Your Friday Fever Dream

Stock Imagery

“Gladys” describes herself as a “visual insights innovator”: “I take data and turn it into art,” she says on Instagram. As such, she takes data series—specifically stock market data—and transforms them into landscapes or, as she calls it, Stoxart (via Boing Boing). 

Imagine what she could do with printing shipments data.

People Get Letters

Have Mask Gun will Travel

Via Gizmodo, Allen Pan, frustrated by the anti-maskers, has invented a gun that shoots masks onto people’s faces. (It probably helps if they’re standing perfectly still.) It’s kind of like Alien meets Spiderman.

School for Scandal

I Scream

Down here in the Around the Web Cultural Accretion Bunker, we occasionally hear, drifting down through the shaft that leads to the escape hatch at street level, the strains of an ice cream truck. We were reminded of this phenomenon by this story over at Gizmodo, a deep dive into the history of Mister Softee ice cream truck music and, particularly, why there is a gap between replays of the tape loop that makes it especially irritating.

What pushed me from merely wondering to actively seeking answers was the discovery of a new and somehow even worse jingle played in my girlfriend’s neighborhood in Queens. The tune has the same stultifying 1900s march music quality as the other song (and sure enough, “Jingle and Chimes” is based on “The Whistler and His Dog,” written by the late Sousa Band soloist Arthur Pryor) but each fresh loop begins with a woman’s voice asking, impatiently, “Helloooo?”

(This is the one that plays outside the bunker here in our Undisclosed Location.)

The strange voice is so memorable that searching for “hello ice cream song” nets millions more results than the jingle’s actual name, “Picnic.” That’s the song title that was used on the data sheet for the HT3894 melody chip. The HT3894, as I’m sure you’ll recall, was the chip used in the Omni music box—a piece of equipment made by Nichols Electronics, “the leading manufacturer of electronic music boxes for ice cream trucks in the United States.”


Mystery—if not the underlying problem—solved: The pause apparently replicates the analog technology that digital music boxes replaced and the longer pauses were at the behest of local governments rather than ice cream truck owners. 

His search for the identity of the woman was not successful.

Speaking of ice cream truck music, Good Humor trucks apparently play “Turkey in the Straw,” a ditty that has a racially problematic past. So, via the LA Times, rapper RZA of Wu-Tang Clan has decided to rectify that and has partnered with Good Humor to compose a new ice cream truck song.

“We wanted to make a melody that includes all communities — that’s good for every driver, every kid,” RZA continues. “And I’m proud to say, for the first time in a long time, a new ice cream truck jingle will be made available to trucks all across the country in perpetuity. That means forever, you know what I mean? Like Wu-Tang is forever. And I will assure you that this one is made with love.”

Ah, but does he yell “Hellooooo?” at the end?

Keyed Up

License to Sit

Drivers license photos are rarely flattering, but Tennessee’s Jade Dodd got a bit of a shock when she recently renewed hers.

She was stunned after recently renewing her license online. When she received her new ID in the mail, there wasn’t a photo of her on it. Instead, it was an empty chair. 

“My boss thinks it’s funnier than anyone. I was at work Friday and he pointed to a chair outside of his office door and was like, ‘I thought this was you, I waved at it this morning’ and I was like thanks,” said Dodd. 

Eyes, Bro.

Very True

Pel Grant

What is something we all take for granted, such that you are staring at thousands or millions of them right now and may not even realize it? That’s right: pixels. And last week, Russell Kirsch, the inventor of the pixel, passed away at 91. Short for “picture element,” the pixel seems like such an obvious thing today (you may not even realize that it had an inventor, but, hey, it didn’t just happen), but back in 1957, it wasn’t. Says the NY Times:

Pixels, the digital dots used to display photos, video and more on phone and computer screens, weren't an obvious innovation in 1957, when Kirsch created a small, 2-by-2-inch black-and-white digital image of his son, Walden, as an infant. That was among the first images ever scanned into a computer, using a device created by his research team at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institutes of Science and Technology). 

The word itself is a portmanteau of “pix” (a colloquial term for “pictures”) and “element,” although some years ago the alternate “pel” was used, although happily it never caught on. (Kirsch did not coin the term; “pixel” was first used in print in 1965 by Frederic C. Billingsley of JPL.)

 Kirsch has since atoned for one error: he made his pixels square.

The square shape of the pixels meant that image elements can look blocky, clunky or jagged — just generally not as smooth as real life. There's even a word for this effect: “pixelated."

“Squares was the logical thing to do,” Kirsch told the magazine in 2010. “Of course, the logical thing was not the only possibility … but we used squares. It was something very foolish that everyone in the world has been suffering from ever since.”

If he had had a background in print, he might have taken a lesson from halftone dots and saved us all a lot of trouble.


Windows on the World

Um... “One of Tokyo's most popular districts has recently added some unusual new attractions: transparent public toilets.”

Designed by Shigeru Ban Architects, the two new sets of see-through restrooms have been installed in Shibuya, the bustling city center famous for its busy pedestrian crossing.”

We’re not sure that “attraction” is the best term to use, but reading a little further one discovers that it is not designed for exhibitionists.

"There are two things we worry about when entering a public restroom, especially those located at a park," says a statement on the project's official website, "The first is cleanliness, and the second is whether anyone is inside."

Shigeru Ban Architects' design tackles these two concerns by offering a toilet with glass walls that -- at first -- allows the public to see through from the outside. But once a user enters the toilet and locks the door, the walls turn opaque to provide privacy.

"This allows users to check the cleanliness and whether anyone is using the toilet from the outside," says the statement. "At night, the facility lights up the park like a beautiful lantern."

OK, then.


Tudor Photoshopping

We have all become used to the idea of “deep fakes” and photoshopped images abound. But it may or may not surprise you to learn that “photoshopping” goes back centuries (if not longer), well before Photoshop itself, and in fact one of the earliest examples of “political photoshopping” was recently uncovered during a scientific analysis of the Great Bible, the “official” parish Bible to be used by Anglican churches during the reign of Henry VIII. Its “production manager” was Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. An elaborate presentation copy was made for the Tudor court—it was a very limited edition printed on vellum and hand-colored by professional illuminators. It also featured some Tudor-era deep faking.

Our analysis revealed a new – and hitherto unknown – plot by Cromwell to literally change the balance of power on the Bible’s front page, just one year before his execution for high treason. We plan to publish our research results in full later this year.

In a nutshell, they closely examined a copy of this edition of the Great Bible owned by St John’s College, Cambridge (one of only a couple surviving copies):

In the St John’s copy, the printed title pages were carefully hand painted, with the original print at times peeping through. For example, in the hand-coloured version the prison was obliterated and replaced by a dedication scene. The original brick background is still visible through the red stockings of the green-clad figure. 

The most striking modification we found has so far been hidden from scholars working on this Bible. Under a microscope with raking light, it becomes evident that some of the faces were painted on separate pieces of vellum and pasted over the existing page. A thin line can be seen under Cromwell’s face where the image was pasted in. This was done in a highly professional manner, covering much of the border area with paint overlapping the edges and creating the impression of a single image. This major modification applied to Cromwell and another key figure.


In the original black-and-white design, Cromwell is affiliated with distributing the Bible to the laity – his coat of arms is in the middle of the page, below the figure whose features resemble Cromwell, handing the Bible (inscribed verbum dei, or “the Word of God”) to lay nobility. He mirrors Cranmer’s image, on the other side of the page, distributing a similar book to the clergy. 

In the painted version of the title page, on the other hand, Cromwell is moved up a level and transformed into the person receiving the book from Henry’s left hand. This serves two purposes. It enhances the affinity between Cromwell and Henry, placing them next to each other. It also renders Cromwell in a more passive position, receiving the book from Henry rather than actively distributing it. Given Henry’s ambivalence towards the lay readership, this was a much less hazardous position. The careful and extensive modifications of the title page demonstrate Cromwell’s political prowess and his ability to read the political map and manipulate the visual image accordingly.

Also Good for Editorial Illustrations

Drawing a Crowd

What do you think the first “interactive” TV show was? Would it surprise you to learn that it dates from 1953? It was a Saturday morning CBS show with rather unfortunate name of Winky Dink and You. Viewers interacted with the show by drawing on their TV screens. Well, not directly:

"Winky Dink said he wanted the children to mail away for a 'Magic Window,' which was actually a cheaply produced, thin sheet of plastic that adhered to the TV screen by static electricity," writes Winky Dink-generation columnist Bob Greene. "Along with the plastic sheet that arrived in the mail were 'magic crayons.' Children were encouraged to place the sheet on their TV screen and watch the show each Saturday, so that Winky Dink could tell them what to do."

Winky Dink, and Barry, often told them to draw in the missing parts of a picture, or to connect dots that would reveal a coded message. In the episode abovewrites Paleofuture's Matt Novak, Barry invites kids to "draw things on Winky Dink’s family members, like flowers on the button hole of Uncle Slim’s jacket, or an entirely new nose on the old guy. Uncle Slim sneezes in reaction to getting a nose drawn on his face, as you might expect" — by the standards of 1950s children's programming, "comedy gold." 


Weight Staff

Shockingly, this idea did not catch on. From Business Insider:

A restaurant chain in China publicly apologized for weighing customers to give them menu recommendations before entering the restaurant, CNN reported.

Chulyan Fried Beef, a popular chain based in Hunan, asked customers to step on scales so that they could weigh themselves before entering the restaurant. Based on their weight, the restaurant recommended a menu of different items.

Sounds a bit like the planet Berthselamin from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

the fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory there it is vitally important to get a receipt.

Belated Happy Birthday

Gordon’s Alive!

If you are looking for a fun movie to watch this weekend, we highly recommend 1980’s Flash Gordon. Yes, it’s really cheesy and campy, but it’s also highly entertaining in a non-ironic way. Plus it has a killer Queen soundtrack. We were reminded of this classic when the Guardian this week had a retrospective on the making of Flash Gordon by the boisterous Brian Blessed, who played Prince Vultan, leader of the Hawkmen, and Mike Hodges, the director. “I’m very critical of people who say it’s a camp film,” said Blessed. (Sorry.) “It’s not. It’s perfection.” He also added, “I told them if they offered the part of Vultan to anyone else, I’d strangle the bastard.” We bet he would, too.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

August 17

1549: The Prayer Book Rebellion is quashed in England.

1607: French lawyer and mathematician Pierre de Fermat born.

1807: Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat leaves New York City for Albany, N.Y., on the Hudson River, inaugurating the first commercial steamboat service in the world.

1908: Fantasmagorie, the first animated cartoon, created by Émile Cohl, is shown in Paris, France.

1932: Trinidadian-English novelist and essayist, Nobel Prize laureate V. S. Naipaul born.

1945: George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is first published.

1970: Venera 7 launched. It will later become the first spacecraft to successfully transmit data from the surface of another planet (Venus).

August 18

1868: French astronomer Pierre Janssen discovers helium (but no one understood him because his voice was high and squeaky).

1958: Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolitais published in the United States.

August 19

1631: English poet, literary critic, and playwright John Dryden born.

1646: English astronomer and academic John Flamsteed born.

1839: The French government announces that Louis Daguerre’s photographic process is a gift “free to the world.”

1906: American inventor (the Fusor) Philo Farnsworth born.

1921: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry born.

1939: English drummer and songwriter Ginger Baker born.

1964: Syncom 3, the first geostationary communication satellite, was launched.

August 20

1858: Charles Darwin first publishes his theory of evolution through natural selection in The Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, alongside Alfred Russel Wallace’s same theory.

1882: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuts in Moscow, Russia.

1890: American short story writer, editor, novelist H. P. Lovecraft born.

1920: The first commercial radio station, 8MK (now WWJ), begins operations in Detroit.

1926: Japan’s public broadcasting company, Nippon H?s? Ky?kai (NHK) is established.

August 21

1888: The first successful adding machine in the United States is patented by William Seward Burroughs.

1952: English singer-songwriter and guitarist Joe Strummer born.

1961: Motown releases what would be its first #1 hit (in America), “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes.

August 22

1485: “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” The Battle of Bosworth Field, the death of Richard III, and the end of the House of Plantagenet.

1849: The first air raid in history. Austria launches pilotless balloons against the city of Venice.

1862: French pianist and composer Claude Debussy born.

1893: American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist Dorothy Parker born.

1902: Theodore Roosevelt becomes the first President of the United States to make a public appearance in an automobile.

1920: American science fiction writer and screenwriter Ray Bradbury born.

1971: American singer-songwriter and guitarist Craig Finn born.

August 23

1946: English drummer, songwriter, and producer Keith Moon born.

1966: Lunar Orbiter 1 takes the first photograph of Earth from orbit around the Moon (not Keith).

1973: A bank robbery gone wrong in Stockholm, Sweden, turns into a hostage crisis; over the next five days the hostages begin to sympathize with their captors, leading to the term “Stockholm syndrome.”

1991: The World Wide Web is opened to the public.