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.
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.
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.
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.
Music-lovers in the USSR subverted censorship by turning old x-rays into vinyl-style albums. Which is better for communicating something, video or text? I have inadvertently created an A/B test on this. Why nature prefers hexagons. The Best of Byte, Vol. I, for free at the Internet Archive. A fascinating look at how to brute-force that math problem I posted about yesterday. omg I am going to buy this lighthouse and live in it and be a minor character from Myst (via Boing Boing). “There is a feral cat on the platform”: The NYC subway system experiments with extremely honest announcements. Once you hear about the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, you’ll see it everywhere. How the “demo or die” ethos helped danah boyd. Kitchen sponges teem with some seriously bad-ass bacteria. The guy who invented crazy-letter-character-string passwords recants. Behold Fangle, a fun framework for quickly making interactive text on web sites. “Deepmoji”: Using emoji to help AI detect sarcasm.
A study looks at the Million Dollar Homepage, and finds that “link rot” has set in: Of the 2,816 links, only 1,780 are still reachable. In China’s economic view, “Iran is at the center of everything.” Why do people Google words? “Echo Chambers In Investment Discussion Boards.” A study finds that people like analog pens for “drafting”, and digital pens for “crafting”. Yikes: RealDolls with AI “personalities”. “Brotters Common, Normannegg, Twettle Row”: @hondanhon trains a neural net on UK placenames, then generates new ones. At Mozilla’s “Common Voice” project, you can record yourself saying things to contribute to open-source voice-recognition. A report from the procrastination conference. Nintendo’s designers for Mario Kart ponder, but decide against, removing the Blue Shell. A brief history of the closet.
Nobel-prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee was a programmer on the 1962 Atlas 2 computer; at night, he used it to algorithmically generate poetry. The total eclipse of 1878 created a stampede of US scientists out west to behold it. To tamp down on bots — in politics, social media, and product reviews — Tim Wu proposes a “Blade Runner” law. Goethe’s 1797 poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a tale for our software-enabled time; here’s a 2013 English translation. A fun retrospective on the “Netflix Prize” of a decade ago. (Back then, I wrote a story for the New York Times Magazine on the contest, where I learned about “the Napoleon Dynamite problem”.) Two AIs, tasked with talking to each other, invented their own language.
A 1935 suitcase of neon samples, carried by a traveling salesman in 1935. 88 years of typewriter sounds, recreated vocally by fx wizard Michael Winslow. The modern-day tomb raiders of China. San Franciscans spend 83 hours a year looking for parking. Does chattiness help or hurt chatbots? A small history of miniature writing.
“Nukemap”: Pick the yield of the bomb, the target … then behold the death and destruction it’ll cause. “Should I beome a radiologist, or will AI take over that job?” A fascinating thread emerges after AI expert Andrew Ng posts this and asks for responses. Duolingo is now offering courses in the language High Valyrian from Game of Thrones. “Bleedwood”, “Clay Cow”, “Barkying White”: AI is still pretty bad at naming paint colors. “Umbrella-sharing startup loses nearly all of its 300,000 umbrellas in a matter of weeks.” Man, making robots is hard. Behold JANUS, a protocol for communicating with and between undersea drones, using acoustically-transmitted data. Meet the humans making (teensy) money to help train self-driving car AI. The most popular words Americans are looking up at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary? “Collusion, treason, collude, quid pro quo, kakistocracy.”
Newish styles of art, created by a generative adversarial network. “Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?” Amelia Earhart’s hilariously unsentimental prenuptial letter to her fiance. Scientists created an elevator to help eels pass by a dam; they call it the “eelevator”. Roman concrete that has been submerged for 2,000 years is stronger than when it was first made; unpacking its secrets could be useful for climate adaptation. “Grid defection”: As battery tech gets cheaper, McKinsey predicts many households will instal solar arrays and go partially off-grid within a few years. An ancient cuneiform tablet in which a priestess upbraids her brother for not chipping for groceries. A study finds that texting makes you walk funny.