UK tories embroiled in Cornish Pasty row

UK chancellor George Osborne was confronted on his government's decision to charge value-added tax (VAT) on hot take-away food like pasties. Labour MP John Mann asked Osborne when he'd last had a pasty from Gregg's, a chain of bakeries. Osborne couldn't recall. But PM David Cameron was ready for the question when it next arose at a press conference, stating "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too."

The West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet at Leeds station has been gone for two years; there was another pasty baker there, the Cornish Bakehouse, but it closed last week. Patrick Wintour and Martin Wainwright explain in the Guardian:

Despite U-turns on most things this week, Downing Street stuck to its line and insisted that the prime minister had eaten a pasty at Leeds station, but the date was unclear, and possibly the purveyors had not been West Cornwall Pasty Company.

This was just as well, since Gavin Williams, the ungrateful boss of David Cameron's favourite pasty-makers, was not interested in Cameron's endorsement of his product. He wanted "clarity and leadership" from the prime minister.

But clarity is a rare commodity in this area, since it seems a pasty can avoid VAT if it is served cold at the counter and then warmed elsewhere in the shop.

Read the rest

Potato removed from clergyman's anus

"He explained to me, quite sincerely, he had been hanging curtains naked in the kitchen when he fell backwards on to the kitchen table and on to a potato," said Sheffield, England A&E nurse Trudi Watson. "But it's not for me to question his story." [Metro] Read the rest

Original MC Frontalot CD art for sale

MC Frontalot sez, "The unstoppable Eliza Gauger is selling off the original back-cover painting that she did for my album Zero Day. A little bit of nerdcore history available to the aspiring archivist, with about two days left to bid."

ZERO DAY Read the rest

Padlock daisy-chains

Sculptor Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's piece "Nothing is more optimistic than Stjärnsund" is a curator's playset of modified, daisy-chain-able padlocks. I like the idea of a necklace of these things, lying flat like an industrialized, faux-Egyptian burial ornament.

This piece consists of twenty modified padlocks which can be interconnected to create chains or assemblages, as the collector or curator sees fit. The piece is intended as a construction kit with a plethora of possible combinations, like a Meccanno, and is a hommage to Lygia Clark's "Relational Objects". The title is a statement from the diary of the great naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, one of the fathers of modern ecology, from when he visited one of the first automated factories in Stjärnsund, Sweden in the 18th century.

Nothing is more optimistic than Stjärnsund (via Beyond the Beyond) Read the rest

NatGeo Adventure iPad app: Greatest Stories Ever Told

(Photo by Will Steger) In a sea of sunlight and drifting snow, huskies awaited their handler's call on the first leg of the traverse. Because dogs were banned from the continent after April 1, 1994, the TAE stands as Antarctica's last dogsled expedition.

Here's a gallery of photos from the new National Geographic Adventure: Greatest Stories Ever Told app for iPad.

This app features amazing stories of explorers at the moment of discovery, and their adventures on journeys around the world — enhanced with video, stunning photography, and interactive graphics. • Watching Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard discover the Titanic’s final resting place. • Meeting the nominees for Adventurers of 2011, and watching them in action. • Watching Alex Honnold scale both Half Dome and El Capitan — without ropes. • Tracking Will Steger’s team on their Trans-Antarctic journey with an interactive map, and experiencing the -50˚F temps at the "bottom of the world" through raw video footage and stark photographs. • Descending inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Nyiragongo Volcano with scientists to study a belching, fuming lava lake — in hopes of saving the million and growing population of Goma. • Plunging deep into the blue holes of the Bahamas with cave-diving scientists in search of clues to early life on Earth.

(Photo by Wes C. Skiles, National Geographic) The Blue Holes of the Bahamas yield a scientific trove that may even shed light on life beyond earth. If only they weren’t so dangerous to explore. Read the rest

Behold! Our new mascot

From Boston Dynamics: "Sand Flea is an 11-lb robot with one trick up its sleeve: Normally it drives like an RC car, but when it needs to it can jump 30 feet into the air. An onboard stabilization system keeps it oriented during flight to improve the view from the video uplink and to control landings. Current development of Sand Flea is funded by the The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force." Read the rest

Czechoslovakian tank helmets

From the Joseba Revuelta collection, photos and commentary (in Spanish) on vintage Czechoslovakian tank-helmets, which were apparently accessorized to the nines.

CASCOS CARRISTAS CHECOOSLOVACOS (via Making Light) Read the rest

Rolling on the river: The future of local energy

Today, most of the electricity in the United States is generated in very large facilities—capable of serving millions of homes—far away from the people who will actually use that electricity. We do it this way because it makes financial sense. It's cheaper to produce electricity in bulk and ship it over transmission lines, than it would be to produce a little electricity in a lot of places.

Or, at least, that would be the case if NIMBYism didn't keep getting in the way. Not In My Backyard movements don't just affect the construction of the actual power plant. And they don't just affect fossil fuels. Transmission lines serve both clean and dirty generation and they have to cross hundreds, or even thousands, of miles to reach their destinations. Along the way, they cross lots of people's property, skirt dozens of towns, and maybe even cut through federal lands. All of that means added cost. Today, experts have told me, it's often more expensive to build the transmission lines to feed a power plant than it is to built the power plant itself.

And that opens some opportunities.

Across the United States, there are pockets of sustainable energy resources not quite large enough to support a big power plant, but potentially very useful to us, nonetheless. And the high cost of transmission means that these resources are starting to make more financial sense. Chief among these is small-scale hydropower. At Txchnologist, I wrote a piece about small-scale hydro—how it works and what we stand to gain by thinking about the scale of electricity generation in a different way. Read the rest

5 days until the release of The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist! (…plus your chance to win an autographed copy today)

…and our countdown continues with more Clowes extras that couldn’t be included in the book.

Joey Ramone talks about Clowes and I Don’t Want to Grow Up & the Launch of the YouTube Channel

[Video Link] Alvin says: "Daniel Clowes drew the art for the Ramones animated music video for their cover of Tom Waits's “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” in 1995. This clip, transferred from one of Dan's dusty old VHS tapes, features Joey Ramone talking with Jerry Bryant about his collaboration with Clowes. We’ve included some storyboards for the video."

With this post, we are officially launching the danielclowesdotcom Youtube channel where we will post more archaic video oddities taken from an old box of VHS tapes in Dan’s basement.

The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist will be available April 1st. Order a copy today from your local bookseller, the publisher, or Amazon. OR: Enter our contest for a chance to win a copy of the book autographed by Clowes. Throughout the countdown, one winner will be picked at random every day, so check for the daily code. To enter, send an email to with your mailing address (only US mailing addresses are eligible and no PO boxes please) and put in the subject line today's contest code: misterwonderful. Winners are being posted here. Read the rest

Trailer for Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

[Video Link] I'm looking forward to seeing this documentary.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope -- a film by Morgan Spurlock explores this amazing cultural phenomenon by following the lives of five attendees as they descend upon the ultimate geek mecca at San Diego Comic-Con 2010: -- Eric, an aspiring illustrator, is hoping to impress publishers and land a job; -- Holly, costume and creature designer, hopes her creations will win the big prize; -- Chuck, a long-time comic book dealer, is looking for a big sale to pay off his debts; -- Skip, longtime amateur illustrator wants to be discovered at this year's event; -- James, a young fan, hopes his girlfriend will accept a dramatic proposal. One on one interviews with Comic-Con veterans who have turned their passions into professions include Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Eli Roth and others are shared throughout the film along with up close and up front coverage of all the panels, parades, photos, costumes, crowds and camaraderie that make up one of the largest fan gatherings in the U.S. Presented by Stan Lee and Joss Whedon, Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is directed by Morgan Spurlock; produced by Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin, Harry Knowles and Thomas Tull, and written by Spurlock and Chilnick.

It opens April 6.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope Read the rest

Speculations on the origins of the Disney Haunted Mansion organist and hitchhiking ghosts

The Long Forgotten blog -- my best source for scholarly discussion of the Disney Haunted Mansion and spook houses more generally -- tackles the historical origins of the rides' haunted organ and the ghostly hitchhikers. It's a timely piece, as I published the long-mothballed comic that Christopher and I made in 2007 to explain the origin of the ghosts in the organist's pipes.

"The Canonic Curse" is a better than average supernatural thriller about a demonic, medieval musical composition that has a rather nasty effect on anyone who plays it three times. You can read the whole thing HERE. However, there's nothing in the story that looks to me like a direct inspiration for the Haunted Mansion's ghost-infested organ. For one thing, it's not the organ but the musical score that's demonic. For another, no visible ghostly forms emerge from either the sheet music or the organ in the story itself. If there's a HM inspiration, it's more likely coming from the illustration above rather than from the actual tale. The sketch shows a ghostly figure emerging from the musical text, but without looking closely the figure could easily be read as coming from the organ. (Frankly, it's not a great drawing.) And the caption reads, "From the smaller organ raved up a pandemonium of...ghoulish execrations." (There are two organs in the room.) In the story, the "ghoulish execrations" are sinister presences in the form of sound, but the illustrator has to draw something to represent that.

Whether or not Marc Davis or one of the others saw this sketch, it is the only depiction I have seen of an organ spewing out spirits as it is played.

Read the rest

Java Rings from 1998

At the JavaOne 1998 conference, Sun gave out rings like this one. It's embedded with an iButton chip containing a Java Virtual Machine. Based on the 1-Wire device communications bus system, IButtons can act as a token for access control, e-cash, data logging etc. 1-Wire systems are still in common use and someone is selling Java Rings in many sizes for $24 on eBay. "JAVA RING: RARE! Sun Microsystems JAVA ONE Promo" Read the rest

Behold, the Conformateur! A 19th century hat-fitting device

Tricia Roush is justifiably excited by her acquisition of an 1821 Conformateur in excellent shape. Conformateurs are Victorian devices used to measure the irregularities in the heads of milliner's customers, to ensure a better fit from the eventual hat. Roush explains the device's working in detail, with generous photos of the extraordinary device in action.

While the conformateur is on the head, after the fingers are pressed in so that they are conforming to the head shape, a piece of paper is placed into a frame on the top of the machine. Little pins stick out of the top of the machine, each one attached to one of the fingers, so that the pins now reflect the head shape as well, but in miniature. The frame swings down on a hinge to press the paper into the pins, perforating the paper. In this photo, you can see that the inside of the frame is lined in cork, and there are little holes in the cork where the pins have pressed.

The perforations in the paper make a pattern that's a recording of the person's head shape. The hat maker then cuts the pattern out with scissors along the perforations to store for future use. Here are some examples of the paper patterns. Because it's a shrunken version of the person's head shape, any bumps and asymmetry in the head shape (we all have them) are exaggerated in the pattern, as you can see here.

Oh Joy! My Conformateur (via JWZ) Read the rest

Inspiring story of a good teacher

Derek Sivers recounts an inspiring story of how he got a multi-year music education in a few days from Kimo Williams, and makes a larger point about the excitement of learning at a fast pace with a good teacher:

After a one-minute welcome, we were sitting at the piano, analyzing the sheet music for a jazz standard. He was quickly explaining the chords based on the diatonic scale. How the dissonance of the tri-tone in the 5-chord with the flat-7 is what makes it want to resolve to the 1. Within a minute, I was already being quizzed, “If the 5-chord with the flat-7 has that tritone, then so does another flat-7 chord. Which one?”

“Uh... the flat-2 chord?”

“Right! So that's a substitute chord. Any flat-7 chord can always be substituted with the other flat-7 that shares the same tritone. So reharmonize all the chords you can in this chart. Go.”

The pace was intense, and I loved it. Finally, someone was challenging me - keeping me in over my head - encouraging and expecting me to pull myself up, quickly. I was learning so fast, it had the adrenaline of sports or a video game. A two-way game of catch, he tossed every fact back at me and made me prove I got it.

In our three-hour lesson that morning, he taught me a full semester of Berklee's harmony courses. In our next four lessons, he taught me the next four semesters of harmony and arranging requirements.

There's no speed limit. Read the rest

Online game: contribute your ideas to fight global poverty!

My colleagues at Institute for the Future and Rockefeller Foundation are launching a fascinating and ambitious online game to crowdsource ideas on how to fight global poverty! It's a 48-hour game to cultivate back-of-the-envelope ideas for new technologies, social enterprises, skillsets, educational approaches, and other strategies or methods to help and empower poor and vulnerable populations around the globe. Sound like a huge endeavor? Yep. The game, called Catalysts For Change, kicks off on April 3 and you can sign up right now to play. Boing Boing is proud to be a media partner in this epic endeavor. From the project announcement:

Catalysts for Change will be played over a 48-hour span. It will draw players from around the world, with the goal to identify thousands of new paths out of poverty with hundreds of players from all walks of life. The game itself will leverage simple 140-character messages to play cards. Each card will capture an idea, and participants will build on one another’s ideas. By building on the cards, players will start chain reactions of innovations and solutions that are more than the sum of their parts.

On April 3, (Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Judith) Rodin will kick off the game and initiate a conversation with leaders in international philanthropy, development, technology, design, and social innovation. Building from the real-time experiment of the Catalysts for Change game, the Bay Area forum will focus on imagining innovative ways to catalyze positive change in the lives of poor or vulnerable people throughout the world.

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Finding a 42-foot-long snake (fossil)

In 2009, I posted that paleontologists found the fossilized remains of the world's largest snake, a 42-foot-long relative of the boa constrictor. Paleontologists from the University of Toronto dubbed the species Titanoboa cerrejonensis for the Cerrejón region of northern Colombia where they found the remains. The snake snacked on crocodiles. As part of a new Smithsonian documentary "Titanoboa: Monster Snake," sculptor Kevin Hockley built a life-size replica of the beast. Smithsonian has a preview of the documentary along with a feature article about the discovery of the snake. From Smithsonian:
The (Cerrejón) river basin held turtles with shells twice the size of manhole covers and crocodile kin—at least three different species—more than a dozen feet long. And there were seven-foot-long lungfish, two to three times the size of their modern Amazon cousins.

The lord of this jungle was a truly spectacular creature—a snake more than 40 feet long and weighing more than a ton. This giant serpent looked something like a modern-day boa constrictor, but behaved more like today’s water-dwelling anaconda. It was a swamp denizen and a fearsome predator, able to eat any animal that caught its eye. The thickest part of its body would be nearly as high as a man’s waist. Scientists call it Titanoboa cerrejonensis.

It was the largest snake ever, and if its astounding size alone wasn’t enough to dazzle the most sunburned fossil hunter, the fact of its existence may have implications for understanding the history of life on earth and possibly even for anticipating the future.

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Unfortunate cover of The Rifleman

Great composition! (Thanks, Greg Long!) Read the rest

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