Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movies You Haven't Seen But Should: Technotise: Edit & I

I was fortunate to be able to finally see Technotise: Edit & I recently - after following its development since the trailer below - and was extremely pleased by the way it came out: funny, touching, elegant, thoughtful ... highly recommended!

Technotise: Edit & I is a Serbian animated feature film, premiered on September 28, 2009. Written and directed by comics artist Aleksa Gajić, it is a sequel of his Technotise graphic novel. The soundtrack music is composed by Boris Furduj and Bob Strumberger, as well as the film trailer.

The plot is set in 2074 in Belgrade. The main character is Edit Stefanović, a female psychology student who, after failing the same university exam for the sixth time, decides to visit a dealer on the black market who installs a stolen military chip in her body that will record everything she sees to help pass the exam. Edit also has a job at a scientific and social research company, in taking care of Abel Mustafov, an autistic math genius who discovered a formula that connects all forces in the world, but no computer was able to calculate it fully without becoming self aware before "dieing". After Edit sees the formula graph, the chip calculates the formula, able to "survive" thanks to it's connection to Edit, develops a parallel personality and affords her abilities greater than she ever imagined. Alas, this is quickly overshadowed by the discovery that the chip is rapidly taking over her mind and body. She must race against time to save her humanity while simultaneously thwarting the nefarious parties desperate to retrieve the technology inside her.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If Found ... (a scary and sad story)

The Goiânia accident was a radioactive contamination accident in central Brazil that killed 4, injured 28, and produced over 200 cases of detectable radiation poisoning. On 13 September 1987, an old nuclear medicine source was scavenged from an abandoned hospital in Goiânia, the capital of the central Brazilian state of Goiás. It was subsequently handled by many people, resulting in four deaths and serious radioactive contamination of 249 other people. Time magazine has identified the accident as one of the world's "worst nuclear disasters".

The object was a small, highly radioactive thimble of caesium chloride (a caesium salt made with a radioisotope, caesium-137) encased in a shielding canister made of lead and steel with an iridium window. The source was positioned in a container of the wheel type, where the wheel turns inside the casing to move the source between the storage and irradiation positions.

Goiânia’s Instituto Goiano de Radioterapia (IGR), located 1 km northwest of Praça Cívica, was abandoned in 1985. A caesium-137 based teletherapy unit was left behind. Over the following years, many homeless, squatters and scavengers entered the building. Eventually, on 13 September 1987, two men — Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira — came across the radioactive teletherapy head and took it with them in a wheelbarrow to dos Santos Alves's house about 0.6 km north of the clinic. There they partly dismantled the equipment, taking the billiard ball-sized cesium capsule out of the protective rotating head. The gamma radiation emitted by the capsule's iridium window made the men nauseous after a couple of days, but they assumed it was due to something they ate. The exposure eventually caused localized burns to their bodies and one later had to have an arm amputated.

The two men attempted to open the cesium capsule, but failed. A few days later, however, one man did break open the iridium window which allowed him to see the cesium chloride emitting a deep blue light.

The exact mechanism by which the light was generated was not known at the time the IAEA report was written. The light is thought to be either fluorescence or Cherenkov radiation associated with the absorption of moisture by the source. (Similar blue light was observed in 1988 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory during the disencapsulation of a 137Cs source.) The man scooped out some of the radioactive cesium and tried to light it, thinking it was gunpowder, and eventually gave up.

On September 18 Roberto dos Santos Alves and Wagner Mota Pereira sold the items to a nearby scrapyard. That night the owner, Devair Alves Ferreira, went in the garage and saw the blue glow from the cesium capsule. Over the next three days he invited friends and family to view the strange glowing substance. Ferreira intended to make a ring for his wife, Gabriela Maria Ferreira, out of the material.

Several people who visited the home came into contact with the dust and spread it around the local neighborhood and to other towns nearby. Ferreira's ownership led to many people becoming contaminated. Another brother of the scrapyard owner used the dust to paint a blue cross on his abdomen. He also contaminated the animals at his farm, several of which died. At this scrapyard, a friend of Ferreira's (given as EF1 in the IAEA report) hammered open the lead casing. On 25 September 1987, Devair Alves Ferreira sold the scrap metal to another scrapyard. He survived the incident.

Ivo, Devair's brother, scraped dust out of the source, taking it to his house a short distance away. There he spread some of it on the floor. His 6-year-old daughter, Leide das Neves Ferreira, later ate while sitting on the floor, absorbing some of the radioactive material (1.0 GBq, total dose 6.0 Gy). She was also fascinated by the blue glow of the powder, applied it to her body and showed it off to her mother.

Gabriela Maria Ferreira was the first to notice that many people around her had become severely sick all at the same time, and her actions from that point on probably saved lives. She first suspected the culprit was a beverage they had shared, but an analysis of the juice showed nothing untoward. On 28 September 1987 (15 days after the item was found) Gabriela went with one of her scrapyard employees to the scrapyard then in possession of the materials. She reclaimed them and transported them by bus in a plastic bag to a hospital. There, physician Paulo Roberto Monteiro rightly suspected that it was dangerous. He placed it in his garden on a chair to increase the distance between himself and the object. Because the remains of the source were kept in a plastic bag, the level of contamination at the hospital was low. The IAEA report suggests that 90% of the radioactivity originally in the source had escaped from it by this point. Gabriela Ferreira died on 23 October 1987.

A model of the bus cabin was subsequently recreated, and it is estimated that a hypothetical passenger who remained in the worst possible location for the entire bus trip (15 minutes) would have suffered a dose of less than 0.3 Sv to the legs. This dose would not cause any injury or acute radiation syndrome. If this hypothetical passenger had been separated by 2.7 meters from the source, then the leg dose would decline to 0.04 Sv. While these prospective leg doses are larger than the normal organ limits for the general public, they are unlikely to cause serious harm in either the short or long term.

In the morning of 29 September 1987 a visiting medical physicist (named WF in the IAEA report) used a scintillation counter borrowed from NUCLEBRAS (a national government agency which is involved in the nuclear fuel cycle, including searching for uranium ore) to confirm the presence of radioactivity. The accident response started that evening.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And, Yes, They Do Really Fly -

Tree Of Life Web:

Members of the Ommastrephidae are small (about 10 cm ML) to large (about 100 cm ML), muscular squids that are often the dominant large squids in oceanic and, occasionally, neritic waters. A number of species are fished commercially.

Ommastrephid squids are among the strongest swimmers in the Cephalopoda. Some are commonly known as "flying squid" due to their ability to glide over the ocean surface as seen in the photographs.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My New Home -

The Waldspirale is a residential building complex in Darmstadt, Germany, built in the 1990s. The name translates into English as forest spiral, reflecting both the general plan of the building and the fact that it has a green roof. It was designed by Viennese artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, planned and implemented by architect Heinz M. Springmann, and constructed by the Bauverein Darmstadt company. The building was completed in 2000.

The Waldspirale apartment building is located in Darmstadt's Bürgerparkviertel. It contains 105 apartments, a parking garage, a kiosk as well as a café and a bar (the last two being located at the top of the spiral). The inner courtyard contains a playground for the children of the residents and a small artificial lake. Peculiarities of the U-shaped building are the unique facade, which does not follow a regular grid organization, and the windows, which appear as if they were "aus der Reihe tanzen," (dancing out of line)[1] everywhere different and appearing out of order, often with 'tree tenants' - trees growing out from the windows. The diagonal roof, planted with grass, shrubs, flowers and trees, rises like a ramp along the U-form. At its highest point, the building has 12 floors.

The windows of the Waldspirale, which number over 1000, are all unique: no two windows are the same. Similarly, different handles are attached in each apartment to the doors and windows. Some of the apartments are decorated in Friedensreich Hundertwasser's personal style and exhibit the colourful tiles in the bath and kitchen that are characteristic of his work. Furthermore, all the corners are rounded off in these apartments along the roof and walls in an application of Hundertwasser's dogma "gegen die gerade Linie" or "against the straight line." For cost reasons, only a few of the apartments' interiors were designed individually.

From the outside, the typical elements of Hundertwasser's personal style attract attention: the gilded onion domes, the absence of straight lines and sharp corners, the multicoloured painting of the building in earth tones and the colourful ceramic columns.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Death Of Blackhawk

There are almost-lost treasures out there, all-but-forgotten wonders, which is why s.a. and I started MKF: to share those treasures, those wonders. One of those almost-forgotten things we've been looking for was Errol McCarthy' magnificent Death of Blackhawk from the pages of the underground comic Slow Death. Thanks to a treasure himself, Mr. Door Tree and his Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog, here it is.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Weirdsville On The Cud

Here is something very special: the great folks at the Aussie site The Cud asked me to write them something unique, just for them - always a great way to get me to do anything - and the piece, on Friedrich Wilhelm I and his very, very, very big Potsdam Grenadiers, just went up.

If you're going to dream, the old saying goes, then you might as well dream big. But Friedrich Wilhelm I did more than dream because, as another expression says all too well: It's good to be the King.

Friedrich, born in 1688, was just one in a series of notable Prussian leaders. Friedrich, though, unlike his father, Frederick I -- who achieved much during his reign, including wearing the crown for the first time, or Friedrich's son -- Frederick II, who was a reformer and fervent supporter of reason and the arts – Friedrich, to put it mildly, loved a man in uniform … in a secularly big way.

Friedrich, you see, had this thing about the military. Oh, sure, he did, during his reign, improve his then-tiny country's defenses, and carefully – almost pathologically – controlled Prussia's economy to the point when he finally passed away he left behind an awesome surplus. But Friedrich's military obsession wasn't really about keeping his people safe, or even about acquiring new territories: Friedrich liked – really liked -- a grand spit and polish display.

How big? How grand? Well, Friedrich's all-consuming passion was for his grenadiers, a Regiment hand-picked not for their skill in battle, their heroic abilities, but for being tall.

In a time when the average height was probably around five foot something, the grenadiers – which quickly became known by the Prussians as the "Lange Kerls" (Big Guys) – began at six feet and went up up from there.

The Big Guys – and some of them were very big, coming in around seven feet – were the king's all-consuming passion, to the point where it became common for foreign dignitaries to use 'gifts' of very tall men to curry favor with Friedrich. But even these presents, many of them with little say in the matter, weren't enough to satisfy Friedrich's obsession: his agents, promised huge rewards, were dispatched to the far corners of Europe to get, by any means necessary, the tallest people they could find.

To say these agents were zealous would be an understatement: there are tales of them kidnapping farmers from their fields, innkeepers from their taverns, an Irish priest in the middle of a sermon, and they even had the audacity to try to grab a Austrian diplomat. There's even the story of one poor soul who was snatched off the streets of some foreign city and shipped back to Prussia, but who arrived stiff and cold because the agents forgot to punch air-holes in the crate.

Friedrich was so determined to fill the ranks of his grenadiers he even began his own program of selective breeding, offering tall women and men rewards to produce even taller children – and heaven help you if you knew someone nice and tall and didn't tell the king about it.

Oh, how the king loved his grenadiers: he would lovingly paint their portraits from memory, or order them to march for hours and hours around his palace courtyard just so he relish in their military tallness, and, if the king was feeling under the weather, he would even have them thunderously circle his bed until he got better. As he told the French ambassador: "The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers -- they are my weakness."

Yes, it was very good to be the king – but, alas, it was not so grand to be one of his grenadiers. Even though Friedrich doted over them, many of his giants were in agony from diseases related to their gigantism, were painfully depressed after finding themselves in a unfamiliar land and unable to speak a word of German, or who -- again as a tragic effect of their great height – were mentally the age of a young child. Desertions were common, but since the giants were, well, 'gigantic' they were quickly caught and subsequently, and brutally, punished. Some, sadly, made the ultimate escape – but even suicides didn't dissuade the king from begging, borrowing, or out-and-out stealing tall men for his grenadiers. At its (excuse me) 'height' the flamboyant regiment numbered over 3,000 men.

Not surprising, considering how incredibly infatuated Friedrich was with them, the grenadiers were never sent into battle.

Eventually, though, the king died, and with his death the kingdom, and Friedrich's beloved Potsdam Grenadiers, were passed down to his son, Frederick II. But while his father adored brass fittings, a good uniform, and everything else stern and military, the son – having been raised by a stern and military father -- absolutely did not. Ironically, though, Frederick II did attack neighboring Austria, putting into practice some of his father's teachings. He also, after a time, put into actual combat what few of Friedrich's grenadiers remained.

There was one problem, though. Because they were considerably taller – very considerably taller – than their fellow soldiers, these surviving grenadiers didn't survive very long: they were too much of a perfect targets.

Absolutely, if you’re going to dream you should dream big. But if you're lucky -- and you're a king -- you don't have to settle for only dreams: you too, like Friedrich, can have your own marching, thundering fantasy brought to remarkably, and legendarily, tall life.

Whatever Happened To The Future?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Yum yum yum (and ewwwwwww)


Charles Domery (c. 1778 – after 1800), also known as Charles Domerz was a Polish soldier, noted for his unusually large appetite. While serving in the Prussian Army against France during the War of the First Coalition, he found that the rations of the Prussians were insufficient and deserted to the French Revolutionary Army in return for food. While generally healthy, he was voraciously hungry during his time in the French army, and ate any available food. While stationed near Paris he was recorded as having eaten 174 cats in a year, and although he disliked vegetables he would eat 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kg) of grass each day if he was unable to find other food. During service on the French frigate Hoche, he attempted to eat the severed leg of a crew member hit by cannon fire, before other members of the crew wrestled it from him.

In February 1799 the Hoche was captured by British forces and the crew, including Domery, interned in Liverpool. Domery shocked his captors with his voracious appetite, and despite being put on ten times the rations of other inmates remained ravenous, eating the prison cat, at least 20 rats which had come into his cell, and regularly eating the prison candles. Domery's case was brought to the attention of The Commissioners for taking Care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and for the Care and Treatment of Prisoners of War, who performed an experiment to test his eating capacity. Over the course of a day Domery was fed a total of 16 pounds (7.3 kg) of raw cow's udder, raw beef and tallow candles and four bottles of porter, all of which he ate and drank without defecating, urinating or vomiting at any point.

By the age of 13 Domery had enlisted in the Prussian Army and was part of an army besieging Thionville during the War of the First Coalition. The Prussian army was suffering from food shortages which Domery found intolerable; he entered the town and surrendered to the French commander who rewarded him with a large melon, which Domery immediately ate, including the rind. He was then given a wide variety of other foodstuffs by the French General, all of which he ate straight away.

Domery then enlisted with the French Revolutionary Army. He shocked his new comrades with his unusual eating habits and voracious appetite. Granted double rations, and using his pay to buy additional food whenever possible, he nonetheless remained voraciously hungry; while based in an army camp near Paris, Domery ate 174 cats, leaving only the skins and bones, in a single year, and ate between 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kg) of grass each day if other food was unavailable.

He preferred raw meat to cooked; while his favourite dish was a raw bullock's liver, he would eat any available meat. While in service on board the French frigate Hoche a sailor's leg was shot off by cannon fire, and Domery grabbed the severed limb and began to eat it until a crew member wrestled it from him and threw it into the sea ...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Who Is He?


Frédéric Bourdin (born 1974 in Nanterre, Hauts-de-Seine) is a French serial impostor the press has nicknamed "The Chameleon".

According to himself, his lawyer and the press reports, Bourdin was raised by his grandparents in Paris and was later put into a children's home. He says that he never knew his father, that his mother intended to have an abortion and eventually abandoned him and that he was sexually abused. In an interview with the New Yorker, his mother said that Bourdin's father was an Algerian immigrant named Kaci. He began his impostures as soon as he left the children's home and as of 2005 had assumed at least 39 false identities, three of which have been actual teenage missing persons.

In 1997 Bourdin took the identity of Nicholas Barclay, a lost son of a family in San Antonio, Texas. He invited his would-be-parents to the US embassy in Spain to meet him. Even though Bourdin had brown eyes and a French accent, he convinced the family that he was their blue-eyed son who had disappeared three years previously. He said that he had escaped from a child prostitution ring.

Bourdin lived with the family for three months before a local private investigator exposed him and his real identity was confirmed by a DNA test. He was imprisoned for 6 years.

When Bourdin returned from the USA in 2003, he moved to Grenoble, assumed the name Leo Balley and claimed that he was a teenager who had been missing since 1996. DNA test proved otherwise.

In August 2004 he was in Spain, claiming to be adolescent Ruben Sanchez Espinoza and said that his mother had been killed in the Madrid bomb attacks. When the police found out the truth, they deported him to France.

In June 2005 Bourdin passed himself off as Francisco Hernandes-Fernandez, a 15-year-old Spanish orphan and spent a month in the College Jean Monnet in Pau, France. He claimed that his parents had been killed in a car accident. He dressed as a teenager, adopted a proper walking style, covered his bald patch with a baseball cap and used depilatory face creams. On June 12 a teacher unmasked him after he saw a TV program about his exploits. On September 16 he was sentenced to four months in prison for possessing and using the previous false identity of Leo Balley.

According to his 2005 interviews, Bourdin has been looking for "love and affection" and attention he never received as a child. He has pretended to be an orphan several times. He has also appeared in French and American TV shows but has continued his impostures.

In 2007, Bourdin married a French woman named Isabelle after a yearlong courtship. Isabelle recently gave birth to Bourdin's daughter, Athena. The three currently reside in an apartment outside of Pau in France.

Bourdin was interviewed in 2008 by David Grann, a columnist for The New Yorker. After Isabelle gave birth, Bourdin contacted Grann and told him it was a girl. Grann then asked if Bourdin had become a new person now that he was a father and a husband, to which Bourdin replied, "No, this is who I am."