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Conclusion of Martian Chronicles podcast

The final installment of Jeff Lane's reading of my YA story "Martian Chronicles" is up on Starship Sofa. It's from Life on Mars, a great YA anthology that came out in 2011. MP3 (Previously: 1, 2) Cory

An update in very important whale/dolphin friendship news

You guys! Remember yesterday, when we learned that dolphins and whales in Hawaii have twice been caught spontaneously playing together? Apparently, this gets better. Dolphins in a French aquarium seem to be "speaking" whale—making whale-sounding noises at night that mimic the actual whale noises they hear all day on the soundtrack to the aquarium dolphin show they perform in. These dolphins have never met real whales. But dolphins are known mimics and it seems that they're capable of practicing and improving on mimicked sounds hours after the sound has gone away. (Via Mindy Weisberger) Maggie

A view inside a nuclear reactor

This is not a metaphorical view inside a nuclear reactor. This is for real-real.

This month, the good folks at TEPCO sent a remote-controlled endoscope and thermometer into the containment vessel of Fukishima's crippled reactor #2, hoping to learn something about the level of cooling water, the state of the fuel rods, and the temperature in the reactor. The view is obscured by steam, the effects of radiation, and (are you sitting down) actual goddam gamma rays just whizzing by. According to the PBS Frontline blog, those are the little streaks and flashes that you see in this video.

The probe revealed corroded piping and dripping humidity, but did not reveal the water’s surface level, which TEPCO had expected to be as high as four meters. The containment vessel was flooded with seawater during the reactor meltdown when other attempts to cool it failed. Current water levels inside the reactor remain unknown.

The probe’s thermometer function proved more revealing; it recorded the interior temperature at 44.7 degrees centigrade (112 degrees Farenheit), demonstrating that the unit’s own thermometer, thought to be off by as many as 20 degrees, is still functioning accurately.

Video Link

How deadly is bird flu?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization, say that H5N1 bird flu kills some 60% of the human beings it manages to infect. Basically, it hasn't infected many people—because it can't be spread from person to person—but most of the people it does infect die.

But this might not be the full story.

After I posted a summary of the current controversies surrounding H5N1 research, I got an interesting email from Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center. Racaniello points out that the 60% death rate statistics are based on people who show up at hospitals with serious symptoms of infection. So far, there've only been about 600 cases. And, yes, about 60% of them have died.

However, they don't necessarily represent everybody who has contracted H5N1.

A death rate is only as good as statistics on the rate of infection. If you've got an inaccurate count of the number of people infected, your death rate is going to be wrong. And there's some evidence that might be the case with H5N1.

In a recent study of rural Thai villagers, sera from 800 individuals were collected and analyzed for antibodies against several avian influenza viruses, including H5N1, by hemagglutination-inhibition and neutralization assays. The results indicate that 73 participants (9.1%) had antibody titers against one of two different H5N1 strains. The authors conclude that ‘people in rural central Thailand may have experienced subclinical avian influenza virus infections’. A subclinical infection is one without apparent signs of illness.

If 9% of the rural Asian population has been subclinically infected with avian H5N1 influenza virus strains, it would dramatically change our view of the pathogenicity of the virus. Extensive serological studies must be done to determine the extent of human infection with avian H5N1 influenza viruses. Until we know how many individuals are infected with avian influenza H5N1, we must refrain from making dire conclusions about the pathogenicity of the virus.

RAW Week: Everything I Need to Know I Learned From RAW, by David Jay Brown

Editor's note: I received so many wonderful essays about Robert Anton Wilson, that I've extended RAW Week for a few more days! -- Mark

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Robert Anton Wilson departed from this world on January 11, 2007 at 4:50 am. He will be missed enormously by his many loving friends and devoted fans, and his powerful impact upon the world will continue to catalyze the evolution of the human species for many years to come. Bob was one of the most brilliant and conscious people to ever grace this wayward world, and he was always a man ahead of his time. I predict that his books will be far more popular in years to come than they are today. Future generations will cherish his books with the same reverence that scholars today hold for geniuses like James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

Bob had an uncanny ability to lead his readers, unsuspectingly, into a state of mind where they are playfully tricked into "aha" experiences that cause them to question their most basic assumptions. His books are the literary equivalent of a psychedelic experience and they can be every bit as mind-expanding as a couple a good swigs of Amazonian jungle juice. Many people attribute their initial psychological "awakening" to their reading of his psychoactive books -- myself included. It was Bob's book Cosmic Trigger that not only allowed me to understand the concept of "multiple realities," but also inspired me to become a writer when I was a teenager. It was also where I first discovered many of the fascinating individuals who would later become the subjects of my interview books.

I really owe a lot to Bob. After I completed writing my first book at the age of twenty-six, I approached Bob after a lecture that he gave and asked him if he would be willing to write me a promotional blurb for the back cover of the book. He said, "maybe." and didn't really leave me with the impression that he was too eager to do it. I got the feeling that young writers bugged him all the time for back cover blurbs.

But I had my publisher send him a copy of the book anyway. You can imagine my surprise -- and total radiant delight -- when I discovered that Bob had actually written an eleven page introduction for the book (Brainchild, which was published in 1988). Words simply can not describe what a thrilling experience this was for me! In 1989 I moved to Los Angeles, where Bob and Arlen were living at the time, and I became good friends with them. (I dedicated my book Virus to Bob's wife Arlen.)

Read the rest

Homebrew Monster Manual


After seeing today's entry on a homebrew D&D module, Chris sends us his own addenda to the Monster Manual, lavishly illustrated with youthful zest.

My Monster Manual (Thanks, Chris!)

Pirate Bay branches out into physical objects

The Pirate Bay has launched a new category called Physibles. They explain: "Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years." Cory

Christian Nightmares video performance in Philadelphia, Sat, January 28, 2012


[Video Link] I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I like this video, and I like the song with the uplifting lyrics about being left behind after the Rapture, too. I learned it is a popular song called "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," and it has been covered by a bunch of bands.

I think a longer version of this video will be played during an intermission at a club in Philadelphia called Johnny Brenda’s. Here are the event details.

Parents' snooping teaches kids to share their passwords with each other


Matt Richtel's recent NYT article on teenagers who share their Facebook passwords as a show of affection has raised alarms with parents and educators who worry about the potential for bullying and abuse.

But as danah boyd points out the practice of password-sharing didn't start with kids: it started with parents, who required their kids to share their passwords with them. Young kids have to share their passwords because they lose them, and older kids are made to share their passwords because their parents want to snoop on them. Basically, you can't tell kids that they must never, ever share their passwords and require them to share their passwords.

There are different ways that parents address the password issue, but they almost always build on the narrative of trust. (Tangent: My favorite strategy is when parents ask children to put passwords into a piggy bank that must be broken for the paper with the password to be retrieved. Such parents often explain that they don’t want to access their teens’ accounts, but they want to have the ability to do so “in case of emergency.” A piggy bank allows a social contract to take a physical form.)

When teens share their passwords with friends or significant others, they regularly employ the language of trust, as Richtel noted in his story. Teens are drawing on experiences they’ve had in the home and shifting them into their peer groups in order to understand how their relationships make sense in a broader context. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone because this is all-too-common for teen practices. Household norms shape peer norms.

There’s another thread here that’s important. Think back to the days in which you had a locker. If you were anything like me and my friends, you gave out your locker combination to your friends and significant others. There were varied reasons for doing so. You wanted your friends to pick up a book for you when you left early because you were sick. You were involved in a club or team where locker decorating was common. You were hoping that your significant other would leave something special for you.

How Parents Normalized Teen Password Sharing

(Image: Swordfish, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from ideonexus's photostream)

Vintage Photographs of Arcane Americana

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 -Zaahfeto1Z0 Tvjswkkgdti Aaaaaaaao2S Yk- Invktu8 S1600 Arcane A year ago, I posted about Take Me To The Water, a terrific book/CD set and exhibit of river baptism photos from the 1880s - 1930s. The photos were from the collection of Jim Linderman, who has a terrific eye for weird art, antiques, ephemera, and of course vernacular photography. Jim has just published a new book -- Vintage Photographs of Arcane American -- and judging from the samples online, it's a doozy. You can purchase the paperback or e-book via Jim's site, Dull Tool Dim Bulb. "Vernacular Photography Linderman Style Vintage Photographs of Arcane Americana Book and ebook Now Available"

HOWTO make a boombox out of a toolbox

Chicago's Floyd Davis demonstrates how to make a boombox out of any case, including a Craftsman toolbox.

Boombox in a Toolbox

Man didn't notice 3 inch nail go into his brain

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Dante Antullo, 32, thought a nail gun accident last week had just left him with a surface abrasion. But the next day, he felt nauseous and his girlfriend convinced him to see a doctor. Physicians found a 3 1/4-inch nail in his brain. Surgeons removed it and Antullo is recovering well. From the AP:

“When they brought in the picture, I said to the doctor ‘Is this a joke? Did you get that out of the doctors joke file?’” the 32-year-old recalled. “The doctor said ‘No man, that’s in your head.’”

Autullo, who lives in Orland Park (Illinois), said he was building a shed Tuesday and using the nail gun above his head when he fired it. With nothing to indicate that a nail hadn’t simply whizzed by his head, his long-time companion, Gail Glaenzer, cleaned the wound with peroxide.

“It really felt like I got punched on the side of the head,” he said, adding that he continued working. “I thought it went past my ear.”

"X-ray reveals truth, 3-inch nail removed from Ill. man’s brain"

Movie about robot sex movie

Mike Sullivan is making tiny robot actors to star in his stop-motion robot sex film. Documentary filmmaker Matt Lenski made a documentary about Sullivan's efforts. Titled "The Meaning of Robots," it premiered last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. Above is the trailer. From Lenski's description of the project:

In the Spring of 2011, after years of hiring him to build miniature sets for my films I asked Mike Sullivan for his help on an art project – A doll-sized protest kit. During the process I got a peek into his world and discovered that it was anything but miniature.

What I found was a man dedicated, overwhelmed, slightly lost and happy to share it with honesty and a little humor.

I also found thousands of Robots with wieners.

Matt Lenski's "The Meaning of Robots" (via Laughing Squid, thanks Puce!)

Louisiana commissioner proposes ban on public pajama-wearing

Caddo Parish, LA commissioner Michael Williams is sick and tired of being able to discern guys' penises through their pajamas at WalMart (apparently, the men of Caddo like to go to WalMart in their jammies, which is pretty boss if you ask me -- I live in my jimjams). He's proposed a local ordinance to prohibit the wearing of pajamas in public.

"Pajamas are designed to be worn in the bedroom at night," said Williams, likely after extensive research on the history and design of pajamas. "If you can't [wear them to the] courthouse, why are you going to do it in a restaurant or in public?" (Um, because those aren't courthouses?) Williams also invoked the "slippery-slope" argument, of course. "Today it's pajamas," he said, "tomorrow it's underwear. Where does it stop?" Seems to me there's only one further step once you get to underwear. This guy is really not that imaginative.

If Pajamas Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Wear Pajamas

Trailer Tuesday: Illustrator Ed Emberley documentary

"Everyone who likes my books is like me in some way. If you like my books [but] you've never met me, there's something about you that's just like me."

That must mean I'm a dead ringer for Emberley, because I am positively gaga for his instructional drawing books for kids.

Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Ed Emberley is truly a national treasure, having drawn nearly 100 books. The warmth of his family and his 17th century home are an essential part of his work. In this installment of the lynda.com flagship documentary series, we go to Ed’s home in Ipswich, Massachusetts, to meet him and all of the members of his talented family, including his wife and author, Barbara; children, illustrators Rebecca and Michael; and granddaughter, recording artist Adrian Emberley. A generation of children have learned to draw using Ed’s drawing books and we watch as a new generation puts crayon to paper. At 80 years young, Ed is pushing ahead and we meet with his team as he works on his newest iPad app — with graphic artists that, as children, learned to draw with his books.

Getting to know Ed Emberley, Children's Book Illustrator