One Neat Thing a Day

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  • Who is us?

    Sean Daily is an English major from New Jersey now living in Las Vegas, the Other City of Lights. "I consider 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' to be comfort reading, I like the al pastor tacos at Tacos Mexico and I count among my literary influences the Chainsaw from 'Doom'. 'RRRRRR! You don't like that, do you, Mr. Undead Marine! RRRRRR!'"

    Shanoah Alkire is our Discordian at large. "Born in Santa Cruz, I grew up in Grass Valley and the Bay Area, and now lurk in Las Vegas. My literary influences include Ray Bradbury, Lewis Carroll, and Douglas Adams. I also program as a hobby, and currently maintain the Gtk port of Angband. You can find a rather old bio of me here."

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Archive for the ‘Wrenches for Your Toolbox’ Category

Eat Starch

Posted by shanoah on February 4, 2010

What are you talking about, Sean? I’m not going to object and go off on a tangent. I have no issues with Nuclear Bunnies.

So I’m going to go off on my own tangent without objecting. In this case, I’m going to play what is probably one of my favorite Jefferson Airplane songs. Sung by Grace Slick, this is titled Eat Starch Mom. Many of the opinions raised are opposite of my own views. But it is still completely awesome.


Posted in Apropos of Nothing, Batty, Blogs, bulldada, From Shanoah, Funny, Gettin' Yer Freak On, Gooey Gummi Goodness, I Tunes Not U Tunes, I'm probably going to hell for this, Politics and Other Things In Which I'm Not Qualified, Wenches For Your Toolbox, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Out of Sane

Posted by shanoah on November 14, 2008

Well, you know, Sean, the key to being a mad scientist is the word mad. Most people are sane, which is an awfully boring thing to do. Most people are robots. Whereas a mad scientist takes over the world with robots! So to truly be a mad scientist, first you have to explore on the other side of sanity. Or was that to achieve enlightenment?

I always get the two mixed up. Becoming enlightened and becoming a mad scientist are such similar goals. In any case, lets start with a bit of meditation.

OM – The Moody Blues

Here we go. Perfect music for it. The Moody Blues were into this sort of thing well before the Beatles were. Next, lets try some astral projection.

The Best Way To Travel – The Moody Blues

You may have noticed something similar about these two songs. No, not just that they are Moody Blues songs, or even that they are both of of “In Search of the Lost Chord”. These are both Mike Pinder pieces.

A lot of the spiritual side of the Moody Blues music came from Pinder[1], especially with his amazing work on the Mellotron. For those not familliar with the Mellotron, it was a precursor to a synthesizer.

A true mad scientists music device, it amount to a piano where pressing any key causes a tape head to go over a piece of magnetic tape with a sound sample on it of up to 8 seconds. Now, that 8 second limit is a big thing. It means that you have to switch notes fast, and be really good to play it. The sound is also very distinctive, and the Mellotron is very prone to mechanical failure.

And Pinder is probably the most skilled Mellotron player in existance. He is also very good at fixing it. Somewhere else you may have heard a Mellotron, though. Pinder told the Beatles about the instrument, and where to get it.

They followed up on it, got one, and you can hear the result on “Strawberry fields Forever”.

Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles

Hear it? Paul plays the intro on a Mellotron.And now I’m thinking about cranberry sauce for some reason…

[1] And much like Roger Hodgson[2] and Supertramp, the Moody Blues are worse off without him, though not as worse off as Supertramp.

[2] Also much like Roger Hodgson, Pinder settled down in the Grass Valley area, one of the areas I grew up in, as you may recall…

Posted in Blogs, bulldada, Facts for Freaks and Other Criminals, fnord, From Shanoah, Gettin' Yer Freak On, I Tunes Not U Tunes, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by shanoah on August 13, 2008

Nowhere’s Nigh seems pretty cool, Sean. Should be interesting to listen to more.

As far as todays post, I actually found this over on Slashdot, but I thought it was too cool not to share.

While the server has been hit fairly hard due to the article on Slashdot, head over to and take a look.

This site, run by Cliff Bolling, is an archive of mp3s of old 78’s. He has uploaded 3739+ songs so far, many of which have only been published as 78’s.

And, of course, you’ll notice several songs I’ve featured here. Oh, since these are old, you may find racist, insensitive, and derogatory content. Listen at your own risk.

This actually reminds me of another site I’d already been familiar with, the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project. This is a similar, and very large project digitizing old cylinder recordings at the University of Santa Barbara.

So, instead of watching a youtube video today, I invite to to browse around and see what you can find. It could be anything from “Boogie Woogie Woman” to “Mack The Knife”, “Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine”, “Memories Are Made of This”, or “Mister Honkey Tonk”. Lots to look through.

I’d probably be browsing for hours is playing the mp3s wasn’t still acting wonky because of how many people have hit the site today…

Posted in Blogs, bulldada, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

7-1-08 Doctor Who – The Time Tunnel

Posted by Sean on July 1, 2008

Well, since the subject was BBC sci-fi

Doctor Who’s theme music is one of the most recognizable pieces of music out there and, beginning with Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor, it was mated to a singular video sequence: the time tunnel.

Here’s a clean version of the Pertwee time tunnel, which first ran in 1973. Courtesy of AJDian (created by merging the start of the Pertwee title sequnce with the end of the Tom Baker title sequence)

And here’s a clean version of the Baker time tunnel, the one that I’m most familiar with. The very start, with that bluish strip expanding into an outline of the TARDIS, is a “whoa” moment for me. Courtesy of timelord726 (who, amongst the Timelords, is called That Guy Who Makes Those Really Nice Egg Sandwiches, I believe).

Now, most of what I’m gonna tell you – or at least link to – in this post is old hat for you Doctor Who fans. But please be patient with me, for the uninitiated’s sake.

Composer Mark Ayres has compiled a pretty comprehensive history of the theme music here. It was composed on a single sheet of letter-sized paper by Rob Grainer and realized by Delia Derbyshire, both of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Putting together a piece like this is relatively easy today with the mighty mighty microchip. I say “relatively” because, when Derbyshire did it, it was a nightmare.

Accrording to Ayres, Derbyshire had to create every single note on a Frankenstein’s lab conglomeration of test tone generators, equalizers, white noise generators and other electronic doodads, record it to tape and then cut the tape to bits and mix them. Since there weren’t any multitrack tape machines available, they had to play all those bits on separate, synchronized tape machines and record them all together… and God help poor Delia if they were out of sync, cos they’d have to make adjustments and start the whole mixing process over again. How she managed to retain her sanity I have no idea, cos I would have lost mine.

But the results were worth it. It was the first purely electronic TV theme and, even after 45 years, doesn’t sound dated. It was first broadcast on Nov. 23, 1963 (the day after the JFK assassination! And on the 23rd day of November, no less! Well, whaddya know) and was used with minor fixes and fiddlings until 1980.

The title sequence is another matter.

Up until 1973, Doctor Who used something called “howlaround” to create the video for the title sequence. When I first heard the world “howlaround”, I was very excited, because it suggested to me that the BBC had found a way to use Doctor Who to turn people into werewolves, and werewolves, as everyone knows, rock. So imagine my disappointment when I found out what howlaround really is: pointing a camera at its own video monitor. Wimpy… I mean, no werewolf apocalypse, no feeding on the flesh of the innocent, no Salad Days-esque fountains of blood, nothing.

But by 1973, series producer-at-that-time Barry Letts had gotten tired of the howlaround sequence, which had been tweaked and reshot since the series premiere a decade earlier. So he asked Bernard Dodge, who had come up with the howlaround sequence in the first place. Dodge decided to use something called slit-scan photography, which was used for the stargate sequences in 2001. As an aside, said sequences were digitally unwrapped by Greg Ercolano; the link is here.

Slit-scan phtography sounds like a fairly specialized kind of pornography, but it’s not. Probably the best description of it is on the BBC’s h2g2 site here, and it’s getting late, so I’m just gonna punt and steal cite their description of the sequence:

…The essence of the technique is the use of long time exposures. The rostrum camera, normally shoots a series of frames while tracking towards artwork, but for slit scan the camera tracks while exposing only one frame, towards a slit which is the only light source. As the camera tracks down, backlit patterns on the rostrum bench, pan laterally behind the slit. The result is that the slit ‘paints or scans a perspective image of the pattern on that one frame. For subsequent frames the rostrum bench begins its pan from a different point, so, over a series of frames the pattern appears to move along the wall or tunnel, its shape depending on the shape of the slit. A single vertical slit creates a wall, a circular slit creates a tunnel, a slit traced around an image of Doctor Who creates a Doctor Who shaped tunnel, and so on.

One of the patterns Lodge used to pan through his various apertures was created by placing torn strips of polythene plastic between pieces of glass. Filmed through polarising filters, the stress in the polythene showed up a spectrum of colours.

The distance tracked by the camera restricted the length of each tunnel: the camera Lodge hired could travel only about 1.5 metres, so to create an illusion of greater depth, a bright glow was superimposed at the end of each tunnel and for the end titles, a soft dark patch. At 25 frames per second, the filming and the final optical assembly took three months to complete.

We can come to three conclusions from this information:

  1. Bernard Dodge was very glad when CGI was developed.
  2. Today’s special effects guys are wimps. They can use computers instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with their own equipment, as detailed above.
  3. The process for creating the title sequence video was every bit as complicated and maddening as its audio.

All this effort and therapy resulted in what 99% percent of the TV audience would ever see: just over half a minute of video and audio.  But I think you’ll agree with me that it was all worth it.

Posted in fnord, From Sean, Happy Media, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


Posted by shanoah on May 8, 2008

Sean wrote:

If a robot can interpret social cues, then you don’t need bulky computers, control boxes or giant Frankenstein’s lab-grade switches to control it (sorry Shanoah)

Yes, but where’s the style, the elegance in that? If you can’t bring in some tesla coils, vacuum tubes, a Van De Graff generator or two, and some massively complicated gearing, what good is it? Besides, how can you take over the world by interpreting social cues?

But then, mad science has always intrigued me. Partially simply because of my interest in Tesla, and an interest in all those fringe inventors out there. Probably even for the same reason Seans interested in Francis E. Dec. And somewhat because it’s a fertile field for the imagination. And mad geniuses are always interesting:

Similarly, I’m interested in steampunk, which goes hand in hand with mad science. The romance and style of the Victorian era, combined with the gadgets of today.It can lead to fascinating things. For example, I recommend looking at these Steam Punk Star Wars pictures. I’d love to see all of Star Wars done in that manner…

And, of course, ray guns factor highly in both:

Weta Ray Guns

Other fun things to read: As far as Mad Science goes, Narbonic is a fun web comic to read, and it’s complete. I should mention that the comic itself and the artwork gets better as you go along.

And there is no way I could escape mentioning Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius. This is such an awesome series, words can’t describe it. (And if you like it, I highly recommend buying the graphic novel copies) I’m a firm follower of this series, and read each one as they come out.

It’s probably worth mentioning that more than half the links on this page are from the Gaslamp Fantasy page, which essentially is a collection of interesting links the creators of Girl Genius have found.

If you wanted Klesmer music or belly dancers, though, I’m afraid you’ll have to go elsewhere…

Posted in Blogs, bulldada, fnord, FREAKIN' ME OUT MAN, From Shanoah, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

4-27-08 How To Start a Fire With a Battery

Posted by Sean on April 27, 2008

Stumbled across this one recently on YouTube. I’m putting it up for three reasons:

  1. It’s late.
  2. I’m tired.
  3. Fire is cool.

This is the modern way start a fire (like we need more ways) from the good folks at Howcast. You don’t need any of those old-fashioned firedrills or flint-and-steel! No! All you need is a nine-volt battery, some steel wool, a tissue, a hideous hideous voice driving you to do these terrible horrible things, and you’re all set!

Posted in From Sean, Happy Media, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Musical Tesla Coils

Posted by shanoah on March 14, 2008

Here is something I came across a while ago. Two large Tesla coils, rigged up to play music. There are absolutely no speakers involved on this; the music is actually generated by the electricity going through the air. Tesla would have approved:

Nikola Tesla was actually quite a fascinating person. He invented alternating current, the principles of the radio, the tesla coil (used in television), remote-controlled robotics, and many other things.

He was very much a demonstration of genius being next to madness, with some of his eccentricities. Some of the papers of his that were classified after his death are said to have had anything from death rays to wireless power (both of which he is known to have worked on). He died penniless, and is pretty the prototype for all mad scientists everywhere. Here is a bit of information about his life:

And here is a dramatization done by Orson Welles of a historical meeting between him, Thomas Edison, and JP Morgan:

Posted in FREAKIN' IMPORTANT MAN, From Shanoah, I Tunes Not U Tunes, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Sean on January 17, 2008

We are knee-deep in Silly Season ’08, and soon we’ll be up to our necks… and in more ways than one. Soon your e-mail In Box will be groaning under the metaphorical weight of Barack Obama not saluting the flag and Mike Huckabee’s son killing a dog at a Boy Scout camp and the candidates and their followers trying to swiftboat each other.

How do you keep your head above the bullshit water? Some common sense, and They get the skinny on urban legends of all kinds, which will come thicker and faster the closer we get to November.

Your neat thing today is… and the reminder, if you already know about it, to use it, and often.

And in that vein, here’s a little something to drive the point home.

Posted in Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

1-8-09 Bumping gums 1930s style

Posted by Sean on January 8, 2008

Those of you who know me know that I have an unhealthy fascination with the Great Depression and World War II. So imagine my delight when I found two sites (among many) devoted entirely to slang of the 1930s? Why try to be painfully hip when you can be painfully unhip? Tog your speech to the bricks and sound like a bruno today!

The Dirty 30s: Looks like a gamer site, and the slang sounds like it’s straight outta a second-team Phillip Marlowe novel. But I’m not an expert; for all I know, people talked like James Cagney back then. I doubt it, but maybe they did. Lots of resources under what else? “Resources“.

Alphabetical Slang Dictionary
More scholarly and with more jazz and literary slang, but laid out a trifle odd: you have to click on the word to get a definition. Go with Dirty 30s if you’re pressed for time or if you just want to sound like Edward G. Robinson.

Posted in Gooey Gummi Goodness, Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

1-2-08 How many bahts in a fother?

Posted by Sean on January 2, 2008

Ever wonder how many femtometers are in a cubit? Or how many cheval vapeurs are in a joule/hour? Or how many avograms are in a firkin? Or maybe you have to convert metric measurements to English at your job (just like I had to do all the freakin’ time at my last job). Rejoice, o ye wanderers in the wilderness! Slaughter your children and kiss the fatted calf, for your answers have been prayered!

This site,, was my favorite at my last job. It’s unresponsive from time to time, though, and for reasons that I can’t fathom. If if doesn’t work, try, or is nice because it converts your measurement into every other related measurement that it has at once and is a nice backup, while the coverter at Digital Dutch is essentially the same as

Posted in Mailing List, Wrenches for Your Toolbox | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »