(Roughly) Daily

“Natural history is not about producing fables”*…

 

Or, then again, maybe it can be…

Lori Nix has created  a series of photos that show the mayhem behind the scenes at an imaginary natural history museum.  Many of the scenes reveal back-room deceit, like the a T. rex skeleton built from a do-it-yourself kit (above), the half-made papier-mâché mastodon (below), and a family of beavers emerging from a crate marked “Product of Mexico.”  There is plenty of dark humor, like a bucket of fried chicken left in an avian storage room, and a pack of tigers and lions prowling around the remains of an unlucky custodian.  Ms. Nix, who assembled the foam-and-cardboard scenes in the living room of her Brooklyn apartment, was inspired by visits to the American Museum of Natural History.  “I come from the Midwest, the land of hunting and fishing, where there is a culture of stuffing your prize game,” she said. As for her favorite exhibits, like the bison and the Alaskan brown bear: “I hope they never update them.”

Read more, and learn where to see her work here.  And then visit the extraordinary Museum of Jurassic Technology… or if L.A. isn’t handy, read Lawrence Weschler’s extraordinary Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder.)

* David Attenborough

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As we look for our own inspiration, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that the American Museum of Natural history was incorporated.  Its founding had been urged in a letter, dated December 30, 1868, and sent to Andrew H. Green, Comptroller of Central Park, New York, signed by 19 persons, including Theodore Roosevelt, A.G. Phelps Dodge, and J. Pierpont Morgan.  They wrote: “A number of gentlemen having long desired that a great Museum of Natural History should be established in Central Park, and having now the opportunity of securing a rare and very valuable collection as a nucleus of such Museum, the undersigned wish to enquire if you are disposed to provide for its reception and development.”  Their suggestion was accepted by Park officials; the collections were purchased– and thus the great museum began.  It opened April 27, 1871.

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“He was a wise man who invented beer”*…

 

In the age of Amazon, when much of the world is but a click away from having any product they can imagine shipped to their doorstep in just two days, beer is stubbornly anachronistic, a globalization holdout that’s subject to the physical locations of breweries, along with the regional patterns of alcohol distributors.

It’s a picture painted well by the team from Floating Sheep, who compiled a million tweets, scanning for words like “beer” and “wine” to plot the alcoholic preferences across the U.S. What they uncovered is essentially the United States of Cheap Beer–a map of the generic, though perfectly tasty, lagers and pilsners that we loyally drink region by region…

Read more at “The Cheap Beers People Drink Across The U.S.

Special Spring bonus:  how adding beer to one’s barbeque slashes the risk of cancer

* Plato

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As we pour into a canted a glass, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that Man in the Dark was released.  In November, 1952, United Artists had released an independent production, Bwana Devil– the first full length color film released in English in 3-D.  A surprise hit, Bwana Devil spurred the major studios to scramble to field their own 3-D flicks.  Man in the Dark, from Columbia, was for to the screen. A film noir thriller starring Edmund O’Brien and Audrey Trotter, the film sank like a stone…  leaving House of Wax, from Warner Bros., released two days later, a default claim to be “the first feature produced by a major studio in 3-D.”  These three films kicked off the first period of enthusiasm for 3-D films; the second was a year-long period in the 70s.  We are, of course, currently in the third.

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Written by LW

April 8, 2014 at 1:01 am

“To understand Europe, you have to be a genius – or French”*…

 

Designer Yanko Tsvetkov is a man of many projects.  The maps above are an excerpt (from an excerpt) from his recent book Atlas of Prejudice, Volume 2.  See all 20 of his painfully-funny dissections of Europe here; then browse through more of his wonderful work.

*Madeleine Albright

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As we stuff our backpacks, we might recall that it was on this date in 1963 that Josip Broz Tito was named President-for Life of the newly re-named Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  The Yugoslav state had been during World War II; it was a socialist state, a federation made up of six socialist republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia,Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. (Serbia included two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo).  Tito had served as Prime Minister of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia from it’s formation; he had become the first President of Yugoslavia when that office was created in 1953.

Initially aligned with Stalin and the East, Yugoslavia declared itself non-aligned in 1948.  It refused to participate in the Warsaw Pact, pursuing instead it’s own brand of market socialism, sometimes informally called “Titoism.” Steady increases in economic and political freedoms helped Yugoslavia’s economy grow, and made the country far more humane than other Socialist/Communist regimes.  At the same time, in devolving more power/autonomy to the regions– originally separate countries– that made up Yugoslavia, it sewed the seeds of the Balkan conflict that began to kindle on Tito’s death in 1980.

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Written by LW

April 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

“What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons”*…

 

The title of this post is one of the 365 fashion quotes paired with 365 fashion ads dating from the 1900s to the 1990s (the above quote went with a 1966 ad for Eye-catchers Panty Hose that was targeted towards teens) in Fashion Ads of the 20th Centuryby Jim Heimann and Alison A. Nieder.

Because ads are created with wads of money, meticulous planning, and highly creative talent, the ads that color these pages make for a gorgeous, provocative book, and the accompanied quotes are clever, humorous, and revealing.

But beyond the surface of beauty and frivolity, this collection of ads also gives us a glimpse of our changing cultural norms throughout the last century. For instance, up until the 1970s, the term girl was used frequently for woman, especially when referring to women as amusement for men, such as, “From morn, ‘til night, at work, at play, be a dream girl too, the Formfit way” (from a Formfit bra ad of 1942). And although not nearly as often, boys was used in place of men when referring to a gang of mischievous young lads out for a good time.

In the 1930s, the Depression was reflected in ads such as the do-it-yourself Simplicity Patterns ad above, while by the 1980s we started seeing independent-looking women in business suits, or a suit-like dress with very wide padded shoulders. (Of course these more feminist-minded ads were overshadowed by sensual, nearly naked women in other ads). One of the biggest changes between pre-and post-1970s were the incredible number of ads that included both women and men who were sexually charged, wearing very little, if any clothes at all.

Of course the differences in ads between the decades pale in comparison to the big similarity: sex, sex, sex. As the old saying goes, “Sex sells,” and that is pronounced over and over again as you flip through Fashion. Even though this isn’t new news, it’s fascinating when you witness the craft behind ads in such a visual compilation as this book…

Read more about Fashion Ads of the 20th Century– which functions as either a coffee table book or an “undated calendar”/day book– at Wink Books… an invaluable site that celebrates “remarkable books that belong on paper.”

* Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in Mad Men

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As we contemplate our costumes, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

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Petrarch

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Written by LW

April 6, 2014 at 1:01 am

“The safest place to be during an earthquake would be in a stationary store”*…

 

The United States is currently gripped in a bout of earthquake mania, following a series of significant tremors in the West. And any time Yellowstone, LA, or San Francisco shakes, people start to wonder if it’s a sign of The Big One™ to come. Yet even after decades of research, earthquake prediction remains notoriously hard, and not every building in quake-prone areas has an earthquake-resistant design. What if, instead of quaking in our boots, we could stop quakes in their tracks?

Theoretically, it’s not a crazy idea. Earthquakes propagate in waves, and if noise-canceling headphones have taught us anything, it’s that waves can be absorbed, reflected, or canceled out. Today, a paper published in Physical Review Letters suggests how that might be done. It’s the result of French research into the use of metamaterials—broadly, materials with properties not found in nature—to modify seismic waves, like a seismic cloaking device…

Read all about it in “How a ‘Seismic Cloak’ Could Slow Down an Earthquake.”

* George Carlin

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As we think soothing thoughts of stability, we might send scientific birthday greetings to Vincenzo Viviani; he was born n this date in 1622.  A mathematician and engineer, Viviani is probably best remembered as a discipline of Galileo: he served as the (then-blind) Galileo’s secretary until his death; he edited the first edition of Galileo’s collected works; and he worked tirelessly to have his master’s memory rehabilitated.  But Viviani was an accomplished scientist in his own right: he published a number of books on mathematical and scientific subjects, and was a founding member of the Accademia del Cimento, one of the first important scientific societies, predating England’s Royal Society.

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Written by LW

April 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

“We mostly don’t get sick. Most often, bacteria are keeping us well”*…

 

E. coli bacteria

Food picked up just a few seconds after being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left for longer periods of time, according to the findings of research carried out at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences.

The findings suggest there may be some scientific basis to the ‘5 second rule’  – the urban myth about it being fine to eat food that has only had contact with the floor for five seconds or less. Although people have long followed the 5 second rule, until now it was unclear whether it actually helped.

The study, undertaken by final year Biology students and led by Anthony Hilton, Professor of Microbiology at Aston University, monitored the transfer of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus from a variety of indoor floor types (carpet, laminate and tiled surfaces) to toast, pasta, biscuit and a sticky sweet when contact was made from 3 to 30 seconds…

Read the reassuring details at “Researchers prove the five second rule is real.”

The [Five Second Rule] has many variations, including The Three Second Rule, The Seven Second Rule, and the extremely handy and versatile The However Long It Takes Me to Pick Up This Food Rule.

-Neil Pasricha

* Bonnie Bassler

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As we waste not so as to want not, we might send synthetic birthday greetings to Ananda Mohan Chakrabarty; he was born on this date in 1938.  A microbiologist with specialties in directed evolution and genetic engineering, he created a new single cell life form, the Pseudomonas bacterium (now called Burkholderia cepacia) while working at G.E.  The microorganism had the had the potential to clean up toxic spills, due to its ability to break down crude oil into simpler substances that could become food for aquatic life (an ability possessed by no naturally occurring bacteria).

Chakrabarty applied for a patent on his creation– the first U.S. patent for a genetically modified organism. (U.S. utility patents had been granted to living organisms before, including two pure bacterial cultures, patented by Louis Pasteur. Chakrabarty’s modified bacterium was granted a patent in the U.K. before the U.S. patent came through.) He was initially denied the patent by the Patent Office because it was thought that the patent code precluded patents on living organisms.   The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where in 1980 the Justices granted the patent (Diamond v. Chakrabarty)– a decision that paved the way for many patents on genetically modified micro-organisms and other life forms, and catapulted Chakrabarty into the international spotlight.

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Written by LW

April 4, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I am sure my music has a taste of codfish in it”*…

 

High-frequency sounds enhance the sweetness in food, while low frequencies bring out the bitterness.  So, could sound replace sugar? And what kind of music should restaurants play?  The Guardian digs in…

Sound is the final frontier in food presentation. Restaurants agonise over menus, crockery, furniture and lighting, yet often any old CD will be stuck on for background music with nary a thought. However, now that we’re starting to understand that everyone has synaesthetic tendencies when it comes to taste, sound is set to play a bigger part in our eating experience. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, is considering a sonic range of ice-cream flavours, with QR codes on the tubs that will allow eaters to access complementary sounds via their phones…

Confirming the hunches of so many ravenous aeroplane passengers, a study published in 2011 found that loud background noise suppresses saltiness, sweetness and overall enjoyment of food. (For flyers, this is compounded by the high altitude blocking nasal passages, and therefore access to aromas.) Incidentally, for those among you who curse that you can’t hear yourself think, or indeed taste, in some restaurants, it isn’t unheard of for the background din to register 90db, which is a tad louder than commercial flights.

However, Charles Spence, director of Oxford’s Crossmodal Laboratory, points out: “Have you ever noticed how many people ask for a bloody mary or tomato juice from the drinks trolley on aeroplanes? The air stewards have, and when you ask the people who order, they tell you that they rarely order such a drink at any other time.” Spence reckons this is because umami may be immune to noise suppression. If he proves his hypothesis, perhaps concentrating on umami-rich ingredients such as tomatoes, parmesan, mushrooms and cured meats in the sky could help obliterate plane-food hell…

Much, much more at “How sound affects the taste of our food.”

* Edvard Grieg

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As we slip on our headphones, we might spare a thought for Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni; he died on this date in 1827.  Widely regarded as “the father of acoustics,” he built on the work of Robert Hooke to create “Chladni figures,” demonstrations of complex patterns of vibration; variations of this technique are still commonly used in the design and construction of acoustic instruments like violins, guitars, and cellos.

Creating Chladni figures

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Chladni measured the speed of sound in various gases by determining the pitch of the note of an organ pipe filled with each gas, and determined the speed of sound in solids using analysis of the nodal pattern in standing-wave vibrations in long rods.

Chladni was an accomplished musician (and inventor of he musical instrument called “Euphon“), and fathered another science–  meteoritics– when, in 1794, he published Über den Ursprung der von Pallas gefundenen und anderer ihr ähnlicher Eisenmassen und über einige damit in Verbindung stehende Naturerscheinungen (“On the Origin of the Pallas Iron and Others Similar to it, and on Some Associated Natural Phenomena”) in which he proposed that meteorites have an extraterrestrial origin.

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Written by LW

April 3, 2014 at 1:01 am

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