Better Than Coffee: Dom Yunogo Technika

Ah, the legendary 14th episode of Nu Pogodi (“You Just Wait!”), a ’70s/’80s children’s cartoon outlining the tormented, love-hate, co-dependent relationship of Zayatz and Volk (bunny and wolf), the Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner of the USSR.  Their relationship spanned 16 “classic” episodes (from 1969 to 1986) and included plenty of substance abuse, violence, “bad touches,” and one very awkward romantic dinner.

The 14th episode – with its murderous rabbit simulacrum, metrosexual hair-cutting/pants-pressing robots, junky schteeempunk Volkswagon (YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!), and zero-G flight simulators that play Space Race-inspired Soviet pop music. Episode 14 – my first exposure to electronic music of any sort. The techno kicks in at 2:57, when the main Space/Technology portion of the episode begins. In this episode, the wolf chases the rabbit around the “Dom Yunogo Technika,” which translates roughly to “House/Society of Young Tech-heads.” (That’s my best 5 AM translation, at least).  Before 2:57, there’s a short mini-episode in which Rabbit & Wolf share a dinner together – the aforementioned date, which ended in hilarious tragedy and made the show go down in Russian gay animation/film history, as both Rabbit & Wolf are male.

As with all episodes of Nu Pogodi, which can be found on YouTube, the wide-ranging music is one of the best parts. This episode is one of the best examples of that. The tracklist of Episode 14, which includes some appearances by Western artists, is this:

1. Alla Pugachova – Million Alyh Roz
2. Digital Emotion — Get Up, Action
3. Digital Emotion — Go Go Yellow Screen
4. Bonnie and Clyde – Leroy Holmes
5. Methusalem (Empire) – Black Hole (Bavarian Affair)
6. Digital Emotion — The Beauty & The Beast
7. Zemlyane – Trava u Doma
8. VIA Leisya Pesnya – Kachaetsya Vagon

Creative Applicants Wanted for “Synthetic Aesthetics”

BERG co-founder Matt Jones just forwarded me a missive from one Ms. Daisy Ginsberg, sovaldi sale an artist and scholar who uses design concepts to “explore the implications of emerging and unfamiliar technologies, help science and services. She is fascinated by the macroscopic view, the larger-scale social, cultural and ethical consequences of engineering invisible organisms.”

Ginsberg and a handful of fellow researchers are putting out a call for artists, designers and scientists to collaborate on a well-funded synthetic biology exchange program called “Synthetics Aesthetics“. The project sounds like it will offer immense potential for personal growth, as well as aid other up-and-comers from a wide range of disciplines in developing completely new ways of thinking about and approaching the relatively newborn field of creative synthetic biology.

What is synthetic biology, exactly? Read on:

Synthetic Biology is a new approach to engineering biology, generally defined as the application of engineering principles to the complexity of biology. Biology has become a new material for engineering. From the design of biological circuits made from DNA to the design of entire systems, synthetic biology is very much interested in making biology something that can be designed.

Traditional engineering disciplines have tackled design by working alongside designers and developing longstanding and mutually-beneficial collaborations. Synthetic Aesthetics – a research project jointly run by the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Stanford University, California – aims to bring together synthetic biologists, social scientists, designers, artists, and other creative practitioners, to explore existing and potential collaborations between synthetic biology and the creative professions. Interaction between these two broad fields has the potential to lead to new forms of engineering, new schools of art and design, a greater social scientific understanding of science and engineering, and new approaches to societal engagement with synthetic biology.

This website provides detailed information on the project… and useful information on synthetic biology and its relationship to art and design. As the project develops, the site will feature the results of our work and track the collaborations we establish.

Intrigued? Read their FAQ here. Specifically, they are looking for twelve people: six synthetic biologists and six designers/artists to take part in collaborative two week residencies. You have until March 31st to apply.

James Randi Makes Himself Visible

Penn and Teller do a magic trick with James Randi. Unrelated… but cute.

Via John Brownlee, who posts on Twitter, “my hero James Randi just came out of the closet… although I wonder why he waited this long, or chose to come out now.” Normally, a famous person’s coming-out announcement wouldn’t really feel like big news to post about here, but something about Randi’s news struck a cord. Perhaps it’s his age; James Randi is 81 years old, and, according to his blog post, this is the first time he’s officially told even his closest friends. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s also originally from Toronto; an antidote to Margaret Wente.

James Randi dropped out of school at age 17 to perform in a carnival roadshow as a turban-wearing stage magician and escape artist. He holds two Guinness records: one for being encased in a block of ice for 55 minutes, the other staying locked in a casket for 1 hour and 44 minutes, breaking Harry Houdini’s record from 1926. Bigger than his accomplishments in magic and escapology is his career as a skeptic/author. He entered spotlight for challenging the claims of spoon-bender/psychic Uri Geller in the 1972. Since that time, he’s made it his business to debunk those who prey on gullible people, especially for financial gain: televangelists, psychic surgeons, dowsers, vibrational healers, and the like. Randi runs an educational foundation (the JREF), which offers scholarships to a younger generation of skeptical thinkers. An excerpt from Randi’s coming-out post:

From some seventy years of personal experience, I can tell you that there’s not much “gay” about being homosexual. For the first twenty years of my life, I had to live in the shadows, in a culture that was — at least outwardly — totally hostile to any hint of that variation of life-style. At no time did I choose to adopt any protective coloration, though; my cultivation of an abundant beard was not at all a deception, but part of my costume as a conjuror.

Gradually, the general attitude that I’d perceived around me began to change, and presently I find that there has emerged a distinctly healthy acceptance of different social styles of living — except, of course, in cultures that live in constant and abject fear of divine retribution for infractions found in the various Holy Books… In another two decades, I’m confident that young people will find themselves in a vastly improved atmosphere of acceptance.

Before publishing this statement, I chose to privately notify a number of my closest friends and colleagues — none of whom, I’m sure, have been at all surprised at this “coming out.” I’m prepared to receive the inevitable barrage of jeers and insults from the “grubbies” out there who will jump to their keyboards in glee to notify others of their kind about this statement, which to them will be yet further proof of the perfidy of the rationalist mode of life that I have chosen. Those titters of joy will be unheard over the murmur of acceptance that I confidently expect from my friends.

This declaration of mine was prompted just last week by seeing an excellent film — starring Sean Penn — that told the story of politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. I’m in excellent company: Barney Frank, Oscar Wilde, Stephen Fry, Ellen DeGeneris, Rachel Maddow, are just a few of those who were in my thoughts as I pressed the key that placed this on [the JREF blog] and before the whole world…

I should apologize for having used [this blog] as the venue to publish this note, an item that is hardly the focus of what we promote and publish here, but I chose the single most public asset I have to make this statement. It’s from here that I have attacked irrationality, stupidity, and irresponsibility, and it is my broadest platform. Here is where I have chosen to stand and fight.

And I think that I have already won this battle by simply publishing this statement.

It just goes to show that it’s never too late to step forth, never too late to declare visibility. Thank you and congratulations, James Randi!

BTC: Tommy and the Atom

Who else from the US is long-toothed enough to remember those bunged up old Sterling Educational Film reels that lazy or under-prepped public school teachers often showed in place of real lessons? They were short, vaguely informative features on anything from personal hygiene, to parameciums, to overviews of friggin’ dairy production in Wisconsin. And of course, there was plenty of morbidly fascinating “duck and cover” fare:

I’d all but forgotten watching Tommy and the Atom one morning in my 1st grade homeroom class (this would have been early in Reagan’s first term) until now. But the minute that electrified fox showed up, it all came flooding back: the Rasputinian magician with his beard of lightning, the impassive narrator’s description of good versus bad atoms, the malignant black atom thrashing inside of a bomb, intimation of worldwide destruction at the hands of evildoers… This is one beautifully creepy, potent little slice of cold war propaganda.

Stephen Hawking: “It matters if you just don’t give up.”

Yeah, yeah. Happy birthday to The King and The Thin White Duke. You were/are Teh Sex. Good on ya.

Stephen Hawking in zero-gravity, 2007.

Hey, guess who else was born on Jan 8th? World-renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. He turns 68 today. Here’s a small assortment of reverent (and not so reverent) clips and quotes concerning a brilliant and resilient man whose mind is arguably Teh Sexiest human organ on this entire planet:

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

The Great Tumbleweave Diaspora

“Unfortunate little tumbleweave that met an unhappy end on V Street, hospital NE Washington, shop DC. Tumbleweaves thrive here in DC, their numbers are great.  She was one of the unlucky few.” – Urban Tumbleweave

A tumbleweave is the part of a hairstyle that, once mature and dry, disengages from the host and tumbles (rolls) away in the wind, seeking its own fortunes. The tumbleweave habit is most common in urban areas, such as PHILLAY. However, the ripe specimen of tumbleweave pictured below was sighted by intoallthat in Baltimore. Some thorough scientific analysis yields the following theory: “possibly originating continents away in a proto-religious Eurasian hairletting ritual, [this tumbleweave] found itself hopelessly and aimlessly clinging to a patch of concrete in downtown Bowtimo. Possibly looking for a cameo on The Wire.”

The blog Urban Tumbleweave seeks to further chronicle tumbleweaves discovered in Philadelphia, West Oakland (“the Philly of the West Coast”) and beyond. Each tumbleweave is like a snowflake, representing a particular genus, such as the exotic Synthetica Prolifera. Tumblewave sightings can also be submitted to this excellent Flickr pool.

A typical specimen found in Baltimore

The Great Handcar Regatta of 2009

Three cheers for Oakland-based photographer Neil Girling! Longtime readers may recall his beautiful work from this 2007 post about California’s thriving underground circus scene. More recently, Neil braved scorching temperatures and hoards of cheerfully chafing, corseted quaintrelles to bring Coilhouse the following photo essay about the second annual Handcar Regatta. A tip o’ the topper to you, good sir, and thanks again. ~Mer

The Screaming Vortex races down the track.

September 27th saw the second installment of the Great Handcar Regatta, an afternoon of nonsensical anachronism, whimsy and ingenuity in Santa Rosa, CA. Though temperatures burned hot in the triple-digits, many thousands of spectators and participants flooded the Railroad Square historic park, perusing vendors, sipping refreshments, seeing live music, and — of course — watching the races.

Rock*N*Roll Sunday School Fixed Gear, powered solely by running, crosses the finish line.

Official MC Les Claypool provided commentary to the thronging crowds, which were said to have reached nearly 10,000 (a keen-eyed friend said Tom Waits was among them), many of whom were dressed appropriately old-timey for the occasion.

[Scads more photos after the jump.]

The Power of the Pentatonic Scale

Here’s Bobby McFerrin at the World Science Festival last June, demonstrating how deeply internalized and anticipatory (if not truly universal), the language of music can be during a panel called “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus“:

Via Whitney Moses, thanks!

Such a straightforward, playful, simple demonstration! Something about this reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s approach to lectures on music for children, a series that can’t be recommended highly enough to music lovers of all ages.

Watch the full “Notes & Neurons” presentation –of several different performances interspersed with scientific lecture– after the jump.

The Internet Finds Phineas Gage

As far as medical curiosities go few are as famous in professional circles as Phineas Gage. Gage was 25 years old and working as a foreman for a blasting crew preparing a railroad bed outside of Cavendish, Vermont when, on September 13, 1848 he became the victim of an unfortunate accident. While using an iron rod to tamp gunpowder and sand into a hole in the rock a spark was struck and the resulting explosion sent the 3’7″, 13 and 1/2 pound rod through his left cheek and out the top of his skull. Amazingly, he did not die. When he was brought to Harvard University, doctors there made a cast of his head. It, along with Gage’s skull and the tamping iron that changed his life, remain on display at the university’s Warren Anatomical Museum.

What happened to Gage after the accident mostly comes to us through a report by Dr. Henry Jacob Bigelow, published in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Gage apparently returned to work but was much changed since his accident, he was “fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity”. (Author’s Note: It has come to my attention that the basis for this quote comes, in fact, from Gage’s physician John Martyn Harlow. See comments.) For a time he exhibited himself in P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. He also worked with Currier’s livery stable and coach business for a year and a half, and in Chile in the same capacity. He died in 1860, 11 1/2 years after the accident, in California. After his death a litany of odd facts were added to those 11 1/2 years. Gage’s mother related to Harlow that he would often make up stories to entertain his nieces and nephews. This may have contributed to later stories that embellished his personality shift, turning him into a abusive lunatic and liar. It was also related that he became a slovenly drifter who toured with circus sideshows, most likely due to people seeing the name P.T. Barnum, more famous for his circus than the American Museum.

The most glaring omission in the life of Phineas Gage, however, has been the lack of a photograph of the man. That is, until recently. In 2007 Beverly Wilgus posted a photo on her Flickr account that she and her husband Jack had owned for over 30 years. Thinking the man was holding a harpoon, they titled it “Daguerreotype – One Eyed Man with Harpoon”. There was some discussion as to whether the object in the gentleman’s hands was actually a harpoon and, in December 2008, a commenter suggested that “maybe you found a photo of Phineas Gage? If so, it would be the only one known.” Six months later, a few road trips and a correspondence with a leading expert on Gage under their belt, the Wilguses are certain they have, indeed, the only image of the man. In August the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences will be publishing an article detailing their findings.

via MetaFilter

Canonical Grimaces: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

The Vexed Man, capsule alabaster

There’s something that I can’t help but love about the strange story of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783). Messerschmidt was a technically brilliant and accomplished court sculptor in Vienna. He spent his early years creating masterful, but rather dull, portrait busts of wealthy and powerful patrons. However (and this is where is gets interesting!) during the 1770’s his work underwent a mysterious transformation. He began to create his infamous character heads, a series of grotesque, humorous (and IMHO absolutely marvelous) portrait busts. At the time, it was whispered that an undiagnosed mental illness had prompted the drastic transformation of his work. Shortly thereafter, he was expelled from teaching at the academy, lost many of his patrons, and went into isolation in Bratislava, where he spent the rest of his life working on his character head series. It has always remained unclear whether he was indeed insane, or merely pissed off the wrong people. I prefer to think that he had merely grown tired of the pompous stuffed shirts of the academy and that his later works were a brilliantly articulated and eloquent thumbing of the nose…

Left: The Beaked. Right: The Vexed Man