Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spiderweb Pocket Watch

I want this!

"Straight out of Wild Wild West! A silver-plated alloy mechanical (wind-up) pocket watch with a fabulous spiderweb filigree front cover, elaborate scroll relief design on the back, and clear glass windows on the inside face and back which reveal the moving brass gears inside. Gold-tone Arabic numerals and elegant black hands. Press top button to open, pull up grooved ring to set time. To wind, roll grooved ring back and forth between your fingers until resistance begins to change (1-3 times daily). No batteries required."

Now that's a watch!

Only $33.99 from Art of Adornment.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Last "Lost", At Last

Mark your calendars and set your TiVos: on February 2nd, the final season begins of Lost, a TV program that we look upon, in all seriousness, as a non-fiction documentary and a training film, not fiction.

Despite assurances from J.J. Abrams years ago that the show would not, in the end, leave dangling plotpoints and unanswered questions, it seems to me that such will be the case. There's just too much going on, on multiple layers, dimensions, and time tracks, to ever tie up all the loose ends. And that's OK. In reality, loose ends are never truly tied up, no matter how much they may appear to be.

Lonely Tylenol

At this writing, the beleaguered pain reliever Tylenol is the subject of yet another product recall, which makes me think this pill definitely has a black cloud over its head, a literal curse or a hex, and that maybe it's time they just packed it in and gave up and shut down altogether.

I wouldn't miss them a bit if they did - even without the perennial concerns of product tampering and company malfeasance, Tylenol is a very dangerous substance. Acetaminophen causes three times as many cases of liver failure as all other drugs combined, and is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States, accounting for an astonishing 39% of cases. Acetaminophen overdose is responsible for more emergency room visits than any other medicine on the market, over-the-counter or otherwise. Why is this junk still legal?

The evidence is clear: product recall or not, the stuff is evil and you ought not be taking it. Tylenol is also extremely toxic to pets - dogs can suffer liver damage from it, and even a tiny amount is enough to kill a cat.

Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) was discovered in 1877 by Harmon Northrop Morse, and was considered as a useful drug but ultimately rejected because it was believed to cause methemoglobinemia as a side effect. Many years later in 1948, studies by Dr. Julius Axelrod (pictured below) and others indicated that the previous data was faulty, and Paracetamol began being sold as an analgesic in the early 1950s as Tylenol and Panadol.

Tylenol was, and is, manufactured and marketed by McNeil Laboratories, which got its humble start as a drugstore/soda fountain in 1879. McNeil was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson.

Concerns about paracetamol's safety delayed its widespread acceptance until the 1970s. But in 1982, a product tampering scare killed seven people when cyanide was added to Tylenol pills by an unknown hand. A man named James W. Lewis has been a recurring suspect, but there's been insufficient evidence as yet to prosecute.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Match King

Consider the case of Ivar Kreuger, born 1880, died 1932. He was a Swedish entrepreneur who, by the end of his career, controlled two thirds of the world's match production, thus earning him the sobriquet "Match King". His financial empire, described by some as a Ponzi scheme, collapsed during the Great Depression, just as he was trying to further his reach by dominating the European timber industry and form a cellulose cartel.

According to Wikipedia:

He had a large private library in both his apartments in Stockholm and New York and quite a large art collection. The paintings were sold at different auctions that were held in September 1932, as all of Kreuger's private assets were incorporated into the bankruptcy. The collection in Stockholm comprised 88 original paintings, among them 19 by Anders Zorn and a great number by old masters from the Netherlands. The New York collection comprised original paintings by Rembrandt and Anthony van Dyck.

Kreuger became the major shareholder when the Swedish film company AB Svensk Filmindustri (SF) was founded in 1919 and because of that, sometimes met celebrities from the film industry. In June 1924, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were invited by SF to Stockholm and were guided around the Stockholm archipelago in Kreuger's motor yacht Loris. A 5 minute film sequence of this occasion is stored in SF's film archive. Pickford, Fairbanks, Kreuger, Charles Magnusson (the manager for SF), Greta Garbo and various SF employees appear in the film.

Faced with ruin after the Depression, he committed suicide by shooting himself in March 1932. Or so some say.

In 1966 This brother Torsten published Sanningen om Ivar Kreuger (published in America as Ivar Kreuger: The Truth at Last in 1965) claiming that Ivar Kreuger had been murdered. In subsequent years, more and more researchers have supported Torsten findings.

Ayn Rand wrote a play inspired by Kreuger's life and death, entitled Night of January 16th, which was a surprise hit on Broadway in 1935.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lucky 7 Lampwerks

Saw a feature on Toronto's Lucky 7 Lampwerks recently on The Steampunk Home. Love the elegant primitivism of his home decor, utilizing Edison bulbs and various reclaimed bric-a-brac.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Vernian Process

There's a great interview on Dieselpunks with Josh Pfeiffer of the Steamwave band Vernian Process, who openly share all their music for free - check it out. Right now I have their new early-mixes advance download (get yours here!) of their latest album Behold the Machine, and I can't stop listening to it.

"The Curse of Whitechapel", interwoven with brilliant samples of Ian Holm dialogue from From Hell is #1 on my Zune hit parade right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mystery Object Near Earth

From the Associated Press:

A mystery object from space is about to whizz close by Earth on Wednesday. It won't hit our planet, but scientists are stumped by what exactly it is.

Astronomers say it may be space junk or it could be a tiny asteroid, too small to cause damage even if it hit. It's 33 to 50 feet wide at most.

NASA says that on Wednesday at 7:47 a.m. EST, it will streak by, missing Earth by about 80,000 miles. In the western United States it may be bright enough to be seen with a good amateur telescope.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bird-Plane Collisions Skyrocketing

In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 lost power to its engines and made an emergency water landing in the Hudson River. And the reason given for the engine failure? Birds. Canada Geese, to be exact.

At 3:27pm, oddly using the incorrect call sign "Cactus 1539", the cockpit radioed air traffic controllers at New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON). Their transmission: "Hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. Returning back towards LaGuardia."

According to news reports, the passengers and cabin crew reported hearing "very loud bangs" coming from both engines, and subsequently seeing flaming exhaust and smelling fuel in the cabin.

Now, just a year later, USA Today and the AP are stating that "reports of airplanes hitting birds and other wildlife have soared" since then. So why the increase in bird strikes? Some officials are saying it's because the incidents are simply being reported more diligently, while other are actually claiming that bird populations are suddenly getting out of hand.

According to the AP article:

After US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson on Jan. 15, the AP asked the government for its data, including details about more than 93,000 strikes since 1990. Even after the FAA agreed to turn over the records to the AP, it quietly proposed a new federal rule to keep the information secret until Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood intervened and ordered the release. LaHood recently included the disclosure in a list of the department's leading safety accomplishments for last year.

"Going public doesn't appear to have harmed it, and every indicator I have is we have an increased industry awareness on the importance of reporting," said Kate Lang, FAA acting associate administrator for airports, in an interview.

Why on Earth would the FAA want to keep data on duck collisions classified in the first place?

Historically, bird strikes have been a convenient excuse to explain away damage sustained by civilian and military aircraft under enemy fire. The most notable example is probably in the book The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. There, it was revealed that the Kennedy White House quietly asked an Air Force Captain to conceal that his fleet had been fired upon by Cuban anti-aircraft guns, and that the pockmarks and bulletholes were caused by bird strikes.

In so doing, Kennedy supposedly helped prevent World War III, because had it become public knowledge that Russian-backed Cubans were firing shots at our planes, we would have been forced to retaliate and thus escalate the situation to the point of Russia using the nuclear missiles it was stockpiling in Cuba.

So could modern air pilots be concealing something by playing the "bird strikes" card today? What might that be?

Unmanned Miniature Drones have been on the rise at about the same timeframe and rate of growth as the rising statistics on bird strikes. They can range from plane-sized to bird-sized to even insect sized.

Not only Micro Air Vehicles on their way to being insect sized, DARPA is also experimenting with, believe it or not, Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems, which are "tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis".

Israel is flying mini-drones over the West Bank, and Harvard and NASA are working on ones that travel in swarms and can communicate with each other. And they're also working on underwater ones and nuclear-powered ones.

And then there's the Entomopter. And the Ornithopter.

The old, conventional, plane-sized unmanned drones, which have probably been responsible for more than a few UFO sightings, may soon become outmoded as the new breed of mini-drones and micro-drones take over. For now, new large models such as the RQ-170 Sentinel are still in production even as research and development is happening fast on tiny ones.

And then there's the mysterious miniature blue cloud that flitted around a Parma, Ohio gas station in 2007. The cloud, which moved around almost like a sentient being, was recorded by the gas station's security video.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sherlock, Stock, and Barrel

I actually haven't seen the new Sherlock Holmes flick yet, believe it or not, even though all reports say it's Steampunk as fuck.

I may see it soon, or I may wait until the Blu-Ray. I'm undecided as yet. I'm sure it's fun, but the more I think about it, the more I'd rather watch Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war, a 1937 German film about a man who thinks he's Holmes.

Then there's the 1954 TV series starring Ronald Howard (no, not Ron Howard). And of course, Basil Rathbone's benchmark-setting performances. Click here to watch Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, in which Holmes rescues the inventor of a bomb-sight which the allies want to keep from the Nazis.

But for my money, you can't beat Jeremy Brett's masterful Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of British TV programs and films. Forty-one of the 60 Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were adapted in the series, spanning 36 one-hour episodes and five feature-length specials. The series ran from 1984 to 1994, coming to an abrupt end when Brett died at the age of sixty-one from heart failure.

The Brett version of Holmes, sadly, never told the "lost" story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, but they did do The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, the story in which Holmes makes the famous cryptic reference to the mysterious never-expounded-upon case.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Etsy find: Lincoln with a Laser

Etsy user BellaStitchery offers a charming cross-stitch pattern for this image of Abraham Lincoln wielding some sort of cybernetic laser device.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The United Order

In the 19th century, the United Order was a Mormon group who sought to establish co-operative communities designed to achieve equality, eliminate poverty, increase self-sufficiency, and to ultimately create an ideal utopian society. Mormons referred to this utopian goal as Zion.

The United Order is not practiced within mainstream Mormonism today; however, a number of groups of Mormon fundamentalists, such as the Apostolic United Brethren, have revived the practice. (The title "Apostolic United Brethren" is not generally used by its own members, who prefer to call it "The Work," "The Priesthood," or "The Group.")

The United Order was also practiced by a Latter Day Saint church called the United Order Family of Christ, founded in 1966.

According to Wikipedia, "Some leaders and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the United Order will be reestablished some time in the future. Many leaders have taught that the Church's present system of welfare and humanitarian aid is a predecessor or stepping stone to the renewed practice of the United Order in the future."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Louisville's Forgotten El-Trains

One from our Unusual Kentucky blog:

They've fallen down the memory hole now, but believe it or not, Louisville once had an elevated passenger train system back in the 19th century. Now Ron Schooling has pored over what little remaining fragmentary historical evidence there is about the trains. Read his fascinating findings on Brandon Klayko's perpetually useful Broken Sidewalk blog.

There's no reason - absolutely no reason - we couldn't get something like this going again, right now, and inexpensively. If they could do it with 19th century technology and resources, so can we. And as people have commented here:

"We've already got tracks in place running to West Point alongside Dixie Hwy and Peewee Valley on the East side. Strikes me it wouldnt cost much money to wake up existing train stations that been in place 100 yrs."


"There is also another great commercial track that runs from Shepherdsville into Germantown, going past Ford, UPS, PJ Stadium and UL. In fact, the tracks run right THRU UofL's Student Center and it virtually looks like a train station is already there. When this line reaches Shelby Park, it turns before crossing over Baxter at the aformentioned Lexington intersection (and its decrepid old, graffiti covered station. From this, the line continues up Frankfort into the east end. The junction of this track at Lexington and Franfort could be extened with a nice elevated line up the much too wide, and largely deserted Jefferson street, which is seeing new life with high density developments like Liberty Green and the east market gallery district. The final line could eventually be developed built from scratch up Bardstown Road to Mt Washington, but the conundrum would be where to lie tracks thru the Highlands."

(Meanwhile, I'm currently designing a human-powered pedal train. Be afraid. Developing...)

Saturday, January 2, 2010


While everyone else seems all excitable about the year 2010, I remain skeptical. I'm more of a 1910 kind of guy. Now, that was some kinda year, boy. The kind they just don't make no more. The kind money just can't buy. The Chinese Year of the Fruitgum Company.

1910 was the year Halley's Comet reared its scary tail, making manifest to the assembled multitide of pink primates that yes, outer space really is filled with weird things whizzing around and yes, sometimes they come perilously close to Earth. (Previous pinks were already hip to Halley's ways: Chinese, Babylonian, Persian, and Mesopotamian texts make reference to previous sightings of the old faithful comet.)

1910 was the year that Sherlock Holmes was first portrayed by an actor. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stage adaptation of the story The Adventure of the Speckled Band was staged at the Adelphi Theatre in London. H.A. Saintsbury was Holmes, Claude King was Dr. Watson, and Lyn Harding was the villain, Dr. Grimesby Roylott.

1910 was the year the United States granted statehood to the territories of Arizona and New Mexico. Dash it all.

1910 was the year of the world's first airline crash. The dirigible Deutschland was wrecked by high winds while attempting an emergency landing at Osnabruck, Germany. Count Zeppelin's airship was on a flight from Dusseldorf to Dortmund when it encountered high winds, and t 5:30pm the airship descended into the Teutoburg Forest. The 33 persons onboard were miraculously uninjured.

1910 was the year of the first-ever ballet adaptation of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade was presented, by the Ballets Russes in Paris.

1910 was the year that the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, led by Roald Amundsen on the steamer Fram, departed quietly - almost secretly - from Christiania (now Oslo). No announcement was made until much later in the year that the purpose Amundsen's mission was to reach the South Pole.

1910 was the year that Charles Stewart Rolls became the first person to fly across the English Channel and back again without stopping.

1910 was the year that Henri Coanda made the first short flight in a plane with a jet engine.

1910 was the year that a wireless telegraph sent from the S.S. Montrose results in the identification and later arrest and execution of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who was falsely accused of murdering his wife Cora. He was the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication.

1910 was the year the Vatican introduced a compulsory oath against modernism, to be taken by all priests upon ordination.