What's been going on in the world of archaeology? John Green fills us in on new stuff, big stuff, and fascinating stuff in this week's episode of the mental_floss List Show. To be honest, it's mostly old stuff, though -very, very old stuff, even if it's new to you and me.
Around the turn of the 20th century, people were nuts about new technology, even stuff that now seems so odd you have to wonder what they were thinking. Take kites: if you had enough of them, one could lift a man high in the sky, as if he were flying. It was fun! But could it be used for military purposes? Armies used weather balloons for surveillance. Surely a man-lifting kite would be better… at least that was the view of one Samuel Franklin Cody, who modeled his Wild West Show career after Buffalo Bill Cody. Kite designer Scott Skinner, who researches the history of kites, tells us about Cody.
“While touring Great Britain he became enamored with kites,” says Skinner. Kite enthusiasm in Europe was flourishing; serious hobbyists and scientists alike read kiting magazines and gathered at annual fetes. Cody built and flew them, and finally decided to throw his effort into designing a man-lifting kite that could be turned into dollar signs and prestige.
By 1901, Cody had patented a version of a man-lifting kite, and according to biographer Garry Jenkins, was flexing his entrepreneurial muscles. “By then he has already written to the war office, offering them first option on ‘SF Cody’s Aroplaine [sic] or War-Kite: A boy’s toy turned into an instrument of war,’” he wrote in Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral.
The military use of man-lifting kites soon faded with the rise of the airplane, which even Cody preferred. Besides, we eventually figured out how to use airborne cameras without a photographer. Read about the fascinating Samuel Franklin Cody and his kite scheme at Atlas Obscura.
Scribes decorated medieval manuscripts with all kinds of weird thing, like rabbits, cats, Star Wars characters, and lots of snails. Snails very often appear to be doing battles with knights -or, more accurately, the knight is attempting to do battle with the snail. Vox takes a closer look at this phenomena.
It could have been a political insult at the beginning, which turned into an inside joke over time. A medieval meme, as it were. -Thanks, Phil Edwards!
After 12 seasons, the TV series Bones came to an end last night. The show focused on forensic anthropologist "Bones" Brennan and FBI agent Seeley Booth and the crimes they solved together. The series was based on the work of Kathy Reichs, a forensic anthropologist turned crime writer turned TV producer, so it had a sense of authenticity other crime procedurals lack. Fans of Bones will want to check out the list of the most dramatic moment of each season at TVOM. And of you haven't followed the show, it might set you up for binge-watching with home video.
Janelle Shane spent some time teaching a neural network how to generate recipes. She set it to learn from 30,000 existing recipes, but learning to cook is hard. After all, it can't taste the results. But even before the recipes are completed, it had a difficult time learning ingredients, measurements, and processes. The results are quite interesting. For example, here are some ingredients the machine suggests.
1 ½ teaspoon chicken brown water
1 teaspoon dry chopped leaves
1/3 cup shallows
10 oz brink custard
¼ cup bread liquid
2 cup chopped pureiped sauce
½ cup baconfroots
¼ teaspoon brown leaves
½ cup vanilla pish and sours
½ cup white pistry sweet craps
1 tablespoon mold water
¼ teaspoon paper
1 cup dried chicken grisser
15 cup dried bottom of peats
¼ teaspoon finely grated ruck
And this is a thing that it came up with repeatedly for some reason, and was quite adamant that I use:
1 cup plaster cheese
Shane also fed recipes into a different neural network that had already been trained on the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 32 minutes. Test corners to see if done, as center will seem like the next horror of Second House.
Whip ½ pint of heavy cream. Add 4 Tbsp. brandy or rum to possibly open things that will never be wholly reported.
Cook over a hot grill, or over glowing remains of tunnel mouth.
With blender on high speed, add ice cubes, one at a time, making certain each cube is the end.
Dice the pulp of the eggplant and put it in a bowl with the vast stark rocks.
NOTE: As this is a tart rather than a cheesecake, you should be disturbed.
She later fed her cooking network some text from H.P. Lovecraft to see what would happen. Yeah, that was just as funny. Read an archive of the experiments at Postcards from the Frontiers of Science. -via Metafilter
A Japanese photographer who goes by Nyan Kichi has made friends with a colony of feral cats. He's found that the cats particularly love to play in an area where the street has a lot of drain holes.
They've made a game of jumping into and peeking out of these holes!
They don't seem to enjoy Nyan Kichi's attempts at a gentle game of Whack-a-Mole, but they don't mind having their pictures taken at all. See a selection of the best pictures at The Dodo, and see all the pictures at Instagram. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: Urban Spree)
Tequila Cloud is an art installation that is a cloud made of tequila, that rains tequila on command. In case you're thinking of renting one for your next party, there's only one, and it was on display earlier this month in Germany.
The Mexican Tourism Board installed the cloud in Berlin at the Urban Spree compound in an art gallery and said “real tequila was turned into gas to create a floating cloud that rains tequila on command.” The art installation seems to be a cloud with lights to simulate lightening that is filled with tequila gas vapor that then rains down and fills a basin with tequila. If you’re not patient enough to collect your shot from a freakin’ cloud, there’s a handy tap that dispenses them, too.
The first movie in the expanded Harry Potter universe is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which made over $800 million in 2016. But it doesn't matter how much people love a movie; Screen Junkies will find a way to turn that enthusiasm on its head with an Honest Trailer.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in the 1920s, earlier than the Potter films, and is supposed to set up a series of several movies based on wizards in America. I don't think there's spoilers in this Honest Trailer. I haven't seen the movie, and I still have no idea what the plot entails.
The Bottle Boys (previously at Neatorama) are back with a cover of Michael Jackson's 1982 hot "Beat It." You'd expect the Danish group to be able to play just about anything and make it sound good, but what's really impressive is how they recreate Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo on bottles!
Yeah, it take two players, maybe three, to pull it off, but the results are tres cool. -via Boing Boing
When Hollywood does history, they often go to great lengths to portray an iconic moment accurately, especially when there is film or photographs of the original event. They get pretty darn close, as this comparison from Vugar Efendi shows us.
For most of these, I am more familiar with the actual film or photographs than I am with the movies. I'm impressed at how well they copied the existing archives. Then again, if a movie didn't resemble the real history, it wouldn't have made it into this video. If you have trouble reading the captions, try it in fullscreen mode. -via Laughing Squid
A discarded water heater got a few accessories for decoration. The resulting "robot" isn't very talkative, but that doesn't matter here at all.
We are familiar with puppets that are controlled by a hand inside, hidden by a high stage, or marionettes controlled by puppeteers hidden above. In Vietnam, puppets move about by controllers hidden by the water they're standing in! Mike Powell and Jürgen Horn attended a performance of Vietnamese water puppets.
The concept of water puppetry is simple to grasp: hidden behind a backdrop, a team of puppeteers use long bamboo sticks and strings to control the puppets, who glide about a pool of water.
But although I understand the basic idea, what I have trouble comprehending is its execution. We saw scenes with at least eight puppets zipping about, often in perfect synchronization. How do the puppeteers, each apparently maneuvering a stick through the water, manage to do it so quickly and exactly? Are they jumping over each other? Passing the sticks down a line? As entertaining as the show was, I think I would have preferred to go backstage, to see them work.
Read more, and see a video of the water puppet performance at For 91 Days.
This escalator spells out the rules for you. If you are going to stand still, stay on the right. If you are walking, keep to the left. The discussion at reddit is split between people who assumed everyone knew this, and people who did not know this. It's most important in cities, especially subways and airports, where some people are in a real hurry. Some things I learned from the comments:
People in Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore are very good at following this rule.
In Australia, you stand on the left and walk on the right. Unless those guys are pulling our legs.
Some people in rural areas have never heard this rule, because they only see escalators in department stores and malls, where no one is in that much of a hurry. And escalators in rural areas are often too narrow for passing. Some people from cities think that's because rural people are fat and lazy.
In the District of Columbia, people on the escalator will scold you for breaking the rule. That makes sense, as they have a lot of tourists who get in the way of commuters.
Several commenter told stories of getting angry over people standing in their way, and then finding that the offender was blind, deaf, or missing a limb. Lesson learned.
While studies have shown that standing is more efficient overall, the etiquette remains. So even if you're from Wyoming, stand on the right, walk on the left, and do watch your step on an escalator. And remember, if the escalator stops, you can use them as stairs. Also, there's no need to make fun of people who don't know things.
Mae is an imaginative young girl who does artwork with a magical touch. But her friends at the slumber party have a different idea of fun, and it's no fun for her. Then things get a little out of hand.
Frolic ‘n Mae is an action-adventure short that combines live-action with hand-drawn animation by Ornana Films (previously at Neatorama). You can see a behind-the-scenes video here. -Thanks, Benjamin!
On the advice of a playwright friend, actor Robert Harling sat down and wrote a play about the pain his family went through when his sister Susan died of complications from diabetes. He wrote about the strong Southern women who surrounded his mother during her grief. The experience was cathartic, yet he was afraid to tell his parents about it. But the play was produced in 1987, moved to Broadway, and then to the silver screen. In a fascinating oral history, the people that were involved in Steel Magnolias tell the story from Susan's death to the filming of the movie in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
ROBERT HARLING Julia was so eager to have the stamp of approval from Mama and Daddy to play their daughter. She’d come over, and Daddy would cook hamburgers and they’d talk, and she’d write poetry and she’d read us the poetry, and Dolly would come over and sit on the sofa and play her guitar. It was just beyond surreal. Dolly wrote a song called “Eagle When She Flies.” It was written for the movie, and Herbert was going to play it over the credits, but he changed his mind. There’s a line about the “sweet magnolia” that originally had been “steel magnolia,” and she played it for my parents as she was writing it.
SHIRLEY MACLAINE It was really hot. There was Dolly with a waist cincher no more than sixteen inches around and heels about two feet high and a wig that must have weighed twenty-three pounds. And she’s the only one who didn’t sweat. She never complained about anything. Never. The rest of us were always complaining.
ROBERT HARLING We were shooting part of the Christmas scene, and this was in the dead of August, and we were sitting out on the porch of Truvy’s beauty shop. We were waiting, and there was a lot of stop and start. The women were dressed for Christmas, and Dolly was sitting on the swing. She had on that white cashmere sweater with the marabou around the neck, and she was just swinging, cool as a cucumber. Julia said, “Dolly, we’re dying and you never say a word. Why don’t you let loose?” Dolly very serenely smiled and said, “When I was young and had nothing, I wanted to be rich and famous, and now I am. So I’m not going to complain about anything.”
The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!
by Joyce Flynn
One June, about 25 years ago, I was doing a one-month work-study gig describing records and tapes in Celtic languages for Harvard’s audio-visual collection and language lab, which was tucked away in the basement of Boylston Hall. I came across goofy mistakes in some main entries in Scottish Gaelic and in Modern Irish. Titles and artists that were plural nouns had been catalogued with Na (the equivalent of English ”The”) as the first word of the titles or of the performing group’s name. Because no one but staff was allowed in the stacks (the area where the records and tapes themselves were kept), this meant no library user would be able to find them by cruising the shelves.
In Search of Whodunnit
I tried to track how the same mistake could have happened so frequently. A staff member referred me to a one-page set of instructions about cataloguing Celtic materials. The guideline had been drawn up in Widener Library -- the university’s main library -- for cataloguing books.
The Widener instructions correctly gave the singular definite article An as a word to be disregarded in cataloguing (i.e., go to the next word in the title for purposes of alphabetizing). But the instructions didn’t mention the plural article Na.
(Image credit: Flickr user emc)
It turned out that a staff cutback had eliminated the Widener cataloguer familiar with the languages. The library had assigned cataloguing in Celtic to someone else. As a result, book titles beginning with Na, for something like Na Fir (The Men), had been catalogued under Na (”The”) as the first word in the title. Many items catalogued under ”N” belonged elsewhere.
When Captain James Cook and his crew landed in Hawaii (which they called the Sandwich Islands) in 1778, the meeting set off a culture clash that has repercussions to this day. The islanders had beliefs, customs, and rituals that sailors misread through the lens of their own culture. And once their reports were published, it was almost impossible to change the impressions of those outside Hawaii. The hula was a ritual performed by both men and women that included dance, poetry, and music for both religious and secular reasons, but what stood out to the sailors was that the women were topless.
In his journal, Captain Cook described the Hawaiians’ hula: “Their dances are prefaced with a slow, solemn song, in which all the party join, moving their legs, and gently striking their breasts in a manner and with attitudes that are perfectly easy and graceful.”
In The Natives Are Restless, Hale explains, “To be sexually adept and sensually alive—and to have the ability to experience unrestrained desire—was as important to ancient Hawaiians as having sex to produce offspring. The vital energy caused by desire and passion was itself worshiped and idolized.”
Cook and his men—and the merchants, whalers, artists, and writers who followed—mistook the hula’s sexually charged fertility rituals as a signal the Hawaiians’ youngest and loveliest women were both promiscuous and sexually available to anyone who set foot on their beaches. In her 2012 book Aloha America: Hula Circuits Through the U.S. Empire, historian Adria L. Imada explains how natural hospitality of “aloha” culture—the word used as a greeting that also means “love”—made Hawaiians vulnerable to outside exploitation. To Westerners, the fantasy of a hula girl willingly submitting to the sexual desires of a white man represented the convenient narrative of a people so generous they’d willing give up their land without a fight.
Contrary to this fantasy, the people populating the eight islands of the Hawaiian archipelago weren’t so submissive.
When word about Hawaii got out, everyone wanted to go -including missionaries who went to convert the islanders and instill a proper sense of shame about women's bodies. Read how Westerners made the hula into a permanent and profitable stereotype at Collectors Weekly. The article contains some vintage nudity.
After 15 years or so of Marvel movies raking in billions of dollars by using teams of superheroes in The Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy, DC is finally ready to jump in with Justice League this November. The first full trailer debuted this weekend. The Avengers saw it, too.
Dr. Machakil edited this fan film that gives us a hint that the Avengers will be plotting a one-up soon. -via Metafilter
There have been many incarnations of the Power Rangers, which evolved from the Super Sentai series that originated in the 1970s. However, the internet generation is most familiar with the 1993-1996 series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The new Power Rangers film that opened this past weekend with middling reviews is supposedly based on that 1993 series -but it's not the same. Check out a list of six key differences between what you know and what the new movie has at TVOM. It is full of spoilers if you haven't seen the film.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so these cats are just acting natural. Redditor camrymonster says this is his first comic. He must already be an artist. He was inspired by his own cats.
Striped one is Thor. Grey one is Walter. Thors the favorite so he got the killshot. Stop peeing on the bathroom mat Walter
Let's hope camrymonster continues to illustrate Thor and Walter's adventures. -via reddit
Photographer Andrew Ward became fascinated with the phenomena of abandoned couches on city streets. He is a native of Dublin, but moved to Los Angeles to work in the film industry. Abandoned furniture on the street is rare in Ireland, so he began photographing the couches. Ward's photographs of sofas grew into a series, and now fill the Tumblr blog The Sofas of L.A. Ward says,
"So you have this community of people that are somewhat what I consider temporary residents here," Ward says. "They're coming here because they thought it would bring them something greater in the short term, or perhaps migrant families that are being evicted and you have to bring all of your possessions with you, so there's that element."
And then there's the other element. The couches are an ugly symbol of how we're becoming, more and more, a disposable society.
"We buy something one day that then next thing is no longer in vogue and gets thrown out on the sidewalk as trash."
But they're more than just trash, Ward says. Each couch tells a story, and is as culturally relevant as a statue.
So far, Ward has photographed 600 or so couches, and after each shot, he reports their location for the city to pick up. Read about the artist, and see a lot of couches at The Sofas of L.A. -via Metafilter
Scientists are able to grow human tissue in a laboratory, but that's far from being able to grow viable organs. One of the biggest problems is that working organs must be fed by a vascular system that carries nutrients through blood vessels, down to tiny capillaries that are hard to design, much less make. But nature may have a workaround in the form of plant cellulose.
One of the defining traits of a leaf is the branching network of thin veins that delivers water and nutrients to its cells. Now, scientists have used plant veins to replicate the way blood moves through human tissue. The work involves modifying a spinach leaf in the lab to remove its plant cells, which leaves behind a frame made of cellulose.
“Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the authors write in their paper.
Once they had nothing left but the spinach leaf's cellulose framework, they grew living tissue over it and sent artificial blood through the veins. Read about the groundbreaking experiment at National Geographic. The results are promising.
(Image credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
Instagram user joey_spazz caught some precious video on his last flight. He's got the best seat mate ever, his Australian cattle dog Ohana. She even smiles for the camera! -via reddit
Between 1816 and 1836, the border between Missouri and Iowa was surveyed several times, because the first survey was done so badly, and there were four possible borders, all slightly different. The nine-mile-wide band of disputed territory was fertile and popular with settlers. But what governing body the residents belonged to was a problem. Things came to a head in 1839 when Sheriff Uriah S. Gregory tried to collect Missouri state taxes from the farmers of the disputed territory.
But Gregory knew he was heading into an area where he was not welcome. Missouri claimed this land all the way to the Booth line, another survey line drawn in 1836 about nine miles north, but the people who lived here considered themselves part of Iowa. The last time Gregory had crossed the Sullivan line, back in October, he had met a group of locals at a house raising, and when he had explained, carefully, that he had come to collect their taxes on behalf of the state of Missouri, they told him that it would be in his best interest—best for his personal safety—if he went back over the border.
Since then, the border conflict between Missouri and Iowa had tensed into what historians would call “the Honey War,” after some unknown Missourian went over the border and cut down three bee trees filled with honey. It was about to escalate even further.
The honey theft appears to be incidental to the real dispute over taxes. Sheriff Greggory was arrested and both sides raised a militia. Read how the confusion came about and how the Honey War ended at Atlas Obscura.
(Image credit: Americasroof)
In the TV series The Walking Dead, Glenn and Maggie Rhee surprised everyone in season six by announcing they were going to have a baby. The above image shows them watching the sonogram. Yes, strange as it seems, there are sonograms in the zombie apocalypse. I'm not going to mention what happens in season seven. However…
In the real world, Steven Yeun (who plays Glenn) and his wife Joana Pak were going through the same process, no doubt with better prenatal care. Their son was born on March 17, and made his social media debut on Instagram yesterday. Just a little reminder that no matter what happens, the real world is better than the zombie apocalypse. -via Buzzfeed
An interspecies relationship leads to a child who feels like she doesn't fit in. She can't take the bullying anymore and decides to leave it all behind. It's a common story, but well done here. Grab a hankie just in case.
If you didn't speak English as a native, you'd be tempted to figure out new words by pulling them apart into smaller words you know. Then you'd be really wrong. This method wouldn't work for "placate" if you are learning British English, as they pronounce it differently. This is the latest from John Atkinson at Wrong Hands. See more of his "phonetically defined" words here. -via Nag on the Lake
Boris is hungry, or at least he knows a good stash of food when he sees it. He's not giving up his loaf of bread easily. No siree.
And you see who wins the battle, even though Boris never stooped to attacking the woman. Boris lives in an animal shelter in St. Petersburg. He has to share food with 25 other cats who need homes, and no doubt has memories of greater hunger in his past. While this particular scene doesn't bode well for Boris' adoption, the Instagram video assures us that he is usually a nice cat, believe it or not. See more from the shelter 50 Tails. -via reddit
This painting is titled Wivenhoe Park, Essex by John Constable. It was painted in 1816 for Major General Francis Slater Rebow. Can you see anything unusual about the picture? Minnesotastan noticed it.
I first saw this painting about 30 years ago in a print that was on the wall of the office of a colleague of mine at the University of Kentucky. After looking at the painting for a while, I initially concluded that the artist (world famous for his landscape portrayals) must have made an error in depicting the scene. Nobody else seemed interested in the apparent anomaly, and I lost track of the painting (not knowing its title) until I encountered it again this past week.
I invite you to explore the image (it should enlarge to wallpaper size with a click) to see if you find anything that appears internally inconsistent in the content.
Whether you find it or not, you'll be interested in the explanation at TYWKIWDBI. Minnesotastan tells us where the anomaly is, and then looks into the background of how the painting was constructed to reconcile what we see with what Constable had to work with 200 years ago.
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