I passed this sign today outside Grahamstown Checkers. My Afrikaans is non-existent but suddenly I know what the membership tattoo will be when I get that Apocalyptic Easter Suicide Cult off the ground. Now Recruiting! Join Today! Our Passover Balls Have The Most Fruit!

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Challenge You Forever

This peculiar and somehow comforting sentiment is from starrgirl at Associated Content:

Sock yarn has gone delicious. Besides all the available fibers, like cashmere, silk, merino wool, alpaca and more, there's a riotous choice of ... every shade of the rainbow and in patterns that "self-stripe" as you knit. Artisans hand-dye yarns into beautiful combinations ... try Superwash yarn ... There are lots of methods for knitting socks ... double pointed needles, circular needles, toe-up, cuff-down, magic loop, two at a time. Knitting socks can challenge you forever. The world is so full of sock yarns now that you'll want to try them all.

Link: 8 Reasons to Knit Socks

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Indiscriminate and Shameless Creatures

Researchers from the British Sea Life Centre group of aquariums have published a study detailing the sex lives of these charming, shag-happy little weirdos. The results, in brief:

According to the Wikipedia:

Scientists at 15 aquariums studied 90 seahorses of 3 species. Of 3168 sexual encounters, 37% were same sex acts. Flirting was common (up to 25 potential partners a day of both genders); only one species (the British Spiny Seahorse) included faithful representatives, and for these 5 of 17 were faithful, 12 were not. Bisexuality was widespread and considered "both a great surprise and a shock", with big bellied seahorses of both genders not showing partner preference. 1986 contacts were male-female, 836 were female-female and 346 were male-male.

More: The secret sex life of 'faithful' seahorses
Wikipedia: Animal Sexual Behavior

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Guardian Elves

I met a woman once who told me about her guardian angel. Her life wasn't all that great, but she believed in this invisible person that followed her around the whole time looking after her. It seemed a bit of a stretch, but she was certain of it. Me, I have an easier time believing in elves. Elves do stuff, they turn on the street lights every night and get the hedgehogs pregnant. Stuff you can see happening; empirical evidence.

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Apocalypse Elvis Wants To Dance

I'm sure there's an explanation.

link: Jailhouse Rock

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Blank Makes Us Uniquely Human

To answer the question humans as a species would first need to agree on what it is to be human, and that'll never happen. Identities and views of life are too diverse (and often deeply irrational). For all that, googling the phrase "makes us uniquely human" turns up a bunch of answers:

"logical thinking" - Terrence Real

"laughter" - Greg Thomas

"an insatiable thirst to know and explore the unknown" - Yasha Husain

"the ability to reproduce tempo and turn it into music" - Dolora Zajick

"thinking" - Donald C. Storm

"[how] the mind is set up in all kinds of organic and experiential ways to sort and select, edit and remember or discard" - Prokofy Neva

"our dualism: our understanding that there are material objects, or bodies, and people, or souls" - paraphrasing Paul Bloom

"language" - Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen

"the right prefrontal cortex" - Donald Stuss

"our ability to imagine the future" - D T Brookes

"our individuality - the ability to go consciously against the 'herd'" - Geoffrey Falk

"the capacity for thought and collective debate and action." - Eva Cox

"our capacity for self-awareness" - Jim Dryden

"transcendent longing to escape from nature" - Peter Lawler

"capacity for a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father" - Center Point Society

"ability for complex imitation" - Beth Azar

"[revealed by] the small differences between our genome and those of other animals" - Svante Pääbo

"early human prehistory" - Bob Gleichauf

"our ability to communicate" - Jan-Michelle Sawyer

"passion and spirit" - Pb Fisher

"the tension between mind and body" - Laurie Hassold

"our ability to add personal perspective to all things" - Gina Lawton

"poker" - Ask Kate

"[a] complex emotional repertoire" - Professor Solomon

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A Tax on Hair Powder

One fabulously arb pair of sentences, from the Wikipedia article on Dandys:

By the time Pitt taxed hair powder in 1795 to help pay for the war against France, Brummell had already abandoned wearing a wig, and had his hair cut in the Roman fashion, "à la Brutus". Moreover, he led the transition from breeches to snugly tailored dark "pantaloons," which directly lead to contemporary trousers, the sartorial mainstay of men's clothes in the Western world for the past two centuries.

From now on this will be my recourse when asked to explain anything I don't understand.

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Two Vicars for the Casserole

Following are the first six chapters of Anrew Montgomery's autobiographical novel Two Vicars for the Casserole. The paperback, which can be purchased at Lulu, comes highly recommended. Illustrations by Ash Latham.


The Channel Islands, those three words conjuring up sunshine, palm trees, white sandy beaches, tax-free drinks and cigarettes. Gatwick Airport was quiet, and our flight was called, on time. A smart and efficient-looking air hostess, with clipboard, forage cap and smile fixed firmly in place, led us out to the ’plane. My spirits sank when I saw it - a tiny, four-engined Heron which could take sixteen. “At least,” I cheered myself up by thinking, “we’ll get free gin but there’s not much room to get a trolley down the aisle”, as I climbed the three short steps and poked my head around the door.

“I wonder how she is going to get the trolley over that?” – ‘that’ being an enormous hump which crossed the narrow aisle - the main spar holding the wings on.

“Enjoy your flight”, the hostess smiled, then slammed the door shut from the outside. “Ah well, fasten safety belts.” Soon we were aloft in clear, sunny skies, and after about half an hour I looked down and saw a tiny island which looked most inviting and friendly, with small coves and sandy beaches, with the centre rising steeply, seemingly mostly grass-covered. “Must be Herm”, I thought, knowing my Channel Island names, but being sadly lacking in geographical knowledge. “We’ll soon be in Alderney.” We came in closer and closer, a long breakwater became visible, then a harbour, a church, houses and boats looking as though they were floating on air, the turquoise water was so still and clear.

“We’re not going to try and land this on that, there isn’t room!” But on we flew, inexorably, and lower and lower, until we were level with the top of a vertical cliff, flew up a steep valley, and plopped neatly down on a well-cropped grass airstrip, and rumbled to a clattering halt. Once the engines were cut, the quietness was almost oppressive.

Mum and Dad were there to meet me, with an ancient but dignified, faded pale blue half-timbered Morris Minor Traveller. Down from the airfield, through the cobbled streets of the small town, down towards the harbour and Braye Bay.

The house was in a cheerful, narrowing bit of street between the school and the Harbour Lights Hotel. A black dog, sound asleep in the middle of the road, woke, and ambled out of our way. Two tow-headed children, serious, hand in hand, in bathers, one of them holding a bucket, the other a shrimping net, picked their way between cottages, heading for the golden sweep of Braye. (continues after the jump...)

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Say It With Firecrackers

Bang! Bang! Bang! Fred Astaire.

[download this video] [view large]


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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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