Curiosity Desk

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:34 am
Mon June 22, 2015

We're Number 1: The Massachusetts Constitution Heralded And Outpaced The U.S. Version

Detail from the Massachusetts Constitution.
Credit Library of Congress

"The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body politic" — so begins the preamble to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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Local News
10:33 am
Wed June 17, 2015

At South Station: Checkmate While You Wait

Three time US chess champ and certified Grandmaster Larry Christiansen plays 24 games simultaneously at South Station.
WGBH / Edgar B. Herwick III

  

About 50 people were gathered just after noon Tuesday, right where folks often gather at South Station: near the big electronic board listing departures and arrivals. Only no one was looking at the board. All eyes – and plenty of cell phones – were pointed squarely below it. Why?

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:00 am
Sat June 13, 2015

News Scraps: Good Stuff That Didn't Make Headlines

  

The Curiosity Desk's weekly roundup of the stats, facts, tidbits and leftovers that almost slipped through the cracks in the WGBH newsroom.

HEY! THAT’S MY EPONYM

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The Curiosity Desk
12:21 pm
Fri June 12, 2015

The Crusty Boston Lawyer Who Helped Shatter McCarthyism: This Week In History

Boston attorney Joseph Nye Welch during the 1954 McCarthy-Army hearings. It was during these hearings that Welch uttered the famous phrase, 'Have you no sense of decency, sir?'
Credit AP Photo

   

It’s one of the most well-known – and written about chapters in American political history. Less covered, is the strong Massachusetts connection.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:00 am
Thu June 11, 2015

Should Boston Police Carry Tasers?

A Taser X26 stun gun is displayed.
Credit AP Photo

The question of whether Boston Police should carry electronic control weapons, commonly known by the brand name Taser, has been renewed after the police shooting earlier this month of Usaamah Rahim in Roslindale.

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Local News
10:14 am
Fri May 29, 2015

Does Massachusetts Have A Brush Fire Problem? You'd Be Surprised

A fire-prevention sign stands in Myles Standish State Park.
Credit OldPine / Wikimedia Commons

The thing you notice after a few minutes talking with Dave Celino, chief fire warden for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, is that what you or I might call "brush," or "woods," or "forest," he calls "fuel."

"Fuel diameter, fuel type, fuel moisture, fine fuels — there are categories of fuel," Celino said.

When you get to know a little about his work, you start to understand why.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:20 am
Tue May 26, 2015

'New England's Dark Day': That Time In 1780 When It Was Night Before Noon

A poem recounting New England's 'Dark Day.'
Credit Brown University Library Digital Repository

May 19, 1780, dawned like a promise. It had been a particularly brutal winter in New England, but spring had finally arrived. In fact, it had been unusually warm for days.

There were fields to plant, goods to manufacture, ships to load and unload. But then, as, Cornell University professor Thomas Campanella explains, things got weird.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:23 am
Wed May 20, 2015

Why 'Mad Men' Has No Future On Television

The casts of 'Mad Men,' top, and 'The Brady Bunch.'

More than 3 million people watched the final episode of "Mad Men." Can you guess what nearly twice as many people — some 6.4 million — watched that same night? Two colorized episodes of a 60-year old sitcom, "I Love Lucy," which in its day was a smash hit.

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The Curiosity Desk
1:03 pm
Wed May 6, 2015

Why Would The Chinese Hack Your Health Care Account? Why Would Anybody?

Credit Pickpocket icon by Proletkult Graphik, via The Noun Project

    

What industry gets its data hacked more than any other?

Banks and credit card companies? Nope.

Government? Nope.

Big movie studios, like Sony? Wrong again.

“Healthcare is by far the largest sector of where data breaches are occurring.”

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:54 pm
Fri May 1, 2015

'Birth Of A Nation' — A Classic Of Popular Racism — Spurred Protests In Boston 100 Years Ago

An advertisement for "Birth of a Nation" in Boston.

The protests over the last few days in Baltimore are the latest in a long tradition of demonstrations on the streets of American cities. In fact, 100 years ago, the African-American community here in Boston were organizing and turning out in mass to make their voices heard.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:47 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Cambridge: The Epicenter Of The Human Genome Project

Nicole Barna, a senior operations coordinator at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., holds a tray of human DNA that is undergoing the sequencing process at the institute May 31, 2001.
Credit AP Photo

If then Cambridge Mayor Alfred Velucci had his way back in 1976, we might never have mapped the human genome.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
1:01 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Inside The Operating Room For A Total Hip Replacement

A surgical team works on Laurie Thornton's hip. In the foreground, a piece of Thornton's femur site on a table.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

Stephen Murphy is one hell of a sculptor. His powerful, almost violent strikes are methodical and impossibly precise.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:56 am
Fri April 3, 2015

The Story Behind Abigail Adams' 'Remember The Ladies' Letter

Detail from Abigail Adam's 'Remember the Ladies' letter.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

The recent controversy over Hilary Clinton's email while serving as secretary of state has once again brought the question of public access to the correspondence of our public figures to the fore. But access is not an issue when it comes to the private letters between our second president, Massachusetts' own John Adams, and his remarkable wife, Abigail — and the American public is all the richer for it.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
3:00 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

How Boston Created 'The American Philosophy In 2 Letters' — OK?

Editors at The Boston Post created the abbreviation 'OK' in 1839.
Credit Photo: Library of Congress; Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch

    

It's a word so common that if you haven't already uttered it today, chances are you will — and probably more than once.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
10:16 am
Fri March 20, 2015

The Man Who Rescued Nathaniel Hawthorne From Obscurity

James Fields, left, and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Credit Wikimedia Commons

  The question was never whether Nathaniel Hawthorne could write. It was whether he’d ever be able to make a living doing it.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:17 am
Wed March 18, 2015

Bad Winter + March = Pothole Wonderland

Beech Street in Somerville is scarred with potholes.
Credit Edgar B. Herwick III / WGBH News

There are a few things you can always count on around here this time of year. Hope will be springing eternal for the Red Sox, runners will be out, en masse, on the streets preparing for the marathon. And those streets will be littered with potholes. 

Nothing will turn your local road into the surface of the moon faster than moist weather, with the temperatures bouncing back and forth between above freezing and below it. In other words: pretty much the entire month of March.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:33 am
Fri March 13, 2015

How One Woman Eventually Founded Smith College

Sophia Smith, with Smith College in the background.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

As one of the "Seven Sisters," and a staple on yearly lists of America's top liberal arts colleges, Northampton's Smith College is well-renowned. Less well-known is the story of the woman whose name the institution bears.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:40 am
Fri March 6, 2015

Meet Clarence Birdseye: 'He's The Enemy Of The Modern Foodie'

An illustration from Clarence Birdseye's patent for a machine to flash-freeze fish.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

  Depending on your point of view, you might want to thank — or blame — Clarence Birdseye.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
4:00 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

Isabella Stewart Gardner Opened Her Museum This Week In 1903

A detail from Portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924), by John Singer Sargent.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Red Sox spring training got underway this week and with it comes visions of spring, and a soon-to–be packed Fenway Park. But nearly a decade before the first bricks of Boston's storied ballpark were laid, another Boston jewel opened in the neighborhood — willed into existence by a unique woman with a unique vision for Boston.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:13 am
Wed February 25, 2015

How Will The FCC's Net Neutrality Vote Change The Internet?

Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

The FCC is expected to vote Thursday to change the way the Internet is regulated in the United States and begin enforcing so called "net neutrality." Its a move that has caused ripples from the halls of Congress to the garages of Silicon Valley. But what exactly is "net neutrality," and what does the FCC's vote mean for Internet users?

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:08 am
Mon January 26, 2015

Lynn Publisher Scores Making Super Bowl Programs

The program for Super Bowl XLIX
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

This year, the team representing the AFC on the field in Super Bowl XLIX won't be the only part of the big game that hails from New England. A local publishing company's work will be in the hands of thousands of fans at the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
10:25 am
Fri January 23, 2015

The Original WiFi, Born On Cape Cod In 1903

Guglielmo Marconi works a device similar to the one he used to transmit the first wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

    

It couldn't be more commonplace today, but the idea that a radio signal could be both sent through the air — and received — was an astounding technological achievement. And a crucial step towards accomplishing it was taken right here in the Bay State.

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CURIOSITY DESK
2:44 pm
Fri January 16, 2015

This Week In History: The Great Molasses Flood Drowns Boston's North End

Firemen standing in thick molasses after the disaster
Credit Boston Public Library

First, let's get our heads around Boston's North End in the early 20th century. It was one of the most crowded residential neighborhoods in the whole world in 1919. 

40,000 people in a little over a square mile - four times today's population. And that’s just the residents. It was also one of the country’s biggest commercial ports, said Steve Puleo, author of Dark Tide.
 
"The tank was really plunked down in one of the busiest neighborhoods in all of America," Puleo said.

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CURIOSITY DESK
9:09 am
Wed January 14, 2015

New Ride-Sharing Regulations Are Only The Beginning Of A New Battle

Ride-sharing behemoth Uber will begin sharing anonymized data about every trip that begins or ends in a Boston zip code with city officials.

The move comes as new statewide regulations for ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are set to take effect this week. If it seems like this signals an end to a months-long effort by the city to determine how to best regulate ride-sharing in Boston, or a years-long effort by the taxi industry to shut them down, think again. It's a little more complicated than that. 

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
12:22 pm
Fri January 9, 2015

How Led Zeppelin Got Banned In Boston

Led Zeppelin plays Chicago in 1975, the year the group was banned by Boston Mayor Kevin White from playing in the city.
Credit more19562003 / Wikimedia Commons

On their record-breaking tours in the 1970s, rock band Led Zeppelin earned a reputation for excess and debauchery. One story even has their drummer riding a motorcycle through a hotel corridor. But it wasn't the band — it was their fans — that got them into hot water here in Boston.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
11:52 am
Fri January 2, 2015

How Massachusetts Helped Launch The Golden Age Of Hollywood

From left, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Louis B. Mayer.
Credit MGM

Much has been made in recent years about Massachusetts' foray into the film industry. Just this year, some 30 major TV and movie projects were made in the Bay State — with stars like Johnny Depp, Vince Vaughn, Naomi Watts and Matthew McConaughey. But in a way, Hollywood is simply coming home.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:09 am
Fri December 19, 2014

This Week In History: The First YMCA In The U.S. Is Started In Boston

The YMCA building on Huntington Ave, circa 1920.
Leon H. Abdalian Boston Public Library

The YMCA is probably as well known for the Village People's 1970's disco anthem as it is for its wellness programs and job training services. But the Y has a much deeper story to tell — a story that starts right here in Boston.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:57 am
Thu December 18, 2014

The Christmas Bird Count: The Original Crowdsource

The black-capped chickadee, the state bird of Massachusetts.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Wired Magazine introduced the term "crowdsourcing" to the lexicon in 2006 to describe a generation of new, user-generated websites like Wikipedia. But crowdsourcing was, by then, old hat for ornithologists, who have been using it — to great effect — for well over a century.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
8:48 am
Fri December 12, 2014

This Week In History: 7 Million Gallons Of Oil Dumped Into Nantucket Waters

The Argo Merchant spills oil off Nantucket in 1976.
Credit NOAA

It's probably not surprising that the two largest oil spills in American history are the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf Coast and the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. The third largest, however, hit a little closer to home.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:19 am
Fri December 5, 2014

Shunned By Churches, African-Americans Built Their Own Meeting House — 208 Years Ago

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill, circa 1860.

By 1806, Boston already had its fair share of churches, but the modest, brick church that rose over Beacon Hill late that year was unlike anything the city — or America — had ever seen.

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