Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Operation Mincemeat.

“Operation Mincemeat was a successful British deception plan during World War II. As part of the widespread deception plan Operation Barclay to cover the intended invasion of Italy from North Africa, Mincemeat helped to convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia in 1943 instead of Sicily, the actual objective. This was accomplished by persuading the Germans that they had, by accident, intercepted “top secret” documents giving details of Allied war plans. The documents were attached to a corpse deliberately left to wash up on a beach in Punta Umbría in Spain.”

This article is just fascinating and it’s hard to quote from it because the ploy is just so awesome you need to read it all, but here’s a bit more from the article:

“With the help of the renowned pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, Montagu and his team determined what kind of body they needed: a man who appeared to have died at sea by hypothermia and drowning, and then floated ashore after several days. However, finding a usable body seemed almost impossible, as indiscreet inquiries would cause talk, and it was impossible to tell a dead man’s next of kin what the body was wanted for. Under quiet pressure, Bentley Purchase, coroner of St. Pancras District in London, obtained the body of a 34-year old Welsh man named Glyndwr Michael, on the condition that the man’s real identity would never be revealed. The man had died after ingesting rat poison which contained phosphorus. After being ingested, the phosphide reacts with hydrochloric acid in the human stomach, generating phosphine, a highly toxic gas. Coroner Purchase explained, “This dose was not sufficient to kill him outright, and its only effect was so to impair the functioning of the liver that he died a little time afterwards”, leaving few clues to the cause of death. Montagu later claimed the man died from pneumonia, and that the family had been contacted and permission obtained, but none of this was true. The dead man’s parents had died and no known relatives were found.[6]

The next step was creating a “legend”: a synthetic identity for the dead man. He became “Captain (Acting Major) William “Bill” Martin, Royal Marines”,[6] born 1907, in Cardiff, Wales, and assigned to Headquarters, Combined Operations. As a Royal Marine, Major Martin came under Admiralty authority, and it would be easy to ensure that all official inquiries and messages about his death would be routed to the Naval Intelligence Division. The Army’s arrangements were different and much harder to control. Also, he could wear battledress rather than a naval uniform (uniforms were tailor-made by Gieves of Savile Row, and they couldn’t have Gieves’s tailor measure a corpse.) The rank of acting Major made him senior enough to be entrusted with sensitive documents, but not so prominent that anyone would expect to know him. The name “Martin” was chosen because there were several Martins of about that rank in the Royal Marines.[3]

To build up the legend, they provided a fiancée named “Pam”. Major Martin carried a snapshot of “Pam” (actually a clerk named Jean Leslie from MI5),[6] two love letters, and a jeweller’s bill, dated 19th April 1943, from the exclusive S J Phillips Ltd of 113 New Bond Street, for a diamond engagement ring […] In keeping with his rank, he was given some good quality underwear, at the time extremely difficult to obtain due to rationing. Items of woollen underwear owned by the late Herbert Fisher, the Master of New College Oxford, having been run over and killed by a lorry, were secured and used to underpin the verisimilitude of the body.[6]

He also had a pompous letter from his father, a letter from the family solicitor, and a letter from Ernest Whitley Jones, joint general manager of Lloyds Bank,[6] demanding payment of an overdraft of £79 19s 2d (£79.96). There were a book of stamps, a silver cross and St Christopher’s medallion, a pencil stub, keys, a used twopenny bus ticket,[6] ticket stubs from a London theatre, a bill for four nights’ lodging at the Naval and Military Club, and a receipt from Gieves & Hawkes for a new shirt […] To make the Major even more believable, Montagu and his team decided to suggest that he was a bit careless. His ID card was marked as a replacement for one that had been lost, and his pass to Combined Operations HQ had expired a few weeks before his departure and not been renewed.”

2. Zebroid.

Of course I stumbled upon this article because of one of Razib Khan’s latest posts. Here’s an image of a zebonkey/zebrula/zedonk (naming conventions differ) from the article:

Related article: Haldane’s rule.

3. Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“The Lewis and Clark Expedition, or “Corps of Discovery Expedition” (1804–1806) was the first transcontinental expedition to the Pacific Coast by the United States. Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and led by two Virginia-born veterans of Indian wars in the Ohio Valley, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the expedition had several goals. Their objects were both scientific and commercial – to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and to discover how the region could be exploited economically.[1] […]

The Lewis and Clark Expedition established relations with two dozen indigenous nations.[38] Without their help, the expedition would have starved to death or become hopelessly lost in the Rocky Mountains.[39] […] The Lewis and Clark Expedition gained an understanding of the geography of the Northwest and produced the first accurate maps of the area. During the journey, Lewis and Clark drew about 140 maps. […] The expedition recorded more than 200 plants and animals that were new to science and noted at least 72 native tribes.[53]”

Note that the article contains a featured image.

4. Oligodynamic effect.

“The oligodynamic effect (Greek: oligos = few, Greek: dynamis = force) was discovered in 1893 by the Swiss Karl Wilhelm von Nägeli as a toxic effect of metal ions on living cells, algae, molds, spores, fungi, viruses, prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, even in relatively low concentrations.[1] This antimicrobial effect is shown by ions of mercury, silver, copper, iron, lead, zinc, bismuth, gold, aluminium, and other metals.”

Basically, because of this effect your silver spoons self-sanitize; the silver kills the bacteria. If you’d ever wondered why doorknobs in hospitals are often/usually made of brass or similar materials, this effect would also be part of the explanation.

5. McMahon Line.

“The McMahon Line is a line agreed to by Britain and Tibet as part of the Simla Accord, a treaty signed in 1914. Although its legal status is disputed, it is the effective boundary between China and India.

The line is named after Sir Henry McMahon, foreign secretary of the British-run Government of India and the chief negotiator of the convention. It extends for 550 miles (890 km) from Bhutan in the west to 160 miles (260 km) east of the great bend of the Brahmaputra River in the east, largely along the crest of the Himalayas. Simla (along with the McMahon Line) was initially rejected by the Government of India as incompatible with the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention.[1] This convention was renounced in 1921. After Simla, the McMahon Line was forgotten until 1935, when British civil service officer Olaf Caroe convinced the government to publish the Simla Convention and use the McMahon Line on official maps.[2]

The McMahon Line is regarded by India as the legal national border. As recently as 2003, the Dalai Lama said that the disputed region was part of Tibet, but he reversed his position in 2008, acknowledging the legitimacy of the McMahon Line and the Indian claim to the region.[3]

China rejects the Simla Accord, contending that the Tibetan government was not sovereign and therefore did not have the power to conclude treaties.[4] Chinese maps show some 65,000 square kilometres (25,000 sq mi) of the territory south of the line as part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, known as South Tibet in China.[5] Chinese forces briefly occupied this area during the Sino-Indian War of 1962-63. China does recognize a Line of Actual Control which includes a portion of the “so called McMahon line” in the eastern part of its border with India, according to a 1959 diplomatic note by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.[6]”

At the present point in time, the border between the world’s two most populous nations is actually not clearly defined and completely agreed upon by both parties.

6. Passenger Pigeon.

When you’re up against humans, there’s not always strength in numbers:

“Some estimate that there were 3 billion to 5 billion Passenger Pigeons in the United States when Europeans arrived in North America.[B] Others argue that the species had not been common in the Pre-Columbian period, but their numbers grew when devastation of the American Indian population by European diseases led to reduced competition for food.[C]

The species went from being one of the most abundant birds in the world during the 19th century to extinction early in the 20th century.[4] At the time, Passenger Pigeons had one of the largest groups or flocks of any animal, second only to the Rocky Mountain locust.

Some reduction in numbers occurred because of habitat loss when the Europeans started settling further inland, especially as it was accompanied by mass deforestation and conversion of habitat to farming. The primary factor emerged when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for slaves and the poor in the 19th century, resulting in hunting on a massive and mechanized scale. There was a slow decline in their numbers between about 1800 and 1870, followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890.[5] Martha, thought to be the world’s last Passenger Pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo.”

7. Manifold. Interestingly, according to the talk page it’s one of the 500 most frequently viewed mathematics articles.

8. Alchian–Allen Effect.

“The Alchian-Allen Effect was described in 1964 by Armen Alchian and William R. Allen in the book University Economics (now called Exchange and Production [1]). It states that when the prices of two substitute goods, such as high and low grades of the same product, are both increased by a fixed per-unit amount such as a transportation cost or a lump-sum tax, consumption will shift toward the higher-grade product. This is true because the added per-unit amount decreases the relative price of the higher-grade product.”

9. Absolute hot. So, the question is this: Is there a maximum temperature at some point? While reading up on this I realized that I didn’t really know much about temperature (also recommended reading) in the first place. Given current models the math breaks down at very high temperatures. It’s easier to answer the question of ‘when’ (let’s just say that temperatures were uncomfortably high to us a few milliseconds after the Big Bang).


March 8, 2012 - Posted by | Biology, Economics, Genetics, History, Mathematics, Microbiology, Wikipedia, Zoology

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