Boing Boing 

WWII "war sand" on the beaches of Normandy

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As much as four percent of the sand on the beaches of Normandy consists of shrapnel left over from D-Day. In a post about this at BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh references a book called "Sand: The Never-Ending Story." The book is about the science and culture of sand, from the ocean floor to Mars. Written by geologist Michael Welland, it sounds like a fascinating read!

(Normandy sand microscopy image by Earle McBride, Univ of Texas)

Fiasco: an RPG for collaboratively generating caper/heist stories

On the most excellent TableTop web-show, a two-part episode on the RPG Fiasco, which Mordicai Knode on Tor.com sums up perfectly:

...a game in which you capture the dark comic confusion of the Coen brothers, where snappy Tarantino dialogue in the midst of mounting carnage is provided by the players, where the good-hearted charm of Simon Pegg’s bumbling runs smack dab into the harsh realities of a Greg Rucka spy comic. Quirky characters in unfortunate circumstances with the odds piling up against them, turning on each other and going out in a blaze of…well, going out in a blaze of glory might even be asking too much.

In this episode, Wil Wheaton and his pals Bonnie Burton (late of Lucasfilm and a frequent suggester of awesome Boing Boing stuff), John Rogers (showrunner for Leverage and former Cosby writer, and Alison Haislip (late of Attack of the Show, now on Hulu's Battleground) play out a round of Saturday Night 78, a 1970s nightclub module co-written by Wheaton (it's a free download). The four players improv a series of short scenes, each funnier and more improbable than the last, collaboratively making a complete (and fantastic) debacle out of the lives of their characters.

There's a bonus episode as well, showing the character generation sequence. This is a great look at a very different kind of RPG, played out by a gang of extremely hoopy froods and happy mutants, and by the time it was over, all I wanted to do was hop on a plane to LA and ask to sit in on another round. I've embedded part one above, the other two episodes are after the jump.

TableTop’s “Fiasco” Captures the Heart of Roleplaying

Read the rest

New show of Thomas Allen's book diorama photos

 Exhibitions E73 1B

Thomas Allen has a new show of photographs of his exquisite cut-up book dioramas opening September 9 at New York City's Foley Gallery. Some of the series, titled "Beautiful Evidence," is viewable online.

Look at this solar trike tear down the road


[Video Link] As soon as I get my hands on some quiodes I'll build myself one of these Solar Powered Warrior Tadpole Trikes, too!

New photo printing tech reflects light like 3D object

UC Santa Cruz researchers developed a new way to print photographs on special "reflectance paper," covered in dimples that reflect light as if the image is a 3D object. From UCSC:

"If the paper is flat, it will always look flat no matter what you print on it. So the question became how to get the surface of the paper to have geometry to it," (computer science professor James) Davis said. "With the reflectance paper, for each pixel we have a little dimple that has all angular directions on its surface. Now we can print ink over it in a way that controls the angles of light that will be reflected from each pixel."

The mathematical "reflectance function" describes how light is reflected from each point on an object. Measuring the reflectance functions for an object or scene can be done by taking photographs lit from many different lighting directions. Art historians and restorers use these techniques for documenting important works of art and historical artifacts, said Davis, a computer graphics expert who has developed software for displaying the results on a monitor.

"Photos reflect light like 3D objects with novel printing technology"

"Printing Reflectance Functions"

Doc Martens have got some pretty audacious designers


Doc Marten's were the iconic footwear of my adolescence, both a subcultural marker and a dare to Toronto's skinheads, whose sport was beating up other kids and taking their Docs. There was a whole hanky-code for the laces, a million different meanings for the leather colors. Today, they're just another made-in-China high-street brand, surrounded by hedge fund scum who're squabbling over who gets to steal its soul, but every now and again I pass a window and see a pair of Docs that stop me and make me stare, agog. Deconstructed Docs, Paisley Docs, and now Velvet Docs, and of course, Docs with this summer's ubiquitous spikes.

Jersey Shore shark attacks that inspired Jaws

 Images Shark-Attack-1916-Jersey-2

On the Jersey Shore during the summer of 1916, four people were killed and one injured by what was likely a single great white shark. The attacks and panic that ensued in the seaside towns inspired Peter Benchley's novel Jaws which, of course, Steven Spielberg brought to the big screen. Since then, great whites, whose populations have been dangerously declining, have sadly become icons of oceanic evil. Smithsonian magazine's Megan Gambino conducted a fascinating interview with ichthyologist George Burgess about the Jersey Shark Attacks. Burgess is curator of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. When a shark attack occurs anywhere in the world, Burgess and his team are on the scene. From Smithsonian:

 Images Shark-Attack-1916-Jersey-1 In newspaper accounts of the 1916 attacks, the shark is referred to as a “sea monster” and a “sea wolf.”

Exactly. It is unfortunate when we still see remnants of that today. I’ll have a little game with you. You drink a beer every time you hear the expression “shark-infested waters.” See how drunk you get. Whenever a boat goes down or an airplane goes down, we hear that kind of thing. I correct folks all the time. Sharks don’t infest waters, they live in them. Lice infest; they are parasites. There is still bias in that sort of thought process today.

What drew the shark close to shore for the attacks?

One of the most popular theories was one that we hear today. That is, there is not enough fish for the sharks to eat, so therefore they are going to eat humans. The people who are most likely to say it today are sport fishermen, who aren’t catching the same amount or the same size fish that they once did. Back in 1916, it was commercial fishermen who were saying it. It’s not a real defensible argument.

There was a guy who wrote in to the editor of the New York Times saying that these sharks were following U-boats across from the Eastern Atlantic. It was almost an implication that it was a German plot. The world was at war in Europe and the anti-German sentiment was high. All kinds of strange things.

Although it is hard to go back in time and always dangerous to make analogies like this, it could have been a shark that was either injured or had some sort of deformity. It became a deranged killer.

"The Shark Attacks That Were the Inspiration for Jaws"

Father performs "Let it Be" to raise funds for his 11-month-old's cancer bills

[Video Link] "On July 5th, 2012, my 11-month-old son, Noah, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor," writes Mike Masse in the introduction to this YouTube video, a beautiful performance of the Beatles' "Let it Be."

Details on the fundraiser here.

In America, little boys have to start lemonade stands when their fathers get cancer. In America, fathers have to do what Mike is doing here when their sons get cancer.

No parent should have to bare their grief to the world, no matter how beautifully, to beg for money to cover the life-saving medical treatment their baby needs. As you see the beauty, be mindful of the injustice in our health care system this represents.

Cancer is one tragedy. The way our country treats people with cancer, even when they're little babies, is another.

(HT: Joe Sabia)

Games for chores and fitness

Over at our sponsor Intel's My Life Scoop site, I wrote about several apps to make chores and fitness more like a game:

Gamiffffff For the last year, gamification has been on an accelerated hype/hope/backlash/spin cycle. If you believe the buzz (and you mostly shouldn’t), there’s not much in life — from boring business tasks to retail “experiences” to sex — that can’t be improved by adding a leaderboard and levels. Ok, I’m exaggerating and it would be a waste to dismiss the benefits of thoughtful game mechanics and, well, fun, when it’s appropriate and well-applied. So with that in mind, here are a few gamification apps that are smart ideas and might be useful, if you need the kind of nudge that some friendly competition (even with just yourself) can provide…

"Gamify Your Life"

Interactive version of Curiosity's Mars panorama


Jeffrey from 360 Cities sez, "Fresh from the Rover! Our member Andrew Bodrov stitched this interactive version of the 360º photo from Mars together. Be sure to go FULLSCREEN for the maximum awesomeness."

Curiosity rover: Martian solar day 2 (Thanks, Jeffrey!)

Skidoo: the LSD-fuelled Alcatraz movie with Groucho, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Lurch, and everyone else

On our family holiday this summer, we had the great good fortune to be shown around Alcatraz Island by Ranger Craig Glassner -- among other things, the Ranger responsible for the excellent documentary about the Occupation by Indians of All Tribes that is screened in the visitor center there. Craig let slip that his favorite Alcatraz movie is Skidoo, the 1968 Otto Preminger wacky stoner comedy with Groucho Marx, Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Burgess Meredith, Ted "Lurch" Cassidy, and just about every character actor you've ever enjoyed.

It's an LSD-fuelled romp about a retired hit-man (Jackie Gleason) who voluntarily sends himself to Alcatraz to kill his best friend, who has betrayed the mob-boss of all bosses (played by Groucho Marx, who appears to either be stoned or simply method acting in many of his scenes). Meanwhile, the mobster's daughter has fallen in with a wandering tribe of hippies who get taken in by her mother, Carol Channing, and end up involved in a jail-break that coincides with a mass dosing of Owsley's finest LSD for everyone on the prison island.

It's got trippy dance numbers, silly comedy, hippies, and, well, everything. It's out on DVD after a long purgatory on the trashheap of history. I just watched it. It is something. It is something else.

Skidoo (1968)

Why does nobody think Usain Bolt cheated?

Covariation theory is a psychological idea that helps explain why we instantly suspect some record-breaking athletes of doping, while giving others the benefit of the doubt. (Via Melanie Tannenbaum)

The desert that creates the rainforest

This is probably the most amazing thing I learned all weekend. The Amazon rainforest—with all its plant and animal life, and all its astounding biodiversity—could not exist as we know it without the patch of African desert pictured above.

The rainforest is amazing, but the soil it produces isn't very nutrient rich. All the minerals and nutrients that fertilize the rainforest have to come from someplace else. Specifically: Africa. Scientists have known for a while that this natural fertilizer is crossing the Atlantic in the form of dust storms, but science writer Colin Schultz ran across a 2006 paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters that not only produces evidence for a much larger trans-oceanic transfer of dust than was previously assumed ... it also pinpoints the exact (and astoundingly small) location where all the fertilizer in the Amazon is coming from.

The research paper, itself, is pleasantly readable, as far as these things go, so I'm going to quote directly from it. One quick note before I launch into this quote. The authors are measuring the mass of the dust in teragrams (or Tg). As you're trying to wrap your head around this, it might be helpful to know that 1 Tg = 1 million tons.

A total of 140 (± 40) Tg is deposited in the Atlantic ocean and 50 (± 15) Tg reach and fertilize the Amazon basin. This is four times an older estimate, explaining a paradox regarding the source of nutrients to the Amazon forest. Swap et al suggested that while the source for minerals and nutrients in the Amazon is the dust from Africa, it was estimated that only 13 Tg of dust per year actually arrive in the Amazon. However, they pointed out that 50 Tg are needed to balance the Amazon nutrient budget.

Here we show a remarkable arrangement in nature in which the mineral dust arriving at the Amazon basin from the Sahara actually originates from a single source of only ~ 0.5% of the size of the Amazon: the Bodélé depression. Located northeast of Lake Chad (17°N, 18°E) near the northern border of the Sahel, it is known to be the most vigorous source for dust over the entire globe.

Basically, these 2006 calculations account for all the fertilization needs of the Amazon, while previous calculations left a weird gap in between the amount of dust the rainforest needed and the amount the scientists thought was getting there.

Also: The place the dust is coming from is a single, highly specific region. As Alexis Madrigal pointed out at The Atlantic, we're talking about a patch of desert only 1/3 the size of Florida supplying the nutrient needs of a jungle that is roughly the same size as all 48 contiguous United States. Mind, blown.

Read the full research paper at Environmental Research Letters

Check out The Atlantic's write up on this, including a satellite photo of the dust storms in question.

Follow the guy who started it all—the very smart, very entertaining, and very tall Colin Schultz

Via Bart King

Great science chicks from history

From Merit Ptah—Chief Physician of ancient Egypt—to 1st-century BC alchemist Mary the Jewess, the Science Chicks from History Tumblr is dedicated to introducing you to all the science-y ladies you didn't learn about in school.

The image above is titled "Woman teaching geometry”. It comes from an early 14th century translation of Euclid.

"Boring" pictures of Mars

I'm with Steve Silberman, who tweeted this image, taken by the Mars Curiosity rover. Silberman, a science journalist, pointed out how amazing it is to be able to have access to photos of Mars that look totally ordinary, decidedly un-exotic, and even a little dull.

There is a delightful irony here. Think of all the work, all the skill, all the serious intelligence that went into getting Curiosity to Mars. This photo is kind of boring. But it represents something truly wonderful and exciting. It's mundane. But it's the mundanity of M*#&$%*!(*%ING MARS.

I dig it. And I'm a little surprised there wasn't already a Tumblr for it.

Check out Steve Silberman's excellent, science-packed Twitter feed

How old is post-traumatic stress disorder?

It is very hard, and very weird to try to get a handle on how human health has changed between the 19th century and today. Obviously, the way we live has changed dramatically. But understanding how that impacts health (or doesn't) is complicated by the fact that healthcare, science, and public health research changed dramatically during those years, as well.

And all that science hasn't happened in a vacuum. The names we give various disorders change. Whether or not we consider something to be a disorder, at all, might change. And our cultural understanding changes, too—especially when it comes to mental illness.

At the Mind Hacks blog, Vaughn Bell has an excellent breakdown of two recent studies that try to put the modern diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into a cultural and historical context. Many people assume that PTSD is just a new name for something that has always existed—look at shell shock, which made it onto Downton Abbey last season. But these new papers suggest that the distinction between what soldiers experienced in the past and what they experience today might go deeper than naming conventions.

The diagnosis of PTSD involves having a traumatic experience and then being affected by a month of symptoms of three main groups: intrusive memories, hyper-arousal, and avoidance of reminders or emotional numbing ... there has been a popular belief that PTSD has been experienced throughout history but simply wasn’t properly recognised. Previous labels, it is claimed, like ‘shell shock’ or ‘combat fatigue’, were just early descriptions of the same universal reaction.

But until now, few studies have systematically looked for PTSD or post-trauma reactions in the older historical record. Two recent studies have done exactly this, however, and found no evidence for a historical syndrome equivalent to PTSD.

A study just published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders looked at the extensive medical records for soldiers in the American Civil War, whose mortality rate was about 50-80 greater than modern soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, there would have been many more having terrifying experiences but despite the higher rates of trauma and mentions of other mental problems, there is virtually no mention of anything like the intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of PTSD.

Read the rest at Mind Hacks

David Dobbs adds some more context to Bell's post at the Neuron Culture blog.

Dolphins befriend an underwater camera

So a bunch of guys go fishing, and they take a long an underwater camera, encased in a mobile, waterproof housing. Basically, their camera can move around underwater, like a little RC car.

Then this happens ...

I have a sneaky suspicion that this video might be an advertisement for camera equipment. But whatever. It's beautiful. You win this time, viral marketers.

Watch the movie on Vimeo

Via Robert Krulwich and Ed Yong.