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September 23, 2019

Vending Machines of Tokyo

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[via the Guardian]

September 23, 2019 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

250,000-Kilometer-Long Video Tour of Saturn's Rings

Alas, the real tour ship, cruising along atop the rings, won't be carrying passengers till around 2075.

We can dream.

[via Syfy]

September 23, 2019 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

In praise of misting fans

I've seen them on the sidelines at football games for years but never had the chance to experience one until earlier this month at a 5K race.

Wonderful!

I couldn't believe other runners who'd just finished on a very hot and humid day weren't fighting to stand in front of one of the two they had going.

Me, I was in heaven.

If you ever get a chance try one, you'll like it.

If not, I will cheerfully refund every penny you paid to read this post.

My Crack Refund Team®© is standing by.

September 23, 2019 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Schöningen Spears

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Pictured above and below are the Schöningen spears.

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From Archaeology (1997):

Radiocarbon dating has confirmed that three wooden spears found in a coal mine in Schöningen, near Hannover, Germany, are the oldest complete hunting weapons ever found.

Some 380,000 to 400,000 years old, the 6- to 7.5-foot javelins were found in soil whose acids had been neutralized by a high concentration of chalk near the coal pit.

They suggest that early man was able to hunt, and was not just a scavenger.

The development of such weapons may have been crucial to the settling of Stone Age northern Europe, whose cold climate and short daylight hours limited hunting.

The spears show design and construction skills previously attributed only to modern humans.

"They are really high tech," says Hartmut Thieme of the Institut für Denkmalpflege in Hannover, who discovered them while excavating in advance of a rotary shovel digger used in the mine. "They are made of very tough Picea [spruce] trunk and are similarly carved." Their frontal center of gravity suggests they were used as javelins, says Thieme.

The only comparable find dating to the same period is a yew lance tip from Clacton-on-Sea, England, discovered in 1911.

Thieme says the Schöningen discovery is important because it proves that the Clacton lance tip was not just a chance find and that spears were probably being made in large quantities.

The Clacton lance tip suggested that people may have been hunting; the three spears from Schöningen now make it fairly certain that they were not merely scavenger-gatherers.

That early man hunted big game is supported by the recent discovery of a fossilized rhinoceros shoulder blade with a projectile wound at Boxgrove, England, dated to 500,000 years ago.

Studies revealed the wound was probably caused by a spear.

As paleoanthropologist Wil Roebroeks of the University of Leiden points out, however, "we still haven't determined whether early man hunted in large groups, or whether they used pits to trap the animals first."

Thousands of pieces of horse, elephant, and deer bone were also found at Schöningen.

The bones showed cut marks from stone flints found with grooved wooden tools that probably held the flints.

If Thieme can prove the flints were hafted in the wooden tools, they will be the oldest known composite tools in the world.

From Wikipedia (2019):

The Schöningen spears are a set of eight wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age that were excavated between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Helmstedt district, Germany.
 
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Originally assessed as being between 380,000 and 400,000 years old, they represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons of prehistoric Europe so far discovered.
 
As such they predate the age of Neanderthal Man (by convention taken to emerge after 300,000 years ago), and is associated with Homo heidelbergensis.
 
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The spears support the practice of hunting by archaic humans in Europe in the late Lower Paleolithic.
 
The age of the spears was estimated from their stratigraphic position, "sandwiched between deposits of the Elsterian and Saalian glaciations, and situated within a well-studied sedimentary sequence."
 
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More recently, thermoluminescence dating of heated flints in a deposit beneath that which contained the spears suggested that the spears were between 337,000 and 300,000 years old.

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From Science Daily (2019):

A study published earlier this year in Nature examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 year old Schöningen spears — the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records — to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at distance.

The research showed that the wooden spears would have enabled Neanderthals to use them as weapons and kill at distance.

It is a significant finding, given that previous studies considered Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey at close range.

Dr. Matt Pope (University College London Institute of Archaeology), a co-author of the paper, said, "The emergence of weaponry — technology designed to kill — is a critical but poorly established threshold in human evolution."

"We have forever relied on tools and have extended our capabilities through technical innovation. Understanding when we first developed the capabilities to kill at distance is therefore a dark but important moment in our story."

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You can see the actual spears at the Paläon Museum, located at the Schöningen open-cast mine where the spears were discovered.

September 23, 2019 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ostrichpillow Light — "The sleep turban that has transformed my long-haul journeys"

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Here's Rhik Samadder's appreciation from the Guardian:

Far more presentable than the frankly ridiculous original Ostrichpillow, and offering the total darkness an eye mask can never match, this is the only way to fly 
 
I remember seeing an Ostrichpillow for the first time.
 
It looked like a bulb of garlic had mated with a football mascot and their spawn had eaten a human.
 
It is an immersive, outsized, semi-portable nap-station — and utterly compelling.
 
Seriously, if you haven't seen one, have a look.
 
The Ostrichpillow website features some profoundly odd promo shots: a woman curled into the fetal position under a table; someone sleeping standing up like a horse, head resting on a wall; another encased in an outsized fist of grey fabric.
 
The plump, segmented gourd totally envelops the head, with openings at the side into which hands can disappear.
 
It looks so odd, and from the first second I saw it I thought: "I want that."
 
I didn't buy one, though.
 
As inviting as it looks, you would need courage to use it.

An Ostrichpillow in the wild is a bleak snapshot of corporate burnout.

The wearer appears to have given up on life, let alone their job.

If your boss saw you cosplaying as Toad from Super Mario Bros and sleeping in a corridor, she would assume you were near mental collapse.

Thank the Ostrich Lords, then, that the company has come out with a slimline alternative.

Ostrichpillow Light ($45) is a segmented turban (top) stuffed with tiny beads that wraps around the neck or eyes.

It is an attempt to capture the engulfing quality of the original in a more elegant form.

Rather than a job-jeopardizer, it is marketed as a travel pillow.

To test it, I catch an economy flight home from Los Angeles where I had gone to eat cheap tacos. (Financially speaking, I'm good at making bad decisions.)

The main thing I notice is that it is exceedingly soft.

The microbeads take the contours of my features as I slip it on, which feels cozy rather than oppressive.

It is so comfortable.

There is an elasticated drawstring, so the pillow can accommodate pea-heads like mine, as well as larger-headed icons like the TV presenter Richard Osman.

How much of a maniac do I look?

Well, the thing is, I don't know.

I am the only one who can't see me.

Maybe I look fine?

Sure, when it is worn with the rear slit facing forwards, I might look as if I am mid-incubation by an Alien facehugger.

A fellow passenger may alert the flight attendant.

But is that a minus?

It could be a bit of color on the journey home.

If you are self-conscious, a sleep mask will suit you better.

I, however, am looking for more.

Most sleep masks let a little light in, often around the bridge of the nose. Being a spoilt emperor, I find even one errant photon unacceptable.

With the Ostrichpillow, you get nothing but darkness.

Stephen King, Mariana Trench, Madame Tussaud's after closing time darkness.

It is blissful.

Unthinkably, given the proximity of farting strangers, I start to nod off.

The effect is heightened by the covering of the ears, which sleep masks cannot replicate.

Cocoon-like.

It is not so much about eliminating sound as muffling its vibration and removing contact with the air.

I couldn't wear my bulky noise-canceling headphones, but found to my surprise I was happy to do without.

Earphones were accommodated just fine, and you can push the fabric above your eyes without losing neck support.

I was able to watch Aquaman in peace; or I would have done, were it not the worst thing that has ever happened.

And not just in the history of film.

The pillow isn't perfect.

It is meant to be reversible, but I found one side more comfortable than the other.

It runs warm, too.

The full-sized version must be like a kiln with a porthole.

But these are easy things to forgive.

Nothing can redeem the plastic cauldron of suffering that is long-haul budget flying, but the pillow does a lot.

I was able to use it as a neck warmer when I'd had enough refrigerated air blown directly into my face, and stuff it down the back of the seat just before my vertebrae had permanently relocated.

This travel cushion has range.

I wish I was brave enough for the otherworldly, uncompromising oddness of the original Ostrichpillow.

But its presentable cousin is far more my speed.

In adverse conditions, it gets you dozy and cozy, and quickly.

September 23, 2019 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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