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 this fourteen-minute TEDxBoston Talk, uber-geeks Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel talk about what they've learned from processing 5 million books (or 500 billion words) via the Google Ngram Viewer. This tool uses text scanned from books to find specific terms and phrases, so you can figure out historical patterns of language usage. This may sound really geeky, and it is, but it's presented in a really sweet way. On stage we have two guys who are like us -- geeks -- sharing some fun... READ ON
Photographer Alex Rivest has made a habit of creating beautiful timelapse films. Some are very popular, but others have been seen by only a handful of people. Here are some of my favorites from Rivest's collection; there are more on his Vimeo page.
Scenes of life in Amsterdam, July 2011. My favorites are the water closeups.
Lava in Hawaii
File under: beautiful to look at, glad I wasn't... READ ON
The now-famous Keep Calm and Carry On poster was produced by the British Ministry of Information in 1939, as a quintessentially British statement of what to do in the event of German invasion. The poster actually wasn't circulated at the time, and only became popular after its rediscovery at a bookstore. Among my friends, it's something of a mantra -- I know one woman who has the phrase sewn into the lining of her coat.
But enough with boring history. Let's look at some wacky variations on the poster... READ ON
9-year-old Caine Monroy loved arcades, so he built one in his father's auto parts shop in East LA. He made it out of cardboard and packing tape. The games include arcade-machine versions of soccer, basketball, and even a claw game. The "machines" dispense tickets (Caine has to roll them out a slot) and arcade patrons can then choose prizes, just like at a traditional arcade. In this short film, the first purchaser of Caine's "Fun Pass" ($2 for 500 plays) shows us the arcade, and a very special day for... READ ON
In this short video, Titanic director James Cameron offers color commentary on CGI animation of Titanic sinking, recreating the events of April 14, 1912. This is apparently the most detailed recreation of the sinking ever made. The clip is taken from Titanic: The Final Word With James Cameron, which aired last night on National Geographic Channel -- part of the Titanic: 100 Years series. Check it out, in glorious 2D:
A representative quote, while surveying wreckage on the sea floor: "Badda-bing,... READ ON
Wow. Here's the original pitch Jim Henson made to sell The Muppet Show to CBS. It's a slow build -- things only start getting wacky around the one-minute mark, but go completely nuts by the end. This is brilliant. According to Muppet Wiki, there was a little clip at the end that was edited out of this video (this version likely came from a DVD extra):
After Leo's powerful speech, Kermit appears from off-screen against a CBS logo and shrugs, "What the hell was that all about?"
My favorite... READ ON
We've covered the problems with pennies before. In exciting news for the anti-penny lobby, the good people of Canada formally decided to abolish the penny by stopping production, joining a growing list of countries doing away with this ultra-low-denomination coin. Existing pennies will still be accepted for purchases but the supply of pennies in the economy will slowly decline, as the Royal Canadian Mint will take pennies in and melt them down. This is generally considered a good cost-saving measure,... READ ON
The folks at Squirrel-monkey have been putting together parody videos showing what popular online games and websites today might have looked like twenty or thirty years ago. The videos are short, goofy, and a lot of the jokes will make little sense to people younger than about 30. Enjoy!
The Facebook (90s Style)
"The Facebook is a digital online internet computer web sightseeing you can open with your website browser." Love the Timeline reference.
Angry Birds 1982
This could almost... READ ON
In this 90-minute BBC documentary from 1993, we see a glimpse of Richard Feynman at his best. Feynman and other figures from his life are interviewed extensively, revealing a portrait of a complex mind -- a man who was willing to live with doubt, uncertainty, and incorrectness as part of the human condition. It's wonderful. A representative quote: "His way of thinking was not typical." No doubt. Check it out:
The film was also adapted into a book.
Some of my favorite prior coverage of... READ ON
Toilet image via Shutterstock
File under "News to Me": you know that old story about how northern hemisphere toilets flush counter-clockwise, and southern hemisphere toilets (and buckets, drains, and such) flush clockwise, due to the Coriolis effect? It's bogus! Today I learned that while the Coriolis effect is significant for hurricanes, it's not strong enough to make toilets flush in different directions at different points on the Earth. The real cause of "backwards"-flushing toilets is just that... READ ON
Author, satirist, and professional pencil-sharpener David Rees has written a fully-illustrated guest column for Etsy on the topic of How to Sharpen Pencils. It's a brilliantly dry taste of his upcoming book (which, full disclosure, I blurbed*), How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants. Before you ask, yes, it's real. It's as real as a pencil-point to the throat.... READ ON
I'm no scientician, but I'm vaguely aware of this one formula, E=mc². Apparently it's a big deal. In the video below, the good people of Minute Physics rapidly explain how to derive the formula, using a theoretical scenario involving a radioactive cat in space, a spacecraft, and some math. For a two-minute explanation, this is remarkably complete (at least to a non-math-genius) -- though it goes by a little too fast for me to grasp each point. I had to keep backing it up and re-running it, and even... READ ON
In this video, founders of three major online services talk about how they have embraced the internet's transformative power for creative work. Kickstarter changes how people fund their creative work. Creative Commons changes how people share their stuff. And The Creators Project supports artists who use technology in their work. This six-minute video from PBS Off Book does a good job summarizing why these things matter. Have a... READ ON
Did you know that Tesla coils can be tuned and played together (under computer control) to make music? News to me. Judging from the sheer volume of YouTube videos showing Tesla coils in musical settings, this is a fairly popular hobby. Enjoy these ten songs -- and share your favorites in the comments!
Listen for the little bits of "Yankee Doodle."
Best YouTube commenter: "DON'T CROSS THE BEAMS!"
"Legend of Zelda" Theme
Includes Dr.... READ ON
In this video from last Saturday, Adam Savage whips up a frenzy among his fellow secular science nerds at The Reason Rally. It's a fascinating talk, partly because Savage is a great speaker -- and partly because of how the audience reacts to what he says. At various points, Savage lists series of facts, and you can get a read on the crowd's opinion of those facts by their cheering (or lack thereof); I found these reactions surprising, as it's not often that you hear a crowd cheering about the age of the... READ ON
The Sagan Series continues to surprise. Working with an extremely limited resource (Sagan's reading of the Pale Blue Dot audiobook and portions of Cosmos), editor Reid Gower has continued to find lyrical passages from Sagan and combine them with imagery and audio from other sources. In "The Humans" (the ninth installment of the series), we see a lot of visuals from Koyaanisqatsi, music by The Album Leaf, a handful of other sources, plus of course Sagan's narration. And it is wonderful. The kids have to... READ ON
Oh wow. Every clip of McBain from "The Simpsons," cut together in sequence. Put down the donut and enjoy McBain's witticisms and gunplay:
"Ice to see you" indeed. For exhaustive details on McBain, check out this page.
See also: Watching 130 Episodes of "The Simpsons" Simultaneously and Every "Itchy & Scratchy Show"... READ ON
Earlier this week I came across Every "Itchy & Scratchy Show" Ever, and went to see if its creator MrBestDeni had made more "Simpsons" stuff. Turns out he hasn't done more YouTube videos, though he's on Vimeo now. Anyway, in the "Simpsons" video experiment below, fellow YouTube hero Romain Vuillemot runs 130 episodes of the show simultaneously, in a grid, for about three and a half minutes. The result is an extremely weird visual experiment -- we get to see how the opening credits differ between... READ ON
Phone Booth Cramming was a late-1950s fad with a simple premise: cram a phone booth full of dudes (and/or ladies) and take a picture before the people on the bottom suffocate. As you can imagine, this pastime was most popular among college students, and led to international rivalries. Yes, kids, this is the kind of thing we thought was fun back before we had video games...and when we still had phone booths. But this practice of people-packing goes to places weirder than phone booths, as you'll see in... READ ON
With the fifth season of Mad Men premiering this Sunday, I felt it was time to dust off a classic set of videos I first saw in 2010. The work of master editor John Duffy, "Next on Mad Men" parodies the bizarre clips at the end of real Mad Men episodes. If you're a fan, you're familiar with these clips -- they're oddly content-free (apparently in an attempt to avoid spoilers), and frequently present conversations out of context, along with meaningless snippets of dialogue, all underlaid with moody,... READ ON
One of my favorite parts of The Simpsons is The Itchy & Scratchy Show, a cartoon within a live action show within a cartoon (Itchy & Scratchy is a cartoon on The Krusty the Clown Show, which is presented as a live action show seen within the cartoon show The Simpsons -- meta enough for you?). Itchy & Scratchy is the epitome of cartoon violence, with the minimum plot necessary to lead to the gruesome death of Scratchy, the hapless black cat. Of course, this tremendous violence is endlessly... READ ON
Have you worked in a warehouse? How about a warehouse filled with Roomba-like robots that crawl the floor looking for stuff? In this three-minute presentation, Kiva Systems founder Mick Mountz explains how his company's robots work: the robot locates an item in the warehouse's "pod" system, fetches the pod containing the item (while avoiding other robots driving around), brings the pod to a "pick worker" (human), who hands the item off to a "packing worker" (also human), who puts the item (or collection... READ ON
Some of us have been fortunate to see a truly starry night -- away from light pollution in cities, you can see quite a lot. But when you're in space you can see even more. In this collection of footage from the International Space Station, point your attention to the stars -- and see what our spacefaring friends get to witness every day. Unlike other ISS flyby videos, the focal point here is not the Earth at night (though that is interesting), it's the stars. Enjoy.
If you want to make your own... READ ON
In this short video, the three least articulate Muppets share their brilliant, touching interpretation of "Danny Boy." Not a dry eye in the house:
See also: Muppets Singing Classic... READ ON
I've covered the brouhaha over laws like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA. But in this five-minute TED Talk, Rob Reid brilliantly explains what I had been missing all along: Copyright Math™. By going through a series of claims by entertainment industry shills Copyright Mathematicians™, Reid reveals the shockingly absurd "truth" about media piracy: according to current US law, a typical iPod can hold $8 billion in stolen songs.
This talk is fun, smart, and just a tad reductive. Can you spare five... READ ON
In this seven-minute talk, MythBuster Adam Savage inspires students to understand how simple questions can lead to major scientific discoveries. Through three simple stories -- those of Richard Feynman, Eratosthenes, and Hippolyte Fizeau -- Savage explains how scientists can do great work with very common tools, the most significant of which is the human brain.
This should be required viewing for kids even remotely interested in science:
Bonus points earned by Savage: saying that the world is... READ ON
I've been a fan of Put This On for years: I first linked to them way back in 2009 after chipping in a few bucks to help fund their first episode. Explained simply, it's a show for men about how to dress like a grownup. Sometimes this is as simple as explaining how to tie your shoes (you're probably doing it wrong), how to wash jeans properly (you're definitely doing it wrong), or even how to fold and pack a suit when you're traveling (points for trying, Mr. Wrinkly!). Beyond these tips, the show... READ ON
Okay, this actually happened. In 1959, a group of Sigma Chi brothers at the University of Arkansas elevated squatting to a sport -- and it went viral. They invented a supremely lame (but apparently popular) fad: hunkerin'. From the Scottish term "hunkers" ("haunches" to the rest of us), hunkerin' is what most of us would call squatting: sitting on the balls of your feet. What's bizarre is that the practice apparently spread throughout the south for a few years, primarily on college campuses...if LIFE... READ ON
In this eight-minute talk, marine biologist Dave Gallo talks about the world's oceans -- how vast they are, what's down there (that we know about), and why we should care. While it's a brief talk, there's a lot of great material here, including some discussion (and video) of the vampire squid, an octopod-looking guy nicknamed "Dumbo," and beautiful footage of extremophiles. According to Gallo, we've explored (meaning visited at all) about 5% of the ocean -- it is truly the final frontier.
This is... READ ON
While we're celebrating a day of lists, I thought I'd go a little meta with this list of lists. Wikipedia is home to a lot of odd things, including...lists! Their list of lists page notes that "Wikipedia has thousands of topic lists; some are even lists of other lists." Before I write the word "list" again, here are my favorites.
1. List of Humorous Units of Measurement
This wonderful list includes units of length like the "Beard-second" (the length an average beard grows in one second),... READ ON
Werner Herzog premieres a four-part miniseries tonight (Friday, March 9) on Investigation Discovery at 10pm ET/PT. It's dark, and smart, and well worth your time -- as long as there are no kids in the room.
A Question of Retribution
On Death Row is the story of five death row inmates, as told through in-person interviews by Werner Herzog. Herzog seems fascinated by these people, who are almost by definition unreliable witnesses to their own lives. He treats them with respect, gently... READ ON
If you're a Trek fan, there's an embarrassment of riches for you on Twitter -- you can follow cast members including Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Brent Spiner, heck -- even Shatner and Nimoy are tweeting! But while their feeds are great, they're not the best. The best Twitter feed for Trek fans (especially fans of The Next Generation) is a little gem called TNG Season 8 (@TNG_S8). Although it contains only 93 tweets, each is a hilariously fictional "Plot from the unaired 8th season of Star Trek: The Next... READ ON
Last week I posted a roundup of classic screensavers, but many commenters pointed out a big one that I missed: Johnny Castaway. Somehow, I had never seen Johnny! And that's odd, because it's epic, and apparently pretty popular. Johnny Castaway showed a man (the eponymous Johnny) on a small island with a single palm tree. He wanders around and performs daily tasks like building sand castles, fishing, and so on...but there's a larger story to the screensaver, and sometimes special things happen. Much... READ ON
In a new TED Talk from last week, director Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, WALL•E) tells some stories...including a famously profane story, that includes a single, deliciously well-placed f-bomb (in the first few minutes). If you don't mind that one four-letter-word, you'll love this talk -- Stanton is a terrific filmmaker, and watching him talk about stories and storytelling is delicious. Hell, just hearing him explain how hard it was to make animated stories in the 1990s is fascinating.
A sample quote,... READ ON
In 1932, Dr. J. A. Purves invented the Dynasphere, a ten-foot, thousand-pound wheel of steel that didn't exactly revolutionize personal motoring. The original 2.5 horsepower gas motor could achieve a top speed of about 25 miles per hour, with the driver sitting in the middle, tipping the thing left or right to steer...and clenching his teeth, hoping nothing was in the way.
You may ask: why does the name reference a sphere, when this thing looks like a wheel or a hoop? Well, the outer body of the... READ ON
While almost everyone knows the First Rule of Fight Club and of course the Second Rule of Fight Club, it occurs to me that there are six more Rules of Fight Club that are a lot less famous. Do you remember them? I sure didn't, and I've read the book three times. Here they are, as uttered by Brad Pitt in the movie:Third rule of Fight Club: someone yells "stop," goes limp, taps out, the fight is over.Fourth rule: only two guys to a fight.Fifth rule: one fight at a time, fellas.Sixth rule:... READ ON
Gillian Anderson is much shorter than David Duchovny -- estimates of their actual heights vary, but there's roughly a 10" height difference there. So when the pair costarred on The X-Files, filming conversations posed a problem; getting both of their heads in a standing shot would have had Anderson talking into Duchovny's chest (perhaps not the worst fate in the world, but not great TV). The solution is delightful: the Scully Box, which is a variant of the typical apple box. Anderson stood on a... READ ON
As you and I sit here like dopes in front of our computers, a swarm of alpha nerds are basking in the Long Beach sun and enjoying TED2012. Only two talks from the show have been released so far, and they have somewhat differing messages: Abundance is Our Future (by Peter Diamandis) and The Earth is Full (by Paul Gilding). I'll go ahead and embed the latter, as it's a bit more depressing:
But I Want More!
Well, it's a tough gig, but somebody's gotta liveblog the entire conference. No,... READ ON
Here's a roundup of screensavers from the '90s, when they were delightfully corny, 3D graphics meant "the future," and flying toasters invaded our dreams. Enjoy!... READ ON
Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was in the enviable position of designing the original US $1 bill in 1862. So who do you think he put on that bill? Himself, of course. ... READ ON
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper is famous both as a computer pioneer and for, at the time of her retirement (at age 79), being the nation's oldest active military officer. Hopper worked on early computers, and is widely credited with popularizing the term "computer bug" after she found a moth stuck inside a relay in Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947. (Thus "debugging" became the term for fixing computer problems....) You can see the first computer bug (they kept the moth!) at the Smithsonian, in the American... READ ON
mental_floss has a talent for producing spectacularly successful writers. And no, I'm not just talking about my own immense wealth and power*. No, dear readers, I'm referring to Ransom Riggs and John Green, two mental_floss writers who currently hold the #2 and #1 spots respectively on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Because they're both writing for a Young Adult audience, their particular list is "Children's Chapter Books" (how quaint), and Ransom's haunting book Miss Peregrine's Home for... READ ON
If you've seen the Hindenburg before, it's likely only the film of it crashing and burning -- "Oh, the humanity!" and all that. In this extended newsreel from British Pathé, we see the full story of the Hindenburg's last flight, including lots of footage before the crash, and the crash itself with "wild sound" -- just what was recorded on the scene, without commentary (though there is commentary before and after). It's mesmerizing and horrible to watch; 36 people died in the crash. Have a look, if you... READ ON
So let's say it's 1947, you're the War Assets Administration, and you've got 30,000 pounds of spare metallic sodium from WWII on your hands. It's too dangerous to transport -- anyone who has taken high school Chemistry knows what happens if this stuff gets wet -- so no commercial railway or trucking company will agree to transport it. So you decide to toss it into the fish-free, frozen-over Lake Lenore and film the results. "A once-lethal war chemical becomes a peacetime pyrotechnic display!" Indeed.... READ ON
After posting yesterday's laugh-a-minute-for-fifteen-minutes hit Worf is Always Wrong, I thought I'd round up a few more wacky Star Trek videos. Make it so, Number One!
TNG: Worf is a Punching Bag
Nearly seven minutes of Worf being attacked, shot, and otherwise suffering trauma.
TNG(ish): Wil Wheaton's Voice in 2009 Trek Movie
Did you know Wil Wheaton did some voice acting for the 2009 Trek reboot? Nope, me neither, but it's awesome! Here's one clip in which his voice is clear... READ ON
The adjective "moot" means "open to debate." Yes, really. This is a dramatic difference from its common usage (at least in America), which basically means "not worth debating." A famous example comes from Rick Springfield's lyrics in "Jessie's Girl": "I wanna tell her that I love her / But the point is probably moot," meaning that Springfield's love isn't worthy of mention, due to Jessie's girl's relationship with Jessie. (We can infer from this both that Jessie's girl is faithful to Jessie, and that... READ ON
"Your objection is noted, Mr. Worf."... READ ON
Are you sick of attack ads, Super PAC ads, and even ads in color? Then let's turn to a cornier, gentler time -- the election of 1952, when the original "Egghead" Adlai Stevenson ran against Eisenhower, running a series of remarkably unremarkable TV ads. Well, it probably wasn't just the TV ads that did Stevenson in, but the rest is history. Happy Presidents' Day, everyone!
1. "Endorsement: Women"
A man for all the people. Even women.
An adapted radio ad. Sort of... READ ON
"YOUR NAME HERE Presents: My TED Talk that you have no idea what the subject is and depending on the content could ultimately blow up in your face especially if I make you or your company look stupid for doing it -- that being said, it's a very good media opportunity." This was director Morgan Spurlock's (Super Size Me) pitch when he had the opportunity to give a TED Talk, and decided to sell naming rights...to his talk.
Spurlock proceeds to explain his movie, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest... READ ON
After a 2011 vote, Toyota announced that the official plural of Prius was Prii.