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.
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
I love The Secret Life of Machines, a late-1980s series about how everyday machines work. Presented primarily by engineer/cartoonist/artist Tim Hunkin, it's understated, funny, and deeply smart -- a gently curious investigation of how things go. Hunkin wrote about the first series:
The two sides of my life - researching stuff in books for the cartoon strip and making things, had made me realise just how much clever human activity in the world can not be explained in words or suit the format of a... READ ON
File this under Seems Like a Hoax, But Isn't.... READ ON
Today's math/science nerd party: George Hart demonstrates how a set of magnetized square shapes will self-organize into a cube, when placed inside a plastic bag and shaken. This behavior arises because the magnets themselves (due to their polarity and configuration) trend towards cube-ness. I think I just learned kung fu.
Bonus points: George Hart is Vi Hart's dad. A family of awesome math video... READ ON
This 25-minute film explores what we've learned about Saturn's various moons via space probes. The data comes primarily from NASA's Cassini, though some is from the Voyager and Galileo missions. Nitrogen geysers, bizarre surface ridges, and real atmospheres are all par for the course -- though no big creepy monoliths have been found. Here's a snippet from the film's description:
Flying by Europa, Voyager documented a complex network of criss-crossing grooves and ridges. In the 1990s, the Galileo... READ ON
In just three weeks, NASA's Curiosity rover will land on Mars...except that the "landing" is more like controlled crashing. In this dramatic video, engineers explain how the landing is supposed to go. It involves a supersonic parachute, last-minute radar measurements, and rocket motors. You can bet that come August 5, we'll be freaking out until we get the first "I'm alive" ping from the rover.
You can follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter. And if you're curious about what the rover actually does,... READ ON
In this supercut, we are treated to dozens of people (including Batman) claiming to be Batman. Are you Batman? Am I Batman? I am pretty sure I'm Batman. The more people say the word "Batman," the weirder it sounds.
Best of the YouTube comments, from user "clownmonkey":
I? used to work at a mental hospital, and there was one patient who used to slink around the halls, hiding in niches and doorways. Then she would leap out and glare into your face and growl, "I'm Batman." Best line reading ever.... READ ON
Alex Dainis has grapheme to color synesthesia, meaning that within her brain, numbers have strong associations with colors -- "each number has its own color, or personality," she explains. We've covered synesthesia previously, but this is the first time I've seen a synesthete sit down and describe concretely, in a non-artsy-fartsy way, what's going on in her brain.
It's really interesting how Dainis tries to explain the logic behind the number-coloring. This logic isn't entirely consistent, it just... READ ON
The Replacements' classic album Pleased to Meet Me turned 25 this week. It debuted on July 7, 1987, and featured two of my favorite songs of all time: "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Alex Chilton." The rest of the album isn't bad either.
The song "Can't Hardly Wait" has stuck with me all these years, partly because of its ultra-sweet sound, largely attributable to its lovely guitar line performed by Big Star's Alex Chilton (in case you couldn't tell, Chilton was a big influence on Replacements... READ ON
NASA has been waking up astronauts using music since the Apollo Program. Sometimes those wakeup calls get pretty weird.
1. STS-111 - "I Got You Babe" from Groundhog Day
On June 19, 2002, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour awoke to a tinny rendition of "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher, taken from the Groundhog Day soundtrack. This song was chosen because the crew, much like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, was caught in a loop, repeating the previous day's deorbit activities,... READ ON
Vi Hart makes videos primarily about math (we've written about her before). But how does she make the videos? The typical Vi Hart video involves a lot of drawing, ultra-fast narration, quick cuts, and fast-motion video. Finally, after years of making videos, Vi Hart has made a video about making videos. But making that video entails making a script for that video, which means that within the script, the future is the present referring to itself as the past, so the video gets a little...meta. So... READ ON
When the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930, it was the tallest building in the world -- for 11 months. (The Chrysler Building did retain the slightly dubious distinction of being the tallest brick building in the world, although the brick is not structural.) Although the Chrysler Building was beaten by the Empire State Building, Chrysler's signature 185-foot steel spire remains its key architectural feature -- and it was a surprise to rivals trying to outbuild it at the time.
This short video... READ ON
NASA's Space Shuttle program (formally known as the "Space Transportation System" or STS) saw 135 launches, beginning in 1982. After the final STS mission in 2011, artist McLean Fahnestock completed his assembly of "Grand Finale," a video showing footage of every STS launch, arranged in chronological order, including sound. Those of us who remember STS-51-L (the final Challenger mission and the twenty-fifth Shuttle launch) can't help looking for it.
Grand Finale 2010-11 from McLean Fahnestock on... READ ON
This is the time of year when I trot out the time-honored tradition of complaining about my neighbors' late-night disposal of leftover fireworks. The neighborhood dogs howl along with me, forming our own little complaint choir. But there is a level of awesomeness achievable by a fireworks display, even one using only firecrackers, that's rarely imagined in my neighborhood.
In 2006, in Appleton, Wisconsin, a fireworks convention was host to a completely insane feat of firecracker combustion -- over 10... READ ON
Want to be surrounded by real live sharks all day? Virtually? I thought so. To celebrate the 25th annual Shark Week, Discovery has a crazy 360-degree Shark Cam streaming from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. You can click and drag within the video window to see sharks and other sea creatures lazily swimming around you...all around you...you cannot escape...must close browser window...without...angering...sharks....
There are also some special events inside the Shark Cam tank coming up next week:... READ ON
To celebrate Independence Day in the US, I've collected fireworks displays from around the world. Can't find a good fireworks show in your neighborhood? Just make these fullscreen and crank up the speakers.
New Year's Day 2012 - London
BBC One's coverage of the fireworks display in London for New Year's 2012, complete with an over-the-top musical medley. Now you know what Big Ben looks like spouting rockets. Set this one to HD and be amazed.
Disney's Crazy Star Wars Fireworks Display... READ ON
Researchers at CERN have announced a major finding that, while they're being cautious and cagey because they're conservative people, is clearly the first observation of the Higgs boson, popularly known as the "God particle." This is what the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) was built to find, and apparently it worked. The press release reads, in part:
“We observe in our data clear signs of a new particle, at the level of 5 sigma, in the mass region around 126 GeV. The outstanding performance of the LHC... READ ON
Remember Pigs in Space? It was a series of sketches on The Muppet Show parodying Star Trek (and other 60s/70s space-themed TV shows), featuring the adventures of a crew of pigs aboard the Swinetrek. Pigs in Space became so popular that it was used to wake up actual astronauts on the Space Shuttle Columbia during its second mission. Muppet Wiki tells the story:
The height of pop-culture awareness for the crew of the Swinetrek occurred in 1981. As part of NASA's morning wake-up call tradition, by... READ ON
Now let's watch what happens when you take a blob of mercury and subject it to different audio frequencies. Spoiler alert: the mercury forms geometric shapes and appears to dance. This is slow-motion footage (with music added, not the tones the mercury is reacting to -- we'll get to those original tones in a moment):
Okay, so what happened there?! I spoke to photographer Nick Moore about how this was filmed. (My suspicion was that he might be building a T-1000.) He wrote:
The mercury is... READ ON
In this eight-minute video, MythBuster Adam Savage describes the construction of a replica Indiana Jones bullwhip. Savage made his first bullwhip in the early 90s, then got some advice from master whip maker David Morgan -- so Savage bought a piece of kangaroo hide (apparently kangaroo leather is exceedingly strong) and proceeded to make another whip, an 11.5-foot long one. (For the record, that's way longer than normal, making Savage's whip both dangerous and awesome.)
The video is full of geeky whip... READ ON
(Modern Scantron test sheet; photo by Josh Davis, used under CC license.)
We learned this week that Michael Sokolski, a soldier, engineer, and inventor of the Scantron, died on June 13. Sokolski was an immigrant to the US from Poland, and later an engineer and inventor best known for his work with Scantron. Today, we dig into some Scantron trivia -- please make sure your trivia bubbles are completely filled or the machine may not give you credit.
How Does the Scantron Work?
The original... READ ON
In today's "feel old again" news, the classic song "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners turned 30 this week. The original single was released on June 26, 1982. The song begins with these lines:
Poor old Johnnie Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
Moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried, sang along
Who would blame them?
In case you missed the memo, Johnnie Ray was a crooner who performed wearing a hearing aid in his right ear -- he lost most of the hearing in that ear in a... READ ON
Big Think has interviewed a staggering array of smart people, and is posting micro-interviews on YouTube. For tonight's viewing, I thought I'd collect five favorites. Yes, they're short, and sometimes they're simple -- but these are smart sentiments.
"How is science education like comedy?" Bill Nye on the parallels between comedy and learning: it's all about making choices.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
On privatizing space exploration. Spoiler alert: he's not for it, except... READ ON
In this brief video, Minute Physics shows a visual proof demonstrating why ?R² gets you the area of a circle. By using various lengths of chain laid into a circular shape, you can make a triangle from the circle -- and from there it's a hop, skip, and a trigonometry jump to proof of your circle's area. Check it:
As Minute Physics explains in the YouTube video description, this video is based on a paper by Russell Jay Hendel of Dowling College: Proof Without Words: Area of a Disk is ?R² (PDF... READ ON
Aaron Sorkin is a fantastic writer of dialogue -- as long as you're okay with listening to Aaron Sorkin talking to Aaron Sorkin through the voices of miscellaneous actors. But really, I do love Sorkin, and I love listening to that endless echoing conversation; it's like Mamet except it actually sounds like people I hang out with. (Yes, I hang out with TV production staff at the Oval Office. All the time.)
In this amazing video, superfan Kevin Porter goes deep on "Sorkinisms," the repeating tropes,... READ ON
Photo circa 2008 courtesy of Joanna J., used by Creative Commons license.
In 1975, construction began on a high-rise building in the center of Kraków, Poland. The massive structure (planned to be 24 stories high) was to be the headquarters for the Polish Federation of Engineering Associations (aka Naczelna Organizacja Techniczna, or "NOT"). After the skeleton of the building was completed, political and economic unrest hit Poland and the project was halted. 37 years later, the unfinished shell still... READ ON
If you take regular sand and expose it to trimethylsilanol vapor (ahem, (CH3)3SiOH for the chemists in the crowd), the sand becomes hydrophobic -- literally meaning "water-fearing." The resulting "magic sand" does interesting stuff when exposed to water, as the sand repels the water. Here are two neat videos showing water interacting with water-fearing sand.
Water Drops on Hydrophobic Sand
A weirdly soothing video, this shows what happens as puddles form on top of the sand.
Hydrophobic... READ ON
33 years ago yesterday, The Muppet Movie made its silver screen debut. Over the opening credits, Kermit played his banjo in the swamp, singing the now-iconic theme song, "Rainbow Connection." The song was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, though it didn't win either; instead it reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, appeared in every subsequent Muppets film, and has been covered dozens of times. And it all started with Jim Henson's voice in a swamp.
Let's... READ ON
In this five-minute video, photographer Nick Moore shows us how to build and photograph your own micro-forest fire, using strike-anywhere matches in a workshop setting. While the building-the-rig portion may seem slow at first, it becomes fascinating when the camera shifts into slow-motion and fast-motion, as appropriate for the length of each task. By the 3-minute mark, we're eagerly anticipating the lighting of the matchstick forest, and it does not disappoint -- just before the 4-minute mark, we see... READ ON
A few weeks back I came across this surprising fact: the Beach Boys song "Wouldn't It Be Nice" featured two accordionists, two drummers, three bassists, and thirteen more musicians. The information in that post came from a YouTube documentary called Behind the Sounds, which is going through each song on the Beach Boys' seminal "Pet Sounds" record, using archival recordings, photographs, and independent research to tell the story of how each song came together. Tonight, enjoy all the songs covered by... READ ON
Blade Runner was famously shown in seven different versions: a workprint shown to test audiences, a sneak preview shown only once, a theatrical cut, an "international" cut for non-US audiences, a broadcast version for CBS, a Director's Cut that the director didn't really approve of, and a "Final Cut" (aka "25th Anniversary Edition") that is supposed to be the last word on the film. So it would seem we don't need any more versions of Blade Runner.
But now, painter Anders Ramsell has put together a... READ ON
Ever wonder how computer-animated films are made? It's a laborious process, involving an "animatic" (a form of pseudo-animated storyboarding), "layout" (rough positioning of 3D models), reference modeling (in which an actor moves around as the characters will, as a reference for animators), and various additional passes through the material to arrive at a realistic-looking animated scene. In this brief video, animator Jamaal Bradley shows us the making of one snippet of Disney's "Tangled." This is how... READ ON
The USDA allows the term "wyngz" for wing-like chicken products that contain no wing meat.