Collectors of barbed wire

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Over at Collectors Weekly, BB pal Ben Marks lays out the fascinating history of barbed wire through the eyes of those who collect the stuff. Yes, there are barbed wire collectors. From Collectors Weekly:
 Articles Wp-Content Uploads 2011 08 Barbedwirehat This legacy is of keen interest to people like Parker, who collect mostly 18-inch-long sections of wire, which are often mounted on boards so the twisted strands and barbs don’t get all tangled up. There were some 800 unique barbed-wire patents, and many more unpatented variations for a total of perhaps 2,000 types of barbed wire. Some feature wire barbs attached to single or double strands. Others sport stationary barbs or rotating rowels made of sheet metal in decorative shapes, from leaves to diamonds to stars. Some barbed wire isn’t wire at all, made instead out of ribbons of sheet metal that have been punctured or sliced to create nasty points.

Like many collectors, (Karl) Parker was familiar with barbed wire long before it ever occurred to him to collect it. “I grew up with cows and fixed a lot of fence in my day,” he says. “I didn’t like barbed wire then, and I still don’t like to fix fence today. But when I was a little boy, my father took me to one of his friends’ houses. He was a collector and had a bunch of wire. I was always fascinated with it, but it never really stuck until I was out of high school. I’d be helping someone fix a fence and I’d see a new wire. I’d take small pieces home and it sort of escalated from there.”

These days, Parker concentrates his collecting efforts on rare wire. “I like the figure barbs and some of the more complex bends,” he says. “It’s fascinating to me that they did this with the machinery they had back then. Now it’s easy, but in the late 1800s, the ingenuity of the machines they built to bend the wire and insert a barb was amazing.”

"Barbed Wire, From Cowboy Scourge to Prized Relic of the Old West"

With computers doing the thinking, the executive is lonely

Enjoy this report by the BBC's Tomorrow's World into the new phenomenon of desk toys for bored modern executives. At the weekends, he polishes his flowers with aerosols.

Video Link [BBC]

The Infinite Adventure Machine

David Benqué's Infinite Adventure Machine creates random folk-tales, and is itself an adventure in what he describes as an unsolved computer science problem: automatic story generation.

Tales and myths; the core narratives of human culture, have been transmitted for generations through various technologies and media. What new forms might they take through digital formats and Artificial Intelligence?

Based on the work of Vladimir Propp, who reduced the structure of russian folk-tales to 31 basic functions, TIAM aims to question the limitations and implications of attempts at programming language and narrative.

Because the program is unable to deliver a finished story, rather only a crude synopsis and illustrations, users have to improvise, filling the gaps with their imagination and making up for the technology's shortcomings.

Wikipedia's article on Propp has a lengthy description of his typology of narrative structures.

I've always been fascinated by the subtle movement these devices make, whereby a description of universal narrative elements is turned into a prescription for writing new stories. Every few years there seems to be another bestseller book, for example, telling you how to succeed in Hollywood using Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell. But I love these random generators all the same (and make my own). The bite-size mind-meld between culture and software they embody has a strange magic to it.

The Infinite Adventure Machine [Glitch Fiction via Creative Applications]

Sony's HMZ-T1: Home theater in a headset

Sony's HMZ-T1 is a head-mounted 3D headset, to be released later this year in Japan. Two 1280x720 OLED displays, each just 7/10 of an inch across, create a virtual 750" screen. Perceived 20m from the viewer, it "corresponds to the sense of cinema as seen from a large central seat." It'll be 60,000 Yen ($785) from mid-november.

Source [Impress.co.jp]

Gaddafi's high-tech computer spying facility revealed

I know it doesn't look like much, but see that "1.44" off to the right? That means they are high density floppies.

First Look Inside Security Unit [WSJ. Photos: Edu Bayer]

LoJack makers sued over privacy invasion after tracking stolen laptop


Illustration: Sean Gladwell, Shutterstock. See more like this.

A schoolteacher who bought a stolen laptop from one of her students ($60, with a scraped-off serial number) is suing the makers of LoJack, the pre-installed software used by investigators to recover it. Absolute Software failed to have the case summarily dismissed; a judge ruled that its tracking of her, including emails and recorded sex acts, may violate wiretapping laws. [Wired]

Wacom Inkling

Wacom's Inkling is a pen that draws both on paper and on-screen, tracking the artist's linework with 1024 levels of sensitivity. At $200, it's barely even expensive! The Inkling will be in stores by mid-September.

Inkling [Wacom]

Catholic officials in Ireland object to child abuse disclosure law

Officials of the Catholic church in Ireland object to a new law that mandates the reporting of child abuse. From the BBC:

The Irish Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that priests who are given admissions of child abuse during the sacrament of confession will not be exempt from new rules on mandatory reporting. During his homily to worshippers at Knock shrine in County Mayo, on Sunday, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland said: "Freedom to participate in worship and to enjoy the long-established rites of the church is so fundamental that any intrusion upon it is a challenge to the very basis of a free society."

The discussion seems to center on future abuses revealed during confession, but I wonder if it's really about the ongoing use of the sacrament to hide internal discussions of undisclosed abuses from the possibility of legal scrutiny.

Child protection measures apply regardless of religious rules [BBC]

How to make a crafting table

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The multi-talented maker Nick Britsky made this cool crafting table for his multi-talented crafter girlfriend, Lish Dorset.

How-to: Custom crafting table

100 years of East London style in 100 seconds


[Video Link] From Laughing Squid: "To announce the grand opening of Westfield Stratford City, which will soon be “the largest urban shopping centre in Europe”, Westfield created this fun short film, 100 YEARS / STYLE / EAST LONDON. The film, directed by Jake Lunt with The Viral Factory, amazingly gives the run-down of 100 years of East London fashion, dance and music in just 100 seconds."

List of scienceers on Google+

Are you looking for cool science news and thoughts on Google+? Check out this spreadsheet, which collects a bunch of scientists, science writers, and other related people into one place. You can even circle them en-masse! (Thanks Chris Robinson!)

Animals and the amygdala

As part of a cool project in blogging on Google+ ("plogging"), Nature editor Noah Gray writes about a recent experiment that found that specific neurons in the human amygdala respond instantly to images of animals. These responses were stronger and faster than when other neurons responded to those images, and stronger and faster than when the animal-centric neurons responded to other types of images.

The amygdala is well known to be involved in fear modulation and memory, as well as influencing other types of emotional processing. So is it expected that cells in this structure would respond so strongly to the sight of animals? There is a moderate precedent from the non-human primate literature. Studies in macaques have revealed strong firing of amygdalar neurons to faces, so categorical responses aren't unique in the amygdala. This is true in humans as well, but humans also maintain a different dedicated brain region for face processing, perhaps opening up some portions of the amygdala to take on additional, different roles. But why would we need a dedicated system for animal imagery, elevating this particular stimulus to such an important position in our recognition system? Well this is all speculation, but it isn't difficult to state the obvious and stress that animals were critical as prey for our ancient ancestors, as well as potential threats. Thus, early man may have developed a system to speed our reaction times to such an important category as the landscape was visually scanned for information. Placing this system in a brain region critical to emotion processing could have also more-easily mobilized action through a rapid activation of attack or flight responses.

Image: Animal Kingdom Sign, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from pixeljones's photostream

Inside the sea caves of Devil's Island

Last year, when I posted here about the history of the lighthouse at Devil's Island, Wisconsin, several of you noticed the island's extensive network of sea caves, carved into the sandstone cliffs by splashing waves and moving water. This year, when some friends and I went on a little paddle through the caves, I took along a video camera. It doesn't quite capture the eerie awesomeness of floating into the dark with Lake Superior behind you, but it's still pretty neat.

Apologies in advance for the occasional sudden jerky movements and possible audible swearing. Devil's Island is also home to a large population of biting flies and my ankles are, apparently, quite tasty.

Video Link

Treating mental illness with cigarettes

While nationally, only about 20% of Americans smoke, 80% of schizophrenic Americans smoke. That's interesting, but it's not the most interesting part. Apparently, there's some evidence that those people with schizophrenia are using tobacco as a form of self medication.

At the Risk Science Blog, Mark Stewart looks at the weird dilemma people with schizophrenia are faced with when it comes to smoking:

Schizophrenics often have auditory hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, and disorganized thinking. These symptoms are predominantly caused by the inability of the brains of schizophrenics to differentiate, sort, and focus on the multitude of stimuli that go on around us. Think of being in a busy restaurant. Imagine that instead of being able to block out all the noises, conversations, and movements around you, every single piece of sensory information is as important as the interesting things said by the attractive person sitting across from you. The effects of cigarette smoking and nicotine help schizophrenics through increased selective attention.

“They should use other forms of medication,” I hear you say. Great idea, except for the fact that anti-psychotic drugs are very expensive, do not work very well for most people, and have extreme side effects. Tardive dyskinesia is the most common side effect. This makes it very hard for the body to move in normal ways at normal speeds. Also, there are common metabolic side effects that are quite similar to an individual having diabetes. (Just what someone with a severe mental illness needs!) Thus, the cheapness, effectiveness, and availability of cigarettes offer most schizophrenics some succor. Smoking leads to schizophrenics having a 30-60% increased risk of respiratory disorders and heart disease, but is this a risk that is worth taking?

This is really interesting to me. I've heard people talk about cigarettes as self-medication for ADHD, as well, and for much the same reasons. I sure found that smoking made it easier for me to study and write back in college. Although, for my ADHD, behavioral therapy and methylin ended up being a much better option. So I quit. But this poses an interesting question: If my official therapies carried the kind of side-effects that people with schizophrenia have to deal with, would smoking be more attractive?

Finally, an extinct species you can feel good about

The specific strain of the bacteria Yersinia pestis that was responsible for the Black Death in Europe is probably now extinct, according to a new study. The bacterial DNA extracted from historic samples doesn't match modern Y. pestis. This could go a long way toward explaining why the Plague seems significantly less deadly today than it was medieval Europe.