Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Cherie Priest's new novel Boneshaker is now out, and sounds like it might be a pretty good read.

The author herself describes it: "It’s an alternate-history steampunk setting wherein the Civil War has been going on for 20 years, and the west has not yet been won".

Amazon's description says:

"In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Caufield's Hearse

Photos of the most excellent Cadillac Superior hearse parked outside of Caufield's Novelty Shop in Louisville, KY. We're envious of the propane-powered flame-throwers connected to the mouths of the metal skulls - this is a feature that'll come in handy when zombies start crawling over your car.

See our Unusual Kentucky blog for more images of this sweet ride.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Copperplating at Home

Recently saw an old post on the Home Chemistry blog about a simple and effective way to do copper-plating of small objects, using salt, vinegar and pennies. Has anyone else tried this?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Lindy Hop

There is no dance that better sums up our zeitgeist than the Lindy Hop.

You've seen endless variations of it in 1,001 Hollywood films set in the first half of the 20th century, from Barton Fink to The Cotton Club to Malcolm X. You can also see actual period footage of it in old films such as After Seben, Rock Around The Clock, Hot Chocolates, The Girl Can't Help It, Hellzapoppin', A Day at the Races, That Certain Feeling, Keep Punching, Symphony in Black, Radio City Revels, Stompin' at the Savoy, and Killer Diller.

There's also a short-but-excellent 1988 documentary, Call Of The Jitterbug, which contains extensive archival footage, and includes interviews with Norma Miller, Frankie Manning, and Dizzy Gillespie.

The Lindy Hop seems to run like an infinite silver cord along the entire length of time. Kids today see it done at Rockabilly festivals and assume it's a 50's/60's thing. Then they start to realize it was already a pre-existing dance when 50's kids were doing it in old rock and roll movies like Don't Knock the Rock. Then they discover it was a dance craze of the 1920s and 1930s. And then, digging back even further, we find the key moves of the Lindy Hop (the Swingout/whip/turn) were previously called The Breakaway, and that this in turn was derived from The Texas Tommy, circa 1900-1910. The Lindy Hop also encompasses The Charleston, which was popularized in 1923 but goes way back before that.

Before that, it's almost a certainty that these dance moves existed in the 19th century, before the activities of African-American culture were well documented. I'd bet money that some of them go back to antiquity.

The Lindy Hop has always been here, and always will be. It is ever shifting, mutating, sidestepping like Billy Childish's allegorical crab to avoid dilution. No flies on it. Long may it wave.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wall Sconce Electric Fan

This "Old Havana" Wall-sconce fan sure is nice-looking, but $563 is just stupid. (And it's on sale, marked down from $940!) I could make one myself that would be much more interesting - and I probably will this winter when I get snowed in and have more free time for such projects.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Etsy find: Great Airport Mystery Purse

I'm going to give "retrograndma" benefit of the doubt that she didn't fuck up a perfectly good 1st edition copy of the Hardy Boys book The Great Airport Mystery. I'm going to tell myself she found a copy at a Goodwill that had a great looking cover but ruined pages, and thus decided not to let that cover go to waste.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bob Basset

Ukrainian artisan Bob Basset makes the most wondrous masks you could ever want, just the thing to wear when cruising in a modified tank across deserted streets in a post-apocalyptic radioactive landscape with your space-pirate buddies.

Norton Commons

One from our Unusual Kentucky blog:

A steampunk/retro enthusiast's wet dream, Norton Commons is an amazing community that, just a couple years ago, was a desolate field. Now it's a self-contained city unto itself, composed of all manner of antique architectural styles, giving one the strange and wonderful feeling they're on an elaborate movie set, or that they're Remote Viewing another point in time.

Their website says: "Imagine the convenience of a market, restaurants and other shops all within walking distance of your home. Retail stores in Norton Commons add the charm of village life that’s missing from suburban living. Sidewalks draw residents who appreciate the convenience and quality of these amenities. For visitors, the streets provide easy thoroughfare and ample parking. Businesses in Norton Commons become an integral part of a loyal community."

Stores are mixed in amongst the homes just like in an older neighborhood, and apartments are often placed above retail locations, as it used to be back in the day before the deadly dull postmodern ideas of zoning. The styles of the buildings are a total mish-mash of different time periods, just as it would be on an actual century-old street: there's Colonial, Federal, Italianate, Prairie/Foursquare, Victorian, Folk Victorian, Queen Anne, Craftsman/Bungalow, and even plain ol' depression-era-industrial ugly (which I find beautiful).

It's hard to find - I usually take Westport to Chamberlain, or you can get there via Wolf Pen Branch, or Brownsboro, or the Gene Snyder.

Gelato Gilberto is located out here, and it's worth the drive. It's the place to go for Gelato in Jefferson County, especially now that Café Glacé on Frankfort Avenue is gone, and - what was that other place that used to be on Bardstown Road? Whatever it was, it's gone too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Victorian Square

At the corner of Broadway and Main in Lexington, KY, there's a wonderful block of antiquated once-crumbling buildings called Victorian Square. The Webb Companies, rather than tear the structures down completely (which is what they've done to almost every other cool old building they've ever gotten their hands on), they combined all these places into one huge connected labyrinth and retained the gaslght-era urban decay look of it all.

Too bad the Webbs didn't do the same thing for their insane and universally hated construction project CentrePointe in Lexington. (You know, the place they tore down the original locations of Buster's and The Dame for, so they could put up a penis-shaped downtown hotel in a city that already has way too many downtown hotels.)

Other cities, take note: Victorian Square is exactly how to utilize old buildings while preserving their integrity.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

eBay find: 1920s radio headphones

An eBay find: Vintage steampunk radio set headphones, 1920s. It wouldn't take much to rehabilitate these into functioning headphones, perfect for use with a modified mp3 player.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flakorn, Cuplets, Flako

I eat Flakorn, Cuplets and Flako in my household every night while listening to the latest Rudy Vallee records.

Monkey-picked Tea and Weasel-chewed Coffee

There's a great British company called Edible, which sells some serious hard-to-find international products that make Iron Chef concoctions seem bland by comparison.

There's Monkey-picked Tea, about which Edible says:

"This rare chinese tea is carefully picked by specially trained monkeys in a remote mountain region of China. Legend has it that monkeys were first used to collect tea ten centuries ago, because upon seeing it's master trying to reach some tea growing wild on a mountain face, the monkey climbed up the steep face and collected the tea growing there and brought it down to his master. This wild tea was considered so delicious that other people began to train monkeys to collect this rare wild tea. Nowadays the practice of monkeys picking tea has all but died out, except in one small remote village where they still continue this remarkable tradition."

And even tastier-sounding, they offer coffee beans pre-chewed by Vietnamese weasels:


This Coffee is first eaten by Weasels which then regurgitate it, no one knows why they do this but it is then collected by locals in remote forest areas and then cleaned and roasted.

It has a unique rich chocolatey flavour and is best served as an espresso with a dash of condensed milk, just as they do in Vietnam.

Actually, the animal in question is an Asian Palm Civet, which is slangily sometimes called a Weasel in Vietnam, especially when attempting to translate to English. Kopi Luwak is the official name of the coffee made from the Civet-masticated beans.

Meanwhile, in the Phillipines, there's Motit Coffee, which is prepared from coffee beans harvested from the feces of the Civet. It costs USD $1400 a pound, so don't expect to see it in Starbucks anytime soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Just as there are many people today who don't own a CD or DVD player this deep into the digital age, there were many people in the gaslight era who still depended on oil lamps, and even mere candles at home.

Despite the recurring candle craze that comes and goes (apparently enough that mall-stores like Yankee Candle Co. can stay in business), I know of no one who deliberately lights their home solely by candles as a matter of aesthetics. If I didn't have a mischievous cat, I'd try it myself. When there was a prolonged blackout in Louisville earlier this year, I really enjoyed living by candlelight.

A European company is manufacturing brass decorative engines that run entirely on candle power, and dinky little tealights at that. Since we already have potato-powered clock and hand-powered crank radios, could a candle-powered coffee maker be far behind?

And then, of course, nothing makes a home style statement like a candleabra. You can make your own out of ceiling-fan parts, or shell out over a thousand dollars for an fancy floor model.

You can also make your own candles, if you want to go that far. Most of my homemade candles have been just melting down remnants of existing candles and recycling them in new molds, but I've always been curious about the ancient traditions of making candles out of materials such as Tallow (beef fat) and Ghee (clarified yak butter). Don't laugh - Yak butter lamps are a big deal in Tibetan monasteries.

The earliest known candles were those made by the ancient Egyptians, out of beeswax, as early as 3000 BC. Early Chinese cultures made candles from whale blubber during the Qin Dynasty.

The earliest clocks on Earth (aside from sundials, which are not strictly clocks by definition) were candle clocks, invented in ancient China. A candle clock is a thin candle with consistently spaced markings (either on the candle itself, or mounted behind it) that when burned, indicate the passage of periods of time. Candle clocks also functioned as a timer or an alarm clock by sticking a heavy nail into the candle at the mark indicating the desired interval. When the wax surrounding the nail melts, the nail loudly clatters onto a metal plate or bell below.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Birth of a Light Bulb

Some sources, like this one, state that Thomas Edison's light bulb was first demonstrated for the public in Louisville, at the Southern Exposition of 1883.

But other sources, such as this one, says the public first saw Edison's light bulb in a demonstration in his Menlo Park laboratory, December 31, 1879. So which is correct?

They're both correct. Although a few fortunate Jersey citizens first saw Edison's incandescent bulb in his informal sneak-peek laboratory demo of 1879, the first official ready-for-the-world unveiling of the product came in 1883 in Kentucky.

Prior to Edison's alleged "invention", however, vacuum tubes that lit up already existed, since as the Geissler Tube and the Crookes Tube. Joseph Wilson Swan is generally regarded today as the true inventor of Edison's own light bulb, as it was his British patents a year prior that Edison virtually copied verbatim for his own American version. Swan and Edison later buried the hatchet and joined forces, jointly starting up the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company.

Additionally, Edison was beset with lawsuits from Hiram Maxim, who also laid claim to being inventor of the lightbulb. According to the book Edison's Electric Light by Robert Friedel and Paul Israel, there were at least 22 inventors of incandescent lamps prior to Swan and Edison.

Edison merely repurposed the pre-existing idea for commercial purposes, to maximize the amount of light such tubes generated and thus replace gaslight. But even then, his own assistant Nikola Tesla (image below) outdid him and invented the fluorescent light, which was a far superior product.

Sir Humphry Davy invented the first incandescent light in 1802, by passing direct electrical current through a thin strip of platinum. In 1809, Davy also created the first arc lamp by making a electrical connection between two carbon charcoal rods connected to a 2000-cell battery. James Bowman Lindsay created very effective incandescent lamps in 1835, but chose not to pursue the invention, focusing instead on wireless telegraphy.

But by the time American citizens flocked to Kentucky in 1883 to witness the unveiling of Edison's electric lights, history was ready to ignore all who had come before.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pocketwatch of the Esteemed

A lovely and affordable chronometer from the folks at Clockwork Couture.

A hefty 36mm metal alloy pocketwatch that will slide easily into our Time Traveler's Corset or into the waistcoat pocket of a punctual gentleman. Beautifully timeless lines make up this green nickel plated heirloom. Hangs from a 12" chain.

Price: $36.95

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The U-boat Room

Saw this on The Steampunk Home recently and loved it.

Sort of standing at the three-way intersection of Jules Verne, H.R. Giger and Das Boot, this guy's rumpus room has been remodeled to supposedly resemble a shipwrecked submarine. I don't recall ever seeing any room this spacious inside a submarine, but it's great nonetheless.

Now let's see someone do an entire house this way...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dazzle Camoflage

In Lynda Barry's perpetually amazing book Cruddy, the Navy-trained father repeatedly speaks of "dazzle camoflage" as a way to cover up his crimes - hacking up a body to cover up that she was shot first, and filling a trailer with freshly slaughtered deer meat in order to conceal the human blood already in it.

Prior to his creative license taken with the term, Dazzle Camoflage was a means to help ships in World War I and World War II confuse the enemy. According to Wikipedia:

At first glance it seems unlikely camouflage, drawing attention to the ship rather than hiding it, but this technique was developed after the Allied Navy's failure to develop effective means to disguise ships in all weather.

Dazzle did not conceal the ship but made it difficult for the enemy to estimate its speed and heading. The idea was to disrupt the visual rangefinders used for naval artillery. Its purpose was confusion rather than concealment. An observer would find it difficult to know exactly whether the stern or the bow is in view; and it would be equally difficult to estimate whether the observed vessel is moving towards or away from the observer's position.

The rangefinders were based on the co-incidence principle with an optical mechanism, operated by a human to compute the range. The operator adjusted the mechanism until two half-images of the target lined up in a complete picture. Dazzle was intended to make that hard because clashing patterns looked abnormal even when the two halves were aligned. This became more important when submarine periscopes included similar rangefinders. As an additional feature, the dazzle pattern usually included a false bow wave to make estimation of the ship's speed difficult.

""There is required for the composition of a great commander not only massive common sense and reasoning power, not only imagination, but also an element of legerdemain, an original and sinister touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten." - Sir Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1923.