Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blit, a Bell Labs computer with GUI capabilities from 1982

Fantastically nostalgic early precursor to our modern technical gadgets, even having voice simulation. Astounding how far we've come, and yet how well they envisioned the future!

More about Blit here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Artist haunts us with Norwegian Tree Troll manifestation

From artist Kim Graham, who reveals that her Norwegian heritage, Montana upbringing, and viewing The Lord of the Rings inspired her to bring an authentic tree troll to life.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Internet needs a new patron saint!

Well, the current reigning patron saint of the Internet and computers in general is Saint Isidore of Seville, an Archbishop of Seville for more than three decades, and considered to be the last scholar in the ancient tradition. Based on this flimsy pretense and nothing else, this man, who died in the year 636 having missed even the invention of the Difference Engine by a millennium, was decreed to be the patron saint of the Internet, and all of computing technology, programmers, and students.

Mind you, this is the same guy who joined in the general Catholic persecution of Jews, by passing "Canon 60 calling for the forced removal of Jewish children from the parents and their education by Christians and Canon 65 forbidding Jews and Christians of Jewish origin from holding public office".

Internet users, programmers, and techie stemmers of all kinds - are you ready to join me in crying "bunk"?


We have far better candidate for the patron saints of programming, computing, and Internetting:

Saint IGNUcious, the tongue-in-cheek alter-ego of Richard M. Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and spiritual father of all software. Listen, if I stood them both up before Saint Peter at the pearly gates, I'd bet Isidore would be nervously shuffling his feet and eying the side exit before Peter was done reading the half of the list of Stallman's good deeds.

Tim Berners-Lee He got to be in the Olympic opening ceremonies through virtue of creating the World Wide Web, the improvement which opened the Internet up to the masses. That's gotta be worth a brownie point or two.

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, the inventors of both Unix and the C programming language. All modern operating systems - no matter how loudly Microsoft lies otherwise - descend from Unix, and all modern programming languages descend from C. I mean, literally the patron saints of computing and programming!

And finally, Douglas Englebart:

What, you don't know who Douglas Englebart is??? I explain in that link. He invented the modern GUI computing interface - the mouse, the icon, the menu, the graphical interface, hypertext... all the pretty pictures on the screen that let you use a computer without having to type in hexadecimal runes at a command prompt. Before Microsoft, before Apple, before even Xerox. And he did it all as research at Stanford university, way back in 1967. Now just look at that picture and that serene, beatific smile on that saintly face: doesn't he look like a saint?

Vatican, your choices suck! Each of the people I've named here did what they did in the genuine desire to benefit all of mankind by putting more computing power into the hands of the masses, potentially doing the human race more good than any ten canonized saints, and they all did it with no thought to their own profit or power.

If your religion can't recognize that these are the true saints, then there's something wrong with your religion.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A month of Fridays brings bad luck

In a tense image only a conspiracy theorist (or Nicholas Cage fan - as if there were a difference) could love, artist George Widener captures 30 Fridays, with corresponding dates, when disasters hit. And one free day!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mr. Yuk

A funny little series of PSAs created by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, to clearly label poisonous and toxic chemicals so tots don't drink it.

"When you see it, you'll know quick! Things marked Yuk make you sick! Sick sick sick! SICK SICK SICK!" It's a prime example of '70s surrealism, with what sounds like sound effects from an arcade game leading it off. (Yes, they had them in 1970.)

More about Mr. Yuk here. It's high time we made a meme out of it and ran it into the ground.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Becoming a real life oil painting

Yes, that's a model captured by artist Alexa Meade within a 3D oil painting simulation. Border between art and life blurs further. More here.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Face the future blending of life and technology

With its haunting opening quote and mesmerizing imagery of half-organic mechanics set to beautiful music, this short film evolves the future where man engineers life directly. Indeed, there is no human or other recognizable life form present (with the possible exception of the end product), signifying that perhaps the machines that we leave behind us will continue to run without us after we are gone - and our machine-assembled descendants will awaken without knowing about us.

Or maybe it's already happened?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Anomaly of Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome

"Bangungot" is a word from the Tagalog language meaning "to rise and moan", but that belies the true terror of this word: it refers to a syndrome in which people mysteriously die in their sleep, with no previous indication that there was anything wrong with them. The name comes from the tendency of victims to cry out and thrash in their sleep before expiring.

Before you stay up all night in terror: It only appears to affect people of southeast Asia, including Thai, Hmong, and Filipinos, and then only young males of median age 33.

Medical research is beginning an inquest into this syndrome, but so far everyone's baffled. While the syndrome is well-known among these ethnic groups, it is shrouded in urban legends and old-wives' cures, said to be caused by everything from eating a heavy meal before bedtime to being visited by a vengeful female spirit, with a folk remedy of pinching the big toe of a sleeper as a preventative cure. It's even been culturally compared to the urban legends of UFO abductions in the US, and the old-world concept of a "night terror" or sleep paralysis, so eloquently depicted in Johann Heinrich Fussli's painting The Nightmare, shown above.

Of course, the idea that a scary dream that can actually kill you also is at the root of another pop cultural icon, the Nightmare on Elm Street series with the character of Freddy Kruger being a nocturnal assassin.

However, one possible clue to the syndrome's cause is that this tends to affect only refugees from those countries; people already undergoing a large amount of stress, who might naturally be subject to spontaneous cardiac arrests and related events.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The mystery coffins of Arthur's Seat

Edinburgh, Scotland, is home to Arthur's Seat, a group of hills that forms most of Holyrood Park. One of its claims to fame is having been written about by author Robert Louis Stevenson, and another is speculation that it could have been the location of Camelot. But a third claim to fame is a mysterious find made in 1836, with implications macabre at best and chillingly creepy at worst.

In a cave on Arthur's Seat, five boys discovered 17 tiny coffins with wooden dolls. The dolls are about four inches long, their coffins carved from authentic pine and decorated with iron. The coffins were buried in the cave floor in neat rows of eight, the rows stacked one atop the other and the lone top coffin beginning a new row. All of the dolls are dressed individually, obviously representing different people. And perhaps the most unsettling detail of all, the coffins appeared to have been buried over a long-term period of time, with the top ones being fresher and the lower layers being more decayed, suggesting that they were installed over a period of years and weren't just part of a gruesome children's game. Since their discovery, they've had a history in and out of collector's hands and now in a museum.

No one knows anything else about their story. Speculations include the theory that they might have been representational burials for sailors lost at sea, but why then hidden in a cave and not identified? Every other theory suggests some form of magic ritual - perhaps magic by a Pagan sect, since Scotland has Pagans as part of its history. Or a murderer committing this act to appease the spirits of his victims? Dolls sacrificed by generations? Representation of the victims of Edinburgh serial killers Burke and Hare?

It should be noted that Burke and Hare were anatomy murderers, who committed their deeds for profit, selling the bodies to doctors who used them for medical instruction. Since the corpses were then dissected and studied for science, it stands to reason that no un-defiled body would remain, and the murderers, being financially motivated, would suffer enough guilt over their trade that they felt motivated to commit this token gesture of remorse.

It's impossible to think about them long without having the imagination run wild. If they don't feature as a plot device in some future horror novel or film, it won't be for lack of suggestion.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Bizarre Images of the temple of Seti I, Abydos

Seti I was a pharaoh in the 19th dynasty of Egypt, the son of Ramesses I and father of Ramesses II. His temple is located in what is known today as the sacred city of Abydos, Egypt, which is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. The walls are decorated with a host of inscrutable hieroglyphics, including a catalog list of the cartouches (symbols or seals) of every Egyptian pharaoh before him.

What grabs the attention of modern onlookers, however, is the uncanny resemblance between some of the symbols on the walls and modern inventions, including helicopters, submarines, and zeppelins:

This oddity has fed rumors of ancient aliens or time-travelers on the usual sites. However, there are perfectly mundane explanations for these figures, in that they aren't really detailed to begin with, have decayed several centuries, and could be depicting perfectly ordinary everyday objects of the time, or perhaps, like the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, been a particularly bright attempt at imaging the future. After all, our modern flying machines do indeed resemble natural flying creatures, and if any preindustrial artist would have been asked to imagine a man-built flying machine in the future, very few could argue against designing something that looks fairly like what devices we have today. You wouldn't imagine that an airplane shaped like a fish or turtle could fly, could you?

The complete diagram of the temple:

 Abydos became a popular necropolis in ancient Egypt, containing many temples and burial sites devoted to Egyptian royalty. This has also led to the general area becoming a focus for all sorts of cult and superstitious activity throughout the decades. More research into this intriguing historical area here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The mystery radiation burst of ~774-775 A.D.

During a time when very few humans would have had the presence of mind or equipment to detect such an event, one species faithfully recorded this freak occurrence for our puzzlement millenniums later: Japanese ceder trees. The evidence of this event is told by the pattern of tree rings in this species, which shows a huge anomaly right around this time in history. There is a massive amount of activity from carbon-14, an element only presented when massive amounts of radiation from space bombard earth's atmosphere.

Sometime around 774 or 775 A.D., a mysterious burst of radiation hit the Earth. We have no idea what caused it, where it came from, or why it went otherwise undetected.

A supernova would be a possible explanation, but early astronomers show no record of such an event visible from Earth during this time, despite having noted supernovas in 1006 and 1054. For that matter, we'd still be able to find evidence of a supernova from this time today. A solar flare could also explain it, but again no solar flare of such a large and devastating nature would have come and gone without somebody noticing it. If you're picking up the theme here, huge bursts of radiation have to be caused by a star or something as big and hot as a star.

Other tree species around the world, as well as ice core samples from the polar regions, bear a similar record about the same time period in history. So either we had an invisible, undetectable solar flare or supernova, or we have a bunch of lying trees on our hands.