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.
In 1970, mathematician John Horton Conway invented a game called Life. Conway was intrigued by John von Neumann's theories about self-replicating automata: simple mathematical formulae representing virtual "life forms" that could be depicted in a virtual world. Of course, in von Neumann's day the "virtual world" was a piece of graph paper with some squares filled in (squares being the life forms), but still, it was a pretty cool idea. Conway took von Neumann's ideas a step further, creating a computer... READ ON
Design magazine Core77 sent the intrepid Glen Jackson Taylor inside NASA, to learn how the organization handles industrial design -- the process of designing the usable and beautiful devices. But when Taylor arrived, he found a surprise: "There isn't really a place for industrial designers at NASA," he wrote. "Here the engineers are considered the designers, and the team has only been able to exist under the guise of human factors, a quantifiable soft science that is acknowledged as necessary." So how... READ ON
Following up on yesterday's Mars Phoenix Lander post, let's continue with the NASA theme. This past May, Jet Propulsion Lab Director Charles Elachi gave a speech about JPL, full of historic and contemporary photos -- including a surprising amount of goofing around.
Elachi shows us the fun side of JPL, the serious side of JPL, and a bunch of cool stuff about the Mars Rovers (including some of the best Mars photos I've seen). The satellite imagery of Mars is beautiful and engaging. On the downside,... READ ON
Yesterday, NASA announced that the Mars Phoenix Lander has died. Okay, they said that the lander had "ceased communications" and that the lander had "finish[ed] successful work," both of which are merely euphemisms for its tragic death after five months of lonely toil on Mars.
The Mars Phoenix Lander's death is not unexpected. It landed in a polar region of Mars, because that's where the ice is. But it's also where it gets real darn cold during the Martian winter, and at this point, Phoenix (and its... READ ON
700 years ago, in the area that we today know as Arizona and New Mexico, the Anasazi people came en masse from the north to build large stone settlements. Their predecessors (the Hohokam) had built with sticks and mud, and as a result the older settlements are much harder to find today. The Anasazi settlements stand as grand, abandoned cities that now house a mystery: why did these people move south? What would cause a thriving civilization to pull up stakes and abandon its homeland?
A New York... READ ON
Physics professor Mark Newman has a thing for maps. He co-authored The Atlas of the Real World, a volume that features cartograms, maps in which a mathematical variable is substituted for land area. This causes traditional land-based maps to skew and distort in bizarre ways, hopefully communicating important information to the viewer -- information that goes beyond what you can see when just looking at land area.
Newman's cartograms of the 2008 election map have been making the rounds of the web, and... READ ON
Last night, CNN debuted its latest ultra-high-tech gizmo: a "hologram" interview system that allows Star Wars-like images of distant people to appear on stage, interacting with the CNN host. Now, it turns out that the "hologram" isn't actually visible to the host (it's composited into the image you see at home by a computer), but it's still pretty neat. Here's a video of Will.i.am appearing "live via hologram" in the system's first use:
Okay, so how does this work? Gizmodo tells all. From the... READ ON
If you've gotten enough election coverage, why not spend eighteen minutes watching Jared Diamond talk about societal collapse? You may know Diamond from his books Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse. Aficionados admire his spectacular combover. But anyway, Diamond's greatest contribution is his studious framework for understanding societal collapse. (Although in this talk he has five areas in his framework, by 2005's Collapse it's up to eight.) Hear Diamond talk through an example of his framework,... READ ON
When Robert Tappan Morris was a graduate student at Cornell in 1988, he had a clever idea: he would release a self-replicating program (or "worm") onto the Internet, reportedly in an effort to highlight security problems in computer networks. Morris's worm exploited vulnerabilities in common computer systems, allowing it to propagate at will onto new computers via the Internet. The worm was designed to use minimal computer resources, but in the wild its effect proved to be devastating.
Morris... READ ON
Happy Halloween! To creep out our readers a little, I've assembled a collection of creepy headstone photos. For more, check out this Flickr... READ ON
Pentheraphobia is the persistent fear of your mother-in-law.