Category: Astronomy

Photos of hurricane clouds, from US government fly-throughs

Photos of hurricane clouds, taken by government fly-throughs. The “Knight TouchBar 2000”, an implementation of KITT’s chaser hood-animation on the Macbook TouchBar. Our corner of the universe increasingly appears to be “weird”, and possibly unrepresentative of the rest of reality. “Empathy produces data on what it is like to be other people.” A history of the idea of Purgatory. Bird feeders appear to be creating evolutionary pressure that makes bird-beaks longer. Tim Carmody on the experience of time in Dante’s Inferno, and how it relates to our last Trumpian year. Debugging a program by listening to the PCM data-dump in Audacity, to locate the memory leak. Contented hippos. What actual government policies could respond to mass-employment-by-automation? “Edgar Allan Poe is dead … but few will be grieved by it.”: A positively brutal obituary.

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A photo of the "ghost tree" of Crater Lake

The wandering “ghost tree” of Crater Lake has been moving slowly around the body of water … for 100 years. On “reverse logistics” and “ghost shifting”. Nazi airship dining. Photos of the last moon mission show the astronauts basically having a blast. For a more bracing read, check out the transcripts of the Apollo 13 mission; “Houston, we’ve had a problem” is on page 231. An interesting comparison between twitch/clicker/pattern games like Super Hexagon and the sight-reading of music. Yikes: A 75% drop in insect biomass in Germany over 27 years. Duuuuuude. Behold Cladoxylopsida, the hollow trees of the trilobite era. This year’s trend is the “Dog-o’-Lantern”. Ponder the incomprehensible enormity of the number “TREE(3)”.

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Screenshot of "woebot", a chatbot therapist on Facebook Messenger

Behold “Woebot”, a therapist chatbot that lives on Facebook Messenger. (It does cognitive behavioral therapy.) Twenty years after a prankster put a pumpkin atop Cornell’s McGraw Tower, we still don’t know who did it, or how. The story behind the paperclip-apocalypse game. Behold the online mattress-review wars. Why background chatter in your office distracts you, but not the chatter in cafes. Meet the highest US judge who’s been coding for decades — in BASIC. Patriotic stress balls. What the US would look like divided into concentric rings of equal population. Can fish get depressed? Creating about 40 times the weight of the Earth in gold: When neutron stars collide. Jeremy, “the lefty snail”, is dead. Moo: The programming language “COW” has been implemented in Javascript.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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Beijing toilet-paper dispenser scanning someone's face

A Beijing bathroom-paper-towel machine that scans your face before dispensing, to make sure you’re not trying to take paper towels too often. Some listener sent @jessebrown a spreadsheet detailing, with timecode, every time he said “um” during a radio interview. How “The Apprentice” made Donald Trump’s presidency possible. The advent of computational psychiatry. Is writing style predictive of scientific fraud?. Some giant deep-sea worms may be 1,000 years old. Homeless planets.

 

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A screenshot of an art project showing what windows 93 would look like if it had been released

What Windows 93 would have looked like, had it been released. (Interactive! Double click on the programs!) I got that link from this piece in the New York Times about the vogue for retro-90s digital design aesthetics. The third-leading cause of death in the US is now “medical error” (via @boingboing). After 10 years of analyzing the Enron email corpus, linguists have found some pretty cool stuff: Tons of baseball metaphors, and the mundane language of “deception theory”. The “Al Capone theory of sexual harassment.” A terrific appreciation of Maryam Mirzakhani’s mathematical genius. NASA’s “advanced concepts” program is currently funding experiment designs for the airships of Mars, soft robots to disassemble asteroids, and a probe that would explore Pluto by bouncing around.

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