Category: Reading

Wooden prototype of a Palm Pilot made by inventor Jeff Hawkins

Above, a fake, wooden version of a Palm Pilot, made by inventor Jeff Hawkins to figure out whether he’d want to carry around a personal digital assistant all day long; such fakes are known as “preotypes” — “pretend prototypes.” The perils of self-driving cars were predicted in this witty movie from 1911. A list of Mastodon instances looks oddly like lists of BBSes or USENET groups from the early 90s. This guy makes pretty awesome art using Excel. omg I can’t stop playing Flipping Legend! Instructions on how to build an igloo, by an Inuit man trying to preserve this historic skill. Transcriptions of the chitchat on your first date: Some predictions on how high-quality voice dictation might change everyday life.

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The physics of overly-warm air: It’s so hot in Phoenix that they’re cancelling flights. Behold Seenapse, a web site where you list weird, serendipitous connections between web pages, and browse the connections of others. (Here’s a synapse I posted about Samuel Morse.) Searching for “chemtrails” on Amazon. A great post describing the current debate over why technology isn’t boosting productivity more. How pneumatic tubes changed the way we communicate, for a brief period. A lovely visual introduction to machine learning. A funny, blistering critique of voice-control AI: “Your spouse, who has lived with you for 20 years is just now getting an inkling of what you mean when you talk. Your computer is likely never going to understand you for the simple reason that the things you say aren’t really understandable.”

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“One third of the invertebrates and some of the fishes found during the expedition are completely new to science.” They’ve discovered that Cook pine trees always lean in the direction of the equator — the ones in the Northern hemisphere lean towards the south, and the Southern hemisphere ones lean towards the north. (If you want to read the actual face-sound scientific paper, it’s here.) Behold the many religious-themed handheld LCD games of the 80s and 90s. Does the sound of your name match the shape of your face?   This neural net produces some unsettlingly realistic faces. “Nothing much, just painting a Renaissance manuscript with dissolved fish bladder, you?” An interesting hypothesis about how and why whales got so insanely huge.

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Randy Gibson, the composer of “The Four Pillars Appearing From the Equal D Under Resonating Apparitions of the Eternal Process in the Midwinter Starfield,” at his home studio in Brooklyn.
Three hours of music played with a single note — “D”, in seven octaves — is weirdly mesmerizing; I’ve been listening to it while I write my book. (Composer picture above from The New York Times; player above has the album.) A startup that makes paper out of … stone.Before he was shot, Philando Castile was buried in “a mountain of fines”; this is a good NPR investigation of how racism and poverty are worsened by endless niggling fines. Spooky action at great distances: Chinese scientists appear to have successfully entangled two particles that were 1,200 km apart. Cell.js is an intriguing new way to create web apps, with each element containing its own “self driving” DOM. Tarot cards aren’t as old as you might think; they’re an invention of occult-obsessed Paris in 1781.

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A photo transformed using Waterlogue

What’s it like to work in your car? One guy did it for a day, to get a sense of how self-driving cars will change the workday. My obsession with Waterlogue, an app that turns photos into watercolor paintings (example above!) How Margaret Atwood based The Handmaid’s Tale exclusively on political events that were already happening. How underwater submersibles send data back to shore using sound waves — and lots of error correction. “Why You Should Charge Your Friends For Borrowing Your Stuff.” Hey, Tracy Smith — author of the wonderful Life on Mars — is going to be the next Poet Laureate of the US! Wait, Wonder Woman’s invisible jet was a sentient alien lifeform? And the Smithsonian once put it on display?

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Why the headquarters of evil megacorporations in sci-fi movies are always “brooding Late Modernist” architecture. Superb photography of video game arcades from the late 70s and early 80s. Scientists have discovered a molten river of iron “nearly as hot as the surface of the sun” that lies 3000 km below the surface of the earth, running between Russia and Canada, and it is picking up speed.  A programming language that consists solely of eight one-character commands, and an instruction pointer; here’s an explanation of how its “Hello World” program functions. Brianna Wu is running for congress! Why do so many doctors work crazy 24-to-36-hour shifts? “I know half my advertising spending is wasted on Russian botfarms that pseudoclick on procedurally astroturfed video sites, but I don’t know which half.” Help; I am addicted to this iOS racing game. My holiday reading is this new book of poetry that meditates on “the art of protest”. How David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post used his Twitter followers to do research impossible for any one individual to pull off. The company that made the Liberty Bell is, after 500 years, going out of business.

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A gorgeous arpeggiated chord player, done in javascript. Jason Griffey issued a rousing call to his fellow librarians to resist disinfo, hate, and surveillance. That weird data-transfer standard for old modems — 9600 bps — emerged because of the reaction times of carbon microphones. Behold a lovely interactive dataviz of how various bachelors degree have risen (or fallen) in popularity since 1970. Why female online fan communities nurture amazing tech skills, and why they’re overlooked come hiring time. Testing Jane Jacobs’ theory of vibrant streets, using mobile-phone data. Waterguns in ice.

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An argument in favor of the proprioceptic value of seesaws, which are fast vanishing from playgrounds around the country. The Turing Test for classical music: An AI is able to harmonize with Bach so well half of human listeners think Bach himself composed it. Pokemon Go made players more physically active, but not very much, and not for long. Behold Z1ffer, an open-source hardware random-number generator! “Reports on the rise of fascism in Europe was not the American media’s finest hour.” Apparently the phrase “no can do” emerged around 1900 and has seen four spikes in popularity. What makes for a good news tip to the New York Times? Harsh: A piece of ransomware that goes away if you infect two other people.

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A version of Lode Runner, done in HTML5, and better yet — here’s a strategy guide: “You can use enemies’ heads as stepping stones, even when they are falling.” The Cassini probe approaches its death on Saturn, and is taking gorgeous “ring grazing” shots. This woman discovered the greenhouse-gas effect 1856, but her contribution (the original here) was forgotten. “Literai” is a website that publishes AI-authored fiction, and has docs on how to generate your own. Behold a credit-card-sized synthesizer you can fit in your pocket. Bold.io is like Medium, except with anonymity, and background sounds (“a cafe in Paris”; “a relaxing storm”) for while you write. This device turns butter into mist; migod, what it must be like to clean the inside after a few months …

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“Bat men discovered on the moon”, an original piece of fake news, from 1865. Cloud life: About 20% of the bigger-sized particles in clouds are microbes, and they’re probably responsible for a lot of rain. What’s it like for a kid who grows up living in a NYC library? The ozone hole seemed like a terrifying threat to humanity, but international co-operation mostly repaired it. Stephen Wolfram wrote a fantastic account of being the scientific advisor to the movie Arrival; among other things, he wrote on-screen equations and his son wrote Wolfram code that appeared on-screen and actually, in real-life, analyzed the alien communications.

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