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Revolution In The Air

Mark Miodownik | Guardian | 4th July 2024 | U

History of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Interesting throughout. Samuel Colt funded the development of his revolver by travelling the US giving laughing gas demonstrations. Edgar Allen Poe's cousin George worked out a way to manufacture it as a liquid and distribute it to dentists in canisters. If you give birth in a hospital today, you will still be offered the gas for pain relief (3,700 words)

Moral Luck

Arianne Shahvisi | LRB Blog | 3rd July 2024 | U

On the false comfort of counterfactuals. We tend to assume we would easily pass the moral tests of history — refusing the lure of dictators, declining to join the Nazi Party — but perhaps we are just lucky not to have to decide. "Recognising the role of moral luck encourages empathy and humility, but it also threatens the notions of culpability that help us to make sense of evil" (1,000 words)

The Dumbwaiter In America

Shirley Dongwei Chen | Avery Review | 2nd July 2024 | U

At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson had three dumbwaiter devices. Their purpose was not to save labour, but to ensure separation between family, servant and slave. "Acting as a gatekeeper, the vertical dumbwaiters’ narrow shafts selectively let in food and wine while keeping out those who prepared them." An artefact of history, what do we do now with the retired dumbwaiters? (4,300 words)

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My Heart Almost Stood Still

Helen Keller | Letters Of Note | 2nd February 2024 | U

Blind and deaf since the age of two, in 1924 Keller was able to "hear" a broadcast of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by feeling its vibrations through the radio's diaphragm. She wrote to the New York Symphony Orchestra of her communion with Beethoven. "There I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine" (700 words)

from The Browser six years ago:


Blake Morrison | Granta | 3rd July 2018 | U

Notes from the trial of two ten-year-old boys accused of murdering a two-year-old in Liverpool in 1993. “Jon reminds me a bit of a gerbil. A hamster, anyway: the bright, darting eyes; how, when he’s upset, he beds down and disappears in the lapels of his jacket. Robert is squatter, porkier, more of a guinea pig. An aggressive one at times. Jon flicks him nervous glances, seeking reassurance” (5,900 words)

Podcast: How Grinders Work Deep Inside | The Science Of Coffee. Debunking myths about grinding coffee, via a detailed look at what happens to the beans inside the device. The conclusion is that after a certain point, spending more money on grinding won't produce a better-tasting cup of coffee (47m 24s)

Video: “Is It Even a City?” | Vimeo | August Jorfald | 1m 45s

Well-shot and off-beat tourist video for the Norwegian city of Oslo, in which a disaffected resident who yearns after the crowded urban sprawl of New York or Paris recommends his compact, friendly hometown in the negative. "If you don't have to stand in line for at least a couple of hours, is it even worth seeing?"

"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks"
Dorothy Parker

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