the image of the sun cast on the earth would be about 40 miles in diameter and not hot enough to do any damage.

Link via blastr | Image: Life


How foreign aid was invented by accident

14 Nov

Truman’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1949 is usually taken as the beginning of foreign aid, after it included these stirring words:

Fourth, we must embark on a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas…More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery….For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people….  And…we should foster capital investment in areas needing development.…this program can greatly increase the industrial activity in other nations and can raise substantially their standards of living.

Foreign Aid was at first referred to as the Point Four program because it was the 4th point in the speech. I recently stumbled across an old article by a participant in the 1949 events, Louis J. Halle.[1]

The events were roughly these. Halle worked for the State Department and one evening in 1948 had a conversation with the Deputy Director of American Republic Affairs (DDARA) about a program of technical assistance that only covered Latin America. The two agreed something similar could possibly be useful other places.

In November 1948, the President’s speech-writing assistant asked the State Department for some proposals to include in the Inaugural Address. A meeting happened and they came up with three proposals. The Director of Public Affairs called for additional ideas. The DDARA remembered the evening conversation and said something like “how about a program of technical assistance for undeveloped countries, like that in Latin America?” The fourth proposal was noted and the meeting adjourned.

The proposals went through the regular clearance procedures in the State Department. The fourth proposal was killed in the clearance process. Halle thought it was probably because officials thought it would be irresponsible to announce such a program when nobody had a clue about what it would mean in practice. So only the first three points were sent over to the White House for the Inaugural Address.

Then the speechwriting assistant called the State Department’s Director of Public Affairs back a few days later complaining that the three proposals were boring. The President wanted something original. As Halle describes it:

At this juncture, without proper time for reflection, the Director of Public Affairs found himself standing on the shore of his own Rubicon. He took a deep breath, and crossed over. There had been a fourth point, he said, but it had been thrown out. What was it? The Director told what it was. “That’s great,” said the voice from the White House, and “Point Four” went back in again.

Halle says nobody gave the matter another thought until the delivery of the address. To continue his narrative:

“Point Four” was a public-relations gimmick, thrown in by a professional speech-writer to give the speech more life. When the newspapers dramatized it in their principal headlines on the morning of January 21, the White House and the State Department were taken completely by surprise. No one – not the President, not the Secretary of State, not the presidential assistant or the Director of Public Affairs –knew any more about “Point Four” than what they could read for themselves in the meager and rather rhetorical language of the speech….It was only now, after the Inaugural Address had been delivered and the “bold new program” acclaimed all over the world, that machinery was set up in the government to look into the possibilities of such a program and make plans.

President Truman was asked six days later about background on the origin of Point Four. He replied with a good story that had no relation to the reality:

The origin of Point Four has been in my mind, and in the minds of the Government, for the past two or three years, ever since the Marshall Plan was inaugurated. It originated with the Greece and Turkey propositions. Been studying it ever since. I spend most of my time going over to that globe back there, trying to figure out ways to make peace in the world.

We want always to think our leaders take intentional, decisive actions , especially on something so important as foreign aid. It’s hard to say in this case to what extent it was an “accident,” or whether the fundamentals made aid an accident waiting to happen. But it’s good for the soul to realize that policies can happen by accident more than we are usually willing to accept.

[1] ON TEACHING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS , Virginia Quarterly Review, 40:1 (1964:Winter) p.11. I found the reference in Gilbert Rist’s wonderful book, The History of Development: from Western Origins to Global Faith (3rd edition 2009)

The high school with seven Nobel prize winners

08 Nov
Inside the Bronx high school that produced seven Nobel-winning physicists—despite having sub-standard physics education while most of them were in school. According to this article, what the Bronx High School of Science lacked in specific-subject resources, it made up by creating an engaging environment that got kids excited about science, in general, both in and out of the classroom.


19th century New York City was knee-deep in trash

21 Oct

A couple of years ago, I wrote a story for Boys' Life about privy pit archaeology—the fine art and science of digging up the contents of centuries old toilets. It's less horrific than it sounds, mainly because privy pits weren't just toilets. In the time before regular sanitation service, they did double-duty as landfills. Most of what you pull out of a privy pit is people's trash—a pretty basic element of studying how people lived, and what was going on in their lives.

That's part of why I love this interview with Robin Nagle, the New York City Department of Sanitation's anthropologist-in-residence. As part of her (unpaid) position, Nagle is digging into the cultural and political history of trash in one of the world's largest cities. Turns out, 19th century New York City was a pretty vile place to live, with a sanitation-related death rate to rival medieval London.

Wasn't the public outraged? Why didn't the powers-that-be respond better?

Nagle: Because the corruption at that time was so deep. The money set aside for street cleaning was going into the pockets of the Tweed and Tammany politicians. Eventually, it got to be that it was so dirty for so long, no one thought that it could be any different. Imagine, on your own block, that you can't cross the street, even at the corner, without paying a street kid with a broom to clear a path for you, because the streets were layered in this sludge of manure, rotting vegetables, ash, broken up furniture, debris of all kind. It was called "corporation pudding" after the city government. And it was deep -- in some cases knee-deep.

OnEarth: Digging into New York City's Trashy History

(Via Philip Bump)

Image: Some rights reserved by D'Arcy Norman


3500 Year Old Tree The Senator

20 Aug

Imagine a tree, 3500 years old, and the history and knowledge it must possess. The Senator is a species of Bald Cypress situated at Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida. For year, travelers flocked to the tree, jumping log to log in the swamps, to catch a glimpse of this world wonder.

The Senator Bald Cypress tree measures close 18 feet in diameter and stands 118 feet high. The Senator’s age is estimated between 3,400-3,500 years old, the 5th oldest tree in the world.


From the Upcoming ueue, submitted by lannaxe96.