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:


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Great and not so great LP covers and picture sleeves

I love record covers.

One of the great things about record collecting are all the great - and not so great - covers and picture sleeves out there. They make collecting even more fun and interesting. Here are a few examples.

First, two records from Asia.

Here is the cover for a cover version of Steam's 1969 hit "Nah Nah Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Julie and the Emeralds.


I've never found a copy of this record or even heard it. here's a different recording by Julie and the Emeralds. Unfortunately, it's not embeddable.


Here's a cover by the great 60's and 70's Indonesian garage band Dara Puspita:

Here's one of their recordings:

The story of Dara Puspita:


Here are two religious LP's with "unusual" covers.

This record is fairly common around here, since it's a local recording. I have three copies of it at the moment. I've talked to several people who remember seeing "Mr. Bat" perform wearing this costume. The music is pretty standard sacred music with organ accompaniment.


One of the many creepy ventriloquist LP covers.


I've read that this record is pretty dull musically, but what a cover!


One of the many great polka LP covers:


Friday, September 4, 2009

"The Bloop" and other strange sounds from under the sea

I read an interesting article yesterday about two mysterious signals picked up by hydrophones, acoustic listening devices that were placed by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in the ocean. Hydrophones were originally developed as part of a program by the U.S. Navy as part of the SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) used to track Soviet submarines during the Cold War.. The hydrophones were attached to telecommunication cables so that the sounds picked up could be heard "real time" on land. They were effective but very expensive.

After the Cold War ended in 1991, this technology was turned over to civilians. Portable hydrophones were developed that were self contained, cheaper, and could be dropped anywhere in the ocean. However, data obtained was not real time, and could not be retrieved until the devices were picked up by a ship.

NOAA's VENTS program, which examines underwater hydrothermal venting systems, makes use of these devices. The Acoustic Monitoring Program, which has monitored ocean noises since 1991, picked up the sounds discussed here.

The first of these sounds, known as "The Bloop", was heard several times during the summer of 1997. It has not been heard since. Its origin is uncertain, but the frequency of the sound is consistent with one made by a large animal. The problem is that there is no known whale or other sea creature large enough to have made this sound. It was heard from sensors 3000 miles apart.

Here are two sound files of "The Bloop"


Another sound picked up by the Acoustic Monitoring Program is known as "The Slow Down" sound. It was recorded on May,19, 1997 Lasting for seven minutes, and heard over a range of 2,000 miles, It was never heard again

The "Slow Down" file:


Two articles on "The Bloop":



Some more ocean sounds from NOAA:


Thursday, September 3, 2009

The wonderful world of vintage paperbacks

In addition to collecting records, for many years I collected vintage paperbacks from the 1940s , 50s and 60s. I collected these largely or their artwork, although there were many, particularly by "Noir" writers such as Jim Thompson and David Gaddis that were well worth reading . There were others I liked for their bizarre plots, poor writing, or because of the way they sensationalized issues of the time , such as juvenile delinquency.

Here are some great covers from the golden age of paperback art.

Three from the website "Good Girl Art"


Williamson was a prolific science fiction writer with a PH.D. in English who taught for many years at Eastern New Mexico State University.

Brown was one of the great writers of the vintage paperback era. He was primarily a writer of science fiction and mysteries.

The early works by writers who later became well known sometimes started out as paperback originals. The first edition of Kurt Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan" was released in 1959. The first hardback edition didn't come out until 1961.

Frances Crane was a mystery writer, who wrote a series of novels featuring the exploits of Pat and Jean Abbott. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, and had an interesting life. She lived in Nazi Germany for several years, and was eventually expelled for her views.


The cover of an early Charlie Chan novel.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Daisy Bell" - synthetic speech and a space odyssey

As readers of this blog can tell, I'm very interested in the origins of just about everything, particularly when it relates to music.
The first electronically synthesized speech was created using an analog device, the "Voder", which was demonstrated at the 1939 World's Fair.

Digitally synthesized speech probably originated at Bell Labs in 1962 on the IBM 704 computer. These computers had an estimated 18 bytes of memory, and were the first to use core memory rather then tubes to store binary information.

The song "Daisy Bell", also known as "A Bicycle Built for Two", was digitally synthesized by John L. Kelly, with accompanying music by Max Mathews. It was a major moment in computer history.The writer Arthur C. Clarke was present at this demonstration, and used it in "2001: A Space Odyssey", when the HAL 9000 computer sang it.

The Wikipedia article on the IBM 704:


An article by Bell Labs on text-to-speech synthesis:


A photo of an IBM 704:


Daisy Bell", "sung" by the IBM 704.

The notes here refer to the computer used as an IBM 7094, a later model. It seems that the IBM 704 however was in fact the computer used, since it's referred to that way in the Bell Labs article.

Computer speech from Bell Labs - this also includes "Daisy Bell"


Some music from the "Music for Mathematics LP". The cover for this LP was designed by Alex Steinweiss, the first album cover designer.