Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, my mom bought me a chemistry set. I was in grade school, but I remember thinking it was pretty cool. I also remember being slightly disappointed (particularly after being told that I could only play with it in the garage) that there was nothing in there that could actually blow up.
Many of us are nostalgic for the lost golden era of certifiably dangerous children's chemistry sets. Even if we weren't alive when that era occurred, we're still, sort of, vicariously nostalgic. At the BBC, Alex Hudson has a story about what was really in those misty colored chemistry sets that have lodged themselves into our cultural memory. Along the way, we learn that their demise was only partly to do with unfounded safety fears—some of the fears were founded, for instance, and in other cases, money and seemingly unrelated legal issues got in the way of fun.
By the 1920s and 30s children had access to substances which would raise eyebrows in today's more safety-conscious times. There were toxic ingredients in pesticides, as well as chemicals now used in bombs or considered likely to increase the risk of cancer. And most parents will not need to be told of the dangers of the sodium cyanide found in the interwar kits or the uranium dust present in the "nuclear" kits of the 1950s.
Most will know cyanide as a deadly poison, but one of its main applications is in gold mining. It can make gold dissolve into water.
...Used often to test the presence of starch, the iodine solution once seen in kits is now regulated as a list I chemical in the US because of its use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. It can also be lethal if more than 2g of pure iodine is consumed.
Read the rest of this story at the BBC
Neither I nor Dean Putney—BoingBoing's intrepid web developer—live in New York City. But we realized recently that we're both going to be visiting at the same time. So we're planning on meeting up for a little, informal Memorial Day picnic in Prospect Park, and we'd like you to join us. We'll be meeting up on Monday, May 28th, at 3:00 pm in front of the Brooklyn Museum
. Bring whatever you want to eat and, if you so choose, a nifty object or DIY project for show-and-tell. Hope to see you there!
Plinian eruptions are named after Pliny the Younger and Pliny the Elder, who wrote about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and died during said eruption, respectively. This is one of several different types of volcanic eruptions, but it's also one of the most iconic. In a Plinian eruption, a column of magma, gas, and ash shoots straight up, with the gas and ash reaching all the way up into the stratosphere. These are the big, explosive eruptions, with mushroom clouds and rains of rocks and boulders.
Matt Kuchta, geology professor at the University of Wisconsin Stout, recently recreated a classic Plinian eruption using a 32-gallon trash can filled with water, 100 rubber ducks, and some liquid nitrogen. In slow motion, you can see the column of water and ducks rise straight up, fan out at the top, and fall back down to Earth. Just imagine the damage if all the ducks were boulders, and you get the picture.Video link
Types of volcanic eruptions from Wikipedia
More on Plinian eruptions from the US Geological Survey
Watch several other videos of Kuchta's trash can volcano
Via Ron Schott
A work of fiction doesn't have to be scientifically accurate. It just has to make sense. All it has to do is maintain an internal logic and consistency strong enough that you, the reader, aren't inadvertently thrown out of the world. If you're frequently frustrated by detail accuracy in fiction, that's likely your problem, not fiction's. Chill out. Breath deep. Smell the flowers. Experience some imagination and wonder.
I fully endorse all the sentiments outlined above. And yet. And yet. There are some fictional details that drive me crazy. Like the seasonal shifts in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, where winter and summer last for years—sometimes decades—and nobody knows exactly when the seasons will change. It's not that I feel a burning need to prove to Martin that this can't work. Instead, it makes me ravenously curious. I keep wondering whether, given what we know about astronomy, there's any way that this could actually work somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away.
A couple of weeks ago, io9's George Dvorsky put together a little round-up of five possible scientific explanations that would make Westeros' magical reality make more sense. I chatted about Dvorsky's list with Attila Kovacs, an actual astronomer who has a postdoc position at the California Institute of Technology. They've got differing perspectives on how unpredictable and ridiculously long seasons might work. Thanks to both these sources, I feel like I better understand our universe, and can read Martin more comfortably.
Read the rest
Robogames, an annual robot hoedown, takes place this weekend in San Mateo. $25 for adults, $0-$20 for kids depending on age, free for active duty military. Bring hearing protection and a love of machines, noise, and mayhem. It's a ton of fun. I'm late posting this, but it's not too late for you to go: ticket sales online ticket sales are closed, but they're available on-site at the San Mateo Fairgrounds noon-7pm Sunday 22 April (map).
Photos: Above, an audience member is entranced by robot dance moves. Below, "Last Rites" delivers a lethal hit against "VD6" for a knockout in a heavyweight combat prelim round. By Dave Schumaker.
These people in San Francisco probably had more fun than you on Passover/Easter weekend. BB reader Bhautik Joshi shares his photographs from "Bring Your Own Big Wheel 2012" in the Boing Boing Flickr Pool, and explains the idea behind it—
For the uninitiated, the gag is really simple:
- large group of adults in costumes assemble with a variety of wheeled, childrens toys (Group A)
- large group of spectators gather (Group B)
- Group A races down windy Vermont St as fast as they can, leaving a trail of noise and awesomeness in their path
- Group B cheer like maniacs
What's the story behind this fellow
's costume, I wonder? Perhaps one of you can fill us in, in the comments. View the full photo set here
. Here's Joshi's website
Video Link. YouTuber Adam Forgie of Utah, the person behind the camera, shoots these lovely videos with some regularity. "I take care of my legally-blind, near-deaf grandmother," he explains. "She may be blind, but she can still dance! She likes the attention." You can follow her on Twitter here.
Update: Boing Boing readers in various spots around the world report that the video is blocked in certain countries outside the US. This is dumb. Sorry.
If you ever needed a good reason to buy a whipped cream maker: The New York Times adapted several of Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine recipes
to work with ingredients and equipment you're actually likely to have in your home kitchen. The whipped cream maker is the only tool used here that I don't own. And it might be worth buying one if it means that I can make bloody mary-infused celery sticks
Earlier this week, Mark told you about a couple of the cool art projects happening on a frozen lake in Minnesota.
Read the rest
Reader iainmclean works in research and development, which means iainmclean reads a lot of patent-ese. Via the new, awesomer Submitterator, iainmclean sent us an excellent example of how the language used in a patent application can make it very difficult to tell what, exactly, is being patented.
Here's how the game is played. First, read the paragraph below:
An apparatus, comprising: a flexible elongate member that defines at least one lumen and is configured to be inserted within a body passageway of a patient, wherein the flexible elongate member includes a proximal portion, a distal portion, and a medial portion disposed between the proximal portion and the distal portion, and wherein the distal portion is movable between a substantially linear configuration and a curved configuration; and a stiffening member coupled to the flexible elongate member, the stiffening member being movable to a selected location along a length of the flexible elongate member to modify the flexibility of the selected location of the flexible elongate member, and wherein the stiffening member includes a first portion and a second portion, the first portion having a first stiffness and the second portion having a second stiffness different than the first stiffness.
Next, check out the attached image and see if it matches up with what you imagined. Hint: The image is much more safe for work than I guessed it would be.
Ars Technica has an in-depth review of Glitch, the whimsical, free-to-play game from Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield (we've written about Glitch here before) and his new company, Tiny Speck. Glitch uses whimsical, cooperative tasks to produce fun and delight, rather than combat:
Tuning the quests and interactions to provide the right level of difficulty and reward was complicated. In beta testing, the development team found that while singing to butterflies was repetitive and boring, people would still sing to butterflies obsessively—because it provided small but guaranteed amounts of experience. The devs tried to balance this by making singing to animals cost energy, but then players simply farmed huge numbers of girly drinks (which made animals interactions cost no energy) and continued to grind the same thing again and again. The girly drinks were then nerfed, and people immediately complained.
"We realized that if we incentivized things that were inherently boring," Butterfield told me, "people would do them again and again—it showed up in the logs—but that they would secretly hate us."
Player housing is implemented, with an apartment-style design that lets anyone have their own home without cluttering up the landscape. You can decorate your home and grow things in your own garden on the patio. Unlike many games, in Glitch it does not take long to save up enough cash for a place of your own, though making it look less than spartan will take considerable effort.
Funny little touches to the game litter the game. For example, getting the right papers to let you purchase an apartment requires multiple trips to the Department of Administrative Affairs (Ministry of Departments) where you spend much time in a waiting area while bureaucratic lizard men play Farmville on tiny computers.
Butterfly milking and pig nibbling: building the strange world of Glitch
I love serendipity. On the same day that Anja Austerman posted this awesome knit hat to my Google+ feed, Kevin Zelnio also posted a link reminding me of the existence of the The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art. Xeni posted about the museum here back in 2008. But it's awfully fun to contrast the super-detailed brain art on display there with this more whimsical variety.
What happens when you combine science, art, and humor? Join Marc Abrahams of the Ig Nobel Prizes and Brian Wecht, a theoretical physicist and half of the music comedy duo Ninja Sex Party, for a live chat on the connections between creativity and research. The chat starts today at 3:00 pm Eastern time