Sunday, November 27, 2016

Watch Orson Welles Explain Cold Reading, the Trick Used by 'Psychics'

Orson Welles was not only an amateur magician, he was a man who appreciated fakery of all kinds. One of his final films was F Is for Fake, about art forgery. During his late career, he appeared on or narrated multiple television specials about magic or alleged supernatural phenomena.

So it's no surprised he'd have an interest in psychics. Or, I should say, "psychics." Psychics claim to read minds or speak to the dead, but what they are really doing is reading their client. It's a technique called "cold reading." The only question is whether any given psychic believes his or her own BS or not.

In 1970, long before cold reading became, as it is today, a well-understood technique for "fortune telling" trickery, Orson Welles appeared on The David Frost Show and explained how he, Welles, came to understand cold reading. Not only understand it, but practice it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

That Time Paul Shaffer Went Swimming With Martin Luther King Jr.

You sometimes find poignant stories about major historical figures in unexpected places. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I'm reminded of a passage from Paul Shaffer's highly entertaining memoir, We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin' Showbiz Saga.

When Paul was a young boy, his Canadian parents enjoyed taking the family to warmer climes on vacation. One year, they ended up in The Bahamas, at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Nassau. Shaffer speaks of arriving, of his father taking him to a jazz club "on the wrong side of the tracks," and relates this story:

The next day Dad spotted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by the pool. The great leader was in matching shirt-and-bathing-suit cabana attire. My father approached him and said, "My family and I greatly admire you and would be honored if we could take your picture."

"With pleasure," said Dr. King.

Dad snapped the photo. We all shook hands and went to the lounge chairs. A few minutes later Dr. King entered the pool from the deep end while I entered from the shallow.

Just like that, the dozen or so vacationers, white people all, who were in the pool suddenly got out, as if the water had been contaminated. Dr. King and I stayed in and swam for the next 20 minutes or so.

When I got out, my father took me aside and said, "We're changing hotels. I'm not staying anywhere the guests display this kind of racist behavior."

... When I told this story to my son, Will, who was nine at the time and studying the civil rights movement in school, he was puzzled and said, "Dad, how could Dr. King stay at that hotel when there were segregation laws?"

"Those laws were in the United States, son," I said. "That's why to vacation comfortably, he had to leave his own country."

(Where the ellipsis appears above: Before the modern conclusion of the MLK story, Shaffer told about his family running into Harry Belafonte and daugher Shari the following day, and taking a photo with Belafonte. Decades later Shaffer was musical director at a charity concert, and Belafonte was appearing. Shaffer told Belafonte about meeting him as a child. Belafonte replied, "Impossible, I've never been to Nassua, you must be thinking of Sidney Poitier." Then admitted, a few seconds later, he was pulling Shaffer's leg.)

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

'A Word to the Wives': Historical Document of 1950s Gender Roles ... That Helped Launch Darren McGavin, Norman Lloyd Careers

The IMDB plot summary for the 1955 advertising short called A Word to the Wives is succinct, and accurate: "The story of two women and how they trick a husband into renovating a kitchen."

But it doesn't do this 13-minute mini-film justice. A Word to the Wives features one of the earlier acting jobs in the career of Darren McGavin (who plays the put-upon husband). It was directed by Norman Lloyd. And the star (and doing the voice-over narration) is Marsha Hunt, who was acting in movies and television from the 1930s into the 2000s.

That's quite a bit of talent for what was a promotional movie sponsored by the American Gas Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and The Woman's Home Companion. The Internet Archive summary of the movie states that the "American Gas Association offered prints of this film for sale to gas utilities to help them coax builders to incorporate kitchens into their new homes."

It's a comical short that shows two wives - one who just got a brand new house with an all-gas kitchen, the other who badly wants the same - hatch a plot to convince the new-kitchen-craver's husband to take care of his woman, too, with an all-gas kitchen.

That's the other part of A Word to the Wives that makes it worth watching all these years later: It's a look back (an astounding look back, probably, for people younger than a certain age) at the gender roles and gender attitudes prevalent in the United States in the 1950s. (The film was released in 1955.)

It's not a work of art or anything. But A Word to the Wives is an interesting historical document of the era, and in the careers of (in particular) McGavin and Lloyd.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cute Degus Bathe in Their Sand Box

What's a degu? It's a cute, furry rodent, native to Chile, that is becoming more popular as a pet. Degus are about the size of a medium guinea pig. To me, they kind of look like miniature capybaras. And apparently, they really enjoy bathing in sand. Degu owners always provide a little sandbox for them to frolic in and roll around in.

And that's what these two cute degus are doing:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Timelapse of Nighttime Lightning Storm

Just a cool video to pass along showing a timelapse of lightning over the mountains near Embudo, New Mexico:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Is This the Best Steve Martin Talk Show Appearance Ever?

Steve Martin has been on the American (and world) entertainment scene for a long time now - nearly 50 (!) years. His on-screen career dates to the late 1960s, but he became very famous in the early to mid-1970s. And he's done a lot of talk shows over the years. And Martin typically kills in the talk show setting.

I can recall several iconic Martin appearances on talk shows. There was his Johnny Carson-requested performance of The Great Flydini (his only performance of that act on camera) for one of Carson's final Tonight Shows. There was the Late Night with David Letterman appearance in which Martin showed up with a doctor and begged out of talking to Letterman, feeling sick. Dave offers Steve the chance to lay down and rest in Dave's office, but during periodic check-ins throughout the show we see Martin first planning and then hosting a giant, raucous part in Dave's office.

There are dozens more than come to mind. Of course, humor is a very personal thing, and your mileage may vary. But for my money, Steve Martin's funniest-ever talk show appearance happened in 1980 on Letterman's short-lived morning show. Having worked very hard the night before (so the bit went), Martin is wheeled out in bed. He's asleep, yet clutching a six pack of beer. There is a small, portable TV at the foot of the bed.

Here is Part 1 of the appearance (forgive the very low quality, but clips of Letterman's morning show are difficult to come by):

The phony commercial, from a TV special Martin is plugging, is hilarious: It's for "Honeymoon Butter," which is, literally, made with love.

If anything, the laughs get bigger (for me, anyway) in Part 2, once Martin, still clad in pajamas, leaves the bed for the chair next to Letterman:

It's easy to see why Letterman became such a late-night legend, why Steve Martin was always one of his favorite guests - but also why Letterman's morning show was canceled after just a few months. Imagine the people watching daytime TV in 1980 - accustomed to only seeing game shows, soap operas and talk shows like Phil Donahue and Gary Collins - stumbling on this.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Today in Cute: Hand-Feeding Grapes to a Baby Beaver

Have some grapes around and want to get rid of them quick? Leave it to beaver.

Or, rather, feed them to this baby beaver. Her name is Hazel, and she lives at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington (

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Helicone: Science or Art? Plenty of Both

What is the Helicone? You wouldn't be wrong if you called it an art piece, although a mobile one, one meant to be handled. And you wouldn't be wrong if you called the Helicone a toy, although a science toy, one meant to be pondered, one meant to excite wonder.

Whatever you call it, the Helicone is cool and beautiful. The Helicone, which you can buy on,comes looking like this:

But when you take it out of the box, set it on its base and spin it, the Helicone takes one of two forms:

On the left is a helix, on the right is a cone. The "helicone." Spin it and it transforms from one shape into the other.

The Helicone is made by a company called playableART - which calls it an "interactive kinetic sculpture" - and was designed by John Edmark. How does it work? Here's the best explanation I could find: "Through the use of internal stops, each arm is constrained to rotate a maximum of 68.75° (1/2 the Golden Angle) relative to its neighboring layer." Here's some more company text:

Inspired by nature, based on the Fibonacci Numbers and the Golden Angle, helicone not only represents beautiful botanical structures but also provides stunning transformations before your very eyes. Watch it magically transform between a helix and a pine cone with a simple, quick twist.

To really appreciate the beauty of the Helicone, you have to see it in action:

And here's one more video:

You want one now, don't you? I sure do.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

World's Most Generic News Report: What Every TV News Report Looks Like

Have you ever noticed that many television news reports share the same basic structure - right down to the same visuals? Charlie Brooker noticed. Brooker says nearly every television news report is built the same way. And he shows us right here (parental alert - contains profanity):

Who is Charlie Brooker? He's an English broadcaster and satirist, and the above clip is taken from his shortlived BBC program Newswipe with Charlie Brooker. Newswipe aired on BBC Four for a total of 12 episodes during 2009-10. It featured Brooker reviewing the way news is covered by news channels.

According to Wikipedia's summary of the show:

The aim of Newswipe was to expose the inner workings of news media ... The series was a comic, thoughtful and acerbic analysis of recent news coverage. Newswipe also looked at the way the news is presented to the public. Experts were on hand to pick apart certain stories and analysed the news media's obsessions.

Charlie Brooker commented: "This is new territory for me: I'm no current affairs expert. Just like, I suspect, many people, when I tune into the news I often feel like I've wandered into episode 389 of the world's most complex soap opera. So it's also about me trying to make sense of a bewildering and often bloody stupid world."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cat Performs Hypnotherapy on Dog

Beware, dogs of the world: Not all cats offering massages are to be trusted! Some are just after your biscuits ... and the cat in this video is using kitty hypnotherapy to pull a fast one on his too-trusting doggie friend.