Boing Boing 

William Gurstelle


Can Bre Pettis Replicate Himself?

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Uber-maker Bre Pettis his colleagues Zach Smith and Adam Mayer are hard at work on a open source 3D printer for the masses. Great idea: it's one thing to come up with an idea on paper (or CAD file), and quite another to turn that idea into a tangible thing. It's even another thing to sell a 3D printer kit that's about as cheap as a regular-old mass produced laser printer.

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photo by rstevens

I interviewed Bre at NYC Resistor last month, after we went on a fruitless search for restaurants in Brooklyn that serve saltfish and ackee.

Bill Gurstelle (pointing to squarish object on desk): What's that?
Bre Pettis: That? It's the MakerBot Cupcake CNC. It's an open source 3D printer, that turns your table top into your own little factory.

Bill Gurstelle: So, how does it work?
Pre Pettis: The machine works like a super accurate automated hot glue gun robot. It takes a filament of plastic and melts it down and extrudes it through a tiny hole to make a tiny string of molten plastic. Layer by layer it builds up material until your object is complete!

BG: Um, what's with all the cans of cake frosting?
BP: We created a frosting attachment that you can use by switching out the plastic extruder. The Frostruder means it can frost a cupcake too! Right now, we're getting set up to make a world record attempt for the fastest cupcake decorated by a robot.

BG: (points to more stuff on a different table) What's all this other junk for?
BP: We're prototyping up a scanner which together with a MakerBot would be a replicator. We are also in the process of having an eco-friendly plastic manufactured called Polylactic Acid (PLA) manufactured. PLA is a material made out of corn in Nebraska. PLA is clear and we may be able to get it in a medical grade to do things like replace bones with it. Also we're getting the electronics for the machine assembled.

BG: Replicator? Hey, Could a Maker Bot make a Maker Bot?
BP: We're getting there one part at a time. With every batch we manufacture a new part to ship with the machine. Already we've got idler pulleys that snap over a skate bearing that are made on a MakerBot. MakerBot Operators who got a first batch MakerBot can get a hardware upgrade just by downloading the design file and printing it out on their machine. Printable Upgrades!

Hit by a Rock from Outer Space?

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Am I being overly skeptical of this story: Boy Hit by Meteorite Traveling at 30,000 MPH?

The news photos show the meteorite to be quite small, something slightly smaller than a 22-cal bullet. But 30,000 mph is around 15 times the muzzle velocity of an M-16. I'd expect a worse outcome than a band aid and a smile.

George Bush Goes Skydiving

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

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Eighty-five year old George H. W. Bush celebrated his birthday by going skydiving. Politics aside, that's a wonderful thing. (Yes, it's a tandem jump, but give him a break, he's 85.) GHWB, perhaps unlike some of his descendants, seems to be a pretty fair practitioner of the Art of Living Dangerously.

Why No Famous Scientists or Engineers?

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

In the blog Notes from the Technology Underground, I present reasons for the relative paucity of famous engineers and scientists.

Back in the 1970's, there were not many famous scientists or engineers, and now, there are almost none. If you disagree, try and name one, right now. Go ahead, try it. Who did you come up with? Carl Sagan? No he's dead. Try again. Stehpen Jay Gould, the Harvard dinosaur guy? No, he's dead too. Hawking? Sure, Stephen Hawking is alive, but he's far more well known for overcoming his disabilities to do great scientific stuff, than for his scientific stuff itself (does anybody really understand "A Brief History of Time?). Perhaps, on odd occasion a autograph seeker stalks MIT's Old Main in hopes of obtaining Marvin Minsky's or Noam Chomsky's signature, but really, very few scientists need bodyguards to keep away the star struck rabble.

On the "Q-Scale" of modern fame where Albert Einstein stars with a 54 and George Takai rates a 1, no living scientist or engineer even makes a blip on the Sulu's radar screen. It's pitiful, but the truth is that no technology related individual, with the exception of Bill Gates, pulls a higher Q score higher than Count Chocula.

The point is there are many, many excellent engineers although the majority of them are not well known outside of their own companies. In fact, the term "famous engineer" is an oxymoron on par with "nondairy creamer", "dry martini", or "jumbo . . . . (continues here.)


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By what percentage do you think Sulu is more well known than the other guy?

Growing the Poison Pepper

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

I ordered naga jolokia pepper seeds from the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. The naga jolokia, sometimes called the bhut jolokia, the ghost pepper, or the poison pepper, is the world's hottest chile pepper. My brother, the expert gardener, is growing them right now. These are pretty difficult to grow in Minnesota; they take forever to germinate and the drop flowers at the slightest provocation.

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The scale used to measure chile pepper piquancy is called the Scoville scale. At the low end is a green bell pepper and at the high end is 100% capsicum pepper spray.

In 2001, an academic visiting India and sent back seeds of a pepper he found growing there to NMSU. Shades of hades, the fruit of the naga jolokia were hot! How hot? The peppers were analyzed and found to be 4 times hotter than the previously known hottest pepper, the Red Savina. Can eating a chile pepper be dangerous? Judge for yourself.

In Absinthe and Flamethrowers, I devote a chapter to "Thrill Eating" which is practicing the art of living dangerously by eating "dangerous" foods. So name your poison: fugu, ackee, pokeweed, casu marzu, Amanita mushrooms, naga jolokia, or Los Angeles danger dogs. As Nietzsche said, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Rocket Making for Amateurs - Another Living Dangerously Art

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Back in 1960, U.S. Army Captain Bertrand Brinley published the Rocket Manual for Amateurs, one of the greatest DIY books ever written. Its cover price reads 75 cents. Buying a copy today in a used bookstore could set you back more than $100. But it's that good. (I know, I have it.)

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There is a considerable amount of information on rocket motor making in RMFA. The line drawings are excellent and the writing clear and straightforward. A lot of people bought this book back in the 50s and 60s, because making rocket motors was a fashionable pastime, and there were lots of clubs and societies that would tinker around making rocket engines.

But like any high energy hobby, things could and would go wrong and people got hurt. Rocket engines had a nasty habit of blowing up in the maker's face and causing injury. There is a part of the process where the propellant is rammed into a tube and that's pretty dangerous. (I personally know of a couple people who hurt themselves this way.) So, the activity changed, and rocket people were encouraged to buy commercial rocket motors instead of rolling their own.

That is indeed much safer. But I think you lose something when you give up the core part of the activity. That's why in Absinthe and Flamethrowers I provide instructions for creating a small but powerful rocket motor wholly out of stuff available at Home Depot or SuperTarget. There's just something so ... satisfying about homebrewing a rocket with stuff you got at Walmart.

Brinley's book contains instructions for making for "micrograin" rocket engines (pulverized zinc and sulfur ramrodded into a steel container.) I tried it and it burns like crazy. Whoa nelly, that's some hot stuff. Probably too dangerous for an amateur.

Clever Interactive Forms

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Magnetism Studios is offering a selection of droll, stylish interactive forms, useful for a wide variety of everyday situations (apologies, invitations, unsolicited feedback, airing of grievances, etc.)

From the www.BureauOfCommunications.com website:

"Every day there are millions of thoughts that go unspoken. To promote better understanding between the peoples of the world, the Bureau of Communication is pleased to present a selection of fill-in-the-blank stationery for everyday correspondence....
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The Second Hundred Years of SOS Begins Today

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Back when I was a boy scout, you had to learn either semaphore or Morse code to earn First Class Scout rank. Most kids in my troop learned semaphore because it was easier to learn. I'm proud to say I learned Morse code. I still remember the code for "a," "e," "I" "n" "o" "s" and "t." So, if the chips were down, I could tap out "I eat no oats," or "Note, I see stones."

The first ship to transmit an SOS distress call was the Cunard liner Slavonia on June 10, 1909, when it went aground on rocks off the Azores.

Prior to that, ships used a variety of distress calls, such as:

-.-. -.. --.- CDQ (subject to misunderstanding)

..- .... / --- .... / .-- . / .- .-. . / ... .. -. -.- .. -. --. UH OH WE ARE SINKING (much clearer)

.. / - .... .. -. -.- / .. / .... .. - / .- / --. --- -.. -.. .- -- -. / .. -.-. . -... . .-. --. I THINK I HIT A GODDAMN ICEBERG (No doubt at all here)

... .... .. .--. / -.-. .- .--. - .- .. -. / -....- / ..-. .- .. .-.. SHIP CAPTAIN - FAIL!

A while back, Jay Leno gave identical messages to the "world's fastest texter" and an old time Morse code expert and set a contest to see who could send it faster. The Morse code blew the texter away. Sort of like John Henry beating the steam drill. Video is here.

.. / .-- .- -. - / - --- / -.. .. . / .--. . .- -.-. . ..-. ..- .-.. .-.. -.-- / .. -. / -- -.-- / ... .-.. . . .--. --..-- / .-.. .. -.- . / -- -.-- / --. .-. .- -. -.. ..-. .- - .... . .-. .-.-.- .-.-.- / -. --- - / ... -.-. .-. . .- -- .. -. --. / .- -. -.. / -.-- . .-.. .-.. .. -. --. / .-.. .. -.- . / - .... . / .--. .- ... ... . -. --. . .-. ... / .. -. / .... .. ... / -.-. .- .-. .-.-.-

A Monkey on My Back (non-metaphorically speaking)

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Writing a book is a long and difficult process. Sometimes, a part of the book that the author really likes is excised by the editor. Well, thanks to Mark and the other Boingboing'ers I get to share it here.

The first draft of Absinthe and Flamethrowers contained a historical sidebar on the ancient practice of human vs animal combat and I don't mean throwing Christians to the lions. Rather, I mean a one-on-one match up between an gunless human and an equivalently sized animal. Turns out this practice, (please note that I also think it's bizarre, and in the Commodus case below, disgusting, and I'm not advocating it) is pretty well known throughout history.

Commodus, the degenerate Roman emperor (so excellently portrayed by Jaoquin Phoenix in Gladiator) would often parade around the Roman Coliseum dispatching animals with a sword or spear. While he certainly wasn't unarmed, he was in close contact.

The dens of the amphitheatre disgorged at once a hundred lions; a hundred darts from the unerring hand of Commodus laid them dead as they ran raging around the Arena. Neither the huge bulk of the elephant, nor the scaly hide of the rhinoceros, could defend them from his stroke. Ethiopia and India yielded their most extraordinary productions; and several animals were slain in the amphitheatre, which had been seen only in the representations of art, or perhaps of fancy. - The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 4
Fairs and amusement parks at the turn of the Twentieth Century were colorful, vibrant, and boisterous places. They offered an antidote to the strict moral codes of the period and offered exotic products and activities which curious visitors found irresistible: foot long hot dogs and salt water taffy, ferris wheels and roller coasters, and . . . kangaroo boxing.

In the year 1900, the Boardwalk in Atlantic City was well known for its boxing kangaroo (whose name is sadly forgotten in the sands of time.) But by all accounts, it was a hell of a good boxer and was said by more than one spectator that it could give John L. Sullivan himself a run for his money. This was the heyday of man versus kangaroo pugilism.

More recently, there are several mid-20th century diary and newspaper accounts of monkey wrestling matches at county fairs. One man wrote that he went to town one day and came across a carnival where for five dollars a person could enter a cage containing an orangutan. If the person could stay in the cage with the ape for five minutes, they got paid $100. But nobody was able to do it.
"After several hours of strategy sessions and drinking beer, I devised a plan and launched off to encounter the orangutan.

"The monkey looked docile enough, 110 pounds, long skinny arms, just sitting there in the middle of this iron cage. I approached the monkey from the backside and grabbed it in a half nelson. To my surprise and pleasure, she offered no resistance. Then I made the mistake of lifting the orangutan off the ground. I had a big smile on my face. This lasted for about fifteen seconds, and then I noticed that this long, skinny arm had reached up and grabbed the iron bar over my head.

"I didn't pay much attention to it at the time, until a few seconds later, I felt my feet leave the ground. I figured out the orangutan, who weighed 110 pounds (and I weighed about 230 at the time) had just done a one-arm pull up with something like three times her body weight.

"I realized I was in deep and serious trouble, and the grin on my face turned to stark terror. I was no longer squeezing the ape, but actually holding on her back for fear of my life. The orangutan, while she held us in mid air with one arm, reached around with this other long skinny arm and grabbed me from the back of my neck and slung me the length of the cage, through the door which I immediately took exit from the cage."
Much more on this subject at Notes From the Technology Underground

Scalin Skullpaper

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

BoingBoing readers may already be familiar with artist Noah Scalin Skull-A-Day project from a previous post. I met Noah at the 2009 GEL conference in New York City and was immediately struck by his ability to so creatively render an idea in so many different media (vegetables, shoelaces, bed sheets, concrete construction barriers, and so on.)

In early July (July 3 to August 22 to be precise), a solo art show of his work in opens in Richmond, VA. It's at the Quirk Gallery, 311 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA. He'll be displaying his newly available Skull-a-Day wallpaper as well.

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It took me a while to see the skull in the wallpaper, but yup, there it is.

Absinthe and Flamethrower Review in Today's New York Times

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

People have good days and bad days. Today, I'm pleased to say, I am having a very good day.Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but how often does this happen to a person?

Top of page C6, Today's New York Times: Here's an excerpt; the full review is here.

For Those Who Like Danger, the Home Book of Things Not to Try at Home

But when it comes to the theory and practice of making your own noisy, mildly dangerous fun in the backyard, America has a new poet laureate. His name is William Gurstelle, and he staked his claim to do-it-yourself greatness in 2001 with his friendly paperback book "Backyard Ballistics." Its subtitle tells you all you need to know: "Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices." According to the author, it has sold more than 250,000 copies. I keep a well-thumbed copy in the upstairs bathroom.

Mr. Gurstelle, a professional engineer, has now returned with a more contemplative if no less wonky and gonzo book called "Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously." It explores the significance of moderate risk taking to our happiness, well-being and career advancement. (Managers who take the greatest risks are the most successful, he observes.)

It's also a book that contains meticulous directions for making a real, live, beastly flamethrower in your garage -- albeit the propane kind, not the ridiculously dangerous liquid-based variety.

Absinthe Crazed Man Attacks Clemenceau

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Paris - Premier Clemenceau, as he was leaving his residence to-night, was attacked by a man who raised a cane to strike him. A policeman sprang forward and overpowered the man.

He is proved to be an aged street hawked, (sic) who, it is believed, was half crazed by absinthe.
-- New York Times article from exactly 100 years ago
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In Absinthe and Flamethrowers, I shed some light on the traditions, mysteries, and fallacies surrounding the world's most misunderstood alcoholic beverage. As part of the rigorous and assiduous research that went into writing this book, I was compelled to sample over a dozen different brands of the stuff, resulting occasionally in a somewhat intimate embrace with the green fairy.

Yesterday, a bottle of Kubler Distillee Au Val-De-Travers arrived in the mail. Kubler is a Swiss Absinthe, pale white in color. I had some last night. Ah, those Swiss. They do not produce good comedy (smallest book in the world: The Treasury of Swiss Humor) but they do make a fine absinthe. Kubler has a pronounced anise aroma. Pleasantly sharp initial taste, quickly trailing off into subtle wormwood bitterness. Louches well. As good as Taboo, but in a much different way.

Wails and Murmurs: Eating Couscous at the Chi-Chi's in Walla-Walla

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

Tautonym -A word or name composed of two identical parts; e.g. pawpaw, yo-yo, tutu, bye-bye.
For a long time, I had planned to name my first child, irrespective of gender, Gurstelle Gurstelle. But I knew he would never be able to type his name in MS Word without the spell checker forever putting a squiggly red line under the poor kid's name. I worried that the constant digital reproof could lead to self esteem problems. So we named him Ben instead.

Last week, in Walla Walla, Ben and I walked into a Chi-Chi's where he ordered couscous. I Love Lucy was on (I think Ricky Ricardo is a hoot.) Anyway, who do you think walks in but Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams! He sat down at Boutrous Boutrous Galli's table. They got into a literary debate, something about whether Ford Madox Ford's characters were as richly crafted as those of William Carlos Williams. Then they argued about who was a more interesting character, Humbert Humbert in Lolita or (Major) Major Major in Catch 22.

Finished, they turned the channel to ESPN classic sports, just in time to watch Cubs slugger Billy Williams interview ski jumper Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards.

By the way, Sirhan Sirhan is still in jail, isn't he?

P.S.: There must be some females who are tautonymically named, but I can't think of any.

Bullwhip Artist Attempts Record

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

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Bullwhip artist Robert Dante brings the spirit of Indiana Jones to life on the steps of the Natural History Museum in London on Thursday, June 11.

Dressed as the whip-wielding archeologist, Dante will attempt to break his own Guinness World Record for "Most bullwhip cracks in one minute." ... Dante is billed as "the real Indiana Jones" because of his expertise with bullwhips, which feature prominently in the four Indiana Jones films.

Since 2003, Dante has set three Guinness World Records, with his most recent attempt in October 2008 resulting in 254 whip cracks in 60 seconds.
Robert is the fellow who taught me how to crack a whip. He's no young whipper-snapper but he's awfully good. Here's what 250 beats per minute sounds like. Just imagine doing that with bull whips instead of drum sticks!

Part of my intent for Absinthe and Flamethrowers was to survey a wide variety of "Golden Third dangerous activities" and provide enough information for readers to try them out and learn the art of living dangerously. But for those wanting to delve deeper into whip handling, see Robert's book: "Let's Get Cracking! the How-To Book of Bullwhip Skills"

Whip It Good

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

I'm into bullwhips. I make 'em, read about them, use them, and write about them. Being able to handle a bullwhip is an impressive skill. There's a section in Absinthe and Flamethrowers that covers the basics in terms of whip use and technique. If you don't think learning the bullwhip is Golden Thirdstuff, you haven't tried it.

The following movies are my Top Whip Movies, chosen for having characters known for their whip using skills. (Interested readers are invited to write me with their favorites. Whip experts will note that the movies below include both stockwhips and cat-O-nines, which are quite different from one another in purpose.)

1. All Indiana Jones Movies. My son Andy is a graduate student in archeology currently on a dig in Ghana. I gave him a bullwhip as an undergraduate. I wonder if he brought it, and if it could go as carry-on luggage?

2. Legend of Zorro ("Nobody leaves my tequila worm dangling in the wind,") Mask of Zorro, and the many other Zorros

3. King of the Bullwhip. This 1950 oater stars Lash Larue, the king of the bullwhip, hence the title.

4. Catwoman. Yes, a pretty bad movie, but it has Halle Berry in a tight leather outfit cracking a whip.

5. Blues Brothers. Jake Blues sings the theme from Rawhide in Country Bob's Bunker, while cracking a conveniently placed bullwhip.

6. Bullwhip (with Rhonda Fleming and Guy Madison.) GM is an underappreciated talent.

7. Mutiny on the Bounty. I seem to remember some sailors getting flogged.

8. Jailhouse Rock. I vaguely remember Elvis getting flogged.

9. The Ten Commandments. I also seem to remember some Israelites getting flogged. "I can flick a fly from my horse's ear without breaking his stride," - Vincent Price as he gently pets his whip in what I think is the best whip related scene from The Ten Commandments,

Exploring Your Own Backyard Part II

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Twitter: @wmgurst)

UPDATE: This reminds me of the time I checked in a day late for 1 AM flight from LA to Minneapolis. Apparently, this happened last night.

Astronomy enthusiasts in North and South America will stay up light tonight to see the occultation of the bright red star Antares. (Non-astronomers may wonder what this means: the moon will pass in front of the star, so it's an eclipse of a star, more or less.) Antares is a bright red supergiant in the middle of the constellation Scorpio, and home to Fizzbinn. Here's a map of places where the event is visible and the website lists exact times.

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Map from Pierpaolo Ricci's website.

I became interested in astronomy when I was eleven years old and read Sir Patrick Moore's book called The Sky at Night. The Sky at Night was a book that really made a difference to me. It takes a while, but with it, you can become familiar with nearly every bright object in the night sky.

In the first Exploring Your Own Backyard post, a few commenters thought it was incongruous to use a digital microscope to get closer to nature. My point is to get outside and explore nature firsthand, and if a modern digital device enhances the experience, so much the better.

To this point, I've been experimenting lately with a device called the SkyScout Personal Planetarium. It's about the size of smallish video recorder. If you point it at any star, planet, major deep sky object, etc, the readout on the side tells you what it is you're looking at. If it's a rather important object, it plays an audio excerpt with additional information. Conversely, you can select the name of a star or other object from a list and arrows on the display will guide you to it.

(Looks rainy tonight in here in Minneapolis - rats.)

Living Lounge Chair

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers)

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At the time that I was designing this Chair I had no knowledege of anyone else who was trying to shape living trees anywhere in the world. Knowing that if I had theliving chair idea, many others would have the same thought go through their mind. Some may have been able to act upon the idea, according to their life experiences and circumstances.
pooktre.com

Thanks to Carol and Emily for sending me the link.

Wails and Mumbles: Tort Deform

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including the potato cannon-relevant Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers)

Everybody's talking about the honorable Marilyn Milian, the hottest judge on television!
--Opening tagline for the television show "The People's Court"
I've been watching a lot of TV judge shows lately, mainly because I don't have cable, they're on when I'm working on Make Magazine projects in my workshop, they're good background noise, and hey, they're marginally better than Maury Povich or Deal or No Deal.

I'm no connoisseur of small claims court television, but I do have opinions. I kind of like Judge Joe Brown, because he frequently does weird things with his voice. He'll be lecturing someone for trashing their roommates CD collection when mid-sentence, he switches to a deep, over-the-top, musical baritone for no reason at all. Sort of like Steve Bochco's Cop Rock show.

Judge "Christina's Court" Perez's tag line is that she "takes law into her own heart." I have absolutely no earthly idea what that means.

Anyway, if what daytime TV viewers are seeking is hot, sexy justice, then it's time for a new concept altogether. Maybe a show where the judge wears a tight fitting black leather robe and carries a riding crop? At the end, the loser has to strip down to their underwear and the winner gets to yell stuff at them. Now that's hot. Copyright 2009. Feel free to call my hot, sexy agent with offers.

The Mother of All Potato Cannons

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of several books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently published Absinthe and Flamethrowers.)


My friend Christian Ristow was at Maker Faire with his giant pneumatically powered sculpture called Hand of Man. It's great. It's a highly interactive piece in which one puts on a glove with sensors and controls a multi-ton pneumatic hand capable of picking up and crushing a refrigerator.

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Photo - Scott Beale at Laughing Squid

About a year or so ago, I worked on a TV pilot for Discovery Channel starring Christian. He is perhaps the most gifted mechanical artist I've ever met.

Ristow designed a machine gun potato cannon which was a true machine gun spud gun. It had a gravity fed magazine that fed spuds into the firing chamber. I've built a lot of spud guns in my time, mostly like those in Backyard Ballistics. This was a magnitude more powerful and complex. There were four high pressure air tanks that could shoot potatoes continually and at high velocity until the magazine was emptied. I dubbed it "the Quadra-tater."

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The airtanks were massive. I calculated the muzzle velocity to be well in excess of 85 mph. The rate of fire depended on the speed with which you turned a crank. The crank controlled five pneumatic solenoid valves, one for the magazine loader and one for each of the air tanks.

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It worked absolutely great. We could get 20 or potatoes in the magazine and could empty the thing in much less than a minute. For the finale, the Quadratater, along with a gatling gun that Dave Mathews built, destroyed a car.

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more Quadra-Tator images on my blog at Notes From the Technology Underground

Licensed to Drink

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)


From Drinking Learner Permits for Under Age Persons:

In more than 30 states, drivers aged 16 and 17 gain driving experience while holding special licenses that restrict when and how they may drive (for example, no late-night cruising). This permits a slow introduction to an adult privilege. The same concept should apply to drinking.

What could be the elements of a provisional drinking license? There could be time and place restrictions. The license holder could drink, for example, only in an establishment where at least 75% of sales receipts were for food (no bars, no liquor-store purchases). No service after 11:00 pm. Moreover, a 19- or 20-year-old could have to undergo formal instruction about alcohol and pass a licensing exam.
I'm fully aware that this may seem ironic given that I've already posted stories on absinthe and the 1974 Cleveland Indians 10-cent beer night debacle. But I see too many people drinking too much booze way too often. Recently, I came up (over beer with friends, another irony) with an idea for a drinking license. Turns out, several others have had the same idea.

While it may sound counterintuitive, would it not make sense to lower the drinking age from 21 to 20 or even less, provided the less-than-21-year-old imbiber obtains a separate license for drinking. And in order to get the license, there is a "drinking skills" program to pass. Not how to drink more, but how and why to drink like a mature grown up.

I think a lot of people (I could drink at 18, so this didn't really apply to me) go kinda nuts on reaching their 21st birthday. And because they're young, inexperienced, and uneducated in drinking, they do dumb things. People could be educated to be "better" drinkers.

How to Defend Yourself if you are Carrying Only a Small Switch in your Hand are Threatened by a Man with a Very Strong Stick

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)


[08-026] bartitsu.jpg
[Moriarity and I] tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of Bartitsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip, and he with a horrible scream kicked madly for a few seconds and clawed the air with both his hands. But for all his efforts he could not get his balance, and over he went.
-- Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House
Britain's most popular literary character of the late 19th century, Sherlock Holmes was well known for his towering intellect and need for constant mental stimulation. To satisfy his intellectual needs, he engaged in a number of trans-Golden Third activities including sword fighting, boxing, and stick fighting, as well as frequent recreational narcotic use.

Although better known for his reasoning ability than for his fighting skills, he was quite capable of defending himself when the chips were down. As the above quote suggests, the detective mastered a now little known but very effective fusion of British boxing techniques and Japanese martial arts called Bartitsu,. Bartitsu is a little known but ingenious self defense skill which I cover in my current book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers.

Bartitsu was invented by a British engineer named Edward Barton-Wright, who combined the martial arts skills he learned while building railways in Japan with the stick-and-sword fighting skills he mastered in Europe. Bartitsu drew heavily from French stick fighting techniques, English boxing, and Japanese jujitsu.) Upon his return to London from Japan in 1899, Barton-Wright set up a martial arts school to teach Bartitsu to Englishmen. Presumably that's how a Londoner such as Sherlock Holmes would have learned the technique. (FYI: There's a well done compilation of 1890s vintage Bartitsu instructions available on Amazon.)

Coming soon: a Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and (hopefully) Russell Crowe as Moriarty. From what I've heard, bartitsu fighting is featured.

The Bing Thing

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)

I don't purport to be an expert in things computer and Internet related. Usually I just read what people I respect say and go with that. Often, they point me me to Google's stuff (search, gmail, Picasa, youtube, etc) and I've always been pretty impressed with their services.

Microsoft just introduced Bing to compete with Google search. My friend Mark Hurst sent me a very interesting article he wrote about it.

Everything Microsoft has tried recently hasn't worked. They tried the "I'm a PC" ads, a knockoff of the Mac ads - didn't work. Tried the Zune, a knockoff of the iPod - didn't work. Tried redoing MSN Search again and again, as a knockoff of Google - didn't work. What's the world coming to, when Microsoft can't build a monopoly around a knockoff?

It's those effing customers. They keep choosing the best experience.

I have to imagine this is tough on Ballmer and whoever else over there. No matter what they try, the customers refuse to take orders from Redmond. Sure, lots of people still pay the upgrade tax on Windows and Office every two years, but only because they have to. There's no love.

So what does Microsoft do? They launch - I'm still reeling from this - they launch a search engine. To compete head-on with Google. In search. I just need to type that again: Microsoft wants to unseat Google with a search engine.

Now here's where it gets really nuts.

Microsoft's strategy, to win market share from Google, is not to compete on user experience. No. Microsoft's strategy is to advertise the heck out of the thing and hope people flock to the site.

They are spending - wait, let me try my best "Dr. Evil" voice - one hundred million dollars to order the world to use their search engine. According to a Microsoft exec in charge of the launch, "The key will be whether we deliver a product and connect with people emotionally in the advertising."

A hundred million dollars to "connect with people emotionally in the advertising." If I've learned one thing in my customer experience work over 12 years, it's this: any online strategy built on emotional connection, based on flashy ads or a new font or color scheme on the website, is guaranteed to fail.

Hurst's full post is at http://goodexperience.com/2009/06/microsoft-has-a-probl.php

The Least Exciting Moments in Sports

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)


Wow, it's Mike Hargrove week here at BoingBoing. Yesterday, I wrote about the 35th Anniversary of the 10-Cent Beer Riots at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. As baseball buffs may remember, rookie first baseman Mike Hargrove was a prime target of drunken fans, getting pelted with missiles of all sorts including an empty jug of Thunderbird. (As one commenter pointed out, who would in the world would smuggle in a bottle of T-Bird when beer is only a dime?) But Hargrove survived, and played well in the pros for the next 10 years.

I thought of Hargrove last night while watching the not-worth-watching fourth quarter of the Laker-Magic game. Now, you may be asking yourself, what does Mike Hargrove have to do with the NBA playoffs? Well , Hargrove had a nickname as a player. He was called "The Human Rain Delay" because he took soooo long to stand in the batter's box. He drove pitchers (and fans) crazy. Hargrove may be extreme but there seems to be a lot of waiting around in pro sports.

I'm making up a highlight reel of the least exciting moments in professional sports. It's for those nights when I need help falling asleep.

1. The point after touchdown. Why does this still exist? This is nothing more than an excuse to go get another beer.

2. The intentional walk. Wow, the excitement of watching a pitcher and catcher to stand up and lob baseballs to one another. Definitely something I can't get enough of.

3. Watching a relief pitcher throw yet more warm up pitches on the mound. Hasn't this guy been throwing in the bullpen for last 10 minutes?

4. Any NBA game where there's a 10 point difference with less than 3 minutes to play. Garbage time. (Okay, this isn't hard and fast rule. In 1977, the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a 29 point deficit with 8:43 seconds remaining. But that's pretty darn rare.)

5. The NFL instant replay challenge. When Ed Hochuli walks to the sideline and puts on the cans, you know you're in for excitement.

The Green Fairy

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)

I had two major motivations for writing my new book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. First, I wanted to provide readers with the logical arguments behind living a slightly dangerous life; and second, I wanted to research and document some interesting ideas for getting started. One easy idea is sampling absinthe. Now, it's true there is no real danger involved in imbibing any of the fine, modern absinthes now on the market, if done in moderation. But when living dangerously, reputation and history very important.

absinthe 5A.jpg
At one time, drinking the stuff could be pretty dangerous. The icon of the bohemian life, l'heure verte, or green hour was a daily event among hip European imbibers. Indeed, the image that often comes foremost to mind when considering absinthe is a streetful of dissipated Parisian intellectuals, some of whom sunk into poverty and madness by dancing a bit too closely with the Green Fairy.

Maybe the most well known absintheur is Vincent Van Gogh. Long unknown and impoverished, he became famous and successful only posthumously. Van Gogh was a clinically depressed epileptic, and a social outcast who also happened to drink a whole lot of absinthe. Famously, he shared rooms with Paul Gauguin in Provence for several weeks until he sliced off his ear in a fit of rage. In 1889 the townspeople of Arles forcibly sent him to a mental hospital to rid themselves of their frightening, alcoholic neighbor.

Was Van Gogh truly plunged into madness by absinthe? Maybe, but probably not because of any psychotropic chemical contained in the wormwood from which absinthe is distilled. Some researchers say it was the drink's extremely high alcohol content required to keep the natural oils in suspension that made it dangerous. Others claim it was the way the drink was manufactured. According to Scientific American, low-cost, low-grade absinthe, accounted for the majority consumed at the turn of the 19th century. And this was true rot-gut, often adulterated by cheap, poisonous chemicals such as antimony salts and copper sulphate.

The ban on absinthe was lifted a few years ago and absinthe distillation has reemerged as a boutique industry with several small distillers turning out handmade, small batches of the stuff. My personal favorite is called Taboo and it comes from, of all places, Canada! It's intensely anise flavored and the wormwood bitterness is pleasingly apparent at the start. Lucid is a well known brand and is similarly intense. Interestingly, both of these are considerably paler in color than typical French and Swiss absinthes but they do produce the well known "louche" or milky colored opalescence when water is added.

I'm glad it's Friday. I can hardly wait until 5 O'clock for my cocktail. A votre santé!

Happy 35th Anniversary, 10-cent Beer Night

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst.)

35 years ago today, on June 4, 1974, one of the most infamous events in sports history occurred. In 1974, the Cleveland Indians played at the extremely capacious Municipal Stadium. Unfortunately, the '74 team was mediocre at best, so there weren't many fans (about 8000 was normal) and the place often looked deserted. The Cleveland brain trust hit on what they thought was a great idea to increase attendance - 10 cent beer night.

Well, beer night worked. Lots of people did show up, about 25,000 in fact. The Tribe took on the Texas Rangers that evening. The box score shows the Rangers surged to a 5-1 lead in the early innings. The fans took it harder than normal since they had been drinking cup after 10¢ cup of Strohs beer pretty much since the gates opened. According to Wikipedia:

. . . the crowd in attendance continually misbehaved. A woman ran out to the Indians' on-deck circle and flashed her breasts, and a naked man sprinted to second base as Grieve hit his second home run of the game. A father and son pair ran onto the outfield and mooned the fans in the bleachers one inning later. The ugliness escalated when Cleveland's Leron Lee hit a line drive into the stomach of Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, after which Jenkins dropped to the ground. The fans in the upper deck of Municipal Stadium cheered, then chanted "Hit 'em again! Hit 'em again! Harder! Harder!"

As the game progressed, more fans ran onto the field and caused problems. Ranger Mike Hargrove (who would manage the Indians and lead them to the World Series 21 years later) was pelted with hot dogs and spit, and at one point was nearly struck with an empty gallon jug of Thunderbird.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around, a full fledged riot broke out. Umpire Nestor Shylak, (my all time favorite umpire by the way) after dodging rocks and ripped out stadium seats forfeited the game to Texas.

There have been no more unlimited 10-cent beer nights since.

Wails and Mumbles

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers)


Hydroxatone is so effective, it was given away in gift bags at international film festivals!
- advertisement for Hydroxatone, a very expensive wrinkle cream flogged constantly on late night cable television and talk radio stations.

Allo! I am Marcel, zee scienteest in charge of gift bag quality control at ze large internationale film festivals. Every day, I am faced with ze daunting task of carefully evaluating the products of the thousands of companies eager to put free samples in the gift bags of Hollywood stars.

But only the best products, like Magic Jack or Almighty Cleanse make it through our rigorous, film-festival gift-bag quality control.

As hard as I try to safeguard ze integrity of our gift bags, sometimes the unfortunate occurs. One time, during a screening of Rochelle, Rochelle at Cannes, and against my better judgment, I allowed Kevin Trudeau to place inferior quality promotional ball point pens in ze gift bag. One of them leaked ink on Halle Barry's cashmere sweater. If Angelina Jolle had not taken the Shamwow from her gift bag and blotted up ink, mon Dieu, I would left be sweeping streets in Marseilles.

Knife Throwers Just Want a Little Respect

When not blogging on BB, Bill Gurstelle writes books like Backyard Ballistics and The Art of the Catapult. His latest, Absinthe and Flamethrowers is now on sale everywhere.

I experimented with knife throwing as a consequence of writing Absinthe and Flamethrowers. It's quite entertaining and I've been recommending knife throwing anyone who'll listen (well, almost anyone.) It's much different experience than, say, throwing pub darts. To me, one really can't compare the bold, red-blooded flush of satisfaction derived from a perfect, cold steel stick in a target with the rather dainty, epicene feeling one gets when tossing a dart. It's harder to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it's a terrific.

Knife throwers, as portrayed in popular culture are usually strange and menacing; from crazy Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York to the murderous twins Mischka and Grischka in Octopussy, to Rookwood in V for Vendetta.

I did some research on knife throwers in the media - invariably they're portrayed as weirdos.

How strange are they? Behold just a few a of the movie summaries I've gleaned from Internet sources having knife throwers as their focus:

The Unknown X.jpg

The Unknown (1929) : Alonzo is an apparently armless knife thrower who uses his feet to encircle Estrellita with blades. Estrellita falls in love with Alonzo (she fears men's arms), so he goes to a hospital and has his amputated. Meantime Malabar cures Estrellita of her fear of men's arms, so Alonzo tries to have him killed during a circus act.

Santa Sangre (1989): A young man is confined in a mental hospital. Through a flashback we see that he was traumatized as a child, when he and his family were circus performers: he saw his father cut off the arms of his mother. Back in the present, he rejoins his surviving and armless mother. Against his will, he "becomes her arms" and the two undertake a grisly campaign of murder and revenge.

Mad love (1935): An insane surgeon's obsession with an actress leads him to replace the severed hands of her musician lover with the hands of a knife murderer which still have the urge to throw knives.

The Flintstones (1962): Fred becomes suspicious when Wilma's former boyfriend and circus knife thrower Rodney Whetstone shows up and strange things start happening.

Zina Saunders - New York Artist

(Bill Gurstelle is guest blogging here on Boing Boing. He is the author of books including Backyard Ballistics, and the recently-published Absinthe and Flamethrowers)

I had a chance to converse with artist Zina Saunders at the GEL 2009 conference in New York City last month. (GEL stands for Good Experience Live, which is something like an East Coast mini-TED conference. Basically, the organizer, Mark Hurst, invites schedules a day of 20-minute talks given by interesting people with unusual experience. Each presenter speaks about what makes up good experience.)

Saunders does a lot of work for the magazines and newspapers,(the political stuff is wickedly funny depending on your outlook) but she may be best known for her delightful collection of New York City slice-of-life portraits called Overlooked New York. It's a huge and creatively rendered look at New Yorkers do interesting things below the radar. They raise pigeons on the rooftops of their flats and long distance swim in the East River. If you visit the site, be sure to check out the story of the Puerto Rican Bike Men.

pigeon man with net.jpg

http://www.overlookednewyork.com

Also as it turns out, both Zina and I find the fire plugs and sprinkler connections on New York City sidewalks unexpectedly interesting. They reflect, albeit imperfectly, the neighborhood in which they reside. The ones on the upper west side are all shiny and new, while the ones in the grittier parts of town are beaten up and covered with unfriendly looking spikes.

fire plug.jpg

http://www.drawger.com/zinasaunders/

Exploring Your Own Backyard

(William Gurstelle is Boing Boing's current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst)



In Stephen Talbott's interesting book, Devices of the Soul, he makes a case that there's too much technology in our lives. One observation in particular struck me: people spend less time observing and experiencing the natural world directly. So much is intermediated by other, electronic stuff. Says Talbott:

"The Net can only teach a boy about trees, but he won't understand them. The information from the net or a book is fragmented and decontextualized. It will never carry the same force as first hand experiences."
Yup, I agree. So, I decided to spend some time exploring my own back yard. Is there really anything new and exciting back there? You bet.

Recently I was given a new type of handheld digital and optical microscope. The new generation of digital microscopes are wonderful little devices for taking a very, very close look at stuff in the house and garden. I hooked it up to my netbook computer and ran around the neighborhood annoying ants and beetles.

I spent the whole afternoon looking at stuff and taking pictures. Skin cells, fabrics, seeds, and of course, bugs, were just part of the wild menagerie of things I examined. Corny, maybe, I found it way cool, and I'm no little kid.

While I was observing an ant from my garden, I noticed it seemed have an even smaller insect crawling over its thorax. So I zoomed in for a closer look. Yeow - I guess even ants have their problems!

I posted it to YouTube and then used YouTube's simple editing tools to add titles, highlights, and a soundtrack. The whole video probably took less than hour to record, edit, and post.

boing boing ant.jpg
Click here to see the movie I made of the ant, or watch it in the embedded viewer above.

I made the video using a Celestron 44306 Handheld Digital Microscope. Incredibly, the street price is under $100. Better than any toy, this new, cheap world of digital microscopy is an example of bridging Talbott's gap between the old and the new ways of observing the world .

I'm going out to my backyard and now and see what else is going on.

The Art of Living Dangerously

(William Gurstelle is Boing Boing's current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on Twitter: @wmgurst)

Lately, I've been hard at work writing a book entitled Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, (which not so incidentally, went on sale Monday.) While corresponding and talking with readers of my previous book, Backyard Ballistics, I found that many people enjoy taking technical, physical risks. And it seemed to me that the people who did so seemed to be a bit more intellectual curious, more self aware, and even a bit happier than those who were not. Was this true? Are people who take some well considered physical risks better off than those who do not?

Basically, I wanted to know this: is it intrinsically better to be an Evel Knievel or a Caspar Milquetoast? Better to be Chuck Yeager or Niles Crain? Are lion tamers happier with their lives than monks?

Psychologists can assess and numerically describe a person's risk-taking proclivity. Risk-taking behavior can be summarized as a single number from one to 100. A one is a house-bound agoraphobe and a 100 is a heroin junkie with a death wish. The distribution of risk-taking proclivity is described by a normal, bell-shaped curve. Not surprisingly, most people cluster around the mean score, as the graph shows.

BB golden-third1-.jpg


But here's the cool thing. I found that moderate, rational, risk takers, that is, those with scores between the mean and one standard deviation to the right are the people who are most satisfied with their lives. I call that area "the golden third" because it's roughly 1/3 of the population. Studies (and there are several) show that people who take just a bit more risks than average, that is, those who live their lives in the golden third, tend to do better than average. They tend to be more satisfied with their lives and more fulfilled. To me, that's a stunning conclusion.

Next question: is it possible to consciously work towards becoming a better risk taker? I believe so; basically it's just practice. To write Absinthe and Flamethrowers, I researched and documented a dozen or so interesting projects designed to build risk-taking skills. For instance, if you know how, you can walk into a Home Depot and come out with everything you need to build a rocket - a real one. You can make gunpowder. You can throw knives, eat dangerous food, drive fast, and do all sorts of things that would make your mother shudder. But understand the difference between being cool in the Golden Third and just stupid:

Making an propane accumulator flame cannon - Golden. Making pipe bomb filled with match heads - Stupid.

Driving an Audi Q5 at 120 mph on the Autobahn- Golden. Friday night buzz driving on the Interstate - stupid

Fugu (tiger pufferfish) sushi in Yokohama - Golden. Boiling up a pot of pufferfish soup at home - stupid.

Using Bartitsu and a cane to fend off a thug - Golden. Street brawling with homemade nunchucks- stupid.