Thursday, November 26, 2009

Etsy find: Steam Machine Winged Choker

From Steam Machine's Etsy Store:

"Awesome choker made from a vintage watch movement, patinated wings, feather trim and satin. It measures 12 1/2" and has a 3 1/2" extender chain that allows for adjustment around the neck."

Purchase it here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lunar Eavesdropping in Louisville

There's a great page on the Otter Creek-South Harrison Observatory website about Louisville resident Larry Baysinger, an amateur radio enthusiast who managed to tune in to Apollo 11's live radio feed in July 1969.

Louisville Courier-Journal writer Glenn Rutherford wrote an article about Baysinger's historic accomplishment in the July 23, 1969 issue. Rutherford's article is reprinted on the Observatory's website, and mp3 files of some of the best parts of the astronaut dialogue that Baysinger recorded are offered as well. Furthermore, the site documents the original 50s/60s source materials that Baysinger was working from to achieve his reception of NASA's signals, including pdf files of relevant parts of CQ magazine.

Skeptics who doubt that Baysinger really managed to pick up these signals with such relatively primitive equipment should take note that his recordings feature Aldrin and Armstrong's voices uninterrupted by the cross-talk from the PAO and others, as heard on all terrestrial recording sources of the same dialogue.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Interplanetary Internet

Everything is already connected, with or without an internet. People will figure out that out soon enough.

Meanwhile, we're stuck with the primitive internet we have on Earth, which so far has killed the music industry, the book industry, and lots of other stuff. Not to mention it's turning millions of people into sociopaths in training.

And Earth's internet's about to get a lot bigger. There may not be many people elsewhere in the solar system yet, but NASA, DARPA and Google are preparing for that day - they're now working on an interplanetary internet and even a deep-space internet. There's already plenty of sourcepoints to set a vast network of nodes for it in the solar system, thanks to all the satellites and space junk we have littering our region of space (over 4 million pounds of it in near-Earth orbit alone).

With a new type of software called Disruption-tolerant Networking (also known as Delay-tolerant Networking) this new net will soon replace radio as the communication standard in aeronautics. Using this new DTN technology, NASA successfully transmitted images 20 million miles through space, albeit at a somewhat slower rate than the terrestrial internet.

Curiously, DARPA (which usually looks at projects in terms of decades) is insisting this program be fast-tracked and fully operational by the year 2013.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Have you met my friend Harvey?"

On this date in 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald became a focal point in a quantum whirlwind - one whose meaning and significance will never, can never, be comprehended in three-dimensional terms. After a highly improbable series of unlikely events building up over years, it all culminated when Oswald found himself arrested for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in a theater showing the film War is Hell.

Oswald's nickname during his army years was "Ozzie Rabbit", after the Walt Disney cartoon character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. His middle name Harvey (which some FBI files actually listed as his first name) conjures up images of Jimmy Stewart's invisible rabbit friend in the popular 1950 film based on the 1944 play. And the name "Lee" suggests Lepus, the genus name for jack rabbits.

Therefore Oswald, a symbolic jack rabbit, was one third of a death-triskelion with Jack Kennedy and Jack Ruby. Or have I been reading too much James Shelby Downard?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wild Wild West

There are many television programs that have, accidentally or not, been very insightful about the true nature of quantum spacetime, and how it interacts with us today and our culture. Star Trek and Lost are notable examples. But for a Steampunk's particular fetish with the Victorian Age, there's no better program than The Wild Wild West. The show ran from 1965 to 1969 on CBS, starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, then was made into a feature film in 1999 starring Kevin Kline, Salma Hayek, and the great Will Smith.

The show takes place in the years 1869-1877, with the adventures of two Secret Service agents who actually take more of a CIA-type active role, following secret missions given to them by President Ulysses S. Grant. The show is filled with deliberate anachronisms, postulating a reality where greater technology was secretly in use for espionage purposes during the "Wild West" days than history books would have us believe.

Besides the Steampunk angle, one of the best things about The Wild Wild West is its stellar casting. Over the years the show aired, it featured top-notch TV actors like Suzanne Pleshette, James Gregory, Victor Buono, Robert Loggia, Martin Landau, Burgess Meredith, Sigrid Valdis, Richard Kiel, Keenan Wynn, Rhys Williams, Boris Karloff, Ida Lupino, Carroll O'Connor, Ricardo Montalban, Agnes Moorehead, John Astin, Lana Wood, Khigh Dhiegh, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Duvall, Ted Knight, Ed Asner, Harvey Korman, Mickey Hargitay, etc.

Interestingly, the show also had an extremely high quotient of actors who had also done Star Trek.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Aeolipile

Although the Victorian Era was the golden age of Steam power (hence, Steampunk), the technology actually goes back to ancient times.

The Aeolipile is a primitive rocket-style jet engine whose invention is generally credited to Hero of Alexandria circa 100 A.D. But in fact, writings exist by the Roman engineer Vitruvius that describe the Aeolipile a century before Hero was born, and the Greek inventor Ctesibius spoke of it circa 250 B.C.

The device is appallingly simple: a sealed caldron of water is placed over a heat source. As the water boils, steam rises up into the narrow pipes into the hollow sphere. The steam is expelled from two bent outlet tubes on the ball, resulting in rotation of the ball and generating thrust due to the same principle as rockets and jets.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Rolling Stones

Seemingly disassociated fragments:

1. The old maxim "A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss", commonly mistaken for a Biblical quote, is variously attributed to Publilius Syrus, Desiderius Erasmus, and John Heywood. The earliest known reference to the saying appeared in Erasmus' Adagia, which was first published circa 1500.

2. In 1952, a Science Fiction novel called The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein was published simultaneously as a hardcover book and as a four-part pulp-fiction serialization. It concerns a traveling space family sightseeing around our solar system, who obtain a fuzzy purring creature from Mars called a "Flat Cat". The Flat Cat soon has eight offspring, each of which soon gives birth again, until the ship is overwhelmed with Flat Cats.

3. Mickey Mouse creator Walt Disney was born in 1901, the first year of the 20th century and the same birth year as Manly P. Hall; and died in 1966, the year Anton LaVey declared the birth of the New Satanic Age.

4. The ancient "rolling stone gathers no moss" maxim gains thematic currency in the lyrics of country and blues singers in the 1930s and 1940s, including Charley West, Hank Williams, and Muddy Waters.

5. Inspired by the Muddy Waters song, Brian Jones names his new blues band "The Rolling Stones" in the summer of 1962.

6. Proverbs 26:27: "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him."

7. In 1967, David Gerrold wrote an episode of Star Trek entitled "The Trouble with Tribbles", about fuzzy purring creatures who, like Heinlein's Flat Cats, reproduce exponentially and inundate the ship.

8. The similarity of Gerrold's concept to that of Heinlein's 1952 story was realized, and Heinlein was consulted. He gave the episode his blessing, and admitted that the idea had not even completely originated with him: he had been inspired by a 1905 novella called Pigs is Pigs, by Ellis Parker Butler.

9. Pigs is Pigs was first published as a short story in The American Magazine in September 1905, and subsequently released in book form. It concerns a railroad customs agent who quibbles over the proper classification of a guinea pig, and withholds a pair of them intended for export because he mistakenly believes the freight tax for pigs should apply to Guinea pigs. After confiscating the pair of guinea pigs, they quickly reproduce in great numbers until his office is overrun with them.

10. In the Biblical story of the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:2), an angel descends from Heaven and rolls away the stone sealing Christ's tomb.

11. Rolling Rock beer begins bottling in 1939, with an enigmatic "33" on its label which becomes the subject of speculation for the next century. Theories range from Satanic to Masonic to numerological, but the company insists it was only accidentally put on the bottle because of a mistake that no one ever corrected.

12. Walt Disney made a cartoon short out of Pigs is Pigs in 1954.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Earth's Moon = Petri Dish

There's been much said about NASA's recent LCROSS project, which smashed a robotic spacecraft into the moon's surface in an attempt to search for water. Some feared that the impact could damage the moon in unpredictable ways, and ought not be attempted.

The much-promised impact explosion, which NASA said would make for a visually exciting scene via telescope, fizzled, leaving everyone wondering what the heck happened. A brief pinprick of light was all that was seen - no giant cloud of debris and ejecta.

Space researcher and fellow Coast to Coast with Art Bell guest Richard Hoagland has noted the similarity of the event's unpredicted result to that of the effect produced when bunker-busting missiles are used to bomb underground complexes on Earth. The missile pierces the thin surface, then detonates once inside the chamber, leaving only a pinprick of light visible aerially through the small hole it made upon entry.

Hoagland, known for his fanciful speculation about extraterrestrials and ancient civilizations in our solar system, has been called a nut by some - even by me, sometimes - but in general I think he's righter than he is wrong, and his bunker-buster comparison contains more fire than smoke.

Be that as it may, let's look at the situation from the official NASA non-conspiratorial viewpoint for a moment.

On November 13, 2009, NASA made a historic announcement: LCROSS had verified that, yes, there is water on the moon, and in considerable quantities. This idea was once held to be highly unlikely if not impossible, so some seriously cherished aspects of our society's status quo were being dashed here. Yet the average citizen seemed not to notice or care.

Well, they should care, and here's why:

The first (If you believe what you read in the papers) manmade object to make contact with the moon's surface was the Russian probe Luna 2 in 1959. In the relatively short time since then, humans have piled up a surprising amount of junk on the moon (including the Russian Lunokhod 1 robot rover, pictured below.

So what? Well, ponder this:

Microscopic living organisms are everywhere on Earth. I mean everywhere. One could go quite mad by pondering to just what degree everything on this planet, including ourselves, is teeming with invisible microbial critters. Some of them, such as the Tardigrade or "Water Bear", survive and thrive in literally any environment you throw at it (heat, cold, pressure, radioactivity), as long as there just a microdrop of water - mere water vapor, even - for it to subsist in.

What this means is, by making physical contact with the moon repeatedly via manned and unmanned visits, we have inadvertently infected it with our cloud of invisible microbes. If there wasn't life on the moon before, there most certainly is now, because we put it there. Every piece of equipment we brought to the moon had opportunities for microscopic stowaways, with no real system to even try to prevent it. At the time, we were more concerned about contaminating the Earth with anything that might have been on the moon, but we didn't stop to worry that we were spreading our own bacteria there in the first place. The Apollo spacecraft toilets even released the unprocessed urine of the astronauts directly into near-moon space!

As noted on

When the Apollo 12 astronauts visited the Moon they landed near Surveyor 3, a robot probe that had landed on the Moon several years before. They examined Surveyor to see how it had survived in the presence of vacuum, high and low temperatures, and intense radiation from both the Sun and interstellar cosmic radiation.

In order to allow experts to carry out examinations in controlled laboratory conditions, the astronauts removed the video camera from Surveyor, sealed it in a sterile bag and brought it back to Earth.

When the camera was examined it was found to be the home of a colony of bacteria, Streptococcus mitis. However these were not space monsters, but had come from Earth.

This is all bad enough, but the new revelation of water on the moon now means that there are greatly heightened chances for these Earthly microbes to thrive and multiply there. Do the math. We know bacteria thrive in water. We know we left bacteria on the moon. And now we know there is water there.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Mysterious Disappearance of Cinema's Inventor

Most of us were told in school that the motion picture was invented by Thomas Edison. In fact, Frenchman Louis Le Prince invented the world's first motion picture camera in 1886, years before Edison's first movie in 1891.

Le Prince's surviving devices are on display at the National Media Museum in the U.K. Shown here are two examples.

According to Wikipedia:

In September 1890, Le Prince boarded a train on a Friday, promising friends he would rejoin them in Paris on the following Monday for the return journey to England, to be followed by a trip to the US to promote his new camera. However, Le Prince did not arrive at the appointed time and he was never seen again by his family or friends. All that could be established about his last whereabouts was that he was seen on 16 September 1890 boarding the 2:42 train at Dijon for his return to Paris.

The French police, Scotland Yard and the family undertook exhaustive searches but never found his body or luggage. This mysterious disappearance case was never solved.

At the time that he vanished, Le Prince was about to patent his 1889 projector in England and then leave Europe for his scheduled New York official exhibition. His widow assumed foul play though no concrete evidence has ever emerged and Rawlence prefers the suicide theory. In 1898, Le Prince's elder son Adolphe, who had assisted his father in many of his experiments, was called as a witness for the American Mutoscope Company in their litigation with Edison [Equity 6928]. By citing Le Prince's achievements Mutuscope hoped to annul Edison's subsequent claims to have invented the moving picture camera. Le Prince's widow Lizzie and Adolphe hoped that this would gain recognition for Le Prince's achievement but when the case went against Mutoscope their hopes were dashed. Two years later Adolphe Le Prince was found dead while out duck shooting on Fire Island near New York. Suicide was presumed.

You can view Louis Le Prince's "Accordion Player" 17-frame film here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Death Ray of Harry Grindell Matthews

One of my all-time favorite "mad scientists", Harry Grindell Matthews was a fascinating and talented inventor of many devices, including an alleged "Death Ray".

While serving in the British military during the Boer War in 1899, he developed an interest in the new and experimental field of wireless telephony. Within a year, he had devised a wireless communication system that he demonstrated for King George V at Buckingham Palace.

By 1921 Matthews was recording sound tracks using light (technology that foreshadowed the compact disc by half a century), and made a sound film of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton before his ill-fated final departure for the Antarctic. (Matthews credited himself with having invented the sound film, but William Kennedy Dickson had already done it in 1895.)

In 1923 Matthews made worldwide headlines with his announcements of having developed a Death Ray. According to Wikipedia:

The War Office contacted Matthews in February 1924 to request a demonstration of his ray. Matthews did not answer to them but spoke to journalists and demonstrated the ray to a Star reporter by igniting gunpowder from a distance. He still refused to say how the ray actually worked, just insisted that it did. When the British government still refused to rush to buy his ideas, he announced that he had an offer from France.

The Air Ministry was wary, partially because of previous bad experiences with would-be inventors. Matthews was invited back to London to demonstrate his ray on April 26 to the armed forces. In Matthews's laboratory they saw how his ray switched on a light bulb and cut off a motor. He failed to convince the officials, who also suspected trickery or a confidence game. When the admiralty requested further demonstration, Matthews refused to give it.

In July 1924, Matthews left for the USA to market his invention. When he was offered $25,000 to demonstrate his beam to the Radio World Fair at Madison Square Garden, he again refused and claimed, without foundation, that he was not permitted to demonstrate it outside England. US scientists were not impressed. One Professor Woods offered to stand in front of the death ray device to demonstrate his disbelief. Regardless, when Matthews returned to Britain, he claimed that the USA had bought his ray but refused to say who had done it and for how much.

In 1927 he developed a ‘Sky Projector’, for projecting images onto the clouds. It's widely believed that the iconic Bat-Signal in Batman comics was inspired by Matthews' invention.

Other inventions and ideas variously attributed to Harry include: an auto-pilot for aeroplanes, automatic street lamps that came on at dusk, and an ahead-of-its-time liquid hydrogen rocket fuel for space travel.

Harry died of a heart attack on September 11, 1941.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Etsy find: Steampunk Collage Brooch

Saw this on Etsy from Steampunk Jennie: "This One of a Kind Steampunk Angel is an understated way to add a touch of Steam to any ensemble! The brooch measures 2" in length and has a slightly less than 2" wingspan! Made with watch parts encased in crystal resin that's been tinted with Blue Patina swirling inks."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Martian Radio

On August 22, 1924 a telegram was sent from Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Edward W. Eberle, to all Naval stations. They were instructed to monitor the airwaves for any unusual transmissions in anticipation of contact from Martians.

Why the sudden military concern about alien contact? What did they know that we still don't, that motivated them to put the entire Naval armed forces on alert to listen for Martian radio transmissions, and specifically during this time when Mars was especially close to the Earth?

The official story is that nothing was picked up but static. But if something had been picked up, it would of course be classified. So we just don't know.

Letters of Note found an old issue of Popular Radio magazine from this same time period, that also suggested Martian contact was imminent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Celestial Echoes

Above: photo by Weegee, circa 1940s.

Below: your chance to obtain a copy, available for sale currently on Amazon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


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Monday, November 9, 2009

New Life for Nixie Tubes

The Nixie Tube was, in a more enlightened era, the standard method for electonically displaying numbers, letters or other symbols prior to the introduction of the LED. Those of you of a certain age will remember that all calculators once utilized Nixies.

According to Wikipedia:

The Nixie display was developed by a small vacuum tube manufacturer called Haydu Brothers Laboratories, and introduced in 1954 by Burroughs Corporation, who purchased Haydu and owned the name Nixie as a trademark. The name Nixie was derived by Burroughs from "NIX I", an abbreviation of "Numeric Indicator eXperimental No. 1"[4]. Similar devices that functioned in the same way were patented in the 1920s, and the first mass-produced display tubes were introduced in the late 1930s by National Union Co. and Telefunken. However, their construction was cruder, and they failed to find many applications until digital electronics reached a suitable level of development in the 1950s.

Burroughs even had another Haydu tube that could operate as a digital counter and directly drive a Nixie tube for display. This was called a "Trochotron", in later form known as the "Beam-X Switch" counter tube; another name was "magnetron beam-switching tube", referring to their similarity to a cavity magnetron. Trochotrons were used in the UNIVAC 1101 computer, as well as in clocks and frequency counters...

Citing dissatisfaction with the aesthetics of modern digital displays and a nostalgic fondness for the styling of obsolete technology, significant numbers of electronics enthusiasts in recent years have shown interest in reviving nixies. Unsold tubes that have been sitting in warehouses for decades are being brought out and used, the most common application being in homemade digital clocks. This is somewhat ironic, since during their heyday, nixies were generally considered too expensive for use in mass-market consumer goods such as clocks. This recent surge in demand has caused prices to increase significantly, particularly for large tubes. The largest type known to be in the hands of collectors, the Rodan CD-47/GR-414 (220 mm [8.7 in.] tall), have been sold for hundreds of dollars apiece, but these are extremely rare and only found in a few areas of the world by persistent and fortunate seekers.

David Forbes and his homebrew electronics company, Cathode Corner, often have marvelous examples of Nixie-powered clocks and wristwatches for sale on their site and on eBay.

Curious about jumping into the wonderful world of Nixies yourself? Go to the Sphere Research Corporation for all your Nixie needs.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Duck Hunting in a Donkey Suit

From Scientific American Supplement, December 12, 1891:

"The wild duck is a shy bird, apt to spread his wings and change his quarters when a noble sportsman is seen approaching his habitation with a fowling piece. You have heard of the ass who put on a lion's skin, and wandered out into the wilderness and brayed. I have elaborated a device of equal ingenuity and more convincing realism. It is my habit during the duck-shooting season to put on the skin of a Blondin donkey and so roam among the sedges bordering on the lakes where wild ducks most do congregate. I have cut a hole in the face to see through, and other holes in the legs to put my hands through."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sarina Brewer's Taxidermy Art

Taxidermy artist Sarina Brewer offers a variety of strange homemade creatures for sale on eBay and on her website, which states:

None of the animals used in Sarina’s work were killed for the purpose of using them in her art. All animal components are recycled. She utilizes salvaged roadkill and discarded livestock, as well as the many animals that are donated to her. Donated animals are often casualties of the pet trade, destroyed nuisance animals and pests, or animals that died of natural causes. A very strict "waste not, want not" policy is adhered to in her studio - virtually every part of the animal is recycled in some manner.

This artist has a deep respect and appreciation for animals and the natural world. She is fascinated with the circle of life and intrigued with how different cultures honor their dead and deal with death.

Sarina is a self-proclaimed science nerd who incorporates her past formal art education with her passion for biology and the bizarre. Her childhood preoccupation with cryptozoology and anomalies of nature manifest themselves in her outlandish reveries of fur and flesh and every peculiar artifact she creates.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Know, My Lord, There is a Dampish Cave".

Catclaw Theatre Company's puppetry production of The Birth of Merlin, attributed to William Shakespeare and William Rowley in a 1662 quarto, promises to be a pip, a corker, a humdinger. It'll be held in a creepy old run-down warehouse in the East Flatbush district of Brooklyn, and will be veritably oozing with mythic resonance. As with Toulouse-inations, you'll see more than a few anachronisms in the course of the proceedings, and all included with some degree of deliberation. Steampunk fans will definitely find grist for their mill here, despite the medieval setting...