1. Don’t Tase Me Tom Swift

    Tasers are consistently in the news as the power hungry bully asshole police officer‘s best friend. Just in the past couple days cops managed to taser a autistic boy and tase a child at a day care leading to the use of tasers being questioned all around.

    Where did this word “taser” come from? It’s a homage to fictional character Tom Swift, an ambitious lad who goes on over 100 adventures in a series of books. One of the more famous works by “Victor Appleton” (actually a pseudonym for a collection of numerous authors) is Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle— Or TASER. The official acronym of the device patented as “Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle.” Thank you, Tom Swift. A generation of cops that are dicks thank you.

  2. Ted The Caver

    Ted the Caver. It’s the story of a caver who comes across something terrifying on an spelunking adventure. The story unfolds on a website done in the early 2000’s (its even on Angelfire!) almost like if the Blair Witch Project was a website and not a movie. Ending with a 404 error with a promise of more information is brilliant.

    Turns out the story originally by Thomas Lera in 1987 (but is set in the early 2000’s) who pens horror and sci-fi stories on the the name “John Rowlands.” Lera is very interested in caves and speleophilately or the study of caves on stamps, covers, and cancelations. Yes, some people’s interests are more specific than yours.

    I found the PDF of the original short story “The Fear of Darkness” on my computer and its a good read if you enjoy the Ted the Caver site. There’s something though about the interactivity of the site though and mysterious lack of conclusion.

  3. The Forbidden Secrets of Mark Twain

    Mark Twain had his nut together, as the feller says.  In perhaps the classiest move in the realm of tell-all books, Twain added a stipulation to his reputedly vitriolic autobiography for a hundred year delay in publication, saving all but perhaps the youngest of targets of his invective the embarrassment of still being alive.

    This year that century is finally over.  No longer shall Twain’s crankiest gripes be denied us.  The manuscript is still being polished, at the moment, giving us a golden window of irresponsible speculation as to the contents.

    DOES IT…

    • reveal Twain as the true lyricist of “Hey Man Nice Shot“, originally a scandalous tribute to Leon Czolgosz, assassin of William McKinley?
    • uncover lost secrets of mustache maintenance, long since outlawed? (hint: spare the placenta, spoil the ‘stache)
    • sketch out an unpublished novel that served as inspiration for Jurassic Park, entitled A Connecticut Yankee in a G_____n Reptile Orgy!?
    • serve as the text for a book cipher that reveals bosom buddy Nikola Tesla’s suppressed formula for free energy?

    Whatever this bitchy chronicle will hold, I guarantee you it will contain fewer WTFs per minute than this clip from The Adventures of Mark Twain.

    Let it be known that I prefer the Red Headed Stranger to the Mysterious Stranger.

  4. Possible reason for Homo floresiensis (“Hobbit”) extinction

    Homo floresiensis and a Dodo

    Remember the small species of humans Homo floresiensis (dubbed “Hobbits” by the media) discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003? This possible species existed with modern man from 93,000 to 13,000. Interestingly, the natives had legends of small people in the jungle…

    Dr. H.J.M. (Hanneke) Meijer has some interesting comparisons between the estimated size of the short-statured, long-armed, and large-footed cousin of ours Homo floresiensis and aviary fauna.

    That bird at 1.8m look like it could eat 1.0m. Never underestimate man’s capacity to kill– even if he is a Hobbit. These might have been the delicacy of Homo floresiensis or even their only food source.

    According to this research the island of Flores in Indonesia (despite popular misconceptions from documentaries movies by Peter Jackson, hobbits are not from New Zealand) was for a period an oasis just 4,000 years ago. There was fresh water and if there’s anything a vertebrae like us, Dodos, or Hobbits like is a good beverage. Could climate change and lack of good Dodo meat have killed our shorter cryptid cousins?

  5. Kevin Costner Saves the Gulf Coast from Oil Spill, The Movie

    From the LA Times article “Kevin Costner may hold key to oil spill cleanup“:

    The “Kevin Costner solution” to the worsening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may actually work, and none too soon for the president of Plaquemines Parish.

    Wow. I had no idea Kevin Costner held the key to anything, let alone solving an environmental disaster. Or that the abysmal movie Waterworld might save the world.

    I couldn’t stop myself from firing up Photoshop to make the movie poster for this affair.

    Kevin Costner, Oil Field of Dreams

  6. We’re Number One: Pee Your Way to Carbon Neutrality

    don't pee on power lines

    Remember when I sang the praises of ass-powered electrical generation?  Yeah, well, that’s just the half of the juice you’re flushing away.  Or drinking as part of a bizarre training regimenGerardine Botte of Ohio University has been working on a method of pulling hydrogen out of urine for future fuel cells and Hindenburgs.

    Tell ’em Chemistry World:

    Botte says the idea came to her several years ago at a conference on fuel cells, where they were discussing how to turn clean water into clean power. ‘I wondered how we could do this better,’ she adds – so started looking at waste streams as a better source of molecules from which to produce hydrogen.

    Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea. To break the molecule down, a voltage of 0.37V needs to be applied across the cell – much less than the 1.23V needed to split water.

    Awesome.  To enable this technology, may I suggest we start designing facilities that take a cue from the urine-diverting latrines I was lucky enough to use down in the bateyes in the D.R.?  Two processes, two routes for the gold.

    I’m also interested to hear if this electrolysis process can be adapted to solar energy storage schemes or to use the viral scaffolding technique for splitting off hydrogen that was recently reported by MIT researchers. Picture it: every bathroom a power plant, every septic tank a goldmine.

    Get ready kids.  Your toilet handle’s about to start paying off better than a slot machine.

  7. My Reignited Theremin Obsession

    Just had my theremin lust reignited by this 3 minute history/build video from G4’s Attack of the Show, via Create Digital Music.  Oh man.  I’ve been planning to build one of these since a random reference on the Slanky-L* to a theremin sample sent me off in search of just what this weird musical instrument could do.

    Turns out the history is just as fascinating as the ghost sound machine’s electronic guts.  Here’s an excerpt from the first interview with the Theremin’s inventor, Leon Theremin, after he first emerged from the U.S.S.R. after 51 years of state arrest:

    Mattis: When did you first conceive of your instrument?

    Theremin: The idea first came to me right after our Revolution, at the beginning of the Bolshevik state. I wanted to invent some kind of an instrument that would not operate mechanically, as does the piano, or the cello and the violin, whose bow movements can be compared to those of a saw. I conceived of an instrument that would created sound without using any mechanical energy, like the conductor of an orchestra. The orchestra plays mechanically, using mechanical energy; the conductor just moves his hands, and his movements have an effect on the music artistry [of the orchestra].

    Mattis: Why did you make this instrument?

    Theremin: I became interested in effectuating progress in music, so that there would be more [musical] resources. I was not satisfied with the mechanical instruments in existence, of which there were many. They were all built using elementary principles and were not physically well done. I was interested in making a different kind of instrument. And I wanted, of course, to make an apparatus that would be controlled in space, exploiting electrical fields, and that would use little energy. Therefore I transformed electronic [equipment] into a musical instrument that would provide greater resources.

    Mattis: What did Lenin think of it, and why did you show it to him?

    Theremin: In the Soviet Union at that time everyone was interested in new things, in particular all the new uses of electricity: for agriculture, for mechanical uses, for transport, for communication. And so then, at that time, when everyone was interested in these fields, I decided to create a musical use for electricity. I made a few first apparatuses that were made [based on principles of] the human interference of radio waves in space, at first used in [electronic] security systems, then applied to musical purposes. I made it, and I showed it at that time to the leaders. There was a big electronics conference in Moscow, and I showed my instruments there. It made a big splash. It was written up in the literature and the newspapers, of which we had many at that time, and many doors were opened [for me then] in the Soviet Union. And so Vladimir Il’yich Lenin, the leader of our state, learned that I had shown an interested thing at this conference, and he wanted to get acquainted with it himself. So they asked me to come with my apparatus, with my musical instrument, to his office, to show him. And I did so.

    Mattis: What did Lenin think of it?

    Theremin: I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Il’yich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the thereminvox. I played a piece [of music]. After I played the piece they applauded, including Vladimir Il’yich [Lenin], who had been watching very attentively during my playing. I played Glinka’s “Skylark”, which he loved very much, and Vladimir Il’yich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try himself to play it. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him. He started to play “Skylark”. He had a very good ear, and he felt where to move his hands to get the sound: to lower them or to raise them. In the middle of this piece I thought that he could himself, independently, move his hands. So I took my hands off of his, and he completed the whole thing independently, by himself, with great success and with great applause following. He was very happy that he could play on this instrument all by himself.

    Read the whole interview here.

    A more thorough history can be had in the 1995 documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.  Oddly, I can’t find any video clips of it online, but if you’re dying to see it, I’ll gladly mail you my VHS copy.  Just leave a comment and I’ll email you for mailing details.

    * remember listservs?  remember Soul Coughing?  that’s ok.

  8. Eating Dog in Microgravity

    What do you want to bet that when astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts and the rest get together and shoot the bull, the question comes up: “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten in space?”

    Chinese space pilot Yang Liwei has a pretty good trump card for that: the menu on the 2003 Shenzhou Five mission included dog.  Y’know, for stamina.

    The Telegraph reports:

    A local proverb in the south of China is that “Huajiang dog is better for you than ginseng”, referring to the medicinal root that plays a vital role in traditional Chinese medicine.

    He added that the diet had been specially drawn up for the astronauts by Chinese nutritionists and that the food had been purchased from special suppliers in Beijing. Dog is widely eaten in northern China, where it is believed to help battle the winter cold. The menu was still in use last year, when Chinese astronauts conducted their first ever spacewalk. China has plans to land a man on the moon by 2020.

    No word on whether that spacewalk was a foraging mission through the toasted remains of Sputnik 2 for some Laika jerky.

    Still, braised bits of Man’s Best Friend work better than some ill-advised food experiments.  While the early restriction of space food to tubes and dehydrated slabs was due to an excess of caution rather than actual conditions, foods eaten by astronauts have to meet certain criteria of nutrition, digestibility and environmental concerns.  For example, a contraband corned beef sandwich smuggled aboard a Gemini mission by astronaut John Young wrecked havoc when little crumbs of rye bread floated around the cabin in microgravity, not to mention filling the tiny, airtight cockpit with the smell of corned beef for the duration of the journey.

    For this reason, conventional sliced bread rarely makes it into space.  U.S. missions favor tortillas, potentially a future point of collaboration with the nascent Mexican space program.  (Yes, Mexico has a space program.  No, it doesn’t ferry orca-nauts.)

    Perhaps the most intense space food initiative in recent years was the development of space-worthy kimchi for Korean astronaut Ko San:

    Three top government research institutes spent millions of dollars and several years perfecting a version of kimchi that would not turn dangerous when exposed to cosmic rays or other forms of radiation and would not put off non-Korean astronauts with its pungency.

    We all sleep soundly knowing that the finest minds in food science have protected us for the consequences of allowing cosmic-ray mutated kimchi to unleash it’s wrath upon human civilization. (Pretty sure those consequences made it into a 70s issue of the Fantastic Four)

  9. Texas Congressman Uses Porn to Slash Science Funding

    Congressman Ralph Hall (R) from TexasThe COMPETE Act initiated by the George W Bush white house in 2007 provides much needed funding for science and education in the United States. To quietly kill it before it started U.S. Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX) called A Motion to Recommit, thereby allowing him to add some nonsense and send the bill back to the committee where it would probably die. The Motion said no Government funding would be given to any organization that jerks off on the job. I don’t know why people in Texas hate science and reasoning so much, but they do.

    From Discover’s Bad Astronomy Blog:

    This bill would have extended funding for several more years in key places, including science education. Hall is the ranking Republican on the House Science and Technology Committee that prepped the bill. There had been objections by Republicans on the committee to the amount of spending of the bill. The Democrat-controlled committee made some concessions in that area (shaving 10% of the spending off), but still passed the bill out of committee. The next step would be a vote on the floor of the House.
    However, right before it was to go to the floor, Rep. Hall called a Motion to Recommit. Because of those weird rules I mentioned above, this meant that Congress would either have to agree to the Motion and have the bill sent back to committee — where it would die — or overrule the Motion. Now follow this carefully: part of the Motion Rep. Hall submitted was language added to the bill that said that it would prevent the government from paying salaries to employees who looked at porn on government computers.
    By doing this, Hall basically bet all his chips. Hall’s move left Congress, notably Democrats, with two options: kill this much-needed bill that invests in America’s future in science and technology, or overrule a motion punishing people for downloading pornography. If they did the latter, the far right noise machine, always eager for red meat in the political arena, could then say Democrats voted to continue paying employees who looked at porn.

    So Hall basically said “if you pass this Motion, it will get killed– maybe. But if you don’t the GOP will say the Democrats support Internet masturbation at work.” Really the ones who were surfing porn on the Internet were the SEC, the same people who didn’t do anything when the ship was going down.