Monday, March 22, 2010

The memory palace

I can't remember where/how I saw this blog, but it's pretty sweet. It basically summarizes a historical event or idea in a 3-5 minute audio story.

So far, I've already heard about World War II bat bombs... (Episode 4):

In the plan, members of a top-secret World War II-era unit of the U.S. Air Force would net literally millions of Mexican free-tailed bats, from Texas or New Mexico caves, before gluing a tiny, specially-made napalm time-bomb onto every individual one. More than a thousand such armed bats would then be hung beneath stacked trays, inside a hollow, five-foot-tall bombshell perforated with air holes and equipped with a parachute. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of these bombs would then be loaded into planes. The bombs’ temperatures would be lowered enough to send the bats into temporary hibernation—to eliminate the need to feed and calm them—and the “bat bombs” would then be flown, via the Micronesian island of Tinian, into the early-morning darkness over Japan.

The bombs would then fall through the air until, triggered by an altimeter about 4,000 feet up, their parachutes would bloom, their sheet-metal sides would fall away, the pins of the time bombs would pull out, and the bats themselves would awaken and emerge. The moonlit sky would fill with leathery wings, and the bats would fly down to roost before dawn, down to the eaves and overhangs of the city of Osaka. Fanning out for an estimated twenty miles in every direction, the bomb-bearing bats would roost all over the overcrowded city, before settling into the nooks of the city’s picturesque but notoriously combustible wooden buildings—shifting into sleep, and then exploding—bursting into flame, and burning down the city, a city that at the time boasted a population of approximately seven million people.

This crazy idea went so far as to actually be successfully tested on a mock Japanese town in the Utah desert. The bats functioned as expected and burned the entire mock up town to the ground. That was enough to convience the USAAF to go ahead with an operational development and deployment. The nuclear bomb put an effective end to the bat bomb however before it was deployed.

Four biological factors gave promise to this plan. First, bats occur in large numbers (four caves in Texas are each occupied by several million bats). Second, bats can carry more than their own weight in flight (females carry their young — sometimes twins). Third, bats hibernate, and while dormant they do not require food or maintenance. Fourth, bats fly in darkness, then find secluded places (often in buildings) to hide during daylight. (here and here)


... And about the oft troubled 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. (Episode 6...)

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