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June 30, 2008

Aztec Whistle of Death — Listen to it

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Roberto Velazquez is a 66-year-old expert in pre-Columbian sounds who "... has devoted his career to recreating the sounds of his... ancestors, producing hundreds of replicas [above and below] of whistles, flutes and wind instruments unearthed in Mexico's ruins," wrote Julie Watson in a June 29, 2008 Associated Press story.

Go here, then click on "Hear sounds from a variety of instruments"

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to listen to a compilation of eerie, frightening and otherworldly sounds Velazquez (below)

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believes were employed by the Aztecs for a wide variety of purposes beyond heralding human sacrifice — among them starting ceremonies, communicating strategies during battle, hunting, and treating illnesses.

The AP article follows.
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Researchers make noises of pre-Columbian society

Scientists were fascinated by the ghostly find: a human skeleton buried in an Aztec temple with a clay, skull-shaped whistle in each bony hand.

But no one blew into the noisemakers for nearly 15 years. When someone finally did, the shrill, windy screech made the spine tingle.

If death had a sound, this was it.

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Roberto Velazquez believes the Aztecs played this mournful wail from the so-called Whistles of Death before they were sacrificed to the gods.

The 66-year-old mechanical engineer has devoted his career to recreating the sounds of his pre-Columbian ancestors, producing hundreds of replicas of whistles, flutes and wind instruments unearthed in Mexico's ruins.

For years, many archaeologists who uncovered ancient noisemakers dismissed them as toys. Museums relegated them to warehouses. But while most studies and exhibits of ancient cultures focus on how they looked, Velazquez said the noisemakers provide a rare glimpse into how they sounded.

"We've been looking at our ancient culture as if they were deaf and mute," he said. "But I think all of this is tied closely to what they did, how they thought."

Velazquez is part of a growing field of study that includes archaeologists, musicians and historians. Medical doctors are interested too, believing the Aztecs may have used sound to treat illnesses.

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Noisemakers made of clay, turkey feathers, sugar cane, frog skins and other natural materials were an integral part of pre-Columbian life, found at nearly every Mayan site.

The Aztecs sounded the low, foghorn hum of conch shells at the start of ceremonies and possibly during wars to communicate strategies. Hunters likely used animal-shaped ocarinas to produce throaty grunts that lured deer.

The modern-day archaeologists who came up with the term Whistles of Death believe they were meant to help the deceased journey into the underworld, while tribes are said to have emitted terrifying sounds to fend off enemies, much like high-tech crowd-control devices available today.

Experts also believe pre-Columbian tribes used some of the instruments to send the human brain into a dream state and treat certain illnesses. The ancient whistles could guide research into how rhythmic sounds alter heart rates and states of consciousness.

Among Velazquez's replicas are those that emit a strange cacophony so strong that their frequency nears the maximum range of human hearing.

Chronicles by Spanish priests from the 1500s described the Aztec and Mayan sounds as sad and doleful, although these may have been only what was played in their presence.

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"My experience is that at least some pre-Hispanic sounds are more destructive than positive, others are highly trance-evocative," said Arnd Adje Both, an expert in pre-Hispanic music archaeology who was the first to blow the Whistles of Death found in the Aztec skeleton's hands. "Surely, sounds were used in all kind of cults, such as sacrificial ones, but also in healing ceremonies."

Sounds still play an important role in Mexican society. A cow bell announces the arrival of the garbage truck outside Mexico City homes. A trilling, tuneless flute heralds the knife sharpener's arrival. A whistle emitting cat meows says the lottery ticket seller is here.

But pre-Columbian instruments often end up in a warehouse, Velazquez said, "and I'm talking about museums around the world doing this, not just here."

That's changing, said Tomas Barrientos, director of the archaeology department at Del Valle University of Guatemala.

"Ten years ago, nothing was known about this," he said. "But with the opening up of museum collections and people's private collections, it's an area of research that is growing in importance."

Velazquez meticulously researches each noisemaker before replicating it. He travels across Mexico to examine newly unearthed wind instruments, some dating back to 400 B.C. and shaped like animals or deities. He studies reliefs and scans 500-year-old Spanish chronicles.

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But making replicas is only part of the work. Then he has to figure out how to play them. He'll blow into some holes and plug others, or press the instrument to his lips and flutter his tongue. Sometimes he puts the noisemaker inside his mouth and blows, fluctuating the air from his lungs.

He experimented with one frog-shaped whistle for a year before discovering its inner croak.

Renowned archaeologist Paul Healy, who made an important discovery of Mayan instruments in Belize in the 1980s, said many of the originals still work.

"A couple of these instruments we found were broken, which was great because we could actually see the construction of them, the actual technology of building a sound chamber out of paper-thin clay," he said.

Still, their exact sounds will likely remain a mystery.

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"When you blow into them, you still can get notes from them, so you could figure out what the range was," Healy said. "But what we don't have is sheet music to give us a more accurate picture of what it sounded like."

June 30, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Piso Vase

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Designed by Olav Slingerland.

"With its angled neck, square base and vibrant, contrasting colors, the Piso is a playful, scuptural porcelain vase, carefully handmade to ensure the highest standards of original design. Use alone as an accent... or group several together in different directions to create a surreal and striking look."

Quantity has its own quality.

2.5"W x 2.5"L x 11"H.

Red, Orange, Blue, Green, Night Blue, Vanilla or White.

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$109.

June 30, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wallfa — What you get when a wall mates with a sofa

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Designed by Jordi Canudas.

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"Wallfa is a two-sided piece of furniture that is both wall and sofa. It offers a comfortable sitting area that becomes playful when users interact from both sides of the wall. Movement, sound and touch hint at what might be happening on the other side."

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This prototype can be seen at the Exchange Tower in Canary Wharf, London.

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[via Made in Mundo]

June 30, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lobster Claw Harmonica

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"Let the good times roll! Our lobster harmonica is for young and old, just don't leave it on the table with your lobster dinner, someone will crack it open it's so real."

$1.99.

[via immortalyawn]

June 30, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Fabled Battlefields That Never Saw War

Anti_invasion

Eric Jansson's haunting June 14, 2008 Financial Times article described his hike on Cheswick Beach, on the coast of Northumbria's North Sea, which in early 1940 was seen as a likely beachhead for an imminent German air and sea invasion of England.

The piece follows.

    Fabled battlefields that never saw war

    The sign was anything but welcoming. “Explosive hazard,” it read, and a little cartoon showed shrapnel flying. “Localised quicksand.” Then, in bold font: “Former military target area. Do not touch any metallic objects. They may explode and kill you.”

    Under a slate-grey sky, narrow footpaths tracked by sheep’s hooves ran around pale sand dunes, cutting here and there into patches of tall grass. I heard rustling up ahead, beyond the sign, and looked to see a startled sheep scurry between two dunes. A pause. No explosion. Had the sheep sunk into the ground?

    I followed gingerly. I knew exactly where I was going, having plotted carefully in advance my walk on Cheswick Beach, on Northumbria’s North Sea coast. But one steps a bit more gently when advised to watch out for bombs and quicksand.

    The lurid warnings were welcome. I had not gone to the beach for unspoilt beauty; it was spoilt beauty I was after. Not many people visit this great, lonesome expanse of sand and water. A few birdwatchers go there because of its location within Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, a mecca for migratory birds. Others make the pilgrimage to Holy Island, the offshore monastic site that played a key role in the seventh-century Christian evangelisation of the north of England.

    I went there because Cheswick Beach is heavily polluted by junk left over from the second world war. I had the place to myself — miles of it, battered by the sea wind. Not just old bombs can be found on the dunes, but pillboxes and observation towers. At low tide, so I am told, one can also find the wreckage of a crashed Spitfire.

    Yet the casual visitor is unlikely to recognise any of these wartime features. Zipping down a motorway, oblivious, we pass the fabled battlefield, the famous castle or the important ruin. It is hidden behind a barrier, lost in peripheral vision, or simply ignored. Demystifying such landscapes is rewarding work for a tourist.

    In early 1940, the British Army, RAF and Home Guard scrambled to prepare for an imminent German air and sea invasion, Operation Seelöwe. Eventually, thanks to the summer’s Battle of Britain, Hitler and Göring called off their plan in September of that year. But tens of thousands of British anti-invasion features had already been built, and many of them remain today. They are gross physical reminders of past horror, yet in places like Cheswick Beach one finds that, over time, they have merged permanently with the pleasant English coastal landscape. These anti-invasion defences are a world to explore, hints of the past that invisibly shape our present.

    My path snaked through the dunes until I reached a clearing and found my first objective, a concrete and brick pillbox topped by a two-tiered RAF tower. The pillbox was buried in sand up to its loopholes, as the gun slots are called. To enter, I would have needed to slide in on my belly. So instead I climbed the stairs up the half-shattered tower and found a platform on top, damp and crawling with snails. It offered a fine view of the scraggly dunes, immense sands, tidal pools and waves crashing in the distance. One could begin to make out the military logic of the beach.

    Such exploration has never been easier. In 2002 the Council for British Archaeology completed an eight-year project, a Defence of Britain database, now searchable online, that pinpoints such sites. Add to this the satellite imagery published by Google Maps, and even an amateur like me can plan a rewarding day of discovery.

    Not far from the tower I found a long row of anti-tank blocks. Had I not known what these great cubes of concrete were, I might have mistaken them for crude post-modern artwork. Dumped across a break between the dunes, like child’s building blocks, they formed a line parallel to the sea. I walked along the line until it began to disappear into the ground. The last visible block poked just an inch or two above the sand. The earth, shifting imperceptibly over time, was swallowing the blocks.

    A mile or so down the shore, I found an immense crater, 31 paces across. Standing in the middle, I wondered if this was the work of an RAF test bomber or a Luftwaffe attacker, both busy in the area during the war. I struggled to suspend belief. Could this hole, which mangled one side of a grass-covered dune, really be a bomb crater?

    On a different excursion, 12 miles inland at the market town of Wooler, which had been heavily fortified during the war, my search proved simpler.

    The town was ringed by pillboxes, and some remain. My favourite was a little lozenge-shaped one all but hidden in the bushes above a bridle trail. From within, looking out over a narrow valley, soldiers posted there would have been well placed to pin down anyone trying to take Wooler from behind.

    One pillbox, a great hexagonal structure, was now located inaccessibly in someone’s backyard. Reaching another, on a construction site, necessitated a little discreet trespassing. Yet it was worth it, partly for the challenge of getting there, partly to crouch inside and look out of the loophole, wondering who “Doris” was. Graffiti on the wall had memorialised her.

    But it was back at Cheswick Beach that my explorations yielded the greatest reward. A local expert had advised that the wreck of the Spitfire was only accessible when the tide is out . But because of the quicksand warnings my steps were extremely cautious. As I searched for something other than driftwood and seaweed, an almost-full moon peaked through the clouds, shining brightly.

    And I found it, or would like to believe I did — a heavily rusted metal form, mostly submerged in the sand. If it was in fact the crashed Spitfire, then it was a small part of the cockpit I saw, poking out of the sand, for fitted into it were surf-worn panes of glass, shattered.

    I wondered what I would find there with more time, but left the beach as darkness deepened. A landscape, like a life, guards some secrets more closely than others.

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The Defence of Britain Database is here.

The legend for the figure up top reads: "Map of Anti-Invasion Defences.

This map, generated from the DoB database shows some 11,500 sites, of which approximately 7000 are pillboxes and anti-tank gun emplacements and 2000 anti-tank and other roadblock obstacles. All the other categories of anti-invasion works are also represented here — for example, anti-tank ditches, anti-landing obstacles, coast artillery batteries, petroleum warfare sites, auxiliary unit operational bases, observation posts, spigot mortar emplacements, Home Guard shelters, underground battle headquarters...."

June 30, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iPod AC Charger

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Should be standard equipment with every iPod.

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There's always an electrical outlet somewhere.

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Same can't be said for your — or anyone's — laptop.

Compatibility:

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$4.95.

June 30, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

What's the best root beer?

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Eric Asimov, in a June 25, 2008 New York Times Dining In section front page story, wrote that the Times panel of experts chose, from a field of 25, Sprecher's (above), "... a wonderfully balanced and complex brew" made in Wisconsin, as its No. 1 overall, with "... the restrained and flavorful" IBC out of Plano, Texas coming second.

Asimov also pointed out that Anthony Schorr's rootbeerbarrel.com, "... perhaps the leading root beer Web site," has reviews of 261 different root beers.

The Times story was accompanied by an interactive feature in which Asimov elaborates about root beer and the panel's favorites,

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listed above.

June 30, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Morphing Travel Tray

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Where'd you put your room key?

If you had one of these, you'd know.

From the website:
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Travel Tray

Don't empty your pockets onto the top of hotel dressers without our flat-folding Travel Tray.

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Organize your loose valuables (coins, keys, wallet, jewelry, eyeglasses) in this handy tray to keep them from falling behind the dresser or disappearing into the trash basket.

It lies perfectly flat in your bag and assembles with four quick snaps into an 8" x 5" x 2"-deep basket with a separate eyeglass compartment.

Weighs 3 oz.
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Black, Olive or Periwinkle.

$8.85.

June 30, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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