Cool and Creepy Archaeology in October

The month is almost over, but I can’t let it go completely by without tipping my hat to Massachusetts Archaeology Month.

Since life here at PEM has been very focused on the amazing Emperor’s Private Paradise exhibit, I have to admit I’ve been more tuned to archaeology stories from that corner of the world recently, including this incredibly cool discovery which may make people reevaluate historical trade routes: Could a Rusty Coin Re-Write Chinese-African History?

In celebration of which I give you Mint Your Own Coin from the American Museum of Natural History’s OLogy page, which also features fun interviews with archaeologists, make-your-own archaeological stationery, artifact features, and more.

If you’re looking for other online archaeology interactives, check out the extensive list at Fun Archaeology For Kids.  The list includes lots of different cultures and time periods, with a great many of the interactives created by museums and other reputable sources.

And now for the creepy. (It is, after all, the week before Halloween, and I’m not entirely immune to the Salem atmosphere.)

Royal blood may be hidden inside decorated gourd.  (eeurgh!)  An intricately decorated gourd bears traces of blood which may very well have come from a handkerchief soaked in the blood of the beheaded King Louis XVI of France.

Personally, I prefer my blood 100% Pure Fake, as in the book reviewed by exhibit interactive wizard Paul Orselli.  And if that’s not enough gross and gucky exploration for you, check out Wastewater: Sewage in your face! from the San Diego department of public works, which, among other more educationally rewarding activities, has recipes for making soda and cake that look like sludge.

All creeped out?  Build an Egyptian tomb, uncover a prehistoric burial, or just make a pasta skeleton, courtesy of artist Kathy Barbro, directions here (or click the picture).

Pasta skeleton designed and photographed by Kathy Barbro. Click for link.

Ideabox: Water Balloons

Today may see a brief break in the previously unremitting gross weather of the last two weeks, but there are surely more scorching days in our future.  To that end, I present a post about water balloons.   (Because if they’re good enough for NASA they’re good enough for me…)

ideabox water balloons

Watch a Water Balloon Break in Slow-Motion

People Study This Stuff?

How does a water balloon pop in low or no gravity?  NASA wanted to know, and not just because it looks cool.  Think about delivering water to a colony on Mars, or to the International Space Station.   Think about taking a bath in orbit.  Check out the awesome video results of the Symphony of Spheres and other experiments.

If you’re looking for other cool water droplets and bursting balloons, look no further!  Doc Harold Edgerton was a pioneer of stroboscopic photography, and dozens of his videos and photographs are available from the online MIT museum collections.

But they’re mostly about fun, right?

There may be a creativity crisis in America, but these two kids have come up with 27 ways to play with water balloons…how many can you think of?

Or don’t use a traditional water balloon at all–this family documented their experiment with the amazing 120 foot water balloon using latex tubing.  (And these folks built an air-pressure-powered water balloon cannon…but if you make one of these, don’t tell me–and don’t blame me if your cannon explodes, as is mentioned as a possibility in the comments.)

Words of Wide Open Thought

Happy first day of June!  To celebrate the beginning of a new month I thought I’d break out some of my favorite quotes in praise of the phenomenon that is brain popcorn:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.  Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
~ Howard Thurman

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
~ Albert Einstein

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
~Mark Twain

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities. ” ~Theodore Geisel

“Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.”
~Norman Podhoretz

“The mind is a museum to be looted at night.” ~Raine, Craig Anthony, The Grey Boy

And to wrap it up, museum comics from Mark Parisi for a laugh, and a video from those Peter-Pan-like folks at

Cartoon Brain Food

This turned up on one of my museum discussion email lists, and I had to share it with you for several reasons.

1) Cartoon characters visit a museum and get excited about the artwork instead of running through it, destroying it, or ignoring it, ala Tom & Jerry, Scooby Doo, or any number of other cartoons I could name. (Granted, the fact that it was produced by a consortium of French museums does make it more likely that the art would be more of a focus than otherwise…but it’s still great and models mostly appropriate museum behavior.)

2) In one minute the three characters manage to actually model close-looking and observation of the artwork depicted. One character knows more than the others and helps them look for details, then gives them some context for what they’re seeing.  The cartoon gets away with sounding a little condescending, which I wouldn’t really advocate, but otherwise it’s a good model for teachers, docents, or parents to follow when tying in details of kids’ lives with facts about a more distant time or culture.

3) There’s a very “I Spy” attitude to the conversation, which is a game kids love, and which I’ve been tuned into recently due to the upcoming opening of Eye Spy in my section of PEM.  I particularly love the last detail of the reflection of the man in the window, since reflections, distortions, and other plays on perception are all over the upcoming exhibition.

4) This is part of a whole series of movies which feature artworks from the participating museums, so you can do a cartoon-guided virtual tour of a bunch of very cool art .  Check out some of the others on the Louvre’s YouTube channel, at the “Jeunesse” playlist.  (Some of the videos are in French and some in English.)  Note, as far as modeling appropriate behavior goes, the characters never touch any of the art, even the really appealing lion with the movable tail.  Even I wanted to give it a yank and see what might happen!

Music, Accidentally On Purpose

*waves* Hello All!  I have returned from my trip to Italy and essentially recovered from the Italian cold I brought back with me, and I’m back on track to keep bringing you fresh Brain Popcorn.  Today’s post celebrates unusual music.

ASIMO conducts the Detroit Symphony. Click for story.

Music is a great interdisciplinary doorway.  Though I ran as far as possible from the calculations necessary for the ‘physics of music’ class they offered in undergrad, the fact remains that music and physics *are* closely linked, and so are music and art, music and history, music and literature, music and myth, music and….you get the refrain.  Today we’re going to focus on a few science connections.

Gravity Makes Music!

Gravité from Renaud Hallée: check out some very cleverly edited percussion work with falling tennis balls, forks and knives, televisions, basketballs, and light sticks.  It reminds me a lot of the number “Trashing the Camp” by Phil Collins, from Disney’s Tarzan.  (Thanks to Rob over on Politics et Alia Sensae for the heads up!)

For a slightly more complicated set of interactions (with some entertaining moments and some real physics –there’s a Newton’s Cradle in there!) check out the Rube-Goldberg-inspired “This Too Shall Pass” by OK Go.  Once you’ve watched it once and have stopped laughing, go again and keep your eyes out for levers, weights and counterweights, wedges, and a number of other simple machines.

Vegetables as instruments?

Well, it beats eating them… If you missed my earlier link to the ViennaVegetable Orchestra, here it is.  This is a great way to talk about materials engineering (what qualities are they looking for when they pick their vegetables?  How do they change those materials to get the sound they want?), and also just to discuss the ways people make noise (beating, blowing through a tube or over a tube, plucking, shaking…how do these veggie instruments resemble or differ from what a regular orchestra/band/jam session uses?).

Did you know? The palm cockatoo is known to beat hollow logs with sticks to make loud drumming sounds. ~courtesy of @AMNH, the American Museum of Natural History’s Twitter feed

Animal Music–apparently not confined to cetaceans and songbirds!  (Does anybody else have the lines from Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb running through their heads yet?  “Many more monkeys drumming on drums! Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum!”)

Earth Music

Luray Caverns Stalacpipe

The Stalacpipe Organ at Luray Caverns, photo from their website

Three years/2500 attempts = 37 formations/5 octaves = The Stalacpipe Organ.  There are so many cool paths you can take from here, looking at caves and earth science, spelunking, Virginia history, invention of musical instruments, more math and physics of sound, inspiration for creating your own tube-length-instruments.  Or just check out the site for Luray Caverns and play the audio clip.

And finally, for sheer amusement value, “Flight of the Bumblebee” played on an iPad.  Is this cheating?   Having played this piece on the flute, I’m going to say yes.  If you’re not out of breath by the end, it doesn’t count.  🙂

Just for Fun: What’s in your brain?

It’s not every day that one comes across art that so perfectly ties in with a blog named “Brain Popcorn.”  However, thanks to a tweet from Paul Orselli, I wandered over to Behance Network to discover “What have you got in your head?

(My personal favorite is this brain made of star-shaped pasta.  Fabulous.  Even if today, my brain is made of chocolate wrapped in a to-do list.)

Credit goes to Sara Asnaghi. Click the picture to see the rest of her brain-art.

So much cooler than the brain-shaped jello-mold we had hanging around the ed office for a while. (I wonder what I did with that?  I’m feeling inspired.)

Looking for further brain art?  Check out “The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art.”  It’s a stitch.

And, just to make me feel better about the whole brain-of-chocolate business:
Chocolate, Wine, and Tea Improve Brain Performance