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Claude Coats, the background artist who made the Haunted Mansion feel infinite


Long Forgotten, the world-beatingly insightful blog on the history and design of the Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and other parks, has a new lavishly illustrated post up, this one on the contribution of background artist Claude Coats. HBG2, the site's author, makes a compelling case for Coats' draftsmanship and sense of depth and detail being the clinching element of the Mansion's design, the thing that makes it seem so much bigger and realer than it has any right to be. I once read FoxxFur, the blogger at the equally awesome Passport2Dreams Old and New describe the Mansion as a series of scenes in a giant, empty box (contrasting with the Pirates of the Caribbean, which is really a series of towns and scenes that fill the whole ride-space -- but the Mansion feels like it goes on and on, like you could jump out of your vehicle and get lost in its depths.

Coats was one of the artists Walt pulled out of the studio to work on Disneyland as it neared completion. He had studied architecture as well as painting, and he seemed a natural pick for designing the interiors of dark rides, starting with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Among other things, Coats had a knack for squeezing an amazing amount of ride into a ridiculously small space. He and Ken Anderson must be given the lion's share of credit for Toad. The precise extent of Coats's contributions to the other two 1955 originals, Snow White and Peter Pan, is less clear, but there seems to be little doubt that he participated. Later dark rides in which he was heavily involved include Alice in Wonderland and Adventure Thru Inner Space (which was practically all Coats; notice that there are no characters in ATIS)...

Besides the sheer scale, another difference in this work was the mixture of 2D and 3D. Coats was now doing background paintings with bulges, a sort of bas-relief. He quickly showed himself a master of this technique. This Peter Pan shot is modern (hat tip Daveland), but it preserves the illusioneering Coats and Anderson pioneered at Disney, layering shallow, three-dimensional models against flat paintings...

Every time you feel that strange urge to wander into the labyrinthian depths of the Haunted Mansion and be lost (the pull is especially strong in the first half), that's Claude Coats the background painter, leaving your very self to supply the missing character cell.

We tend to think of immersive environments (especially the Disney ones) as being all about the robotics, character design, sound and ride systems, but the backgrounds are what really make the experience.

Long-Forgotten: Claude Coats: The Art of Deception and the Deception of Art

Sir Jonathan Ive

Apple's design chief, Jonathan Ive, is named a Knight Commander in Britain's new year's honours list. [BBC] Rob

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election


[Video Link] Here's a great video from Big Think by Penn Jillette called "An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election."

I have tried with friends to say the most blasphemous sentence I can possibly say and it does not come close to the blasphemy of Michelle Bachman saying that earthquakes and hurricanes were the way God was trying to get the attention of politicians.

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election

Pound On My Muffin (NSFW language, cupcakes)

Behold the inexplicable Shira Miss Muffin, who appears to be Pittsburgh's answer to Rebeccah Black. [Thanks, Heather! Thanks a lot.]

60beat GamePad controller plugs into iOS sound jack


[Video Link] This $50 controller looks cool, and the man in the video seems much nicer than Paul Christoforo. 60beat GamePad controller

Inside the Apple archives at Stanford Libraries

In 1997, Apple gifted the Stanford University Libraries its historical collections of paperwork, hardware, software, artifacts, and other materials documenting the organization since Woz and Jobs founded it in 1976. The Associated Press toured the collection. No, it's not available for public viewing.

Marvel's lawyers get into fanboy flamewar with IRS about human-status of its mutants

A classic fanboy-type argument has real-world tax implications. If the IRS decrees that Marvel's comic book mutants are human, then Marvel will have to pay more taxes.

In the non-fictional world, our world, Marvel is taking the position that mutants are not humans at all. But this isn’t an ideological or a moral stance. Instead, it is a financial one. Toys manufactured in other countries and imported into the US are subject to taxes, but those taxes are lower if the toys represent non-human characters. That has led to Marvel lawyers arguing that an action figure representing, say, Wolverine, is actually “representing animals or other non-human creatures (for example, robots and monsters).” This argument leads to a good conversation on the questions of humanity and acceptance that have long been part of the X-Men storyline.

Perhaps Marvel can tape a small styrofoam cube to its characters to skirt the rules.

Real-Life Weirdness: Marvel Lawyers Insist Mutants Aren’t Human (Via Neatorama)

Tea infuser meets junkbot


Now in the Boing Boing Shop, the Robot Tea Infuser, because tea is always better with robots.

Now more than ever, it's time to pull your domains from GoDaddy

Todd Wasserman of Mashable says "It's time to cut GoDaddy a Break." Marco Arment (creator of the fabulous Instapaper) disagrees:
Even if you’re OK with their support of SOPA, their sexist and tasteless commercials, and their elephant-killing CEO, they’re still a terrible registrar: their upselling is misleading, sneaky, and sleazy, their control panel is horrendously confusing, slow, and buggy (like the rest of their site), their DNS servers are unreliable and randomly ignore changes you make, their support is terrible, and they often block outbound transfers for no apparent reason. They don’t deserve “a break”.
Now more than ever, it's time to pull your domains from GoDaddy Mark

Chocolate hat of the day


Photo: Aly Song, with Reuters

Friday Freak-Out: The 13th Floor Elevators perform "You're Gonna Miss Me"

Friday Freak-Out: The 13th Floor Elevators performing "You're Gonna Miss Me" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand in 1966. The track is available on the essential album "The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators."

MIT and the future of open-source education

MIT has long offered thousands of undergrad and graduate level course materials for free online. This month, they announced plans to significantly update and expand that effort, creating an open-source education system called MITx that will basically allow anyone to virtually take an MIT class, participate in laboratories, and get individual assessment on whether or not they've learned the material. The school even has plans—not fully worked out yet—to offer some kind of certificate of completion to people who take classes this way and can show that they've mastered the subject. MITx will open in spring of 2012. I'm looking forward to checking out this great resource! (Thanks to Chris Hayden!) Maggie

Why tornadoes and hailstorms are more common during the workweek

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A new study suggests that in the summertime, tornadoes and hailstorms in the eastern US occur significantly more often during the middle of the week. Why? There's more pollution during the workweek due to commuting and other factors. From National Geographic:

…Moisture gathers around specks of pollutants, which leads to more cloud droplets. Computer models suggest these droplets get lofted up to higher, colder air, leading to more plentiful and larger hail.

Understanding how pollution can generate more tornadoes is a bit trickier. First, the large icy particles of hail that pollutants help seed possess less surface area than an equal mass of smaller "hydrometeors"—that is, particles of condensed water or ice.

As such, these large hydrometeors evaporate more slowly, and thus are not as likely to suck heat from the air. This makes it easier for warm air to help form a "supercell," the cloud type that usually produces tornadoes and large hail...

The pollution-storm pattern is not seen in the western U.S. because the air is too dry and the cloud masses too high and cold for air pollution to influence weather the same way, said study co-author Daniel Rosenfeld, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

Overall, the research "provides yet another good reason for reducing air pollution," Rosenfeld said.

"Why Tornadoes Take the Weekends Off in Summer"

Bukkakepool

The English seaside resort of Blackpool is currently coated in a mysterious white gunge, blowing in from the Atlantic ocean on storm-force winds. "We know it happens occasionally and can disappear again quite quickly so we will be looking further into what triggers it," said a spokesman for Britain's Environment Agency.

Stephen Hawking needs a new technician

Maintain
Sam Blackburn is the technician who for five years kept Stephen Hawking's communication systems running. Now Hawking is looking for a new Technical Assistant. To get a sense of the job, New Scientist interviewed Blackburn.

 Hawking Stephen's voice is very distinctive, but you say there might be a problem retaining it?

I guess the most interesting thing in my office is a little grey box, which contains the only copy we have of Stephen's hardware voice synthesizer. The card inside dates back to the 1980s and this particular one contains Stephen's voice. There's a processor on it which has a unique program that turns text into speech that sounds like Stephen's, and we have only two of these cards. The company that made them went bankrupt and nobody knows how it works any more. I am trying to reverse engineer it, which is quite tricky.

Can't you update it with a new synthesizer?

No. It has to sound exactly the same. The voice is one of the unique things that defines Stephen in my opinion. He could easily change to a voice that was clearer, perhaps more soothing to listen to – less robotic sounding – but it wouldn't be Stephen's voice any more.

"The man who saves Stephen Hawking's voice" (New Scientist)

"Think you could be the next Technical Assistant?" (hawking.org.uk)