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.
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.“
“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.
A surreal collection of hilarious panels from vintage comics. A proposal to make an emoji of an oyster with a pearl. An R2D2 translator. Speaking of which, here’s a budgie that makes R2D2 noises! A study finds that students who lose access to legal marijuana do better in school. (Here’s the original paper itself, entitled “‘High’ Achievers?”.) A small Vermont utility is embracing solar and battery storage. An algorithm that takes a sentence and finds a single word that sounds like like its average sound. Via @boingboing, a lovely typewriter from the 1950s for composing musical scores. Judged by historical mortality rates, nuclear is — by far and away — the safest form of energy. A cool-looking coffee table made from Ikea magazine holders, via Ikeahackers. The best bars in Brooklyn at which to code. Fourteen of Picasso’s self-portraits show the evolution of his style. QZ interviews me about the much-misunderstood Luddites.
A lovely animated dataviz of all the Citibike rides in NYC in one day. And hey, more Citibike dataviz: Tracking the progress of a single bike, and comparing how different demographics use the cycles. Pictures of women weaving magnetic-core memory for computers in the 1950s. Follow @trumphop, which shows what Trump tweeted on this day, in years past. The guy who made the amazing web-story 17776 explains his inspiration. A good Twitter thread of tech folks talking about how they unplug after work. Electric cars are moving to one-pedal control, and changing the rhythms of driving. How the erosion of job security produced “the quitting economy”. “Why I’m learning Perl 6.”
“Why can’t monkeys talk?”: A fascinating romp through the science of this question. (Monkey pic above via emifauk.) The science of clickbait (via Boing Boing). Behold “Inkwell”, a lovely new set of hand-drawn fonts. An essay on the phenomenon of 90s computer shows (with a cameo by me!) What new types of problems could you solve with a quantum computer? The brutal physics behind why jellyfish stings hurt so damn much.
Photographing the moon using a Game Boy Camera. The “third thumb”, a kooky experimental prosthetic. “A daughter discovers her a cache of her dead grandfather’s Read It Later bookmarks and wonders about his regrets”: @hondanhon composes brilliant tweet-length story-plots that explore grief and digital memory in the future. A grim chart showing how the US spends more on health care for worse results. Why you shouldn’t interrupt programmers. Find a quiet half-hour to read/behold 17776, an astonishing online story about space, time, and the future of football. (Make sure to see it on a screen bigger than a phone. And thanks to @debcha for pointing it out!)
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.
“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.
The other day on Twitter, Benjamin Edwards posted a picture of some gorgeous milled-aluminum dice a friend made for him. In response, Eric Berlin pointed us to the work of his friend Eric Harshbarger, who designs insanely cool custom dice.
Above is one of Harshbarger’s creations: A set of dice for New Yorkers who are heading out to eat dinner but are paralyzed by the paradox of choice. The dice are labeled:
Die 1: West Village, Chelsea, EV/Nolita, LES, Soho, Roller’s Choice
Die 2: Italian, Roller’s Choice, Sushi, Mexican, Asian, Ethnic
Heh. Below, an even nerdier concept: Binary dice. I’m going to order a pair of these for my son to bring to his middle-school math class …
Here’s some deep meta — a die of polyhedral shapes:
And here are some DNA/nucleotide dice — useful for synthetic biologists want to add some randomness when they’re inadvertently creating unstoppable superbugs!
Below are perhaps my favorite — a pair of dice Harshbarger created after he posed himself a puzzle: “What is the greatest number of dots that can be removed from a die and it still be determinable what is rolled?”
His fuller explanation of how to read these:
- If the ‘center-side’ pip is face up, then a “6” was rolled, because that is the only number with a dot in that position.
- If the center-side pip is not visible anywhere on the die, then it must be face-down. Meaning you rolled a “1”.
- Otherwise, the center-side is on one of the four side faces. In this case, look for the ‘center-center’ pip (which, given its position relative to the center-side pip, must be the “5” face). If that center-center dot is face-up, you’ve rolled a “5”. If it is not visible, you’ve rolled a “2”. If it is also on one of the side faces, then you need to know that the 4-5-6 values are placed counterclockwise about their shared vertex (on Bicycle Dice); with that knowledge you can determine whether a “3” or “4” is face up.
This guy’s a genius. Check out the rest of the dice on his page; the ones here are only the tip of the iceberg.
What I love about Harshbarger’s work is how it leverages humanity’s longstanding fascination with randomness — a force that has long tweaked and teased society’s ideas about logic, reason, the will of God, the arc of life. Over at Aeon, Michael Schulson wrote a terrific essay on the situations where a random choice can be better than a reasoned one, and he opens by noting the peculiar allure of the random:
As moderns, we take it for granted that the best decisions stem from a process of empirical analysis and informed choice, with a clear goal in mind. That kind of decision-making, at least in theory, undergirds the ways that we choose political leaders, play the stock market, and select candidates for schools and jobs. It also shapes the way in which we critique the rituals and superstitions of others. But … [snip]
… As any blackjack dealer or tarot reader might tell you, we have a love for the flip of the card. Why shouldn’t we? Chance has some special properties. It is a swift, consistent, and (unless your chickens all die) relatively cheap decider. Devoid of any guiding mind, it is subject to neither blame nor regret. Inhuman, it can act as a blank surface on which to descry the churning of fate or the work of divine hands. Chance distributes resources and judges disputes with perfect equanimity.