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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Yesterday's amazing house of tomorrow is today's boring house of today

Yesterday's amazing house of tomorrow is today's boring house of today: "The June 1935 issue of Popular Mechanics had an article called 'The HOUSE that RUNS ITSELF,' and it describes a cutting-edge, supermodern house of the age of marvels. The house in question is so marvellous because it contains all the basic stuff we now take for granted and it's kind of wonderful to hear it described with all this breathless excitement:

Imagine, if you can, the delight of the woman who steps into her 'ready made' house and finds the kitchen already equipped with electric refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, electric or gas stove, built-in clock, abundant cupboard space--and even a two-day supply of groceries on the shelves. And she never will be bothered by cooking odors because an electric exhaust quickly removes smoke, dust and fumes from the kitchen. In addition to the windows, indirect lighting gives plenty of illumination for her work in the compactly designed room.

In the bathroom, this same housewife will find bathtub complete with shower and anti-splash curtain, the large basin that also may serve as the baby's bathtub, triple adjustable mirrors for her husband's morning shave and an extra electric heater for warming up the room quickly. The conditioned air issues from grills set into the wall near the floor and a built-in clock tells the 'man of the house' just how long he has before his train or street car comes along. The packaged home is prefabricated, having a steel frame and walls of asbestos-cement, a material that looks like stucco. That means that it is fireproof, termite-proof, practically earthquake and hurricane proof and protected against lightning. Scientific insulation not only assures the owner of getting his money's worth out of his fuel, but it combines with acoustical ceiling materials to give the extra advantage of soundproofing. The house is built on a cement foundation with three feet of air space below the first floor. Since the motor unit does all the work, a basement is unnecessary.

The HOUSE that RUNS ITSELF (Jun, 1935)


Captain Nemo's Daughter doll by Marina Bychkova

Captain Nemo's Daughter doll by Marina Bychkova: "nemos-daughter.jpg

ruby-process-51-400x599.jpgIncredible porcelain doll maker Marina Bychkova was profiled in the second issue of Craft magazine (which my wife Carla edited).

Here's one of Marina's recent creations, Captain Nemo's Daughter. It is limited to 10 pieces, but I'm not sure if any are available. There are more pictures at her website. Her blog is excellent, too -- here she describes her painting process.

Captain Nemo's daughter 2010


Marina Bychkova incredible dolls

Marina Bychkova 'Mermaid Song' doll

Marina Bychkova's Enchanted Dolls


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Payday lender association spoof site

Payday lender association spoof site: "pla-spoof.jpg

Christopher Maag of wrote about a spoof site called the Predatory Lending Association, which makes fun of those payday lenders that make big profits gouging the working poor.

The Predatory Lending Association offers tools including a 'working poor finder,' which places gun shops, liquor stores and pawn shops on the map and shows would-be investors in payday loan stores the best locations to open new locations. It also gives tips on finding for the most profitable races to discriminate against.

'It's easy to find the working poor,' the predatory lenders site says, 'but our studies reveal that a difference in location of even a few city blocks can impact profits by as much as 45%.'

The PLA spoof was one of the first websites created by Front Seat, a Seattle-based company that usually makes web tools more earnest than snarky.

Payday Lender Spoof


Cthulhu: the neck-tie edition

Cthulhu: the neck-tie edition: "

From College Humor, this Cthuloid cravat advice.

5 New Ways to Tie a Tie

(Thanks, Gaberussell, via Submitterator!)


Why women shouldn't be "burdened" with the vote: 1915

Why women shouldn't be "burdened" with the vote: 1915: "

This 1915 Boston Journal ad warning against the dangers of women's suffrage lays all manner of dangers at the feet of 'burdening' women with the vote, including increased taxes and divorce. It warns that extending the vote to women is a joint plot of the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World, socialists, and Mormons. Good to know that we've come so far in our political rhetoric.

1915 - Suffrage


SPECIAL FEATURE: Everybody loves cephalopods

SPECIAL FEATURE: Everybody loves cephalopods: "

Everybody loves cephalopods—that class of animals containing octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish. But why? What makes these non-fluffy, non-mammals so appealing?

Read the rest


Fanciful zeppelins and trains

Fanciful zeppelins and trains: "

Etsy seller Gingerbees is selling prints of her late father Andrew George Brown's wonderful, fanciful steamcraft, with an emphasis on trains and zeppelins. Lovely stuff!


(Thanks, Wondermark, via Submitterator!)


What is autism, really?

What is autism, really?: "brainsizeiq.jpg

Earlier this month, I ran across two different reports summing up two very different ways legitimate autism researchers are approaching the biological mechanisms behind cognitive difference. Although studies have found genetic correlations, nobody knows the exact cause of autism. And that's led to a couple of interesting approaches.

On the one hand you have Joachim Hallmayer, one of several researchers interviewed for a story in Stanford University magazine, who think that what we call "autism" is actually a number of different, distinct biological differences, something that would account for the wide range of symptoms, severity, and associated disorders. These researchers talk about autism as a series of subgroups—defined by particular genetic and chromosomal abnormalities. One example:

It's long been known that about 5 percent of autistic kids have a chromosomal abnormality that can be seen under a microscope --part of a chromosome is missing, duplicated or in the wrong place. Because these changes affect a large number of genes, the children often have many problems in addition to autism. What wasn't known until recently is that we all have slight imperfections in our chromosomes--small regions of DNA that are duplicated or deleted. When these stretches of DNA contain genes, people can end up with one or three copies of the genes instead of the standard two.

Technological advances have made it possible to detect these 'copy-number variants,' or CNVs. And it turns out they're important in autism and some psychiatric disorders. For example, a region of chromosome 16--containing about 25 genes, some involved in brain function and development--is deleted or duplicated in 1 to 2 percent of people with autism (and some with schizophrenia). Hallmayer and his colleagues scanned the genomes of thousands of people with autism and 2,000 healthy individuals looking for rare CNVs. They found that children with autism had more rare CNVs that overlapped genes, including genes previously implicated in autism. Some CNVs were inherited from a parent, but some arose spontaneously in the child, likely due to a genetic error in the sperm or egg.

Meanwhile, neuroscientists Kamilla and Henry Markram have a different perspective. They think the diverse symptoms of autism all come from a single, common cause—a brain that is hyper-sensitive to stimuli. Their 'One cause for many symptoms' theory isn't as well supported, biologically speaking, as the idea of many causes for many symptoms. Blogger Neuroskeptic explains:

They say that the abnormality lies in local microcircuits. The best known of these are the cortical columns and minicolumns. Neurons in any given microcircuit are connected both with their neighbors, and with more distant cells. A bit like a large company with offices in different cities: people within each office talk to each other, but they also phone and email the other branches.

The theory goes that the autistic brain has too many connections within any given microcircuit. So, when the circuit is activated, it reactivates itself too strongly, and shows a stronger, and longer, excitation. A bit like if the offices were open-plan, so everyone can overhear everyone else, and it all gets very noisy.

So what's the evidence for this? There's circumstantial support. It 'makes sense', if you're willing to accept an analogy between hyperactive local neural circuits and hyper-intense psychological phenomena. We know that a given cortical minicolumn responds to a particular type of stimulus, or aspect of a stimulus; there are minicolumns for horizontal lines, for lines at 10 degrees to the horizontal, and so on. People with autism are often fixated on little details. It's a leap, but not an impossible one, to see these as related. But the only really direct biological evidence is from rats.

Technically, these two perspectives aren't mutually exclusive. It could be that there are lots of different ways that a brain can end up being hyper-sensitive. And, of course, the Markrams could just be wrong. But I think it's interesting to see what scientists are learning about the origins of autism—what we do know, and what we don't. So often, we spend more time debunking the fraud and false hope than we spend talking about the real research. There is much more out there than this post could hope to address, but these two articles should give you an idea of the diversity of studies that are going on, the evidence that exists, and how scientists are trying to make sense of it all.

Smithsonian Magazine: Breaking Through

Neuroskeptic: A Grand Unified Theory of Autism?


Metagames in review

[A couple of these are amazing, particularly and . -e]

Metagames in review: "Andy Baio reviews the state of affairs in games about games. The metagaming concept begins with hardly-playable jokes like Desert Bus, finds creative fluency in extending game mechanics and tropes to the point of absurdity, and ends with that annoying version of Tetris which always gives you the most contextually inconvenient brick.