Thanks to Mark, David, Xeni, and Cory for the opportunity to place my posts on the world's best blog for the past two weeks. Having an online presence on such a lively and well-read space has been a thrill.
As Marlowe says, nothing says goodbye like a bullet, but it's been great to write for a while about things besides stuff that goes boom, whoosh, or splat. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you're interested in that sort of thing, come by my site www.AbsintheAndFlamethrowers.com or check out a copy of my book Absinthe and Flamethrowers.)
I've placed links to a few of my favorite posts below for those who may have missed them the first time.
My friend Gareth Branwyn, chief blogster at Makezine.com, had a picture of himself drawn as a robot that I thought was pretty cool. Investigating that idea led me to the befunky.com website. Tons of interesting ways to rendering your portrait without having to know or have Photoshop. The interface is easy too. Impessive!
One favorite quote from Hunter S. Thompson, who died exactly five years ago (give or take a few days) ago, is this one, the opening lines from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like:
I feel a bit lightheaded. Maybe you should drive. Suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, and a voice was screaming: Holy Jesus. What are these goddamn animals?
Thompson and his lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta visited Las Vegas in 1971 to cover the Mint 400 race for Sports Illustrated. But the article they wrote was about far more than that.
Las Vegas Review reporter Corey Levitan writes an article in which he tries to figure out what was real and what wasn't, which as might be imagined when dealing with Thompson seems like a tough thing to figure.
Avant-garde artist Reid Peppard has a line of bold fashion accessories for men and women. Actually, bold is putting it mildly. The fashion accessories are pieces of fashioned taxidermy crafted from road kill and pest controlled vermin. The mouse bow tie is a particularly powerful statement, I'd say.
Minneapolis/St.Paul based artist Dana Maltby uses a open shutter and a slew of colored lights to create some fascinating images that he calls "light art performance photography." All images are straight from the camera, no photoshop, no computer manipulation at all; not even cropping or adjusting.
I propose to bring before you, in the course of these lectures, the Chemical History of a Candle. There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.--Michael Faraday, introduction to lecture 1
This is my all time favorite DIY science book. 150 years ago, the great Faraday (and I do mean great; I don't believe there has been an experimental scientist of his ability since) gave a series of lectures for school children at London's Royal Institution. In six lectures he explained many mysteries of chemistry and physics using a wax candle and some very simple props. The text for all six lectures are available for free online. I am still looking for an online edition that contains the drawings, which are pretty important.
As may be apparent from my earlier posts, I'm interested in "dangerous" foods and drink and playing with fire. This week, I've come across this flaming cocktail idea called "The Backdraft." Here's a bloke from New Zealand or Australia (I think) drinking one.
The recipe, abridged from Wikipedia is as follows
A saucer is placed on a counter or table.
A shot glass is placed in the center of the saucer, filled with Sambuca
A pint glass is filled with 1 - 2 shots of Cointreau. Swirl this in the glass to coat the sides
The Cointreau is lit and allowed to burn until the sides of the glass become warm to the touch
The lit Cointreau is poured into the shot glass, igniting the Sambuca.
The pint glass is lowered over the flaming liquid. As the atmosphere cools inside the pint glass it will try to suck the alcohol on the outside back into the upside down pint glass. This backdraft effect is the origin of the drink's name.
The glass is removed and a straw is used to suck up the alcohol from the saucer and shot glass.
That seems a relatively straightforward preparation of a drink only a bit less goofy than a Flaming Moe. But I'm trying to understand the physics of the Backdraft. What causes the vacuum in the upside down pint glass? The Wikipedia explanation follows, but I'm not sure it's correct.
Assert dominion over your desktop. Between the instructions provided in John Austin's book and the key to your company's office supplies cabinet, you need tolerate no threat to the security of your cubicle.
It's a collection of less-than-lethal weapons easily buildable from paper clips, pencils, rubber bands, and plastic eating utensils. Some of the projects appear to be inspired by the stuff in my book Art of the Catapult, but on a much smaller scale, so they're suitable for pissing off Dwight in the next cube, but not really getting Toby involved.
I've been reading the oldest joke book in existence, the Philogelos, a Byzantine book written in about 400 AD. It's full of knee slappers. The book is mostly quips from two guys, Hierocles and Philagrius, about whom little is known.
Like network television, Byzantine comedy is mostly based on the fortunes and foibles of a gallery of stock characters: the drunk, the miser, the braggart, the sex-starved woman, as well as a classic type known as the scholastikos, variously translated as "pedant," "absent-minded professor," or "egghead."
There's a great video here, in which Brit comedic legend Jim Bowen does ancient Byzantine material in a modern comedy club. (Well, it's not Oswald Patton, but Bowen's stuff is 1600 years old)
Scholasticus meeting a friend exclaims, "Why, I heard you were dead!" The other replies, "Well, I tell you that I'm alive." "Yes," persists Scholasticus, "but the man who told me so is more truthful than you!"
I posted earlier this week about foods people eat even though they are dangerous if improperly prepared. Here's a food people eat that seems dangerous no matter how it's prepared - the bhut jalokia pepper. The jalokia is way, way hotter than even the scotch bonnet. It's absurdly hot, beyond anything imaginable. So obviously, I had to get one. I got some seeds from the New Mexico State Chili Pepper Institute but had no luck in getting these to grow; evidently Minnesota's climate is not right for their cultivation. This recent article in the Asia Times makes me all the more disappointed.
BANGALORE - Red-hot chili peppers could soon come to India's defense. The country's defense scientists are working on using the world's hottest chilies in hand grenades for use in counter-insurgency operations and riot control.
An important ingredient in Indian cooking, hitherto chilies have been confined to kitchens. They seem poised now to storm another bastion. If ongoing field trials are successful, chilies will soon make a grand entry into India's defense armory.
The plan is "to harness the pungency value of chilies to make hand grenades that can be used in riot control and counter-insurgency situations", R B Srivastava, director of life sciences in the government-run Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), told Asia Times Online.
The Asia Times article also goes on to say that India's scientists are using smeared bhut jolokia paste as elephant repellent on public works projects. What a useful plant!
What I find frustrating about domino toppling is its ephemeral nature. If only the dominoes could stand themselves up again, you could topple them over and over. Los Angeles artist Karl Lautman solved this problem a few years ago in his sculpture called Ouroborus.
I blogged last week about how microcontrollers like Arduino and Basic Stamp are changing the way sculptors use computers to create works. In Ouroborus, each domino is connected to a solenoid beneath it via a couple of polyester strands. When the domino falls over, it lifts the solenoid's plunger a bit. When the solenoid is energized (under microncontroller control), it pulls the plunger back down, yanking the domino back up. I've attached a drawing of the domino hardware. Complete build notes here (PDF)
I've been in some pretty terrible public bathrooms, some of which made me want to do various things, but I can't say they really affected my politics. But back in the 1930s, it was apparent to major paper companies that the best way fight the Red Menace was by eliminating scratchy toilet paper, which is why this poster strikes me as interesting.
<--Try wiping your hands each day on harsh, cheap paper towels and maybe you too, would grumble.
(Personally, I'd prefer even cheap paper towels over electric dryers although the new Xcelerator models are fun because you can make gross noises when you hold your hands just so.)
When I guest blogged last June, I posted about tautonymically named people (e.g. Billy Dee Williams, Ford Madox Ford, Humbert Humbert.) It made me want to research other people with oddly themed names but I didn't really have a good idea for a post until I played tennis with my friend whose real name is Ace Allgood. Ace serves many aces and is a good tennis player.
Thinking about that led to me to the concept of nominative determinism, at least one guy's idea that a person's name plays a causal part role in the development of one's job or other important attributes of life. Similar to this are aptronyms, "names that match its owner's occupation or character, often in a humorous or ironic way."
A few examples illustrate the idea: Vikings field goal kicker Ryan Longwell, Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, Astronaut Sally Ride, prostitute Mi Sook You, and poet William Wordsworth.
The works of Charles Dickens are filled with great aptro-named characters: Pecksniff, M'Choakumchild, Bounderby, etc
"An aquaculture company based in the southern prefecture of Ehime (Japan) said it had raised 50,000 non-poisonous fugu at a fish farm."
In my book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, there's quite a bit of rumination upon why people purposefully eat dangerous foods. I'm not talking about foods that are just unhealthy like the 1400 calorie Hardee's Monster Thickburger, but foods that do or might actually contain poison or biological hazards if not handled with precision and experience.
The list is surprisingly long and includes ackee (a Jamaican favorite,) pokeweed (a southern US boiled green,) and casu marsu (the fabled larva-laden cheese of Sardinian sheepherders.) But the tops among all is fugu, the sushi made from the flesh of the tiger pufferfish. Certain internal organs of the fish contains extravagant amounts of ultra powerful nerve poison tetrodotoxin, so one's first meal with inexpertly prepared fugu sashimi is certainly one's last.
But that's why people want it. It's not about the food, I guess as much as the preparation and eating ritual, and what those ceremonies mean to the diner. Take the poison out of the fish and you may as well be eating kani kama.
As far as I know, no one has yet learned how to remove the tetrodoxin from the flesh of the only other animal that has it, the rough skinned newt, although newts probably make for lousy nigiri.
The original EASY-BAKE used a 100 watt bulb as its heat source. (I always loved the fact that you could bake brownies with a lightbulb.) In its first year, over 500,000 pre-pubescent Duncan Hines wanna-be's talked their folks into spending $15.95. By its fifth birthday, the EASY-BAKE Oven was a household name.The toy was invented by Ronald Howes Sr, who died yesterday at age 83. According to his obituary , Howes sounds like my sort of guy.
He always had the coolest stuff on earth that I could mess around with," such as phosphorescent powder he was testing for various glow-in-the-dark applications, his son said.
But Mr. Howes always realized that the Easy-Bake Oven was, in his son's words, "the big one" in his career. About 20 million Easy-Bake Ovens have been sold since they went on the market in 1963.
Over the years, Mr. Howes' constant tinkering with possible new products was never confined to office hours. "We no longer have a garage in our house - it's a physics lab," his wife said. "You can hardly walk around in it."
Thanks to the tireless efforts of a legion of Chinese engineers/joke-fabricators, it's now possible to a own a Dwight Schrute-like office cubicle where every single item in sight, from the stapler to the desk clock to the computer mouse to the can of soda, is engineered to provide a hysterically comical high voltage shock when touched.
Who would want to do that? Man, that would be so cool; who wouldn't? I added up the total price for all items listed below and the whole bill comes somewhere around $50.
Partial listing of Shocking Gag Devices available at just one online merchant and no doubt I'm just scratching the surface of the entire shocking gag gift industry:
Shocking gag lighter
Shocking pen (numerous models and manufacturers)
Shocking chewing gum
Shocking tape measure
Shocking hand shaker
Shocking USB drive
Shocking pack of novelty quarters
Shocking laser pointer
Shocking digital camera
Shocking MP3 player
Shocking computer mouse
Shocking car key remote
Shocking desk stapler
Shocking slot machine
Shocking dice set
Shocking Alarm Clock
Shocking chocolate Bar
Shocking Soda can
Shocking joke Book
Shocking candy Jar
Shocking playing Cards
So maybe I'll do that. Or would that would just be immature?
As a contributing editor at Make Magazine, I know how important a good magazine cover is for single copy sales. A pretty girl is good for sales, and a guy dissecting a house plant is not so good.
This is my favorite cover of all time - it has it all. (But I just can't imagine how the scenario depicted could possibly take place. Maybe these people are models on a photo shoot gone bad, or maybe this is the top floor of a parking garage.)
Sure made me want to buy the mag. So I went on eBay and bought it.
2010 marks the centenary of a number of great events, including the first air to ground radio message.
Exactly 100 years ago, a gray tabby named Kiddo became the first cat to cross the Atlantic Ocean by dirigible. Kiddo belonged to one of the crew members of American explorer Walter Wellman's airship America. In 1910 Wellman attempted to cross the ocean, leaving from Atlantic City, New Jersey on 15 October that year.
Kiddo stowed away in one of the lifeboats, and was after his discovery turned out to be as big a pain as only an angry, claustrophobic cat can be, scratching, mewing, and howling and generally bugging the heck out of everybody on board. The America carried radio equipment -- the first aircraft so equipped -- and apparently the historic first, in-flight radio message, to a secretary back on land, read: 'Roy, come and get this goddamn cat'
Last May I had the opportunity to talk a while with Wired Magazine's Thomas Goetz about the idea of how people can take control their over own health care using the tools and data available on the Internet. His new book on the subject, entitled The Decision Tree, is a step above most health improvement books in terms of the scholarship/readability (i.e. it's based on good science and it's easy for me to understand.)
The big idea is this: A person's health doesn't happen all at once; it's a consequence of years of choices - some large and some small, some good and some bad. His book looks at the choices that advances in genomics, self-monitoring, new screening techniques, and collaborative health tools are giving the average patient. The trouble is, there's so much information available that it's really, really hard to interpret it all. What to do? According to Goetz, the answer is to make a decision tree.
Watching the nearly incomprehensible (for me anyway) Olympic men's short course team speed skating event on the television prompted me to do research that and find out it's the forty fifth anniversary of the invention of 43-Man Squamish.
For (mostly) men of a certain age, 43-Man Squamish is a favorite game. Back in the day, I played both Shallow Brooder and Half Frummert, something of a rarity. Invented by Tom Koch of Mad Magazine, I heard Squamish was under consideration as a Olympic sport, but lost out to Mass Start Biathlon and Air Rifle.
It's not as well known in the USA as in some parts of the world, so some Boing Boing readers are possibly only marginally familiar with it. Squamish is a full-contact, sometimes dangerous game played on a five sided field (the Flutney) by players using a long forked stick (the frullip) to smack around a special ball (the pritz.) More squamish rules and details are available here.
I wrote an article for this month's issue (January/February 2010) of The Atlantic Magazine on the interesting and far reaching cultural effects that small, inexpensive computers (like the Arduino) are having and will continue to have upon the art world. The Atlantic, one of the world's venerable magazines (having survived 151 years and counting) amazingly displays all of its content on its website for free, so you can read the whole piece here.
Physical computing, as defined in the piece, is computing technology that relies not on keyboards and mice for input, but just about everything else. Sensors, meters, electrical and physical interfaces of every kind transduce something physical into something that the cheap but powerful computer chips can understand. The opportunities this presents for artists of all sorts are myriad.
One particularly interesting physical computing interface is Tom Gerhardt's "Mudtub."The artist basically turns a tub of mud into a sort of computer mouse. I mentioned it in the Atlantic article but it really needs to be seen to be understood. Check out the video.
From his website:
By sloshing, squishing, pulling, punching, etc, in a tub of mud (yes, wet dirt), users control games, simulators, and expressive tools; interacting with a computer in a new, completely organic, way. Born out of a motivation to close the gap between our bodies and the digital world, the Mud Tub frees the traditional computer interaction model of its rigidity, allowing humans to use their highly developed sense of touch, and creative thinking skills in a more natural way.
Aaron Ristau, who showed me his some of his amusingly rendered sculptures at the last Maker Faire held in Austin, Texas has a new webpage.
His work is sort of a mash-up of the industrial precisionism of Charles Scheeler with dada-esque mechanical irony of Jean Tinguey. Those who find beauty within the geometry and textures of mechanical objects will enjoy his work. At least I do.
Maybe what's wrong with America's automotive industry is that we just don't innovate like we used to. I have an engineering degree and many years of experience, so I like to think I know jack. Chrysler's A-604 Automatic Transaxle was a great piece of engineering and there's so many insightful things said in this fine 1980 era video that it's well worth watching if you have even the slightest interest in automotive technology history.
It starts out a little complicated but don't worry, it's so clear that by the end of this short video you will have a good understanding even of what modial interaction of the magneto means. It's just that good.
And if you pay attention, you'll hear the first ever mention of the 1990s mileage enhancing breakthrough, the recoil flux capacitor. Highly recommended viewing.
1960 was a truly golden year in the annals of DIY history. Fifty years ago some of the most important how-to books in the history of making cool things came out.
I wrote in BB last June that 2010 marks the Golden Anniversary of the publication of Bertram Brinley's Rocket Making for Amateurs - that book was the bomb, (kind of literally I should add). Brinley was a US Army colonel and had the cool sounding title of official liaison between the US government and all civilian rocket enthusiasts. In the heyday of Sputnik, Explorer, Echo, and Pioneer, geeks and technophiles monkeyed with rocket fuels like micrograin and ammonium perchlorate instead of silicon and optical fiber.
The book's cover price reads 75 cents. Buying a copy today in a used bookstore will set you back about $200. But it's that good. I bought it when I was researching the roll-your-own rocket motor section in my book Absinthe and Flamethrowers.
Besides RMFA, it's the golden anniversary of another seminal book for people who love to make cool things: The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. The rumor on this book is that it was banned by the government and removed from libraries because the projects were too dangerous for the intended audience of junior high school aged children. Well, maybe, as it does provide instruction in the production of chlorine gas from toilet cleaner and bleach, but still. . .
Great to be back on BoingBoing! Thanks for having me.
Six months ago, my book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously hit the bookstores and it's been a great ride since then. The book, 1/3 polemic on the risks of risk taking (those being the ruminations) and 2/3 DIY instructions (the projects) on making everything from making rockets and gunpowder to using a bullwhip, hit some sort of collective nerve. Featured in the New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Wired, and the London Daily Telegraph, I was inundated with emails from kindred spirits, who after reading Absinthe and Flamethrowers want to share with me their own rationale and experiences in the Art of Living Dangerously.
Some of the stories retold sometimes makes it seem our world is in danger, not of becoming too dangerous but of becoming too safe. My friend, Minnesota based Jack Gordon wrote an essay which won the Economist/Shell Writing Prize a few years ago, in regard to the role of the media in this issue which is a pretty interesting take on the issue:
For two decades and counting, we citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave have happily traded freedom for every scrap of bogus safety dangled before us. Indeed, we have devoted prodigious energy to inventing threats that demand the sacrifice of liberty, privacy and even basic human dignity.
Blowing threats out of proportion is, of course, the stock in trade of TV news, whether the menace in question is a summer rainstorm or the distressing stains revealed when an investigative reporter shines ultraviolet light on a freshly laundered bed sheet at an upscale hotel. But television reflects its viewers' attitudes as well as shaping them, and clearly there exists a very large audience receptive to the never-ending theme: Life is meant, ever and always, to be safe--and you're not safe.
Thanks to Mark and the other BoingBoing bloggers for the chance to put words in front of the world's most interesting and lively blog readers. It's been great. You've been great.
I'm taking took a page from previous guest blogger Gareth Branwyn's final post and putting hyperlinks to many of my posts all in one place for those who may have missed them and so I have one place I can link to:
If you want to reach me to, say, inquire about writing assignments or speaking engagements, visit me at www.williamgurstelle.com and use the form on the contact page. I'm leaving the country for a couple of weeks, but I'll have email access from time to time.
Thanks again. Enjoy your summer, live dangerously, and live artfully.
Today's the end of my guest blogging stint on BoingBoing and I'm in the mood for a summertime road trip. Unfortunately, my car is 1999 AWD Ford Explorer with a 5.0 V-8 and gets, maybe, 16 miles to the gallon. The thing about it is that nothing ever goes wrong with it. It's a great vehicle, gas mileage aside. Wired magazine ran a great article explaining that the greenest vehicle is the car you already own. So, If I do go somewhere, I'll rent a Civic instead.
Matthew Algeo new book, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, is the account of a great road trip. The book's conceit is marvelous: almost immediately after leaving office, ex-president Truman and his wife Bess got behind the wheel of a new Chrysler New Yorker and drove from Missouri to New York and back, as plain old private citizens.
Harry loved to drive, so he and Bess loaded up the trunk with a few suitcases and took off. No bodyguards, no secret service. Harry and Bess ate in roadside diners, stopped at country gas stations, and just made like normal people, as well as the recently retired leader of the greatest nation in the free world could do. Impossible to imagine Clinton, Bush, or Bush doing that (Carter, maybe.)
Algeo retraced the route, visiting the places Turman stopped at. He uses newspaper accounts and interviews with the still living but now usually elderly people that interacted with Harry - waitresses, hotel clerks, even a cop who stopped him on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for driving too slow - to weave together a terrificly interesting story.
So, I need a road trip. Maybe I'll retrace the route of the Ken Kesey's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test trip, or Hernando Desoto's quest for the fountain of youth through the Southeast. I'm still thinking of more.
Well, my time guest blogging on BoingBoing is almost over. So many things to write about and so little time. A few things I like that deserve more, than the few words I'm able to provide:
1. ZoozBeat This is the iPhone/iTouch application that won the "gadget-off" competition at Kinnernet last month in Washington DC. It's a gesture-based mobile musical studio, simple enough for non-musicians to immediately become musically expressive but rich enough for experienced musicians to push the envelope of mobile music creation. Use shake and tilt movements, tap the screen, or press the keypads to create and modify rhythmic and melodic lines. Available thru iTunes.
2. The Debut My absolute favorite indie rock band in the world. I'm especially fond of the lead singer. ; ) Best known work is The Photograph Song
3. Goex brand black powder. Sure, you can learn how to make your own bp by reading the Thundring Noyse chapter of Absinthe and Flamethrowers. But what if you just want to buy it? Then this is the stuff I like: "In a powder mill in the piney woods of north Louisiana, workers carry on the tradition of generations of American black powder makers, grinding out granules of black powder at the GOEX Black Powder Plant."
True, by avoiding this book you will miss out on the precise location of the heretical surfboard worshipped by the British royal family and . . . .". .( more here)
5. Malta (the drink, not the country, although the country is fine as well) It's a delicious malt flavored beverage popular in the Caribbean. (But read the label. Goya Malta has a whopping 230 calories per 12 oz serving.)