Category: History

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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An animated gif by the artist Kim Albrecht showing how a phone sense its environment

Animated gifs that show what it’s like to be a mobile phone. An app that reads text back to you in a sarcastic voice. Why “routine biased technological change” strikes most heavily during recessions. The stilt-walking shepherds of France. The illustrations in the 1898 book “On the Disposition of Iron in Variegated Strata” look like gorgeous modern art. The best layperson’s explanation of blockchain I’ve ever read. Can you use regex to parse HMTL? An unexpectedly apocalyptic answer. Hunting for alien life by looking for rocket exhaust. Basque “arborglyphs”.

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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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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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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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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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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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