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“Is a Hippopotamus a hippopotamus or just a really cool Opotamus?”*…

 

Dutch artist Florentjin Hofman, known for his massive sculptures (including his giant rubber duck), has floated a giant hippo, “HippopoThames,” down London’s iconic river.

Follow it’s progress past landmarks old and new here.  And see more of Hofman’s work here.

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we watch ourselves at the watering hole, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that George Franklin Grant was awarded a patent for the first modern wooden golf tee.  Grant was a dentist, one of trio who patented golf tees: in 1922, dentist William Lowell designed a red-painted, cone-shaped, wooden peg with a small concave platform that was patented and became the world’s first commercially produced golf tee called the “reddy tee.”  Recently dentist, Arnold DiLaura, patented the Sof-Tee, a tee that sits on top of the ground instead of in it.

Grant was a graduate of Harvard dental school, where he later taught– Harvard University’s first African-American faculty member.  He was renowned internationally within his profession for his invention of the oblate palate, a prosthetic device he designed for treatment of the cleft palate.

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Written by LW

December 12, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising”*…

 

A ghostsign for Black Cat cigarettes

 

Ghostsigns are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings.  In 2006 London resident Sam Roberts began the Ghostsigns Project, collecting the work amateurs and professionals in appreciation of the painted history found on walls around the world.

Philadelphia Belting Company (Lawrence O’Toole)

 

More at Ghostsigns

* Mark Twain

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As we admire ancient advertising, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Archibald MacLeish’s JB premiered at the ANTA Playhouse in New York.  The play, a retelling of the Biblical story of Job in free verse, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play and Best Direction (Elia Kazan).

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Written by LW

December 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Know what I mean?”*…

 

John Cleese playing an arrogant newsreader being beastly about a French trade union leader on screen. Unrelated Victorian erotica in the background and a booming voice-over self-importantly announcing the name of the show. It’s pure Monty Python — except it isn’t. This surreal scenario, in which the “French” Marty Feldman comes out of the screen to interact with a now surreally masked Cleese, is from the final episode of At Last the 1948 Show. Brits loved this satirical half-hour of sketches that preceded Monty Python’s Flying Circus by a year, and were largely written by the legendary duo — Cleese and his college mate Graham Chapman — who would go on to be one of the principal writing partnerships behind the Pythons.

What’s special about this last-ever episode is that, like the very first, it’s been lost for nearly 40 years…

Read the whole of this happy tale– and see both of the newly-recovered episodes– at “The Early Days of Monty Python.”

* Eric Idle, in the third Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode, “How to Recognise Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away”

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As we agree that “it’s funny, isn’t it? How your best friend can just blow up like that?”, we might send birthday greetings to two Tommys– Tommy Kirk and Tommy Rettig– whose young lives were spent with dogs; both were born on this date in 1941.

Having appeared as one of the Hardy Boys in a serial that ran on the (original) Mickey Mouse Club, Tommy Kirk got his big break when he was cast in the juvenile lead in Old Yellar.  He went on to star in a number of successful Disney pictures (e,g,, The Shaggy Dog and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones), and then in a number of “beach party” flicks. By the mid-70s, Kirk had developed, then beaten a drug problem, and dropped out of acting.  While he occasionally appears on screen (Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold. 2006), he has primarily been engaged in building and running a carpet-cleaning business in the San Fernando Valley.

Though he had previously appeared in 18 films (including your correspondent’s beloved The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, written by Dr. Seuss), Tommy Rettig is surely best remembered as “Jeff Miller”– Lassie‘s boy.  Rettig too had a brush with drugs, but pulled out of it to become a very successful software engineer/database programmer (he was an early employee of Ashton-Tate).

Tommy Kirk and Yellar

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Tommy Rettig and Lassie

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Written by LW

December 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Yes, and imagine a world where there were no hypothetical situations”*…

 

From Les Maîtres du Temps (1982)

If the Universe came to an end every time there was some uncertainty about what had happened in it, it would never have got beyond the first picosecond. And many of course don’t. It’s like a human body, you see. A few cuts and bruises here and there don’t hurt it. Not even major surgery if it’s done properly. Paradoxes are just the scar tissue. Time and space heal themselves up around them and people simply remember a version of events which makes as much sense as they require it to make.
― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Interstellar has made quite a stir, and occasioned hosannas for its originality.  But as the British Film Institute reminds us, it comes on the heels of a long line of time-travel films…

…from the arthouse masterpieces (La Jetée, 1962), the slacker comedies (Bill &Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1989), the canny satires (Groundhog Day, 1993), the conundrums (Donnie Darko, 2001), the nostalgic fantasies (Midnight in Paris, 2011), and the high-concept thrillers (Looper, 2012) [to] the comic-book escapades (X-Men: Days of Future Past, 2014)…

Find a more complete (and completely fascinating) history, and a list of worthy, but under-appreciated options at “10 great lesser-known time-travel films.”

* Jasper Fforde, First Among Sequels

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As we check our watches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1884 that Levant M. Richardson was awarded the first U.S.patent for the use of steel ball bearings in roller skate wheels– which reduced friction, creating wheels that allowed skaters to achieve previously unreachable speeds.  Indeed, in 1898 Richardson started the Richardson Ball Bearing and Skate Company, which provided skates to most professional skate racers of the time.

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Written by LW

December 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

“He was a secret agent, and still alive thanks to his exact attention to the detail of his profession”*…

 

The Descriptive Catalogue of Special Devices and Supplies, used by British spies sent to the Continent to track Nazi movements and aid resistance fighters during World War II, has been recently reprinted by the Imperial War Museum. These pages from the back of the two-volume catalogue, which was published in 1944 and 1945, show a few of the ways that the Special Operations Executive (the name for the secret British agency charged with training and deploying these agents) managed to sneak arms and ammunition to its operatives.

As historian-author Sinclair McKay writes in the introduction to the new volume, the Special Operations Executive trained many volunteers and recruits with no previous experience in the field. The recruits underwent crash courses, with SOE personnel bringing them quickly up to speed on the use of weapons and explosives, the maintenance of communications equipment, and the cultures of the places they were to infiltrate.

The two volumes of the manual are packed full of explanations of the many devices SOE operatives might encounter, or choose to use, in their operations…

* Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

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As we dawdle at the dead drop, we might recall that it was on this date in 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the “Infamy Speech”–the name deriving from the first line of the speech, in which Roosevelt describes the previous day as “a date which will live in infamy”– to a Joint Session of Congress.

Read Roosevelt’s original typescript here; and hear an except here.

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“Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying”*…

 

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If there’s intelligent life in the cosmos, it’s probably nowhere we can get to anytime soon. At least that’s the finding of the astrobiologist who, for the first time in decades, has rendered a major update to the key formula scientists use to seek out interstellar life.

That’d be the Drake equation, which was developed over half a century ago to determine where life might lurk in the universe. Until now, the formulation that promises to pin down the number of intelligent civilizations in the cosmos has suffered one big limitation: There’s been no actual data to constrain most of its parameters.

All that’s been changing since numbers started coming in from the Kepler mission over the past few years. We now know that small, Earth-sized planets are scattered throughout the galaxy, and that many lie within the habitable zone of a Sun-like star.

Using the new Kepler data, astrobiologist Amri Wandel did some calculations to estimate the density of life-bearing worlds in our corner of the universe. The exciting news is there are probably millions to billions of biotic planets in the Milky Way.

But before we start packing our bags, a sobering reality check: Our corner of the cosmos may be dark…

Read more at “Aliens Are Probably Everywhere, Just Not Anywhere Near Humans“; and peruse Wandel’s paper on arXiv.

* Arthur C. Clarke, as quoted in Visions : How Science Will Revolutionize the Twenty-First Century (1999) by Michio Kaku, p. 295

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As we consider Calvin’s comment to Hobbes that “the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us,” we might spare a thought for Cecilia Helena Payne-Gaposchkin; she died on this date in 1979.  An astrophysicist and astronomer, she was the first– in her Radcliffe (Harvard) PhD thesis in 1927– to apply the laws of atomic physics to the study of the temperature and density of stellar bodies: the first to  conclude that hydrogen and helium are the two most common elements in the universe and the first to suggest that the Sun is primarily (99%) composed of hydrogen.  During the 1920s, the accepted explanation of the Sun’s composition was a calculation of around 65% iron and 35% hydrogen.  Her thesis adviser, astronomer Henry Norris Russell, reached a similar conclusion via his own observations several years later, and (while he made brief mention of Payne’s work) was for a time credited with the discovery.  But in 1947, astronomer Fred Hoyle confirmed her original claim.

She spent her entire career at Harvard.  In 1956 she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor from within the faculty at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Later, with her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, she also became the first woman to head a department at Harvard.

Her students included Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph AshbrookPaul W. Hodge, and Frank Drake (the creator of the Drake Equation, mentioned above)– all of whom made important contributions to astronomy.

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Written by LW

December 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes”*…

 

From the proprietors of a second-hand bookshop in Brisbane, Australia, a collection of things they’ve found in the books they’ve bought…

More at Stuff in Old Books.

* Desiderius Erasmus

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As we riffle through the pages, we might recall that it was on this date in 1933, that Federal Judge John M. Woolsey, ruling on an action precipitated by Random House publisher Bennett Cerf as a test case, that the James Joyce’s novel Ulysses is not obscene.  Woolsey reserved judgement on the objects found interleaved therein.

1922 first edition cover

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Written by LW

December 6, 2014 at 1:01 am

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