Phineas Gage walks into a bar…

July 31, 2009

Phineas Gage was a railway worker who survived an accident that blew a large iron rod through his brain in an accidental explosion in 1848. The subsequent brain injury changed his personality from friendly to belligerent, a phenomenon that challenged the then accepted theory of personality, and opened people’s minds to the idea that the physiology of the brain was involved in personality and disposition.

The above photo- the only known photo of Phineas Gage- was recently identified after being posted on Flickr by its owners, who, not realizing who the subject was, had titled it “One-eyed man with harpoon”. A random internetter correctly identified the photo’s subject in a Flickr comment, supposing that the “harpoon” he held might actually be the iron tamping rod that had injured him. Awesome. Here’s lots of info in a solid post on Metafilter. Internet for the win.


The Great Zucchini

March 23, 2009

This is a really interesting, in-depth article about the #1 childrens’ entertainer in Washington- The Great Zucchini, who does birthday parties for DC yuppie preschoolers, making over 100K a year on a 2-day workweek. The guy is a surprising mess of innocence and insight, and the article is a damn solid piece of journalism. Fascinating read.

At the moment, the Great Zucchini was trying and failing to blow up a balloon, letting it whap him in the face, hard. Then he poured water on his head. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Great Zucchini was behaving like a complete idiot.
The birthday boy’s aunt saw me taking notes. “You’re writing a story about him?” she asked, amused. I confirmed that I was.
“But . . . why?” she asked.
A few feet away, the Great Zucchini was pretending to be afraid of his own hand.
“I mean, are you that desperate?” she asked.

After the peekaboo age, but before the age of [more] sophisticated understanding, dwells the preschooler. His sense of humor is more than infantile but less than truly perceptive. He comprehends irony but not sarcasm. He lacks knowledge but not feeling. The central fact of his world — and the central terror to be overcome — is his own powerlessness. This is where the Great Zucchini works his magic.

… He behaves like no adult in these preschoolers’ world, making himself the dimwitted victim of every gag. He thinks a banana is a telephone, and answers it. He can’t find the birthday boy when the birthday boy is standing right behind him. Every kid in the room is smarter than the Great Zucchini; he gives them that power over their anxieties.

On the floor in front of us, the kids — 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds — were convulsed in laughter. Literally. They were rolling on the carpeted floor, holding their tummies, mouths agape, little teeth jubilantly bared, squealing with abandon. In the vernacular of stand-up, the Great Zucchini was killing.

Full article is longish, but a very compelling read. It’s here; via Kottke.

Derren Brown makes you do stuff.

July 19, 2008

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Derren Brown, and welcome to the Palisades Mall. We hope that your shopping experience is an uplifting arm, and I’d like to bring to your pay attention some very special offers today. Details of our special offers can be found handily by the elevators. So why not come right arm up and see for yourselves. Our special offers will only be available for a very short time, so all those customers wishing to reach up and grab this exciting opportunity should do so… now.