Film soaked in hydrochloric acid

MattAttackPro is a chemistry and physics teacher in South Carolina. This is what happened when he dropped a roll of unused camera film into a container of hydrochloric acid.

What you’re seeing is the plastic backing separating from the “film” from which film takes its name—a coating of multiple layers of light-sensitive salts suspended in gelatin. Yes, film is like a jello salad. And it makes for a beautiful photograph.

See the photo on Instagram


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Horror stories from the history of surgery

Sometimes, it’s a little mind blowing when you remember just how recently medicine passed from the world of art/magic/tradition and into the realm of science. There’s plenty of reason to argue that the transformation still isn’t complete today, but I’m really mesmerized by stories from the 19th century, when every surgery was something of an experiment and the same, cutting-edge doctor could vacillate between modern techniques and medieval bio-alchemy in his treatment of the same patient.

Until that time, the prevalent method of cataract treatment was “couching,” a procedure that involved inserting a curved needle into the orbit and using it to push the clouded lens back and out of the line of sight. Warren’s patient had undergone six such attempts without lasting success and was now blind. Warren undertook a more radical and invasive procedure—actual removal of the left cataract. He described the operation, performed before the students of Harvard Medical School, as follows:

“The eye-lids were separated by the thumb and finger of the left hand, and then, a broad cornea knife was pushed through the cornea at the outer angle of the eye, till its point approached the opposite side of the cornea. The knife was then withdrawn, and the aqueous humour being discharged, was immediately followed by a protrusion of the iris.”

Into the collapsed orbit of this unanesthetized man, Warren inserted forceps he had made especially for the event. However, he encountered difficulties that necessitated improvisation:

“The opaque body eluding the grasp of the forceps, a fine hook was passed through the pupil, and fixed in the thickened capsule, which was immediately drawn out entire. This substance was quite firm, about half a line in thickness, a line in diameter, and had a pearly whiteness.”

A bandage was applied, instructions on cleansing the eye were given, and the gentleman was sent home. Two months later, Warren noted, inflammation required “two or three bleedings,” but “the patient is now well, and sees to distinguish every object with the left eye.”

That’s from an amazing essay on the history of surgery published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The article is absolutely fascinating. I recommend reading it all the way through. If for no other reason than to get a better understanding of the fumbling way medical innovation happened. It wasn’t like everybody woke up one morning and decided to adhere to the scientific method and the germ theory of disease. Instead, there were debates, and failures, and horrible things that happened as doctors tried to expand the number of illnesses they could treat before they necessarily had the tools (or the mental paradigms) to solve those problems. But, it was through making all those mistakes that the actual solutions started to form.

Among the more-interesting points in this piece: The advent of anesthesia didn’t just make surgery more pleasant for the people experiencing it. It also enabled surgeons to slow down and practice surgery with a great deal more care. For instance, prior to anesthesia, a good surgeon could successfully amputate a leg in less than a minute. That’s the surgery you can see being performed in the image at the top of this post.

Read “Two Hundred Years of Surgery” at the New England Journal of Medicine

Via Maria Popova and The Daily Beast


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Canadian sf/f artist whose wife struck by two cars while jogging seeks donations, offers JPEG


Diane Walton sez, “On May 30, Clarice (an Edmonton, Alberta, Canada teacher) was hit and seriously injured by two cars, on her way home from her daily jog. Her husband’s post on Facebook describing the accident went viral her amazing recovery has been watched by thousands of well-wishers. Aaron, a talented aboriginal artist, has posted a link for donations toward costs the family will, no doubt incur, during the coming months of Clarice’s recovery. On Spec magazine has offered a free download of the issue that feature’s Aaron’s artwork on the cover. Aaron has provided a free jpg of another work, to thank donors.”


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DRM in the projector booth – destroying the village to save it


From Melbourne’s Astor Theatre, a harrowing tale of the way that the DRM on digital projectors — intended to stop exhibitors from leaking high-quality videos onto the Internet — can interfere with legitimate exhibition. Punishing the innocent to get at the guilty is never a good answer, morally or commercially. The most secure way to manage theatrical exhibition is to ban it altogether; the DRM scheme used by digital projectors comes pretty close to that “solution.”

Unlike 35mm film prints that are tangible, come on spools, and run through a mechanical projector, DCPs are files that are ingested into the digital projector which is in many ways simply a very high-tech computer system. Because the physical file is ingested into a projector it can – if the cinema has enough space on its server – be kept there indefinitely and so, having created this situation themselves, the studios and distributors lock the files so that they can only be screened at the times scheduled, booked and paid for by the cinema. This means each DCP comes with what is called a KDM (Key Delivery Message). The KDM unlocks the content of the file and allows the cinema to play the film. It is time sensitive and often is only valid from around 10 minutes prior to the screening time and expiring as close to 5 minutes after the scheduled time. Aside from the obvious fact that this means screenings really do need to run according to scheduled time, it is also means the projectionist can’t test to see if the KDM works or that the quality of the film is right before show time. This isn’t always a problem. But when it is…

When it is a problem we have what happened last night. The KDM we received for Take Shelter didn’t work. We discovered this about ten minutes prior to show time. Being a cinema, and holding evening screenings we couldn’t just call the distributor to get another one because they work office hours. So, our steps began with calling a 24 hour help line in the US. Once we went through the process of authenticating our cinema and scheduled screening we were told we had to call London to authorise another KDM for this particular screening. After calling London and re-authenticating our cinema and session, we were told we could be issued another KDM, but not before the distributor also authorised it. This meant another 5-10 minute delay as we waited for the distributor to confirm that we were indeed allow to show the film at this time. Once confirmation was received we waited for the new KDM to be issued. The KDM arrives as an email zip attachment that then needs to be unzipped, saved onto a memory stick and uploaded onto the server. This takes another 5-10 minutes. Once uploaded the projector needs to recognise the KDM and unlock the programmed presentation. Thankfully, this worked. However, until the very moment when it did we were as unsure as our audience as to whether or not the new KDM would work and therefore whether or not our screening would actually go ahead.

This is one example of one incident in one cinema. There are thousands upon thousands of screenings at cinemas just like us all over the world constantly experiencing these same issues.

What Happened Last Night

(Image: Ozone projectionist, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from gawler_history’s photostream)


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Vending machines of loving grace scratch-cook pizzas to order

A1 Concepts “Let’s Pizza” vending machines are robots that scratch-bake pizzas in three minutes, to order. In this video, the Let’s Pizza is demonstrated by a model (made extra weird by dubbing from some unknown language) in the world’s most painful looking stilettos, who stresses again and again how hygienic the machine is, producing pizzas “untouched by human hands” and “in a human-free environment.” Your robo-pizza is thus prepared “with a guarantee of total hygiene.” The dubbing, the rubegoldbergian gadgetry and the strange, squeamish emphasis on hygiene (as though pizza from a mere human kitchen comes covered in boogers, stray public hairs and a thin film of DNA) combine to make this the greatest product demo of all time, ever, in the history of the universe.

The brainchild of Italian entrepreneur Claudio Torghel, the machine will be distributed by A1 Concepts, based out of the Netherlands. It’s expected to hit our shores later this year, according to the industry website Pizza Marketplace. The company is expected to set up its U.S. headquarters in Atlanta.

Just what America needs: Pizza vending machines

(Thanks, Gimlet_eye!)


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What a chronic ear infection looks like

These are images from the inside of two human ears. The ear on the top doesn’t get chronic infections. The ear on the bottom does. The difference seems to be the presence of a biofilm—a little colony of bacteria or other microorganisms that build up in a thin layer.

Biofilms happen all over the place in nature. That slime that covers the surface of rocks at the bottom of a river or lake? That’s a biofilm. The slick, green coating on the underside of a boat when you pull it out of the water? That’s a biofilm, too. And so is the plaque that builds up on your teeth.

In the case of ears, though, biofilms might explain why it’s so difficult to treat chronic ear infections—biofilms are not easily killed off by antibiotics. The image above, showing a biofilm-coated ear drum, was captured using a new imaging device that produces pictures from reflected light, the same way ultrasound makes images from reflected sound waves. It’s part of a research paper that presents evidence about the role of biofilms in ear infection and long-term hearing loss.

Check out Scientific American for more information

Via Bora Zivkovic


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EFF Pioneer Award nominations are open

Nominations are open for the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual Pioneer Awards, which are given out “to recognize leaders on the electronic frontier who are extending freedom and innovation in the realm of information technology.” The nominations are open to the general public until August 6.


What does it take to be a Pioneer? There are no specific categories, but nominees must have contributed substantially to the health, growth, accessibility, or freedom of computer-based communications. Their contributions may be technical, social, legal, academic, economic or cultural. This year’s pioneers will join an esteemed group of past award winners that includes World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, security expert Bruce Schneier, open source advocate Mozilla Foundation, and privacy rights activist Beth Givens.

I was privileged to receive the Pioneer Award in 2007, an honor that remains one of my proudest.


Pioneer Award Nominations Are Now Open


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Short comic about the life of a female pirate

Back when I worked at mental_floss magazine, I wrote up a short article on the life of Cheng I Sao, a 19th-century Chinese woman who rose from prostitution to became one of the most successful pirates of all time, commanding a fleet of thousands.

It’s a great tale, though I’d almost forgotten about it until writer Natalie Kim twittered at me recently to tell me about a project that mental_floss story had inspired. Working with artist Robin Ha, Kim has turned the story of Cheng I Sao (also known as Cheng Shih) into a short comic in Secret Identities Volume 2, an upcoming anthology of Asian-American superhero stories. Here’s what Kim wrote about why the story of Cheng I Sao/Cheng Shih was interesting to her:

To summarize, Ching Shih was an actual woman who lived in the 19th century and worked as a prostitute. Eventually she married a pirate and when he died, she took over and was one of the most successful pirates of her time. (To add to her badassery, after her husband died she married her adopted step son!) The British tried to get rid of her but she proved elusive and ended up living a very long and prosperous life.

The story struck me as so unusual because most stories about Asian women are how they had been physically abused but remained ultra loyal to an elusive man and their reward is that they sprout into a beautiful blossom flower.

You can see a small preview page on Natalie Kim’s website. It looks awesome and I can’t wait to read it.

Buy the Secret Identities Volume 2 anthology


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PoV documentary on underground bike-messenger racing

Here’s a trailer for “Line of Sight,” a documentary on underground bike-messenger racing that uses helmetcams to capture some pretty insane (and often terrifying) examples of cycling skill:

Line Of Sight is a rare view into underground bicycle messenger racing which has become a global phenomenon. For over a decade Lucas Brunelle has been riding with the fastest, most skilled urban cyclists around the world while capturing all the action with his customized helmet cameras to bring you along for the ride.

This is bike riding like you’ve never seen before, in gripping first-person perspective through the most hectic city streets, on expressways in Mexico City, over the frozen Charles River, under the Mediterranean Sea, across the Great Wall of China and deep into the jungles of Guatemala.

LINE OF SIGHT – Official Trailer


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eBook review: the Renewal

The Renewal by JF Perkins is a post-apocalyptic tale of rebuilding American society. It is intentionally short and sets the stage for future installments. I was interested enough that I’ll be reading the second.

China and the U.S. apparently let the nukes fly and absolutely nothing good comes of it; society has collapsed. 30-40 years later a young reclamation engineer is sent out on his first mission: survey some former housing with the idea of securing more arable land. He finds something else entirely.

The Renewal by JF Perkins


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