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.
The LA Times recently delved into the history of the text message -- specifically, why text messages are limited to 160 characters. The answer starts in Germany, in 1985, when researcher Friedhelm Hillebrand was thinking about adding a text messaging service to the nascent cellular telephone system. He typed various statements, questions, and brief messages on a typewriter. When he reviewed what he had typed, he saw a pattern: they all fit within 160 characters. Perhaps if he had been a more verbose... READ ON
WebUrbanist has a gallery of early office computing scenes, complete with lots of punched cards, reel-to-reel tape, dumb terminals (with awesome Star Trek designs), and hot hot fashion. (Literally, the clothes look uncomfortably hot. And itchy.) Here are a few... READ ON
Sean Gourley is a physicist who wanted to know more about the Iraq war. He wanted to understand the war via the data -- data about attacks, deaths, types of weapons used, locations, and so on. So he and his team started using publicly available data to chart the war and its effects. His conclusions about the nature of war are powerful: there is order in war; there is mathematical predictability in the way fighting forces work. The patterns that underly the Iraq conflict look the same across many... READ ON
In 1966, NASA's Lunar Orbiter program performed a detailed survey of the moon's surface. The Orbiters mapped the moon in exquisite detail, searching for suitable places that later missions could use as landing sites. The Orbiters sent back their data via an amazingly complex system employing 70mm cameras, optical scanners running in space, analog lossless image compression, and radio transmitters. The data was stored back on Earth on 2,500 reels of 2-inch tape. Where this story gets interesting is what... READ ON
So this is nerdy. Here's a video from 1985 in which Andy Warhol digitally paints over a photo of Debbie Harry, at an Amiga computer launch. When they show the Amiga's screen, check out the amazing lifelike graphics!
See also: Picasso's "Think Different" Mac ad (though no actual computers are involved).
(Via... READ ON
I've been enjoying Schott's Vocab, a new blog from the New York Times. It's about words and word usement (sorry, LA Story reference). Word-nerd Ben Schott has a passion for "lexicographical trifles," and is attempting to document language as it evolves, day-to-day. Today the blog is about the swine flu -- just like every other piece of media in every paper everywhere. But Schott's article isn't about deaths, epidemiology, or where to get a SARS Guard; it's about the language used to describe the... READ ON
Ask Metafilter has an awesomely nerdy thread on "Crimes committed by Ferris Bueller during his Day off." Here are a few of my favorites:
Violation of 720 ILCS 5/32-5.1: False Personation of a Peace Officer.
Odometer fraud (tampering): 49 U.S.C. Â§ 32703(2)
Odometer fraud (conspiracy): 49 U.S.C. Â§ 32703(4)
720 ILCS 5/Art. 16D - 3 - computer tampering (when he changes his attendance record).
720 ILCS 130/2a, contributing to the delinquency of children. Class A misdemeanor.
"I'm pretty... READ ON
In 1941, Winston Churchill delivered his "Great Declaration," a famous speech about the Nazi threat. He said (in part, and with emphasis added):
What tragedies, what horrors, what crimes has Hitler and all that Hitler stands for brought upon Europe and the world! The ruins of Warsaw, of Rotterdam, of Belgrade are monuments which will long recall to future generations the outrage of unopposed air bombing applied with calculated scientific cruelty to helpless populations. Here in London and throughout... READ ON
Niels Diffrient is an old-school industrial designer, best known for his Freedom Chair -- an ergonomic office chair that auto-adjusts to the user. Diffrient designed his chair after observing that most people never adjusted their chairs; he figured he might as well design one that did the task for them. In this TED Talk, Diffrient talks about how he got into chair design and discusses some of the technical challenges facing chair designers.
Discussed: dashing airplane pilots of the 1930s, drawing... READ ON
McSweeney's is running a hilarious piece that pretends to be an "internet-age writing syllabus and course overview" by "instructor" Robert Lanham. The course offers a much-needed review of writing that really matters today -- funny Twitter and Facebook messages, the art of the self-involved status update, and so on. The course description says: "Instant messaging. Twittering. Facebook updates. These 21st-century literary genres are defining a new "Lost Generation" of minimalists who would much rather... READ ON
Wilford Brimley was Howard Hughes' bodyguard.