Rarindra Prakarsa

Indonesian photographer Rarindra Prakarsa conjures magical vignettes of misty rainforests, with sunbeams peaking through to illuminate his characters from behind like scenes from a fairy tale. I suspect there's more than a little photoshopping going on here, but the result is breathtaking.


Martin Amm

Martin Amm specializes in nature macro photography. This photo of fly beaded in morning dew (a small section of which I've cropped below) is my favorite shot, but you should check out his whole gallery.


Frozen Grand Central

This is just too cool for words. One winter day in New York City, 207 people casually wandered into Grand Central Station. At exactly 2:30 pm, they all froze in place like statues, confusing the many bystanders and official-looking people around them. Exactly 5 minutes later, they all continued on with their business as if nothing had happened.

The performance was organized by a group called Improv Everywhere, which has pulled off many such stunts over the past several years. The photos, obviously, don't do it justice - so be sure to watch the video to get the full effect.


Dan Liebert's Pet Peeves

  • Itchy labels on bungee ankle straps so I itch the whole way down
  • People on fire—they're always asking for favors, even if they hardly know you
  • When my opera cape gets caught on homeless people's junk
  • When a woman stands near me and people think her ugly baby is mine and it is
  • See the rest at McSweeney's.

Will Ashford

Will Ashford takes pages from old books and creates new works of art, obscuring or emphasizing certain words or letters through the use of inks, pencils, and translucent colored vellums.



The Church of Scientology was founded in 1953 by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard as an extension of his self-help book Dianetics. That book claimed that all of a person's psychological problems can be traced back to unconscious traumatic memories. Scientology teaches that those traumas were actually experienced by (or implanted into) the thousands of alien spirits that have possessed each person's body. The eventual goal of a Scientologist is to purge those alien spirits in order to achieve what is known as the "State of Clear." The centerpiece of the vast "Space Opera" mythology that the Scientology belief system is based on is the story of Xenu, which Hubbard authored in 1967 under the title "OT III". The story was kept secret from the public and from low-level Church members until it was entered as evidence in a 1985 court case and subsequently revealed by the Los Angeles Times. About 75 million years ago, Xenu was the alien ruler of the Galactic Confederacy, which consisted of 76 planets, including Earth (known then as "Teegeeack"). Each planet was home to an average of 178 billion people. In order to deal with this critical overpopulation, Xenu recruited psychologists to bring billions of people in for what they were told would be income tax inspections. Those people were then injected with a paralyzing solution and loaded on space planes which looked very much like the 1960s-era Douglas DC-8, then flown to planet Earth, and then stacked around the bases of volcanoes such as Loa, Vesuvius, Shasta, Washington, Fujiyama, Etna, and many others. Xenu lowered hydrogen bombs into the volcanoes and detonated them, killing everyone. However, the billions of disembodied alien souls (known as "Thetans" in Scientology-speak) began to float around on the nuclear winds, and Xenu worried that they would try to come back for revenge. So he captured all of the souls using special "sticky" electronic beams, loaded them into boxes, took them to huge cinemas, and made them watch 3-D propaganda films designed to confuse them by implanting all sorts of preposterous ideas about God, the Devil, and Christ, among others. When the films were over, these confused souls thought they were all the same person and therefore clustered together by the thousands. And each cluster of thousands eventually inhabited one of the few remaining living bodies on earth. Scientology teaches that you and I, until we have achieved the State of Clear, are to this day still being controlled by the traumas and propaganda that were fed to these body thetans by Xenu (including our belief in God), and will continue to be controlled until we have taken the many levels of expensive "auditing" courses offered by the Church that are designed to set us free. The final level of training, OT VIII, also known as "The Truth Revealed", can only take place on Scientology's luxury cruise ship, the Freewinds. It costs $10,000.


Records on X-Ray Film

In Hungary during World War II, vinyl for making records was hard to come by. So some clever folks used discarded medical X-ray film instead. Jozsef Hajdu presents some fine examples.


Thought Experiment #1: The End of Friction

December 21, 2012, marks the end of the 12th b'ak'tun of the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar. Some unimaginative types speculate that the start of the 13th b'ak'tun, the last day of the Mayan calendar, signifies some sort of transfiguring shift, such as a world-ending catastrophe, perhaps at the hands of Quetzalcoatl. I'd like to propose a much more novel shift: the End of Friction.

At midnight on December 21, 2012, all friction that exists between physical objects will vanish entirely. And so begins the 13th b'ak'tun.

An unsuspecting human sitting in a chair at that moment will notice this peculiar change immediately. His zipper will suddenly come undone. His glasses will slide off of his face. His shoes will come untied. In fact, all of his fabric-based clothes will suddenly disintegrate into a pile of loose fibers, since friction was the only thing holding them together. And that pile of fibers will quickly flatten itself across the entire surface of the floor. At that point, he will slide off of his chair, unless he has his fingers securely hooked around its legs.

But he would have bigger things to worry about than sliding butt-naked onto the floor. The hot and cold faucets suddenly turn on full blast, right as the pipes themselves unscrew and clang to the ground. All of the nails and all of the screws that are holding his house together suddenly start falling out of the wood (well, only those that were installed with their tips pointing upwards). His plastic raincoat, however, stays hanging securely from its loop on the coat rack - and his loose change is staying put in its jar. Which just slid off his not-quite-level dresser.

If he were able to escape his disintegrating house in time (perhaps by blowing air to propel his naked self across the floor and out the front door), he would find the outside world faring no better. Balloons untie themselves and splutter away from crying children. Dogs' leashes slip out of their owners' hands, leaving them to scuffle excitedly in place as if the sidewalk were a slick hardwood floor (a sensation not foreign to most dogs). Moving cars are dropping parts until they're not much more than an engine block and tires skidding along the asphalt in a pool of bolts, axels, mirrors, and body panels. Street signs are dropping from their posts, and the posts themselves (those not embedded in concrete) are toppling to the ground as dirt and gravel begin to liquify like quicksand.

Overhead, birds circle bemusedly, not quite sure what to make of the chaos below. Although an osprey might begin to wonder why it dropped the delicious bass it just caught.

The exhausted citizens of Earth swim through the oceans of debris and begin to gather on islands of bedrock and concrete. They must rebuild their civilization under these new physical rules. Clothes may no longer be made of thread and zippers, but rather sheets of plastic and seaweed held taut by hooks and buttons. Homes must be built of solid interlocking parts held in place by tension and gravity. Transportation is made possible only by harnessing the power of the wind, or just flopping around a lot until you end up somewhere new.

Better to just find yourself a nice shallow depression in the bedrock where you can curl up with your seaweed blanket and a good book.

Maybe the next b'ak'tun will be better.

Library of Dust

David Maisel's Library of Dust consists of photographs of copper canisters containing the cremated remains of patients at a state-run psychiatric hospital (the same one where One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed). These initially plain and utilitarian urns are now bursting with color and texture as the ashes have interacted with the metals over the decades, imparting uniqueness and personality in defiance of their anonymity.

The Amber Room

In 1716, the King of Prussia gave Russian czar Peter the Great a gift of a 180-square foot room encrusted with six tons of amber panels backed with gold leaf, aptly known as The Amber Room. Invading Nazis looted the room in 1941, packing the amber into crates and hightailing it back to Germany. The missing panels have never been found.

Blackbeard the Pirate

Blackbeard the Pirate was a total badass. His real name was Edward Teach, but nobody is sure if he was born in London, Bristol, Philadelphia, or Jamaica. His reign of terror lasted only about six years, from 1713 to 1718, in the seas between the Bahamas and the Carolinas. In particular, he spent a lot of time terrorizing the coast of North Carolina, and even delivered booty to governor Charles Eden in exchange for protection and an official pardon. In 1718, he blockaded Charleston Harbor in South Carolina, plundering five merchant vessels before he was through. Later that year, Blackbeard met his end at the hands of British Lieutenant Robert Maynard when a price of 100 pounds was put on his head. According to legend, in his final battle Blackbeard was shot five times and stabbed more than 20 times before he went down, and his headless body is said to have swum circles around his ship seven times before it sank. However, it is unclear who would have won had he done battle with ninjas. Arrrr!!!

Inside-Out Teddy Bears

Artist Kent Rogowski turns teddy bears inside-out and restuffs them. I love these plucky little freaks!

Large Helical Device

In addition to being the most awesome-looking piece of machinery I have ever seen, the Large Helical Device is billed as the "largest superconducting stellarator in the world". This Japanese fusion research device consists of intertwined coils of superconducting material, and is designed to contain a 100-million-degree nuclear fusion plasma. The research aims to solve the many engineering challenges that must be overcome in order for fusion reactors to produce more energy than they consume.



The Latter Day Saint movement was founded in 1827 by New Yorker Joseph Smith, Jr. In the early 1820s, Smith was paid to (mostly unsuccessfully) attempt to find lost items and buried treasures by peering into stones and finding the necessary information contained in the stone's reflections. Smith said that an angel visited him in 1823 and told him of a set of inscribed golden plates buried in a hill near his home in Western New York, which he unearthed in 1827. Smith transcribed them as the Book of Mormon before returning them to the angel. To translate the inscriptions, which were written in 400 AD by a pre-Columbian prophet in a language Smith called Reformed Egyptian, he used two stones bound by silver bows which he found along with the plates. He would place the stones in his hat, bury his face in the hat, and dictate the text to his wife. Meanwhile the plates themselves lay wrapped in linen, sometimes in another room. Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830. According to the book, Israelite tribes traveled by boat to America before the birth of Jesus, and Native Americans are actually descendants of Israelites. They brought horses and steel and other things not known to exist in the Americas at that time. After the death and resurrection of Jesus in the New Testament, Jesus came to America to repeat his teachings to the lost tribes of Israel and to establish a peaceful society (which didn't last). God lives on a planet called Kolob, where a day lasts a thousand years (according to transcriptions Smith made of Egyptian scrolls that came through his town in an 1835 traveling mummy exhibition). Mormons who have participated in a special temple ceremony to prepare themselves to be "kings and priests" or "queens and priestesses" in the afterlife wear sacred knee-high undergarments under their clothes at all times. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has over 13 million members worldwide. There exists some criticism of the Mormon movement.


Korean Hangul

In the middle of the 15th century, Korea was still using Chinese characters for their written language, despite having a very different spoken language. King Sejong argued that the Chinese script, with its thousands of characters, was too complicated for commoners to learn and was awkward due to the differences between spoken Chinese and Korean. So in 1446 he published a document demonstrating a new writing system, Hangul, which used only 51 characters, making it much easier to learn. 24 of the characters map closely to letters of the Latin alphabet. The most interesting part is that the characters are drawn to show the way the lips and tongue are positioned to form the sound, enabling non-native speakers to sound out words without extensive training.


Word Generator

Indromia, Quard, Conistate, Vercurelince, Quiniferphose! In an inexplicable fit of word geekery, I wrote a program to generate new words via a statistical analysis of existing words. First I generated a histogram to count the number of times each possible three-letter combination occurs at the beginnings, middles, or ends of existing words. Then, to generate a new word, the program tries random overlapping three-letter combinations until each of their frequencies of occurrence in the histogram is above a specified threshold. Isn't that idimogous? Go ahead and give it a try below! You can specify a "normalness" scaling factor (5 gives very daisewisfasy-sounding words, 95 gives very conistate-sounding words), a maximum word length, a minimum word length, the source text for the statistical analysis (choose from the dictionary, the Bible, the complete works of William Shakespeare, etc), and an optional "seed" word for the generator to build upon (seeding with "muffin" could yield the wonderful "Muffinetry"). Oh, and I also made a variation that uses U.S. Census data to generate new baby names (just click on "names").

Make Fractal Art

Flam3 is a fractal art generator written by Scott Draves. It's also the heart of a collaborative screen saver called Electric Sheep (named after the Philip K. Dick novel). While a beautiful fractal animation plays on the user's screen, their computer is simultaneously rendering a few new frames for a future animation. Each computer uploads its new frames to a server, and in return downloads new animations that were created by the distributed network. These "electric sheep" are the "dreams" of the sleeping machines. A program called Oxidizer (Mac) lets you edit those animations and create your own - or render single frames as high-resolution artwork. (You could also use Apophysis for Windows, or Qosmic for Linux). To get started, browse the current flock of sheep. Click on one you like, download its "genome", load it up in Oxidizer and start playing around with its genes (here's a nice tutorial). You can even cross-breed multiple sheep to create a hybrid. When you come up with something you like, you can render it as an animation or still frame. There are infinite variations to be made, so have at it!  Oh, and did I mention that all of this software is free? Update: Scott Draves just pointed me to a preview of the next version of Electric Sheep, featuring even higher quality animations.  Thanks, Spot!


Winter Moments

I've posted some new photos on Flickr that I took on Christmas Eve. Little details, warm colors, silhouettes, backlighting... Enjoy!


Sachiko Kodama's Ferrofluid Sculptures

Ferrofluid is a magnetic liquid. Bay Area natives may remember playing with an exhibit at the Exploratorium in which you pass a powerful magnet underneath a black fluid and watch as smooth spikes arise and merge. Japanese artist Sachiko Kodama uses ferrofluids and electromagnets to uncover the surprising creative possibilities of this medium. I've just received my own bottle to experiment with.

Cheap Solar Panels

Nanosolar is now producing panels that make solar power cheaper than coal for the first time.  Current photovoltaic panels use expensive and fragile silicon wafers.  Nanosolar has developed a process to "print" photovoltaic material onto flexible rolls of aluminum cheaply and quickly, producing solar panels for less than $1 a watt, and enabling construction of large solar power plants for $2 a watt (coal plants cost about $2.10 a watt to build).  The cost should continue to drop as production scales up.