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Eating rats with Morgan Spurlock at Fantastic Fest 2016
09.26.2016
02:27 pm

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Movies
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At this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin the movie with the highest gross-out factor wasn’t a horror flick. It was the documentary Rats directed by Morgan Spurlock. As a New Yorker who braved the garbage strikes of the 70s, I know a thing a or two about rats. Rats as big as cats. I don’t like them. Spurlock’s film made me hate them. The disgusting little creatures are taking over the world and Spurlock has shot the film in ways that make the invasion as spooky as an episode of The Walking Dead. Using bursts of sound, night-vision photography, jump cuts, creepy point of view shots, skewed camera angles and Pierre Takal’s subtle but unnerving score, Rats shows us that reality can be far more horrifying than fiction.

I ran a few bars in downtown Manhattan in the 80s/90s. One was right near The Bowery. A giant 9000 sq.foot space. We had a serious rat problem. I came up with a somewhat effective solution. I offered my night clean-up crew $10 bucks for every rat tail they’d bring me. In the mornings when I got to work there would be a plastic bag containing dozens of rat tails in a box near the door to my office. One guy was picking them off with a .22 caliber rifle. No shit.

Some of the best moments in Rats feature battle-hardened exterminator Ed Sheehan who’s been in a Sisyphean war against the rat population in New York City for more than fifty years. He’s a cigar-chomping character right out of central casting. Here’s our next Netflix hero.
 


 
In addition to screening the film, Alamo Drafthouse had a special treat for the people attending Rats. Drafthouse chef Brad Sorenson prepared some delicious (so I’m told) rat curry. Here’s a shot of some stouthearted men (including Drafthouse CEO Tim League) chowing down on vermin vindaloo. Supersizing was not an option. Rats can carry up to 5 million viruses on just one of its tiny little gross rodent hands. So no rat sushi.
 

Photo: Scott Weinberg.
 
As repellent as the idea of eating rats is to westerners, the fact is that rat is a commonplace dish in many parts of Asia. One can see this as nature’s way of dealing with a rodent problem. As a vegetarian, the thought of eating a rat isn’t that much more repulsive to me than eating a chicken or veal calf. And all rats are free range and locavore. Rat is going to be the next foodie trend. Just wait.
 

Rat Thai-style goes nicely with red chili sauce.
 
Rats will be screening on the Discovery Channel on October 22.  Tune in. Just don’t watch while eating a TV dinner. Or anything else.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
The 13th-century ‘thinking machine’ of Ramón Llull
09.22.2016
09:17 am

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Books
Literature
Occult
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Ramón Llull, via Alchetron. The ribbon in his mouth says Lux mea est ipse dominus, “My light is the Lord himself”
 
There’s an exhibition at Barcelona’s CCCB called “The Thinking Machine: Ramon Llull and the ars combinatoria,” up through December 11. Including work by Arnold Schönberg, Athanasius Kircher, Giordano Bruno, Leibniz, Italo Calvino, John Cage, and Salvador Dalí, the show makes its case for the influence of the Catalan philosopher Ramón Llull (1232-1316, sometimes anglicized “Raymond Lully”), who might be credited with inventing the first computer, or its primitive ancestor.
 

via inexhibit.com
 
I first became aware of Llull and his contraption in Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Non-Fictions, which reprints “Ramón Llull’s Thinking Machine,” an article Borges wrote for El Hogar Magazine in 1937. Borges gives the most lucid description of the machine I’m aware of, starting with its simplest, two-dimensional form, a circle divided nine times:
 

 

It is a schema or diagram of the attributes of God. The letter A, at the center, signifies the Lord. Along the circumference, the letter B stands for goodness, C for greatness, D for eternity, E for power, F for wisdom, G for volition, H for virtue, I for truth, and K for glory. The nine letters are equidistant from the center, and each is joined to all the others by chords or diagonal lines. The first of these features means that all of these attributes are inherent; the second, that they are systematically interrelated in such a way as to affirm, with impeccable orthodoxy, that glory is eternal or that eternity is glorious; that power is true, glorious, good, great, eternal, powerful, wise, free and virtuous, or benevolently great, greatly eternal, eternally powerful, powerfully wise, wisely free, freely virtuous, virtuously truthful, etc., etc.

I want my readers to grasp the full magnitude of this etcetera. Suffice it to say that it embraces a number of combinations far greater than this page can record. The fact that they are all entirely futile—the fact that, for us, to say that glory is eternal is as rigorously null and void as to say that eternity is glorious—is of only secondary interest. This motionless diagram, with its nine capital letters distributed among nine compartments and linked by a star and some polygons, is already a thinking machine. It was natural for its inventor—a man, we must not forget, of the thirteenth century—to feed it with a subject matter that now strikes us as unrewarding. We now know that the concepts of goodness, greatness, wisdom, power, and glory are incapable of engendering an appreciable revelation. We (who are basically no less naive than Llull) would load the machine differently, no doubt with the words Entropy, Time, Electrons, Potential Energy, Fourth Dimension, Relativity, Protons, Einstein. Or with Surplus Value, Proletariat, Capitalism, Class Struggle, Dialectical Materialism, Engels.

Then, Borges moves on to the more elaborate version of Llull’s thinking machine—the one with three revolving disks, illustrated below: 
 

 

If a mere circle subdivided into nine compartments can give rise to so many combinations, what wonders may we expect from three concentric, manually revolving disks made of wood or metal, each with fifteen or twenty compartments? This thought occurred to the remote Ramón Llull on his red and zenithal island of Mallorca, and he designed his guileless machine. The circumstances and objectives of this machine no longer interest us, but its guiding principle—the methodical application of chance to the resolution of a problem—still does.

[~snip]

Let us select a problem at random: the elucidation of the “true” color of a tiger. I give each of Llull’s letters the value of a color, I spin the disks, and I decipher that the capricious tiger is blue, yellow, black, white, green, purple, orange, and grey, or yellowishly blue, blackly blue, whitely blue, greenly blue, purplishly blue, bluely blue, etc. Adherents of [Llull’s] Ars magna remained undaunted in the face of this torrential ambiguity; they recommended the simultaneous deployment of many combinatory machines, which (according to them) would gradually orient and rectify themselves through “multiplications” and “eliminations.” For a long while, many people believed that the certain revelation of all the world’s enigmas lay in the patient manipulation of these disks.

More after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
You’ll be GG LOL’n with these GG Allin emojis!
09.16.2016
09:35 am

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Music
Punk
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Aggronautix, the company that makes those cool “throbbleheads,” has teamed up with Emoji Fame and GG Allin’s brother, Merle, to create just what the Internet needed: GG Allin emojis.

GG Allin, the deceased shit-flinging “Rock and Roll Terrorist,” known for his transgressive live act, lives on digitally in a full set of cutesy cartoon images you can use to spice up your texts. You’ll be GG LOL’n in no time with these scumfuc smileys.

 

Emoji Fame, the go-to company specializing in making emoji sets for musicians, has thus far primarily developed artist emojis for hip-hop and EDM acts. GG’s set is one of the first punk rock emoji sets available.

“Love him or hate him, GG Allin is an icon. The process of distilling GG into emojis was equal parts revolting and exhilarating, which I think is a good way to sum up his persona. The emojis we created for him reflect that duality,” said Gavin Rhodes, Cofounder of Emoji Fame.

 

 

“It was fun to think back and develop the imagery relating to GG and his legacy,” said Merle Allin. “These emojis are for you sick fucks who want to keep GG and his scumfuc tradition alive… Keep spreading the disease.”

 

 

 
In other GG goes digital news this week, the GG Allin book My Prison Walls is now available digitally for Kindle via Amazon.

The emoji set is available starting today at the Itunes Emojifame page.

If you’re one of our readers asking “GG who?,” after the jump some footage of Geeg doing his thing…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Spiders ‘tune’ their webs, just like guitar strings
09.14.2016
12:56 pm

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Animals
Music
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A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Spain has demonstrated that spiders are capable of tuning their webs for the purpose of receiving information about the local environment, including the presence of prey and potential mates.

Similar to the strings of a finely tuned instrument, every strand of spider silk conveys vibrations across a wide range of frequencies over the span of a web. Spiders require a system like this to detect the presence of prey and mates, as their visual acuity is very low.

The general phenomenon has been understood by scientists for some time; what wasn’t clear were the precise characteristics of these vibrations or (more to the point) whether spiders exercised control over the practice. Researchers from Oxford University and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid have released a study, available in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, that looks into the material properties of spider webs and the way that vibrations propagate through the silken strands. The team has shown that spiders do in fact tune their webs to transmit specific messages. The paper’s title is “Tuning the Instrument: Sonic Properties in the Spider’s Web.”
 

 
The researchers used lasers to measure the tiny vibrations, isolating three particular features that allow spiders to turn their webs into data transmitters: web tension, silk stiffness, and overall web architecture. It turns out that spiders are capable of manipulating all three of these characteristics.

Spiders “tune” the waves that emanate from the web by adjusting the web’s tension and the stiffness of the web’s outer rim and spokes, also known as the dragline. In fact, spider webs are so customizable, the researchers hypothesize that some properties of silk evolved for this very purpose. Quoting from the paper’s abstract:
 

[W]e propose that dragline silk supercontraction may have evolved as a control mechanism for these multifunctional fibres. The various degrees of active influence on web engineering reveals the extraordinary ability of spiders to shape the physical properties of their self-made materials and architectures to affect biological functionality, balancing trade-offs between structural and sensory functions.

 
Unsurprisingly, the cunning evolved knowledge that a spider uses to construct its web far exceeds a simple “hope for the best“ model. Spiders actually tweak their webs to ensure the propagation of specific vibrations. The primary purpose of a web is to trap prey, but the structure of the web is optimized to capture important information about the area. Spiders constructing and then fine-tune their webs to act as a multi-function device.
 
via Gizmodo

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The fabulously surreal sci-fi book covers of Davis Meltzer
09.13.2016
08:52 am

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Art
Books
Science/Tech

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That delightful ’60s/‘70s intersection of pop-psychedelic surrealism and space-age futurism produced some of the most awesome book covers the world has ever seen, with illustrations that often far exceeded in greatness the pulpy sci-fi genre novels they’d adorned. While some of those artists achieved renown, too often, those covers were the works of obscure toilers about whom little is known.

Davis Meltzer, alas, fits deep into the latter category. My best search-fu yielded so little biographical data that I’m not even able to determine if he’s currently alive. A 2014 Gizmodo article alluded to the fact that Meltzer was still living as of its publication, and offered up some résumé data as well: 

Davis Paul Meltzer was born in 1930, in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, and attended school in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Both his parents, the late Arthur Meltzer and Paulette Van Roekens, were highly respected fine art painters—and he inherited their great talent. During his career as a freelance artist he created stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, painted dozens of sci-fi book covers, worked for NASA, and worked as a scientific illustrator for 30 years at National Geographic.

Enjoy this gallery of Meltzer’s book covers, assembled from various online sources. If you’re looking to own some Meltzer art but you just utterly hate books, a print of his called “How Cocaine Works in the Brain” is available.
 

Mack Reynolds, Equality: In the Year 2000
 

Clifford D. Simak, City
 
Much more Meltzer after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Prenatal fun: 3D ultrasounds show that male fetuses masturbate
09.09.2016
11:36 am

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Science/Tech
Sex

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(1) The fetus is grasping his tumescent penis using an evident force. Foreskin is partially retracted. (2) In the next step, the foreskin is more retracted so it allowed us to locate the meatus clearly.
 
The human body is wired weird. Authentic sexual behavior commences in the second decade of life, but the wiring for sexual gratification has to be there—and indeed is there, as a paper authored by two researchers working in the Spanish city of Pontevedra, Vanesa Rodríguez Fernández and Carlos López Ramón y Cajal, claims to prove definitively—with visual evidence based on a volumetric rendering mode study.

The paper is called “In-Utero Gratification Behavior in Male Fetus” and has been accepted for publication in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis.

Here’s the abstract:
 

Fetal masturbation has been described previously once in-utero but only as a description of an action. Masturbation is well described in infancy and early childhood when they discover that this practice can give them pleasure. Our letter proves that it could begin in-utero as a ‘gratification behavior’. We have shown this pattern clearly using a volumetric rendering mode study.

 
The two figures shown here depict fetal gratification behavior using 3D ultrasounds.

The author writes:
 

We show “fetal gratification behavior” in a fetus in the 32nd week of gestation of a normal gestation. The fetus was grasping his tumescent penis with his hand and did it with such force that it shows us clearly the glans. Initially, the glans was covered by the foreskin and gradually the foreskin is retracted as we show in images the total sequence of the hand movements grasping the penis. ... We show this behavior using 4D live mode where the movements that go with this behavior are shown clearly. ... Moments later the foreskin covers partially the glans (Figure: number 4). This is a very clear sexual behavior “in utero” in the 32nd week of gestation. We understood this behavior as a “fetal gratification behavior” (fetal masturbation).

 

(3) The foreskin is totally retracted and the glans is very patent. (4) Finally, the hand movement returns the foreskin to cover the glans.
 
via Nerdcore

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
You can take this test to see if you’re a ‘super recognizer’ of faces
08.24.2016
01:55 pm

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Science/Tech

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Boing Boing just hipped me to this online test to see if you’re a “super recognizer” of faces. Josh P. Davis, a psychology professor at the University of Greenwich in England who studies the “super recognizer” phenomenon, says that about 1% of the population can actually do this.

I think of myself as pretty good at remembering faces. I almost never forget a face. An ex-boyfriend used to tell me all the time “You should work for the CIA!” (Full disclosure: I’m terrible at remembering names.)

Via Science Alert:

In 2009, a team of neuroscientists from Harvard did one of the first studies of super-recognisers. In it, they looked at just four people who claimed to have an unusually good ability to recognise faces.

All four subjects told the researchers about instances when they’d recognised practical strangers: family members they hadn’t seen for decades or actors they’d glimpsed once in an ad and then seen again in a movie. They felt like there was something wrong with them.

One of the people in the study told the researchers that she tried to hide her ability and “pretend that I don’t remember [people] ... because it seems like I stalk them, or that they mean more to me than they do.”

I took the test and got 12 out of 14 correct. According to my results, “If you scored above 10 you may be a super recogniser, but you would need to do more tests to find this out.”

Of course I was interested in the next test and clicked on the link to to take it. It’s over an hour long. Boo! I can’t commit to that right now, but I might do it later. I’m curious as to if I’m a “super recognizer” or not. Not sure I wanna work for the CIA, though. I want cash and prizes.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Three words: Drum. Crotch. Pants.
08.23.2016
09:39 am

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Amusing
Music
Science/Tech

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“Single Stroke Roll,” “Flam Paradiddle,” and “Swiss Army Triplets” are among the names of percussion rudiments that could pass for sexual acts, but Japanese multimedia artist and experimental pop music composer Kaoring Machine has answered the question: why can’t they be both? He’s crafted a pair of “Electric Sexy Drum Pants” with a synth drum trigger for a crotch, and a few days ago uploaded a demonstration video, which is amusing as all hell despite sorely lacking any overtly suggestive moves involving mallets or kick pedals. Still, given the possibilities, of course we want these. Perhaps one could combine them with those Converse high-tops with built-in wah pedals and this theremin bra to form the most physically awkward one-person band ever.
 

 
Many thanks to Sarah Lee for this find!

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Study finds scary ‘da dun da dun’ music causes people to view sharks negatively
08.19.2016
09:23 am

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Music
Science/Tech

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UC San Diego researchers studying the effects of ominous background music on the public’s perception of shark footage have recently published their findings.

Not surprisingly, when the researchers played music that was “modal with only fragments of melody accompanied by sporadic and sparse atmospheric percussion and a repetitive flute motif [creating] an unsettling sound” over the top of shark footage, the test subjects reacted more negatively to that footage than to footage accompanied by “uplifting background music.”

Though the findings may seem like a no-brainer, this study is the first, according to the researchers, “to demonstrate empirically that the connotative attributes of background music accompanying shark footage affect viewers’ attitudes toward sharks.”

In the article’s abstract the researchers assert that ominous music used in films and documentaries affects the public’s perception of sharks, leading to marginalization of the creatures:

“Despite the ongoing need for shark conservation and management, prevailing negative sentiments marginalize these animals and legitimize permissive exploitation. These negative attitudes arise from an instinctive, yet exaggerated fear, which is validated and reinforced by disproportionate and sensationalistic news coverage of shark ‘attacks’ and by highlighting shark-on-human violence in popular movies and documentaries. In this study, we investigate another subtler, yet powerful factor that contributes to this fear: the ominous background music that often accompanies shark footage in documentaries. Using three experiments, we show that participants rated sharks more negatively and less positively after viewing a 60-second video clip of swimming sharks set to ominous background music, compared to participants who watched the same video clip set to uplifting background music, or silence.

[cut]

Given that nature documentaries are often regarded as objective and authoritative sources of information, it is critical that documentary filmmakers and viewers are aware of how the soundtrack can affect the interpretation of the educational content.”

The abstract curiously puts the word “attacks” in quotes, as if to indicate that shark attacks aren’t a real thing—perhaps one could make that argument depending on one’s definition of the word “attack,” but these shark “accident” victims might be hard to convince.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Like a demonic Stephen Hawking: Cenobites scene from ‘Hellraiser’ performed by speech synthesizers
08.16.2016
09:45 am

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Amusing
Movies
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01helvox1.jpg
 
DECtalk was a text-to-voice speech synthesizer popular in the 1980s. This nifty little piece of technology came with a variety of built-in voices which enabled people who had lost the power of speech to communicate. Its best known user is Stephen Hawking who communicated with the voice “Perfect Paul” (DTC 01).

The DECtalk was also famously the voice of the US National Weather Service on radio and supplied the message to many a telephone answer machine.

In 1939 the Voder was the first attempt at synthesizing human speech by breaking down words into acoustic components. It was the “first device that could generate continuous human speech.”

All well and good, but the one that tickles my fancy was the first time a speech synthesizer was successfully used over a phone to order pizza. This happened at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Michigan State University in 1974, when Donald Sherman who suffered from Möbius syndrome—a facial paralysis—made his order using a Votrax voice synthesizer and a mainframe computer.
 

 
Now you may have seen the recent clip of Monty Python’s argument sketch recreated with speech synthesizers by Per Kristian Risvik. Well here’s another little film he’s made using speech synthesizers to recreate a classic scene from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. It’s a perfect fit and far, far more creepier.

Here’s the dialog as performed:

Lead Cenobite: The box… you opened it, we came.
Kirsty Cotton: It’s just a puzzle box!
Lead Cenobite: Oh no, it is a means to summon us.
Kirsty Cotton: Who are you?
Lead Cenobite: Explorers… in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others.
Kirsty Cotton: It was a mistake! I didn’t… I didn’t mean to open it! It was a mistake! You can… GO TO HELL!
Female Cenobite: We can’t. Not alone.
Lead Cenobite: You solved the box, we came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures.
Kirsty Cotton: Please! Go away and leave me alone!
Lead Cenobite: Oh, no tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering!
Kirsty Cotton: Wait! Wait! Please, please wait!
Lead Cenobite: No time for argument.
Kirsty Cotton: You’ve done this before, right?
Lead Cenobite: Many, many times.
Kirsty Cotton: To… to a man called Frank Cotton?
Female Cenobite: Oh, yes.
Kirsty Cotton: He escaped you!
Lead Cenobite: Nobody escapes us!
Kirsty Cotton: He did! I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him!
Female Cenobite: Impossible.
Kirsty Cotton: He’s alive!
Lead Cenobite: Supposing he had escaped us, what has that to do with you?
Kirsty Cotton: I… I can… I can lead you to him and you… you can take him back instead of me!
Female Cenobite: Perhaps we prefer YOU!
Lead Cenobite: I want to hear him confess, himself. Then maybe… maybe…
Female Cenobite: But if you cheat us…
Lead Cenobite: We’ll tear your soul apart!
Asian Merchant: What is your pleasure, sir?
Lead Cenobite: We have such sights to show you.

Risvik used a DECtalk Express for the central character Kirsty (“Rough Rita modified for higher stress level”). A Dolphin Apollo 2 for the voices of Pinhead and the female Cenobite (“Heavily altered versions of voice 2/3”). And an Intex Talker (Votrax SC-01A) for the Asian Merchant.
 
Listen to eerie sound of the Cenobites via a speech synthesizer, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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