December 9, 2016

Epic Magazine - Unfathomable 30min

Charles and John Deane, brothers born four years apart, grew up in a foul dockyard precinct on the edge of London. A former fishing settlement on the Thames, the area had been swallowed by Europe’s largest city. By 1800, it had become a squalid reach of maritime activity and drinking establishments overlooking a fetid waterfront. ... the Deanes’ royal titles and estates had long since been squandered by the time Charles and John were born; their father toiled as a caulker, patching seams in the hulls of ships that his forebears once designed. ... many daring divers had attempted to retrieve sunken treasure in a variety of contraptions—wooden containers, copper jackets, metal canisters. Some died. Others were crippled. ... The Royal George sat in waters about 80 feet deep. At that depth, a pressure differential could create suction 10 times stronger than a modern vacuum cleaner. That might not be strong enough to rip off a face and suck it through an air hose, but it would certainly cause permanent damage or death, as was the sad fate of William Tracey and many others that came after him. ... The brothers were learning hydrodynamics by trial and error, and the crowd got a good show.

Bloomberg - The Man Who Invented the World’s Most Important Number 7min

In 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Richard Nixon became president of the U.S., and 400,000 hippies descended on a sleepy New York farm near Woodstock. On the other side of the Atlantic, on a winter’s day in London, a mustachioed Greek banker named Minos Zombanakis was taking his own small step into history. He’d hit upon a novel way to lend large amounts of money to companies and countries that wanted to borrow dollars but would rather avoid the rigors of U.S. financial regulation. ... The Eurodollar market, as the vast pool of U.S. dollars held by banks outside the States is known, was already well developed, but Zombanakis had spotted a gap: the supply of large loans to borrowers looking for an alternate source of capital to the bond markets. He persuaded his bosses in New York to give him $5 million to set up a branch in London.

Longreads - Hidebound: The Grisly Invention of Parchment 16min

The invention of parchment is traditionally ascribed to King Eumenes II of Pergamon, ruler from 197 to 159 BCE of a Greek city-state located in what is now northwestern Turkey. Pergamon comprised only the city itself and a few local towns when Eumenes was crowned as king, but at his death thirty-eight years later it had been transformed into a political, martial, and cultural powerhouse. Chief among his achievements was the founding of a great library to rival that of Alexandria, and Eumenes’s institution boasted some 200,000 volumes at its peak. The Pergamenes’ book-collecting mania was so notorious that citizens of the nearby town of Scepsis, having inherited Aristotle’s library from one of the late philosopher’s students, took the extraordinary step of burying its literary treasure to stop it falling into the hands of their acquisitive neighbors. ... Writing in the first century CE, Pliny says that King Ptolemy of Egypt—the same Ptolemy, presumably, whom Eumenes had goaded with his importunate headhunting—was so incensed by the rise of Pergamon’s library that he banned exports of the papyrus on which it depended. Eumenes responded to the embargo by directing his subjects to find an alternative writing surface; thus, parchment was invented, and Eumenes got the credit. ... Parchment’s origins were a good deal more ancient, and its road to prominence much bloodier, than Pliny knew.

Backchannel - The Rise and Fall of the Everyman Tycoon 20min

Pettis had begun his ascent in 2006, producing weekly videos for MAKE magazine—the maker movement’s Bible—that featured him navigating goofy tasks such as powering a light bulb with a modified hamster wheel. In 2008, he cofounded the NYC Resistor hackerspace in Brooklyn. By then, Pettis was a star. A year later, he launched a Brooklyn-based startup with friends Adam Mayer and Zach Smith (also a NYC Resistor cofounder) called MakerBot. ... By 2015, Pettis, Mayer, and Smith had all moved on. A new CEO and management team has taken the helm since then, and three rounds of layoffs cut the employee head count from a high of around 600 to about half that. This year a Taiwanese competitor nabbed MakerBot’s spot as the most popular desktop 3D printer maker. ... How did MakerBot, the darling of the 3D printing industry, fall so hard and seemingly so fast?