And you thought NASA had trouble defining its mission: Check out these old posters from China's space agency. The country clearly wanted to spread something throughout the universe, but whether that was Communism or fluffy flowery panda-happiness, we don't... READ ON
The creature at left is an elusive animal first discovered in the 1800s. Although little is known of this "Thai water elephant's" behavior, it is said that its tusks carry deadly venom, and that only experienced hunters are able to capture them in their watery habitats, which is why they are so rare and expensive. Although they sometimes go for thousands on eBay, we are pleased to offer you -- today and today only! -- your very own taxidermied Thai water elephant as a free bonus for taking us up on our... READ ON
I was in Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago, and my friend, who's in the picture, told me about this great piece of graffiti a la Banksy that just cried out to be photographed. (My husband says it's Brooklyn's Flat Stanley.) It's actually a piece of waterproofed paper or some similar material, rather than spray-paint on the wall. I'm glad I got the pic when I did -- we walked by 24 hours later and it had been vandalized. Close-up after the... READ ON
Julius Caesar may have had his terrible horrible no-good very-bad day on the 15th of March (at least according to Shakespeare), but today, the 15th of August, was doomsday for two other rulers who inspired the Bard. The Scottish king Duncan died today in 1040, and the guy who took over for him died today in 1057. You may have heard of him; his name's Macbeth.
Eerie, right? Although things didn't happen in "out, damn spot" fashion, it's entirely possible that the historical Macbeth (or as he was then... READ ON
Since you guys were so enthusiastic about mondegreens (or, for our new readers, misheard lyrics, like "'scuse me while I kiss this guy"), we thought we'd build on that for this week's contest.
In my household, we always get annoyed when "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" comes on the radio -- not because we don't like the song, but because Bob Dylan obviously missed a major lyrical opportunity. Consider the line: "They got some hungry women there and they really make a mess outta you." Clearly, the line... READ ON
We received an email from a group of concerned North Carolina citizens last week that made us think our guess-the-recipe contest should be null and void. It began: "Actually, Pepsi executives just filed an amicus brief in the Indian court stating that they have found the recipe for Coca-Cola."
Thankfully, it went on: "It is as follows: Take a glass of Pepsi and pee in it."
Two readers provided serious, difficult recipes, with one adding an explanation for Coca-Cola BlÄk's Äbsurd mÄcron -- "I... READ ON
I adored the Quizno's spongmonkeys. I was even willing to laugh, uncomfortably, at the chain's infamous "raised by wolves" ad. But the new ad it's running for its Smokehouse Beef Brisket sandwich is a little hard to digest. Watch it and judge for yourself, or take my word for it -- the ad opens with a series of local BBQ restaurant owners, all of whom are upset that Quizno's is poaching their customers by "encroach[ing] on our long-established recipes and intellectual property."
Ha, ha, intellectual... READ ON
So last week I threatened to write this week's wrap-up in sonnet form.
I hate it when I back myself into a... READ ON
All this talk about the upcoming photos of baby Suri Cruise has gotten me thinking about Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, or as you know him, L. Ron. Plenty has been said about his opinions on aliens, volcanoes, and disembodied spirits, but his scientific interests didn't stop with astronomy, vulcanology, and, er, thetanology.
For instance: he was an amateur paleontologist! In his book Scientology: A History of Man, Hubbard wrote about a toothy human ancestor who was "quite careless as to whom and what he... READ ON
We're going all Lifehacker-y today for Watercooler Ammo, since some of you may be traveling for the weekend (and since all four of us will be traveling on Monday and Tuesday). Here's how to pack under the new "hand over the Burt's Bees and nobody gets hurt" rules, from the Philly Inquirer:
* If you are not sure whether an item is banned from carry-ons, pack it with the luggage going on the plane. ... It can get confusing. Lipstick does not appear to be prohibited, but lip balm does. [Editor's note: What... READ ON
As a new blog, we like to remind ourselves that things almost always start small. Exhibit A: In 1886, sales of Coca-Cola averaged only 9 drinks per day. There are loads more Coke facts where that came from, but before you check those out, why don't you enter our guess-the-recipe-for-Coke-and- Pepsi contest? It, too, has started small, so you've got a good shot at winning, although entries are trickling in now via e-mail. The deadline is tonight at 9 EDT, and the prize is a copy of What's the Difference --... READ ON
Hold your nose! Our favorite rare and giant plant, the corpse flower or Amorphophallus titanum, could burst forth and stink up the air as early as today at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A botanist once likened its fragrance to "a cross between ammonia fumes and hydrogen sulphide, suggestive of spoiled meat or rotting fish."
The flower was first discovered in Sumatra, its native terrain, in 1878 by Odoardo Beccari. It was an immediate sensation. An English artist assigned to illustrate the plant is said to... READ ON
And it's not even a... READ ON
All dogs may go to heaven, but there's at least one who's apparently stuck in limbo, long gone as an individual animal but living on in an extremely unlikely form. According to one of the most bizarre science articles I've ever read, a particular kind of cancer found in dogs is (a) contagious and (b) descended from an "Eve," probably a wolf or an ancient Asian breed like the noble Tibetan mastiff above. Every cancer cell found in dogs with Sticker's sarcoma can be traced back to that one individual animal,... READ ON
As you've doubtless heard if you have any interest in politics, sex, art, or other things that shouldn't be discussed at dinner parties, the Museum of Sex just revealed its new "presidential bust" of Hillary Clinton, and it's... busty. Rather than take the Wonkette approach (which titled its post on the subject "Bleaaaauuurrrrrrgh"), we thought we'd point you to some other disembodied heads of state: the Senate's gallery of vice presidents, which is decidedly (and thankfully) less sexualized. There you'll... READ ON
This charming story about the first postcards showed up on Blogspotting the other day:
The fuss about AOL's data gusher reminds me of a story I heard a week ago about the advent of penny postcards in the 19th century. They provided a handy communications tool, and cost half as much to send as a letter. This fueled fear: What if the mailman reads my mail?! Eventually (most) people figured out that for personnel stuff they should spend the extra penny and put it in an envelope.
We thought we'd dig up... READ ON
Lately, we've been getting a lot of really eloquent spam. There we were, thinking the spammers had been attending the Iowa Writers' Workshop -- it turns out, according to NPR, that they've been plagiarizing Dickens, Doyle, and others:
In order to get past [email filters], spammers try to make the text of their e-mails look more like something you'd actually write. These spammers mine Web sites that post the full text of books, like Project Gutenberg, which, along with its affiliates, has more than 250,000... READ ON
This is a little racier than our usual fare, but it involves one of my favorite historical figures so I had to bring it up. Marie Stopes International, a British charity, is throwing a dance-a-thon in which everyone will be, shall we say, dancing with themselves:
Participants, who have to be over 18, can bring any aids they need [editor's note: including this picture?] and can take part in four different rooms — a comfort area, a mixed area, and men- and women- only areas.
Putting aside whether... READ ON
As Gawker pointed out, people will be talking about Jen and Vince at the watercooler today, so no matter what you thought of The Break-Up, you'd best be prepared. We'll provide some Jen-Hearts-Vince trivia after the jump, but what's really worth seeing is the wedding photo! That's right, they were secretly married, and we've got the exclusive!
* Update: Oh no! Gawker says US Weekly might be wrong and there's no engagement! Where on earth could our photo have come from, then? We're so... READ ON
This ought to be under "shameless self-promotion" as well as "Mad, Mad, Mad," but a few months ago I wrote a piece for Newsweek on one Ronald Mallett, who claimed that (a) time travel was possible and (b) he could make it happen. Like I said, mad. Here's the thing, though -- he may be right. The time machine pictured with him here is a movie model, but he's planning to build a real one:
Basically, he wants to "swirl" empty space the way you'd swirl coffee in a cup, using a laser as the stirrer. Because... READ ON
Can someone please send this list to the president?
The British and Australians find the American repetition of the [u] between the [k] and [l] quaintly amusing. Good reason to get it... READ ON
Someone alert Al Gore! Heck, alert Roland Emmerich! Global warming is implicated in the destruction of the Alps, which is happening right now -- a rock on Eiger Mountain the size of two Empire State Buildings is threatening to collapse and fall nearly 700 feet to the ground because the glacier ice that supports it is melting. More from the article:
A rockslide of over 1 million cubic meters -- officially called a landslide by geologists -- on average happens every 20 to 50 years in Switzerland.
In... READ ON
Astronauts on the International Space Station got a taste treat last month that would make plenty of Earthbound proles jealous: a meal from Emeril "BAM" Lagasse, who'll be chatting with (and hopefully getting four-star reviews from) the spacemen tomorrow. On the menu: jambalaya, mashed potatoes with bacon, green beans with garlic, rice pudding, and mixed fruit. Hungry yet?
If the cuisine has as much spice as Lagasse is known for, all the better for the astronauts. In space, some astronauts say that food... READ ON
What is in the water in Cincinnati, other than boats driven by allegedy drunk football players? Adding to the Phat Phree's NFL All-Criminal Team from last year, five Bengals have been arrested in the past three months:
NEWPORT, Ky. -- Bengals guard Eric Steinbach pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of boating under the influence on the Ohio River, the fifth Cincinnati player in three months accused of breaking the law. ... The Bengals have been on the defensive [editors' note: ha!] over the recent... READ ON
You probably know the Greek mathematician Archimedes as the guy who figured out how buoyancy worked, leapt from his bath yelling "Eureka!," and ran through the streets of Syracuse as naked as Will Ferrell in, oh, any of his movies. But don't judge him based on his exhibitionism; some mathematicians put his work on a level with Isaac Newton's. Though many of Archimedes' manuscripts were lost when the library at Alexandria went up in flames (twice), a few survive, including one that until now has been... READ ON
Perhaps inspired by its hapless British counterpart, a manatee from Florida appears to have swum upstream -- way upstream, past Manhattan and several miles north into the Hudson River. Unlike the whale in the Thames, the manatee isn't in any danger as long as the water stays warm. It's normal for these creatures to take a summer vacation, though usually not this far afield. Manatee trivia abounds on the Internet; here's the best of it, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:
A... READ ON
No matter how you feel about the Iditarod, the annual Alaskan dog-and-driver race that covers more than 1,000 miles, you've got to admire Susan Butcher, arguably its greatest champion. From her site:
A child of the American upper middle class, she turned her back on the civilized world of Cambridge, Mass., to carve out a niche for herself and her beloved dogs in a cold, difficult corner of Bush Alaska.
Through her 20s and into her 30s, she lived an almost cloistered existence in the Interior with her... READ ON
A reader named Susan, perhaps anticipating the anniversary of Katrina, wrote us wanting to know:
Why are they called hurricanes over here and typhoons in China? Can a typhoon happen here? I know a "super typhoon" hit Guam a few years back; what made it super?
1. Hurricanes vs typhoons -- what's the difference? Location, location, location. Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all basically the same thing, according to NOAA, but they're called various terms based on where they strike. Tropical... READ ON
Ishmael of the amusing word blog Everyone Is Jumping Off the Brooklyn Bridge noticed our post on the Anagram Hall of Fame from last week and dredged up a few more, including this gem:
To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune = In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.
He also complains that the following anagram isn't mentioned in... READ ON
James Cameron's post-Titanic life is just getting weirder and weirder:
In The Exodus Decoded, a 90-minute documentary that will be shown in America this month, Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, the Canadian film producer, claim a volcanic eruption on the Greek archipelago of Santorini triggered a chain of natural catastrophes recorded in the Bible as the 10 plagues that God visited upon Egypt as punishment for enslaving the Jews.
Cameron believes the parting of the Red Sea may have been a tsunami that... READ ON
Reuters has suspended Lebanese photographer Adnan Hajj for turning in the following picture, which features cotton-ball clouds obviously faker than a portrait of Pam... READ ON
The radio show I used to produce, The Infinite Mind, has gone all virtual with a series of concerts and speeches in Second Life. Tonight's featured speaker is Howard Rheingold, and tomorrow is Kurt Vonnegut. If you need a short trivia-laden primer on either of them, hey, that's what we're here... READ ON
An Indian court has demanded that Coke and Pepsi hand over their secret recipes or else face a nationwide ban:
Coca-Cola's original recipe, according to company policy, is kept in a bank vault in Atlanta where only two executives — banned from travelling on the same aircraft — know it.
The court order followed the release of a report by the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-government body, which contended that 11 brands sold by the two soft drinks makers contained high... READ ON
After great consideration and furrowing of brows, we are proud to announce the winner(s) of our stupid-sports contest. We wanted a sport we could actually play, so we ruled out entries that involved guaranteed physical pain (ski bowling, businessman bowling, "sit on your brother's head and suffocate him," a soccer/basketball hybrid called "broken nose"). We didn't have enough hot 18-year-olds on staff for jello dodgeball, and our men were a bit too macho for... READ ON
Mango wrote earlier about One Laptop Per Child; now, apparently, Wikimedia (parent of Wikipedia) has gotten involved:
A few minutes ago here at the Wikimania conference, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced that the One Laptop Per Child Project is including Wikipedia as the first element in their content repository. They've been talking about this for at least a year, but now it's official.
He also announced a new project called Wikiversity. It will serve as an online center for the creation and use... READ ON
And now, presenting the highlights from this week's blog, in haiku form because we're just that geeky. (Next week it'll be a... READ ON
Proving that mocking Southerners is like shooting chitlins in a barrel, Will Ferrell's new flick "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is opening today to good reviews. Rather than gripe about inauthenticity (the second name ought to be "Lee" or "Joe") or take it personally (I grew up cheering for Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, thankyouverymuch), I'm sticking to (NAS)car talk:
* The first NASCAR series started on a dirt track at the old Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina on June 19, 1949.... READ ON
A few weeks ago one of our readers referred to this as a "blog about facts," which I have adopted as an unofficial motto. Nonetheless, it's Friday, so let us get all wacky and fictional for a sec: If you want to spend your entire workday procrastinating, check out Wikipedia's list of fictional things (insert joke about fiction and Wikipedian accuracy here). My favorite excerpt so far:
Fictional people known as "The Great" (not to be confused with real people known as "The Great"):
Sheila the Great... READ ON
With all the beer and sports around here (just 10 more hours left to enter our contest!), it's getting a little testosterone-y. So I thought I'd draw your attention to this wonderful piece in the Guardian about Emilie du ChÃ¢telet, intellectual femme fatale of the 18th century:
In her late 20s, after an affair with the individual who inspired the character Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses (she was the only partner he had who ever willingly dumped him), she met the poet and writer Voltaire, then in... READ ON
Now that you've had your 1,354th conversation about the weather, you're probably running a little low on things to say about it -- so let us drop some trivia like it's, er, hot:
* The highest temperature ever recorded on Earth most likely occurred in Death Valley, California in high summer, 1913. During that time, the national weather service recorded 56.7Â°C (134Â°F). Other sources report an even toastier day of 136Â°F or 58Â°C in Al Aziziyah, Libya, in September 1922.
* The surface of the... READ ON
The Mentos-and-soda geyser effect revealed a few months ago has now spawned a contest on YouTube. Eggheads that we are, we figured that to win we'd have to first understand the mechanisms of the explosion -- so we tracked down a science-fair style explanation:
At first glance, it might seem as if a chemical reaction is taking place. Perhaps the Mentos are alkaline and the soda (despite its name) is acidic. That would make the whole thing a variation on my all-time favorite science bit: the baking soda and... READ ON
Last month scientists found that beer makes you clumsy; this week they've uncovered another little-known phenomenon: some people like to smoke -- when they drink!
A study of rats conducted at Texas A&M University indicates that nicotine levels regularly achieved by human smokers can reduce the amount of alcohol that reaches the bloodstream. The finding has implications for the many who smoke while drinking alcohol. ...
The stomach contains an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase, which breaks down... READ ON
The Freakonomics blog has a post titled "Why Do Beautiful Women Sometimes Marry Unattractive... READ ON
A reader named Stephen wrote to us yesterday, pointing out that environmentalists extol the benefits of using cork on one hand and worry about endangered cork forests (at left) on the other. Odd, that. Fortunately, Treehugger resolved the quandary for us -- it seems that cork is that rare material whose harvest ensures its longevity. Industries that need cork have to keep the forests healthy; without their protection, the trees might get cut down:
The WWF have released a report saying that up to 75% of... READ ON
The incomparable Clive Thompson of Collision Detection has found an ad that outdoes anything seen at this year's Super Bowl (yeah, we know, we're setting the bar low), which he calls "a cautionary tale of precisely the sort of terrible cephalopod uprising that mankind ignores at its eternal peril." Click to watch it, and then check out the jump for some ideas on what that humongous tentacled thing might... READ ON
You think we're kidding?
LONDON — For more than 30 years, crowds have flocked to the small English fishing village of Lyme Regis to watch an annual tradition -- two teams of fishermen standing on wooden platforms as human bowling pins, hurling a dead giant eel at each other. But the ritual was abruptly abandoned after an animal rights activist threatened to draw negative publicity to the latest tournament, organizers said Saturday.
There's still plenty of time to enter our contest by inventing a... READ ON
The noble fellow at left is the Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, and he has recently become a web celebrity ("cewebrity?"). A crazy video of Hitchcock-style starlings in flight is making the rounds as the latest viral meme. If someone mentions the video and you want to show off, there are plenty of factlets to throw out (starlings mimic car alarms and human speech in their calls, starling flocks are so huge in the spring in Denmark that they're referred to as the "Black Sun"), but here's our favorite:... READ ON
In our first weekly installment of "Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Scientist," we'd like to introduce you to invisibility expert Dr. Ulf Leonhardt, pictured at left (heh), who is trying to invent a cloaking device of sorts:
Leonhardt, a theoretical physicist at St Andrews University in Scotland, believes the most plausible example is the Invisible Woman, one of the Marvel Comics superheroes in the "Fantastic Four."
"She guides light around her using a force field in this cartoon. This is what could be done in... READ ON
Is this what a postcard from Mars would look like? NASA seems to think so; it's using this rocky landscape -- Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island on Earth, in the territory of Nunavut in Canada -- as a training ground for future manned missions to Mars. The program, a joint effort of NASA and other international space agencies, is now in its 10th year. All this week, scientists will be running a sim on Devon Island to test space protocols that might come into play on future missions -- alright,... READ ON
As Cuban exiles cheer in the streets of Miami, newspapers and magazines are scrambling to write advance obits for Fidel Castro (that is, if they haven't already -- rumors about the old boy's death have been swirling for a few weeks). We're lobbying to have the following tidbits included in the official records:
* Castro was one of seven kids, and his parents weren't sure they were going to send all of them to school. In perhaps his first display of power through violence, young Castro threatened to burn... READ ON