November 26th, 2013
Shantal Roddam (@Allieqtzm) was a typical example of one of her new followers. Shantal was a "Friendly beer fan" from Butte. She was following:
@ESPN, the world's leading sports brand;
@MarsPhoenix, a long-dead robot on Mars;
@ReutersScience, the news organization;
@KingJames, Lebron James, the NBA star;
@AlexisMadrigal, your faithful correspondent;
and Olivia, a high school student in San Diego.
By 8:25pm, Olivia could announce, "I have hit 3,000 everyone 3,000 porn stars."
Alexis Madrigal's article trying to answer the question Why Did 9,000 Porny Spambots Descend on This San Diego High Schooler? serves as both an introduction for non-techies to the world of Twitter spambots and a reminder of the extent to which the language and practices of social media would be unintelligible to an average reader from twenty years ago.
It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.
November 11th, 2013
This video of a Piper Super Cub landing on a windy mountain top is marvelous.
Even when you know what's about to happen, you're watching the film and thinking "OK, in a minute he's going to bank sharply and the runway will swing into the camera's field of vision and this'll be relatively straightforward." Then the pilot banks sharply and puts the aeroplane down on a rough piece of land clinging to the side of the mountain. One where he's going uphill!
After which he goes out, takes a few pictures, observes that it's really cold, and takes off with just as little fuss. Great stuff.
October 23rd, 2013
When I read last year about Australian billionaire Clive Palmer's plans to build a new Titanic, I somehow failed to note the biggest hostage to fortune of all:
The Titanic II will also sail the seas for real, with a spokesman for Palmer's Blue Star Line promising that "It will be the most safe cruise ship in the world when it launches." How can Palmer be sure? "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it, but it's not going to be designed with a hole in," he's said. "It's going to be designed so it won't sink and it'll be designed as a modern ship with all the latest technology to ensure that that doesn't happen." Period costumes will also be provided to help set the mood for passengers.
The reason this story has resurfaced is that Palmer has announced plans to make a feature film to coincide with the ship's 2016 launch:
"In the third quarter of next year, we'll announce broader details about the new movie – a director, stars," he told the Sunshine Coast Daily. "It will be about Titanic II's first voyage. It will be a bit of a love story, so bring a hankie along. It's going to be bigger than the first Titanic from James Cameron. It's going to bring people together from China, Europe, the U.S. and Australia. It's going to bring about more peaceful co-operation and concentrate on what brings us together rather than what divides us."
How amazing would it be if the director could persuade Kate Winslet to star. At least this time she wouldn't have to spend weeks up to her neck in a giant water tank being shouted at by Jim Cameron.
October 16th, 2013
Headline of the Week/Month/Year candidate, courtesy of Popular Science:
Space-Born Jellyfish Hate Life On Earth.
October 7th, 2013
The order had come from the Dean of Dresden campus herself. In an effort to maximize classroom time (and justify expenditure budgets), lecture times would now be accurate to the second. IT would be responsible for the deployment of new, centrally synchronized clocks. [...]
Sometimes a high tech solution requires some distinctly low tech support.
September 17th, 2013
Notes from scholar and social critic W W Crotch, written in 1933 for the New Statesman, on his occasional encounters over the preceding decade or so with the new German chancellor. No huge surprises as regards what a misfit Hitler was before he ascended to the national stage, but I couldn't help but boggle at this tale of what might just be the most woefully inadequate headline of the 20th century:
One thing that struck me about Hitler was his extreme abstemiousness. He ate every night a dish of vegetables, and mineral water was his only drink. He never smoked. This reminds me of an amusing incident when Hitler became Chancellor. The German vegetarians have a central organ of their league, and this paper came out with flaming headlines:
FIRST GREAT VICTORY OF GERMAN VEGETARIANS. HITLER BECOMES CHANCELLOR.
September 4th, 2013
25 Celebrities When They Were Young.
Some of these you've probably seen before. Most of them (IMHO) would be perfectly recognisable even if the pictures weren't labelled. I'd say that Charlize Theron, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Steve Jobs, Michael Stipe and Steven Tyler's lips fall into that category.
A few are US-only celebrities like Ryan Seacrest and Martha Stewart; I've heard of them and am vaguely aware of what they do, but I've never seen them on-screen and couldn't pick out of a line-up at any age.
Some, like Bruce Willis and Steve Carell, have pretty much the same face, albeit a lot younger, but very different hair styles. (Or at least a different facial hair style in Carell's case).
All pretty routine, you might think, and I probably wouldn't have posted this link. But then there's the one that Blew My Mind.
Unless you're already familiar with the picture, I defy you to guess who that is.
August 4th, 2013
Stiff Records' press release about the first week sales performance of Johnny Borrell's solo album is putting a brave face on things:
Stiff Records is proud to announce first week sales figures for its latest album – Johnny Borrell's 'Borrell 1' – of 594.
'Borrell 1' is the début solo LP from the former Razorlight vocalist and is the first new album on the highly prolific Stiff Records since 2007.
That last album was the multi million-selling two-volume set, '30 Years Of Stiff Records' (although admittedly that was a free cover-mount with 'The Independent on Sunday').
"First week sales of 594 makes 'Borrell 1' the 15,678th best selling album of the year to date," comments a Stiff spokesperson. "So far we've achieved 0.00015% sales of Adele's '21' – and 0.03% sales of this week's No. 1 album from Jahmene Douglas – so we feel like it's all to play for as we move into the all-important week two."
"We might even break the Top 100."
Or possibly taking the piss. Hard to tell.
[Via No Rock And Roll Fun]
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 4th, 2013
My favourite part of the story on the BBC News web site about how the BBC Trust has upheld a complaint about the fact that the BBC home page's clock simply repeats the time shown on the user's computer and thus "is not consistent with BBC guidelines on accuracy" is the section at the foot of the page of the BBC News report on the decision, linking to the story as it's presented elsewhere:
Trust the Daily Mail to turn it up to 11. "Slammed"? Really?
[Via Martin Belam]
April 24th, 2013
I'll confess to never having played Warhammer 40K or read any of the tie-ins, but even so I'm quite prepared to believe that this truly is the Best Warhammer 40K Costume Ever:
* Post title courtesy of MeFi user Halloween Jack.
March 15th, 2013
March 5th, 2013
It turns out that combining Nine Inch Nails and Carly Rae Jepsen gives a really strange result.
I honestly can't make my mind up whether this is epic or embarrassing, or possibly just a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
February 25th, 2013
I'm deeply indebted to Charlie Stross for bringing the concept of Roko's basilisk to my attention. Well, either that, or damned forever to have an avatar of my presumably long-dead self tormented by a vengeful AI for failing to believe in it. We'll see:
Roko's basilisk is a proposition suggested by a member of the rationalist community LessWrong, which speculates about the potential behavior of a future godlike artificial intelligence. The proposition, and the dilemma it presents, somewhat resembles a futurist version of Pascal's wager.
The claim is that this ultimate intelligence may punish those who fail to help it (or help create it), with greater punishment accorded those who knew the importance of the task. That bit is simple enough, but the weird bit is that the AI and the person punished have no causal interaction: the punishment would be of a simulation of the person (e.g. by mind uploading), which the AI would construct by deduction from first principles. In LessWrong's Timeless Decision Theory (TDT), this is taken to be equivalent to punishment of your own actual self, not just someone else very like you.
Roko's basilisk is notable for being completely banned from discussion on LessWrong, where any mention of it is deleted. Eliezer Yudkowsky, founder of LessWrong, considers the basilisk would not work, but will not explain why because he does not consider open discussion of the notion of acausal trade with possible superintelligences to be provably safe.
Wow. Just wow…
[Via Charlie's Diary]
February 6th, 2013
Artist Jim Kazanjian produced a series of photographs of imaginary houses, carefully assembled by matching up snippets of images of real houses to make something much weirder.
There are definitely untold stories behind those houses. Perhaps best left untold in some cases.
[Via Colossal, via MetaFilter]
December 7th, 2012
Contemplating the career of Ludivine Sagnier, Xan Brooks came up with a striking comparison:
[In her early 20s...] she gave us a 21st-century riff on the French gamine: at once innocent and perverse, beautiful and bent out of shape. The press promptly touted her as "the new Bardot", although that barely scratches at the surface of her wonky appeal. On screen, Sagnier manages to be at once coolly carnal and haplessly gauche. For me, she's like Stan Laurel as played by Marilyn Monroe, though I'll concede that this description may well not catch on.
Not a parallel that occurred to me when I first watched Swimming Pool.
November 17th, 2012
August 31st, 2012
The Osmonds 1974 – Fiddler On The Roof Medley.
You know, Fiddler On the Roof used to be my favourite film musical. Now, I don't know if I'll be able to watch it again without getting flashbacks of this … performance.
July 14th, 2012
Olympic Mascots Wenlock Policeman Figurine: Amazon.co.uk: Toys & Games:
- Hello, I'm Wenlock! Don't I look smart in my police officer's uniform?
- I have the important job of protecting you on your journey to the London 2012 Games.
- Take this figurine on a journey to the London 2012 Olympic Games – we can have lots of fun together! [...]
The customer reviews are all you'd expect and more…
[Via Charlie Stross, commenting at Making Light]