Three Beards

June 16th, 2013

Poet Donald Hall shares the story of his Three Beards:


In my life I have grown three beards, covering many of my adult faces. My present hairiness is monumental, and I intend to carry it into the grave. (I must avoid chemotherapy.) A woman has instigated each beard, the original bush requested by my first wife, Kirby. Why did she want it? Maybe she was tired of the same old face. Or maybe she thought a beard would be raffish; I did. In the fifties, no one wore beards. In Eisenhower's day, as in the time of the Founding Fathers, all chins were smooth, while during the Civil War beards were as common as sepsis. Both my New Hampshire great-grandfathers wore facial hair, the Copperhead who fought in the war and the sheep farmer too old for combat. By the time I was sentient, in the nineteen-thirties, only my eccentric cousin Freeman was bearded, and even he shaved once a summer. Every September he endured a fortnight of scratchiness. […]

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June 16th, 2013

Mark Blyth does a marvelous job of dismantling the notions that Austerity is Good For Us and It's What We All Deserve for Being Spendthrift in Austerity – The History of a Dangerous Idea:

[Via Memex 1.1]

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German snipers had had him in their sights but, out of pity for this madman, had not fired.

June 14th, 2013

The Economist's obituary for the D-Day piper, published upon his passing away in 2010 at the age of 88, is worth reading right to the very last line:

ANY reasonable observer might have thought Bill Millin was unarmed as he jumped off the landing ramp at Sword Beach, in Normandy, on June 6th 1944. Unlike his colleagues, the pale 21-year-old held no rifle in his hands. Of course, in full Highland rig as he was, he had his trusty skean dhu, his little dirk, tucked in his right sock. But that was soon under three feet of water as he waded ashore, a weary soldier still smelling his own vomit from a night in a close boat on a choppy sea, and whose kilt in the freezing water was floating prettily round him like a ballerina's skirt.

But Mr Millin was not unarmed; far from it. He held his pipes, high over his head at first to keep them from the wet (for while whisky was said to be good for the bag, salt water wasn't), then cradled in his arms to play. And bagpipes, by long tradition, counted as instruments of war. An English judge had said so after the Scots' great defeat at Culloden in 1746; a piper was a fighter like the rest, and his music was his weapon. […]

[Via Electrolite]

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One badass tortoise

June 12th, 2013

Beware the teenage(?) mutant ninja turtle tortoise:

Quite a turn of speed there at the end as he chases the cat down the corridor.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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Very cosmic. Very horror.

June 12th, 2013

Lovecraft Actually by DrFaustusAU:

Lovecraft Actually

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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Hawaii volcanoes at night

June 11th, 2013

This time lapse film of Hawaii's Volcanoes is exactly as spectacular as you'd imagine.

[Via The Awl]

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Bigge Data

June 10th, 2013

Kieran Healy on Using Metadata to find Paul Revere:

London, 1772.

I have been asked by my superiors to give a brief demonstration of the surprising effectiveness of even the simplest techniques of the new-fangled Social Networke Analysis in the pursuit of those who would seek to undermine the liberty enjoyed by His Majesty's subjects. This is in connection with the discussion of the role of "metadata" in certain recent events and the assurances of various respectable parties that the government was merely "sifting through this so-called metadata" and that the "information acquired does not include the content of any communications". I will show how we can use this "metadata" to find key persons involved in terrorist groups operating within the Colonies at the present time. I shall also endeavour to show how these methods work in what might be called a relational manner. […]

Great stuff.

[Via Crooked Timber]

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The spy in your pocket

June 9th, 2013

The most interesting thing about this exploration of how much a German phone company knew about the movements of one particular politician is that it's really just scratching the surface:

Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet. […]

Don't get me wrong: the animated map and correlation of the location data with blog entries and tweets to account for what Spitz was up to on a given day in a given place is neatly done, but it's hardly news that having your mobile phone on you allows the phone company to know roughly where your phone is.

The fun bit is the data mining and cross-matching of data. Throw in the sort of information every self-respecting law enforcement agency is itching to get access to, about what phone numbers you called, who you emailed and what web sites you accessed and it's relatively straightforward to build up a picture of what you're doing, where you're doing it and1, who you're doing it with and – crucially – whether you're deviating from your normal pattern of activity.

Imagine a world where we didn't have the internet and mobile phones to make collecting all this data easy and painless. Now imagine the government in that wireless-free world announcing that it would start gathering this sort of information by having a civil servant follow you around, listening to your conversations with people and monitoring what books and magazines you read and taking notes as you go. I think it's fair to say that there would be hell to pay.

Why should governments have an easier time of it just because they can have Internet Service Providers and telecoms companies do the surveillance for them?

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Given enough data to establish a pattern of behaviour over time.

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Under Pressure

June 8th, 2013

I'd seen links to a vocal-only track from Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure all over the place over the last couple of days, but hadn't bothered to follow them.

Don't repeat my mistake: if you haven't already done so, you owe it to yourself to hear this…

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Life imitates the movies imitating life.

June 7th, 2013

Zed Lopez noticed an interesting detail in this article, written prior to astronaut Chris Hadfield's recent trip to the International Space Station:

"The Larrivée Parlor1 on the ISS was purchased at the local Guitar Center in Southern Florida and there are actually two of them," Larrivée told "The other stays on the ground at NASA so they know what's up there."

They really are prepared for a "We gotta find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that." scene!

Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. It's just odd – or should I say, distinctly reassuring – to be reminded of just how careful NASA are, even now after so many astronauts have visited the ISS.

  1. That's a model of guitar, for the benefit of those of us who aren't musicians.

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The Game Has Changed

June 6th, 2013

Yes, it's another time lapse video featuring lots of night skies and shining cities. But to my mind the way the images and the music1 combine makes The Game Has Changed a couple of steps up from the average nighttime time lapse video.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

  1. Daft Punk, from their soundtrack for TRON: Legacy.

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'I have absolutely no conscience about these things.'

June 5th, 2013

Prompted by a review of a couple of episodes of Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night at the AV Club, I found myself re-watching one of the best speeches Sorkin ever wrote, as delivered by William H Macy.

The context is that Macy's character, Sam Donovan, has recently joined the production team on 'Sports Night', the daily sports news show where the series is set. The three network executives Sam is talking to in this clip are unhappy that the show's current producer, Isaac Jaffe, has been ignoring the notes they've been sending him suggesting changes to the show's writing and presentation. After an unproductive meeting with Isaac which Sam also attended, the executives indicated to Sam that the job of producer was his if he wanted it. Following another unproductive meeting, this time with the show's production team and presenters, Sam wanders into the meeting room to resume the conversation with the suits…1

You can argue that Sorkin only has a limited number of tools in his bag,2 but the man knows how to use them. In the hands of the right actors, the results can be pretty damned satisfying.

[Via The A.V. Club]

  1. If you want to get the full flavour of all this, there's a longer clip here that includes the parts I described as well as the speech as above.
  2. Don't we all?

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Time to go

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"1 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:

BBC clock story as reported elsewhere

Trust the Daily Mail to turn it up to 11. "Slammed"? Really?

[Via Martin Belam]

  1. As opposed to, say, connecting to a centralised NTP server and getting the time from that. Which would slow down page loading significantly and probably require them to support methods of grabbing the data and displaying said clock, depending upon what type of plugin support was available on the device. Basically, far more hassle than it's worth.

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Gus Nitrous is one badass slug

June 4th, 2013


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June 2nd, 2013

My favourite comment from the MetaFilter thread about Matt Smith leaving Doctor Who:

Tilda Swinton cannot be the next Doctor. I think there's a rule against casting an actual citizen of Gallifrey.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:38 AM on June 2

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Intensifying the contradictions

June 1st, 2013

Agent Gideon Goes Rogue:

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin's day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said "Sit".

The Colonel glared at him. "The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?" […]

[Via The Browser]

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Do you run with the rest of the group and hope there's someone slower than you, or break off on your own and hope the uninvited guest pursues the bigger group?

May 30th, 2013

Best wedding party picture. Ever! (Courtesy of photographers Quinn Miller.)

Run with your wife!

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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American Doctors

May 29th, 2013

Doctor Who: An Alternative History of 11 American Female Doctors is rather good…

Second Doctor: Virginia Mayo (1966 – 1969)

It started as a sort of sexist joke in a production meeting about how often women change their clothes, but the concept of regenerating a new body when the old one was damaged was to become a core concept in the Doctor Who mythos. When Eve Arden stepped out of the Tardis for the last time, former vaudeville turned screen star Virginia Mayo sauntered in.

You could not possibly have two more different women. Arden relied on a quirky poise, while the vivacious Mayo tended to use her undeniable physical beauty combined with a slightly off-putting style of humor to manipulate her surroundings. She had a tendency to cater to ditzy dame stereotypes, but used her appearance as a somewhat helpless damsel to secretly save the day out from under threats.

She's most fondly remembered from an incredible performance in "The Silver Pyramid," where she took on Eric Kleig (Richard Attenborough) as he snidely accused her gender as incapable of logic while he sought to resurrect the Cybermen from their frozen tombs. The line, "Logic, Mr. Kleig, is just another kind of madness in the hands of a fool," is widely considered one of the best lines ever spoken on the show.

Jef With One F, the author of that post, did a similar recasting exercise featuring male Doctors earlier this year. That article included the single best casting idea of them all.1 How great would Alan Alda have been in the role?

Fun as they are, there's one very important point that neither piece covers. If the Doctor was an American (so to speak), what familiar-but-outdated shape would the TARDIS have got stuck in so it could prompt all those 'bigger on the inside' reactions? Did early-mid 20th century America even have police phone boxes?

[Via feeling listless]

  1. Yes, even better than Steve Martin and Robert Downey Jr. Though I must confess that part of my objection to the latter casting is based on the notion that it's just not fair to let one man be Tony Stark, Sherlock Holmes and The Doctor.

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I know that on November 12 2015 at 3:45:41, @justinbieber is going to say 'I'm so, so, sorry.' Why? I have no idea.

May 28th, 2013

A Twitter bug report pivots into a spooky little science fiction story:

Subject: Twitter API returning results that do not respect arrow of time.

This will take some explaining.

It started as an afternoon hacking project with your Twitter API. […]

[Via Sidelights]

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Pretty pictures

May 26th, 2013

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