Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alek James Hidell

My good friend and Interzone bowling partner Lee Harvey Oswald was the subject of a song I demo'd for the Lexington, KY punk band Nine Pound Hammer way back in the day (1887, wasn't it?) but the song was never recorded. I ended up recording it myself with The Kentuckians for their debut CD on Creeps Records in 1999, where it was available in stores only briefly before lapsing into utter obscurity. Now it's back from the dead for the YouTube generation - click here to inwestigate, Comrade.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Steampunk Kaleidoscopes

Just happened across this video showing off some of the super-snazz kaleidoscopes from Kevin C. Cooper's workshop.

Cooper's kaleidoscopes are made from brass and mahogany and use antique parts whenever possible, such as Victorian-age brass candlesticks and old clock gears and cogs.

Also scope him out on Etsy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Alien Ambassador

Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, may soon become Earth's first official ambassador to extra-terrestrial civilizations.

Most people aren't even aware that the United Nations has an Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which Othman is Director of. Discussions are currently underway for Othman and UNOOSA to become official representatives of Earth if and when formal diplomatic communications channels need to be established between ourselves and some other alien life forms. UNOOSA's global headquarters (pictured above) is an extraterritorial area, meaning that although it is physically located in Vienna, it is not subject to any local law. It is, like military bases and embassies, floating in a limbo of no fixed jurisdiction.

UNOOSA suggests that Kepler's recent discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets makes the discovery of extraterrestrial life increasingly likely. Apparently they're serious enough about this to suggest that we need to be ready for aliens to arrive and say "take me to your leader" - Othman recently said in a speech that when extraterrestrial contact is made, "we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination."

This all comes not long after Stephen Hawking's recent controversial pronouncements about alien life. Hawking, widely regarded as one of the most brilliant minds of our planet, indicated that alien contact would almost certainly be a bad thing, because odds are good that their technology would be superior to ours and we would therefore assume a subservient role. Said he, "The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Vacuum Coffee Maker

It's a rather Rube Goldberg way of going about it, to be sure, but hey, who among us doesn't love Rube Goldberg? I came across this video recently posted to YouTube showing a working "vacuum siphon percolator" using ordinary school chemistry laboratory equipment. Other variations on the "coffee still" trick are here and here and also here.

I wish the World Market Coffee Club would issue one of these. I'd buy it. Guess I gotta build it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Islamic Cellphone

Is there such a thing as Islamic chic? Most definitely. Take a gander at this Ilkone phone found here. For a Steampunk enthusiast, the cognitive dissonance between the modernity of a cellphone with the old-old-world style is an aesthetic beauty to behold.

According to Fahad, the Ilkone I800 phone generates five automated reminders a day at prayer time and contains the entire Quran, both in Arabic and in English. It also has a built in Qibla Locator that determines the precise direction towards Mecca.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Data Instability

You know what happens the more you look, right? Well guess what, the upstate ballot results are in and it's now official: we know absolutely nothing.

Two major astronomical observatories recently wrapped up an exhaustive study of the fine-structure constant (also known as alpha or the "magic number" which defines the strength of electromagnetism). This constant has for years been a keystone on which our understanding of physics depends.

Well, guess what they learned? The constant is not constant. According to Kotaku:

"After measuring alpha in around 300 distant galaxies, a consistency emerged: this magic number, which tells us the strength of electromagnetism, is not the same everywhere as it is here on Earth, and seems to vary continuously along a preferred axis through the universe," Professor John Webb from the University of New South Wales said.

Oops. Back to the old drawing board.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Paper Steampunk Arm Weapon

Spotted on Design Taxi: Artist Philip Valdez built this mechanical prop weapon for a Steampunk wedding. See more images on Valdez' blog and his Flickr.

Design Taxi's comment "paper isn’t a material you’d normally associate steampunk with—metal seems a likelier choice" sticks in my craw though: the Victorian period was actually the golden age of paper artistry, and before the advent of plastics, papier-mache was omnipresent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Old Growth

In my recent musings on Hitchcock's Vertigo, I repeated the often-held datum that the Giant Redwoods are the oldest living things on Earth. Allow me to check myself and correct the rec, because I've just been reading about some other startling life forms whose age is said to surpass even the Redwoods.

Crystal Falls, MI hosts the "Humungous Fungus", which spans over 38 acres underground near the Wisconsin border. Believed to be between 1,500 to 10,000 years old and estimated to weigh about 100 tons, this massive specimen of Armillaria Bulbosa (also known as Armillaria ostoyae) is one of this planet's most amazing success stories. The mushrooms it produces, known as the "honey mushroom", are edible.

But even larger than that: another specimen in Washington State covers about 6 square kilometres (1,500 acres), and one in Oregon has been determined to span 2200 acres underground, and it's at least 2,400 years old, possibly older. From The Independent:

The largest living organism ever found has been discovered in an ancient American forest. The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon.

"There hasn't been anything measured with any scientific technique that has shown any plant or animal to be larger than this."

But then there's Pando, described by Wikipedia as "a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) located in the U.S. state of Utah, all determined to be part of a single living organism by identical genetic markers and one massive underground root system." Pando has been estimated by some to be approximately 80,000 years old.

By comparison, the oldest known living Redwood tree is about 2200 years old, although it is believed that at one time, 5000-year-old ones existed on America's west coast.

I have a fondness for plants that work in this manner, appearing to be separate entities above-ground while all actually connected as one network-entity beneath the soil, out of sight. Bamboo is another such plant, and Japanese Knotweed is another.

(Top photo: scraping away at a Douglas Fir's bark to reveal Armillaria ostoyae taking it over from the inside. Second photo: Pando.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Come Take a Trip in my Airship

George Evans' "Come Take a Trip in my Air-ship", rendered on a giant metal disc in 1905 for a Mira 18-inch "Grand Concert" music box.

Hear it and view it here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Victorian Artificial Hand

Artificial left arm, Europe, 1850-1910. "Made from steel and brass, this unusual prosthetic arm articulates in a number of ways. The elbow joint can be moved by releasing a spring, whereas the top joint of the wrist allows a degree of rotation and an up-and-down motion. The fingers can also curl up and straighten out."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mr. Lee, Mr. Lee

It's about 4:30pm EST as of this writing, and I'm watching the news coverage unfold of a man named James Jay Lee who has hijacked the Discovery Channel building in Silver Spring, MD.

Lee apparently has a history of protesting outside the Discovery Channel's headquarters, and was arrested in 2008 for throwing money at people coming and going out of the offices. His website, now taken down, featured a rambling, incoherent, childishly written manifesto full of caps-lock and exclamation points. The upshot of his "argument" is that there are too many human beings in the world, and mass depopulation is in order to save the planet. His self-proclaimed mission is, quote, "stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies" and he demands that the Discovery Channel start airing programming that supports his position.

Somehow, I don't think that's going to happen. For Mr. Lee to believe he could make a cable network start generating programming espousing his beliefs by holding hostages in their own offices, well, that's the apex of stupidity. Did he see movies like Airheads and King of Comedy and mistakenly come to think that one could really do something like that in the real world? Evidently he did.

This monumental ignorance seems at direct odds with his manifesto's reference to lofty concepts like Malthusian Theory and the "New Tribalist Movement" embodied in the works of Daniel Quinn. The conspiracy theorist in me finds something about this whole incident just not jibing. There's a cognitive dissonance even within Lee's manifesto itself, which seems to me to be the work of two different people - the differing writing styles and education levels can clearly be seen contrasting one another when one looks at the text analytically.

I'll be very interested to see what happens next with this James Lee guy, and what we learn about him. Something about all this stinks to high heaven.

(His myspace page lists Star Trek's Captain James. T. Kirk as being his hero. Somehow, I don't think this cowardly bit of TV terrorism would be Kirk's style. Maybe Lee, in his muddled thinking, believed he was employing some sort of heroic subterfuge or sabotage (or as Shatner would say, "sab-a-taaaaage") in the vein of The Corbomite Manuever or The Enterprise Mission.)