Saturday, September 29, 2012

Think American reality shows are over the top? (slightly NSFW)

The Pain Game is a Dutch reality TV game show in which contestants are subjected to various mild torments and humiliations. Here's a blog post that tells you a bit more about it.

This might seem risque and shocking to American audiences, but really, is it any worse than what we do to American reality show contestants? Forcing them to eat bugs, perform dangerous stunts, dress like a transvestite for a week, and be dunked under bucket-fulls of yogurt and so on? Fear Factor is one Western show that came close, as is Solitary.

I say, quit dicking around! It's obvious that full-scale sadomasochism play is what a lot of game shows out there have in mind already, so just bust out the whips and chains and be done with it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clever parody: 52 Shades of Greed

This artist creates "52 Shades of Greed", 52 cards in the style of a Tarot deck named after some of the individuals, organizations, and elements of the US's troubled economy. ("Troubled Economy" is saying the least, but I'm trying to stay away from hyperbole for a change).

2 of Spades
SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)

Weak regulator which routinely destroyed records of investigations, sometimes right before the investigator went to work for the regulated.

Jamie Dimon

“CEO JPMorgan Chase and Chair of NY Fed. Conflict, what conflict?
Fights aggressively and successfully against bank regulation”

Repo 105

Accounting gimmick used by Lehman to make balance sheet look $50 billion prettier than it really was.

According to its about page, it is by the Occupy Wall Street crowd. How unfortunate. Nevertheless, it is a very clever work, and the Flower Power source of the work shouldn't dissuade you form its core truths, however foggily understood they are by the movement.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Intimidate Your Surroundings

Fun parody commercial, but how did they get that thing to stay up like that?

Also, check the gorgeous scenery! Saguaro cactus and beaches are the only things I miss about the West.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Artist creates wind-powered walking creatures, for no apparent reason

Theo Jansen is a kinetic sculptor in the Netherlands who creates his own skeletal walking beasts, and this is one of his contraptions:

Jansen frequently turns his mechanical beasts loose on beaches and other wide, flat areas. One can only imagine the thoughts of the unprepared beach-goer who flips over from their restful tanning only to find one of these behemoths bearing down on them.

Jansen's own site features a video on the front page which is even greater in its grace and beauty. These kinetic sculptures, made from PVC pipe, wood, and recycled plastic bottles, are able to power themselves by wind. Not only can they walk, but some models can even sense when they're staggering into water and steer away, while others anchor themselves down if they detect a storm approaching.

Jansen intends to develop prototypes until he has models robust enough to turn loose on the beaches of the world to live out their own lives. If he does, these engineered organisms could well prove to be a phenomenon for generations to come. Perhaps, even after life on Earth is no longer feasible for other life forms and humans have long abandoned the Earth to its fate, there will still be the Strandbeasts, busily striding about on the sand, the last inheritors of the Earth.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trivia Gibs #1

"Venera" was the Soviet space probe mission launched 1961 to 1984, which landed ten probes on Venus to study the environment there, much as our recent NASA missions to Mars have done.

The Carboniferous Period (359 to 299 million years ago) was caused largely by the gap between the advent of wooden trees and the appearance of fungi which could eat - and hence decompose - dead wood. Until then, wood from dead trees just piled up.

Since May of 2009, Wikipedia has had to ban all accounts and IP addresses of anybody associated with the Church of Scientology. Period. Their attempt to spam the Wiki with church propaganda got that bad. We can think of many more organizations that deserve similar treatment...

The word "nimrod" comes from a Bugs Bunny Cartoon. Bugs was referring to Elmer Fudd as the Biblical "Nimrod", meaning a hunter, but has since been taken to mean a gullible fool because audiences at the time didn't know who Nimrod was.

There is a separate Women's World Chess Championship, also run by the World Chess Federation, even though women can and do play against and beat male opponents. It has historically been dominated by Russian and Chinese women players.

Do you love the smell of freshly cut grass? That's a class of chemicals released by the plant, called "green leaf volatiles", which act as a "distress call"; if attacked by something that eats grass, like caterpillars, the smell attracts predators to eat them.

In Germany, you need to pass CPR training to get a driver's license. This ensures that anybody who can cause an accident can also assist in recovering from one.

"The Three Christs of Ypsilanti" was a psychiatric case study in which three mental patients, all suffering from the delusion that they were Jesus Christ, were placed in a room and encouraged to work out which was the true Christ. All three men argued for awhile, then each came to the independent conclusion that they were the true Christ while the other two were obviously insane.

Along with the other international displays of solidarity and support after the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the Maasai tribe of Kenya donated a gift of 14 cows to the United States.

Because the 2003 movie release of "The Cat in the Hat" was so terrible, the estate of Dr. Seuss has now forbidden anybody from ever making a live-action film adaptation of a Dr. Seuss work again. Ever.

Paranoia has a complimentary, opposite delusion. It's called "pronoia", the delusion that there is a secret conspiracy to aid you. "Guardian angels", anyone?

Along with the potent smell imparted to urine by eating asparagus, the vegetable also adds another attribute to your urine: It makes your pee attract fish.

Prince Edward of Wales' full name is "Edward Anthony Richard Louis", named so his initials would acronym-ize to "EARL".

Sunday, September 16, 2012

David Lynch on rules

A favorite quote from one of my favorite mind-benders of all time. (Can you tell from the banner image at the top of this blog?)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gene Ray's Twitter

It may be the real McCoy or it may be a clever parody (it's really, really hard to tell) but there is a Twitter account under the name of Gene Ray, "wisest human", creator of the website most famous throughout the web for being the most prolific raving of paranoid schizophrenia.

Also something I made tribute to in one of my more impish plot devices in my own webcomic.

So give him some... distant... respect. Especially since he was kind enough to come speak at MIT.

And now, the obligatory Gene Ray parody paragraph (without even looking):

"Time Cube is PERfeCT 4-dimensional pureness!!! Only stupid evil DENY. Harmonic nature is four-sided perfection in the Earth and Heaven. School educates stupid to DENY PERFECT COSMIC Harmony. Educators cannot teach GODPERFECT harmony. in cubic TIME!!!!!!! dimensions are four - COUNT THEM! God in harmony with WHITE MAN SCHOOL. The stupid can't understand cosmic brilliance of balance cube in four--earth backwards against math - YOU are EVIL stupid ANTI-cube!! Yadda yadda turkeys in my nose blah blahblah blah..."

Oh, alright, here's a video interview:

You know, the mind--blowing thing about this is that he actually comes off as less crazy in person than on his web page. I've wondered about that four-sided thing myself for years, and bam, he clears it up just like that!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The latest dirt on remote-controlled cockroaches

"Biobots" "roboroach", and "cyborg roaches" are just a few of the names being given to the emerging technology of driving a remote-controlled cockroach for useful purposes... such as searching for earthquake survivors. As the linked article reasons, why go to the trouble of building a robot to crawl through rubble when nature has already given us a perfect design that's more than up to the task? Roaches can squeeze through tight spaces and seamlessly traverse walls, edges, ceilings, and just about any shape, right side up or upside down! Even our best designs are still years from accomplishing this.

There's a video at that link. Here's a few more examples of this bizarre field of research (trigger warning for anybody with entomophobia):

As this video shows, you could easily make this a flying unit with a little helicopter rigging:

You could also help them on their way by giving them their own ground vehicle to pilot:

And before everyone starts yelling about "cruelty to animals": (1) They're bugs. They process pain/discomfort differently than we do (and how do we know they aren't having a blast anyway?) (2) From exterminators to flyswatters to electronic bug-zappers, we've been killing bugs off en mass practically since we first found one, and nobody's protested yet. Don't pick a time when we're doing important things in science with them to get high-and-mighty now.

Monday, September 10, 2012

What do you want me to do with the rest of Charlie Brown's body?

"Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown" - from the guy who later brought you all of The Simpsons. This exists. It even exists so hard that it gets its own Wiki page. Painful, wasn't it? Watch it again.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Carrarra Digitus Impudicus

A sculpture by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, which raised some controversy in Milan. Are we a mature enough society to deal with a stark representation of one of humanity's most commonly expressed opinions?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fire rainbows in the sky

The concept is called a "circumhorizontal arc". It's an atmospheric phenomenon in which sunlight strikes airborne ice crystals to produce a rainbow effect. Four things have to happen for this to be seen:

  1. The sun has to be higher than 58 degrees above the horizon.
  2. There has to be a mild haze, such as cirrus clouds, slightly overcast, a marine layer, etc.
  3. The clouds must contain flat, hexagonal ice crystals.
  4. You have to be standing farther than 55 degrees latitude away from either pole.
For these reasons, the rarity of the event causes it to only be visible from certain parts of the world at certain times of the year. In North America, it's most commonly observed inland and to the north during the colder months, although as long as there's ice in the clouds and you're standing in the right spot, it could happen anywhere.

Because of the rarity of the event and the strange cloud formations that sometimes occur in conjunction with it, the phenomenon could be mistaken for things like UFOs and other conspiracy-laden legends.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Hebrew psychologist who thinks Moses was stoned out of his melon

Hallucinogenic drugs have often been supposed to be responsible for many fantastic accounts of miracles and general religious phenomenon, from the Salem witch trials and panic to various sightings of the Virgin Mary. However, not many dare to apply such a theory to one of the head honchos of half the religions in the world, indeed, the man who could be said to be the basis for all modern law.

But Professor Shanon has had enough of this reverence for miracles. In his paper Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis, he details numerous parallels between visions and experiences of Moses and hallucinations experienced under various psychedelics.

Pause and consider that this is not at all a far-fetched theory. Early humans had no concept of mind-altering substances beyond alcohol - to them, if you ate something, it either killed you or it didn't. When some attachment between altered states of consciousness and a previously consumed food did eventually dawn on people, they immediately took it for a connection to spiritualism. Marijuana, ayahuasca, peyote, and the famed "magic mushrooms" have all been connected to spirituality in beliefs such as Shamanism and Rastafari.

In the event depicted as the "theophany", Moses' experience includes thunder and lightning, a pillar of fire, trumpet calls when no instruments are present, the whole mountain smoking and quaking, and a voice booming out of the sky. Anybody who's experimented with doses of LSD or other psychedelics can relate. Note that it's not merely a matter of seeing and hearing hallucinations; one's thoughts and emotions become very confused during such experiences and one's own ideas may become the strangest experiences of all. Feelings of religious awe and emotional epiphanies are frequent and common in the psychedelic experience, even in doses not sufficient to trigger visual and aural hallucinations.

The problem is that the exact drug available in the Jerusalem area at the time that could have caused such an experience is not known. However, even plain old rye bread can become infected with the fungus known as ergot, and there is evidence of cases of ergot poisoning present in nearby Europe. Shanon's theory merely points out similarities between Moses' reports of miracles and the effects of drinking Ayahuasca, and leaves it at that. This drink is prepared from plants of the psychotria genus, which only grow in tropical regions.

This is not to say that such a drug would have to have been imported. There may have been species of another plant with psychedelic effects growing in the Mediterranean region around the 1500s B.C., and simply become extinct by now. One such example that we know of was silphium, a plant used to produce a drug widely thought to have been used for birth control - among many other uses.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vending machine dispenses pure gold

These have been around for a couple of years now. There's one in Las Vegas, another at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. And those tiny little wafers, not those big chunky bars like most people expect.

Michael Carroll - Proof that you can win the lotto and still be a loser

In November of 2002, an English blue-collar worker by the name of Michael Carroll had what for many of us would be a dream come true: He won England's National Lottery - at the age of 19! His winnings came to £9.7 million, then (and now) worth more than $15 million in US dollars. He had worked as a dustbin man, what we'd call a garbage man or a "sanitation worker". Like any of us, he celebrated his newfound good fortune by realizing his dreams.

Unfortunately, his dreams were only to become history's most notorious lout. He declared himself "King of the Chavs" and blew through his massive fortune in record time, ending up flat broke only eight years later. To be sure, he hadn't shown much promise of being a credit to society before hitting the lucky draw.

Mr. Carroll had a troubled past, the son of blue-collar workers, whose father had ended up in prison and then dying of a heart attack when Carroll was just 10 years old, then falling under the influence of a series of abusive stepfathers. He started a career of petty crime at the age of 13. This behavior was still with him by the time of his big win. He even showed up to collect his winnings while wearing an ankle bracelet, a house arrest monitor tagged onto him by authorities for an earlier offense.

After running himself broke, he made a statement to the press explaining "I haven't got two pennies to rub together and that's the way I like it. I find it easier to live off a 42-pound dole than a million." In a living example of ironic human nature, Carroll continued to commit the same kinds of petty crimes even when he could afford to do much better. He was fined for attempting to farejump public transportation weeks after his win, was arrested for driving a £49,000 BMW without plates and insurance, and had an impressive rap sheet built up in which he seemed to show no differentiation between using his money to get into trouble or not using his money to keep himself out. By 2010, he had declared bankruptcy, citing an expensive drug habit and numerous other reckless spending.

A "Chav" appears to be a stereotype / culture predominant in the UK, which is the equivalent of "gangbanger" culture in the United States. Members sport the same "bling", tacky taste in clothing, and deliberately anti-social behavior - the equivalent of being a "hooligan". But, like many fringe cultures, what was once an insult is now "taken back" by the members as a point of pride, however self-deprecatingly.