Afrigadget has a post on a subject close to my heart; the Blair Toilet. My youth was filled with moments squatting over or aiming at one of these marvels of Zimbabwean technology, and though I was never struck with awe at the flies that weren't there or the cholera I didn't come down with, I should have been. They were developed in the 1970s by one Dr Peter Morgan at the Blair Institute and have probably saved thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lives since.
The genius of these things is their simplicity, ordinary outhouses have been around forever but this version has very significant improvements which will not be immediately obvious. It's a fly trap, removing a major disease vector at the very spot where they're likely to be contaminated with something nasty. They're usually built as a single spiraled wall, so there's no door, which combined with the vent means they stink a lot less than one might imagine and less than a sitting toilet can in similar circumstances. Having a hole in the floor with its predictable halo of urine is actually an advantage over a seat because you squat and make sure not to touch it - if there were a seat you might sit on it, and in areas without running water that's not good.
Squatting is also better for you, human plumbing was sculpted by millions of years of evolution to void itself in exactly this way. Sitting on a seat means muscles pulling on each other awkwardly, introducing low level stresses to the system that over time may produce hemorrhoids and other problems. Admittedly, a pit latrine is probably not most westerners idea of a hygienic, dignified way to make brownies but I think that more of a cultural bias than any rational objection to the things (the French have a highly developed version).
For comparison, some of the absolute, most unbelievably awful toilets in the world are operated by the Zimbabwean Government. I once had to go though a security screening and acquire a permit to use the chimbuzi at a brutal concrete monster of a building in Harare, suspected Soviet design. It could be smelled a block away. I'll spare you most details, but let's just say that it was nobodys job to clean it and overflow of raw sewage covered most of the floor and some of the walls. There was running water - all the time! - but not to the cisterns. The whole affair was only marginally better than the traditional 'flying toilet' which the Blair VIP largely replaced.
For those in happy ignorance (ha!) the flying toilet can be found thoughout the developing world and probably in poorer parts of the developed (and Rock festivals). It takes the form of a plastic bag and a ritualistic shaky-butt dance, you then tie the bag in a knot and throw it. You don't throw it anywhere in particular; just throw it, so that the bag ends up further away from you than before. It's a gift to the community that falls from the heavens several rows of shantys away from where it originated, and the lucky recipients will never know who is their benefactor.
Because of these circumstances the Blair toilet is a revolutionary work of pure design, it can be constructed very cheaply, requires no special materials or manufacturing technologies and makes the poorest communities significantly safer and more pleasant. It should be more widely recognized as an important invention of the 20th century.
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.
I'm very interested in the ongoing saga of the iPlayer, the BBC's content-on-demand service. Online rental and VOD services have been available for some time now, alongside streaming media, podcasting, iTunes and the usual slew of pirate systems, but the iPlayer is a very special case. The difference is that while other content distribution services are run as for-profit ventures whose general aim is to sell eyeballs to advertisers, the BBC is a taxpayer funded public service whose charter requires it to operate in the public interest with the stated purposes of "sustaining citizenship and civil society; promoting education and learning" [link to charter].
In the commercial model programming is used to divide the public into demographic groups of supposed gormless consumers, people with no rights whose only purpose is to be titillated and frightened into buying stupid crap they don't need. To help prevent them changing channel they're yanked around by their emotions with sensationalized 'news' coverage, fired up with sex and violence and held with dramatic cliffhangers over ad segments. This model is thus most successful when it has the greatest control over the attention of its viewers, it seeks to disempower people, lest they exercise their freedom to flip over to the competition or turn off the TV and read a book.
"Sony Connect (for itself and for its content providers) reserves the right to enforce any usage rules with or without notice to you ... your rights to access, download and use the Content are subject to immediate termination, without notice ... AND [you] HEREBY WAIVE, TRIAL BY JURY AND/OR ANY DEFENSES ..." - Sony Connect EULA
In the socalised model, by contrast, broadcasters are most successful when they best serve the interests of the public. Sure, there'll be some bickering about what those best interests are, but it still means that news can strive for objectivity, rather than ratings and that those making content can focus on what they're doing without having to be attractive to advertisers. This model serves citizens, people whose rights and self-determination are respected, it seeks to empower people. I think it's an excellent model and would love to see the BBC carry this MO into new services as new forms of media and content distribution emerge.
Because these purposes are so different, I'd expect there would be different design goals in setting up an online on-demand service for a public broadcaster than for a private one. What would such a service look like, how would it be functionally and technically different to an ad or subscription based service? I really wanted to know. So I joined the iPlayer Beta. (continues after the jump...)[read on...]
Google Video has a an excellent five part BBC Documentary about the Wrestboro Baptist Church, that nutty crowd of theists who picket the funerals of US soldiers killed in Iraq, among other tasteful occupations (their website is godhatesfags.com), and it's car-crash fascinating to see their point of view. If you don't feel like watching all that, I've made a one minute abridged version which more or less covers everything, enjoy!
In science fiction, Rishathra is a noun/verb meaning sex with an alien species; like when Space Commander PeePee McBravo consummates his surpise affair with a green skinned Venutian princess (and her pet jellyfish, Snapper) - that's rishathra. It was coined by Larry Niven and is a classic theme of geeky speculation. Needless to say, I'm loving the images being made with the Robin Corner Shock Pose Generator.
Robin - the Boy Wonder - watches Alf have sex with a seal. By Chromium
I've added a greyscale thing to it, the colors sometimes clash between the base and the overlay. Important when exposing minors to peril and intercourse.
During the Silver Age of comics many Batman covers featured Robin freaking out in a bottom corner, often in the same pose, as if horrified and fascinated at the same time. The Robin Corner Shock Pose:
But there was a problem. Robin only ever did this in Batman franchise comics, he was never around to be shocked by, Archie say. Now, for the first time, and thanks to the wonders of the internet history can be rewritten and Robin can gasp, elbow-in-air, at every page of every comic ever written. I give you; Robin Corner Shock Pose Generator:
The Digerati Life recently ran a fascinating article on name discrimination, and how the name you choose for your child could affect their prospects in job and housing markets. On the one hand, name seems a terribly shallow, arbitrary and completely unfair way to judge people. On the other, racism aside, I can see how name may affect hiring decisions.
The popularity of different names vary over time and according to socioeconomic status (say, Britneys born around y2k or Marilyns in the 50s) so at the very least a name says something about the group of people with that name, and may hint at ones parents values. Suppose an employer receives 100 equally qualified resumes, has time to interview ten people, preferring a female for the job. Customers generally like and like being around attractive people, so all else being equal the employer is imagining an attractive, poised, professional-looking person with a musical voice and an air of efficiency. Not imagining an overweight person with coarse accent, grating voice, ugly shoes and tent-like floral print dress.
A name doesn't say anything conclusive about an individual but the employer does not have time to throughly evaluate all the applicants and is forced to gamble with interview time, so stereotypes and generalizations may be used to estimate odds.
Even more interesting, research shows that names affect people's view of themselves as reflected by other peoples expectations of them. Teachers, for instance, could not help forming impressions of students before meeting them based solely on their name.
It's good to be called Stricky, no-one has an abusive ex or was beaten up in school by someone with my name. It's completely unusual, few presuppositions can be formed based on it, and its near impossible to remember first time round, which suits me. Spell checkers highlight it in documents and spambots and data miners probably don't have it in their 'male first names' database. So I'm not sure I agree with the reports recommendation to give your kids 'normal', white-sounding names.
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.
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.
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 :-)
"Enough of your words. Take your people, your cattle, your God, and your pestilence. Take what spoils from Egypt you will, but go!" - Pharaoh Rameses
..and that's what I'm going to tell the next door-to-door theist I encounter. Who remebers the 1956 biblical epic 10 Commandments[IMDB]? The one with Charlton Heston parting the red sea:
...when the Lord commanded a fish to swallow Jonah, and it was *THIS BIG*
Anyhoo, a couple months ago a prop from the movie came up for sale on eBay, and it is *beautiful*. I can't afford a 30k golden meat-animal, nor do I have a use for one, but if I ever get into Second Life, I'm sculpting me one of these:
Lets all worship Ba'al! (image used without permission)
I'm finally making the switch from The Goodtimes Virus Windows XP to Ubuntu on my desktop (I use Debian for my laptop and server boxen) Installation is effortless and straighforward, even with my quirky ancient hardware. With XP I'd be reading those lame blue screens right now. The ones about how Windows XX is the Best Windows Yet! With extended support for sound and games, and will make your life easier for work and play, and will enable the business models of spyware like never before, and will store roadkill in your freezer. With Ubuntu I'm reading BoingBoing instead, even as the OS installs :-) *Sweet*
Today I found myself looking for a public domain, Wikipedia-style blank map of Zimbabwe. Could I find one? Could I buggery. So... I the author of this work, hereby release this map of Zimbabwe into the public domain, worldwide. No guarantee is made or implied of completeness, correctness or fitness for any purpose. All possible liability is disclaimed, blah blah blah:
The Yazidi are a sect of Yazdanism, also known as the Cult of Angels, a pre-Islamic Kurdish religion, sharing some common mythology with other middle-eastern religions - Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity. Wikipedia describes their creation story:
The tale of the Yazidis' origin found in the Black Book gives them a distinctive ancestry and expresses their feeling of difference from other races. Before the roles of the sexes were determined, Adam and Eve quarreled about which of them provided the creative element in the begetting of children. Each stored their seed in a jar which was then sealed. When Eve's was opened it was full of insects and other unpleasant creatures, but inside Adam's jar was a beautiful boy-child. This lovely child, known as son of Jar grew up to marry a houri [pure/heavenly/delightful being] and became the ancestor of the Yazidis. Therefore, the Yazidi are regarded as descending from Adam alone, while other humans are descendants of both Adam and Eve.
So.. Here we have God's Image, Adam, whacking off into a jar over a childish "my peepee is better than your peepee" fight with his girlfriend, and he gets the jar pregnant. Suck on that one, Abrahamic religion :-)
Lovable crackpot Erich Anton Paul von Däniken had some theories on this story with the theme of extraterrestrials creating life on earth test tube-style, which is kinda interesting considering Rei Ayanami and her relationship to the angel Adam in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Hope nobody sprained an ankle in that leap. Evangelion is littered with symbols and code, much of it almost Christian but not quite, I'm wondering how much resonance there will be watching it again after learning more about the Cult of Angels.
Jerry Falwell is dead. Oh well. All over the blogosphere there is much jubilation, as well as a sense that we don't really want to be celebrating the death of a fellow human being, even one so very foul and hateful. Falwell spread the most homophobic and intolerant interpretations of Christianity and helped shackle the Republican Party to religious fundamentalistm. PositiveAthiesm has a collection of quotes.
So... Some are making jokes. Some are having parties. Some are undecided. Some are writing pornographic gay fanfic starring the Rev Falwell to mark the occasion. The last seems to me to be the most appropriate. I'm no good at gay fanfic, instead I took all the fundamentlist crap out a Chick Tract. [toast] Here's to a more tolerant world [/toast].
Made with Ze Frank's scribbler thing, a fantastic example of how computers can be used to enhance creativity, rather than confine or suppress it. Anyone can make an attractive drawing with this, even with a nipple mouse :-)