Chris Higgins is the author of The Blogger Abides and writes for This American Life, The Atlantic, Breakfast on Mars, and The Magazine. You can follow him at chrishiggins.com.
So...let's say you have an old modem, but you want to get on the web. Sucks to be you, 56k dialup is painfully slow, end of story -- right? Well, normally that'd be the case. But here's a video of a guy with a really, really old modem: a Livermore Data Systems Model A 300bps Acoustic Coupler Modem, circa 1964, a handmade device in a beautifully crafted wooden box (complete with dovetailed joints and leather handle). Can you surf the web using this thing? Exactly how painful would it be? Why not... READ ON
Monday's New York Times included an article on the purported dangers of texting (or text-message-sending, for you grumpy older folks). Entitled Texting May Be Taking a Toll, the article strikes me as bizarrely alarmist, and recalls social panics of my youth (see The Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons (in 1985)). Perhaps it's my own wasted youth talking, but this article is downright silly. Here are some key clips:
[Texting] is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to... READ ON
Now, this one isn't a mental_floss quiz, but I thought it was a lot of fun. Head over to Dennis Cooper's blog for his Alan presents ... 69 Modern Classics Condensed via Amazon's SIPsâ„¢ (Statistically Improbable Phrases). Now, the idea here is that Amazon lists Statistically Improbable Phrases for many books it sells -- unusual turns of phrase that appear in the work -- and by examining those phrases, sometimes you can guess the book they're from. I've listed three favorites below, with the... READ ON
So this is surprising: beat writer Jack Kerouac was way into fantasy baseball, and invented a detailed fantasy baseball game which he played -- by himself -- unbeknownst to his friends and colleagues. Lots of evidence of the game remains in his notebooks, allowing historians to piece together how it worked, and observe the progression of the game over different versions (starting when he was a teenager).
The New York Times reports that Kerouac's game was quite complex: "By 1946, when Kerouac was 24,... READ ON
Discover Magazine's Cosmic Variance blog brings us Rules for Time Travelers, a set of eleven rules that help to explain (or contradict) various time-travel scenarios in pop culture. And believe me, time travel is the new romantic comedy -- with Star Trek, Lost, and Fringe all getting in on some form of time travel/alternate universe action, there's enough grandfather paradoxes and time loops to last you all year. Or...wait...if you started reading the theories now, but then built a time machine, could... READ ON
Dan Ariely is back with another killer TED Talk about his research! Back in March I wrote Dan Ariely: Why People Cheat, pointing to Ariely's TED Talk about his research on cheating. Well, now TED has released video from another Ariely talk, and it's equally awesome. In his lecture, Ariely describes how we make choices, and how those choices can be influenced by the design of the choice -- like whether a form's checkbox is opt-in or opt-out, or how the choice is presented visually. After seeing this... READ ON
If you've been using the web in the last decade, you're likely aware of All your base are belong to us, a strange meme in which poorly translated video game dialogue led to a comedy wildfire that clogged email inboxes throughout 2001 and 2002. If you haven't seen the original, a somewhat abridged version is displayed at left. But now let's get nerdy: Wikipedia contains a correctly translated version of the game's dialogue. I've posted both the original text and the improved translation below. Now you... READ ON
So let's say you've got a high-energy magnetic field. You could do a lot with it -- erase a hard drive, stick some fridge magnets to it, dramatically conclude the fifth season of Lost (ahem) -- but no, researchers in the Netherlands used their terrifying magnetic power to levitate a frog in mid-air. Here it is:
A NewScientist article explains:
The levitation trick works because giant magnetic fields slightly distort the orbits of electrons in the frog's atoms. The resulting electric current... READ ON
In 2002, a ragtag trio of NASA interns conspired to steal millions of dollars' worth of lunar rock samples from their secure storage vault. (Apparently they didn't have an old comic book handy -- they could have easily ordered all the Moon Rocks they wanted!!) Anyway, last week gadget blog Gizmodo published the story of how they carried out the theft, telling the specifics of how they did it -- though the details are somewhat suspect, as their source is the guy who claims to have done all the crazy... READ ON
In a TED Talk released this week, medical statistician Hans Rosling presents a new way to visualize the global AIDS epidemic. By displaying dollars spent per person, graphed as a function of the percentage of the population infected with HIV (by continent), we can see both how AIDS has spread, and how the money spent per patient has affected that spread. Starting in 1983, Rosling's visualization is an animated graph that dramatically demonstrates how the epidemic works, and even allows interaction --... READ ON
Facebook engineers originally wanted to call the "Like" button the "Awesome" button.