There's a new $100 bill on the streets, and Benjamin Franklin is no longer the star of the show. Franklin's face still adorns the note, bigger than ever, but the blue vertical stripe next to his head is what first grabs your eye, and it's what will, supposedly, make the new $100 bill impossible to counterfeit. In a lengthy and fascinating feature on the creation of the bill, Esquire's Chris Jones writes that only a single company in the world can create that counterfeit-proof stripe. That company is Crane & Co., located in Dalton, Massachussettes. The Crane family has been making the paper--cotton and linen--for American money since 1879.
The new bill's security ribbon "was invented by a small Georgia company by the name of Visual Physics, which gave a hint about its product, or at least the idea behind it: the microscopic interplay of light and the human eye," writes Jones. "[Doug Crane] has advanced degrees in paper science and biomedical engineering, and he is fiercely protective of his family's legacy. After Visual Physics paid a visit, Crane & Co. bought the company and every scrap of its intellectual property, effectively trapping its ribbon in this redbrick mill."
Peer closely at the ribbon, and you'll see small images--100s and liberty bells, floating in a sea of blue. And when you move the bill, the images move, too, but not in the way you'd expect. Tilt it side-to-side, and they shift up and down. Tilt it up and down, and they shift side-to-side.
"The ribbon itself is a collection of microscopic lenses, like the pixels on your TV, but much, much smaller," Jones writes. "On a single note, the quarter-inch-wide ribbon contains 875,000 of those lenses. When they catch the light, they magnify the icons — the 100's and the Liberty Bells — that have been printed on the ribbon beneath them. That printing is among the smallest accomplished in the history of the world. If, instead of symbols, Crane wanted to magnify text, the font would be small enough to print the entire Bible on the surface of a single dime — twice."
The movement of the objects within the ribbon will, hopefully, make it virtually impossible to counterfeit. Just as importantly, it will make attempted fakes easier to spot for the average person. If there's no movement within the ribbon catching your eye, something's wrong.
An engraver will spend months carving Thompson's drawings into a metal plate. And that engraved plate will eventually be used to create printing plates to press money.
Amazingly, that ribbon isn't inserted into the paper of the bill. The paper is created around it, in one of the many secretive processes involved in printing money. Other elements of the bill designed to prevent counterfeiting are detailed in a cool visual guide to the bill.
The rest of Esquire's article covers the artistry of designing a bill and all the complications of the creative process, and each step along the way takes an immense amount of care and dedication. For example, the designer of the bill, Brian Thompson, began working at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at the age of 19. He had no training in currency design. He worked as an apprentice for years, hand-lettering the font on bills with incredible precision. And he mastered the skills necessary to draw and shade the figures and objects on bills. Twenty four years after joining the Bureau, he's designed his own bill.
And the artistry doesn't stop there--an engraver will spend months carving Thompson's drawings into a metal plate. And that engraved plate will eventually be used to create printing plates, and, finally, those plates will be used to press money. But that's the short version. The long version is much cooler.
I must admit that after the fervor of NYC I'm a bit knackered as they say. We took forever to get here because of storms and traffic conditions. We rolled into Buffalo around 10:30 in the morning. I rolled out of bed about an hour later. Nothing much got done here during the day.
Oh! But I went to the local Apple store! Never not fun. Then to the less-fun-but-often-necessary Best Buy. Their staff was great, but the store not so much. My ride to the mall knew the secret entrance to the Apple store was through Sears (shhh!)
Lovely skies but this close to the border it was COLD!!
A century ago, cartographer Bernard Cahill created the Cahill Butterfly projection, a map that is still recognized (though underappreciated) for its accuracy. As we recently wrote, Cahill's butterfly design split the globe up into eight lobes, and the way they're splayed out made them almost entirely free from distortion. It's a very, very accurate map, but not perfect, and at least one man thought he could make Cahill's projection even better. He's been working on his own version for 40 years.
For 40 years, [Gene] Keyes has been tweaking the details of his own custom projection, based on the Cahill butterfly projection," writes Wired. "In fact, if it weren’t for Keyes’ obsessive research, the modern world might well have completely forgotten about Cahill’s iconic butterfly. A lifelong pacifist, Keyes originally viewed geography as a way to illuminate war, but eventually it came to dominate his impressive capacity for obsession.
The Cahill-Keyes map represents decades of painstaking work on Keyes part, tuning Cahill's design into what he considers the perfect map. Or, at least, as perfect as he's gotten so far. When Keyes first set out on his map quest, he actually looked to Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion map. But he decided the Dymaxion wouldn't cut it. In a lengthy critique of the Dymaxion, Keyes points out some of its flaws, like a bent equator, irregular graticule (lines of longitude and latitude), and distortion around Korea and Norway. Keyes adds that the Dymaxion has poor scalability and learnability.
"Cahill had all the continents unbroken, and with minimal distortion, in a design of perfect symmetry, interchangeable with a globe," Keyes writes on his site. So Keyes began to work on his own projection by tweaking the Cahill map, which he discovered after Fuller's.
Wired elaborates that Keyes couldn't find a large-scale version of the Cahill map, so he decided to draw his own Cahill projection, rearranging the pattern into an M shape and calculating the graticule himself. Keyes' reasoning for the arrangement was simple: It would make the map more familiar and more usable than Cahill's butterfly pattern.
"My eureka moment came on March 9, 1975 when I reconfigured the Butterfly to an 'M' joined at the South Atlantic," Keyes writes. "This gave me a profile which essentially echoes the prevailing arrangement of commonplace maps, with New World on the left, and Old World on the right, north up, south down. Nothing sacrosanct about any of that; only customary like QWERTY, for all its faults." He made other changes to keep continents from being divided and to keep each geocell--one degree of latitude and longitude--as distortion-free as possible, given the limitations of adapting the globe into a flat projection.
Keyes drew his original map in 1975. More recently, he's taken on an ambitious project: the Cahill-Keyes megamap. Keyes wants his projection to be scalable to any size. The megamap would be a 1:1 million scale "nearly half the size of a football field, with a 1° graticule spacing," writes Wired. "The 1° resolution would mean the measurements between the lines of latitude and longitude would be incredibly accurate. Because each line of longitude and latitude is an exact translation of the mathematical function that transforms globe into map, the thicker the graticule, the more accurate Keyes could measure. Most maps use a 7.5° or 15° graticule spacing for their grid. On the Megamap, a 1° x 1° area – which Keyes called the geocell – could be large enough to stand in."
Keyes has some great photos of hand-drawn megamap prototypes on his website. His site also features images of a colored political map of the Cahill-Keyes projection, created by Duncan Webb. Someday, that version of Keyes' map may duke it out with the Mercator for the walls of classrooms and the pages of history textbooks.
This week, Norm picks up another custom creation from LEGO artist Chris McVeigh and assembles the kit in a time-lapsed mystery build. See if you can guess what's being built, and then admire the design of this well-crafted gadget. Find more of Chris McVeigh's LEGO creations here.
New York!!! Hometown glee. Alarm wakes me up, and I am still moving! Grab my phone and check map, somehow it knows that I'm in the Lincoln Tunnel. I only got to sleep a couple of hours before; too excited.
Beware: This is a long post.
A half-hour later and I'm on Amsterdam and 74th, half a block from the back door of the Beacon Theatre, and it feels like home and I don't even care that it's pissing rain. Or that the rain delayed us by a bit. It's NEW YORK!
I get out to survey the surroundings. The intrepid Local One is loading us in. (I can tell we have a few fans among them, though I still need to wear my badge to get in. It doesn't matter that my face is on the poster and the marquis, they need to see that badge--I love that.) Here's the load-in in progress:
The Beacon is legendary and gorgeous. Here's a view from the stage looking out.
The Beacon is also legendary for its lack of wing space. We will be relocating parts and pieces of the show on the fly to adjust to the cramped quarters. Luckily we performed here last year, so we have a good idea already about how to do it.
After ogling the lovely hall it was time to quickly get together with my oldest friend before interviews. I grew up here and I don't get to NYC nearly often enough, so it's always like a homecoming. Later tonight I see my moms!
Thanks to reader @brixtonmatt for bringing this to our attention. This is a video about the life and work of Zina Nichole Lahr, an artist, fabricator, animator, and just talented maker. Zina unexpectedly passed away last month due to a hiking accident, and this footage was shot by her friend originally as a portfolio showcase. We didn't know Zina, but her personality and the enthusiasm that exudes from this video is exactly the kind of attitude that inspires us to get off our computers and make things ourselves. The world could use more people like her.
"It's basically the single most popular piece of paper on the planet." That aspect of paper currency is what fascinates collage artist Mark Wagner, who uses cut up pieces of bills to assemble his "currency portraits", depictions of flora, and high-concept compositions. Mercedes-Benz's The Avant/Garde Diaries profiles Wagner in this short mini-documentary about his work and thesis. We get to see time-lapses of his painstaking process, as well as the produciton and inventory of his materials--little storage drawers labelled with the components he extracts from a dollar bill, such as leaves, light lines, light chunks, and heads.
British artist Nick Morley, aka Linocutboy, makes art using the traditional technique of linocut printmaking. It's a process similar to woodcut printing, but with thick sheets of linoleum as the medium, which cuts differently than wood or other natural materials. This video documents the making of one print from drawing to carving to printing. "Making the linocut involves carefully planning the image, transferring it to the lino block and then carving away the unwanted parts with gouges. What's left behind is inked up and printed on Nick's etching press. This Deep Sea Diver is printed from seven blocks. The color blocks are inked up in various color blends and the black 'key' block is printed last. Each layer has to be carefully registered so that everything aligns properly." Morley's prints are available in his store, and he's written several blog posts to help aspiring artists get started with linocut art.
Akron, Ohio was a blur. We got a lot done: Fixed a glitch with the high-speed. Repaired some broken set pieces. Redressed some of the finale to get a bigger laugh on the reveal.
I even made it out to a military surplus store. Which I totally should have taken a picture of. I really should have, and I'm sorry that I didn't. It was just such a weird, dark place, I kinda wanted out just as soon as I saw they didn't have what I wanted.
You know how every now and then a store looks like it's clearly closed from the outside but it's not? And how that's kinda weird? Let's just say that I didn't have much of a problem believing that they had a fight club in the basement.
It wasn't here, but this gets the mood of what I mean.
Or how about this:
Adam, Will, and Norm deliver an exclusive commentary track for Stephen Spielberg's AI in our first piece of member-exclusive content. It's two hours and thirty minutes of commentary track goodness, so if you haven't already signed up for a membership, what are you waiting for?
Milwaukee was just as cold and rainy as Minneapolis, but with a Midwest stoic majesty that poked through the fog and rain.
We were up at 9 a.m. (hi!) for a live set of interviews with a Fox affiliate from inside the theater. I hope I didn't look too tired. That's pretty early these days.
While talking to the reporter I found out that one of my favorite stores in the WORLD has a branch here, and I had no idea.
I've been buying from American Science and Surplus for more than 22 years, and have visited their mothership store in Chicago many, many times. But I was in the dark about the fact that there was another retail location.
But there is! And it’s right here in Milwaukee!
As soon as the runner was ready, I caught a ride to it. I'd been told that it was bigger, and I wasn't disappointed. What a wonderland! It seriously is as close as you can get to the NYC Canal Street of my youth. Gadgets, gewgaws and ephemera everywhere. Take a look:
We're back in Adam's cave to check out his latest obsession, a robot spider with incredibly realistic movement. Adam shows off the special box and platform he built to tinker and calibrate the spider, and then sends it crawling around the pool table in his shop. It's not for the arachnophobic!
I forgot to mention that when I checked into my Kimpton room in Minneapolis, they not only had been pre-warned that I love Twix (thanks, Will!) but they also had a bar puzzle for me! A penny in a saucer filled with water. A glass and a book of matches. The trick was to remove the penny without using anything other than my fingers, but they could NOT touch water. I was also not allowed to move the saucer at all.
I figured it out; here's my solution!
The second day in Minneapolis was pretty chill. I love seeing so much brick when I get out of California. It's just not a very earthquake-friendly material. Wouldn’t this be a great house for Batman? I can totally see the Wayne family celebrating the holidays in that upper large window.
Ok, after building out our core lifecast and having a life-sized figure to work on, we are finally on to the sculpting stage. This is the part where I take some clay, and start making the character that will eventually become the one and only Zoidberg.
There are a million sculpting techniques and a million ways to approach a new sculpture, so don't take my methods as gospel--it's just what seems to work for me. But to start, the thing I think about is really wanting to try and get the scale right. Shape placement and general forms and anatomy are what I'm focusing on right now. Anatomy is something that I picked up from general observation and a bit of research (on the internet or in books). Human, animal, insect, or in this case decapod--really anything that you can look at and apply will make it more realistic and believable.
Sometimes I can get lucky and attack a sculpture and go right to the character that I am trying to find, other times it takes a lot of pushing and pulling on the clay to get there. Forms are always more important than the details.
We’re going to be sculpting on the lifecast that I have of our model, because we want it to fit on top of his head and line up with his mouth and eyes (so he will be able to eventually see and speak and breathe in this thing).
For clay choices, there are two main categories: water-based and oil-based. With water based clays (such as Laguna EM-217, otherwise known as WED) you have to stay aware of how wet or dry the clay is getting. If the water clay gets too dry, it will start to crack and crumble. If it's too wet, it's like sculpting with soup. Oil-based clays offer more versatility. Out of necessity, I stay away from clays with sulfur in them because sulfur will inhibit platinum-based silicones when you are making your mask molds.
My two main choices in oil clay are Chavant Medium and Monster Clay. Both of these clays have their quirks and which one I pick sometimes just depends on what mood I'm in. In general, I love Chavant for prosthetics, and love Monster Clay for everything else. For Zoidberg, I'll be using Monster Clay. Its high wax content is really nice for both crisp details and smooth shapes.
The Searzall is an interesting kitchen gadget that we first heard about from chef Dave Chang when we went with him to NASA's kitchens in Houston. Chang, the founder of New York-based Momofuku Group, is a friend and business partner of David Arnold, the Chief Technologist at the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Tested readers may recognize him as the food scientist we visited back in September to learn about puffing gun cooking technology. And more recently, you may have heard us talking about Arnold in our Sous Vide Immersion Circulator test, recommending his blog as an excellent resource for sous vide cooking tips and insights. Well, one of Arnold's biggest insights is what resulted in the invention of the Searzall, and it's something we got wrong in our sous vide video.
Sous vide, if you recall, is the process of cooking food in a controlled-temperature water bath, using a vacuum sealer to protect your meat from the liquid. What you get from sous vide is your food cooked to exactly the temperature you want to kill bacteria and make it safe to eat, but not overcooking it. Steak that comes out of the vacuum-sealed bag can be perfectly medium-rare and ready to eat, but it lacks the seared crust that you would get from the heat of a broiler or grill (the enzymatic browning of proteins and sugars, also known as the Maillard reaction). In professional kitchens, chefs "finish" a steak by putting it on a cast iron skillet or in a broiler, and a new preferred method is actually cryo-frying the meat to get that delicious crust.
A popular alternative for home cooking, which is what we've been doing in our sous vide videos, is using a propane or butane blowtorch to finish the meat. The same kind of gas torch used to caramelize the top of creme brulee (which is actually not the Maillard reaction). In our video, we talked about holding the torch upright when finishing the steak to avoid dripping any uncombusted fuel onto the meat, which we said was what causes a sulfur-like "torch-taste." But as it turns out, Dave Arnold and a flavor chemist at UC Davis discovered that it wasn't leaking fuel that was causing the taste. As Arnold explained to me on the phone earlier this week, he tested finishing meat using Modernist Cuisine recommend MAPP gas, which burns faster and at a higher temperature than propane and butane. And after using a gas chromatograph to study the effects of torching meat with different fuels, Arnold concluded that torch-taste may actually be caused by these blowtorches putting too high of a direct heat on the meat.
That's how he and his lab team came to create the Searzall, which is an attachment that converts the narrow flame of a blowtorch into a large patch of radiant heat. It turns the torch into a hand-held broiler. Heat from the torch flame is captured inside the bulb's ceramic insulation, and then released through two layers of high-conduction nichrome mesh (the same alloy used in reprap 3D printer heating elements). To sear something like a steak, it uses the same amount of gas as a direct torch flame, taking just a little more time. Said Arnold, "A torch is just putting coloration on something. You can't actually put a crust on meat with a torch, and a lot of people pull too far back. It's too damn hot, it's not moderated enough, and it's a direct blowing flame. The entire flame of a torch is under three-quarters inch in diameter, and it's directed in a blasting column. The Searzall takes that flame and spreads it out into a three-inch diameter." And when held about an inch over sous vided ribeye, searing that crust takes between one to two minutes per side.
If steak isn't your dish, Arnold listed a bunch of other uses for the Searzall, including finishing fish and scallops, making grilled cheese, and even reheating pizza. When you have a portable broiler, everything starts looking like it could use a good searing. Sushi chefs, for example, can use it quickly cook crispy salmon skin without ruining the raw fish.
One caveat that Arnold admits is that Searzall takes a little while to cool down after extended searing. That's why he designed a wire safety cage around the cone, and has specific recommendations for what kind of fuel, torch, and fuel cylinder to use with it. Propane is preferred (MAPP definitely not recommended), with a Bernzomatic TS8000 torch, and a 16.4oz fuel cylinder. The larger cylinder (14.1oz is the more common size) is for physical stability, so you don't risk the Searzall tipping over. That's something he learned after loaning 20 prototypes to chef friends. And while feedback has been positive, Arnold isn't expecting to see his invention replace commercial broilers or deep fryers in Michelin star kitchens. It's about finding the right tool for the right job, and learning where the Searzall makes sense, like at a catered event.
Or my home kitchen. Searzall reached its Kickstarter goal yesterday, so Arnold and his team have the resources to work with an overseas manufacturer for production. They're targeting next summer for shipping units, and backers can reserve one for $65.
Many years back, I interviewed one of my favorite filmmakers, Ralph Bakshi. If you haven't heard of him, you're not alone. The movie he's most well known for was 1992's Cool World, which was misinterpreted by audiences as a Roger Rabbit ripoff. And of course the 1987 Lord of the Rings animated feature, which was an inspiration for Peter Jackson's films. As a lifelong fan of animation, I’ve always loved his work, and have always respected what he’s tried to achieve as an artist, which was not only to push the envelope in terms of subject matter, but to push the technical boundaries of the animated art form. According to the Bakshi, he wanted to “expand the realm of animation and what it’s possibilities were. I was also testing myself and testing the limits of the medium. That was always my goal.”
I also loved the fact that Bakshi wasn’t afraid to stir up trouble with his work, and his movies definitely caused a lot of controversy over the years. His first two features, the big screen adaptation of Fritz the Cat, and Heavy Traffic, were both X-rated when they were first released, and Coonskin, which was later given the less inflammatory title of Street Fight, confronted racism in a way that’s still provocative today.
After years of making what he’s called “mean street” movies that challenged society’s problems, Bakshi turned to fantasy with Wizards, and the animated adaptation of Lord of the Ring. He peaked with American Pop, which traced an immigrant family’s story through nearly a century of modern music. It took nearly twenty years for it to finally be released for home viewing because of the music rights, (Heavy Metal, which was released the same year, had similar issues), but it was really a wonderful treat to be able to see it again after all these years. As a kid, I saw it first run in the theaters, and wasn’t able to catch it again until it played a tiny revival house fifteen years later.
Bakshi’s journey into animation began when he won an art contest in high school, and this lead to a job at Terrytoons, the creators of Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Deputy Dawg, which was Bakshi’s debut as an animator.
When I asked Bakshi why he became a cartoonist, he said “I think artists are born, not made. Basically, cartooning was the first form of art that I understood as a young child. I loved comic books, I loved comic strips. Comics were my first love, I wasn’t reading them necessarily, I just loved the way they looked. Most inherently, I wanted to draw without even realizing it. Come high school, which was just a few years later, I decided I wanted to be an artist. I wasn’t necessarily drawn to animation, I loved art, painting and drawing. I got a job after high school, those were the days when everyone did not go to college. I won the cartoon medal in high school, industrial arts. It was given by Terrytoons. They sponsored the best cartoonist at graduation. I didn’t think I was the best cartoonist but they gave me the award and they gave me a job in 1956.”
I have been gushing over this video for the past 24 hours. Shinola is a relatively new watch and bicycle company based in Detroit, and one of the only watch-making companies operating in the United States. This marketing video is just beautiful, both for its uplifting look at new American manufacturing and its take of gear production porn. The watches have a wonderful mid-century aesthetic, too. I want one. They're also very expensive (especially for quartz crystal watches, which are technically less sophisticated than mechanical watches), but I have no doubt many people would be happy to pay the premium to support this kind of new American business. Parts are sourced from Switzerland and employees were trained by Swiss watchmker Ronda AG. Other videos on Shinola's Vimeo page tell more of the company's story and how they handcraft their products.
Warner Bros. and Microsoft are collaborating on a new digital promotion for the upcoming second Hobbit film that I haven't seen before. On December 13th, the day the film comes out (marketing success already!), Warner Bros. will launch an interactive digital hub which will include a free download of a "3D printer blueprint" for the Key to Erebor. Microsoft isn't being specific about what this file will entail--it could be a series of high-resolution image files, a CAD model model, or something as straight forward as an STL file that existing 3D printer slicers can process. Regardless of what it ends up being, this kind of promotion--giving away select digital assets used for film productions--is a really cool idea and an acknowledgement of both the growing 3D printing community and replica prop makers. And if you don't have a 3D printer, Weta Workshop sells metal cast versions of the Key to Erebor for $30.
There may not be an artist or cartoonist or creator whose work is more deserving of a coffee table book than Rube Goldberg. Goldberg's cartoons, depicting silly, elaborate, and impractical machines, earned him the rare privilege of nounage; you may have drawn or build Rube Goldberg contraptions in school as a creative exercise. Goldberg's granddaughter, designer Jennifer George, has assembled just such a book, putting together nearly 200 pages of Goldberg's cartoons into The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius.
NPR posted a short but sweet reminder of why Rube Goldberg's designs were so fun, and why they became so iconic. "A hundred years ago, machines were easier," writes Robert Krulwich. "They were built to do one or two things, and they did it simply, with parts that fit snugly together. In fact, the great cartoonist Rube Goldberg made people laugh by taking basic tools and adding complexity, just for the fun of it."
Goldberg's designs were intentionally absurd, adding needless complexity to machines that often made them less efficient than doing something by hand. And that was the beauty of them, argues NPR. Technology and machinery weren't a means to an end, but rather the entire point. And, of course, it was what made them funny.
Here's the example, an impossibly skinny arm used to serve a stenographer a cup of coffee while she continues furiously typing away.
Krulwich writes: "the deeper joke, says New Yorker writer Adam Gopnick...is that a machine like this doesn't really save time. This gal could probably gulp a cup of coffee just as fast (with no jiggly mess) by herself. And yet, in some wonderful way, a machine is more dramatic. More exciting. That's what Rube Goldberg was really celebrating: He reminds us what it's like to have, as Gopnick puts it, 'a soul-deep love' of machinery. In Rube's imagination, the best things in life (and maybe, deep down, everything in life) is deeply mechanical."
Goldberg's ideas embodied the spirit of invention for the sake of invention.George's book spans the arc of Goldberg's career, from high school newspaper to iconic inventions to political cartoons. If Goldberg had made the coffee table book himself, though, we have to imagine it would've been an invention in and of itself.