The Hottest Brainiacs

They say the largest sex organ is the brain. If you find brain power sexy, this post is for you! Here are some of the hottest brainiacs alive today:

Dr. Kathlyn M. Cooney

Kara Cooney
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Wikipedia says that Kara Cooney “is an Egyptologist and Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA. She was awarded a PhD in 2002 by Johns Hopkins University for Near Eastern Studies. She was part of an archaeological team excavating at the artisans’ village of Deir el Medina in Egypt, as well as Dahshur and various tombs at Thebes.” She has also appeared in the Discovery Channel series Out of Egypt and Egypt’s Lost Queen.

Suzannah Lipscomb

Suzannah Lipscomb
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Wikipedia says that Suzannah Lipscomb “is a British historian, academic and broadcaster specialising in the sixteenth century”.  She has done a lot of radio and TV work, including a series called Hidden Killers of the Victoria Home, which she wrote herself. She has written several books, and is a regular contributor to History Today, BBC History Magazine and The Daily Telegraph. I especially like her nose piercing, which makes her look slightly edgy.

Danica McKellar

Danica McKellar
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Sure, you know her as Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years. Unlike many child actors, however, McKellar didn’t disappear into a pile of coke and hookers. She went to UCLA and graduated summa cum laude in 1998 with a degree in mathematics. She co-authored an academic paper named “Percolation and Gibbs states multiplicity for ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller models on Z2“. I don’t even understand the title! She has gone on to write four books encouraging girls to take an interest in math: Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math, Hot X: Algebra Exposed and Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.

Continue reading “The Hottest Brainiacs”

The Rarest of the Rare

In 1967, a perfectly ordinary apartment building in Chicago started undergoing perfectly ordinary renovations. One perfectly ordinary day, a perfectly ordinary plumber started tearing down a perfectly ordinary brick wall. And, behind the wall, he found a completely unusual motorcycle.

The building’s elderly owner sheepishly admitted that his son had stolen the bike before leaving for the Army in World War I. His son died in combat, and it’s not known if the old man hid the bike in the wall out of shame (that his son had stolen it) or out of depression (that his son had died). All that’s known for sure is that the bike had been trapped behind the wall for 50 years and had license plates from the year 1917 on it.

The motorcycle had the name “Traub” on it. There is no company named Traub known to have manufactured motorcycles in the United States (or anywhere else) at that time, And believe me, people have really researched it. But perhaps that’s all well and good, because almost all the parts of the motorcycle were made by hand.

The engine is a handmade 80 cubic-inch flathead engine made by sand casting. The pistons are also handmade. According to the bike’s current owner, the overall machining on the bike parts was “simply years ahead of their time”. The bike, which can easily reach 85 mph (137 km/h), has a three-speed transmission, perhaps the first of its kind. And despite having both German and American parts, the transmission’s design is completely unique. And the rear brakes use a system never seen before (or since) on American-built motorcycles. Some of the screws used on the bike are uncommon to motorcycles, while others that control things like oil level must be turned by hand, indicating that the person (or persons) who built the bike had to be an expert with engines and\or machining parts.

Traub Motorcycle

If none of that made any sense to you, then imagine this: the most popular car in the United States in 1916 was the Model T. Model Ts look like this:



Now, Imagine someone, somewhere building a car by hand in 1916  that looks like this:


Now you can see what a truly amazing piece of engineering the Traub motorcycle really is.

No one knows who built the Traub or why, It’s known that the bike was bought by a Chicago area bicycle shop owner named Torillo Tacchi shortly after it was discovered. Tacchi sold it to a Hollywood stuntman named Bud Ekins in the 1970s (Bud was in town working on the original Blues Brothers movie at the time). Ekins sold it to a motorcycle collector named Richard Morris, who in turn sold it on to Dale Walksler, owner and curator of the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, NC. The Traub has been on display there ever since.

If you’d like to read more about the Traub (especially if you like the technical side of things), check out this post or this post.


SimonHey, y’all! Simon here! Wow… Simon really dropped the ball last week, huh? 5-8? My first losing week in God knows how long? OMG! But WHO KNEW the Pats would come back from a 24-0 deficit to win in overtime? Let’s see if I can do better in Week 13! I’m still 108-67 for the season, which isn’t too bad. Not great, but not bad. Have a happy Turkey Day and enjoy the picks, folks! 


Green Bay at Detroit: Y’all know I think Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford is the best combo since peanut butter and jelly, right? And Simon would love to be in the middle of a Johnson-Stafford sandwich… but I think the Packers, even with their QB situation, will pull this one out. Barely. And I don’t like pulling out, either!

Oakland at Dallas: Yeah, I think the ‘Boys win this one. It’s Turkey Day, they’re at home, and millions of fans will be watching. Romo, Bryant, Witten, Murray, Ware… I think the Cowboys just have too much talent for the Raiders, especially with the Iggles on their tails!

Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Well, it’s always hard to win in Bawlmer.., but Simon’s gonna go full-blown homer and pick the Steelers in this one. The Steelers really seem to be coming together over the past few weeks, while the Ratbirds just seem to be treading water. Seriously… where has this Steeler defense been all season? Of course, given that the margin of victory in these games is usually 3 points or less, it’ll be close. Don’t be surprised if the Ratbirds win 21-20. But I think the Men of Steel keep their winning streak alive this week!

Jacksonville at Cleveland: Talk about Factory of Sadness! Simon feels well and truly sorry for anyone forced to watch this stinker! Take the Browns, but hold your nose when you do it!

Tennessee at Indianapolis: Yawn. Take the Colts, if you care.

Chicago at Minnesota: In the Battle of the Awful Accents, I say take da Bears to win. They’ve got too much game for the Vikings.

Continue reading “SIMON’S PICKS – WEEK 13”

Converting MP4 to MP3 with VLC

Have you ever wanted to convert a video file to an audio file? Like, maybe you wanted a small clip from TV show to use as a ringtone, or maybe your favorite band was on Conan or Kimmel and you wanted an audio version of their performance for your iPod or smartphone?

There are dozens of apps out there that claim to do that, but most of those websites seem scammy, as if the download is malware or the ads might infect your computer with some kind of virus. And even the legit apps often have some kind of toolbar or search engine they want to install.

But did you know that VLC, the malware-free Swiss Army knife of video players, can also convert video to audio?

Just open VLC and choose “Media” > “Convert/Save”:


In the window that appears, click “Add” and choose the video file(s) you want to convert:


Next, click the down arrow on the “Convert/Save” button and choose “Convert”:


On the next window, make sure the “Convert” radio button is selected, then choose the type of audio file you wish to create: OGG, MP3, MP4, FLAC or CD (WAV):


Choose an output destination, then press “Start”. VLC will appear to play the file: the main VLC window will appear, and the progress bar will move as if the video is playing at high speed, but no video will be displayed. When it reaches the end of the video, the conversion will be complete. You can then edit the audio in Adobe Audition (spendy, but awesome) or Audacity (free, but not as good as Audition).

By default, VLC will convert the audio to a 128kbps mp3. This is fine for things like ringtones.

If you’d like to convert at higher quality, select “Audio – MP3” at the previous step and then click the Options icon (the icon with the screwdriver and wrench). Click the “Audio Codec” tab:


Here you can adjust the bitrate as necessary. However, note that increasing the bitrate will not improve the converted file if the new file’s bitrate exceeds the original file. For instance, if the audio in the original file is 192kbps, editing the bitrate to 320kbps won’t make it sound any better; it’ll just make a larger file. You could, however, change VLC’s default bitrate from the 128kbps to 192kbps to get the best quality from the converted file.

A REALLY COOL Photograph

Wanna see something cool? Check out this picture:

Conrad Heyer

The man in the picture is Conrad Heyer. Heyer was born in Waldoboro, Maine. The picture was taken in 1852, when Heyer was 103. Since he was born in 1749. this picture is unique in that it’s a photograph of the earliest born human being. In other words, as far as anyone knows, there are no photographs of anyone born before Heyer was.

But there’s more. Heyer served in the Continental Army under George Washington. You know how Washington crossed the Delaware River to attack Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas 1776? Washington-Crossing-the-Delaware

Yeah, Heyer was there. The eyes you see in the photograph above once gazed on George Washington himself! Which is pretty cool. It’s also a connection to a world we can’t imagine. Heyer was born in Maine back when Maine was still part of Massachusetts… and was barely explored by Europeans. The entire population of the United States was less than 2 million. If you wanted to go from point A to point B, horseback and walking were your only options, It’s likely that Heyer remembered even the Seven Years War, which came to an end when he was 14.

It kind of blows my mind that someone who fought with Washington lived long enough to be photographed. But there you are.

RANDOM CRUSH: Greta Gerwig

Greta Celeste Gerwig, born on August 4, 1983, is an American actress and filmmaker. She initially became popular through the mumblecore movement, but has since starred in “bigger” films, such as Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress and the godawful Arthur remake. She does voice work on the Adult Swim series China, IL, and also co-wrote her most recent film. Frances Ha.

To me, she seems to be the “thinking man’s Katee Sackhoff”… or, if you prefer, Katee Sackhoff for hipsters and\or film nerds. What do you think?

Et tu, Brute?

From the “This Is Why They Call It The Daily Fail” Department:

In the UK there’s a long-running TV show called University Challenge, in which teams from universities – especially posh schools like Oxford and Cambridge – answer ridiculously difficult questions for points. The team with the most points at the end of the show continues on in a knockout tournament not unlike March Madness.

Since 1994, the show has been hosted by TV personality Jeremy Paxman. And if you thought Alex Trebek was “snooty” and “condescending” when a Jeopardy! contestant gives a wrong answer… let’s just say that Paxman puts him to shame. This article in the Daily Mail refers to Paxman’s “withering put-downs” and “goading” of incorrect answers.

But it seems that Paxman got a comeuppance of sorts recently. A team from Claire College Oxford was asked to identify the composer of a snippet of classical music. They guessed, incorrectly, that it was by Bedrich Smetana. Paxman replied that it was Antonín Dvorak.

The problem? The music was from a piece by Dvorak, but the specific snippet the show played was actually an ancient plainchant (or, if you prefer, a Gregorian chant).

To give a modern analogy, it was as if the show played the first ten seconds of the Fugees’ “Ready or Not” (which is nothing but a sample of an Enya song called “Boadicea”), and the team answered “Enya” but were told they were wrong because it was the Fugees:



Anyway, the Daily Fail wrote the linked article, gloating that Paxman had gotten it wrong. But within their article – ABOUT HOW PAXMAN WAS WRONG – lies this whopper:

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For those too lazy to click the thumbnail, the Mail asserts that “St Gregory the Great is said to have standardized [plainchant] in the mid 18th century”.

Pope Gregory I lived from around AD 540 until March 12, 604. Which, you’ll note, is not the mid 1700s. I’m not sure how the hell the Mail managed to make such a huge error. At first I was thought “maybe the author was thinking ‘seventh’ century and accidentally added the ‘-teenth’ at the end”. But then, most of what Pope Gregory did – if he did what he did – would have been done in the sixth century. And although traditionalists have long asserted that Gregory was the man who made them part of the Western Church, many scholars are convinced that the chants weren’t invented until AD 750 (and in France, no less), and that the chants weren’t standardized until the 9th or 10th centuries, well after Gregory passed.

Either way… good job, Daily Fail!

UPDATE: They have since corrected the error, and added another Paxman screw up on University Challenge to the linked article.

Football and Baseball

I was hanging out at one of my regular message boards this week when I stumbled across a post entitled “Things you didn’t know were real until you were an adult”. Posters admitted to all sorts of youthful naivete, like thinking that lobotomies were something made up for books and movies, or that “Jews for Jesus” was just a Richard Belzer joke, or not knowing that “cavalry” and “Calvary” were two different words.

One of the posters – who is not a sports fan – admitted that he had no idea there were two teams named the “Giants”: a baseball team and a football team.

Yes, there are two sports teams called the “Giants”. What’s more, they originally played in the same city: from 1883 to 1957, the baseball team was the New York Giants. In 1925, the NFL’s New York Giants team was born. To avoid confusion, they were often called the “New York Football Giants”, something you still hear sportscasters like Joe Buck say from time to time, even though the baseball team moved to San Francisco in 1958.

In the early days of the NFL, it was common to name NFL teams after long-established baseball teams. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, were known as the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1933 to 1940. In 1934, there was an NFL team called the Cincinnati Reds. There was an NFL teams known as the New York Yankees (1926-1928), the Brooklyn Dodgers (1930-1943) and the Cleveland Indians (1931.) There were at least two baseball teams with the Washington Senators name, the inspiration for the Washington Senators football team, which played a single season in 1921… when the NFL was still called the American Professional Football Association.

But one of the most interesting stories of all – especially given the current controversy – involves the Washington Redskins. Four men bought the rights to a Boston team in 1932. They named their team after the Boston Braves, a local baseball team (which moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then Atlanta in 1966).

As it turned out, the football team lost $46,000 in its first year, the equivalent of $805,000 in today’s money. So three of the investors bailed, leaving George Preston Marshall as the sole owner. The next year, Marshall hired a new head coach, a Native American named Lone Star Dietz. He also signed many Native American players. But the players objected to the “Braves” name, so Marshall named them the “Boston Redskins” instead. And the Native American players were apparently OK with this: the 1933 team photo featured the entire team in warpaint and feathers.

Continue reading “Football and Baseball”