Ring and Shadow Bands

November 21st, 2012

APOD: 2012 November 21 – Diamond Ring and Shadow Bands.

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November 21st, 2012

I'd never heard of a 'stepwell' before reading about the one at Chand Baori in India.

Chand Baori is the oldest stepwell in Rajasthan, having been constructed in the 8th-9th centuries A.D. It is 19.5 meters, or roughly 64 feet, deep. The overwhelming majority of its surface area consists of steps – thousands of steps – all of which lead down to the water table, turning weekly water-gathering trips by local families into a communal spectacle, a social event framed by this extraordinary act of excavation and architecture.

'Extraordinary' is absolutely the word for it:

Chand Baori

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Smiles are contagious

November 20th, 2012

My favourite part of Patton Oswalt's Random Roles interview has to be his account of the off-screen drama involved in working with Wesley Snipes on the set of Blade: Trinity

A lot of the lines that Ryan Reynolds has were just a result of Wesley not being there. We would all just think of things for him to say and then cut to Wesley's face not doing anything because that's all we could get from him. It was kind of funny. We were like, "What are the worst jokes and puns that we can say to this guy?" And then it would just be his face going, "Mmm." "Smiles are contagious." It's so, so dumb. [Laughs.] That was an example of a very troubled shoot that we made fun. You have to find a way to make it fun.

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Fluffy white clouds, with fluffy white volcanoes

November 19th, 2012

Central Kamchatka Volcanoes, Russian Federation.

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Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks

November 17th, 2012

Windows 95 Tips, Tricks, and Tweaks.

Didn't we all, deep down, know the awful truth all along.

My favourite:

The Backup is almost complete...

[Via MetaFilter]

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November 17th, 2012

The best MeFi post title I've seen in ages, courtesy of thewalrus: Per SMTP spec, valid email addresses cannot contain a colon.

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There is a very pleasant tea room in the area

November 16th, 2012

Tonight's Children In Need show included the customary tidbits for Doctor Who fans.

The Minisode/Christmas Special Prequel:

And the trailer:

Scary snowmen. A Sontaran declaring war on the Moon. Madame Vastra and her beautiful assistant Jenny Flint. The Doctor, retired. A first (?) appearance for the new Companion. It all looks highly promising.

[Via feeling listless]

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The Grenade of Understanding explodes

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.

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Because I'm suave it's OK…

November 12th, 2012

The Name is Bond. James Bond…

[Via Wis[s]e Words]

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His #1 11 year-old fan

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."

[Via kottke.org]

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Quiver Trees By Night 2

November 10th, 2012

Florian Breuer's Quiver Trees By Night 2 makes for one spectacular image of the night sky over Namibia.

For what it's worth, I prefer the pre-photoshop version of the shot that he revealed in this post discussing how he produced the final image. The tweaked version is more striking, but it's not as if the unedited image is less than breathtaking.

[Via Bad Astronomy]

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Healh & Safety: The Final Frontier

November 8th, 2012

It's elfansafety gone mad at the BBC:

[Professor Brian Cox…], the former pop star turned particle physicist, wanted to use the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire to listen in to the planet, Threapleton Holmes B, on his BBC2 series Stargazing Live.


"The BBC actually said, 'But you can't do that because we need to go through the regulations and health and safety and everything in case we discover a signal from an alien civilisation'.

"You mean we would discover the first hint that there is other intelligent life in the universe beyond Earth, live on air, and you're worried about the health and safety of it?

"It was incredible. They did have guidelines. Compliance."

Methinks Professor Cox might be stretching the truth just a tad here in the interests of having an amusing anecdote to relate when doing publicity work for his show.

Besides, we all know that the BBC nowadays would be more concerned about a) making sure that the aliens hadn't arranged for their fees for participating in the programme to go via some shady tax-efficient offshore company, b) checking that intercepting radio signals from a distant star couldn't possibly be classed as a form of phone hacking, and c) ensuring that the aliens were wearing a poppy while broadcasting their message.

[Via The Awl]

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Turning the map pink

November 5th, 2012

A new study reveals that the British have invaded all but 22 of the world's countries:

Every schoolboy used to know that at the height of the empire, almost a quarter of the atlas was coloured pink, showing the extent of British rule.

But that oft recited fact dramatically understates the remarkable global reach achieved by this country.

A new study has found that at various times the British have invaded almost 90 per cent of the countries around the globe.

The analysis of the histories of the almost 200 countries in the world found only 22 which have never experienced an invasion by the British. […]

That figure turns out to be a bit of a fudge, judging by the article linked to above. It was only reached by including any sort of armed incursion – however brief – and by including attacks by pirates and armed explorers if they were operating with British governmental approval. Surely the term 'invasion' demands a little more than a bunch of pirates shelling a port somewhere in the Caribbean before coming ashore to pillage and rape and burn and what have you.

(This being a Daily Telegraph article, and the subject matter being what it is, it'd be much better for your mental health if you left the resulting comment thread to your imagination.)

[Via The Morning News]

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November 3rd, 2012

Ever since Apple introduced the Reader feature to Safari, I've been forced to engage in the same ritual after every update to Safari. The thing is, Reader does quite a good job of rendering a cluttered web page readable, but it insists on doing it using justified text, which looks hideous. The (not very user-friendly) way to fix this was to find the Reader.html file buried inside the Safari application package and add a simple text-align: left; to the CSS embedded in that file and save it. Problem solved, except that after each Safari update you'd almost certainly have to repeat the trick. Better still, in some updates Apple changed the location of the damned file so you'd have to figure out where it lived now before you could apply the fix.

After the update to Safari 6 I found the latest home of the Reader.html file and applied my customary edit, but for some reason Safari ignored the revised CSS and kept on rendering justified text in Reader. In searching for hints as to why this might be happening, I came across a much better answer: CustomReader:

With CustomReader, you can change pretty much any aspect of Safari Reader's appearance. CustomReader's settings panel has a graphical user interface that lets you edit a few basic settings, like body font and background color, with a few clicks. But the true power of CustomReader lies in the Advanced tab, where you can directly edit the custom stylesheet that the extension inserts into Safari Reader. By editing this stylesheet, you can override any of Safari Reader's built-in styles with one of your own.

CustomReader has another feature that may be of interest to some. If you find yourself frequently invoking Safari Reader on a certain kind of page at a specific site – for instance, articles on the New York Times website – you can have CustomReader automatically enter the reader whenever you open that kind of page.

It works!1 And with any luck it'll keep working after the next Safari update.

  1. I do have one small quibble. That 'invoke Reader automatically if you visit a specific site' option requires you to enter an escaped version of the site's address: not www.independent.co.uk/, but //www\.independent\.co\.uk/.+. I understand why it's doing that – using a regexp allows for more flexibility in choosing which subsections of a site should trigger Reader – but surely there could be a simple 'trigger-for-this-entire-domain' option that would do the job for 95% of prospective users. But then, probably 98% of Safari users either don't care about text justification badly enough to see this as a problem that needs resolving, or else wouldn't want to touch the CSS for Reader anyway.

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London's Overthrow

November 3rd, 2012

China Miéville contemplates London's Overthrow:

This is an era of CGI end-times porn, but London's destructions, dreamed-up and real, started a long time ago. It's been drowned, ruined by war, overgrown, burned up, split in two, filled with hungry dead. Endlessly emptied.

In the Regency lines of Pimlico is Victorian apocalypse. Where a great prison once was, Tate Britain shows vast, awesome vulgarities, the infernoward-tumbling cities of John Martin, hybrid visionary and spiv. But tucked amid his kitsch 19th Century brilliance are stranger imaginings. His older brother Jonathan's dissident visions were unmediated by John's showmanship or formal expertise. In 1829, obeying the Godly edict he could hear clearly, Jonathan set York Minster alight and watched it burn. From Bedlam – he did not hang – he saw out his life drawing work after astonishing work of warning and catastrophe. His greatest is here. Another diagnostic snapshot.


'London's Overthrow'. Scrappy, chaotic, inexpert, astounding. Pen-and-ink scrawl of the city shattered under a fusillade from Heaven, rampaged through by armies, mobs, strange vengeance. Watching, looming in the burning sky, a lion. It is traumatized and hurt.

The lion is an emblem too
that England stands upon one foot.

With the urgency of the touched, Martin explains his own metaphors.

and that has lost one Toe
Therefore long it cannot stand

The lion looks out from its apocalypse at the scrag-end of 2011. London, buffeted by economic catastrophe, vastly reconfigured by a sporting jamboree of militarised corporate banality, jostling with social unrest, still reeling from riots. Apocalypse is less a cliché than a truism. This place is pre-something.

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What's That Blue Thing Doing Here?

November 2nd, 2012

They Might Be Giants' Fingertips meets Star Wars

and Buffy

So, so good.

[Via MetaFilter]

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Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall

October 31st, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: After Landfall.

I found #48 particularly striking – surreal, even.

[Via The Browser]

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Making purple

October 29th, 2012

Elizabeth Williamson of the Wall Street Journal has coined what might well be the definitive metaphor of the 2012 US presidential election campaign. Or at any rate, the most memorable:

In this neck-and-neck, ideologically fraught presidential election season, politically active singles won't cross party lines. The result is a dating desert populated by reds and blues who refuse to make purple.

I'm pretty sure I've read a story like this about whether people of differing political inclinations can get (it) on away from the polling station and the political fundraiser at some point during every presidential campaign I've followed – when was the last time a campaign was other than fraught/divisive/momentous?1 – but I don't think the prospect of couples declining to … ahem … make purple has come up before.

[Via The Awl]

  1. I suppose it would have been one of the campaigns where the outcome wasn't in that much doubt and the challenger was something of a sacrificial lamb. Clinton vs Dole? Reagan vs Mondale?

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Metal versus Prog

October 28th, 2012

We should probably be glad that Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan's story of Dracula fighting the Silver Surfer only took up a single issue of The Tomb of Dracula; with any luck, such brevity should protect it from ever being adapted for the big screen. Chris Sims tells the tale:

[Cult leader Anton Lupeski …] has dreamed up "quite a unique" means for destroying Dracula. And he ain't kidding.

See, at this point in the series, Dracula had more or less settled down, apart from the occasional murder. He'd married a woman named Domini and gotten her knocked up with his hellish seed, and taken over Lupeski's "Church of the Damned" so that he could sit upon the Throne of Satan. It's all very metal.

So metal, in fact, that Lupeski seems to believe that the only way to battle it is through prog. Thus, his "unique" plan: To magically invade the mind of the Silver Sufer and send him to fight Dracula. Again: If you've got a better plan for dealing with that guy, I'd like to hear it. […]

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Like a leaf on the breeze

October 26th, 2012

London Heathrow Approach Time-Lapse.

I love the oddly jittery motion as the airliners bob around in the crosswind, lining up their final approach. It's strangely soothing.

[Via MetaFilter]

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