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Carl Zimmer over at Discover Magazine elucidates about the science behind the illusion:

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As you’ll notice, the circles seem to rotate in response to where you look at the illusion. So [Stephen] Macknik and his colleagues tracked the movement of people’s eyes as they gazed at two of these wheels on a computer screen . . . [they] found a tight correlation between the onset of the illusion and a kind of involuntary movement our eyes make, known as microsaccades. Even when we’re staring at a still object, our eyes keep darting around…the pattern of colors and contrasts in the Rotating Snakes Illusion causes our eyes to send rapidly changing signals to the brain even during microsaccades. The motion neurons switch on, and the snakes start to slither.

Thomas Huxley

“History warns us that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.”

— Thomas Huxley

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OK, for all of you nerds—and I use that term in only the most loving way—who are planning on going to see “The Avengers” sometime this weekend, here’s a question for you: When was the last time you bought and/or read a comic book featuring your favorite superhero? I’m guessing it’s been a very long time.

Comic books, where all of our favorite action movie characters came from—after The Avengers, the third Dark Knight (Batman) movie will be out this summer, to be followed by a new Spider-Man treatment and a Superman re-launch—is sort of on life support.

According to an article on comic book prices:

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[I]n 1945, roughly half of all Americans read comic books, including 95% of all boys, and (and!) 91% of all girls, between the ages of six and eleven. “In 1947,” Van Lente added, “one out of every three periodicals sold in the United States was a comic book. That’s 180 million comics in one year.” To experience market penetration like that, you’d pretty much have to be the Internet.

And if you glance at these lists of circulation figures for the time, you see that by 1946 you have four different comic book titles that were selling more than a million copies per month. (Whereas now, there are only three titles clearing (barely) two hundred thousand copies monthly.) So in comparing the 40s with now, we’re comparing a time when comic books were hands-down no-joke the undisputed dominant paradigm of entertainment for American children to now, a time when the characters and storylines of comics constitute a very American mythology while the vehicles that brought them there, the comic books themselves, sit off to the side.

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I had not picked up a comic book since the mid-1980s. But one of the writers I edit at WorthPoint, Matt Baum, writes about collectible comic books, from those of the million-dollar Golden Age books featuring the first appearances of Superman and Batman, to those titles that are coming out next Wednesday that may be worth something down the line. Editing that column now for coming up on four years, I’ve sort of picked up a new appreciation for comics by osmosis and feel the need to champion their cause.

Coincidentally (or not), tomorrow, Saturday, May 5, just happens to be Free Comic Book Day across North America and around the world, where dealers will be giving away comic books absolutely FREE—mostly short sample stories designed to introduce or reintroduce characters to the uninitiated—to anyone who comes into their stores. I took my kids to this a couple of years ago and now, I’m happy to say, they have been bitten by the comic book bug (although, unfortunately, not a radioactive spider with the expected results). The girl reads Wonder Woman and the Amazing Spider-man regularly, with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Zorro thrown in, while the boy likes Aquaman and Bat Wing. I buy them the new books each month, and a few more for myself, and we read them all.

And since there were not around for the original run of the various superhero movies, at their behest, we have been watching them on Netflix—even the bad ones; sorry producers of “The Incredible Hulk,” both the 2003 and 2008 versions. They are very jazzed about The Avengers and we’ll be going to see it between soccer games and other kid activities this weekend.

So, here’s a challenge for you: If you are a big a fan of Iron Man, Captain America, et al, as you say you are, go visit your friendly neighborhood comic book shop and buy a couple titles. Bring your kids (or nieces and nephews, you childless slackers), and introduce them to your favorites superheroes. And for those of you worries about adult themes in comics today (yes, there are adult themes in comes today—Batman and Catwoman have been known to do the rooftop nasty—and depending on the title, some can get kinda gory) there are kid-safe versions of all your favorites, so turn ’em loose and see what catches their attention.

And, if you have forgotten who you just might find in the comic books these days, here’s a primer:
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I always knew that The Force made order out of the universe:

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[From my friend Cheeky, who found it on GeekX5]

To help you celebrate Star Wars Day, why don’t you go out and party with your friends?

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Charles Richter

“Don’t wait for extraordinary circumstance to do good; try to use ordinary situations.”

— Charles Richter

OK, so I got the call this afternoon and the diagnosis was not good… my car, just a little over 2 years old, has been declared a total loss and they have taken it off of life support. When the guy at the body shop started totaling up what it would take to make the repairs, he stopped when the tally topped $15,000. He said he had only got to about 40 percent of the damage and decided the car should be put out of its misery.

The good news is that, because of the great deal I received when I bought it, the cash value of the car is more than what I owed the bank on it, so I’ll have a little insurance money for a down payment on a replacement.

So now I’m officially car shopping. Anyone have any recommendations for a particular car or dealership? I had a very good experience at Gwinnett Place Ford last time around.

I got used to the relatively good gas mileage the 2010 Ford Fusion SEL gave me (25/33 MPG), so I’ll probably go with something similar, although I might be tempted to go with a classic car. A late-1960s Mustang would be fun to own. A convertible would be a blast. But I’m going to take this nostalgia to the extreme and look for the first car I owned, a 1974½ Mustang II like the one I drove during high school—that car was a nightmare.

In 1974, the Mustang II must have been a sharp car (see below). I mean, look at the cute girl hanging out of the sun roof (my car did not have the sun roof, though, and hence, no cute girl). By the time I got it, in 1984, it was a pile of crap that nevertheless got to and from high school and work at Straw Hat Pizza and off to college.

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The brochure for the 1974 Mustang II.

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I think I paid $1,700 for it when I drove it off the lot and, over the next five years, another $5,000-plus in repairs. Remind me to tell you the story about when threw a rod on Highway 99 in Chowchilla on the way to Fresno… that was a real treat, I tell you. Yeah, seriously, on the way to Fresno for a college journalism convention in 1986, my trusty steed threw a rod. It was a very expensive weekend.

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Waiting for a tow truck on the side of the road in Chowchilla, Ca.