Archive for May, 2016

Treasure Hidden in an Auschwitz Mug

Heartbreaking. Breathtaking.




For 70 Years, A Mug In Auschwitz Held A Secret Treasure


“From the outside, it looked like any of the other mugs in the Auschwitz museum. But on the inside, this one had a secret — faithfully kept for seven decades….”


Heard on All Things Considered,



Frolicsome Engines: Antique Automata

Antique automata and other marvels.




From The Public Domain Review,

Frolicsome Engines: The Long Prehistory of Artificial Intelligence


Defecating ducks, talking busts, and mechanised Christs — Jessica Riskin on the wonderful history of automata, machines built to mimic the processes of intelligent life.


“How old are the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence? Many might trace their origins to the mid-twentieth century, and the work of people such as Alan Turing, who wrote about the possibility of machine intelligence in the ‘40s and ‘50s, or the MIT engineer Norbert Wiener, a founder of cybernetics. But these fields have prehistories — traditions of machines that imitate living and intelligent processes — stretching back centuries and, depending how you count, even millennia.


The word “robot” made its first appearance in a 1920 play by the Czech writer Karel ?apek entitled R.U.R., for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Deriving his neologism from the Czech word “robota,” meaning “drudgery” or “servitude,” ?apek used “robot” to refer to a race of artificial humans who replace human workers in a futurist dystopia. (In fact, the artificial humans in the play are more like clones than what we would consider robots, grown in vats rather than built from parts.)


There was, however, an earlier word for artificial humans and animals, “automaton”, stemming from Greek roots meaning “self-moving”. This etymology was in keeping with Aristotle’s definition of living beings as those things that could move themselves at will. Self-moving machines were inanimate objects that seemed to borrow the defining feature of living creatures: self-motion. The first-century-AD engineer Hero of Alexandria described lots of automata. Many involved elaborate networks of siphons that activated various actions as the water passed through them, especially figures of birds drinking, fluttering, and chirping….”


For the rest, click here.


And for your pleasure, this:


Juliet’s poison, and other potent magic from Shakespeare

Toil and trouble….and a little perfume —


From Hyperallergic,

The Poisons, Potions, and Charms of Shakespeare’s Plays
by Allison Meier




“Potions, poisons, and symbolic herbs are frequent plot devices in the plays of William Shakespeare, and reflect the medical knowledge of his time. Herbals recorded the plant-based concoctions, and through these rare books we can connect his references to remedies of the 16th and 17th century, whether the potent sleeping draught consumed by Juliet, or the rosemary “for remembrance” perfuming Ophelia’s bouquet.


“Input from the emerging professions of physicians and ‘barber surgeons’ coexisted with folk medicine, which was familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries,” Meghan Petersen, a librarian and archivist at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire, explained to Hyperallergic…”


For the rest, click here.


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