May 31st, 2014
Geoff Manaugh, on the work of 19th century surveyors in California who set out to map out the borders between counties:
Like a dust-covered Tron of the desert, surrounded by the invisible mathematics of a grid that had yet to be realized, these over-dressed gentlemen of another century helped give rise to an abstract model of the state.
April 9th, 2014
Charlie Stross has yet another bad idea:
Now, it occurs to me that the Republican Party over in the USA have a bit of a problem coming up in 2016, namely who to run against Barack Obama's successor. Whoever they are. (Hilary is looking a little old and Al's cardboard has mildew.) But the RNC isn't in good shape. They don't have anybody out front with the charisma of the Gipper (dead or alive), or the good ole' boy appeal of George W. Bush: just a bunch of old white guys in dark suits who're obsessed with the size of their wallets and the contents of every woman's uterus, or vice versa. Guys who make Karl Rove look like Johnny Depp.
And so it occurred to me (after my fifth pint of IPA) to spin my speculative political satire around the fact that there is only one man on the global political scene today who has what it takes to be a plausible Republican candidate for President Of The United States at the next presidential election. […]
The name he's come up with isn't remotely feasible as an actual candidate for president, but then that's not exactly the point, is it?
March 21st, 2014
16 Ways to Find Love in the Personal Ads (in 1900):
"Wanted: wife. Farmer's daughter preferred, willing to marry poor man. Must be good girl, good-looking, weight 100 or under, no grafters."
[Via The Morning News]
February 21st, 2014
According to the New York Times the center of the world isn't where you'd have expected to find it:
The town [of Felicity, California], established in 1986, consists of the Istels’ home and a half-dozen other buildings that the couple built on 2,600 acres in the middle of the desert near Yuma, Ariz., just off Interstate 8. At the north end, up an imposing staircase, sits the Church on the Hill at Felicity – inspired by a little white chapel in Brittany – that Istel built in 2007. The church is gorgeous and serene and looks eerily out of place, though less out of place than the 21-foot-tall stone-and-glass pyramid on the opposite end of town. The pyramid is there to mark the exact center of the world.
The founder of the town of Felicity, Jacques-André Istel, has led a really interesting, not to say distinctly eccentric, life.
November 25th, 2013
October 11th, 2013
Southern Baptist stock photo makes pornography seem glorious, or, to put it another way, "Lobbyists for the Religious Right, choose your stock photos with care."
September 29th, 2013
NASA's Earth Observatory posted a slideshow depicting Devastation and Recovery at Mt. St. Helens:
The 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which began with a series of small earthquakes in mid-March and peaked with a cataclysmic flank collapse, avalanche, and explosion on May 18, was not the largest nor longest-lasting eruption in the mountain's recent history. But as the first eruption in the continental United States during the era of modern scientific observation, it was uniquely significant.
In the three decades since the eruption, Mt. St. Helens has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to witness the intricate steps through which life reclaims a devastated landscape. [...]
August 14th, 2013
Ever since seeing Jaws back in 1976, I'd taken it as read that Americans had always been afraid of shark attacks. Apparently this was not the case:
In 1891, Herman Oelrichs, a multimillionaire with a thirst for adventure, made a peculiar offer in the pages of the New York Sun. Oelrichs said he would provide a reward of five hundred dollars for "such proof as a court would accept that in temperate waters even one man, woman, or child, while alive, was ever attacked by a shark." Fond of diving off yachts to swim with whatever creatures might be lurking in the deep, Oelrichs conducted an annual "shark-chasing" swim off the coast of New Jersey's most fashionable resorts. Like his friend Theodore Roosevelt, Oelrichs believed sharks were merely part of a larger ecosystem that had been conquered by science and American enthusiasm. In a time when men could vacation in Africa and come back with hunting trophies twice their size, how could we have anything to fear from the natural world? [...]
July 24th, 2013
The word 'ironic' comes to mind:
The NSA is a "supercomputing powerhouse" with machines so powerful their speed is measured in thousands of trillions of operations per second. The agency turns its giant machine brains to the task of sifting through unimaginably large troves of data its surveillance programs capture.
But ask the NSA, as part of a freedom of information request, to do a seemingly simple search of its own employees' email? The agency says it doesn't have the technology.
"There's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately," NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.
The system is "a little antiquated and archaic," she added. [...]
How suspiciously convenient for them.
[Via Memex 1.1]
June 11th, 2013
This time lapse film of Hawaii's Volcanoes is exactly as spectacular as you'd imagine.
[Via The Awl]
May 19th, 2013
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Wesson Goes to Church:
When does life begin for a gun? Is it first casting, first barrel boring, first test fire? Is it before the gun is formed when the metal is mined, or the carbon fiber manufactured?
A thoroughly mischievous little piece.
[Via The Browser]
May 13th, 2013
Paul Ford on How Bing Crosby and the Nazis Helped to Create Silicon Valley:
The nineteen-forties Bing Crosby hit "White Christmas" is a key part of the national emotional regression that occurs every Christmas. Between Christmases, Crosby is most often remembered as a sometimes-brutal father, thanks to a memoir by his son Gary. Less remarked upon is Crosby's role as a popularizer of jazz, first with Paul Whiteman's orchestra, and later as a collaborator with, disciple to, and champion of Louis Armstrong. Hardly remarked upon at all is that Crosby, by accident, is a grandfather to the computer hard drive and an angel investor in one of the firms that created Silicon Valley. [...]
Ford mentions one other technical innovation in broadcasting that Crosby allegedly inspired, but you'll have to read the article to the end to find out about that one. It's worth it.
April 19th, 2013
The Most Deranged Sorority Girl Email You Will Ever Read:
If you just opened this like I told you to, tie yourself down to whatever chair you're sitting in, because this email is going to be a rough fucking ride.
For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks, which apparently is the majority of this chapter, we have been FUCKING UP in terms of night time events and general social interactions with Sigma Nu. I've been getting texts on texts about people LITERALLY being so fucking AWKWARD and so fucking BORING. If you're reading this right now and saying to yourself "But oh em gee Julia, I've been having so much fun with my sisters this week!", then punch yourself in the face right now so that I don't have to fucking find you on campus to do it myself. [...]
That was just her getting warmed up. It gets so much better once she gets into her stride.
(I'm moderately sure that the whole thing was written tongue in cheek, but it's so entertainingly batty that I don't particularly care.)
[Via The Morning News]
March 1st, 2013
Is Facebook Destroying the American College Experience? asks danah boyd, referring to prospective students looking up their classmates on Facebook and trying to establish links to those who share a common interest:
At first blush, this seems like a win for students. Going off to college can be a scary proposition, full of uncertainty, particularly about social matters. Why not get a head start building friends from the safety of your parent's house?
What most students (and parents) fail to realize is that the success of the American college system has less to do with the quality of the formal education than it does with the social engineering project that is quietly enacted behind the scenes each year. Roommates are structured to connect incoming students with students of different backgrounds. Dorms are organized to cross-breed the cultural diversity that exists on campus. Early campus activities are designed to help people encounter people who's approach to the world is different than theirs.
To be fair to Facebook – as danah boyd notes later in her post – this isn't in any sense a Facebook problem: the site just happens to be the tool students are curently using to do this pre-college reconnaissance. The trick to curbing this habit is going to lie in persuading students of the benefits of mixing with people they might not normally choose to rub shoulders with.
February 16th, 2013
I didn't see Marco Rubio's speech but I just got a residual check.
[Here's the context, for those of you who aren't American politics junkies. If you don't know why Albert Brooks would be connected with Marco Rubio, go and watch Broadcast News. You won't regret it.]
[Via The New Yorker]
February 1st, 2013
Being a statistician, a feminist and a fan of the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hilary Parker couldn't resist investigating whether it's true that the name Hilary/Hillary is the most poisoned baby name in US history.
A lot of screen-scraping and many R sessions later, she shares her conclusions and reasoning with the rest of us, As a bonus, she explores fascinating side issues, like the reasons why some names saw short-lived leaps in popularity:
For each of the names that "dropped in" I did a little research on the name and the year. "Dewey" popped up in 1898 because of the Spanish-American War – people named their daughters after George Dewey "Deneen" was one name of a duo with a one-hit wonder in 1968. "Katina" and "Catina" were wildly popular because in 1972 in the soap opera Where the Heart Is a character is born named Katina. "Farrah" became popular in 1976 when Charlie's Angels, starring Farrah Fawcett, debuted (notice that the name becomes popular in 2009 when Farrah Fawcett died).
I couldn't resist doing a quick-and-dirty search across the data files on the relative frequency of given names in the population of U.S. births where the individual has a Social Security Number. It appears that in 2008 and 2009 the name 'Barack' saw a tenfold rise in popularity compared to 2007 (albeit from a small base):
Interestingly, no hits came up for the name 'Barack' in the files representing years prior to 2007. Could it be that I've uncovered evidence, from data files supplied by his very own Administration, that Obama wasn't born on American soil after all?
[Via Waxy.org: Links Miniblog]
November 24th, 2012
Entering a massively reinforced shelter built for the president and his entourage in the North Carolina mountains, Eisenhower remarked to an aide, "My God, until now, I didn't realize how scared we are."
From The Brilliant Prudence of Dwight Eisenhower by Evan Thomas.
November 16th, 2012
Matt Taibbi invited his readers to write a parody of Thomas Friedman's latest column on Syria. His readers rose to the challenge:
[By Richard Rollington]
Iraq was fisted by the United States, and on experiencing such explosive pleasure knocked over a china cabinet while ejaculating acid. Syria's on her knees begging to be next.
Succinct, and surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the source material.
There's a longer, even better, entry quoted by Taibbi, depicting Friedman as Schrodinger's columnist.
November 12th, 2012
Such was the extent of his triumph last week that even 11 year-old girls are crushing on Nate Silver:
I wonder if when you get up in the morning you open your kitchen cabinet and go, I'm feeling 18.5% Rice Chex and 27.9% Frosted Mini-Wheats and 32% one of those whole-grain Kashi cereals which have photos of smiling multicultural people on the boxes, as if smiling multicultural people were a new form of fibre. And then I wonder if you think, But I'm really feeling 58.3% like having a cupcake for breakfast, but then your mom says, "I don't care if you're a fancy statistician with a Times blog and Seattle green-architect eyeglass frames, you still need something heart-healthy to start your day," but then you tell her, "Mom, if you keep nagging me I will never let you meet my new boyfriend, Matt Bomer."
See, I think that because you predicted the election with near-100% accuracy Matt Bomer is way more likely to go out with you than with Dick Morris, who predicted a Romney landslide, or with Karl Rove, who kept predicting that Ohio was still in play a week after the election was over. In fact, right now I bet that you could get anyone to go out with you just by saying something like "I predicted Florida, North Carolina, and Illinois, and now I'm predicting that you'll have dinner with me."
October 31st, 2012
Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall.
I found #48 particularly striking – surreal, even.
[Via The Browser]