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14 Classic Distractions for the Internet Newcomer

Every once in a while, I run across an old article, video, or link of some kind and think, "Oh yeah, that was awesome! Too bad it's so old," because my job is to post the newest and hottest links every day. If I post something more than a couple of months old, I'll get complaints. However, it's not really old to someone who hasn't seen it. After all, there are young folks who only use the internet for Facebook and Wikipedia, and more older folks are going online for the first time every day. I put some of those links together as a list of old hits that everyone should see sometime, that could be used as a way to introduce new users to the wonders of the internet, at least the fairly tame yet funny parts. Here are a few suggestions for freshman surfers.

1. Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers

As many times as I've seen (and used) Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers, they never fail to make me laugh. He's got some other old but wonderful features at his site.

2. Nose

Pick your nose online? Well, just tweeze the hair, OK? This was so nonsensical that everyone loved it. Some folks say there is something satisfying about plucking nose hairs, and artist Jogchem Niemandsverdriet gives you a way to do that without the anticipated pain. Oh yeah, he has a lot of other weird stuff online for you.

3. Red Square

Games are getting more sophisticated by the day, but if you've got an idea that is simple to comprehend but hard to master, you've got a classic. The Red Square game will drive you crazy no matter how many times you try it. All you need to do is survive. Hold the red square and avoid being hit by the blue squares. I usually last about ten seconds, but I have to go back and try again a few times.

4. Viking Kittens

Joel Veitch created the flash animation Viking Kittens in 2002 which became such a bandwidth hog that it is no longer hosted at his Rathergoood site. There are several other sites that host it, but they have appeared and disappeared over the years. If the linked site stops hosting, you can search for another. Or see it on YouTube. Jonti Picking's Badgers is another flash sequence everyone should be familiar with.

5. The Worm Within

Do you have a strong stomach? There are no photographs in the story The Worm Within, (just some cute illustrations) but it is a long, gross read about a tapeworm Vincent Eaton encountered in Belgium. Click to advance to the next page. It is followed by 27 pages of submitted personal parasite stories.

6. Amateur

Young Norwegian filmmaker Lasse Gjertsen charmed us all with his video Amateur in 2006. He is not a musician (or was not at the time); this was all done by video editing. Gjertsen became the internet's golden boy for a while. All his videos are worth checking out.

7. Zoomquilt

Warning: this link may make you lose track of time. The Zoomquilt is a beautiful example of infinite zoom, constructed in 2004 as a collaborative art project. Since then, The Zoomquilt 2 has been added. After you click start, use your mouse and mouse button to zoom in at your own speed. Or out.

8. Backstroke of the West

Although it has just a little NSFW text, Backstroke of the West became a classic because 1. it was real, and 2. it was ridiculous. And still is, seven years later. It's a simple look at how bootleg videos get mis-translated more than once, resulting in nonsense subtitles. Therefore, Revenge of the Sith somehow became Backstroke of the West. This subtitled bootleg movie was the source of the Do Not Want meme.

9. The Singing Horses

The Singing Horses are both cute and fun. Click each horse to make it sing or stop. The French site Incredibox works along the same lines with human singers, but is more involved and sometime a bit more difficult to figure out. But you can do it!

10. The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

October 4

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook was originally published in a Portland alternative newspaper in 1987, but survives for everyone everywhere to read on the internet. It never would have reached such a wide audience otherwise.

11. Instants

Need some sound effects for your life? Instants is a soundboard that has everything you could possibly use to punctuate your conversations. I drove my kids crazy with this for a couple of days and then forgot it. Since then, the sheer size of the collection makes it slower to load and more difficult to use than it was a couple of years ago. But now they have subgroupings, and the effects I used most are in the "Real Life!" category, which I would recommend to anyone. Warning: if you don't recognize the label, the sound effect may turn out to be NSFW.

12. Daft Hands

Daft Hands is a 2007 performance piece by Austin Hall to the song "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk. The original video now has 53 million views, but comments indicate that people still see it for the first time every day. This video inspired other versions and parodies, particularly on the comedy theme of "Daft Bodies." The original hands video was done in one take with no special effects.

13. iDaft

If you like that song, you'll love the iDaft. It's a sound board constructed from the parts of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." Punching the buttons makes you feel like you have some musical talent even if you don't.

14. Samorost

Samorost is an intricate adventure game by Amanita Design. It was created by Jakub Dvorský in 2003 while studying design in Prague. There are no instructions; you have to figure out what to do on your own, but the challenge and the artwork make it very worth your while. Samorost 2 followed a couple of years later, but only the first chapter is available free.

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of the rich pickings for a new internet surfer. Are any of these sites new to you? What are your favorite "internet oldies"? What games, videos, art, and articles hold up well over time? Do you have other suggestions of classic web entertainment that everyone should see sooner or later?

See also: 6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo and 10 Landmark Moments in YouTube History.

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The Great Yanny vs. Laurel Aural War of 2018, Explained
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It's rare for people to disagree on the internet, but no amount of civility could be spared when a "social media influencer" named Cloe Feldman posted a four-second sound clip on Twitter on May 15, 2018 and asked followers whether they heard a voice say "Yanny" or "Laurel."

Maybe you hear "Yanny." Maybe "Laurel." Proponents of either one recognize a very distinct word, which seems like some kind of aural magic trick. 

Popular Science asked several audiologists to help explain what’s going on. Brad Story, a professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences at the University of Arizona, performed a waveform analysis, which is already more effort directed at this than at the ransom calls for the Lindbergh baby. Story observed that the recording's waveform displays the acoustic features of the "l" and "r" sounds, offering reasonable proof that the voice is saying "Laurel." Whoever engineered the track seems to have layered a second, higher-frequency artifact over it—a frequency that sounds like "Yanny" to some people.

But why do listeners hear one name versus the other? We listen with our brains, and our brains tend to prioritize certain sounds over others. You might be focused on hearing your child talk, for example, over the din of a television. Because "Laurel" and "Yanny" are on different frequencies, some listeners are subconsciously favoring one over the other.

Audiologist Doug Johnson of Doug Johnson Productions provided further proof in his YouTube video analyzing the recording. By isolating each track, it's clear listeners can hear both "Yanny" and "Laurel."

A bigger mystery remains: Who conceived of this recording? It wasn't Feldman, who said she picked it up from a Reddit conversation. According to Wired, the answer is likely Georgia-based high school freshman Katie Hazel, who was looking up the word "laurel" on Vocabulary.com, had the site play it back, and was confused when she heard "Yanny" instead. She shared the discrepancy on Instagram, which was picked up by school senior Fernando Castro. From Castro's Instagram, it landed on Reddit. The original recording was performed for Vocabulary.com in 2007 by an unnamed opera singer and former cast member of the Broadway musical CATS.

Vocabulary.com isn't sure if the singer will come forward to claim their role in this fleeting internet sensation. In the meantime, the "Yanny" and "Laurel" camps continue to feud, mystified by the inability to hear what the other can. Musician Yanni is in the former group.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Why Browsing in Incognito Mode Isn’t as Private as You Think
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There are plenty of reasons to try to shield your web activity from prying eyes. You might not want your internet provider to know you’re illegally downloading Game of Thrones. You might not want your employer to see that you’re looking at job boards. Unfortunately, private browsing mode won't help you there, contrary to what many internet users think. Although what you do in private mode doesn’t save in your browser history, it isn't entirely hidden, either, and your activity can still be tracked, according to The Independent’s Indy100.

The site highlights research recently presented at a web privacy conference in Lyon, France, which shows that many people have significant misconceptions about what private browsing really means and how it can shield your information. The survey of 460 people, conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Germany’s Leibniz Universität Hannover, found that even when browsers warn users that all their data won’t be hidden when using private browsing mode, most people still come away with major misunderstandings about what will and won’t be hidden about their activity. According to the paper [PDF]:

"These misconceptions included beliefs that private browsing mode would prevent geolocation, advertisements, viruses, and tracking by both the websites visited and the network provider. Furthermore, participants who saw certain disclosures were more likely to have misconceptions about private browsing’s impact on targeted advertising, the persistence of lists of downloaded files and bookmarks, and tracking by ISPs, employers, and governments."

While incognito mode doesn’t store your browsing history, temporary files, or cookies from session to session, it can’t shield you from everything. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see your activity. If you’re logged into your company or school’s Wi-Fi, your boss or school administrators can still see what you’re doing on that network. And if you’re on a site that isn’t secure, incognito mode won’t keep other users on your network from tracking you, either.

According to Chrome developer Darin Fisher, Google tried to make this fairly clear from the outset with incognito mode. In 2017, Fisher told Thrillist that the Chrome team intentionally decided to steer clear of the word “private” so that people would understand that their activity wasn’t totally invisible to others.

Using a VPN along with incognito mode can help anonymize your browsing, but your ISP will still be able to tell when you connect and disconnect, and the VPN company may log some information on your activity, depending on its terms. Overall, it’s just very hard to hide your online activity completely.

Private browsing is useful if you’re using someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with logging out of their email or social media accounts. It can help you shield your significant other from seeing all the engagement rings you’ve been browsing online. And yeah, sometimes—though we don’t condone this!—you can use it to get around a site’s paywall. But it’s never going to completely hide what you do online.

[h/t Indy100]

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