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.
It's Saturday. It's summer. Let's make some Spin Art, shall we?
Abraham De La Torre Makes Exquisite Spin Art
Abraham De La Torre is an American painter who specializes in Spin Art. He's even listed on Wikipedia's Spin Art page in the "Fine Art" section. Here's one of his Spin Art demos (there are lots more on his YouTube channel):
Giant Spin Art
These folks made their own Spin Art platform, capable of handling objects up to 60 inches square. I won't be offended if you skip ahead --... READ ON
So there's this asteroid, 99942 Apophis, that will make a "close approach to" (read: "near miss of") Earth in 2029 and possibly again in 2036. Don't worry, we're probably fine -- there are lots of way more dangerous asteroids coming our way...just not quite so soon. Before an asteroid hits Earth (and one eventually will -- it has happened before), we need a plan to take it out, Deep Impact/Armageddon style -- or at least a plan to visit and study the near-miss asteroids, since they'll be in the... READ ON
Today would have been Freddie Mercury's 66th birthday. We lost him in 1991, the year before Wayne's World brought his opus "Bohemian Rhapsody" to a new generation. Mercury had a stunning voice, spanning four octaves, and his stage presence was sized to match. To blow your mind, check out this vocals-only track from "Under Pressure" (with David Bowie). I have advanced it to the point where Mercury belts out his insane "whyyyyyyyyyyyy!" This.
Now, let's settle in for some Queen classics, and... READ ON
On August 27, construction workers in Munich discovered an American bomb from World War II inside an old bar that was being cleared for new construction. The bomb weighed 550 pounds and bore an "unusual fuse," operated by a chemical reaction rather than a mechanical switch. Because the bomb was unsafe to transport, authorities decided that the only means to clear it was to evacuate that area of the city and blow it up -- which they proceeded to do the next evening. Video of the explosion is below.... READ ON
Photographer Noah Kalina has been taking a picture of himself every day since January 11, 2000. He's so dedicated to his "Everyday" project that he made an app for it. Today he released a video compiling all the photographs so far -- 4,514 photos in sequence, showing his unsmiling face staring into a camera. If you pause it at various points, you can spot Kalina in kitchens, airplanes, and what I take to be his apartment in various stages of disorder. The 7-minute video is interesting partly because... READ ON
Image courtesy of Discovery Channel.
I'm a big fan of Les Stroud, better known as Survivorman. When his survival show first appeared on Discovery seven years ago, it was a breath of fresh air -- by shooting everything himself (he lugs all the gear with him; no crew), Stroud gave us a voice in the wilderness that was authentic, minimally produced, and very personal. Indeed, this is a show created by, written by, directed by, and starring Les Stroud. He even provides much of the music, and brings along... READ ON
It's Saturday. It's hot. Let's pop some water balloons in slow motion, shall we?
Water Balloon vs. Face
From Discovery's Time Warp, around 0:36 the balloon finally pops after molding itself to the man's face. From there it's all wet.
Popping a Water Balloon
When that volume of water is suddenly unsupported by its balloon container, it stays remarkably cohesive...until it... READ ON
New Zealand hunkthrob band Flight of the Conchords recently recorded a brilliant new song, "Feel Inside (and Stuff Like That)," for charity. Seeing Bret and Jemaine back in action, I thought it was time to look back at some of their greatest hits (and stuff like that).
"Feel Inside (and Stuff Like That)"
In order to write the song, the guys interviewed a bunch of kids. Favorite lyric? "The? kids who are sick cannot do their hip-hop anymore." In case you don't catch the reference part-way... READ ON
You've probably heard that The Dude from The Big Lebowski is loosely based on a real guy named Jeff Dowd. But what you probably haven't seen is this twenty-minute documentary about Dowd, explaining himself in his own words. The film touches on Dowd's history with politics and independent film, and we see Dowd as a complex character -- is he dedicated to political change, is he coasting on a movie he didn't make, or is he somehow doing both? The film gives you a decent amount of information to make that... READ ON
In the new documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, we get to see the top Tetris players in the world duke it out, to discover who is truly the master of the game. It's a fun, engaging, and moderately geeky documentary -- my favorite kind. Full disclosure: I know director Adam Cornelius from college, and I did a small bit of writing work on the film in postproduction. So this is, in a sense, shameless friend-promotion, with a little self-promotion thrown in. With that said, here's the... READ ON
In this stunning video, we see the best view yet available of NASA's Discovery lander speeding towards the surface of Mars. What makes it special is the relative smoothness of the video -- editor Dominic Muller took the source material, a roughly 4 frame-per-second set of still shots from the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) and interpolated those frames to a roughly 25-fps HD video. This process of interpolation (creating interstitial frames where there were none before, by calculating what "should" be... READ ON
Remember that animated, professionally narrated version of Peter and the Wolf you saw as a kid? Sure you do -- somewhere in the depths of your memory, you'll probably remember this fifteen-minute Disney short from 1946. It's odd to think now that this came out just a decade after Prokofiev's original composition in 1936 -- they both seem sufficiently remote to be ancient history to kids these days. In any case, "Peter and the Wolf" was written to be performed with a narrator (in Russian); Disney added... READ ON
Neil Armstrong -- astronaut, engineer, professor, Navy pilot, and first man on the moon -- has died at the age of 82. He is best known for the words he spoke just after he set foot on the moon. Contrary to popular belief, Armstrong said (emphasis added): "That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." That word "a" was garbled in the satellite feed heard by the world. Regardless of our ability to hear him, Armstrong was a man of powerful words. Here are a few more to remember him by.... READ ON
Google Street View is handy for finding places you're driving to -- but Google has been putting together a series of special "Street View" tours of places that aren't out on the street. Like Kennedy Space Center. By following that link, you can see a bunch of places where Google brought its Street View cameras into NASA spaces -- allowing you to take a virtual tour. Check out the various locations within Kennedy by clicking around on that page. My favorite is the Apollo 14 Command Module -- as you... READ ON
In June, ICANN announced that over 1,400 new generic top-level domain names (in other words, .wedding, .sex, and .lawyer) were under consideration to join the familiar .com and its kin. Weirdness has ensued.
A Brief Technical Lesson
In the world of web domains, there are two crucial parts: the Domain Name itself (like "mentalfloss") and the Top Level Domain (like ".com"). Those Top Level Domains (TLDs) are broken up into two broad categories: "generic" (gTLDs) like .com, .net, .org, .biz, and... READ ON
Missile engineer Destin (last name undisclosed) made waves a few weeks back with his video explaining Why Cats Usually Land on Their Feet. His YouTube channel is full of great stuff -- here are some favorites to make you, yes, a little smarter every day.
Eliminating "Poop Splash"
"Is there a way we can eliminate...poop splash?" This is surprisingly clean for a video involving "fecal simulants." Around 2:40 the answer is revealed. SCIENCE IN ACTION! As Destin's wife says, "You're welcome."... READ ON
In this funny 15-minute TED Talk, special effects guru Rob Legato explains, shot by shot, how he made visual effects work in Apollo 13, Titanic, and Hugo. In addition to making great models, he did it by observing what people noticed versus what they saw. A sample quote regarding the Saturn V launch he recreated for Apollo 13: "[The shot was about] what they remembered it looked like -- but not what it really looked like." Legato's message here is relevant for any kind of artist: it's more important to... READ ON
This week, Nintendo released "New" Super Mario Bros. 2. But "Old" Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't what you think it is. Here's the odd story of how Nintendo crammed Mario into places he was never meant to be.
Super Mario Bros. 1... READ ON
"How does light look in slow motion?" asks Ramesh Raskar in this brief TED Talk, demonstrating his "femto-photography," a slow motion technique that achieves one trillion frames per second. He proceeds to show us: the camera captures so many frames that you can SEE LIGHT TRAVELING THROUGH WATER. You can see light moving across the surface of a tomato. It's frickin' insane.
Oh, by the way, this technology can also see around corners. It's not perfect but, you guys, it took me like a whole... READ ON
In this decidedly spooky TED Talk, Jon Ronson explains his journey to understand mental illness, which brought him to a prison for the criminally insane to interview a very sanely-dressed possible psychopath, then brought him to "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap, whose house was "like Narnia." The whole thing is engaging, challenging, and makes me really want to take the test.
Bonus points if you get the reference on Ronson's tee shirt without Googling it.
This is all discussed in more depth in Ronson's book... READ ON
In this video, astronaut Don Pettit demonstrates yo-yo tricks in space. Yes, he's on the International Space Station making time to vlog about yo-yos and science. Pettit: "Because I'm in space, and I can, I get to name these yo-yo tricks as I invent them. I call this one 'Shoot the Planets!'" He also offers relationship advice for yo-yo/physics loving folks. More like this, please.
This is not the first time we've mentioned Dr. Pettit. He took the recent "Star Trails" photos, and he showed us... READ ON
Twenty-one years ago today, Paul Simon put on a massive concert in Central Park. The performance on August 15, 1991 focused on material from his albums Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, plus an assortment of greatest hits of his previous work, including Simon & Garfunkel material...but without Garfunkel. The resulting double album has been required listening in my house for the following two+ decades. Of course, Simon's 1991 Concert in the Park wasn't his first Central Park blowout -- way back in... READ ON
Need a little tranquility? In this two-and-a-half minute time lapse video, we see a whole bunch of flowers blooming. We get to see daffodils, daisies, daylilies, amaryllis, iris, and even a dandelion. Creator Vladimir Vorobyov says: "Hopefully, it will cause only positive emotions." He succeeds. Enjoy.
The Beauty of Flowers (??????? ??????) from VOROBYOFF PRODUCTION on Vimeo.
If that's not enough, Vorobyov has a second video that's more of the same, though a little more... READ ON
In this ten-minute video, Kirby Ferguson explains how the basic elements of a "remix" are actually the core parts of all creative work. Ferguson uses Bob Dylan as a case study -- and he's right to do so. Dylan's early work was clearly based on other folk tunes, and there's nothing wrong with that. Dylan modeled himself largely on Woody Guthrie, who is also mentioned in here. Guthrie's immortal quote is put in context: "The words are the important thing. Don't worry about tunes. Take a tune, sing... READ ON
I drive a 2000 Hyundai Elantra with its factory original tape deck. It's in "fair" shape -- low miles but a lotta dents. MSRP for this thing was about $12,000, and Blue Book value is now around $3,500. Let's take a look at some literal children's toys that cost more than my car would sell for today. (For "Hyundai Values" listed below, I'm assuming that $3,500 figure -- though lots of these toys would have beaten my car even when it was new!)
1. A Marble with Teddy Roosevelt's Likeness - $4,500... READ ON
The Archive of American Television is a goldmine. Last week I came across their four-and-a-half-hour interview with Mister Rogers; this week let's take a look at their similarly ultra-in-depth interview with Betty White. This is a five-part sit-down with America's TV sweetheart, conducted at her home in 1997 by her agent, Tony Fantozzi. The interview is gentle, funny, smart, and full of trivia I'd never heard about Betty. I hope you have some spare time today to enjoy this.
From the... READ ON
As an American, my knowledge of London is pretty limited -- you know, big city, Big Ben, big Olympics, yeah, I get it. But it came as quite a surprise to learn that there is another London inside of London.
In this video, serial mindblower C.G.P. Grey explains how the City of London is a very special micro-city entirely contained within the city that is called London. The larger city called London has a Mayor...but the City of London has The Right, Honourable, The Lord Mayor of London. Each enforces... READ ON
Why do cats (usually) land on their feet? In the six-minute video below, missile engineer and last-name-avoider Destin explains...and includes some real stunt-cat dropping photographed with a high-speed camera. He also has archival footage of Air Force researchers dropping cats on parabolic flights, which helps explain the physics behind the phenomenon. As far as I can tell, no cats were harmed in the making of this video -- though they seemed, at the very least, displeased.
For some deeper math,... READ ON
Today in 1961, Dave Evans (known as "The Edge" of U2) was born. In the 51 years since, The Edge has become known for his layered, echoing guitar lines. He famously developed an ultra-complex guitar rig, involving a massive pedal board, a series of rack-mounted effects processors, a stunning array of pedals, and a series of vintage amps. While this mega-tech approach seems fairly common now, its complexity was decidedly over-the-top when U2 debuted. Wikipedia discusses The Edge's signature riff for... READ ON
Neil Harbisson is an artist who was born with a rare form of colorblindness called achromatopsia -- he sees everything in grayscale. The typical "colorblindness" we talk about is more of a color confusion in which some colors blend with others, or it's hard to distinguish between certain similar colors. So Harbisson's condition is unusual to start with. What makes it rad is that he wears an "eyeborg," an assistive device that reads colors in front of his face and plays musical tones in his ear. This... READ ON
Bobak Ferdowsi is Flight Director on the Mars Science Laboratory mission (aka Curiosity). You may know him better as that guy with the mohawk seen at JPL Mission Control during Sunday/Monday's Curiosity landing. In the video below, Shira Lazar interviews Ferdowsi about Curiosity, his experience of the landing, and what it's like to be a sudden internet celebrity...while doing important science work for NASA.
Representative line: "If my mohawk gets a few more people excited about science and this... READ ON
After a tense and slightly inebriated evening of watching NASA TV, I am pleased to report: NASA's Curiosity rover has... READ ON
NASA's latest and greatest Mars rover, known as Curiosity, will attempt to land on Mars early Monday morning (or late Sunday night, depending on where you are on Earth). The landing is scheduled for 05:31 (UTC), which is Monday morning at 1:31am Eastern in the US, or 10:31pm Pacific time Sunday night. Because Mars is quite far from us, there will be a 14-minute delay before transmissions related to the landing will reach us -- which will make the viewing party that much more of a nail-biter.
Prep... READ ON
In 1999, Karen Herman interviewed Fred Rogers for the Archive of American Television. The resulting nine-part (roughly four-and-a-half hour) interview spans the career of the man we've come to know as Mister Rogers. Throughout, Rogers conveys the same gentle, honest wisdom we all expect from the best neighbor ever. It's truly a joy to see such a thoughtful long-form discussion, and Herman truly knows her stuff (she is Director of the Archive, which is affiliated with the Academy of Television Arts &... READ ON
James Cameron narrates this documentary on the classic film 2001. It includes archival footage of the late Arthur C. Clarke in the 1960s touring spacecraft manufacturing facilities, footage of designers putting together models, snippets of archival footage of Kubrick, interviews with various luminaries, and various other amazing stuff I've never seen. It also features interviews with Doug Trumbull and others who did special effects for the film. If you're a 2001 fan, this is 43 minutes of candy.
Skip... READ ON
MTV turns 31 today. It launched one minute past midnight on August 1, 1981, with footage of Space Shuttle Columbia and Apollo 11 launches, then the words "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll," spoken by John Lack, one of the creators of MTV. An extended version of the MTV theme riff played, and then we were treated to the first set of music videos on MTV. Tonight, let's remember those early music videos by watching them. In order. First up, here's that intro bit:
0. "Ladies and gentlemen, rock... READ ON
Stanley Kubrick's 2001 is a moody sci-fi masterpiece. Its pacing is, by modern sci-fi standards, slow -- but those of us who love the movie see that as part of its appeal. It's a slow burn, so to speak. Recently a speculative trailer for 2001 has been making the rounds. In this new trailer, the movie is marketed as a modern summer blockbuster, using the conventions of modern sci-fi/action trailers -- loud techno, lots of cuts, and goofy onscreen text with that "slam" sound to drive it into your dumb... READ ON
Turbo B and Penny Ford, featured performers on "The Power"
On July 5, 2011, the 39-story "Techno-Mart" mall in Seoul, South Korea shook for ten minutes, causing a two-day evacuation and an investigation. The cause of the tremors? Seismic experts concluded that "The Power," a dance hit by the band Snap!, simply rocked too hard.
Tae Bo Power - It's Gettin' Kinda Hectic
When the shaking occurred, it was felt only in the upper floors of the Techno-Mart. An investigation revealed that several... READ ON
"It's Siberia with family restaurants," -the Coen brothers explain Minneapolis in this half-hour documentary about their film Fargo. The film, entitled "Minnesota Nice," explores that eponymous ultra-polite culture of Minnesotans, and how that politeness can be repressive, even leading to violence. Also notable is a discussion of whether the film is entirely fictional -- although the film itself has a title card claiming to be based on real events, it's presented as fiction...except that it appears to be... READ ON
Last year I saw Andy Daly perform at MaxFunCon, a convention of nice people that happens to include a lot of indie/alternative comedy. I'm an Andy Daly fan, and when he took the stage I grabbed my phone and started recording -- I missed his first line or two, but I got most of his act. What I caught is (to me and to the audience at the convention) a brilliantly executed piece of standup. Daly appears in the character of "Jerry O'Hearn" and does about five minutes of his bit:
To me, this was (and... READ ON
George Hart shows us how to cut a bagel such that it ends up as two linked bagel-rings. His knife follows the surface of a two-twist Möbius strip, making use of the initial bagel's ring shape to tease the second ring out of it. Hart then proceeds to show us how to toast it, and asks the tantalizing question: how much more cream cheese can you get on this cut bagel, versus a traditional cut? Not being a mathemagician, I'll let y'all talk that one through in the comments.
My favorite YouTube comment:... READ ON
Charles Babbage designed a fully functional mechanical computer called the Analytical Engine in 1837. It used gigantic stacks of cogs for memory (capable of storing 1,000 numbers to 40 decimal places), a CPU-like computing engine developed using gears and wheels, a printer (numbers only), a plotter (for graphics...ish), and even a programming language (Ada Lovelace wrote the first program, and the system used punched cards for program input). The Analytical Engine was the first Turing complete design for... READ ON
The Beastie Boys released their opus Paul's Boutique today, July 25, way back in 1989. (To some of us that doesn't seem so long ago.) It was their second record, and the band faced tremendous pressure to meet or exceed Licensed to Ill, known for anthemic party-rock/hip-hop hits like "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" and "No Sleep till Brooklyn." The Dust Brothers produced Paul's Boutique and in many cases actually wrote the music and arranged the samples. Although at first the album wasn't... READ ON
In this short video, photographer Nick Moore shows us what happens to flame when it's exposed to a speaker vibrating at 60 Hz. Although you can't see the effect easily at regular speed, when the video is shown in slow motion, there is a clear pulsing action as the speaker pushes and pulls the air, causing flames to dance rhythmically.
Stick around at least until the 0:45 mark, when you start to see the slow-mo fire effects.
See also: Moore's experiment with cymatics, Mercury + Sound = Kooky Mad... READ ON
Cheeky engineer Tim Hunkin (of Secret Life of Machines fame) invented the Autofrisk, a device that gently gropes the user in exchange for a few coins. (In the U.K. apparently one cannot get this experience for free at local airports.) The Autofrisk is one of many coin-operated machines Hunkin built for an ongoing show under the Southwold Pier in Suffolk, which looks to me to be a kind of geek Mecca.
Hunkin and compatriots made a ten-minute film about the process of making the Autofrisk and similar... READ ON
Without the Space Shuttle, our sources of fresh space video are somewhat limited. Fortunately, we still have the International Space Station, and photographs taken by its crew are released for public use. In this video, Knate Myers assembles these photographs into a radical time-lapse, giving us the impression of zooming over the Earth at insane speed. My favorite part starts around 3 minutes in, when we see the continents at night, then the Aurora Borealis, then lightning strikes. If you want to make... READ ON
Kevin Allocca is the "trends manager" at YouTube, which means, as he says, he watches YouTube videos for a living -- and then thinks about why they become popular. In this TED Talk, Allocca runs through a series of viral video hits and attempts to explain why they became popular. While it's not exactly deep thought (it seems to boil down to "new media is awesome!"), his discussion of Nyan Cat and videos of other cats watching it is worth the price of admission. Have a... READ ON
On May 8, 2007, David Letterman asked perhaps the least important question any man could have asked: "How many guys in Spider-Man suits can fit into a Jamba Juice restaurant in New York City?" In order to answer this question, Letterman sent a rather large group of Spider-Men into a Jamba Juice, filming the whole time. This is one of the dumbest, weirdest things I've ever seen. I think about this every few days. When life seems a little low, maybe you should just send some Spider-Men into a juice bar... READ ON
Today is the 43rd anniversary of the lunar landing. Here's a look at the worst-case scenario plans, which Chris Higgins originally discussed in... READ ON
Here's a short, beautifully shot video: a visual explanation of how the human population got to 7 billion, using tinted water dripping into and out of seven glasses -- one for each continent. Drops that go in the top are births, drops that leak out the bottom are deaths. Using this simple visual explanation, it's fascinating to watch the relative populations of the continents over time. Here's what NPR, the video's publisher, adds:
It was just over two centuries ago that the global population was... READ ON
At the Wife Carrying World Championships in Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer.