Category: Psychology

Picture of a Walmart in MadAllen, Texas, that has been turned into a huge library

When WalMart shut down in McAllen, the townspeople turned it into a mammoth, gorgeous library. “Pussy and Her Language”: an 1895 book on how to talk cats. (Via the superb Atlas Obscura!) The inner-ear mechanism that may lie behind some out-of-body experiences. An essay-length biography of Keats, who, TIL, was quite a brawler as a youth. “8 rabbits, aka 1 rabbyte“. How cheap paper led to the moral panic over 19th-century dime-store novels. A ghostly Russian radio station that has been broadcasting weird tones for three decades. (Also, as @BWJones pointed me to, there’s “The Conet Project”, online audio archives of shortwave “numbers stations”.) Writing a 2D game in Nim. The science behind recursive sadness. Goldfish survive frozen winters by producing alcohol. Via @gnat, here’s Wick, a cool tool for scripting interactive thingies.


Image of an old National Enquirer article claiming that "Hackers can turn your home computer into a bomb"

“Hacker Madness”, a wonderful article from issue 8 of Limn magazine, devoted to “Hacks, Leaks, and Breaches.” The answer to this mathematical question turns out to be insanely interesting. Is a Sharknado actually possible? According to the Washington Post … “It could happen.” Some in-depth, on-the-scene reporting of a small-factory line employees getting used to their new workmates: Robots. Over at Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow notes some unexpected reasons why so many stories today are dystopic. Indians are spending less on salty and sugary snacks, and instead using the money to buy data on their mobiles. The engineers piloting the 1970s Voyager probes are still on the job, four decades later. Behold the New Optimists.


Black and white archival photo of an automat in New York City

Automats were invented partly because turn-of-the-20th-century diners hated waiters. Speaking of automation, this piece ponders the effects of Venmo on friendships. There are 17 kinds of ice? Now you can register a domain with an emoji in its URL. (Several services exist, in fact.) Wikipedia as a text adventure. Firefox 55 is now fast enough that it can reopen 1,691 tabs in 15 seconds. An interactive map of The Odyssey. The Washington Post has been really owning the goat beat lately. (Previously.) Salvador Dali’s mustache, nearly 30 years after he was embalmed, is still in perfect shape.


Animated charts showing how the age of marriage has changed over time

Animated charts showing how the age of marriage has changed in the US over the last century. The myth of drug expiration dates. The obituary for the inventor of the first — and only — “self-cleaning house”. (Her patent is here.) Data considered as a gift. From 1908: “School is largely concerned with the transformation of a playing child into a working man with some of the play still left in him.” The long history of mocking Thoreau. Experiments, some successful, to evoke emotions in psychopaths. A video showing the patient, lovely restoration of an old two-person saw.


Graphics from the Washington Post calculating how many jobs goats will steal from humans
Forget robots: Goats are coming for our jobs — in landscaping! But how many jobs? The Washington Post tries to calculate this. The multimillion-dollar sound-engineering quest to produce the perfect golf-club “thwack”. Inside Winston Churchill’s quest to build an aircraft carrier out of ice. People like straightforward braggarts better than humblebraggers. Rooftop solar is under attack by utilities, who complain it’s reducing demand for coal/gas-fired power. How to make natural-language AI less sexist and racist. “Please buy some greenfish:” A 400-year-old shopping list is found under floorboards in a house.


Why spaceflight might be good for your mental health


I’m claustrophobic and afraid of heights, so the idea of going to space in a tiny can seems basically nuts.

I was thus intrigued to discover the 2012 NASA book Psychology of Space Exploration, a collection of essays about what going to space does to you — mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It’s freely downloadable here, and I spent tonight reading it.

One thing I learned? Going to space might be “salutogenic” — good for one’s overall well-being.

Some of reasons are what you might imagine. Hey, those spectacular views! Astronauts return aglow from the experience. There’s an phenomenon known as the “overview effect” — the feeling of whoa-dude connectedness-with-all-humanity that astronauts get from gazing at the Earth. I actually wrote a separate essay about this two years ago, but the effect is discussed in this volume too. They note how astronauts become enraptured with taking pictures of the planet: Of the 200,000 Earth pictures taken on eight missions aboard the International Space Station, 84.5% were “crew-initiated”. As Space Shuttle astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan said, “it’s hard to explain how amazing and magical this experience is.”

But it’s deeper than that. Data suggests that after coming back from flight, astronauts are mentally healthier in the long run, because the trip made them more self-reliant (which is saying something, given that astronauts are awfully self-reliant to begin with):

Studies of the mental health of cosmonauts conducted two or three years after their return to Earth found that they had become less anxious, hypochondriacal, depressive, and aggressive. The most plausible explanation is that during their stay in tough environments, people develop coping skills, that is, ways of dealing with challenge and stress that continue to serve them well long after they have returned from their expedition.

This effect has also been observed in crew members who return from long missions to Antartica — where, as with space-station flight, they’re stuck inside tiny quarters for months. Indeed, the more obnoxiously bad the Antarctica mission, the better their long-term wellness. As one researcher found …

… a depressed mood was inversely associated with the severity of station physical environments — that is, the better the environment, the worse the depression — and that the winter-over experience was associated with reduced subsequent rates of hospital admissions. He and others have speculated that the experience of adapting to the isolation and confinement, in general, improved an individual’s self-efficacy and self-reliance and engendered coping skills that they used in other areas of life to buffer subsequent stress and resultant illnesses.

Intriguing. But Elon Musk can look elsewhere; I’m still never gonna volunteer for space flight.