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.
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
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
A polar bear can smell a seal that's 20 miles away.