Here are a few brief excerpts from A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change, by John Glassie, published by Riverhead Books. Reprinted with permission.
Kircher's interests knew no bounds. From optics to music to magnetism to medicine, he offered up inventions and theories for everything, and they made him famous across Europe. His celebrated museum in Rome featured magic lanterns, speaking statues, the tail of a mermaid, and a brick from the Tower of Babel. Holy Roman Emperors were his patrons, popes were his friends, and in his spare time he collaborated with the Baroque master Bernini.
But Kircher lived during an era of radical transformation, in which the old approach to knowledge -- what he called the "art of knowing" -- was giving way to the scientific method and modern thought. A Man of Misconceptions traces the rise, success, and eventual fall of this fascinating character as he attempted to come to terms with a changing world.
With humor and insight, John Glassie returns Kircher to his rightful place as one of history's most unforgettable figures.
Sometime in the early 1670s an old Jesuit priest named Athanasius Kircher began to write a remarkable account of his early life. It told how, by virtue of divine intervention and his own bright mind, he'd come out of nowhere (a small town in the forested region of what is now central Germany) and survived stampeding horses, a painful hernia, and the armies of an insane bishop, among other things, to take his place as one of the intellectual celebrities of the seventeenth century.
As a general rule Kircher never ruined a good story with facts.... but the main story he told was true.
A 17TH CENTURY LEONARDO DA VINCI?
This was the kind of man who pursued his interest in geological matters by lowering himself down into the smoking crater of Mount Vesuvius. He spent decades trying to decipher the hieroglyphic texts of ancient Egypt because he believed, along with many others, that they contained mystical wisdom passed down from the time of Adam. He examined all aspects of music and acoustics, and experimented with an algorithmic approach to songwriting. He was among the first to publish a description of what could be seen through a microscope.
Kircher was so prolific and so ingenious that he might have been remembered as a kind of seventeenth-century Leonardo. The problem was that he got so many things wrong...
Read the rest
This is the "magic" of potatoes. You can literally live off them, and some people have and do. Of course, you don't want to, nor do I, but it's a useful tool when you understand what's going on, which is one hell of a lot of things as I'm learning. Let me give you the very basics, though, for review.
--Potato fills you up and it's difficult to eat enough to maintain body weight.
--Eaten plain, it's pretty unpalatable and so even if you can eat enough to maintain body weight, you're going to have to get over that.
--Adding a little fat (1 tsp per medium potato) and spices will make them more palatable, but you will still have a difficult time eating enough.
--They have quality amino acids, meaning you will tend to guard lean muscle (and I supplement with branch chain aminos and liver tablets).
--Calories count, i.e., not eating enough equals weight loss; having sufficient aminos equals fat loss preferentially.
--And as UK Veterinarian Peter has also hypothesized, there may be a cute little trick that helps this along. Now while Peter—as a species agnostic veterinarian—is difficult for mere mortals to understand, things begin to sink in upon 2-3 readings of a post. The gist as this mortal understands: very, very low fat is essential. Pancreatic beta cells require fat to produce the insulin necessary to regulate blood glucose. Ahha! Lets load up on glucose, no or very little fat, and where does that fat to produce the insulin necessary to deal with the glucose have to come from? Your fat ass, that's where.
Yes, as I said, 5 pounds in 3.5 days. It's 1:43pm and I'm still not hungry and have had nothing since the plate I ate last night, recipe to follow. So let's get to the hash browns, just in case you get tired of french fries.
John Koetsier of VentureBeat: "Tyra Banks has released a new iPhone app to help other women -- and men -- learn the secret that she teaches America’s Next Top Models: how to take sizzling hot self-portraits by “smizing.” Smizing, as I learned today, is the art of smiling with your eyes."
"Incredibly, the young France Gall never suspected the sordid pun lurking behind her lolly." (Via Adam Parfrey of Feral House, which is going to publish a book about Ye Ye Girls.)
An amazing and award-winning photo essay by Marie Hald of the Danish School of Journalism on Bonnie, a sex worker in Denmark.
Bonnie Cleo Andersen has been a prostitute since the age of 18. Her first time having sex for money was at a visit at a brothel in a small town. Bonnie and her girlfriend were in need of money and wanted to try it out. The experience was unpleasant and Bonnie was shy and ashamed of her body. But because of the money, she stayed in the sex industry.(College Photographer of the Year via @BWJones)
Aaron Sorkin, who is one of the only qualified people (in my opinion) for the job of writing about the late Steve Jobs, has told The Daily Beast at their Hero Summit today that his screenplay will have some pretty ambitious stuff in it. Namely, three thirty-minute segments that will take place backstage at three different Apple product launches, each of them to be filmed in real time. And that's the whole movie! Sorkin's hope is to end the movie on the memorable line, "Here's to the crazy ones," mentioned in the 1997 "Think Different" ad narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. (Here is a longer, unaired version with Jobs narrating.) But only, he says, if he can "earn" that ending. (Ahhhh... capital "W" Writing.) Sorkin also revealed which product launches the movie will feature: the Mac, NeXT, and the iPod, meaning that the movie will span Jobs' career from 1984 to 2001. Expect a lot of walking and talking, hectic backstage shenanigans, Josh Malina, many mentions of the word "thing" (don't make it a drinking game since Jobs was well-known for his inventions of things), and a long speech about how important and noble technological progress really is.
In the same talk, Sorkin also revealed that while he wasn't close acquaintances with Jobs, he did get a request from him to write a Pixar movie. So, I'll let that marinate with everyone for a while -- an Aaron Sorkin-scripted Pixar movie.
British oil company BP today announced it will pay $4.5 billion "in fines and other payments to the government," and plead guilty to 14 criminal charges resulting from the giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago. How much of that do you imagine will make it to the poor and working-class families whose homes, bodies, and lives were damaged or destroyed by the toxic disaster?
Via @meghangordon, an interesting footnote: The National Academy of Sciences gets $350 million of the BP settlement to study human health and environmental protection in the Gulf of Mexico.
Image, via NYT: The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico that was connected to a well owned by BP killed 11 workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil. (photo: US Coast Guard)
This post sponsored by Outlook.com:
By now you may have heard that Microsoft is retiring it's Hotmail service and replacing it with the new Outlook.com. If you're in the market for a new email service or simply curious to see what other options are out there, head to www.Outlook.com to sign up for your free account.
If you're an existing Hotmail user you can upgrade your experience to the new Outlook.com right now and rename your email address from SteamPunk4Evar@hotmail.com to something that might look a little more professional on your resume (like Your.Actual.Name@outlook.com). Don't worry, you can keep your SteamPunk4Evar@hotmail.com address as an alias.
Outlook.com is currently "in preview" meaning that the boffins who build the service are still fine tuning the experience and adding new features. One of the features currently being worked on is Skype integration. Very soon you'll be able to launch and receive Skype video calls from within your Outlook.com inbox. Read the rest
Read the rest
A Dutch artist called Caspar Berger is producing a "self-portrait" by 3D printing a replica of his own skull, then layering "flesh" atop it.
In this project, Self-portrait 21, the 3D copy of the skull represents the true image (vera icon). This image has formed the basis for a facial reconstruction by a forensic anthropologist, who received the skull anonymously accompanied only by the information that it belonged to a man in his mid-40s born in Western Europe. This facial reconstruction is based on the available scientific documentation of tissue structure, skin thickness and muscle groups. The clay reconstruction has been cast in bronze to be presented as Self-portrait 21, a self-portrait that has not been made by the artist.
Our friends in the Tea Party have revealed President Obama's sinister plan for a "United Nations-run communist dictatorship in which suburbanites will be forcibly relocated to cities."
On October 11, at a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus convened by the body's majority leader, Chip Rogers, a tea party activist told Republican lawmakers that Obama was mounting this most diabolical conspiracy. The event—captured on tape by a member of the Athens-based watchdog Better Georgia (who was removed from the room after 52 minutes) —- had been billed as an information session on Agenda 21, a nonbinding UN agreement that commits member nations to promote sustainable development. In the eyes of conservative activists, Agenda 21 is a nefarious plot that includes forcibly relocating non-urban-dwellers and prescribing mandatory contraception as a means of curbing population growth. The invitation to the Georgia state Senate event noted the presentation would explain: "How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to 'save the earth.'"
Science and technology writer Steve Silberman asked ten of his favorite writers (science authors, poets, bloggers, NYT reporters) to share "their playlists of music that evokes the elusive Muse." The answers ranged from "silence, to Eno, to the Velvet Underground and the White Stripes."
Writers have their secrets and rituals for courting the fickle favor of the Muse. For some, it’s sitting in a certain chair at the right time of day — or getting out of familiar surroundings to type busily away in a café filled with people that might someday be readers. For others, it’s a brisk walk in the open air. Or it’s potions; woe to the poet who finally decides to undertake her epic sestina sequence only to discover that her cupboard is bare of aged Sumatra.
And for many writers, one way to evoke that elusive flow-state of inspiration is music.
Not, mind you, just any music. I love me some Elvis Costello, but trying to eke out an apt phrase while being throttled with the thesaurus of his post-coital tristesse would be impossible. A writer needs a soundtrack that arouses the desire for articulation while denying its consummation by anyone else’s genius.
Michael Geist sez,
The NPD Group response contains math errors for both non-P2P users (the total should be $192 not $191) and P2P users (the total should be $268 not $267), though perhaps this is due to rounding errors from the original data. More important, however, is a bigger math error in the chart as NPD Group significantly understates the difference between P2P and non-P2P users. In arriving at the grand total, it adds all the categories (physical CDs, paid downloads, subscription fees, merchandise, and concert tickets) plus the sub-total. In other words, it double counts the physical CDs, paid downloads, and subscription fees. The actual grand total of the five categories of spending is $206 per year for P2P users and only $138 for non-P2P users for a difference of 49.3 percent. There is obvious irony in NPD Group talking about the need for a licence to publish data only to get its math wrong, yet the real significance is that few would credibly argue that a nearly 50% increase in spending by P2P users can be simply chalked up to unsupported claims that P2P usage had no impact on consumer purchasing behaviour.
Evan from Fight for the Future, "The open internet is in danger. In just a few weeks, governments from around the world are getting together, and they could decide the future of our internet. Watch the video to find out why a government-dominated agency as old as the telegraph is trying to get its hands on the net we love. Then take action by using the platform to contact your government and tell them to stand up for an open internet."
There’s a meeting between the world’s governments in a just a few weeks, and it could very well decide the future of the internet through a binding international treaty. It’s called the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), and it’s being organized by a government-controlled UN agency called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
If some proposals at WCIT are approved, decisions about the internet would be made by a top-down, old-school government-centric agency behind closed doors. Some proposals allow for access to be cut off more easily, threaten privacy, legitimize monitoring and blocking online traffic. Others seek to impose new fees for accessing content, not to mention slowing down connection speeds. If the delicate balance of the internet is upset, it could have grave consequences for businesses and human rights.
When I myself was a protesting student, I remember vividly remembered the cold warning in the text by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He reminded us youngsters that the police we faced in the streets were also someone's children, that not all young people were fortunate enough to be in colleges rather than wearing uniforms, and that we should join all together against the general oppressor, the system, capitalism, the corporations, name it…
That was then, and this is now, and while the students and policemen still have the same interests, they are still on the opposite sides of the barricade. Austerity has driven Italy to its knees. Day by day the future of Italy's young people is vaporizing, and now the streets are flooded by torrential rains, to boot. Italian cities rocked by earthquakes might as well settle for witchcraft, rather than find responsible and competent government officials who can rescue the nation's casualties. Read the rest
Read the rest
BetaBeat lists the most interesting folks in 2012's tech scene. Here's Nitasha Tiku on Anil Dash, whose "amiable agitation" is also one of my own inspirations atop the web's sea of snark and negativity.
"His disarming combination of radical empathy and prescriptive real talk tends to humanize discussions about technology that are otherwise siloed in the startup world’s upbeat echo chamber. ... Slackstory editor Nick Douglas compared Mr. Dash (once tapped by the White House to help federal agencies innovate) to a more contemporary leader, calling him “the Obama of tech”: “Someone trustworthy with important matters, who also has good shit on his iPhone. He can banter with curmudgeons without becoming one, and he can work with snobs without becoming one.”
One of my favorite things about YouTube is being able to listen to almost any old song I can think of. But most of the time the video that accompanies the song is either a spinning record, some text against a black backdrop, or a montage of blurry pictures with that damn Ken Burns effect. Boring! Why not show an Outer Limits clip with Jill Haworth instead?
[UPDATE: The Outer Limits clip shown here is from a 1963 episode called "The Sixth Finger." A website about The Outer Limits, called We are Controlling the Transmission, has a good article about this episode. Also, Amazon has a box set of the complete run of The Outer Limits for $42.33)
(Via Ivan Solotaroff)
For the record, squid come in shoals. Not quite as good as a squad. But still nicely alliterative.
Via Craig McClain
I agree with Shane Glines. Debbie Harry wore the greatest T-shirts the world has ever known.
On Retronaut, David Orman has gathered up a magnificent collection of digital watches from the 1980s, which was truly the last spasm of the heroic age of digital horology.
John Severin is Drew Friedman's latest subject in his "Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books" series
Drew Friedman says:
This is the latest in my ongoing series of "portraits of the legends of comic books", the late artist John Severin (1921-2012), one of the original MAD/EC comics artists. I portrayed him at work in his studio circa the mid-seventies, putting finishing touches on his latest cover painting for Cracked, the MAD imitation magazine where he worked for 45 years and was their signature artist. My blog from earlier this year on John Severin's Cracked paperback covers.Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for Cracked:
Cracked was an American humor magazine. Founded in 1958, Cracked proved to be the most durable of the many publications to be launched in the wake of Mad magazine. In print, Cracked conspicuously copied Mad's layouts and style, and even featured a simpleminded, wide-cheeked mascot named Sylvester P. Smythe on its covers (see Alfred E. Neuman). The Smythe character was Cracked's "janitor." Unlike Neuman, who is mute and appears primarily on covers, Smythe sometimes spoke and was frequently seen inside the magazine, interacting with parody subjects and other regular characters. A 1998 reader contest led to Smythe finally getting a full middle name: "Phooey." An article on Cracked.com, the companion website, joked that the magazine was "created as a knock-off of Mad magazine just over 50 years ago", and it "spent nearly half a century with a fan base primarily comprised of people who got to the store after Mad sold out."
Cracked's awesome motto was: "We're number two because we don't try as hard."Portrait of John Severin
Over the past few years, multiple people have died in Thailand from what appears to be exposure to some kind of poison. Most of these people have been tourists. And most of them have been young women. The deaths have happened in clusters. Five or so on the island vacation hotspot of Kho Phi Phi. Another group of six at Chiang Mai's Downtown Inn.
Lots of possible explanations have been suggested — ranging from serial killers, to hallucinogenic beach drinks, to overuse of banned insecticides in hotel rooms. But, so far, none of the specific poisons proposed as the culprit totally makes sense in relation to the deaths. And, to make things worse, it seems like Thai authorities are doing their best to make it difficult to actually investigate what has happened in individual cases, and figure out whether the cases are linked or not. At this point, it's hard to even know whether all the people who have died exhibited the same symptoms.
Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has done a lot of reporting on poisons and true crime has been following this story and just published another piece on the still-unfolding mess.
Your daughter died.
Your daughter died thousands of miles from home. In a hotel where no one came to help. In a hospital where she struggled to keep breathing and just couldn’t. In a room where her heart – and somehow you still don’t really believe this – just stuttered to a stop. In a country, where authorities have failed for months, years even, to tell you how or why your daughter died.
Your daughter, you’ve come to realize, died in a pattern that links too many other young women, a chain of suspected poisonings over the last few years. Jill St. Onge, 27, of Seattle, Washington, and Julie Bergheim, 22, of Drammen, Norway, who both died in May 2009 on the southern island of Koh Phi Phi. Sherifa Khalid, 24, of Kuwait, who died 12 hours she spent a day on the same island in July of the same year.
Because sometimes nature just likes to mess with you, here's CFBDSIR2149. It's an object in space — a relatively nearby object in space, as evidenced by the fact that this is an actual picture of it — and scientists are pretty sure that it's a planet. If they're right, then CFBDSIR2149 is also a "rogue planet", so called because it doesn't actually orbit a star. Seriously. It's just hanging out in space, doing its own thing.
Also, it's not the first time a rogue planet has been identified.
In fact, these things are probably not even particularly rare. A 2011 study published in the journal Nature estimated that rogue planets might even outnumber normal stars by 2-to-1 in the Milky Way Galaxy.
It's worth noting that rogue planets do not seem to be Earth-like. For instance, CFBDSIR2149 is roughly the size of Jupiter and, with an estimated surface temperature of 850 degrees Fahrenheit, it is not exactly a pleasant place for people. As for rogue planets come from: That's a mystery. One of the things that makes CFBDSIR2149 special, according to Phil Plait, is that it's actually close enough to us that we can collect some good data on the thing.
Read Phil Plait's description of CFBDSIR2149 at the Bad Astronomy Blog
Read about rogue planets in a Science News story from last year
Image: CFHT/P. Delorme