Author Archives: Gilles Messier

That Time the United States Tested Biological Warfare on its Own Citizens

For the residents of San Francisco, October 11, 1950 started out like any other day, with thick banks of autumn fog rolling in from the bay and across the city. By the afternoon, however, it became clear that something was seriously wrong. On that day alone, eleven patients were admitted to Stanford Hospital with pneumonia, fever, and serious urinary tract […]

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The Machine that Bankrupted Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, is one of the most important and celebrated American writers and wits in history. His keen observations and biting satires of 19th Century America remain beloved classics to this day, while his pithy quips will likely continue to infest our social media feeds for decades more to come. Yet despite Twain’s legendary intelligence and […]

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The Mysterious and Fascinating World of ‘Numbers Stations’

Shortwave radio signals, which occupy the radio frequency band between 3 and 30 megahertz, have the unique ability to bounce or “skip” off the earth’s ionosphere, allowing them to propagate over vast distances. This has attracted a devoted international community of shortwave radio enthusiasts, who exploit the unique properties of the medium to listen to and communicate with shortwave stations […]

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The Horrifying Origin of the Term “Stool Pigeon”

American gangster films of the 1920s, 30s and 40s have contributed a wealth of colourful slang to the English language, much of which is still floating around popular culture to this day: “sleeping with the fishes”, “concrete overshoes”, “G-man”, “Chicago typewriter”, “goon”, “big house”, “private dick”, “speakeasy”, “Chicago overcoat”, “ride the lightning”, “fuzz”, and many others. But while many of […]

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How Does Stealth Technology Actually Work?

At precisely 3 in the morning on January 17, 1991, a series of explosions rocked the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The explosions were exact and devastating, destroying Iraqi military radars, command bunkers, and communications hubs with surgical precision. Immediately, Iraq’s aerial defence system sprang into action, its 3,000 anti-aircraft guns saturating the air with explosive shells. But the 60 surface-to-air […]

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The Real Life Feud That Created One of James Bond’s Most Iconic Villains

On September 17, 1964, a cinematic juggernaut exploded onto film screens: Goldfinger, the third outing by Sean Connery as suave gentleman spy James Bond. While the two previous entries in the series, 1962’s Dr. No and 1963’s From Russia With Love had been successful, Goldfinger was an entirely different beast. The first true blockbuster of the franchise, it made back […]

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So What Actually is a Tumbleweed, Anyway, And How Did it Become Associated with the American West?

Picture in your mind a classic Old West showdown. Two gunslingers slowly advance towards each other down a deserted street, their spurs gently clinking with every step. They stop and stare each other down, hands hovering over the six-shooters slung from their hips. All goes still as the tension rises, the silence broken only by the whine of a harmonica […]

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What Actually Defines an ‘Assault Rifle’ and Who Invented Them?

In June 2021, Southern District of California Judge Roger Benitez made headlines when he struck down the state’s 30-year ban on assault weapons, concluding that: “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” Benitez’s landmark decision was but one episode in the long-running political debate over gun […]

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Who Invented WD-40?

There’s an old engineer’s adage that goes: “If it moves but shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move but should, use WD-40.” For nearly 60 years, WD-40, the iconic “toolkit in a can,” has been helping amateurs and professionals alike out of all sorts of sticky mechanical jams. In addition to its intended purpose as a penetrating lubricant and […]

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Space Religion

On Christmas Eve, 1968, nearly a billion people sat glued to their radios and television sets as the crew of Apollo 8 entered orbit around the moon. For three days the world had followed the pioneering mission three live television broadcasts, and they now waited eagerly to hear the historic words of the first humans to reach another world. Then, […]

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Forgotten History- That Time Hitler had His Agents Secretly Attack Germany in Order to Justify Starting WWII

On the first of September, 1939, nearly 1.5 million troops, 2,750 tanks, and 2,300 aircraft of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich stormed over the border into Poland. That same day, Britain and France, bound by treaty to defend Polish sovereignty, issued an ultimatum calling for the immediate withdrawal of German forces. The ultimatum was ignored, and on September 3 the Allied […]

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