Just in time for the 75th anniversary, some photos of the "first" science fiction convention, in Leeds (shown here, Walter Gillings, Arthur C. Clarke, Ted Carnell, in front of Theosophical Hall). Although the site pooh-poohs the idea that the first Philcon was the first-ever con, I'm somewhat loyal to the notion, for the completely ahistorical and biased reason that I was Philcon's guest of honor this year, 75 years after its first gathering.
In January 1937, the Leeds chapter of the Science Fiction League brought something new into the world: the first ever SF convention. (A counter claim is made for an earlier visit of New York fans to meet Philadelphia fans at the home of one of their number, but this is hard to take seriously - see THE FIRST EVER CONVENTION, link below.) At a time when travelling any distance was much more difficult than it is today, several of those attending travelled hundreds of miles to be there. Held in Leeds' Theosophical Hall, at 14 Queen Square, the main order of business was setting up the Science Fiction Association, the UK's first national SF organisation.
Avi Solomon: What first sparked your lifelong fascination with botany?
Avinoam Danin: My parents told me that when I was 3 years old I always said "Look father, I found a flower". My grandparents gave me the book "Analytical Flora of Palestine" on my 13 birthday - I checked off every plant I determined in the book's index of plant names.
Avi: How did you get to know the flora of Israel so intimately?
Aerodyne is Jeffrey Stephenson's latest hand-made Art Deco PC. In keeping with the (modern) times, it's a compact Mini-ITX affair in mahogany and aluminum, with an Intel i3 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. Stephenson plans to make no more than a handful of them, to order.
When [Rock] Santorum was in high school, "Everybody called him 'Rooster' because of a strand of hair on the back of his head which stood up, and because of his competitive, in-your-face attitude. 'He would debate anything and everything with you, mostly sports,' [a friend recalled]. 'He was like a rooster. He never backed down.'" That profile also contains this description of the young Santorum, before he met his wife, courtesy of a cousin: "Rick was a funny guy. He sported a bushy moustache for a time, wore Hawaiian shirts and smoked cigars. He liked to laugh, drink and call things 'horsey-assey.' He was very popular and fun to be around."
[Video Link] I'm looking forward to Into the Zone, a documentary about the Cacophony Society, which was a pranksterish underground cultural movement from San Francisco that paved the way for Burning Man. There will be a screening on Saturday, February 4, 2012 in Santa Ana, CA, followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker Jon Alloway and Cacophony instigators that I'll be moderating. Hope to see you there!
In 1944 a children’s book club sent a volume about penguins to a 10-year-old girl, enclosing a card seeking her opinion.
She wrote, “This book gives me more information about penguins than I care to have.”
American diplomat Hugh Gibson called it the finest piece of literary criticism he had ever read.
Maybe there’s a legitimate law enforcement reason to strip a man naked, strap him to a chair, tie a “spit hood” around his mouth, put a hood over his head (see video at the link), and douse him with pepper spray until he dies. That’s what sheriff’s deputies in Lee County, Florida did to 62-year-old Nick Christie two-and-a-half years ago.
I certainly can’t think of any such legitimate reason. But Lee County State’s Attorney Stephen Russell apparently can. Because he cleared the deputies involved of any wrongdoing.
On the CBC Ideas podcast, a lecture by Ethan Zuckerman on the connection between LOLcats, Internet activism and the Arab Spring:
In the 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, looks at the "cute cat" theory of internet activism, and how it helps explain the Arab Spring. He discusses how activists around the world are turning to social media tools which are extremely powerful, easy to use and difficult for governments to censor. The Vancouver Human Rights Lecture is co-sponsored by the UBC Continuing Studies, the Laurier Institution, and Yahoo.
A soldier carries ammunition on a naval ship during the Velayat-90 war game on Sea of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz in southern Iran December 31, 2011. Iran test-fired a new medium-range missile, designed to evade radars, on Sunday during the last days of its naval drill in the Gulf, the official IRNA news agency quoted a military official as saying. (REUTERS/Fars News/Hamed Jafarnejad - IRAN)
Alan Turing will get his own UK commemorative stamp in 2012. It will be fun to use it on sealed envelopes, as a kind of cherry-on-the-top for the traditional crypto argument that scrambling messages is the same as putting them in an envelope, as opposed to writing them on postcards.
The computer pioneer is one of 10 prominent people chosen for the Royal Mail's Britons of Distinction stamps, to be launched in February, which includes the allied war heroine Odette Hallowes of the Special Operations Executive, composer Frederick Delius and architect Sir Basil Spence, to mark the golden jubilee of Coventry Cathedral.
Turing worked as part of the team that cracked the Enigma code at Bletchley Park, and went on to help create the world's first modern computer. This year marks the centenary of his birth.
Above, a PBS NewsHour report by science correspondent Miles O'Brien which I helped shoot, on the subject of tissue engineering. The goal in this field: Grow tissue or even whole organs to repair damaged or diseased human bodies.
The report focuses in part on Isaias Hernandez, a 26-year old Marine whose leg was badly injured in an artillery attack on his convoy, in Iraq. "It looked like a chicken, like if you would take a bite out of it down to the bone," he tells Miles.
Dr. Steve Badylak of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh harvested material from a pig bladder to grow replacement muscle in the young Marine's leg.
Writing in Wired, Adam Rogers tells the story of how Canadian mycologist James Scott started his career by tracking down an ancient fungus that had adapted to growing on whiskey fumes and had infested a town around a Hiram Walker warehouse. Relatives of the fungus had been found around Cognac distilleries in 1872, but it had never been systematically studied with modern techniques. It turns out to be an extremophile fungus that can grow on pretty much anything, even stainless steel.
But by then, Scott had become obsessed with discovering how Baudoinia worked. After all, his name is next to it in the books. How did the mold use the angels’ share? A genetic analysis showed that it was only distantly related to cellar fungus, and researchers at a Department of Energy genomics lab—always looking for potential new ways to turn plants into ethanol for biofuel—added Baudoinia to their list of fungi-to-do. Physiological studies suggested that the ethanol helps the fungus produce heat-shock proteins, protective against temperature extremes, which might explain how it can survive the wide range of temperatures in habitats from Cognac to Canada to Kentucky.
Even weirder, how does a fungus that’s millions of years old, older than Homo sapiens, find a near-perfect ecological niche amid stuff people have been making for only a couple of centuries? Presumably somewhere in the world, naturally occurring Baudoinia lives adjacent to naturally fermenting fruit—or maybe it’s everywhere, a sluggish loser until it gets a whiff of ethanol. Evolution is full of stories of animals and plants fitting into hyper-specific man-made niches, as if nature somehow got the specs in advance. “It’s an urban extremophile,” Scott says. Typically we don’t think of cities as being particularly extreme environments, but few places on earth get as hot as a rooftop or as dry as the corner of a heated living room. Fungi live in both. Now Scott sees urban extremophile fungi everywhere. The black smudges along roadsides and on old buildings that look like soot, he says, are usually some hardy fungus that tolerates (or loves) diesel fumes, smog, and slightly acidic rain. Baudoinia might have been a bit player on prehuman Earth. But then we came along and built distilleries, Baudoinia’s own bespoke microparadises.
BB pal and former guestblogger Marc Weidenbaum, of the excellent Disquiet site asked 25 ambient musicians "who also enjoy using Instagram to create original short pieces of music -- call them "sonic postcards" -- inspired by each other's Instagram photos." He's posted the entire lovely collection of tracks and also a 58-page PDF of the Instagram images and background on the artists. From the Instagr/am/bient project page:
Photos shared with the popular software Instagram are usually square in format, not unlike the cover to a record album. The format leads inevitably to a question: if a given image were the cover to a record album, what would the album’s music sound like?
Instagr/am/bient is a response to that question. The project involves 25 musicians with ambient inclinations. Each of the musicians contributed an Instagram photo, and in turn each of the musicians recorded an original track in response to one of the photos contributed by another of the project’s participants. The tracks are sonic postcards.
Roboto, the new "house" font for Android 4, was branded a haphazard mash of classic typefaces. The longer you look at it--and the technological constraints that it aims to transcend-the clearer its virtues become. Read the rest
Seen above is a proposed 1912 design for the Lincoln Memorial by John Russell Pope, who would go on to design the Jefferson Memorial. According to historians quoted in Smithsonian magazine, Pope didn't like the site for the memorial so he "created radical designs in a last-ditch effort to discourage the Lincoln Memorial Commission from using the swampy location, west of the Washington Monument." Those of us familiar with the imagery of the Illuminati may beg to differ with that alleged rationale.The illustration is part of an exhibition at Washington DC's National Building Museum called "Unbuilt Washington."
In celebration of the new year, David "Everything is Miscellaneous" Weinberger has written up his "Top Ten Top Ten Top Ten list" -- a list of ten great lists of top ten lists. He also includes seven articles about why we like top ten lists.