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.
Following The Open Letter-Off of '07 in February, it looks like Steve Jobs has reached one of the four major record labels (or they reached him, perhaps spurring his original open letter). Apple and EMI jointly announced yesterday that EMI will allow sales of its catalog without any DRM (DRM = copy protection) as "premium downloads" on all major music stores, including Apple's iTunes Store. DRM-laden tracks will continue to be sold at existing price points.
At the iTunes Store, individual premium... READ ON
Yesterday's April Fools' Day was packed with pranks; here are a few of my... READ ON
Nintendo Wii users surely get the bulk of their entertainment from actual video games on the console, but there's a bizarre and wonderful little feature in the Photo Channel: the Help Cat. When using the Photo Channel's "Fun" section, a little Help Cat saunters onto the screen in the upper right corner. If you need help using the Photo Channel, you have to catch the Help Cat using the Wiimote. It's basically a mini-game you play in order to get help -- and you have to be fast, since the Help Cat is on... READ ON
Following up on yesterday's Movie-a-Minute post, we present: Book-a-Minute, which comes in three flavors: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Bedtime, and Classics. Although some of the books might take more than a minute to read, many are deliciously brief. My favorite is from the Bedtime category:
The Cat In the Hat
By Dr. Seuss
Ultra-Condensed by David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard
Sally and Me
(The Cat in the Hat shows up and wrecks the entire house. He cleans it up just before MOM gets home.)... READ ON
Don't have time to sit through a whole movie? Don't even have time to read a review? You need Movie-a-Minute, a brilliant web site that reduces movies to their brief, hilarious essence. If produced, the Movie-a-Minute scripts really would take less than a minute. My favorite:
The Sixth Sense
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, 1999
Ultra-Condensed by Derek Richardson
Haley Joel Osment
I see dead people.
Try talking to them.
Haley Joel Osment
Read many, many more movie... READ ON
The classic 1981 album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," by Brian Eno and David Byrne, has an impressive web site, including a section where you can download the original twenty-four-track master recordings of several songs, to make your own remix. The album was re-released in 2006, and the web site demonstrates the fan community that still exists for the album.
The Wikipedia entry has more on the history the album; here's a snippet:
The album was one of the first non-rap releases to make extensive use... READ ON
Continuing in my recent string of podcast tips, here's another classic: Little Gray Books. Although it's not currently being updated, the podcast features recordings from the Little Gray Books lecture series in New York. The lectures have been staged periodically since 2001, covering a wide variety of interesting and bizarre topics:
Lecture #2: Hints on Public Singing
Lecture #4: How Can We Possibly Go On
Lecture #12: Great Rivalries in American Spelling
Lecture #14: How to Speak With... READ ON
Ever wanted to audit a college course online, without having to pay for it? With MIT OpenCourseWare, you can access 1,550 courses on topics ranging from History to Physics and Women's Studies. (Seriously, there's a ton of content here.) It's all free, and it's all available right now -- all you have to do is make time to do the... READ ON
The Signs of Life blog is a community art project documenting unusual signs from around the world. Most of the signs are wacky or contradictory (one of my favorites: On this spot in 1765 nothing happened), but others are touching (I want to hold your hand). Often the signs show cultural divides, or provide evidence of unexpected problems that necessitated signs (see: caution: frogs may be HOT!).
The best part of the blog is that you can submit your own signs. Maybe it's time to submit Stop Hammer... READ ON
For years, popular public radio programs This American Life and Fresh Air have been available only as paid downloads or live streams. This meant that the only practical way to get the programs to an iPod was to pay for a subscription from Audible.
But in the past few months, both programs have made their new shows available as free podcasts -- and they have made it to the Number 1 and 2 spots on the iTunes "Top Podcasts" charts. If you haven't heard these shows, now is the time to... READ ON
Long-time readers may recall that we're big fans of Jonathan Coulton. In celebrating his entire catalog, we came across a podcast he produces...from the moon! Well, perhaps just from his New York apartment, but still, we'll play along. Coulton is the Contributing Troubador for Popular Science, producing new science-related podcasts every few weeks.
Recent podcasts have featured: an interview with a developer of the upcoming Spore video game, a disco dance floor made by MIT students, and John Hodgman... READ ON
In order to make running laps in phys-ed class easier, Viktor Gordeyev invented gasoline-powered boots. These super-boots are capable of propelling the wearer at upwards of 20 miles per hour. The boots contain miniature pistons which operate as two-stroke engines, firing (hopefully) as the wearer's foot leaves the ground, causing a stronger stride.
Test runners have gotten up to 21.7 miles per hour in the latest versions of the boots, under development in Russia for decades. Some problems exist with... READ ON
We've covered free stuff on the iTunes Store before, including some higher education content. But did you know there's a whole directory of educational podcasts, including higher education... READ ON
...And it was right under our noses all this time. "For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique," said Adam Tomasek, head of WWF's Borneo and Sumatra program. The "Bornean clouded leopard" has a distinct DNA profile from a related mainland species, prompting scientists to declare it a separate species.
You can read more about the new Borneon clouded leopard at ScienceDaily. Wikipedia has more info on the various clouded leopard species, including some... READ ON
So it's March 14 again, and that means it's time to celebrate everyone's favorite irrational real number, Pi. Pi Day (and its slightly nerdier twin, Pi Approximation Day) are unofficial holidays marking the calendar's trip past 3.14. (Pi Approximation Day is held on various dates related to Pi, like the 314th day of the year).
On Pi Day, enthusiasts celebrate Pi by eating pie (or pizza), watching the movie Pi, playing ping-pong, or our favorite: memorizing just enough digits of Pi to outdo their... READ ON
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency that brought you the Internet, is funding a set of projects to develop better prosthetic arms. The first project seeks to create a working arm (including hand) with a revolutionary neural interface by the end of 2007 -- the important part here is the neural arm-brain interface, which promises to replace the traditional mechanical interfaces. The second project should have the arm ready for clinical trials (and hopefully FDA approval)... READ ON
After stumbling across Super Bowl XLI in three minutes, a time lapse movie of the whole game (pictured at left), I went on a hunt for more time lapse movies on the web. Here are some to get you started:
Apple's Fifth Avenue Store - First 24 Hours (note Proposal Guy about 2/3 through the 5am block)
Nature Time Lapse Movies from the Mumford Time Machine site (they sell time lapse hardware)
San Francisco cab routes
Crab Nebula movies
One Week at the Panama Canal
Oliver and Michel Gondry drive... READ ON
Wrapping up my week of Las Vegas blog posts, I thought I'd finally mention gambling. I am not a gambler. However, I am a nerd. So when my brother and I sat down in front of the simplest, lowest-bet (5 cent) video poker machines we could find, my first thought was: what is the optimal strategy for this game? If I knew what to do for each set of cards that came up, could I make money at this? (And yes, I am a naive nerd...more on this in a... READ ON
The Las Vegas Strip is visually overwhelming -- lots of blinking lights, LED video screens, moving billboards, neon, rollercoasters, recreations of famous attractions from other cities, and so on. But visiting Las Vegas, I was reminded of the visuals from Koyaanisqatsi, one of my favorite films.
Here are some scenes from the film, depicting Las Vegas in the late 1970's or early 1980's (I can attest that it looks slightly less yellow now, but the idea is the... READ ON
Continuing my week of Las Vegas Wedding posts, let's take a look at the Valley of Fire, about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. A popular spot for TV commercials, it also played host to a wedding I attended. It's very scenic. Here's one of the red rocks that give the valley its... READ ON
Continuing in my week of Las Vegas Wedding posts, I thought I'd comment on some oddities of our hotel -- the Luxor -- which has an Ancient Egypt theme (the building is a pyramid). The most interesting item to me is at the top of the hotel: the tip of the pyramid emits the brightest beam of light in the world (according to Wikipedia, the beam's 41.5-gigacendla light is visible from 275 miles away -- I can attest that you can definitely see it while lost on the strip in Las Vegas). The people designing... READ ON
This week, this intrepid blogger is visiting Las Vegas for a wedding (not my own), so I'll be covering topics that come up during the Vegas Wedding Experience. The first thing I realized in preparing for the wedding was that no one in the wedding party knew how to tie a tie. Perhaps this is a mark of my generation, or perhaps we're all just lazy.Â (Or perhaps those two things are the... READ ON
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I occasionally experience the wimpiest of earthquakes, and they are endlessly entertaining to gossip about with other terrified locals. One night, some months ago, I was reading in bed when...somebody grabbed the bed and started shaking it. Well...a quick trip to the web revealed that I was indeed crazy, and there had been a minor earthquake in the area. Thus began several days of talking about the experience with everyone I could find. (I guess what I really need is an... READ ON
While researching a new article for the print version of the _floss, I came across some surprising inventions to tackle ear wax.
First was the practice of "ear candling," in which a hollow conical candle is placed over the ear and lit. The fire supposedly creates a vacuum which sucks wax out of the ear. Now in my personal opinion, the first sign that something is wrong in your personal hygiene ritual is that the procedure involves starting a fire on something stuck to your head. Why Ear Candling is... READ ON
Need something to divert you in the bathroom, after you've finished this month's mental_floss magazine? Try this Brain Training Toilet Paper, with puzzles and games printed on each square. If you're a Sudoku fan, the company makes Sudoku Toilet Paper too.
Links via... READ ON
In 1959, construction began on a top secret bunker, hidden underneath an expansion wing of the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia. The bunker was designed to hold up to 1,000 people, including the entire U.S. Congress, in the event of a nuclear war. The bunker's concrete walls were three feet thick and the complex included dormitories, a medical clinic, power and water plants, a television studio, and even a... READ ON
Lucid dreaming is a state in which you know you are dreaming, and can control the dream. While it's difficult to get started (I'm still working on it), the notion of influencing your own dreams is tantalizing. There are plenty of resources on the web to get you started: How to Have a Lucid Dream is a good overview. Dream Views is a well-designed source of information and tutorials. Wikipedia has a page on lucid dreaming as... READ ON
Have you ever taken a photo, only to find that it mirrored an existing... READ ON
Tired of the same old toast, boringly burned a uniform golden-brown? You need The Pirate Toaster, which emblazons a skull-and-crossbones design on each slice. If you don't like pirates, The Breakfast Art Toaster offers the user a choice of toast designs, including a smiley face. Need something weirder? Try The Love Toaster, which burns "I LOVE YOU" on your toast. (Recommended for those who need daily affirmations from their breakfast.) Other interesting toasting technologies include:
The Sunrise... READ ON
Gamers have been waiting with bated breath for the past seven years, but our wait will soon be over. In the second half of 2007, we'll finally get our hands on Spore, the latest game from Will Wright, famed creator of Sim City and The Sims. Judging from the media hype surrounding Spore, it's bound to be a huge... READ ON
In 1968, Doug Engelbart led the most famous computer demo of all time. With his team of seventeen researchers working behind the scenes, Engelbart showed off an interactive online system which had been in development since the early 60's. The demo was the coming-out party for the computer mouse (which Engelbart invented, with a colleague), hypertext, screen-sharing, computer-based videoconferencing, and more.
You can view the full demo on Google Video, or view an annotated version broken into... READ ON
Over the past few weeks, the web has been buzzing with competing open letters about Digital Rights Management, all starting from a post on February 6 by Steve Jobs. We break down the dialog after the jump, in excruciating... READ ON
(Warning, severely geeky content follows.) Programmer Steven Frank, creator of Spamusement and Basketball 2, has done it again. His new zep.pl program uses the power of your computer to randomly combine a set of words, eventually creating the opening lyrics to Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" after a number of iterations. Let's walk through the source code to understand how:
The program is written in Perl, a popular scripting language. All Mac OS X computers include Perl, in case you want to run the... READ ON
It has happened to all of us: you read a book years ago, and have forgotten the title, author, really everything except that it had to do with hot air balloons and a volcano. Well, now there's a free What's That Book service to identify such mysterious tomes. The site was founded by a former Google Answers Researcher who answered over 2000 questions (many about books) on the now-defunct Google Answers service.
Although the site is relatively new, there are some impressive identifications: American... READ ON
Last week we looked at Ben Fry's Atari 2600 Cartridge Source Code project, which used game source code to make attractive, data-rich images. But Mr. Fry has a lot of other interesting projects, including an illustration for a New York Magazine article entitled Linkology that demonstrates how blogs link to each other in a sort of "global popularity poll" (also read: how the image was created).
In Fry's image, he presents blogs in a list from left to right, with the more popular blogs starting to the... READ ON
We have previously covered Spam poetry and eloquent spam, but the time has come for Spamusement, a comic strip based on real spam subject lines received by the author. Recently, the author has turned over the strip to fans, who post their own cartoons on a message board -- but the home page contains all the original Spamusement cartoons in a long, long list.
Some Spamusement classics: you were wrong cabinet sanchez (later made into merchandise), Amazing Software Types While You Talk, This could change... READ ON
Remember the original Terminator movie? Well, we came aross a bit of geeky Terminator trivia this weekend. Whenever you see through the eyes of The Terminator himself, a bunch of computery text is scrolling by. It turns out this text is the source code for an Apple II checksum program, among other programs. The code was first published in Nibble magazine in the early 80's, so was close at hand when the movie's producers needed something high-tech for their futuristic robot/killing machine/bodybuilder.... READ ON
If you use the iTunes Store, you may have noticed the occasional free song or TV show. Well, there's a blog that tracks free iTunes content. In addition to the entertainment stuff, there's a variety of educational material available for free. Best bets: UC Berkeley Lectures, Stanford on iTunes U (pictured below), and business school... READ ON
The "Is The New" image from DIAGRAM visualizes the common saying "[something] is the new [something else]" in a fun infographic.
Examples include: "gin is the new vodka" and "ugly is the new cute." Read the diagram by starting at a word and following the arrow, reading the arrow as "is the new." Here's a snippet of the image (click for the whole... READ ON
Artist and programmer Ben Fry has created a series of illustrations based on the source code from Atari 2600 cartridges, including Pac-Man and Q-Bert. (Pictured at left is the Pitfall source code.) In each illustration, the source code is printed in chunks, with all "go to" statements represented by curved lines pointing at other parts of the code. Wherever the cartridge contains binary data (notably, the graphics used in the game), those images are presented in the illustration -- often the images are... READ ON
Nerdcore Hip Hop, our favorite nerdy musical subgenre, is finally getting its own documentary: Nerdcore Rising. In case you haven't gotten the Nerdcore Memo yet, here's an explanation from the documentary's producers:
Nerdcore hip hop is a sociological phenomenon born out of the internet and made possible by computer-obsessed geeks. Nerdcore Rising follows MC Frontalot - the "Godfather of Nerdcore" - on his first national tour to reveal both the roots of the genre and the dorky complexities of its... READ ON
Ever get the feeling that corporate slogans are just random combinations of words? Even famous slogans like "I'm lovin' it," "Just Do It," and "Mikey likes it" seem suspiciously like random gibberish when viewed out of context. Perhaps there's a crack advertising team sitting in front of a screen somewhere, watching as random words float by, picking the best ones for their corporate slogans....
Regardless of whether a secret Random Advertising Cabal exists, there are several online resources to... READ ON
Google's founders were ready to sell to Excite for under $1 million in 1999. Excite turned them down.