1. Wintergreen Teaches You How to Make Meth

    Listen dicks, the new crack is making fake drugs to promote your band. I know it, you know it, these guys have managed a force multiplier on their fairly middle of the road alt. rock by hitting on a concept we all wish we’d thought of before: a how-to video for making drugs from easily obtainable ingredients.  Drugs that don’t really exist, that is.

    Yeah, hate to be captain bring-down here, Beavis McTweakerson but Egyptian meth and Hillbilly Quaaludes only exist in the realm of fiction.  Still, how genius is it to piggyback on the how-to format, mixing up your band’s image with an engaging supermarket to kitchen alchemist walkthrough? The way they dump the vinegar gives me a little flashback to the soap making montage in Fight Club.  Which is never a bad thing.

    Yeah, I know, shoulda saved this for Saturday Morning Movie Club but this is too hot to wait 6 hours.  Why isn’t this a damn genre?  Fake drugs instructional videos are the new British people trying to talk with American accents.  Do it.

    (found this over at Dose Nation)


  2. Seasteading That Floats

    No way can I claim sole rights to the synergy of ocean trash and floating islands.  Rather than sitting on dry land typing about ‘em, there are folks out there actually building the damn things.  The above video offers a look at Richi Sowa’s original Spiral Island, a  floating habitat made from reused plastic bottles that supports a copse of living mangrove trees, a garden and a private beach.  Food harvested on the island fed its lord and master, who returned the favor with the proceeds of his composting toilet.  After the hurricanes in 2005 wrecked the original, Sowa regrouped and put together Spiral Island II with the help of volunteers.  Here’s a look at the new version.

    Dutch architects apparently want to take the trash-island idea and bring it to an ARCO pipe-dream scale:

    Recycled island is a research project on the potential of realizing a habitable floating island in the Pacific Ocean made from all the plastic waste that is momentarily floating around in the ocean.

    The proposal has three main aims; Cleaning our oceans from a gigantic amount of plastic waste; Creating new land; And constructing a sustainable habitat. Recycled island seeks the possibilities to recycle the plastic waste on the spot and to recycle it into a floating entity. The constructive and marine technical aspects take part in the project of creating a sea worthy island.

    They have a Flash slide-show and everything so, y’know, it’s happening for sure.

    Think you can do better?  Start out with a mini version: here’s a video about making your floating island.


  3. Machinimals to Protect the Rest from Us

    amorphous shape, nearly whale like

    A whale washed up on the beach in Washington state with a stomach full of trash.  Treehugger mentions that along with the usual assortment of algae and swallowable sea creatures there was “20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball” in its gut.

    I’ve speculated in the past on the utility of filling the ocean full of garbage-eating whales to clear up trash clogged gyres but the key difference is that those whales would be designed by us to process such junk.  No such luck for the dead juvenile gray whale.

    Seeing as that we can’t seem to help bilging out awful crap directly into the mouths of majestic but sorta dumb animals, isn’t it about time we put an actively protective layer between us and the natural world?  We’ve gotten pretty good at deploying low-cost semi-autonomous drones for distributing shrapnel and explosives.  Couldn’t we work a bit at drones to poach and digest all the floating pairs of sweatpants clogging up the ocean?

    Let’s call the robot whale gleaners version 1.0.  What’d come next would be mats of biomechanical organisms, reconfigurable into various digestive organs, glomming onto whatever useful debris they encounter to create floating islands humming with thought.  It’d be a fat, loose bubble with diving tentacles to strain and capture, slurping up the plastic and carefully maintaining a website via satellite up-link that lists the tonnage cleaned up.

    And why stop there?  Land-based envirobots with specially tuned digesters could gulp toxic soils and crap out fertile crop land.  Picture ‘em: big ugly sandworm-looking things, pushing themselves face-first into the dirt at a glacial pace, sucking out the heavy metals and converting them into new skin or internal components while the biomass is fired, cleansed and recombined into healthy soil with nitrogen fertilizer sucked from the air.  Today’s bored youth could grow up to find themselves working as mahouts of the wasteland, strolling in hazmat suits tending to their plodding mechanimal charges as they suck the depleted uranium from the topsoil, rehabbing the land.

    Again, beats working retail.


  4. Guam Can't Sink But Some Islands Can Swim

    About a month ago, the comedic stylings of Georgia Representative Hank Johnson went viral when footage of him questioning the Navy’s plans to expand their Guam base made its way to the YouTube.  In the clip above, you can watch Rep. Johnson take entirely too long to get around to saying “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated it will tip over and capsize.”

    Yep.  Georgia elected this guy twice.

    After the snickering ebbed and before the natural tide of depression rolled in, I got to wondering: are there actually floating islands?  Somewhere in the dim reaches of the past, I’d thought I’d heard something about that.

    The sort of thing we thank the internet for is turning up books like Floating Islands: A Global Bibliography (PDF of the Addenda for that book available for free at that link).  Entires include such gems as:

    “Attacked by Floating Isles: Skipper Tells of Hair-Raising Experience When Ship Was Saved Only by Weird Apes Fanning Selves in Lofty Trees and Giving Breeze That Blew Liner to Safety,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1924, p. 24 (a different, somewhat fantastic version of the article “A Floating Island Followed His Ship” cited in the book)

    and

    “A Floating Island,” Lincoln Evening News (Nebraska), November 19, 1910, p. 8 (the ship Atlas, en route from Philadelphia to Seattle by way of Cape Horn, saw in the Pacific a floating island “covered with trees and thick low underbrush. Birds and a few monkeys were seen upon it, but no other signs of life”; from the Springfield Republican; available through www.newspaperarchive.com)

    It seems that if Rep. Johnson is looking for an island to flip, the most likely candidates would be pumice rafts, floating masses of stone and debris produced by volcanic activity.  While the 1883 eruption on Krakatoa largely destroyed the island, it also launched several floating pumice mats that drifted for up to twenty years, some entangled with enough debris to support plant life and animal life.  More recent eruptions have created similar rafts, including a 2006 eruption in Tonga that also created a new, non-floating island.  These rafts were visible by satellite and photographed by a yacht sailing through the area.

    I’d like to see you flip one, though.  Those apes would rip you to shreds.


  5. Interview with Brendan Koerner, Microkhan

    Brendan Koerner writes the delightfully eclectic blog Microkhan, covering the latest developments in imaginary comic books, excessive ceremonies and the great sport of kabaddi. This outlet stays updated daily, somehow worked around his writing for Wired, Mother Jones and elsewhere. Among other hats he wears, he’s been Slate’s Explainer and is currently Wired’s Mr. Know-It-All. He wrote a gripping, painstakingly researched book about the World War II-era manhunt for Herman Perry in the jungles of South Asia, not to mention the script for its film adaptation. So why blog?

    “95% of my ideas suck,” he tells me. “The blog is for trolling through idea after idea, trying to find something that connects.” Ideas include the economics of collecting snake venom, the lesser known Choctaw code talkers and the unconventional recruitment techniques of the North Korean film industry. Sure, a little obscure but with a blog “there’s no penalty for doing it. For a magazine, the stakes are high. If I write a shitty blog post… it doesn’t matter.” At Microkhan, no topic is too obscure, providing what is both direct outlet and creative release valve for the stories and scraps that might not survive the harsher climate of national-level, ad-supported magazine writing.

    Brendan was kind enough to take time out from his breakneck pace of storycraft and parenting to have a few beers with me at the highly recommended Pony Bar in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. A bar on the corner of a block that holds a active horse barn, a direct sales dry ice outlet and a plumber’s office with a 20 foot long Albert Einstein quote seemed appropriate to meet a fellow chronicler of the unusual and talk shop.

    “I need a very set routine,” he says. “When I’m in writing mode, I have my ritual. I write in the Columbia library and I walk the same route there, listening to the same music… I work in one library in the morning and another in the afternoon. I can’t be too isolated when I write. I need some level of distraction to keep me focused. I don’t socialize when I write but I observe.” And no headphones when he’s writing. “Some people can write with music but… that doesn’t work for me. I think writing is, itself, musical.”

    And by writing, he means non-fiction. “I love the challenge of doing [non-fiction] in different ways.” Thus far, that’d be magazines, books, blogs and film adaptation. Regardless of format, Brendan emphasizes that the point and the reward are still the same. “It’s all informed by this notion of communicating with the reader and these days, you’ve got to have your finger in a lot of pies to make that work… It’s all jacking into the hive mind, finding something useful in the scraps of facts and data and making it your own.”

    The border between blog-oriented creative mulch and paid writing is by no means watertight. The manhunt, trial and execution of Herman Perry that is the center of Now the Hell Will Start evolved from a stray note jotted down while researching a 2003 Slate column, languishing in the junk file for a couple years before the story’s inherent mystery prompted a deeper investigation.

    What’s more, Brendan’s recent Wired piece on the stem rust blight that’s presently threatening global wheat production evolved out of a post on Microkhan. “Wired has been a godsend, just incredible. I pitch them something like ‘Here’s a story about a fungus.’ and they actually tell me ‘Go do it.’”

    Rather than a distraction, Microkhan adds routine and form to the writing life, keeping the momentum going. “It enforces a discipline. I know that in the morning, I have to post. That’s really good for me.” While it might seem that cranking out an average of three, well-developed and link-laden posts a day on everything under the sun would be a job itself, Brendan uses it to structure the time he lets his mind wander. “I’m a believer int he idea that work expands to fill the time allotted. Blogging helps define the boundaries [of that work].”

    In case you’re wondering, Brendan’s junk file is the trusty old app notepad.exe. Sometimes simple just works.

    True to form, I left our meeting with a plethora of random tips and things to check out scribbled in my notebook. Here’s the best of it:
    - When traveling somewhere less than developed and you need a fixer, “find out what a doctor makes in that area and pay them that. That’s the rule of thumb.”
    - Brendan recommends the Detroit sounds of Second Wave Ghetto Tech; check out DJ Assault, Tasha T and Juicy Titties (no link, nearly un-google-able).
    - Some inspiring non-fiction: Eating Glass by Alfred Lawrie, a profile of a man who lives to collect world records, and The Lives of Brian Cathcart by Brian Cathcart, a tale of two lives with the same name, similar starts and very different endings.


  6. Cat and Girl and Transparency

    Long-running webcomic Cat and Girl added a feature yesterday that blew my little mind: a chart that tracks the creator’s income, broken down by source, month to month.  Suddenly your indie IRS role playing adventures just got dead simple.

    I absolutely love this idea.  There’s the voyeuristic fascination with how someone else makes their living but also the bare honesty involved.  It’s almost like a little life meter glimmering there, letting you know when to start jamming on the PayPal donate button to keep this invisible friend you don’t actually know alive.

    I asked Dorothy Gambrell, Cat and Girl’s creator, what her inspiration was for putting her income out there.  She said:

    Transparency. Or – personal curiosity, mostly. I think the ways people in so-called creative professions make a living is a pretty interesting topic.

    Agreed.  Keep an eye on her life bar, will ya?  Not to mention Dorothy’s always engrossing Donation Derby.


  7. Zazzle Steps Up: Fully Custom Keds

    Good ol’ Make magazine’s blog tipped me off to a new development in design your own (DYO?).   Zazzle–they of the slap your design on nearly anything and sell it business model–have partnered with Keds to let you have free reign in designing a pair of sneakers.  Slip-ons, high-tops, low-tops… all ready to be splashed with your keen Photoshop skills.  Unlimited, images, unlimited text… sounds pretty great, right?

    Yeah, it’s exciting and neat to think about but I’m not going to do it.  Why?

    A: I don’t pay $65 for footwear I can’t hike in. (But that’s just my flinty Yankee cheapness)

    B: While it’s cool looking, this isn’t that impressive.

    The bar for ‘impressive’ is fairly low but the possibilities are very high.  3-D printers aren’t magic, people.  While it’s all well and good to let any old jerk upload Bill Nye’s face onto a pair of high tops and rock those at the mall, this new way of doing business doesn’t change very much.

    Drop a kiosk for making these in every third Payless storefront, then I’ll perk my ears up.  Rope in a local site of production, then I’ll start buying.  Call me a pointlessly provincial, but rather than have teenagers sewing my sneakers in Dongguan, I’d rather have the couple that run the cobbler shop down the street sewing together my sneakers.  They could have the sides freshly printed off their fabric printer that’s hooked up to that shoe design kiosk at the Payless or to the website I’m looking at right now.  Pair them up with a stock sole or one that’s been stamped with a specialty printer/router combo to get that fancy edging or the lyrics to “Regulate” carved in it and we’re in business.

    It’s the future, let’s start acting like it.  Everybody buddy up and let’s make things awesome.  That means you, Payless, Keds, Zazzle and Kim’s Shoe Repair.

    photo from zazzle.com


  8. The Invisible Simian Labor Force

    About a week back I posted a link on Twitter to this article about a Berkeley woman who has been hiring out her pet monkey as a fruit harvester.  For a small free and a cut of the fruit, you can get your trees harvested of all those sweet unreachables.

    Naturally, it took me until this morning to figure out it was an April Fool’s Day hoax.  What? Fact-checking?

    However, the basic idea is not too far fetched.  Humans have gotten a days work out of our simian cousins for a long time and continue to do so.  Helper monkeys aid people with mobility problems, giving them back their independence and providing companionship.  The Monkey Business alluded to seems to be merely a mashup between this concept and open fruit map.

    I was further encouraged to come across a kindred spirit, accused of primate-related gullibility:

    In the issue of Science for February 7, 1919, I published a note entitled “On Monkeys Trained to Pick Coconuts,” the opening paragraph of which read as follows: “Readers of the Sunday editions of some of our metropolitan papers may recall that in the fall,  the season of cotton-picking in the South, waggish space writers sometimes make the suggestion that monkeys be trained to do this work and that thereby the shortage of labor be relieved.” This statement was followed by quotations from the books of Miss Isabella Bird and of Mr. R. W. C. Shelford to show that in the East Indies monkeys are employed to pick coconuts for their masters.

    Some quiet fun was made of me for having been “taken in” by these accounts, but the laugh passed to my side when Mr. Carl D. La Rue, writing front Kisaran, Asahan, Sumatra, published in the issue of Science for August 22, 1919, a note entitled “Monkeys as Coconut Pickers.”

    E. W. Gudger, Associate in Ichthyology, American Museum, goes on to give a brief history of monkey labor, touching on their use in coconut-picking in Sumatra and Borneo, hearsay about Chinese monkeys gathering rhubarb and pounding rice, and West African monkeys who could work a mortar, play the pipes and cook meat.

    It’s the report of José de Acosta, a Jesuit monk in the West Indies, that takes the cake:

    “I sawe one [monkey] in Carthagene [Cartagena] in the Governour’s house, so taught, as the things he did seemed incredible: they sent him to the Taverne for wine, putting the pot in one hand, and the money in the other; and they could not possibly gette the money out of his hand, before he had his pot full of wine. If any children mette him in the streete, and threw any stones at him, he would set his pot downe on the one side and cast stones against the children till he had assured his way, then would he returne to carry home his pot. And which is more, although hee were a good bibber of wine (as I have oftentimes seene him drinke, when his maister has given it him) yet would he never touch it vntill leave was given him.”

    A monkey drinking buddy who doesn’t mind going down the street for another round, kicking a little ass if need be.  Perfect.

    The whole Natural History article (from 1923!) is definitely worth a read as it goes in depth on the smaller, hairier shadow labor force throughout recorded history.  Helping Hands Helper Monkeys, makers of the above video also have a fascinating site for a more modern look at what our furry brothers are doing for us.


  9. Down the Paranoia Hole: Snopes’ Rumors of War

    For anyone looking to take a trip down the memory lane of rumors and hearsay past, Snopes’ “Rumors of War” section provides an excellent resource for digging through what happened, didn’t happen and was said to have happened, related to 9/11 and the subsequent spasms compiled into the narrative of the American “War on Terror”.  The anecdotes like “Time magazine is considering designating Osama bin Laden their Man of the Year for 2001″ (true) and “Hospitals experience a sharp increase in births nine months after September 11″ (false) are given the critical eye, providing for interesting reading.

    What a valuable resource for recreating the mood around these events.  By providing a record of the sort of urban legends, misinformation and anecdotes that were passed around, Snopes brings back the emotion of those times in a way that a straight factual record fails to do. It’s also a great starting place for a search on half-remembered things from the confusing aftermath of 9/11.


  10. An Email from Wolfgang Müller

    If the endless culture mining of the Internet were an RPG, discovering the music and performances of Die Tödliche Doris would surely be a leveling up milestone.  80s German post-unk that constantly subverts expectations, taking the term “experimental” at it’s word and seeking to create something truly new and ugly-beautiful.

    And just to show that they’re still relevant and know the way the game is played, they’ll send you all their music if you ask them nicely.  How cool is that?

    The Die Tödliche Doris website politely indicates that it would cost them a number of scarce ducats to actually make things available for free due to some sort of quirk of German law, directing you to instead email them for their complete discography.  I did so Friday night and the very next morning, the above email arrived from a Mr. Wolfgang Müller.

    The email explains where the tracks are on the server and, not one to be precious about such a thing, he provides a link to a handier method of downloading the tracks.  That’d be this fan page here.

    How refreshing to be greeted by such unabashed love for fans and above and beyond service.  Go forth, download, and enjoy, friends.

    Cheers to Dangerous Minds for turning me on to Die Tödliche Doris in the first place.

    And here’s the track that got me hooked: