Saturday, January 31, 2009


This One Goes to Eleven... Ounces

Encountered while trawling patent files:

Patent No. 739827
Issued Sept. 29, 1903 to George H. Butzbach

The nature of the invention will best be understood by describing the mode of its use. It is intended to be used in connection with a single-act comedy or farce, in which, the comedian brings the double bass viol upon the stage with the dogs in their compartments and with the various refreshments or other articles also in place. The instrument is drawn onto the stage on a small truck, and when in such position the doors of the dog-compartments are opened and the dogs are allowed to escape therefrom, whereupon they proceed to perform the tricks, musical or otherwise, to which they have been trained. In the course of the performance the comedian will insert the faucet through the two apertures, will open the door leading to the liquid-compartment, will open the bottles of beer or others placed therein with their necks downward, and will draw the beer from the tank through the faucet. He will also reach into the other compartment and will draw solid refreshments or other articles therefrom that may be necessary for the performance of the comedy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Beep Lit

This week in the Telegraph, a memoir from the checkout lane:

By chronicling her experiences with wit and eloquence, [Anna] Sam has become an unlikely literary success. Her book, The Tribulations of a Checkout Girl, has sold 100,000 copies in France so far, and is set to be published all over the world, including the UK, later this year. There is a French film in the pipeline, a play, a comic strip and – this last bit she finds impossible to say without a gurgle of pleasure – "even 'ollywood" has expressed an interest....

At the Rennes branch of Leclerc – the equivalent of Tesco – Sam would work eight-hour days as a beepeuse (a woman who beeps) with only two 15-minute breaks and a series of occupational hazards which still make her wince. "That beeping," she puts freckled hands to her face, "you can still hear it when you get home at night and as you fall asleep."

In her book, Sam describes her job as "one of the most desirable vantage points from which to enjoy the full panoply of human idiocy."
But can it top 11 Years, 9 Months, and 5 Days: Burger Store Episodes and Frustrations?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Ab Scrab

A custom-built Scrabble tile keyboard:

(via Boing Boing)

Sunday, January 18, 2009


The Mystery of Lambolle Road

It staggers me that this has been completely overlooked by the British press -- and indeed by everyone else -- but I hope this gets the word out. One small London neighborhood paper -- the Camden New Journal -- appears to be the only place covering a trove of writings found in the bedsit (below) of Hampstead eccentric John Rhodes:

ON the morning of November 27 last year, a cheap plywood coffin slipped into the flames at the Islington crematorium in East Finchley. No relatives attended; the casket was unmarked... A thin, stooped man who wore slippers whatever the weather and walked with the aid of a fallen tree branch, Rhodes died as he had lived: in obscurity and destitution.

He left no will, only a bewildering array of papers, notes and other writings piled up in his tiny, council-owned basement bedsit in Lambolle Road, Belsize Park. Taking pride of place, in two ancient filing cabinets next to his bed, were thousands of meticulously recorded observations and snippets of conversation spanning more than 40 years, all dated, referenced and typewritten on single-lined cards right to the paper’s edge. Over the decades this Borgesian library of records has acquired almost mythical status among Hampstead’s literary crowd...

He wrote compulsively. Plays, novels, hundreds of poems, and an epic decade-long study of comparative religions from ancient rituals to Marxism were all bashed out on an old Corona typewriter in his kitchen, the gas cooker on for warmth.

An irate letter he wrote to The Spectator when he was barred from The Flask pub for showing the barmaid an erotic poem is believed to be his only published work.

Amid worries that bailiffs will clear out Rhodes' belongings into a dumpster, some Hampstead residents are lobbying for their preservation.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


The Original Led Zep

LinkPictured: the crumpled remains of an 1897 aluminum zeppelin in Berlin.

I'm in New Scientist this week with a piece on... metal airships.
In 1844, Parisians with an extra franc in their pocket could wander to the outskirts of the city and buy entry to a mysterious building on Impasse du Maine, a narrow dead-end street just behind the new railway station at Montparnasse. Inside a cavernous hangar, proprietor Edmond Marey-Monge and his team of workmen laboured away, soldering together long sheets of metal to make a giant sphere. Just what this contraption was for only became clear after examining the blueprints: valves for introducing hydrogen and attachments for a passenger gondola hinted at a new mode of transport. The gleaming sphere, Marey-Monge announced, was a "ballon de cuivre [de rouge]" - a brass balloon....

While Parisians bought their tickets to watch the giant orb take shape, the project also captured imaginations abroad. The merits of metal balloons were debated at length by armchair aeronauts in Britain, including one wag who wrote to Mechanics Magazine to suggest an "iron balloon" 400 foot (120 metres) wide as "not contrary to the spirit of the times" - though, he allowed, it might "gambol about the Earth's surface with great danger to life and limb of the human race, as well as terror to animal creation generally".

Modern variants on the metalclad idea include this 1964 patent for "Jet-Propelled Dirigible Airships."

Monday, January 12, 2009


Strange Fellows in the Times

I'm over on the Times blog this week -- hello!

Meanwhile, a fascinating review today in the Times of London of Graham Farhelo's new biography of the man who discovered antimatter:

Paul Dirac was the greatest British physicist since Newton. In the 1920s and 1930s, together with Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger and Pauli, he opened up the field of quantum physics, changing the course of science. In 1933, aged 31, he became the youngest theoretician to win a Nobel prize. He died 25 years ago, yet no biography has appeared until now. It is not hard to see why. As a man he was pathologically silent and retiring, and as a thinker he was unintelligible except to mathematicians....

[Unlike most such biographies] Farmelo believes that the cause of Dirac's condition was not paternal cruelty but autism. Like many autistics he was extremely taciturn. His fellow students invented a unit, “the Dirac”, for the smallest imaginable number of words someone could utter in an hour.

As it happens, I just turned in a piece that rather weirdly crosses paths with this subject matter... much more to come on that in another post.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Crossing Borders

Well, this could get mighty interesting.

From Galley Cat:

On Tuesday, Jasmine-Jade Enterprises, the parent corporation of Ellora's Cave and Cerridwen Press, filed a lawsuit against the bookstore chain seeking $1 million in damages stemming from what Jasmine-Jade alleges were deliberately "excessive" orders of their books. (Jasmine-Jade has also filed a lawsuit against distribution company Baker & Taylor, accusing the distribution company of "conspiring" with Borders, which used B&T to return the unsold Ellora's Cave and Cerridwen inventory.)
Like most lawsuits, it could go nowhere, or get quietly settled. But if Jasmine-Jade actually sticks it to Borders, the legal precedent could be a swift kick in the ass to chains. Why? Because -- as my Village Voice piece noted a couple years back -- chain stores basically built themselves up with other people's money (ie stock offerings) and other people's books (books returnable to the publisher for credit, a system the book industry hates but can't let go of.)

Borders shares are going south of $1 and on the verge of being delisted from the NYSE: so much for other people's money. If one good court case makes book returns turn radioactive, then other people's books may go too.

The winner in such a scenario? Not so much the indies, I suspect. It'll be Amazon, which has the buying power of chains but doesn't need to wallpaper its warehouses with books that nobody asked for. And, of course, publishers -- which will no longer have to remain endlessly in hock to the chains.


Another San Francisco Bookshop going under.

Stacey's Bookstore, the iconic San Francisco shop that called Market Street home for all of its 85 years and had carved out a niche for technical publications, announced Tuesday evening that it would close in March.

Like other independent book sellers, Stacey's had been hurt over the past decade by the rise of national chains, like Barnes & Noble, and Web-based booksellers, such as The store's general manager, Tom Allen, said sales had dropped 50 percent since March 2001.

But the final blow was the crumbling economy...
(San Francisco Chronicle)

Sunday, January 04, 2009


So Weird

Hundreds of Weird Tales covers in two minutes flat:

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