Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks

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Drew Friedman sees the freaks in all of us. Arguably the world’s greatest living caricaturist, his painstakingly-rendered, sweat-beaded, liver-spotted, and uncanny portraits have appeared in RAW, Esquire, The New Yorker, MAD, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Observer. Last year, Drew told me that a collector had commissioned a series of paintings depicting legendary characters from the golden age of the sideshow, from Schlitzie the Pinhead to Percilla Lauther Bejano, aka “The Monkey Girl.” Why? As Penn Jillette writes in the newly published Drew Friedman’s Sideshow Freaks, “We want to look at them because they’re different from us, but we keep looking at them because they’re the same as us.” We’re pleased to welcome you into this ten-in-one of fine artistry where the stories really are between the lines. Step right up!

Drew Friedman will sign copies of Sideshow Freaks on February 20, 4pm, at Book Soup in Los Angeles.

–David Pescovitz

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John Eckhardt Jr. (1911-1991, Baltimore, MD), Johnny Eck, billed as “The Most Remarkable Man Alive” and “The King of the Freaks,” was born without a body below his waist and learned to walk on his hands. He enjoyed a long career touring as a famed sideshow performer and was memorably featured as the “Half Boy” in the classic Tod Browning film Freaks (1932). He also conducted an orchestra in his hometown of Baltimore with his “normal” twin brother, Robert, on piano.

Peter Moore (1932-1984, Wetumpka, AL) was billed as “The World’s Smallest Man,” standing 27 inches and weighing 32 pounds. He was the oldest of nine (normal) brothers and sisters, and enjoyed a long, happy career performing at various carnival and state fair sideshows.

Otis Jordan (1925-1990, Barnesville, GA) was billed alternately as “The Frog Boy” or “The Human Cigarette Factory.” He was born with his limbs paralyzed, or ossified, and he developed a talent for rolling and lighting a cigarette with only his lips and mouth. Otis loved his career as a sideshow performer and was still appearing at Coney Island as late as 1990.

Leonard Hanstein (life span unknown, Oklahoma City, OK, active 1930s), “The Big-Mouthed Boy,” made a living by demonstrating the enormous size of his mouth. He could hold in his mouth up to four large hardboiled hen’s eggs or four billiard balls; he could also insert his entire fist or a 100-watt lightbulb into his mouth.

“The Great Waldo” (c. 1920-?, Germany), “The Human Ostrich,” was so named because, ostrichlike, he could ingest and gobble almost anything, including whole lemons, rings, watches, frogs, etc. The highlight of his act, for which he was always decked out in a tuxedo, consisted of him swallowing a live mouse and regurgitating it, alive and well. Waldo, a Jew, fled Germany in 1938 and performed in America with the Ringling Brothers Circus and Hubert’s Museum in New York.

Gondino Rao and Lukshana Bai (c. 1895-?/c. 1906-?, Lower Burma, India), known as “Gondino & Apexia,” both appeared with the Ringling Brothers Circus in the early twentieth century and were billed together as “The Pinhead Brother & Sister from Lower Burma.” Gondino also appeared solo as “The Boy with the Monkey’s Head” and “The Missing Link.”

William Henry Johnson (1842/1843-1926, Liberty Corner, NJ), known as “Zip,” “The What Is It?,” “The Missing Link,” and “The Man-Monkey,” was an African-American pinhead who enjoyed an incredibly long career as an exhibited attraction, first in New Jersey, then with P. T. Barnum, who dubbed him “Zip” and concocted an elaborate story detailing his capture in the jungle, playing up the “Missing Link” angle. Barnum had Zip’s head shaved leaving just a tuft of hair remaining, dressed him in a furry gorilla suit, and had him appear at first in a cage, rattling the bars and screeching and grunting apelike to the crowd’s delight. When released, he would proceed to play the violin (very badly). There has been great speculation about Zip’s mental abilities and whether he was a true microcephalic; most assume he was a mildly retarded man being exploited for profit. But on his deathbed, he is said to have whispered to his sister, “Well, we fooled ’em for a long time, didn’t we?”

Ella Milbauer (Mills) (1889-1964, Baraboo, WI) was a popular Fat Lady appearing mainly in the Ringling Brothers sideshows, billed as “586 Pounds of Feminine Charm.” Ella was a crowd favorite, known for coyly displaying her massive legs to the delight of the male patrons, who rewarded her with whistles and catcalls.

Melvin Burkhart (1907-2001, Atlanta, GA), known as “The Anatomical Wonder” and “The Human Blockhead,” was a legendary, much-beloved sideshow perf
ormer for more than sixty years. Taking advantage of having had his nose often broken as a boxer, he could hammer nails and spikes up his nostrils. Employing his unusual ability in muscle control, he could elongate his neck, suck his stomach into his spine, wrestle snakes, and exhibit opposite expressions on his face simultaneously–happy and sad or, as he described it, “mad and glad at the same time.” Melvin acted as his own announcer (“talker”), much in the style of a Borscht Belt comic, swearing throughout his performances that it didn’t hurt.

George and Willie Muse (1890-1971/1893-2001, Franklin County, VA), “Eko & Iko,” were billed as “The Ambassadors from Mars” as well as “The Sheep-Headed Men.” Kidnapped in 1899 and told that their mother was dead, they toured with Al G. Barnes and later Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1927 they visited their hometown, where their mother found them and fought to free them. Engaging the services of a lawyer, they obtained a contract that permitted them to retain great profits from future sideshow exhibition, and in 1928 they returned to show business until retiring to Roanoke in 1961. Promoters alternately claimed they were “found near the remains of their spaceship” or that they were “Sheep-headed Cannibals from Ecuador.” In actuality, they were dreadlocked African-American albino brothers from Virginia. Willie Muse lived to age 108.

2010 Gift Guide: BOOKS!

Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)

A manifesto for kids and parents alike to reclaim childhood.

Outwitting Squirrels

From spooker poles and Perrier bottles to water bombs and cayenne pepper, Bill Adler, Jr., has tried every conceivable method to rid his backyard of these fluffy gluttonous rodents.

The Urban Homestead

This celebrated, essential handbook shows how to grow and preserve your own food, clean your house without toxins, raise chickens, gain energy independence, and more.

Made by Hand

“This is a must-read book. Mark has lovingly and candidly documented the complex, myriad, intangible and often very tangible rewards of grabbing the world with both of your hands, and learning how it works.” – Adam Savage, Mythbusters

The Windup Girl

This complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best, will garner Bacigalupi significant critical attention and is clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year.


“One of the most brilliant reimaginings of the near future since cyberpunk wore out its mirror shades” – Publisher’s Week

Bitter Seeds

Debut novelist Tregillis breathes new life into alternate military history with this fun take on WWII. In this version of 1939 Germany, the insane Dr. von Westarp has given WWI orphans superpowers, such as fire-starting, intangibility, and invisibility

Zero History

Another smartly scouted roadmap of alternate routes through today’s global culture, applauded the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the other critics agreed.

When Gravity Fails

“You people are cheating yourselves if you don’t forego food and rent to pick up on Effinger’s work.” – Harlan Ellison

The Kobold Wizard’s Dildo

An absurd comedy about a group of adventurers (elf, halfling, bard, dwarf, assassin, thief) going through an existential crisis after having discovered that they are really just pre-rolled characters living inside of a classic AD&D; role playing game.


It isn’t easy to get a group of bestselling SF authors to write new stories for an anthology, but that’s what Elizabeth Anne Hull has done in this powerhouse book.

Machine of Death

“It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. It let people know how they were going to die.”

Kill the Dead

James Stark, antihero of 2009’s Sandman Slim, returns in this gritty, over-the-top tale of supernatural mayhem.

Zoo City

Zoo City is a fabulous outing from an extremely promising writer… [it] has so much fabulous wordplay, imaginative settings and scenarios, and such a dark and cynical heart that I was totally riveted by it. – Cory


Predictably Irrational

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explores the hidden forces that shape our decisions, including some of the causes responsible for the current economic crisis.

The Big Short


How to Teach Physics to Your Dog

What do dog treats and chasing squirrels have to do with quantum mechanics? Much more than you might imagine, as Orzel explains in this fun introduction to modern physics based on a series of conversations with his dog Emmy.

If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be OK

Zibners, an emergency room pediatrician who divides her time between London and New York, claims that about 75% of all nighttime Emergency Department visits are unnecessary.

Honey I Wrecked the Kids

More life-saving parenting advice from the bestselling author of Breaking the Good Mom Myth


Proving that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, Fordlandia is the story of Henry Ford’s ill-advised attempt to transform raw Brazilian rainforest into homespun slices of Americana.

Cognitive Surplus

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential

Upside of Irrationality

After a youthful accident left him badly scarred and facing grueling physical therapy, Ariely’s treatment required him to accept temporary pain for long-term benefit–a trade-off so antithetical to normal human behavior that it sparked the author’s fascination with why we consistently fail to act in our own best interest.

Robert A Heinlein, In Dialog With His Century

Given his desire for privacy in the later decades of his life, he was both stranger and more interesting than one could ever have known. This is the first of two volumes of a major American biography.

Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python

Each chapte
r gives you the complete source code for a new game and teaches the programming concepts from these examples. “Invent with Python” was written to be understandable by kids as young as 10 to 12 years old, although it is great for anyone of any age who has never programmed before.

Bad Science

Bad Science is more than just a debunking expose (though its that): it’s a toolkit for critical thinking, a primer on statistics and valid study design, a guide to meta-analysis and other tools for uncovering and understanding truth – Cory

Indie Band Survival Guide

In this indispensable guide for indie musicians, Chertkow and Feehan, lead members of the Chicago band Beatnik Turtle, explain how they have managed successfully to get their music out to the public.

Where Good Ideas Come From

Johnson–writer, Web guru, and bestselling author of Everything Bad Is Good for You–delivers a sweeping look at innovation spanning nearly the whole of human history. What sparks our great ideas?

What Technology Wants

Verbalizing visceral feelings about technology, whether attraction or repulsion, Kelly explores the “technium,” his term for the globalized, interconnected stage of technological development.

The Master Switch

The great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control of the new medium–the master switch.

2600, Kindle Edition:

The world’s foremost journal on computer hacking and technological manipulation and control.


“An excellent book for anyone wondering what the hell is going on. Triple A, as the credit rating agencies might say.” – Irish Times

The Peoples’ Manifesto

A funny and inspiring alternative election manifesto

Confessions of a Conjuror


Secret London

An indispensable guide for those who thought they knew London well, or who would like to discover the city’s hidden face.


Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb

A madcap band of dancing, prancing monekys explain hands, fingers, and thumbsto beginning readers. Full color.

Looking at Paintings

This unique introduction to the techniques and history of painting takes the young reader through more than 15,000 years of art, from cave paintings to Picasso.

Animals at Play

“Read this book, share it with the children in your life, and incorporate its lessons into your classroom, family room or Board room.” – Jane Goodall

For the Win

“It’s hard to imagine any other author taking on youth and technology with such passion, intelligence, and understanding.” – Booklist

Adventures of the Cat-Whiskered Girl

This spin-off of The Yggyssey (2009) features Big Audrey, a 14-year-old girl who, as the titles suggests, uncannily resembles a cat. This is only the start of Audrey’s peculiarities, and although she is from another dimensional plane, she resides in Poughkeepsie with a couple who owns a UFO bookstore.

Beautiful Yetta, the Yiddish Chicken

With wry humor, this multilingual picture book tells the story of a brave chicken, Yetta.

Even Monsters Need Haircuts

Just before midnight, on the night of a full moon, a young barber stays out past his bedtime to go to work. Although his customers are mostly regulars, they are anything but normal–after all, even monsters need haircuts.


“A sweet, slender little pop-up book that illustrates the growth of a
town from a single farmhouse to a thriving city in a series of stylized scenes that build, one upon the next, through a window cut out of the center of the page, so that each development literally overlays the ones beneath.” – Cory

I Shall Wear Midnight

Chilling drama combines with laughout-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil.


Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Graphic novels

Unwritten Vol 1

A taut thriller that slyly plays off the real-world mania for imaginary ones like that of Harry Potter, Carey’s new series undercuts the mythology of such all-pervasive media-hyped creations while at the same time hinting at a brilliantly imagined one of its own.


Private investigator John Blacksad is up to his feline ears in mystery, digging into the backstories behind murders, child abductions, and nuclear secrets.

Captain Long Ears

Michael is no ordinary eight-year-old boy in a bunny suit. He is Captain Long Ears, Space Ninja, on a mission with his best friend (an imaginary purple gorilla named Jam) to locate the missing Captain Big Nose.

Sword of My Mouth

“If you love tales of the apocalypse but want something smarter and more character- driven…you must read this comic.” — Annalee Newitz, io9

Sweet Tooth

The latest entry in the postapocalyptic survivalist fantasy stakes has a peculiar sentimental streak in it. Gus, an almost parodically naïve young boy with antlers sprouting from his forehead and a taste for chocolate, is one of the few children born after some kind of manmade catastrophe.

To Teach: The Journey in Comics

“Yes, that William Ayers.” – Cory

Koko Be Good

When readers dive into Wang’s first graphic novel, they may at first believe they have another slacker coming-of-age story on their hands.

Scary Godmother

It’s Halloween night and it’s up to Scary Godmother to show one little girl just how much fun spooky can be! Meet Hannah Marie, who, with the help of Scary Godmother, stands up to her mean-spirited cousin Jimmy and her fear of monsters on her first Halloween adventure with the big kids.

The Snow Yak Show

“Some of my favorite Ryden paintings ever.” — David

Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool

Created in partnership with Asia Society Museum in conjunction with a major retrospective, this is the first comprehensive monograph on the work of art superstar Yoshitomo Nara.

Star Trek: The Original Series 365

The definitive, authorized guide to Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking television program that first aired from 1966 through 1969 and went on to become a cultural phenomenon.

True Crime: An American Anthology

“50 stories that say just as much about America as they do about murder.”

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

“With her wry humor and inextinguishable curiosity, Mary Roach has crafted her own quirky niche in the somewhat staid world of science writing, showing no fear (or shame) in the face of cadavers, ectoplasm, or sex.”

Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times

These accounts often share definite physical features- such as the heat felt and described by witnesses-that have not changed much over the centuries. Indeed, such similarities between ancient and modern sightings are the rule rather than the exception.

Nomad Codes

H.P. Lovecraft, The Technofreak Legacy of Golden Goa; Tantric psychedelia, the Klingon language, UFO Epistemology, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and My Date with a Burmese Tranvestite Spirit Medium.

Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs

“Mirage Men turns the baffling world of UFOs and their investigators into a master key for decoding the twentieth century’s dreams and nightmares.” — Mike Jay

The Red Book

C. G. Jung’s Red Book (Liber Novus) is said to be the most influential unpublished work in the history of psychology.

The Night of the Gun

Carr, now a New York Times columnist, gives both the lowlights of his addiction (the fights, binges and arrests) as well as the painstaking reconstruction of his life.

Short: Walking Tall When You’re Not Tall At All

“Looking to dispel the popular myth that shorter people don’t do as well in life, that they encounter far more difficulties, earn less money, and aren’t as happy romantically as their taller counterparts, the author breaks down related studies and explains the real statistics behind the headlines and hype.” – Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential.

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food

Are you the innovative type, the cook who marches to a different drummer — used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Are you interested in the science behind what happens to food while it’s cooking?

Fuck You Heroes

‘Friedman’s always been crazy’ — Tony Alva

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

“Science is an edifice of tested assumptions, and just as physicists must assume the truth of gravity before moving on to quantum mechanics, so do biologists depend on the reality of evolution. It’s the theory that makes every other theory possible.”

MoonFire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11

And the Moon came nearer…

Contemporary African Art Since 1980

The first major survey of the work of contemporary African artists from diverse situations, locations, and generations who work either in or outside of Africa, but whose practices engage and occupy the social and cultural complexities of the continent.

Black Tattoo Art

This amazing book is a photographic journey across the globe from Borneo to Belgium, Argentina to Athens, New York to New Zealand and beyond in search of avant-garde tattoo art that pays homage to the ancient roots of tattooing in their contemporary interpretations

Velo: Bicycle Culture and Design

“Who needs cars?” – Spiegel

Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs

“Totally new levels of redonkulessness.” –CuteOverload.com

Impressive: Printmaking, Letterpress and Graphic Design

Today’s graphic designers, illustrators, and typographers are rediscovering old printing techniques and handcrafts.

Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet

This gripping espionage tale penetrates the network of international mobsters and hackers who use the Internet to extort money from businesses, steal from tens of millions of consumers and attack government networks.

What Technology Wants

“…consistently provocative and intriguing.” – The Economist

Bicycle Diaries

Byrne’s choice was made out of convenience rather than political motivation, but the more cities he saw from his bicycle, the more he became hooked on this mode of transport and the sense of liberation it provided.

Eating Animals

“If this book were packaged like a loaf of bread, its Nutrition Facts box would list high percentages of graphic descriptions of factory farm methods of animal breeding, mass confinement, and assembly-line slaughter” – Publisher’s Weekly.

Eat To Live

“When Mehmet Oz or any of New York’s leading doctors has a patient whose life depends on losing weight, they call on Joel Fuhrman.


The thrive diet is a long-term eating plan to help all athletes (professional or not) develop a lean body, sharp mind, and everlasting energy.

The Secret Life of Cows

“Remember that the greatest scientists have never discovered how to turn grass into milk.” — Michael Pupin

Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays!

“Likely the most spectacular book about comics ever” – LA Times.

Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai, and Outlaws

An entire generation has become fascinated with the stealth, ferocity and wisdom of the ninja–the epitome of the Japanese “tough guy.”

Sinai Tapestry

A bizarre and wonderful historical fantasy; magic realism with a playful heart. Thomas Disch hated it!

Cleopatra: A Life

A story more exciting than the romantic myth..

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1

“The side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage, and should be, also, of its history.” .

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

She’s still alive, but for how long?


The leathery one has much to say.


Borges’s stories are redolent with an intelligence, wealth of invention, and a tight, almost mathematically formal style that challenge with mysteries and paradoxes revealed only slowly after several readings.

America by Heart : Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag

And then there’s this.

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature

Beginning with a recently discovered 47-million-year-old primate fossil, Switek effectively and eloquently demonstrates the exponential increase in fossils that have been found since Darwin first published On the Origin of Species.

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA

Via several real-life firsthand accounts, public-health journalist McKenna lays bare, often all too graphically, the ravages of a disease with the potential to do grievous international harm because there is virtually no known treatment for it.

Brain Cuttings

The human brain has long been a mystery, but twenty-first century science is beginning to reveal some of its inner workings.

Potato Chip Science

“Holy potato chips! Batman. There’s something about the crinkle of a bag of chips that is like a geek siren song.” – ThinkGeek.com

The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck

Why can’t a broken teacup reassemble itself? How do stars turn hydrogen into iron? This lively, nontechnical look at the physics behind the world around us is rich with entertaining anecdotes and examples of some pretty complex ideas.

Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet

Lynas has gathered global-warming information from an array of authoritative scientists: geologists, glaciologists, oceanographers, climate scientists, and paleoclimatologists, as well as “major scientific projections” from computer modelers.

Monkey with a Tool Belt

Chris Monroe’s quirky hero and detailed illustrations will absorb readers in an entertaining adventure that shows there is an inventive way out of every problem–if you have the right tools.

The US Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg

This guide uses first-hand accounts to illustrate how this skirmish, only three days long, turned into one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Fool on the Hill: A Novel

This exuberant first novel unfolds at Cornell University, the alma mater of its 22-year-old author, who has re-imagined his school as the center of a violent and funny modern-day fairy tale. Stephen Titus George is a young writer longing for true love and a great story to tell.


This supernatural suspense thriller crosses several genres–espionage, geopolitics, religion, fantasy. But like the chicken crossing the road, it takes quite a while to get to the other side. En route, Tim Powers covers a lot of territory: Turkey, Armenia, the Saudi Arabian desert, Beirut, London, Paris, Berlin, and Moscow.

Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Tufte coined “chartjunk” to refer to bad graphics that obscure information or are otherwise useless. This is the antidote.

The Princess Bride

“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”

History of the Peloponnesian War

Written four hundred years before the birth of Christ, this detailed contemporary account of the struggle between Athens and Sparta stands an excellent chance of fulfilling the author’s ambitious claim that the work “was done to last forever.”

History of the Kings of Britain

Completed in 1136, “The History of the Kings of Britain” traces the story of the realm from its supposed foundation by Brutus to the coming of the Saxons some two thousand years later

The Great Book of Amber — Complete Chronicles

Roger Zelazny’s books have three things in common: a flawed hero who sometimes fails, endlessly surprising plot twists, and a blend of lyricism, literary allusions, and sly puns that makes the pages fly.

The Negative

Handsomely illustrated with photographs by Adams as well as instructive line drawings, this classic manual can dramatically improve your photography.

How To Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends and Influence People is just as useful today as it was when it was first published, because Dale Carnegie had an understanding of human nature that will never be outdated.

Machine of Death

MACHINE OF DEATH tells thirty-four different stories about people who know how they will die. Prepare to have your tears jerked, your spine tingled, your funny bone tickled, your mind blown, your pulse quickened, or your heart warmed.

Racing in the Rain

John Horsman is one of the fortunate few who can claim that their racing careers spanned the greatest decades in sports-car competition. His vivid personal account takes you to the world’s greates circuits.




Mark Pescovitz (1955-2010)

Mark Pescovitz (1955-2010)

By David Pescovitz at 9:24 AM Monday, Dec 13, 2010

Blue Depth: Catedral de sal de Zipaquira” by Mark Pescovitz

My oldest brother Mark Pescovitz died yesterday in a car accident. Mark was a true Renaissance man — a transplant surgeon, medical researcher, fine artist, and philanthropist. Mark was a professor of microbiology/immunology and director of the transplant immunology laboratory at Indiana University School of Medicine. He didn’t become a scientist when he grew up — he was always a scientist. Mark was a maker from a very young age. He scavenged electronics by the pound and, before he was even a teenager, built a laser that he turned into an alarm system. He entered the project in a city science fair but didn’t win because the judges refused to believe he made it himself. He built a chemistry lab in our basement, a darkroom in a storage closet, and a model rocket shop in our attic. Inspired by the space race, Mark dreamed of being an astronaut, was an early member of the National Association of Rocketry, and as an adult applied to be a medical doctor aboard the space shuttle. Mark taught me why a broken TV isn’t junk and how to treat sulfuric acid with respect. He gave me my first computer and a book on programming. This year, he transformed my son into a dedicated rocketeer in just one afternoon.

As a medical researcher, Mark authored several hundred scientific publications on immunology and transplantation. Most recently, he and his colleagues published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine about a new way to slow and possibly even stop the progression of type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes. In recent years, he traveled to Eldorat, Kenya to teach physicians there how to do their first kidney transplants. He brought his amazing wife Ora and kids Aliza, Naomi, and Ari with him, and they helped care for children in the town whose parents were suffering from AIDS. For Mark’s efforts in Eldorat, the community there named him an honorary “Village Elder.”

“Head Photographer (self portrait)” by Mark Pescovitz, c. 1973

Ever since he was in high school, Mark had a passion for documentary photography. As his medical research became global, Mark had many new opportunities to take pictures. He had visited more parts of the world than almost anyone I know, from Malaysia, Egypt, and Iran to China, Israel, and Turkey, to perform surgery, train doctors in remote regions, present his research, and meet with collaborators. To maintain his sanity with such a hectic travel schedule he always added an extra day whenever he visited a new place to just explore the locale on his own with his camera. He treated that day as sacred, keeping it free of commitments.

“Few would consider flying to Manila (a 15 hour non-stop flight) for a one day meeting a ‘pleasure’ trip,” Mark once said, “but by bringing my camera and taking an extra day to wander around shooting photos, the perspective of the trip completely changes.”

One of 1000+ photos from Egypt, 2008, by Mark Pescovitz

In 2008, Indiana University held an exhibition of my brother’s travel photography, titled “The Unconventional Tourist.” His photography also was featured in a group show at Boston’s GASP experimental art gallery. Over the last few months, Mark was preparing a new series of photographs that he told me involved “collections of things.” He mentioned that he had also acquired a large Van de Graaf generator for the project. I’m not sure why, but I bet he had a lot of fun with it. Mark was also a collector of fine art, finding inspiration in pieces by Chuck Close, Christo, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and younger emerging artists.

Mark loved music, from classical to bluegrass, and at various points in his life took up violin and mandolin. He served on the board of several charity organizations and was particularly excited about helping with the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Mark and Ora have always been incredibly generous with their time and money, donating to many Jewish, medical, education, and art causes and making themselves available to those organizations in very real ways.

My brother embodied the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, meaning that one should live with purpose, to help heal the world. Mark did that, with joy, wit, and passion. And the world is a little better for it.

My family and I thank you all so much for your kind words and sympathy. If you would like to share your thoughts or memories below in what’s become a “virtual memorial book,” we’d very much appreciate it if you would sign your name to your comment. Mark’s funeral was held on Thursday, December 16, 2 p.m., at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis.


Dr. Ora Pescovitz, Mark’s wife
Aliza Pescovitz, Mark’s daughter
Ari Pescovitz, Mark’s son
Naomi Pescovitz, Mark’s daughter
Maxa Pescovitz, Mark’s sister
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Mark’s brother-in-law

Please consider a donation in Mark’s memory to one of the following organizations that he supported:

Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis
The Indiana University Foundation
The Indianapolis Opera
The International Violin Competition of Indianapolis
Gift of Life Foundation

Willie Nelson, Richard Branson, cowboys, cattle, hotties: Virgin America’s Dallas launch

Virgin America, the airline that carries Boing Boing Video as an in-flight TV channel, launched service from Los Angeles to Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas this week. I joined other press for the inaugural flight, to live-tweet snapshots of the festivities. This included a bunch of cowboys and longhorn steer right on the tarmac at landing, and later, a “secret” performance by Willie Nelson with impromptu on-stage hoedown involving Sir Richard Branson and gorgeous flight attendants.

As a business story, their upstart break into the Dallas market is interesting: 80% of flights into and out of this hub have been American Airlines, until now. But as a visual story, I found it even more interesting.

Highlights of the evening: Sir Richard wearing a “Free Willie” t-shirt to introduce Sir Nelson, and asking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where they decriminalized [marijuana]?” And, sitting so close to the stage, I could read the tiny words carved into the face of Willie’s beat-up guitar. He tossed one of his bandannas to me during the show, and I got a kiss and a handshake.

As has been widely reported, Nelson was just busted for weed by federal Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas. When Branson introduced the 77-year-old Texas native (who appeared to be in better shape than I!), he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I recently met someone who is so fit, he lost six ounces just last night. Please welcome Willie Nelson.” What an amazing performer and a totally cool human being. — Xeni

Show gallery

Willie Nelson tossed me his bandana from stage last night.
Feshica (Virgin America flight attendant)
The lovely @casiestewart on the Tarmac.
Willie Nelson.
Willie Nelson Richard Branson Hoedown
Opera House: self portrait
DJ Lunatik (@djlunatik1)
Lassoing hotties
Cowboys at rest
Cowboy lassoing flight attendants
Longhorn shadow
Longhorn lomo
On the ones and twos, flight attendant @djlunatik1
So, cowboy luckily grabbed me as I snapped this steer. Nearly pierced! LONGHORNS GOTTA LONG.
Saddles as barstools
Sir Richard Branson.
Two kinds of tails: planes, longhorns.
Cowboys on the Tarmac (@virginamerica DFW)
Longhorn cutie (@virginamerica DFW)

Longhorn cattle welcoming committee on the Tarmac (@virginamerica DFW)
Red carpet.
DFW: drenched! @virginamerica
Water cannon on @virginamerica DFW arrival.
First Dallas touchdown
They’re serving “giddyup” cocktails on the @virginamerica DFW launch. VEEV, club soda, jet fuel. 8am
At @virginamerica gate, ready to lift off to DFW. EVERYONE SOUNDS LIKE COWBOYS!
Up at dawn for inaugural @virginamerica LAX/DFW flight.
JPG:Xeni HTM:Rob @BB

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain

Boing Boing special feature


An exclusive preview of the new photography book, Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover; Foreword by Jonah Lehrer. Published by AbramsPosted by Mark Frauenfelder

Click the thumbnails above to see images and captions

HUMAN SKULL INSCRIBED BY A PHRENOLOGIST Anonymous, nineteenth century. Photograph by Eszter Blahak/Semmelweis Museum.

Historically, the primary concern of neuroscience has been location. In the mass of flesh that is the human body, where is the mind? Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Franz Joseph Gall built an influential theory that posited that distinct areas of the cerebrum serve distinct faculties such as emotions, moral impulses and the intellect. He also thought that these different brain areas grow and shrink according to their use, pushing out and creating bumps on the skull that betray the makeup an individual’s mind. It is easy today to chalk up Gall’s reasoning to quackery, and its service to subsequent commercial and ideological uses (such as racism) certainly does not help his case. But Gall ushered in the first modern theory ascribing different mental functions to different parts of the cerebrum. While he was entirely off the mark on the details, his paradigm guides us to this day — only the coordinate system has shifted to indicate positions within the brain rather than on the skull.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

ANTIBODY STAIN Scaffolding in axons. Michael Hendricks and Suresh Jesuthasan (2008).

Antibody staining techniques take advantage of the exquisitely sensitive and selective properties of antibodies, the henchmen of the immune response. They can recognize, and strongly latch on to, molecules introduced from outside an organism’s body, such as those lining the surface of pathogens. Molecular biologists have pioneered ways of harnessing the powerful ability of antibodies to recognize specific molecules and can employ them to study any protein of interest in the brain. By revealing where a given protein is found in a tissue and even within an individual cell, scientists are afforded precious insight into a rich molecular world otherwise invisible even under the microscope. This photomicrograph was generated using antibody that stains the molecular scaffolding found inside of axons, here in neurons that were growing in a dish.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPY Spiny neuron. Thomas Deerinck and Mark Ellisman (2009).

Electron microcopy grants researchers and clinicians access to a universe that is too small to be detected using light-based microscopes. This photomicrograph was obtained by scanning a beam of electrons across the sample while a detector kept track of electrons bouncing off its surface, betraying the specimen’s outer shape. It reveals a neuron with its round-ish soma at the center, and thin dendrites radiating out of it. Pseudocoloring helps to differentiate elements in the image: The brown background is a surface of supportive glial cells, upon which the beige-colored neurons were grown before imaging.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

OPTICAL FIBER ARRAY Jacob Bernstein, Alexander Guerra, and Ed Boyden (2010).

A family of newly characterized proteins has been taking the neuroscience world by storm lately, due to their ability to turn light into electrical currents. Thanks to this property, researchers can switch neurons either on or off at will, using nothing but a fiber optic and a powerful light bulb. Early experiments that delivered these proteins to specific classes of neurons have restored vision to blind mice, and mitigated symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in a rodent model of the disease; the human therapeutic applications, still far off in the future, are no less tantalizing.

With the imaginations of neuroscientists the world over running wild, the field is faced with serious engineering challenges–most critically, how to target beams of light to the right neurons. Engineers have been hard at work to design devices such as this one–a miniature array of independently controllable LED-coupled optical fibers. It is light enough to rest on top of a mouse or rat’s head, and enables researchers to deliver light through its thin optical fibers to specific subsets of neurons in the animal’s hippocampus. The goal is to causally investigate this brain area’s mechanism with ever-increasing precision by selectively switching different parts of it on or off.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

HIPPOCAMPUS Broad overview. Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman, and Joshua Sanes (2005).

The late neurological patient known as “H. M.” provided invaluable insight into human cognition when his debilitating epilepsy was treated half a century ago by the surgical removal of large portions of his hippocampus. While cured of his seizures, he also lost his ability to form long-term memories. Astonishingly, he could acquire and deploy new motor skills yet co
uld not recall having learned them. His plight yielded compelling evidence for the view that different forms of memory are handled by different areas of the brain–that specific regions, such as the hippocampus, serve specific functions like conscious memory.

Yet region is itself a universe unto its own, and performs its assigned function thanks to a massively complex sub-circuit. This photomicrograph of a mouse hippocampus (bottom half) was fluorescently labeled so that different classes of neurons were illuminated in a specific color. (The colored labels are actually natural proteins that fluorescence on their own; researchers have simply introduced their genes into the neurons and let Nature do the rest of the work.)

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

Neocortex Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman, and Joshua Sanes (2007).

This photomicrograph of the mouse neocortex was obtained in transgenic mouse called “Brainbow”, which employs a few different genetically-encoded fluorescent labels and mixes them up to create compound colors from a set of primaries. The mouse, which owes its existence to a breathtakingly elegant molecular biology magic trick (explained in detail in the book), allows researchers to light up cells in up to a hundred separate hues. This allows neuroscientists to distinguish adjacent neurons from one another and tease apart how they are connected to each other.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

Diffusion MRI Patric Hagmann (2006).

A new method called diffusion MRI can be used to uncover major axon pathways in the brain by measuring the motion of water molecules contained within a group (or tract) of axons traveling from one point of the organ to another. This technique is capable of detecting water’s natural diffusion along these tracts and thereby infers their paths indirectly.

This 3D reconstruction from diffusion MRI data shows a tractography of a human brain obtained in a live human subject who walked out of the apparatus unharmed. At top, we are looking down on the brain, with the back of the head at the bottom of the image and the forehead at top; in the view below it, we are looking at the subject from the back of the head. Each line does not represent a single axon, but thousands of them, traveling together as a group. The colors indicate the axis of each fiber (green: front to back; red: left to right; blue: top to bottom).

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

MICROVASCULATURE Opposite: Human cerebral cortex. Alfonso Rodríguez-Baeza and Marisa Ortega-Sánchez (2009). This photomicrograph shows a mouse brain whose blood vessels have been injected with India ink to fill and stain them. The brain was then automatically sliced and simultaneously imaged using a custom-designed microscope. This image, in which the blood vessels are represented in white for clarity, is a view from the front of a brain that has been sectioned through the middle.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

Portraits of the Mind follows the fascinating history of our exploration of the brain through images, from medieval sketches and 19th-century drawings by the founder of modern neuroscience to images produced using state-of-the-art techniques, allowing us to see the fantastic networks in the brain as never before. These black-and-white and vibrantly colored images, many resembling abstract art, are employed daily by scientists around the world, but most have never before been seen by the general public. Each chapter addresses a different set of techniques for studying the brain as revealed through the images, and each is introduced by a leading scientist in that field of study. Author Carl Schoonover’s captions provide detailed explanations of each image as well as the major insights gained by scientists over the course of the past 20 years. Accessible to a wide audience, this book reveals the elegant methods applied to study the mind, giving readers a peek at its innermost workings, helping us to understand them, and offering clues about what may lie ahead.

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century, by Carl Schoonover, foreword by Jonah Lehrer, is published by Abrams.

An Excerpt from Bicycle Diaries

An excerpt from

by David Byrne

Author, musician and longtime cyclist David Byrne offered these excerpts from Bicycle Diaries, a unique audiobook experiment that chronicles his journeys through the world’s major cities.

Though an assortment of “random musings,” the former Talking Head’s observations home in on art, fashion, urban planning and how postmodernity is embodied by the structure and condition of our roads.

As you read, click the playback buttons to hear audio soundscapes reflecting his memory of each locale.




Excerpt 1


I’d heard that there is a Stasi museum in Berlin. I have recently read the book Stasiland, which details that life in which Big Brother encouraged everyone to spy on everyone else, so the museum sounds intriguing. It is some distance from the center of town–almost out in the suburbs–in a massive complex that served as the East German security services’ headquarters.  It’s not listed in most of the museum guides–and Berlin has a lot of museums–so it requires a little bit of research to locate. I bike out, appropriately enough, along the amazing Karl-Marx-Allee, a sort of Soviet-inspired version of the Champs Élysées or Avenida 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires or maybe New York’s Park Avenue. But this boulevard is even wider and grander than many of those. The vaguely Moscow-style grand apartment buildings that line this boulevard outdo those in Moscow and rival the apartments on large avenues in other cities, except these are more orderly and repetitive, echoing each other, going on and on as far as one can see. The scale of both the street and these buildings is not quite human, and the images that come to mind and the accompanying sensations imply to me an idealistic utopian infinite heaven. Ideals and ideologies do not have boundaries, after all. This particular heaven, to me, is not like the typical ugly, bland modernist projects. That was a utopia of another sort. These have almost northern Italian detailing, and though they’re frightening in their somewhat inhuman scale and surreal repetition, they are far more appealing than typical North American housing projects or even a lot of Western modernist buildings where lack of decor came to be held up as a moral virtue. Here’s an infrared digital image:

Infrared photo - Karl Marx Alee

On one side of the boulevard the ground floors are sad and forlorn–former cinemas, hardware stores, and medical supply stores–most of which are either shut, decrepit, or reconfigured as DVD shops or similar fast-buck enterprises. The other side has charming outdoor cafés with tables arrayed in the shade of trees.  The stores in general in this part of town seem to have lagged behind the gentrification that is now endemic in the center of town since the Wall came down. The luxury shops and goods that flooded into the former center of East Berlin haven’t gotten here yet. There is a window display in a medical supply shop that to me harks back to an earlier time:

Window - medical supplies

A thing of beauty. What kind of thing, though? The basic food groups? Not exactly the basic food groups as we know them, but maybe that was the idea.

The hard times in some of the Eastern bloc Communist countries after World War II ensured that some of the existing architecture was left alone. Yes, it’s a cliché that neglect equals preservation, but there’s some truth there as well. At least the buildings that weren’t bombed in successive wars weren’t torn down and replaced with bland new edifices, housing projects, or highway overpasses. The Easties couldn’t afford it.

Instead, the buildings were often given new purposes, as it was cheaper to do a slight refurbishment than to build a whole new structure. There was little money for wholesale urban redevelopment here, unlike in many Western European and North American cities, and besides, the Allied bombing had cleared much of the city anyway. While Robert Moses had to raze whole neighborhoods in New York to make space for his highways and housing developments, here the demolition part of the job had already been accomplished. Some buildings that in the West would have been torn down were left standing as they were the few that remained, and those are now extremely desirable. One blatant exception is the former Communist Party headquarters on Alexanderplatz in the former East Berlin, a giant postwar modernist monument, copper-mirrored and toxic–both psychologically and chemically–which is being slowly and very carefully dismantled due to the amount of asbestos inside. The removal of this psychic eyesore is controversial, as it symbolically erases a prominent reminder of the former regime and of the country’s recent history–just as the Nazis took over and repurposed formerly Jewish-owned offices and buildings and then the Communists later reworked and renamed the Nazi buildings to their own ends. Eliminating this eyesore is wiping away part of the collective memory.

Excerpt 2

These days many people know of the Stasi from the recent movie The Lives of Others. The combination of psychological and Orwellian horror is hellish and weirdly seductive. The agency was known for turning citizens against their neighbors by subtle pressure, implied threats, or economic incentives. It seems it’s something that many national security agencies do from time to time. (“If you see something, say something.”)  Turning the citizenry into rats makes the entire populace scared and docile, and after a while no one knows who’s informing on whom. Anyone could be an informer or an agent. The world becomes a Philip K. Dick novel–although in his version everyone would also be informing on themselves.

The Stasi Museum is a massive compound that encloses a whole city block. I ride my bike into the inner courtyard and lock it up. Since both the parking and the main entrances to the various buildings are located inside the compound, when it was functioning no one outside could see who was coming or going–exits and entrances from the building all took place within the large interior courtyard. I am told that the whole complex is now for sale! For one euro! Well, there are conditions. The city is actually trying to sell it to Germany, on the condition that they will turn it into a proper museum.

As it now exists, the museum is rudimentary. One floor of former offices displays clunky spy devices: cameras in logs, behind large coat buttons, and in fake rocks. Here’s one in a birdhouse–a little obvious, I think:

Infrared photo of birdhouse spycam



Excerpt 1

In the morning I am driven to the combined offices and set of the HBO series Big Love, and I get a short tour of the interior sets of this TV show–sets that represent the homes of the show’s three Mormon wives. I love these artificial places. You’re on the set and it’s completely believable as a suburban home–there are books and magazines lying around that the characters would plausibly read, and here are some of their clothes they’ve apparently tossed aside. And then you look up and there is no ceiling above you and huge air-conditioning ducts loom overhead. Out- side the “window” is a massive photo backdrop of the mountains that ring suburban Salt Lake City, where the show is set.

These jarring juxtapositions are beautiful–in some ways they make our own homes, offices, and bars seem just as hollow and superficial as the sets. What we call home is just a set too. We think of the familiar intimate details in our own spaces–those magazines and books, the tossed-aside articles of clothing–as unique, integral to our lives. In a sense, though, all they are is set dressing for our own narratives. We think of our personal spaces as “real,” and we feel they are filled with the stuff of our lives that’s different than everyone else’s. But especially out here, in Valencia, the “real” built landscape, those places I walk around, are made of structures that are no more real than this movie set. The mental dislocation is a wonderful feeling. The disconnect is somehow thrilling.

Set photo

Excerpt 2

One student quoted in the paper offered that since the local skating rink and some other activities have been closed there is nothing to do in town, so kids, bored out of their minds, will inevitably find something to do, and sometimes it might be disruptive–all that young energy has to go somewhere.

Some students, though, are all in favor of the curfew, as are the local football coaches, who seem to function as the resident wise men around here. I suspect that this proposed curfew could be an unspoken and underhanded way to facilitate and legitimize the rounding up of “loitering” Mexican kids–who are no doubt seen as the principal troublemakers here.

I ride around the older part of town. A motel that was once on the main highway reiterates the moral message: if Jesus never fails, then by implication the problem must be with you.


I wonder if this frontier Puritan fundamentalism, combined with economic pragmatism, is what makes buildings like this minimal one so common, unremarkable, and acceptable out here.

Minimal Building

They are beautifully Spartan and purely functional–in their austerity they are in perfect keeping with nineteenth- century architect Louis Sullivan’s dictum “form follows function.” He claimed, “It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical.” The implication was that this was not just a style or aesthetic guideline. This was a moral code. This was how God, the supreme architect, works. This humble structure–and many others around here–has followed that dictum to the very end of the line! These structures take the prize: they make the twentieth-century modernists all over the world look positively baroque–and therefore less moral.

There are people selling watermelons in a shopping-center parking lot, next to a U.S. flag made of plastic cups jammed into a fence.

Down the road is an abandoned drive-in and a church in a prefab metal building with a sign urging visitors to Come Be Apart.



Order the downloadable audiobook from David Byrne’s website and receive a Limited Edition T-shirt.

You can buy the complete audiobook directly from David Byrne’s website as downloadable audio files.

You can also buy it in hardback from Amazon. It is also available on Kindle.


Read other recent features at Boing Boing.

Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film special event in LA

This weekend at Cinefamily in LA, a cinematic celebration of the amazing and massive new book Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film.  

201011181551 From teenage ragers to mohawked post-apocalyptic gutteroids to actual, bona fide punks, this two-day multi-event mega movie showcase of pure power is a brick in the face of every film snob and/or high school principal!

The book’s editors, Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly, will be on hand to casually guide you through the garbage-strewn annals of punk celluloid history. Kicking off the weekend’s schedule is a fantastic clip show featuring ’80s sitcoms and news broadcasts’ bungling appropriation of punk’s legacy — climaxing in the riotous ABC Afterschool Special “The Day My Kid Went Punk!”  

The weekend’s hijinx also include Dave Markey’s Super-8 love letters to the L.A. underground scene The Slog Movie and Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, an ultra-rare midnight screening of the 1980 doc D.O.A. (featuring footage of the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated ‘78 U.S. tour,), the urban menace exploitation classic Class of 1984, and the anthemic girl-power new wave flick Times Square!  

As well, Zack and Bryan will have books on-hand for purchase/signing — so c’mon down, pick up a copy, and pogo ‘til you puke!

“DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!!: The Complete Guide To Punks On Film” 2-Day Book Tour Meltdown 11/20 & 11/21

Hajj for Heathens

Hajj for Heathens

Why Muslims go to Mecca

Omar Chatriwala

Every year—on exactly the same days, as far as Muslims are concerned—literally millions of people descend upon the original Mecca™ of Saudi Arabia and its surrounding holy sites in pilgrimage.

Notable for infidels though, is that Muslims use a lunar calendar (based on the moon’s cycle, like werewolves), which is about 11 days shorter than the standard Gregorian Calendar—so named for its 16th century patron Pope Gregory XIII (still wondering why Muslims don’t use it?).

Non-believers can thus be excused for thinking that Hajj falls on a different date each year. In 2010, things got under way in the holy land over the weekend.

Muslims arrive from all corners of the globe (they check the secret handshake, so no point trying to get in non-believers). Women wear what they please (don’t they always?) while men don two towels, meant partly as as a way of levelling rich and poor (not so different from a locker room, smells included).

Part of the challenge—and it is meant to be a challenge—is simply getting along with so many people from so many different backgrounds (that must’ve been hard for this guy).

DAY ONE: To kick the whole thing off, most pilgrims head to Mina—a sprawling tent city east of Mecca. They’ll arrive at all times of day, spending the night there as a way point en route to the plain of Arafat. At this point, everyone’s still in pretty high spirits.

DAY TWO: The Day of Arafat. Pilgrims head there in the morning, elbowing through throngs to stand on the plain, or amble up onto the relatively small Mount Arafat.

They’ll spend the day in reflection and prayer (yep, a whole day!), asking for forgiveness for—in some cases—a lifetime of misdeeds. Others will likely commit new offenses as the crowds, heat and lack of personal hygiene begin to affect moods.

At sundown (technically the next day on the lunar calendar) pilgrims head back—stopping for the night to pick up pebbles at a spot called Muzdalifah.

DAY THREE: Time to stone Satan—and celebrate. Its Eid day for Muslims around the world, which is as close to Christmas as we get. But instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus, this day is all about Abraham agreeing to sacrifice his son at God’s behest.

That’s the story anyway, and to re-enact it, pilgrims go to Mina to throw pebbles at giant stone walls representing the devil. That’s what Abraham did when Iblis (Satan’s Arabic name) tried to tell him killing his son wasn’t a great idea. It was, in fact, a test of faith. And needless to say, when Abraham ignored the devilish appeal and went to do the deed, he found God had given him a sheep to slaughter instead. So Muslims celebrate with lots of meat—spread among family, friends and the poor.

Back at Hajj, pilgrims are undertaking what is historically one of the most dangerous rites. While everyone knows those symbolic columns they throw their pebbles at are not actually the Devil, some tend to get a little bit carried away (as Muslims do from time to time) and, like in 2006, people sometimes die in the crush. Saudi authorities though, have sought to rectify that by expanding the spot into a six-tier bridge—as of this year—that distributes the traffic.

With the stoning done, pilgrims sacrifice their animals and their hair—a buzz cut or a trim for guys, just a lock for women—and change back into their civvies.

DAY FOUR-SIX: That’s pretty much it. Pilgrims hang out in their tents in Mina for the next two-three days, going back to to give Satan a bit more “what for” each day.

At some point they’ll head back to Mecca to perform elements of the “minor pilgrimage.” That has two parts—circling the Kaaba (that black box, aka House of God) and hustling between the mountains of Safa and Marwa—another Abrahamic legacy we can get into another time.

And then, well… they all head home. Bedecked in their finest Muslim garb, the millions once again board international airliners flying to the world’s four corners—raising terror alerts from Brooklyn to Bangkok with the conclusion of their spiritual journey.

Photographs and text by Omar Chatriwala. Design by Rob Beschizza.

Omar Chatriwala is a freelance journalist based in the Middle East. Recently ex-Al Jazeera, he is open to ideas for collaboration. Read more at syntheticjungle.com, follow on Twitter here.

Awesome Gallery of De-CGI Competition Winners


We challenged you to take something that is usually computerized and remake it with natural media. The incentive: great prizes from HP including a brand new laptop. Here are the entries we received, with the winners and runners-up at the bottom.

Jesse Vital of Hollywood (Homepage) painted this beautiful watercolor of an iPhone tuned to a live channel.

Jim Woodring — you know his work for sure – created this amazing wireframe Möbius thing that seems both wondrous and sinister.

Sean “LupinFan” Smiley offers “A light cycle that always cleans up the competition.

Dorkus1218 (Dan FitzGerald ) recreated the Photoshop tool menu with real tools.

Andy Havens’ sidewalk has its own progress bar. I fear that luggage will be waiting a while.

K. McQueen converted a diagnostic electron microscope image of a computer chip defects into a three-dimensional wall art, complete with removable wearable element.

h0n0rb create a zoetrope featuring the Flying Toasters of legend.

Sillybicycle’s piece is a sound waveform recreated to be a tangible work of art

Rubirubi created a QR code quilt from recycled clothes.

The quilt is 33 squares wide by 33 squares high (1089 total). It is about 56 inches wide. I could not be sure until it was completed whether or not it would work. Although I did many tests with color threshholds, there was no way of telling if an imperfect seam or one misplaced square would render it unreadable. If so, I would have no way of knowing which one. In the end, though, everything worked and my quilt is readable, wrappable code.

glatt1’s stop motion animation “pays homage to the CGI that Pixar did in its famous first all CGI film, Luxo Jr. back in 1986.”

Boing Boing fans will recognize Jackhammer Jill and the Unicorn Chaser. The animation consists of 194 individual still shots that I took with my still camera and joined together into an animation. Jackhammer Jill and the unicorn were drawn by me in crayon and Sharpie.

Look at steotch‘s entry. Just look at it.

Vadermoss’s entry, ‘Totoro Wins Mario Kart’ was painted with watercolor on illustration board.

Sheala made a Pac-Man out of junk.

GarageDragon’s animated Paper Tetris looks like more fun than the (un)real thing! View the full-size animated GIF at Flickr.

Technoplastique writes in: “I’ve been doing some paintings of space, and since I’m pretty sure they aren’t actually making movies/tv shows on location in space yet (though I’m sure it will happen eventually) I think this probably qualifies.

In Rogue Entomologist’s entry, an analog robot finds kitten.

Simon_for_hire’s Macaroni Matrix seems destined to glitch out in a pan of boiling water. Swallow the red sauce?

Robert Wheelwright made the 3d pipes screen saver from windows out of PVC piping: “It’s 96 frames, which took two evenings with the blinds closed (for uniform light) to take. There’s 30 feet of 1/2″ pvc pipe and 22 pipe couplers in the shot. Pictures were taken with a Nikon D60.” See his work in progress report.

Floris Kristin Wheelwright made an incredible arrangement “plucked from Pandora’s flower fields.”

Clara Plata animated an entire journey, with auto navigation imitated with glass markers. Click the image to view the whole series assembled as a (4MB) animated GIF.

Also Seisaku Katayanagi-Van Enck “swore I’d never do an ironic Mario painting,” but found that “there are no certainties in life.”

I had to leave for school a day earlier than expected, so this turned into quite a rush job. I had about 2.5 hours to paint it. I was experimenting with a different surface, which cracked quite badly when heated. I fixed the crack and removed dust specks in Photoshop. I hope that doesn’t violate any guidelines. As I said, it’s quite rough currently, but hopefully someone finds it somewhat amusing.

:J.W. created a nuclear explosion with a unicorn chaser. Or is it a unicorn with a nuke chaser?

Luke Mathews’ drew a cute picture of blinky. Thanks, Luke!


The Winners are Rubirubi’s QR Code Quilt, Jim Woodring’s Möbius vector loop, and Dorkus1218’s life-size Photoshop tools!

The caliber of entries this time around was beyond all expectations. So high, that we’re offering some unnanounced runner-up prizes, sourced from the Dungeon of Unreturned Test Gadgets. If you’re in the list, pick from the following: an HP Netbook ($250 value), Joule iPod/iPad stand ($130 value), an iPad Sleeve from Saddleback Leather ($70 value), padded netbook sleeve ($40 value). First come, first served! Winners:

The Runners-up are Steotch’s cross-stitched banana, GarageDragon’s Tetris animation, Jesse Vital’s watercolor painting, K. McQueen’s wall art and Floris Kristin Wheelwright’s glass flower.

Never has it been harder to deny every entry a prize. Truly amazing work! To receive your prizes, email rob at bb net with your mailing address.


Sons of Pong

Clones of Pong

Knockoff ads

In September 1972, Atari’s Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn installed the prototype Pong machine at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California. The idea was to make a computer game that was “so simple that any drunk in any bar could play.” And boy, did they ever.

Now, was Pong a hit because America loved Ping Pong so much that they wanted to play it on TV too? Or as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has said, was it empowering because finally anyone could control what was on the TV? Either or neither way, people lined up for their chance to “Avoid missing ball for high score,” as per the machine’s only instructions. Within just a few months, the Pong clone wars had begun.

Atari didn’t have the patent on the technology and very quickly the vast majority in the machines eating quarters around the country were knock-offs. Of course, Pong itself was “inspired” by an electronic ping pong game that was in the Magnavox Odyssey home system. To keep up, Bushnell continued to innovate, as did everyone else. Call it a volley between King Pong and his brethren, while an invasion from space was on its way.

For a sense of the absurdity of the era, we present you with this gallery, the Sons of Pong. These “of-the-moment” images were drawn from Everything You Know Is Pong: How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World, a delightful new hardcover history of the sport by Roger Bennett and Eli Horowitz. In its pages, the authors, joined by guests like Jonathan Safran Foer, Nick Hornby, and Davy Rothbart look at the game’s impact on global politics, its place of pride in suburban rec rooms, the seductive power of an ace, and the many celebrities who are proud of their paddle skills. The book ends with a chapter that includes many of the images seen here, in which ping pong moves to the screen and then, ultimately, back into the blended reality of today.

Everything You Know is Pong is available at Amazon.