Quarterly is a company that sells subscriptions to boxes filled with items selected by guest curators (including our friends Veronica Belmont, Joshua Foer, and Alexis Madrigal). They've also invited me to be a curator. My first package of objects is called "Fantastic Plastic," and I'm excited about it!
Here is my statement about my package:
I love small plastic gadgets that do something surprising. You can carry them around in your pocket and use them to delight other people when you see them. Who can forget the scene in Play it Again, Sam when Woody Allen gives Dianne Keaton a plastic skunk for her birthday and she is touched to the point of tears? Or the time Jerry Seinfeld gave Elaine a Tweety Bird Pez Dispenser in the middle of a piano recital and it gave her a case of the giggles? Plastic items are excellent gifts —- precisely because they have little intrinsic value, the love and thoughtfulness of the giver stands out.
MAKE senior editor Goli Mohammadi interviewed Jim Burke, organizer of the Power Racing Series, an event where adults soup-up battery-operated Power Wheels cars and race them on a track, often wearing costumes. If you are coming to Maker Faire New York later this month, you can see these wacky races first-hand.
Sam Raimi is involved in a lot of projects these days as a producer and director, but the last time he actually wrote us something was 2009's Drag Me to Hell. He'd like that to change, and in an interview with Shock Till You Drop, he revealed that he and his brother Ivan (his co-writer on Drag Me to Hell) were currently writing a screenplay for a new horror movie, but it's still in the early stages: "It's a very simple story about a character, we're trying to figure out what they want, it's all of the basic stuff - how they come involved with this darker force. There's nothing much to tell [yet], I've got a three-page treatment we're working off of right now." And that is all the fiercely generic red meat we get for now... which we'll all gladly take. It's just nice to know it's happening. (via Shock Till You Drop)
Unfortunately the thread is crashing frequently and is in read-only mode due to heavy traffic, but I'm looking forward to seeing his answers to people's questions. Here's a cached copy of the page, but it's likely to be out of date.
From David McCandless's Information Is Beautiful Studio comes a magnificent charticle about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Above is just the top portion. See the whole thing at BBC Future, "Are We Alone?" (via Wired)
Comics writer Karl Kesel and his wife recently adopted a baby whose parents were addicted to heroin. This is the sort of backstory that would normally land a kid in the foster-care system, which does not, statistically speaking, offer much hope at a full and happy life. The Kesels have seriously done some good here, but it's cost them. Their son Isaac racked up $67,000 in medical bills during his first few months of life (it's not clear yet how much of that will be covered by Myrna Kesel's insurance), and it cost another $25,000 to adopt him. Karl Kesel is selling off his collection of comic books to pay the bills, but some Redditors have set up a crowd-funding campaign to help out. You can donate for the next two days.
Apparently, it was just as bad as we feared. Not long ago, it was reported that production on the Michael Bay-produced "Ninja Turtles" movie was pushed to 2014. Because 2014 is the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? No! That was a convenient excuse. Besides, "Ninja Turtles" is basically a cheap imitator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since half of their character description -- along with the central freaking premise -- were done away with. No, it was because the script was said to have "issues." Meaning: the script was terrible. Several people claim to have gotten their hands on this script, and there are terrible, awful, no good, very bad things in it. Starting with 18-year-old high school lovebirds Casey Jones and April O'Neil. Seriously. That almost happened.
A new, 25-year study of rhesus monkeys is muddying the waters around the theory that heavily limiting the number of calories you eat can prolong your life. You've probably heard about the studies with worms, and mice, and rats, showing that those animals live longer, healthier lives when they eat significantly less food than control animals. But, as Nature News points out, those results aren't always consistent from study-to-study—a fact which suggests we don't really understand all the factors in play just yet. In fact, the new rhesus study flatly contradicts a previous rhesus study. But that previous experiment could have been flawed because control monkeys were fed high-sugar foods in unlimited quantities, rather than a reasonable, healthy diet. Basically, if animals really do live longer on super-low calorie diets, there's probably more going on there than just super-low calorie diets.
Jon Rafman has compiled a breathtaking collection of bizarre, moving, upsetting, and compelling photos culled from Google Street View. His site is called "9-eyes," for the number of cameras on the top of the Google Street View cars. Jon Rafman's "9-eyes"(via Smithsonian)
It sure seems like a completed structure at first glance. But look closer. Specifically, look at the piles of stone blocks stacked on top of the columns.
Those blocks were hauled up there during construction—around the turn of the 20th century. They were supposed to be carved into sculptures representing "Music", "Architecture", "Painting" and, ironically, "Sculpture". Instead, the stone has sat there for 110 years, through two major renovations, un-carved and largely ignored.
Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell.
Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”
I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (the frequently failing autopilot? the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out? the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby?....)
He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.
That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button... and the engines just wont start.
He responded that he had dreams about that for two years prior to the launch.
I've got a good doctor, and one of the reasons I like him as much as I do is his "bedside manner"—the shorthand we all use for describing whether or not medical professionals are able to connect with their patients emotionally. But pulling off a good bedside manner isn't just about being kind and empathetic, it's also about time. Part of why I think he had good bedside manner is that he spends time talking to me when I go in for an appointment. He answers questions. He asks about my life. He takes the time to empathize, even if, sometimes, that means that a problem that could have been dealt with in 5 minutes became a 20 minute appointment.
It's hard to make people feel valued and cared about if you've only got a couple of minutes to see them before you have to move on to the next person. Unfortunately, packing as many patients into a day as possible is more efficient in a business sense. A 2005 study of 11 doctors found that they spent an average of 13.3 minutes on each patient—if you combined both face-to-face time and time spent working directly on the patient's case outside the exam room. The next year, anesthesiologist Peter Salgo wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about the pressure put on doctors by hospital administration to see as many patients as possible and move them on through with conveyer-like efficiency.
Now there's a new study that suggests the pressure to behave in a business-friendly way makes doctors more likely to have a brusque bedside manner.
Riding on the success of his first feature film/sleeper hit Ted, Seth MacFarlane will take the stage as the host of Saturday Night Live's season premiere on September 15. He will be accompanied by musical guest Frank Ocean. I think Seth MacFarlane is a delight, and in the midst of this insane political season, I have a good feeling that he will be right at home with the cast. If he doesn't sing, then I will consider that a ripoff. Also announced are the next two hosts: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with musical guest Mumford & Sons, and Daniel Craig, with musical guest Muse. That will bring us into October, at which point we will need funny business more than ever as we enter the home stretch before the election. (via Deadline)
I cannot get to Burning Man this year because I'm in cancer treatment. It's funny, too, because the experience of going through that has given me a new kind of fondness for the annual playa festivities. The freedom, the wide open spaces, the happiness of mutants.
Following long-time Burner Aaron Muszalski (@sfslim) on Instagram is the next best thing, and I recommend it strongly, whether or not you're going to be in Black Rock City in person. He's a talented photographer, and he captures the whimsy, the art, the beauty of those vast desert expanses with the comfort of one who knows them all intimately. Bonus: you don't have to get any dust up your gullet.
To all out there as I type this, have lots of sex and fire and drugs and candyraving and shirtcocking for me.
Dan Harmon recently conducted an AMA on Reddit, in which he revealed that in the emotionally charged season finale of Community, "Digital Estate Planning," Chevy Chase didn't show up to film a scene that was partially told via an original 8-bit video game. Since it was the last day of shooting, it was their last chance to do the scene, and they lost it. So one Reddit user, Derferman, of /r/hawkthorne, created the scene and made it downloadable for everyone to play out the scene for themselves. Community writer Megan Ganz was positively verklempt and showed it to the cast this morning.
It is a full-on Community-Harmontown lovefest, kids.
At the Economist, Glenn Fleishmann writes about the 17 cameras on board the Curiosity rover on Mars. That's "seven more than any previous exploratory vehicle," he writes. They "store images in a raw, unprocessed format and initially beam back tiny thumbnails (which NASA uploads as they come in). The scientists working on different aspects of the mission meet daily to determine which of the thumbnails to download in higher resolution. The 'health and safety' of the rover takes priority. After the deliberations, which can last over an hour, instructions are dispatched to Mars."
Tracking the growth of captive animals isn't just about making sure the captive animals are well taken care of. It's also an important part of understanding animal life cycles and how life in captivity differs from life in the wild. Data on millions of animals is stored in the Zoological Information Management System—a database used by zookeepers, aquarium officials, and researchers. In order to have that database, though, zoos and aquariums must do annual inventories of their charges—measuring height and weight, and recording data on details like egg-laying patterns. And this is where the cute comes in.
The Guardian has a slideshow of images taken last week during the London Zoo's animal inventory. If you've ever wanted to see somebody stretch a tape measure around a penguin's chubby belly, or coo over meerkats climbing around a scale, this is your chance.
[Video Link]. An enterprising YouTuber who goes by the handle adnmusic slapped together this funny little monstrosity. It's fake. And it's fabulous.
The original, unadulterated version is here. The performer is Joe Rinaudo, "whose passion is a 1926 Fotoplayer, which uses music rolls like those for player pianos to provide music and sound effects to silent films." Mr. Rinaudo spent thousands of hours restoring this antique music device.
"Although the 'talkies' made them obsolete in the late 1920s, Huell discovers there is still no better way to enjoy a silent movie than with Joe, his hand cranked projector and his Fotoplayer."
Watch the original below. Actually, it's better than the remix. And man, I want to meet Joe Rinaudo and visit his shop in person. I mean, seriously, how cool is that guy?
Two Fridays ago, Steve Perlman told the 200 employees of cloud gaming company OnLive that it was all his fault. He thanked them for their hard work, and then he had HR show them the door with no severance pay. Then, through a legal insolvency tool, Perlman transferred all of OnLive’s assets to a brand new company and took over as CEO, hiring back only a skeleton crew to keep the ship afloat.
It's amazing to see such an in-depth and well-reported piece so soon after the event: this all went down days ago.
The 84-inch XBR-84X900 fulfills Sony's three primary marketing objectives. First, to be the first to the mass market with a 4K-resolution TV set. Second, to be as expensive as a small yacht. Third, to have a name that you have already forgotten.
Moran Cerf is a neuroscientist. In the video above, which Cory posted on Friday, he tells the story of how a paper he published in the journal Nature ended up getting him phone calls from Apple and invitations to appear with Christopher Nolan on the publicity tour for Inception. The problem: Nolan, Apple, and a lot of other people thought Cerf had figured out a way to record dreams. He hadn't. Not even close.
Cory's piece, and a link that Xeni sent me to the video, got me reading up on this case and I wanted to provide more of the scientific background—so you can see clearly what Cerf's research was really about and how the media got wrong. Back in 2010, Cerf and his colleagues were trying to figure out how humans look at a world cluttered with different faces, objects, smells, and sounds and manage to filter out the specific things we're interested in. What happens when I look at a messy desk and immediately focus in on one piece of paper? If there are two objects on the desk that are familiar to me, but only one of them really matters, how does my brain resolve the conflict and direct my attention in a single direction?
Turns out, at least under laboratory conditions, humans can filter out the important stuff by consciously controlling the firing of neurons in their own brains. Here's how Alison Abbott at Nature News described the research at the time:
In the last six years or so they have shown that single neurons can fire when subjects recognise — or even imagine — just one particular person or object. They propose that activity in these neurons reflect the choices the brain is making about what sensory information it will consider further and what information it will neglect.
In this experiment, the scientists flashed a series of 110 familiar images — such as pictures of Marilyn Monroe or Michael Jackson — on a screen in front of each of the 12 patients and identified individual neurons which uniquely and reliably responded to one of the images. They selected four images for which they had found responsive neurons in different parts of a subject's MTL. Then they showed the subject two images superimposed on each other. Each was 50% faded out.
The subjects were told to think about one of the images and enhance it.