Your Friday Soothing Video of Labels Being Applied to Lemons

Binge Reading

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! One could easily wish for a new lockdown, as, thanks to the folks at Graphene-Info, we have mucho reading to do:

Today we published new versions of all our graphene market reports. Graphene-Info provides comprehensive niche graphene market reports, and our reports cover everything you need to know about these niche markets. The reports are now updated to January 2022.

The Graphene Batteries Market Report? Ordered. The Graphene Investment Guide? The CVD Graphene Market Report? No idea what that is, but we have to have it. The Graphene Supercapacitors Market Report? We have a supercapacity for graphene reports! The Graphene Oxide Market Report? You know it! The Graphene for the Display and Lighting Industries? They saved the best for last!

Less Than Zero

Indelible Ink

If it’s January, that must mean it’s time for a new series of BBC Radio 4’s “The Unbelievable Truth,” the panel show in which four comedians try to sneak unlikely truths past other panelists who then must identify only slightly less plausible lies. There were a couple of items in a recent episode that caught our attention. First, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (remember him?) once had a copy of the Qur’an written in his own blood. Yes, according to the Guardian:

Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an.

Those are two roles you really don’t want to confuse… The book actually poses a bit of a conundrum because no one knows exactly what to do with it. They can’t destroy it, as that would be forbidden, but at the same time, writing the Qur’an in blood was also forbidden to begin with. So it’s been locked away in a hidden vault until someone can come up with a solution.

On one flank had been the government, doing all it could to prevent access. The Shia-led regime is highly sensitive to the re-emergence of any symbols that might lionise the remnants of the Ba'athist rank and file, which still orchestrates bombings and assassinations every few days.

And then there are the Sunnis themselves, who are fearful of government retribution if they open the doors and of divine disapproval if they treat this particularly gruesome volume of the Qur'an with the reverence of a holy book.

…But Moussawi was more open to compromise over the Blood Qur'an: “We should keep this as a document for the brutality of Saddam, because he should not have done this.”

Bark at the Moon


News headline writers often get in trouble when they twist the facts of the actual story and write a misleading headline that encourages reads or clicks. But we had to admire this Reuters headline that seemed to go out of its way to downplay the importance of the story: “SAT college admissions exam, no longer required by many schools, to go digital.” Indeed, effective in 2024, the SAT will be administered via laptop. That’s not the only change:

Students who take the new digitized SAT - once a stress-inducing rite of passage for nearly all college-bound Americans - will have two instead of three hours to answer questions and will face shorter reading passages, College Board said in a statement on Tuesday. Test-takers may also use a calculator for the math portion to the exam.

Kind of a slap in the face to those of us who sweated over that bloody test and even took it twice. Perhaps we should reapply to college…

Of course, hardest hit will be the manufacturers of No. 2 pencils.


Naughty Wordle

Are you hooked on Wordle, but find its choice of words too tame? Well, it may surprise absolutely no one that there are naughty versions. First, there is Sweardle, “the sweary word guessing game. Each day you have one four letter swear word to guess.” We do wonder how long they can go without repeats; sure, profanity is a rich, verdant lexicographical forest, but it is not infinite.

For those who want a bit more variety in their naughty words, there is Lewdle. The content advisory also serves as the game’s description: “Lewdle is a game about rude words. If you're likely to be offended by the use of profanity, vulgarity or obscenity, go play Wordle instead!”

Actually, we’d rather stick with the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, but that’s just us.

Key Word: Assuming

Furniture, Lightning

Another item brought up on “The Unbelievable Truth” shows the perils of being ignorant of modern literature. Back in the 2000s, Woolworths had launched a line of bedroom furniture for young girls. So far, so good. What did they name this furniture? The “Lolita Midsleeper Combi.” Almost immediately, there was an outcry from parents who were familiar with Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial 1955 novel or at least Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation. (There was apparently a second adaptation in 1997.) At any rate, said the BBC:

Catherine Hanly, editor of parenting website, was among the parents to complain about the furniture advertised on the Woolworths website.

… She said a Woolworths press officer had told her staff running the website "had no idea" of the word's connotations.

"I expect a company like Woolworths to actually know what it means and the connotations and stuff," she told BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast.

"It has become a name that is synonymous with sexual precocity and the fact that it is tied to a girl's bed - it literally couldn't be worse taste."

It pays to be vaguely culturally aware.

Grave Thoughts

Keeping Us In Suspense

Unless you work for Woolworths perhaps, you are no doubt cognizant of mainstream culture enough to recognize immediately the “three notes of suspense”: dun…dun…duuun!!

It is perhaps one of the best-known musical phrases, having speared in everything from Disney’s Fantasia to Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, to virtually every sitcom ever made. And while these days, the musical riff is used more as a spoof of old horror tropes, at one time it was actually used, like any musical cue, to build suspense or trigger an emotional reaction. But where did this musical phrase originate?

The Guardian took a deep dive, and found that the first recorded use of this sting was in the first episode of the classic radio drama Suspense.

Suspense, an American horror show broadcast on CBS Radio between 1942 and 1962, was filled to the brim with sound effects and dramatic stings. Just over three minutes into its first episode (after bells, the sound of a train, and plenty of piano), a three-beat sting lingers on its last note when a man discovers his wife is potentially an undead poisoner. 

That may not have been the true origin, since audiences must have already been conditioned to know what that musical phrase connotes.

But it’s difficult to pinpoint the very first on-air dun dun duuun, and it’s likely the musical phrase predates the radio. Hand says the medium tended to adopt already popular tropes to entice listeners. “They imported that musical structure and musical language,” he says, pointing to Victorian stage melodramas.

(By the way, since retiring from WhatTheyThink, Dr. Joe Webb has become an avid old-time radio drama collector and has written what could be considered the “Suspense Bible.” Get your copy…dun…dun…duun…here.)

In fact, Patrick Feaster – an expert in the preservation of early sound media, and co-founder of the First Sounds Initiative – argues that dun dun duuun could have been a cliche long before the advent of radio drama. Though he doesn’t know when or where the three duns arose, he points out that stings “that work in much the same way” appeared in the 1912 melodrama parody Desperate Desmond by comedian Fred Duprez.

In a recording of the sketch which can be heard on the US Library of Congress website, Duprez mocks melodramas by telling a story and rebutting the incongruous sounds that play between the action (when a villain enters with a dramatic sting and a clip-clop, he exasperatedly says, “Not on a horse! Just on his feet!”).

Though the stings heard in this sketch are single duns (sans the follow -up dun and duuun), Feaster says: “It seems stinger chords must have been entrenched enough in melodrama by 1912 to invite parody.” He guesses that the three-beat version may have then come to be preferred for satire, “because it’s more conspicuous than a single all-at-once chord would be.”

Hot Take

Top Gear

We’ve (and by “we’ve” we mean “Cary Sherburne has”) written a lot about garments, apparel, and often T-shirts, usually about their production. But one new book is a collection of photos of one man’s T-shirt collection.

Here in the Around the Web Cultural Accretion Bunker, one of our favorite contemporary authors is Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, A Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, etc.). As this NY Times interview discusses, he has amassed a huge collection of T-shirts over the years, and published a series of photos and related essays in Japanese magazine Popeye, which has now been released as a book called Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love.

Through a series of essays, written in Japanese and translated into English by Philip Gabriel, Mr. Murakami takes readers through a sartorial journey, sharing memories and musings through the lens of the clothes he has accumulated over the years.

Some of the shirts in the book serve as mementos of his travels and turning points in his life. Others are mysteries, like a yellow one with the name “Tony Takitani” on it, which he found in a thrift store in Maui. (An imagined Tony Takitani appears as the protagonist in one of Mr. Murakami’s short stories.)

Your book is an ode to the most basic clothing item. At what point did you realize you had a collection of T-shirts, rather than just a lot of T-shirts?

I never really planned on having a T-shirt collection. It’s just that I’d see a shirt, think “That looks cool” and buy it, then buy another. Plus, people would give me shirts. As I stored them all away in drawers, before I knew it I had quite a pile of T-shirts on my hands. Even now I basically choose T-shirts that I want to wear every day. They’re usually affordable, so shopping for them is easy.

I never intentionally collected them — it’s more like that’s just the way things worked out. It certainly never occurred to me to make them into a book.

It’s a quick entertaining read.


Mooving Violations

It had to happen: wearables for cows. Says Core77:

Australian design consultancy Cobalt has designed a wearable, no-fencing solution for cows, and it's more humane than using barbed wire or electrical fencing. Cobalt's ingenious eShepherd system, designed for agricultural technology company Agersens, is a wearable collar for cows

First of all, it should be called eCowherd, as the term “shepherd” is specific to sheep. We continue.

"The device emits a non-aversive audio cue (beep sound) when the cow approaches a virtual fence defined by the farmer. If the animal continues forward into the virtual fence the device follow up with an aversive electrical pulse (less than an electric fence but sufficiently uncomfortable). Cows quickly learn to stop or turn back on hearing the audio cue and avoid the electrical pulse." Additionally, the devices allow you to track the position of each cow via GPS.

The design process got into a whole, weird area:

The design team's description of the process highlights one of those strange things industrial designers find themselves doing in the course of business. "One of our quirkiest tasks was creating 'Angus,' our very own anatomically-correct bovine mannequin," they write. "Unlike human anthropometrics, there is next to no existing biometrics on bovine necks/heads, so we made our own full-size cow mannequin to test early concepts."

See, This Would Require an eShepherd


This is a troubling headline. Via Gizmodo: “Teen Hacker Explains How He Gained Remote Access to Teslas Around the World”.

In a Medium post, David Colombo provided an in-depth accounting and timeline of his previous experiment where he claimed he could remotely run commands (like adjusting a vehicle’s stereo volume, manipulating doors and windows, and even engaging Tesla’s “Keyless Driving” tool), potentially without drivers ever knowing. Colombo revealed he was able to gain access to the vehicles through a security flaw in an open-source logging tool called TeslaMate. That tool lets Tesla owners monitor more granular data like their vehicle’s energy consumption and location history by utilizing Tesla’s API. However, Colombo said he was able to repurpose a handful of Tesla’s API Keys—which he said were stored unencrypted by TeslaMate—to run his own commands.

If not for the environmental consequences, the thought of buying a used 1973 Dodge Dart is starting to have more and more appeal.

Drive-Thru Service


Sure, any prog rock axeman can strut about the stage with a 6- and 12-string double-necked guitar, but what about…three necks? Courtesy of Steve Vai and Ibanez, we give you, the Hydra:

Yes, you’ll play like Hercules battling one! Says Laughing Squid:

Legendary guitarist Steve Vai partnered with Ibanez Guitars to create “The Hydra”, a triple neck electric instrument that features a fretless 12-string neck, a half-fretless bass neck, a seven-string guitar neck, plus an electric harp strung at the bottom. Each neck is self-contained with on/off switches, MIDI mixers, and specific electronics to accommodate unique sound effects. One such effect for the harp, for example, is called “The Seducer”. The instrument, which sports a distinctive gothic dragon style, was designed by Moti Kashiuchi and built by Kazuya Kuroki of Ibanez Japan.

…The idea was developed from Vai’s own concept for the song “Teeth of the Hydra” off his new album Inviolate, which acts as the soundtrack for the ad.

Take that, Steve Howe! (Actually, the record may be Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielson who famously had a five-neck guitar.)

Questions of the Age

30% Iron Chefs, Again

The Olympics are being held in Beijing in a couple of weeks, and the city is implementing very strict COVID measures in their Olympic Village—including a robot-run Village cafeteria. Core77 takes us inside:

Journalists who arrived in advance of the athletes got the first look at the Village's cafeteria, which features robot chefs and servers, plastic partitions at each table, and a rather odd-looking ceiling: Motorized trays descend from the ceiling holding bowls of noodles.

They should try this in Vegas.

All Maps Amazing and Terrible, Part the Infinity

They Should Have Called Them Fast Forwards

Do you wear sneakers? And are you nostalgic for old VHS videotapes? If yes, then good news! New Retro is selling a Retrowave line of sneakers whose designs are based on old VHS cassette boxes.

The Betamax versions would be a little smaller and harder to find.

Not out of line at ~$100, but they should offer a discount to anyone who remembers what “T-120” meant.

Someone Should Do Something

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

January 24

1670: English playwright and poet William Congreve born.

1947: American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon born.

1984: Apple Computer places the Macintosh personal computer on sale in the United States.

January 25

1507: Swiss printer Johannes Oporinus born.

1759: Scottish poet Robert Burns born.  

1783: English-American businessman and philanthropist and founder of Colgate-Palmolive William Colgate born.

1858: The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is played at the marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter, Victoria, and Friedrich of Prussia, and becomes a popular wedding processional.

1881: Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.

1882: English novelist, essayist, short story writer, and critic Virginia Woolf born. Who’s afraid?

1915: Alexander Graham Bell inaugurates U.S. transcontinental telephone service, speaking from New York to Thomas Watson in San Francisco.

1937: The Guiding Light debuts on NBC radio from Chicago. In 1952 it moves to CBS television, where it remains until September 18, 2009.

1947: Thomas Goldsmith Jr. files a patent for a “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device,” the first ever electronic game.

1949: The first Emmy Awards are presented; the venue is the Hollywood Athletic Club.

1960: The National Association of Broadcasters reacts to the "payola" scandal by threatening fines for any disc jockeys who accept money for playing particular records.

1961: In Washington, D.C., President John F. Kennedy delivers the first live presidential television news conference.

1961: 101 Dalmatians premieres from Walt Disney Productions.

1964: Blue Ribbon Sports is founded by University of Oregon track and field athletes, which would later become Nike.

1996: American playwright and composer Jonathan Larson dies, in far too untimely a fashion (b. 1960).

January 26

1918: American author Philip José Farmer born.

1926: The first demonstration of the television by John Logie Baird.

January 27

1756: Austrian composer and musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart born.

1785: The University of Georgia is founded, the first public university in the United States.

1832: English novelist, poet, and mathematician Lewis Carroll ( Charles Dodgson) born.

1851: French-American ornithologist and painter John James Audubon dies (b. 1789).

1880: Thomas Edison receives the patent for the incandescent lamp.

1813: Italian composer and philanthropist Giuseppe Verdi dies (b. 1813).

1908: American journalist and publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr., born.

1922: American journalist and author Nellie Bly dies (b. 1864).

1944: English drummer, songwriter, and producer Nick Mason born.

2009: American novelist, short story writer, and critic John Updike dies (b. 1932).

2010: American soldier and author J. D. Salinger dies (b. 1919).

January 28

1613: English diplomat and scholar, founder of the Bodleian Library Thomas Bodley dies (b. 1545).

1706: English printer and typographer John Baskerville born.

1754: Sir Horace Walpole coins the word “serendipity” in a letter to a friend. What a stroke of luck.

1813: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is first published in the United Kingdom.

1873: French novelist and journalist Colette (née Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) born.

1878: Yale Daily News becomes the first daily college newspaper in the United States.

1939: Irish poet and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate W. B. Yeats dies (b. 1865).

1956: Elvis Presley makes his first national television appearance.

1958: The Lego company patents the design of its Lego bricks, still compatible with bricks produced today.

1965: The current design of the Flag of Canada is chosen by an act of Parliament.

January 29

1737: American revolutionary and pamphleteer Thomas Paine (Common Sense, et al.) born.

1845: “The Raven” is published in The Evening Mirror in New York, the first publication with the name of the author, Edgar Allan Poe.

1860: Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov born.

1886: Karl Benz patents the first successful gasoline-driven automobile.

1888: English poet and illustrator Edward Lear dies (b. 1812).

1923: American author and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky born.

1963: American poet and playwright Robert Frost dies (b. 1874).

1980: The Rubik’s Cube makes its international debut at the Ideal Toy Corp. in Earl’s Court, London.

January 30

1969: The Beatles’ last public performance, on the roof of Apple Records in London. The impromptu concert is broken up by the police.