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.
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
I recently came across a link to 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know, by the folks who brought you the American Heritage Dictionaries. The cool part is that they went ahead and printed the 100 words on the web site, leaving you to buy the book (a quite reasonable $5.95 at Amazon) if you want to learn more about them. But my motto is: have Google, will learn.
I approached the list with some trepidation. I'm a high school graduate, so by definition I "should" know these. I'm a writer, so... READ ON
As someone who works a lot at a desk, I'm pretty particular about how things are set up: for me it's all about piles. I favor tall, precarious piles -- somehow a desk full of piles means productivity to me (I maintain a much smaller version of Al Gore's desk). Aside from making my own mess, I'm fascinated by what others do to create their work environments -- that's where the blog On My Desk comes in: it features guided blog posts about people's desks and workspaces. It's a form of office voyeurism... READ ON
In researching (ahem, yeah, I call my surfing research) an entry on Image Macros, I came across a category of phrases that use the format: "I'm in Your X, Y'ing Your Z." It turns out that such formatted phrases have a name, snowclones, and a rich history.
Here's how Wikipedia describes snowclones:
A snowclone or catch structure is a type of formula-based clichÃ© which uses an old idiom in a new context. It was originally defined as "a multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn,... READ ON
Last week, the D "All Things Digital" conference played host to a variety of interesting events (including Microsoft's introduction of a new digital table). But perhaps the most remarkable event was a joint onstage interview with classic rivals Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They spent roughly an hour chatting about their history in the personal computer industry, and generally getting along like old soldiers (translation: surprisingly well, though with the occasional cutting remark from Jobs). After all,... READ ON
Following our rich tradition of mondegreen research (misheard song lyrics), I came across this video of Pearl Jam's "Yellow Ledbetter" captioned completely in mondegreens:
The captions seem perfectly reasonable to me! (Via Mike... READ ON
David recently posted a sign showing misused quotation marks, which reminded me of one of my favorite sites: The Gallery Of "Misused" Quotation Marks! They feature "Current" Exhibits and a Permanent "Collection", each of which is filled with awesomely "misused" quotation marks. Some samples:
Sign outside a restaurant in Fort Myers, Florida:
The "Fish" Monger
A brochure for an Estee Lauder self tanning product claims that:
in about an hour, your skin will turn a natural, healthy looking "tan."
Sign... READ ON
We've covered free stuff on the iTunes Store before, including educational material, but Apple has decided to make it official: today they introduced iTunes U, a new part of the iTunes Store (launch iTunes U in iTunes). iTunes U is an initiative to provide higher education institutions a mechanism for distributing digital content to students. Many of the original iTunes educational content providers are there: Stanford, UC Berkeley, and MIT (that last one is adapted from MIT OpenCourseWare, a _floss... READ ON
Corey Arnold is an Alaskan fisherman who started out working on boats as a summer job to pay for college. Arnold has appeared on Deadliest Catch, and apparently he gets a lot of fan mail from kids who want to be just like him. He responds with an article (half-blog, half-how-to) describing his adventures in... READ ON
Paul Otlet was an information scientist working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He designed various systems of cataloging and connecting information, including systems that expanded upon those are broadly used today (for example, Otlet's Universal Decimal Classification significantly expanded on the Dewey Decimal System). Among Otlet's credits are the inventions of the term "link" for the notion of documents referencing each other, and his vision of a rÃ©seau ("web") of human... READ ON
The other weekend (on Mother's Day, actually) I had the privilege of seeing Bill Cosby live in concert. It was a great show, and the audience was literally roaring for most of it. But one thing stood out for me -- Cosby's interaction with the lady translating the act into American Sign Language on the fly. At various points in the act, Cosby would apologize to the translator, then head into what seemed like an untranslatable bit (for example, the "dentist" bit below -- when he gets into the "numb mouth"... READ ON
I got rid of my landline a few years ago, and haven't looked back. One thing I don't miss is the endless calls about "investment opportunities" and solicitations to donate money to various causes. I even received several amusing calls that claimed I had won a prize (I just had to pay a fee to collect it). All of this stopped when I put my landline number on the National Do Not Call Registry. (Note that cell phones are apparently not required to join the registry, though I bet that's just a matter of... READ ON
Now I'll admit that from time to time, I enjoy a good glass (or six) of, uh, wine, in the course of, oh, let's say an academic discussion or an evening symposium. One such evening last week led to an incident in which I, being thoroughly uninhibited and deeply joyful, decided to share my unedited joy with others...let's say coworkers...via email at... READ ON
On May 13, product designer Ashley Menger set out on a two-week adventure to explore a "trashless" lifestyle.
From the Trash Talk Introduction:
For the next two weeks, I will be living without a garbage can. Where will my trash go? I am going to start needing to think about that before I buy something because, according to the rules I have set up for myself, I'm going to have to live with it. My own garbage must be within five feet of me at all times.
After five days, Menger fesses up:... READ ON
What will happen when the Earth's magnetic field reverses itself? We may find out in just a few short thousands (or tens of thousands) of... READ ON
I work at a technology company, and we frequently use the term 'rathole' to describe a topic (generally one brought up in a meeting) that's a tangent. And when I say I we use it frequently, I mean the term came up five times today, including in the verb form: "I don't mean to rathole here, but [insert marginally germane discussion here]...." So it was a surprise to me that this term is not particularly well-known.
43 Folders has an article on ratholes, including an official Rathole Jingle (MP3), and... READ ON
Over the past few months, I've noticed a trend -- for some reason, Super Mario Brothers videos have been popping up all over the web. Here's a rundown of some recent SMB madness.
YouTube user s00pcan plays levels 1-1 and 1-2 with his eyes closed:
More feats of SMB awesomeness after the... READ ON
Dilbert creator Scott Adams was stricken in 2005 with a rare condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia, which prevented him from speaking in a normal voice. The condition is somewhat bizarre, because sufferers can sometimes sing or speak in unusual circumstances, just not with their normal voices. The condition has struck a variety of famous people (according to Wikipedia), including Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, and Diane Rehm from NPR.
For Adams, the condition meant he could still speak publicly, sing, or... READ ON
A Saturday Salon article reviews Daniel H. Wilson's "Where's My Jetpack? A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived." But the article takes the discussion further -- author Simon Reynolds discusses neostalgia, or nostalgia for the future, a condition in which we pine for inventions or ways of being that were promised to us, but never came to pass. Remember promised innovations like Smell-O-Vision, animal meat grown in a laboratory, and...well...jetpacks? These are briefly discussed... READ ON
We've spent the week browsing through the Internet Archive, highlighting the best bits. Today we wrap up by looking at a few final collections of goodies. First up: the Text Archive. The big collection in this archive is Project Gutenberg, which contains over 20,000 books, including The Devil's Dictionary, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the rather fabulous Alice's Adventures Under Ground: Being a facsimile of the original Ms. book afterwards developed into "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."... READ ON
Heading into the fourth day of our Internet Archive series, it's time to look at the treasure trove that is their audio archive. There's a ton of material here. My favorite is the Live Music Archive, which is managed in collaboration with etree.org. The Live Music Archive currently contains nearly 40,000 recordings from over 2,000 performers. Some of my favorites: Mike Doughty, The Weepies, Andrew Bird, The Decemberists. Also check out the overwhelming full list of bands. (Tip: check the FAQ for... READ ON
Continuing our Internet Archive series, today we'll look at the Prelinger Archive, part of which lives on the Internet Archive among its many collections. The Archive was founded by Rick Prelinger in 1983, dedicated to collecting "ephemeral films" (defined as advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films -- things that are not often collected and cataloged by scholars). In 2002, the Prelinger Archive (then consisting of over 60,000 films) was acquired by the Library of Congress. Some of those... READ ON
Continuing our Internet Archive series, today we'll look at the site's collection of moving images. This collection is broken into categories, including Computers & Technology (best bet for BBS geeks: The BBS Documentaries), Animation & Cartoons (check out Film Chest Vintage Cartoons), Movies (including Nosferatu and The Man Who Knew Too Much), News & Public Affairs, and many more.
A favorite collection in Moving Images is A/V Geeks, which collects "ephemeral films" - those created for educational,... READ ON
This week we'll explore the Internet Archive, a modern-day cabinet of wonders-slash-library that hosts tons of educational (and fun) materials online. First stop: The Wayback Machine.
Ever wondered what a web site looked like ten years ago? The Wayback Machine likely has the answer. This service of the Internet Archive started in 1996, actively archiving large chunks of the web. While it hasn't indexed every web site out there, it has gotten quite a... READ ON
Last week we linked to Listening to Words, which collects lectures from many sources. But one of the best sources of lectures on the web is the TED conference, which attracts top-notch speaking talent.
Best bets: William McDonough on Cradle to Cradle Design, Ze Frank being funny, Dr. Jane Goodall on her research.
Fun tip: when viewing the list of talks, click "visualization" in the left navigation.
Thanks to commenter Olivier for the... READ ON
I recently stumbled across an essay from 1946, by George Orwell. It describes his motives, and the motives he suspects are universal, in writing books. What's most interesting about the essay is his frank admission to the role of the writer's ego in the process. Here's an excerpt:
Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from... READ ON
Reuters reports that father-and-son team Thomas and Stuart Mitchell have unlocked a coded music system present in decorations of the Rosslyn Chapel. (Rosslyn may be familiar to readers as the fifteenth-century Scottish chapel featured at the end of The Da Vinci Code.)
The chapel contains 213 carved blocks showing thirteen geometric patterns. In addition to these blocks, there are carved angels playing musical instruments, including one who is pointing to certain notes on a musical staff.
So here's... READ ON
Patrick Blanc embeds building surfaces with a form of ecological art: huge swaths of plants. After studying rainforest ecology, Blanc has designed a "Vertical Garden" system to allow plants to grow in public (and private) spaces, where concrete walls usually... READ ON
Are you a shepherd, tired of losing sheep to pesky predators? Sounds like you need a fainting goat! Because of a neuromuscular condition called myotonia congenita, fainting goats go stiff ("faint") when startled or excited. ("Premium fainters" can even fall over on their backs, legs sticking up in the air.) In the event of an attack on your flock, the fainting goat would be a sort of (excuse the pun) sacrificial lamb for predators -- a briefly catatonic goat making an easier meal than a fleeing sheep.... READ ON
Following up on Jason's popular How to Win at Rock-Paper-Scissors post, I did some digging to see how nerdy Rock-Paper-Scissors ("RPS" to professionals) can... READ ON
I'm a lecture junkie. I have previously blogged about Little Gray Books, one of my favorite online lecture series. A new resource for finding online lectures has come to my attention: Listening to Words. The site contains a database of lectures (990 of them), which can be searched, browsed by lecturer, or by lecture location. This is a gold mine of spoken word content, people! Get downloading!
Best bets: The Fog of War: Robert S. McNamara and Errol Morris in Discussion, Bill Bryson at The Royal... READ ON
Now, I read a lot of blogs. I do. And these days, bloggers have gotten pretty hip to what people want to read about (see the new book No One Cares What You Had for Lunch for examples). But one of my all-time favorite blogs celebrates the notion that the most boring topics can be made riveting: witness the dullest blog in the world. With perfectly calm comic pacing, this blog makes art of the mundane.
Here's a sample entry:
About the correct temperature - May 9
As I was sitting down I became... READ ON
After picking up a new African Violet at the grocery store, I noticed a little tag on the plant -- the tag had a picture of the Space Shuttle, surrounded by flowers. Eh? A quick trip to Google, and I learned all about the Optimara EverFloris "Space Violet" program. From the site:
...the development of EverFloris Violets began in 1984, when Optimara launched 25,000 Optimara seeds into space aboard one of NASA's space shuttles. The seeds remained in space, orbiting the Earth, for nearly six years. (The... READ ON
In 1987, Apple produced a futuristic concept video (Google Video link) showing their vision of the future of computing in the year 2010. The video featured a laptop-ish computer which embodied several major advancements, chief among them a natural-language spoken interface -- not just voice-controlled, this interface was conversational.
Aside from the (still sci-fi) verbal interface, many of the other innovations have come to pass, at least in some form: wireless networking, effective internet... READ ON
Throughout the week, I've looked at Image Macros: Intro to LOL Cats, "Invisible" LOL Cats, "I Can Has Cheezburger?" LOL Cats, and I'm in Your X, Y'ing Your Z. Today the series wraps up with some unusual Image Macros that have caught my eye.
"Bucket" Image Macros are based on this deeply evocative two-panel... READ ON
Okay, now that I've spent the first three days of this week talking about LOL Cats, it's time to move on to something marginally more advanced: the "I'm in Your X, Y'ing Your Z" Image Macros.
According to several web sources (which are so not-work-safe I won't link them), this genre of Image Macros started with the statement, "I'm in your base killing your d00ds" (that last word being a Leet spelling of "dudes"), from a classic video game. Non-gamer translation: "You lose."
This Image Macro genre... READ ON
Over the past few days, we've shown you several flavors of LOL Cats. Today's focus, the famous "I Can Has Cheezburger?" LOL Cats (the premiere LOL Cats blog is named for this image). The cheezburger cats appear to have started with this... READ ON
Yesterday we introduced you to LOL Cats, today it's time to dig deeper. It's hard to create a firm timeline of how these images evolved, but it appears that one of these two images created a subgenre of LOL Cats, which I refer to as "Invisible" LOL... READ ON
I've long been interested in Image Macros, which are best described as web based images with text superimposed on them. Okay, that's a poor description. Here's an... READ ON
Nature Photographer Scott Alan Johnson has crossed a photographic fourth wall, involving squirrels as photographers in his photographs of squirrels. On his Photographing Squirrels site, Johnson explains that squirrels prefer vintage camera equipment, eschewing modern digital gear due to its complexity. Johnson also mentions that the squirrels have formed an organization called ACORN (American Camera Organized Rodent Network) to advance their hobby. View the photos on Flickr (recommended: slideshow) to... READ ON
On the heels of yesterday's Yugo Nakamura Appreciation Day featuring interesting online clocks, I thought I'd share my favorite online timepiece: The Human Clockâ„¢ (view the clock here).
The Human Clock features photos for every minute of the day containing (sometimes obscure) references to the current time. The photos are sent in by clock viewers, and there are many photos available for each minute of the day -- below the main photo, you can click on other photos from around the world.
But... READ ON
I like card games as much as the next guy, but it seems like half the fun must be in creating the cards and making up the rules. (Okay, maybe that's just one-third of the fun. But still.) If you enjoy creating games as much as playing them, check out 1000 Blank White Cards, a party game in which creating the deck is part of the action. (A sample card is pictured at left: Self Trepanation (lose 2000 points).)
A game of 1000 Blank White Cards, or 1KBWC for short, consists of three general stages... READ ON
When I need a snack, I don't turn to my refrigerator, or even the farmer's market down the block -- no, those are way too old-school for me. I need to combine snacking with internet geekery. Like all other things, I turn to the web for food advice.
When selecting a new food, McSweeney's Reviews of New Food is a critical resource. The site features literary "reviews" of food that generally read as stern warnings or ecstatic rhapsodic waxings from foodies. Here's an example:
Worldwide Sports Nutrition... READ ON
I've always heard of Jonestown and "drinking the Kool-Aid," but I've never known much about it. On this morning's Oregon Public Broadcasting local news segment, I heard an interview with one of only five survivors from Jonestown (he lives in Oregon now). Listen to the interview with Tim Carter, who survived because he was sent away on an errand while the rest of the colony...you know, drank the Kool-Aid. (Actually, apparently it was Flavor Aid.) What was the errand? According to Wikipedia, Carter was... READ ON
Okay, I'll admit it -- I've been a LOST fan since the beginning, looking forward to each episode and often watching them twice. I'm not just a casual viewer, I'm a fan: I've been to LOST parties, where we watch the show and make snarky-but-loving comments. Okay, I'll admit more -- I've hosted LOST parties and I listen to the producers' official podcast. But while I simply enjoy this TV show, there's an incredible web-based community of LOST superfans, who engage in encyclopedic cataloging of each... READ ON
ThisToThat.com is a highly functional web site with a single purpose: "Because people have a need to glue things to other things." You select the two things to glue and the site recommends the proper adhesive. Need to attach Ceramic to Fabric? (I sure hope not...) ThisToThat.com recommends 3M 77 spray adhesive.
The site also includes a Glue of the Month section, as well as a trivia page with historical glue-related factoids, including:
Formerly known as "ol'pile o'bones", Regina, Saskatchewan in... READ ON
Taking the Movie-a-Minute idea a step further, today I present you: If You're Not Watching..., a blog featuring fictionalized "recaps" of popular TV shows.
From one of my favorites, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
Act Two. The cast adopts a child from Malawi. The little girl, Dmbuebue, can't believe how lucky she is to finally meet Head Writer Matt Albie, who is a gigantic star in her country. She explains how, in her culture, the head writer symbolizes her ancestors' struggle against the ruling elite.... READ ON
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
E.B. White of Charlotte's Web fame is the "White" of Strunk and White.