Signs of the Times, Part the Ongoing: Fried

Back in the 1940s, Camel cigarettes installed its famous (or infamous) “smoking billboard”—a 30- by 100-foot billboard erected in Times Square between 43rd and 44th streets that was up from 1941 to 1966. Every few seconds, it blew out a puff of steam that resembled a smoke ring from the mouth of a soldier, movie star, or athlete. It wasn’t actually cigarette smoke, so it probably didn’t have much of an odor.

However, in that same spirit, and adding an odor, McDonald’s has erected the world’s first “scented billboardw” in the Netherlands. And, in fact, it is just scent—no graphics, no text, not even a logo. Just blank billboards that exude the smell of McDonald’s french fries. Says Food & Wine:

The billboards in question were created by Amsterdam-based agency TBWA\Neboko, who collaborated with production company Raúl&Rigel to set up the rouse. The billboards, which are either blank red or yellow, have a hidden compartment where the legendary fries are secretly stored. An internal heat-and-ventilation system amplifies the smell, spreading the fraudulent impression that fries are nearby to anyone within approximately 16 feet of the display — hopefully tempting them in the process, AdWeek reports.

“Rouse”? We think they mean “ruse,” as it was less designed for advertising and more as an experiment.

Passersby who were flummoxed by the ads were filmed for a YouTube film called “Smells Like McDonald’s” and were interviewed afterward to see if they could identify the scent. 

Spoiler: they could. 

“A Horse! My Car Park for a Horse!”

As fans of history and/or Shakespeare are aware, King Richard III sat on the British throne from 1483 to 1485, being famously defeated in battle and killed at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. His death marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, the Wars of the Roses (not to be confused with the Battle of the Rosies), and the Middle Ages (at least in England). His successor was Henry VII, first in the Tudor line.

Via Atlas Obscura, the story of what happened to Richard III’s body was a mystery for many years. After the battle, his body was taken to nearby Leicester, where it was displayed for two days. After that, Richard was buried under what was then the Grey Friars church. After 10 years, the grave was finally marked with a monument. However, in 1538, the friary was torn down and Richard’s grave marker was removed. Various structures were built on the spot and a new monument was erected in 1612—but it eventually disappeared. By the 19th century, after various construction projects, the location of the grave had been lost.

Fast forward to 2007, when a building on or near the site was demolished, and archaeologists pounced, finally given the opportunity to rummage around, as other bodies and artifacts had been discovered in the vicinity. Alas, nothing of much interest—least of all Richard—was turned up. Winter of their discontent, indeed. Atlas Obscura takes up the story:

Philippa Langley, secretary of the Scottish Branch of the Richard III Society, was not deterred. Having started research in 2004, she was certain that Richard’s remains would be found under Leicester City Council’s car park.

You could say she had a hunch. We continue.

She had found a medieval map that showed the church at approximately the same location as the parking lot. By 2011, Langley had gained enough evidence and funding to begin planning a new excavation. On August 25, 2013, two leg bones were found beneath the car park. DNA evidence would later prove that these, were in fact, King Richard III’s bones.

In 2017, the site was granted a monument protection status. Though King Richard III’s bones have since been reburied in Leicester Cathedral, the car park where they were found has been granted historic protection and is still possible to visit.

And ironically, parking is a nightmare.

Boaty McBoat Fence

It pays to have an artist on your side. Via Laughing Squid, a resident of Seaside, Calif., owns a boat, which he parks in his driveway when it is not at sea. The city, however, ordered him to put up a fence to keep the boat out of sight. (Why a city called Seaside should have an aversion to watercraft is a good question.) At any rate, he complied, and then—heh heh—asked his neighbor, artist Hanif Panni, to paint a realistic 3D mural of the boat on it. Obeying the letter of law, but decidedly not the spirit. Panni took a time-lapse video of the process.

As Panni summed it up:

A painting of boat in a driveway next to a house on a fence in front of a boat in a driveway next to a house!

Droning On

A neologism that has made it into the Urban Dictionary is giraffiti, a portmanteau of giraffe and graffiti, meaning graffiti in a really high place. The challenge of giraffiti is removing it, as it usually involves someone in a special truck painting over it. The Washington State Department of Transportation, on whom the task of graffiti removal falls in that state, calls these UBITs, or UnderBridge Inspection Trucks. These trucks are in short supply—they are also used for repairs and maintenance, tasks which take precedence over graffiti removal. So, says Core77, they were in search of an alternative strategy.

Mike Gauger, a member of the WSDOT’s Tacoma-area maintenance crew, came up with an idea. Frustrated with having to pull an UBIT off of a repair job to take care of some giraffiti, he had an epiphany: The current thinking is, you need the UBIT to get a person up there. But you don't need a person up there, you just need to get paint up there.

 The proposed solution? Spray-painting drones.

The team was already using drones for bridge inspections. “If drones could be used for inspections, why couldn’t they be used to spray paint?”

Gauger brought the idea to his director, who agreed to a pilot program. Because no spray-painting drone is commercially available, Gauger contacted a number of drone manufacturers until he found one willing to try prototyping one.

It took a couple of years, but drone manufacturer Aquiline produced a working prototype. It comprises a spray gun and is connected to the paint supply by a long hose. Check it out:

Testing is ongoing, and WSDOT believes it is the first transportation agency to use drones to fight graffiti.

This pilot program won’t end highway graffiti—it’s a constant struggle for our crews and law enforcement to address – but it’s another tool in our toolbox. We are excited to continue exploring new technologies to keep our crews safer and make them more efficient.

Until the graffiti artists themselves start getting spray-painting drones. Then the arms war will begin.

Loving Print to Death

A writer for Mendicino County’s Anderson Valley Advertiser happily reports that “print is not dead,” as one day she was unable to find a print copy of the New York Times as they were sold out everywhere.

I also loved learning how many avid newspaper fans live in my hometown of Santa Cruz, where the bookshop downtown stocks nine copies of the daily NYT and 40 of the Sunday edition, “and we sell out every day,” the manager told me.

…But why do I want a printed newspaper at all, when it’s so much easier to read news online? Because I still like reading on actual paper, and I love newspapers. Print journalism is not only my chosen profession, it is a craft I admire, done by people I admire.

She ends on kind of a grim note:

Just as many say a person doesn’t truly die until the last person who knew them dies, I say that print newspapers aren’t dead as long as people like me are here to remember them — that even if everyone stopped printing newspapers tomorrow, they won’t be dead until everyone who loves them dies.

Let’s hope they don’t end up underneath a car park in Leicester.

Winging It

Cicada mania continues in parts of the country, and in Illinois, via Laughing Squid, park rangers are engaging in a weird bit of cosplay.

Ecology Coordinator Tom Velat of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in Illinois explained the life cycle of the 17-year cicada with the help of employees dressed like cicadas acting out the actions of the cicadas in Velat’s presentation.

Given that the primary reason the cicadas are emerging is to mate, this could get into a whole weird area. Fortunately, they keep it clean. We urge you not to be in the process of drinking anything while watching this, it is pure spit-take material.

Plant Talk

In the 1970s, there was a popular notion that talking to houseplants helped them grow. We don’t recall whether there ended up being any validity to that, but something that scientists have discovered since then is that plants do talk to each other—often to warn each other of some imminent danger. Says Science Alert:

Imperceptible to us, plants are surrounded by a fine mist of airborne compounds that they use to communicate and protect themselves. Kind of like smells, these compounds repel hungry herbivores and warn neighboring plants of incoming assailants.

Now, molecular biologists at Saitama University in Japan have actually caught this vegetal communication on video.

In this study, Yuri Aratani and Takuya Uemura, molecular biologists at Saitama University in Japan, and colleagues rigged up a pump to transfer compounds emitted by injured and insect-riddled plants onto their undamaged neighbors, and a fluorescence microscope to watch what happened.

Caterpillars (Spodoptera litura) were set upon leaves cut from tomato plants and Arabidopsis thaliana, a common weed in the mustard family, and the researchers imaged the responses of a second, intact, insect-free Arabidopsisplant to those danger cues.

As you can see in the video above, the undamaged plants received the messages of their injured neighbors loud and clear, responding with bursts of calcium signaling that rippled across their outstretched leaves.

Pretty neat.

Take Those Graphene Nanoribbons from Your Hair

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Graphene nanoribbons may help create high-performance electronic devices. From (who else?) Graphene-Info:

Researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Wuhan University, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, National Institute for Materials Science and Tel Aviv University recently reported the transfer-free direct growth of high-quality graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) in hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) stacks. The as-grown embedded GNRs exhibited highly desirable features being ultralong (up to 0.25 mm), ultranarrow (<5 nm) and homochiral with zigzag edges. 

… This work could pave the way for the bottom-up fabrication of high-performance electronic devices based on embedded layered materials.

Toy Story

For more than 20 years, the Muppet fan site Tough Pigs has held an Ugly Muppet Toy Pageant—roasting the ugliest, tackiest, etc., licensed Muppet products. Muppet toys are rated on an ugliness scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “not that ugly” and 5 being “extreeeeemely ugly.”

A dog toy featuring Bert as a hot dog, for reasons passing understanding, gets a middling grade.

But this year’s winner with a score of 4.71 is Baby Fozzie (shield your eyes):

Not only does it not even resemble a bear—much less Fozzie—but it will haunt your dreams.

If you need something to talk with your analyst about, be sure to scroll through all the entries.

Around the Webb, Part the Infinity: Have a Drink on Webb!

We’ll drink to this: the James Webb Space Telescope has taken a close look at two young protostars—IRAS 2A and IRAS 23385—and has identified surrounding them a variety of icy compounds made up of complex organic molecules like ethanol (aka alcohol) and likely acetic acid (an ingredient in vinegar). Says the Webb folks:

Although planets are not yet forming around those stars, these and other molecules detected there by Webb represent key ingredients for making potentially habitable worlds.

… “This finding contributes to one of the long-standing questions in astrochemistry,” said team leader Will Rocha of Leiden University in the Netherlands. “What is the origin of complex organic molecules, or COMs, in space? Are they made in the gas phase or in ices? The detection of COMs in ices suggests that solid-phase chemical reactions on the surfaces of cold dust grains can build complex kinds of molecules.”

The things we can do.

Tanks for Nothing

Are you in the market for a used lobster tank or an industrial freezer? If yes, then good news! As we have tirelessly reported (well, copied-and-pasted), Red Lobster has been in no end of financial trouble as of late, and has closed more than 50 US locations. And, says the New York Times, they auctioned off their equipment.

The auction site includes grainy pictures of freezers, ovens, blenders and other items. A photo of a tank with live lobsters appeared in the listing for the Red Lobster in Redding, Calif., along with photos of a bar with whiskey bottles and a refrigerator stocked with wine and beer.


The auctions were scheduled to end on Thursday, and items must be picked up on Friday, according to the liquidator, TAGeX Brands. Whoever wins the bid for a particular restaurant will receive everything inside it (not including perishable goods and alcohol, the auction site noted).

But, who knows, there may be another tranche of closings, so keep an eye out.

Waffle Soles

The mashup of food and footwear (foodwear?) continues. This time, it’s Eggo—the breakfast brand—and waffle-based sneakers. From Food & Wine:

In honor of the breakfast brand’s new Fully Loaded Waffles, Eggo teamed up with Dominic Ciambrone (aka The Shoe Surgeon) to create the thematic Eggo Fully Loaded Kicks. This is branded merch you may actually need.  

Oh, we’re not so sure about that.

Echoing waffle textures, the sneakers are patterned with waffle-grid bottoms and handmade in Los Angeles. Two styles pair with both new Eggo flavors. The premium suede waffled leather is available in shades of chocolate brown or tan caramel with pops of pink. Down the midsole, fillings inspired by the waffles themselves add details, including a hidden zip stash pocket for a syrup packet, or anything else you may want to sneak in your kicks. No Eggo-inspired detail is spared: A soft cushioned collar highlights the fluffiness of the waffles.

How do you go about getting them? There will be three flash sales—the first is today, May 17 at noon ET at Urban Necessities. Two more sales will be held on Friday, May 24, and Friday, May 31, also at noon. And how much? $150 a pair—but they also come with waffles. So there’s that.

On the plus side, all proceeds from the Eggo Kicks will go towards supporting No Kid Hungry, an organization dedicated to eradicating childhood hunger. So that’s a good reason to buy a silly pair of sneakers. Still, though, they should have partnered with ECCO Shoes. “L’eggo my ECCO” could have been their slogan.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

May 13

1842: English composer Arthur Sullivan born.

1907: English novelist and playwright Daphne du Maurier born.

1922: German graphic designer and typographer Otl Aicher born.

1937: American author and poet Roger Zelazny born.

1944: American author, screenwriter, and actor Armistead Maupin born.

1954: The original Broadway production of The Pajama Game opens and runs for another 1,063 performances. It will later receive three Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, and Best Choreography.

May 14

1925: Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway is published.

1944: George Lucas born. (May the 14th be with you....)

1952: Singer-songwriter, producer, and actor David Byrne born.

1993: American journalist and publisher William Randolph Hearst, Jr. dies (b. 1908).

May 15

1813: Danish philosopher, author, and poet Søren Kierkegaard born.

1856: American novelist L. Frank Baum born.

1858: The present Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, opens.

1886: American poet and author Emily Dickinson dies (b. 1830).

1905: Las Vegas is founded when 110 acres, in what later would become downtown, are auctioned off.

1905: American businessman, amateur photographer, and creator of the “Zapruder film” Abraham Zapruder born. (Funny, he never made another movie after that.)

1923: American photographer Richard Avedon born.

1926: English playwright and screenwriter; works included Equus and Amadeus Peter Shaffer born.

1928: Walt Disney character Mickey Mouse premieres in his first cartoon, “Plane Crazy.”

1948: English singer-songwriter, keyboard player, and producer Brian Eno born.

May 16

1866: The United States Congress establishes the nickel.

1888: Nikola Tesla delivers a lecture describing the equipment which will allow efficient generation and use of alternating currents to transmit electric power over long distances.

1891: The International Electrotechnical Exhibition opens in Frankfurt, Germany, and will feature the world’s first long distance transmission of high-power, three-phase electric current (the most common form today).

1929: In Hollywood, the first Academy Awards ceremony takes place.

1946: English guitarist, songwriter and producer Robert Fripp born.

1960: Theodore Maiman operates the first optical laser (a ruby laser), at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, Calif.

May 17

1792: The New York Stock Exchange is formed under the Buttonwood Agreement.

1875: Aristides wins the first Kentucky Derby.

1900: L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is first published in the United States.

1902: Greek archaeologist Valerios Stais discovers the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient mechanical analog computer.

1949: English drummer, songwriter, and producer Bill Bruford born.

1977: Nolan Bushnell opens the first Chuck E. Cheese’s in San Jose, Calif.

1983: The U.S. Department of Energy declassifies documents showing world's largest mercury pollution event in Oak Ridge, Tennessee (ultimately found to be 4.2 million pounds), in response to the Appalachian Observer’s Freedom of Information Act request.

May 18

1048: Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyám born.

1593: Playwright Thomas Kyd’s accusations of heresy lead to an arrest warrant for Christopher Marlowe.

1822: American photographer and journalist Mathew Brady born.

1872: British mathematician, historian, philosopher, and Nobel Prize laureate Bertrand Russell born.

1912: The first Indian film, Shree Pundalik by Dadasaheb Torne, is released in Mumbai.

1931: American cartoonist Don Martin born. (Splork!)

1949: English progressive rock keyboardist and songwriter Rick Wakeman born.

May 19

1743: Jean-Pierre Christin developed the centigrade temperature scale.

1864: American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne dies (b. 1804).

1941: American director, producer, and screenwriter Nora Ephron born.

1963: The New York Post Sunday Magazine publishes Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.