Weird Universe Blog — September 18, 2016

Pollution-Detecting Shirts

These shirts sold by aerochromics alert their wearers to the presence of dangerous levels of pollution by changing color. They go for $500 a shirt. There are three styles to choose from that differ in pattern and what they react to — either carbon monoxide, radiation, or "particle pollution."

So if you get the carbon monoxide or radiation-detecting shirt, how exactly do you test that it really works — without putting yourself in a life-threatening situation?

Posted By: Alex - Sun Sep 18, 2016 - Comments (2)
Category: Fashion

Lipstick-Shaped Cigarette Lighter

Imagine the hilarity when your lady-love accidentally scorches her kisser! She'll be "smoking hot" then!

Posted By: Paul - Sun Sep 18, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Cosmetics, Stupid and/or Dangerous Products, Face and Facial Expressions, Pain, Self-inflicted and Otherwise

September 17, 2016

Must Get Married by August 15th

August 1973: Jean Roth sat in the lobby of a building at Southern Illinois University with signs that read: "I must be married by August 15th for inheritance purposes."

She explained to anyone who asked that she would give $50,000 to any man who agreed to marry her for a year. Many men immediately volunteered to help her. In addition, "Scores of men called the campus newspaper to get the girl's telephone number."

But it turned out, not surprisingly, that the offer was bogus. It was all just a sociology experiment dreamed up by Dr. James M. Henslin, the teacher of a Sociology of Deviant Behavior class that Jean was enrolled in. Explained Dr. Henslin: "In this [class], we deal with deviance from the norm or deviance from what is expected of people. It was an experiment to create a form of deviance and look at the reactions."

So it sounds like it was one of those breaching experiments that became all the rage in sociology classes around that time (late 60s/early 70s).

The class had chosen Jean to be the heir in need of a hubby and had then coached her on how to respond to potential questions. In fact, Jean was already married. Her husband, also a student at the university, reportedly thought the experiment "was stupid."

Ogden Standard-Examiner - Jul 29, 1973

It reminds me of the Dormitory Escape Plan of 1967 that I posted about a couple of months ago, in which a young woman had advertised for a husband as a way to escape from the all-female dormitory that she hated living in.

Also, it seems that Dr. Henslin is the author of several sociology textbooks that are still in use — Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach and Social Problems: A Down to Earth Approach. He's now retired from Southern Illinois University.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Sep 17, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Experiments, Marriage, 1970's

Inedible Egg Products

Original article here.

Even after reading this article about the big change in export rules for inedible egg products that occured in 1983, I still have no idea what these products are, or what they are used for.

Apparently, the baffling subject is still being thrashed out by the USDA thirty years later.

Posted By: Paul - Sat Sep 17, 2016 - Comments (10)
Category: Food, 1980's, Twenty-first Century

September 16, 2016

Dystopian Ant World

Researchers in Poland have discovered a group of ants living a strangely dystopian existence.

It's a group of worker ants that have fallen down a vertical ventilation pipe into an old nuclear weapon bunker and are unable to get out. As described by the researchers, it's "a large amount of workers trapped within a hostile environment in total darkness, with constantly low temperatures and no ample supply of food."

When the researchers first discovered the ant population down in the bunker in 2013, they assumed the ants would soon die. But when they returned to check on the ants in 2015 and 2016 the ants were still there — somehow maintaining a stable population. How were they doing this? This Science Daily article explains:

the severe conditions within the bunker made reproduction effectively impossible. Although the scientists did undertake a special search for larvae, pupae, empty cocoons or queens, they found nothing. Nor did they find signs of male offspring.

Looking for an answer why the population was still seemingly thriving, the scientists deducted that there was a constant influx of newly fallen ants. The metal plate that once covered the pipe outlet had obviously rusted so much that it has been collapsing under a big wood ant colony's mound built right over the pipe. In fact, the mortality in the bunker is quite high, but the regular 'newcomers' turn out to be overcompensating for the dead ants.

It's like an ant version of Hell. They struggle along in complete darkness, freezing, slowly starving to death, with new captives constantly replenishing their ranks.

The researchers' full article is in The Journal of Hymenoptera Research: "Living beyond the limits of survival: wood ants trapped in a gigantic pitfall" (Aug 29, 2016).

"View from the bunker corridor over the space with the F. polyctena ‘colony’;
in the foreground, a vast ant ‘cemetery’."

Posted By: Alex - Fri Sep 16, 2016 - Comments (4)

September 15, 2016

Thought she could fly like Batman

On January 28, 1966, Erma Veith was driving along Highway 19 in Wisconsin when suddenly she veered out of her lane and sideswiped an oncoming truck driven by Phillip Breunig.

Breunig later sued for damages, but Mrs. Veith's insurance company offered an unusual defense. It said she wasn't negligent and therefore not liable because she had been overcome by a mental delusion moments before swerving out of her lane. She hadn't been operating her automobile "with her conscious mind."

The insurance company lost the initial case, but appealed, and eventually the dispute ended up before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin (Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co.). There, the court heard the nature of the mental delusion that had gripped Mrs. Veith:

The psychiatrist testified Mrs. Veith told him she was driving on a road when she believed that God was taking ahold of the steering wheel and was directing her car. She saw the truck coming and stepped on the gas in order to become airborne because she knew she could fly because Batman does it. To her surprise she was not airborne before striking the truck but after the impact she was flying.

Actually, Mrs. Veith's car continued west on Highway 19 for about a mile. The road was straight for this distance and then made a gradual turn to the right. At this turn her car left the road in a straight line, negotiated a deep ditch and came to rest in a cornfield. When a traffic officer came to the car to investigate the accident, he found Mrs. Veith sitting behind the wheel looking off into space. He could not get a statement of any kind from her.

The court ultimately agreed with the insurance company that a sudden mental incapacity might excuse a person from the normal standard of negligence. It noted that a Canadian court had once reached a similar conclusion: "There, the court found no negligence when a truck driver was overcome by a sudden insane delusion that his truck was being operated by remote control of his employer and as a result he was in fact helpless to avert a collision."

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court then ruled that this excuse didn't apply in Veith's case because she had had similar episodes before. Therefore, she should have reasonably concluded that she wasn't fit to drive.

This case has become an important precedent in tort law, establishing the principle that you can't use sudden mental illness as an excuse if you have forewarning of your susceptibility to the condition.

The case is such a classic that in an issue of the Georgia Law Review (Summer 2005) it was even described in verse:

A bright white light on the car ahead,
Entranced Erma Veith, so she later said.
Pursuing that light, a miracle did unfold:
Of Erma's steering wheel, God took control.
Under the influence of celestial propulsion,
Erma now operated by divine compulsion.
She met a truck, and responded in scorn:
She hit the gas, so she'd become airborne.
Why, Erma, would you seek elevation?
"Batman!" she replied, "my inspiration!"
Moreover, at trial, other evidence of panic:
She had previously invoked the Duo Dynamic.
Once to her daughter, she had commented:
"Batman is good; your father is demented."
The law held sympathy for Erma's plight:
After all, mankind has long yearned for flight.
Soaring above, slipping gravity's attraction,
Many have aspired to that satisfaction.
Still, the law cautioned, the limits were great:
"Was Erma forewarned of her delusional state?"
On this issue, the evidence appeared strong:
"She had known of her condition all along."
She experienced a vision, at a shrine in a park:
When the end came, she would be in the Ark.
Indeed, she would assist, in sorting them out:
Those to be saved, and those not devout.
Knowing all this, said the court in conclusion,
She might well expect, she'd suffer delusion.
In her condition, a state most bizarre,
Erma was negligent, to drive a car.
And to Erma, a lesson of universal appeal:
"Nothing can emulate the Batmobile!"

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 15, 2016 - Comments (5)
Category: Law, Lawsuits, 1960's

Alec Templeton

I must confess that until a few days ago, despite loving clever weird music, I had never heard of Alec Templeton. (A DJ at WQXR dispelled my ignorance.) He turns out to be one of those talented composers who could veer between serious and silly with ease.

Posted By: Paul - Thu Sep 15, 2016 - Comments (3)
Category: Humor, Parody, Music, 1940's

September 14, 2016

Killed by own invention

That's one way to cure rheumatism.

The Decatur Herald - July 14, 1958

Charles Werly, 52-year-old Swiss inventor, called in a group of specialists Saturday to demonstrate his new electric-wave apparatus for curing rheumatism.
Werly fitted the machine on himself, switched on the current — and died. The watching doctors said he was killed by a 220-volt charge passing through his body.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Sep 14, 2016 - Comments (7)
Category: Inventions, Experiments, 1950's

Lord Littlebrook, RIP

Obituary here.

Posted By: Paul - Wed Sep 14, 2016 - Comments (1)
Category: Entertainment, Human Marvels, Wrestling, 1980's, 1990's

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.

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