- Esther the Cold War Kitty
- Dream Homes Built for Books and the Nerds Who Love Them
- Perfect Cookies For Your Disney Took Over Star Wars Party
- Who Has The Cuttest Bottom in the Animal Kingdom?
- Skydiving Cats
- Minecraft 3D Prints
- Chocolate And Pop Rocks Potato Chips
- Jeans Sandal Boots
- November Is Here...Yay?
- Hello Kitty Nerd With Glasses Crossbody Bag
- Cat Jumping in Slow Motion
- War Portrait Project
- On Her Side
- Grocery List Doodle
- The Athlete Machine
- Gun Candy
- Hopefully It Tastes Better Than It Looks
- Auto Correct Pranks
- Justice Served
- The Bad Astronomer Gets a Tattoo
- Spaghetti Measure
- Butterflies Are a Lie
- Don't Bet Against Your Children
- How to Make a Serving Dish from a Vinyl Record
- The Most Misunderstand Political Campaign Song in History
- Adjustable Birthing Chair, c. 1750-1850
- Why Do Trees Topple in a Storm?
- How to Make Your Own R2Disco
- 10 Chemical Compounds with Immature Jokes for Names
- My Little Weeping Angel
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 05:00 AM PST
Commentary on Esther the Cold War Kitty
by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, AIR staff
The book Esther the Cold War Kitty is legendary. Written at the height of the Cold War, it was intended as propaganda for children in the West. Some historians suggest that the book was written by Soviet agents intending that the West would publish it and then suffer public embarrassment. Other historians dismiss this latter view as nonsense. For reasons that have not yet been made public, the book was never published. The true identity of the author has never been revealed.
We have obtained a copy -- one of the three copies known to be in existence -- of the book. As a public service, in this issue of the Annals of Improbable Research, we present three of its chapters: “Esther the Cold War Kitty,” “Esther and the Gear Factory,” and “Esther and the Oil Field.”
First, though, here is a perhaps relevant document produced by the CIA. It was made public under the Freedom of Information Act (the legwork in unearthing it was done by Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in Washington). Shortly after its release in 2001, a report about it in The Guardian explained that:
A section of the document is reproduced below.
Questions abound. Was the Acoustic Kitty project related to the Esther the Cold War Kitty book? Or was it in some way a reply to, or reaction against it? Was either project entirely the work of western operatives, or was one or both in some way an attempt by the Soviet Union to gull its rival into doing something that might look foolish to the American public? Perhaps we will never have definitive answers to any of these wonderings. Nonetheless, both Esther the Cold War Kitty and the Acoustic Kitty project are fascinating research objects for historians and students of international relations.
(Thanks to investigator Charles Bergquist for bringing the Acoustic Kitty project to our attention.)
Esther the Cold War Kitty
The cat’s out of the bag -- almost literally -- now that the U.S. and Russia have declassified some of their cold-war spy reports. But until now, nobody has reported on the littlest, the warmest, the cuddliest, the most technologically surprising secret of them all. It is time for the world to know about Esther, the Cold War kitty.
Esther was the West’s secret weapon. With her Minox subminiature camera, she kept an eye on the skulkings and plottings of the Soviet leadership. Josef Stalin, his successor Khrushchev, and the entire leadership of the KGB spy organization loved Esther. They treated her as an honored and pampered guest. They never suspected that the lovable, furry kitty-cat was a subminiature techno spy.
Esther’s story is unlike any other. She was an ordinary cat, living an ordinary life, until one morning in 1947. Suddenly, through no fault of her own, Esther found herself on an airplane to Vienna.
In the years right after World War II, the Austrian capital city was a place of intrigue, seething with spies from the Soviet Union, England, the United States, France, and other glamorous countries.
The night before her adventure began, Esther had gone to sleep on a pile of nice, rumpled shirts. The shirts belonged to a house guest who just happened to be a top U.S. spy. When the spy packed his luggage in the pre-dawn darkness, he unknowingly packed Esther. Esther was notorious among her friends for being able to sleep through almost anything.
When she awoke the next day, Esther was in the American consulate in Vienna. The Ambassador and his favorite spy were delighted to meet Esther, and they spent several minutes petting her and giving her treats. But the Ambassador and the spy were preoccupied with a problem. They couldn’t figure out how to get inside the Soviet embassy and take photographs of the Soviet ambassador and his favorite spy.
Suddenly, the two men had a brainstorm. They would have Esther take the photos! Who would suspect an innocent- looking kitty of being a big-time spy? It was a brilliant idea.
The Ambassador showed Esther a very special camera. It was a beautiful little machine, a tiny, kitty-sized Minox (see photo below). The Minox had been designed a decade earlier in Latvia by a Swiss inventor named Walter Zapp. The camera was a mere 75 millimeters long, 13 millimeters high, and 28 millimeters wide -- just perfect for a cat. It weighed 180 grams, and used very small film, just 8 by 11 millimeters. With a Complan 15mm F3.5 (4Ele, 3Grp) lens, a Galilei Bright flame finder, a 0.2 - Infinity thumb wheel dial, shutter speeds from 1/2-1/1000 s, and the ability to shoot from as close as 0.2 m, the Minox was ideal for Esther. All it needed was a way for her to snap the shutter. Esther herself helped devise a paw-activated trip mechanism.
(Image credit: Flickr user David Bruce)
Esther was more lovable than any cat on the Continent. With the Minox strapped under her leg, she could go anywhere and take pictures of anything. And she did. Esther was a personal houseguest of both Stalin and Khrushchev. She attended Communist party congresses and top-secret military meetings.
Because Esther was an extraordinarily furry cat, no one ever noticed that she came equipped with a Minox. The furriness did create one problem, though -- a big one. Most of Esther’s photographs show more fur than anything else (see example, right). Of the more than twenty thousand pictures she produced, only a handful show anything that a human being can recognize. Esther died in 1962. Had she lived and worked a mere three decades later, new image processing technology would have been available to turn her furry photos into useful strategic tools. For Esther the Cold War kitty, opportunity came too soon.
Esther and the Soviet Gear Factory
The photographs you see here were taken in 1948 at a gear factory near Omsk, in the Soviet Union. The photographer was Esther, the Cold War kitty. Esther was a lovable, furry cat who became Josef Stalin’s favorite pet. Secretly, though, she was a spy for America. Stalin and the other Soviet leaders took Esther everywhere, and everywhere she went Esther took pictures with her Minox subminiature camera. The Omsk gear factory photographs were one of her triumphs, because they revealed a great secret the Russians didn’t want the West to know.
Stalin always loved to visit gear factories. That’s because his name, “Stalin,” is a Russian word that means “steel.” Good gears are made of steel, you know.
The visit to the Omsk gear factory began as a typical Stalin trip. The great leader packed a box lunch and some snacks, and a snuggly blanket for Esther so she would be comfortable on the long train ride. Stalin and Esther rode right up in the front car, with the engineer. Stalin got to flick the train whistle switch on and off the whole time. Esther slept through it (she could sleep through anything). When the train arrived in Omsk, Stalin let everyone on the train touch his mustache. Then he and Esther went over to the gear factory, where he let everyone in the factory touch his mustache. Then he toured through the factory, flicking all the switches on and off. The factory workers applauded and cheered. It was a fun time for everybody.
There was hard work to be done, too. The first photo shows Josef Stalin disassembling a double- reduction locked-train speed-reduction gear. This particular photograph is important evidence. If you look very, very, very carefully, you’ll see that this particular double-reduction locked- train speed-reduction gear has tiny words printed on it. They say “MADE IN AMERICA.” Thanks to Esther’s photograph, the West discovered that the Soviet Union had been stealing American high-tech secrets! And that Josef Stalin knew about it!
And that’s not all Esther discovered. On this particular visit, she apparently crawled into a sunny corner of the factory and dozed off. Stalin went home to the Kremlin, not noticing that his beloved kitty had been left behind. Esther spent the next two days at the factory.
This was a fortunate thing for England and America. The second photograph shows what the factory was like on a typical work day. You can see everybody standing around in a big group. That’s what the workers did every day, all day. The factory director always read aloud to them from Josef Stalin’s best-selling book “How to Design and Manufacture Gears.” Out of respect for Stalin, the workers would remain standing while they listened. The best part was chapter 43, “Tooth Proportions for Cross-Helical Gears and Double-Enveloping Worm Gears.” Everyone agreed it was a corker.
The factory workers enjoyed hearing their director read Stalin’s book to them, over and over and over again. But they were a little sad because their feet hurt, and because they never had time to make any gears. Maybe that’s why the Soviet Union had to steal gears from the United States.
Now, there WAS one Russian gear factory where they DID make gears. It was in Novosibirsk.
The factory director there didn’t know how to read, so the workers never got to hear Stalin’s book. Instead, they sat down and made gears. They made them of iron. One worker made the iron gear hubs. Another worker made the iron gear teeth. A third worker glued the gear teeth onto the gear hubs, then washed the whole thing in nice, clean water to make it shiny.
It was a really small factory -- three workers and an illiterate director. Esther never got to visit the place, because Stalin never went there. This was a small failing in her otherwise sterling career.
Esther and the Soviet Oil Field
You wouldn’t think that oil and gasoline would interest a cat, and ordinarily you’d be right. But there was nothing ordinary about the career of Esther, the Cold War kitty.
Equipped only with her Minox subminiature camera, her cuteness and charm, and an abundance of fur, Esther lived and traveled with Josef Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and other Soviet leaders. She saw and photographed every Russian secret, great and small. This humble kitty took more than twenty thousand pictures. The pictures showed mostly fur, because Esther was a very furry kitty indeed. But there was valuable information in some of them, if you looked carefully.
The picture you see here was one of Esther’s early triumphs. It shows the oil fields at Baku. Every summer from 1947 to 1951, Esther went to Lake Baku, with Josef Stalin. Stalin liked to go snorkeling and build sand-castles and fly kites, while Esther cat-napped on a plush linen blanket on the beach. It was a fun time for everybody.
People outside the Soviet Union were very, very eager to see what was happening at Baku. Newsreel producers were desperate to get film of Stalin frolicking in the sun and sand, because he was a big international celebrity. Western governments and business leaders, though, needed to know about the oil situation.
Russia was powered by oil and coal. They used the oil to make gasoline and specialty lubricants and paraffins. Most of Russia’s oil came from Baku and the other oil-producing fields of the Chechen-Ingushetiya region. When the cold war began, no one in America or England knew how much oil the Russians had. The West was worried. Maybe Josef Stalin had so much oil that he would become the richest man in the world. If that happened, he would be able to do lots of bad things, and cause lots of trouble, whenever he wanted. It was a scary situation.
Esther’s photograph of the Baku oil fields made the West very happy. It shows lots of big wooden buildings that have oil pumps in them. They look like they could pump a whole lot of oil out of the ground. That would be a frightening thing, wouldn’t it, if Josef Stalin were getting all that oil every day, and he could do whatever he wanted with it? But you don’t have to worry about that, because the picture tells a very different tale.
Long, long ago -- about 1890 -- the oil fields at Baku were pretty new, and the oil pumps there were pretty small, and pretty rickety. Sixty years later, when Esther was doing her spying in Russia, the oil industry outside Russia had invented big, shiny oil pumps that were very powerful, and could pump lots of oil.
But the oil pumps in Baku were NOT big, or shiny, or powerful. Look at Esther’s photograph carefully. The oil pumps you see there are small and rickety. They are the same old oil pumps from 1890. What Esther showed was that Russia was very behind-the-times, and was only using dinky old pumps.
So the Soviet Union wasn’t producing very much oil at all. And so Josef Stalin would NOT become the richest man in the world, as well as one of its most powerful men. And so he would NOT be able to do lots of bad things, and cause lots of trouble, whenever he wanted. The situation was not so scary, after all.
Once the Western leaders saw this photograph, they were able to stop worrying about the Soviet oil industry. They could relax, and find other things to worry about. And this was all thanks to the valiant work of Esther the Cold War kitty, and her Minox subminiature camera.
This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2005 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!
Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 04:00 AM PST
In an article last week, we read about how Ed Bernays convinced architects and builders to include bookshelves in new homes, in order to sell more books. There's a big difference between including them and designing a home around bookshelves, but some bibliophiles have done just that. See thirteen gorgeous interiors dominated by books and the awesome installations and fixtures to store them in at Flavoirwire. Link
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 03:00 AM PST
There have been plenty of Star Wars/Disney mashups since the company bought the rights to the sci fi franchise, but these cookies look particularly good -possibly because they were based on a set of Disney pins that were released long before the buy out.
Or maybe it's me just because I'm a sucker for Stitch.
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 02:00 AM PST
When I was a youngster, my school had an anti-smoking ad that said "butts are gross" and showed a bunch of animal booties. The only problem? I thought most of them were actually adorbale. While it didn't make me want to smoke, it sure didn't convince me that butts were indeed cute.
These days, I know I'm not alone when it comes to thinking that some critters have absolutely adorable booties. That being said, the real question is which little fuzzball has the cutest bottom? Well, Neatonauts, what do you think?
Image Via foonus [Flickr]
Image Via Malingering [Flickr]
Image Via Daveybot [Flickr]
Image Via nikoretro [Flickr]
Image Via photosavvy [Flickr]
Image Via Glisglis [Flickr]
Image Via Artbandito [Flickr]
Image Via Carol Browne [Flickr]
Here's your turn to cast your votes! Or, if your favorite critter booty isn't here, let share your opinion in the comments.
POLL: So Who Has the Cutest Booty
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 01:00 AM PST
Posted: 14 Nov 2012 12:00 AM PST
Ever wish the beautiful (or creepy) world you've created in the game Minecraft were real? It can be -just not life size. Minecraft World Exporter is a tool you can use to download the data, then you can upload it to FigurePrints, a 3D printing company who will make your world real. Yesm they do World of Warcraft models and Xbox Live avatars, too. Link -via The Daily What
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 11:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 10:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 09:00 PM PST
Chuck and Beans are obviously suffering from post-Halloween depression, which is characterized by an acute lack of people dressing up like monsters and nothing to look forward to but a massive turkey dinner.
No wonder the stores are already advertising their Christmas merchandise, November sucks!
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 08:00 PM PST
Hello Kitty Nerd With Glasses Crossbody Bag - $54.95 (front and back shown)
Attention Hello Kitty fans! Are you on the prowl for the purr-fect bag? Behold the adorable Hello Kitty Nerd With Glasses Crossbody Bag from the NeatoShop. This fantastic purse features Hello Kitty wearing oversized glasses.
Hello Kitty Nerd With Glasses Clutch wallet is also available. Buy both and make it a fabulous set.
Be sure to check out the NeatoShop for more delightful Hello Kitty items.
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 08:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 07:00 PM PST
Photographer Lalage Snow has put together a stunning project, titled We Are The Not Dead, featuring portraits of British soldiers before, during, and after deployment in Afghanistan. While this project does mark a striking resemblance to other series, it still captures a sort of haunting change in the faces of these young men.
Check out the entire series here.
-Via My Modern Met
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 06:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 05:00 PM PST
I have a feeling that by the time the artist were done with their grocery list, the store was closed.
Now if only I could get a copy of this list, as I am too lazy to ever write grocery lists and always end up shopping with my stomach. Believe me, that 1/2 pound of mesquite smoked turkey is much less appetizing if you forget to buy the bread.
-Via Books & Cupcakes
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 04:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 03:00 PM PST
Can I just... ...have one? I'll take that maroon, red, white, and orange revolver in the middle there. Looks so sweet!
Darren Lago: Candy Colts, 2012. Tinted resin, glass. 13.5 x 25.5 x 4.5cm
Well we might have a problem as it turns out they are made of tinted resin and glass. Oh well. The repetition is reminiscent of Andy Warhol's Revolver pieces. Does this work strip the gun of it's power, being made of candy and all, or does it empower the iconic image in our gun obsessed culture? Thoughts?
-Via Things Organized
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 02:00 PM PST
Just because the Jesus fresco was botched doesn't mean this curry that looks like it will taste like a terribly screwed up work of art.
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 01:30 PM PST
I find auto correcting humor particularly hilarious just because it is something that happens to me all the friggin' time. Apparently on various types of smart phones you can change the auto correcting functions to change words into other things you would prefer. I wouldn't know anything about that as I have a Sadberry - I mean Blackberry. So a great way to prank friends is to change these settings on their phones while they are distracted. Like changing now into meow. Hilarity will ensue.
Check out a whole page worth here. Warning NSFW - Very Strong Language.
-Via Hyper Vocal
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 01:00 PM PST
Not too long ago I posted about a women who was ordered to wear a sign that says "Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus." Remember? Well here she is, Cleveland woman Shena Hardin, holding that court ordered sign. If you forgot, she was ordered to hold the sign because she drove on the sidewalk repeatedly to avoid a stopped school bus. Oh sweet justice, you are too kind.
-Via Hyper Vocal
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 12:30 PM PST
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy Blog got a tattoo of a meteor hurtling toward Earth. The process was recorded for the show L.A. Ink, but was cut before it aired. Luckily, the segment was posted on YouTube. Read about how the tat came about at the blog. Link
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 12:00 PM PST
Spaghetti Measure - $7.95
Are you hungry for a more accurate way to measure out your pasta? You need the Spaghetti Measure from the NeatoShop. This great plastic flip book allows you to easily measure out 1,2,3 or 4 servings of uncooked spaghetti. The Spaghetti Measure is fantastic way to get kids involved and excited about cooking.
Be sure to check out the NeatoShop for more deliciously fun Kitchen Stuff.
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 12:00 PM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 11:30 AM PST
Seven-year-old Remi Urbano has been begging for a cat for a while. His dad, Dan, kept saying no, but then agreed to buy a cat if a picture of Remi and his little sister pleading for a cat got 1,000 Facebook likes. You can probably guessed what happened.
The picture now has over 100,000 likes. Remi's new cat is named Hairyette Pawturr, and you can see pictures of her with the kids. Read the family's recap of the story at their blog. Link -via Daily of the Day
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 11:00 AM PST
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 10:30 AM PST
Without question, the most misunderstood political campaign song in history is Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." Used in countless political rallies over the past 25 years, Springsteen's classic rock song is considered by many to be the ultimate "All-American" song. Many fist-pumping, beer-drinking fans at baseball games all over America have sung along with the tune's catchy chorus, not realizing the true meaning of Springsteen's popular tune.
Born down in a dead man's town
"Born in the U.S.A." was initially written in 1981. It was recorded in 1982 in New York. It was to be the first song on the title track of Bruce's Born in the U.S.A. album. The album (and the song, the first written for the album) were both smash hits. The album went multi-platinum, selling 18 million copies. The song became an instant classic, is huge popularity attributed, in part, to the fact that the song is hymn to the greatness of America.
Bruce elaborates: "'Born in the U.S.A' is about a working class man [in the midst of a] spiritual crisis, in which a man is left lost …it's like he has nothing left to tie him to society anymore. He's isolated from the government, isolated from his family, to the point where nothing makes sense."
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 10:00 AM PST
This chair, made of wood, leather and iron, offered optimal birthing comfort two centuries ago:
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 09:30 AM PST
It takes a volcano or a nuclear explosion to bring down a forest of trees, but a thunderstorm or snowfall will uproot trees in your neighborhood. Hurricane Sandy toppled over 8,000 trees in New York City, and thousands of others elsewhere. But many stayed put, so what causes one tree to fall and another to survive? Author Mary Knudson asked plant physiologist Kevin T. Smith, arborist William E. de Vos, and other experts.
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 09:00 AM PST
Not only would this thing look great for a party, but she even has a smoke machine inside that would make any party atmosphere even more amazing.
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 08:30 AM PST
Scientists have a sense of humor like everyone else -and sometimes they use it to for names that will used for ever. However, there are cases where there's a perfectly logical explanation for a name, but the result is still a junior high school joke. Take SEX, for example.
Oh yeah, it stands for sodium ethyl xanthate. That's just one of ten minerals with funny names, explained at Geeks Are Sexy. Link
Posted: 13 Nov 2012 08:00 AM PST
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