Category: History

A photo from the book "Things Organized Neatly", of dozens of locks laid out in a rough grid

A book of photos of things organized neatly. Yet another weird signal from space, which quite certainly isn’t aliens even though wow yeah isn’t that precisely what the heat-signature of an interstellar spacecraft would look like? How Leibniz tried to create a 17th-century machine that would calculate pure reason. A set of robot hands that listen to your speech, autotranscribe it, then type it out on a manual typewriter. I’m gonna build this Arduino-powered stompbox and program it to deliver a different random effect every time you step on it. What’s it like to be a bee? Being curious about science may make you more open to changing your mind politically. Meditation glasses.

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A screenshot of a 1924 New York Times article on the "4,000 most important words"

A 1924 New York Times story on “The 4,000 Most Essential Words” a foreigner must know to become a US citizen. (It’s on page 140. From the ms: “Milliner, million, mind”.) Why do we have pom-pom balls on our winter hats? A slightly different Fire and Fury becomes a bestseller. The current use of “Clive” in English-language books, according to Google’s ngram, is slightly below the historical mean. An analysis finds that Haskell is disproportionately a language coders learn for fun on the weekend. “Blattidae”, “chandala”, “chrestomathy”: H.L. Mencken had an epically wide-ranging vocabulary. Ophthalmologists who were trained in art observation became better at their jobs.

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Hacking a Furby Connect. Meet the men who are convinced we live in a simulation. Smartphone keyboards designed specifically for coding, Android and iOS. An online tool that translates a MIDI file into JSON; very useful for a project I’m currently working on. How video games harness the Zeigarnik Effect. Belgium’s aesthetically gorgeous telegram service is finally shutting down. “Aerial transit will be accomplished because the air is a solid if you hit it hard enough”: The final sentence from the 1894 book The Problem of Manflight. It turns out that “Classic Nintendo Games are (NP-)Hard”. We’re getting closer to cracking the secret of how porpoise sonar works. Google’s new voice-synthesis is unsettlingly lifelike.

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Photo of a Hagelin CD-57 pocket cipher machine

Man, I’d love to get this pocket cipher machine at the upcoming Sotheby’s “History of Science and Technology” auction. (It’s $3,500, though.) Using an algorithm to co-write a sci-fi short story. How Linneas invented the index card (and thus, ultimately, the database). A book on the science of jellyfish (which, under global warming, may wind up ruling the planet). They may have found the bones of the original Saint Nicholas. LED traffic lights are so energy-efficient they don’t emit enough heat to melt the snow that gathers on them. Wow, when Time picked the computer as “Machine of the Year” in 1983, the cover illustration was creepy. Some proof that lightning creates antimatter.

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How NASA tests its most powerful rocket ever; gorgeous photos by Vincent Fournier. Everyday women in the early Neolithic and Bronze Age were likely stronger than today’s athletes. A guitar tuner designed for blind musicians. A good discussion of the question “Is it ethical to work for online casinos?” Behold the 1739 book Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophy Explain’d for the Use of the Ladies. Building a regex engine in 40 lines of Javascript. The first text-message ever sent, 25 years ago, said “Merry Christmas”. A 1913 manual on the construction of swimming pools. Storytelling considered as an evolutionary survival skill. A DIY muon detector that costs only $100 in parts.

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A row of "Lixie" tubes

The Lixie, an inexpensive and open-source update on the famous “Nixie” numerical tube-displays. “Subsurface Exolife”, a paper that analyzes “the prospects for life on planets with subsurface oceans”.  CSS Grid is pretty cool. A poem by Leonard Cohen that explains what one ought not to find surprising about nazis. Here’s the 1753 book on how to annoy people: An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting (subhead: “With some General INSTRUCTIONS for Plaguing all of your Acquaintances”). The arrival of the first giraffe in Paris in the 1820s caused quite a sensation. An animated gif that can produce, in some, an illusion of sound. Using sensors in mobile phones to predict how drunk you are by analyzing changes in your gait.

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"La Liberté Triomphante", a 1792 illustration from the French revolution, showing Liberty brandishing a thunderbolt in one hand and a Phrygian cap on a stick in the other

Why the French revolution adopted the lightning bolt as the symbol for “the will of the people”. How to tell if you’re a jerk. “Scurryfunge,” “mogshade”, “popple”, and 363 other English words that we have sadly stopped using. Science has determined you can drink as much damn coffee as you like. The use of “meritocracy” soared from its invention in 1958 until today, except for a big dip in the 80s. Meet the New York Times“super commenters”. Why China is building the world’s hugest dish to look for extraterrestrial life. The last people in the US still using iron lungs. A Javascript punch-card emulator. Tearing a book apart and reassembling it, letter by letter: A gorgeous art project!

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A little Processing experiment I created: 5,000 bouncing balls that make weirdly mesmerizing patterns. (Caution: Maybe don’t leave it open for too long on your laptop browser; it hoovers browser processing-power, particularly in Firefox.) The 1959 brochure introducing the “FLOW-MATIC” programming language. Superb long essay on the post-Weinstein uncorking of decades of professional women’s stories about, and fury over, workplace treatment. Why watch hands run clockwise (and why some don’t). What it’s like to take LSD while listening to Brian Eno’s latest generative-music app. What happens to an open-source code base when its chief author dies? US neo-Nazis are unhappy with the latest Castle Wolfenstein game. A BBC radio drama you interact with via Amazon’s Alexa. Letting the Iphone’s predictive-text write your epitaph.  A new John Donne manuscript, replete with scatalogical humor, has surfaced. How to build computer logic using relays, in the 1941 book “Giant Brains, or, Machines That Think”.

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Illustration of "Amon", a demon from the 1844 Dictionnaire Infernal

Behold “Amon”, a demon from the lavishly-illustrated 1863 Dictionnaire Infernal, a catalogue of demons; here’s a great story about this wild book. A new waterproof Kindle. Homage to the SpaceOrb 360, the weirdest game controller ever. Wait, the Canadian navy invented the trackball? “Your job now has in-app purchases!” Online dating rose in the 90s, precisely the same time as rates of interracial marriage in the US also began to rise; they’re related, this study posits. A lovely and haunting short film about a doomed Mars mission. “Gluggaveður” is an Icelandic word for “window-weather”: Weather that looks appealing from inside, but proves less pleasant in reality (via @RobGMacfarlane) A fascinating study tracked the IRL interactions of men and women at work, and finds that they’re treated differently. Oysters, which have no ears, can hear thunderstorms.

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bugshot

Some amazing bug photography. Why passcodes are more secure for locking your phone than facial recognition. The ergonomics of astronaut cameras are awesome. How to re-engineer the Iphone so it’s less of an addictive time-suck. Amazing fossil: A 200-million-old baby ichthyosaur that died with “a belly full of squid”. How Google used the “cruising” behavior of cars to predict where parking is, and isn’t, available. Among the articles in this 1937 issue of Your Life magazine are “The Frigid Wives of Reno” and “What I Learned From An Old Man”. A new theory of how deep learning actually works: The most important part is “forgetting”. Shapeshifting, programmable synthetic skin that’s inspired by octopus muscle.

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