Monthly Archives: June 2017

Artists rendering of Macrauchenia patachonica by museum of natural history
Scientists finally figure out the genetic tree of a “very weird mammal” that vanished 10,000 years ago: It’s part of the horse family. “Those whose past is legible will be exhorted to repeat it.” Behold the “Encounter Editor”, Chris Crawford’s tool — 25 years in the making — for scripting interactive stories. “Quibits” are quantum bits that can represent two states, 1 and 0, at the same time; but now we have “qudits”, which can represent ten. How to replace yourself with a very small shell script. Behold “Brogrammer”, a theme for the Sublime text editor.

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Device on old car for catching jaywalkers
A device for old cars that tried to prevent jaywalking deaths by gently catching jaywalkers. How the CIA tracks the location of your phone. I loathe the phrase “thought leader”; here’s a book critiquing the entire trend and concept. A fun way to thwart face detection: Download and print up one of these masks based on the faces of 130 executives of major biometrics firms. An augmented-reality measuring tape. A new algorithm that will figure out how to fold any shape in origami. “I before E, except after C” is proven, by the data, to be wrong.

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Drawing of a computer logic loop by John von Neumann in a 1947 manual
Above, a logic loop drawn by John von Neumann in his 1947 manual on how to program an “electronic computing instrument”. Why are ticks so prevalent in 2017? Because of the ecological domino effects of a 2015 surge in acorns. Gripping photos of food from the famine surrounding a vanishing Lake Chad. A study of Google searches suggests that Americans are way more racist than they generally admit; it also finds an ominous surge in searches for DIY home abortions. “Neural networks for hackers”, a cool new MOOC by @sknthla. How Russia has been using Ukraine as a testbed for cyberattacks. And … a maglev elevator that can move both vertically and horizontally!

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A map of the Internet from 1969

A map of the Internet from 1969. Some thoughts on the 10X coder. “Braitenberg’s Law” notes that it’s easy to understand a complex robot or piece of code if you wrote it; if someone else did, it’s insanely hard. “Taking turns is a primary expression of justice”: An essay on the moral dimensions of phys ed, from 1922. Meet the Girl Scouts who are earning cybersecurity badges. Why Grenfell Tower burned. My favorite piece of 19th-century punctuation is the “colash”, a colon followed by a m-dash, like this … “:—”. My New York Times Magazine feature on computational thinking and “The Minecraft Generation” from a year ago; and a podcast with me talking about it.

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busts of lenin, one covered in vantablack and one regular bronze
“Vantablack” is the darkest pigment ever made — and there’s a pitched battle between artists over who gets access to it. If you’ve ever wondered hey, where did all the xenon on Earth come from? (and who hasn’t?), here’s your answer: Comets. An exhaustive list of ever lie told by President Trump since he assumed office. An experiment finds that drones can deliver defibrillation equipment to remote areas 4X faster than ambulances. Are casinos legally liable for the compulsive behavior of problem gambers? Why “I was afraid” has become the new and unchallengeable excuse when a police officer kills a black man. A video game that shows what 4D objects would look like passing through a 3D world.

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Alexander Graham Bell's tetrahedral kites
Behold Alexander Graham Bell’s gorgeous tetrahedral kites! Wait, wait — they just pushed out a software update for Google Glass? (Guess I should dust mine off: I wore them for three months back in 2013 for a story in the New York Times Magazine.) “Floating nests of fire ants” is the creepiest thing I’ve read about today. Parametric fonts, from Google. “What was your childhood pet?”: A fiendish and elegant way to steal the answers to someone’s security questions. Thomas Edison was one of the earliest engineers to refer to a “bug” when high-tech equipment was malfunctioning. (Earlier yet, Shakespeare seems to have used “bug” to mean a troublesome person.) Reading someone else’s code isn’t like reading literature; it’s like naturalism, observing a strange creature in the wild and trying to figure out its habits. Why Uber’s problems stem from the cult of the founder in Silicon Valley. A Inuit man tells you the proper way to build an igloo. omg someone please stop me from playing this game, I’m supposed to be writing a book.

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Wooden prototype of a Palm Pilot made by inventor Jeff Hawkins

Above, a fake, wooden version of a Palm Pilot, made by inventor Jeff Hawkins to figure out whether he’d want to carry around a personal digital assistant all day long; such fakes are known as “preotypes” — “pretend prototypes.” The perils of self-driving cars were predicted in this witty movie from 1911. A list of Mastodon instances looks oddly like lists of BBSes or USENET groups from the early 90s. This guy makes pretty awesome art using Excel. omg I can’t stop playing Flipping Legend! Instructions on how to build an igloo, by an Inuit man trying to preserve this historic skill. Transcriptions of the chitchat on your first date: Some predictions on how high-quality voice dictation might change everyday life.

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The physics of overly-warm air: It’s so hot in Phoenix that they’re cancelling flights. Behold Seenapse, a web site where you list weird, serendipitous connections between web pages, and browse the connections of others. (Here’s a synapse I posted about Samuel Morse.) Searching for “chemtrails” on Amazon. A great post describing the current debate over why technology isn’t boosting productivity more. How pneumatic tubes changed the way we communicate, for a brief period. A lovely visual introduction to machine learning. A funny, blistering critique of voice-control AI: “Your spouse, who has lived with you for 20 years is just now getting an inkling of what you mean when you talk. Your computer is likely never going to understand you for the simple reason that the things you say aren’t really understandable.”

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“One third of the invertebrates and some of the fishes found during the expedition are completely new to science.” They’ve discovered that Cook pine trees always lean in the direction of the equator — the ones in the Northern hemisphere lean towards the south, and the Southern hemisphere ones lean towards the north. (If you want to read the actual face-sound scientific paper, it’s here.) Behold the many religious-themed handheld LCD games of the 80s and 90s. Does the sound of your name match the shape of your face?   This neural net produces some unsettlingly realistic faces. “Nothing much, just painting a Renaissance manuscript with dissolved fish bladder, you?” An interesting hypothesis about how and why whales got so insanely huge.

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Randy Gibson, the composer of “The Four Pillars Appearing From the Equal D Under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in the Midwinter Starfield,” at his home studio in Brooklyn.
Three hours of music played with a single note — “D”, in seven octaves — is weirdly mesmerizing; I’ve been listening to it while I write my book. (Composer picture above from The New York Times; player above has the album.) A startup that makes paper out of … stone.Before he was shot, Philando Castile was buried in “a mountain of fines”; this is a good NPR investigation of how racism and poverty are worsened by endless niggling fines. Spooky action at great distances: Chinese scientists appear to have successfully entangled two particles that were 1,200 km apart. Cell.js is an intriguing new way to create web apps, with each element containing its own “self driving” DOM. Tarot cards aren’t as old as you might think; they’re an invention of occult-obsessed Paris in 1781.

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