Screenshot of a 1930s newspaper story about exploding pants in New Zealand
In the 1930s, New Zealand had an epidemic of exploding pants. FlightAware has a “misery map” showing flight delays across the country; the legend, bottom right, is pure poetry. “Transmission of Sound Through Voice Tubes”, a comprehensive 1926 governmental study of some fascinating acoustic physics; check out the gorgeous charts and data. Chinese voice-translation apps are getting remarkably good. Reddit’s 2015 ban of several hate-filled forums appears to have had an overall effect of reducing abuse, site-wide. Jellyfish have no brains, but appear to sleep, and to need sleep. “Love discovered me all weaponless”: These free translations of Petrarch are lovely.

Share

The urls for the New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, shortened into emoji

An emoji URL shortener. (Above, the URLs for the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal.) A Chinese village trims a forest into the shape of a QR code. “He is to persuasive as she is to ditzy / kittenish / motherly”: Behold the gender madness of Word2Vec. For decades in the early 1900s, the New York Public Library music librarian saved request slips from famous musicians; the scrapbook is scanned here. An origami-inspired solar-powered lantern. How to clone Twitter using Bubble, a drag-and-drop app-maker. “JSLinux”, emulating various flavors of Linux in the browser. What happens when a country decides to switch which side of the road cars drive on? Why flies see time move in slow motion. The vantablack of planets: It eats all light that touches it.

Share

Photo of how air penetrates a whiffle ball

Why the physics of whiffle balls are super complex. Is that avant-garde video art, or a 70s-era Magnavox game with its overlay? A gorgeous example of Cassini’s photography: The “thin blue line” of Saturn’s upper atmosphere. Behold “Octlantis”, a rare social hangout for octopuses. A neural net, trained on video of Super Mario Bros., is able to recreate its game engine. Ah, but AI pioneer Geoff Hinton says for the field to progress further, they’ll need to ditch backpropagation. Fizzbuzz considered as harmful. Here, @ibogost meditates on how the Turing Test and the Turing Machine intersect. Behold Camperforce, a roaming diaspora of seniors in RVs who convene on Amazon shipping facilities to staff up their holiday crunch. I love a good math joke; even a terrible one. Is this typographic document legit? Better call in … The Font Detective. Behold Worldbrush, an app that lets you produce AR paintings embedded in space for others to find. Why does this microwave have “chaos mode”? Harold Innis’ style in The Bias of Communication was so muddy because he wrote using cut-and-paste pastiche from his sources. The concept of “a minute” in time only became common in the 1500s.

Share

A medieval painting of people killing someone

Why do people in medieval paintings look bored, even when killing someone — or being killed? An appreciation of the neglected Windows Phone. An exploration of the polarized IMBD review for “An Inconvenient Sequel” (men voted far more often than women, and were the group most likely to hate the movie) provokes an interesting question: Why don’t review sites behave like pollsters, and adjust their sample to match reality? The “law” of exponential growth in tech is nonsense, as Rodney Brooks notes in this essay on AI. Software updates can change the range-mileage of a Tesla. “Lenny” is a voice chatbot designed to talk to telemarketers and waste their time. Speaking of medieval times, a historian of that period ponders the fact that white-supremacists are in love with it. “Why and When Your Code Starts to Smell Bad“. When OCR errors afflict The Illiad.

Share

What Cassini will look like plunging to its death in Saturn. (Start at 2:50 for the fun stuff!) Malaysia has banned “Faith Fighter”, a game where gods from Jesus to Odin duke it out. “The Eighteenth Century Custard Recipe That Enraged Trump Supporters.” The Voynich Manuscript might be a tightly-compressed compendium of guides to women’s health. A 2.5-year-long study finds that “predictive policing” is a crapshow of hunches mathwashed into apparent objectivity. A good Twitter thread on how AI is being used by states for enforcement. Henry Fielding’s 1732 play “The Lottery” is a slashing attack on the idiocy of lottos, and the gullibility upon which they play. Car telemetry can figure out whether you’re texting while driving. The $70 PocketChip considered as a burner laptop for hacker conferences. Why dolphins love hurricanes.

Share

A picture of "Plimpton 322", a 3,700-year-old clay tablet

A 3,700-year-old clay tablet may contain the earliest evidence  of trigonometry, according to a new theory. A truly gorgeous electric car, by Jaguar. A javascript emulation of bpNichol’s work First Screening, a group of poems he originally in 1984 wrote in BASIC. Home videos shot using the Fisher Price PXL 2000 camera — which recorded in black-and-white onto cassette tape — are stylish and weird. How Popular Science covered the launch of the Voyager probes, back in 1977. So, it turns out that floating balls of fire ants thrive in hurricanes; GREAT. Behold “twistron” yarn, woven with carbon nanotubes, which generates electricity when twisted. “DolphinAttack” is a wickedly clever exploit for voice-activated agents like Siri and Alexa: You take control of the device by issuing verbal commands in frequencies inaudible to humans, but which the hardware accepts. In truly great science writing, “the gradual realization that you are falling behind the author is part of the thrill.

Share

Historical description of a region, from 1916, written in emoji
A text written using emoji, in 1916. (Courtesy @GlennF!) Why the Mind has a Body: The view from 1903. “Generational clichés are the ultimate zombie idea, easy to refute but impossible to kill.” How mushrooms could create self-healing concrete. How do you herd cattle in flooded Texas? With a helicopter. Comparing the lives of janitors at high-tech firms, one in 1980 and one today. Of fidget spinners and the challenges of modern “fad management”. When merely reporting on hate speech can get you algorithmically banned from Google’s ad network. “Clapping”, on Medium, is quantum. On the ecological biodiversity of Toronto’s urban ravines. An awesome cartoon description of Firefox’s new CSS engine. Young Americans are more likely to read their news than to watch it; older Americans are the reverse. The literary style of Zork.

Share

Painting of an eclipse, originally published in the New York Times

How to paint an eclipse. (Pro tip: Work quickly!) How the military changed food science, with the MRE. Audio recordings from the 1930s and 40s of former slaves, reflecting on their lives during and post-slavery. A short anthropological history of human sleep arrangements. A short history of communist bookstores. Border collies can “fast-map” (infer the name of a new, unfamiliar object) with the acumen of a three-year-old human. A graveyard of software. Datacrunch of the lexical complexity and affective metrics of YA fiction. The problems of, in the digital age, having the last name “Null.

Share

Screenshot of "Ten Bullets", an online browser game. “10 Bullets”, an addictively simple one-button browser game. First-person stories from religious protestors in Charlottesville. How the Internet has changed the work of being a private detective. Blockchain considered as foundational technology, like TCP/IP. (The analogy: TCP/IP -> blockchain as Early email -> bitcoin.) Typely, an online-proofreading tool, is very good at catching my consistent overuse of clichés in first drafts. (Man, if I had a nickel for every time I used a cliché!) What is technology? “How My Instagram Hacker Changed My Life.” Here’s some nifty browser-fu for sorting Chrome tabs. “Fuck”: That’s the title of this academic paper, on the legal implications of the word. So, Amazon’s new “2 minute” delivery system is basically just … an Automat?Turn old ASCII art into nicely-formatted HTML with Retrotext. Dataviz infoporn of Chicago’s tree canopy.

Share

After encountering this wonderful factoid, my twitter followers began offering some other fun translations for “computer”: In Chinese it’s “electric brain”, in Spanish it translates as “sorter”, and another way to render the Icelandic version? “Prophetess of numbers.” Oh, and consider “ikiaqqivik”, the Inuit word for “Internet”, which translates as “traveling through layers.” In other linkstuff: A supernova so huge it takes out a nearby giant star. Using smilies at work “may decrease perceptions of competence”. “Icebox” is a Chrome extension that fights impulse-purchasing by replacing the “buy” button on e-commerce sites, and imposing a purchase delay. A paper computer from 1958.

Share