« September 6, 2007 | Main | September 8, 2007 »

September 7, 2007

George Orwell's Special Branch File


Released earlier this week by Britain's National Archives, it interested the New York Times enough that the Grey Lady yesterday ran an editorial on the subject.

The National Archives short version: "This newly released Metropolitan police file (MEPO 38/69) reveals how George Orwell, the author of "1984", was under Special Branch surveillance for more than 12 years of his life. MI5 first became suspicious of the author's activities in 1936 when carrying out research into the living and working conditions of the working class for "The Road to Wigan Pier". The reports link Orwell to well known Communists and left-wing organisations."

Here's a link to a BBC story about the unveiling; the piece follows.

    MI5 confused by Orwell's politics

    MI5 monitored socialist writer George Orwell for more than two decades, but did not believe he was a mainstream communist, records have revealed.

    A Scotland Yard Special Branch report in January 1942 said the author of 1984 had "advanced communist views".

    However, an MI5 officer responded that Orwell "does not hold with the Communist Party nor they with him".

    A file from the National Archives also shows MI5 did not object to him having a wartime job at a military base.

    Orwell was vetted for the post as a correspondent for the Sunday Observer at Allied Forces Headquarters in North Africa.

    The Special Branch report said: "This man has advanced communist views and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at communist meetings.

    "He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours."

    The MI5 officer rang the inspector in charge of the sergeant who wrote the report, to question what it meant.

    From the call it emerged that Orwell — referred to in the documents by his real name Eric Blair — was thought to be an "unorthodox communist" who did not agree fully with Communist Party views.

    The officer from the security service wrote: "I gathered that the good sergeant was rather at a loss as to how he could describe this rather individual line hence the expression 'advanced communist views'.

    "It is evident from his recent writings — "The Lion and the Unicorn" — and his contribution to Gollancz's symposium "The Betrayal Of The Left" that he does not hold with the Communist Party nor they with him."

    Orwell is best known for books including "1984" and "Animal Farm", which criticise totalitarianism, and other works attacking inequality, including" Down and Out in Paris and London" and "The Road to Wigan Pier".

    The records show Orwell first came to the attention of intelligence service MI6 in 1929 when he was in France and offered to become Paris correspondent for the Workers Life.

    In 1942, a record described him as "a bit of an anarchist in his day and in touch with extremist elements".

    He had "undoubtedly strong left-wing views, but he is a long way from orthodox communism", it added.

    Other MI5 records released by the National Archives reveal a rather basic approach to intelligence gathering.

    Kent policeman Pc Ivan Smith resorted to hiding in a toilet to listen in on apprentices from the Royal Navy dockyards at Chatham discussing strike action in December 1941.

    American musician Alan Lomax was put under surveillance by MI5 as a potential communist, and his BBC TV shows in the early 1950s were monitored by Special Branch.

    The BBC was informed that Lomax was in contact with the Hungarian press attache in London, although that could have been linked to his interest in folk dancing.

    The records reveal that a German spy — Argentine Ernesto Hoppe — was involved in plans to transport Nazi valuables to South America.

    However, he was arrested in Gibraltar in October 1943 after a tip-off and interrogated at Latchmere House, south London.

    After going on the run from a military hospital and trying to contact the Argentine ambassador, he was recaptured and admitted his role in the plot.

    In other records, it is revealed that a 1945 edition of The Naturist magazine was examined by MI5 for "hidden writing", which would have been shown up by a solution of soda and water.

    Norwegian spy Hans Larsen was interrogated by the British, also at Latchmere House, in May 1945.

    A copy of the magazine he had in his possession was tested for the writing among the pages of naked women and articles titled "Naturism in the United States" and "All the Year Round Natural Fitness".


More on the Orwell file here.

September 7, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Harley Towel


From websites:

    Harley Davidson Logo Fire Towel

    Plush 100% cotton towel features the classic logo of the greatest motorcycle ever made against a striking flame-patterned background.

    Generous 30"W x 60"L size makes it perfect for spreading out at the beach, by the pool or using after a quick shower.


Or even a leisurely shower: you don't have to be Paris Hilton to know, "that's hot."


September 7, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

email Steve Jobs


Easier said than done: bet you haven't a clue what his email address is.

Yet a lot of people do: witness the first paragraph of his open letter to iPhone customers, posted yesterday on Apple's website: "I have received hundreds of emails from iPhone customers who are upset about Apple dropping the price of iPhone by $200 two months after it went on sale. After reading every one of these emails, I have some observations and conclusions."

Here you go: sjobs@apple.com

Tell him I sent you if you want to be certain you head directly to his spam folder without passing Go or collecting your $100 credit.

It's amusing to speculate on how Sony's grand panjandrum, Sir Howard Stringer, might have responded to something akin to the firestorm that erupted over the iPhone price drop.

Based on his past performances during Sony's missteps and debacles of the past couple years (stealth rootkit invasion of customers' hard drives, etc.), it's very likely he would've hunkered down in a secure, hardened, undisclosed location while his executives took the hit.

September 7, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Pawbreakers — Candy for Cats


That's different.

From the website:

    Pawbreakers — The Candy for Cats

    Pawbreakers is simply a solid ball of top quality catnip, specially combined with a food-grade binding agent to make a tasty toy that can be chased and eaten by your pet with practically no mess.

    Pawbreakers don’t require any special preparation to provide hours of fun and excitement for your cat, but with a little creativity you can discover countless new experiences for your pet to enjoy!

    Tub Time — Your cat may not be incredibly fond of her time in the tub, but a dry bathtub and a Pawbreaker can be the recipe for a whole lot of fun! The curved edges of many bathtubs can provide non-stop movement and fun as your cat leaps and pounces to catch this tantalizing treat!

    Fishin’ for Fun — Use Pawbreakers to engage your cat in active play! Simply drill a hole in your Pawbreaker and thread it on a string. Then toss it out to your pet. Pull the string in slowly and watch your cat go bonkers as she scampers and pounces on the tasty treat! This is a great way to revitalize old ‘fishing pole’ type toys that have worn out or lost their appeal!

    Aromatherapy — Invigorate an old toy or scratching post by rubbing it down with a Pawbreaker!

    Lose your Marbles! — That’s what will happen to you and your cat if you put down a bunch of Pawbreakers at once! (And if you don’t really want him to lose his marbles put them all in a big box and let the fun begin!)


Humphrey is hyperventilating as he reads this from his perch adjacent to my treadmill workstation.


September 7, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The hidden jaws of the moray eel


Yesterday's Nature magazine featured a report on the moray eel's second set of jaws, never before seen in operation.

In the photo above, the eel's second jaws lie in wait (top frame) before snapping out to help catch prey (bottom frame).

Videre est credere: watch the eerily fascinating movie that accompanied Michael Hopkin's Nature News report, which follows.


Eels imitate Alien

Fearsome fish have protruding jaws in their throats to grab prey.

Researchers studying one species of moray eels have uncovered a deadly secret that helps the snake-like fish to swallow their prey. Like the fearsome extraterrestrial from the sci-fi horror classic Alien, these real-life beasts have a second, extendable pair of jaws — encrusted with sharp teeth — that thrusts forward to ensnare hapless fish and shrimp.

High-speed videos and X-ray photos (above) show how the second jaws, called pharyngeal jaws, lie in wait inside the throat, and then extend forwards into the mouth to grab prey that has been captured by the eel's main teeth. The morsel is then drawn into the eel's oesophagus.


This helps the eels (Muraena retifera) to be deadly hunters, despite the fact that, unlike many other predatory fish, they cannot generate strong suction forces inside the mouth cavity to capture a meal. Zoologists had previously been puzzled as to how moray eels, which live on coral reefs and rocky shorelines all over the world, keep hold of their prey long enough to swallow it.

Unlike Sigourney Weaver's big-screen nemesis, these moray eels cannot extend their second set of jaws out beyond their first. But the ability to deliver not one but two bites is still a potent weapon in helping the eels feed, say Rita Mehta and Peter Wainwright of the University of California, Davis, who made the discovery.

"Eels are well respected and often feared by fishermen for their sharp teeth, but I think their true claim to fame may be their pharyngeal jaws," comments Mark Westneat of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.


Many fish species have extra jaws in their throats, which can function to filter food from water or to grind prey when swallowing. But the eel's extendable jaws are the first throat jaws known to be adapted to help catch prey, rather than simply to help swallow it, the researchers explain in Nature1 this week.

"It's so exciting because this is another example of the diversity you can see in vertebrates," says Mehta. "This is a really amazing innovation."

The trick also adds to the remarkable similarity between eels and snakes, despite the fact that they are from completely different realms of the animal kingdom. The researchers point out that the eel's double bite, which grabs prey before it gets away, can be compared to the ratcheting process by which snakes gradually swallow huge prey items in distinct stages.

Westneat says the discovery harks back to an age when scientists discovered natural phenomena, rather than developing theories and testing them. He calls it "a classic example of discovery-based science, stemming from a 'wow' moment".


Read the first paragraph of the actual scientific report, also published in Nature yesterday, here.

September 7, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

MorphWorld: Shredder Scissors into Williams-Sonoma Chopped Salad Scissors


I wonder who the genius was out back in the Williams-Sonoma skunk works who first heard the penny drop.

From the website:

Toss & Chop Scissors

Use this handy tool for fast-track preparation of chopped salads directly into a serving bowl and to make short work of chopping ingredients for salsas, sandwiches and fresh pasta sauces.


The curved titanium-bonded double blades have microserrated edges that never need sharpening and the soft-grip handles lock shut for safe storage.

Dishwasher safe.

8-1/2" long.

You know the $11.98 Shredder Scissors (below)


can do a mean chopped salad.

I wonder what kind of job the pricier Williams-Sonoma iteration does on credit cards — only one way to find out, what?


September 7, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Caller ID Spoofing — Episode 2: The Zero Group


It's been over three years — September 5, 2004, to be precise — since caller ID spoofing's been the subject of a post here.

Yesterday the following comment came in from a secure, undisclosed computer: "check out caller id spoofing from the zero group.... much cheaper: $10 for 100 mins."

Videre est credere: see for yourself.

September 7, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

KISS Playing Cards


From the website:

    KISS Playing Cards

    Set of 2 standard decks emblazoned with KISS artwork will definitely raise the stakes on poker night, spice up solitaire or rock mom's pinochle club!


September 7, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

« September 6, 2007 | Main | September 8, 2007 »