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The Mat Hatterpillar

Mother Nature is sometimes a prankster. The caterpillar that will eventually turn into the moth Uraba lugens is called the mad haterpillar because it grows its own hat, out of its own shed exoskeletons! This video is really only a minute long, then host Steve Mould discusses future episodes. -via Geekologie


The Con Artist Who Posed as a Nurse During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

No matter what the situation, there will be someone who figures out a way to illegally profit from it. Julia Lyons was one of those, a longtime swindler who, when she was arrested, would just slip away and change her name to one of her many aliases and con someone else. During the flu epidemic of 1918, Lyons had an idea that made her shenanigans easier.

As The Washington Post reports, Chicago was in the throes of the 1918 influenza pandemic that fall, and hospitals were enlisting nurses to tend to patients at home. Lyons, correctly assuming that healthcare officials wouldn’t be vetting volunteers very thoroughly, registered as a nurse under several pseudonyms and spent the next two months caring for a string of ailing men and women across the city.

Lyons’s modus operandi was simple: After getting a prescription filled, she’d charge her patient much more than the actual cost. Once, she claimed $63 for a dose of oxygen that had actually cost $5 (which, once adjusted for inflation, is the same as charging $1077 for an $85 item today). Sometimes, “Flu Julia,” as the Chicago Tribune nicknamed her, even summoned a so-called doctor—later identified by the police as a “dope seller and narcotic supplier”—to forge the prescriptions for her. Then she’d flee the property, absconding with cash, jewelry, clothing, and any other valuables she could find lying around the house.

Read the story of "Flu Julia" and the police manhunt launched to stop her at Mental Floss.

(Unrelated image credit: Harris & Ewing)


About That Time Whitey Bulger "Won" the Mass Millions Lottery

Notorious mobster James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger Jr. had been a force in Boston's organized crime scene since the 1940s. When he claimed millions in lottery winnings in 1991, few who knew him were surprised, and many thought he deserved it.  

The lottery win had been another one of Bulger’s brilliant schemes to launder his drug, extortion, and loan-sharking money. Back in the summer of 1991, a winning Mass Millions lottery ticket had been purchased at the South Boston Liquor Mart by Michael Linskey, who was the brother of a Bulger underling named Patrick Linskey. The FBI had learned that once Whitey heard about the jackpot, he ordered the real winner to sign the ticket over, with Whitey and two associates paying $2.3 million cash for 50 percent of the winnings. Bulger himself paid Michael Linskey $700,000. Although Linskey lost money in the deal, he really had no choice. It came down to selling the ticket or risking his life.

The winnings set Bulger up with a legitimate annuity, set to last until 2010. But the feds wanted that money, and wanted Bulger even more. Read about Whitey Bulger's lottery winnings at CrimeReads. -via Damn Interesting

(Image credit: Federal Bureau of Prisons)


Dog with 12.2-inch Snout

The caption to the above picture begins: "A snoot that gets Eris into any trouble she wants, and eyes that get her out." Meet Eris, a Borzoi wolfhound. That's a large, long-limbed breed, but Lily and Savannah had no idea Eris' nose would be so far out there when they adopted her as a puppy two years ago. But Eris grew up to be a magnificent dog, and has become an Instagram star.

Read about Eris at Bored Panda, and see more pictures at Instagram.


The Last Day of School

It takes a special person to teach kindergarten, and Miss Kittenger is the kind of teacher we could all use. Her class was upended when she had to teach via Zoom to her kindergarten students at their homes, so she wanted to do something special to end the year. I would call this virtual class extra-special. -via Digg


Mayflower’s Billington Brothers: America’s 1st Juvenile Delinquents?

There were 33 children aboard the Mayflower when it sailed to America in 1620. Among those were John Billlington Jr. and his brother Francis. They were not good little Pilgrims, and archives of their rambunctiousness survives 400 years later. The ship hadn't even arrived in Massachusetts when the scandalous behavior started. From a journal written by William Bradford and Edward Winslow:

“The fifth day [of December, 1620] we through God’s mercy escaped a great danger by the foolishness of a boy, one Francis of Billington’s sonnes, who in his father’s absence had got gun powder and shot off a piece [musket] or two and made squibs [small fireworks], and there being a fowling piece charged in his father’s cabbin, shot her off in the cabbin. There being a little barrell of [gun] powder halfe full scattered in and about the cabbin, the fire [discharge] being within foure foote of the bed [bunk] betweene decks and many flints and iron things about and so many people about the fire. And yet by God’s mercy no harme was done.”

But that was minor compared to his brother John, who later went missing in the woods. He was eventually rescued by Native Americans, which caused a diplomatic problem. And their parents? Also troublemakers. Read about the Billington family at Genealogy Bank. -via Strange Company


The 1959 Curtiss-Wright Model 2500 Air-Car

Colin Furze found his own way to hover around, but back in 1959, you could zip along in Curtiss-Wright Model 2500 Air-Car. Or maybe not, as there were only two built. Curtiss-Wright is an aircraft company, but delved into experimental vehicles for the military, including this hover car.

Each engine was used to drive, via reduction gears, a single four-bladed lift fan placed within a plenum chamber. The two chambers created a cushion of air 10-15 inches thick. Forward propulsion was supplied by air bled off the chambers and expelled at low velocity through two sets of louvers on each side of the vehicle.

It was fairly maneuverable and could reach speeds up to 38 mph. It was not really capable of all-terrain operation and never caught on commercially.

It was big and heavy and pretty cool, but that seemed to be about ll it had going for it. Both prototype models are still in existence. Read more at Vintage Everyday. -via Nag on the Lake


America’s Never-Ending Battle Against Flesh-Eating Worms

You may have never heard of screwworms, but they are horrible parasites that eat animal flesh. They were once the scourge of livestock, wildlife, and pets alike, and occasionally infected humans. But scientists developed a program 70 years ago to rid North America of screwworms.  

The man who came up with the scheme, and believed in it most passionately, was Edward F. Knipling, a USDA entomologist who, in the 1930s, spent long hours watching screwworms mate. As a boy, he had waged constant war against insect pests on his family’s Texas farm. “Every plant that we grew,” he later said, “there was some type of insect that was causing damage.” Screwworms infected the farm’s cows and pigs, and Knipling remembered them as one of the worst pests. He had to climb into the hog pens to smear medicine on the wounds of uncooperative sows. “That was a very unpleasant task,” he recalled some eight decades later, in an interview shortly before he died.

Adult screwworms are actually flies, with big red eyes and metallic blue-green bodies. After mating, the females lay their eggs in open wounds, and the resulting larvae eat through a ring of surrounding flesh. Once sufficiently engorged, the larvae drop off the wounds to pupate, emerging as a new generation of flies. As Knipling watched screwworms churn through their life cycle in his government laboratory, he made an observation whose importance he could intuit but not yet put to use: Female screwworms mate only once in their entire life. If a female screwworm mates with a sterile male, she will never have any offspring. So if the environment could somehow be saturated with sterile males, Knipling surmised, screwworms would very quickly mate themselves out of existence.

Raising, feeding, sterilizing, and distributing screwworms by the millions was not easy, but once they figured out how to do it, it was effective. Read about the screwworm eradication program, which continues today, at the Atlantic. The very abbreviated version is at Twitter.  -via Metafilter


Jet Suit Hoverboarding

It's 2020, and we were supposed to have flying cars, or at least flying hover boards by now. Crazy inventor Colin Furze (previously) took matters into his own hands to make a Back to the Future 2 experience happen. He took one of the hover boards made to commemorate the film and made it really hover by using a jetpack and two small jetpacks on his arms! He shows us how he did it, but if you want, you can skip to 6:00 to see him fly. That's a lot of equipment to carry around, but he's flying and we're not.  -via Geekologie


What Hollywood Gets Wrong About the Ocean

The more we learn about the depths of the earth's oceans, the more we realize there is so much more we don't know. And that's one reason the deep sea is a great setting for movies- it provides adventure, danger, tension, and fear of the unknown. But ocean movies often take liberties, because most folks (both filmmakers and audience) don't know much about what really goes on down there. The Ringer talked to marine biologist Dr. Stephen Kajiura of Florida Atlantic University to find out how realistic Hollywood movies are, like the ones that feature giant unknown monsters from the deepest trenches.

There’s just not enough energy down there for them. The bigger you are, you need a lot of calories. And there’s just not that much productivity in a deep-sea environment to be able to support big organisms. Also the bigger you are, you feed farther down on the food chain. Think of whales. Whales are the biggest thing in the ocean but they feed on little tiny plankton, krill, things like that. And they need to be feeding on these little tiny things because you need a lot of it to support their massive size.

As you get bigger and bigger and bigger—the whale sharks, the basking sharks, they’re all filter feeders. When they show these giant, enormous things that are out for human blood, it’s not going to work. Energetically, you can’t make that sustainable. You can’t be that big and still need to eat near the top of the food chain. There’s just not going to be enough out there to support you.  

Kajiura explains movie inaccuracies about sea creatures, pressures, actual ocean exploration, and how marine biologists are depicted in movies ranging from The Abyss to Aquaman to Deep Blue Sea to Finding Nemo at the Ringer. -via Digg


Home Inspection Photos With a Twist

Tim Rousu and his family rent a house in Queensland, Australia. Due to social distancing rules, the agency that owns the home skipped their usual home inspection and instead asked him to send in pictures, two of each room, "to confirm the house is still upright." Rousu saw that as a unique opportunity for some fun, and took pictures of each room that included himself or a family member doing amusing or even horrifying things. Watch as he takes a bath, becomes stuck under the bed, and gets waterboarded by his daughter. You can see all the images and read about Rousu's home inspection adventure at Bored Panda.

(Image credit: Tim Rousu)


What Happens to Baseball Heroes After They're on Topps?

Brad Balukjian is a lifelong baseball fan who spent his childhood in the 1980s collecting baseball cards. Upon reaching his 30s, Balukjian realized he was at the age that most baseball players are retired, with a lot of life left. What happened to all those sports heroes on the cards he collected in his youth? To find out, he devised a plan that eventually became the basis for his new book The Wax Pack: On the Open Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife.

Pondering what happened to his heroes after they retired, Balukjian came up with a plan: In fall 2014, he went on eBay and ordered about a dozen sealed packs of Topps baseball cards from 1986, and opened them, searching for a pack with a set of 14 players who would make for a good cross-country road trip.

While digging into all those old baseball-card packs, Balukjian even gave into the temptation to try the nearly 30-year-old gum. “I remove the calcified stick of gum with the caution of a bomb expert, place it in my mouth, and clench down on its powdered surface, splintering it into a thousand crumbs, which instantly dissolve on my tongue,” he writes in The Wax Pack. “It’s delightfully gross.”

Once he settled on a pack, Balukjian then planned to spend the summer of 2015 driving across the United States in his 2002 Honda Accord trying to meet each of the former players in his baseball-card pack, the “Wax Packers” as he calls them, to find out what fate befell each one. He would blog about his adventures each day of the trip and hoped the blog could turn into a book.

Balukjian settled on a pack of 14 players and managed to meet and get to know most of them. He found them to be much more interesting and complex than their baseball cards, or their sports careers, would lead one to believe. They came from varied backgrounds, often from small towns, broken homes, and even abusive childhoods. They dealt with career problems such as adultery, racism, and substance abuse. The Wax Packers opened up to him for the most part and became friends. Read about that road trip, and oh yeah baseball cards, too, in an article that will appeal to both fans and people who don't know a thing about baseball at Collectors Weekly.


The Story of How Saturday Night Live Made the “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup” Sketch

In October of 1998, Saturday Night Live aired a sketch in which guest host Lucy Lawless played Stevie Nicks as the proprietor of a casual Tex-Mex restaurant in Arizona. It was a weird random setup, a one-time bit that was never reprised. For many it was forgotten, but in the hyper-communicative era of the internet, we learn that it resonated with a lot of people, even decades later.

“I tell you what: I didn’t really realize it had a life of its own,” Lawless tells me.

Honestly? It’s pretty wild that it does. “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup” wasn’t prescient. It didn’t put its finger on the pulse of 1998, or anticipate the ways in which pop culture would shift in the years to come. It didn’t point toward some broader universal truth, or teach us something about ourselves.

It just … started, and was weird for two and a half minutes. But it was really weird for those two and a half minutes, blithely absurd and blissfully silly in a way that cuts through the clutter and nestles itself into your gray matter. We can’t always explain why something sticks in our brains; sometimes, it just works. And for a lot of people, “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup”—something that probably shouldn’t have worked for anybody—just worked.

Fans of the sketch are delighted to find that they are not alone, and Lucy Lawless herself is tickled that people remember a thing she herself had forgotten. Read how “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup” came about and found an afterlife of its own at the Ringer.  -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Dan Evans)


Farmer has a Rough Day at Work

He must be a farmer, because he's certainly not a forklift driver. I'm no forklift driver, either, but it appears he lifted the load too far from the cab. The real payoff of this chain-reaction snafu is his reaction -that poor hat! The security video has no sound, but you can imagine what he's yelling. -via Digg


Why NASA Set Up Shop in Russia’s Forbidden Star City

Star City is a gated community in Russia that was built in the 1960s specifically for the Soviet space program. The only residents are those who work in the industry and their families, which today is about 6,000 people. Despite its government mission and dependence, Star City survived the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is still centered around space exploration. And it's not always been completely off-limits to everyone. The facilities were super-secret during the space race, but after the Apollo moon landing, there was a seismic shift.

Then, the unthinkable happened in 1973 when Uncle Sam arrived. “The Soviet and American spacemen will go up into outer space for the first major joint scientific experiment in the history of mankind,” announced Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, “They know that from outer space our planet looks even more beautiful [and] it is big enough for us to live peacefully on it, but it is too small to be threatened by nuclear war.”

Dubbed the “Apollo-Soyuz Mission,” the joint venture was an extremely sensitive, highly calculated effort to end the Space Race – or at least ease tensions between Soviets and Americans.

While politicians played, well, politics, the scientists, astronauts, and cosmonauts got along well in Star City. And the American presence remained after Soyuz. Read about NASA in Star City at Messy Messy Chic.

(Image credit Flickr user Samantha Cristoforetti)

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