Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dark Roasted Biscotti

Groovy!  Avi, of Dark Roasted Blend, has asked me to help with his very-fun Biscotti's posts: an assortment of wild, weird, and wonderful images and other things - and my very first one just went up.  Check it out here and stay tuned for more in the future.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Game Over

The Atari video game burial of 1983 was an infamous event in video gaming history, in which Atari dumped thousands of video game cartridges, allegedly including a large number of copies of its video game adaptation E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, into a New Mexico landfill. It was one of the consequences of the North American video game crash of 1983.

In September 1983, the Alamogordo Daily News of Alamogordo, New Mexico reported in a series of articles, that between 10 and 20 semi-trailer truckloads of Atari boxes, cartridges, and systems from an Atari storehouse in El Paso were crushed and buried at the landfill within the city. It was Atari's first dealings with the landfill, which was chosen because no scavenging was allowed and its garbage was crushed and buried nightly. Atari's stated reason for the burial was that it was changing from Atari 2600 to Atari 5200 games, but this was later contradicted by a worker who claimed that this was not the case. Atari official Bruce Enten stated that Atari was mostly sending broken and returned cartridges to the Alamogordo dump and that it was "by-and-large inoperable stuff."

On September 28, 1983, The New York Times reported on the story of Atari's dumping in New Mexico. An Atari representative confirmed the story for the newspaper, stating that the discarded inventory came from Atari's plant in El Paso, Texas, which was being closed and converted to a recycling facility. The Times article did not suggest any of the specific game titles being destroyed, but subsequent reports have generally linked the story of the dumping to the well-known failure of E.T. Additionally, the headline "City to Atari: 'E.T.' trash go home" in one edition of the Alamogordo News implies that the cartridges were E.T. As a result, it is widely speculated that most of Atari's millions of unsold copies of E.T. ultimately wound up in this landfill, crushed and encased in concrete.

Starting on September 29, 1983, a layer of concrete was poured on top of the crushed materials, a rare occurrence in waste disposal. An anonymous workman's stated reason for the concrete was: "There are dead animals down there. We wouldn't want any children to get hurt digging in the dump."
Eventually, the city began to protest the large amount of dumping Atari was doing, a sentiment summed up by one commissioner with, "We don't want to be an industrial waste dump for El Paso."

The local manager ordered the dumping to be ended shortly afterwards. Due to Atari's unpopular dumping, Alamogordo later passed an Emergency Management Act and created the Emergency Management Task Force to limit the future flexibility of the garbage contractor to secure outside business for the landfill for monetary purposes. Alamogordo's then mayor, Henry Pacelli, commented that, "We do not want to see something like this happen again."

The story of the buried cartridges has become a popular urban legend, which in turn has led some people to believe that the story is not true. As recently as October 2004, the E.T. game author Howard Scott Warshaw himself expressed doubts that the destruction of millions of copies of the game ever took place, citing his belief that Atari would have recycled the parts instead in order to save money.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about some really interesting plants - with very interesting diets.

You have to admit, it does make a kind of twisted sense: After all, we've been feasting on their fibrous, nutrition-packed stems, leaves, tubers, and fruits since we began to actually eat the salad that came with our steaks so, naturally, there must have been a certain ... well, 'desire' for reciprocity. In other words if we eat them why shouldn't they want to eat us?

For all you geeks out there – and, yes, we know who you are – it's commonly thought that the first depiction of a salad making a meal out of a man comes from Dr. Carl Liche, writing in 1881. J.W. Buel echoed the idea in his Land and Sea in 1887. Unluckily for Liche and Buel they've been since exposed as 'imaginative' instead of 'accurate.' Hate to disappoint but true man-eating plants are a total myth.

But that doesn't mean that the next time you sit down to feast on a supposedly defenseless potato there aren't other forms of plant life that are also having a tasty meal of, while not us humans, then most definitely other animals – and sometimes rather large animals.

The poster-plant for botanical carnivores has got to be the legendary Venus Flytrap. A resident of swamps and bogs, the flytrap has evolved a dramatic solution to its lack-of-nutrient diet: it catches flies – and pretty much anything big enough to get caught. What's amazing about this plant is its mechanism. Anything that happens to stumble between the two halves of its unique mechanism will find itself in caught in a quickly-snapping-shut botanical bear trap. What's even worse is that after being caught the Venus then fuses those leaves together, turning them into a kind of stomach to digest its prey. What's extra-fascinating is that the trap has two triggers, and that both of them have to be tripped for the leaves to snap shut, to avoid misfires.

While the flytrap looks like something out of a monster movie it rarely grows to any really impressive size – unless you happen to be a housefly. But one carnivorous plant that really is impressive, and recently discovered, is what's called a passive hunter. Instead of using snapping traps its family instead has evolved fluid filled pitfalls lined with very slippery sides, and baited with a very alluring perfume.

Pitcher plants come in a wide variety of shapes, types, and sizes – including a special one native to the Philippines. Most pitchers feast on bugs and sometimes small lizards: pretty much whatever's unfortunate enough to get seduced by the plant's alluring smells and is small enough to fit down its leafy throat. While its mechanism is similar to its smaller kin, nepenthes attenboroughii (named after journalist and TV presenter David Attenborough), has traps that are large enough to catch not only bugs, lizards, and – what's more than a bit scary – rats.

Another device carnivorous plants use is to make its prey stick around long enough to be digested. The sundew, for instance, has leaves covered with dozens of tiny stalks, and each stalk is covered with very, very, very sticky stuff. When a bug happens to walk across these leaves it gets – you guessed it – very, very, very stuck. What's more, though, is that the plant then contracts, bringing more and more of those stalks into contact with its prey, completely trapping and then digesting it.

While there are other plants that can, and do, eat whatever they can catch there is at least other plant that deserves at least a mention and one very special one that seems to be the best candidate for what could be a real maneater.

There are lots of things the very versatile bamboo is known for: building material, food, and everything betwixt and between. What's not as commonly known is that the bamboo is a botanical racehorse. Got a spare day to kill and want to see the fastest plant in the world grow two feet (in the right soil on the right day)? Then plop your behind down and stare at some bamboo. Okay, it might not be THAT thrilling but it is a plant that you can actually watch grow – which, no matter how you slice it, is pretty impressive.

But then there's the other, the monster, the beast, the chlorophyll creature that could – if any plant could be – considered a bona fide killer. Innocently imported to the US in 1876 from its native Japan, it was sold as a botanical miracle: ink, paper, jelly, tea, you name it and you could make it from this wonderful plant. But what no one could expect that this so-called marvel would have darker roots.

Kudzu is its name and right now it covers – in some cases quite literally – a huge part of the Southeastern United States. While bamboo is a racehorse at two foot a day, Kudzu is hardly a slacker at covering half that distance in the same amount of time. In the South there are homes, cars, houses and entire communities that have been hungrily, potentially, covered – and subsequently strangled – by this ferociously determined plant.

Sure, kudzu may not be carnivorous, but it's green infestation, it's emerald conquest, it's verdant domination is definitely worth a mention – and maybe a serious shudder of fear. Or, as they sometime say in the South: "A cow won't eat kudzu, but kudzu will definitely eat a cow."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Beware The Mongolian Death Worm!

The Mongolian death worm (Mongolian: олгой-хорхой, olgoi-khorkhoi, "large intestine worm") is a creature purported to exist in the Gobi Desert. It is generally considered a cryptozoological creature (cryptid): one whose sightings and reports are disputed or unconfirmed.

It is described as a bright red worm with a wide body that is 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 m) long.

The worm is the subject of a number of extraordinary claims by Mongolian locals - such as the ability of the worm to spew forth sulfuric acid that, on contact, will turn anything it touches yellow and corroded (and which would kill a human), as well as its purported ability to kill at a distance by means of electric discharge.

Though natives of the Gobi have long told tales of the olgoi-khorkhoi, the creature first came to Western attention as a result of Professor Roy Chapman Andrews's 1926 book On the Trail of Ancient Man. The US paleontologist was not convinced by the tales of the monster that he heard at a gathering of Mongolian officials: "None of those present ever had seen the creature, but they all firmly believed in its existence and described it minutely.

The olgoi-khorkhoi is said to resemble a cow's intestine. It is reported to be red in color, and is sometimes described as having darker spots or blotches. Sometimes it is said to have spiked projections at both ends. The worms are purportedly between 2 and 5 feet long, and thick-bodied. They are believed to somewhat resemble polychaetes, in many respects, looking much like a land-dwelling Bobbit worm.

Roy Chapman Andrews (an American explorer, adventurer and naturalist who became the director of the American Museum of Natural History), in his book «On the Trail of Ancient Man» (1926) cites Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar who described (1922) the worm allergorhai-horhai:

«It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert…»

In 1932 Andrews published this information again in the "The New Conquest of Central Asia" book, adding: «It is reported to live in the most arid, sandy regions of the western Gobi». Andrews didn't believe in this animal's reality.

Czech explorer Ivan Mackerle described the animal from second-hand reports as: "Sausage-like worm over half a meter (20 inches) long, and thick as a man's arm, resembling the intestine of cattle. Its tail is short, as [if] it were cut off, but not tapered. It is difficult to tell its head from its tail because it has no visible eyes, nostrils or mouth but may have them on some occasions. Its colour is dark red, like blood or salami..."

The worm is said to inhabit the southern Gobi Desert. The Mongolians say that the olgoi-khorkhoi can kill at a distance, either by spraying an acid-like substance or by using an electrical discharge. They say that the worm lives underground, hibernating most of the year except for when it becomes active in June and July. It is reported that this animal is mostly seen on the surface when it rains and the ground is wet.

The Mongolians also believe that touching any part of the worm will cause instant death. Its venom supposedly corrodes metal and local folklore tells of a predilection for the color yellow. The worm is also said to have a preference for local parasitic plants such as the goyo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Out Of Order!


Pope Stephen VI (died August 897) was Pope from May 22, 896 to August 897.

He had been made bishop of Anagni by Pope Formosus. The circumstances of his election are unclear, but he was sponsored by one of the powerful Roman families, the house of Spoleto, that contested the papacy at the time.

Stephen is chiefly remembered in connection with his conduct towards the remains of Pope Formosus, his last predecessor but one. Doubtless under pressure from the Spoleto contingent and fueled by Stephen's fury with his predecessor, the rotting corpse of Formosus was exhumed and put on trial, in the so-called Cadaver Synod (or Synodus Horrenda), in January 897. With the corpse propped up on a throne, a deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff, who was condemned for performing the functions of a bishop when he had been deposed and for receiving the pontificate while he was the bishop of Porto, among other revived charges that had been leveled against Formosus in the strife during the pontificate of John VIII. The corpse was found guilty, stripped of its sacred vestments, deprived of three fingers of its right hand (the blessing fingers), clad in the garb of a layman, and quickly buried; it was then re-exhumed and thrown in the Tiber. All ordinations performed by Formosus were annulled.

The trial excited a tumult. Though the instigators of the deed may actually have been Formosus' enemies of the House of Spoleto (notably Guy IV of Spoleto), who had recovered their authority in Rome at the beginning of 897 by renouncing their broader claims in central Italy, the scandal ended in Stephen's imprisonment and his death by strangling that summer.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Super Chicken

Super Chicken is a segment that ran on the animated television series George of the Jungle. It was produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, who earlier had created the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. It debuted September 9, 1967 on ABC.

Super Chicken (voiced by Bill Scott with a wavering parody of a Boston Brahmin accent) and his lion sidekick Fred who wore a sweatshirt with a backwards "F" on the front (voiced by Paul Frees impersonating Ed Wynn), would usually begin their adventures with the battlecry that went something like: "Quick, Fred, to the 'Super Coupe,'" which was an egg-shaped air vehicle in which Super Chicken and Fred would fly to the rescue of innocent victims of crime.

Super Chicken's secret identity was well-to-do Henry Cabot Henhouse III (whose name was a play on Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.); Fred acted as his butler/servant, etc. When danger reared its ugly head, he would take his "Super Sauce" (often from a martini glass) and don his "Super Suit," which consisted of a plumed cavalier's hat, cape, Wellington boots, mask and a sword.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Ritual Of The Gypsy Robe


The Gypsy Robe is a ritual robe used for the opening of a Broadway Musical.

Broadway musical chorus members are referred to as gypsies to signify their continuous travel from job to job in show after show. The chorus member with the most Broadway credits wears the robe and circles the stage three times moving counterclockwise. Other cast members look on and touch the robe for luck.

The ritual dates to 1950, when Bill Bradley, a chorus member in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sent a dressing gown from one of his fellow performers to a friend performing in Call Me Madam. A feathered rose from Ethel Merman's costume was attached to the robe and it was then given to a chorus member in Guys and Dolls. The robe continued to be passed from one show to another, each time with a memento added on.

The ritual is now more formal, with rules about how it is presented, worn, and displayed. When robes are full of artifacts, a new robe is started. Retired robes are kept at the Lincoln Center library, at the Smithsonian, and at Actors' Equity.

In 2005, Brynn Williams from the Broadway cast of In My Life became the youngest recipient of The Gypsy Robe at age 12.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Please (hic) kill (hic) me (hic) -


Charles Osborne (April 2, 1894 – May 1, 1991) hiccupped continuously for 68 years (1922–1990). Osborne, listed as "Charles Osborne" in the Social Security Death Index, was from Anthon, Iowa, U.S., and he was entered in Guinness World Records as the man with the Longest Attack of Hiccups. The hiccups started in 1922 and persisted for a total of 69 years. His condition also led him to be a guest on Ripley's Believe It or Not! in 1936, ABC's That's Incredible! in 1980, and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1983, and to be featured as a question in the board game Trivial Pursuit, and even appeared in an article by Dear Abby.

Osborne began hiccuping in 1922, while weighing a hog for slaughter. Despite his condition, Osborne was able to lead a normal life, marrying and having eight children.

An outside source estimated that Osborne hiccuped 430 million times over the 68-year period.

Osborne died of complications from ulcers at Marian Health Center in Sioux City, Iowa on May 1, 1991.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Check it out: a brand new Dark Roasted Blend piece I did just went up: this time about very weird, very wild, and very essential fungi (which, if you know anything about me, is a little too close to home).

Let's play a game: animal, mineral, or vegetable?

The answer? Two out of three. Ladies and gentlemen: the wonderful, and let's not forget weird, world of fungi.

But first a ridiculously quick science lesson, and an explanation for the opening above: scientists consider fungi to be part of a separate and unique kingdom, in that they aren't plants and they're not animals -- so they really are two out of three.

It's this 'not one and not the other' that make fungi wonderfully – and somewhat disturbing – to study. At their most identifiable they an fundamental part of our diet: buttons, portobellos, shitakes, oysters, morels, chanterelles, and more – including the expensive yet ubiquitous truffle. But fungi are also essential to make many of our foods ... well, food: without them we wouldn't have cheese, beer, wine, bread and too many others to name. If that isn't impressive enough, our odd not-quite-an-animal, not-quite-a-plant, is also indispensable to medicine: penicillin, the cornerstone of antibiotics, was mold found in a Petri dish, after all. In fact some experts claim that if anything were to happen to our fungal friends humanity would be, at worst, extinct, or at best, pretty miserable.

But mushrooms and yeasts and molds are only the public face of the fungal world. Beyond beer, wine, cheese, and medicine there's a stranger side – in fact a rainbow of oddness. Mushrooms, you may think, are brown or white, right? But fungi can also be spectacularly colorful: the Parrot Waxcap is as green as grass, the Crimson Waxy Cap is sunset crimson, and the Slimy Spike-cap is even bright purple. There are even varieties of mushroom that aren't just colorful but actually glow in the dark: Omphalotus olearius, the Jack o' Lantern, for example, is a celebrated bioluminescent fungus, as is the Australian ghost fungus.

Even when fungi are brown and dull appearances can be deceiving: the aptly named stinkhorn, for example, produces the aroma of rotting meat to attract flies, which help the mushroom spread its spores. Speaking of spore-spreading, the puffball mushroom and its various relations do it in a very dramatic fashion, quite literally shooting their spawn into the air when touched.

But for all their color and their clever tricks, fungi have an even odder side, one that might make you look at that blue cheese in your sandwich, or that beer you were planning to have with lunch, a little differently – if not with out-and-out fear.

Sure, fungi have given us much but they can also take it away, and not just for people who mistake an amanita phalloides for an amanita caesarea: Cryptococcus gattii, though rare, is alarmingly fatal and is airborne. How fatal? Well, it's considered to be one of – if not the – most lethal fungal infections you can get. There are other deadly fungi, and as most of them are extremely opportunistic and durable, they can spread wildly and are all but impossible to kill. Just think athlete's foot mixed with a rattlesnake.

It's fungi's ability to grow just about anywhere that makes it so amazing. If you name a hostile environment there's more than likely some form of mushroom or yeast that will not only grow there but prefer it over anywhere else. An extreme version of this is when researchers stuck their instruments into one of the most poisonous places on earth and found not only a species of mushroom growing there but one that actually appears to be feeding on the toxicity. How nasty is this place? Well, all you need to say is one word to shudder at the thought: Chernobyl.

But strangeness and fungi don't end with radiation-feasting mushrooms, for there are quite a number of them that feast on other things -- including animals. Nematophagous fungi, for instance, grow miniscule rings that, if a nematode happens to squirm into one, rapidly contract, trapping the unfortunate lunch ... I mean 'worm.' If this makes you a bit nervous take a bit of consolation in that the popular oyster mushroom is also a nematode killer – and it's also tasty, so while it eats them we also eat it.

But eating isn't the only dark thing fungi do. One particular species has an extremely disturbing lifecycle – and a terrifying one ... if you happen to be an ant. Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, if it gets half a chance, will infect an ant and (ahem) eat parts of its brain, causing the poor little insect to basically become the walking dead The fungus finishes it off only after it clamps itself to the underside of a leaf, just where the fungus wants it to die – a location that works really well for the fungi, but definitely not the ant.

Yes, they have given us much: all those mushrooms and other amazing fungi. Without them we would have very bland food, let alone no booze, and would probably die a lot quicker without antibiotics. Some of them are as pretty as flowers, a few may be deadly to the unlucky or the tragically ignorant, while further species lurk in the soil for the unwary nematode, but – basically – they have been our friends for a very long time.

Besides, we'd better watch our step: while the jury is out on the subject, many experts point to a certain forest in Oregon. What's special about this hunk of land, that particular stand of trees? Well, the honey mushroom that lives there, and occupies over 2,200 acres of that forest, may very well be the largest organism on the earth.

So we had better treat them well -- all those wondrous fungi -- just in case that they, or just that single huge mushroom, should wake up and remind us of all they've done for us ... or could do to us.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cool Words: The Peanut Gallery


A peanut gallery is an audience that heckles the performer. The term originated in the days of vaudeville as a nickname for the cheapest (and ostensibly rowdiest) seats in the theater; the cheapest snack served at the theater would often be peanuts, which the patrons would sometimes throw at the performers on stage to show their disapproval. The phrases "no comments from the peanut gallery" or "quiet in the peanut gallery" are extensions of the name.

In the late 1940s the Howdy Doody show adopted the name to represent their audience of 40 children.