Hammacher Schlemmer, purveyors of expensive stuff of no use to anyone, is famous for its precious catalog copy. Example:
Designed in Milan, it is handcrafted entirely of slip-cast ceramic fired in Vincenza, renowned since the 18th century for its traditional ceramics that have been compared to the finest Chinese porcelain. The clay itself comes from the Tuscan commune of Montelupo Fiorentino, a prominent center of ceramics production during the Renaissance, its products reaching as far as the first European settlements in Central America.
Just for fun, let's have a contest in the comments. Write Hammacher Schlemmer catalog copy for a rubber band. The most liked comment wins a no-prize.
Catherine Baucom, a breast cancer surgeon in Louisiana, was on her way to a surgery at BRASS Surgery Center of Baton Rouge last Wednesday morning when she found herself caught in a complete traffic shutdown caused by a major accident. She handled it like a boss: the surgeon, who is also a cyclist, borrowed a pink bicycle and helmet decorated with Disney princesses from a nearby friend’s 7-year-old daughter, and she pedaled like hell.
Dr. Baucom remembered a friend that lived a few blocks from her position in the mayhem and made her way to his house. "Catherine called, she was outside my house. She said 'Hey do you have a bike?' I walked outside and said yea, its a kids bike," said Dr. Brian Barnett. After a quick test run, Dr. Baucom decided the bike was her only choice to get to the hospital. "I got the air pump out and aired the tires up as much as I could."
He gladly loaned her his seven year old daughter's bike and helmet and the nearly six foot tall surgeon resumed her journey to the surgery center.
"It was hot pink and small," Dr. Baucom said, describing the bike. "The helmet was pink with princesses." He added he was laughing so much he couldn't get video of her before she peddled away. "But she did utilize the plastic basket on front, to put her cell phone in. Showed her experience with the bike."
In the last 2 decades, some 85% of wild Tasmanian Devils have been wiped out. The primary cause isn't poachers or habitat destruction, but a bizarre kind of *contagious* cancer. "A recent epidemic disease, known as devil facial tumour disease, has brought an extremely rare, but equally devastating, set of circumstances together to threaten the devil population. Facial tumour disease, unlike every form of cancer known to affect humans, is transferred directly from devil to devil when they bite each other, which is 'something they do a lot during feeding or mating.'”
Over at Thought Catalog, the inimitable Mark Dery presents an epic appreciation for the late Gore Vidal.
His perennial subject was the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, and his commentaries on it constituted one long poison-pen elegy for American democracy, delivered with that patented blend of amused hauteur and oracular self-assurance. The small, what-fools-these-mortals-be smile he managed at the decline of Our Fair Republic (for him, it had been declining from the day it was founded) made mock of any dreams of social justice we might entertain.
Little surprise, then, that he wasn’t to everyone’s taste. In “Mr. Gore: Unpatriotic Vidal” (The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America), Martin Amis found his brick-thick novels hard going, took a dim view of his militant heterophobia (Vidal was bisexual), marveled at the virulence of his anti-Americanism, and raised a wry eyebrow at his pose, on the page, as “the only grown-up in America,” his tone “that of a super evolved stellar sage gazing down on the globe in pitying hilarity.” (Amis did concede, however, that Vidal was “probably” — I can just see the Cicero of the Small Screen pursing his lips at the weasel word — “the cleverest book-reviewer in the world.”)
This silent film clip, posted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine blog, is one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.
First off, it shows a 1968 test run of a lunar landing research vehicle—a practice version of the lunar module that would later carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon. It's weird and surreal and very, very awesome to watch an LLRV rising, lowering, and swooping through the sky from the vantage point of someone standing on the ground. In general, a great reminder that we make UFOs right here on Earth.
But the real crazy bit happens at the end of the video, when Neil Armstrong—who was piloting this LLRV—bails out just before the craft plummets to the ground and explodes.
No, seriously. And it leads to this amazing story, which is, in itself, a brilliant tribute to Armstrong.
In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, “When did this happen?” About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, “I just heard the funniest story!” Armstrong said, “What?” “I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.” “Yeah, I did,” replied Armstrong. “I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.” “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”
Mysterious booms are rattling citizens of El Dorado County, California. Quarry owners require government permission to use explosives. The local Naval Air Station denies any supersonic flights over the area. Some have suggested that perhaps wineries are employing propane canons to scare away birds. From CBS Sacramento:
According to USGS, there aren’t enough seismic stations to pinpoint the exact location. Meanwhile, some say the booms have been around so long and happen so often they barely notice them anymore. Still, others want to solve the mystery.
“I would like to know what it is, yeah. And I’d like to know when it’s going to stop too,” said (Pleasant Valley resident Peter) O’Grady.
The New York Times Sunday Review had an article this week linking autism with the hygiene hypothesis. Written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, the piece is part of the Times' opinion coverage, not reported news. It was also one of those sort of stories that comes across as highly persuasive ... until you start looking at the details. About halfway through reading it yesterday, it occurred to me that Velasquez-Manoff was making a lot of big statements—"perhaps 1/3 of autism, and very likely more, looks like a type of inflammatory disease", for example—without citing the sources to back those statements up.
That's easy to do when you're writing a relatively short article summarizing the contents of a much bigger book, as Velasquez-Manoff seems to be doing here. But the problems go deeper than that, according to biologist and science writer Emily Willingham. In a must-read blog post, she goes through the NYT piece and points out many flaws in argument and detail. The main problem, though, is a pretty simple one: Moises Velasquez-Manoff presents what seems to be a largely speculative hypothesis as sure-fire truth. To make that case as persuasive as it is, he leaves out lots of evidence that doesn't match up with his thesis.
For about two years, the Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy has been operating as a blog, building an online community for women in the New York comedy scene (and elsewhere). But it's not nearly as gigantic as it damn well should be. To remedy that, the New York Times has given it the spotlight with an interview with GLOC founder Glennis McCarthy, and I'm going to go ahead and spread the love, too. (And not just because I was a guest on their podcast.) Read about why we shouldn't pay any mind to the repeatedly disproven trope that women aren't funny, and what big names in comedy have been a part of the GLOC. (via The New York Times)
YouTuber hahahaspam explains, "This is the Curiosity Mars Rover descent footage interpolated from ~4 frames per second to 25 frames per second. It is playing back in real time. This took me 4 days straight to put together, so I hope you enjoy it! Music: Kevin Macleod."
NPR's Robert Krulwich (one of the greatest science journalists ever IMO, and a personal hero of mine) writes about the day he received an email from the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. Krulwich wondered, "How come they walked such a modest distance? Less than a hundred yards from their lander?" And Armstrong basically answered that they were "part of a team and we were team players on a perilous, one-of-a-kind journey. Improvisation was not really an option." But Krulwich adds, "I kinda think he wanted to do more, go further. Anyway, read for yourself." (via Steve Silberman)
"He was really an engineer's engineer -- a modest man who was always uncomfortable in his singular role as the first person to set foot on the moon. He understood and appreciated the historic consequences of it and yet was never fully willing to embrace it. He was modest to the point of reclusive. You could call him the J.D. Salinger of the astronaut corps. He was a quiet, engaging, wonderful from the Midwest kind of guy... But when it came to the public exposure that was associated with this amazing accomplishment ... he ran from it. And part of it was he felt as if this was an accomplishment of many thousands of people. And it was. He took the lion's share of the credit and he felt uncomfortable with that."—Miles O'Brien, space and science journalist, speaking on CNN Saturday.