Patented for Your Pleasure

What are the things we as a species enjoy? I’m going to go out on a limb and pick two- We enjoy sexual pleasure, and we enjoy tinkering with stuff. The confluence of these two interests have lead, over time, to more sexual gadgetry than you could shake an electrode covered phallus at, and it’s amusing for a couple of reasons. For one, I don’t think with all our noodling we’ve ever actually improved on good ol’ sloppy biology. Secondly, and this is the mouth of the comedy gold mine, all these endless inventions of ours must, if they are to ever to hit the market and enter the orifices at large, pass through the patent office. Can you think of a more incongruous pairing than brute sexuality and government forms? Or of the mysterious workings of human arousal and technical diagrams?

11.13. filed under: bits&bytes. humanity. science. wtf. 14

Particle Portraits

Quote: “Take a deep breath! You have just inhaled oxygen atoms that have already been breathed by every person who ever lived. At some time or other your body has contained atoms that were once part of Moses or Isaac Newton. The oxygen mixes with carbon atoms in your lungs and you exhale carbon dioxide molecules. Chemistry is at work. Plants will rearrange these atoms, converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen, and at some future date our descendants will breathe some in.”

11.07. filed under: play. science. 6

Campi Phlegraei

or: Hamilton’s Flaming Fields

Paraphrased: The area around Naples was known locally as the Campi Phlegraei, or ‘flaming fields’, owing to the frequent and violent eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. William Hamilton (Britain’s envoy to the Spanish court at Naples) from his country house at the foot of the volcano, was ideally placed to witness and investigate the eruptions of the 1770s. The prevailing view at the time was of volcano was a purely destructive force. Hamilton sought to show that in a broader time scale, volcanoes had been responsible for the mountainous landscape and rich, fertile soils that characterized the area. Hamilton employed the Anglo-Neapolitan artist Peter Fabris to create sketches in situ to illustrate the work (Hamilton himself is pictured in many of the plates as the figure in the red coat). These were then reproduced in prints that were hand coloured individually by local artists by the application of gouache. The resultant work was published in 1776 (with a later supplement describing the great eruption of Vesuvius in August 1779) as Campi Phlegraei: Observations on the Volcanos of the Two Sicilies.

Take a closer look at this beauty at Glasgow University Library, Georgetown’s Campania site, Ingenious UK, Nortwestern’s Campania Felix, and Stromboli Online. Also Hamilton’s Apparatus.

10.30. filed under: art. history. people. science. 3

B-flat In The Dark Heart Of Perseus

Quote: “In the dark heart of the Perseus galaxy cluster, 300 million light-years from Earth, a supermassive black hole has been singing the same note for 2.5 billion years. Its tone registers 57 octaves below middle C and, according to scientists at NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Center, is a resounding B-flat. Yet, how is this possible in the vacuum of space? When relativistic jets, which contain material moving at close to the speed of light, slam into the hot gas that pervades giant elliptical galaxies and clusters of galaxies, they beat a ‘galactic drum,’ as it were. The jet acts as the stick, whereas the surface of the gas is the drum.”

There is currently a vote before the Galactic Senate to rename the entire area “The Ringo Quadrant.” Check out this Scientific American article for more. The image was adapted from here.

10.29. filed under: science. space. 1

Cockroaches that spent 12 days aboard the Russian orbital laboratory Photon-3 - Noah’s Arc, returned to Earth last week. Two of these cockroaches were pregnant, evidently becoming the first Earth creatures to have conceived in space and becoming the first members of the 100,000 mile high club. Russian scientists are expecting these two female cockroach cosmonauts to give birth to “the world’s first offspring conceived in microgravity.” That’s interesting, certainly, but do we really need to help these indestructible little buggers adapt their genes to space as well? Silkworms I’m not too worried about, but roaches?! If we keep this up, when we finally come across a monolith somewhere, there’ll already be cockroaches there, scuttling under it when we shine our flashlights.

In other science-factual news of a fascinating but highly questionable nature- Craig Venter has announced he’s built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals, in effect creating the first new artificial life form on Earth. Pants-crappingly good news ay?

10.08. filed under: headlines. science. space.

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds

His name was Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle and his book, Entretiens sur la Pluralité des Mondes, (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) is a fascinating, though I suspect largely forgotten, bit of science history. Published in 1686, the book is remarkable, not so much for its literary merits as for the ultimate function its publication served. Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds holds the admirable distinction of being one of the first books of “popularized science” ever published, which is to say, a book of scientific ideas aimed directly at “the average reader” rather than natural philosophers. It became quite fashionable and in as much might be considered the Brief History of Time or Cosmos of it’s day. 

09.25. filed under: history. people. science. theory. 8

The Jimsonweed Junkies

Across the Americas, during the twilight hours of the summer, a poisonous perennial weed unfurls its ingeniously folded conical wildflower and offers itself to all comers. Every bit of the weed is toxic, and its nectar is held deep within it’s corolla tube, so there are few takers. One family of moth, however, happens to have just the tools for the job; Its proboscis is long (longer in most cases that the rest of its entire body) and its proclivities… well… let’s just say this moth likes to get high baby.

09.23. filed under: science. 6

Boom Computing

He kept his homemade, oversized, “nuclear weapon effects computer” in a room packed floor to ceiling with puzzles. To me, smugly distanced from the fearful zeitgeist of the atomic age (and its pragmatic preparations) this choice seems perfectly fitting. I can think of none better in fact. Circular slide rules manufactured to calculate the various effects and time lengths of a post nuclear landscape were once fairly common items. If you handed me one today and expected an important calculation in return you might as well hand me a icosahedron-shaped rubik’s and expect in return a nice slice of strawberry pie.

09.16. filed under: design. history. humanity. science. 12

Quote: At first, it was so white it looked like fairyland. Now it’s filled with so many mosquitoes that it’s turned a little brown. There are times you can literally hear the screech of millions of mosquitoes caught in those webs.

In case you missed the news in August officials at Lake Tawakoni State Park in Texas found a truly enormous spider web that completely engulfed multiple trees and shrubs and which, in it’s entirely, covered about 200 yards of trail. Entomologists were in a tizzy because this sort of thing is exceedingly rare. The Tetragnathidae spiders native to the area are cannibalistic and solitary but this mega-web was evidently built cooperatively, by over 12 different types, to take advantage of unusually good feeding conditions brought on by heavy rains in the early summer. Now at the end of summer its being reported that the web is laden with egg sacs… Wow. Spider cooperation? Is this evolution in action? Would another good feeding season lead to a continuation of spider city? New behavioral patterns continuing on? Lets hope not because you just know what it would ultimately lead to...




09.15. filed under: headlines. science. wtf. 10

The image above is a color composite I created combining 6 hand drawn black and white images, each by a different astronomer, of a total solar eclipse which occurred on July 18th 1860. Although photography already existed at the time of this eclipse it was nowhere near precise enough to make truly useful astronomical observations. The astronomers who recorded it continued on with the method of hand drawing observations, which they’d employed long before the invention of the telescope, let alone the upstart photography. This particular eclipse was special in that the drawings are now thought to be the first known representations of a coronal mass ejection. See below for the original images, which are beautiful in their own right, and a bit more info.

09.10. filed under: science. space. 9

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