Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

How to turn a PR nightmare into a dream

Ever since the Keystone XL Pipeline (originally slated to transport Tar Sand bitumen from Alberta to Nebraska) was stalled, the attention on finding a new delivery route for this tar sand oil has focused around my own neck of the woods, British Columbia. And it seems like every time I open the paper, there's some new story about big oil PR shenanigans [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. All of this, of course, makes you wonder what a big oil PR session actually entails, and whether a memo like the fictitious one below (a.k.a. me having a little fun), is not so far from the truth...

Read the rest

The secret history of shipping pallets


Tom Vanderbilt's "The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy," in Slate is an absolutely fascinating look at the role that pallets play in the modern world, starting with their origin in the long US supply lines for the Pacific theater in WWII (and the "four way pallet" innovation by Norman Cahners of the Navy Supply Corps) to the modern fights over standardization, innovation, and product design. Ikea optimized one of its products, a mug, three times, for pallet packing, ending up with a product that cost 60% less to ship -- and shortly after abandoned pallets altogether in favor of the "Optiledge."

It's a story about the knapsack problem, a P=NP kind of secret history, and it's right up my alley

As USDA Forest Service researchers Gilbert P. Dempsey and David G. Martens noted in a conference paper, two factors led to the real rise of the pallet. The first was the 1937 invention of gas-powered forklift trucks, which “allowed goods to be moved, stacked, and stored with extraordinary speed and versatility.”

The second factor in the rise of the pallet was World War II. Logistics—the “Big ‘L’,” as one history puts it—is the secret story behind any successful military campaign, and pallets played a large role in the extraordinary supply efforts in the world’s first truly global war. As one historian, quoted by Rick Le Blanc in Pallet Enterprise, notes, “the use of the forklift trucks and pallets was the most significant and revolutionary storage development of the war.” Tens of millions of pallets were employed—particularly in the Pacific campaigns, with their elongated supply lines. Looking to improve turnaround times for materials handling, a Navy Supply Corps officer named Norman Cahners—who would go on to found the publishing giant of the same name—invented the “four-way pallet.” This relatively minor refinement, which featured notches cut in the side so that forklifts could pick up pallets from any direction, doubled material-handling productivity per man. If there’s a Silver Star for optimization, it belongs to Cahners.

As a sort of peace dividend, at war’s end the U.S. military left the Australian government with not only many forklifts and cranes, but about 60,000 pallets. To handle these resources, the Australian government created the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, and the company eventually spawned a modern pallet powerhouse, CHEP USA, which now controls about 90 percent of the “pooled” pallet market in the United States. Pooled pallets are rented from one company that takes care of delivering and retrieving them; the alternative is a “one-way” pallet, essentially a disposable item that is scrapped, recycled or reused when its initial journey is done. You can identify pooled pallet brands by their color: If you see a blue pallet at a store like Home Depot, that’s a CHEP pallet; a red pallet comes from competitor PECO.

The Single Most Important Object in the Global Economy

(Image: Pallets, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from hisgett's photostream) (via Hack the Planet)

Space Mountain construction advertorial


The Vintage Ads LJ group is having a theme-park ad theme-week, and as you might expect, this pleases me greatly. It's no surprise that the redoubtable Man Writing Slash has come through with some of the best submissions, including this smashing Space Mountain construction advertorial.

Amusement Parks in Ads

Little Free Library #2646 is open for business

Back in May, I posted about a nearby Little Free Library I happened upon, and promised to open my own. Well, we did it yesterday. You can see it in person here.

Read the rest

Complaint about a carved fish

Perch or notThis photo of a fish sculpture is from the October 1949 issue of Popular Science. It was carved from cherry wood by Clark Battle Fitz-Gerald.


ComplaintThe January 1950 issue ran a letter of complaint from Al Gingras, a self-styled ichthyologist from Baldwinsville, MA.
A Google image search suggests Mr. Gingras is correct. Has this ancient dispute been settled?

Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Fest this Saturday, August 25

It's time for the Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival!

NewImageThis Saturday, August 25, The York Emporium Bookstore and the city of York PA will host the Pennsylvania Cigar Box Guitar Festival This event has become the biggest cigar box guitar fest in the world with an expected audience of 2000-4000 people this year. It coincides with the YorkFest fine arts festival, bringing in attendees from throughout the US Mid Atlantic States. The Saturday CBG Fest will have 14 acts on two stages, instrument vendors, food and more. Performances include Chicago blues legend Glenn Kaiser, Make Magazine contributor One String Willie, April Mae and the Junebugs, Cigar Box Guitars author, David Sutton and the "king of the cigar box guitar," Shane Speal (pictured).
Official news/info: PA Cigar Box Guitar Fest on Facebook

MakerPlane open source hardware airplanes


John sez, "MakerPlane is an open source aviation organization which will enable people to build and fly their own safe, high quality, reasonable cost plane using advanced personal manufacturing equipment such as CNC mills and 3D printers. The project will also include open source avionics software to enable state-of-the-art digital flight instruments and display capabilities. Basically we are designing an aircraft that can be built on a CNC mill at home, or at a makerspace which is easy to assemble and quick to build. The plans and instructions will be available for free to anyone that wants them!"

MakerPlane.org | Open Source Aviation (Thanks, John!)

Gweek 065: Super Tight

Click here to play this episode. Gweek is Boing Boing’s podcast about comic books, science fiction and fantasy, video games, board games, tools, gadgets, apps, and other neat stuff.

Read the rest

HOWTO be the number one SF writer in Russia


Practically everyone at the SF Assembly in St Petersburg, Russia was clutching a copy of this humorous board-game from Silvercon.su, which is a kind of Candyland-style game lampooning the dreams of "hot young writers" who yearn to make it big. Some of my hosts were good enough to translate the gameplay for me:

1. You've decided to become a SF writer.
2. You're writing a short story. Miss a move
3. Your mother likes your story very much!
4. You've received a comment "Drink a cup of poison!" on a fan fiction site
5. You've registered a LiveJournal account. Start the game from the beginning.
6. You've written a novel. Five moves forward.
7. You've started saving your small change in order to participate in some con.
8. Your first publication in Orkneys Pixies and Zombies Magazine.
9. Your novel is accepted by the publisher.
10. Your short story is accepted in Asimov's. Make the second move.
11. You're writing a short story for the relatively obscure Internet contest. Miss a move.
12. You must read the 70 short stories of the relatively obscure Internet contest. Miss a move.
13. SF Con. You've chosen the right con and the right hotel and the right room next to George R.R. Martin.
14. Your favourite publishing house has gone bankrupt.
15. The relatively obscure but very demanding Internet critic praised your novel. Make the second move.
16. You've received the proposition to become the ghost writer. Miss a move.
17. Your novel's sales were a disaster. Miss a move.
18. You're writing a new novel. Miss a move.
19. Your novel is published in Russia! And Japan.
20. You're in the middle of the existential crisis. You drink. And drink. And drink.
21. The movie based on your book was made by Uwe Boll.
22. You are the best author of the EuroCon.
23. You're the star of the talk shows and con panels. 20 steps back.
24. You are the SF writer number one in Russia.

Lux Interior on SpongeBob Squarepants

Mark and I were just discussing our admiration of Lux Interior and The Cramps. Neither of us realized that Lux was on a 2002 episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, singing as the lead singer of the Bird Brains!

Cthulhu balloon


Redditor Frostbite795 asked a Bar Mitzvah balloon twister for a Cthulhu, and the twister delivered.

Asked for a Cthulhu. Balloon guy at bar mitzvah delivers. (imgur.com)

Researchers: Friday best weekday

According to science, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are equally as loathsome as Mondays. [BBC] Rob

Syrian insurgency front lines

The complex zones of control in Arab Spring uprisings can be baffling. Here's the BBC's new map of Syria's myriad front lines (compare to religious demography), which makes everything perfectly clear. Rob

RIP comedian Phyllis Diller


She was 95. "You can say the nastiest things about yourself without offending anyone."

Pastor claims holy black currant drink will cure cancer, HIV, diabetes

The Manchester Evening News's Richard Wheatstone has done a good investigative series on the Victorious Pentecostal Assembly Manchester, which hard-sells a "holy" cure-all (made from black currant drink and olive oil) that the church's leader, "Pastor Mbenga," claims will cure cancer, HIV and diabetes. In one article, the reporter presented himself to Mbenga, saying that he was worried about his uncle's cancer. The pastor advised him to pray and buy a lot of miracle cure, which the pastor would bless. The pastor's hard sell included stories of people with cancer and diabetes who "had been able to throw away their medication after making a full recovery." The pastor instructed the reporter to dilute the blessed sugary drink three to one with olive oil and administer it to his uncle, whereupon "God will take over with divine intervention and the cancer will disappear."

When subsequently cornered, the pastor insisted he harmed no one and framed his sales of the "cure" as an issue of religious freedom:

He said: "It is the word of God, it is in the scriptures that God can heal these illnesses and that is the message we are passing on to people.

"I wasn’t aware of that law, but we live in a free society and if this is what people believe then people should be free to believe in it and carry out their faith.

"We have seen divine intervention in the past where people have been healed of terrible diseases and believe that God has the supernatural power to bring about miracles.

"This is what we believe and we are just trying to help people, trying to help them live a better life by giving them the power through God to make changes in their lives. We are not hurting anyone."

Pastor: We are trying to help ... we aren’t hurting anyone (via ERV)