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.
One of my favorite documentary directors, Errol Morris, has begun blogging for The New York Times. His first article is entitled Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire and explores the nature of photography, photographic context (captions, among other things), and truth. Here's a sample of his article:
So here's a story.
On the evening of May 7th, 1915, the RMS Lusitania was off the coast of Ireland en route to Liverpool from New York when it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sank. About 1,200 of... READ ON
I have often wondered how ZIP codes were laid out across the US -- what's the logic behind my Portland, Oregon address having a ZIP starting in 9, while New York addresses start with 1?
Well, the web has tons of resources to help you figure out ZIP codes. First is Ben Fry's zipdecode, an interactive web site that lets you type in a ZIP code and watch the map narrow down as it searches for that code. (Try it -- it's neat and educational.) You can also use this interactive map to see the logic in the... READ ON
My friend Lyza recently posed a great question which I'm now stealing: what's the oldest thing you own?
Looking around my apartment, it's hard to find anything older than the 90's -- and most of the objects I use every day were made in the last few years. I have a chair and a "chairside stereo" from the 60's that I use as an end table. I have some art prints that may date from before 1950, but it's a little hard to tell. Quite likely, the oldest thing in my apartment is the apartment itself -- it... READ ON
Engadget turned up a fun story today about a little yellow robot who just can't stop dancing. The robot is named Keepon (pronounced "Key-pong" though I prefer to think of him as "Keepon Dancing") and is developed by Hideki Kozima (with dance-programming by Marek Michalowski). Looking a bit like two tennis balls plus eyes and a nose, Keepon is capable of dancing along to music. Because his two eyes are actually cameras (and his nose is a microphone), Keepon is able to interact with his environment,... READ ON
I've expressed my appreciation for Jonathan Coulton previously, and he continues to deliver, including an ongoing US tour. I've recently come across several blogs posting live performances from his one-man shows, and thought I'd post a roundup here of some greatest hits.
Re: Your Brains:
Five more videos after the... READ ON
When the USPS introduced Forever Stamps -- First Class stamps that are valid forever, regardless of future rate increases -- my friends immediately had a clever idea: invest in them. Sitting around at a cocktail party, we talked it over -- judging from recent postal rate increases, it sure seemed like buying Forever Stamps and reselling them in the future (when surely the postal rates will involve selling your organs) would be a great investment opportunity. While we didn't bother to actually research... READ ON
I've long been a shopper at Woot!, so finding Shirt.Woot! was welcome news. The business model is simple: one day, one shirt. They periodically hold derbies in which customers submit their own designs, and the "Woot Community" (yes, apparently there is a rather large one) votes on a winner, which they then manufacture and sell.
Well, this is all neat, but how do the shirts get made? A recent Shirt.Woot blog post shows the whole process. It's an interesting process for a shirt novice like myself --... READ ON
I've been conducting a credit card experiment over the last year and a half. I've been carrying a minor balance on a single card, and periodically I call up and ask the company to reduce my interest rate. As of last week, they have now done it three times in a row. Each time I call and ask (in my case, the calls are roughly six months apart), I get another 2-5% rate cut. I went from having a card with a painfully high rate (it's an Amazon rewards card, if you must know) to one that's pretty reasonable.... READ ON
While I am definitely into photography, I only recently learned about rephotography -- the practice of returning to the site of a previous photograph and taking a new image, then comparing them. Third View is a "rephotographic survey of the American West," showcasing series of rephotographs (a minimum of two, but often three) from a variety of locations. From the site:
Third View revisits the sites of historic western American landscape photographs. The project makes new photographs, keeps a field... READ ON
Following up on yesterday's Coyle and Sharpe podcast recommendation, I'd like to introduce you to my new favorite thing: The Sound of Young America. It's a radio show and podcast (iTunes link) created by Jesse Thorn. Thorn interviews an excellent cross-section of comedians, musicians, writers, and more. What makes the podcast interesting is Thorn's frank, interesting questions, which display a level of familiarity with each artist's work and creative process that's far beyond what you get in most other... READ ON
Here's another podcast for your listening pleasure: Coyle and Sharpe: The Imposters (iTunes link). In the 1960's, Jim Coyle and Mal Sharpe played street pranks in San Francisco, recording bogus man-on-the-street interviews and involving passersby in bizarre (and funny) put-ons. For the young-uns among us: it's like a gentler version of Ali G.
Coyle is no longer with us, having died in an absurdly improbable manner described on the official Coyle and Sharpe site: "In 1967, Coyle left California to... READ ON
Here's one for the old-school Star Trek fans. Matt Bailey of SiteLogic has posted data and an in-depth analysis of red-shirt deaths on the original series. Bailey comes from a web analytics background -- a domain concerned with measuring web traffic and analyzing data to recognize and exploit trends. By applying these techniques to the Trek data, Bailey uncovers some surprising trends in the data. Here are some samples from the article:
However, we need to segment the overall... READ ON
First, a note to readers of last week's Sherman's March column: thank you! The comments have been fantastic, including almost 50 recommendations for documentaries. As a documentary junkie, I thank you for the fix -- and please continue to suggest your favorites in the comments!
This week I'll look at Les Blank's Burden of Dreams, a documentary from 1982. Special thanks to commenter Anthony Jr. for recommending this one -- I have it in my collection, but hadn't watched it in a long time.
Burden of... READ ON
In June I started getting serious about managing my email, using the "Inbox Zero" system promulgated by productivity guy Merlin Mann. When I started, my inbox contained 222 messages and I battled with it daily, often seeing it balloon into the 300-400 email range. Two weeks into the project, I was at 100. Now I'm down to 50, and am slowly reaching for that wonderful number: zero.
Merlin Mann recently gave a Google Tech Talk last week all about Inbox Zero, and it's worth a look. In it, Merlin talks... READ ON
I'm a long-time fan of the Oregon Trail computer game (and I've been thinking about all things Oregon Trail lately). I remember first encountering the game on an Apple IIe computer during the second grade -- it fascinated me. Why did my oxen keep dying? How come people kept getting dysentery and breaking their legs? Why can't I just play this game all day?! In later years, I bought an Apple IIgs for the sole purpose of playing Oregon Trail. It didn't fascinate me quite as much, though it did bring... READ ON
I'm a Kubrick fan (isn't everyone?), and I continue to find amazing, sometimes bizarre, Kubrickian content on the web.
The nice folks at Coudal Partners share my interest in Kubrick, but have gone to the trouble of compiling a page linking to tons of fascinating stuff: Stuff About Stanley Kubrick.
Here are some of my favorites (warning: some of this is highly geeky):
Film of SK at the 1968 premiere of 2001: A Space Oddyssey. I believe this is the same night that a sweet printed program was... READ ON
I have fond memories of Mr. Yuk from my childhood. My parents placed the green-yucky-face stickers on various items under the kitchen sink, and sure enough, I never drank drain cleaner. But where did Mr. Yuk come from?
According to Wikipedia, Mr. Yuk is from Pittsburgh, and was introduced in 1971. Prior to 1971, poison symbols were commonly of the skull-and-crossbones variety, but there was concern that children might associate that "jolly roger" symbol with pirates. This article further explains... READ ON
This post is the start of a new occasional feature on my favorite documentaries. I'm a huge documentary fan, and will share some of my favorites with you, perhaps once every week or two. If you have a documentary suggestion, please post it in the comments!
First up, Sherman's March by Ross McElwee (1986). This film carries the rather long secondary title: "A Meditation on the Possibility Of Romantic Love in the South During An Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation," and that begins to give you an idea... READ ON
We've previously covered On My Desk, a blog which shows creative workspaces. Now there's a Flickr group that takes the concept further -- The Items We Carry features photos of what's in members' pockets (or in their pocketses, if you will). Here's an... READ ON
Today I shall share one of my favorite little-known links: the De-Garfed Community on LiveJournal. The principle here is to take real Garfield cartoons and remove Garfield's thought bubbles. This simple game leads to a much weirder, deeper, and usually funnier cartoon strip. Here are some... READ ON
The August issue of Popular Mechanics is all about survival. While much of the content is available only for subscribers, PM provides some key tidbits free via the web. Here's a sample from 18 Extra Crisis Tips:
Head to your basement. If your home doesn't have one, go to a storm shelter or a neighbor's basement or, at the very least, the lowest floor of your structure. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible, and avoid corners, windows and doors.
Get under a... READ ON
(Note: NO SPOILERS in this... READ ON
Some people have a junk drawer. Some people have a shoebox of memories. But not me. I have a Ball of Wires.
The Ball spends its days overflowing a 31-gallon plastic tub. It contains my collection of audio/video, computer, and telephone cables, assembled over a decade of roaming the US, connecting things to other things. The Ball is hopelessly tangled -- it takes a good ten minutes to disentangle any given cable you want from the Ball -- assuming you can find it in the first place. I'm constantly... READ ON
So my bandmates recently adopted a pair of cats -- mother and daughter (the latter a youngish kitten). The kitten needs to be weaned, but didn't seem to be doing it on her own -- so I'm borrowing the mother (Emma) for a week or so in order to force the issue.
I haven't had a cat since I was a teenager. I always had a cat when I was growing up, and loved them, but in my nascent adulthood have generally shirked responsibility for things that needed care and feeding (except for my African Violets and... READ ON
One of my favorite TV shows is coming back for a second season in August, after a long hiatus. Survivorman is a one-man survival show, hosted by Canadian survival expert/musician/TV producer Les Stroud. Each episode finds Les completely alone in the wilderness for seven days, carrying his own cameras and recording himself on a seven-day survival trek. Let me emphasize that: this guy is alone, schlepping fifty pounds of camera gear himself, while devising his own food, water, and shelter (he typically... READ ON
After buying an iPhone, I have begun to wonder where consumer purchases fit into Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a system of human needs in his paper, A Theory of Human Motivation. At the base level, Maslow suggested that humans have physiological needs -- to maintain homeostasis, breathe, and so on. Once those needs are met, the (sane) human seeks safety, then love and belonging, then esteem, then at the top level: self-actualization -- this is where creativity, morality,... READ ON
Since my recent visit to the End of the Oregon Trail, I've been wondering about daguerreotypes. After a bit of research, I bring you this Daguerreotype Q&A:
Why doesn't anyone smile in these pictures? The common answer for this is a partially fact-based myth: because it took a long time to expose the image, the subject had to sit still. And, the story goes, frowning is easier to hold in place than smiling. The truth is that very early daguerreotypes (those from 1839-1845) did take 60-90 seconds of... READ ON
With the advent of the iPhone, I'm reminded of an older phone/gadget that introduced us to a new way of making phone calls: the Nokia N-Gage. The N-Gage was (well, is) a gaming phone which suffered from several serious design problems in its first version. With the original N-Gage, if you wanted to make a phone call you'd hold the edge of the phone to your head to talk, thus presenting onlookers with a full view of the phone's face. (Also, in order to change the game, you had to partially disassemble... READ ON
The New York Times has a lovely article on an effort to digitize the Harvard Observatory's collection. Since the nineteenth century, photographic plates of the night sky have been stored on Observatory Hill on the Harvard campus, representing the history of a discipline prior to the digital era. The collection weighs 165 tons (they're glass negatives) and accounts for 25 percent of the world's astronomical photographic plates.
But the problem is, it's all offline. There is no digital version of the... READ ON
When my parents are in town (Portland, Oregon), I finally get around to seeing local areas of interest. Yesterday we checked out the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which was full of Oregon Trail trivia. Here are some of my favorite bits.
1. Awesome hairstyles were par for the course. The photos (well, daguerreotypes) in many exhibits showed dudes with out-of-control hairstyles. See the image at right for some examples (see also: "Father of Oregon" Dr. John McLoughlin and the same as... READ ON
Have you ever wondered about the origin of an unusual word or phrase? If you Google the term, chances are you'll find an investigation by The Word Detective.
Written by Evan Morris, the site is based on a newspaper column carried around the world. It depends on reader questions, which are responded to in the column with wit and erudition. Ever wondered where the term "to take a cotton" came from? (As in, "he took a cotton to fiddle playing.") Check out the issue from March 2, 2001 (using your... READ ON
Let's talk about floss of another variety:... READ ON
Two weeks ago I started on a journey to Inbox Zero, using Merlin Mann's tips for managing your email. After living with the tips in practice, I'm...getting there. My inbox went from 222 to an even 100 messages. I'll explain a few of the techniques I used to get there, and what's next to get to zero.
Separate work and personal messages - I have long had separate accounts for work and personal stuff, but I have always read them merged together in a single inbox. The first thing I did was start using... READ ON
Walking home last night, I witnessed a variety of Independence Day near-mishaps, as cars drove past twinkling buckets of fire, children made their first explosions, and hardcore fireworks dudes lit up the night. The National Safety Council declares Independence Day the most dangerous holiday, so I figured I'd share some first aid links to help you cope with this summer's injuries.
First up: 10 Useless or Even Dangerous First Aid Myths reports on what not to do to treat a snakebite, jellyfish sting, or... READ ON
In 1992, a cargo of 29,000 plastic (not rubber) ducks, turtles, and frogs was swept overboard from a container ship. The ship was bound for Seattle, carrying a cargo of toys manufactured in China. When the toys' containers fell overboard, they broke open, releasing the toys to the ocean currents. Since their voyage began in 1992, the ducks have been floating around the world's oceans, turning up on beaches across the globe.
Retired Oceanographer Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the toys on... READ ON
Well, I've got an iPhone. I was going to write this blog post on it, but then I decided it was crazy enough spending three hours in line -- I don't need to spend another three hunting and pecking. Overall the experience of getting the phone was all right -- it was the first time I've waited in line like that for a new product, and it was "only" from 4pm - 7pm (when the fifty people ahead of me had finally gone through and bought theirs). I waited at an AT&T store, and managed to get the last 8GB model... READ ON
With the launch of Apple's iPhone just one day away (okay: 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes, 10 seconds according to iphonecountdown.com), global phone-hysteria levels are at an all-time high. We're here to guide you through the mountains of coverage with pre-screened links to the most interesting bits.
Apple's press embargo on iPhone reviews was lifted Tuesday at 6pm, leading to a web-wide case of iPhone Mania: as reviews from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Newsweek hit the web,... READ ON
It's a lovely summer day -- what are you doing inside, reading a blog? Probably the same thing I'm doing, writing one. Well, next time you go out, consult Falaco Soliton's guide to finding four-leaf clovers. The article has photos of various clover mutations, and includes instructions on preserving your lucky clovers (see the bottom of the page for an amazing poster showing Soliton's collection). From the article:
Last summer i put this skill to the test: i found 166 4-leaf clovers, 11 5-leaf, and 2... READ ON
Andy Hertzfeld's Folklore.org is a sort of historical blog, documenting the development of the original Macintosh computer.
For Mac geeks and computer people in general, it's a fascinating look into a very special time in computer history -- after the success of the Apple II, Steve Jobs and crew at Apple were attempting to create the next big thing. After releasing the Apple Lisa, which was a flop primarily due to its $9,995 price tag, Apple needed a hit. The Mac was a home run (despite its minimal... READ ON
Although it has existed since 2003, BookBlog's Gender Genie was news to me. Based on the research of Moshe Koppel, Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and Shlomo Argamon, Illinois Institute of Technology, the Gender Genie implements an algorithm that (sometimes) predicts the sex of the author of a piece of text.
I must say, this premise seemed odd to me. I don't tend to assume that there is some algorithmically determinable masculinity or femininity to any text, but of course, the first thing I tried was... READ ON
I recently spent a week at the Oregon coast, sitting in front of a laptop, working on a book. In the middle of the first day, I realized I was missing a critical office supply -- my Swingline stapler -- and I really needed to staple some print-outs together. The only stapler available in the remote coastal town was a pathetic plastic mini-stapler which could only handle ten sheets at a time. This got me thinking: what's my minimum required set of office supplies to do meaningful work? If I was... READ ON
Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero series (warning: a few coarse words are used) gently leads you through a process to achieve that most desirable number next to your Inbox message count: ZERO. Part of the most excellent 43 Folders site, the Inbox Zero bookmark has been staring me in the face for months, but I haven't brought myself to actually read it until now. (The first step of solving my email problem is admitting I have a problem....)
As someone who receives hundreds of messages a day, and who has 222... READ ON
Artist Nina Katchadourian creates narratives by arranging books on shelves. The results are amusing and improbable, and had me standing in front of my "to-read" shelf trying to make my own version. Here's an example... READ ON
Last week's Tone Deafness Test was popular, so this week let's talk Color Blindness. I am "Color Blind," though I prefer to say I'm "Color Confused," as I do see colors -- just not, uh, the right ones. I have a condition called Deuteranomaly. Here's an explanation of the condition from colorvisiontesting.com (warning: some "misused" quotation marks are retained):
Deuteranomaly (five out of 100 males):
The deuteranomalous person is considered "green weak". Similar to the protanomalous person, he is... READ ON
Last week I discussed Homing Pigeons; now it's time for an introduction to the strange world of Roller Pigeons. These birds (also known as Birmingham Rollers) are bred for a genetic defect which causes brief seizures during flight -- causing the birds to roll in mid-air. Breeders hold competitions in which they attempt to synchronize the birds' seizures, measuring the length and quality of the resulting aerial acrobatics. Generally the birds recover before hitting the ground.
If that's not odd... READ ON
I invested a pleasant hour today learning about Homing Pigeons from Wikipedia. Herein I share the fruits of my clicking:
Cher Ami was a French homing pigeon and a war hero. From Wikipedia: "[Cher Ami] helped save the Lost Battalion of the 77th Division in the battle of the Argonne, October 1918. In his last mission, he delivered a message despite having been shot through the breast. The bird was awarded the Croix de Guerre, for heroic service delivering 12 important messages in Verdun." You can see... READ ON
Researcher Jake Mandell has created an online test which measures pitch perception as well as musical memory. The test plays two brief passages of very similar music back-to-back, and you press a button to indicate whether you think the tunes are the same or different. (Often the differences are subtle -- maddeningly subtle.) At the end of the test you can fill out an optional survey about race, sex, and age; data is collected anonymously and periodically analyzed.
The test is hard -- my professional... READ ON
We've mentioned TED Talks before, and a new video from TED 2007 has surfaced, showing Blaise Aguera y Arcas giving a demo of Sea Dragon and Photosynth technology recently acquired by Microsoft. The truly amazing part starts around 4:15, when a model of Notre Dame Cathedral is shown, using photos from Flickr, automatically mapped together to fit the structure of the building. Definitely worth a look for fans of photography and digital imaging:
You can also try the online demo of Photosynth, though... READ ON
I don't know how I managed to miss this as a child, but this video of the Sesame Street Yip Yips meeting a telephone has been stuck in my head for two weeks now:
If you like that, check out Yip Yips Meet a Computer, Yip Yips Meet a Clock, and a fan tribute: dressing as Yip Yips for Halloween. You may also be interested in Wikipedia's explanation of the Yip Yips, the Yip Yip Fan Club, and Yip Yips on Flickr (see also: Yip Yip Cupcakes).
This post has been brought you by the Letter... READ ON
This weekend I was enjoying some performance from Coachella via AT&T Blue Room and noticed something fun: their online video player has a Boss Button. Pressing the Boss Button pops up a fullscreen fake Excel spreadsheet (pictured at left), designed to fake out your boss or coworkers if they happen to walk by while you're, uh, not being productive.
This feature brought me back to video games from the 80's, where a Boss Key (often F10 or some other generally unused key) was a common feature. Where did... READ ON
E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame is the "White" of Strunk and White.