Saturday, December 29, 2012

The day Joan Rivers tried to get through an interview with GWAR

Clearly, Joan was expecting the musicians to be themselves. But instead they rolled in wearing their costumes and did the whole show in character. Now the question is, who was more out of their depth?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Building Ms. Pac-Man machines - fascinating factory footage

Just puts 1982 in perspective, doesn't it? I almost can't see a Ms. Pac-Man game without smelling pizza because I saw them in Pizza Hut restaurants so much.

Also, keep your ears sharp for a Bosconian machine playing in the background. Yes, they had to test the games post-assembly, so at least some of them could say "My job is to play video games." Although they look bored as mud doing it, because let's face it, it's still a job.

Incidentally, Ms. Pac-Man was never conceived in the halls of Midway Games. Instead, rogue hobbyist programmers created mod kits - exactly like the indie gaming mod community today - and sold conversion kits for existing arcade games. When they made such a kit for Atari's Missile Command cabinet, Atari sued, but dropped the suit in exchange for an agreement from the makers - General Computer Corp in this case - to not make any more mod kits to sell to the public, but to come work for them instead. Ms. Pac-Man started out as a mod kit for Pac-Man called "Crazy Otto", which they sold to Midway, whom turned around and sold it as Ms. Pac-Man.

And now you know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

World-record house of cards builder

Well, the holidays always seem to bring out the odd hobbies in people, right? You may find yourself in an idle hour or two over winter break with a deck of cards in your hand. If so, and you undertake to build a structure of some sort, realize that you have already been beaten forever by this man.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Monty Hall Paradox

It's well-known amongst the oldsters of the web, but it's time to introduce it to a new generation. So: The most famous nonintuitive puzzle in probability mathematics:

You're on a game show (the problem was named after the TV game show Let's Make A Deal, hosted by Monty Hall. You have three closed doors in front of you. You're told that two of the doors have a goat behind them, while the other door has a car behind it, but you don't know ahead of time which is which.

Let's belay all the devil's advocates who say they want a goat. You want a car.

The game works like this: You pick a door. Then Monty Hall opens one of the doors you did not pick, and shows you a goat behind it (he always picks a goat door). Now there's two doors left - one you picked, and the other you didn't pick. One has a car, and one has a goat. Now you get the opportunity to switch your decision to the other door, Either that, or you stay with what you've got. After you make this decision, all doors will be opened and you get whatever is behind the door you picked.

Now, what's your best strategy to win the car? Stay or switch?

The answer is that you switch. You win 2/3rds of the time if you switch, and lose only 1/3rd of the time when you stay with your initial pick.

Wikipedia has one of the most complete entries ever explaining the problem and all of the math behind it. However, what's really interesting is the story of the problem's history.

Cognitive psychologists have tested and studied people extensively on this, and no matter how far along we go on the scientific and mathematical literacy scale, the vast majority gets this problem wrong on the first guess. World-renowned Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos first heard of the problem and got it wrong. But the most notable hullabaloo was when high-IQ columnist Marilyn vos Savant gave her answer to the problem in her column in Parade magazine... and in the ensuing months the magazine received nearly 10,000 letters from readers arguing with it, a thousand of those from readers who held PHD degrees or better. She argued back and forth with readers for months, and classrooms across the country started testing it with their own simulations an discovered that she was right.

For those of you wanting to test this out, we have these wonderful modern computers now that are so good at this. Here's just one Monty Hall simulator that's usable online.

The puzzle has also taken on a life of its own in the media, being the subject of a Mythbusters episode, several mystery TV series, stage magicians' acts, and classroom exercises. Alas, Discovery channel hordes their shows' videos on their own channel, so all I can embed is this funky video:

Now don't stay up all night puzzling over this!

Friday, December 14, 2012

An awesome archive of vintage educational comics

A special media-geek treat just in time for Christmas: Head on over to the Educational Comics archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The archive is chock-full of charming, fun titles such as "Crack Busters" (an anti-drugs comic that is like Reefer Madness but in comic-book form for crack), "Mickey Mouse and Goofy Explore Energy", "Stop and Go, the Safety Twins", and "The Amazing Spiderman vs. the Prodigy" (a Very Special Episode of Spider-Man presented by 'Planet Parenthood', about sex education).

Credit to WFMU for tweeting the link.

Every issue I've looked at so far is an entertaining read combining the best rasas of corny, kitchy, informative, naive, hilarious, and progressive. It's tough to pick just one issue to show, so below I have a random one to share.

BTW, I did this using ImageMagick; a simple convert command (convert $FILE.pdf $FILE.png) does the trick.

And now, sit back and enjoy one underdog classic, "Dracons Visit Earth To Study Food and the Land", (which is mis-titled as "Dragons". They're Dracons, from planet Draco).

Just from the title page, you know I had to go for this awesomeness from 1984 first. Especially since it was produced in my home state.
We meet our principles, Generic White Geek and a guy who dresses like young Bill Cosby on his way to an interview. I can understand the typical trope of having aliens speak Earthling English for reading convenience (including labeling the hull of your spaceship with your mission's purpose in a font taller than you are), but having an alien who makes English puns on his own name is just an extra helping of cheese on top of that.
Well, Cosbyman and Plucky Sidekick waste no time recycling a Star Trek trope (only it's the Dollar General store version of a transporter, using flashlights and hope) to beam down in front of a restaurant which the proprietors have sensibly named "Good Food Restaurant". Wait, it gets better!
"Well, I'm kinda busy taking orders here, in case you can't see that, so I'll push you off on my Hispanic flunky." Meanwhile, Scoop has shape-shifted into a cat, to blend in. But he (she? Can you ever tell with shape-shifters?) still carries his telltale medallion communicator, because that's a lot less obvious than just walking around as a white college student.
Scoop's plan backfires on him just two panels later. Why does a shapeshifting alien need to be afraid of a dog? Anyway, we get on with our educational exposition, with our adorable Flintstone family just stone cold chowin' down on some bugs. What a relief agriculture was!
Maria cheerfully explains the elementary concept of bread to our alien investigator, completely nonplussed that he wouldn't know this. Meanwhile, Scoop, who has so far proved himself utterly useless on this mission, rejoins us on his Community College Sophomore setting.
Yeah, this was 1984 (remember "We Are The World"?), when Americans went through a naive period where they didn't take into account the role that African politics plays in African famine. They just tried to cure world hunger by raising awareness, so that third world people could sit down to bowls of steaming awareness every morning.
Maria takes that Libertarian hard-line stance: "Poor people are poor because they just won't work, the lazy bums!" Scoop doubles his uselessness by peppering the dialog with tangent questions just when it was getting interesting.
Anthropomorphic veggies! Will the wonder never cease? Memo to Scoop: That's the third pun on your name, IT IS TIME TO STOP. No sooner do the dynamic duo flashlight over to the farm - because fuck walking - than Scoop mysteriously bows out again, possibly to morph into a skunk so he can get run over.
"Ed Itor"??? Forget fact-gathering missions, these aliens need their own sitcom. Meanwhile, Scoop, during corn harvest time, decides that this is the perfect time to morph into an ear of corn so he can talk to the other corn and find out... something. Because I guess corn talks. Never, in any scenario of substance abuse, have I ever had a hallucination this bizarre.
Alright, show of hands, who do we elect as the obvious Gilligan of this mission? That's right, Scoop, who has managed to get himself into trouble again with his shape-shifting shenanigans. Meanwhile farm-dude continues the pro-Capitalist theme by practically cackling over all the money, money, MONEY he's going to make off his corn.
Oh, God, my sides! We get a glorious chain of production as Scoop volunteers himself to become food, and part of him even gets the honor of passing through an animal's digestive tract. I sure hope there's a scene coming up where Scoops gets deposited as cow shit before he just pops up and walks away in his human form, firing off yet another groaner like "I'd better get up before somebody pooper-scoooops me, hyuk hyuk hyuk!"
We finally get the explanation for that huge jagged line across Farmer Jim's crop. And what the heck, this is informative content after all, and a mercifully Scoop-free page.
Jim and Ellen need to get back to the office, so he can show her his windbreak, if you know what I mean. And Scoop is back in the truck as yelling corn, just when we were about to forget about him. Mod Squad  deliberates but decides to take Scoop with him back into space, saving all Earth life from being doomed to recycle Scoop through our digestive tracks forever.
Ye Gods, Scoop has a superiority complex! For being a bumbling shnook who mostly got in the way when he didn't need to be saved, he expects the Dracontis Prize??? Say it for us Chief: "No, I did all the work and carried the whole story, Scoop! Me, not you! I should get the Dracontis Prize, and then I should return you to Earth to fulfill your destiny of being poop!"

And that's our story, as our hero and his Load swoop away in their marvelous Captain-Planet-like spacecraft for further educational exploration. Which, come to think of it, you never really saw Star Trek do this sort of thing, did you? I mean for the Enterprise to have "explore strange new worlds" as part of its mission statement, you never saw Kirk go interview the natives about how they lived as much as he tried to either fight them, meddle in their affairs, or slip his tubesnake into the sexiest one.

Now, wasn't that a treat? Go to that link, there's tons more where this came from!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Diamonds: A big, fat scam

If you're thinking of buying a gift for your sweetheart this Christmas that involves diamonds, you might want to think twice after reading Cecil Adams' column. From the site:
"I'll focus on whether diamonds are worth the exorbitant sums charged for them. Answer: Of course not. Prices are kept high by a cynical cartel that preys on vanity and stupidity."
Cecil goes on to explain that diamonds are an artificial monopoly, and in fact De Beers corporation has been convicted in an antitrust case pursued by the US Justice department, which so far has done nothing but make De Beers fork over the $10 million fine out of petty cash.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Your word for the day...

Pop quiz: What is this man doing?

  • Trying out for a part in David Lynch's Pinocchio.
  • Using the latest model of inconspicuous weed vape.
  • Playing a synthesized nose trumpet.
  • Using an olfactometer.
Well, big surprise, it's the last one. From this site. It's kind of law enforcement equipment, like binoculars for your nose.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A ticket to the future for $10 - what a charmingly wacky idea!

From the main page of the Time Travel Fund:
"Time Travel, once it becomes feasible, will initially be very expensive yet it will become more and more economical as time goes by.

The concept is that one day, it may be possible for people living far in the future to retrieve you from your current frame of reference (their past - your present) and bring you into the future (their present - your future.)

That is the purpose of the fund. The simple answer is, we pay them to bring you into the future."
Hey, the link is there, it's your money. Make up your own mind! Look how studiously they compute that compound interest!

Me, I don't have much faith in a page that says "Page has been formatted for Internet Explorer V6.0 and above, 800x600 resolution." That sounds to me like they don't know didly about the future. And if the money was worth it to those future people, wouldn't they want to send somebody back to fix the website so visitors have more faith in it and they make more money?

Monday, December 3, 2012

"That would make a good name for a band!"

In the kind of mad-scientist script-tinkering that's after my own heart (and usually the kind of subject I post on my other blog), MIT student Brian Whitman fed some 6500 band names through a grammar parser, then used it on a new word list to generate new believable band names. The results are striking and playfully fun at once. Some favorites:
  • "Trucking Cake"
  • "Reconstruction Dungeon"
  • "Blabbermouth"
  • "Pea Fetish Veterinarians"
  • "Hooker Hut"
  • "Eddy Mongoose"
  • "Scoundrel Tramp"
  • "Mussel Tulip"
  • "Probation"
  • "Dolly Flashers"
  • "Joystick Infidels"
  • "Dazzle Festival"
...not that I'd have time to read through all 10,000 of them. But at the least, I'll be ranking for some very weird Google searches now.

The Law of Indy Bands predicts that all of these names will eventually be used.

Related, I once wrote a script which generates fake album covers. Go ahead and get it, it's GPLed.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

M.C. Escher's models made possible

The iconic artwork of M.C. Escher features impossible structures that defy geometry. But they're all too possible if you "think stretchy" and view them from only one angle...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Science fiction film biology

A site at the University of Chicago speculates on the "what-if"s of sci-fi B movies, from King Kong to tiny shrinking people:
"When the Incredible Shrinking Man stops shrinking, he is about an inch tall, down by a factor of about 70 in linear dimensions. Thus, the surface area of his body, through which he loses heat, has decreased by a factor of 70 x 70 or about 5,000 times, but the mass of his body, which generates the heat, has decreased by 70 x 70 x 70 or 350,000 times. He's clearly going to have a hard time maintaining his body temperature (even though his clothes are now conveniently shrinking with him) unless his metabolic rate increases drastically.

Luckily, his lung area has only decreased by 5,000-fold, so he can get the relatively larger supply of oxygen he needs, but he's going to have to supply his body with much more fuel; like a shrew, he'll probably have to eat his own weight daily just to stay alive. He'll also have to give up sleeping and eat 24 hours a day or risk starving before he wakes up in the morning (unless he can learn the trick used by hummingbirds of lowering their body temperatures while they sleep).

Because of these relatively larger surface areas, he'll be losing water at a proportionally larger rate, so he'll have to drink a lot, too. We see him drink once in the movie--he dips his hand into a puddle and sips from his cupped palm. The image is unremarkable and natural, but unfortunately wrong for his dimensions: at his size surface tension becomes a force comparable to gravity. More likely, he'd immerse his hand in the pool and withdraw it coated with a drop of water the size of his head. When he put his lips to the drop, the surface tension would force the drop down his throat whether or not he chooses to swallow."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Karni Mata, the Hindu Rat Temple

There's a lot more videos on YouTube where that comes from. The temple of Karni Mata comes complete with silver gates, marble carvings, hundreds of hidey-holes, and that stylish checkered flooring (pity the poor sap that has to clean it!).

Supper time for the well-tended-to rats:

Hindus and animal-housing temples just seem to go together. There's also the Ubud Monkey Forest and temple in Bali, where they have so many temples it's all you can do to find a non-holy place to pee (unless they have a special pee temple too?).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stiletto surgery - lopping off a toe to fit into your shoes

Well, anything for vanity, right?

There's been a number of stories about women getting extreme cosmetic foot surgery over the past decade. Daily Mail posts this one, and check the article further down for an infographic of various procedures. ABC News ran this story in 2012, and then there's this NYT article from 2003, which also quotes a survey about women getting foot surgery for a better shoe fit as far back as 1993.

Looks like the trend isn't going away! So consider, Prince Charming, the next time you fit that glass slipper on Cinderella, she just might have cheated to be sure she fits.

The thing is, some 90% of women wear shoes that are too narrow. And the pointy stiletto makes the matter worse, forcing the pressure all down on those tiny, vulnerable toes. But really, is it all to attract a man? Except for foot fetishists (who, even then, might prefer the whole, unaltered female foot, seeing as how they admire it so), most guys could care less how a woman's feet look. It is more of a competition between women that seems to be the driving force.

The fascination with women having tiny, impractical feet has deep cultural roots. You've probably heard of the Chinese practice of footbinding, a cruel practice in which a girl's feet are bound daily so as she grows, the bones of her feet gradually break and distort into an unnatural shape. Such outrage did it cause that a "foot emancipation society" formed in the Qing Dynasty, and formed one of the cornerstones of Chinese women's lib.

Yet here we are, a century later, practicing a similar custom and there's hardly a murmur of protest. One could definitely see where complications can arise in later years; the human foot puts on a lot of miles carrying a lot of weight in one lifetime, and missing a toe (as those who have had accidents can attest) makes walking harder. Nevertheless, women are already to risk malnutrition through eating disorders and the various complications of silicon breast implants, so what's one more toe?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Remembering Larry Hagman, a mind--blowing character

RIP Larry Hagman, the TV actor memorable for his iconic roles as "J.R. Ewing" in Dallas and "Tony Nelson" in I Dream of Jeannie, plus dozens of other shows. But did you know what his final wishes were?
"You wrote in your memoir, “Hello Darlin’,” that when you die, you want to be ground up in a wood chipper like Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie “Fargo.” Is this actually set down in your will?

Well, it’s hard to set down chipping. I don’t think that’s allowed. But I did want to be spread over a field and have marijuana and wheat planted and harvest it in a couple of years and then have a big marijuana cake, enough for 200 to 300 people. People would eat a little of Larry."
The above is an excerpt from this interview with the New York Times, just one of many outrageously goofy things the man said over the years. Hagman wasn't just a great actor, in person he was more fun than any of his roles. He enjoyed being a celebrity and being as mind--blowing as he wanted to be, all for a guffaw. We miss the hell out of you, Larry!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Radioactive Christmas trees

For this festive holiday season which we just kicked off today, we celebrate a time when radioactive Christmas trees were an actual headline - another side effect of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. This story from 2002...

"Officials seized the fir trees at local markets in the southern town of Rovno, where they were being sold for the upcoming Orthodox Christmas, Itar-Tass agency reported.

"The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl was the world's worst
After the region was covered by a radioactive cloud, a complete ban on the felling of trees in the contaminated forests surrounding Chernobyl was imposed.

"Police said the local businessmen knew the trees from the Zhytomyr region were contaminated, and used forged documents to sell them. "

The fallout from Chernobyl was felt in many ways that were unexpected. The incident and area today provide an outstanding living experiment in just what happens to the environment after a nuclear meltdown. But along with this has come a tragic toll of death and weird tragedy - (warning, that page contains an image of a mutated puppy).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ever wondered what a solar eclipse looks like from space?

Well, that's just the kind of curiosity we strive to satisfy here at Mind--Blown. And here is your answer:

The crew of the ISS (International Space Station) gets to snap these whenever there's a good eclipse opportunity.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chastity belts with teeth

"A powerful 500 volt electrical shock is delivered to anyone foolish enough to come into contact with the two carefully insulated electrodes.  The electrodes run the full length of this device giving protection from different angles of attack."

The idea here is to make an artistic anti-rape statement... however, in the more troubled areas of the world where a woman is simply not safe to walk the streets, period, the idea of an anti-rape device is taken more seriously and with a whole lot more practicality. Such is the case with the "Rape-Axe" device invented in (where else?) South Africa and unveiled in 2005.

What kind of animal is man?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Diver cavorts with giant jellyfish

From Discovery.

The Echizen jellyfish, AKA Nomura's jellyfish, can reach a diameter as long as a human's height. It's native to the coasts of Japan and China, but has been thriving lately due to overfishing in the area removing its competition. And this diver's ballsy getting close enough to it to tag it with a sensor!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vincent - An animated short that was Tim Burton's first professional work

Tim Burton himself idolized Vincent Price as a child, so this wonderful short animation is the realization of his own dream. Having the real-life Vincent Price do the voice-work was just that extra thrill.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Intellipedia - A US government intelligence Wiki that mere mortals aren't allowed to view.

So I was browsing Wikipedia looking for creepy United States government intelligence agencies. Hey, they're a dime a dozen! Such as the "Information Awareness Office" (established at the height of the paranoid Bush years), which seems to be going out of its way to say "government spooks' world-wide conspiracy" with just their logo alone:

But then I linked along and discovered "Intellipedia", a collaborative database for sharing information between the various (multi-hydra-headed) intelligence communities. "Cool beans!" I exclaimed dorkily, because I've heard all about this open government thing and what better way for all of us US citizens to participate in our national security than to collaborate with US intelligence, right? And we cyber-denizens and open-source proponents know that "obscurity != security", right? Besides, if it's just intelligence about outside threats to the US, what could they possibly have to hide? If there's a terrorist plot afoot to bomb something, don't we all have a right - perhaps even a patriotic duty - to be informed?

Well, no, turns out that you need US security clearance just to view the damn thing! The link at Intellipedia stops you dead, demanding some kind of electronic passport called an "Intelink" to go any further. Ironic, considering that it's supplied by Google. Wait, who played that scare chord?

Well, there you go, you've heard of the "dark web" before? What could be darker?

Oh, and the FBI has its own "Bureaupedia" - and it's closed to public viewing as well. Fine then, catch your own criminals!

And more classified US websites. The thing that is impressive is just how large this is. The US basically has its own "shadow Internet". Now, pause and consider this point: Citizens frequently complain about how the US government seems out of touch with its people. Picture your own internal office intranet at work, if you have one. Naturally, if there's an artificial wall between public and private, you tend to stay on one side of it, right? So it just could be that government officials act as if they're ignorant of what the rest of us are thinking because they use their own Internet.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oxford professor states that we have a moral obligation to genetically engineer our babies

Young readers, I have news for you: There are genetically engineered humans in your future. There may even be cloned humans, and extensive stem-cell medicine. In fact, genetic engineering will change life as we know it in the 21st century to the same degree that computers changed the game forever in the 20th.

"The expert in practical ethics said that we should actively give parents the choice to screen out personality flaws in their children as it meant they were then less likely to harm themselves and others."

Now, engineering deliberately for pacifism could arguably be a bad idea. What happens, for instance, if a problem occurs in humanity later, like invasion by a hostile life form, that calls for it to defend itself? Dr. Inmaculada De Melo-Martin responds:

"Savulescu has neglected several important issues such as access to selection technologies, disproportionate burdens on women, difficulties in determining what is best, problems with aggregate effects of individual choices, and questions about social justice. Taking these matters into account would call such a moral requirement into serious question."

Nevertheless, no such issues could be held against breeding humans to be healthier, smarter, stronger, or longer-lived. A word we'll all be bandying about pretty soon is "biopolitics", the ethical and political issues relating to engineered humans.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The quack medicine that turns you into a Smurf

What, did you think we were joking?

Boom! There, real-life Papa Smurf all up in yo' shizzle! And here's Smurfette:
...and in fact there's dozens of photos online of this condition. Most recently, Baby Boomer Randroid politician Stan Jones fell victim to the condition.

What you're seeing here is the effects of a condition known as "Argyria", which is caused by the ingesting of colloidal silver. That's right, drinking silver potions turns you blue. Colloidal silver is frequently prescribed by quacks as treatments for various illnesses - it's been a staple of alternative medicine for some time. As for Stan Jones, he actually made his own silver potions and drank them at home for reasons related to Y2K paranoia back before the turn of the century. And he still swears by it!

For those stuck with this condition, guess what? There's no cure! OK, technically there's laser surgery, so if you call having all of your skin being burned off and waiting for it to grow back a "cure" then yes, that's a cure.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The case of the ketchup counterfeiters

You might have seen the story about the Canadian maple syrup thieves earlier, and thought "that's the weirdest crime story I'll see all year!" And how wrong you'd be! From Yahoo:

"Officials discovered the fake ketchup factory after tenants complained about flies and rotten odors coming from another part of the 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Dover, N.J. They found thousands of plastic bottles labeled Heinz ketchup, many of which had exploded after being abandoned in the hot building.

"Heinz representatives say that they think someone bought large containers of regular Heinz Ketchup and poured it into bottles labeled 'Simply Heinz,' a higher-priced product made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Late Friday, they reached out to reassure consumers, saying that it was unlikely the counterfeit condiment ended up on store shelves."

Wait... so this makes money? That's your master criminal plan? You'd think even a villain on Batman would have come up with a slightly grander scheme. But in fact, counterfeit foods are a common enough crime scheme to warrant the involvement of organized crime. From this Daily Finance article:

"Most of those counterfeiters are small-scale operators. However, there have been reports of a few large operations that include bottling equipment and printing machines, and which produce their own raw, poor-quality alcohol, which is placed in replicated bottles of premium brands. These businesses, which sometimes span international borders, are almost always linked to organized crime."

Now, high-end scotch where it goes for $80 a bottle or so, you could see. There's at least a profit margin there. What's the gain on ketchup, ten cents a bottle?

Friday, November 9, 2012

How English sounds when you don't speak English

These two actors do an excellent job of having a conversation in pseudo-English, just to show how it sounds to a foreign ear. Bizarrely, you keep thinking that you could make sense of what they're saying if only you listened one more time...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Titanium Cat

It's like this cat doesn't even feel the impact and casually strolls off. Imagine explaining this one to the insurance company...

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Acta Diurna: The first blog

Every modern journalist - indeed, the entire concept of the Internet itself - owes a debt to the Acta Diurna. Latin for "Daily Acts", it was the first "newspaper" of known civilization. Most people probably know that we get our word "forum" from the Roman term of the same name for a common gathering place where people could discuss the day's events.

However, most people don't realize just how literally this maps to our news forums and blogs today. From the History of Information site:

"Copies of Acta Diurna ("Daily Events", or the "Daily Public Record"), were carved on stone or metal and presented in message boards in public places like the Roman Forum beginning about this time.][These are thought to be the first daily gazettes."

The content very much fit our modern definition of news. Outcomes of court proceedings, public notices and announcements, marriages, births, and deaths, were all part of the daily newsfeed. And furthermore, the Acta Diurna was rotated as new daily installments came in, with the previous tablets stored in an archive (sounding more like a blog now?), and scribes would also make copies of the news and then send them out to remote outposts such as provincial governors. (So, yes, you read that right, they even had a way to "subscribe to an RSS feed"!)

This was actually a major step in Roman government. At this time in Roman history (130 BCE) Rome was transitioning from a pure monarchy to a republic. In so doing, the Acta Diurna was one sign that government had become more open - the business of ruling was no longer a secret affair confined to the inner circle of the ruling class, but the people's business, to be freely shared and discussed in the open. Furthermore, the common rabble were free to discuss the affairs of state right alongside the politicians - an unheard-of lenient policy that informs our modern notion of "freedom of speech" and "freedom of the press".

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The eventual fate of Rainbow Man of John 3:16 fame

Remember him?

Rollen Stewart, better known as "Rainbow Man", made a flaky career out of appearing at sporting events with a rainbow clown wig, holding up signs with Bible quotes and generally making a pest of himself by mugging for the camera every time it passed his way. In the '70s and '80s he got quite famous, even up to getting his own Budweiser beer commercial (for a guy doing Bible quotes?) and Christopher Walken playing him in a sketch on Saturday Night Live.

But people bitten by sudden nostalgia for the lovable loony will be disappointed in his later adventures. Stewart showed increasingly unstable behavior, having been married four times and committed at least one reported act of domestic violence. But then, as told by The Straight Dope:

"He set off a string of bombs in a church, a Christian bookstore, a newspaper office, and several other locations. Meanwhile he sent out apocalyptic letters that included a hit list of preachers, signing the letters 'the Antichrist.'"

" On September 22, 1992, believing the Rapture was only six days away and having prepared himself by watching TV for 18 hours a day, Stewart began his last "presentation." Posing as a contractor, he picked up two day laborers in downtown LA, then drove to an airport hotel. Taking the men up to a room, he unexpectedly walked in on a chambermaid. In the confusion that followed he drew a gun, the two men escaped, and the maid locked herself in the bathroom. The police surrounded the joint, and Rollen demanded a three-hour press conference, hoping to make his last national splash. He didn't get it. After a nine-hour siege the cops threw in a concussion grenade, kicked down the door, and dragged him away."

The upshot of that is he is currently serving three consecutive life sentences. He was also the subject of a 1997 documentary Rainbow Man, directed by Sam Greene. A clip:

...and there goes another tragic monkey devoured by the media.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A hot gallery of sun gods

The Celtic sun god, observed in Gaul, Cisalpine Gaul, and Celtic areas of Austria, Britain and Spain. Variation of Apollo. BeleniX, an open-source Solaris distro (now defunct), is named in his honor.

The Norse Pagan sun god, also widely renowned for being a phallic fertility god. It's really, really hard to find depictions of him that don't involve a dick, dildo, or other suggestive depictions. Even here, you've doubtless noticed that big ol' sheathed sword he's lugging around. Oh, that's his wild boar, an indispensable sidekick.

The ancient Egyptian god, great-daddy of all gods and more like the god of the sky - the sun was his right eye and the moon was his left. Since sky = flight = birds in Egyptian parlance, he's usually depicted as a man with a falcon's head. The symbol of "the Eye of Horus" is still today the most iconic symbol of Egyptian mythology. However, you could just as easily nominate Aten or Ra as the Egyptian sun god - they were all intertwined, Egyptian theology being a very convoluted subject.

A bit scarier than your average sun god, Moloch was worshiped by
Canaanites, Phoenician and the general neighborhood in North Africa. He's got something of a bad-ass reputation, even a Satanic one, because he's one of the few gods expressly forbidden by name in the Christian Bible. Leviticus names worship of Moloch as yet another stoning offense not once, but twice. Jeremiah again mentions him as the sub-fire-god under Ba'al. In fact, wherever the Bible speaks out against idolatry, it's pretty much talking about this guy. The scary part is, his worshipers sacrificed human children to him.

Well, now, we're probably on familiar ground here, right? Yes, the Roman sun god is the very same from which we draw all root words referencing the sun in English and most Western culture. Sol was the sun, Luna (another Roman hand-me-down name to English) was the moon, and Janus was related, being the two-faced god of transitions, beginnings, and endings, and hence invoked with the rise and set of the sun and moon. And also hence, we name the first month of the year January in Janus' honor, because that's when the year turns over.

The Hindu sun god, also the head of all sky gods and again, associated with general fertility, nature-worship, fire, etc. Still very much actively observed in Hindu circles today; he has temples with services attended at dawn and everything.


Solar deities are simply a dime a dozen, the complete Wiki on them here.

Here's a thought to all this: Isn't it an interesting coincidence that every part of the world founded its own religion based on the brightest object in the sky? Certainly, if one is compelled to identify the natural object most likely to be the embodiment of a deity, the sun fits the bill. But what superstitious monkey-minds we have! When we consider the vast array of sun gods and the remarkable similarities in ideas about them, it tells us much, much more about how the human mind works than we'd care to admit.

And before you get too smug thinking that the God of Jews, Muslims, and Christians is any different, and hence (if you observe one of these faiths) not at all based on silly star-worship, take a gander at "Jesus Christ in comparative mythology" and ask yourself why "Sunday" is observed as "the Lord's day" and Christ's birthday is celebrated at the winter solstice.

Not so smug now, are you?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Terry Gilliam's very first deranged animation

Storytime is an animated short by Terry Gilliam, showing the same brand of bent humor and whimsical animation that would one day become a staple of the Monty Python series. Gilliam having done a number of mind--blowing films in the years since, this belongs here.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The first solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the globe

This impressive-looking craft is the ocean-borne chariot of one Raphael Domjan, a captain who has piloted it all around the world, completing a new world record upon accomplishing this feat in 584 days at a distance of over 37,000 miles.

Gives me another opportunity to point out how far solar-powered vehicles have come, and yet we still have to spend $20/day on gas in the US just to drive a car.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Have you met my friend Jenny?

Jenny Haniver, that is. These charming little devilish creatures are made from dead sea life such as rays and skates, taking advantage of their natural features. They're dried and then carved or shaped into natural poses to suggest demonic mermaid-like life. The 16th-century Swiss naturist Conrad Gessner was a known fan of the dolls.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The flying fox bat aka Pemba

The Pemba is a species of megabat native to Tanzania (east side of lower Africa, for the geographically slow). At a six-foot wingspan, they're one of the largest bats and the perfect critter to kick off the month of Halloween.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

David Lynch started a real club based on Silencio from "Mulholland Drive"!

How arty can you get? The club is in Paris, and it really is modeled after the "Silencio" set from David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, along with numerous elements from other Lynch works. Awesome full story here.

Cryptozoology's big disappointment, the Fiji Mermaid

The Fiji Mermaid, often ranked today as one of the top ten science hoaxes, was a hoax exhibited by P.T. Barnum at sideshows. It was later revealed to be a top half of a monkey sewn onto the bottom half of a fish, and rather artlessly at that.

However, one need not think that early beliefs in mermaids were entirely founded by superstition; there is a rare congenital birth deformity known as Sirenomelia, in which a baby is born with the legs fused together.

A post about it here, but be warned, some photos are shocking. And Googling the name in images isn't advised for the nervous, either.