Say It With Firecrackers

Bang! Bang! Bang! Fred Astaire.

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Sex and miRNA Research

Science Magazine recently ran a feature: Social Descision-making: Insights from Game Theory and Neuroscience - fascinating enough, though what really stuck out about it was an ad alongside the article. It's for a research service using PCR to somehow identify micro-RNA, messenger molecules that regulate gene expression.

(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.

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All Squirrels, All The Time

Google News has a feed (2317 current stories) documenting the ongoing relationship between mankind and the sciuridae, and the profound effect squirrels have on all aspects of being. Ecologists warn that if squirrels were to die off then all life as we know it would be gone in 10 years. Even bacteria could not survive.

I was surprised to learn:

Squirrels are reluctant users of oral contraceptives, which are administered to reduce the number of greys. Greys are thought to have been introduced to Ireland in 1911 when a bunch were brought over as a wedding present. Personally, I don't know which is weirder, giving someone a bunch of live squirrels as a wedding present (cattle, yes, goats, fine, 200 head of squirrel, very irregular dowry) or spending your weekend in a cornfield for the purpose of shooting the little fluffies.

"How was your weekend Bob?"

"Great, here I brought you something. Don't eat them all at once, you'll get worms."

[Opens Box] "Uh... thanks."

Squirrel hunting is reputedly a popular and emotionally satisfying sport that can lead rednecks to shoot one another, though the North-West Arkansas News laments that many young'uns nowadays would rather play with them thar newfangled computer machines. They go on to reminisce about a childhood which "revolved around filling a game sack with a limit of squirrels" and how at bedtime "sleep was hard to find as visions of blazing guns and running squirrels clouded our restless thoughts". [no, really]

Louisiana has 300,000 squirrel hunters, and the season starts October 5th. Why hunt squirrels? Because they taste better fresh than the canned squirrels you can get at the supermarket. I'm a vegetarian, but if I ever see a can of squirrel meat I'll buy it just to keep around.

So yes, everyone should subscribe to this feed (it's important), though there is overall a disappointing lack of squirrely wrath.

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Thinking About Proas

A Proa is a style of boat which is very fast and very efficient. Proas are symmetrical lengthways and always sail with the same side to the wind, reversing direction and moving the sail when changing tack. On the windward side is a small outrigger (ama) which is weighted by the crew. has a gallery of traditional proa designs from various parts of the pacific.

I wonder if a more modern design could take the form of a trimaran with sliding aka (crossbeams), so the ama on the leeward side is pulled next to the main hull and the ama on the windward side extends away, pulling on the mast via sprung cables. Fresh water is then pumped as ballast into a tank on the windward ama. As a conventional trimaran heels away from the wind one of the amas is pushed deeper into the water, increasing drag and causing the boat to want to turn. Sliding akas could reduce this (I think).

If the wind were on the same side long enough to warrant the effort - thinking of a large boat - stores and equipment could be moved into lockers on the ama to further increase speed. This gives some of the efficiency of a proa but uses more conventional sails and has a stern, rather than two bows. Being able to move the amas may also make the boat easier to right if it capsizes, though I recall reading somewhere that trimarans should be righted bow-over-stern instead of sideways.

Picture is of Queequeg 18, a rather attractive design by Michael Schacht of ProaFile, modified to illustrate the idea. (Queequeg was the noble savage type in Herman Melville's Moby Dick)

Update: This has been done before, Timothy Colman's Crossbow had a sliding aka design and set the world speed record in 1972.

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Show Some Love: Blair Toilets

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.

image swiped from Equator Initiative

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.

Related: Composting Toilets

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Cafe des Deux Moulins

Home of the cult of Amélie. Cute French waitress, passable food, a well traveled garden gnome and my siblings. Here's to Paris.

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Liberation of the Spam Peons

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.

Link to Full Series
Source: Durham Centennial Society
Via BoingBoing

Disclosure: I sometimes produce dead-tree spam (pamphlets, bulk mailings, etc) for a day job.

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Not Celebrating Gaius Octavius

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.

July, Mandeler, September, October... nah.

Via 3Quarks

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The BBC iPlayer

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...)

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Westboro Baptist Voltron

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, 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!

[download this video] [view large]

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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.

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Robin Corner Shock Pose Generator

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:

Follow the link, upload or download an image and add Boy Wonder :-)

via: BoingBoing

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Discriminating By Name

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.

Cut to Google facial recognition search for: Dolores, Bertha, Regina and Jessica, Kayleigh, Summer. A Rose by any other name would probably be fuglier, which surprised me.

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.

Link: Name Discrimination! How It Affects Job and Career Choices, Life Status, Overall Success.

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.

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Ironing Shopping Bags

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.

Also on the topic of recycled plastic: this dress, and this floating tropical island, made from thousands of plastic bottles gathered in nets.

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Microwaving Driver Disks

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.

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Introducing the Race of Hats

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 :-)

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Sexy Golden Livestock

"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)

Link: Script of 10 Commandments Movie (1956)

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Installing Ubuntu

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*

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Guilty of Many Absurdities

Gather round, dear hearts, and let us gawp and point giggling fingers at the backwardsness or yore. The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, written around 1853:

The Jews commit another Outrage (OUTRAGE!) upon the Christians? On page 349? Really? Lets read...

*GASP* Why, those malevolent impious Jews of Antioch! Scoffing at Christ! Well deserving of chastisement indeed. But... should I change the title of my blog to 'Guilty of Many Absurdities'?

PS: I am so glad to be living right here, right now, in the 21st century.

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Cats That Look Like Hitler

One of my neighbors cats which hangs around in the street outside my house. Check out the little kitler mustache :-)

You can see many many more at the official website:

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