Links for December 2021

…and now, back to your regularly-scheduled SMTM links posts.

Barcode scanners: the cool new instrument, especially if you strap one to your skateboard.

A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry takes an extremely close look at the operations and logistics of two sieges depicted in The Lord of the Rings — the Siege of Minas Tirith in six parts and the Siege of Helm’s Deep in eight parts! In both series, the Pedant makes a compelling case that the logistics on both sides of each siege are effective characterization of the commanders involved — you learn a lot about Théoden, Saruman, Denethor, and the Witch-King of Angmar by how they conduct their operations. This blog is great in general, but we’ll refrain from making any other specific recommendations, he just has too many good posts. He keeps hitting that sweet spot of “incredibly long but so good it’s worth reading anyways”.

Other people who really get it: BREADSWORD on Disney’s Robin Hood and the Death of Color. Why mirth and joyousness are important — and if you don’t get it, “these pages are not for you”. To prepare for this video, Breadsword watched every Robin Hood movie and TV show ever made, it’s worth seeing. And as you may know, this tradition is an interest of ours.

Lars Doucet, who won the first ACX book review contest with his review of Henry George’s 1897 book Progress & Poverty, is back with the first three parts of an extensive series on Georgism, kicking the tires to see if it’s worth taking these ideas seriously. He goes after the big three critiques people have of Georgism —  is land really a big deal?, can landlords just pass land value taxes on to their tenants?, and can the value of land be accurately estimated separately from the buildings sitting on top? He’s planning to keep the series going at gameofrent.com, so this story ain’t over yet.

Many of you were amused at the historical dildo reference we found in the 1674 anonymous WOMEN’S PETITION AGAINST COFFEE REPRESENTING TO PUBLICK CONSIDERATION THE Grand INCONVENIENCIES accruing to their SEX from the Excessive Use of that Drying, Enfeebling LIQUOR, which we mentioned in our essay Higher than the Shoulders of Giants; Or, a Scientist’s History of Drugs. So here’s some more scholarship on historical dildos, focusing on an 18th-centry piece “​​fitted with a plunger to simulate ejaculation”. Lots of juicy quotes from this one, but we’ll refrain — read it for yourself.

What made The Matrix so special? One possibility: “They have this really admirable view of people, that everybody is as smart as they are, which is one of the reasons why The Matrix is such an unusual movie. … The Wachowskis always think people are gonna get it. They always think of people as smart.” Bonus trivia: before he got woken up, Morpheus was a barber.

You will never love anything as much as Biquette the goat loved punk rock. “To put it plainly,” reports VICE, “Biquette was a goat who loved grindcore.” Her favorite food, cigarette butts “in all [their] forms (butts from the ashtray, lit cig in your hand….)”, may have contributed to her early demise. 

Forcing your smart toaster to play the 1993 first-person shooter DOOM is a standard benchmark in computer science. Now psychologists are getting in on the fun: training rats to play DOOM in VR. See also the technical report here. So far the rats can walk down a hallway and sometimes shoot monsters, but research is ongoing. 

Rita Levi-Montalcini made major discoveries in neuroscience from her bedroom, using a couple of microscopes, a camera and paper, some melting wax, chicken eggs, and “an egg incubator that her brother built with a thermostat and a fan”. All this through the Allied bombing of her home town of Turin. She later went on to win a Nobel Prize and become the first Nobel laureate to live to 100. 

From the Unicode Consortium: The Most Frequently Used Emoji of 2021. Among many other things: “it appears that reports of Tears of Joy’s death are greatly exaggerated 😂.”

Borgen presents a view of politics in which little is at stake beyond the central character’s attainment of deserved power and success; government is merely an arena for self-realization. … The viewer gets the sense that to acknowledge the impacts of government actions on the public at large would somehow spoil the fun, complicating our identification with the heroine.” An analysis of “a social stratum in the modern West that sees politics as a realm of spectacle and personal drama” through the lens of a critically-acclaimed and critically-naïve Danish political drama

Smaller-scale but similar issues; a vignette on political talk and small talk. What do you do when someone tries to rehash a conversation that both of you have heard, point for point, a hundred times before?

What happens if you use human stem cells to make a brain organoid? Well, they “generate primitive sensory structures that are light sensitive and harbor cell types similar to those found in the body.” We like mad science but this is kinda creepy even by our standards.

Everyone knows that the microbiome is important to your health. Turns out the quality of black tea is also impacted by ITS microbiome. Has anyone tried rubbing yogurt on their… you know what, forget it.

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