Oct 14, 2010

The Nearest McDonald's is Never More Than 115 Miles Away

Stephen Von Worley created the above map of all McDonald’s locations in the 48 contiguous states. A spot in northwestern Nevada is the most McDonald’s-free on the map. It’s the McFarthest spot (to use Von Worley’s term) at 115 miles to the nearest McDonald’s restaurant. You can read about Von Worley’s discovery here, or about his subsequent pilgrimage to that location here. (He brought McDonald’s food with him.)

Oct 13, 2010

Star Trek: Red Shirts

In the original Star Trek TV series, wearing a uniform with a red shirt meant that someone was in operations, which included the security department (gold or green meant command, and blue was worn by the science department). It made sense to take an extra security person on an expedition to a new planet. The landing party would consist of the show’s stars, plus one unknown in a red shirt. This unknown security guard is often killed immediately after beaming down to the planet of the week, which conveniently displays how dangerous the residents of the planet are, and what strange powers they have. This device was used so often that the term “Red Shirt” came to signify an obviously expendable character who will die early in the show.

This is the perception - but did red shirts actually die more often than characters wearing other colors? Or did it just seem that way? After all, Captain Kirk had a reputation for finding a girl in every episode, but an analysis of episodes show only seven romances in 79 episodes. Matt Bailey compiled statistics on deaths among the Enterprise crew in Star Trek. He found that 73% of those who died were wearing red shirts, compared to 10% for yellow shirts and 8% for blue shirts (the rest were wearing other uniforms). The majority of red shirt deaths happened on an alien planet. The trope was not our imagination, however the “red” part may have escaped the notice of many who didn’t have color TVs in the mid-’60s.

The episode of Star Trek that had the most red shirt deaths was Where no Man has Gone Before, in which twelve red shirts kicked the bucket. In second place was The Changeling, which saw six red shirt deaths.

Forget the debate about whether Star Trek or Star Wars is a better science fiction universe - the real conundrum is among the minor characters. You know red shirts are always killed. You also know that Storm Troopers shoot and shoot and can’t hit anything. If the two groups were to meet, we would have The Redshirt vs. Stormtrooper Paradox... a question that feeds many forum threads to this day.

Stormtec Sandbags

Stormtec Stormbags seem to be a neat alternative to sandbags. According to Boingboing, the lightweight bags are easy to transport to disaster sites. Once you're there, you can simply immerse the bags in water, and within 5 minutes, the polymer crystals inside the bag will expand to create a 33 lb. bag. The even stranger part is that the bags are completely reusable! Once the storm has passed, you can let the bag dry out and it will shrink back to its original size and weight!  Pretty crazy. The Stormbags cost $7.00 each at the Stormtec website, or $340 for a box of 50 bags.

Oct 11, 2010

How Did Colón Become Columbus?

Ah, Columbus Day...a federal holiday here in the United States. Kids are out of school, bankers are running amok, and I'm wondering how 'Cristóbal Colón' became 'Christopher Columbus'.

The basic explanation of that is actually fairly simple. Columbus' name in English is actually an anglicized version of the Columbus birth name. According to most accounts, Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, as Cristoforo Colombo, which is obviously much more similar to the English version than is the Spanish one.

In most of the major European languages, Columbus' name is similar to the Italian one: It's Christophe Colomb in French, Kristoffer Kolumbus in Swedish, Christoph Kolumbus in German and Christoffel Columbus in Dutch.

So perhaps the question that should be asked is how Cristoforo Colombo ended up as Cristóbal Colón in his adopted country of Spain. (Sometimes his first name in Spanish is rendered as Cristóval, which is pronounced the same.) Unfortunately, the answer to that appears to be lost in history. Most historical accounts indicate that Colombo changed his name to Colón when he moved to Spain and became a citizen. The reasons remain unclear, although he most likely did it to make himself sound more Spanish, just as as many European immigrants to the early United States often anglicized their last names or changed them entirely. In other languages of the Iberian Peninsula, his name has characteristics of both the Spanish and Italian versions: Cristóvão Colombo in Portuguese and Cristofor Colom in Catalan.

Incidentally, some historians have questioned the traditional accounts surrounding Columbus's Italian origins. Some even claim that Columbus was in reality a Portuguese Jew whose real name was Salvador Fernandes Zarco.

In any case, there's little question that Columbus' explorations were a key step in the spread of Spanish to what we now know as Latin America. The country of Colombia was named after him, as was the Costa Rican currency (the colón).

Oct 8, 2010

Enormous Gingerbread House

Nothing matches the childhood joy of building, admiring—then devouring—a holiday gingerbread house. This mouthwatering gift lets you expand that tradition with enough glee for all the children, grandchildren, godchildren, relatives, and lucky friends of all ages. This unique edible playhouse is handcrafted of 381 lbs. of gourmet gingerbread and 517 lbs. of royal icing by the expert confectioners at Dylan's Candy Bar. The munchable manor, which stands 6.6 feet high by 5.25 feet wide by 4.1 feet deep, incorporates the best confections from the world's largest candy store in New York City. With literally thousands of signature gourmet sweets from which to choose, it is both artfully designed and decadently delicious. It includes giant cookies, lollipops, gummies, mints, gumdrops, and (of course) a candy-encrusted roof. There's also a lollipop tree inside, just for good measure. CEO and self-proclaimed Candy Queen Dylan Lauren was inspired as a child when she watched the classic movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Over 200 New Species Discovered in Papua New Guinea

This pink-eyed katydid lives in the forest canopy in Papua New Guinea. It represents one of the over 200 new species discovered by the Conservation International expedition to the Muller Range mountains last year. See more of the new species of frogs, ants, spiders, mammals, and plants, and videos of the expedition at Conservation International.

Auroras on Saturn

Earth is not the only planet with the phenomenon of polar lights - Saturn has ‘em too! NASA’s Cassini orbiter captured infrared images that revealed the stunning sights. According to National Geographic’s Breaking Orbit Blog, the ring of green auroras might seem faint, but that curtain of light is shooting up about 600 miles from the cloud tops of Saturn’s south polar region.

In general, astronomers think auroras on Saturn occur via a process similar to the one that creates Earth’s polar lights. Charged particles from the sun flow along the planet’s magnetic field lines, hitting the upper atmosphere at the poles. There the particles excite (or transfer energy to) atoms in the atmosphere, and the excited atoms release the excess energy as light.

In Saturn’s case, auroras can also be sparked by electromagnetic waves generated when the planet’s moons move through the charged gas that fills Saturn’s magnetosphere, the bubble around the planet created by its magnetic field.

Critter Catalog

Darren Bryant scanned a catalog called Stromberg’s Chicks & Pets Unlimited 1972, from which you could order chickens, dogs, skunks, raccoons, monkeys, anteaters, chinchillas, minks, owls, and even an ocelot! The pages are in a photoset on Flickr. Note that when you order a monkey, the clothing worn in the photograph is not included...!

World's Largest Hand-Held Yo-Yo

Chris Allen, a professional yo-yoist, made an enormous yo-yo out of two dog pools. It’s 35 inches across, 18 inches wide, and weighs 5.4 pounds. Allen tested it while standing on the roof of the parking garage at the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico, California. At this link, you can watch a video of Allen building and using the yo-yo.

Antarctic Architecture

Buildings are buildings are buildings … except when they’re in Antarctica, where the extreme environment make them look like futuristic spaceships that have landed on a desolate, frozen landscape.

Oobject has a neat gallery of antarctic architecture, including the one above - the British Antarctic base Halley VI, built by Titan Hydraulics. Work can only be carried out during the period when there is almost constant daylight and temperatures climb to -20° C and above.

The Balancing Barn

What happens when your engineer had a little too much (okay a lot of) fun with cantilevers? Behold, the Balancing Barn!

Designed by the Dutch firm MVRDV, The Balancing Barn is new rental house located near the Suffolk, England towns of Walberswick and Aldeburgh.

It's a startling feat of engineering - 50 percent of the barn hangs in free space. Leasing will begin on October 22, 2010.

Chewbacca Backpack

Need a backpack? Chewbacca’s got your back! Well, actually in this case, he really does have your back. Behold, the Chewbacca Backpack Buddy from the NeatoShop.

Oct 6, 2010

Lamborghini Computer Mouse

Cruise the web in style with this mouse, a replica of the Lamborghini Murciélago. This officially licensed computer mouse has functioning headlights and smooth lines that give it a realistic car look and feel.

The wireless optical USB mouse uses the latest RF and optical technology. Its 800 dpi to 1600 dpi resolution results in enhanced accuracy and precision movement.

Buy it in the NeatoShop.

Chocolate Boat

To settle a bet, chocolatier Georges Larnicol built and launched a boat made from chocolate. The 3.5 meter craft managed to stay afloat with three people inside for an hour and a half.

It wasn’t the 55-year-old’s first attempt to set sail in a chocolate boat. In August his plans were scuppered when his Chocolate boat Mark I broke into pieces. But Mark II, which took more than 400 hours to construct, met with more success and pleased with the outcome, Larnicol is promising to build a bigger 12-metre boat complete with chocolate mask for 2012.

Oct 5, 2010

Creative Security Company Advertising

The security company ADT wanted to convince apartment and condo owners in Santiago, Chile that it’s really easy to break into their homes. So the ad agency DDB made spring-loaded boxes and shoved them under the front doors of prospective customers. On the box was the ADT logo and the line: "Breaking into your apartment is easier than you think."

Oct 4, 2010

Puffin, Shiant Islands

In this National Geographic photo, dapper black-and-white razorbills (at right) and bright-beaked puffins (at left and in air) find a haven on the Shiant Islands, just a few miles southeast of Lewis, Scotland. Nearly 8,000 razorbills and more than 200,000 puffins are estimated to use these islands as their breeding grounds each year.

Bat and Robin

Shirt available from SnorgTees