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Saturday, December 10, 2016

New Guinness record-setting Rube Goldberg machine takes 412 steps to light a Christmas tree

A new Guinness world record-setting Rube Goldberg machine (wiki) just in time for Christmas - watch the municipal Christmas tree in Riga, Latvia, get switched on by a process requiring 412 steps and 10 minutes to complete (the video is condensed), bettering the previous record of 382 steps achieved in Hungary back in April 2015. The company Scandiweb sponsored the record-setting chain reaction that Guinness has enshrined as the World's Largest Rube Goldberg Machine

The principle of a Rube Goldberg machine (wiki) is to complete a simple task in the most complicated way possible. This attempt featured a diverse range of devices including traditional parts like wheels, levers and balls, as well as more unusual items like a fan and coffee maker.
The finale was initiated by a sound meter that was triggered by the shouts and screams of the guests.

Sort of related video: Rube Goldberg's Passover Seder

Friday, December 9, 2016

Friday links

A selection of weird nativity sets.

The Popular Victorian Clubs That Yearned To Fill Europe With Hippos.

A potential boon for DUI defense lawyers: Hand Sanitizer Can Cause a False Positive Breathalyzer Test.

ICYMI, Wednesday's links are here, and include cooking with early microwave ovens, huge historical natural disasters, all about St. Nicholas of Myra (aka Santa Claus), the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and the only person ever hit by a meteorite.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day

Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day was created in 2007 by a now defunct (as far as I can determine, anyway) conglomerate of webcomics called Koala Wallop*. Here's Wired at the time:

Saturday, December 8th has been declared "Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day."  The whole idea is to pretend for the day that you are a traveler from a different time – except that, of course, you can’t actually *tell* people you’re a time traveler, because they’ll think you’re crazy.  There are, of course, options as to how a traveler from a certain other time might act:

Utopian/cliché Future –

If the Future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly the reenactors would dress. Think Star Trek: TNG or the Time Travelers from Hob. Ever see how the society in Futurama sees the 20th century? Run with it. Your job is to dress with moderately anachronistic clothing and speak in slang from varying decades. Here are some good starters:

– Greet people by referring to things that don’t yet exist or haven’t existed for a long time. Example: "Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?" "What spectrum will today’s broadcast be in?" and
"Your king must be a kindly soul!"

– Show extreme ignorance in operating regular technology.  

Dystopian Future

This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Freejack. The important thing to remember is dress like a crazy person with armor. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travelers are very startled that they’ve gone back in time. Some starters:

– If you go the "prisoner who’s escaped the future" try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you’ve never seen it before.

– Walk up to random people and say "WHAT YEAR IS THIS?" and when they tell you, get quiet and then say "Then there’s still time!" and run off.

– Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell "NOOOOOOOOO"

– Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

– Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say "In thirty years dial this number. You’ll know what to do after that." Then slip away.

The Past

This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture’s set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:

– Airplanes are terrifying.  Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.

– Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.

– Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.

If anyone gives this a try, report back to the class and let us know how it went. ;-)

I think this is one of the original comics - larger version here.

Related: What’s the Best Item to Carry With You During Time Travel?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday links

A day that will live in infamy: It's the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

How Civil War Soldiers Gave Themselves Syphilis While Trying to Avoid Smallpox.

Microwave Memories - cooking with early microwave ovens

December 6 was the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra, aka Santa Claus.

ICYMI, Monday's links are here, and include the end of prohibition, why, when facing predators, male monkeys do whatever the females tell them to do, who poisoned the Goebbels children in Hitler's bunker, and lots of awkward Christmas photos.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday links

The precursor to the war on drugs: on December 5th, 1933, prohibition in the United States of America came to an end.

Murder in Hitler's Bunker: Who Really Poisoned the Goebbels Children?

The stories behind Fahrenheit and Celsius.

It's that time again - lots of awkward Christmas photos.

11 Real-World Forests That Look Like They're Straight Out Of A Fairytale.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include plant geometry, DIY vaginal steam-cleaning, competitive eating history, the medical dangers of kissing, and the anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra, aka Santa Claus

His eyes - how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly. 

~Clement C. Moore (1779-1863) ("A Visit from St. Nicholas," excerpt*) 

The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God's giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.

~ St. Nicholas of Myra (attributed) 

Once again St. Nicholas Day
Has even come to our hideaway;
It won't be quite as fun, I fear,
As the happy day we had last year.
Then we were hopeful, no reason to doubt
That optimism would win the bout,
And by the time this year came round,
We'd all be free, and safe and sound.
Still, let's not forget it's St. Nicholas Day,
Though we've nothing left to give away.
We'll have to find something else to do:
So everyone please look in their shoe!?

~Anne Frank (1929-1945) (The Diary of a Young Girl, 6 December 1944) 

Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely-calculated less or more.

~William Wordsworth (1770-1850) ("Tax Not the Royal Saint") 

December 6 is the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra (270-343) (wiki), perhaps better known in his latter-day guise as Santa Claus. Born to Greek Christian parents in Palmyra in southern Anatolia, Nicholas was renowned for his great piety at an early age and eventually became the bishop of nearby Myra in what is now Turkey.

St. Nicholas saving the three poor girls and their father
He is known to have attended the Emperor Constantine's First Council of Nicea (325), where he took a strong stand against Arianism, but very little else is certain about his life. On the other hand, a rich body of legends has grown up around his name, largely for working many miracles and his life-long propensity for gift-giving.** Most famously, he is said one night to have thrown three small bags of gold through the window of a poor man as doweries for his three daughters, thus saving them from a life of prostitution.***  On another occasion, he abated a fearsome storm at sea, and thus has been adopted as the protector of sailors and fishermen. 

In 1087, half of his remains were purloined from Myra by sailors from southern Italy and enshrined in the basilica of San Nicola in Bari, where they remain today, the object of great veneration. (The other half of his bones somehow found their way to Venice.) Generally portrayed with his bishop's robes and regalia, Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions and is regarded as the protector of sailors, children, merchants, pawnbrokers, and students, particularly in Greece, Russia, and eastern Europe. 

Facial reconstruction
In the 1950s, the bones were removed while the crypt was spruced up. While they were out, the Vatican asked an anatomy professor at the University of Bari to take thousands of minutely detailed measurements and x-rays of the relics. Flash forward to the present day, and another University of Bari expert, forensic pathologist Francesco Introna, decided to commission an expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson of the University of Manchester in England, to reconstruct the saint's face and head using the new technology and the earlier measurements.

* There have been some questions raised about the authorship of this poem - this article sums up the controversy.

** N.B. Thus, his re-branding in the European tradition as Santa Claus, a derivation of his name in Dutch: Sinterklaas

*** The three-ball symbol of the pawn shop is said to derive from these three bags of gold. 

Here's a brief biography/documentary:

It's that time again - awkward Christmas photos

There are approximately a billion of these available; I had a really hard time choosing the most awkward and eventually ran out of time/energy to search for them. And if you know someone who likes these so much that you want a related Christmas present, there's also a book full of them called, appropriately enough, Awkward Family Holiday Photos, and a day-to-day calendar version which provides you with, presumably, 365 awkward pictures..

Feel free to link to more in the comments.  

I went looking for a shirt similar to the one above but didn't find it. Amazon has a whole bunch of aprons in a similar vein, though, for women and men: