Friday, October 30, 2009

Rock Me Mendeleev

Nothing original here, at least not from me. This table can be found on the Wake Forest University campus. It was created by art students Nazila Alimohammadi and Anna Clark for a class project in 2003. Check out the Neatorama article for more details.

I like it.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The McFarthest Spot part 2

If you're in the United States it's pretty tough to get away from a McDonald's, but in Iceland it is the opposite problem, with all three of the country's McDonald's slated to close this weekend.

Iceland has suffered more than most countries from the financial crapout of the last couple of years with its three largest banks collapsing during the crisis. Iceland's external debt stands at about €50 billion, which is about six times the county's 2007 GDP.

Needless to say the banking failures have had an impact on prices. McDonald's requires that all the supplies (packaging, frozen burger patties, etc.) be imported to Iceland from Germany. The fall of the Icelandic krónur against the euro has made this arrangement financially untenable with costs doubling over the past year. A Big Mac in Reykjavik already sells for the equivalent of US$5.29, but Lyst Hr., the Icelandic franchise owner was looking at having to raise the price to the equivalent of $6.36. Switzerland and Norway currently share the dubious honor of having the highest priced Big Mac at $5.75.

For those of you who think that avoiding the Golden Arches is a good thing there are other countries that do not have any McDonald's, including Barbados and Bolivia.

Wikipedia (photo)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Most Unproductive Day of the Year

The Daily Telegraph reports that today will be the most unproductive day of the year. Citing the British daylight savings change and the general dreariness of this time of year, an obviously scientific and statistically significant survey (where is the sarcasm tag when you need it?) of 2,000 workers taken by the Canary Islands tourism board said that 52% of those surveyed will struggle with their workload today, and 8% will call in sick to avoid the issue. Taken together these effects will result in a mind-numbing 50% drop in productivity this week.

In other news there are unsubstantiated and highly questionable rumors coming out of the southern hemisphere where the opposite effect is occurring, but with the same dire consequences. Reports out of Rio de Jeneiro indicate that people have suddenly increased their productivity. This has brought partying to a complete standstill, threatening to destroy the local economy. Said one club owner, "Everyone is working. No one is drinking. I will be ruined," adding, "The girl from Ipanema walked by but no one even noticed."

Telegraph (via Ananova)
Islas Canarias

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mathmagic Land

When I was in elementary school the things I looked forward to were recess and lunch (which was really just recess with food, and the food was optional). We filled our days playing Red Rover, Dodgeball, and Slaughter the Pig, which are all far too violent to be allowed on today's playgrounds.

Inside the classroom we maintained the high energy level, and I know we wore out our teachers from time to time. For some reason there is nothing like a dark room to slow down elementary school students (fear of ghosts, fear of sharp table corners, fear of accidentally touching a girl, who knows?), and our instructors clearly used that knowledge to their advantage. We didn't have computers, and televisions had to be wheeled in from the almost mythical A/V room. VCRs had not yet been invented, so the best you (and your teacher) could hope for was a film strip or maybe, just maybe and educational movie.

Filmstrips, for the uninitiated, were in fact, strips of 35mm film, like a whole roll of Kodachrome that had been developed but not cut into separate slides. These were fed into a projector and a searingly hot light would project the images onto a screen at the front of the room. Usually the strips came with an audio recording of some sort (tape? LP? memory fails me), that would narrate the film strip and beep on occasion indicating the film should be advanced to the next frame. It was always fun to prompt the camera operator (teacher or student) when the film got out of sync with the narration - extra points were awarded if you could imitate the beep well enough to prompt them to go to the next frame too soon. It was even more fun when the heat from the bulb melted the film.

The filmstrip experience was memorable, but the strips themselves failed to make a lasting impression. Not so with the educational films. And they really were films. They came on big old reels (sometimes more than one!). Nothing raised the excitement level in the classroom like metal film containers stacked on the teacher's desk.

Really, though, one film stood out from all the others. I anticipated its annual viewing with even more excitement than I had for The Wizard of Oz. The film was the Disney short, Donald in Mathmagic Land. It's Donald Duck! It's math! And - until the Disney lawyers get their copyright threats in order - you can find it on YouTube (in three parts). Sit back and enjoy!

Droppin Science (via MMD Newswire) (photo)

Don't Mess With the Bojan

It's not exactly Wallace and Gromit's A Grand Day Out - but it's close. Bojan Nemec of the Institut Jožef Stefan in Slovenia has created an autonomous skiing robot.

There have been skiing robots before, but this one is larger - Nemec's robot is large enough to use off-the-shelf skis.

A laptop controls the movements, using gyros for balance and a vision system for maneuvering around gates. It also has a GPS, but that is to measure speed, not for direction.

There are additional videos on the IEEE website.

IEEE Spectrum (via Neatorama)
Popcorn (photo)
Japan Times

RIP Vic MIzzy

The composer of the Addams Family TV show theme song has died. Vic Mizzy, passed away from heart failure in his Bel Air, California home last Saturday. He was 93.

Mizzy started writing songs in his early teens with his childhood buddy, Irving Taylor, with whom he won The Fred Allen Collegiate Amateur Hour (they got $100 and a week long booking at The Roxy), and continued to work with through the end of World War II. Mizzy continued to write popular songs until the early 60's when he started writing for TV, writing for such "memorable" shows as Kentucky Jones, and Hank.

Then in 1964 he wrote his signature piece, the theme song for the Addams Family television show. Because the production company wouldn't pay for singers, Mizzy sang the theme song himself, overdubbing three times to give the impression of multiple vocalists (long before those punk kids used overdubbing to create Sergeant Pepper).

The next year he went on to write Green Acres, another classic 60's tv theme.

Asked last year how he felt about being remembered for a single little ditty like the Addams Family out of decades worth of work, he replied, "That's why I'm living in Bel-Air: Two finger snaps and you live in Bel-Air."

Funeral services are today at 11:00, at Eden Memorial Park, 11500 Sepulveda Blvd., Mission Hills, CA.

World News Australia
Los Angeles Times
Vic Mizzy (photo)

Monday, October 19, 2009

The McFarthest Spot

How far away can you get from a McDonald's in the lower 48? Go ahead, make your guess.

Stephen von Worley, a photographer out of Santa Cruz, California has produced an awesomely depressing display of the pervasiveness of McDonald's in the United States.

I tell you I've got to spend some more time on this guy's blog. He does a great job of helping you visualize concepts (like how far away you are from McDonald's).

His two most recent posts are "Of Mason and Dixon", where he compares online word usage between New England and the deep south, and "Storing Your Value", where he discusses the pros and cons of different ways to store US$1,000,000 in things like wheat (190,000 bushels), jerky (27 tons), and plutonium (1.3 inch sphere).

I gotta say, this is stuff that strikes my fancy and I'm going to have to do a little more exploring on his blog.

Oh, and if you're still curious, the farthest away you can get from one of the 13,000+ McDonald's in the continental United States is a little spot - what von Worley calls the McFarthest Spot - somewhere between Meadow and Glad Valley, South Dakota, a full 107 miles away from the nearest McDonald's (as the crow flies, but 145 miles away by car).

Weather Sealed (via Yahoo News Canada)


Two Japanese executives have been arrested for claiming their Chinese bamboo shoots were Japanese.

China is the largest exporter of bamboo shoots, and production is declining in Japan. However the Japanese shoots command a much higher price. Teruyoshi Kanbara and his brother Yoshiaki of Shinsei Foods in Anan, Tokushima Prefecture, are accused of selling at least 19 tons of falsely labelled shoots for ¥10 million in the second half of 2008. The 19 tons were part of 90 tons sold to two Japanese companies.

Bamboo shoots may either be fresh (pictured) or canned, with the canned being less expensive.The fresh shoots are seasonal, with the Japanese production season limited to March through July.

Bamboo shoots are used in many Asian dishes including chicken, smoky bacon and bamboo shoot stir-fry (mmmm: bacon). Other examples can be seen in the Iron Chef Japan Bamboo Shoot Battle episode.

The Japan Times
CQ University Centre for Plant and Water Science
Wikipedia (photo)
Daily Mail

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Entire Police Force Quits After Lottery Win

Those of you who need a job in these difficult economic times may want to consider becoming a police officer in Budaörs, Hungary where the entire police force of has resigned after winning Ft 2.2 billion (US$12.2 million), the 6th largest jackpot in Hungarian history. The drawing was held last Saturday and all 15 officers resigned en masse on Tuesday. Other officers from the region will be used to staff the force until additional full-time officers can be hired.


Car Lands on House Roof

In our first alcohol-was-involved story of the week, a "driver" (and we use the term loosely) managed to embed his car in the roof of a a house in Sydney, Australia.

The car left the road traveling at high speed, the vehicle mounted the curb, hit a concrete median strip, hit a traffic light pole, a metal street light, a traffic light box, and after hitting a mound of dirt the car became airborne for 10 to 15 meters before landing on the roof, narrowly missing the three month old child and her parents who were sleeping inside the house. The whole path of the crash covered about 90 meters, and debris was spread out over several houses, including a piece of the traffic light which was found 120 meters away.

The occupants of the car were freed after about an hour, and taken to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries. The occupants of the house were shaken, but unharmed.

Video news coverage can be found here and here.

Sources: (photo)
Street Corner
Daily Telegraph

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Legendary Finnish Bands on Stamps

All right, you philatelists, time to get out your checkbook 'cause there are some hot new stamps coming out in January!

England is issuing a set of stamps based on classic album covers (I would say "rock album covers", but Tubular Bells doesn't really qualify as "rock").

The Royal Mail began with extensive research of existing lists and "greatest album covers" polls, talked to music publications and graphic designers, and culled the list down to the top 10.

The list of legendary bands includes Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.

The set will be issued on January 7, 2010.

But wait, it just gets better!

Finland will also be releasing a set of music-based stamps on January 25th. These stamps celebrate such legendary 80's Finnish bands as Eppu NormaaliPopeda, and Maarit (who may be here, or may not be, it's not clear).

The stamps, designed by Klaus Welp, will be issued in a strict limited edition of 500,000 sheets, unless demand is great and more need to be printed.

Wales Online
Norvic Philatelics (photo)
YLE (photo)

Second Place Gets an AK-47

National Geographic magazine sponsors the National Geographic Bee each year here in the United States. This "entertaining and challenging test of geographic knowledge" is for students in 4th through 8th grade with representatives from each state going to the national competition in Washington, D. C. which is hosted by Jeopardy emcee Alex Trebek (who was, ironically, born in Canada).

My son, Sam, qualified for the Washington state competition in 2007, but had the unfortunate luck to be in the same group with Caitlin Snaring, the eventual national champion (the first female winner, and 5th winner from Washington state since the competition began in 1989 - it's something in the water). For her efforts Snaring was awarded a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society.

This past Ramadan, while the residents of Istanbul, Turkey were celebrating by creating the world's longest Iftar table, folks in Kismayo, Somalia (a country with no functioning centralized government since 1991), had their own bee, a combination of questions about the Koran and Somali geography. However, instead of receiving a college scholarship, the winning team (from the city's Farjano district) was awarded a rifle, two grenades, a landmine and, most importantly, office supplies worth $1,000 (WTF???). The second place team was awarded an AK-47 and some bullets.

Said Sheikh Abdullahi Alhaq of Al-Shabab:
The reason the young men were rewarded with weapons is to encourage them to participate in the ongoing holy war against the enemies of Allah in Somalia.
That, my friends, is a different world from mine, and I hope it always will be.

20th Anniversary of The Big One

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a significant quake for two reasons: first, it was the day my daughter was born (Happy Birthday, Lainie!), and second it was during the World Series so there was gobs of national sports media coverage.

As tragic an event as it was, in the list of deadly United States earthquakes its death toll ranks only 6th for the 20th century. and worldwide there have been 8 deadlier quakes just since 1990. At 6.9 it was a serious earthquake, but not a whole lot stronger than the 6.8 Nisqually quake here in Seattle in 2001, though the Loma Prieta quake caused significantly more damage.

For San Franciscans this is a reason to party. The mayor's office has organized a weeks worth of events under the tagline The Big Rumble, events including:
  • Disaster Preparedness Information and Resources
  • Children's Activities
  • Giveaways
  • Entertainment
There is even a 30 page Block Party Host Toolkit for those who want to host their own shindig.

There is lots of great footage of quake coverage available on You Tube. This is nifty playlist compiling a lot of the coverage; my favorites are the ones closest to the time the quake occurred because they show the uncertainty of the whole situation at the time (and the occasional aftershock). Al Michaels saying "I'll tell you what, we're having an earth..." and then losing power is pretty dramatic.

Michaels had worked in the Bay Area before as a broadcaster for the San Francisco Giants (he and Lon Simmons were the best broadcast team ever), and this was not his first quake, but several of the sportscasters were from out of the area and it was their first time. I maintain to this day that Tim McCarver was a fine broadcaster before the quake, but since then...well, I leave you to make your own judgement. Here is video from one of the earthquake virgins.

But my favorite coverage was by Entertainment Tonight the next night, possibly because John Tesh did not utter the phrase "Belarusian Swan", not even once.

New York Times
The Big Rumble
Bay Area Earthquake Alliance
USGS (photo)

Hot Sauce Attack in Bremen

Yes, the same Bremen the Grimm's musicians were heading for in the folktale, but apparently this time there was more than one donkey.

An altercation broke out at a food stand in the Bremen train station last night. A 23 year old customer asked for a napkin, but the 25 year old vendor didn't give him one (at least not quickly enough), so the customer wiped his hands on the stand. The vendor then threw a large serving spoon full of hot sauce in the customer's face, ran out of the stand and had a heated discussion about food etiquette with the customer, whose eyes were now irritated and bloodshot from the spiciness of the sauce.

The pissing contest was brought to an end by police, and a sample of the sauce was taken as evidence. Both men may be charged for the altercation, with the severity of charges against the vendor to be determined after the police assess whether this was a normal hot sauce attack, or if the spiciness of the sauce rose to the level of grievous bodily harm.

Weser Kurier (photo)
Die Welt
Local XXL

Friday, October 16, 2009

Electronic Newspaper circa 1981

I try to explain it to my kids: no, everyone did not have a computer when I went to college. In fact, almost no one had computers when this news report was filed in 1981.
Of the estimated two to three thousand home computer owners in the Bay Area...
Wow: sometimes even I forget how dark the dark ages were. There are probably more than 100 computers on the little street I live on, not counting iPods, cellphones, Priuses and other specialized computing devices.

I do wonder how the newspaper street vendor at the end of the piece is doing these days, though.

Weird News Files

Loudest Snore

Jenny Chapman of Deeping St. James, Lincolnshire, last weekend had her snore measured at 111.6 decibels, the loudest British snorer on record. Let's put some perspective on this number, because the headlines about her being able to drown out an airplane are inaccurate and clearly irresponsible journalism (this coming from the guy who told you werewolf nuns were scaring tourists away from Australia; you can clearly trust me).

First off, let's throw out a few important decibel numbers.
  • 0 decibels: the threshold of human hearing; if it's below zero decibels you can't hear it.
  • 10 decibels: an increase of 10 decibels is perceived as something being "twice as loud".
  • 60-70 decibels: normal human conversation
  • 80 decibels: dialtone
  • 90 decibels: truck traffic
  • 100 decibels: motorcycle
  • 110 decibels: chainsaw, 3 feet away
  • 111.6 decibels: Jenny Chapman's snore
  • 115 decibels: sandblasting
  • 140 decibels: jet engine, 100 feet away
  • 184 decibels: loudest sound possible
So you see 100 feet away, a jet engine is roughly 8 times louder than her snoring. On the other hand, she IS louder than being three feet away from a chainsaw.

Here is another way to look at it: the OSHA's permissible workplace noise levels are 90 decibels for no more than 8 hours per day, 100 decibels for no more than 2 hours per day, and 110 decibels (about the level of her snoring) for no more than 30 minutes per day. If she fell asleep at her desk her company could get fined for hazardous conditions.

When her snoring starts (usually around 2 or 3 in the morning), her husband, Colin, heads off to the spare bedroom for the rest of the night, closing the door behind him and burying his head under a pillow.

Her snoring was measured at a two day snoring boot-camp sponsored by Helps Stop Snoring. Participants were only allowed alcohol with their first meal on the first night. The next day she and the other camp participants were taught about a healthy diet and participated in pilates classes. The second night her snoring dropped to the level of a motorcycle (99.2 decibels), an improvement to be sure, but still 8 times louder than even a loud conversation.

Says her husband, "It could be worse, she could be a sleepwalker."

Daily Mail (photo)
News:Lite (photo)
The Sun
GC Audio

Bunny Biofuel

Stockholm, Sweden is killing wild rabbits and burning their bodies for fuel.

Every year Stockholm culls thousands from its wild rabbit population. Rabbits, of course, breed like drosophila. A breeding doe can produce a litter of 5 or 6 kits every month, and kits born in the spring may be reproducing by fall. Because there are no natural predators in the city, Stockholm ends up with thousands of new rabbits annually, and culls them throughout the year. The problem isn't so much in the summer, when food is plentiful, but in winter when the rabbits gnaw on anything they can find causing large amounts of damage.

The rabbits are killed by lagomorphic hit-men who shoot them at dawn (with silencers, so as not to wake the neighbors). Once killed the rabbits are frozen, and when the have been accumulated in large enough numbers, are shipped off to a biofuel plant in Karlskoga, where they are burned for fuel. They are not skinned for their fur before being burned. In 2008 six thousand rabbits were killed.

The city also ships off carcasses of other animals including cats, deer, horses, and cows.

The rabbits are not native to Sweden; they are descendants of pets that have been released by Stockholm residents.

Animal rights activists are up in arms about the practice, of course, but without natural predators the rabbit population grows to its Malthusian limits, and alternative solutions like spraying the plants are not effective (the rabbits just move to unsprayed locations), and ignore the effects of the pesticides on the city's non-bunny biota.

The residents whose houses are warmed by the rabbits don't seem to complain, but residents of Stockholm are of divided opinions.

This story was first reported in mid-August, but now the pan-European news media has picked up on it, so as you can see from the variety of sources below, it is now a widely discussed ethical issue.

The Local and again (photo)
Yahoo News Canada
Der Spiegel

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Calendar Controversies

(May be NSFW, but don't get your hopes up.)

Wow. Look at all the calendar stories...

Apparently there are only 11 good looking girls in Switzerland. A furor has erupted over a sexy Swiss farm-girl calendar because it has come out that one of the girls is German. Miss April, the German Johanna Sänger says, "I love animals, which is why I agreed to be in the calendar," but at least one of her co-models had this to say, "There was no reason for them to take a German girl."

Then there are the rival coffin manufacturers Lindner (left) from Poland and Cofanifunebri (right) from Italy who are fighting over which of them was the first casket maker to issue a coffin girls calendar. Says Barthosz Lindner, "Our Polish girls are prettier and our coffins are better and more exclusive," while a Cofanifunebri spokesman counters with "We also produce a 'fashion line' of coffins including ones in the colours of the city's football teams AS Roma and Lazio," which really makes as much sense as anything else, I suppose.

And finally, because I'm already on the subject of death calendars and I don't really want to be branded a misogynist (again), I give you the Men of Mortuaries calendar, an attempt to bury the stigmas and stereotypes of morticians by (apparently), turning them into firemen.

Austrian Times and again (photos)
Sociological Images (photo)
Cofanifunibri (photo)

Werewolf Nuns Scaring Tourists Away From Australia

Dr. Mark David Ryan, a Queensland University of Technology researcher asks the question: are Australian horror films scaring tourists away from Australia?

As World News Australia puts it:
Parallels have been drawn between the Wolf Creek movie and the real-life outback murder of British tourist Peter Falconio in 2001 in the Northern Territory. It has also been suggested that the killer bushman character was inspired by real-life serial killer Ivan Milat.
Which is all well and good, except that to folks outside of Australia and possibly Britain, Falconio and Milat are, with due respect to Joanne Lees and the Falconio family , unknown. It is very, very difficult to scare people off when they don't know there's a story. We are not talking Jeffrey Dahmer, here.

And then there are the films themselves. Here is Ryan's Top 10 list. Now, Australia comes out with some great films and I am a huge Peter Weir fan, but, really, are these the films that make you lose sleep at night? More importantly, do they make you think, "Nope, not going to Australia. Think I'll go hang out in Bedford-Stuy where it's safe."?
  1. Wolf Creek (2005)
  2. Dying Breed (2008)
  3. Black Water (2007)
  4. Rogue (2007)
  5. Undead (2003)
  6. Razorback (1984)
  7. Patrick (1978)
  8. Howling III (1987)
  9. Body Melt (1993)
  10. Night of Fear (1972)

Yes, that's right, not only does the list omit Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (justifiably, too - not my favorite Weir film), it includes Howling III in the list, and not hanging-on-by-a-fingernail at #10, but at #8 - there are two films worse than Howling III on his list!

A generous 7 star user review (average 2.4) of Howling III by kelvinthelion on IMDB yields these thoughts:
It has it's flaws of course but it also has a lot of insignificant firsts like werewolf nuns.
It really seems more like an action comedy than a horror movie. 
Werewolf nuns. Really.

For those who don't know (and I sure didn't), the concept of Howling III is that a "strange race of human-like marsupials appear suddenly in Australia, and a sociologist who studies these creatures falls in love with a female one." Realistically, this will only attract interest if the sociologist is also female.

Personally, I don't think Australia has to worry about horror films driving people away. The thing keeping me from traveling there is the rise of militant kangaroos.

IMDB and again
World News Australia and again
ExpertGuide (photo) and again
Northern Territory News (photo)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chess Boxing

It's chess! It's boxing! It's chess boxing! It is also ajedrez-boxeo (español), Schachboxen (Deutsch), and шахбокса (Русский).

For the uninitiated, professional chess boxing consists of alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Victory can be claimed in either type of round with either a knockout or a checkmate. The first round is chess, and there are a maximum of eleven rounds.

Each chess round is 4 minutes long and each boxer is on a cumulative 12 minute clock for the bout. A little math shows that should the match make it to the eleventh round (the sixth round of chess) one of the boxers will almost certainly time out. Each boxing round is three minutes long, and there is a one minute break between each round to don or remove gloves.

There is also a shortened set of amateur rules, akin to the way amateur boxing matches are shortened.

The first chess boxing world championship took place in Amsterdam in 2003, won by Iepe the Joker when Luis the Lawyer exceeded his time limit in the 11th round.

In order to become a member of the World Chess Boxing Organisation you must have been in at least 20 boxing matches, and you must have an ELO rating of 1800 which would be a Class A player under the United States Chess Federation rating system.

The best chess boxer to come out of the United States is David "Double-D" Depto, who grew up in West Virginia's Ohio Valley, and once beat the daylights out of the NFL's Tom Brady when he was at school in Michigan.

The idea for chess boxing was inspired by the graphic novel Froid Équateur by Enki Bilal.

If you are interested in becoming a professional chess boxer you can submit your application here.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Belgium Crowns Miss Homeless

Therese Van Belle, 58, of Schaarbeek, Brussels, has won the first Miss Homeless Beligium contest, entitling her to live in an apartment rent-free for a year.

The main purpose of the competition was to hilight the plight of the estimated 17,000 living in Belgium sans domicile fixe (SDF), one third of whom are women.

The competition was organized by Matilde Pelsers and Aline Duportail. Matilde, who runs Petit Le Portail, an organization that runs five shelters, came up with the idea of a homeless beauty pageant when Aline, her daughter, registered for the Miss Belgium competition.

Although the teenage Aline is a writer and was first-runner up in the East Flanders section of Miss Belgium, she is no stranger to the streets, having spent some time as a drug runner. Her most recent work, De Lijn Is Waar De Liefde Stopt, is a book of philosophical poems. Says Aline about turning her life around, "You do not realize what a comeback it was for me. A beauty pageant can be a tremendous boost."

Competitors were judged on inner beauty and strength, motivation, backstory, solidarity, and their commitment to making a new life off the streets.

Clearly this is a bit of a spectacle, and intentionally so. It does raise awareness, but the outlandishness of the concept walks a fine line - I can't help but think of the Derelicte campaign in Zoolander. It is easy for me to mock the Miss Plastic contestants, but I find it more difficult to do make fun here, and I think I'm not alone. Below is a video from Phara from last year where they cover the competition. It's a serious issue, and the laughter seems more nervous than anything else. What do you think? Is this funny? Touching? Sad? Pathetic?What is your mix of emotions?

Daily Express
Miss SDF Belgium (photos)
Nieuwsblad and again and again
Aline Duportail
De Pers
Google Translate (becuase, frankly, my Dutch is pretty weak)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Free Second Honeymoon

You too can qualify for a free second honeymoon if your marriage is on the brink of divorce and you have been through marriage counseling. Oh, and you also have to live in the Malaysian state of Terrengganu.

To combat a soaring divorce rate not only among newlyweds but also among couples married 20 years or more, the Malaysian state recently ran a pilot program with 25 couples on the verge of divorce. The couples were given three days and two nights at one of the states island or beach resorts to give them one more opportunity to patch things up. The program was effective enough that it will be deployed state wide by the end of the year.

The program costs about RM1500 per couple.

Malaysia is a primarily Muslim country. Divorce is legal, but frowned upon; Prophet Mohammed said that divorce was, in the eyes of God, the most distasteful lawful act.

Said Ashaari Idris, the State Welfare, Community Development and Women Affairs committee chairman: "We hope through this package couples will treasure their marital ties and avoid separation or divorce."

The Star
World News Australia (photo)
Herald Sun
Malaysian Insider

American Wins Golden Spurtle!

As shocking as it is to you (and probably more shocking to the Scots), American Matthew Cox has taken the 2009 Golden Spurtle, indicative of the finest porridge in the world.

A spurtle is a wooden spatchula-ish utensil used in the making of porridge. Porridge is, uh, oatmeal.

Cox, a member of Team Bob's Red Mill out of Milwaukie, Oregon, was a decided underdog before beating out such pre-competition favorites as Addy Deggert, Barry Gauld, Lee Barclay, and, of course, defending champion Ian Bishop to win the 16th annual edition of the event in  Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

Cox won in the traditional oats category, for which he was awarded a £350 hotel voucher and £250 cash (somewhat less than the take from the Miss Plastic Competition held simultaneously in Budapest). He is pictured (right) with Anna Louise Batchelor, an environmental researcher and marathon runner out of Reading, Birkshire, who won the specialty category with her recipe for Steamed Porridge Spotted Dick with Custard.

This year the event was held in conjunction with World Porridge Day, a fund raising day for Mary's Meals a charity which provides daily meals for 375,000 children around the globe.

Golden Spurtle souveniers (including specially inscribed spurtles) are available at their Golden Spurtle EBay store.

Thaindian News
Los Angeles Times
Bob's Red Mill (photo)
The Golden Spurtle (photo)
Rocket News
The Press and Journal
World Porridge Day
Mary's Meals

Munchkin Memories

Take a trip back in time, back before YouTube, back before TiVO, back before you could even rent videos, back before DVDs, back before VHS, back to the dark ages when there were only three major television networks (four with PBS), and they told you what to watch and when to watch it. Movies were heavily controlled by the studios, and major releases often didn't make it to the small screen for years - Gone With the Wind, released in 1939, didn't see TV time until 1976.

Movies on televsion could be a major event, with the newest ones promoted with slogans like "First Time on Television!" Some movies were just occasional events to fill up the weekend afternoons when there were no major sports to televise ("major sports" being pretty much limited to baseball, football, and The Olympics). But other movies were huge, annual events and none of these was bigger than The Wizard of Oz.

The Wizard of Oz was first televised in 1956, seventeen years after its original release. Even in the age of DVR the market has not been overrun by Oz airings: it has only been shown on broadcast television 43 times, and never more than once per year (though there have been additional cable airings of late). I remember the showings being promoted for weeks before they aired and I always looked forward to the big night with a delicious anticipation completely alien to the iPod generation.

I would sit in front of the TV and watch the film, from the black and white farm scenes, to the witch's shoes curling up under the house, to the scarecrow, to the wicked witch and the flying monkeys - well, I didn't actually see a whole lot of the witch and the flying monkeys because I was behind the couch being extremely not-afraid - then there was the sand running out of the hour glass and, of course, the man behind the curtain.

There were other specials, of course: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but no movie besides Oz made it to my pantheon of annual events.

Interestingly the film was not shot in a wide-screen format. If you see a wide-screen version it has been altered from the original. The television proportions of the film are one of the reasons it seems so natural on the small screen. Another is that with a running time of 101 minutes, only one minute needed to be edited out to allow for the 20 minutes of commercials, the standard amount of time (in 1956) for a two hour time slot. Although it was filmed long before television was a consideration it's as though it was made with television in mind.

Recently Newsweek gathered the five surviving munchkins, Ruth Robinson Duccini, Meinhardt Raabe (the coroner!), Margaret Pellegrini, Karl Slover, and Jerry Maren for an interview. The baby is 86 and the rest are in their 90s.

I own the Wizard of Oz on DVD, but I've never watched it. Somehow it feels wrong to just walk over to the shelf and pop it in just because I want to. The waiting is part of the deal. The anticipation is part of the movie's joy for me. Maybe I'll put it on my calendar for some time in November and watch a YouTube trailer every day for the next few weeks until the moment is just right, then I can fully relive a small but memorable piece of my childhood.

TV Party

Carpe Feetum

New York appears to be ready to join at least 14 other states in banning fish pedicures. State Senate bill 6205 introduced by Jeff Klein says:
All bills are written in all-caps, but I thought I'd leave it that way to wake you up this morning.

The bill does make me wonder 1) if there are Appearance Dehancement businesses and 2) is it possible to unknowingly perform a fish pedicure?

The saga of the fish pedicure has been going on in the United States for about a year now. Originating in Turkey and popular in Asia, the procedure involves sticking your feet into a tub filled with small, toothless carp that eat away the dead skin. It's not exactly using leeches (which is FDA approved, BTW), but several states are up in arms about it.

The first known use of fish for pedicures in the US was by John Ho of Alexandria, Virgina. After a vacation to China where he and his wife experienced not just a pedicure but a full-body carp exfoliation (picture below), he invested $40,000 for ten thousand fish. The novel procedure was an instant hit, but state regulators quickly shut him down because for his 15 minute procedure the clients would put their feet into a communal tub - this ran afoul of the Farifax County Health Department who decided the communal foot tub was a swimming pool. Ho sidestepped the swimming pool problem by switching over to individual tubs for each client, and, because Virginia's Board of Cosmetology only has jurisdiction over facial skin, Ho was free to perform the fish exfoliations unhindered.

Ho has franchised his operation, but is having difficulty in several states, including here in Washington state, where the state banned the procedure and shut down the procedure at Peridot Nails in Kent. Although not banned in Nevada (is anything banned in Nevada?), the procedure is also not approved, which makes it risky for a salon owner to make the mult-thousand dollar investment because they may later be shut down; last spring Assemblyman Tick Segerblom (D-Las Vegas), introduced a bill that would explicitly approve the procedure, but it doesn't appear to have gotten out of committee.

The general issue is one of cleanliness. Cosmetology regulations generally say that any tool used in a procedure must be sterilized afterwards. The fish are considered tools, but sterilizing a fish makes that fish pretty useless for anything but a snack. Rather ironically, Ho was searching for an alternative to pedicure razors (which have also been banned many places for sanitary reasons) when he ran across the fish pedicure idea.

In Ohio, however, the procedure has been approved after review. Marilyn Huheey, an opthamologist and member of the state Board of Cosmetology tried out the procedure herself and afterwards recommended approval to the board. As she put it:
It seemed to me it was very sanitary, not sterile of course. Sanitation is what we've got to live with in this world, not sterility.
New York State Assembly
Seattle Times (photo)
The Medical News
USA Today
Wall Street Journal
book of joe (photo)
Las Vegas Sun
Times Union

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

Now this is Real Star Wars Stuff. Back before George Lucas fell in love with courtiers and namby-pamby councils Star Wars was about manly survival in hostile conditions, and none of these conditions were more manly and hostile than the Jack London-esque planet Hoth. Remember the Wampa? Remember Han going out to search for Luke? Remember how Han kept Luke warm through the frozen Hoth night?

Yes indeed, hailing from an age when The Empire Strikes Back was a sequel (and not Episode V - phthah!), we have the Tauntaun sleeping bag from Think Geek. Now you to can split open the belly of an other-worldy biped with your plush light-saber zipper and warm yourself in the intestines of the deceased beast. Better yet, you can get your nieces and nephews to revel in the grossness of it all - quieter than a drumset, and yet somehow more disturbing: the perfect gift for other people's children.

If only Glade would come out with Tauntaun Entrail scented oil plug-ins the experience would be complete.

Think Geek (via Fark)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Miss Plastic Competition Results

The results of the Miss Plastic 2009 beauty pageant are in, and the winner is Urbán Réka, who wears size 37 shoes, and whose breast surgery was performed by the justifiably proud Dr. Mary Czeglédi.

For her work, Ms. Réka was awarded a Budapest apartment. First runner-up Kulcsár Edina received a Citroen C1, Second runner up and winner of a diamond necklace worth 2 million forints, was none other than the wheelchair-bound subject of our previous story, Alexandra Horvath.

I, for one, cannot wait to see what drama and heartbreak next year's competition will bring.

Miss Plastic Hungary

Mojito Shoes

Those of you who have seen me walking around lately know that, while I am no fashionisto, I do enjoy my fine Italian alternative footwear (I've never shod Italian before, makes me feel special). The shoe on the right is called the Mojito because of its resemblance to a lime peel for the cocktail, certainly qualifies as alternative footwear.

The shoe is designed by Julian Hakes, out of London whose firm specializes in bizarrely abstract bridges (pictures on their website, if you can figure out how to work the Flash display). He noted that when walking in heels, the load is borne by the heel and the toe, so he eliminated pretty much everything else. Says Hakes:

Most shoes are designed from the outside in - they are designed to look good on the foot. As an architect I did the opposite and designed them from the inside out - I looked at how the foot moves, how it transfers the body's load. For me, it wasn't much different from designing a bridge.
The Mojito is a carbon fiber shoe, with leather next to the foot for comfort, and  rubber on the side that touches the floor.

The shoe is not currently mass-produced, but Hakes is making them as on off products. You can contact Hakes directly if you'd like a pair.

All Voices
de zeen
Mail Online
Vibram Five Fingers
Hakes Associates Architects

Wedged Hedgehog

Jim Collins advocates finding your own personal hedgehog, but to him I say this:
If somebody thinks they're a hedgehog, presumably you just give 'em a mirror and a few pictures of hedgehogs and tell them to sort it out for themselves. - Douglas Adams
These are not stories of people masquerading as some giant pantomime hedgehog*. These are stories of real, manly hedgehogs, hedgehogs who don't curl up into a ball until the second or even the third sign of danger.

First we have the case of the hedgehog who, in Pooh-like fashion, became a wedged hedgehog in great tightness, his head (right) and tail (left) separated by a garden wall in Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk, England. Linda Spearman was stopping by her mother's on her way to work when she noticed the south end of a northbound hedgehog sticking out of the wall. When they realized that it was stuck they thought to themselves WWCRD, (What Would Christopher Robin Do?), then decided to do the exact opposite**, giving it more food before calling the RSPCA. Jason Finch of the RSPCA was called in and spent an hour chipping away at the wall before the animal could be pried loose. The hedgehog was freed without injury and the hole in the garden wall has been filled.

Then we have Ashleigh Hunt who, sadly, appears to be well on her way to being a Crazy Cat Lady, but with hedgehogs. Given a prickle*** of three only 18 months ago, she now has 24 pygmy hedgehogs, and is expecting three more any day now.

Pygmy hedgehogs, which at £200 are the poor man's choice after the £700 micro-pigs of celebrities like Paris Hilton, are about 1/4 the size of your typical stuck-in-the-wall hedgehog, only 5 to 8 inches long and weighing around a pound when fully grown. Wild hedgehogs typically live on a diet of slugs and insects, but Ashleigh's animals live on cat food although it must be noted that they are lactose intolerant (which is slightly ironic given the cat food thing and how cats like milk - just sayin').

No word on whether Archie McPhee will be coming out with a Crazy Hedgehog Lady action figure any time soon.

*In fact, a failed Google search implies that there are no stories of people masquerading as a giant pantomime hedgehog.

** Christopher Robin decided they should NOT feed Pooh so that he could become un-wedged, don't you remember? What kind of books do you guys read, anyway?

*** "Prickle" is the collective noun for hedgehogs. You can also call them an array, but that's just not funny.

Jim Collins
Brainy Quote
Mail Online and again (photos)
Metro and again
Archie McPhee
Collective Nouns

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hilton Hilton

The police seem to have misplaced Pvt. Terrance Hilton at the Denver International Airport. He was last seen Wednesday in the custody of two federal police officers wearing a dark hoodie, shorts, and wrist manacles (Hilton, not the police).

Loretta Beauvais, a spokesman for the Denver Police, said she was unsure how Hilton managed to evade not only his federal escorts but police and airport security. "All we know is that he ran off," she said.

Beauvais said the Hilton has gone AWOL before, and that was why he was in custody, but Hilton does not have a history of violence, which begs the question, do we really want non-violent soldiers in the military?

In other Hilton-related news, Paris Hilton (no relation) has just picked up one of the trendiest pets, a toy (sized) pot-bellied pig. Just thought you'd want to know, that's all.

ABC News (photo)
Paris Her Bad Self (photo)

The World Accordion to Garp

Nothing but accordion videos for your auditory and visual pleasures.

For you classical accordionophiles we have the kid on the right. Viral internet stuff.

And below we have the first of Weird Al's polka medleys from back when I was a lad. Happy Friday!


Tragedy Strikes Miss Plastic Competition

She's too sexy for her shoes, too sexy for her shoes, her boobs will make her lose her balance. (With apologies to Right Said Fred.)

Alexandra Horvath, still not used to the weight distribution of her implants, fell off of her high heels at the Miss Plastic Hungary competition and is now wheelchair bound after tearing a ligament in her foot.

Hungary is becoming a major player in the European plastic surgery scene due to the quality of workmanship and the low cost (less than half that of Britain). The Miss Plastic Hungary competition is to promote artificially enhanced beauty. Unlike other beauty contests which prohibit surgery, Miss Plastic Hungary requires "a surgical procedure done under general or local anesthesia."

Horvath, one of 20 finalists, had just completed the breast examination stage - her surgeon had just been congratulated on the lack of scars - when she fell while strutting her stuff on the catwalk.

The plucky blonde isn't ready to give up, though, saying "I don't see why they can't admire my beauty in a wheelchair as well?" You've got to be impressed with her gumption, don't you? Perhaps the judges will consider her wheelchair just another artificial beauty enhancement.

Metro (photo)
Austrian Times (photo)
Miss Plastic Hungary

Lionel the Bomb Loving Lobster Is Dead

A lobster's bomb is his castle.

Divers recently happened upon a 600 lb. German mine dropped into the harbor off Swanage during World War II. The mine had been undisturbed since then except for Lionel the Lobster, who found the parachute hole in the mine to be the perfect home.

In spite of coaxing by Royal Navy divers, the territorial lobster refused to leave his home, not unlike Harry Truman (not Harry S Truman, the president, I mean Harry R. Truman who was buried alive in the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980).

A spokesman for the Portland coast guard said of the detonation:

It sent up a huge jet of water - it did look very dramatic. We received three 999 calls from people worried about it. Unfortunately, the bomb disposal unit have a job to do and it wasn't possible to save Lionel.

Those of you interested in memorializing Lionel can join his Facebook group.

Metro (photo)
Mail Online (photo)
Seattle PI

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Fun Theory

What do you get when you combine fahrvergnügen with the movie Big? Why, a full size keyboard coming out of the Odenplan subway station, that's what.

The stunt is an advertising campaign called "rolighets teorin" (or "The Fun Theory" in English), by DDB of Stockholm for Volkswagen. The idea behind the ads is to show how you can encourage people to behave more responsibly if you make it fun for them to do so. Really, though, what they show is that you can change people's behavior by making it fun - the behaving responsibly part doesn't enter into the people's thinking at all, which is the point, I suppose, isn't it?

Yes, the piano really plays, just watch the video (left). They also have an experiment with the world's deepest garbage can (below).

TecheBlog (via Fark) (Photo)
Creativity Online
The Fun Theory

It's National Poetry Day! Or Is It?

Today is National Poetry Day in Britain. But there is no National Poetry Day in the United States, only the watered down National Poetry Month (April). There used to be World Poetry Day in Trinidad and Tobago (October 15), but UNESCO's declaration of March 21 as World Poetry has relegated it to merely National Poetry Day. There is also a Bad Poetry Day, but it's copyrighted so I won't link to it. It's all very confusing.

In a recent (highly scientific online) poll, the BBC found that the most popular poet in Britain to be T.S. Eliot (or Elliot or something similar - it's all very confusing).

I briefly thought of including the entire text of The Wasteland, but then realized that, heretic that I am, I didn't really like The Wasteland, so I thought I'd share my favorite poem. Charles Dodgson, the author, is English, so that should be good enough. For those of you who find that the poem is also very confusing, the Wikipedia article has annotations.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

National Poetry Day (Britain)
Wikipedia (National Poetry Month, USA & Canada)
World Poetry Day (Trinidad & Tobago)
National Poetry Day (Trinidad & Tobago)
Wikipedia (UNESCO World Poetry Day)
BBC (Poets Poll)
Project Gutenberg
Wikipedia (Charles Dodgson) (photo)
Wikipedia (Jabberwocky)