Monday, May 28, 2007

Image of the Day - Calder's Mercury Fountain

Sculptor Alexander Calder created this fountain for the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris, and it continues to operate today at the Fundacio Joan Miro in Barcelona.

Look carefully at the basin. Its not water, but mercury, by which Calder paid tribute to Almaden miners who suffered in the Spanish Civil War (Almaden is historically the world's leading mercury production center).

The fountain now rests behind glass for safety reasons, but I'm not so sure I'd want to breathe the air in that room. Perhaps Clancy could help determine if all is safe. After all, quicksilver is not for fun & amusement .

Greatest Optical Illusion Ever

The "Tri-Zonal Space Warper", invented by magician and master-illusionist Jerry Andrus, can be seen here (Flash req'd). Keep your eyes focused on the center of the disc for about 30 seconds, and then look at something else. A moving GIF of the illusion can be found here but the Flash version works better.

It is definitely the strangest optical illusion I have ever seen.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Pistol Shrimp

Via the Presurfer, the amazing pistol shrimp, or Alpheidae, kills its prey in a most unusual manner:

The Dark Crystal

Someone has posted the entire film "The Dark Crystal" on Youtube, in 9 parts, beginning here. Aughra's orrery appears in part 2.

The Force That Drives The Flower

From The Atlantic, 1973, an essay that defies categorization. The Force That Drives the Flower, by Annie Dillard. Quote:

Now, in late June in the Blue Ridge, things are popping outside. Creatures extrude or vent eggs; larvae fatten, split their shells, and eat them; spores dissolve or explode; root hairs multiply, corn puffs on the stalk, grass yields seed, shoots erupt from the earth turgid and sheathed; wet muskrats, rabbits, and squirrels slide into the sunlight, mewling and blind; and everywhere watery cells divide and swell, swell and divide. I can like it and call it birth and regeneration, or I can play the devil's advocate and call it rank fecundity—and say that it's hell that's a-poppin'.
YouTube provides some apt visuals: Jellyfish Lake off the coast of Palau.

Great Lakes Seiche

Like giant bathtubs, water in large lakes ocassionally sloshes back and forth across the entire lake expanse, a phenomenon known as seiche. Large waves may be created, comparable to small tsunamis, but of completely different origin. Seiche occurs frequently on the Great Lakes, due to storm winds (but distinct from storm surges), and the effects are rarely noticeable. When conditions are just right, boaters experience bizarre mega waves and dramatic fluctuations in water levels.

In 1995, a 3-foot seiche on Lake Superior caused boats to hang on their mooring lines. Supposedly a 20-foot seiche was recorded in 1854 in Copper Harbor, and it has been speculated that seiche waves played a role in the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Seiche has also been fingered as a probably cause for lake monster sightings, as crags of rock become exposed with sinking water levels.

But the most bizarre seiche incident occurred on the Chicago Lakeshore on June 26, 1954. 8 fishermen on the North Avenue pier in Chicago lost their lives as a 10-foot monster wave swept them into Lake Michigan.

Robots of the Victorian Era

This site has been around for many years, but never ceases to impress me. The quality of the artwork is so fine, the attention to detail so thorough, its no surprise that some people took it be authentic history in the earlier years of the Internet. I wish it were...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rocket Belts Are Real!

Unfortunately, the flight only lasts 20 seconds, and the hydrogen peroxide fuel is extraordinarily dangerous, and costs $100's per flight.

Image of the Day

A uniform polytope, from the lattice of quotients of H4, i.e., the {3,3,5} family, as if it weren't blatantly obvious. If you click & zoom in, it looks really cool:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Image of the Day

Rose from the Rawlins Guitar, one of two remaining guitars built by Antonio Stradivari

Paganini's Daemon

Excellent documentary on Nicolo Paganini, in 9 parts, each about 9 minutes:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Freddie King

Have You Ever Loved a Woman?

Maria Callas - "Habanera"

From Carmen:

Monday, May 14, 2007

V.A.S.T. -Toward

The video is by a YouTuber, the music by V.A.S.T. Why not create your own music videos? This imagery is simple; a nice effect:

Fake U2 Concert: Even Better Than the Real Thing

In 2005, the prank troupe Improve Everywhere staged a fake rooftop U2 performance on a rooftop in NYC hours before the real thing was to perform at Madison Square Gardens:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Image of the Day

Cossack street musician Ostap Kindratchuk, from Wikipedia

Bob Dylan - Ballad of Hollis Brown

1963...he looks all of 16:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Junior Brown Lets Loose

Clarence Ashley - The Cuckoo

Roscoe Holcomb

Roscoe Holcomb performs "Across the Rocky Mountain". Wow.

Image of the Day

The Grenville Diptych, from the Wikipedia page on heraldry:

The Grenville Diptych was produced for Richard Temple-Grenville, Marquess of Chandos the son of the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos between 1822 and 1839. The diptych shows 719 quarterings of the family. The left hand panel of the diptych lists the quarterings. These include ten variations of the English Royal arms, the arms of Spencer, De Clare, Valence, Mowbray, Mortimer, and De Grey, among others. This image is in the public domain.

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash

...perform blue yodel # 9, from Jimmie Rodgers:

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Leadbelly - 3 songs

Rare 1945 footage of Leadbelly performing 3 songs:


Monday, May 7, 2007

JB 1976

James Brown, 1976, in top form. Another one liable to be yanked at any moment. Levez-vous et dansez!

Stevie Wonder On Sesame Street

This amazing live performance of Stevie Wonder performing Superstition live on Sesame Street is bound to disappear from YouTube, but in the meantime, enjoy:

Highway Engineer Pranks

As an introduction to XKCD, a funny cartoon blog

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Henning Brand and Boiling Vats of Urine

This famous painting is probably familiar to you, but the event and the man depicted may not be. Here alchemist Henning Brand (1630-1710) cooks up a vat of distilled urine (beginning with about 5,500 liters of fresh urine), causing a chemoluminescent reaction between elemental phosphorous and oxygen:
Around 1669 he heated residues from boiled-down urine on his furnace until the retort was red hot, where all of a sudden glowing fumes filled it and liquid dripped out, bursting into flames. He could catch the liquid in a jar and cover it, where it solidified and continued to give off a pale-green glow. What he collected was phosphorus, which he named from the Greek for "light-bearing" or "light-bearer."
Eventually Gottfried Leibniz became involved in disseminating Brand's discovery (read the Wikipedia article for the whole story), which used the following process to produce elemental phosphorous from the phosphates occurring naturally in your piss:
  • Boil urine to reduce it to a thick syrup.
  • Heat until a red oil distills up from it, and draw that off.
  • Allow the remainder to cool, where it consists of a black spongy upper part and a salty lower part.
  • Discard the salt, mix the red oil back into the black material.
  • Heat that mixture strongly for 16 hours.
  • First white fumes come off, then an oil, then phosphorus.
  • The phosphorus may be passed into cold water to solidify.
Now if you're getting the idea of recreating this wacky episode in chemical history by storing away a year's worth of urine and firing up the old retort, think twice. Phosphorous is nasty, dangerous stuff, and could even lead to phossy jaw in sufficient quantities.

Question: what gave Brand the idea to start playing with his own urine?