Well and truly from the bench this week, as I finally finished my 3-days-a-week contract last Friday

Bumper crop to celebrate:

  • Interesting collection of NYT articles about various criminal activities. Usual tip: the paywall can’t tell how many articles you’ve read this month if you open the links in porn private browsing mode
    • The Baby-Formula Crime Ring - "It’s pricey, it’s portable, its users need it constantly, and retailers love to buy it at a discount. All of which makes it a perfect product to steal."

    • The Pain Hustlers - "Insys Therapeutics paid millions of dollars to doctors. The company called it a 'speaker program,' but prosecutors now call it something else: a kickback scheme."

    • The Billion-Dollar Bank Job - "In 2016, a mysterious syndicate tried to steal $951 million from Bangladesh’s central bank - and laid bare a profound weakness in the system by which money moves around the world."

    • The Man Who Cracked the Lottery - "When the Iowa attorney general’s office began investigating an unclaimed lottery ticket worth millions, an incredible string of unlikely winners came to light - and a trail that pointed to an inside job."

    • The White-Collar-Crime Cheat Sheet - "How the biggest scammers get away with it."

  • In Sudan, Rediscovering Ancient Nubia Before It’s Too Late - "Long ignored by white archaeologists as a mere footnote, modern scientists are now racing to document what’s left of the ancient African civilization."

  • It’s Official: Tut’s Tomb Has No Hidden Chambers After All - Meanwhile, up the road in the civilisation white people deigned to acknowledge: "Recent radar scans of Tutankhamun's tomb conclusively prove that there are no additional chambers or passages behind the walls… Porcelli suspects that previous radar anomalies detected in the pharaoh's burial chamber, which raised the exciting possibility that Nefertiti's tomb might lie beyond it, were the result of ‘ghost signals’—rogue radar reflections originating in front of the walls, not behind them."

  • The Night I Slept in James Thurber’s Bed - Annabelle Gurwitch: ”I was invited to spend a night in the Queen Ann style Victorian that serves as the hub of the Thurber foundation. The home plays a central role in Thurber’s, ‘My Life and Hard Times’, and is well established in Thurber lore as being haunted by two ghosts… the accommodations include a single bed, mattress with all the give of a communion wafer, and sheets, true to the period, which have a thread count bordering on exfoliating.”

  • I posted something about arsenic in wallpaper last March. Now the US National Library of Medicine has scanned the book Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers, considered to be the most poisonous book in the world:
    • Digitizing Shadows from the Walls of Death Part 1 - Krista Stracka: ”In a digitization workflow, the assessment of the physical condition of each book is a critical step to determine whether its fragile pages can withstand the rigors of scanning without damage. However, for one book in the NLM collection, these considerations also had to be flipped. Aside from a random paper cut, what if the book itself could potentially harm the person scanning each page?"

      Digitizing Shadows from the Walls of Death Part 2 - Walter Cybulski: ”I began to insert myself into a hooded DuPont Tyvek® hazmat suit, along with a dust mask and nitrile gloves… with an over-shoulder suction device that would sample the air I was breathing throughout the project, I placed the book in the scanner cradle and began the capture operation.”

      Digitizing Shadows from the Walls of Death Part 3 - Kristi Wright: ”Robert Kedzie’s book, Shadows from the Walls of Death, was published amidst rising awareness of the dangers associated with arsenic-laden wallpapers… Greens were especially trendy and ultimately their nearly ubiquitous, insidious, presence in 19th century domestic goods made them notorious.”

    You can view the book and download a PDF: Shadows from the walls of death: facts and inferences prefacing a book of specimens of arsenical wall papers.

  • The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code - "Bill Benter did the impossible: He wrote an algorithm that couldn’t lose at the track. Close to a billion dollars later, he tells his story for the first time." Interestingly, he wasn't the only person to have such a system, though the other has since died. (Of natural causes, in case you were wondering.)

  • The Oldest Virus Ever Sequenced Comes From a 7,000-Year-Old Tooth - Another advance in the field of ancient DNA sequencing: ”Seven thousand years ago, in a valley that is today central Germany, a young man lay down to die. He was 25 or 30, and a farmer most likely. It is not known why he died young. But powerful genetic tools have now pulled out a tantalizing clue: the fragmented DNA of a virus that infected his liver all those millennia ago."

  • The Weird, Dangerous, Isolated Life of the Saturation Diver - "For 52 straight days this winter, Shannon Hovey woke up in the company of five other men in a metal tube, 20 feet long and seven feet in diameter, tucked deep inside a ship in the Gulf of Mexico… Hovey works in one of the least known, most dangerous, and, frankly, most bizarre professions on Earth. He is a saturation diver—one of the men (just about all have been men) who do construction and demolition work at depths up to 1,000 feet or more below the surface of the ocean.” Sounds quite similar to starting your day on the Central Line, just less crowded

  • The best laid plans of pigs and sheep - Excellent anecdote about translating Ladybird books by collector Helen Day: ”Once upon a time there was a Ladybird book about a little red hen and some grains of wheat… Like all the other Well-Loved Tales in this 1960s series, it was very popular. And then sometime in the 1970s a company approached Ladybird about translating the stories for the Arabic market.”

  • Tom Hegen’s awe-inspiring aerial landscapes show the scars of human industry - ”[Hegen’s] latest project, The Salt Series, looks at the process behind the extraction of salt, one of the oldest forms of human landscaping that dates back more than 6,000 years. ‘Salt is a raw material that is now part of our everyday lives, but we rarely ask where it actually comes from and how it is being produced,’ says Tom. ‘The Salt Series explores artificial landscapes where nature is channelled, regulated and controlled.’“

Happy invoicing!