Curiosity Desk

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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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
2:00 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

End Of An Era: Bay State Okays Hold-Open Clips At Self-Serve Gas Stations

Self-serve gas stations just got self-servier.
Credit Illustration: Brendan Lynch

The hands of millions of Massachusetts drivers are about to experience their warmest winter in a generation, and it has nothing to do with climate change — it's thanks to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Safety.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:39 am
Fri November 21, 2014

139 Years Of Harvard-Yale Football — With A Bit Of MIT

A streaker, with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) written on his back, makes his way down the field interrupting the Yale-Harvard college football game during the fourth quarter, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 in Boston.
Credit (AP Photo/Lisa Poole)

    

This weekend, the eyes of college football fans throughout the country will be on two teams from local schools that are usually grabbing headlines on the front page rather than the sports page. Harvard University and MIT are both undefeated heading into action tomorrow — and both have plenty on the line. MIT faces a division three playoff matchup with Maine's Hussan University and Harvard squares off with their old nemesis — a rivalry heavily steeped in tradition.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:03 am
Fri November 14, 2014

Hacking The Weather To Make Man-Made Snow — In 1946

Vincent Schaefer watches a snow-cloud being seeded in a lab.
Credit Courtesy GE

 Mother nature wasn't the only one producing snow Friday morning, as this week's low temperatures have allowed ski resorts in the area to start making their first snow of the season, too. That they can, is thanks in part to the work of a General Electric scientist — and his auspicious experiment in the clouds over the Berkshires.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:44 am
Fri November 7, 2014

In 1915, Mass. Rejected Giving Women The Vote In A Landslide

This 1915 Boston Journal ad advocated against giving women the vote.

This week Massachusetts voters faced four questions on the statewide ballot, deciding on a range of issues from the fate of casinos to the gas tax. Nearly a century ago, voters faced a single question, and it was a historic one: Should women in Massachusetts be allowed to vote?

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
9:16 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Old Ironsides Celebrates Her 217th Birthday With A Harbor Cruise

On the top deck of the USS Contitution.
Edgar B. Herwick III WGBH News

At precisely 8 a.m., as it does every morning, a single shot rings out into the skies above Charlestown.

The gun on the world’s oldest commissioned war ship still afloat was fired Thursday by one of the U.S. Navy’s newest members, Seaman Apprentice Jacob Harned, just 12 days out of boot camp.

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BOSTON PUBLIC RADIO
10:51 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Obamacare Enrollment, Cornel West, And The Curiosity Desk

A new healthcare enrollment season opens November 1st. Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us figure out how to choose from the new plans.
Credit Lori M. Nichols / South Jersey Times via NPR
  • Jonathan Gruber stops by to help us (and you) figure out how to select the best plan in advance of the new November 1st enrollment. Then we talk to you about information overload.
  • A new report say that 1 in 7 Massachusetts residents is living in poverty. There Cognitive dissonance talker new report says 1 out of 7 in Mass is living in poverty.
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