Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing green substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Wiki:

The "Happy Fun Ball" was the subject of a parody advertisement on Saturday Night Live. It originally aired February 16, 1991 on NBC and was brought back for several repeats.

Written by Jack Handey and voiced by Phil Hartman, the three "kids" seen in the ad were portrayed by Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks and Mike Myers. The satirical commercial declared that Happy Fun Ball (produced by Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited), just $14.95, was "the toy sensation that's sweeping the nation!" However, there were a number of bizarre disclaimers and warnings, including "may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds" and "If Happy Fun Ball begins to smoke, seek shelter and cover head." Ingredients include "an unknown glowing substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space", and said ingredients are not to be "touched, inhaled, or looked at" if exposed due to rupture. Perhaps most famously, viewers are warned, "Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball," a line which soon entered common usage as a catch phrase.

The parody effectively lampooned advertisers, toy manufacturers, chemical companies, absurdly long legal disclaimers, alien conspiracies, and even mentioned the 1991 Gulf War (stating that Happy Fun Ball was being dropped by US warplanes on Iraq).

Happy Fun Ball was presented as one of the sponsors of one of the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketches later in the decade, with the claim that Happy Fun Ball was "Still legal in 16 states. It's happy. It's fun. It's Happy Fun Ball."

#

Warning: Pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 10 should avoid prolonged exposure to Happy Fun Ball.

Caution: Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.

Happy Fun Ball contains a liquid core, which, if exposed due to rupture, should not be touched, inhaled, or looked at.

Do not use Happy Fun Ball on concrete.

Discontinue use of Happy Fun Ball if any of the following occurs:
  • itching
  • vertigo
  • dizziness
  • tingling in extremities
  • loss of balance or coordination
  • slurred speech
  • temporary blindness
  • profuse sweating
  • or heart palpatations
If Happy Fun Ball begins to smoke, get away immediately. Seek shelter and cover head.

Happy Fun Ball may stick to certain types of skin.

When not in use, Happy Fun Ball should be returned to its special container and kept under refrigeration. Failure to do so relieves the makers of Happy Fun Ball, Wacky Products Incorporated, and its parent company, Global Chemical Unlimited, of any and all liability.

Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing green substance which fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.

Happy Fun Ball has been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Happy Fun Ball comes with a lifetime warranty.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

“My Baloney Has a First Name ….”

Wiki:

"A Literary Nightmare" is a short story written by Mark Twain in 1876. The story is about Twain's encounter with a virus-like jingle, and how it occupies his mind for several days until he manages to "infect" another person, thus removing the jingle from his mind. The story was also later published under the name "Punch, Brothers, Punch!"

The story is significant in that it is a fairly accurate description of a meme, and how it can replicate itself in a short time, thus acting like a virus in some respects.

The narrator, Mark Twain, sees a catchy jingle in the morning newspaper. The jingle promptly attaches itself to his mind, such that he loses concentration and can no longer remember what he ate for breakfast, whether he ate at all, and what words he was going to use in his novel. The jingle mentally incapacitates him, until, a few days later, he takes a walk with his friend, the Reverend, and inadvertently transfers the jingle to the reverend's mind. As this happens, Twain experiences a sense of relief, and returns to his normal life.

Some days after Twain was cured, the Reverend visits him; he is in a terrible state, as the jingle, which keeps on repeating in his head, has already disabled his concentration. He tells Twain of some incidents where the rhythm of the jingle influenced his actions, such as when churchgoers started swaying to the rhythm of his homilies. Taking pity on the man, Twain decides to cure him, and brings him to a meeting of university students. The Reverend successfully manages to transfer the jingle from himself to the students, curing himself and, at the same time, continuing the diabolical cycle of the jingle.

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here we go again, folks: another fun article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's about very large, very small, and very weird books. Enjoy!


Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution, The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling, The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today -- as a writer I’ve naturally been fascinated by weird and wonderful books like these (winners of the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year).

Some of the earliest unusual books have got to be the celebrated illuminated manuscripts. First created in such places as Ireland, Constantinople, and Italy by amazingly diligent monks, illuminated manuscripts reached their height in the Middle Ages. Very difficult to create, and so very expensive, they were mostly created as “altar Bibles” for churches or cathedrals or for very wealthy patrons. What’s fascinating about illuminated manuscripts, beyond their elegant and beautiful craft, is that often the text was almost neglected for the artwork, which explains why many illuminated Bibles contain simple typographical mistakes.

With the advent of Guttenberg and his press, as well as the immense cost and workmanship required to create illuminated manuscripts, the market for them dropped off. But that didn’t stop other artisans from creating works less beautiful yet still extraordinary in their right.

Take, for example, the book that’s in Mandalay, Myanmar (which used to be called Burma), specifically the Kuthodaw Pagoda. Guttenberg is commonly considered to be the man responsible for bringing cheap, affordable books to the European masses, but King Mindon of Myanmar didn’t have portability in mind when he commissioned the creation of his book in the middle of the 19th century. His Tipitaka Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism is the world’s largest book, and it’s not going anywhere -- each page, and there are 1460 of them, are marble, with the lettering done in gold.


Alas, in the late 1800s, the British invaded and much of the pagoda’s treasures -- including the book -- were damaged or stolen. But, fortunately, the structure has been restored, as much as possible, and the world’s largest book is still on display in all its non-paperback, non-portable majesty.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the copy of Chekhov's Chameleon owned by the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. This special edition isn’t preserved against invaders, looters, or erosion, but instead a stray breeze: at .9 by .9 (that’s millimeters, by the way), the book has been authenticated by Guinness as being the world’s smallest. Just to give you an idea how small .9 by .9 millimeters is, next to this Chameleon, a kernel of corn is like a mountain: the book is about the size of a grain of salt.

But if you want to talk about weird, you have to connect these three words: KISS (the rock band), Marvel (the comic book publisher) and human blood. If you happen to own a copy of KISS’s Super Special comic book, published in 1977, then you own more than just a mediocre promotional gimmick. You actually own a tiny amount of Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley: namely their blood, which the foursome had extracted and was subsequently added to the ink used to print the comic.


To stay on this somewhat morbid topic, there’s an anatomy book in the possession of Brown University that’s more than just a book detailing how the human body’s put together. In fact there are two weird things about this particular book. The first oddity is that while the cover might feel and look like fine leather it didn’t come from a cow -- it came from a human being.

The second odd -- and more than a bit creepy -- thing about this anatomy book bound in some person’s skin is that it isn’t at all rare. In fact many prestigious universities, museums, and certain private collectors have books also made from human skin. Mostly made from criminals or people too poor to afford a burial, the practice was fairly common in the 1800s. One 1816 edition even had the cheek to be titled The Dance of Death.

So the next time you pick up some bestseller -- or just a book I wrote -- think about how books themselves are worthy of many interesting books, and very unusual sizes as well as bindings.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

If Found, Please Return To ....

Wiki:

The original Amber Room (English sometimes Amber Chamber, Russian: Янтарная комната, German: Bernsteinzimmer, Polish: Bursztynowa komnata) in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg is a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. Due to its singular beauty, it was sometimes dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World".

The original Amber Room represented a joint effort of German and Russian craftsmen. Construction of the Amber Room began in 1701 to 1709 in Prussia. The room was designed by German baroque sculptor Andreas Schlüter and constructed by the Danish amber craftsman Gottfried Wolfram and remained at Charlottenburg Palace until 1716 when it was given by Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm I to his then ally, Tsar Peter the Great of the Russian Empire. In Russia it was expanded and after several renovations, it covered more than 55 square meters and contained over six tons of amber. The Amber Room was looted during World War II by Nazi Germany and brought to Königsberg. Knowledge of its whereabouts was lost in the chaos at the end of the war. Its fate remains a mystery, and the search continues.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best Served On Toast -


Wiki:

Mellified Man, or human mummy confection, refers to a legendary medicinal substance created by steeping a cadaver in honey. Allegedly from Arabia, mellified man was reported by 16th-century Chinese pharmacologist Li Shizhen in his Bencao Gangmu. It is described in the final section (52, "Man as medicine", tr. Read 1931, nos. 408-444) under the entry for munaiyi (木乃伊 "mummy"). Both European and Chinese pharmacopeias employed medicines of human origin, for instance urine therapy. Read suggests,

The underlying theories which sustained the use of human remedies, find a great deal in common between the Arabs as represented by Avicenna, and China through the [Bencao]. Body humors, vital air, the circulations, and numerous things are more clearly understood if an extended study be made of Avicenna or the Europeans who based their writings on Arabic medicine. The various uses given in many cases common throughout the civilized world, [Nicholas] Lemery also recommended women's milk for inflamed eyes, feces were applied to sores, and the human skull, brain, blood, nails and "all the parts of man", were used in sixteenth century Europe. (1931:n.p.)

Mary Roach publicized the pharmacological use of honeyed mummies in her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

In the grand bazaars of twelfth century Arabia, it was occasionally possible if you knew where to look and you had a lot of cash and a tote bag you didn't care about to procure an item known as a mellified man. The verb "to mellify" comes from the Latin for honey, mel. Mellified man was dead human remains steeped in honey. Its other name was "human mummy confection," though this is misleading, for unlike other honey steeped confections, this one did not get served for dessert. One administered topically, and, I am sorry to say, orally as medicine. The preparation represented an extraordinary effort, both on the part of the confectioners, and more notably, on the part of the ingredients.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

... and the winner of a retroactive Oscar Award for most completely weird feature goes to ....

Wiki:

King Kong Appears in Edo (江戸に現れたキングコング Edo ni Arawareta Kingu Kongu) is a lost film released in Japan in 1938.

An unofficial and enigmatic Japanese-made monster/period piece by studio Zenkatsu in which King Kong attacks medieval Edo (the former name of Tokyo), it was one of Japan's first kaiju (giant monster) films, predating Godzilla by sixteen years. Although inaccurate to its historical setting, some Caligari-esque expressionistic buildings were added for Kong to climb. The film has been lost since its theatrical run in 1938. It is claimed the film either "disappeared due to negligent maintenance" or was destroyed during the bombings of Japan in World War II.

Fuminori Ohashi, who would later create the suit for Godzilla in the original 1954 film, created the ape suit and special effects for this film. He explained, "The first model making to be counted as "special art direction" in Japanese cinema was a giant gorilla which I did for the movie King Kong Appears in Edo fifty years ago. It was also the first movie to feature certain kinds of special effects.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alternative 3



Wiki:

Alternative 3 is a television programme, broadcast once only in the United Kingdom in 1977, and later broadcast in New Zealand, as a fictional hoax, an heir to Orson Welles' radio production of The War of the Worlds. Purporting to be an investigation into Britain's contemporary "brain drain," Alternative 3 uncovered a plan to make the moon and Mars habitable in the event of a terminal environmental catastrophe on Earth.

The programme was originally meant to be broadcast on April Fools Day, 1977. While its broadcast was delayed until June by industrial action, the credits explicitly date the film to April 1st. Alternative 3 ended with credits for the actors involved in the production and featured interviews with a fictitious American astronaut. However, some conspiracy theory supporters have argued Alternative 3 is at least partly true.

In the late 1970s the UK's Anglia Television ran a weekly science series, Science Report. The final episode of the series was due to have been broadcast on April 1st, and as the series was not due to be recommissioned, the production team decided to produce a spoof edition for April Fool's Day, which was duly written by Chris Miles and David Ambrose but retained the series' format and presenter. Music was supplied by Brian Eno, a portion of his score being released on the 1978 album Music for Films.

The episode began by detailing the so-called "brain drain:" a number of mysterious disappearances and deaths of physicists, engineers, astronomers, and others in related fields. Among the strange deaths reported was that of one "Professor Ballantine" of Jodrell Bank. Before his death, Ballantine delivers a videotape to an academic friend, but when viewed on an ordinary videotape machine the only result is radio static.

According to the research presented in the episode, it was hypothesized that the missing scientists were involved in a secret American/Soviet plan in outer space, and further suggested that interplanetary space travel had been possible for much longer than was commonly accepted. The episode featured an Apollo astronaut — the fictional "Bob Grodin," played by Shane Rimmer — who claims to have stumbled on a mysterious lunar base during his moonwalk.

It was claimed that scientists had determined that the Earth's surface would be unable to support life for much longer, due to pollution leading to catastrophic climate change. It was proposed that there were three alternatives to this problem: the first involved the detonation of nuclear bombs in the stratosphere in order to allow the pollution to escape. The second alternative was the construction of an elaborate underground city, a solution reminiscent of the finale of Dr Strangelove. The third alternative, the so-called "Alternative 3," was to populate Mars via a way station on the Moon.

The programme ends with some detective work; acting on information from Grodin, the reporters determine that Ballantine's videotape requires a special decoding device. After locating such a device, the resulting video turns out to depict a landing on the Martian surface — in 1962! As Russian and American voices excitedly celebrate their achievement, something stirs beneath the Martian soil...

Friday, December 12, 2008

While Visiting Paris Be Sure To -


Wiki:
The Wolves of Paris were a man-eating wolf pack that entered Paris during the winter of 1450 through breaches in the city walls, killing forty people. A wolf named Courtaud, or "Bobtail", was the leader of the pack. Eventually the wolves were destroyed when Parisians, furious at the depredations, lured Courtaud and his pack into the heart of the city, where they were stoned and speared to death before the gates of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cluck Of Doom (pt 2)

Wiki:
Blue Peacock—dubbed the "chicken-powered nuclear bomb"—was the codename of a British tactical nuclear weapon project in the 1950s with the goal to store a number of ten-kiloton nuclear mines in Germany, to be placed at target locations on the North German Plain in the event of war. The mines would have been detonated by wire or an eight-day timer. If they were disturbed they were set to explode within ten seconds. The project was developed at the Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) at Fort Halstead in Kent in 1954.

One technical problem was that buried objects—especially during winter—can get very cold, and it was possible the mine would not have worked after some days underground, due to the electronics being too cold to operate properly. Various methods to get around this were studied, such as wrapping the bombs in insulating blankets. One particularly remarkable proposal suggested that live chickens should be included in the mechanism. The chickens would be sealed inside the casing, with a supply of food and water; they would remain alive for a week or so, which was the expected maximum lifetime of the bomb in any case. The body heat given off by the chickens would, it seems, have been sufficient to keep all the relevant components at a working temperature. This proposal was sufficiently outlandish that it was taken as an April Fool's Day joke when the Blue Peacock file was declassified on April 1, 2004. Tom O'Leary, head of education and interpretation at the National Archives, replied to the media that, "It does seem like an April Fool but it most certainly is not. The Civil Service does not do jokes."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims

Wiki:

Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims (真夜中の弥次さん喜多さん Mayonaka no Yaji-san Kita-san) is a 2005 Japanese film directed by Kudo Kankuro. The film stars several well-known and highly respected Japanese actors.

The story follows two Edo-era gay samurai, Yajirobei (Yaji) and Kitahachi (Kita), on a pilgrimage to Ise Shrine. It is loosely based on the Tōkaidōchū Hizakurige.

Yaji and Kita are samurai who live in Edo. They are deeply in love. Yaji is married to a woman, while Kita is addicted to various drugs.

One day, they receive an advertisement for the Grand Shrine at Ise, and decide to set out on a pilgrimage there, hoping to cure Kita of his drug addiction. They set out on a modern motorcycle but are forced to turn back and walk the Tōkaidō road to Ise, encountering various characters and obstacles along the way.

[Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims on the IMDB]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

That Sage Of The Sage: The Jackalope!



Wiki:

The jackalope — also called an antelabbit, aunt benny, Wyoming thistled hare or stagbunny — is a fictional animal and a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope, goat, or deer, and is usually portrayed as a rabbit with antlers. The word jackalope and antelabbit are portmanteaus.

Some believe that the tales of jackalopes were inspired by sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papilloma virus, which causes the growth of horn- and antler-like tumors in various places on the rabbit's head and body. However, the concept of an animal hybrid occurs in many cultures, for example as the griffin and the chimera.

One common southwestern species of jackrabbit is called the antelope jackrabbit, because of its ability to run quickly like an antelope; it would have been easy enough to imagine instead (for comic effect) that this jackrabbit had the horns of an antelope.

The legend of the jackalope has bred the rise of many outlandish (and largely tongue-in-cheek) claims as to the creature's habits. For example, it is said to be a hybrid of the pygmy-deer and a species of "killer-rabbit". Reportedly, jackalopes are extremely shy unless approached. Legend also has it that female jackalopes can be milked as they sleep belly up and that the milk can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes. It has also been said that the jackalope can convincingly imitate any sound, including the human voice. It uses this ability to elude pursuers, chiefly by using phrases such as "There he goes! That way!" It is said that a jackalope may be caught by putting a flask of whiskey out at night. The jackalope will drink its fill of whiskey and its intoxication will make it easier to hunt. In some parts of the United States it is said that jackalope meat has a taste similar to lobster. However, legend has it that they are dangerous if approached. It has also been said that jackalopes will only breed during electrical storms including hail, explaining its rarity.


Monday, December 8, 2008

For Sale By Owner -

Wiki:
The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was a vehicle designed from 1937 to 1939 under the direction of Thomas Poulter, intended to facilitate transport in the Antarctic. While having several innovative features, it generally failed to operate as hoped under the difficult conditions, and was eventually abandoned in Antarctica. Rediscovered under a deep layer of snow in 1958, it later disappeared again due to shifting ice conditions.

The Snow Cruiser arrived in Bay of Whales, Little America, Antarctica in early January 1940 and experienced many problems. It was necessary to construct a ramp from timber to unload the vehicle. As the vehicle was unloaded from the ship, one of the wheels broke though the ramp. The crew cheered when Poulter powered the vehicle free from the ramp but the cheers fell silent when the vehicle failed to move through the snow and ice. The large, smooth, tread-less tires were originally designed for a large swamp vehicle; they spun freely and provided very little forward movement, sinking as much a 3 feet into the snow. The crew attached the two spare tires to the front wheels of the vehicle and installed chains on the rear wheels, but were unable to overcome the lack of traction. The crew later found that the tires produced more traction when driven backwards. The longest trek was 92 miles -- driven completely in reverse. On January 24, 1940, Poulter returned to the US, leaving F. Alton Wade in charge of a partial crew. The scientists conducted seismologic experiments, cosmic-ray measurements, and ice core sampling while living in the snow- and timber-covered Snow Cruiser. Funding for the project was canceled as the focus in the United States became World War II.


In the late 1940s, an expedition team found the vehicle and discovered it needed only air in the tires and some servicing to make it operational. In 1958, an international expedition uncovered the snow cruiser using a bulldozer. It was completely covered by several feet of snow but a long bamboo pole marked its position. They were able to dig down to the location of the bottom of the wheels and accurately measure the amount of snowfall since it was abandoned. Inside, the vehicle was exactly as the crew had left it, with papers, magazines, and cigarettes scattered all around. Later expeditions reported no trace of the vehicle. Although there was some unsubstantiated speculation that the (traction-less) Snow Cruiser was taken by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the vehicle most likely is either at the bottom of the Southern Ocean or buried deep under snow and ice. Antarctic ice is in constant motion and the ice shelf is constantly moving out to sea. In the mid-1960s, a large chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf broke off and drifted away; the break occurred right through Little America. It is unknown on which side of the ice shelf the Snow Cruiser was located.

Friday, December 5, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Cheech Wizard

Wiki:
Cheech Wizard was a cartoon character created by artist Vaughn Bodé and appearing in various works, including the National Lampoon, from 1967 until Bodé's death in 1975. Though the character was, according to Bodé, created in 1957, Cheech didn't see print until 1967 when he appeared in a Syracuse University pamphlet.
The Wizard wears a very large yellow wizard's hat, with his legs, clad in what appear to be red leotards, visible underneath. His face and indeed his species has never been revealed. He speaks in an ungrammatical sort of urban dialect. He was generally accompanied by his lizard apprentice Razzberry, until that character was killed off in a well-remembered storyline. Cheech was depicted as foul mouthed, often drunk or high, and constantly on the make. His attitude towards his fellow residents of the magic forest in which he lived (generally talking male animals and human females, the latter invariably under-dressed) was usually one of contempt. Curiously, he was referred to (often by himself) as the Cartoon Messiah, which suggested Bodé's long-standing interest in religion. But his general reaction to anyone that annoyed him (and the list there is quite long) was to deliver a swift kick to the groin.

Video NSFW

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here we go again, folks: another fun article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's about some amazing doll houses. Enjoy!
Some things are amazing because of their size. Others, no less amazing because of their lack of it.

Doll House enthusiasts usually trace the origins of their fascination to European “baby houses” of the 1700s, though kids were kept far, far away from these elegant treasures; they were more a status symbol than a real plaything.

If you want to use a broader description, though, miniatures more suited for children to play with arguably have roots as far back as the ancient Egyptians, if not further.

True doll houses, mixing elegant miniaturization but still letting the kids play with them, really began to come into their own with the industrial age, around the turn of the 20th century. The finest makers of houses, and naturally the furniture to go in them, were usually German (before the first world war) and then the British and Americans (afterwards). Dolls and their houses existed before machines took the place of skilled craftsmen of course, but only rich kids could get them -- and then only played with them very, very carefully.

Some of the kids who enjoyed them grew up and transformed their childhood fun into a seriously wonderful hobby, if not magnificent art.

One of the more celebrated doll houses lives in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Created by legendary silent picture actress Colleen Moore with the set designer Harold Grieve, the fairy castle is a magnificent work of art as well deliriously scaled precision. Towering more than eight feet tall, the house features murals painted by someone you may have heard of (Walt Disney), chandeliers with real diamonds, the tiniest Bible ever written, tapestries featuring the smallest recorded stitches, a library of more than 100 hand-printed books, a pure silver bathtub (with running water), and still more amazing treasures and exquisite details.

Being a screen queen gave Colleen Moore an opportunity to create a magnificent fantasy castle, but if you want true opulence in small scale you have to … well, let’s just say it’s good to be the queen.

Created in 1924, Queen Mary’s doll house has a pedigree worthy of any stately home in England; the queen’s cousin, Princess Marie Louise, commissioned the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to construct it.

But the Queen’s dollhouse was more than a plaything. It was, and still is, a frozen moment in British history, a miniature collection of the pride of the empire with works and features showcasing the best the country had to offer. Like Colleen Moore’s castle, the library had an extensive collection of handwritten books, but because she was the queen, after all, the royal doll house’s library had unique works by Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Moore’s house had running water, but the queen’s house not only had that but a flushable loo, too. And that’s not all: the floors were done in fine woods and marble, the kitchen sported a working coffee mill, and even the wine cellar featured bottles containing real wines (and not just the cheap stuff, either). Many of the rooms were also mirror copies of rooms in Buckingham Palace, which is where the Queen’s doll house resides.

There are simply far too many curiosities and small-scale wonders to talk about in one article – from immaculate working steam trains and gasoline-powered racing cars. Nevertheless, I want to close with a fun little oddity: the biggest of the smallest.

Sure, some might argue about its standing as the biggest/smallest but you have to admit that the model of Shanghai in that city’s Urban Planning Museum is magnificent and, despite it’s scale, simply staggering.

A three-dimensional depiction of what the city might look like in 2020, the model fills a vast room bigger than 1,000 square feet in size. What gives you a headache about this incredibly detailed model is that, yes, the model is huge, but only because it’s a scaled reduction of the city itself: the largest model of what will be the largest city ever to exist on the planet.

Makes you feel small, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"... while I sing you a song about GEF THE TALKING MONGOOSE ...."

Wiki:
Gef the talking mongoose was a talking animal that was reported to inhabit a farmhouse known as Cashen's Gap near the hamlet of Dalby on the Isle of Man. Opinion is divided on whether Gef was a poltergeist, a strange animal or cryptid or a hoax.

In September 1931, the Irving family — James, Margaret, and daughter Voirrey (13), claimed to hear persistent scratching and rustling noises behind their farm house's wooden wall panels. At first they thought it was a rat, but then the unseen creature began making different sounds, sometimes spitting like a ferret, growling like a dog, and gurgling like a baby.

The creature soon revealed an ability to speak and introduced itself as Gef, a mongoose, and claimed to have been born in New Delhi, India, in 1852. According to Voirrey, who was the only person to see him properly, Gef was the size of a small rat with yellowish fur and a large bushy tail (the Indian mongoose is in reality much larger than a rat and does not have a bushy tail).

Gef variously claimed to be "an extra extra clever mongoose", an "earthbound spirit", "a ghost in the form of a weasel", and once said "I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you'd faint, you'd be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt!"

He had many characteristics traditionally ascribed to poltergeists in that he had an uneven temper, threw objects at people, and made exaggerated claims about his powers.

Gef remained friendly towards the Irvings, and joked around with them, though he supposedly went too far one time when he pretended to be poisoned. Gef also supposedly bothered the Irvings' neighbours, spying on them and reporting back to the Irvings. Gef was also known as "The Dalby Spook". James Irving kept diaries about Gef between 1932 and 1935, these diaries, along with reports about the case, are in Harry Price's archives in Senate House Library.

The story became popular in the tabloid press, and many journalists flocked to the Isle to catch a glimpse of the creature ...

... The story was widespread throughout Britain in the early 1930s due to extensive press coverage, but apparently no one other than the Irvings ever claimed to have heard Gef speak, or even saw him (though some neighbors claimed to have heard "strange noises" outside their homes).

The only physical evidence cited in support of Gef's existence would appear to be a series of footprints, none of which were identified as those of a mongoose, while a single photo said to show Gef exists.

Voirrey Irving, who took Gef under her wing, is at the time of writing still alive and living in the South West of England.

Monday, December 1, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes ... waitaminute!

Wiki:

Kazuo Uzuki is the subject of a baseball card issued by Topps as an April Fools hoax. The card was released on February 6, 2008 of a supposed high school superstar named Kazuo "The Uzi" Uzuki. In Japanese, Kazuo Uzuki means "the first son of April."

He is listed as 5'11" and 165 lbs and could supposedly throw a 104 mph pitch. According to the card, Uzuki would be the first Japanese player to go straight from high school in Japan into professional baseball in the United States.

The Uzuki rookie card was found in one out of every 72 packs of cards. When the card was released, people did not know that it was a joke and the card was trading for around $10-$15 on eBay. It was even the "card of the day" when it was released.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I like to press wild flowers, I put on women's clothing, and hang around in bars"

Wiki:
Jumping Frenchmen of Maine is a rare disorder originally described by George Miller Beard in 1878.

It results in an exaggerated "startle" reflex, and was first noted among related French-Canadian lumberjacks in the Moosehead Lake area of Maine. It is not clear if the disorder is neurological or psychological.

The "Jumping Frenchmen" seemed to react abnormally to sudden stimuli. Beard recorded, for instance, individuals who would obey any command given suddenly, even if it meant striking a loved one, and repeat back unfamiliar or foreign phrases uncontrollably. Beard also noticed that the condition was often shared within a family, suggesting that it was inherited.

The interest sparked by Beard's publication about the disorder inspired Georges Gilles de la Tourette to investigate what later became known as Tourette's syndrome. Further studies of the condition in the 1980s, however, cast doubt on whether the "Jumping Frenchmen" phenomenon was in fact a physical condition like Tourette's. Documentation of direct observation of "Jumping Frenchmen" has been scarce, and while videotape evidence was recorded by several researchers that showed the condition to be real, Saint-Hilaire concluded from studying eight affected people that it was brought on by conditions at their lumber camps and was psychological, not neurological.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Seven Days In May

Seven Days in May on the IMDB:
At the height of the cold war, a weakened President and a popular four-star general face off in a battle for control of the US government. President Jordan Lyman has successfully negotiated an arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union, but his measure is unpopular and does not sit well with General James Mattoon Scott, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has been quite vocal in his opposition. Marine Corps Col. Jiggs Casey, who works for Scott, comes to the conclusion that senior military officers are plotting a coup to overthrow the government. Working with a small circle of reliable and loyal officials, President Lyman tries to get the evidence of Scott's treachery and stop him.


General James Mattoon Scott: And if you want to talk about your oath of office, I'm here to tell you face to face, President Lyman, that you violated that oath when you stripped this country of its muscles - when you deliberately played upon the fear and fatigue of the people and told them they could remove that fear by the stroke of a pen. And then when this nation rejected you, lost faith in you, and began militantly to oppose you, you violated that oath by not resigning from office and turning the country over to someone who could represent the people of the United States.
President Jordan Lyman: And that would be General James Mattoon Scott, would it? I don't know whether to laugh at that kind of megalomania, or simply cry.
General James Mattoon Scott: James Mattoon Scott, as you put it, hasn't the slightest interest in his own glorification. But he does have an abiding interest in the survival of this country.
President Jordan Lyman: Then, by God, run for office. You have such a fervent, passionate, evangelical faith in this country - why in the name of God don't you have any faith in the system of government you're so hell-bent to protect?


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"One Jump, One Whistle -"

Wiki:
Roland the Farter (also know in contemporary records as Roland le Fartere) was a medieval flatulist who held Hemingstone manor in Suffolk and 30 acres of land in return for his services as a jester for the king. Each year he was obliged to perform "Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum" (one jump, one whistle, and one fart) in King Henry II's court at Christmas.
[See also The Performer Of The Century]

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"... with their thunder, the sonic boom, they were punishing all living creatures on earth."

Wiki:

The Oklahoma City sonic boom tests, also known as Operation Bongo II, refer to a controversial experiment in which 1,253 sonic booms were unleashed on Oklahoma City, Oklahoma over a period of six months in 1964. The experiment, which ran from February 3 through July 29, 1964 inclusive, intended to quantify the effects of transcontinental supersonic transport (SST) aircraft on a city. The program was managed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which enlisted the aid of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Air Force. Public opinion measurement was subcontracted to the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago.

It was not the first experiment, as tests had been done at Wallops Island, Virginia in 1958 and 1960, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in 1960 and 1961, and in St. Louis, Missouri in 1961 and 1962. However, none of these tests examined sociological and economic factors in any detail. The Oklahoma City experiments were vastly larger in scope, seeking to measure the boom's effect on structures and public attitude, and to develop standards for boom prediction and insurance data.

Oklahoma City was chosen, as the region's population was perceived to be relatively tolerant for such an experiment. The city had an economic dependency on the FAA's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and Tinker Air Force Base, both of which were based there.

Starting on February 3, 1964, the first sonic booms began, eight booms per day that began at 7 a.m. and ended in the afternoon. The noise was limited to 1.0 to 1.5 pound-force per square foot (48 to 72 pascal) for the first twelve weeks, then increased to 1.5 to 2.0 psf (72 to 96 pascal) for the final fourteen weeks. This range was about equal to that expected from an SST. Though eight booms per day were harsh, the peak overpressures of 2.0 psf were an order of magnitude lower than that needed to shatter glass, and are considered marginally irritating according to published standards. The Air Force used F-104 and B-58 aircraft, with the occasional F-101 and F-106.

Oklahomans initially took the tests in stride. This was chalked up to the booms being predictable and coming at specific times. An FAA-hired camera crew, filming a group of construction workers, were surprised to find that the booms signalled their lunch break.

However, in the first 14 weeks, 147 windows in the city's two tallest buildings, the First National Bank and Liberty National Bank, were broken. By late spring, organized civic groups were already springing into action, but were rebuffed by city politicians, who asked them to show legislators their support. An attempt to lodge an injunction against the tests was denied by district court Judge Stephen Chandler, who said that the plaintiffs could not establish that they suffered any mental or physical harm and that the tests were a vital national need. A restraining order was then sought, which brought a pause to the tests on May 13 until it was decided that the court had exceeded its authority.

Pressure mounted from within. The federal Bureau of the Budget lambasted the FAA about poor experiment design, while complaints flooded into Oklahoma Senator Mike Monroney's office. Finally, East Coast newspapers began to pick up the issue, turning on the national spotlight. On June 6 the Saturday Review published an article titled The Era of Supersonic Morality, which criticized the manner in which the FAA had targeted a city without consulting local government. By July, the Washington Post reported on the turmoil at the local and state level in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City council members were finally beginning to respond to citizen complaints and put pressure on Washington.

The pressure put a premature end to the tests. On July 30, the tests were over. An Oklahoma City Times headline reported: "Silence is deafening!" Zhivko D. Angeluscheff, a prominent hearing specialist serving with the National Academy of Science, recalled: "I was witness to the fact that men were executing their brethren during six long months ... with their thunder, the sonic boom, they were punishing all living creatures on earth."

Monday, November 24, 2008

I'm Not Going To Be Able To Sleep Tonight (Part 2)

Wiki:

The Dyatlov Pass incident refers to a mysterious event that resulted in the deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural mountains. The incident happened on the night of February 2, 1959 on the east shoulder of the mountain Kholat Syakhl (Холат Сяхл) (a Mansi name, meaning Mountain of the Dead). The mountain pass where the accident occurred has been named Dyatlov Pass (Перевал Дятлова) after the group's leader, Igor Dyatlov (Игорь Дятлов).

The mysterious circumstances and subsequent investigations of the hikers' deaths have inspired much speculation. Investigations of the deaths suggest that the hikers tore open their tent from within, departing barefoot in heavy snow; while the corpses show no signs of struggle, one victim had a fractured skull, two had broken ribs, and one was missing her tongue The victims' clothing contained high levels of radiation. Soviet investigators determined only that "a compelling unknown force" had caused the deaths, barring entry to the area for years thereafter. The causes of the accident remain unclear.

[Here's Mark Forford on the incident]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dark Roasted Science Fiction: The Computer Connection

Here's a new classic science fiction review, this time for Alfred Bester's wonderful The Computer Connection.


This is a toughie - not because this isn’t a great book, or that it’s hard to define - but because it’s one of my all-time favorites. You know: ‘stuck on a desert island with only three books’ kind of favorite. That’s the tough, you see - I know why it’s a great book, the trick is trying to find a way to tell you, out there, how good it really is.

So ... let’s start with the basics: Alfred Bester, the legend. Winner of the first Hugo for "The Demolished Man", established Grand Master of SF with such ground breakers as "Fondly Fahrenheit", "The Stars My Destination", and - later - with "The Deceivers" and (you either loved it or hated it) "Golem 100". Bester is also a legend in the radio and comic world, having worked on scripts for Charley Chan, The Shadow, Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern - in fact the Lantern Oath ("In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight, let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light") is Bester’s. Alfred was the original writer’s writer: he wrote for everyone, everywhere - but it’s his SF that he’s most known for.

For the longest time, the only place you could find Bester’s stuff was in the dusty halls of used book shops. Now you can pick up some of his best: "The Demolished Man", "The Stars My Destination", "Virtual Unrealities" (a collection of his marvelous short stories), "The Computer Connection", and even the book he left unfinished (and Roger Zelazny completed), "Psychoshop".

Even though his books are available it’s still sad that people don’t know Bester. Sigh. It’s especially disappointing when I hear people praise the stylistic endeavors of certain popular SF writers - when Bester blew them all away decades ago. As Harlan Ellison correctly states in his introduction to the "Computer Connection": “Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us merely climbers toward that peak.”

So what is it about Bester that just absolutely delights me? Well, man, you just have to be in the groove, capiche? You gotta plug in and ride the crazyhouse currents. Y? Y! Reading a Bester book is a trip, a stroboscopic madhouse of ideas, brilliant concepts, delightful characters, crackling language, and just plain fun. Now I don’t mean the kind of empty-headed fun you get nowadays - no, Bester’s fun is multi-language word play, obscure (but still understandable) references, and absolutely incredible, mind-boggling inventiveness.

Take, for example, "The Computer Connection" (also called "Extro" or "The Indian Giver"). In one blistering romp we have immortality, time-travel, cyberpunk (long before Gibson was born or computers got personal), cloning, an Amerinds nation in the toxic dump that was Lake Erie, characters like the nymphet Fee-5 Graumans Chinese (so named because she was born in the fifth row of the theater and is kinda of snotty about it), Dr. Sequoya Guess, a trip to Titan, a merging of man and computer, and, and, and ... overload!

Our hero is one Ned Curzon; a delightful fellow who’d been transformed into an immortal through an strange accident involving the explosive destruction of Krakatoa, and a member of an extended family of same eternal and eccentric folks: Nemo, Herb Wells, The Syndicate, Hillel the Jew, Borgia, Jacy (yes, that J.C.), Sam Pepys (not their realsies, you understand, just their ‘nom de years’). Ned, it seems, has been nicknamed Guigol (Guig for short), for his attempts to indoctrinate other people into their unique group. The problem, you see, is that to become immortal you have to go through a lot of terror and pain - and a lot of folks just don’t make it. Guigol as in Grand Guigol.

Then, right out of left field, the Group has a new member, the brilliant Amerid scientist Dr. Sequoya Guess - but an unforeseen side effect slipped into the immortality process as well, a side effect that has linked Guess to the Extro, the planet-wide system of intelligent machines and has given him incredible abilities and a lethal intent towards Guig and the members of his delightful group. As the back cover puts it: so how do you kill an immortal?

Stop, wait - I’ve sinned: you can’t describe a Bester book like you’d give a pitch for a block-buster flick. His ideas are mercurial: slippery and brilliant. Each page - no, each paragraph - sparkles with insane wit and crackling imagination. Now that trick - pyrokinetic writing - isn’t all that hard, but the miracle is that when Bester does this he also makes you care for these people. When characters get hurt, die, you might have only known them for a few lines, a few pages but - damnit - you feel the tears start. You really want to know these people, this glorious family of immortals and the various other folks that dance and cavort in any of Bester’s books. Bester was never a ‘hard’ SF writer - his science is as slippery and quick as his style - but then you don’t read his books to see if he crossed all his t’s or dotted his i’s ... no, you read Bester to take a wondrous trip, to be told a story by one of the few true masters of science fiction, of modern literature.

Well, I tried folks - tried my ever-lovin’ darnedest to pin down the beautiful brilliance of Alfred Bester. I gave it my best shot, trying to capsulize the effervescent, freeze-frame lightning. I guess there’s only one way to find out if I succeeded or not: go out - now - and pick up a copy of any of his books and see. It’s more than worth it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Funny, You Don't Look Javasu: Princess Caraboo

Wiki:

Mary Baker (née Willcocks; 1791 – 4 January 1865) was a noted imposter who went by the name Princess Caraboo. She pretended to be from a faraway island and fooled a British town for some time.

On 3 April 1817, a cobbler in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire, England, met an apparently disoriented young woman with exotic clothes who was speaking a language no one could understand. The cobbler's wife took her to the Overseer of the Poor who left her in the hands of the local county magistrate, Samuel Worrall, who lived in Knole Park. When he and his wife could not understand her either, they sent her to the local inn, where she insisted on eating a pineapple and sleeping on the floor. Later, Mrs. Worrall let her stay at her family's mansion.

All they could immediately find out was that she called herself Caraboo and that she was interested in Chinese imagery. They sent her to the mayor of Bristol who ended up sending her to St. Peter's Hospital. There she declined all meat. A week later, Mrs. Worrall brought her to her husband's offices in Bristol.

Locals brought many foreigners who tried to find out what strange language the lady was talking, but apparently in vain. Then came a Portuguese sailor named Manuel Eynesso (or Enes) who said he knew the language and translated her story.

According to Eynesso, she was Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu in the Indian Ocean. She had been captured by pirates and after a long voyage she had jumped overboard in the Bristol Channel and swum ashore.

The Worralls brought Caraboo back to their home. For the next ten weeks, this representative of exotic royalty was a favourite of the local dignitaries. She used a bow and arrow, fenced, swam naked and prayed to God, whom she termed Allah Tallah. She acquired exotic clothing and a portrait made of her was reproduced in local newspapers.

Eventually the truth came out. A certain Mrs. Neale recognised her from the picture in the Bristol Journal and informed her hosts. The would-be princess was actually a cobbler's daughter, Mary Baker (née Willcocks) from Witheridge, Devon. She had been a servant girl in various places all over England but had not found a place to stay. She had invented a fictitious language out of imaginary and gypsy words and created an exotic character. The British press had a field day at the expense of the duped rustic middle-class.

Her hosts arranged for her to leave for Philadelphia and she departed 28 June 1817. In the USA, she briefly continued her role, but lost contact with the Worralls after a couple of months.

There was a contemporary legend that she had visited Napoleon in the island of Saint Helena, but that is probably untrue.

In 1821, she had returned to Britain but her act was no longer very successful. She briefly traveled to France and Spain in her guise but soon returned to England and re-married. In September 1828, she was living in Bedminster with the name Mary Burgess and gave birth to a daughter the next year. In 1839, she was selling leeches to the Bristol Infirmary Hospital. She died on January 4, 1865 and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hebron Road cemetery in Bristol.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One of Our Favorite Heroes: The Phantom

This is a special hero as he is a favorite of one of our oldest, and best, friends, C. R. "Buzz" Peirce.

"I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me".


This is for you, Buzz!

Roger Creed as The Phantom

Wiki:
The Phantom is an American adventure comic strip created by Lee Falk, also creator of Mandrake the Magician. A popular feature adapted into many forms of media, including television and film, it stars a costumed crimefighter operating from the African jungle. The series began with a daily newspaper strip on February 17, 1936, followed by a color Sunday strip on May 28, 1939; both are still running as of 2008.

In the jungles of the fictional African country of Bangalla, there is a myth featuring "The Ghost Who Walks", a powerful and indestructible guardian of the innocent. Because he seems to have existed for generations, some believe him to be immortal. In reality, the Phantom is descended from 20 previous generations of crime-fighters who all adopt the same persona. When a new Phantom takes the task from his dying father, he swears the Oath of the Skull: "I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty, and injustice, in all their forms, and my sons and their sons shall follow me". (The comic strip sometimes runs flashback adventures of previous Phantoms.)

The Phantom of 2008 is the 21st in the line. Unlike most costumed heroes, he has no superhuman powers, relying only on his wits, physical strength, skill with his weapons, and fearsome reputation to fight crime.

A signature of the character is his two rings. One has a pattern formed like four crossing sables, "The Good Mark", that he leaves on visitors whom he befriends, placing the person under his protection. The other, "The Evil Mark" or "Skull Mark" has a skull shape, which leaves a scar of the corresponding shape on the enemies he punches with it. He wears the Good mark on his left hand because it is closer to the heart, and the Evil Mark on his right hand.

His base is in the Deep Woods of Bengali (originally “Bengalla,” or “Bangalla” and renamed Denkali in the Indian edition), a fictional country initially said to be set in Asia, near India, but depicted as in Africa during and after the 1960s. The Phantom's base is the fabled Skull Cave, where all previous Phantoms are buried. For a period of time, he also lived with his family in a tree house built by the Rope People - a tribe he had assisted. The Phantom has an Isle of Eden in which he has trained animals that are natural enemies to live in harmony, a Mesa in America called Walker's Table and a castle in the Old World.

[More]