Saturday, December 30, 2006

More Kinetic Sculpture

If you enjoyed the previous post on Arthur Ganson, you'll really enjoy the work of Dutch kinetic sculptor Theo Jansen :

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Novel Approach to Handling Telemarketers

When you click here, the audio will start, by comedian Tom Mabe . Found at Neatorama.

Portable hand powered washing machine for apartment dwellers

The Wonder Washer is basically a metal drum that you fill with hot water, with a crank to rotate it, creating a pressure washer effect. Handles one pair of jeans or five shirts.


Check out riding the Moscow Subway, and a Russian disco party.

The man in red, and I don't mean Santa (but you're getting warmer)

Britain's Times Online reviews 4 new books on the devil, and gives a history of the beast in the Western world:
Instead, Kelly focuses on Satan’s appearances in the Old and New Testaments and early post-biblical Christian writings by, among others, Origen of Alexandria. What could have been a crawling survey is in fact a lively and sane account that does much to rehabilitate Satan’s reputation. Kelly’s conclusions will surprise many. He begins with the bald statement that there is no devil in Genesis (the identification of the serpent with Satan came much later). He points out that the Hebrew word “satan” simply means “adversary”: it is in this guise that Satan appears in the Old Testament, in Numbers, Job and Zechariah, where he is identified as one of the “sons of God” responsible for testing the devotion of mankind. In the Old Testament, Satan exists as God’s assistant rather than his enemy, in a role that Kelly calls “Celestial Prosecutor against Humanity”. In short, he undertakes dirty work on the Lord’s behalf.

(This one also from the worst album covers collection mentioned in the last link).

100 Albums You Must Own

Actually, they're calling it "100 Worst Album Covers of All Time". I own one of them.

We've come a long way since the hula hoop, baby

Ski like a bird:

Maybe you like pogo sticks? This one costs $250, but sure packs a wallop:

In a rush to break your neck? Then you need a Powerskip:

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Cabinet Magazine Issue #21 features several long essays on cultural phenomena relating to electricity. As engineers learned to replace steam power with the invisible new force of the 2oth century, people struggled to interpret electricity as a metaphysical symbol. The hopes and yearnings of the age were expressed in terms of the mysterious new presence. In The Force, Wolfgang Schivelbusch (love the name, wish I thought of it), chronicles belief in electricity as a force of salvation:
...For, at the beginning of the century, electricity and modernity were equated-electric current was viewed as nothing less than the medium and energy source of modernity, and the industry it produced and nourished to life was still perceived as something that had little in common with the capitalist industrialism typical of the preceding period. In contrast, electricity was widely associated with the miraculous. Indeed, the fin de si├Ęcle imagined this new form of energy as the "electric fairy" that would free the industrial world from its gloomy accompaniments, creating an effortless, agreeable, and, above all, work- and exploitation-free society of pleasure. It promised redemption.

...the fashionable illness neurasthenia, the precedent for today's depression, was defined as an exhaustion of nervous energy. It was considered curable by the introduction of electric current. Exhausted masculine potency was regarded as electrically regenerable by means of battery-powered "potency-belts," offered for sale by the Chicago mail-order firm Sears-Roebuck. The same was true with respect to agricultural productivity. Here a form of electric fertilizing via the galvanic enrichment of the soil was suggested. As a result of this process, radishes and turnips supposedly acquired an exceptionally exquisite taste.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Conversation as Artform - the Lost Art

The Economist reports on renewed interested in the (lost?) art of conversation:
The conversation of the French salons and dinner tables became as stylised as a ballet. The basic skills brought to the table were expected to include politesse (sincere good manners), esprit (wit), galanterie (gallantry), complaisance (obligingness), enjouement (cheerfulness) and flatterie. More specific techniques would be required as the conversation took flight. A comic mood would require displays of raillerie (playful teasing), plaisanterie (joking), bons mots (epigrams), traits and pointes (rhetorical figures involving “subtle, unexpected wit”, according to Benedetta Craveri, a historian of the period), and, later, persiflage (mocking under the guise of praising). Even silences had to be finely judged. The Duc de La Rochefoucauld distinguished between an “eloquent” silence, a “mocking” silence and a “respectful” silence. The mastery of such “airs and tones”, he said, was “granted to few”.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: This just in, from The Residents: The Act of Being Polite

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Curious Tale of George Psalmanazar

The modern era is unique in human history in that no corner of the earth remains a complete mystery to us. Our maps contain no terra incognita in which to pour our imagination. But as as of 1700, Europeans were taken in by a Frenchman claiming to be from the faraway land of Formosa (Taiwan). However:
There were just a few problems with the young man's claim of Formosan nationality. First, his skin was white, and his hair was blond. Second, he spoke fluent Latin (which wouldn't be a problem in and of itself), but he did so with a hint of a Dutch accent.
(from the Museum of Hoaxes).
Initially he had tried his hand at imitating an "uncivilized Japanese", but the ruse was discovered by the Reverend Alexander Innes, chaplain to the Dutch regiment Psalmanazar had attached himself to. Rather than setting the impostor straight, the reverend suggested Formosa as a more exotic fake birthplace, and introduced the huckster to wider audiences in Rotterdam and England.

In England Psalmanazar achieved stardom. In 1704 he published An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan, which titillated European readers with concocted tales of Formosan life:
Formosa was a prosperous country of wealth with capital city called Xternetsa. Men walked naked except for a gold or silver plate to cover their privates. Their main food was a serpent that they hunt with branches. Formosans were polygamous and the husband had a right to eat their wives for infidelity. They executed murderers by hanging them upside down and shooting them full of arrows. Annually they sacrificed the hearts of 18,000 young boys to gods and priest ate the bodies. They also used horses and camels for mass transportation. The book also described the Formosan alphabet. (via Wikipedia.)
Psalmanazar played the role well, and developed habits such as sleeping upright in a chair and eating raw meat to complete the act. He did have some doubters (Edmond Halley among them), but it was by his own confession that his secret was exposed. Afterwards he achieved some success as a man of letters, befriended Samuel Johnson and published a memoir. More here, here, and here


My apologies, cat lovers:
The Katzenklavier (Also known as the Cat Organ or Cat Piano) was a musical instrument that used live cats arranged into an octave according to the natural timbre of their voices. Performing on it required the player to inflict pain on the animals so they would meow on cue.
A similiar device was also described by Athanasius Kircher, in his Musurgia Universalis. According to Kircher:
The musician selected cats whose natural voices were at different pitches and arranged them in cages side by side, so that when a key on the piano was depressed, a mechanism drove a sharp spike into the appropriate cat’s tail.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Against Thesaurus Abuse

In contrast to the preceding Emerson quotes, and as a special dedication to the Marlboro Man, I submit the following essay by George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"

Meaningless words: In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality , as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, "The outstanding feature of Mr. X's work is its living quality," while another writes, "The immediately striking thing about Mr. X's work is its peculiar deadness," the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Best Toy of '06

A plastic log, with plastic bottles, and an infrared shooting gun. When you "hit" the spring loaded bottles, they pop off the log and explode!

From Jasman Toys:

Nightly Quote Bundle

From Emerson, via

The soul contains in itself the event that shall presently befall it, for the event is only the actualizing of its thoughts. It is no wonder that particular dreams and presentiments should fall out and be prophetic. The fallacy consists in selecting a few insignificant hints when all are inspired with the same sense. As if one should exhaust his astonishment at the economy of his thumb-nail, and overlook the central causal miracle of his being a man. Every man goes through the world attended with innumerable facts prefiguring (yes, distinctly announcing) his fate, if only eyes of sufficient heed and illumination were fastened on the sign. The sign is always there, if only the eye were also; just as under every tree in the speckled sunshine and shade no man notices that every spot of light is a perfect image of the sun, until in some hour the moon eclipses the luminary; and then first we notice that the spots of light have become crescents, or annular, and correspond to the changed figure of the sun. Things are significant enough, Heaven knows; but the seer of the sign, -where is he? We doubt not a man's fortune may be read in the lines of his hand, by palmistry; in the lines of his face, by physiognomy; in the outlines of the skull, by craniology: the lines are all there, but the reader waits. The long waves indicate to the instructed mariner that there is no near land in the direction from which they come. Belzoni describes the three marks which led him to dig for a door to the pyramid of Ghizeh. What thousands had beheld the same spot for so many ages, and seen no three marks.

From Demonology

Every act rewards itself, or, in other words, integrates itself, in a twofold manner; first, in the thing, or in real nature; and secondly, in the circumstance, or in apparent nature. Men call the circumstance the retribution. The causal retribution is in the thing, and is seen by the soul. The retribution in the circumstance is seen by the understanding; it is inseparable from the thing, but is often spread over a long time, and so does not become distinct until after many years. The specific stripes may follow late after the offence, but they follow because they accompany it. Crime and punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the flower of the pleasure which concealed it. Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.

From Compensation

The materialist, secure in the certainty of sensation, mocks at fine-spun theories, at star-gazers and dreamers, and believes that his life is solid, that he at least takes nothing for granted, but knows where he stands, and what he does. Yet how easy it is to show him, that he also is a phantom walking and working amid phantoms, and that he need only ask a question or two beyond his daily questions, to find his solid universe growing dim and impalpable before his sense. The sturdy capitalist, no matter how deep and square on blocks of Quincy granite he lays the foundations of his banking-house or Exchange, must set it, at last, not on a cube corresponding to the angles of his structure, but on a mass of unknown materials and solidity, red-hot or white-hot, perhaps at the core, which rounds off to an almost perfect sphericity, and lies floating in soft air, and goes spinning away, dragging bank and banker with it at a rate of thousands of miles the hour, he knows not whither, -- a bit of bullet, now glimmering, now darkling through a small cubic space on the edge of an unimaginable pit of emptiness. And this wild balloon, in which his whole venture is embarked, is a just symbol of his whole state and faculty. One thing, at least, he says is certain, and does not give me the headache, that figures do not lie; the multiplication table has been hitherto found unimpeachable truth; and, moreover, if I put a gold eagle in my safe, I find it again to-morrow; -- but for these thoughts, I know not whence they are. They change and pass away. But ask him why he believes that an uniform experience will continue uniform, or on what grounds he founds his faith in his figures, and he will perceive that his mental fabric is built up on just as strange and quaking foundations as his proud edifice of stone.

From The Transcendentalist

The Mechanical Art of Arthur Ganson

Arthur Ganson creates kinetic sculptures. More videos at the MIT museum here and on his website here.

Free Music

Best Psychology Experiment Ever?

I don't know if I'd go that far, but Mixing Memory nominates this experiment.

Fascinating Photoblog

Check this guy out.

Plucked from the Blogosphere: Whimsy on Archetypes

From Lord Whimsy, neo-dandy, writer, and all-around unclassifiable creative thinker:
An archetype is opaque: an idealized, Platonic form. As a cultural reference point, it cannot really be embodied or inhabited; it can only be emulated, interpreted, quoted, appropriated, synthesized, referenced, stolen, or borrowed. Therefore, the archetype in itself isn't what is most vital; of greater importance is the surrounding porous diaspora of protean, complex. impure half-forms that now contains the vitality once found in the archetype when it was still a work in progress, before its crystalization. When one is talking about a particular archetype, one is also including its rich, amorphous membrane that connects it to other ideas and symbols. Stripped of this mantle--this flesh of the fruit, this pearl surrounding the grain of sand--it is devoid of context, and is then of interest only to cultural coroners, dryasdusts and suckers of pits. Slurp.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


Do these critters look yummy to you? Well, friend, I'm sorry to break the news to you, but bug guts from the pictured Cochineal insect find their way into many of the red-colored foods we find at the supermarket, including Good-n-Plenty's, Tropicana Grapefruit Juice, Dannon Cherry Yogurt, Cherry Garcia ice cream, and much, much more! Given the pleasant-sounding name Carmine, or the chemical-sounding E120, or sometimes just "added coloring", bug guts do sometimes cause anaphylactic shock and other unpleasant reactions.

Remember: read labels carefully if you want to eat fewer insects.

Fun With Non-Newtonian Fluids, and Swimming in Syrup

First, a YouTube:

They pool is filled with a mixture of cornstarch and water, aka "Oobleck", recipe here, and scientific description here.

Second, have you ever wondered what it would be like to swim in a pool filled with syrup? A chemical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota drained a pool, and filled it with guar gum to find out. There was, we are told, a legitimate scientific rationale behind this exercise:

First proposed by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century, the idea that resistance is dependent on the square of the velocity of a moving body has an important secondary implication. It suggests that when it comes to determining the rate of speed, the viscosity (or thickness) of a medium is less important than other factors, like the shape of the body moving through it.

The results? counterintuitive:

Swimming in "syrup" doesn't really make that much difference one way or another, according to Cussler. "Swimming in guar does not change swimming speed," he says. "The standard deviation between lengths for competitive swimmers is 2.4 percent, the same as that recorded by their coaches in normal workouts."

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Asimo, the amazing robot from Honda Motor Company, walks in a very human manner. In this video, Asimo walks up a flight of stairs. Quick note: there's a little suprise at the end, so make sure you watch it all the way through... he's very, very human this one! (via)

Somehow I am reminded of E.T.A. Hoffman

Edison's Last Breath

Edison's Last Breath. How did it come to be sealed for eternity in this test tube, now residing at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan?

One's imagination runs wild... visions of the expiring inventor wheezing triumphantly one last breath, holding his puckered lips to the test tube, while a dutiful assistant stands at the ready with cork & paraffin.

Well it didn't happen quite like that, but the true story does earn its place in the annals of odd science history.

The Picture Boxes of Joseph Cornell

See Slate Magazine for a slide show of this artist's work.

Andres Segovia: The Song of the Guitar

If you like Segovia, you'll love this:

Beautiful, beautiful music

Article: Shop Class as Soulcraft

This is one to be read in its entiry, but here's an excerpt:

...This would seem to be significant for any political typology. Political theorists from Aristotle to Thomas Jefferson have questioned the republican virtue of the mechanic, finding him too narrow in his concerns to be moved by the public good. Yet this assessment was made before the full flowering of mass communication and mass conformity, which pose a different set of problems for the republican character: enervation of judgment and erosion of the independent spirit. Since the standards of craftsmanship issue from the logic of things rather than the art of persuasion, practiced submission to them perhaps gives the craftsman some psychic ground to stand on against fantastic hopes aroused by demagogues, whether commercial or political. The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way. However narrow in its application, this is a rare appearance in contemporary life—a disinterested, articulable, and publicly affirmable idea of the good. Such a strong ontology is somewhat at odds with the cutting-edge institutions of the new capitalism, and with the educational regime that aims to supply those institutions with suitable workers—pliable generalists unfettered by any single set of skills.

[Emphasis mine], article by Matthew B. Crawford. see for more interesting articles on technology & society.

UPDATE: This academic paper is a bit ponderous, but does make some interesting related points.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The cute, the ugly, and the ???

For more like this, visit

For more like this, visit

For more like this, visit

Chthonic Obsessions: Strange Tales of People Who Burrow Into the Earth

1) Dr. H.G. Dyar, International authority on moths and butterflies, custodian of the Smithsonian Institute's collection of lepidoptera for more than thirty years, had a most peculiar hobby. In 1924 a truck was swallowed up into the ground near his old home, and a massive system of hand-dug tunnels was exposed. Dyar, it turns out, relaxed by burrowing into the ground, creating a secret system of tunnels measuring hundreds of feet. Courtesy of Modern Mechanix.

2) William Lyttle, the Mole-Man of Hackney: From the Guardian,

"But this is no ordinary house. Since the early 1960s, the man who owns and lives inside the £1m Victorian property has been digging. No one knows how far the the network of burrows underneath 75-year-old William Lyttle's house stretch. But according to the council, which used ultrasound scanners to ascertain the extent of the problem, almost half a century of nibbling dirt with a shovel and homemade pulley has hollowed out a web of tunnels and caverns, some 8m (26ft) deep, spreading up to 20m in every direction from his house."
After 40 years of complaints, Mr. Lyttle has been ordered by the courts to stop digging. He has yet to explain why he does it.

3) Seymour Cray, supercomputer designer and founder of Cray Research, was also a burrower:

"Another favourite pastime was digging a tunnel under his home; he once attributed the secret to his success to elves that talked to him there. "While I'm digging in the tunnel, the elves will often come to me with solutions to my problem."

4) 51 year old Karen Mayfield, also known as Karen Rodriguez, also known as "Harmony", built a cozy subterranean home for herself in a lava tube in Hawaii's 'Ahihi-Kina'u Natural Area Reserve. Her accomodations included a disco ball and a large four-poster bed which she carried in in pieces. Read more here or here.

5) Finally, the Australian town of Coober Pedy. The Opal mining capital of the world. About 80 percent of the population live underground! :

"To most outsiders the idea of living underground sounds terribly primitive. In fact the motels which have been built underground are as good any built above ground. The floors are tiled and the mechanical equipment which digs out the rooms leaves attractive patterns in the red and white walls which are sealed to prevent dust and decay. There is certainly no likelihood of a sudden cave in. A good, new underground house in Coober Pedy with five rooms can be constructed by a tunnelling machine for around $25 000." (source)

Gimbal Lock

Gimbals and gimbal lock are explained here. Here's a conversation from the Apollo 11 mission:

"About two hours after the Apollo 11 landing, Command Module Pilot Mike Collins had the following conversation with CapCom Owen Garriott.

104:59:35 Garriott: Columbia, Houston. We noticed you are maneuvering very close to gimbal lock. I suggest you move back away. Over.

104:59:43 Collins: Yeah. I am going around it, doing a CMC Auto maneuver to the Pad values of roll 270, pitch 101, yaw 45.

104:59:52 Garriott: Roger, Columbia. (Long Pause)

105:00:30 Collins: (Faint, joking) How about sending me a fourth gimbal for Christmas. "

With a fourth gimbal, gimbal lock could have been avoided. By certain sequences of vehicle maneuvers, gimballed inertial guidance systems can be become jammed, and that's bad news. I'll improve this explanation later.

Mexico From Above

Amazing aerial photography from a Mexican helicopter pilot. Visit his website here for more.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

This is a Real License Plate

Attention Alabama residents: You are eligible to display this proud license plate if you “were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation due to atomic bomb and weapons tested from 1946 to 1962.”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

I can't get over the use of the word "nuked". Seems they might use something like "nuclear testing survivor", etc.

It seems West Virginia is considering adding to its license plate repertoire, and has put the matter to a vote. Suprisingly, the "domestic violence" plate idea has 0% of the vote while "coal miner" is up at 70%.

For runner up:

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Blog O' The Day: The Wikipedia Knowledge Dump

"WikiDumper: The Official Appreciation Page for the Best of the Wikipedia Rejects. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” (Edited by Cliff Pickover.)"

YouTube of the Day: Yehudi Menuhin Plays Brahms' Hungarian Dance # 5

Three Interesting Quotes From Freeman Dyson

" Europa's ocean is interesting. It's most likely a liquid ocean, warm and very deep. Europa's the second satellite out from Jupiter. The inner satellite, Io, is blazing hot; it has volcanoes. The other satellites are frozen solid. In between there's Europa, which has a thin layer of cracked ice. If you want to find creatures living in Europa's ocean, you can do it the hard way - send a huge spacecraft carrying a submarine, dig through the ice, then launch the submarine to explore the ocean. Or you can do it the easy way. We know the other satellites have huge numbers of craters from being close to the asteroid belt. So what happens when Europa is hit with a huge asteroid? It will splash out immense quantities of water into space. If there are any fish present, they will be kicked out and freeze dried, and you'll find them orbiting around Jupiter. There is already a ring of debris orbiting Jupiter, but nobody has gone to see if there are any freeze-dried fish. It's a clever way to explore." -Source

"You can't possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It's a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we've been building them for 100 years, it's very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works - it's even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential. The same is true of airplanes." - Source

"Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions" - Source

Freeman Dyson, looking quite elfin.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Paper Folding Trick

The Hole - video powered by Metacafe

Today's YouTube

by Minilogue

The Smell of Money

Ah, the unmistakable smell of a handfull of coins. The heavy odor of fresh-cut rebar. I had always assumed that I was inhaling a fine mist of metal atoms or ionic compounds. But apparently, I am smelling my own flesh reacting with the metal, or perhaps the grimy residue of the many hands that pawed it before me:

"In their paper, Dietrich and Glindemann explain the source of the "metallic" odor that is generated when a person picks up keys, coins or metal objects. The odor results from a metal induced oxidation of skin lipids so it is surprisingly a type of human body odor. The compounds people smell are actually aldehydes and ketones, and not any iron containing compounds."

The Cherry Sisters

From Irwin Chusid, WFMU radio host, and producer of the wonderful compilation "Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music":

"When the curtain went up...[t]he audience saw three creatures surpassing the witches in Macbeth in general hideousness. ... Their long, skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically , and anon were waved frantically at the suffering audience."

Read the whole thing.

Can you guess what this is? It happens to be a rather famous waterfall, located between Buffalo N.Y. and Toronto. But where's the water! You say. Surely man cannot exert control over such a massive natural phenomenon. But indeed he did. In 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam upstream to stop the flow.

It may seem like a very audacious mettling with nature, but the flow of the falls is presently restricted by the Niagara River Water Diversion Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. The falls fall at about half their natural power, the rest diverted to hydroelectric plants. In 1848 an ice jam reduced the flow to a trickle, so maybe we will have a chance to see it again.

The Curious Life of Midgely

Thomas Midgely, Jr., from Wikipedia:

"Chemist and mechanical engineer Thomas Midgley invented both tetraethyl lead and the chlorofluorocarbon Freon-12 as intended boons to the world. However, both compounds were environmental disasters: the first resulting in widespread lead poisoning, and the second class of compounds in widespread harm to the ozone layer. At the age of 55, Midgley contracted polio and invented a complicated system of pulleys and ropes to move him in his bed. Although he was an accomplished engineer, this system also badly departed from its ideal task, strangling its inventor to death."

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Hello World.