LBJ liked to piss on his bodyguards


LBJ was not only the president, he was also a prodigious urinator, who pleased himself by pissing on his Secret Service detail while shielded from public view, according to Mental Floss's Jenny Drapkin:

Johnson lived to dominate, and he used crass behavior to bend people to his will. At 6-ft., 3-in. tall and 210 lbs., he liked to lean over people, spitting, swearing, belching, or laughing in their faces. Once, he even relieved himself on a Secret Serviceman who was shielding him from public view. When the man looked horrified, Johnson simply said, “That’s all right, son. It’s my prerogative.”

LBJ: The President Who Marked His Territory (via Reddit)

(Image: LBJ, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pagedooley's photostream)

Why do NASA engineers like peanuts?

As Curiosity was landing safely on Mars, many of you noted that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers orchestrating the whole thing were eating an awful lot of peanuts. In fact, each workstation boasted a little commemorative jar of peanuts. Seriously, what is up with all those peanuts?

Discovery News has an answer. And it's surprisingly interesting.

Turns out, this is a JPL-specific tradition, dating back to 1964, when the lab's funding was on the line after the Ranger program—unmanned missions to photograph the Moon—weren't living up to expectations. In fact, six Ranger missions in a row had failed.

This was the heritage leading up to Ranger 7. There was talk that JPL should be shut down, that a university-affiliated center couldn’t handle a rigorous spaceflight program. There were suggestions that the program had been sabotaged -- a worker found a small polyethylene bag with 14 screws and a lock washer in one of the sealed electronic modules in Ranger 7’s television subsystem.

Just before Ranger 7 launched to the moon on July 28, mission manager Harris Schurmeier handed out peanuts to ease tensions. He figured chewing or playing with them on the table would give his team something else to focus on.

The full story is pretty neat. You can read the rest at Discovery News

Via Ed Yong

Retired NASA flight director blogs about the aftermath of Columbia disaster

On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up in the sky over Texas, bits and pieces falling onto at least two states. All seven astronauts on board died. As we close in on the 10-year anniversary of the disaster, you can expect lots of media outlets and experts to start offering their take on what happened and what we've learned from it. But there's one voice that you should really be listening to ... and he's speaking already.

Wayne Hale was a flight director on the space shuttle for 40 or 41 missions (His blog says 40, his NASA bio says 41). Flight controllers are the people who manage a space flight—they deal with the logistics, monitor all the various systems of the vehicle, make the decision to launch or abort, and deal with trouble-shooting. In other words, they play a key role in safety, and the flight director is the person in charge of all the flight controllers.

More importantly, Wayne Hale is one of the people who suspected something might be wrong with Columbia before its fatal reentry, and tried to get his superiors at NASA to pay attention to the risks. Here's Dwayne Day writing at The Space Review:

During the Columbia accident investigation I was one of over 100 staff members who worked for the CAIB (not all of them worked simultaneously, and for the many months I was there, the staff probably numbered no more than 50–60). There were so many aspects to the investigation that it was impossible to follow them all, and my responsibility was for policy, history, and budget, and later, some of the issues concerning schedule pressure. But I remember one afternoon when I was talking with an Air Force colonel skilled in aircraft accident investigations when Hale’s name came up and I asked how Hale had been involved in the accident. The colonel explained how Hale had been one of the people who had been concerned about the foam strike during the flight and had tried to obtain on-orbit imagery of the orbiter during its mission, only to be rebuffed by upper level managers. Then, after a short pause, the colonel added: “Hale was one of the good guys.”

But being one of the good guys doesn't mean you don't feel guilty when something goes horribly wrong. On Tuesday, Hale posted on his blog about the Columbia disaster and what is going on in his head as the anniversary creeps closer. It's a sad, poignant post, and Hale promises it's just the beginning of a series of articles addressing his experiences before, during, and after the Challenger disaster:

All of this has brought the searing memories from a decade ago into the forefront of my mind. Not that those memories has ever left me; the memories of early 2003. I was intimately involved in the events leading up to the Columbia tragedy so maybe that is to be expected. But often in the wee hours of the morning when sleep fails, the questions return: why did it happen, how did we allow it to happen, and what could I have done to prevent it.

Some others who lived through those days remember things from different perspectives, they had different experiences, but – somewhat frighteningly – remember events we shared in common in different ways. The passage of time, too, is riddling my memories with holes like Swiss cheese. Names escape me, details are getting fuzzy, and though concentrated thought can bring some things back from the recesses, others are gone forever. Some memories stand out like a lightning bolt in a dark night; many others of those events are gone into the darkness. If I am ever to write down my experience, the time is now.

Basically, you should bookmark Wayne Hale's blog and check it frequently. He'll be posting regularly, over the next several months, and I'm am certain you'll want to read the full series.

Also read: The Space Review article that mentions Hale's role in the Columbia disaster.

Via Alexandra Witze

Kalashnikov sales to America boom


Izhevsk, the town in Russia where the Kalashnikov rifle is made, is booming. The town is exporting Kalashnikovs by the boatload to the USA, where gun collectors are snapping them up. It's likely the case that more Americans will by killed by other Americans wielding Kalashnikov than were ever killed by Russians with the Soviet-era gun. Andrew E. Kramer has more in the NYT:

“I bought a Saiga because it was made in Russia, right beside its big brothers, the AKs,” Josh Laura, a garage door installer and former Marine in Maryville, Tenn., said in a telephone interview. “No rifle in the world has been as reliable as this one.”

Selling rifles to Americans and other civilians is fundamental to the efforts to save Izhmash, which has made Kalashnikovs since soon after their invention in 1947 but is now struggling.

Demand for new military guns in the Kalashnikov family has evaporated. Simple, durable and relatively cheap to manufacture, about 100 million have been produced over the decades, or about one for every 70 people on earth. Inventories are overflowing, used AK weapons have flooded the market, and cheap Chinese knockoffs are stealing many of the customers that remain.

Importing Russia’s Top Gun (via Beyond the Beyond)

(Image: AK 47 Kalashnikov Vector Image, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from vectorportal's photostream)

Mars Curiosity/LFMAO parody video: "We're NASA and We Know It"

[Video Link]. This parody music video debuted this week on a new YouTube channel called Satire, and mashes up LMFAO's hit “Sexy and I Know It” with the NASA Curiosity mission and abundant JPL-love.

"It comes complete with shout-outs to Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson," reports the Washington Post, which dug into the story behind its creation. Half a million views so far, huh? Best NASA PSA ever.

K-LOL: new "internet local news" web show features "Cute Animals & Exploited Hipster Girls" (video)

I K-LOL'd. This new web show, featuring the delightful Jordan Morris of Max Fun fame, is to the internet what Portlandia is to Portland. [Video Link]

Raising money to build a Tesla museum

The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman -- who raised a small fortune for charity from readers who were offended by a groundless legal threat penned by Charles Carreon at the behest of the website Funnyjunk -- has kicked off a new fundraiser. This time, he's asking his fans to donate money towards buying the site of Nicola Tesla's lab and building a national Tesla museum on it. The charity is the beneficiary of the fundraiser needs $850,000 to buy the site, and millions more for the museum (though this might come from corporate grants -- Inman suggests that Westinghouse and GE would be good sponsors, since the former was founded by the man who was Tesla's original patron and the latter was founded by his archnemesis).

Help me raise money to buy Nikola Tesla's old laboratory - The Oatmeal (Thanks to everyone who suggested this!)

Cat Dance (video)

In the 1970s, someone thought this was a good idea. [Video Link]

(Thanks, Tara McGinley)

Cool ceramic jewelry for scientists, skeptics, and fossil lovers

A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.

Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.

I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:

1. I'm not as surly as I used to be.
2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!

Surly-Ramics wearable art

Set theory, Christians, and parody

Last week, I wrote a piece for BoingBoing about fundamentalist Christian objections to the mathematical idea of set theory. Those objections are, apparently, real—sourced to math textbooks produced by publisher A Beka. And, if you understand the cultural mindset, it even makes a weird sort of sense. But it's also ripe for parody. Read the first comment to this story at The New York Times. At first, it looks like a real world example of the stuff we were talking about last week. But it's not. The commenter is Stephenson Billings, a pseudonymous contributor to the parody site Christwire. I fell for this myself. Thankfully, Twitter user UCSD_Nanomed pointed out what was really going on.

No more spells, hexes, or prayers on eBay

Spelllsebay

eBay is banning the sale of spells, hexes, healings, blessings, prayers, and other similar supernaturalia. From CNN:

Beginning in September, the site is banning the sale of "advice, spells, curses, hexing, conjuring, magic, prayers, blessing services, magic potions, [and] healing sessions," according to a policy update.

The company is also eliminating its category listings for psychic readings and tarot card sessions.

Has anyone actually been buying magic on eBay? It seems so: The site's "spells and potions" category currently has more than 6,000 active listings and happy feedback from quite a few satisfied buyers.

"Best spell caster on Ebay," one customer wrote after a recent purchase.

"Wonderful post-spells communication!" another raved. "We bought 4 spells! Highly Recommend!"

"EBay bans sale of spells and hexes"

The Mind Thing, by Fredric Brown: excellent pulp-era science fiction

When I was in junior high school, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club. One of the books I got from the club was an anthology that included several stories by Fredric Brown (who was primarily a mystery writer but occasionally delved into science fiction). Some of Brown's stories in the anthology were a mere page or two, and I loved their humor and surprise endings. As soon as I could, I went to the Boulder Public Library to load up on as much Brown as I could find. It turned out the library had just two of his science fiction novels: Martians, Go Home (1955), and What Mad Universe (1949). They were both terrific.

Martians go home freasNewImage
In Martians, Go Home a race of cartoonish little green men invade Earth for the sole purpose of being hideously bothersome pests, behaving very much like Internet trolls and Second Life griefers. (Artist Kelly Freas perfectly captured the personality of the martians in his cover painting for Astounding Science Fiction.) In What Mad Universe a man gets thrown into a parallel universe and has to figure out how to get back home. Both books are semi-parodies of science fiction novels (the protagonists in each novel are science fiction writers), with plenty of Brown's signature wry humor. If you've not read these novels, I highly recommend them both.

The mind thing fredric brownIt wasn't until I was in high school that I scored a copy of The Mind Thing (1961), which is probably my favorite Brown novel, even though it is not as well-known as the other two novels, and could be arguably be classified a horror novel. The Mind Thing is an alien being (which looks like a turtle shell) that has been banished to Earth for committing crimes on its home planet. It is unable to move on its own, but can hijack the nervous system of any sleeping animal within range and take control of its mind and body. To leave the body, it forces the host to commit suicide. The alien goes on a spree, hopping into people's bodies and killing them, as it moves forward with a plan to make the Earth ripe for takeover (in the hope that its fellow creatures will forgive its past crimes and hail it a hero). Eventually, a smart fellow (an MIT professor on vacation) figures out what's going on and takes it upon himself to save the planet from the evil space alien.

Long of of print, The Mind Thing, Martians, Go Home, and What Mad Universe are available in Kindle editions. (I don't recommend Rogue in Space or The Lights in the Sky are Stars because they both stink, unfortunately.)

Demonic flat tires


Ever wonder where flat tires come from? Demons. It's demons.

The Puncture Fiend-- Foiled! (Atlas Tyres, 1900s)

Pocket Dungeons: a 3D printable dungeon crawl game


If you've got access to a 3D printer, you can download and print a "Pocket Dungeons" set, created by Thingiverse user dutchmogul, who calls it "a modular, competitive dungeon-crawl for two to six players."

With modular, tile-based board design and randomized events, no two games will be alike. Dynamic, tactical game play allows for quick resolution as players control treasure-hungry dungeon delvers vying for gold and glory.

This game has been designed with Pocket-Tactics in mind and the pieces and rules sets will be able to cross over and expand the depth of each range.

The MakerBot blog explains, "This totally modular set was designed in TinkerCAD, a free online and easy to use CAD website that allows you to share directly to Thingiverse. What I like about this little set is that I could see myself having as much, or even more, fun putting together a dungeon layout as I would have playing the game itself."

Pocket-Dungeons

"Have a Nice Trip" an anti-drug song by Merv Griffin (1968)

[Video Link] Excellent use of 1960s pop culture images in this video accompaniment to Merv Griffin's masterpiece, "Have a Nice Trip." (Via Laughing Squid)