Invisible people, iPad-not, duct tape, scam art, and a bonus Historical Moment

  • Earthmover

    See photo at right. Can you tell what kind of earthmover that is? Look carefully — can you tell where it was made?

  • Now: Did you notice the man standing in front of it? See here and here for more of Liu Bolin’s work.
  • OK, now try this: Scatter some pieces of lumber on the floor. Prop up a broom in the corner along with an empty laundry bag, a bucket,  some rubbish here and there. It would look like this. That’s not a messy room being cleaned up. That’s an expensive artwork by “artist” Susan Collis. That’s it, that’s the artwork, the room with the junk scattered in it. She calls it “Since I fell for you.” She got paid a bunch of money for that. One commentator said it should have been named “So glad you fell for this.” Artist, or scam artist? You decide.
  • Forget about an iPad: Yeah, there’s a huge backlog on iPads, particularly 3G units, but take my advice and fugeddaboutit. Lots of reasons not to buy:  six reasons, ten reasons, twelve reasons, and one big reason from me: it’s not for the prudently paranoid. This thing bares all to Apple and AT&T; there’s nothing you do that they won’t know, record, and do who-knows-what with it. You’re not even allowed to get software from anybody but Apple or connect to anything not Apple-approved. I’m a fan of Apple and tablets are a great idea, but don’t get a tablet from Apple. You can do much better for less money (also from Samsung, RIM/Blackberry, others) and get better security and privacy too.
  • Universal Truths:
    • Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.It’s true.
    • If it moves but shouldn’t, duct tape. If it doesn’t move but should, WD-40.” That’s my own dictum and I’ve found it universally true.
  • Power to go — and go and go. Fuel cells are the Holy Grail of clean, efficient power production. They turn fuel directly into electricity with no combustion, no flame, no moving parts, and no pollution — fuel (like hydrogen or alcohol) goes in, electricity and a bit of water vapor come out. (More info on fuel cells.) The problem with fuel cells has always been very high cost, but for $99 this one will run small devices (phones, GPS, etc.) for many hours or recharges. Great emergency or travel gadget; for $99 there’s nothing even remotely like it.
  • Female mutilation — just a little bit: If female genital mutilation is abhorrent and wrong, is it OK for U.S. pediatricians to do it just a little bit to avoid having it done worse? Interesting question.

And now a historical moment:

On this day in history — June 17, 1885 — the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor, a gift from the French on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which had been nine years earlier in 1876. Having arrived nine years late, the gift included a card stating “And you thought we forgot! Happy 100th! Don’t forget we’re French!”

Part of the Statue of Liberty kit being assembled

The Americans didn’t realize that the statue came as a kit and required assembly, a practice later adopted by Swedish furniture stores. Across the nation there was a recruiting drive for dads with young children who had experience assembling foreign-made toys. The dads struggled with the instructions (which were only in French, Norwegian, and Korean) and with the oddly-sized screws, but the process went much quicker once they realized the French screws were all metric. The process went quickly after that and the statue was soon installed at its permanent display location on New York’s Central Park and became known as the Bust of Liberty (see photo at right)*.

Bust of Liberty. Who knew?

Not long after that some French tourists saw the Bust of Liberty at Central Park and were outraged, insisting that the statue they’d sent was much larger than that. They raised such a ruckus that the dads decided to rummage some more in the box and, sure enough, found a bunch more pieces. They collectively sighed, groaned, asked for more beer, got back to work until October 28, 1886 when the full statue was officially unveiled, only 10-1/2 years late. (And yes, the original plan was for it to have been ready on July 4, 1876. The French started work on it in 1870 but, you know, things happen, and it took 16 years instead of 6. Instructions in English were promised for next time.)

Bits of trivia:

  • Though the Statue of Liberty was not in place until 1886, in fact it had been exhibited, sort of, in 1876. At the time of the original deadline in 1876 the only part that was ready was the arm with the torch, so the French sent that to the U.S. and the arm and torch were exhibited in Philadelphia during the Centennial celebration. People were charged 50 cents and the money went toward building the base pedestal in New York.

    The gateway to freedom for millions

  • French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi is credited for the design of the statue, but in my view equal credit should go to the man who designed the unseen internal iron structure that allowed it to be assembled of moving copper pieces and to withstand all the storms and even an enormous explosion in 1916. That unsung structural engineer was Gustave Eiffel, the man who also designed and built the Eiffel Tower.
  • Even before the statue was delivered and in a fit of capitalism, sculptor Bartholdi took out an American design patent on the statue so that no one in the U.S. would be allowed to build a similar statue or representation of the statue without paying him royalties. The patent covered not just replicas but reproductions  “in any manner known to the glyptic art in the form of a statue or statuette, or in alto-relievo or bass-relief, in metal, stone, terra-cotta, plaster-of-Paris, or other plastic composition.” I wonder if all the trinket-sellers in New York know that. Or care.

* The “Bust of Liberty was displayed in a park for a time, but it was in a park in Paris before the statue kit was shipped, not New York. That’s what the photo is from.

Artificial asteroids, shooting rude men, MG sports cars, and the longest take-out run ever

  • Unusual orbital path of asteroid 2010KQ. Very strange, no?

    Asteroid made by intelligent beings?In the early morning of May 16 Richard Kowalski, an astronomer at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, detected a small deep-space object that might be heading toward Earth. After the initial alarm it was determined that its path would bring it close to Earth, but it would pass safely at a distance just beyond the Moon’s orbit (sigh of relief). But as the new asteroid made its fly-by it was observed by a number of large telescopes and some unusual factors were noted, characteristics not like any other asteroid. And its orbit is very unusual too, not like that any other natural celestial body, an indication that it could and had moved under its own power. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Near-Earth Object Program have concluded this asteroid is probably not natural at all. But who made it?

  • And speaking of asteroids, Japan’s first deep-space probe, Hayabusa, has just completed its 5-year, 1.25-billion-mile return trip to bring back a sample of an asteroid, landing in the Australian Outback. It’s a long way to go for take-out, but the results should be worth it and the video is spectacular.
  • A list of things that should not longer exist, but somehow still do. I might quibble about some items (the U.S. Senate), but I’m amazed that this isn’t included.
  • Cassy Fiano sees a double standard in video games: “A game that makes women the targets of violence is bad, but a game that makes men the targets of violence is fine.” She has a few choice thoughts about about video games that deal with rape, men who make cat-calls, and when it’s OK to shoot them. Cassy is nothing if not outspoken.
  • Yesterday was Flag Day. Did you notice? In fact the President has declared this to be Flag Week. Didn’t know that either? It matters — pay attention.
  • And now for our bit of history: Remember the iconic British MG sports cars of he ’50s and ’60s? Ryan O’Neal took Ali McGraw on romantic trysts in his MG-B in the sappy ’60s Kleenex-mover Love Story, Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney reminisce about their MG-TD in Two for the Road, hunky bad boy Richard Gere stole a pink MGB in Breathless, Robert Wagner and Teri Garr drove a beautiful black MG-SA through beautiful countryside in To Catch a King. Like Dustin Hoffman’s Alfa Romeo Spider in The Graduate and the Vespa on which Audrey Hepburn rode Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, the little MG convertibles came to be true icons of an era. Nobody remembers the Fords and Mercedes that appeared in such movies, but everyone remembers the Alfa, the Vespa, and the MGs.But not long after that — in the ’70s and ’80s — MGs essentially disappeared, first from the U.S., then from its British home as well. As auto design and production technology advanced the MG became a dinosaur, outclassed and outsold by the likes of the Datsun (now Nissan) 1600cc and 2000cc roadsters and more modern designs like the Fiat X1/9. The charm wore off and by 1980 MG was no more. The name was revived as MG-badged versions of various small cars and there was even a dedicated MG-F in the mid-’90s, but none caught on and in 2005 the MG line died along with its hoary parent company British Leyland, a bumbling left-over from Britain’s pre-Thatcher days of industrial socialism.

    But now MG is back in its own right — sort of. New MGs are now made by a subsidiary of SAIC, the giant Chinese auto conglomerate that bought the MG and Rover car brands. The designs are all new and modern, but does “MG” in Chinese still mean what it did in the King’s English?

    We’ll leave aside the question of whether the new ones will have formerly-standard MG features such as leaky engines, drafty tops, antiquated technology, and all-around unreliability, the latter courtesy of the accursed Lucas electricals. (“Lucas: The Prince of Darkness.”) But what about the styling and appearance? Do you see in the new ones the impish charm, the cute-but-cool sportiness that appealed to both men and women? You decide:

    Mazda MX-5 Miata

    Classic MGB roadster (via Chicagoland MG Club)

    New MG-TF

My verdict: I’ve long thought that “when better British roadsters are built, the Japanese will build them.” (I’ve thought the same about Harleys, too.) And I think I was right (on both counts). The Mazda Miata is and has been faster than the old or new MG, breezily out-handles them both, is much more civilized than the MGB ever was (don’t know about the new TF), has huge cuteness and fun-to-drive factors for both sexes, it’s well-built, very reliable, and the fit-like-a-glove ergonomics are a delight to the senses. That’s probably why the Miata has not only been around longer than the MGB ever was, but is by far the best-selling roadster of all time. The Chinese MG-TF looks like, well, it looks like a little Chevy Cobalt with a rag top. No originality, no charm — sorry, SAIC. Go buy a Miata and see how it’s done.

Cars, car owners to avoid, and the man who lived in a Lamborghini

In America the most public love affair of all is the one with our cars. The freedom, the romance, the who-I-am statement of a car — in America it’s all so much more than a motor with four wheels. Some old German named Benz may have invented the modern automobile, but it was Americans like Henry Ford and Harley Earl who put them in every driveway and made them family, as much a part of our personality as the clothes we wear and the way we speak, an integral part of our personhood.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that when life’s stresses get to be a bit much, we take to our cars. Take a drive, clear the mind, lose your stresses in the slipstream. But some stresses are harder to lose than others. Case in point: Richard Jordan, who now lives in northern Texas.

In 2006 Mr. Jordan sold his cars, his house, and his established business to buy a house for him and his fiancee of five years to live in — only to have her leave him as soon as he moved in.

That there be some serious stress, as they might say in Texas. So Mr. Jordan decided he needed to go for a drive, clear his mind of his troubles. But these being big, big stresses and this being Texas, Mr. Jordan went big: He sold everything he had, including his household goods (wasn’t able to sell the house), put $90 000 down payment on a 512-horsepower, V-10, 195-mph Lamborghini Gallardo, left everything else behind and went for a drive.

And he kept driving. He crossed the country several times. He stayed in cheap motels, ate road food and at roadside diners, visited childhood places, always feeling he urge to keep moving. He racked up 53 tickets, in Indiana got arrested. He was confused for a rock star at a strip club in Ohio, in part because of the car. But, almost 92 000 miles later, he came home. Then, almost fittingly, the car died. See the full story in Jalopnik.

Curiously, also in Jalopnik this week is the other side of the car-love story: Car owners who love their cars so much that no one else can stand them. The ten examples are all tongue-in-cheek, but all too true. (Am I #9?) Full story.