The Difference Between James Bond and Real-Life Spies

"Bond. James Bond. I'm not like other spies." Most of us never get the chance to see our jobs portrayed on the silver screen, because they aren't that interesting to the general public. Those who do complain that Hollywood doesn't get their profession right at all. That applies very much to James Bond, the fictional MI6 agent who is the best known spy of all. Real intelligence agents can easily see that Bond is too flashy, too self-sufficient, and too adventurous to make it in the real world business of espionage. But a realistic portrayal of the profession wouldn't draw millions into a theater.

Alma Katsu is a former US intelligence officer, or what people refer to as a spy, who turned to writing spy novels. She and her former colleagues have a love-hate relationship with James Bond. But as an author, she understands why the fictional version is portrayed like a superhero, while the real work is carried out by heroes who never get recognized. Read what she has to say about Bond at CrimeReads. -via Damn Interesting

Peter Dinklage Reads a Dam Good Defense of Beavers

In 1997, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notified Stephen Tvedten that he was in violation of regulations because of two unauthorized dams built on his property, and gave him six weeks to remove them. Tvedten did not build those dams, nor did a named tenant build them. It was the beavers who did it. Tvedten was an expert on pest control, and had written several books on eco-friendly ways to manage pests. He knew his beavers. So he wrote a letter to the department in response. The letter did its job, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality dropped the case.  

The letter brought Tvedten some notoriety over the years, never more so than when Letters of Note published it in 2012. When that post went viral, MLive interviewed Tvedten, who said he was more famous for that letter that he dashed off in ten minutes than for anything else he's ever done. Tvedten died in 2018. His letter was selected for a Letters Live show in New York, read by Peter Dinklage.

PhD Acknowledgements: When Scientists Get Emotional

A PhD candidate is buried in science for years on end. Their final dissertation, or thesis, is presented in a precise format, full of math and facts that have been checked over and over. But there's one place that a scientist can write prose from the heart, and that is the acknowledgement section of the dissertation. Tabitha Carvan dove into the archives of the Australian National University College of Science and found that PhD acknowledgements contain a certain kind of poetry.

The rest of the thesis contains careful, reasoned findings and figures, but on this one page, the author-scientist can release all the pent-up emotion they couldn’t express elsewhere.

They’re like an explosion in a lab.

Carvan discovered that acknowledgements written before 1980 or so were very businesslike, but more recent ones drew a picture of the scientist who wrote these things in their head over and over for years. She gathered quite a few segments of poetic and representative samples for us, from the simple to the heartfelt to the funny to those that combined all of the above. Just a line or two tells us about the real person behind all that science in the rest of the paper. You won't be able to read them all without getting a little verklempt.  -via Metafilter

What's Going on With Boeing Aircraft?

The Boeing company has been around for more than 100 years, since William E. Boeing became interested in planes. For most of that time, the company was the gold standard in aircraft manufacturing. The Boeing company bought up other aviation companies any time it got the chance, and incorporated their experts into its research and development division. In the 1990s, Boeing acquired its most notorious rival, McDonnell Douglas. Many in the industry say that merger was the turning point for Boeing, although the general public wouldn't know for years. Boeing's corporate culture had always deferred to its engineering experts, while McDonnell Douglas was run to produce corporate profits. Lately, we've seen which culture prevailed. 

In 2018 and 2019, two Boeing commercial airliners crashed catastrophically. Then in 2024, the company has experienced a spate of parts falling off its planes left and right. What's going on? Weird History tells us what we know about the Boeing company from its inception to today's troubles.

Ten Movies That Will Get You Excited for the Olympics

The Olympics, or at least the broadcasts of the Olympics, have always been about the stories behind the athletes. We love the long shots, the lovable losers, and the human drama of sports. Hollywood loves those stories, too, and there have been many movies involving Olympic athletes and the their drive to compete with the world's best. But the Olympic games are a great backdrop for fiction, too. The 2024 Olympic Summer Games in Paris begin in ten days, so a list of ten Olympic movies will give you some inspiration every evening until the opening ceremonies. Half of these movies are about the winter games, which may cool you off. Seven are based on true stories, and three are comedies. Two are actually comedies based on true stories, so you know the story is unforgettable. The movies aren't ranked, but are instead listed in chronological order. All have trailers, which strangely chronicles the evolution of the movie trailer if you watch them all in order. Check out all ten movies at Mental Floss.

A Drone's Eye View of the Mount Everest Route

This video from the DJI drone company lets you climb Mount Everest from the comfort of your living room, without paying the $100K or so cost that climbers incur and with no danger of dying. And it only takes four minutes!

The trip begins at the Khumbu Icefall just above Base Camp. The drone follows the South Col route, which is a bit tamer than the North Col. Now, the drone didn't do this in one trip, rather, many segments were stitched together. There are still limits on what drones can do in extreme cold. The latter part of the trip is a little disappointing because the drone camera focused on the ground instead of the peak, but it's still an epic journey.

DJI is involved in a pilot program, no pun intended, to use drones to remove garbage from the upper parts of Everest. The specs of the drone used in this video are posted at the YouTube page.  -via Metafilter

How Much Sugar Do People in Your State Consume?

The American Heart Association tells us that with a healthy diet of natural foods, we don't need to add any sugar at all. But they recommend that we limit added sugar to six teaspoons a day for women, and nine for men. "Added sugar" doesn't mean we spoon it into foods ourselves; it means the sugar in all that processed stuff we consume. A 12-ounce can of soda contains about ten teaspoons of sugar, so that's over the recommended limit already. The average American consumes 17 teaspoons of added sugar every day!  

Redditor Smacpats111111 made a visualization of the estimated added sugar per capita for each US state. The data came from a 2023 study citing estimates taken in 2010 and 2015. My home state of Kentucky comes in first, with an average of 21.2 teaspoons of added sugar per day! I'm not surprised, as this is where some people consider a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew to be a single serving. But if you live in a state that is the darkest green on this map, don't let that make you feel superior. The residents of your state are still consuming about twice the recommended amount of added sugar. -via Digg

Exercise is Useless for Losing Weight, But...

The US is in an obesity epidemic. If you aren't obese, you are still most likely a bit overweight. How do we lose weight? For years, we've been told it's a matter of diet and exercise. More updated research tells us diet is much more likely to work than exercise, and Kurzgesagt explains why.

But that doesn't mean you can swear off exercise, far from it. Exercise may be only a minor factor in losing weight, but it's a major factor in just about everything else to do with your health. So if you want to lose weight, you'll have to pay attention to what and how much you eat. All of us need to exercise, no matter what our weight is, due to the constant expenditure of energy our bodies have. That expenditure must be channeled in the right direction. The length of the video is 9:19; the rest is an ad.

The Terrifying Cold-Storage Banquet of 1911

In 1911, 400 invited guests, including the movers and shakers of Chicago, food industry bigwigs, and city officials, sat down to a banquet at the Hotel Sherman. This was on October 23, which is important, because the printed menu included items like "April Egg Salad" and "Roast February Capon," which sounded frightening to diners. It was the world's first "cold-storage banquet." Nothing on the menu was fresh, but it had been stored in refrigerated facilities.

Before refrigeration, most people were limited to locally produced milk, which was difficult in cities, and fresh fruits and vegetables could only be had when they were locally in season. Meat had to be delivered to cities on the hoof. Still, the public had to be sold on the concept of refrigeration and what it could do, not to mention its safety. Some of Chicago's elite predicted dire consequences from the cold-storage banquet. Read how the banquet came about and what happened afterward at Atlas Obscura.

The 2024 Fourth of July Alaskan Car Launch

In the small town of Glacier View (population 375), Alaska, they've held a unique Fourth of July celebration since 2006. In midsummer, the sun stays out too late for fireworks, so instead they launch cars off a cliff and watch them soar through the air before landing on the beach below. Of course, there are no drivers. The steering wheel is tied to stay straight, and the gas pedal held down somehow. They have ramps for a better launch, but not all the cars find one without a driver. Spectators gather perilously close to the landing area. This year's launch included a school bus, a police car, an RV, a Barbie Corvette, and a replica of the General Lee. The destruction was massive, and the crowd was satisfied. This video shows only the car launches; you'll find a video of the entire show at Born in Space. A good time was had by all.

The French Fight Against the Scourge of Alcoholism

The sign above, displayed at a bar in Paris, is from the 1950s campaign to fight alcoholism and promote sobriety. The text above the graphic says, in English, "Never more than one liter of wine per day. The correct serving: one quarter of a bottle per meal." I don't know about you, but that's more wine than I have drunk in the last ten years. But this is France.

France is no stranger to temperance movements. In the early 20th century, the country waged a war on absinthe, with the help of the nation's wine industry. Daily wine wasn't at all universal until soldiers from France's different regions met each other to fight World War I. By then, French wine was stronger than it had been historically. By the 1950s, many people had cars, and that's why a national campaign was waged to get people to limit themselves to a liter a day. In 1956, France outlawed wine at school for children under 14. That was amended to include high school students in 1981. Read about the French campaigns to get citizens to limit the amount of alcohol they consume at Messy Nessy Chic.

How the Experts Create New LEGO Projects

You've seen a lot of creative LEGO projects here over the years. Some are from kits that have exactly the pieces you need, but even more satisfying are the weird and creative things people did with their existing collection of weird-shaped bricks and LEGO pieces. In this video, we get a glimpse into the process of repurposing those odd pieces into something new and different. The first section is about individual pieces and their potential, so you get the idea. I was already impressed in the first minute. But as the number of available pieces grows exponentially, so do the finished products, and these are things you won't find in a LEGO set no matter how much you spend. When the projects get into the 100,000 and up categories, you'll see some truly amazing projects. The upper limit is two million pieces, which are only found at LEGO Land. The word is "versatility." The other word is "imagination." If you have those, there's nothing you can't build with LEGO pieces.   

The Comedy Produced by the Faked Moon Landing Theory

Fly Me to the Moon is new movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum in theaters now. It's a romantic comedy about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that saw the first men walk on the moon. The premise is an alternate history in which NASA was simultaneously trying to get men to the moon, and staging a fake mission to present to the public just in case the real one failed. If that's not romantic comedy material, I don't know what is.

The movie riffs off the conspiracy theory that the moon shot was completely faked, an idea that sprang up almost immediately after the Apollo 11 mission. A conspiracy like that would have involved too many people to ever succeed, and might have been even more difficullt than landing on the moon. NASA is fine with Fly Me to the Moon, and even cooperated in its making. This movie is far from the first to address the conspiracy theory, and Smithsonian introduces us to several other other films that include a faked space mission in one way or another, along with the history of the faked moon landing theory itself.

Photographing Insects Was Really Difficult in 1914

Today we have plenty of cameras that will take an up close and personal look at the the creatures that surround us, down to microscopic size, as we've seen in the Nikon Small World photography competitions. But 100 years ago, just seeing a spider's face was a rare treat. Sure, there were people who had mounted insect collections, but those weren't available to everyone, and David Fairchild considered them unnatural after they had dried up. He and his wife Marian published a book in 1914 full of photographic images of the insects, spiders, and other tiny creatures in their backyard called Book of Monsters.

Cameras of the time were not up to macrophotography, so they came up with a system that separated the lens from the photographic plate by a cardboard tube that went up to twenty feet long! The exposures were between 50 and 80 seconds, so they couldn't use live specimens, but their "fresh" specimens were fixed with wax to remain in place for the photo shoot. The text in Book of Monsters was overly dramatic, like a spider killing a fly was a “true picture of merciless cruelty.” The spider just considers it lunch, but such prose got kids interested in the book. Read about the making of Book of Monsters and see a gallery of the images it contained at the Public Domain Review. -via Nag on the Lake

The People Left Behind When Al Capone Went to Prison

Everyone knows the name Al Capone, and we all know he was a Chicago mob boss during Prohibition. Due to his mobsters' loyalty, corrupt deals with city officials, and the goodwill of the common people he helped out, federal agents could never get enough evidence to convict him of bootlegging or murder. They eventually imprisoned him for tax evasion, and that's you know about Al Capone. His story ends with prison, illness, and death.

But what did he leave behind? What happened to Capone's many family members? Or the gang he left behind in Chicago? A video from Weird History runs down the folks Capone left behind, and their stories vary immensely.

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