There was an error in this gadget

Monday, April 29, 2013

don't be shy puppeh

mummified heart of a suspected vampire

corgi battle

ok, I'll get my own chicken

Seems legit

10 Best-Selling Infomercial Products

10 Best-Selling Infomercial Products:
We’ve all been there: It’s 3 a.m. After hours of tossing, turning, and bad television watching, sleep deprivation and consumer curiosity get the best of you. By the third time that WaxVac commercial airs, you realize that the pitchmen are right—Q-tips are a danger to your eardrums! So you dial the toll-free number, rattle off your AmEx digits, and play a key role in what has become a $150 billion industry: infomercials.
From acne medicine to hideously oversized blankets with sleeves, these are 10 of the best-selling infomercial products of all time.

1. Proactiv

Annual revenue: $1 billion

When it comes to its actual commercials, the Proactiv acne system has come a long way since its earliest days back in 1995, when the product’s main spokespeople were its creators, Dr. Kathy Fields and Dr. Katie Rodan, and Judith Light (a.k.a. Angela from Who’s The Boss?). Today, the zit cream company’s estimated $1 billion annual earnings afford them the benefit of real celebrity endorsers. Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, P. Diddy, Justin Beiber, and Katy Perry are just some of the boldfaced names who have earned $2 to $3 million per commercial spot, and helped the company compete—on a financial level—with such mass market manufacturers as Estée Lauder and Johnson & Johnson.

2. P90X

Annual revenue: $400 million

Standup comedian-turned-personal trainer Tony Horton is laughing his frighteningly toned 54-year-old body all the way to the bank. Since 2005, the seemingly ageless creator of the hardcore P90X workout DVDs has been reshaping bodies—and the infomercial industry—one confused muscle at a time. And he’s got plenty of powerful converts in his corner, from professional athletes (NFL quarterback Kurt Warner) to would-be vice presidents (Romney running mate Paul Ryan). Now Horton’s got a highly profitable business that has generated some interesting (albeit less-advertised) offshoots, such as the Christian-themed Body Gospel, Tony & The Folks for senior bodybuilders, and Tony & The Kids for pint-sized musclemen.

3. Total Gym

Total sales: $1 billion

Chuck Norris’ biggest movie, 1984’s Missing in Action, earned less than $23 million at the box office. Maybe the film’s producers should have paired the martial artist with former supermodel Christie Brinkley. The unlikely duo’s promotion of the Total Gym exercise system has led to more than $1 billion in sales.

4. George Foreman Grill

Annual revenue: $202 million

Truth be told, two-time World Heavyweight Champion George Foreman had nothing to do with the conception or design of his world-famous grill. But selling his name to this lean, mean, fat-reducing machine earned him $137.5 million in 1999—which is just a fraction of the company’s net worth. Since its debut in 1994, more than 100 million units in varying sizes have been moved.

5. Bowflex

Annual revenue: $193.9 million

Though it has gotten a lot of competition from more compact and less costly fitness-in-a-box programs like P90X, Bowflex—the all-in-one gym system first introduced in 1986—is still very much in business. More than 2.5 million six-pack-wanting households have cleared some space for the machine; in fact, the $193.9 million the company earned in 2012 was a 7.5 percent improvement over the previous year.

6. Showtime Rotisserie

Total sales: $1.2 billion

Set it, forget it and watch the money roll in. This small rotisserie oven has been the gravy on veteran inventor/pitchman Ron Popeil’s career, with more than 2.5 million units sold.

7. Ped Egg

Total sales: approximately $450 million

The up-close demonstration of a Ped Egg in action—scrubbing away dead skin and calluses—is fairly stomach-turning. But more than 40 million people signed up to try the real thing at home, making this well-priced product (just $10 apiece) one of the industry’s most surprising best-sellers.

8. Snuggie

Total sales: approximately $400 million

Snuggie did not invent the blanket with sleeves (that honor goes to the Slanket folks), but they did popularize the item with a series of widely seen and totally laughable commercials that insisted the behemoth blanket was the product viewers had always wanted. They must have done something right, because more than 20 million Snuggies have been cuddled up with to date. Of course, it helps that the product is big with groups; bar crawls and sporting events are just a few of the Snuggie-required group activities that have helped push those numbers up. In April 2010, Los Angeles Angels fans set a Guinness World Record when more than 43,000 spectators showed up to watch the game in their Snuggies.

9. Sweatin’ to the Oldies

Total sales: approximately $200 million

When it comes to infomercial pitchmen, the rule seems to be the louder and more obnoxious the better (see Billy “OxiClean” Mays or Vince “ShamWow!” Shlomi for further examples), which made Richard Simmons a perfect fit for the industry. In the 1980s, he sashayed his teeny-weeny striped shorts into more than 20 million living rooms around the world and helped viewers aerobicize their way to a healthier life, simply by Sweatin’ to the Oldies.

10. ThighMaster

Total sales: $100 million

Like something out of a Three’s Company plot line (minus some misunderstanding of a sexual nature), Suzanne Somers became the most unlikely of brilliant business minds when she shared the secret to a great pair of legs: this butterfly-shaped exercise device, which promised swoon-worthy results for your thighs, hips, upper arms, breast and chest areas. More than 10 million takers came calling.

April 29, 2013 - 11:00am

6 Surprising Examples of Human Vestigiality

6 Surprising Examples of Human Vestigiality:
People have speculated over the nature of seemingly useless physical characteristics in living things for thousands of years. It wasn’t until the late 18th and early 19th centuries, though, that the idea of vestigiality would enter the public imagination via the writings of a couple of French naturalists and pre-emptive Darwinists, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Darwin would, of course, go on to redefine the field of human biology some half-century later with On the Origin of Species, but it was his second book, 1871’s The Descent of Man, where he listed a number of the structures we know today as vestigial for the first time, among them the appendix, tail bone, and wisdom teeth.
The German anatomist Robert Wiedersheim ultimately coined the term in his 1893 book The Structure of Man: An Index to His Past History, including 86 organs believed to be the “vestiges” of human evolution. We now understand a number of those from the Wiedersheim list to be vital (i.e., the thymus and pituitary gland), but others have emerged to take their place. Here are six of the more surprising examples of human vestigiality.

1. GOOSE BUMPS

Known medically as cutis anserina, goose bumps (so dubbed for the skin’s resemblance to a plucked goose) are triggered reflexively by a range of stimuli, including fear, pleasure, amazement, nostalgia, and coldness. The mechanism that causes the reaction, piloerection, triggers the tiny muscles at the base of each body hair to contract, eliciting a tiny bump. The reflex played a crucial role in the fight-or-flight response of our human evolutionary ancestors, who were covered in body hair: The standing hairs could make primitive man appear larger to predators, perhaps averting the threat. When unprotected and faced with cold, goose bumps would act as added insulation, raising the hair up to create an extra layer of warmth. Though piloerection remains a useful defense for many animals (think of an annoyed porcupine or cornered cat), humans, having long ago shed the bulk of our body hair, retain it almost exclusively as an emotional response.

2. JUNK DNA

This term refers to portions of our human genome for which no functional role has been discovered. Though controversial, many scientists believe that much of our DNA exists simply as remnants of some purpose long past served. Among the sequences of DNA in our bodies, a good portion of those have traces of genetic fragments called pseudogenes and transposons, indicating a defect in the strand that could’ve been caused by a virus or some other mutation incurred in the course of our evolutionary history. Like any vestigial structure, we retain pieces of this genetic material because it really isn’t causing any trouble: Century after century, the “junk” sequence is duplicated and passed on, even if it no longer has a use.

3. PLICA SEMILUNARIS

This tiny fold of skin in the corner of the eye is a vestige of the nictitating membrane—essentially, a third eyelid from a time when we needed something like that. Still present in birds, reptiles, and fish, the fully functioning structure is translucent and draws across the eye lengthwise both for protection and to keep the surface moist while retaining sight. At some point primitive humans lost the use for it, but retained a small piece along with its associated muscles (also vestigial). The semilunaris is one of a handful of vestigialities that are more pronounced or prevalent in certain ethnic groups—in this case, Africans and Indigenous Australians.

4. MUSCLES

As we’ve evolved, having to rely less on our physicality, a number of muscles throughout the body have lost utility, though many of us still have them. This category of vestigiality is heavily determined by ethnicity. The occipitalis minor, for example, is a thin, banded muscle at the base of the skull that functions to move the scalp. Exhibiting a wild geographical variance, all Malays are born with it, half of all Japanese, and a third of Europeans, but it’s never present in Melanesians. The occipitalis joins to the auricular muscles, which once allowed us to move our ears to better hear predators, but are now pretty much nonfunctional.
Other vestigial muscles include the palmaris longus, the ropey tendon that tenses in the bottom wrist when you clench your hand; the pyramidalis in the abdomen, which 20 percent of all humans lack; and the plantaris in the leg, which still aids slightly in knee flexion, but whose contribution is so trivial that it's become better known as a tendon which surgeons commonly remove to graft into other areas of the body compromised by injury.

5. PALMAR GRASP REFLEX

If there’s one thing babies are good at, it’s squeezing your finger when you place it in their hand (one early study demonstrated how strong the grip can actually be). Though we do this primarily as a way to engage, the child is simply reacting to an evolutionary stimulus. When we were still covered in body hair, an infant would have used this reflex to cling to its mother’s coat. This provided useful for portability and, in the case that danger had to be evaded, not having to carry the child left the mother with both hands free to escape, maybe by climbing a tree. The reflex is also active in the feet, noticeable in the way an infant’s feet curl in when sitting, but both reflexes usually disappear around six months.

6. OLFACTION

Let’s call our sense of smell vestigialish. Though we obviously still use it every day, its function and role in humans is greatly reduced from what it once was. Animals with the most acute sense of smell are those that still rely on it for tracking food, avoiding predators, or for mating purposes. Since we now have grocery stores, no natural enemies, and OkCupid, olfaction is more of a trait of convenience at this point (though there is evidence that pheromones may play a role in human interaction). Unlike the other examples on this list, the ability to smell can still aid in survival, though, by alerting you to a toxicity that’s otherwise invisible, such as a gas leak.

April 29, 2013 - 8:00pm

11 People Who Bring the Muppets to Life

11 People Who Bring the Muppets to Life:
The Muppets have experienced a changing of the guard over the years. As the Muppeteers who gave life to the iconic felt and foam creations have passed away or moved on in show biz, the personalities of every Muppet have been carefully handed down to performers who will care for them well. Here are the faces—both the original and the new guard—behind your favorite Muppets.

The Original Owners

Jim Henson: Kermit, Dr. Teeth, Rowlf, Waldorf, the Swedish Chef
Frank Oz: Animal, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Sam the Eagle

Muppet Wiki

The Current Lineup

1. Leslie Carrara-Rudolph: Abby Cadabby

Getty Images
Even though she had no puppeteering experience, Carrara joined the cast of Muppets Tonight in the mid-90s based on the strength of her voice work. When they were looking for someone to perform a fairy character being developed at Sesame Street several years later, Kevin Clash (Elmo, see below) called and asked her to audition. She calls Abby "Gracie Allen meets Daffy Duck."

2. Eric Jacobson: Bert/Grover/Animal/Fozzie/Miss Piggy/Sam the Eagle


Getty Images
Jacobson has taken over most of Frank Oz's characters since 2001. In 2007, Oz explained why he transitioned all of his characters over to Jacobson:
I had done this for 30 years, and I had never wanted to be a puppeteer in the first place. I wanted to be a journalist, and really what I wanted to do was direct theatre and direct movies. As an actor and a performer, you feel limited because you're not the source for the creation, and I wanted to be the source... I've always enjoyed, more than anything else, bringing things to life, whether it be characters or actors in a scene or moments in movies. I've done so much with puppets, that I've wanted to work with actors.
3. Caroll Spinney: Big Bird/Oscar the Grouch


Getty Images
Caroll Spinney originated the role of Big Bird and he's still going strong. When he's in a scene with both Big Bird and Oscar, he has his assistant play the Grouch, but continues to provide both voices.
4. David Rudman: Cookie Monster/Janice/Scooter


Chicago Tribune/Theo Wargo
Rudman started working with the Muppets when Richard Hunt helped him get a summer internship with the Muppet Workshop in 1981.
5. Matt Vogel: Count von Count/Robin the Frog/Floyd Pepper/Lew Zealand/Sweetums
Until his death in 2012, Jerry Nelson continued to provide the voice for Count von Count. Since then, Vogel has taken over both puppetry and voice duties. Vogel has also taken the helm of most of the other Nelson Muppets. In 2010, Vogel told the Muppet Mindset that he finds it most difficult to replicate the Robin voice. "The voice is so much like Jerry’s that it makes it nearly impossible to get there.  Sometimes the more 'character voice' it is, the easier it is to do," he explained. Vogel also makes occasional appearances as Big Bird.


The Muppet Mindset
6. Kevin Clash: Elmo


Getty Images
I'm sure I don't need to tell any of you that Kevin Clash recently resigned from this position due the sex scandal lawsuits. While it's speculated that one of the Elmo understudies will pick up the role, no replacements have been officially announced yet.
7. Steve Whitmire: Ernie/Kermit/Wembley/Sprocket/Rizzo the Rat

Getty Images
An 11-year-old Whitmire wrote a letter to Jim Henson, asking questions about puppetry and performing. Less than 10 years later, Whitmire was a regular performer on The Muppet Show. He took over Kermit when Henson died in 1990.
"I was just overwhelmed by the request," Whitmire has said. "It was a huge honor, and it also just scared the daylights out of me, the thought of trying it."
Coincidentally, he shares a birthday with Henson: September 24.
8. Fran Brill: Prairie Dawn/Zoe


Getty Images
Brill, by the way, may be better known to some as Lily, the beloved sister of Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob? Brill also plays Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet from Takalani Sesame.
9. Marty Robinson: Snuffleupagus/Telly Monster/Slimey

Muppet Wiki
Robinson married fellow Sesame Street employee Annie Evans in 2007; they had their wedding and the reception on set. The ceremony included Caroll Spinney heckling them in character as Oscar. Best. Wedding. Ever.

10. Dave Goelz: Dr. Bunsen Honeydew/Gonzo/Waldorf/Boober Fraggle


Christopher Fong/Puppetvision
Along with Spinney, Goelz is one of the only original Muppet performers who is still at his post. He started with Henson Associates as a part-time Muppet builder and suddenly found himself performing just three years later. He has said that he first found Gonzo's "voice" when he made the blue alien tell a chicken that she had nice legs during the second season of The Muppet Show.
11. Bill Barretta: Dr. Teeth/Rowlf/Swedish Chef/Pepe the King Prawn


I Heart the Muppets
Barretta took over many of Jim Henson's non-Kermit voices after Brian Henson encouraged him to join the company. The two of them had worked together at Sesame Place. I apologize in advance, because you're going to have this stuck in your head all day now: Barretta also performs "Mahna Mahna."



April 29, 2013 - 4:00pm

4 More Terrible People and How They Were Captured

4 More Terrible People and How They Were Captured:
Last week, we looked at a few very terrible people, and how law enforcement officials identified them and hunted them down. Here are a few more infamous killers, and how they were captured.

1. Whitey Bulger


Getty Images
Whitey Bulger spent twelve years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and his bounty (a handsome $2 million) was surpassed only by that of Osama bin Laden ($25 million). In the early days of his career in crime, Bulger was an armed robber, though he wasn’t a very good robber, and ended up at Alcatraz in 1959. When he got out, he spent some time as a bookie for the mob, and during a war between crime families, killed a rival mobster. Only he wasn’t much better as a killer than he was as a robber, and he killed the wrong guy. This didn’t help relations among the rival families, so Bulger did the only thing he could think of to save his own neck: He (allegedly) killed the leaders of his own crime family.
He would eventually find fame as a shakedown artist who targeted criminals, ordering the deaths of those who “stepped out of line.” This earned him a fairly good reputation as far as people with bad reputations go—he was kind of a gun-toting criminal Batman who didn’t wear a costume. Eventually, the FBI even recruited him as an informant. Accordingly, people all around Bulger started going to jail for doing really bad things, and Bulger, who was also doing really bad things, avoided arrest. In the absence of criminal competition, Bulger consolidated power in Boston, and used his sway with his FBI minders to have the competition locked up. Also, he had a bunch of guys killed. Here’s where things get thorny. Bulger was an FBI informant, but he wasn’t the only informant, and those other informants were informing on Bulger. And then an FBI agent started informing Bulger of the other informants. Did Bulger forgive the mobsters who were ratting against him? No, he did not. Suddenly people started developing extra holes in their heads.
Whitey Bulger soon got into the drug business, and won the lottery. (No, really, he won the lottery.) The ticket had been purchased from a store that he owned, and the guy who bought it claimed that Bulger was his partner. The purse was $14 million.
Eventually, law enforcement agencies that were not the FBI decided to nab Bulger under the RICO Act (that thing Harvey Dent did at the beginning of The Dark Knight) and once again, an FBI agent tipped off Bulger. On the lam he went. The list of places Bulger visited reads like it came from a Nabokov novel. In short, Bulger was everywhere but inside of a prison.
By 1999, the FBI had pulled itself together and placed Bulger on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list (more on that below). He appeared on America’s Most Wanted practically as often as John Walsh. Over the years, these media efforts paid off for investigators, and he was finally nabbed in Santa Monica, California at the age of 81. Bulger claims to have killed 40 people, though he’s also pleaded not guilty to everything, so go figure.
(The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, one of J. Edgar Hoover’s many innovations as director of the FBI, is a perfect representation of his uncanny skills at public relations. In short, one of Hoover’s first orders of business after taking the helm of the newly minted FBI was to build an impenetrable shield of public support. He knew that such support would be essential to surviving the hostile political waters of Washington. His efforts went far beyond a few press releases—he encouraged the creation of pulp magazines, bubble gum cards, and comics. Likewise, he worked with Hollywood to produce such “G-Men” films as Public Enemy’s Wife, Show Them No Mercy, and The FBI Story. One film—Public Enemy Number One—even put Hoover in its advertisement campaign. The common image we have today of FBI special agents—of dark suits and neckties—is a direct result of these efforts, and has endured for 80 years. The Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was an accidental success that Hoover capitalized on. He and the editor-in-chief of the International News Service collaborated to find ways to promote the Bureau’s prowess at hunting down fugitives. The resulting news story was so popular that the FBI created an official list, and has maintained it since 1950. The upshot to all of this is that Hoover and his Bureau were made invincible early on and successfully weathered some pretty awful events, including Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Whitey Bulger affair, COINTELPRO operations, and so on. J. Edgar Hoover went on to serve as FBI director for an astonishing 48 years. For comparison, a seat on the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment, and even then, the longest-service justice only lasted 36 years. Hoover’s story, and how the whole of the intelligence community attempted to emulate his press savvy, are recounted at length in my new book.)

2. Saddam Hussein



Getty Images
So after Shock and Awe, Saddam Hussein got the impression that the United States didn’t like him much, and he bolted from Baghdad. The name of the mission that caught him was Operation RED DAWN, and the places it searched were called Wolverine 1 and Wolverine 2. Really. Here’s how it all went down: U.S. intelligence and the Joint Special Operations Command had been hunting Saddam pretty relentlessly since the invasion, eventually narrowing his location to somewhere in the vicinity of Ad-Dawr, Iraq. A 600 soldier force descended upon the Wolverine sites, and combed the desert in Spaceballs fashion. They turned up little. Soldiers from 4th Infantry Division then spread out and formed a cordon, and Delta Force went after a suspicious little farm nearby with a suspicious little hut and a suspicious little trap door covered in dirt. (They deduced that something suspicious was going on.) Beneath the trap door was an eight-foot-hole. At the bottom was Saddam Hussein, a pistol, a couple of AK-47s, and 750 dollars Americano. Said Saddam: “I am Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq, and I want to negotiate,” and everyone laughed. After a trial, Hussein was executed by hanging.

3. John Allen Muhammad



Getty Images
You probably know this guy as the D.C. Sniper. He was born in Baton Rouge, trained in the Louisiana Army National Guard, and served in the Gulf War. At some point, he became a big fan of al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden in particular. Muhammed was a big supporter of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and a year later, he went on a determined killing spree of his own in Washington, D.C. (His previous murders in Louisiana and Georgia were leisurely by comparison.) He used his Chevrolet Caprice as a mobile sniper nest. With an accomplice driving, Muhammed could climb into the trunk from the back seat, and fire his rifle from the prone position through a small hole near the license plate. In October 2002, he randomly killed or wounded 13 people. He would have been captured earlier—he had, in fact, been stopped multiple times by police officers on various occasions over the course of his killing spree—but everyone was focused on a mysterious white van. Eventually, witness accounts helped determined that a blue Caprice was a vehicle of interest. On October 24, a witness spotted the vehicle at a rest stop, Muhammed and his accomplice asleep inside. Police closed off the rest stop, and arrested him. In 2009, he was killed by lethal injection.

4. Adolf Eichmann



Getty Images
When it comes to evil, you’re going to have a hard time finding someone worse than Adolf Eichmann. With his logistical prowess and German work ethic, he helped exterminate six million Jews. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that he didn’t just surrender when things went bad for the Nazis. You probably will be surprised to learn that the Army caught him right away, but nobody worried too much about him because he said his name was Otto. He eventually slipped away from custody and spent a couple of years hiding in Germany, and later Italy (here he called himself Ricardo, because why not?). In 1950, he found a home in Argentina, where he managed a rabbit farm, among other jobs.
The Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, doesn’t care for Nazi war criminals, and immediately set about hunting them down. Evidence later narrowed Eichmann’s location to Argentina, where his son undid him. It seems the junior Eichmann had a girlfriend, and liked to brag to her about his father’s talents in genocide. The girlfriend’s father went to the district attorney, who then approached the Mossad. After an investigation and round-the-clock surveillance, the Mossad and Shin Bet snatched up Eichmann at a bus stop outside of Buenos Aires. They dressed him as a flight attendant to smuggle him on a plane, and pumped him full of drugs so that he looked drunk, and so that no one would ask questions. They brought him to Israel to stand trial. Said Eichmann years before: "I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction." He was found guilty of committing crimes against humanity (among other things), and was committed to death by hanging.

April 29, 2013 - 2:00pm