FreeRice is a novel humanitarian project: for every correct definition one chooses, a participating company donates ten grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.

(Thanks, Ben!)


English Pronunciation!?!

“If you can pronounce correctly every word in this poem, you will be speaking English better than 90% of the native English speakers in the world. After trying the verses, a Frenchman said he’d prefer six months of hard labour to reading six lines aloud. Try them yourself.”

English Pronunciation!?!

Lee Valley Jar Opener


I always used a spoon until I was given one of these lid poppers. I was skeptical, but I now find myself reaching for it without even thinking. It’s an 8.5 by 5 cm piece of metal, bent in the middle and curved at each end to accommodate just about any size jar lid. It’s very simple and straightforward. You simply place it on the top of the jar with either of the rolled sides caught just under the edge of the lid (which side of the opener depends on the lid size). Your fingers hold the piece in place, which acs as a lever, and the bend in the metal serves as the fulcrum. The downward pressure of the heel of your hand provides just enough force to release the vacuum without distorting the lid. I can happily report no more bent spoon handles, no more splatters, no more spills, just a nice “pop” sound when the vacuum has been broken; then I know I am home free. I have not tried the plastic JarPop, but I’ve had this steel one for at least 3 years and it has never bent in anyway, nor has it rusted.

– Ellen Rocco


Lee Valley Jar Opener
Available from Lee Valley

Related items previously reviewed in Cool Tools:

Tilia Vacuum Food Sealer

Peanut Butter Mixer

World’s Easiest Wine Bottle Opener

Lee Valley Jar Opener

The Twitter-tracking continues...

Yup, can’t stop

(sailorblur): I don’t give a f***, I don’t give a f***, I don’t give a f*******************!

(pieman): I opened my back door to have a cigarette and there was a huge f*** off spider web across the outside. I screamed like a girl.

(rozic): could the ads on facebook s*** any worse? microsoft ad sales people need to wake up and go sell some real advertising

(mmpantsless): Does Qwest just intentionally f*** with their customers? Traceroute from 30 miles north of Minneapolis to dowtown St. Paul - goes through Chicago.

(cyounce): Oh. Dear. God. Bacon flavored chocolate doesn’t s***. Actually it is pretty good.

(chrisrbailey): Damn I should have asked for a quiet room, my neighbors s*** so far. The woman next door just said, “freedom is taking your bra off”.

(sjor): It can never be one thing. It has to be a whole slew of things together. F*** you, brain chemicals!

(jacksonwest): F*** Wheaties, the breakfast of champions is a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese and a cup of coffee. That’s what I call nutrition!

(ramsey): I don’t think you’re happy enough. That’s right! I’ll teach you to be happy. I’ll teach your grandmother to s*** eggs.

(riddle): Watching a situation in supermarket. You know you s*** at parenting when your 10 year old child tries to beat you, crying.

And then there are the ones where you are just irrationally happy for the person without knowing anything else:

(moderndaymuse): Receiving a message from my stalker. Apparently he’s fed up with me and moving on. Ha ha ha ha ha Operation F*** Off - A success!

(anorexia): got the medication. thank f***.

And then there are the interesting implications of technology:

(piecesofvenus): I predict that the Razr’s prudish predictive text feature, which creates difficulty typing “f***”, will spur a linguistic change in “duck”.

(indieosaurous): P**** comes up before puppy in my predictive text.

And then there are the cautionary notes:

(polymerjones): Do not f*** with someone who straight punches a pterodactyl.

(panasonicyouth): Holy f***! Chevy Chase!

And then there are the piercing truths of the universe:

(fujikosan): people who perpetually emit unwanted sound s*** energy out of people who are quietly working

(bmf): Ever notice that “no offense” is just another way of say “f*** you”?

The Twitter-tracking continues…

Totentanz Blockbook

Totentanz blockbook w

Totentanz blockbook v

Totentanz blockbook u

Totentanz blockbook s

Totentanz blockbook q

Totentanz blockbook p

Totentanz blockbook o

Totentanz blockbook m

Totentanz blockbook k

Totentanz blockbook g

Totentanz blockbook f

Totentanz blockbook e

Totentanz blockbook d

Totentanz blockbook a

Totentanz blockbook

Totentanz blockbook x

In 15th century Europe, a blockbook was a codex (‘gathered volume’) in which the text and illustration was printed onto a page from a single block of wood. The wood was engraved (xylography) and gouged out leaving the text and images as raised reliefs which were then inked and placed onto a double sheet of wetted paper.

Before the use of presses, the ink transfer was achieved by rubbing the verso of the paper with a round burnishing tool. The paper was printed on one side only because the rubbing would have ruined the original inked surface on the initial sheet. The pages of the blockbook were folded and assembled, with two printed pages followed by two blanks. The blanks were then glued together giving a continuous book as we know it.

In an age where both literacy and the quest for knowledge was on the increase, the blockbook system appears from this distance to have been a great advance over the earlier painstaking manuscript copying in scriptoriums. The process was cheap (but paper was expensive) and allowed for a form of mass production once the wood blocks had been engraved. As for downsides, carving both text and illustrations in a backwards form (so that when inked and rubbed they would be reversed and appear legibly) was technically demanding and more importantly, the blocks were only useful for one double-page from one book of course.

This relief printing technique had been first seen in Europe in Holland, probably as early as 1420, in playing cards and devotional religious images which had brief captions below the illustrations. The history of development from cards to books is hazy at best due to a dearth of surviving original material, but the blockbook format had its heyday between about 1450 and 1475. The works most closely associated with the technique were the Poor Man’s Bible (‘Biblia Pauperum’), the biblical Apocalypse story, ‘Ars Moriendi’ (the Art of Dying) and ‘Speculum Humanae Salvationis’ (the Mirror of Human Salvation).

But Gutenberg’s moveable type printing appeared in 1455 and, like betmax video or the netscape navigator browser of modern times, blockbook printing was eventually made redundant by the appearance of a better technology.

The images above are the oldest known book illustrations of the danse macabre/totentanz/dance of death genre, which had begun in France earlier in the 15th century as a visual response to the effects of the plague. The blockbook of twenty six illustrations was produced between 1455 and 1458 in Germany and depicts the traditional hierarchy of victims - such as Pope, monarchy, clergy, knight, farmer, infirmed, mother and child - visited by death and accompanied by a moralising snatch of verse on the inevitability of the subject’s mortality. The illustrations are hand coloured.

Totentanz Blockbook

When Mike Reiss came to speak at the University of Chicago, he mentioned his favorite line never to make it on the Simpsons. When Homer faked his death in the Mother Simpson episode, Lenny originally said “He had the grace of Gene Kelly, and the genes of Grace Kelly.”

Comic Strip Artist’s Kit (Redux)

“The other day I got an e-mail from Carson Van Osten, a famous Disney artist who did many Disney Comic Books and created the famous “Comic Strip Artist’s Kit”. It was created to help beginning comic artists deal with perspective problems and other drawing difficulties. I scanned my old xeroxes a while ago. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever seen about practical staging and drawing for storyboards or comic books.

Anyway Carson saw it on my blog and read what nice things people had said about it and it really meant a lot to him. And he offered to send me an original copy of the handout, which is 11 x 17. I’ll scan it big so you can really see it well and print it out on 11 x 17 paper if you want to. He was even nice enough to inscribe it to me and if you print it out big you can read it.

Here’s the history of the handout, in Carson’s own words…”

Comic Strip Artist’s Kit (Redux)

Design Nouveau

Abstract design based on arabesques

Abstract design based on arabesques

Abstract design based on wings and leaf shapes

 Abstract design based on stars, circles, leaves

Abstract design based on small leaf shapes

Abstract design based on seahorses, fish, lizards, tiny leaves

Abstract design based on peacock feathers

Abstract design based on organic shapes and arabesques

Abstract design based on leaves, grass, and flowers

Abstract design based on leaves and organic shapes

Abstract design based on leaves

Abstract design based on leaves and arabesques

Abstract design based on flowers and leaves

Abstract design based on butterflies and leaves

Maurice Pillard-Verneuil (1869-1942) began architectural studies in Paris but a strong interest in art led him to apprentice at L’École Guérin under Eugène Grasset, the master of the emerging Art Nouveau style of the late 19th century.

Under the twin influences of Grasset and Japanese art, Verneuil developed into the perfect embodiment of La Belle Époque artist-designer, drawing inspiration from nature, and working in such diverse disciplines as posters, embroidery, furniture, ceramics and batik prints. As a correspondent for L’Illustration, Verneuil visited Cambodia and Java and began collecting Asian handicrafts and art, a passion for which he maintained throughout his life.

The incorporation of the natural world - plants, animals and sea creatures - into his ornamental graphic design work would remain his lasting influence, and the novel motifs were widely circulated in a series of books he published alone or in collaboration with other artists.

The images above (all cleaned slightly) are from the 1900 book, ‘Combinaisons Ornementales se Multipliant à l’Infini à l’Aide du Miroir’ (Decorative Combinations, Infinitely Multiplied with a Mirror) at NYPL (about sixty images in total).

After writing all this I discovered that the book was actually a collaborative effort between Verneuil (‘MPV’), Alphonse Mucha (circle with an ’M’) and George Auriol (I think the image with blue leaves and grass is his) {neither of whom are credited by NYPL}. The majority of the images here are by Verneuil. I don’t think there are any particular sites with background on Verneuil worth linking - I gleaned snippets of information from a range of secondary sources.

Previously related:

Design Nouveau

Twitter-tracking dirty words cont'd

I can’t get enough

(iis2tar): f***!!!!!!!!!!!!!f***!!!!!!!!!!!!!f***!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Strone): people with “cool blogs” think they are better than the rest.. f*** them..

(amyguth): Overheard in Chicago: “Yeah f*** that. REVENGE is the best revenge.”

(hellorufino): AMERICA! F*** YEAH! Coming back to save the mutherf***in day yeah!

(talulattdh): Just got the go-ahead from my sweetie to call an exterminator tomorrow! F*** YOU, STINK BUGS!!!

(wingsfrompye): taking it easy and remembering that i am smart and capable and f*** anyone else who thinks they know better than me.

(tofugrinder): Instead of telling people to F*** Off, i’m going to start saying Would You Like To Take A Survey!?

(xxxxxxx): HOLY F*** the cards fired jocketty!!!!!!!!! :O :O :O :O :O :O :O

(imthejoy): german, please put me in jail for being unable to read your f***in’ gazillions of letters!

(bynkii): there aren’t enough letters in “f*** no” to describe the f*** no-ness of the f*** no that is my answer

(yoharryo): what the f***ing f***. Actually offered on a house. Damn. That was shocking.

(Lazybastid): I swear to god, Lynch made Mulholland Drive just so people could figure out what the f*** Lost Highway was about…

(chrismetcalf): A call to Microsoft employees: Make Office 2007 not slow as f***.

(bluecanary): F*** the new Hotmail. Right in the ear, I say.

(toddcawthra): F*** HP

[Oh, good heavens, I can’t possibly endorse that one!]

And then there’s philosophy…

(PandaFace): Girls like her f*** up the good guys and good guys f***ed up by girls like her f*** up good girls.. Never ending cycle.

(stillframe): If the Germans named San Diego after a whale’s v*****, then Boston, too, was a poor translation of ‘City of A******s’…

And then you get the occasional eerie overlap…

(lizzerdrix): The old guy at the pasta shop make me feel his fresh warm ball of cheese that was just made. It felt like a b*** but I didn’t say anything.

(marksmith): Next time you hold a packet of mozzarella in your hand close your eyes and think “b***** implant”. Freaky.

And the Senator Larry Craig memorial twitters…

(bobbyshakes): F*** he is still in here

(bobbyshakes): F*** he’s knocking on the stall

Twitter-tracking dirty words cont'd

Sampling Kircher

“Plato said, ‘Nothing is more divine than to know everything,’ sagely and elegantly, for just as Knowledge illuminates the mind, refines the intellect and pursues universal truths, so out of the love of beautiful things it quickly conceives and then gives birth to a daughter, Wisdom, the explorer of the loftiest matters, who, passing far beyond the limits of human joy, joins her own to the Angelic Choruses, and borne before the Ultimate Throne of Divinity, makes them consorts and possessors of Divine Nature.”1

historia evstachio-mariana

historia evstachio-mariana a


ars magna sciendi e

ars magna sciendi a

ars magna sciendi c

ars magna sciendi

latium a

latium b

latium c


obeliscus pamphilius

obeliscvs pamphilius a

obeliscvs pamphilius b

obeliscvs pamphilius c

obeliscvs pamphilius d

obeliscvs pamphilius e

obeliscvs pamphilius f


sphinx mystagoga a

sphinx mystagoga

Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony have lately been uploading a number of works by the 17th century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher. To the best of my knowledge these books are making their first appearance on the web as photographed page images, as opposed to microfilm scans or other less optimal formats such as djvu files.

So I thought it was worthwhile assembling a selection of images from across these lesser known works which in all probability haven’t been circulated widely before, although some of them may have appeared in modified forms in one or more of Kircher’s more famous books. It’s an eclectic bunch and more visual evidence of the breadth of Kircher’s interests. The whirlwind of erudition and wayward knowledge published the majority of his tomes with the Amsterdam printer, Johannes Jansson van Waesberghe (Janssonius), just by the by.

Mouseover the above images (a couple of which were background cleaned extensively) to see which book they come from.

The source book titles:
  • ‘Historia Evstachio-Mariana : Qua admiranda D. Eustachij, sociorumque vita ex varijs Authoribus Collecta..’, 1665. Link.
  • ‘Arithmologia sive De abditis numerorum mysterijs’, 1665. Link.
  • ‘Ars Magna Sciendi’, 1669. Link.
  • ‘Latium. Id Est, Nova & Parallela Latii tum Veteris tum Novi Descriptio’, 1671. Link.
  • ‘Obeliscus Pamphilius : hoc est, Interpretatio noua & Hucusque Intentata Obelisci Hieroglyphici’, 1650. Link.
  • ‘Physiologia Kircheriana Experimentalis’, 1680. Link.
  • ‘Sphinx Mystagoga : sive Diatribe hieroglyphica, qua Mumiae, ex Memphiticis Pyramidum Adytis Erutae..’, 1676. Link.
Previously related:

1She-Philosopher quoting Athanasius Kircher from ‘Ars Magna Sciendi’.
Sampling Kircher

As if this were news....

What Kind of Reader Are You? Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm You’re probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people’s grammatical mistakes make you insane.Dedicated Reader
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz
Scarily enough, I would have been even more of a bookworm if audiobooks were included.  I am currently listening to The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance on my ipod….how much geekier can you get.

As if this were news….

Arabic Machine Manuscript

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript i

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript 1

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript 2

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript 3

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript 4

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript a

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript b

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript c

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript g

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript m

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript n

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript o

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript p

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript s

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript t

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript u

anonym., ms. or. fol. 3306 arabisches manuscript

I love these old mystery schematics where the idiosyncratic drawing style and lack of a readily identifiable energy input system often leave me fairly puzzled as to the true context or viability of the machines. I’m not necessarily sure that a knowledge of Arabic would enlighten us to any great extent.

Although there are a few astrological images, this anonymous manuscript is almost totally devoted to fluid dynamics and mechanics. I can’t find any background to the work and suppose it was produced somewhere between the 16th to 19th centuries.

  • All the images here are cropped details from the source pages at Max Planck Digital Library where the ~300 page manuscript is listed simply as ‘Anonym., Ms. or. fol. 3306 ,o. J.’ (‘or.’ being Oriental)
  • The above images (fairly large in size) have also been uploaded to Wikimedia.
  • I presume this manuscript copies from earlier scholars, most notably Al-Jazari.

Arabic Machine Manuscript

News from 1984

The New Light of Myanmar is a government-owned newspaper, published by the Ministry of Information in the country formerly known as Burma. Yes, the above page is dated September 28, 2007. But at the Ministry of Information in “the peaceful and stable country,” it’s 1984.

I’ll let the text speak for itself. One note though: if you click for the larger version, be sure to read the last paragraph, concerning Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, shot and killed at point-blank range. Note the passive voice: he was killed. But by whom?

The New Light of Myanamar (.pdfs for download)
The New Light of Myanmar (Wikipedia)
Video shows Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai “being shot deliberately” (Times Online) (Graphic content)
“Politics and the English Language” (George Orwell’s essay)
, ,
News from 1984