Miss Cellania's Blog Posts

Nuts & Bolts: The Skinny on Your Favorite Cocktail Treats

PECANS The All-American Nut

 (Image credit: Markus Brunner, Germany)

With more than 80% of the world's output produced in the United States, pecans have been an American favorite since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (both of whom grew them in their gardens). The nuts even helped fight communism during the Space Race! Apollo astronauts regularly munched on pecans during their missions.

CASHEWS Because You're Worth It

Snack : Raw Cashews

(Image credit: Flickr user Alisa Cooper)

Cashews are one of the only nuts never sold in their shells. That's because cashew shells contain a toxic liquid that causes nasty skin rashes. In fact, the oil is so caustic that, in the West Indies, it's used to give extreme facial peels. Women spread it on their mugs, and in a few days, the skin completely blisters off, revealing a smooth, clear complexion underneath.

ALMONDS The Lustiest Nut of All

Almond Trees

(Image credit: Flickr user Michael Porter)

For thousands of years, almonds have been associated with the birds and the bees. Pagans used them as fertility charms, and ancient Romans gave them as wedding presents. Even today, they're involved in a mass reproductive ritual right here in the United States. Every February, close to one million beehives are trucked to California so that the bees can pollinate almond trees. It's the largest managed pollination event in the world.

BRAZIL NUTS Why People are Falling for Them

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Jumping Off a Building With Bubble Wrap

The question is, I hope, theoretical: if you were to leap out the sixth-story window of a building, how much bubble wrap would be required to ensure your survival? Rhett Allain tackled the problem with graphs, math, physics, and experiments. You should be aware that he used the British idea that the first floor is the one above the ground floor, which we Americans would call the second floor. The answer is ....at the Wired science blog Dot.Physics. Link

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Cat Eating "Cereal"

(YouTube link)

Queso the cat would rather have gooshy food but is given dry food and water, so he makes cold cereal. Or maybe you could say he prefers his kibble au jus. -via Buzzfeed

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How to be the Best Skull on Your Block

Crafty Lady Abby went to a zombie wedding in full skull makeup. It turned out so well that she posted the makeup process as a tutorial for you. You might not have a wedding this would be appropriate for, but a Halloween party would be the perfect place to show off your skull skills! Link -via Laughing Squid

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Gaddafi? Kadafi? Qaddafi?

How do you spell the name of the erstwhile leader of Libya? The Colonel writes it in Arabic lettering, which is not directly translatable to Roman. For most Middle Eastern names, news agencies use whatever spelling the subject prefers, but in this case, he has never stated a preference.
Instead, Libya's Brother Leader lets a hundred flowers bloom. The banner at the top of his official website spells it, "AL Gathafi." But if you go deeper into the site, you'll see it variously rendered as "Al Qaddafi," "Algathafi," and "Al-Gathafi." Adding to the multitude of his spellings is the increasingly ironically named "Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights."

And that's just the surname. Variations on his given name include Muammar, Moammar, Mu'ammar, and Moamar, and many others. Once you've settled on how to spell his first and last names, you then have to decide whether you want to add the Arabic prefix "al-" before his last name. Which can also be spelled "el-." And then you have to decide whether the prefix should be capitalized.

The list of different ways that western news outlets spell the Libyan dictator's name is all over the map. Link -via the Presurfer

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Flesh-eating Plant Inspires Slippery Science

Chalk up another example of science finding inspiration in nature. The slipperiest substance in nature appears to be the lip of a deadly (to insects) pitcher plant. And a scientist has copied it.
The pitcher plant kills and eats animals. Some of its leaves are shaped like deep pitchers, and their rims, known as peristomes, are exceptionally slippery. Insects that explore the rim, looking for nectar, soon lose their footholds and fall in. They soon drown, and are broken down by the pitcher’s digestive fluids.  (There are some exceptions – see slideshow at the bottom).

Under the microscope, the secret to the peristome’s slipperiness is clear. It is lined with cells that overlap one another, creating a series of step-like ridges and troughs. The plant secretes nectar onto this uneven surface. The troughs collect the nectar, and the ridges hold it in place, preventing it from draining away. The result is an extremely smooth, stable and slippery surface that repels the oils on the feet of insects. Any bug that walks on this frictionless zone falls to its doom.

Tak-Sing Wong of Harvard University recreated this scheme using synthetic materials to build a surface that is slipperier than anything ever made. See the nuts-and-bolts of how he did it at Not Exactly Rocket Science. Link -via reddit

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Back to the Future A Cappella

(YouTube link)

Matt Mulholland replaced the soundtrack of the skateboard chase scene in the movie Back to the Future with his own voice. Yes, he does all the musical parts and the dialog, too!

Previously: The Matrix

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Edward Gorey's Letters and Illustrated Envelopes

Author and editor Peter F. Neumeyer exchanged letters with author and illustrator Edward Gorey over a 13-month period in 1968 and 1969. Now that correspondence has been turned into a book called Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer. Of course, Gorey included illustrations with his letters, even on the envelopes! You can see more of these wonderfully decorated envelopes at Brain Pickings. Link -via @atlasobscura

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Longcat is Long

(YouTube link)

Stewie is a Maine Coon cat, but I suspect there may be a bit of lynx or bobcat in his ancestral lineage, dontcha think? In August of 2010, Stewie was measured at 48.5 inches long, good enough for a world record. His owners are Americans Robin Hendrickson and Erik Brandsness. -via Buzzfeed

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The Phylogeny of Bread Clips

In a peer-reviewed publication of the British Medical Journal, there's a “proposal for phylogenic plastic bag clip classification”. The reasoning behind the need for classification is because so many bread clips are ingested and then are hard for x-rays to pick up. The actual proposal is paywalled, but Laughing Squid has several fascinating graphics from the paper. Link

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The Past and Future of Famous Logos

We've brought you the stories of how some famous logos have *evolved, but what about the future? At Stock Logos, we see how some logos become simpler over time, and that trend is projected into the future. Of course, some of these companies are projected to encounter, um, "circumstances." Link -via Boing Boing

*Previously: Tech, Car, Hollywood, Food, Beer, and Fast Food.

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Gavrilo Princip's Sandwich

The politics that led to World War I are important, but difficult to teach in American schools because the events are distant in both time and place. To capture the interest of students, teachers often tell the story of how assassin Gavrilo Princip would not have been in shooting range of Franz Ferdinand that fateful day in 1914 if he hadn't stopped to buy a sandwich about the time the Archduke coincidentally passed by. Mike Dash first heard the story from his history-student daughter, and decided to investigate.
I was astonished by the story, too, though not because of the strangeness of the coincidence. It bothered me, because the details are new (you’ll struggle to find a telling of the tale that dates to before 2003), and because it simply doesn’t ring true. That’s not because the modern version isn’t broadly faithful to the facts; it’s not even utterly implausible that Princip might have stopped off at Schiller’s for a bite to eat. No, the problem is that the story is suspiciously neat–and that the sandwich is a quintessentially Anglo-American convenience food. The dish was named in the 1760s for John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was in the habit of requesting his meat placed between two slices of toast so he could lunch at his desk. But it took time for the idea to cross the Channel, and I find it hard to believe the sandwich would have featured on a Bosnian menu as early as 1914.

Dash found the surprising origin of the story, which gives us a glimpse of how, and why, our understanding of history tends to change over time. Read the entire account at the Smithsonian history blog Past Imperfect. Link

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If Computer Problems Were Real

(YouTube link)

The metaphors we use for the world of computers are kind of weird, as illustrated in ths video. The first word is the only part that might be NSFW. -via Buzzfeed

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The All Ireland Scarecrow Championship

Sunny Wieler's GPS led him on a mysterious detour in which he saw 150 scarecrows doing the things townspeople normally do. They were busy competing for the title of best scarecrow! The All Ireland Scarecrow Championship is part of the annual ‘Howya’ Festival in the town of Durrow, Ireland. See more scarecrows at Stone Art Blog. Link -via the Presurfer

(Image credit: Andy Walsh)

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Diabetic Dog Finds Home with Diabetic Twins

Roxy is a Staffordshire bull terrier who suffers from diabetes and requires daily insulin shots. The Scottish SPCA wondered if she would ever be adopted into a permanent home. But Catherine and Graham Hendry didn't consider the shots a burden because their 8-year-old twin daughters, Louise and Katie, also have type 1 diabetes and must take daily shots as well.
The dog and girls now all have their injections together.

The Hendry family had spotted a newspaper appeal about Roxy and decided to visit her at the charity's animal rescue and rehoming centre at Drumoak, where she had been since July.

Mrs Hendry said: "We originally saw an appeal for Roxy in our local paper about six weeks ago but our staffy, Buzz, had recently passed away and we felt it was too soon.

"Then we saw another appeal a few weeks later and thought it must be fate. We decided to go and see her that day and just fell in love with her.

Link -via Arbroath

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Rebuilding a Smile

Once upon a time, there was an adorable little girl in Brazil who had trouble eating because she had a cleft lip and palate. She was a happy child, but she hid behind her stuffed toy because she knew she looked funny. Then a team of strange people from Operation Smile came and recorded her on video, and also let her look at herself in the video monitor.

The next day, as she was recovering from surgery, the people brought the video camera again, and let her see her face in the monitor. And it was so different that you'll want to have a handkerchief ready when you see the video at NeatoBambino. Link

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Dexter Intro

(YouTube link)

Ty Mattson constructed an alternate show intro for the Showtime series Dexter that is reminiscent of Saul Bass' movie titles from the '60s. Groovy! The video is based on a series of posters Mattson created, which you can see at his site. Link -Thanks, Ty!

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2011 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony

(YouTube link)

The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.

The 21st annual Ig Nobel Prizes will be awarded on Thursday, September 29th. The tickets to the ceremony at Sanders Theater at Harvard University are sold out, but the presentations will be streamed live at YouTube. Also, if you want to organize a viewing party, the folks at Improbable Research will be glad to help you coordinate it. The theme this year is "CHEMISTRY," which is why the promo video features chemist Daniel Rosenberg, who will perform at the event. Link

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Ancient Swedish Fishers Put Human Heads On Stakes

Swedish archaeologists have pulled a trove of 8,000-year-old human skulls from a peat bog that was formerly a lake near Motala, Sweden.
The rituals at Kanaljorden were conducted on a massive stone pavement constructed on the bottom of a shallow lake (currently a peat fen). Some crania were fairly intact while others were found as isolated fragments. The more intact ones represent eleven individuals, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls have had wooden stakes inserted all the way from the base to the top. In another case a woman's temple bone was found inside the skull of another woman. Besides human skulls, the finds also include a small number of post-cranial human bones and bones from animals, as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler.

The skull depositions at Kanaljorden are clearly ritual in character. The next step is to find out if the human bones are relics of dearly departed that were handled in a complex secondary burial ritual, or trophies of defeated enemies. The archaeologists hope that the ongoing laboratory analysis [stable isotopes] will give clues as to whether the bones are the remains of locals or people with a distant geographic origin, and if they represent a family group or persons unrelated to each other.

Read more at Aadvarchaeology. Link

(Image credit: Anna Arnberg)

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Sphero Robotic Ball

(vimeo link)

This ball rolls around, light up, and acts like it has a mind of its own, which makes it the perfect cat toy. It does not have a mind of its own -it's you, controlling it by Bluetooth! You can even control it and take video of its antics at the same time. $130 is kinda pricy for a cat toy, though, and it's not even on the market yet. What it does to a cat's pupils is priceless! Link -via Buzzfeed

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How to Make American Cheese

A lot of people look down their noses at processed American cheese, but deep down inside, a lot of us see it as a combination of comfort food and convenience food. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could make it at home?
But what exactly is American cheese? I suppose it’s that exact question that gives it such a bad rap. The American cheese that you find on supermarket shelves isn’t cheese made in the traditional way (milk that’s formed into curds and pressed). Instead, it’s either a blend of cheese and additives, or it’s a highly processed mixture of ingredients such as water, milk, milkfat, milk protein, whey, food coloring, flavorings, and emulsifiers.  I wanted to get as close as possible to the taste and texture of American cheese using only pantry ingredients and a food processor.

By making your own American cheese, not only will you know exactly what went into it, but also you can add in flavorings such as black pepper, roasted red peppers… you name it. As I concocted my version of American cheese in the test kitchen, not only did I draw a crowd of curious onlookers, I caused all of the snooty foodies to run for the hills. That’s okay, because I’d take any kind of American cheese over head cheese any day.

The process of making your own doesn't look too difficult, with directions from Yvonne Ruperti at America's Test Kitchen. Link -via the Presurfer

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Nerf Battle

(YouTube link)

How do you make a Nerf gun fight into something special? Special effects, that's how! -Thanks, Chris M!

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Resident Evil Executioner Costume

Collin wanted a badass costume for DragonCon and built this epic recreation of the Executioner from the movie Resident Evil: Afterlife. He worked on it for the better part of a year! The extra couple feet in height come from drywall stilts. The axe is homemade from metal. See more pictures, including some of the creative process at Unreality magazine. Then imagine him showing up at your home for Halloween! Link

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Music from a Dry Cleaner

(YouTube link)

Experimental musician Diego Stocco passes in front of a dry-cleaning establishment almost every day. The sounds that came from the machinery there fascinated him, so he got permission from the owner to turn those sounds into a song. There are more details in his making-of post. Link

Previously: Music from Sand and Bassoforte.

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How to Talk Like a Somali Pirate

All day, every September 19th, we celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day by basically saying "Arrrr!" But that sort of language is from another time and place (mainly Hollywood) -modern day pirates don't talk like that. Real pirates in the modern world are liable to speak Somali, or other languages heard around the Horn of Africa.
The Horn of Africa is without question the hotbed of piracy today. A quick glance at the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre Live Piracy Map shows a dense thicket of attacks, and even though some analysis indicates that the areas of attacks may be decreasing in size, and that the frequency of successful attacks is decreasing, the density of attack is increasing and the risk  of attacks remains high. And the focus of this activity remains Somalia.

What languages are these pirates saying? Based on the IMB’s reported risk zones, and country data for Somalia from the CIA’s World Factbook, they are probably speaking in Somali, Arabic (probably a Yemeni dialect), Italian (a vestige of Somalia’s colonial heritage) or English.

Wired's Danger Room blog has a handy chart with common phrases you may need if you encounter these pirates, in English, Somali, and Yemeni. Link -via Boing Boing

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Kitten and Printer

(YouTube link)

In yet another episode of the ongoing battle between cats and printers, a kitten is evicted from its comfy perch by a tactless printer. -via The Daily What

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What Is It? game 194

Once again, it's time for our collaboration with the always amusing What Is It? Blog! Do you know what the object in this picture is?

Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. Post no URLs or weblinks, as doing so will forfeit your entry. Two winners: the first correct guess and the funniest (albeit ultimately wrong) guess will each win a T-shirt from the NeatoShop.

Please write your T-shirt selection alongside your guess. If you don't include a selection, you forfeit the prize, okay? May we suggest the Science T-Shirt, Funny T-Shirt and Artist-Designed T-Shirts?

There are several additional pictures at the What Is It? Blog. Good luck!

Update: the mystery object is a corn sheller. There's more information about it at the What Is It? Blog. Berhard was the first in with the correct answer. The funniest answer came from sandyra, who said:
It's an Amish 'electric' razor for taking off the moustaches on the men (and some women, if you know what I mean). Since the Amish don't use 'electricity' they get it to rotate by hooking it up to a giant waterwheel.

*note: The older versions tended to rip off the upper lip. This 'newer' model has a wood safety bar to prevent such mishaps."
Both win t-shirts from the NeatoShop!

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Constellation Reformation

View From My Bed
(Image credit: Flickr user Diana Kathrina Leomo)

by Ursula Majors

A constellation is a group of stars that form a particular pattern. The celestial sphere is traditionally divided into 88 such constellations. Most are arranged to resemble characters from Ancient Greek mythology, and all have Latin names. Examples include Aries, Cygnus, Pisces and Virgo.

[caption id="attachment_53203" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Figure 1. The constellation Cassiopeia transformed into Handgun."][/caption]

These archaic descriptors and their associated myths are usually lost on today’s youth. Adolescents have difficulty relating to outdated objects such as harps, herdsmen and flying horses, as they are enamored with modern-day conveniences such as cars, computers and coffee shops. It should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer young people show any interest in astronomy.

[caption id="attachment_53204" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Figure 2. The constellation Gemini transformed into Cell Phone."][/caption]

I have devised a comprehensive restructuring of constellation naming conventions as a means of attracting more students. Along with radical design changes, it also forsakes Latin names in favor of modern English.

For example, consider Cassiopeia, which depicts the mythological queen sitting in a chair. I believe that this constellation would be much more palatable to today’s youth if it were reoriented and renamed Handgun, as illustrated in Figure 1.

[caption id="attachment_53205" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Figure 3. The constellation Taurus transformed into Electric Guitar."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_53206" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Figure 4. The constellation Leo transformed into Motorcycle."][/caption]

Likewise, Gemini, which portrays twin brothers Castor and Pollux, would be better served if it were transformed into Cell Phone, as shown in Figure 2.

Two additional examples are Taurus refurbished as Electric Guitar (Figure 3) and Leo modernized to become Motorcycle (Figure 4). These are but a few of the possibilities. If my constellation reformation is embraced by the scientific community, I will supply others.


The article above is republished with permission from the January-February 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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The Lazy Bureaucrat Problem

A casual look at a complex problem
compiled by Ernest Ersatz, Improbable Research staff

(Image credit: Flickr user Ari Moore)

The Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling Problem is of recent vintage. Here are some of the earliest reports.

A Lazy Bureaucrat Problem
“The Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling Problem,” Esther M. Arkin, Michael A. Bender, Joseph S.B. Mitchell, and Steven S. Skiena, Algorithms and Data Structures, vol. 1663, 1999, pp. 773–85. The authors, at State Universityof New York, Stony Brook, report:
We introduce a new class of scheduling problems in which the optimization is performed by the worker (single “machine”) who performs the tasks. The worker’s objective may be to minimize the amount of work he does (he is “lazy”). He is subject to a constraint that he must be busy when there is work that he can do; we make this notion precise, particularly when preemption is allowed. The resulting class of “perverse” scheduling problems, which we term “Lazy Bureaucrat Problems,” gives rise to a rich set of new questions
that explore the distinction between maximization and minimization in computing optimal schedules.

Another Lazy Bureaucrat Problem
“New Results for Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling Problem,” Arash Farzan and Mohammad Ghodsi, 7th CSI Computer Conference (CSICC 2002), Iran Telecommunication Research Center, March 3–5, 2002, pp. 66–71. The authors, at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, report:
In this paper we studies several versions of the lazy bureaucrat scheduling problems. In this new class of scheduling problems there is a lazy worker whose main objective is to be as inefficient as possible, in contrast to traditional scheduling problems in which the main objective is to be as efficient as possible.

And Another Lazy Bureaucrat Problem
“Common-Deadline Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling Problems,” Behdad Esfahbod, Mohammad Ghodsi,    and Ali Sharifi, 7th Workshop on Algorithms and Data Structures (WADS 2003), vol. 2748, 2003, pp. 59-66.  The authors, at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, report:
In this paper, we studied a new class of the Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling Problems (LBSP), called common-deadline LBSP, where the deadlines of all jobs are the same.

Owen using a Linux Certified LC2430X laptop running Ubuntu Linux 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon") Desktop
(Image credit: Flickr user Roger H. Goun)

One More Lazy Bureaucrat Problem
“On Lazy Bureaucrat Scheduling with Common Deadlines,” L. Gai and G. Zhang, Journal of Combinatorial Optimization, vol. 15, no. 2, February 2008, pp. 191–9.  (Thanks to Matthias Ehrgott for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, say that:
“In this problem, the bureaucrat wants to do things as little (or easy) as possible… Of course there is… the busy requirement, that the bureaucrat must keep working as long as there are some executable jobs, otherwise… the optimal strategy for the bureaucrat would be just stay idle without doing anything.”

[Ed. note: pictures of Zora and Owen were used for illustrative purposes because cats are not as offended by the term "lazy" as human bureaucrats would be.]


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2009 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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Toy Story, Toy Story 2 or Toy Story 3?

There have been three movies (so far) in Disney/Pixar's Toy Story franchise. Can you distinguish quotes from each film? This Lunchtime Quiz at mental_floss might be confusing if you've seen all three movies in a short period of time. I had a slight edge in that I haven't seen Toy Story 3, so I scored 75% (better than expected). Link

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