Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The War on Geeks 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Thanks to the longstanding "War on Drugs"' recent shift-of-focus to clandestine methamphetamine labs, science hobbyists, supply merchants, and even students are now finding themselves the target of police raids - for simple possession of laboratory equipment, even if no illegal activity has taken place. From WIRED, "Don't Try This at Home" by Steve Silberman:
The first startling thing Joy White saw out of her bedroom window was a man running toward her door with an M16. White's husband, a physicist named Bob Lazar, was already outside, awakened by their barking dogs. Suddenly police officers and men in camouflage swarmed up the path, hoisting a battering ram. "Come out with your hands up immediately, Miss White!" one of them yelled through a megaphone, while another handcuffed the physicist in his underwear. Recalling that June morning in 2003, Lazar says, "If they were expecting to find Osama bin Laden, they brought along enough guys."

The target of this operation, which involved more than two dozen police officers and federal agents, was not an international terrorist ring but the couple’s home business, United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order outfit that serves amateur scientists, students, teachers, and law enforcement professionals.
The search was initiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency best known for instigating recalls of faulty cribs and fire-prone space heaters. The CPSC’s concern with United Nuclear was not the uranium, the magnets, or the backyard accelerator. It was the chemicals – specifically sulfur, potassium perchlorate, and powdered aluminum, all of which can be used to make illegal fireworks. The agency suspected that Lazar and White were selling what amounted to kits for making M-80s, cherry bombs, and other prohibited items; such kits are banned by the CPSC under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. [read full article]
The article goes on to detail similar police raids and investigations, and how our growing cultural fear of technology and zeal for prosecuting real or imagined drug "labs" threatens to raise a crop of kids who are neither comfortable with - nor curious about - investigating the world around them through science.

It's sad, really; somewhere in my parents' attic there are still boxes full of chemical glassware and apparatus I owned and used in science experiments as a youngster. Good thing they don't live in a state like Texas, because those dusty relics could get them into a world of trouble today.
To Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" who hosted an Emmy award-winning series on PBS in the 1990s, unreasonable fears about chemicals and home experimentation reflect a distrust of scientific expertise taking hold in society at large. "People who want to make meth will find ways to do it that don’t require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster."
He's got a point. Allow this cultural mentality to "cook" for 20 or 30 years, and don't be surprised if we're outsourcing most of our technology to other countries. It's not too far of a stretch from marginalizing (and demonizing) scientific thought to America demoting itself to a technological Third World nation in the not-so-distant future.

Interesting sidenote (and I don't mention this to cast any aspersions; certainly it doesn't excuse the type of police-state action that took place here): Bob Lazar is also a well known conspiracy theorist who has published numerous books, videos, and lectures on alleged alien technology reverse engineering at the infamous "Area 51" in the Nevada desert.

[via Drug WarRant]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Shake It Like You Just Don't Care 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Lester Clancy of Mansfield, Ohio has invented what could be called the air guitar version of jump rope - two maraca-like weighted handles* that offer the pleasures of rope without the associated nastiness:
[CNN] It's perfect for the clumsy, Clancy said. "If you are still jumping, you're still using your legs as well as your arms, and getting the cardiovascular workout. You just don't have to worry about tripping on the rope."

It is also good for mental institutions and prisons where rope is a suicide risk, said Clancy, who works as a laundry coordinator in a state prison. And low ceiling fans aren't a hazard any more, he said.
The Cordless Jump Rope is the heir apparent to a long line of what are called chindōgu in Japan...devices like these really inspire me to become an intellectual property lawyer. Who wouldn't love to represent the inventor of the Hay Fever Hat? [via Patently Silly]

* Clancy has only built one of the Cordless Jump Ropes so far, in anticipation of investor financing, so what we have at this point is the zen Sound Of One End Of A Jump Rope Twirling; a Cordless Lasso For Phantom Dogies Lost in the Desert of Dementia. Not sure about these being ideal for prisons, though; rope problems aside, these look like they could do some serious damage in the wrong hands - or orifices.

Thursday, May 25, 2006
D.A.R.P.A.'s Cloak of Invisibility? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A U.S.-U.K. research team funded by DARPA has announced a milestone in developing a "Cloak of Invisibility" that guides electromagnetic radiation (like light) around an object instead of reflecting it.
[AP] ...Researchers in England and the United States think they know how to do that. They are laying out the blueprint and calling for help in developing the exotic materials needed to build a cloak.

The keys are special manmade materials, unlike any in nature or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These materials are intended to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation around an object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into a hole in space.
A cloak made of those materials, with a structure designed down to the submicroscopic scale, would neither reflect light nor cast a shadow. Instead, like a river streaming around a smooth boulder, light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation would strike the cloak and simply flow around it, continuing on as if it never bumped up against an obstacle. That would give an onlooker the apparent ability to peer right through the cloak, with everything tucked inside concealed from view.

...The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency supported the research, given the obvious military applications of such stealthy technology. [read full article]
Note that this technology is different from the "transparent cloak" developed in 2004 that uses a video camera and special display-screen fabric to capture and replay images in real time to give the illusion of "invisibility." What's interesting is that the proposed "cloak"'s characteristic of guiding electromagnetic radiation around the object would make the cloak-ee "invisible" to many forms of detection besides visible light. I'm curious whether any detectable infrared would "leak" out of the cloak?

UPDATE: More links to the relevant scientific papers available here in this BoingBoing post.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 150: The Sesquiquotidian Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Friday, May 19, 2006
Friday Random Ten 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

A few found oddities in the mix today, including the Anonymous 4's rendition of a 12th century Hildegard Von Bingen composition for chants for the Feast Of St. Ursula, and Os Mutantes' classic Brazilian psychedelic pop.
  1. Kula Shaker - "6 Feet Down"
  2. Lloyd Brevett and the Skatalites - "Candle Light Dub"
  3. Thievery Corporation - "From Creation"
  4. Pink - "Oh My God (Feat. Peaches)"
  5. Orchestre Baobab - "El Son Te Llama"
  6. Anonymous 4 - "Benedicamus Domino"
  7. Os Mutantes - "A Minha Menina"
  8. Knarkhora Irma - "Cicada's Delight"
  9. Steely Dan - "Babylon Sisters"
  10. Maceo Parker - "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold"

Saturday, May 13, 2006
Spoils of the Elephant 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The picture here shows what I picked up in today's "see what goodies I can pick up at the Brown Elephant for under $20" challenge.

As a game, I always try to limit myself to $20, unless of course, there's an especially nice item that just begs to be taken home, like the black leather 3/4 length car coat - in like new condition - I scored for $25 a few weeks ago. However, it's the thrill of the hunt that's so exciting; just because someone discarded that bouncing tacky gazelle doesn't mean it won't make a fine catch for another poacher.

Catch of the day:
  1. Midge Ure's Rewind DVD, Region 1 - and had an interesting discussion with the chap behind the counter about the differences in region encoding. This 2002 concert video is splendid; and no, that is not David Cassidy on the cover, despite the resemblance. Midge is in great voice, but even he isn't quite up to the soaring operatic pitch changes required for Hymn's final "give me/AAA-all/the sto/ry/book told me..." these days - but who's complaining? Midge duets with British tenor Russell Watson on Vienna.
  2. An autographed copy of James St. James' Disco Bloodbath, hardcover (now published under the title of the film it inspired, "Party Monster," which starred Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green as debauched Manhattan Club Kids Michael Alig and St. James, respectively. Surely you saw it in the theaters, no? ;) )
  3. A vintage Howie™ Hawaiian shirt, in great condition, which will come in handy at this year's Tiki parties
  4. Caleb Carr's The Alienist
  5. A vintage white Pyrex™ lipped mixing bowl with slightly worn, stylized aqua roosters (the genuine article, as the bottom reads "ovenware" only - newer reissues are embossed "microwave and oven safe.")
  6. The Original Chicago Trivia by Joseph A. DeBartolo, where one can learn minutiae such as the fact that Oscar Wilde once denounced the Water Tower as a "castellated monstrosity with pepper boxes stuck all over it." Well, it's true.
  7. A cassette copy of Michael Penn's March, just because I can't seem to track down "No Myth" on the once- or twice-yearly occasion I feel like hearing it. They probably threw this gem in for free.
Total damage: $16.03, including tax - enough to get a mocha left over. "But wait! There's more!" While I did pass up a Thai silk tourist shirt covered with a vertiginous print of royal elephants marching trunk-to-tail, I found a wicker lampshade in the alley from the folks that are moving into our apartment building today, gratis. All in all, I think I did pretty well.

Friday, May 12, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 149: The Boozemonkey Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

RIP: Edgewater's Lakeside Motel 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Via Dajvid, details on the demise of the Lakeside Motel on North Sheridan Road, Edgewater, Chicago...I'd walked and driven by this 1960's beach-motel relic for years, but apparently not frequently enough to know that it was recently torn down.

Its orange and aqua color scheme and pierced-concrete-block facade stuck out like a pleasantly sore thumb among Sheridan Road's 70's and 80's brownstones and condominiums, at least for this fan of Mid-Century Atomic Age design. On sunny summer days, the Lakeside conjured childhood memories of sparkly-sand burnt-foot beach days, even if the sparkle came from broken glass and beer caps, and the burn came from discarded barbecue coals. Such was the appeal of this fallen lady by the lake.

[Photograph by Claire Nowak-Boyd and Michael R. Allen, as seen on Ecology of Absence]YoChicago's Alison Soltau writes,
My favorite review would have to be the one from the guy talking about the bullet-proof receptionist's window, possibly blood-stained shower curtains and the sign, "prostitutes will be prosecuted." What did people like about Lakeside Motel? It was a little cheaper than many motels and lured tourists by promoting itself as "close to Wrigley Field," although locals could perhaps have steered them to some closer and better motels.

Judging from pictures of the motel, it had a cheesy sensibility that was reminiscent of coastal resort motels in the seventies and eighties. I must have been too preoccupied with sandcastle construction to notice the hookers.
Three doors down, you can still enjoy the "seedy glamour" of Edgewater's [unfortunately- or fortuitously-named, depending on your point of view] Chinese-dining staple, Wing Hoe. The Gobbler and the Lakeside Motel may be gone, but at least we still have the Pink Palace.

Thursday, May 11, 2006
Matt Simonette on Feast of Fools! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Feast of Fools Chicago podcast Matt Simonette - click here!Head on over to the Feast of Fools website, and grab podcast #307 - "Parenting with a Sexy Twist"!

My good friend Matt Simonette is one of the guests on Fausto and Marc's May 11th show, and he "comes by to chew the fat about healthcare, summer movies, urban legends, and old remedies for allergies that Japanese researches are discovering."

Now, in all honesty - Matt's a bona fide movie expert with a razor-sharp sense of humour - so this should be great. We've taken in our share of B-movies in past few years - even some Z-movies, I'm sure. (The Star Wars Holiday Special and Skyscraper come to mind!) I'm downloading this show as we speak...er, I type...but the Japanese allergy remedies might be a bit frightening. Especially if they involve irrigation of body orifices, perhaps with green tea or sake. We'll see.

What does that have to do with "Parenting with a Sexy Twist"? Check out the rest of the 'cast - according to W Magazine, apparently Madonna likes to ride horses. Not bareback, mind you, but bare-chested, in sight of paparazzi. Also, her daughter Lourdes allegedly has some "issues" with having such a famous mum. Well - I say, if you're her age (47), and there's still a market for paparazzi taking pictures of you riding a horse topless, all the more power to you. Hell, most of us would need guywires. Maybe there was something to the bullet bra regimen, after all. ;)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Newsflash: Quivot Fur Sells for $10 Per Ounce 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Just in case you think I'm spinning this from whole cloth, here's the article. Now, go make your own.

Friday, May 05, 2006
Deepa Mehta's Long-Awaited "Water" Premieres In Chicago 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
After years of delay caused by (among other things) politically-motivated vandals and protesters, director Deepa Mehta has completed the third portion of her "Elements" film trilogy, "Water." In India, protesters burned down several theaters for screening "Fire," the first installment of her controversial series, for its theme of forbidden romance between two women trapped in unsatisfying arranged marriages. 1998's "Earth" dealt with similarly incendiary Hindu-Muslim culture clashes and forced resettlement in the wake of Britain's departure from colonial India. In that film, a horrifying scene of a man being drawn and quartered by horsepull mirrors the violent rending apart of that nation into modern-day India and Pakistan.

"Water" premieres tonight in Chicago at Piper's Alley, and at Evanston's CineArts 6 theater. More details at NPR affiliate WBEZ Chicago online.

Mehta’s daughter, Devyani Saltzman, will discuss "Water" and her book about the process, Shooting Water at the Women & Children First bookstore at 5233 N. Clark Street, Chicago on Tuesday, May 9 at 7:30 pm.

Google Movies Showtimes for "Water" in Chicago
Her new project? A Pinglish film [India Times]
WaPo: "The Churning Mind of Deepa Mehta"

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Keith Richards Falls Out of a Coconut Tree 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is reported to be awaiting surgery to relieve a brain haemorrhage, caused by a fall from a coconut tree in Fiji. Considering the scads of assorted substances he's alleged to have piped into his system in his 62-plus years, the simple fact Keef is climbing (and falling out of) coconut trees in Fiji is nothing short of a miracle in itself. Of course, he does have a bit of history of falls, according to The Herald:
According to bandmate Ron Wood, he once slipped on a frankfurter lobbed on stage while playing a concert in Frankfurt, Germany. "Even more ridiculously," Richards has been quoted as saying, "two days later in Hamburg, I slipped on a hamburger. It's absolutely true." In 1998, the band had to delay a tour after Richards fell off a ladder while trying to retrieve a book in the library of his Connecticut mansion.
Let's wish him a speedy recovery, and may he live to have many similarly memorable future falls. Just keep him (and Mick and the rest of the crew) off the Super Bowl halftime show, lest he slip on a malfing brassiere.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 148 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink]