Archive for December, 2007

Gimme that Old Time Radio

Monday, December 31st, 2007

I bought my parents a CD collection of Stan Freberg‘s radio show for Christmas this year, and they loved it. I knew they would because many a year ago, I came across an old double album of his comedy in my grandmother’s house which my dad had gotten back when the earth was new.

Anyway, Stan Freberg is a brilliant comedian, and his show was a perfect use of the medium. Insane stereo tests, faux commercials taking the place of sponsors he couldn’t get, satires of everything from history to popular TV shows to network censorship to politics.

Thanks to the marvels of the modern era, you too can listen to his short lived and much mourned radio show: The Stan Freberg Show. If that just whets your appetite for the good ol’ days of pre-visualization, you can browse 11,985 other radio shows in the Old Time Radio library.

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Update: Terracotta army conquers Britain

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

A quick update to this entry from last year. The terracotta army of the first emperor of China is currently on display at the British Museum. Ticket sales are breaking box office records and the reviews are glowing.

A preview of the exhibit:

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Millionaire forgers on the dole

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

Do these look like master forgers who made as much as $4 million selling “antiquities” cooked up in their garden shed to major galleries, auction houses and museums around the world?


Because they are.

The family had fooled art galleries and auction houses from Vienna to New York. Last week the Art Institute of Chicago disclosed that “The Faun,” a half-man, half-goat sculpture attributed to Paul Gauguin, was also a Greenhalgh forgery. The family had made perhaps as much as $4 million from their crafty labors. But, curiously, they all lived off state welfare benefits. Money doesn’t seem to have been their only motivation, police say. They also wanted to ridicule the art establishment. “They were just normal people,” one neighbor says. “They were just happy having a drink of cider in front of telly.”

And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for them meddling cuneiform typos.

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Ancient Chinese shipwreck, huh?

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

First, I apologize up front and without reservations for the cheap Calgon shot in the title. I just couldn’t help myself.

Having said that, Chinese archaeologist raised a 100 foot 13th century shipwreck packed with porcelain and other goodies from the South China Sea last Saturday. It was delivered to its new watery home, a seawater pool in the Crystal Palace at the Marine Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang, yesterday.


As many as 6,000 artefacts have already been retrieved from the 13th Century vessel, mostly bluish white porcelain, as well as personal items from crew members, including gold belt buckles and silver rings.

A further 70,000 artefacts are believed to be still on board, many still in their original packing cases.

This is a major deal not only because the find is extraordinary, but also because this is China’s first major foray into underwater archaeology and preservation, and they’re going full guns.

The salvage team began building a massive steel cage around the 30m (98ft)-long vessel in May in order to raise it and the surrounding silt.

The cage was made up of 36 steel beams, each weighing around 5 tons. Together with its contents, the cage weighed more than 3,000 tons. [...]

The ship will be stored underwater in a massive tank, in which the water temperature, pressure and other conditions will be identical to where it lay on the seabed, allowing visitors to watch as archaeologists uncover its secrets.

China has invested about $40m in this project, in the hope of reclaiming a part of the country’s history, and this time ensuring it stays in Chinese hands.

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Frodo and the Dead Marshes of WWI

Friday, December 28th, 2007

There’s a fascinating article on my favorite World War I site about J.R.R. Tolkien’s experiences with the horrors of the Western Front. According to his daughter, he actually modelled Frodo, Sam and Gollum’s journey through the Dead Marshes in The Two Towers on the bombed out and devastated battlefields of Belgium and France.

the Journey through the Dead Marshes (in The Two Towers), looks very much like a description of the marshy and swampy battlefields in Northern France and in Flanders. In the course of the war these areas were transformed into deadly mud swamps with slithery clay and shell craters filled with water and corpses. Innumerable soldiers lost their footing and drowned in those treacherous pits.

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Digital Froissart

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Froissart (in the green) with his patron Gui de Châtillon, count of Blois.The Royal Armoury at Leeds has an exhibit about the Hundred Years’ War prominently featuring The Chronicles of Agincourt surviror, John Froissart.

Not only is there a rare and beautifully illuminated original manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicles on exhibit, but they have cutting-edge high-resolution photographs of six of the surviving manuscripts. This is a big deal because it allows people everywhere to view the details of works that are extremely fragile and therefore kept in careful seclusion accessible to few experts.

There are a lot of other great features too, like a calligraphy expert doing demonstrations of medieval manuscripting, weapons that match ones Froissart describes, even a Capture the Castle videogame created from one of Froissart’s stories.

Entry is free, you lucky English bastards, so head to Leeds toot sweet.

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© Egypt

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

The Egyptian parliament is about to pass a law that would require any replicas of ancient Egyptian artifacts and monuments to pay royalties for the use of the design.

Mr Hawass said the law would apply to full-scale replicas of any object in any museum in Egypt.

“Commercial use” of ancient monuments like the pyramids or the sphinx would also be controlled, he said.

“Even if it is for private use, they must have permission from the Egyptian government,” he added.

But he said the law would not stop local and international artists reproducing monuments as long as they were not exact replicas.

Sadly, that means the Luxor in Vegas would be exempt because it’s tarted up far beyond the point of replica (and good taste, of course).

EDIT: More analysis of the practicalities here.

The Sphinx ©

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The Great Pyramid built from the inside out?

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin thinks he’s got the answer to the age-old question of how the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid. He suggests an external ramp was used to create the bottom third of the pyramid, but the rest was built using an internal spiral ramp and a system of counterweights for lifting the 2.5 ton blocks.

He believes workers used an outer ramp to build the first 43 metres (47 yards) then constructed an inner ramp to carry stones to the apex of the 137m pyramid. [...]

Mr Houdin said that an outer ramp all the way to the top of the pyramid would have blocked sight lines and left little room to work, while a long, frontal ramp would have used up too much stone.

Further confusing matters, there is little evidence left of external ramps at the site of the Great Pyramid.

Houdin’s theory also explains how the immense 60 ton granite beams were erected above the King’s Chamber, something none of the other theories can account for.

You can get a glimpse of Houdin’s 3D model in this news clip:

For the full story, there’s a really good pdf here, complete with excellent graphics and detailed explanations of competing theories as well as Houdin’s: ‘Khufu Revealed’ pdf.

If you don’t mind installing a 3D plugin (it took me about 3 minutes in Firefox, plus a few more to load the model), you can take the complete Houdin-guided CGI tour of his theory. I highly recommend it. It’s frikking amazing.

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Christmas Day on the Somme

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Leslie George Rub A little Australian smartassery to warm your cockles this fine Christmas Day, written by Leslie George Rub on the Western Front in 1916.

Christmas Day On The Somme

’Twas Christmas Day on the Somme
The men stood on parade,
The snow laid six feet on the ground
’Twas twenty in the shade.

Up spoke the Captain ‘gallant man’,
“Just hear what I’ve to say,
You may not have remembered that
Today is Christmas Day.”

“The General has expressed a wish
This day may be observed,
Today you will only work eight hours,
A rest that’s well deserved.

I hope you’ll keep yourselves quite clean
And smart and spruce and nice,
The stream is frozen hard
But a pick will break the ice.”

“All men will get two biscuits each,
I’m sure you’re tired of bread,
I’m sorry there’s no turkey
but there’s Bully Beef instead.

The puddings plum have not arrived
But they are on their way,
I’ll guarantee they’ll be in time
To eat next Christmas Day.”

“You’re parcels would have been in time
But I regret to say
The vessel which conveyed them was
Torpedoed on the way.

The Quartermaster’s got your rum
But you may get some yet,
Each man will be presented with
A Woodbine Cigarette.”

“The Huns have caught us in the rear
And painted France all red,
Pray do not let that trouble you,
Tomorrow you’ll be dead.

Now ere you go I wish you all
This season of good cheer,
A very happy Christmas and
A prosperous New Year.”

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Moldy Leonardo

Monday, December 24th, 2007

The Codex Atlanticus — the largest bound collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings — is moldy. So far the mold isn’t spreading, but the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan doesn’t have the money even to analyze what needs to be done, nevermind actually do it.

Until more scientific analysis is done, the cause of the mold will remain unclear, said Cecilia Frosinini, the deputy director of the Opificio.

She said the mold could be the result of several factors, including exposure during any exhibition or study, or the unintended consequence of a restoration that began in 1968 and ended in 1972.

The Codex has some amazing engineering diagrams and inventions, including flying machines, swing bridges, pontoon bridges, covered bridges, trestle bridges, castles, pumps, water-powered saws, submarines, paddle boats, drills, canal excavators, canals, rotating cranes, mirror grinders, printing presses, weaponry galore and much, much more. The horizontal Tommy cannon is one my favorites:

The multiple bombadier

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