The Listserve

May 15th, 2013

The Luck of the Listserve:

The Listserve is a mailing list lottery. Sign up for the Listserve, and you're joining a massive e-mail list. Every day, one person from the list is randomly selected to write one e-mail to everyone else. That's it. As of this writing, the Listserve has 21,399 subscribers. There has been one email per day since April 16th, 2012.

[Via The Morning News]

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Looking up and looking down

May 13th, 2013

Two spectacularly colourful images: one looking up into the sky, the other one looking down from space:

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The Congress

May 13th, 2013

Coming soon: The Congress, a film inspired by Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress. The trailer looks intriguing:

Judging by comments I've read the trailer doesn't give the impression that it's a particularly faithful adaptation, which may or may not be a problem.1 If we're really lucky it'll turn out like when Ridley Scott adapted Philip K. Dick. If we're unlucky, it'll end up more like Lee Tamahori or Christian Duguay.

  1. I've not read that particular Lem novel, so I couldn't say.

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Bing Crosby, Nazis and Silicon Valley

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.

[Via kottke.org]

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Skywhale ahoy

May 10th, 2013

Artist Patricia Piccinini has created a hot air balloon she's christened The Skywhale, in honour of the centenary of the founding of Canberra:

Artist Patricia Piccinini says her inspiration came from the wonder of nature.

"My question is what if evolution went a different way and instead of going back into the sea, from which they came originally, they went into the air and we evolved a nature that could fly instead of swim," she said. [...]

Me, I think it looks pretty great. It's partly that goofy grin it has, and partly the sheer incongruity of glancing up and seeing something this strange go by:

[Via MetaFilter]

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I don't believe it!

May 8th, 2013

I'm never going to be able to unhear this:

[From a MetaFilter discussion of the use of different regional accents used by actors in Game of Thrones]

For everyone complaining about Dinklage's accent, and its terribleness/variability, I think it might be worth watching a couple of clips of Scottish actor Richard Wilson in One Foot In The Grave, because Dinklage's accent is – consciously or not – an almost exact replica. It has that clipped, haughty tone; it's different enough from a standard English RP accent to sound odd to someone not used to the accent; when he raises his voice, it takes on a kind of exaggerated, exasperated character that can sound oddly Transatlantic. And it's completely genuine: it's the accent of a working class, west coast Scot who has had the more guttural elements of his voice trained out of him by RADA, but who still retains strong vestiges of his background. And it's been put to use for the past four decades playing upper (or at least soi-disant upper) class Scots. That's the accent I hear when I watch Dinklage in Game Of Thrones. It may be capital A Acting, but it's not, in and of itself, a dodgy accent. [...]

posted by Len at 11:37 PM on May 7

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Spock vs Spock

May 8th, 2013

I know that this is just a bit of slick corporate marketing; carefully designed link bait for geeks of a certain age. I do. But how can anyone expect me not to link to Spock vs Spock?

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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Ice breaking (with added penguins)

May 6th, 2013

Another time-lapse sequence, this time of the US National Science Foundation's icebreaker the Nathaniel B. Palmer, traveling through the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Pink ice. Blue ice. Penguins. What more could you ask for?

[Via MetaFilter]

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Time-Lapse | Earth

May 6th, 2013

One day I'll get tired of sequences of time lapse images taken from the International Space Station. Not today.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

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Pluto weather forecast

May 4th, 2013

It looks as if when NASA's New Horizons probe arrives at Pluto in 2015 it's going to find weather that is both relatively simple and yet quite difficult to predict:

To establish context: Pluto, like Earth and Titan, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It's a very thin atmosphere, its pressure measured in microbars. Earth's atmospheric pressure is, of course, about one bar. Titan's is 1.6 bars. Mars' is a hundred times more tenuous, less than 10 millibars. Pluto's is about a hundred times more tenuous again, less than 100 microbars. Which is really thin; but it's way thicker than the essentially airless exospheres at Mercury and the Moon. Pluto has plenty enough atmosphere for the world to have wind and weather and clouds, just like Venus and Earth and Mars and Titan.

Nitrogen in Pluto's air is in equilibrium with nitrogen frost or ice on the ground. Broadly speaking, when Pluto warms up, ice sublimates to gas, and the atmospheric pressure goes up. When Pluto cools, you get frost and a lower atmospheric pressure. Changing seasons remove ice from the summer pole, and may re-deposit it at the winter pole.

Emily Lakdawalla's post goes into much more detail about why it's so hard to predict what New Horizons will find, even taking into account what we know from probes to destinations elsewhere in the solar system. Which, as she notes, is exactly why it's necessary to send a spaceship out to Pluto – to tell us which theories are right and which are wrong (and in turn to fuel a couple of decades-worth of scientific papers figuring out whether the theories that gave the right answers did so for the right reasons.)

In the meantime, New Horizons will be heading on out to the Kuiper Belt, which promises to be interesting in an entirely different way.

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TRON: Uprising Art

May 3rd, 2013

I never had much time for the TRON universe: to my mind the original was an impressive technical feat but the story didn't grab me, and I wasn't even slightly tempted by the sequel from a couple of years ago. The animated spin-off from TRON: Legacy was barely on my radar, but I have to admit that this compilation of visually impressive moments from the show, compiled by art director Alberto Mielgo, makes me think that the visual style of the show was a bit special.

I have no idea whether the plot and performances were as strikingly good as the show's look – and judging by some of the comments I see it looks as if the show might not get past a first season so soon it could be a moot question – but it surely was pretty.

[Via MetaFilter]

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We Are Amused

April 30th, 2013

James Fallows caught the Times being very naughty in captioning a news photo earlier today.

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The Problem of the Amanda Palmer Problem

April 29th, 2013

Nitsu Abebe has written a thoughtful piece on The Amanda Palmer Problem. By which he means not so much the various issues some people have with Palmer's own actions1 but the wider problem of how artists seeking support from fans can bring down such vitriol upon themselves online:

I think there's a lesson to be learned from Palmer, and it's not the falling-into-the-crowd lesson she offers. Yes, she's correct: The web offers an opportunity to fall into the open arms of fans, in ways that weren't available before. Here's the catch: The web also makes it near-impossible to fall into the arms of just one's fans. Each time you dive into the crowd, some portion of the audience before you consists of observers with no interest in catching you. And you are still asking them to, because another thing the web has done is erode the ability to put something into the world that is directed only at interested parties.

This sort of furore is only going to get bigger and noisier as the example of the The Veronica Mars Movie Project is followed by the likes of Zach Braff and more and more recognisable names show up on the front page of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

[Via Waxy.org links]

  1. i.e. using Kickstarter to raise more than US$1 million to fund an album, then inviting fans to donate their services as musicians on her tour. Then defending herself against criticism of both moves in part by emphasising that fans being given the chance to play with her were gaining non-monetary benefits from the exchange, i.e. the chance to accompany their idol.

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Dear Mr Bay, this is how you film giant robot fights…

April 29th, 2013

The Official Wondercon Trailer for Pacific Rim looks sensational:

It's going to be quite a summer for big, brash science fiction action movies. Oblivion looked good and worked hard but fell short in the originality department,1 and After Earth really doesn't look promising,2 but there's still much to look forward to. Elysium will have no shortage of social commentary amidst the gunfire. Star Trek Into Darkness will give us another romp with the modern incarnations of Kirk, Spock and Bones and the crew, with the bonus feature of weeks of fun arguments about how Benedict Cumberbatch's character fits into/breaks Trek continuity. The Wolverine will have ninjas galore lining up to take on a mutant who's the best there is at what he does. With3 a less than completely happy ending for Logan. Man of Steel will have us kneeling before Zod before Superman punches him all the way back into the Phantom Zone.

However nothing – nothing! – promises more pure, goofy fun that Guillermo del Toro spending a couple of hours having giant human-piloted robots engage in punch-ups with giant alien monsters from the deep.

  1. Not to mention wasting a subtle, thoughtful performance by Andrea Riseborough that deserved to be showcased in a much better film.
  2. Even if you ignore the identity of the director – which I don't think I can.
  3. I'm just guessing here, mind, but I think it's a fair bet.

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The Facebook World

April 27th, 2013

Stephen Wolfram has been playing round with data about his users' Facebook networks:

More than a million people have now used our Wolfram|Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook. And as part of our latest update, in addition to collecting some anonymized statistics, we launched a Data Donor program that allows people to contribute detailed data to us for research purposes.

A few weeks ago we decided to start analyzing all this data. [...]

We'd always planned to use the data we collect to enhance our Personal Analytics system. But I couldn't resist also trying to do some basic science with it. I've always been interested in people and the trajectories of their lives. But I've never been able to combine that with my interest in science. Until now. And it's been quite a thrill over the past few weeks to see the results we've been able to get. Sometimes confirming impressions I've had; sometimes showing things I never would have guessed.

Wolfram's post is long and yet is clearly just scratching the surface of what can be done with the heaps of data Facebook's customers create as they use the network. It'll be interesting to see what changes in these patterns another five or ten years of Facebook being a mainstream product will bring.

Of course, it's worth remembering that there's almost certainly not a word of Wolfram's findings that would come as any surprise to Facebook themselves. Or their advertisers customers.

[Via Flowing Data]

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The TARDIS

April 26th, 2013

Is there any science fictional vessel on TV that can possibly match the TARDIS?

Surely not.

[Via The Great Escapism]

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'One rarely disappoints with a skull on one's crotch.'*

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:

Best Warhammer 40K Costume EVER?

* Post title courtesy of MeFi user Halloween Jack.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Two Step's just zis guy, you know?

April 22nd, 2013

A telling vignette from Businessweek's article about Eve Online:

[A number of prominent Eve Online players...] were in Iceland's capital to meet with executives from CCP Games, the company that created Eve. The seven make up the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a group elected by other Eve players and flown by CCP to Iceland every six months or so to discuss how the game should evolve. It's a kind of super-user focus group, but also a channel for players' complaints. In 2011, when CCP rolled out some controversial changes, the company summoned the CSM members to Reykjavík for an emergency meeting in an effort to stem a user backlash. "At the time, I had been dating a girl for only three weeks and was terrified," says Joshua Goldshlag (Eve name: Two Step), a 35-year-old CSM member and computer programmer from Massachusetts. "I certainly did not want to mention that I had been elected as an Internet space politician."

[Via Longform]

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Pretty (Wildlife) pictures

April 21st, 2013

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A Close Encounter of the Lenticular Kind

April 20th, 2013

APOD: 2013 April 17 – Mt Hood and a Lenticular Cloud.

Mount Hood and the Lenticular Cloud

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