Category: History

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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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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Plants in beakers, genetically altered to try and improve their rates of photosynthesis

Hacking photosynthesis to improve agriculture. A delightful and illustrated introduction to compilers. The volcanos of the Antarctic. The Internet Archive has put up a huge collection of HyperCard projects, viewable in an online emulator. Luuuuunngs … innnnnnnn … spaaaaaaaaceHow big can a planet be? Gender-enforcement #1: A kid’s entertainer reflects on why parents won’t let their boys put “girly” stuff on their face. Gender-enforcement #2: Why won’t men work as health-care aides? Not only do they think it’s unmanly, but their wives do too. Yes, we should teach our kids to code: MORSE CODE, that is. Drive over a “non-Newtonian” speed bump slowly, and it’s soft; drive fast, and it’s hard.

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Scan of the cover of Galaxy magazine
Full-text scans of the sci-fi magazine Galaxy, courtesy the wonderful Internet Archive. The US government’s official page on how to prepare for a nuclear attack. A 17th-century “traveling library”. Behold tenyearsago.io, which shows you how various major sites — Amazon, CNN, the New York Times — looked, ten years ago from today. A human-to-elephant translation device. A machine that lays out dominos with precise spacing, for quick toppling. A history of the Sidekick, the best-designed mobile phone I ever owned. Using visual-recognition to play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” in your webcam.

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