Wednesday, March 10th, 2021
Wednesday, May 30th, 2018
The Gęsiówka Story
While I was in Warsaw for a conference last week, I sought out a commerative plaque in a residential neighbourhood. The English translation reads:
On 5th August 1944 “Zośka” the scouts’ battalion of the “Radosław” unit Armia Krajowa captured the German concentration camp “Gęsiówka” and liberated 348 Jewish prisoners, citizens of various European countries, many of whom later fought and fell in the Warsaw Uprising.
I knew about the plaque—and the incredible events it commemorates—thanks to a piece of writing called The Gęsiówka Story by Edward Kossoy, a relative of mine.
My ancestral lineage is an unusual mix. I’ve got generations of Irish on my mother’s side, and generations of Eastern European jews on my father’s side.
Edward wasn’t closely related to me. He was my grandfather’s cousin. My father’s father (from whom I got my middle name, Ivan) was driving ambulances in London during the war. Meanwhile his cousin Edward in Poland was trying desperately to get his family out. Separated from his wife and daughter, he was arrested by the Russians in Ukraine and sentenced to hard labour in a gulag. He survived. His wife and child were did not. They were murdered by the nazis during Operation Harvest Festival.
Edward was a lawyer. He spent the rest of his life fighting for reparations for victims of the Holocaust. He represented tens of thousands of jews, Poles, and Roma. He lived in Tel Aviv, Munich, and finally Geneva. That was where he met the Polish war hero Wacław Micuta who first told him about what happened at Gęsiówka. What he heard sounded implausible, but when he found Gęsiówka survivors among his own clientelle, Edward was able to corrobarate Micuta’s story.
(Micuta, by the way, had much to discuss with Edward’s second wife Sonia. She fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, escaping by being smuggled out in a suitcase.)
As well as being a lawyer, Edward was also an author. In 2004 he wrote The Gęsiówka Story for the journal Yad Vashem Studies. I came across it in PDF form while I was searching for more details of Edward’s life and legacy. I was completely astonished by what I read—if it were a Hollywood film, you would think it too far-fetched to be true.
I decided to transfer the story into a more durable format. I’ve marked it up, styled it, and published it here:
The subheading of The Gęsiówka Story is “A Little Known Page of Jewish Fighting History.” I certainly think it’s a piece of history that deserves to be more widely known. That’s why I’ve turned it into a web page.
When we talk about documents on the web, we usually use the word “document” as a noun. But working on The Gęsiówka Story, I came to think of the word “document” as a verb. And I think the web is well-suited to documenting the stories and experiences of our forebears.
Edward died six years ago, just one year shy of a hundred. I never got to meet him in person, which is something I very much regret. But by taking his words and working with them while trying my best to treat them with respect, I’ve come to feel a bit closer to this great man.
This was a little labour of love for me. I hope I did his words justice. And I hope you’ll read The Gęsiówka Story.
Wednesday, October 26th, 2011
A nicely-designed project to highlight everyday life in a three-week period in England in 1943 by imagining how four people would have used Twitter.
Monday, January 24th, 2011
Using data to help put a single death in the family into a wider perspective.
Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
A 2004 paper on huffduffing.
Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Information Graphics about WWII for WWII magazine and for the book proposal "A Visual Miscellany of World War II".
Tuesday, January 13th, 2009
Gravity's rainbow on a Google map.
Wednesday, September 24th, 2008
Nintendo break the third wall to advertise Wario Land.
Monday, March 24th, 2008
While I had to travel quite for to attend the geek Summer camp that is South by Southwest, the next geek event I went to was a lot closer to home. BarCamp Brighton 2 was the perfect way to come down after SXSW without going cold turkey on passionate geekery.
My hat is off to everyone who helped put the event together and to the University of Sussex for agreeing to host such an unusual gathering. This was the fifth Barcamp I’ve attended and, as usual, it was simply fantastic. There were some excellent talks ranging from primatology to data visualisation. I did my bit by contributing to a panel discussion on portable social networks with Aral, Tom, Colin, Christian and Aleks, who covered the implications of social network portability for virtual worlds.
There was also plenty of hands-on hacking to be done thanks to a heavy arduino presence. I sat in on one session, managed to get an LED to blink and I was hooked. I now have my own little arduino kit, a bread board and a lucky bag of LEDs. Alas, know next to nothing about basic electronics so I’m really going to have to brush up on this stuff. It will certainly be a long time before I’ll be performing the kind of arduino/wiimote hacking that Nigel Crawley was doing.
There was more arduino/wiimote hacking to be seen at the Flash Brighton meetup a few days later. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibit by Rachel Beth Egenhoefer that’s currently running in the Lighthouse gallery in Brighton—in the same building that houses the Clearleft HQ. The show runs until April 5th. Be sure to check it out if you want to see the knitting equivalent of Guitar Hero.
Tuesday, January 29th, 2008
The time: Christmas morning. The place: Arizona. Gathered ‘round the richly festooned Christmas tree, we exchange gifts.
Jessica’s brother, Jeb, hands her a wrapped and ribboned package. Unwrapping it, she finds a box exactly the size and shape of a Voigt-Kampff briefcase. This limited edition packaging of Bladerunner contains five DVDs, a metal miniature of an origami unicorn, and a toy spinner.
All five discs are encoded for region 1. Jessica lives in region 2. Jeb sends the briefcase back to Amazon.
We spend most of the holidays playing games on the Wii. When we make a foray to the local shopping mall, we stock up on some more games: Zelda: Twilight Princess, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Medal of Honor: Heroes 2.
We bring these games back with us to Brighton. There we discover that Wii games, like DVDs, are locked to specific regions. We also discover that the briefcase edition of Bladerunner is not available in the UK. Jessica settles for a tinned version lacking unicorns and spinners.
In future, we must remember not to buy any DVDs or games when visiting the United States of America.
Meanwhile, the US economy continues its downward spiral. I would have thought that any influx of foreign income would be welcomed.
Update: Yes, I know that most DVD players can be unlocked to play all regions but that wasn’t really my point. In fact, it just proves what a stupid idea region encoding is. What’s the point of adding in an extra layer of complexity to the medium if the device has a corresponding layer of complexity that can be stripped away? But thanks to everyone who wrote to tell me about region unlocking.
Tuesday, September 18th, 2007
This is very good news for me and my Wii.
Wii: The Opera
It’s been almost a year now since I gave a little talk at a soirée thrown by Opera up in London. It remains one of the most pretentious speeches I’ve ever given, second only to my first Reboot talk. It was also one of the most stressful—my iBook was playing silly buggers, leaving me to try to recall all that purple prose from memory.
Still, it was a fun night out. Everyone seemed to like what I had to say and the folks from Opera said they were very pleased. “Oh, really?” I said with a gleam in my eye. “Then I probably deserve some sort of reward, don’t I?”
I was assured that some token of appreciation would indeed be forthcoming. Given Opera’s partnership with Nintendo, it wasn’t unrealistic of me to contemplate visions of a DS Lite or even a Wii. Sure enough, within a few weeks a package arrived at the Clearleft office. I eagerly opened it up to find… a cartridge of the Opera browser for the DS Lite. It was a nice thought but seeing as I don’t have a DS Lite, it was of little use to me (I passed it on to Paul).
I thought that was the end of the story but then I bumped into some of the Opera posse at South by Southwest. “We’re still planning to get you that Wii,” they said. “But it’s just so hard to find one.” These words were the sparks that reignited the flame of my gaming dreams. “I’m getting a Wii,” I would tell anyone who would listen, “any day now.”
But as the weeks and then the months passed by, my optimism began to flag. Sometimes I would see David Storey at a conference. “We’re still getting you that Wii,” he would say. “Sure,” I’d say, “sure.”
The most recent of these exchanges was at the dConstruct after-party. “They still haven’t gotten you that Wii?” asked David. I assured him that they hadn’t. “That’s terrible,” he said, “but they’re so hard to find in Norway. Are they hard to find here in the UK?” I grabbed someone who was walking by and asked, “Are Wiis hard to find?” “Not any more,” I was told. “That’s it,” said David, “I’m going to go into a shop tomorrow before I leave town and buy you a Wii.”
Now I realised that it could have just been the alcohol talking but in the long-standing tradtion of taking advantage of those in an inebriated state, I pressed my phone number into David’s hand, telling him, “Call me when you’ve got it and I can come and meet you.”
Alas, David’s phone battery died the next day. For want of a phone call, the plan fell through. But all was not lost. Opera’s newest employee is Chris Mills, aka Mills of Steel, aka Dark Satanic Mills. He was also at dConstruct and could clearly see the sad desparation in my eyes. Taking matters into his own hands, he simply bought a Wii on Amazon and had it shipped to me.
It showed up last week. It was like Christmas but better because at Christmas time I didn’t have a Wii and now I do.
It didn’t take long to get it all set up. Chris had thoughtfully sent on some Wii points as well. I dutifully spent 500 of those points on the Opera browser.
By good fortune, I had a house guest at the time. Joe was in town for the ATypI conference. Inevitably then, we spent the first hour of Wii time testing various sites in the browser. Everything is rendered in a somewhat unusual font, featuring a particularly odd “e”, its crossbar tilted at a jaunty angle… hey, you’d start to talk like this too if Joe Clark came to visit you.
Unlike the iPhone, the Wii comes with support for Flash (hence games like PandiPanda). That means that sIFR works flawlessly. There’s also an in-built zoom layout option which I suspect is using Opera’s small-screen rendering.
Once we had established all that, we moved onto the real order of business. I had already experienced the joy of Wii sports once or twice but Joe had his Wii cherry popped that night. Much fun was had. Jessica kicked our asses at bowling, for which she dispays a remarkable aptitude.
Now that there is a Wii in the household, I fear that my already poor productivity may plummet to new depths. On the other hand, this little gaming console might just provide me with the most exercise I’ve had in years.
Tusen takk, Opera.
Monday, June 25th, 2007
Life imitating art imitating life. The two Jeffs enact the Wii boxing match created by Cindy and Dan.