blacksundae is dead!

Posted by Shannon

Long live blacksundae! Or something.

Yeah, I’ve decided to give up the blog under this name. You can now find more current content at I’m trying to hold myself to at least one or two posts there a day.

Why the change? Well, the main reason is that I felt the need for a change: a fresh start. Also, I have other plans for the phrase “Black Sundae.”

So, if anyone’s out there, I hope you’ll follow me over to the new blog. Thanks!

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Posted by Shannon

Oceansize is a really impressive short monster movie created by four French animation students. Here’s a direct link with more information, and here’s a version with English subtitles (although you don’t really need it). [via io9]

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The Fortsas Bibliohoax

Posted by Shannon

Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, was a man with a singular passion. He collected books of which only one copy was known to exist. If he ever discovered that one of the volumes in his library had a duplicate anywhere in the world, he would immediately dispose of it. So when he died on September 1, 1839 he possessed only fifty-two books, but each of them was absolutely unique.

His heir, not sharing the old man’s passion for book collecting, arranged for an auction to sell off the library, and so a catalog of this small but highly unusual collection was mailed to bibliophiles throughout Europe. The auction, the collectors were told, was to be held in the offices of Mâitre Mourlon, notary, 9 rue de l’Église, in Binche, Belgium on August 10, 1840.

Unfortunately for those collectors, neither Comte de Fortsas nor the collection existed.

The man behind the hoax was a local antiquarian named Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon (1802-1889). The planning that had gone into the deception was incredible. He had carefully researched the interests of all the major bibliophiles in Europe in order to ensure that they would make the long and fruitless trek to Binche. And he had done all this merely for the sake of a practical joke.

The hoax proved not to be a total loss for its victims. The catalog they had received itself became a highly coveted collector’s item. Within a few decades it had more than quadrupled in price.

Librarian and bibliophile Jeremy Dibbell has posted the contents of said catalog to LibraryThing. You can also view scans of it on Google Books.

[via ZPi]

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Posted by Shannon

BBC News:

Ms Garwood says it is an “historic fallacy” that everyone from ancient times to the Dark Ages believed the earth to be flat, and were only disabused of this “mad idea” once Christopher Columbus successfully sailed to America without “falling off the edge of the world”.

In fact, people have known since at least the 4th century BC that the earth is round, and the pseudo-scientific conviction that we actually live on a disc didn’t emerge until Victorian times.

Theories about the earth being flat really came to the fore in 19th Century England. With the rise and rise of scientific rationalism, which seemed to undermine Biblical authority, some Christian thinkers decided to launch an attack on established science.

Samuel Birley Rowbotham (1816-1884) assumed the pseudonym of “Parallax” and founded a new school of “Zetetic astronomy”. He toured England arguing that the Earth was a stationary disc and the Sun was only 400 miles away.

In the 1870s, Christian polemicist John Hampden wrote numerous works about the Earth being flat, and described Isaac Newton as “in liquor or insane”.

Well, he was kinda right about Newton. The guy was crazy as a loon (but amazing). Read on.

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John H. Richardson in Esquire:

As a man wise in the ways of human madness once told me, “You think it’s money with the Republicans and sex with the Democrats, but really it’s the other way around.” That’s why folks in the Bible Belt buy more porn than anybody else, and why their pregnancy and abortion rates are the highest in the nation. Because it is always the Other that we desire. Crazy two-legged beasts that we are, teetering in this awkward upright posture, we define our civilization by carving sins out of the category of acceptable human behavior — and then immediately begin committing them with the most feverish enthusiasm.

It’s no accident that much of this impulse comes from the southern states, which recent polls suggest are virtually united in their opposition to President Obama. After all, this is the region that fought government intrusion upon its freedoms by forming its own government to intrude upon its freedoms, that imposed the Fugitive Slave Law on other states in the name of states’ rights, that fought for slavery in the name of liberty. None of this was particularly logical, but then again, logic is just another iron law of compulsion.

Read on.

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We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces is a visualization of the edits Darwin made to the book over the course of six editions. This was created with Processing, something I’ve been meaning to try out. via Pharyngula

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Posted by Shannon

Excerpts from an interesting blog post by science fiction writer Charlie Stross:

American attitudes to crime and punishment are unspeakable; disturbing, mediaeval, and barbaric are some of the adjectives that spring to mind. But above all, the word that most thoroughly applies is merciless. The commission of a crime is taken as an excuse to unleash the demons of the subconscious, however dark, however disproportionate, upon the perpetrator. Once labeled a criminal, an individual’s right to fair treatment is utterly expunged, and any violation or degradation, however grotesque, is seen as something that they brought on themselves.


The subjects vary — crime and penal policy, healthcare, don’t get me started on foreign policy — but there is an ideological approach in America that is distinguished by one common characteristic: words and deeds utterly lacking in the quality of mercy.

There is a cancer in the collective American soul — a mercy deficit that has in recent years grown as alarmingly as the budget deficit. Nor is it as simple as a left/right thing: no political party has a monopoly on merciless behaviour. Rather, a creeping draconian absolutism has cast its penumbra across the entire arena of public discourse, tainting every debate, poisoning and hardening attitudes across the board.

Read the whole thing. (via MetaFilter)

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8mm footage shot by my grandparents. I think it’s pretty neat to see how the San Francisco skyline has changed since then. The music was added by the company that digitized the footage.

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On Wednesday, Fagan’s 7-foot statue of the nation’s 40th president will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the likeness of a lesser-known California hero, Thomas Starr King. Nancy Reagan is expected to attend, along with Fagan.

It’s the end of an era for Starr King, a 19th-century San Francisco Unitarian Universalist preacher who’s received star billing at the Capitol for 78 years.

It also caps a five-year effort by California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, who launched the campaign to remove Starr King shortly after Reagan’s death on June 5, 2004.

I thought, well, you know, he was a great person, but he’s been here for a while. Maybe we can replace him with Ronald Reagan,” Calvert said. “And one thing led to another. … We were able to get it done.”

Because Reagan is underrepresented in the public sphere? Also, nice logic. “Washington was a great guy, and all… but the city’s been named after him for a while. Why not change it to Mister T, DC?” Link

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Michael Bérubé:

[I]n 1974, I was a freshman at Regis High School in New York, where I heard one of my more conservative classmates say, in the course of a discussion about affirmative action, that he had been the victim of reverse discrimination for too long. Exasperated to the point of flummoxation, I noted in reply that (a) affirmative action showed up only yesterday, (b) you’re thirteen years old, d00d, and (c) you’re attending an elite, tuition-free Jesuit high school that does not admit women. And the reason I remember that moment 35 years later is that it has never gone away: guys like Stuart Taylor and Fred Barnes are still thirteen years old, still the victims of reverse discrimination, and still questioning the credentials of smart women while campaigning for the protection of conservative white men under the Endangered Species Act. Taylor graduated from Princeton in 1970; Barnes from the University of Virginia in 1965. Neither of them had to compete with women for admission; Princeton started opening its doors to that half of the population in 1969, Virginia a year later. That’s why guys like these worry so much about the decline of standards in college admissions since 1970, you understand. Because things were tougher and people were smarter when white guys only had to compete with 44 percent of the population for admission to elite colleges, positions of power and influence, and so forth.

Read on. Via Pharyngula

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