Curiosity Desk

FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:35 am
Fri July 31, 2015

How MIT And Technicolor Helped Create Hollywood

Deborah Stoiber shows the three color technicolor film process at the George Eastman House Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center in Chili, N.Y., Thursday April 24, 2008.
Credit AP Photo

We, of course, live in color. But the world that early Hollywood presented was almost exclusively black and white. Chelsea-born Herbert Kalmus, his college buddy Daniel Comstock and gadget guru Burton Westcott wanted to change that. So in 1915 they launched a company, Technicolor, to do just that.

"Kalmus and Comstock went to MIT — Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and that’s where the term 'tech' comes from in Technicolor," said film producer Richard W. Haines, author of "Technicolor Movies: The History of Dye Transfer Printing."

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Local News
11:56 am
Wed July 29, 2015

Explosive Beach Objects-- Just Another Example Of Massachusetts' Charm

Back away from the UXO.
Credit Wikipedia

Speculation ran wild in the days following that Rhode Island beach explosion, and one of the early theories posed that it might have been an old military munition buried in the sand. But just how likely is it that unexploded military artillery would be found on a New England beach?

It’s fairly common, it turns out.

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Local News
3:40 pm
Fri July 24, 2015

The Attack On Orleans: When World War I Hit Cape Cod

The crew of the German WWI U-boat UB 14 stand atio the submarine on the Black Sea in 1918.
Credit Public domain

Nauset Beach on Cape Cod is known for its excellent bass and blues fishing. It's known to surfers as a real destination, and to off-road-vehicle enthusiasts as one of the beaches where — with a permit — you can cruise. Less known are the dramatic events that took place on this 10-mile stretch of coast in the summer of 1918.

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FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
5:29 pm
Tue July 14, 2015

Cambridge Scientist Helped New Horizons With Directions To Pluto

Pluto, right, and its largest moon, Charon, which Scott Kenyon calls a binary planet.
Credit NASA

When I asked Scott Kenyon about his reaction to the news that New Horizons had actually flown by Pluto, his answer wasn't that different from those of the myriad of people I've chatted with about it, from scientists to educators to regular Janes and Joes.

"Well, it's pretty exciting," Kenyon said.

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Local News
9:42 am
Tue July 14, 2015

Former Planet Pluto Is Weirder Than We Thought (UPDATED)

Credit NASA

UPDATE 7/14/15: Looks like we made it. Shortly before 8 a.m. EDT, nine years, five months and 25 days after NASA's New Horizons blasted off the surface of the Earth, it whizzed past Pluto at about 7 miles per second. At least we think it did. 

As is the plan, New Horizons is out of contact with the ground while it does its job, snapping photos and completing a whole host of measurements some 3 billion miles away. Scientists are anxiously awaiting their next contact with the craft, scheduled for shortly before 9 p.m. EDT, when New Horizons is expected to signal scientists that the flyby has been successfully completed and begin transmitting data back.

Richard Binzel, an MIT planetary sciences professor who is on the New Horizons science team, sent WGBH News this statement Tuesday morning by email, shortly after New Horizons began its Pluto flyby:

Breathtaking! There is such a richness in the differences in color and textures on the surface of Pluto that we are going to be challenged for years to come to reach some explanations. For now, it’s a brief celebration and then back to our science team work.

And how's the mood at the science team's operations center this morning? Here's Binzel and few of his fellow New Horizons scientists:

What they're reacting to is the best photo yet of the dwarf planet (top), taken late Monday night by New Horizons from about 476,000 miles away and released this morning by NASA. It's just a tease of what's to come. New Horizons' flyby takes it just 7,000 miles from Pluto's surface. Keep in mind, while the photos and data will start coming in this evening, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to transmit the full treasure trove back to scientists here on the ground. 

Original story: After a journey that has lasted the better part of a decade, the answer to "are we there yet" is finally “yes,” for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. After a brief glitch over the weekend, all systems are once again go for an historic encounter, 3 billion miles from Earth.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
10:22 am
Fri July 10, 2015

The Day Babe Ruth Arrived In Boston, Met His Wife, And Pitched 7 Innings In A Red Sox Win

Babe Ruth in 1919.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Lots of people came through Back Bay station here in Boston on July 11, 1914. And, likely, even a few of them stood 6-foot-2 at 215 pounds. But only one would rise to the heights of the 19-year-old who arrived from Baltimore that day.

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY FROM THE CURIOSITY DESK
1:00 am
Fri July 3, 2015

ZIP Codes Tamed The Postal Service Boom 52 Years Ago

Mr. Zip extols the virtues of the ZIP Code system.

We all have one, we know it by heart, and we share it with our neighbors. But chances are you haven't thought that much about this ubiquitous part of American life — the ZIP code.

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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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