Music Piracy: The Extraterrestrial Threat

I’m taking a week off from producing a full podcast, and am instead presenting what I hope will be a fun Thanksgiving road-trip accompaniment.

It’s an audibobook excerpt. But since it’s the very start of that audiobook – and as it’s read by the flat-out brilliant comedian/actor John Hodgman - there’s no need to hear the rest of the thing to enjoy this standalone hour-plus of playfulness. In other words, this is truly not intended as an advert for a long-ago book! But if you find the nature of the content awkward, by all means skip it. Otherwise, you can hear it by searching “After On” in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:

The excerpt is from my novel Year Zero. Which was, of course, a literary exercise. But it was also a sort of primal scream therapy – intended to purge the demons still haunting me after years of imploring the music industry to allow me to launch the Rhapsody music service, which was the main product of a company I founded called Listen.com.

For those who don’t go back that far, Rhapsody was the first online music service to get full-catalog licenses from all of the major labels, as well as hundreds of indies (before even Apple). We were also the forerunner to Spotify, in that we were the world’s first unlimited on-demand streaming music service. Eventually, RealNetworks bought us out, then later sold half of the service to MTV. More recently, in a strange, ironic twist, Rhapsody was renamed … Napster. Read the rest

Illustrations from the best picture books of the year

Every fall, New York City's Society of Illustrators puts on this hidden-in-plain-sight gem of an exhibit. The Original Art Exhibit displays original illustrations from a selection of the best picture books of the year.

Not only do you get to view the original paintings, drawings, and even sculptures that were used to illustrate these books, but the books themselves are on display so you can see how they appear in the finished product.

As an adult who loves art and kids' books, this is a blast for me. But it's just about the best art exhibit you can take a kid to. Because paintings in an art museum can seem abstract to a kid, but these pictures are used to tell amazing, exciting, and/or funny stories, in a format they're intimately familiar with.

And kids get a sense of how picture books are made. They don't sprout up on library and bookstore shelves fully formed; they are made by real people's imaginations and hands, using tools just like the ones kids use to make art.

My kids loved (and my nieces currently love) to find the books and the pages that match the original artwork on the wall. And we'll make a list of their favorites and I'll order them from the library -- in a couple of weeks we have a stack of great picture books they have a personal connection to.

This year's exhibit is great once again, and runs through December 30.

Above is the contribution of the great Adam Rex, who painted the covers of my two kids' books (so far), the EMU Club Adventures series. Read the rest

Four ninths of a Rubik's Cube

If an entire 3x3 Rubik's Cube is too much, but a 2x2 one too plainly insulting, try this 2x3 one that you can get for about a fiver at Amazon. That's four ninths of a real Rubik's Cube for nine tenths of the price!

The product page assures you in its first bullet point that this puzzle contains "no fabrics." SOLD. Read the rest

Medieval city plan generator

The Medieval city generator does just that, with the right balance of abstraction and detail to give your imagination space to put it to good use. (previously)

This application generates a random medieval city layout of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not an accurate model of a city. Maybe in the future I'll use its code as a basis for some game or maybe not.

Click one of the buttons to create a new city map of a desired size. Hover the mouse pointer over a building to see the type of the ward it belongs to. Press and hold SPACE to see all ward labels.

Toy Town is a 3d-visualizer for this generator. One day it may become a separate native application or a part of the generator, or both.

Read the rest

How to win the wishbone wish

Scientific American consulted biomechencial engineers on how to win the wishbone wish fair and square and also by cheating.

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Watch the pitch reel for Jim Henson's cyberpunk muppets TV series

In 1987, Jim Henson produced and directed this pitch reel for Inner Tube (aka IN-TV), a cyberpunk, culture-jamming series that just wasn't meant to be but did inform The Jim Henson Hour's MuppeTelevision segments. From Jim Henson: The Biography:

At the heart of IN-TV was a clever concept; each week, a live guest star would get sucked into the television set and would have to work his way back out again, usually by moving from one bad television channel to another. It was a fun idea, giving Jim an opportunity to satirize the seemingly endless parade of upstart cable channels and lame public access shows that were common in the early days of cable.

(Muppet Wiki and r/ObscureMedia)

Read the rest

Original Artwork for Invasion of the Saucer-Men Movie Poster Sells for $107,550

Illustrator Albert Kallis, co-founder of International House of Pancakes, painted the movie poster art of Invasion of the Saucer Men in 1957. It sold for over $100,000 over the weekend at a Heritage Auctions event.

The original 1957 gouache poster artwork for the iconic Invasion of the Saucer Men movie poster sold for $107,550 Saturday, in Heritage Auctions’ Movie Posters Auction. Rather than depict a finished film, the artwork painted by artist Albert Kallis actually inspired the creation of the movie and further solidified a cornerstone of the public's collective consciousness of “little green men” from outer space.

In addition to creating some of the most eye catching and lurid artwork ever to grace a poster, Kallis is remembered as one of the founding partners of International House of Pancakes in 1958.

“Legend has it that Kallis and film producer James Nicholson would work up a title and ad campaign and send artwork from the campaign to exhibitors and see how quickly they booked the film,” said Grey Smith, director of vintage posters at Heritage Auctions. “The film would then be written and put into production.”

Kallis, an American born artist, was American International Pictures’ art director for 17 years beginning in 1956 when a young Roger Corman spotted the 29-year-old artist's work. Prior to his work in film, Kallis worked with famed advertising artist Saul Bass and Capitol Records designing album covers. When Kallis teamed up with Corman, he became acquainted with Samuel Arkoff and Nicholson, co-founders of AIP.

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Meet a professional D&D dungeon master. Yes, that's his main gig.

Timm Woods, 30, is one of New York City's most popular Dungeons & Dragons dungeon masters-for-hire. He's also working on his PhD dissertation, titled "Anything Can Be Attempted: Table-Top Role Playing Games as Learning and Pedagogy." From Brian Raftery's profile of Woods in Wired:

...While Woods is one of several DMs-for-hire out there, this isn’t his hobby or a side gig; it’s a living, and a pretty good one at that, with Woods charging anywhere from $250 to $350 for a one-off three-hour session (though he works on a sliding scale). For that price, Woods will not only research and plan out your game but also, if you become a regular, answer your occasional random text queries about wizard spells. “He’s worth the money,” says Kevin Papa, a New York City educator (and occasional DM) who’s been part of this Friday-night game for more than a year. “Being a DM requires a lot of brainshare. I don’t know how Timm absorbs it all.”

As it turns out, the very attributes that help form the core of every Dungeons & Dragons character—strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma—are the same ones needed to be a stellar Dungeon Master. Woods describes himself as “100 percent an introvert,” but the kind of introvert who doesn’t mind being the center of attention under the right circumstances. Which explains why he has been known to crack jokes in an elf’s voice or dramatically narrate castle-yard battles with cacophonous verve. When he was younger, Woods preferred to be alone, living inside his imaginary worlds; now he has a job in which, night after night, he must share those worlds with others.

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Drones to airdrop hundreds of thousands of mosquitos to fight disease

One approach to fight mosquito-borne diseases is to introduce huge numbers of sterilized male mosquitos to beat out the wild males in competition for female mosquitos. The challenge is that it's expensive to airdrop the mosquitos from airplanes and often difficult to traverse developing nations by ground. Now, WeRobotics has prototyped a drone that carries hundreds of thousands of mosquitos and releases them at just the right moment. The first experiments in South or Central America will take place in the next few months. From IEEE Spectrum:

The goal is to pack as many mosquitoes as possible into the drone. However, clumping is a problem because the insects form “a big collection of legs and wings,” he says. The trick, according to Klaptocz, is to keep them inside a precooled container: “Between 4 °C and 8 °C, they’ll fall asleep, and you can pack them up fairly densely.”

It’s also important to control the release of the mosquitoes, rather than dumping them out all at once. “We tried different systems to get the mosquitoes out of the holding canister, including vibrations and a treadmill,” he says. “Right now, we’re using a rotating element with holes through which individual mosquitoes can fall.” Once the mosquitoes fall out of the canister, they spend a few seconds in a secondary chamber warming up to the outside air temperature before exiting the drone, to make sure they’re awake and ready to fly.

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Carpenter shows how to raise a roof, roof doesn't cooperate

I don't doubt this guy knows what he's doing. But every once in awhile, non-living things like to show living things who is really in charge. Read the rest

UK government votes that animals are incapable of feeling emotion and pain

A majority of the UK's members of parliament somehow know that non-human animals are incapable feeling pain or experiencing emotions. I guess that means when you see an animal suffering, it's just faking it.

From the UK's Independent:

MPs have voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience – the admission that animals feel emotion and pain – into the EU Withdrawal Bill.

The move has been criticised by animal rights activists, who say the vote undermines environment secretary Michael Gove’s pledge to prioritise animal rights during Brexit.

The majority of animal welfare legislation comes from the EU. The UK Government is tasked with adopting EU laws directly after March 2019 but has dismissed animal sentience.

Image: Screenshot from Independent video Read the rest

A twitterbot that generates hypothetical Hallmark holiday movies

Mark writes, "Nothing marks the holidays like the predictability of a formulaic chestnut featuring '90s stars, magical religious holidays, SFW romance, good hair, and reliable stable camera work. For all those who need a bit more than TV can deliver, my kids and I created the Hallmark Holiday Movie Bot, which generates one feel-good Chrismukkah hit after another for your seasonal celebration!" Read the rest

Meet the people who insist the Earth is flat

BBC News attended this month's Flat Earth International Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I especially appreciate the fine craftsmanship of Chris Pontius, the "professional 'Flat Earth' model artist."

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Optical illusion tights and swim shorts give you the junk of Michaelangelo's David

The yoga pants are $42, and the swim shorts are $45; either one will turn you into a Renaissance hunk. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!) Read the rest

When Bob Odenkirk perfectly played Charles Manson

Well before Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul (and even Mr. Show), Bob Odenkirk showed his comedic chops by playing Charles Manson on the short-lived 1990s TV sketch series The Ben Stiller Show.

In two of the skits, he plays the madman as a sort of incarcerated "Heloise" in "Ask Manson." In them, he answers questions on stain removal and car troubles.

The third one takes a different, and completely inspired, turn. It's Manson as Lassie and it's one of my all-time favorites.

I won't say anymore, just watch:

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The Weinstein Effect is already taking a readership toll on the lefty blogosphere

The crackdown on "influencers" engaging in undisclosed paid endorsement roiled Instagram last year, but now the crackdown on sexual misconduct on influencers is affecting readership at Mic, Upworthy, GOOD, and Slate, who quietly paid influencers like George Takei to promote their articles on their personal accounts. Read the rest

Adam Savage made a limited-edition "everyday carry" toolbag out of old sailcloth, with room for everything

Retired Mythbuster and maker extraordinaire Adam Savage (previously) gave up on finding a bag to carry everything he needed and designed his own, a white, Gladstone-style toolbag that costs $225 and ships in time for Christmas. Read the rest

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