Welcome to the inaugural edition of Friday Fodder at the cocktail party (inspired in part by Ed Yong's "missing links" every Saturday). Now you can check in every Friday morning (Pacific time, although a morning Internet outage has delayed this post until now) to peruse a quirky sampling of cool geeky/science/culture stuff Jen-Luc Piquant ferreted out during the past week's Cyber-sleuthing -- just in time to impress the folks you meet at all those weekend soirees with your astonishing range of knowledge and witty repartee. (Of course, if you're following @JenLucPiquant on Twitter, you'll hear about a lot of them as she finds them.)
Did a NASA Scientist Find Evidence of Alien Life? This has been all over the news the past week, and you'll want to be up on the latest reports. This story has it all: shocking headlines from a credulous FOX News, skepticism from other researchers, and an underdog online journal (soon to be defunct) with a persecution complex, who ended the week by comparing the skeptics to crackpots and terrorists. I am not making this up. So, did that paper show evidence of alien life? Short answer: No. (Or as PZ Myers of Pharyngula put it: "No no no no no no!", memorably declaring, "That's not science, it's pareidolia." PZ wins the Internet this week for that zinger.) Let the Badass Astronomer give you more of the gory details, or Adam Frank over at NPR's 13.7 blog, or the meticulously fair-minded David Dobbs.
A 16th Century Wooden "Internet": Okay, it's more of a movable, rotating bookshelf using principles of hydraulics "to deliver reading material to a waiting reader/researcher in a novel way, bringing twelve already-opened books into the line of sight within seconds." But it's an amazing example of 16th century ingenuity, nonetheless. John Ptak's blog is a treasure trove of unjustly obscure historical oddities in science and technology, and he kicked off this past week with a fascinating look at Agostino Ramelli's masterpiece Le diverse et artificose machine, published in 1588. There you'll find descriptions and engraved illustrations of pumps, fountains, logging mills, mining materials, bridges, hydraulic material, dredges, derricks, metal-working machinery, bellows, looms, foundry materials and cranes— all designed by Ramelli’s design.
Engineers Recreate the Flying House from Up. Via the Daily What: "To promote its upcoming new series How Hard Can It Be?, National Geographic sent engineers into the Mojave Desert to recreate the flying house from Disney·Pixar’s Up using 300 helium-filled balloons and a little yellow house." Go. Watch. Now. How awesome are those engineers, not to mention the crowd of volunteers? This is Citizen Science at its best (although some expressed concern over the vast amounts of helium used in the experiment). And now I'll totally be checking out that new NatGeo series.
DIY Experiments with Microwaves. Oh, the fun you can have alone at home with your microwave... doing SCIENCE! For starters, you can turn your bar of Ivory soap into an amorphous albino blob: "While most soaps sink sullenly to the bottom of the bathtub, the sink, or the puddle in the prison shower, Ivory ... floats on water, bobbing up and down on the ripples created by the standard prison-issue rubber duckie." But there's an entire Website devoted to nifty experiments you can do with a microwave: melt a beer bottle, make coffee explode, create "Pyrex magma," or watch as a candle spews forth ball lightning. (Caveat: some of these are a bit dangerous, and could seriously damage your microwave. Kids, don't try this at home!)
Sculpting with Books. Brian Dettmer, dubbed the Book Surgeon, creates stunning 3D sculptures out of books using knives, tweezers and various surgical tools; check one out below. You can see more sample pix of his amazing pieces over at My Modern Met, along with a Q&A with Dettmer himself.
Physics of Pruny Fingers. Did you know that bizarre mathematical shapes could explain why skin gets wrinkled after too much time in the tub? Me neither, but apparently a better understanding about the geometry of wrinkly skin could help scientists design new materials that can stretch out without losing strength.
WiFi Signals Make Light Paintings. Via New Scientist: "Timo Arnall and a team of designers from the Oslo School of Architecture & Design have created a device that can produce a large scale visualisation of the fluctuating Wi-Fi signals around a city." Result: Pretty! (Video)
Interview with the Cartoonist. You read the daily Webcomic (or you should), now find out what's really going on inside the twisted head of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal mastermind Zach Weiner.
Steampunk Thing of the Week. OMFSM, WANT! Check out these stunning metal sculptures of insects created by artist Tom Hardwidge out of defunct ammunition and found watch parts, and tell me you don't crave one for your very own.
Meme of the Week: This Carl Sagan/Old Spice Mashup made my week. He's on a horse.
LEGO Bible Stories. We all know the Bible is a downright bloody book, particularly the Old Testament stories, and now you can see some of the most violent scenes lovingly rendered in LEGO tableaux. There's the Flood, of course, and Cain killing Abel, but also less well-known incidents, such as the execution of the Canaanite kings, and one tableau simply titled "The Levite Dismembers His Murdered Concubine." Personal favorite: David collecting and delivering Philistine foreskins. (Who knew LEGOs could be used to make plastic foreskins?) If you just can't get enough bibically inspired LEGO, check out The Brick Testament, where Brendan Powell Smith retells his favorite Bible stories, creating illustrations where everything but the background sky is created using LEGOs. (Or you can buy his book.)
Scientists Are Furries, Too. How do you get baby pandas to re-acclimate to the wild and not imprint on their human caretakers? Well, you can always ask the researchers to dress up in furry panda suits. No, we not making this up. At the Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center for the Giant Panda in China's famous Wolong Nature Reserve, human beings don panda suits to prepare cubs for life in the wild. (The pix are amazing.)
The Sketchbooks of Alexander Graham Bell. Alexander Graham Bell kept meticulous notebooks detailing his designs and experiments for the invention of the telephone, duly preserved by The Library of Congress and now digitized for your viewing pleasure. Per Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic: "The sketches, though, are more than just dry recordings of physical principles. Bell's drawings are expressive in ways that few technical sketches are. Little flourishes and annotations make paging through his drawings a delight." Bell's handwriting, alas, is well-nigh indecipherable.
Nathan Myhrvold's Multi-Volume Masterpiece on the Art and Science of Cooking. Don't call it molecular gastronomy! We're now calling it modernist cuisine, and Myhrvold's lab has come out with an encyclopedic take on the science of cooking -- if cooking in your mind involves things like liquid nitrogen and "antigriddles." Bonus video footage, too, at the Wall Street Journal.
And finally, here's a wonderful video on Reuben Margolin and how he builds his amazing kinetic sculptures: