Great cover for a 1960 scifi paperback


The Unexpected Dimension is a 1960 paperback anthology of science fiction short stories by Algis Budrys. It only merits 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, and even this 5-star review on Amazon gives me pause: "Budrys is a difficult writer. It usually takes several readings before you can really understand what is going on in his stories." I'll pass, but I give the cover illustration by John Blanchard 5 stars! Check out a few of his other covers here:

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Foreword to Trick Decks: How to Hack Playing Cards for Astounding Magic


Jason wrote a terrific foreword to my $3 card magic e-book, Trick Decks: How to Hack Playing Cards for Extraordinary Magic, and has kindly given me permission to reprint it here. Jason was instrumental in rekindling my interested in magic, so I was thrilled to have him write it. Thank you, Jason!

What Mark teaches you, in this fantastic book, is magic. Magic you can appreciate immediately, and marvel at its workings without ever performing for more than yourself.

Herein lie activities that are fun for the whole family!

Activities that create illusions you’ll never forget – or forget how they work!

The entire STEM course load that is so popular today is here in Spades! Clubs! Hearts! Diamonds!

It is truly magic on so many levels.

So much about magic is intentionally damn confusing. I have a large library of books on card magic. Few of them are comprehensible to folks who don’t spend hours trying to figure out how to use them! It is like law school! Fancy names for card sleights that are harder to remember than the moves themselves, illustrations from Lascaux, and dialect from the renaissance-faire are frequently used to keep the barrier to entry high.

Mark has worked hard to share easy, achievable methods to get immediate, amazing results. You can delight in magic in a way that took me over a decade, working with only a single deck of Bicycle 808 playing cards and a candle, in a damp, dark room, trying to perfect a double lift.

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There's a place in LA that sells ukuleles and espresso, and it is terrific


I'm not as much of an ukulele fanatic as I once was, but when my daughter and I were in Little Tokyo on Saturday and came across U-Space, a store that sells ukuleles and espresso, I had to check it out.

The store has a large wall of ukuleles in all the sizes, from the itty bitty sopranos all the way up to the baritones (which are typically tuned like the four high strings on a guitar). U-Space has tables and comfy couches for drinking coffee and listening to ukulele music. There's also a counter with a couple of inexpensive ukes and instructions with simple chords so that everyone who comes in can have fun playing.

The proprietor, Jason Arimoto, is a very friendly guy. We had a nice chat and I asked him if I could take his photo. He was happy to oblige. He was holding a newly-released clear plastic ukulele, which cost $50 and sounds great. The non-clear plastic ukes sell for $40. These plastic models would make excellent starter ukes. Jason said they are modeled after the plastic ukulele that Arthur Godfrey pitched on TV in the 1950s, selling millions and millions of them. I was very tempted to buy the clear one, but I have enough ukuleles at home that don't get played as it is. Instead, I ordered an espresso, and Jason pulled a perfect double shot for me.

Check out the U-Space website. Besides selling ukes and coffee, they also have performances and teach ukulele lessons there. Read the rest

Taiwan's 60,000 betel-nut kiosks and the young women who work in them

Betelnut girl Hsiao Chin, Taoyuan [CC. Tobie Openshaw]

I tried betel nut in Singapore many years ago from an old guy in a market off Bencoolen street. He gave me a packet with some leaves, some of the nut, and some lime (calcium carbonate). I didn't feel its purported stimulant effects, but I enjoyed preparing the quid and the way my saliva turned red. Betelnut is popular throughout Asia. Oddity Central has a short item with photos about Taiwan's betel-nut kiosks and the woman work in them:

The main roads are filled with around 60,000 such phone booth-style kiosks; they’re so much a part of the nation’s identity that they’re actually featured on old tourist guides. The women who operate the stalls are usually from poorer families, but according to news reports, the job pays more than housekeeping, waiting tables and other conventional jobs.

Tobie Openshaw took this photo of a "Betelnut girl" in Hsiao Chin, Taoyuan. He wrote:
Betelnut girls (Binlang Xi Shi/檳榔西施) are a unique part of Taiwan culture. They sit in brightly-decorated glass booths wearing skimpy outfits, and sell cigarettes, drinks and betelnut to passing drivers. It’s a controversial trade but not actually illegal. The question of whether the girls are exploited is open to debate – certainly their own perception is mostly that they are doing a job like any other, and the less they choose to wear, the more they sell. For more info, see and follow the links to the video and pictures.
Check out Openshaw's Flickr stream for more photos. Read the rest

Have you always wanted a pet micropig? This Chinese genetics firm is making one for you

BGI showcases its micropigs at a summit in Shenzhen, China. [BGI]

BGI, the genomics institute in Shenzhen credited with a number of breakthroughs in genomic sequencing, is applying its expertise on making tiny pigs for pets. According to the pigs will weigh about 15 kilograms when they mature.

At the [Shenzhen International Biotech Leaders Summit in China] the institute quoted a price tag of 10,000 yuan (US$1,600) for the micropigs, but that was just to "help us better evaluate the market”, says Yong Li, technical director of BGI’s animal-science platform. In future, customers will be offered pigs with different coat colours and patterns, which BGI says it can also set through gene editing.

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Gentleman suspected of stealing a magnet was arrested after he went to police station to complain about his wanted poster


A 23-year-old man was arrested in Cambridge, England for stealing a £23.78 engineering magnet after he went into a police station to complain that a wanted poster with his photo on it was embarrassing.

Asked why he had come to the police station, he replied: "I found out I was put into the papers and on Facebook regarding this matter. My family started to suffer as a result of this. My younger sister was mocked at school and my boss at the roofing company said he could not trust me and I lost my job. I'm just very unhappy being accused of something I have not done."

A judge found the man guilty, saying that the evidence against him was "clear, compelling, and credible."

In the man's defense, it's a seriously cool-looking magnet. No wonder was willing to nick it.

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A very useful illuminated hand held magnifier for 3 dollars


This handheld magnifying glass has two bright LEDs and is powered by 3 AAA cells (not included). The manufacturer says the magnification is 40X. I think it is less than that, but it is still plenty powerful for my needs - mainly, reading the markings on tiny electrical components and checking the layer fusion on 3D printed parts. I have a few different magnifiers, and this one has quickly become my favorite.

It's not like a regular magnifying glass. It's more like a jeweler's loupe. To use it, you hold it up to your eye and move close to the thing you want to look at.

It comes with a fake leather pouch. At $2.93 + free shipping on Amazon, it's a great value. Read the rest

Rise of the Synthesizer: How an Electronics Whiz Kid Gave the 1980s Its Signature Sound


The recent revival of all things '80s has spurred a newfound appreciation for the decade's signature sound, which was largely produced by the synthesizer. Until the late 1970s, synthesizers had been finicky and difficult instruments to play, but the Prophet-5 in 1978 and the Oberheim OB-Xa two years later changed all that. For example, the pop-synth riffs on Cars hits like "Let's Go" were produced by the Prophet-5, while everyone from Prince ("1999") to Eddie Van Halen ("Jump") ran their fingers across Oberheim keyboards.

To learn more about these instruments, I visited Lance Hill at his Vintage Synthesizer Museum in Oakland, California, and interviewed Dave Smith, who not only gave the world the Prophet-5 but also co-created MIDI, a file protocol that's so durable, it's been in 1.0 since its release in 1982.

Still, advances technology were changing more than just music. South of San Francisco, the Silicon Valley that only a few years before had been dominated by the aerospace industry was suddenly poised to be a proving ground for what would become the personal-computer revolution. Among the region’s watershed moments was the first meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in March of 1975. Hosted in the garage of a programmer named Gordon French, the meeting was attended by a computer engineer named Steve Wozniak, who, with the marketing and sales support of his friend Steve Jobs, released the first Apple computer in the summer of 1976.

In short, the musical-synthesizer revolution was taking place at the exact same moment as the dawn of the personal computer.

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That nightmarish bipedal bear is back, and now we know why


I didn't like it when Snoopy suddenly changed from a cute quadruped to an ugly biped and I didn't like it when I saw this video of a bear walking upright like a human in a New Jersey 'burb. Read the rest

S.S. Adams invented over 700 practical jokes. Here's a great book about them


See sample pages from this book at Wink.

For over 100 years, the S.S. Adams Company of Neptune, New Jersey has been selling joy buzzers, sneezing powder, exploding cigars, fake vomit, extra salty salt water taffy, toy smoking monkeys, magic tricks, and hundreds of other inexpensive novelties loved by children and adults who act like children.

The S.S. Adams company gave Life of the Party author Kirk Demarais unprecedented access to its archives of tricks, gags, and ephemera dating back to the company’s humble beginnings as a manufacturer of Cachoo sneezing powder. Samuel Sorenson Adams sold 150,000 bottles of the stuff at ten cents each. The FDA eventually banned the powder, which contained a toxic ingredient called dianisidine. Undaunted, Adams went on to invent over 700 other practical jokes (many of which were awarded patents).

The photos of the many different magic tricks in Demarais’s book are the most appealing to me. Many of them are made from metal or wood and are beautiful and mysterious. I’m not a collector of anything, but I could become a collector of old magic tricks like this if I didn’t check myself. For now, I will content myself with this lavishly illustrated homage to a company that could only have thrived in an earlier century, when pleasures were simpler, and humor was broader.

The foreword is written by Acme Novelty Library cartoonist Chris Ware.

Life of the Party: A Visual History of the S.S. Adams Company, Makers of Pranks and Magic for 100 Years

By Kirk Demarais S.S. Read the rest

TV Magic Cards with Marshall Brodien - the best commercial ever


I wonder how many thousands of kids were introduced to the joy of magic from buying TV Magic Cards after watching this commercial that ran on TV ad nauseum in the early 1970s. Read the rest

Exclusive clip from new Russell Brand documentary


In this clip from the new documentary, Brand: A Second Coming, Russell Brand recounts the time he was at a protest in the streets of London. He climbed on top of a police van and took off his clothes. He was so alarmed by his "shrinkage," that he tried to "wank it to normal size."

Brand: A Second Coming chronicles actor / comedian / activist Russell Brand on his journey from addict, self-proclaimed narcissist and Hollywood star living in the fast-lane to his current, and unexpected, role as political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Criticized for egomaniacal self-interest, Brand injects his madness in to the world and calls for revolution. He stays the course with an irreverent courage that inspires a new generation of activists to rise up against the ever-increasing world engorged in Consumerism.

Can Brand rise against the roar of criticism from the very system that built him? Does he have the fortitude, resilience and commitment to keep up the fight? Will he find true happiness which has eluded him since childhood? BRAND: A Second Coming takes audiences behind the scenes of this wildly complex man for an intimate look at what drives Russell Brand as he continues to be the consummate disruptor.

Brand: A Second Coming is a feature documentary produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public).

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Young woman can't keep her hands off Katy Perry on stage


Katy Perry invited a KatyCat named Rayane to join her onstage in Rio, and the young woman couldn't help herself from squeezing, neck-kissing, and licking Katy, who handled the ecstasy-fueled gropiung with professional aplomb. Read the rest

This woman got mad that a restaurant doesn't serve dog meat so she read an angry script at steakhouse diners


The leader of this protest group walked into a restaurant in Toronto and asked the hapless restaurant hostess why "dog meat" wasn't on the menu. The flustered hostess didn't have an answer for her. The protestor then walked into the middle of the dining area and yelled to get the patrons' attention. Read the rest

How do you design 2-sided dice that aren't flat?


Here's the rule: design a 2-sided die that is not coin shaped. Many people have tried, with varying degrees of success. Core77 has a gallery of some attempts. Here are a few: Read the rest

Kanye West thinks home 3D printing is killing the shoe industry


"This is what I'm afraid of right here, 3D printing. Because the Internet destroyed the music industry and now this is what we're afraid of right now with the textile industry. There will come a time where people are making the shoes at home." – Kanye West, speaking about the threat to his shoe business during a visit to the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Armenia Read the rest

Cool $200 analog Moog synthesizer kit


I just found my Christmas present - the Moog Werkstatt-Ø1! It's about $200. Read the rest

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