Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Liberty as Death

Teheran US embassy propaganda statue of liberty
After the Iranian hostage crisis (1979-1981), the walls of the former US embassy [in Tehran] were covered in mostly anti-US-murals.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010

Primordial virus

Elk Cloner:  The program with a personality

        It will get on all your disks
          It will infiltrate your chips
            Yes it's Cloner!

        It will stick to you like glue
          It will modify ram too
            Send in the Cloner!
--The message displayed on screen by computers infected with Elk Cloner, one of the first computer viruses. Created in the early 1980's by a high school student, this program spread on Apple computers through floppy disks, and little could be done about it because anti-virus software hadn't been developed yet.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Aztec algae cakes

An illustration from the Florentine Codex showing how the Aztecs harvested spirulina off lakes by skimming the surface with ropes (right) and then drying the algae into square cakes which would be eaten as a nourishing condiment (left).

I've had juice drinks containing spirulina as an additive, but I didn't know it could be eaten straight.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stars in hyperspace

This clip shows four-dimensional geometric forms as they would look passing through our three-dimensional world, like the sphere passing through the plane in Flatland.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peacock mantis shrimp

This creature is one of the strangest crustaceans in the sea. For one thing, its eyes contain twelve different color receptors (humans have three). For another, this shrimp can snap its claws with force equivalent to a pistol shot, creating a brief burst of light and heat. With an overzealous strike, a mantis shrimp can even break its own aquarium.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A recording from Edison's phonograph

A chorus of 4000 voices was recorded with a phonograph, over 100 yards away, on yellow paraffin cylinder. The recording was made by Col. George Gouraud, foreign sales agent for Thomas Edison, at the Crystal Palace, London, England on, June 29, 1888. The musical composition is "Israel in Egypt" by George Frideric Handel, conducted by August Manns.
The recording is beautifully spooky, with the choir's ethereal voices blending into mechanical scratches and thumps from the recording medium.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


19th century engraving of Prodryas persephone, a fossil butterfly 
A version of this image appears in a book with the delightfully Victorian title Frail Children of the Air. Ironic, then, that this "child of the air" has become anything but frail in death, having been pressed and preserved in stone. On the original fossil, one can even see ghostly hints of veins, scales, and patterns on its wings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

World views

Though intended to represent medieval beliefs (following a common misconception), the flat world depicted here is actually more akin to that of Homeric or Old Testament cosmology. In the Middle Ages, the prevailing cosmological model was geocentric (with a round Earth surrounded by celestial spheres), as laid out in Dante's Paradiso

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



Though these (more images here) look like glass beads or jewels-- and can likewise be used to make artistic designs-- they're actually the shells of  microscopic, unicellular marine algae.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Elements of geometry

Illustrations by Johannes Kepler depicting the traditional correspondences between Platonic solids and classical elements. Source.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Markovian parallax denigrate

jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring
caw update Cohen air collaborate rue
Back in the prehistory of the Internet, numerous messages like the one quoted here, long strings of apparently random words, were posted to Usenet with the subject line "Markovian parallax denigrate".
sportswriting rococo invocate tousle shadflower
Debby Stirling pathogenesis escritoire adventitious novo
Some were signed "Susan Lindauer"; while this name may have been as randomly selected as the words themselves, it happens to be the name of an American journalist suspected of working as a spy for the Iraqi government
ITT most chairperson Dwight Hertzog different
pinpoint dunk McKinley pendant firelight Uranus
If the Markovian messages were indeed signals rather than noise (e.g., nonsense created by an experimental random generator), they could be the Internet equivalent of numbers stations on shortwave radio, through which spies send coded strings of numbers or NATO alphabet letters which look random to those who don't have the key.
episodic medicine ditty craggy flogging variac
brotherhood Webb impromptu file countenance inheritance
The world may never know.
cohesion refrigerate morphine napkin inland Janeiro
nameable yearbook hark
(Update, December 10: I managed to dig up a sample of the original messages, which all have different random subject lines and bizarre randomly-selected sender names such as "Eric Inhale" and "Glyceride". There are pages and pages of these, amounting to thousands of messages, all with the same time stamp. I also found this thread, which speculates that the messages were the work of a banned user who hijacked someone else's computer:
The only common denominator is that the posting host has been set to Jan Isleys machine in Atlanta - probably as revenge for his legitimate cancelling activities.
The name of the perp that springs to mind is Bob Allisat... It may not be, but it has the same level of content and interest as the blank verse he spams across Usenet :)   He also has a long running (and on Bobs side) bitter feud with Jan & Atlanta in general.
This does strike me as more plausible than the messages being a form of covert communication.)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The evolution of a fossil

Kimberella reconstructions
Changing reconstructions of Kimberella, a Precambrian fossil invertebrate, which was first interpreted as a jellyfish and later as a snail-like mollusk.
More recently, another fossil creature has undergone a more dramatic reinterpretation: Nectocaris, originally interpreted as a sort of crustacean-eel chimera and, thanks to the discovery of numerous new specimens, now identified as the earliest known squid.