Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where the world turns psychedelic...

One might wonder, upon visiting the various locations of Danxia in China, if this is the part where God dropped acid. The various landforms are formations of limestone and sandstone which have been eroded or carved by glaciers. Between the trippy colors and the bizarre shapes, one could have easily gotten away with filming a few episodes of Star Trek here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Five Weird Methods Of Fortune-Telling

Tyromancy - Divining the future by examining how curds form during the process of curing a cheese.

Stichomancy - Divining the future or a person's destiny from picking random passages out of a book.

Pedomancy - Divining a person's fortune by the soles of their feet, or their footprints. Similar to palm-reading, just using a different appendage!

Omphalomancy - Divination of an infant's future from examining the knots in its umbilical cord.

Cromnyomancy - Divination from observing how onion sprouts grow.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Eight Artifact Designs That No Longer Serve A Purpose

You never notice them until someone points them out. Because they've always been that way. But once you know about them, you can't help but notice them, and appreciate how ridiculous we are in the way we have to keep things familiar.

These are all design elements on various things which used to have a function, but are now done "just for decoration" or because "we've always done it that way".

1. Slot Machine Payout Tray / Hopper

Slot machines originally both accepted and paid out cash. Modern slot machines pay out a printed receipt which you then cash at the cashier's cage. They no longer need the tray where the coins used to land, yet slot machines still have them. Some of them even play a recording of coins hitting the tray when you cash out and the machine prints its receipt!

2. Cigarette Filter Design

Cigarettes used to have filters made from cork. When they switched to synthetic filters (usually made from cellulose), they kept the printed paper on the outside in a cork design.

3. Hood Scoops

Originally, hood scoops were necessary to direct the flow of air onto the engine to help cool it. Modern cars now have air ducts from other, less intrusive parts of the car, but some cars still keep the hood scoop design. If your car has a hood scoop, put your hand in it. It may be completely closed off!

4. Fake Wood Grain Covering

Things like shelf paper, tabletops, and counters may be made of plastic, metal, or even processed particle board, but they'll still have this tacky vinyl covering with fake wood grain on it. Once you're aware of it, you'll get tired of looking at it.

How about those station wagons in the 1970s which had fake wood paneling on the sides? These things persist even when they make no sense. Who would even want to drive a wooden car?

5. Hubcap Spokes

Ever notice how many car hubcaps still have spokes in the design, as if you were still unable to deal with the concept of a tire unless it resembled a Conestoga wagon wheel?

6. Digital Camera Shutter Sound

Like the casino hopper sound, consumer-grade digital cameras still play an audio sound of an old-fashioned camera's shutter sliding and clicking.

7. Your Keyboard Layout

The standard "QWERTY" layout of the keyboard was originally designed partly to keep neighboring typewriter keys from jamming when they hit together. Other keys' placement were originally required by the limitations of manual typewriter design - for instance, the 'CAPS LOCK' key is directly over the left shift key because it used to be a physical lever that held down the shift key itself; it would lock in place until you tapped it again. Modern computers and laptops have no such requirements, of course, but the keyboard stays that way.

A whole new generation of design appendixes evolved from the first generation of computers, too. The 'scroll lock' key, for instance, comes form the days when text-only computers scrolled monochrome text on a black monitor - you'd print something out, and then hit scroll-lock to freeze the screen until you could read that screen-full of text, and then release it to get to the next screen-full...

8. Computer And Phone Icons

Computer and phone icons are a virtual forest of visual metaphors for outdated technology. Look at that hourglass! How many of you have seen one in real life? Yet we use it to symbolize time, clocks, waiting, etc. And then there's those quill pens used for writing apps, envelopes used for email apps, cartoon speech bubbles used for texting apps... How about that floppy disk icon to represent the concept of saving a document? Floppy disks have been out of common use for at least a decade now.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Turing Machine Made From Model Trains

From Turing Train Terminal. In the schematics section, they detail how the system can perform up to six binary calculations. I couldn't find a YouTube video of the beast in action, so here's a Lego Turing machine instead, set to the theme to the '80s TV series A Team by somebody with nauseating taste:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

In 1966, the world's richest private citizen was Jean Paul Getty, at a mere $1.2 billion

Proof of the declining value of currency, more prosperous times for all, or of more uneven income distribution? In 1966, the Guinness World Record for richest human alive was J. Paul Getty, at a mere $1.2 billion, and his worth by the time of death only equaled $2 billion. Not only that, but the oil tycoon was the only billionaire in the US.

Even adjusting for inflation, Getty's bank account would have only been worth about $10 billion today. That's chump change compared to our list of billionaires in modern times:

  • Bill Gates $101 billion (peak worth reached in 1999)
  • Carlos Slim Helu $74 billion (peak worth reached in 2011)
  • Lakshmi Mittal $69 billion (peak worth reached in 2008)
  • Warren Buffett $66 billion (peak worth reached in 2007)
  • Mukesh Ambani $63 billion (peak worth reached in 2007)
The Forbes' list strives to include everyone with a net worth of a billion dollars or more. But even it tells a story about uneven distribution among the wealthy. The double-digits billionaires run out at #88; the total number of people on the list is 1,153.

It says odd things about our global economy that in the space of five decades, what would once be considered a fortune is barely enough to scrape by now.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The day break-dancers performed for the Pope

In 2004, Pope John Paul II was entertained by a very modern and urban performance: break-dancers in the Vatican! He seemed to enjoy it. Here's the video:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Simpsons Fans, Your Day Has Arrived

Somebody else thought of a live-action Simpsons show first, so that I would not have to. Thank you!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The fascinating story of "Parked Domain Girl"

You've seen her a dozen times, often enough that her face jars your memory and yet you're never able to quite place the reference. She's a white blond young adult, wearing a backpack while she clutches the straps securely and grins tightly with her tilted face at the camera. Here she is, in all her famous glory:

She's "parked domain girl", and her use as the standard default photo for a parked web domain, starting in 2005, has spurred a little online fandom.

URLesque gets to the bottom of the story: The photographer is Dunstin Steller, and he snapped this photo of his little sister, Hannah, and tossed it onto his iStockPhoto portfolio. For a few cents, Demand Media scooped up the photo and was then licensed to use it throughout their web properties. Thus, every time a website goes dark, Demand Media scoops up the domain registration and parks it, with ads and links around this photo.

The file is usually saved with the name "0012_female_student.jpg". Here's another photo of her in the same setting:

And here is the same building where the photo was taken, at Unity Village, Missouri.

Steller works as a stock photographer and his sister Hannah is presumably still in the modeling business. Time may yet come when she wants to capitalize on her Internet fame; there certainly is fan art and meme images of her all over the web!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fingernail Clippings Turned Into Patriotic Art

This guy is selling his fingernail clippings on an attractive American flag design for $1776. You have to like an artist who puts so much of himself into his work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We once trusted our kids with radioactive kits - for science!

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Laboratory was a toy kit sold for one brief year in 1950, by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, who also invented the Erector Set. It consisted of a Geiger-Muller counter, a cloud chamber, electroscope, spinthariscope, and actual uranium ore, along with a book about how to prospect for uranium.

According to an interview with Gilbert, the set was not only the real thing, but perfectly safe. It was discontinued, not because of safety concerns nor because of parental outcry, but because the unit was very expensive ($50 in 1950 dollars) and even at that they lost money on every unit sold. It was also just a little more advanced than the average science-fair project set.

The A.C. Gilbert company also sold other radioactive-themed toys, including this stand-alone impressive Geiger counter:

View other discontinued toys at the Banned Toys Museum.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

6 Examples of literature produced under a writing constraint

In 1939, novelist Ernest Vincent Wright produced the novel Gadsby without using the letter 'e'. This is an example of a lipogram.

In 2004, French author Michel Dansel, using the pen name of "Michel Thaler", wrote Le Train de Nulle Part ("The Train From Nowhere"), a novel written without using a single verb.

In 1996, mathematician Mike Keith wrote a short story, Cadaeic Cadenza, where each word corresponded by letter length to a consecutive digit of Pi. This is an example of Pilish.

The final chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses contains no punctuation.

In 1974, author Walter Abish wrote Alphabetical Africa, a novel written with the condition that the first letter of each word in each chapter start with a successive letter of the alphabet; chapter 1 had words starting with 'a', chapter 2 with 'b', and so on.

Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham using a vocabulary of only 50 words, reportedly written to win a bet. In alphabetical order, the word list is "a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you."

Monday, May 14, 2012

PythagoraSwitch - A charming Japanese educational show

What really gets your attention on the show are the bumpers. Each of them features complex physics-driven devices that accomplish the mundane task of displaying the show's logo. Here are several of them in one clip:

These kinetic contraptions are in the similar vein of art as those illustrated by US cartoonist Rube Goldberg and UK cartoonist W. Heath Robinson.

Japanese kids who are fans of the show enjoy making their own devices in a similar vein and showing off in videos. Here's one brilliant example:

Friday, May 11, 2012

The World's Official Smallest Woman Is a Living Doll

What you see here is the full height of one Jyoti Amge, of Nagpur, India, who is currently the world's smallest woman in the Guinness Book of World Records. She is currently 18 years old, and stands just one foot, eleven inches in height. She has a condition called "achondroplasia", a genetic mutation which causes extreme dwarfism.

Aside from being doll-sized and having a voice exactly like a Smurf on helium, she's a regular person in every other way. Certainly, as a teen girl, she thrives on the attention now, but she has some unique challenges ahead of her...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The German-American Bund - A Very Weird Page of US History

This image is neither a joke, nor a 'shop. It's taken from the March 7, 1938 issue of Life Magazine, viewable courtesy of Google Books here. What you're looking at is a meeting of the German-American Bund, an unsuccessful grassroots attempt to promote a favorable view of Nazi Germany within the United States in the 1930s. This particular meeting happened in Hackensack, New Jersey, with Reverend John C. Fitting "honoring" George Washington as "the first Fascist" who "knew democracy could not work".

I hope that was as jaw-dropping for you to read as it was for me to type.

The German-American Bund was formed from the remnant of a previous pro-Nazi American group, the Free Society of Teutonia. The Long Island History Journal has an extensive article about them here. But briefly, the group only lasted a few years, predictably drawing criticism both in the United States for radical demonstrations such as this one, and from Nazi Germany as well, who were concerned with the supposed Socialist influence of the group. They did thrive well into 1939, when a massive demonstration at Madison Square Gardens with its elected leader, Fritz Julius Kuhn, marking a derogatory speech about President Roosevelt and his New Deal. Details on all of this and more are also at

Since American and German ideals in the early 1940s mixed like oil and water, it should come as no surprise that the effort broke off. After much backlash on the part of both countries, the group broke up, and Kuhn was later convicted of embezzling funds from the Bund.

Just worth mentioning yet again, there's a lot more Nazism in recent United States history than most people think there is.

Monday, May 7, 2012

First Men In the Moon

A movie poster from the film adaptation of H.G. Wells' work of the same title.

Notable to think how, in 1964, such speculation as this poster makes was still viable in the popular mind. Cities? Little moon men? Canals? Ray-gun fights? Sure, why not?

Made by the same stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen, who was also behind 20 Million Miles to Earth, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Jason and the Argonauts.

In Lunacolor!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ten Idiotic Audience Consumer Reactions To Movies

Swingline had to manufacture a red stapler to meet demand after the release of Office Space.

The price of amber quadrupled after the release of Jurassic Park.

CB radio culture suffered an "Eternal September" after the release of Smokey and the Bandit.

Plumbing fixture stores remarked upon the decline in demand for showers after the release of Psycho.

Beach attendance went down after the release of Jaws.

Injuries and deaths from playing Russian Roulette spiked in 1981 after the release of The Deer Hunter.

Thousands of people wrote in demanding to know where they could buy a hoverboard after the release of Back To the Future.

Investment in plastics went up after the release of The Graduate.

The demand for caller ID tripled after the release of the film Scream.

And finally, demand for any breed of animal goes up after said animal is in a popular movie. (e.g. 101 Dalmatians)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

All of the dictionary words that can be made from hexadecimal numbers:

Here are all of the words I found in the dictionary file, using a filter that only allowed words which could be spelled in hexadecimal:


Relatedly, programmers often use hex numbers to form words in error codes to make them easier to read, such as "oxDEADBEEF".

Friday, May 4, 2012

How various animals react to an earthquake

On August 22nd, 2011, a 5.8 earthquake hit Washington, DC, home to the Smithsonian National Zoo. While mostly non-destructive, it did rattle a few cages and nerves. This afforded a rare opportunity to observe the various animal's reaction to the quake.

  • About five to ten seconds before the quake, many of the apes abandoned their food and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in the exhibit.
  • The red ruffed lemurs sounded an alarm call about 15 minutes before the quake and then again just after it occurred.
  • All the snakes began writhing during the quake.
  • The ducks immediately jumped into the pool.
  • The beavers stopped eating, stood on their hind legs and looked around, then got into the water.
  • The lions all stood still and faced the building, which rattled during the quake.
  • The flamingos rushed about and grouped themselves together, where they remained huddled during the quake.
  • The deer immediately ran out of the barns and appeared agitated during the quake.
  • The giant pandas showed no reaction whatsoever.

In addition, after the quake several animals began vocalizing in alarm and annoyance, notably an orangutan, the howler monkeys, and the female deer.

Here's a news story reported after the incident, with naturist Jeff Corwin:

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Woman Who Was Her Own Twin

In 2006, a mother named Lydia Fairchild went to apply for public assistance in Washington state. By law, herself and her two children had to be tested to prove that they were related. When the DNA test results came in, no one could prepare themselves for the shocking results.

Although Fairchild had given birth to both children, her DNA and theirs showed that they weren't related. Worse yet, the welfare system in Washington could take this as a charge of welfare fraud and even talked about taking her children away.

Yet there were the birth certificates, listing her as the mother. She could also call upon her obstetrician, Dr. Leonard Dreisbach, to testify in court, as he had been present when she had given birth to the children. But what's more, Fairchild was also pregnant at the time with a third child - and the court insisted on having a state-appointed representative at the birth to witness it personally, and draw DNA samples right there at the hospital. The results from this DNA test came in two weeks later - and again, she showed as not having been the mother of the third child!

As the court date for welfare fraud drew near, Fairchild's attorney happened by luck across an article about chimerism in the New England Journal of Medicine. In chimerism, an organism can be born with two distinct groups of cells in the body, forming two completely different sets of DNA. This can occur when two separate sets of fertilized ovum can fuse together in the womb - in other words, genetically speaking, Lydia Fairchild was actually two people walking around in one body!

After a hectic series of tests of more people in Fairchild's family tree, it was determined that this was the case. The case was resolved, Fairchild got her family assistance, and everybody learned something new.

Lydia Fairchild on YouTube (NOTE: this TV show claims four children; the original Wikipedia article I link to says two children with one on the way. I'm going with confusion stemming from possibly having a fourth child by the time this episode was produced.) :

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shocking Pink Bug

This katydid was photographed in 2005, in Lake Erie Metro Park in Wayne County, Michigan.

Pink katydids are extremely rare; about 1 in 500 katydids are born this way. The color is the result of a condition called erythrism - it's a similar effect to animals who are born albino. As opposed to the usual coloring, pink katydids have no camouflage advantage.