Google is having a science fair! No, really - if your teenager has a plan to convert live bees into toothpaste they can present their wondrous idea in front of the internet and our Googly overlords.
Chidingly, they don't want to know about my research into trolling with Justin Bieber - but not because it's not a good idea, and not just because I'm too old. It's because I'm Bad People. The competition is open the all the world's schoolchildren - except for the brown schoolchildren of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Myanmar/Burma, Syria and Zimbabwe. Presumably other untrustworthy races such as the Daleks are also excluded, the rules aren't clear. To my fellow Zimbabwean readers and friends, and others in the axis of not-liked-by-Google, let's keep the secret of moon babies to ourselves. The Americans can't have any.
Image courtesy of 4chan
Their loss. Perhaps they know that Zimbabweans don't much do science fairs - instead we have exciting engineering competitions where children get all sticky building bridges out of ice cream sticks and glue. The secret to winning is lots of glue. And re-enforcing triangles. And using compressive, rather than tensional structures. But mostly: lots of glue. But what am I talking about, they're Google, they definitely know that.
The competition opens April 5th, so start your hamsters on their regimen of sodium pentathol now and the rules prohibit feeding sodium pentathol to hamsters. They also prohibit the use of meat obtained from pet stores and human teeth (unless autoclaved at 121 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes). Quite specific, that rule about teeth. Entrants must be schoolkids between 13 and 18 in teams of up to three people. They'll need a Google Account and can sign up here.
Final judging will be on July 11th. Winners stand to receive a US$50,000 scholarship and their choice of experience from CERN, Google, LEGO or Scientific American, a trip to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Expeditions and a chance to work for LEGO MINDSTORMS R&D. Which is all pretty awesome. Beats the crap out of the certificate I got for my bridge. Fifteen finalists will get token items and a trip to the Googleplex.
You're still wondering why they felt it necessary to have detailed rules about autoclaving teeth, aren't you? Me too. Keep that in mind as you watch this interview with competition judge Dr Marion Nestle.
Notice: This post is sponsored by the promoters of Google Science Fair
Oh Happy Day! With Bush out the White House, funding for abstinence only sex-ed in American public schools has finally been cut, due to being demonstrably counterproductive. After two presidential terms of this teen pregnancies in the US are at a 15-year high [source]. I never imagined academic studies, reason or sense could affect a political issue that involves people's two greatest emotional buttons: children and sex. Obviously teens aren't children, but the law doesn't see it that way.
Very awesome. Abstinence-only education is simply ineffective. Maybe children will finally receive useful and appropriate information about the consequences of being sexually active and how to keep themselves safe and non-pregnant in the event that they should happen to entertain their natural urges...
And it's wonderful to see the side of intelligence be triumphant over that of stupidity. Needs to happen more often.
For their part, the religious lunatic fringe behind all this are repairing to their convention in Puerto Rico, no doubt to ponder which socially conservative congressmen might try to sneak funding for them in exchange for some shiny new dentures and a cake.
And now to 4chan for dispatches from the front:
I've no idea who to attribute. Whoever made this, you rock.[read on...]
Feeding the beast. This is - I think - a viral marketing campaign, I received an email out of the blue, offering me money to post this here. Apparently to do with Apple computer and GPS, and a suggestion of geocaching.
I'm intrigued. Not so much by whatever they're selling - more of a Linux person - but in deconstructing the ad and its blog. Much as I'd love to think that OpenStreetMap have an advertising budget for this sort of thing I'm presuming this must be to do with a phone or PDA release.
The blog the ad points to does not offer any information on anything, it spins a disjointed narrative implying some sort of interesting context but that's all it's for - to create unanswered questions so people wonder what's going on.
A puzzle. I like puzzles. This puzzle is made of people :-) The blog hosts some pictures, a pretty original Google Maps mashup and a link to something on Vimeo. All of these plus the DNS will be linked to accounts around the internet. A place to start. In the morning.
(note: I do not endorse this company, its product or their advertising. I don't know enough about the subject.)
It shows an asian guy and a hot young woman - 20 or so by my optimistic guess but she might be 16 - pointing at a display (hologram?) showing what could be a section of folded miRNA. A visit to the advertiser's website shows many more pretty, smiling girls in spotless white lab coats; on almost every page (seriously, why wear a lab coat if you're not going to get dirty, or at least do some work and muss it up). However this service works it is highly technical, possibly proprietary, and serves a small and highly technical market. Whoever makes purchasing decisions for this service probably knows a *lot* about their field, is price sensitive (to be outsourcing) and knows exactly what their needs are, yet the provider (Qiagen, no link) is using sex to sell it.
There's a maxim in advertising: "No matter what you're selling, you're selling.", ie, the skills and methods of manipulating people are always the same, regardless of the end to which you are trying to affect peoples judgment and usurp their free will. I consider the pharmaceutical industry one of the hardest-nosed, second only to the banking industry, they would sell soylent green laced with thalidomide if they could make money doing it and I'd think the illness industry would be large among the customers of this PCR service. Yet the ad agency, who doubtless know what they're doing, have decided the best way to influence these people is with a pretty girl - such an obvious and transparent ploy. The maxim seems to hold true, and that's astonishing.
This is delightfully subversive, a pamphlet for mailing back to companies that send snail-mail spam of the sort that includes a prepaid envelope to help you return a slice of bacon your checque. The pamphlet instructs the reader through simple illustrations to start a riot, a nude love-in and eventually a harmonious hunter-gatherer society.
David Plotz, author of the excellent Blogging the Bible series is advocating calendar reform over at Slate. We have too much August in the year and he wants to trim it down to 11 days. I agree, fuck August. It's the fallow Thursday of the calendar. July is wonderful, July is a full-breasted Ceres woman lying under a cirrus-scattered sky in a field of barley. She has strong features and gold embroidery edging her revealingly cut toga. August has none of this, just the greasy mud of January with none of the clean, cold rain - it's like the sandy feeling you get in your eyes after too much work and coffee with too little sleep. All middlings and reluctance without the promise of change that September brings, and no hint of September's little black dress elegance either.
August is the time when thugs and dictators think they can get away with it. World War I started in August 1914. The Nazis and Soviets signed their nonaggression pact in August 1939. Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990. August is a popular month for coups and violent crime. Why August? Perhaps the villains assume we'll be too distracted by vacations or humidity to notice. [...] Publishers stop releasing books. Movie theaters are clogged with the egregious action movies that studios wouldn't dare release in June. Television is all reruns [...] Newspapers are thin in August, but not thin enough. They still print ghastly vacation columns: David Broder musing on world peace from his summer home on Lake Michigan? Even Martha Stewart (born Aug. 3) can't think of anything to do in August. Her Martha Stewart Living calendar, usually so sprightly, overflows with ennui. Aug. 14: "If it rains, organize basement." Aug. 16: "Reseed bare patches in lawn." Aug. 27: "Change batteries in smoke and heat detectors." [Slate]
August is named for an ancient autocrat who declared himself 'Son of God' and butchered his defeated enemies. The months' name had been changed from Sextillis in much the same way that roads and public schools change names. As David Plotz points out, we can do it again, though there's no reason to change it back - Sextillis sounds too much like a venereal disease to me. Let's steer clear of 'Martin Luther King Month' or 'Mandeler' this time round. 'New April' also lacks a certain something. I have no better name for it, if you do, please share it in the comments.
This evening I was ironing some shopping bags, usually I'd turn them inside out... but not today, so the printing on the bags fused with the card I use to keep the iron off the plastic. I like the effect. Greyscale scan:
And a negative, all nightmarish, like a remake of Event Horizon where the ghost of Nise Today Stores is floating menacingly through the void, about to wrap some lost spaceship in an embrace of frozen screams and bloodied shards of metal. Or maybe the plastic fumes are getting to me.
In 1941 Walt Disney, powerful man-about-Hollywood, reputed anti-semite and FBI spy would embark on his most grandiose and ambitious project. A long-term experiment in eugenics. Walt had already had many successes, he had worked hard, worked smart and was the central node in a network of powerful people.
The rights bestowed upon the Walt Disney Company through the Reedy Creek Improvement District include the right to levy and collect taxes, to control totally the planning and zoning of anything built on the property, with its own building codes and inspectors, the right to run its own utilities and fire department and to control the infrastructure. It maintains its own security force, and has the right as yet unused to build its own airport, schools, cemeteries, police department and nuclear power plant. [about that]
Walt was the unquestioned master of his own, magic, kingdom. The first subjects came from Poland, dispossessed, desperate young people struggling to survive in the aftermath of World War II, offered a shining future working on moving pictures in America. None of 372 teenagers seemed overly concerned that the ship they sailed in, SS Kapusta, retained her wartime camouflage and entered San Fransisco harbor at 2am on a Sunday morning. All were orphans, sometimes the only survivors of their communities. They were told the 'job' was a special outreach for people without support. Walt may even have meant it.
It was curious that they were all blond, though, and the screening process had involved many rounds of psychometric testing.
The generations passed quickly. At first they were allowed out at night, in Polish-only crews that did some of the messier cleaning and menial jobs around Disneyland, though by 1970 Walt's new race was too distinct to avoid notice, and no chances could be taken. They were confined to the network of cellars beneath the castle. 'The Dungeon' as staff called it.
The subjects were bred for intelligence, diligence and - of necessity - fast reproduction. By 1980 there were three thousand of them, three feet tall, slender with large, bulging crania. Modal age of first childbirth: 11, lifespan: 42, weight: 25 kg and frighteningly intelligent. By 1990 there were ten thousand, and the modal age of first childbirth was 10, and demand was growing as fast as supply. Working in sub-basements of Disney buildings and beneath the headquarters of multinational corporations, Disney's mole people did legal work too dreary, complicated and soulless for ordinary humans.
A gnomish race of copyright lawyers, kept in constant twilight. Nimble, bony fingers poked at typewriters and later computer keyboards, pens twitched across paper and numbers were added up in columns.
They called themselves the Hats, I'll tell you more about them sometime. Till then, enjoy this Fantasia mashup :-)
You know those miniature Chinese-Language driver CDs which come with eBay electronics? I had too many floating around my place. This is what they look like after a few seconds in the microwave :-)
Note: Arcing will likely scorch whatever's under the CD, so do it on an old plate or somesuch. Place a glass of water in the oven at the same time as the CD. Water will soak up unused energy and prevent a standing wave from forming, potentially damaging the magnetron.
David Plotz is reading the Bible and blogging it on Slate. His coverage is excellent and deals with many questions I've long had about the Old Testament but never got round to looking into. For instance, the business with Jonah and the Fish (a) does anyone actually believe this story, that some dude lived for three days inside a sea animal - Pinnochio style - and (b) why is this framed as Jonah and the Whale? Jonah 1:17 clearly says 'fish'. Because modern versions have edited it in :-) Unlike unicorns and dragons, whales are not mentioned in the bible at all. Nor are cats (ie: Felis Cattus Domesticus). Anyhoo, Exodus:
Chapter 35 through Chapter 39
When you need to build a tabernacle, whom do you call? Bezalel*, of course. Again and again, Moses talks up this guy, whom God endowed 'with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft.' Bezalel and his sidekick Oholiab get more mentions in Exodus than anyone but Moses and Aaron. They're only subcontractors, but God loves them.
God names feckless Aaron as his high priest and declares that Aaron's descendants would be an 'everlasting priesthood throughout the ages.' Couldn't the Israelites do better than that? First of all, Aaron (Mr. Golden Calf himself!) is probably the most incompetent and faithless man among them. If He'd picked anyone at random — You, Uriah in the tribe of Asher, come over here and put on this sacral vestment — God would be more likely to find a suitable priest. And even if Aaron were the holiest man in the Sinai desert, the inherited priesthood would still be an iffy idea.
From the Wikipedia, on the mood-altering effect of crowd membership:
Collective effervescence (CE) is the energy formed by a gathering of people as might be experienced at a sporting event, a carnival, or a riot. This energy can cause people to act differently than in their everyday life.
Collective effervescence is the basis for Émile Durkheim's theory of religion as laid out in his 1912 volume Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. This book is largely based on studies of the aboriginal tribes.
Durkheim argues that the universal religious dichotomy of profane and sacred results from the lives of these tribe members: most of their life is spent performing menial tasks such as hunting and gathering. These tasks are profane. The rare occasions on which the entire tribe gathers together becomes sacred, and the high energy level associated with these events gets directed onto physical objects or people which then become sacred.
For Durkheim, religion is a fundamentally social phenomenon. The beliefs and practices of the sacred are a method of social organization. According to Durkheim:
'god and society are one of the same… the god of the clan… can be none other than the clan itself, but the clan transfigured and imagined in the physical form of a plant or animal that serves as a totem.'
Which goes a long way towards explaining the behavior of English football louts and the fervent, violent and downright bizarre way in which they worship football teams. The players themselves are idolized, in the way that religions hold up prophets or people of special sanctity, but the main focus is on the much vaguer concept of the team itself, removed from any particular player or manager. It's less about the football and more about the louts themselves, an 'I am' statement to define in-group and 'other'. It's almost exactly the same as a tribal identity, with blind adherence to conformity with the in-group that has members voluntarily adpoting a tribal dress, tribal chanting, ritual, assuming of 'moral' superiority and discouraging intergroup socializing and courtship.
When there is conflict between groups, often involving unprovoked violence by a mob against supporters of a different team, or between two mobs directly, both sides will assume all beliefs they have and any actions they take are moral and right, while the actions of the other are despicable and immoral. And both sides are correct, because the groups morality is based on the sacred they have created in their own image. It is a rare coincidence that behavior which is moral is also behavior that is ethical in humanist terms.
Some overpaid, coked up athlete kicks a ball into a net - a completely arbitrary action with no value or significance to the world - results in badge-wearing chavs seriously assaulting some other badge-wearing chav, or even a random kid wearing the 'wrong' clothes, and feeling completely morally justified within themselves for doing so.
This is a good model for nationalism and religion in all their forms, and highlights the dubious nature of 'morals' espoused by religious or patriotic people.
Some nifty cultural dissonance there, Donald Duck giving the Nazi salute to a framed picture of Hitler on his bedroom wall. Lyrics to the film's title song (which won a freaking Oscar!):
Nazi: Ist we not der super men?
Hirohito: Aryan pure super men?
Soldier: Ja, we ist der super men!
Röhm: [Prissy voice] Super-duper super men!
Nazi: Ist dis Nazi Land so good? Would you leave it if you could?
Singers: Ja, dis Nazi Land ist good!
Moussolini: We would leave if we could.
Röhm: We bring the world's new order.
Hirohito: [waves small Japanese flag] Heil Hitler's New World Order.
This is the same song that the POWs are performing for their musical in the Movie Harts War. At the time the cartoon was made Americans did not yet know about the Holocaust, they may not have been so goofy with the Aryan Supermen bit if they had.
Alderney was occuplied by the Germans as part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall - there was a concentration camp less than a kilometer from my house - and the island is surrounded by concrete fortifications built by Russian slave labor. When they died or could no longer work, they were thrown into the wet concrete. A lot of truly horrible things happened here. Nobody is known to have escaped.
To see the Nazi ideology as a subject for childrens cartoons, and dealt with in such a whimsical way is a bit of a trip, and makes a bizarre sort of sense given US WW2 propganda. History as it was described at the time.
Animating for Disney in the 40s and 50s must have been one of the most kickass jobs of the era. 'What'd you do at work today honey?', 'Oh, I was drawing pictures of a duck throwing tomatoes at Hitler.' 'That's nice dear.'
Architectures of Control is a fascinating blog about how items are designed to affect the behavior of people using them, from planned obsolescence where the desired behavior is a person to buying replacement object to the use of sideshow 'slimming mirrors' in clothing stores.
There are a lot of views one could take of these practices and techniques. (With the weasel words in brackets) mostly they are manipulative (subtle), dishonest (ingenious) and effective ways of separating people from money (helping customers decide what's best for them), or effecting (encouraging) changes in public behavior.
Such techniques raise deeper questions about society and capitalism as well, such as who gets to decide what is for the publics good (is the general public fit to decide?) and what should be expected of businesses. A common view seems to be that the responsibilities of businesses lie mostly with the supporting the interests of the shareholders, if a company can make more money through deceptive or unethical means - or even illegal means if repercussions will be negligible - then that is what it will do. The shareholders get to vote on company management, and if the organization is not generating as much money as it can management may be replaced or a competitor with fewer scruples may out compete an honest responsible organization. Thus businesses will be winnowed down in a fairly Darwinian way, tending towards large monopolies where possible.
Words like fair and honest are rather subjective, that may not matter when discussing the general case. Society benefits a great deal from big businesses (with some notable exceptions), despite their drawbacks which is why they are allowed to exist, and society's servant Government is supposed to mediate where interests of profit and public good come to loggerheads. (continues after the jump)
10. Sidewalks: Most people don’t look at the sidewalk when they walk. It’s surprising the number of people that walk by money simply because they never have seen it. Keep your eyes on the sidewalk when walking and you are sure to find some coins.
9. Gutters: This may apply to countries where there are a lot of people that ride scooters like in Japan, but at least for me, walking on the edge of the sidewalk so that I can also see the gutter will increase the chances of me finding money.
8. Intersections / Crosswalks: I’m always on the lookout for money when crossing the street. For some reason, it seems to gather here more than on the sidewalks and gutters along the main portion of the street.
7. Train / Subway Stations: Public transportation stations are a good place to find fallen coins. People are taking out money to buy tickets and invariable a coin drops to the ground here and there.
I've always enjoyed finding coins, I find quite a lot. Not sure how much it adds up to over the course of a year, but it's not about the value, I just like finding them. Like urban seashells. On the other hand, the national minimum wage of a farm worker in Zimbabwe (my native country) is less than one British Pound per month, I find more money than many people live on.
With that in mind, I'd like to share the very best place to look for dropped coins. Become become aware of soft chairs and sofas in public places, especially where people will be handling change. I don't think there is any better place for finding coins than a big soft sofa in a bar. Waiting rooms and bus station lounges are also good. One of these days I'm going to buy time at one of those airport 'First Class' lounges to see what's in their sofas.
You probably won't ever find much money for the time spent looking, this is not a viable way to supplement your income, but if you enjoy the hide-and-seek of it all, satisfying some ancient hunther-gatherer instinct, sofas are good to know about. There's also a quiet thrill to the subterfuge involved in searching the upholstery of a couch in a public place without anyone else being aware of it.
Animal Perfect is now the future of animal enhancement. They build new animals and salvage old-style animals for parts. Of course, they’ve come a long ways. When Animal Perfect started, you’d see a full-grown bear walk into Animal Perfect and you’d see a full-grown bear with sunglasses walk out. Completely cheesy.
Stick around and you’ll see a crab with his own jet pack. That’s a new 2004 model jetcrab.
But now, the whole operation is up and running. And the cleanliness of the place is astonishing. All the equipment is so shiny. Everything is in chrome. Oh, and all the staff have concealed weapons. They’re trained to kill anyone who enters unannounced. Or, if they run out of bullets, they’re trained to pistol whip anyone who enters unannounced.
'Elf, make me a starmonkey.'
First, the star is caught.
Some imaginary Ruby for you:
Variable pipe. Method catch_a_star. A lot of Rubyists like to think of methods as a message. Whatever comes before the dot is handed the message. The above code tells the pipe to catch_a_star.
This is the second half of Ruby. Putting things in motion. These things you define and create in the first half start to act in the second half.
1. Defining things.
2. Putting those things into action.
So what if the star catching code works? Where does the star go?
captive_star = pipe.catch_a_star
See, it’s up to you to collect the miserable, little star. If you don’t, it’ll simply vanish. Whenever you use a method, you’ll always be given something back. You can ignore it or use it.
If you can learn to use the answers that methods give you back, then you will dominate.
In 1979, the cast and crew of Rainbow made a special edition for the Thames TV staff Christmas tape. Though I grew out of this show around age ten it still has pretty colors, and a bear, and Geoffrey talking about his balls.
Sand dunes in the Negev. Click to view the full sized image, the colors are amazing. Searing heat sounds pretty good to me right now. [Google Maps Link]
Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock visible on the left. Much of the New Testament is set on the Mount of Olives, some Christians believe this is where Jesus ascended to heaven. Incidentally, the Dome of the Rock is supposed to mark the spot where Muhammed (PBH) ascended to heaven, though he had a cool flying horse while Jesus presumably had to walk.
The west face of the mount is white because it is covered in tombstones, approximately 150,000 of them. According to the Book of Zecharia [Verse 14], the Mount of Olives is where God will start reclaiming the dead at the end of the world, so folks like to be buried there, so that they can be the first zombies to claw their way back to the light on Judgement Day. A good place to be dead, at least when Jordanian soldiers aren't defacing the graves. [Google Maps Link]
Floating fish farms in the sea off Eilat, just because. I have a soft spot for fish farms. [Google Maps Link]
How freaking awesome is this... Lesotho has given itself a new flag and they chose for their icon: a hat. It's set on a background of green, white and blue stripes to symbolize land, peace and rain. I also like that they removed red from the flag, which previously symbolised faith, but religious nuttiness is a topic for another day. On many African flags red symbolises the bloody and protracted civil wars that produced a new flag. Compare the relative ammounts of red and white - white is peace - on the Mozambiquan flag. Where Mozambique might have a hat they've a badza and an AK-47, succinctly and tragically summing up the last 30 years of Africa's history, peasants and warlords. But not Lesotho, I know they've had their troubles, and they've decided they're going to set them aside and be the nature loving, peaceful dude at the great brawling party that is Africa, chilling in the funny hat and talking about rain while everyone else is brandishing their machetes and AK-47s. Heck, two recent kings of Lesotho were called Moshoeshoe. What a cool name. Sweet, I'm happy now...[read on...]
And then, one afternoon I found myself face to face with the Cupcake Statue of Liberty.
How beautiful she is. All that is American virtue shines serenely from her regal countenance. Welcome, sanctuary and freedom from opression. The downtrodden and persecuted, blessed by her runny sugar eyes as they start new lives in the land of the free. Her mad, foamy mouth whispering promises of opportunity and shigella.
Sing with me. Everyone.
O say, can you seeeeeeeee, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro'the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of brave.
On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, (tenor: CUPCAKES!)
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? (tenor: CUPCAKES!)
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream: (tenor: YUMMY SNACKS!)
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!