Entries for February 2013

February 22, 2013

The Invention of Long Island Iced Tea

This week’s episode of my PBS web series INVENTORS spotlights Bob “Rosebud” Butt, credited with inventing the Long Island Iced Tea while he was a bartender at the Oak Beach Inn on Long Island in the 1970s.

February 20, 2013

The Gutenberg Eyebrow

There’s a story being told around the internet this week about a 15th Century manuscript which was recently found to have paw prints across two pages from a cat that must have walked across it while the ink was still fresh. I’m reminded of a little-known story about another 15th Century book that was found to have evidence of its creation embedded in the pages: a Gutenberg Bible.

A complete edition of the Gutenberg Bible is very rare. Only a couple dozen are still known to exist (the Morgan Library in Manhattan is hogging three of them). But some copies were broken up and sold piecemeal over the years, so individual pages are not as rare and are occasionally sold at auction.

About 14 years ago, while I was a photographer at Christie’s auction house, a particularly interesting Gutenberg Bible page came up for sale. While it was being prepared for auction, someone noticed a tiny hair resting on the page. Upon closer inspection, it was found to have become dislodged from where it was embedded beneath the ink. There was a clear line left behind on the page from where the hair had lifted the ink when it became dislodged.

This meant that the hair had been there since the ink was put on the page.

What if it was Johann Gutenberg’s hair? Could you imagine what that would mean for the value of this page? More likely, we guessed it belonged to someone who worked for him, or perhaps even an animal that was hanging around the printing press. But still, it was an incredible find.

I recall that the hair was delicately handled so that it could be analyzed.

This is how it was eventually described at auction:

Eyebrow hair, 12 mm, COMPLETE with bulb at one end and natural taper at the other, blond or white, [middle of the 15th century]. Soiled with printer’s ink over a segment approximately 2 mm in length.

Provenance: The present hair was formerly adhered to the surface of this leaf of the Gutenberg Bible, where it was held to the paper by the printing ink. It lay under the ink when the leaf was received by Christie’s and was inadvertently dislodged in the course of cataloguing for this sale. The impression left by the hair in the surface of the paper is clearly visible at II Cor. 7:10, as is the furrow of white across the first letter “t” of the word tristitia, where the ink which lay over the hair came off with it.

The hair must have dropped onto the forme after it was inked and before the page was printed. It is therefore presumably a body hair, probably an eybrow hair, from one of the pressmen in Gutenberg’s shop — conceivably from the master himself.

The estimate for the page including eyebrow hair was $10,000 - $15,000. The final price was $64,625.

February 19, 2013

Cartoons I Didn’t Draw

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

Over the years, I’ve drawn a bunch of little cartoons for Ironic Sans. Some became part of an Esoteric Comics series. Others were standalone posts. But I still have a big list of comics I never got around to drawing. Some were for lack of time, and some were for lack of knowing exactly how I would do it.

For example, I’ve always wanted to do a one-panel cartoon of an alligator driving a car with a bumper sticker that says “My son is a black belt.” But I couldn’t quite figure out how to draw it from an angle so you can see the driver is an alligator and also read the bumper sticker.

So here’s a bunch of cartoons that didn’t get done. Some are fully formed in my head, and others are just caption ideas. If anyone wants to draw them, I’ll post them in a follow-up:

• An alligator driving a car with a bumper sticker that says “My son is a black belt.”

• Neil Young with two heads and three arms, playing guitar on stage and singing “…searching for the Heart of Gold”

• Shields and Brooke Shields. (It turns out I’m no good at drawing either of them)

• Dilbert Gottfried.

• Members of the Jetson family washed up on a beach with other debris. Caption: “Flotsam and Jetsons.”

• Flat Stanley gets fed up with the nickname and goes to get breast implants.

• The Terence Trent Derby. You know, a race of Terent Trent D’Arbys.

• Mario and Weegee. (the plumber and the street photographer)

• WALL-E and the Beav. (Or perhaps WALL-E and the EVE drawn Leave-it-to-Beaver style, whatever that would be)

• Mecca Godzilla. (Um, this one I might not post.)

Wow. Listing them all like this makes me realize my humor seems mostly derived from bad puns.

February 15, 2013

Idea: The Brown Family Portrait

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I’d like to see a family portrait, perhaps painted in an old Victorian style, that depicts the following people:

Charlie Brown, Mr. Brown (from Reservoir Dogs), Buster Brown, Molly Brown (the unsinkable), Encyclopedia Brown, James Brown, Gordon Brown, Bobby Brown, and Mr. Brown from the Dr. Suess book about the man who can moo.

Update: And Doc Brown.

Idea: Two Time Travel Movies Released In Real Time

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I know actually writing this would be much harder than just coming up with a loose idea. But structurally, it would work something like this:

In 2015, a movie comes out that takes place entirely in 2015. In the story, a character travels five years into the future, has some profound experience, and then returns to the present where the ramifications of his future travel profoundly affect him. We never find out exactly what happened in his time jump, and we’re curious, but it’s okay because the present story stands well on its own.

In 2020, the sequel comes out. It takes place entirely in 2020. We finally have caught up with the time traveler, and now we get to see what the heck happened when he got here that affected him in 2015. The story in 2020 also works well on its own, but it sheds new light on events that happened in the 2015 movie.

For bonus points, the time traveller’s 2020 scenes could all be shot in 2015, so the actor will not have aged, but all his costars will. For a more enhanced effect, the movies could be more than five years apart, or the characters could be young so the five years of aging is more dramatically obvious.

February 13, 2013

Behind The Post: The Luke Hope Poster

You may remember that about four-and-a-half years ago, I made this image:

By popular demand, I sought to make it available on posters and t-shirts. But I wanted to do so through proper channels, and ended up partnering with Zazzle, which had an existing licensing agreement with Lucasfilm. (They no longer do, so don’t bother looking.)

But in order to get formal permission, I had to jump through some hoops. One question that came up — and I confess I found it a bit insulting — was whether or not I could prove that I actually made this poster, and wasn’t just passing off someone else’s work as my own.

I came up with a way to prove I did the work. I had kept all the layers intact from the Photoshop file I used to create the image (much later it was turned into vector art). Using all those layers, I created an animated gif showing the steps from start to finish.

I always liked how that animated gif came out, so the point of this story is to share the process gif with you:

February 11, 2013

Idea: Someone should start a tumblr.

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

Someone should start a tumblr that’s nothing but quotes from people saying that someone should start a tumblr. It should look something like this: someoneshouldstarta.tumblr.com

That reminds me. I started a tumblr of pictures of Showrunners On Couches. Please send me submissions.

Idea: The Movie Poster Alphabet

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I never posted this idea because I wasn’t able to come up with enough material to finish it. Maybe you can help? Scroll down to the bottom for more about what I’m looking for.

Do you know of any good posters to fill in the gaps? Or better options for the ones I already have? Ideally, I want posters where the letter is featured large and centered. So, for example, “G” above isn’t great because the letter is so small and low. “W” could be better for a similar reason.

Also, it’s okay if there are other letters and words, but I’d like the alphabet letter to be the most prominent thing. That’s why I didn’t use the poster for Blankman, which features a prominent letter “B”, but it’s minor compared to all the distracting words on the poster. And similarly, I struggled with whether to use Malcolm X, seen above, or X-Men: First Class which has a similarly prominent “X” with fewer distractions. I chose Malcolm X for undefinable reasons.

If you have any good suggestions, let me know, and I’ll update the poster.

February 7, 2013

Idea: Zombies vs. Senior Citizens

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

Someone should make a zombie movie that takes place in a community of really old people. Because one group lumbers along slowly, moaning, with one foot in the grave. And the other one is zombies.

Idea: Famous For 15 Minutes: The Movie

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

In 1968, the catalogue for an Andy Warhol exhibit in Stockholm first featured the quote, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Well, now we’re in the future. And speculation about the future is the stuff of sci-fi movies. So here’s my concept:

The movie’s working title is “The Warhol Paradox.” It starts in 1968, just a few months after Warhol’s Stockholm exhibition, when Valerie Solanis marches into The Factory and opens fire on Andy Warhol. But in the alternate universe of the movie, Warhol doesn’t survive. He is murdered.

Solanis goes to trial, but is acquitted on the grounds that she’s insane. Or some other reason. But she’s acquitted. There is a public outry which leads to the great Pop Art Riots of 1969. Cans of Campbell’s soup are thrown through store windows. Paintings of American flags are burned in the streets. Looters steal silk screen supplies from craft stores. Police officers are unsure how to deal with the unruly crowds, and things get out of hand. The sidewalks are covered with pools of blood or possibly tomato soup it’s kind of hard to tell.

The people revolt and overthrow the government. And now the pop artists and surrealists are in charge.

Jump ahead 30 years. It’s the future, 1999, and society is built around Pop Art. But power corrupts, and over the past 30 years the artists have become drunk with power. Warhol’s prediction that everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes is now a mandate. Every day, 360 people are chosen by the government to become world famous for 15 minutes.

One day, two young high school kids are chosen, a boy and girl who happen to attend the same school. But they don’t want to be world famous. They’re part of the emerging privacy advocacy movement that wants to return to a time when people could be anonymous their whole lives. So they run.

They meet a group of privacy activists that help people like them through the Velvet Underground Railroad.

The two of them become the most wanted fugitives in the world. And this, paradoxically, makes them famous.

That’s all I’ve got so far.

Idea: Purposely Mislabeled Bottles for Air Travel

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

In the years since the TSA started imposing liquid restrictions, I’ve gotten pretty good about making sure I don’t run afoul of the rules. But I sometimes hear other people complain that TSA officers are still not empowered to use their judgment and let you bring an obviously small amount of liquid in a bottle past security if the bottle’s label says it once held more than 3.4 ounces.

For example, if a 12 ounce bottle of water is clearly 75% empty, it doesn’t matter that there’s probably about 3 ounces left. The label trumps all.

So then I got thinking: someone should sell bottles that hold more than 3.4 ounces of liquid but are labeled as 3.4 ounce bottles. Then when you really need to bring 5 ounces of some liquid on board, you can probably get away with it. I mean, the bottle says 3.4 ounces, so that must be all it holds, right? I wonder how big a bottle could be before it got ridiculously obvious that it contains more than 3.4 ounces.

Note: These bottle would, of course, only be sold for novelty purposes, like those fisherman’s rulers. I wouldn’t seriously suggest that anyone try to sneak any extra liquid onto an airplane.

Idea: The Exclamation Point Limiter!

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

Do you know someone who uses excessive exclamation points in their emails, Facebook updates, and tweets? Perhaps it’s time you have a talk with him or her, and suggest they install the Exclamation Point Limiter. It’s a piece of software that runs in the background of their computer and trains them to use exclamation points in a way that doesn’t call to mind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote: “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.”

How does it work? At first, it’s generous. The person using the software gets 15 exclamation points they can use each week. Eventually over time, it winds down to three a week. Each Monday, the counter resets and they get three exclamation points to use however they want. They can all be wasted at the end of one sentence!!! Or they can be used sparingly, and only when truly needed.

Coming soon: An Idea Dump

For a whole bunch of reasons, I don’t write on Ironic Sans as much as I used to. But there was a time that (I hope) you remember as fondly as I do, when I wrote once a week, usually a creative idea complete with illustrations and half-baked implementations. Ironic Sans was sometimes described as an “Idea Blog.”

I don’t write as frequently, but I still have a huge list of “idea” posts I never got around to, sometimes because I thought a post needed a proper illustration or something, and I just didn’t have time. Well, I’m tired of that list just sitting there, so I’m going to do a big idea dump.

The difference between an Idea Dump post and a proper Idea post, I guess, is that I’m not going to even try to implement them, illustrate them, etc. I’m just going to type it up and cross it off the list. I may do a few at a time, or just one now and then. It depends on how much time I have.

Okay. The first one is coming up shortly.

Inventor Portrait: Esther Takeuchi

One issue I’m conscious of in my Inventor Portraits series is that it’s not very gender balanced. Of the forty-something inventors I’ve photographed and interviewed so far, only eight are women. There have been other women under consideration, but in an effort to keep the inventions varied, I’ve passed on some that were too similar. I can only have so many women who invent products for the closet, baby room, or kitchen before it begins to give the impression that women only come up with domestic inventions. Those kinds of inventions are certainly important and useful, but my project strives to be broader in its subject matter.

So when I reached out to Esther Takeuchi, a chemical engineer whose life-saving developments in batteries for implantable medical devices have saved millions of lives, I was delighted that she said yes. She’s a terrific role model for women in science, and yet she expresses her own frustrations with exclusion in her field.

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