Monthly Archives: September 2017

Bremen Drop Tower

Enjoy 9 seconds of microgravity via Bremen Drop Tower. An in-the-weeds autopsy of why “Gangnam Style” broke Youtube’s counter. How different programming languages change what’s possible to make. A subreddit devoted to highly compressed code. (I learned of it via @Beschizza’s posting about a 218-byte spreadsheet, written in a single, convoluted line of Javascript.) A path to “quantum supremacy.” How a petticoat led to the first “man-lifting balloon” in 1783. VR goggles for the Commodore 64, via @gnat.

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Photo of cab driver and passengers from 1980s
A cab driver took photos of himself and his passengers in San Francisco in the 80s, long before Uber. Inspired by Edward Tufte’s “Sparklines”, here’s a font that can quickly generate a tiny chart for display inside a line of text. Analyzing game-controller movements to study what types of play happen inside a video game. Here’s my recounting of what it’s like to read War and Peace on your phone. A DIY open-source wheelchair.

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Photo of a whale tail emerging from the water
This year’s winners of Scuba Diving Magazine‘s photography contest.
“Are Inventions Inevitable?” A parrot that orders stuff using Alexa, by imitating its owner’s voice. I’ve been digging surfing the web using w3m, an old-school all-text browser; here’s how to instal it on a Mac. Hey, they’ve found two new deep-sea crustacean species! (“Two eyeless species of millimetric proportions,” to be precise.) Ur-drone-photography: A 1920 book on taking photos from biplanes. Here’s “The Coming Software Apocalypse“, a good long piece about how to manage increasingly complex code bases. What do you call a city of octopuses? A Stanford psychologist on the art of dealing with assholes. A wonderful tale of hunting a strange, gnarly software bug.

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The word “dotard” is back. The original VR was the wildly popular 19th century stereoscope. (Here’s a fantastic collection of old stereoscope images at the New York Public Library, and via @kevinmarks, here’s an app that let you look at some of them Google Cardboard.) “The Wadsworth Constant is an axiom which states that the first 30% of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information.”  Twitter bots crafted for social good appear to work. Why a poem ought to be considered as a kind of machine. The first Western literary reference to “white people” as a category appears to be in a 1613 play by Thomas Middleton. The dying art of globe-making. If two countries had rovers on the moon and they crashed, who’s legally at fault? Find out in Space Law Moot Court!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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