From Jonathan Nunn for The Guardian: "If you were a young person living in London in the early 1970s and you were looking for a bargain, the word of Nicholas Saunders was something close to holy scripture. Whatever you sought, Saunders had the answer. If you wanted to start an anarchist squat or self-publish a Trotskyist pamphlet, you consulted Nicholas Saunders. If you wanted to know how much a gram of cocaine should cost, or where to get free legal advice if you were arrested, you consulted Nicholas Saunders. If you just wanted to find out which supermarkets were cheaper for which goods, or how to fly all the way to India on a ticket to Frankfurt, you consulted Nicholas Saunders."
What happens when an astronaut in orbit says he’s not coming back?
From Eric Berger for Ars Technica: "Taylor Wang was deeply despondent. A day earlier, he had quite literally felt on top of the world by becoming the first Chinese-born person to fly into space. But now, all of his hopes and dreams, everything he had worked on for the better part of a decade had come crashing down around him. He asked the NASA flight controllers if he could take some time to try to troubleshoot the problem and maybe fix the experiment. But on any Shuttle mission, time is precious. After being told no, Wang said something that chilled the nerves of those in Houston watching over the safety of the crew and the Shuttle mission. "Hey, if you guys don't give me a chance to repair my instrument, I'm not going back," Wang said."
She helped convict an innocent man and thirty years later tried to make amends
From Michael Hall for Texas Monthly: "She never felt right about sending him to prison. Every year around Christmas, Estella Ybarra would find herself thinking back to December 1990 and that El Paso courtroom, where for three days she sat on a jury holding Carlos Jaile’s fate in her hands. From the start of the trial she’d been unimpressed by the evidence that he had raped an eight-year-old girl. The state’s case hinged on the victim’s identification of Jaile in a police lineup. The girl said her assailant wore mechanic’s clothes and drove a beige sedan. Jaile was a successful vacuum cleaner salesman and drove a red Subaru hatchback. His lawyer brought in three alibi witnesses who testified he was with them that day. Ybarra was certain he wasn’t guilty."
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How movie legend Veronica Lake wound up working in a dive bar
From MessyNessyChic: "In 1962, a reporter with the New York Post got a tip that screen goddess of the 1940s, Veronica Lake, was working as a barmaid in the lobby of the Martha Washington Hotel, a low rent boarding house in Midtown Manhattan, and using the name Connie de Toth. When the news article broke portraying her as a destitute ageing screen legend, fans sent money but Lake sent it back. She was offered a deal to publish a memoir, in which she recounted her career as the film noir queen. So how does a household name end up working in a transient hotel? It’s a tale as old as Hollywood, particularly for women."
Scientists filmed a plant sending distress signals to its neighbor
From Clare Watson for Science Alert: "Imperceptible to us, plants are surrounded by a fine mist of airborne compounds that they use to communicate and protect themselves. Kind of like smells, these compounds repel hungry herbivores and warn neighboring plants of incoming assailants. Now, a team of Japanese researchers has deployed real-time imaging techniques to reveal how plants receive and respond to these aerial alarms. Yuri Aratani and Takuya Uemura, molecular biologists at Saitama University in Japan, rigged a pump to transfer compounds emitted by injured and insect-riddled plants, and a fluorescence microscope to watch what happened."
People in Britain are using a pub's app to send drinks to complete strangers
From Max Colchester for the WSJ: "In early December, Mark Hamlet took his elderly parents-in-law for a few festive drinks at his local pub in northern England. He opened his phone and posted a picture of the couple on Facebook along with a message: “brought nana and grandad out for their early night cap. explained to them about the game…Nothing crazy guys I’ve gotta put them to bed.” Within minutes, strangers across Britain were ordering the couple wine, beer and shots of liquor to their table at the George Inn. “sent 2 half pints one for u and one for grandad and a wine for nan x have a great night,” wrote one. “Wine, beer and a couple of shots for the young’uns,” wrote another."
This cat's look of surprise when his friend suddenly takes flight
Acknowledgements: I find a lot of these links myself, but I also get some from other newsletters that I rely on as "serendipty engines," such as The Morning News from Rosecrans Baldwin and Andrew Womack, Dan Lewis's Now I Know, Robert Cottrell and Caroline Crampton's The Browser, Clive Thompson's Linkfest, Noah Brier and Colin Nagy's Why Is This Interesting, Maria Popova's The Marginalian, Sheehan Quirke AKA The Cultural Tutor, the Smithsonian magazine, and JSTOR Daily. If you come across something interesting that you think should be included here, please feel free to email me.