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Posts Tagged ‘humor

“You want to know what a robot’s designed for”*…

 

In examining the history of famous robots, you’d be forgiven for overlooking a 1950s children’s toy named Robert.

Robert the Robot, who was a product of the once-mighty Ideal Toy Company, didn’t do much, at least compared to the standards set by science fiction at the time. Unlike the helpful humanoids of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Robert was just a 14-inch-tall hunk of plastic that could utter a few phrases, wheel around with a tethered remote control, and grip objects in his mechanical arms.

Still, Robert deserves credit for being the first plastic toy robot made in the United States, and the first toy robot to become [as your correspondent, a delighted recipient of Robert as a Christmas gift, can attest] an American sensation. He was the subject of children’s songs, enjoyed a Hollywood film cameo, and was quickly imitated by rival toy makers. He also preceded the industrial robotics boom by several years, capturing people’s imagination long before we truly understood what robots could do…

Before Rosie and R2-D2 became pop culture icons, a humble toy named Robert paved the way: “The 1950s Toy Robot Sensation That Time Forgot.”

* Daniel H. Wilson

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As we turn the crank, we might spare a thought for Rube Goldberg; he died on this date in 1970. A cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer, and inventor, he is best remembered as a satirist of the American obsession with technology; his series of “Invention” cartoons used a string of outlandish tools, people, plants, and steps to accomplish simple, everyday tasks in the most complicated possible way. (His work has inspired a number of “Rube Goldberg competitions,” the best-known of which, readers may recall, has been profiled here.)

The self-operating napkin

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Goldberg was a founder and the first president of the National Cartoonists Society, and he is the namesake of the Reuben Award, which the organization awards to the Cartoonist of the Year.

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Written by LW

December 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Here too it’s masquerade, I find”*…

 

Is confusion a good way to encourage safer driving? That seems to be the idea behind a new traffic calming ploy in Cambridge, England. The city reopened a remodeled street last week featuring what appears, at first, to be a roundabout. Look carefully, however, and you’ll notice that it isn’t a roundabout at all. It’s simply a circle of bricks laid into the street and adjoining sidewalk. It’s practical function is essentially nothing.

Or is it? The city’s thinking is that drivers will instinctively slow down when they approach this ghost roundabout. When they get closer, they will realize they’re actually on a normal street, and accelerate—but in the meantime they will have slowed down and watched the road more carefully on what could be a potentially dangerous corner.

The plan is interesting, if strangely devious, but it hasn’t received the warmest of welcomes from locals…

And … the whole thing is just a little eerie. There’s something unnervingly contemporary about road markings that seek to control drivers specifically through confusion and misinformation. The roundel essentially attempts to undermine drivers’ ability to tell what is real and what is false. It then uses their perplexity to enforce more submissive, hesitant behavior. In a contemporary scene where the concept of “post-truth” has become so ubiquitous that it’s moved from buzzword to cliché, it seems that even road planners are now tapping into the trend for misinformation…

Take the trip in full at “Britain’s Totally Fake Roundabout Is Driving Locals Crazy.”

* Goethe

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As we prepare to circle, we might spare a cartographically-correct thought for Gerardus Mercator; he died on this date in 1594.  The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.

While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.  And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.

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Written by LW

December 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.”*…

 

“The Kitchen,” 1874, from Prang’s Aids for Object Teaching–Trades and Occupations, a collection of twelve chromolithographic plates issued by L. Prang & Company, Boston

The prolific and flamboyant journalist George Augustus Sala, one of several young British writers who found fame as acolytes of Charles Dickens, rose to become a regular contributor to Dickens’s weekly magazine, Household Words, and, eventually, one of The Daily Telegraph’s most well-known correspondents…  Sala visited the United States twice, first during the Civil War in 1863 and again in 1879. His initial visit was chronicled in the two-volume work, My Diary in America in the Midst of War, and the second trip, a lecture tour, inspired the better-known America Revisited…  In a chapter describing a train trip to Baltimore, he inserted {a] brief digression mocking what was (according to Sala) the uniquely American passion for pie, beginning: “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except Pie…”

Dig in at “The Tyranny of Pie.”

* Yogi Berra

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As we agree with David Mamet that “stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie,” we might send beautifully-baked birthday greetings to Cornelius Hoagland; he was born on this date in 1828.  He co-founded (with his brother Joseph Christoffel Hoagland) the Royal Baking Powder Company. With four other companies including the Fleischmann’s Yeast Company, Royal merged to form Standard Brands, the number-two brand of packaged foods in America after General Foods.

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With best wishes to U.S. readers for the Thanksgiving holiday, (R)D is taking the long weekend off.  See you again next week.

Written by LW

November 23, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The world… gives back to every man the reflection of his own face”*…

 

In Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, there’s an odd museum; perhaps the only one of its kind. It’s called the Chinsekikan (which means hall of curious rocks) and it houses over 1700 rocks that resemble human faces.

The museum houses all kinds of jinmenseki, or rock with a human face, including celebrity lookalikes like Elvis Presley [below]. And according to a 2013 post on Kotaku, there are also movie and video game character rocks like E.T., Donkey Kong and Nemo…

Learn the back story and take the tour at “The Japanese Museum of Rocks That Look Like Faces.

* William Makepeace Thackeray

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As we practice being stone-faced, we might spare a thought for Christian Goldbach; he died on this date in 1764.  A mathematician, lawyer, and historian who studied infinite sums, the theory of curves and the theory of equations, he is best remembered for his correspondence with Leibniz, Euler, and Bernoulli, especially his 1742 letter to Euler containing what is now known as “Goldbach’s conjecture.”

In that letter he outlined his famous proposition:

Every even natural number greater than 2 is equal to the sum of two prime numbers.

It has been checked by computer for vast numbers– up to at least 4 x 1014– but remains unproved.

(Goldbach made another conjecture that every odd number is the sum of three primes; it has been checked by computer for vast numbers, but also remains unproved.)

Goldbach’s letter to Euler (source, and larger view)

Written by LW

November 20, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Pop music has been exhausted”*…

 

 

… and so it becomes the subject of art.

A year ago, local artist Elle Luna challenged artists from around the world with her “100-Day Project,” an idea with a simple premise: do the same thing every day for a hundred days — draw a doodle, write a poem, whatever — and document the results.

San Francisco–based designer Katrina McHugh responded by making infographics based on popular song lyrics that reference the natural world, mirroring the style of vintage encyclopedias she inherited from her grandfather. The project, titled “100 Days of Lyrical Natural Sciences,” is a gorgeous and hilarious exercise in taking metaphor too literally…

Try your hand at identifying the songs in question at “Classic Pop Songs, Reimagined as Infographics.”

* Brian Wilson

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As we tap our toes, we might spare a thought for Cabell “Cab” Calloway III; he died on this date in 1994.  A master of scat singing and led one of the United States’ most popular big bands from the start of the 1930s to the late 1940s, regularly performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem.  His band featured performers including trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Adolphus “Doc” Cheatham, saxophonists Ben Webster and Leon “Chu” Berry, New Orleans guitar ace Danny Barker, and bassist Milt Hinton.  His “Minnie the Moocher” was the first jazz record to sell 1 million copies.

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Written by LW

November 18, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I got to get this cheese with my crew”*…

 

Cheese curls (or cheese puffs) have been around for 80 years and have been a staple for over 50 (since 1948, when Cheetos achieved national distribution)… not bad for what was originally the unintended by-product of an animal feed-producing process.

The whole tasty story at: “Junk Food’s Happiest Accident.”

* Snoop Dogg

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As we try not to wipe our fingers on our clothes, we might send delicious birthday greetings to Prosper Montagné; he was born on this date in 1865.  Considered (with Georges-Auguste Escoffier) to be one of the two men with the greatest impact on French gastronomy (and thus, on that of the world at large), Montagné was one of the greatest French chefs of all time, and earned a place of honor in gastronomic history by creating Larousse Gastronomique (1938), the basic encyclopaedia of French gastronomy.

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Written by LW

November 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I think all great innovations are built on rejections”*…

 

Screenwriters sending scripts to Essanay Studios, a Chicago company that produced silent films between 1907 and 1917, received this form rejection letter in response to their submissions. Here Essanay identified several common problems with scripts; some (“Too difficult to produce”) were probably more helpful to aspiring writers than others (“Not interesting”).

Essanay, named after the initials of its founders George Spoor and Gilbert Anderson, made Westerns and comedies from its Uptown Chicago headquarters and in California. (Its specialty in the Western explains the use of a stereotyped “Indian chief” head as logo.) Charlie Chaplin was a contract player for the company between 1915–1916 and made The Tramp while he was there. Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Wilmington suggests that Chaplin’s departure for a more lucrative contract in 1916 “hastened Essanay’s demise,” causing “a fatal rupture” between the two founders struggling with a sudden loss in income…

* Louis-Ferdinand Celine

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As we inoculate our egos, we might spare a thought for Abel Gance; he died on this date in 1981.  While Essanay was developing the comedic form, Gance– a French film director, writer, producer, actor, and theorist– was working across the Atlantic to lay the foundation for cinema as we’ve come to know it.  One of the first to employ close-ups and dolly shots, he was instrumental in developing both the theory and the practice of montage as it came to be employed in film editing.  He is probably best remembered for three major silent films: J’accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), and the monumental Napoléon (1927).

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Written by LW

November 10, 2016 at 1:01 am

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