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McLaren+Torchinsky

Carrie McLaren & Jason Torchinsky are coeditors of _Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture_. In previous lives, they worked together on the hopelessly obscure and now defunct Stay Free! magazine. He lives in LA and writes for the Onio

Maybe These Massive Wheel Spikes Shouldn't be Legal

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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By nature, I'm not a guy particularly interested in safety concerns, but when I saw these massive wheel spikes on this big rig on the 5 freeway the other day, I couldn't help but wonder if having something normally associated with a brutal chariot race is such a hot idea.

This picture doesn't quite do them justice, but these spikes are no joke; they could easily turn a close call into a harrowing, screaming gash torn into the bodywork of your car. I've never seen these before, but, then again, I don't really do that much driving in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland ruled by gangs of mechanized toughs.

Is this the first D-pad?

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

To a certain group of dedicated dorks, videogame controllers and their history is fiercely interesting, even to the point of having dedicated T-shirts. It's to those folks I present this discovery: this looks like it may be the first product (image from a 1977 ad) with a joypad-like device, used for user input (enlargement mine):
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Ah, the CALCUPEN. Now, I know Gunpei Yokoi usually gets credit for those little 4-way rocker switches first used on the famous Game & Watch series, but it sure looks like our little Calcupen has five of the things running up its nerdy spine there. Granted, they're used for numerical input as opposed to direction control, but it's essentially the same device. I bet, if one was lucky enough to find one, a Calcupen could be wired to act as an old Nintendo controller!

Maybe the Calcupen is really that missing link between nerd productivity culture and nerd time-wasting culture. I smell a dissertation.

Strange Architectural Typeface Choice

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

This is a building in downtown Los Angeles. It's a pretty straightforward classic-style building, what with doubled Ionic columns and all the usual classic Greek/Roman detailing one expects out of these sorts of buildings. But, at some point in the building's life, it was renovated, and whoever was in charge decided the best typeface to use on the pediment there would be something that made the building look like a backdrop in a bad 80s scifi movie. Like that really should say "Terran Space Senate Headquarters" or something.

It's such a strange and jarring contrast, I'm surprised it got the go-ahead. But I think I like it.

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Books by people who have raised apes in their homes

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

As mentioned earlier, I collect books by people who have raised apes or monkeys in their homes, so, as a service to Boing Boing readers, I thought I'd review them for you.
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Toto and I: A Gorilla in the Family, by A Maria Hoyt (1941)

A charming memoir by an eccentric heiress who brought Toto home after her husband, working for the Museum of Natural History in New York, shot Toto's mother on the hunt for a specimen. Despite marrying a mommy killer, Hoyt goes to the wall to help young Toto, even moving to Cuba to accommodate her charge. There are lots of choice anecdotes in this book but my favorite involve sleep training the gorilla. Like many children, Toto insisted on sleeping with her parents. Caregiver Thomas and Toto slept in separate beds in Toto's room; each night over the course of month, Tomas moved his bed farther and farther away from Toto until he was actually out of her room. (Incidentally, this is essentially the same method recommended by the Sleep Lady.) Before Toto was weaned from cosleeping, however, she "punished" Tomas by locking him in her bedroom:

[Toto] slammed the door after him, deftly locking it from the playroom side. Since the windows were heavily barred, Tomas was now securely confined with Toto, his jailer, dancing in triumphant joy in the other room.... For over an hour, he stayed there securely locked up. Then, growing a little weary of the game, he called Toto to the door, scolded her severely and told her to unlock it and let him out. Shamefacedly, she obeyed...

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Lucy: Growing Up Human, A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist's Family, by Maurice K. Temerlin (1972)

Touchy-feely account by a nut job (Maurice Temerlin, aka Maury) who goes to great lengths to maintain a relationship with his chimpanzee "daughter." Lucy is by all accounts an extremely precocious chimp; the stories here are lively and engaging but often for the wrong reasons. I could write at length about this book but instead I'll just share one telling anecdote. Maury, like many caretakers of primates, insists on calling Lucy his daughter. Most of such quasi-parents keep their charges in cages and use cattle prods or other devices to keep them in line. Not Maury. But he's got his own bizarre ideas of what it means to be a dad:

Lucy attempts to mouth my penis whenever she sees it, whether I am urinating, bathing, or having an erection. As a matter of fact I think it is accurate to say that Lucy is fascinated by the human penis since she attempts to explore it with her mouth whenever she can, unless it is mine and she is swollen in estrus.

So Maury frequently has erections in the company of his "daughter" and observes her putting penises (not just his own!) in her mouth. And, wait, there's more: "I found this a very interesting observation as throughout the years of my deep affection for Lucy I never experienced sexual desire for her. " Interesting? Really? She's supposed to be your daughter? And a chimp!

Maury ended up getting fired from his job as head of the psychology department at the University of Oklahoma. Lucy, however, triumphed: after nearly 18 years with crazy Maury and his wife (a record), she became one of the very rare chimps who was successfully re-introduced into the wild in Africa.

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Let Go, Let Brown

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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Are you one of those folks who loves God? I mean really loves God? As in enough to make the visual association between your Lord and a noted package delivery company?

Because, friend, that's what it takes to wear this garment. If you're just one of those fly-by-night, loves-God-only-enough-to-associate-Him-with-a-soft-drink types, then keep walking.

(Thanks, Galen!)

Movie recommendation: People of the Forest: The Chimps of Gombe

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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Though I consider myself an ape enthusiast, I've never really cottoned to movies starring chimps. Chimps dressed in clothing performing slapstick gags just isn't my thing. Documentaries about primates usually aren't much better; they tend to be dry and humorless, sucking all the spirit out of their subjects while portraying their depressing circumstances. Also, there's just something incongruous about watching "nature" documentaries on TV screens. But People of the Forest: The Chimps of Gombe transcends all this. In a word, it's awesome. The documentary draws on 20 years of footage to tell the stories of a group of chimps that Jane Goodall followed in Gombe, Tanzania. It's as sweet and funny and heart-rending as any great feature film. Highly recommended. (The movie is out of print, but Amazon has a few copies, or you may be able to get it via P2P.)

Kerry Tribe's H.M.

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

Earlier this year, I did a bit of technical work for an artist, Kerry Tribe, on her installation/film project called H.M. It was a remarkable piece. At its core, it was a documentary about a man who had some experimental neurosurgery that left him with an active memory of 20 seconds. What made the piece so remarkable was that it played back on two 16mm projectors, the film being delayed by exactly 20 seconds from one to the other. The film was shot in such a way that the two projections, displaced in time by 20 seconds, worked together uncannily well, sometimes displaying complementary images, and even, in one visually notable part, forming a complete image that spanned over the two screens. It's pretty great.

Kerry and I are in the early stages of a collaboration I'm quite excited about, but even if I wasn't I'd encourage everyone to check out more of her work. There's not really a good way to see H.M. online, since the mechanical projectors and the maze of looped film form such an integral part of the piece, but I think it is traveling around a bit, so the best I can tell you is to keep your eyes open for it.

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Coincidence?

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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This is something I found a good while ago, and have posted at other places online; but it's just one of those things that I think merits looking back at, periodically, to help better understand the mysteries of existence.

The top, of course, is that famous picture of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. The bottom is the cast of Bagger Vance, horsing around at the opening night party, as seen in Variety.

Were they trying to recreate this image? If so, why the hell would they do that? Did the photographer see the resemblance? There's so many questions here, all vastly more interesting than anything Bagger Vance normally produces.

Man. It gives me chills.

The Most Elephantest Switch You've Ever Seen

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

This is a power switch salvaged from an old PC. It is also the switch that most resembles an elephant, beating out its nearest competitor by a factor of 5. In fact, on the SPRS (Standardized Pachyderm Resemblance Scale) it scored an incredible 8.4-- a mammoth only scores 8.2!

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Remember this day. One day, your kids will ask where you were when you saw it.

More Griping About Advertising: Bing Edition

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

My previous rant about an advertising campaign had pretty mixed results, so let's try again. This time I want to talk about the television campaign for Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

My problem with these ads is that they rely on one of the oldest, hoariest advertising tricks in the book: make up the disease, then sell the cure. This has been done for years; occasional bad breath became the dread disease "halitosis" in the 1930s, thanks to Listerene (which had previously been sold as, among other things, a dandruff tonic), for example. Now Microsoft is going to save us from "Search Overload Syndrome."



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Old Ad for Fake Guns

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

You know how hard it is to find that perfect gift for that special someone in your life who really wants to get killed by a cop, but doesn't want to actually endanger anybody? I think I may have the answer right here. All you need is $44.95 and probably a time machine back to 1977, because I can't imagine this is legal now.

This ad brings up so many questions: who is this targeted at? Even in a theater prop sort of context, I don't see how the weight and feel would matter. Is it for potential criminals, who want the intimidation of a gun but are hedging their bets if they get caught, it won't be with a deadly weapon? It does say "will fool experts," I bet especially if the "expert" is looking down the barrel of it.

The best line is, of course, "Decorate your den, office, rec-room." I can just imagine it. "Oh, your potpourri bowl artfully strewn with pistols is absolutely wonderful!" A few handguns tossed around in just the right spots really makes a rec-room, too.

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New book on viral culture: And Then There's This

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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My friend Bill Wasik has a book out now that should appeal to Boing Boing types, And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. Several years ago, Wasik started the Mob Project, which launched flash mobs as an insanely popular fad in New York, then globally. We interviewed him in Stay Free! about it a while back.

Wasik's book looks at how ideas spread online through social networks and other media channels. In each chapter, Wasik, who is an editor at Harper's magazine, conducts some sort of prank to explore the ways single messages can evolve and have massive ripple effects. I especially dug his observations on how the internet and mp3 swapping have affected indie rock (since, as a clueless middle-ager, I haven't kept up): with bands and their careers now playing a much smaller role than individual songs and musicians.

Top 10 Ironic Ads From History

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

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Earlier this month, Jason and I guest blogged at Consumerist. Here's something I posted there that might interest you all as well:
Remember when you could buy barbiturates for the baby? Cover your house with asbestos? Or get heroin from the doctor? Okay, probably not, but thanks to the immortal beauty of advertising, you can take a trip back in time. Here's our pick of some of the most ironic ads in American history.
(with apologies to my writing partner, Torchinsky, who loves Corvairs)

Link

Hidden Booze Treasure Ad Campaign

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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I'm more used to being a critic of advertising, but I have to admit, I kind of like this old late 60s-early 70s ad campaign/stunt for Canadian Club whiskey. The idea is really simple: the company hid cases of the whiskey in remote locations throughout the world, and daring go-getter boozehounds with, I imagine, a good bit of disposable income, would go off in hunt of them. The ad I have here describes one at the bottom of Devil's Backbone Reef in the Bahamas. Here's an old article about it, too.

Incredibly, as improbable as it would seem that a company would be allowed to just leave around cases of alcohol in our modern, fussier time, it looks like the contest was revived, in 2004, but they were in U-Hauls, which makes it lots less fun.

Information about the event is a bit scant online, but I did find this one very, very informative comment:
In 1967, Hiram Walker and its advertising agency began hiding cases of Canadian Club Whiskey around the world. In all, 22 cases were hidden and 5 remain hidden to this day. The 5 remaining cases were hidden: 1) At the North Pole; 2) In Lake Placid, NY; 3) In The Yukon Territory of Canada; 4) On Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile; and 5) In Ujiji. Of the 5 remaining cases, those in Lake Placid, The Yukon, and Chile have clues which are at best vague. Those cases will most likely never be found. Of the 2 other cases, both the North Pole clues and the Ujiji clues were quite specific. The North Pole clues included Longitude and Latitude, Minutes and Seconds. Unfortunately, due to its location, it most likely sank into the snow long ago. The Ujiji case remains the strongest candidate as to its potential discovery. If anyone is interested in learning of the Ujiji hidden case of Canadian Club whiskey, contact me @ james.willhoft@gte.net


Wow! There's still 5 cases out there! I actually found a few other similar posts about the remaining 5 cases, signed by a "James W." Man, this guy really, really wants those weathered old cases of hooch. Maybe it's time to get up an expedition of discriminating drunks with lots of frequent flyer miles to burn, or willing to take up a collection and get poor, obsessed James a case of his own.

The Black Widow

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

I've always been fond of VW Beetles, and any real Beetle lover should set aside a special place in their gas-fume-smelling heart for one particular Beetle, the Black Widow. The Black Widow started life as a 1955 oval-window Beetle, boasting a small stable of 36 horses for power. Then, the kooks over at Turbonique, makers of some truly bonkers small jet engines for daredevils and other fun-loving loons, put one of their engines in the Bug, along with the VW/jet engine transaxle they developed. The result was a Beetle that made about 850+hp and weighed about, oh, half of a modern Honda Civic.

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When These Robots Enslave Us, It'll Be an Adorable Enslaving

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

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As a kid, I remember that a suspicious number of my toy robots seemed to originate from Tomy, which I always pictured as a sophisticated Japanese concern, headquartered in a gleaming steel building on, probably, a hovering island off the coast of Hokkaido.

I thought this because, unlike most toy companies, Tomy seemed to secretly long to be a real robot company. Sure, they had the usual little wind-up and remote control robots (and the less usual, like the owl-bot pictured here), but they kept sneaking into their line more and more sophisticated ones. This site gives a great rundown of the whole 70s-90s era Tomy Robot Army, so you can know just who your cute new plastic master is.

"Iraq Campaign 1991" by Phil Patiris is now online

Carrie McLaren is a guest blogger at Boing Boing and coauthor of Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. She lives in Brooklyn, the former home of her now defunct Stay Free! magazine.

One of my other favorite films from the Illegal Art Exhibit was Phil Patiris' "Iraq Campaign 1991," a genius bit of agitprop he created in 1992 using TV footage of the first Gulf War. It was especially a hit at lefty media conferences. I wanted to put this up on the Illegal Art site back in the day, so I'm psyched to see that it has finally made its way online. Enjoy.

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(Thanks to Craig B. back in the day)