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Charting chocolate chip cookies. Image credit: Google News Lab/Truth and Beauty.

Google Charts the Seasonal Patterns of Food Trends

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Charting chocolate chip cookies. Image credit: Google News Lab/Truth and Beauty.

Google trends can tell us a lot, from the country’s top political concerns to the likelihood of traffic jams. They’re also a good indicator of what Americans have on their plate in any given season. What’s on the menu for December? Hot chocolate, peppermint, and tamales. According to The Rhythm of Food, a collaboration between Google News Lab and Truth & Beauty, searches for all three peak around this time of year.

As WIRED reports, the data visualization project consists of hundreds of infographics representing 12 years worth of food-related searches. The graphs below show how certain keywords rise to prominence during specific months. For instance, more people search for stew during the winter than the fall, and searches for gefilte fish see a sharp spike around Passover.

The website’s clock graphs chart the trajectory of food trends though the seasons as well as through the years, with each year represented by a different color. One chart shows that—surprise, surprise—pumpkin spice lattes trend around autumn, but it also illustrates that searches for the term have been cropping up earlier in recent years.

The Rhythm of Food project began by plotting data points linearly. This is a handy way to look at the rise and fall of shorter-lived food trends (kale, for example, has been declining in popularity since 2014, while searches for cauliflower are on the rise). But as their circular infographics show, breaking searches down by week can tell us even more, like that chia seeds are a hot post-New Year’s diet food and people are more likely to search for marshmallows around Thanksgiving than summertime because of its popularity as a sweet potato topper.

[h/t WIRED]

All images courtesy of the Google News Lab/Truth & Beauty.

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Computer Users, Rejoice: You're Finally Allowed to Create Easy-to-Remember Passwords
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To keep your personal data secure, it’s important to craft a strong password—and for nearly 15 years, savvy computer users have heeded the counsel of Bill Burr, the man who quite literally wrote the book on password management. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that Burr has admitted that some of his advice was flawed. While working as a manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2003, Burr wrote a primer—officially known as “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A”—that instructed federal workers to create codes using obscure characters, a mix of lowercase and capital letters, and numbers. For security purposes, he also recommended changing passwords on a regular basis. At the time, however, Burr didn’t have a ton of data to rely on, so he ended up using a paper published in the mid-1980s as a primary source for the manual. Burr’s primer eventually became widely used among federal workers, corporate companies, websites, and tech companies alike. But in hindsight, experts say that Burr’s directives didn’t actually improve cybersecurity: The NIST recently gave his primer received a full overhaul, and they opted to eliminate the now-famous rules about using special characters and switching up codes. These rules “actually had a negative impact on usability,” Paul Grassi, the NIST standards-and-technology adviser who led Special Publication 800-63’s rewrite, told The Wall Street Journal. They make it harder to remember and type in codes, plus those parties who did change their passwords every 90 days typically only made minor, easy-to-guess alterations. Plus, research now shows that longer passwords—a series of around four words—are ultimately harder to crack than shorter combinations of letters, characters, or numbers. (And at the end of the day, computer users ended up paradoxically choosing the same “random” passwords used by millions of others.) The NIST now recommends long, easy-to-remember passwords (not the “#!%”-filled ones of yesteryear) and for people to switch codes only if they suspect that their existing one has been stolen. In short, it's probably time to change your password—and this time around, you might even have an easier time remembering it.
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Hacked Rotary Phone Demonstrates How the Internet Works
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Untangling the inner workings of the internet gets complicated fast, partly because the World Wide Web isn’t a single entity. Rather, it’s a vast network of networks in communication with one another. To demonstrate this complex process at work, a group of students from Copenhagen reduced it to something most people are familiar with: a rotary telephone.

As Co.Design reports, the Internet Phone looks like an old-fashioned telephone with a rotary dial, but students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have modified it to function like a web browser. To use it, callers dial the IP address of whichever website they wish to visit. When the call is answered, a voice reads the text aloud as it would appear on the webpage.

If a caller wants to hear the raw HTML, they can switch the phone to “developer” mode. There’s also an “article” option for skipping irrelevant content and a “history” mode for redialing the last five IP addresses that were called.

It may be hard to connect the act of calling a website on a rotary phone to opening a site on your smartphone, but the two aren’t that far apart. The students write in the project description:

“Each step in the user experience is comparable to the process that a browser takes when retrieving a website. Looking up the IP addresses in a phone book is similar to how a browser gets an IP address from DNS (Domain Name System) directories. Dialing the twelve digits and waiting for the phone to retrieve the HTML content mimic how a browser requests data from servers. The voice-to-speech reading of the website is comparable to how a browser translates HTML and CSS code into human understandable content.”

After watching the reinvented phone in action, check out these other practical uses for retro technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

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