Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The British Library Archive of Recorded Sound

It's been a while since the last post, and I'm slowly going to try to blog more.

Yesterday I was reading about major updates to the online sound archives of the British Library. This is an amazing collection. Access to the collections varies according to geographic location; more files are available to residents of the United Kingdom, and even more to those who are associated with a UK institution of higher learning. Over 23,000 sound files are available to everyone.

The archive includes spoken word and musical recordings, and includes both field and commercial recordings. The files can't be embedded, so links are provided instead.

My favorite part of the collection is the archive of world and traditional music. Of particular interest are 952 recordings from Decca's West Africa yellow label series. These are commercial recordings, made between 1948 and 1958, and include many rare performances that are unavailable elsewhere.

Here are Adeolu and his Rio Lindo Orchestra from this series:


The archive also contains 244 ethnographic wax cylinder recordings, made between 1898 and 1919. The sound quality is poor, but they are well worth hearing.

Here is the beautiful and disturbing "Death Wail", recorded in 1898 during the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait, which is located between Australia and Papua New Guinea.


Mr. Seagalman calls horses, cows, sheep, and fowl. (UK, 1910)


This is the blog for the Sound Archive, which features a Recording of the Week.


The archive also contains a collection of regional sounds and dialects from many locations in England, This recordings are interesting not only for their preservation of dialects, but because they are also oral histories, and provide a record of a way of life that no longer exists.

A resident of Cheshire discusses traveling through the area with his threshing machine. This was recorded in 1966. The speaker was 76 at that time.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fox Movietone news and newsreels

I will probably have a more comprehensive post later in the week, but for now here are several interesting Fox Movietone Newsreels and news shorts:

Thomas Edison dies; with clips from an interview of Edison on his 84th birthday.

The first sound recording of Gandhi. The sound is rough here, but there is a transcript on the original YouTube page.


Shaw swims, discusses the U.S. Constitution, etc.

The 1932 Presidential campaign; the death of Rin Tin Tin

And now for something completely different.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Great Cranberry Crisis of 1959

Here's a belated Thanksgiving post, although is probably works better as a post-Thanksgiving post, since it's about food contamination.

I was listening to a great podcast from Angel Baby's show "Lost in Paradise" (November 23 show). She played a superb rockabilly record that I wasn't familiar with: "Cranberry Blues" by Robert Williams and the Groovers, a song about the Cranberry Crisis of 1959. I started researching the crisis, and that led to this post.


The herbicide aminotriazole, introduced in the mid 1950's, had been effective in controlling weeds in cranberry bogs. In 1958, in spite of concerns about the possible carcinogenicity of ATZ, it was approved by the Department of Agriculture, but only for use after the end of the growing season,, so as to avoid contamination of the cranberry crop. Most of the 1957 crop turned out to be contaminated, and was voluntarily taken off the market. I'm not sure what happened with the 1958 crop.

The problem was not resolved, as a small percentage of the 1959 cranberry crop from Washington and Oregon was contaminated. Following the advice of the FDA, Arthur Flemming, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, recommended against eating cranberries from these states. This of course was really bad timing for the cranberry industry, as it was close to Thanksgiving. Since it was diffiult to determine the origin of cranberries, sales dropped nationwide. Many supermarket chains refused to carry cranberries. This had a long term impact on the cranberry industry , and it took a long time for it to fully recover.

This crisis occurred during the early stages of the 1960 presidential campaign, and candidates Kennedy and Nixon did their part in demonstrating the safety of cranberries; Nixon by eating lots of cranberry sauce and Kennedy by drinking several glasses of cranberry juice in front of reporters.

These articles discuss the cranberry crisis.



There is an extensive discussion of the crisis in"A Scientist at the White House", the diary kept by President Eisenhower's science adviser George Bogdan Kistiakowsky. Sorry for the long URL.


The November 23, 1959 issue of Life magazine had an interesting article on the crisis, with some great photos that I can't embed, including one of "Secretary Flemming" being carried to an ambulance after being hung in effigy.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Census of Marine Life: bizarre creaturesof the deep

The Census of Marine Life project, scheduled for completion in October 2010, is discovering and cataloging as many species as possible. Five of the fourteen census projects are related to deep sea life. "Deep sea" is defined as below the level which light penetrates, which is about 200 meters. The observed species are located as deep as 5,000 meters (three miles). A total of 17,500 deep sea species have been cataloged so far, of which 5,722 are found below a depth of 1000 meters.


Here are some of the most interesting and bizarre species found so far.

A new species of "Dumbo", a finned octopod.

Clione lamacina, a snail found in Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Here is another polar species, Mimonectes sphaericus, a polar crustacean.


The image gallery at the Census of Marine Life website has some great photos, but they can't be downloaded.


An exceptionally strange group of deep sea creatures are members of the Osedax genus (bone-eating tubeworms). They devour whale bones in association with symbiotic bacteria that help in the digestion process.

They are small; their length ranges between 0.2 and 05. millimeters, and live in tubes that they build. Only the females feed on whales, The males live inside the females and feed on yolk contained inside their bodies. One female may contain dozens of males. Osedax may play a major role in carbon recycling in the deep sea.



Here are two videos on the deep sea projects.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A few interesting film and music clips

I thought I would post few interesting videos I've seen lately.

Eugeniuz Bodo was one of the great stars of Polish cinema in the1930's. He died in a Soviet labor camp in 1943.


Here he is in the 1937 Polish film "Pietro Wyzej" (Upstairs).

The quality is pretty poor in places, but this is great!

"Snake Hips" - sung by Sharon Lynn, with Ann Pennington dancing. This is from the 1929 film "Happy Days", which was the second wide screen film ever made. However the wide screen print no longer exists.


The best known version of "Mack the Knife" (Moriat) was recorded by Bobby Darin in 1958 , but the first recorded version was by Harald Paulsen from 1928. The song is from "Der Dreigrochenoper" (The Threepenny Opera). Paulsen played Mack the Knife in the original 1928 production in Berlin.


The Originals Project is a great site with lots of information on obscure original versions of songs that later became hits for other performers. There will be a post soon on some very interesting original versions.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Idioglossia - Poto and Cabengo

Secret languages are often developed by siblings. They develop most frequently in identical twins. They typically fade away over time, and disappear by the age of three. However, special circumstances, such as social isolation, can lead to these languages persisting. This phenomenon is known as idioglossia, or cryptophasia.

The best known incidence of idioglossia was the language developed by the identical twins Grace and Virginia Kennedy, who referred to themselves as Poto and Cabengo.

The twins were born in Savannah. Georgia in 1970. They suffered severe convulsions shortly after birth. Although tests showed no brain damage, their father said a neurosurgeon told him it would take years to conclusively determine this.

The family moved to San Diego. Grace and Virginia did not socialize and rarely left the house. They spent most of their time either alone, or with their maternal grandmother, who spoke only German. They spoke very rapidly, and no one else could understand what they were saying. Neither spoke any English at the age of six. Private languages may have their own grammar and syntax, though that is very rare.

Phrases spoken by Virginia and Grace include:

La moa Poto - (here more poto)

Pinit, putatrahletungay (finish, potato salad hungry)

A documentary about the twins, "Poto and Cabengo", was released in 1980. Here is a brief clip.

A combination of speech therapy, psychotherapy, and the work of psycholinguists and speech pathologists helped to decipher the girls language. Over 100 hours of their playtime was taped and analyzed. It turned out that much of their language consisted of mispronounced and garbled English phrases,with a bit of German, that were spoken very rapidly. Most of their speech became somewhat intelligible after being slowed down. Their language contained 30 different words for potato.

Virginia and Grace managed to learn basic English.They were sent to separate schools to help facilitate their learning of English. Their IQ's tested as below average (around 80) but it's exceedingly difficult to tell what their real intelligence is.

According to Wikipedia, Ginny now works on an assembly line,and Grace works at a fast food restaurant.


Here's an interesting article on Grace and Virginia


The abstract of a scholarly article on idioglossia. It mentions that most of what is known about idioglossia is "folk knowledge" and that more scholarly research needs to be done.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ant Colony Optimization Algorithms

Ant colony optimization algorithms (ACO) are used to solve problems relating to finding optimal paths towards a given goal.

In their search for food, ants wander randomly,and lay down a trail of pheromones while they are returning to their nest after finding food . The pheromones evaporate over time, so that the shorter the path to food, the greater the pheromone density. The pheromones attract other ants, so that what was a random path to food becomes an optimal path, and the ants will travel the shortest possible distance to the food supply. This is an example of "swarm theory", where a group achieves an optimal result even though there is no formal leadership.

This algorithm is applicable to a wide variety of problems, including finding the best landing gate at an airport. and the "traveling salesman"problem in mathematics.

The traveling salesman problem (TSP) originated in the nineteenth century. In its simplest form a salesperson has a number of cities to visit. What is the shortest possible path they can take where all cities are visited, but only once. Additional constraints are sometimes placed on the system such as cost and time.


I can't find a non-technical paper of article that discusses this in detail, but here is an important research paper that discusses how the ant colony optimization algorithm provides good solutions to the TSP ,and with some modifications, could provide even better ones.


A strategy similar to the ACO was developed by financial analysts at Southwest Airlines to facilitate quicker arrivals and departures of aircraft. The algorithm they developed, based on the fact that pilots looked for the best available landing gate, led to quicker arrivals and departures of aircraft.


The ACO has also been used to model military strategies. Scientists at the University of Granada developed several algorithms designed to enable a military unit to achieve the greatest amount of security and speed in achieving their goals. They modeled the battlefields in their research on the ones used in the video game "Panzer General"


Here is a simulation of foraging ants.


Monday, November 2, 2009

The music of Harry Partch

Harry Parch has always been one of my musical heroes, due to his unique and uncompromising vision.

Parch was born in Oakland in 1901 to parents who had been missionaries in China. He was interested in music from an early age, but by the time he was in his late teens, he became disenchanted with traditional Western music. He developed what became a lifelong interest in non-Western music, and in primitive and ancient cultures.

Partch developed a unique system of musical tuning, based on a 43 tone scale rather then the tradition Western twelve tone scale. He also developed a series of handmade instruments to play his music on. Partch thought that this allowed music to more accurately portray the patterns of speech. He valued these instruments for their beauty as well as the music played on them.

Partch ran out of grant money, and spent the depression as a hobo, riding trains around the U.S., and keeping a journal of speech patterns. He frequently converted these into musical patterns, a practice he used throughout his career. Following the depression, help from grants and benefactors enabled him to focus on his music.

Compositions by Partch include "Seventeen Lyrics of Li Po" "Two Studies on Ancient Greek Scales", 'The Bewitched" and "And on the Seventh Day the Petals Fell in Petaluma".

The Wikipedia article on Partch:


Here is a list of Partch's compositions:


Here are three of Partch's instruments:

The Adapted Viola, a viola with a cello neck.


Cloud chamber bowls - these were originally designed to be used in devices to detect ionized particles and study nuclear reactions.

The Boo (bamboo marimba) - this can play all the chromatic pitches in Partch's 43 note scale.

The two photos above show some of the instruments in the possession of Newband , a microtonal band, and artists in residence at the Harry Partch Institute at Montclair State University in New Jersey. Dean Drummond, the co-director of Newband has legal custody of the original Partch instruments.


Here is Partch demonstrating some of his instruments

Most of Partch's music was intended to accompany dance, theater, or film. Here is Newband's staging of "Daphne of the Dunes",.

Here is "Barstow", Partch's 1941 composition. The text comes from grafitti that Partch saw on a
highway railing.

This is an excellent BBC documentary on Partch.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Halloween! - horror films from the silent era.

For my Halloween post I thought I would focus on some early horror films.

Here's a good introduction the the genre.


Many of you may be familiar with the French director Georges Melies, whose pioneering films include "A Trip to the Moon" (1902). His directed the very first horror film, "Le Manior du Diable",from 1896.

Here is a brief excerpt, with modern narration.

Three more by Melies:

The first version of Frankenstein was filmed by Edison Studios in 1910. The quality is poor in places, There is only one known surviving copy, and it remained unseen by all except for its owner for many years.


Here is F.W. Murnaus's 1922 film "Nosferatu", the first filmed version of the Dracula legend. Murnau was successfully sued by Bram Stoker's widow for copyright infringement.


There are several very interesting films from the silent era here.


This is a great bibliography of horror films, from 1895-1950


I will discuss the Carl Dreyer film "Vampyr" in a separate post on Dreyer.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Martin Gardner turns, 95 - recreational math, flexagons and "The Annotated Alice"

I've always loved the writings of Martin Gardner, who turned 95 this week. He has long been the best known recreational mathematician. He has written on many different topics, but most of his writings focus on puzzles and puzzle solving. He has written over 70 books, including a puzzle and essay collection that was released this month.

Here's a good article on Gardner's career.


A few of Gardner's puzzles.


My favorite article by Gardner is a very early one (from 1956) which introduced me to the wonderful world of flexagons. They were invented at Princeton in 1939 by a graduate student, Arthur Stone. A "Flexagon Committee" that included fellow graduate students Richard Feynman, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in physics, and Bryant Tuckerman, was formed.

I first made flexagons with my dad on the kitchen table, but later started making them at school (this was fifth grade) during boring classes. Sometimes I would sell them, and use the money to buy junk food at lunch.

This picture comes from a great, comprehensive site on flexagons.


The Wikipedia article doesn't provide much information about flexagons, but it does show how to make tetraflexagons and hexaflexigons.


There area number of technical articles on flexagons. This one provides a good overview.


There are many videos of flexagons online. This one is silent, but has some pretty nifty flexing.


Gardner's "The Annotated Alice" is terrific. It provides detailed information on the many obscure jokes and references in "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass". The "Definitive Edition" contains "The Wasp in the Wig" , a chapter that was left out of "Through the Looking Glass".

Amazon has some interesting editorial reviews of this.


A Gardner bibliography:


Friday, October 23, 2009

Zebroids: zorses and zonkeys

I wrote a post a while back about quaggas, a subspecies of zebra that were once thought to be separate species, that became extinct in the nineteenth century. There is an effort underway to "recreate" the quagga through genetic engineering. I thought I would write about some odd and interesting zebra hybrids.

The zorse is a horse-zebra hybrid. It's the offspring of a zebra stallion and horse mare. Like other hybrid equines (such as mules) it is sterile. The offspring of a zebra mare and horse stallion is called a hebra, though there are multiple names for equine hybrids. They are collectively known as zebroids, and are found both in the wild and in captivity.




Here's a zonkey.


Here is another zonkey, referred to here as a zenky.


A list of hybrid equines:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fish and the evolution of speech

Recent research has shown that sound arose quite early in the evolution of vertebrates. dating back about 400,000,000 years. It first arose in fish, and many fish today use vocalization as part of the process of social communication.

A team of researchers at Cornell, lead by Dr. Andrew Bass ( talk about a fitting name) focused their research on midshipman fish, which are found in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of the U.S. and Canada. Males hum to lure females and grunt and growl to scare away other males from their nest. Female midshipmen fish growl to claim and protect territory, but don't make the other sounds males do.

The most interesting part of the teams research showed that the neural networks responsible for vocalization in fish and had the same location as that in other vertebrates, indicating that not only was vocalization something very ancient, but that its form, structure, and function have been highly conserved throughout time.

This research could be useful in helping to develop treatments for those who have had damage to the neural network that controls speech.

This is an interesting article on this research.


Another good article, which includes the picture at the beginning of the post:


The abstract for the original research article:


Here is a video of humming and grunting midshipman fish:

Here is a link to a speech by Dr. Bass about his research:


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Strange book and comic book covers

Today's post is on strange and bad book and comic book covers.

Here are three from


These look like good candidates for the Museum of Bad Art.

A bizarre comic book cover:




Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old English, Furthoc, and Caedmon's Hymn

Old English is a very different language from modern English, and was spoken from the fifth into the twelfth century. It was a northern Germanic language, and later was influenced by Old Norse after the Viking invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries. It was also influenced by Latin, as the influence of Christianity grew, and the presence of clergy who knew Latin increased. It originally had a series of grammatical cases, as Latin and Greek did, but eventually these began to die out.

There were four main dialects of Old English - Mercian, Northumbrian, Kentish, and West Saxon, but the Wessex Dialect spoken by Alfred the Great became dominant after he unified Anglo-Saxon England in 878.


Old English was originally written using the Futhorc variation of the Runic alphabet. Runic was used to write many Germanic languages. Futhorc was eventually replaced by the Latin alphabet.



One of the earliest surviving works in Old English is by Caedmon, a late seventh century monk and poet. Although he was said to be highly prolific, his only surviving work is "Caedmon's Hymn", which supposedly came to him in a dream.

There are versions of "Caedmon's Hymn" in Northumbrian and West Saxon.

The Northumbrian version:


Here are the West Saxon, Latin, and Modern English versions:


A recitation:

All our knowledge of Caedmon comes from St. Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People."


The Lord's Prayer in Old English:

The most famous work in Old English is "Beowulf", which I will leave for a separate post. For now, here are a couple of great (and very extensive) Beowulf sites:



Here is an Old English to Modern English Translator:


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Nobel Prizes 2009 - Physics - optical technology

Nobel Prizes are often given for work done a long time ago that has proven to be highly valuable in the ensuing years. This years Nobel Prize in physics was given to three inventors for their work in optical technology from the 1960's.


Willard S.Boyle and George E. Smith were given their prizes for the invention of the charge-coupled device, (CCD), which revolutionized the development of imaging devices by capturing images of light electronically. It led to the development of the digital camera, bar codes, and medical imaging technology and other devices.

CCD's work by converting pixels into electronic charges, which are linked to a corresponding color.

Charles K. Kao shared in this years prize for his pioneering work in the development of fiber optics. He was the first to calculate how light could be transmitted over long distances

Here's a basic description of a charge coupled device:


Boyle and Smith discussed the invention of the CCD during a presentation at Bell Labs in 1978. The basic design of the CCD only took an hour! It took three more days for a prototype to be built, and another week for some basic testing.

A fiber optic strand, which is bundled into a cable, consists of three parts: 1) the core where the light travels 2) the cladding, which reflects light back into the core and 3)a protective buffer coating. The entire cable is protected by an outer jacket.

Light in optical fibers travels a long way due to the cladding reflecting the light back into the core, but the signal does degrade. It's boosted by a set of optical regenerators, which are specially coated optical fibers whose signal is amplified by a laser. The incoming signal is then decoded and sent to an electronic device, such as a computer or phone.


How fiber optics fibers are made:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rube Goldberg: cartoons, games and devices

The cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg was best known for creating "Rube Goldberg machines", which were complicated machines designed to perform simple tasks. Goldberg's machines led to the development of the popular game "Mouse Trap", developed in the 1960's, and to a series of competitions at Purdue University, in Japan, and elsewhere, to build the best Rube Goldberg device for a certain task, such as putting a hamburger together.

Here is Goldberg's alarm clock:



Purdue University's Rube Goldberg Contest:


The 2007 competition at Purdue:

The original version of the Mouse Trap game was released in 1963. The object is to build a Rube Goldberg style mouse trap, and then capture all of your opponents mice.



There are many videos of Rube Goldberg devices online. Here is one of my favorites.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nobel Prizes 2009 - Part One - Physiology or Medicine

This will be the first of several posts on this years Nobel Prize Awards.

Congratulations to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack Wzostak, winners of this years prize in Physiology or Medicine. Their work involved understanding the synthesis and function of telemeres, which are a structure found on the ends of chromosomes that protects their integrity. in eukaryotic cells. Telemeres replicate, but ultimately the process stops because one of the strands of the double helix grows a little shorter with each replication. This relates to the aging of cells, since when one of the strands grows too short, the cell can no longer divide.

The researchers who won the Nobel Prize discovered and worked with the enzyme telemerase, which controls the adding of sequences to the shorter strand so that the two strands remain of equal length. Telemerase is only active early in a cells life, and its inactivation is what causes cells to stop growing. It was discovered, quite surprisingly that the replication of these added sequences is controlled by RNA.

Understanding how telemerase works is important in understanding cancer. In order for a cell to replicate again telemerase must be reactivated. Reactivated telemerase is found in most cancer cells, and researchers are working to find drugs that inhibit it.

Here's a good article on the prize winners and their research.


The website for Dr. Blackburn's lab is:


Here is the announcement of the prize, and the winners discussing their work.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

ScratchBot - robots and rat whiskers

Here's the first of several posts on advances in robotics. Let's start with a robotic rat.

A team of researchers at the Bristol Robotics Lab, in association with Professor Tony Prescott of the University of Sheffield, have developed ScratchBot, a robotic "rat". This tactile sensing device is based on the processes a rat uses when its whiskers sense its environment, and on computer modeling of the rat brain This technology would allow robots to be used in areas where vision is poor, such in smoke filled areas or under the sea. ScratchBot is part of a European project to develop artificial intelligence systems modeled on biologic ones.

Rat whiskers serve as an excellent model for robotic sensing. They are able to accurately locate and determine the size, shape and texture of an object. The hope is that damaged robotic whiskers can be easily and cheaply replaced, thereby lowering maintenance costs for a highly complex system.

A video of ScratchBot:

Here are two articles on the ScratchBot project.



(this includes the embedded video)

A gesturing robot from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sound and color in early film

From the beginning of film history, there were attempts to incorporate sound and color into film. The early attempts are very primitive by today's standards, but very interesting.

Edison's first attempt at incorporating sound and film involved the use of the kinetophone, in which film was watched a film through the peepholes of a kinetoscope. The cabinet of the kinetoscope contained a phonograph, and the viewer/listener heard the sound through a pair of ear tubes.

Information about kinetoscopes and kinetophones can be found here.



Here is the earliest Edison sound film, from 1894.

I don't know anything about this film, but it's very cool.

Sound films really came of age through the development of "sound on film" where the sound was optically recorded on the side of a film strip. The helped solve the problem of synchronization, which was poor in earlier sound films. Several researchers developed a "sound on film' process but it was the one developed by Lee De Forest that became commercially successful.

Although the first full length film to use De Forest's process was "The Jazz Singer" from 1927, it was used in several shorts, starting in 1923.

Here's a great one, featuring Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake.

Here's a preview of a future post on color in early hand painted film, from 1895.

The Wikipedia article on the history of sound in film is really good.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices

The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, now closed, contained over 250 items. Some of these are now on display at the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul.

Here are three devices from the collection.

The Battle Creek Vibratory Chair:


This is from around 1900, and was created at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, directed by Dr. John Kellogg, of Corn Flakes fame. It was designed to stimulate intestinal peristalsis, and cure back pain and headaches. it looks about as comfortable as an electric chair.

The Radium Ore Revigitator:


From 1925, the idea behind this was many health problems stemmed from "denatured' water lacking an essential ingredient : radioactivity! A little radium was the ingredient needed to keep you healthy. Um, not exactly.

Here is another painful looking device, the Prostate Gland Warmer, "designed to stimulate the abdominal brain".


Here is Bob McCoy, curator of the museum, on Late Night with Conan O'Brien (1998)

Many more videos can be found at the museum's You Tube channel.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

A tribute to William Safire

William Safire, the political columnist, presidential speechwriter, novelist, and arbiter of language died today. I thought I would do a brief tribute here.

Although I strongly disagreed with his politics, I always saw him as a charming , interesting ,and decent guy. I loved his "On Language' Column for the New York Times. How could you not like someone who managed to come up with the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism", albeit for Spiro Agnew.

I talked briefly on the phone with him several years ago, pretty much by mistake. I ran across something I thought he might be interested in for his language column. I called the New York Times re where to send it. They put me through directly to Safire. I apologized, and said I didn't mean to bother him. He laughed and told me where to send my information.

Here is the obituary from the New York Times.


A column discussing the origin of my favorite term from the financial crisis: "zombie banks".


One of the most interesting speeches Safire wrote,which fortunately never had to be delivered, was a "what-if" speech for President Nixon, , in case Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to be abandoned on the moon after the first lunar landing.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Pet cats in Neolithic Cyprus

All house cats are descended from one of five females of the wild species Felis silvesteris lybica, which originated in the Middle East. cats likely first became domesticated as they moved into human settlements, and were efficient at rodent control in homes, and in fields of wheat. and barley. There's no indication that a "Tweety" bird accompanied Felis Sylvesteris:).


The origin of the domestication of cats goes back far beyond ancient Egypt. A grave where a human and cat were buried together that dates back 9500 years was discovered on Cyprus in 2001 in the Neolithic village of Shillourokambos. Cats are not native to Cyprus but appear to have been brought to the island about this time, as were pigs, goats , deer and cattle. Cats likely served a dual function; as pets and as a means of rodent control. It's clear that cats did have a special meaning, due to the proximity of cat and human in the grave. The grave also contained a number of ceremonial offerings, such as ochre and seashells.


Here is the grave.


Here is a recent video of cats in Cyprus.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Some 1950's film trailers

This post was inspired by Steven Hill's great"Movie Screens Title Page".He has asked that images not be directly linked to, but I would encourage everyone to check the images for the film title pages in this post, and other images on his site.


Here are trailers for three 1950's Technicolor films.

Be sure to check out the great title page for the 1954 black and white version of "Them".

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bhutan and unusual stamps

I was working on this post when I heard news about today's strong earthquake in the beautiful, remote country of Bhutan, located in the Himalayas.


Bhutan, as many very small countries do, derives significant income from the sale of postage stamps. Many of these stamps are highly unusual, and intended for collectors rather then for use.

Here are some record stamps from Bhutan, at the Internet Museum of Flexi/Cardboard/Oddity records:

You can listen to a couple record stamps here:


Last year Bhutan began a series of CD-ROM stamps:


Here are two interesting and unusual stamps from the "Stamps of Distinction" blog.

This stamp actually has finely pulverized pieces of the Rock of Gibraltar in it.

This Austrian stamp contains .003 grams of meteorite dust.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quantum computers

This is the first of at least two posts relating to quantum mechanics.

Although quantum mechanics, is weird , extremely abstract, and difficult, it does relate to the everyday world in some ways. One of these concerns the development of quantum computers. Practical quantum computers are still a couple of decades away however.

Standard computers are limited in the amount of data they can hold and transmit. Each binary bit is either a zero or one. In quantum mechanics, the principle of superposition holds that for very small particles under certain conditions, multiple states or positions coexist. Therefore a quantum bit or "qbit" can have the states zero and one at the same time. This allows for an exponential increase in computing power. The technology has developed to the point where a 16 qbit computer has been developed.

Here's a good introductory article on quantum computers:


An introductory video on quantum computers from Scientific American:

Another interesting video on quantum computers:

Quantum computers will be useful for solving problems that are well beyond the reach of standard computers. This has advantages and disadvantages, one disadvantage being is that current encryption systems, which cannot be broken by standard computers, could potentially be broken by quantum computers.

One function that quantum computers will be very helpful with is searching through large, complex, databases. Here is a demonstration of a 16 qbit computer searching for complex molecular information in a database.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Some great images from Flickr

One of my favorite websites is PCL Link Dump.


There are great new links there every time I check it out. It's where I found a link to Steve Chasmar's Flickr page>


Here are a few great images from his photostream:

An anti-opium illustration from China, circa 1930


RSROA is the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association.


From Burma:


and my favorite:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Abner Jay, one-man band


Abner Jay was a unique figure in American music. He was a one-man band, playing banjo, guitar, cymbals, and harmonica. His music is a mix of folk and blues with a unique "outsider " element, that's hard to describe.

Born in Georgia, Jay was a member of Silas Greens Minstrels in the 1930's, and led the WMAZ Minstrels , who appeared on Macon radio in the 1940's and 50's. He then toured the country, traveling in a small portable home. He sold recordings that appeared on his own label, Brandie Records. Jay died in 1993. Some of his recordings have been reissued on CD.

An informative blog post on Jay:


Here is a reminiscence about Jay and a comment by Jay's daughter Brandie. Unfortunately, the audio link is broken.


Abner Jay at the Grassroots Festival, 1993

Links to a couple Abner Jay songs:


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Historic menus

Restaurant menus can be interesting for their artwork, general design, and as a historical artifact. It's interesting to look at prices, unusual items, and different cultural sensibilities. I'm going to start with five menus for this post.

A special game dinner help to honor president Theodore Roosevelt, the Bozanta Tavern, Hayden Lake, Idaho, 1909

Menu details from a reception for the International Hotel Alliance by French government officials:


More menu details can be found here:


Check out the other great menus from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.


Three from the Colorado Menus Collection:


Easter Dinner at the Alamo Hotel, Colorado Springs, 1895:

Drink all your milk and get a free lollipop at the Holiday Inn Hotel. (children's menu, 1970?)

Some typical 1950's menu items with typical 1950's prices - just don't get drunk or rowdy at the Holland House in Golden. (1958)

The complete menu can be found here:


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Museum of Bad Art

I thought a good place to start a series of posts on outsider art would be the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA).

The Museum was established in 1993 by Scott Wilson. It started when Wilson found a painting in the trash. His friends Jerry Reilly and Marie Jackson wanted the painting, and decided to exhibit it, along with another painting, in their basement. The basement museum grew, and eventually moved to the basement of theater in Deedham Massachusetts. A second museum was later in another theater basement in Somerville, another Boston suburb.

The museum's purpose is not to collect art that's kitschy (such as velvet Elvis paintings), but paintings and sculptures that are a serious attempt at good art, but have failed in a way that's truly distinctive and noteworthy albeit due to sheer awfulness. It's reminiscent of the best of the "song-poem" records discussed in an earlier post. The paintings come from the trash, thrift stores, and donations.

Here is "Lucy in the Field With Flowers", the painting that started MOBA. The painting was identified by Susan Lawlor, who read a newspaper article about MOBA, as being her grandmother, Anna Lally Keane.

"Peter the Cat"

"Juggling Dog in a Hula Skirt"
"Inauguration Day, 1961"

All pictures are from the MOBA website.


A tour of MOBA:

An ABC Australia story on MOBA: (embedding disabled)


The Wikipedia post on MOBA is excellent.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The wonderful species of the Mount Bosavi crater

I'm always fascinated by the discovery of new animal species. The recent discovery of over 40 new species of animals in the crater of Mt. Bosavi, in Papua New Guinea is tremendously exciting. The volcano last erupted 200,000 years ago, and is well isolation form other environments. Since isolation leads to speciation, its not surprising that many previously unknown species were discovered there, but the variety and uniqueness of some of the species discovered there is remarkable. The discovery is also significant because it strongly demonstrates the need for saving what rain forests remain.

The project was filmed, and photos were taken by the BBC Natural History Unit.

Here is the official report on the expedition:


The BBC website for "Lost Land of the Volcano" , showing this week. I can't get the videos to play, and the show can only be watched online in certain areas, but it's still worth checking out.


Here are some of my favorite animals that were discovered.

The Bosavi woolly rat. A cat sized rat, with no fear of humans. One sat quietly amidst a group of explorers when it was being filmed and photographed. Here's one with BBC producer Steve Greenwood.

A video of the giant Bosavi rat. It's so gentle that the explorers can easily pet it.


The Bosavi Silky Cuscus, a tree dwelling marsupial:


A new species of frog:

A hairy caterpillar:

These photos, and others from the expedition, can be found at: