I built this giant version of the classic Spirograph drawing toy in my spare time over the last six months. The diameter is just under eight feet (2.4 meters). It uses sidewalk chalk to draw the lines.
I didn't keep track of the total time or the total cost, but I would estimate the latter at around $150 not including the new tools I had to buy.
Why? Because I wanted to see if I could, and because I love making things that surprise and delight people when they see them. Mission accomplished on both fronts.
Wouldn’t you just love to see a giant spirograph pattern on the road as you’re driving or walking by? Or even better, if you were to get a chance to draw one! -via Metafilter
Small farmers in Ivory Coast find out what their cocoa beans are used for when they taste a chocolate bar for the first time. Chocolate is out of their reach economically, and cocoa beans aren’t much without the sugar, milk, and other ingredients. But how could it be possible that these farmers don’t even know about chocolate? A commenter explained that chocolate is not part of the tradition of West Africa.
I know its weird, but in West Africa a bunch of the stuff we produce is for export only. It wasn't part of the traditional food, thus people never cared to eat it, or even knew how to finish production of it. The raw materials are just sent off.
It's not just cocoa. We produce coffee but don't roast it or drink it. We produce mangos, but not mango shakes. Chicken, but the variety for export is considered 'too soft' for the local palette.
It’s touching that the first thing the farmer does is to gather his friends and show them what chocolate tastes like. However, the kids will only get to see the wrapper. The video is a clip from the Dutch show Metropolis. You can see the whole chocolate episode here. Oh, and if you begin listening to the video because you know French, be aware that most of it is in Dutch. You may still need subtitles. -via reddit
In England during World War II, clothing and fabric was rationed, woman had to register for wartime jobs, and money was scarce. Everyone was expected to do their part. But Winston Churchill was concerned with what such privations would do to morale, and companies still wanted to sell beauty aids. To encourage women to keep their appearances up, the Beauty as Duty campaign was born. It was supposed to make women feel okay about indulging in beauty regimens made that them feel normal, but it was dressed up as part of the war effort so they wouldn’t feel guilty about such self-indulgence.
The Beauty as Duty concept first appeared in popular advertising. In December of 1939, an advertisement for Evan Williams Shampoo was accompanied by the caption “Hair Beauty — is a duty, too!” It was already a woman’s job to serve her country and her family; cosmetics ads began to promote maintaining one’s personal appearance as another responsibility women had to fulfill. It was an idea that made a lot of marketing sense. Manufacturers wanted to continue selling their products during a time of international crisis, and like everyone else, they shared the desire for the Allies to win the war. It was natural to connect their products to patriotism, and mainstream media’s encouragement of consumption helped validate an activity that may have otherwise been considered frivolous or unnecessary.
Lipsticks, soaps, and other cosmetics came with slogans such as “Beauty Is Your Duty” or emphasized the message that it was a woman’s “duty to stay beautiful.” These ideas were so strongly discursively linked that beauty and resisting the enemy seemed two sides of the same coin. British cosmetics company Yardley ran advertisements in 1942 with the heading “No Surrender,” which claimed that ideal women honored “the subtle bonds between good looks and good morale.”
Churchill latched onto the idea and made it official government propaganda. An article from WORN Fashion Journal looks at the campaign from both the 1940s point of view and how it would be received today, which you can read at Buzzfeed.
Once while giving a driving lesson, I told my daughter to quit pussyfooting around. She became highly offended that I would use such language, and didn’t learn a thing that day besides that her mother has a vulgar vocabulary. Oh, the things she has yet to learn. Anyway, “pussyfooting” wasn’t even rude enough to make this list of rude-sounding words that mean something completely different from what they sound like. Here’s a snippet:
A dreamhole is a small slit or opening made in the wall of a building to let in sunlight or fresh air. It was also once used to refer to holes in watchtowers used by lookouts and guards, or to openings left in the walls of church towers to amplify the sounds of the bells.
According to one 19th century glossary of industrial slang, a fanny-blower or fanner was "used in the scissor-grinding industry," and comprised "a wheel with vanes, fixed onto a rotating shaft, enclosed in a case or chamber to create a blast of air." In other words, it’s a fan.
Fartlek is a form of athletic training in which intervals of intensive and much less strenuous exercise are alternated in one long continuous workout. It literally means "speed-play" in Swedish.
If you were going to mashup Doctor Who and Sherlock, you may as well make it a musical. It would have to start with a little number about one-upmanship before they can join forces. After all, neither one wants to be the sidekick! The lyrics are at the YouTube page. -via Viral Viral Videos
Poor Steve, he put so much effort in his coiffure. But when you’re born with one big hair, there’s no competition. I can’t put my finger on why, but as I scanned through the internet’s webcomics, I keep coming back to this particular scenario by John McNamee of Pie Comic.
The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.
by Steve Nadis Cambridge, Massachusetts
In an earlier paper ("In Search of the Holy Grail," AIR 2:2), I presented the first rigorous analysis of the meaning of the "holy grail" -- a term that is ubiquitous in science journalism and academic prose, ascribed, at one time or another, to just about every "big" scientific question in virtually every major discipline. Though inconclusive, that landmark study reached the definitive conclusion that the phrase holy grail is more or less impossible to define, having been used in so many different settings as to have been rendered almost meaningless. This latest effort carries my previous work to the next level, proceeding -- in the usual scientific fashion--one step forward and two back.
One of the best ways of determining what scholars mean by the holy grail, or variations thereof, is through "context." The basic strategy employed here was to apply my keen powers of perception to the body of evidence accumulated to date in the hopes that some kernels of meaning might emerge, if not leap off the page outright.
My investigation began where all good investigation begins -- at our nation's "jewel in the crown," the public library system. Like many a seasoned investigator, I called the reference desk at the New York Public Library to see if its knowledgeable staff could solve the riddle of the grail once and for all. Unfortunately, they offered nothing more than a textbook definition.
Next, I returned to the site of my previous triumph, my local branch library, where some years ago I first cracked the case of the grail. To my dismay, the card catalog upon which I had leaned so heavily over the decades was no longer in service. In fact, it no longer existed, having been removed and recycled for kindling years ago.
Bella the German Shepherd plays piano, with the help of Dani Rosenoer. The ridiculousness of the piano playing dog is enough to make me laugh, but wait until Bella has a treat and then has to make sure every little crumb is found and consumed! -via Tastefully Offensive
The metal can is an amazing work of food packaging. They are tough, long-lasting, and convenient. But how did we come to agree on the cylindrical shape of food cans? Nick Berry at Datagenetics (previously at Neatorama) takes a look at the many aspects of a simple design.
* The ratio of packaging materials to the volume of food. * Structural integrity and strength. * The ease of packing, stacking, shipping, and storing quantities of containers. * Minimizing wasted space. * The ease of manufacture. * Usability for the consumer. * Aesthetics.
Each of these aspects is studied, and since it is Datagenetics, there is some math involved. Who knew so much thought went into a can of soup? Still, everyone has something to complain about. My pet peeve is using my 1972 cook book that calls for 16-ounce cans of some ingredient and finding they are sold in 13- and 14-ounce sizes now. You’ll learn more than you ever thought you needed to know about food cans in this article. -Thanks, Nick!
Look who showed up at Comic Con! Or are they just the best cosplayers ever?
Underneath the clothing of Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega are actors Elliot Branch and Dave Cobert, who both appeared in the short Killing Tarantino (NSFW) as the characters who inspired Pulp Fiction. They occasionally do this act on the streets of Hollywood as well. -via reddit
Check out this amazing method for learning how to multiply! Well, it’s an amazing story for learning, specifically, what 4 x 9 is. Or maybe it’s not so much amazing as it is baffling.
Darren Michalczuk’s YouTube channel The Brick School has several videos along this line. They are a few years old, but Michalczuk continues to push his learning method at his website Brain Magic. You can even buy apps to teach your child this method! Michalczuk has written quite a few education articles about the magic of learning that are as incomprehensible as the Magic Numbers series.
Of course it’s satire, but it’s played so straight across the web for so many years that it’s a masterful feat. You have to wonder if anyone ever took it seriously. My guess is that it would be easy to take it seriously if you just read the ads for the apps. The articles, well, someone with less-than-stellar critical thinking skills might swallow them whole, but the videos area real WTF moment. -via Digg
No, you didn’t know Kevin J. McGroarty, unless you are lucky enough to live in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. But you might get to know him a little now, thanks to an extraordinary obituary he probably wrote himself. It begins with a headline: “McGroarty Achieves Room Temperature!” and covers his life from birth. An excerpt:
He enjoyed elaborate practical jokes, over-tipping in restaurants, sushi and Marx Brother's movies. He led a crusade to promote area midget wrestling, and in his youth was noted for his many unsanctioned daredevil stunts.
He was preceded in death by brother, Airborne Ranger Lt. Michael F. McGroarty, and many beloved pets, Chainsaw, an English Mastiff in Spring 2009, Baron, an Irish Setter in August 1982, Peter Max, a turtle, Summer 1968; along with numerous house flies and bees, but they were only acquaintances.
McGroarty leaves behind no children (that he knows of), but if he did their names would be son, "Almighty Thor" McGroarty; and daughter, "Butter Cup Patchouli."
“It’s a good thing you don’t have a brain, or you’d just take it out and play with it.” That’s a memorable line from a radio skit, but it applies well to Gentle Brain, an interactive web toy where you can play around with your brain. If you drop it, and you will, that’s okay, because there’s another one where that one came from, and it’s just as good. Gentle Brain was commissioned for MUDA, Museum for Digital Art, opening later this year in Zurich, Switzerland. -via the Presurfer
There are several places in Scotland, England, and Ireland where the trees are wrapped with rags. These are clootie wells, forests with mineral springs that are believed to have healing powers. A relic of ancient paganism, the idea is that if you have an ailment, you should wash the afflicted area in water from these springs. Then you tie the rag you used around a tree, and as the rag rots, your ailment will disappear. You can see the problem here: Cotton and wool rags may take years to rot, but polyester can take centuries, which means more and more rags survive longer and damage the forest. But it’s terrible luck to remove them. Read more about this ancient practice at Atlas Obscura.
The man we know as D.B. Cooper has not been seen since he jumped out of an airplane in 1971. Or has he been seen by, uh, hundreds of moviegoers? Randall Munroe of xkcd has an intriguing theory that explains everything.
We make jokes about how cats look at bird feeders as food traps, but this bird feeder trapped the cat instead of the bird. A cat named Butterscotch in Brandon, Manitoba, got his head stuck inside a bird feeder. The stray is wandering the neighborhood and evades attempts to catch him.
“He was meowing a little bit as if he wanted somebody to help him, but he’s a stray and he’s obviously afraid of people, so I wasn’t able to get near him,” said Colleen Gareau, who first spotted the distressed cat Wednesday morning.
Staff with the city’s pound have tried to catch Butterscotch. So have volunteers from a local animal group, who have been baiting traps with tuna, sardines and cat food.
The traps are ones used for larger animals because the cat wouldn’t fit into a regular cat trap because of the feeder.
Russian drummer Lyonya Shilovsky is three years old, but he’s already a pro! Watch him play drums with the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra. The song is Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which most of just call “The Can-Can.” Lyonya only loses the beat twice: when he drops his sticks, and when his father interupts him to pose for a picture. How does that compare to your concentration when you were three years old? -via Daily Picks and Flicks
It’s difficult to design a superhero that can sustain a series of comic books or his/her own TV show. But when they’re a guest star, any superhero can be interesting. The weirdest, dumbest, most obscure superpower will do for just one appearance. And TV shows have taken advantage of that tim sand time again. Do you remember Turkey Volume Guessing Man from MST3K?
Some heroes are born from tragedy, some are born from freak accidents, and some are born from watching a phenomenally stupid movie. In season eight of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the liberal use of “turkey” (twice) as an insult in the film Riding With Death led Crow T. Robot to realize his true potential as “Turkey Volume Guessing Man.” His power is the ability to take any given space and translate it to a poultry-based measurement system, guessing how many turkeys it would take to fill the room. It’s an ability he readily admits is completely useless in real life and that isolates him from the world at large, “although women are drawn to me, for my powers are fascinating.”
Noah and Lucas Aldrich are inseparable brothers. Lucas was born with the brain disorder lissencephaly, which affects his growth and development. Lucas does not walk or talk, but thanks to his parents and brother, he gets to do a lot of things able-bodied kids do. Eight-year-old Noah recently entered a youth triathlon, and he took Lucas along. He pulled him on a bicycle, towed him while swimming, and pushed him while running. Sing it with me now: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” See more pictures of Noah and Lucas at Buzzfeed.
One thing that nearly all Americans born after 1965 have in common is that they grew up watching Mister Rogers. He was one of the true pioneers of children’s television.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
In 1951 a college senior named Fred McFeely Rogers finished school in Florida and went home to stay with his parents in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He wasn't exactly sure what he wanted to do with his life. For a while he wanted to be a diplomat; then he decided to become a Presbyterian minister. He’d already made plans to enroll in seminary after college, but as soon as he arrived home, he changed his mind again.
Why? Because while he was away at school, his parents had bought their first TV set. Television was still very new in the early 1950s, and not many people had them yet. When Rogers got home he watched it for the first time. He was fascinated by the new medium but also disturbed by some of the things he saw. One thing in particular offended him very deeply. It was “horrible,” as he put it, so horrible that it altered the course of his life.
What was it that bothered him so much? “I saw people throwing pies in each other’s face,” Rogers remembered. “Such demeaning behavior.”
You (and Uncle John) may like it when clowns throw pies and slap each other in the face, but Fred Rogers was appalled. He thought TV could have a lot more to offer than pie fights and other silliness, if only someone would try. “I thought, ‘I’d really like to try my hand at that, and see what I could do,’” Rogers recalled. So he moved to New York and got a job at NBC, working first as an associate producer and later as a director.
Then in 1953, he learned about a new experimental TV station being created in Pittsburgh. Called WQED, it was the country’s first community-sponsored “public television” station. WQED wasn’t even on the air yet, and there was no guarantee that an educational TV station that depended on donations from viewers to pay for programming would ever succeed. No matter- Rogers quit his secure job at NBC, moved to Pittsburgh with his wife, Joanne, and joined the station.
“I thought, ‘What a wonderful institution to nourish people,’” Rogers recalled. “My friends thought I was nuts.”
A Game About Squares is exactly what it says on the tin, and despite the lack of instructions, it’s not that hard to figure out how to play. However, each level gets a little bit more difficult, with level 15 a particularly sticky spot. Don’t try it unless you are the kind of person who can stop when you need to do something else. You can always bookmark it for later. -via Metafilter
An American woman suffering from paralysis volunteered for experimental surgery at Hospital de Egas Moniz in Lisbon, Portugal. Doctors took stem cells from the woman’s nose and implanted them in her spine, hoping that the cells would help her spinal cord regenerate nerve tissue. Other clinical trials involve growing these cells in the lab and classifying and separating desirable cells before transplant. The procedure on this woman, which took place nine years ago, omitted this step. The cells were transplanted directly to her spine, but they failed to regenerate her spinal tissue. Then last year, she was treated in the U.S. for a painful growth in her back.
The surgeons removed a 3-centimetre-long growth, which was found to be mainly nasal tissue, as well as bits of bone and tiny nerve branches that had not connected with the spinal nerves.
The growth wasn't cancerous, but it was secreting a "thick copious mucus-like material", which is probably why it was pressing painfully on her spine, says Brian Dlouhy at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, the neurosurgeon who removed the growth. The results of the surgery have now been published.
Bug Girl has an article about spider sex, dressed up in a comparison with the movie version of Spider-Man (the original comic book hero has a different story). It’s full of PG-13 terms and may be disturbing to die-hard fans (but funny to the rest of us). The upshot is that male spiders have a very weird and complicated procedure for impregnating female spiders. You’ll never look at Peter Parker the same way again. You’ve been warned. -via Metafilter
You are probably aware that the term “banana republic” came from the practices of the United Fruit Company, a U.S. firm that bought up large portions of several South American countries and wielded inordinate political power in the region, in order to supply the U.S. with bananas. The company’s power was such that government troops were made available to put down workers’ strikes. In Colombia, this led to a massacre.
In November 1928, grumbling among the more than 25,000 workers on the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company turned into a united effort with a well-organized strike against the massive American corporation.
The workers’ demands from United Fruit were far from unreasonable — a direct contract with the company, six-day work weeks, eight-hour days, medical care and the elimination of scripts (only good at company stores) that were paid to the workers instead of cash. Ten years earlier, the company’s workers had gone on strike with similar demands, but had failed to achieve their goals.
The Colombian government was afraid of a worker’s revolution, and also afraid the U.S. military would step in. Tensions led to a standoff between 1,400 workers and family members and 300 troops with machine guns on December 6. When the troops opened fire, the death toll was somewhere between 47 and 2,000 people. We will probably never know the exact number. Read about the massacre at Modern Farmer.
A goat climbs halfway through a hole and can’t figure out what to do next. Poor stupid goat! His buddy decides to help out, by “pushing” him out of the hole. Is that clever ...on a goat scale? It’s not much help! But eventually the goat lady comes and makes everything all right.
The most beautiful cat in the world? I don’t know, but he sure is fetching. And even more interesting when he’s asleep.
These pictures were rearranged by redditor shayne9512 from a series posted by BitterRaven, but we don’t know who the original photographer is. This cat introduced me to a subreddit called Animals Being Derps, which I will have to visit again.
In order to secure a three-year purchasing contract with the state of New York, office supplier Staples agreed to sell 291 common items for a penny. They hoped to make up the difference in sales of higher-priced items, but the company neglected to put any limits on the penny purchases. You can imagine what happened. Schools, prisons, charities, and other agencies ordered “staples” such as tissue, paper towels, tape, and batteries by the truckload.
The Monroe-Woodbury school district, about 50 miles north of Manhattan, was the top bargain hunter, taking delivery of $677,000 of penny items at list prices during the contract's first few months, paying $299.15. The numbers come from spreadsheets provided by the state in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.
Sheri Patterson, finance officer at Monroe Woodbury High School, said boxes were "stacked in hallways…we didn't have any place to keep" them.
There were surprises. Ms. Patterson thought a penny paid for a roll of paper towels—instead, it was for a 24-roll pack. The school received 53 packs, records show. "We were just wondering whose idea this was," said Ms. Patterson, "and if they still had their job."
Staples declined to comment on personnel matters.
Many of the penny items ordered have not been delivered, and the state is negotiating with Staples to fulfill the terms of the contract.
A coveted penny item was a 64GB SanDisk flash drive, a large "thumb drive" to store or transfer data. It listed for $249.99 but recently was priced at $54.99 on Staples.com.
Customers ordered 128,978 of them in the contract's first few months, documents show, compared with anticipated annual demand for 33. Staples delivered 1,080 in that period. Had it delivered all those ordered, it would have sold drives with a current retail value of $7.1 million for $1,290.
Whoever made the estimates of how many items would be purchased forgot one basic rule of retail: people will do without expensive items, but will buy if the price is right. Staples’ estimate of their loss has to be taken with a grain of salt, however. Who pays $2 for a single pad of Post-it notes? Or a thousand dollars for a shredder? I have a shredder and a bag of Post-it notes for an investment of about $6, although they’re not the same brands. Read more about the fiasco at the Wall Street Journal. -via Metafilter
The lizard named Uroplatus phantasticus is more commonly known as the Satanic leaf-tailed gecko. You can see why in this photograph, only because the background is gone. There’s a picture at Wired that challenges you to figure out what is gecko and what is real leaf. It’s an amazing camouflage adaptation for these creatures found only in Madagascar. Good luck finding one.
Reinforcing this camouflage for the satanic leaf-tailed geckos is their behavior: They’ll spend the day hanging motionless off of branches or snuggling among dead leaves, often twisting their leafy tails around their bodies. Other larger species in the satanic’s genus have still another strategy for sleeping safely during the day, flattening their bodies against tree trunks and limbs, making good use of those famously grippy feet (a magic power derived, by the way, from countless hair-like structures that allow some geckos to even stick to inverted glass panes, not that nature would ever ask them to). Fringes and flaps along the edges of their bodies help erase their outlines and shadows, dissolving the geckos into the bark.
Jürgen Horn and Mike Powell have moved on from Tokyo and set up housekeeping in Skopje, Macedonia. If you received your geography education before 1991, Macedonia is just north of Greece and just south of Serbia. But back in 1903, a small Macedonian town on a mountain declared its own independence from the Ottoman Empire. The Republic of Kruševo lasted ten days.
The brave and hopelessly out-gunned army of Kruševo met the advancing Turks in the Battle of Mečkin Kamen, a couple kilometers outside the town. Led by Pitu Guli, the rebels fought bravely, but were simply no match for the Ottoman force. In the end, Kruševo’s defenders were annihilated, and the Ottomans marched into town where they inflicted a bloody retribution on the townspeople.
Today, Kruševo has recovered and become one of the jewels of Macedonia, the highest mountain town in the Balkans. We visited for a couple days. With just 5000 inhabitants, it’s the kind of place with which you can become familiar within no time. Kruševo feels like a mountain retreat, so small and peaceful that it’s hard to imagine it as the scene of such vicious fighting.