How the West Was Wired

Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone in 1876, and before you know it, cities were being wired for communication. That infrastructure was pretty much limited to cities, though, and later to small towns that weren't too far apart. Out in the western US, farmers and homesteaders were ignored by Ma Bell because of the expense of running phone lines to isolated farms and towns spread out over many miles. However, two years before Bell's invention, barbed wire was patented, and it had already transformed the West by making miles of fencing affordable.

Then came a rural revolution. American farmers already had a long tradition of cooperative association. There were thousands of farmers' cooperative insurance groups, grain elevators, and irrigation systems. By the turn of the century, farmers had come to see many uses for the telephone: dealing with emergencies, getting weather reports, pricing crops, recruiting labor, and even overcoming rural isolation. Not surprisingly, they started rural telephone cooperatives by the thousands. Their telephone "mutuals" were crude affairs. Each linked together a few, or a few dozen, farm households. Some used a switchboard, located in a store or more often in someone's kitchen, while others operated as a community party line.

It was in building the network connecting homestead to homestead that the farmers' ingenuity came to the fore. Instead of erecting new poles and wires, many either ran phone wires along the top of wooden fence posts or used the barbed wire itself to carry signals. The latter hardly worked as well as insulated copper wire, but with the lines already in place, installation and operating costs could be kept to a minimum. By one estimate, service ran a mere $3 to $18 a year, far less than the regional phone companies charged, and labor for maintaining the network was supplied by volunteers.

Read about how barbwire phone networks worked at Inc. There's more on how these networks were used by the people who needed them most at Atlas Obscura. -via Metafilter

(Image source: Library of Congress)


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Featured Designs from the NeatoShop:



Dog Saves the Day


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She locked herself out of the house. However, there's a sliding glass door that's only held shut by a sawed-off broom handle, and the dog is inside with it. All Sam has to do is retrieve the stick. His years of training in stick-fetching suddenly pay off! That's a good dog. -via reddit

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Matchbox Art of Drunk Cats

Artists Arna Miller and Ravi Zupa created a series of tiny 3-color block prints on matchboxes depicting cats acting out common behaviors seen in bars late in the evening. They are on display at an exhibit called Strike Your Fancy: New Artworks by Arna Miller at Abstract in Denver this month, and the matchboxes are for sale at $20 each or a set of all ten for $175. -via Boing Boing


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"American Pie" Explained

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When Don McLean released a seven-minute song called "American Pie" in 1971, music fans clamored to decipher all the cultural references and deeper meaning in the lyrics. I once received a tract that claimed it was a prophesy about the end of the world. That was nonsense; the song is a history of how American culture changed from the '50s to the '70s as told through music. However, nearly 50 years later, we have a couple of generations of music lovers without the first-hand knowledge of those events. Polyphonic gives us an explainer to make them clear. You can hear the original song in its entirety here.  -via Digg


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Murder On the Cheap

An investigation of a murder in 1934 in Indianapolis was fairly open-and-shut, since the police had plenty of information to go on. The hit man was offered an entire ten dollars, the majority of which he spent on a gun. That, however, was one of the more mundane details of this bizarre case.

At the center of our story is Gaylord V. Saunders, the pastor of a Methodist Episcopal church in Wabash, Indiana. As he entered his mid-thirties, Saunders, like so many people, had something of a mid-life crisis. His life felt empty. He needed a sense of meaning to his existence. He longed for excitement, emotional fulfillment, new challenges, a fresh road to travel. So, naturally, he moved to Indianapolis and enrolled in an embalming school. Unaccountably, his wife Neoma failed to heed the siren song of organ preservation and creating a remarkably lifelike appearance, so she and their children stayed behind in Wabash.

Saunders was found dead in his car, shot in the back of the head. Police talked to people who knew the clergyman, and quickly centered their attention on Theodore Mathers, one of Saunders' classmates. And then on Saunders' wife. And a few other people. In fact, folks seemed to be falling all over each other to confess everything they knew about the murder. While the investigation was strange in its simplicity, it was the murder trials that followed that went totally off the rails. Read the entire story of Gaylord Saunders' murder at Strange Company.  


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Cat Explorer

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At reddit, this video was titled "Petting a VR cat," which set the viewer up to be horrified. That's not what this is at all. No, this is a demo for a virtual reality anatomy education program. With a move of a finger, you can disassemble this cute cat (which does not exist, really) into component parts such as its skeleton, circulatory system, and/or muscles. See an exploded view or even slice it. The virtual cat doesn't mind at all, I swear. You can download the Cat Explorer program from Leap Motion if you have Windows and a VR device.    


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The Strange Life Of An Unsolved Mysteries Phone Operator

Off and on from 1987 to 2010, on different networks, people tuned in to watch the weirdness that was Unsolved Mysteries. The show presented mysteries that ran the gamut of murders to Bigfoot sightings. At the end of the show, viewers would be encouraged to call a hotline to share any information they may have about the mystery. You can imagine that hundreds of callers with no connection whatsoever to the case would flood the lines with their opinions. According to an Unsolved Mysteries phone operator named Delilah, that was true, but she listened to each one because you never knew when a nugget of truth would come through.   

She would get the callers insisting they knew who was really behind the Oklahoma City bombing, or asking for a segment on the conspiracy behind water fluoridation. UFO callers were the strangest (in a very competitive field), but still, it was her job to listen. When one call came in about Kecksburg (a famous UFO crash in Pennsylvania) ...

"At first, it sounded convincing. He was from around there as a kid, and had been told by a passing soldier that it was a secret satellite that fell. It seemed legit, and I began taking the info down. But he slowly began adding a detail here and there. About the certain project it might have been. About what it was there for. About mysterious happenings. When my supervisor came around, I was writing about how it was a program to destroy aliens. He said, 'Why are you writing this down?' [The caller] had so slowly built up to it I didn't notice."

But then in 2002, they did an episode about the Phoenix UFOs. Among all of the many calls declaring it the beginning of an alien invasion, Delilah got one from a guy claiming, in a rather convincing way, that it was a secret military project.

"I thought, 'Here we go,' but he introduced himself as someone from the military and explained that they were flares dropped during an exercise ... and told us to look into what the Maryland Air National Guard was up to that night."

It turned out that he was telling the truth. The mysterious lights were flares attached to balloons.

"It turns out it was an amazing tip, because it completely debunked the UFO, but we couldn't use it." Because the military had made no announcement to that effect, that caller got lumped in with the cranks.

Useful calls were overwhelmed by pranks, creeps, the unhinged, and people who just wanted to talk to someone, but quite a few real crimes were solved with help from callers. Read about the life of an Unsolved Mysteries operator at Cracked.  


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The First Woman Elected to Congress

Before the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to women nationwide, several states already included women at the polls. Jeannette Rankin, born on this date in 1880, campaigned to get women to vote for her in the 1916 congressional race in Montana, although that wasn't the only reason she won. Rankin became the first woman in the United States Congress because she worked hard for the opportunity to improve the lives of the downtrodden. But the newspapers of the time treated her as they did any woman who rose above her station.

Rankin came in second in Montana’s at-large Congressional race, meaning she secured one of the two available seats. But in those days ballots were counted by hand, which took a long time. Montana newspapers—likely not taking her candidacy entirely seriously—initially reported that Rankin had lost. It wasn’t until three days later that the papers had to change their tune: Miss Rankin was headed to Congress.

Suddenly journalists across the country were clamoring to interview and photograph the nation’s first congresswoman. Photographers camped outside her house until Rankin had to issue a statement saying she was no longer allowing photos and would “not leave the house while there is a cameraman on the premises.” Before the election, Rankin’s team had sent The New York Times biographical material about their candidate, only to have the Times return it and run a mocking editorial urging Montanans to vote for Rankin because “if she is elected to Congress she will improve that body aesthetically, for she is said to be ‘tall, with a wealth of red hair.’” A month later, the paper was profiling her more seriously, reporting on her suffrage work and noting that she had “light brown hair—not red.” Of course, due to her gender, a profile on Rankin could not be limited to political topics. The Times also reported on her “Famous Lemon Pie,” and informed readers that “She dances well and makes her own hats, and sews.” Other newspapers took a similar tone.

Rankin's treatment by the press did not improve after she went to work in Washington, but that seems trivial compared with the insane views her congressional colleagues had on the role of women 100 years ago. Read how Rankin fought for peace, suffrage, and equality at Mental Floss.


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How To Get Your Kids To Do Chores (Without Resenting It)

Psychologists and anthropologists have long observed how children in Mexico and Guatemala help around the house. Not only do they begin doing household chores earlier than children in the US, they continue to do so as they grow up, and they don't have to be told to do so, or even asked to. They happily contribute their work on their own as a matter of course.

They help do the laundry, help cook meals, help wash dishes. And they often do chores without being told. No gold stars or tie-ins to allowances needed.

In one study, psychologist Barbara Rogoff and her colleagues interviewed moms in Guadalajara, Mexico, who had indigenous ancestry. The researchers asked the moms what their children, who were all between the ages of 6 and 8, do to help around the house and how often they do these tasks voluntarily.

The study — published in 2014 — contains some of the most remarkable quotes I have ever seen in a research article.

For example, one mother said her 8-year-old daughter comes home from school and declares: "Mom, I'm going to help you do everything." Then she "picks up the entire house, voluntarily," the study reported.

"Another time, the mom comes home from work, and she's really tired," says Rogoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz. "She just plops herself down on the couch. And the daughter, says, 'Mom you're really tired, but we need to clean up the house. How about I turn on the radio and I take care of the kitchen and you take care of the living room and we'll have it all cleaned up?' "

Volunteering to help is such an important trait in kids that Mexican families even have a term for it: acomedido.

Recent research reveals the cultural differences in childrearing practices that lead to acomedido. Read how Mexican families teach children the value of household chores at NPR.  -via Digg

(Image credit: Adriana Zehbrauskas for NPR)

See more about baby and kids at NeatoBambino

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When Your Cat Goes Missing



In the newest episode of Simon's Cat Logic, cartoonist Simon Tofield and veterinarian Nicky Treverrow talk about the possibility of a missing cat, and what to do when it happens. The worst part is not knowing whether your cat is injured, lost, taken by someone, turned in to the pound, stuck up a tree, or just plain ignoring you. The very best thing is to equip your cat with an identifying microchip, but you have to do that before he disappears.

(YouTube link)

Tofield also tells the story of how his black cat Teddy, who his cartoon cat is modeled after, got stuck up a tree a couple of years ago. You can read the full version of that story at his blog.

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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15 Summer ‘Blockbusters’ That Completely Tanked

You can't produce, or even predict, lightning, but Hollywood keeps trying. A huge summertime hit, now known as a blockbuster, can make or break a film career. When studios have an idea they feel cannot go wrong, they are likely to sink tons of money into it, which only raises the stakes of success. In 2007, it seemed like a sequel to a huge hit would be a no-brainer ...but the producers were wrong.

Evan Almighty had a reported budget, before marketing, of $175 million, in 2007. That might not sound unusual now if you’re talking about a huge action movie with a handful of major stars to its name, but this was a sequel to a comedy about a man who was temporarily granted God’s powers. Bruce Almighty, the original film, made more than $480 million worldwide when it was released in 2003, but it starred Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston—two of the biggest stars in the world at the time—and cost just $81 million to produce. Bruce plays God, but the film isn’t exactly packed full of extravagant setpieces. For Evan Almighty, the studio decided to go bigger, much bigger, to the point that the film had the distinction of being the most expensive comedy ever produced at the time.

Steve Carell, who played Evan, was already an acclaimed comedy star, but he didn’t have Carrey’s proven box office draw. All of that, plus the massive costs of visual effects and live animals on the set, led to the film earning just under its reported budget at the box office. When you factor in promotional costs and the cut theatrical distributors take from a film’s earnings, that means the studio had to take a loss.

Other movies that were expected to be blockbusters (but weren't) include a few you may have never heard of, as well as some famous disasters such as Battlefield Earth and Ishtar. And then there are the movies in between, those you've heard about but didn't bother going to the theater for, in a list at Mental Floss.


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Grandpa Mason Loves His New Kittens

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A year ago, we told you about Grandpa Mason, an elderly feral tomcat that came into the care of TinyKittens in British Columbia. The cat was diagnosed with terminal kidney disease, but more than a year-and-a-half later, he is hanging on. Grandpa Mason doesn't like anyone, but he loves kittens, and nothing makes him happier than cuddling with baby cats. The rescue group put him to work fostering kittens, and that seems to have extended his life. We also told you about the three feral cats who gave birth to kittens under a livestream this spring. The nine kittens are now seven weeks old and Grandpa Mason plays with them while their mothers undergo medical treatment and spaying. He is in cat heaven.

In other kitten news, one of the kittens, Aura, was born with a cleft palate and had to be tube-fed around the clock. Tuesday, she ate her first solid food. She took that lesson too seriously, and later that day she bit through her milk feeding tube and swallowed 4.5 inches of it! A veterinarian retrieved the tube endoscopically, and she has recovered. You can read that story as it happened at Facebook.

You can still follow the kittens on their livestream.

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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How Jurassic Park Made History 25 Years Ago

We are so used to computer-generated imagery (CGI) in movies that it's hard to fathom that Star Wars (1977) had none at all ...at least until the "special edition" was produced later. Still, that movie set us on the road to modern moviemaking, as George Lucas founded Industrial Light & Magic to create special effects for his later movies. That company debuted CGI in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and the same year TRON featured an entire sequence made with CGI, animated one frame at a time.

Yet Jurassic Park stands out historically because it was the first time computer-generated graphics, and even characters, shared the screen with human actors, drawing the audience into the illusion that the dinosaurs’ world was real. Even back then, upon seeing the initial digital test shots, George Lucas was stunned: He’s often quoted as saying “it was like one of those moments in history, like the invention of the light bulb or the first telephone call … A major gap had been crossed and things were never going to be the same.”

Since then, computer graphics researchers have been working to constantly improve the realism of visual effects and have achieved great success, scholarly, commercial and artistic. Today, nearly every film contains computer-generated imagery: Explosions, tsunamis and even the wholesale destruction of cities are simulated, virtual characters replace human actors and detailed 3D models and green-screen backgrounds have replaced traditional sets.

Read about the great strides in CGI technology and filmmaking that came after the breakthrough of Jurassic Park at Smithsonian.


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A New World Record for Full-Body Burns

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You read about world record stunts that are "retired," or proposed ideas that the Guinness Book of World Records rejects because they are dangerous, but somehow self-immolation is okay. Last month, 32 professional stunt people gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, and were all set on fire simultaneously. That broke the record for the most people performing full-body burns. The rules for this record said they had to remain on fire for 30 seconds. Organizers promoted the event as "some fun."

The fire-proof costumes and gel used were thoroughly tested before the official attempt and every person was shadowed by someone who monitored their safety and health both during and after the challenge.

The Guinness World Records attempt made for an impressive spectacle though, as the 32 flaming participants walked together in a line, lighting up the sky.

Once they were finished, they fell to the floor to be extinguished by their helper.

Prior to this, the record for the Most people performing full body burns stood at 21 and was achieved during an event at the Hotcards Burn in Cleveland, Ohio, USA on 19 October 2013.

The event was organized by Paradigm Shift Special Effects, which employs the stunt men and women. Sometimes you have to do weird things for work.  -via Digg 


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Wheel of Fortune Answers

The TV game show Wheel of Fortune is like a fast-moving crossword puzzle where the audience is always a step ahead of the players onscreen. You can guess the answer before the wheel is spun, and you never have to skip a turn like the competitors do. But how often do you come up with a wrong answer that's funnier than the right answer?

The week-old Twitter account Wheel Of Fortune Answers is full of stuff like this. Some guesses are more plausible than others, and they don't always follow the rules, but the point is not to be right, but to be funny.

Before you scroll through the whole collection, be aware that the "answers" are often profane. -via Buzzfeed


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Dog Films Skateboarders

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One of the challenges of filming a skater is keeping up as he zips around. One solution is to mount a camera on a loyal and energetic dog! In this video, a dog named Fatman follows Rob Mathieson, Tom Snape, and Nick Jensen around a London skatepark. The result is a dog video and a skateboard video combined, which is a lot of fun. What's really impressive is the stabilization of the footage. See more of Fatman The Dog at his YouTube channel.  -via Laughing Squid

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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The Ninety-Nines Was Amelia Earhart’s Club for Female Aviators

The first pilot's licenses in the US were issued in 1927. Within two years, there were over 9,000 men with licenses, and only 117 women. Those women were adventurous, independent, and skilled, but they were treated as a novelty. A woman could find blissful freedom in the skies, and still return to headlines about what her makeup looked like when she took off. Many of the women who were pilots knew each other somewhat through competitions and air shows, so in 1929, six pilots, including Amelia Earhart, proposed a club where they could share their experiences and support each other.  

Later that year, [pilot Opal] Kunz explained in a letter to a fellow female aviator why such a group was so critical. It wasn’t, she wrote, that there was any conflict with male pilots. “This is exactly the opposite to the facts. We want no militant girl pilots. We are not fighting for anything.” Instead, the Ninety-Nines wanted women in aviation to be treated as equals, “rather than spoiled as something rare and very precious.” Instead of overblown headlines about minor female achievements, they wanted women to be treated as peers and given identical opportunities to the men who did, as she wrote, such “marvelous things in the air … We believe that our girls can and will learn to fly as well as the average man, better than many, but it does not seem likely that we will ever equal the remarkable skill of countless men fliers both in our own country and abroad.” That same year, Earhart is said to have proclaimed: “If enough of us keep trying, we’ll get someplace.”

The club eventually became known as the Ninety-Nines, with Earhart elected as their first president. They worked to send young women to aviation school, and supplied pilots in World War II. And the club is still going today. Read about the Ninety-Nines at Atlas Obscura.


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First Look at First Man

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Almost fifty years after the fact, Hollywood has finally produced a biopic on Neil Armstrong. First Man covers the years from 1961 to 1969, when Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface.

Why was Armstrong the first astronaut to step onto the moon? The official story given to the public is because he was closest to the door of the lunar lander. But there's more to it. Deke Slayton, head of the astronaut office during the Apollo era, assigned crews to the various missions. By tradition, the backup crew for one mission would be the main crew for the third mission after that, although changes were sometimes made. Armstrong was on the backup crew for Apollo 8. When the crew was up for Apollo 11, Armstrong was named commander because of his seniority in the astronaut program. Knowing the historic nature of the mission, Slayton arranged for Armstrong to be the first out because his lack of ego would make him better able to withstand the aftermath of the mission.

Still, Armstrong appeared to be tailor-made for the honor. He was a Korean War veteran, a Navy aviator, but a civilian at the time of the moon shot. Armstrong had a degree in aeronautical engineering and worked as a test pilot for NACA, the precursor to NASA. His civilian status was what kept him out of the first astronaut selection for Project Mercury, but Project Gemini welcomed him in 1962, despite his application being late. The fact that he was the first civilian astronaut to travel in space had no bearing on his Apollo 11 role, but the idea was appealing to enough people to stick around for 50 years.

First Man is set to open October 12. -via Tastefully Offensive


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Smoky the 4 Pound Military Dog

An American soldier found a tiny but full-grown Yorkshire terrier in a foxhole in New Guinea during World War II. Combat photographer Corporal William A. Wynne took a picture of the dog sitting in a helmet to show how small she was. That photo made the dog famous, as it was printed in a military magazine and then in newspapers across the US.

The dog was named Smoky, and over the last two years of the war she accompanied Wynne on 12 combat missions and dozens of air raids, and entertained troops and the hospitalized wounded with tricks she learned during downtime. Those tricks served her well after the war too, used to entertain the world on tours and TV shows. Millions of people knew and loved Smoky the War Dog.

Smoky was so loved that the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an obituary when she died in 1957, which led to solving the mystery of how a Yorkshire terrier came be in a foxhole in New Guinea. Read that story in a newspaper clipping at FishWrap. -via Strange Company 

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children

Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to connect with young children through his show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Or maybe it wasn't so uncanny. Rogers put in a lot of work to make sure everything he said was something a child could understand. That wasn't easy, since children lack the years of language practice and references that adults have. Rogers went over every line in a script, consulted with childhood experts, and even reshot dialogue that he later found troubling from a child's point of view.

As Arthur Greenwald, a former producer of the show, put it to me, “There were no accidents on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He took great pains not to mislead or confuse children, and his team of writers joked that his on-air manner of speaking amounted to a distinct language they called “Freddish.”

Fundamentally, Freddish anticipated the ways its listeners might misinterpret what was being said. For instance, Greenwald mentioned a scene in a hospital in which a nurse inflating a blood-pressure cuff originally said “I’m going to blow this up.” Greenwald recalls: “Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.”

Eventually, a couple of the show's writers jotted down the rules of "Freddish," representing the process of refining a simple line of dialogue to make it perfect for Mister Rogers' audience. You can read that process at The Atlantic.

(Image credit: Flickr user Rogelio A. Galaviz C.)


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Every State, Ranked by How Miserable Its Summers Are

What is summer like in your state? Is it unbearably hot and humid, or just hot? Are there wall-to-wall tourists, or do they avoid your state because it's boring? There's more to a pleasant summer than temperature, and Thrillist takes many factors into account when ranking where you might want to spend your summer vacation time. For example:

11. Kansas

It's kinda like Oklahoma, but with fewer onions on the burgers and a roughly equal number of tornado warnings.

10. South Carolina

Little-known fact: During the summer months, the South Carolina town of Mount Pleasant renames itself “Mount How Is It Possible That My Body Is Both Slippery and Sticky Right Now Don’t Touch Me I’m Gross It’s Even Too Hot to Enjoy a Plate of Mustard-Forward Barbecue Pass The Cheerwine As It Is My Only Refuge From This Unyielding Hazy Inferno.”

For real. They have to change the signs and everything.

Also, Myrtle Beach has one of America’s most impressive collections of dads in golf shorts.

And to think that there are nine states with more miserable summers than that! See how yours ranks in the list at Thrillist.

(Image credit: Daniel Fishel/Thrillist)


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The Truth About Living With a Pet Raccoon

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This guy has a pet raccoon. Tito was a cute baby raccoon, but once they start to become adults, they remind you that they are wild animals. That goes for hand-raised raccoons. Watch Tito being himself as his human lays some truth down. -via Metafilter 

Love cute animals? View more at Lifestyles of the Cute and Cuddly blog

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The 25 Best Heist Movies of All Time

A group of experts, or people who think they are experts, plan the perfect crime. It will make them rich! Sometimes it's a thriller with high stakes, sometimes it's a comedy of errors. Often the plans go way off track. Sometimes they get away with it, sometimes they don't, and the fact that you don't know makes it all the more exciting. These are heist movies, and they come in all flavors. Everyone has their favorite, so Vulture built a ranked list for people to discuss and disagree with.

While selecting the 25 best heist films, we leaned heavily on the importance of the heist(s) to the movie’s plot. So, for example, the crime spree itself is perhaps more entertaining in Fantastic Mr. Fox than in the Wes Anderson film we chose, but the former isn’t really thought of as a “heist movie.” Our choices span several decades and aren’t all in English — most are thrillers, although a few are comedies. In some, our anti-heroes prevail — other times, everything goes terribly wrong. But what connects them all is that primal rush of landing the big score. Don’t try any of this at home.

Whether or not you agree with their selections, you'll probably find one or two that you haven't seen that might be working checking out in the list of the 25 best heist movies of all time. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Maya Robinson/Vulture)


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America’s Underground Sin City

Havre, Montana, is more than meets the eye. The railroad city had its hidden vices: saloons, brothels, and opium dens, mostly in the steam tunnels and basements beneath its buildings. When an arson fire destroyed the homes and businesses of Havre's Chinese railroad workers in 1904, legitimate businessmen moved their stores and offices underground instead of waiting for the town to be rebuilt.   

You’ll know when you’re walking over the Underground when you come across small grids of purple glass that illuminate the darkness below. They cover about ten blocks of the city.

Think of them as pioneer skylights into the non-operational, but still-standing Sporting Eagle Saloon, or one of the many bordellos and opium dens that were popular there in the 1920s-30s. The Great Depression was also a two-sided coin for Havre, whose innocent small businesses were suffering, while the Underground’s clandestine bootleggers were doing quite well…

The thriving underground city included a post office, mortuary, bakery, blacksmith shop, dentist office, pharmacy, barbershop, general store, and a chapel along with the saloons. As the years went by, the underground city fell into disuse, but now the local community has restored and open it up to tourists as Havre Beneath the Streets. Read about the underground city at Messy Nessy Chic

(Image credit: Flickr user Pattys-photos)


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Meet The Cleanest Badasses In Japan

Isse Ichidai Jidaigumi is a peculiar club that is getting plenty of attention in Japan. The group was born in Hokkaido and now has a branch in Tokyo. These young men dress in traditional Japanese robes and incongruously modern trilby hats, carry swords, and always have at least one basket with them ...to pick up garbage. Yes, they keep the city streets trash-free, with style.

They also sing and dance and demonstrate sword handling at various events. Read more about Isse Ichidai Jidaigumi and see plenty of pictures at Kotaku.

(Image credit: Jidaigumi)


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The Great Wallpaper Rebellion: Defending Flamboyance in a World of White Walls

Wallpaper started out as luxurious art that covered the walls of high-class homes, just one step down from handmade tapestries. Then with the Industrial Revolution, mass-produced wallpaper brought the price down and everyone wanted to plaster their home with fancy designs. As the paper got cheaper and cheaper, design suffered until most available wallpaper was just plain ugly. The modern trend is for clean, plain, painted walls, often in light neutral colors. Wallpaper suppliers have dried up and gone out of business in droves over the past few decades. The salvation of wallpaper may be the return to high-quality hand-printed paper, like the designs supplied by Bruce Bradbury and Steve Bauer of Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. They both developed a love for Victorian design and architecture early.  

Bradbury’s first wallpapers were homages to William Morris, C. F. A. Voysey, Christopher Dresser, and his other Victorian-era design heroes. In the mid-1970s, there was a nascent market for such wallpapers as increasing numbers of homeowners in Victorian-rich cities like San Francisco were restoring these grand, old structures, which were threatened by both decay and scorched-earth urban renewal. Unwittingly, Bradbury was making the right product in the right place at the right time. “When I finally decided to become a Victorian wallpaper maker in 1976,” he says, “I realized that the walls and ceilings of the Haight and the Western Addition homes I had been seeing since 1967 were blank canvases, ready and waiting for us.” Which is not to say he was immediately successful. “It still hadn’t occurred to me to sell anything,” Bradbury recalls, “because I was so in love with what I was doing. I made it and gave it away.”

He eventually got over that, which saved the business. Bradbury and Bauer tell us about their distinctive wallpapers, and give us a history of wall coverings at Collectors Weekly. 


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Solve the Internet

Have you given up on crossword puzzles because they are full of words you never encounter in your daily life? Maybe they should use some references and slang from the internet to be relatable. Motherboard is beginning a series of crossword puzzles, a new one every week, filled with answers you won't know unless you keep up with internet news and culture. Try the first puzzle here. It's not a big puzzle, but it took me twenty minutes to complete because I'm a little behind on celebrity news. -via Metafilter


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The Mining Millionaire Americans Couldn’t Help But Love

John Mackay was one of the richest men in the world in the 19th century, although his name is not remembered among the stories of Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Jay Gould. Mackay was different- he started out penniless, having left school at age 11 to support his family. He went to California for the Gold Rush and worked twice as hard and long as most miners, using half his pay to invest in mine ownership. In fact, Mackay enjoyed working as much as he enjoyed his fortune. So how rich was he?   

At the peak of the Comstock’s “Bonanza Times” in 1876, John Mackay’s cash income—from the dividends of the two bonanza mines alone—exceeded $450,000 per month. The only people in the world with a monthly cash income anywhere comparable were Mackay’s three junior partners. Their company, The Bonanza Firm, with an aggregate cash income running between $1.2 and $1.5 million per month, was, according to the Spirit of the Times, “The wealthiest firm in America and prospectively the richest in the world.” The income and expenditures of the four-person firm exceeded those of half the states in the Union.

One day, an old mining partner from California Gold Rush days teasingly reminded Mackay that he’d once thrown down his tools in frustration and announced that he’d be content for the rest of his life with $25,000.

“W-w-well,” Mackay stammered, struggling to overcome the stutter that had dogged him since childhood, “I’ve ch-ch-changed my mind.”

Mackay was rich, but he was no robber baron. While investing in mining and communications businesses, he paid employees well and didn't take advantage of anyone. His charitable donations weren't publicized. Maybe that's why he isn't famous today, but no one who knew him had a bad thing to say about the way he accumulated his wealth. Read the story of how hard work and luck combined to make John Mackay fabulously wealthy at Smithsonian.


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Visual Effects in Black Panther

(vimeo link)

Wakanda is a beautiful, hidden, fictional country that exists mainly on computers and film. You didn't really think they staged a life-or-death battle in a pool of water at the edge of a high cliff, did you? Of course not, but you might be surprised at how much of the scenery in Black Panther was purely digital, since the finished product was so smooth. Creating digital water is no picnic. ScanlineVFX lets us in on the secrets behind the visual effects that made the movie magic. -via io9


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The Curious Case of Alexis St. Martin

We once posted a short version of the story of Alexis St. Martin, who suffered a gunshot wound in his stomach that never healed, and thus became the subject of experiments in which his doctor observed the process of human digestion. However, the full story of St. Martin's life is quite harrowing. As an indentured servant in 1822, he had no money and no power. Unable to pay his hospital bill, he was at the mercy of Dr. William Beaumont.

As such, Beaumont offered to sign St Martin as an indentured servant to himself, primarily working as a laborer for Beaumont but also with the agreement that Beaumont would be able to experiment on St Martin in pretty much any way he wanted. And, given the terms of the agreement and St Martin’s extreme lower class status, this really was very much “any way he wanted” with seemingly little regard for St Martin’s feelings about things once the contract was signed.

While the terms of this initial contract are not known today, a later contract he signed with Beaumont has survived and in that one, in return for St Martin being a servant to Beaumont and his guinea pig, Beaumont would cover St Martin’s room and board and would also pay him $150 per year (about $2,800 today).

After a few years of this, St Martin broke his contract and left without permission, heading up to Canada where he started a family. Perturbed, but nonetheless still wanting to study St Martin, Beaumont spent a considerably sum of money tracking St Martin down and then convincing the fur company St Martin was then working for to allow him to return. He then offered St Martin things like a huge increase in pay, land granted by the government, and money to relocate his family (or better yet even more money to abandon his wife and kids). However, privately, he darkly wrote, “When I get him alone again into my keeping, I will take good care to control him as I please.” He also variously referred to St Martin’s children in a letter as “live stock” and in a letter to the U.S. surgeon general lamented St Martin’s “villainous obstinacy and ugliness”. Beyond all this, when writing about St Martin, he generally referred to him as “boy” rather than calling him by his name.

The medical procedures and experiments St. Martin endured were not only invasive, they were often painful and downright creepy. Read about St. Martin and the hole in his stomach at Today I Found Out.   


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