Links for April 2021

“THOUGH TOMMY IS A MALE SQUIRREL HE HAS TO WEAR FEMININE CLOTHES BECAUSE TAIL INTERFERES WITH HIS WEARING PANTS,” Life Magazine reported defensively in 1944. “The Bullis family … took him on the road in their Packard automobile, where he … gave uninspiring radio interviews. … At the height of his fame his fan club numbered 30,000 members. … When he died in 1949 he was stuffed and mounted … and his nightmarish fate pursued him even into the grave.” Apparently the interview was along with FDR, so perhaps it was more entertaining than they say! Unfortunately we can’t find it. We also learned that in his journeys Tommy was “accompanied by a bulldog that had gold teeth and wore a fez. ‘He may very well have gotten the dog stuffed, too,’ Jim said. If so, its whereabouts are unknown.” The article also calls avocado “avocado pear” — truly the past is a foreign country.

In case you were wondering: yes, mice CAN hallucinate, and they hallucinate more than average when you give them ketamine. Apparently this is the kind of finding you need to get published in Science these days.

All you need to do to get into Nature, on the other hand, is brew cannabis using hacked beer yeast. The resulting beer is probably illegal but we’re guessing the yeast itself is not. Can you make sourdough with this stuff? What are the limits on this discovery? ARE there any limits??? 

The kids are more than all right, they’re playing 5-Dimensional Chess With Multiverse Time Travel. If you’re not afraid of the next generation yet, you should be.

Totally unrelated, Kelsey Piper at Vox argues compellingly that voting rights should be extended to young people regardless of age. How young? To “every American citizen who can successfully fill out a ballot.” We’ve made similar arguments about age in the past, but this is even more radical, and we approve. 

In 1997 Jim Kardach of Intel was reading Frans G. Bengtsson’s historical novel about 10th-century vikings The Long Ships in between working on wireless data transfer. When it came time to name the technology, he named it after King Harald Bluetooth and invented a logo based on the runes for H and B. Similarly, the peace symbol was originally for Nuclear Disarmament and is a combination of the flag semaphore characters for N and D.  

Also at the intersection of new and very old is the 🧿 Nazar Amulet Emoji, representing an eye-shaped amulet believed to protect against the evil eye.

You remember all those stories about the vibrator being invented to treat hysteria? Probably outright lies, invented in the ‘90s. The NYT reports: Everything You Know About the Invention of the Vibrator Is Wrong 

Werner Herzog interviewed by Jenkem, a skateboarding magazine. “I am puzzled because I am not familiar with the scene of skateboarding,” he says. “At the same time, I had the feeling that, ‘Yes, that is kind of my people.’ … You have to accept trial and error. And I see them doing a certain jump or trying to slide on a metal rail, and they do it 25 times and fail. The 26th time, they fail. The 30th time, they fail. It’s good that you accept failure and you don’t give up, and finally you land the right jump and you keep sliding and screeching down a handrail.”

Did you hear about the garden gnome shortage?

In other international news, a Russian man ‘trapped’ on Chinese reality TV show has finally been voted off, and the story is truly pitiable. “His lack of enthusiasm played out in half-hearted singing, rapping and dancing alongside the other, more eager contestants. … he urged the public to vote him out, saying he did not want to be among the 11 winners of the show, who are contractually obliged to form a boy band. ‘Don’t love me, you’ll get no results,’ he said on one episode. But viewers took to his dour persona and kept him in the running for nearly three months. … Fans, some earnest and some ironic, dubbed him ‘the most miserable wage slave’ and celebrated him as an icon of ‘Sang culture’, a popular concept among Chinese millennials referring to a defeatist attitude towards everyday life. ‘Don’t let him quit,’ one viewer commented on a video of a dejected-looking Mr Ivanov performing a Russian rap. ‘Sisters, vote for him! Let him 996!’ another fan commented, using the Chinese slang for the gruelling work schedule that afflicts many young employees, especially in digital start-ups.”

Sometimes it feels like everything has already been discovered, like there’s no possibility of progress in the modern world. But progress is alive and well, at least in the realm of pro NES Tetris, where a new technique has been discovered that is faster than Hypertapping!

Peer review doesn’t always work great. But you know what does work great, all the time, with definitely no problems ever? That’s right — tinder! This is the pitch for papr.io, which describes itself as, “Tinder, but for papers & preprints.” We can’t tell if this is brilliant or moronic. 

Links for March 2021

We cannot more highly recommend Tim Carroll’s pen-and-paper game Lineage, “a game about telling the story of a Royal family through the ages.” You and up to five friends (or enemies, I don’t judge) play as historians, piecing together the records of several generations of a great and powerful family. The resulting stories are prone to hilarity and tragedy, and are also “a handy world building tool for game masters, authors, and admirers of the sorts of diagrams that lurk in the appendices of thick fantasy novels.” While it was developed with royal families in mind, Tim notes that royals are not the only ones with insane family trees, and it could also be used to tell the stories of other kinds of families. Also interesting is that it was developed in the context of thinking about one-player role playing games. 

Apparently Regina George from Mean Girls was based on Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross. I knew she seemed familiar. Also, why is she named “Queen George”? Is Mean Girls an allegory for the Revolutionary War?

Relevant to recent discussions on alternative ways to structure the government: Thomas Jefferson thought that the constitution should automatically expire as soon as new generations make up a majority of the population, at which point the country should come up with a new constitution. McGill University political philosopher Víctor M. Muñiz-Fraticelli writes, “If a constitution is discussed, negotiated, and approved by citizens who are, necessarily, contemporaries, what normatively binding force does it retain for future generations who took no part in its discussion, negotiation, or approval?”

We’re glad to see Senator Sanders endorse almost the exact argument we made in our post about the Senate:

I come from one of the most rural states in America, and I lived in a town of 200 people for a couple of years. And I think there is not an appreciation of rural America or the values of rural America, the sense of community that exists in rural America. And somehow or another, the intellectual elite does have, in some cases, a contempt for the people who live in rural America. I think we’ve got to change that attitude and start focusing on the needs of people in rural America, treat them with respect, and understand there are areas there are going to be disagreements, but we can’t treat people with contempt.

The dead but amazing HistoryHouse.com was the home of some of the best history writing of all time. A gem from the archives: Rah Rah, Rasputin. Here’s the pull quote. While their comrade was preparing to poison Rasputin: “…Felix’s friends were upstairs listening to Yankee Doodle Dandy, the only record they owned, over and over and over. Really.”

Zoom Escaper is a tool to help you escape Zoom meetings and other videoconferencing scenarios. It allows you to self-sabotage your audio stream, making your presence unbearable to others.” We do not officially endorse Zoom Escaper, but we do think you should know about it. Please enjoy responsibly. There’s also Zoom Deleter, which does what it says on the tin. 

Trust in the media is at an all-time low. Unusual proposal for a solution: replace journalists with CEOs, who are (apparently) much more trusted than journalists, especially the CEO of the company respondents work for. We appreciate how original this take is — we’ll also note that, if they want to go by this metric, scientists are even more trusted as a group, by at least 10 points.

Of course, scientists have their own limitations. In Questionable Practices by Researchers and Teenage Wizards, psychologist Sacha Epskamp compares Questionable Research Practices (QRPs) to his experiences as a teenager cheating at Magic the Gathering (MTG) in order to beat his older brother. I also sometimes cheated at card games when I was very young (by high school I knew better) — could that be part of why I find open science issues so intuitive?

Update from last month: NYU professor Todd Gureckis continues to impress with his attempts to improve video lectures based on insights gleaned from watching YouTubers. If any YouTubers read this, we would be very interested to hear what you think.

Honda makes capsaicin-impregnated duct tape to keep rodents from chewing on wires and hoses. “The report also noted that Honda was the target of a class-action lawsuit over its use of soy-based wraps in various vehicles, with the suit alleging that the delicious soy coatings in 2012-2015 models attracted rodents.”

We rather liked this video essay about Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking.

Just how much of an environmental impact do cryptocurrencies really have? We’re still not sure, but we liked this attempt from Visakan Veerasamy to come up with some numbers. We’d be interested to see more analyses along these same lines — send them our way if you have them!

Links for February 2021

When it comes to consuming media on the internet, the Wadsworth Constant is your friend. You should have skipped the first clause of this paragraph. Maybe the second half of the paragraph really.

You’ve probably heard of The Dyatlov Pass incident, where nine hikers died in the Ural Mountains under mysterious circumstances. Well, the mystery appears to have been solved using computer simulation methods developed to animate the Disney film Frozen, combined with data from research at General Motors, where they “played rather violently with human corpses”.

Back near the beginning of the pandemic, Ada Palmer wrote a post over at her blog Ex Urbe, in response to the question, “If the Black Death caused the Renaissance, will COVID also create a golden age?” This piece is perhaps even more interesting now that we’ve seen how the first year of the pandemic has played out. If you haven’t read it yet, you should! 

We love this piece of speculative burrito fiction. The fiction is speculative, not the burritos. At least, we’re pretty sure it’s fiction. 

Exciting new developments in education: NYU cognitive science professor Todd Gureckis, in an effort to learn how to make more engaging video lectures, studies the masters: YouTubers. The results are already pretty impressive, and we suspect they will get even more engaging over time. 

[Morpheus Voice] You think it’s the year 2021, when in fact it’s still early fall 1993. We have only bits and pieces of information, but what we know for certain is that in the early ’90s, AOL opened the doors of usenet, trapping the internet in Eternal September. Whatever date you think it is, the real date (as of this writing) is Sunday September 10043, 1993. 

You probably know about Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, but DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THE BUTT MUSIC???

Links for January 2021

The 27th Amendment, which regulates congressional pay, was originally proposed September 25, 1789 but not ratified until May 7, 1992.

Computers are great, sure, but can you give them a sense of humor? Apparently so. “A statistical machine learning algorithm to detect whether a sentence contained a ‘That’s what she saiddouble entendre was developed by Kiddon and Brun (2011). There is an open-source Python implementation of Kiddon & Brun’s TWSS system.”

Possibly the best cognitive science of the year: researchers 3D print egg-like objects to find out what counts as an egg in the mind of a robin:

What is it about tariffs on goldfish? Goldfish were one of the goods rocked by the Trump administration’s trade war in 2019. In the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930, the tariffs on goldfish were a whopping 35%. Lock in your goldfish trades now before President Biden does something reckless. Or maybe $GFSH will be the next asset targeted by r/wallstreetbets. You could try shorting them but I dunno, they’re pretty short already. 

Wide boy is a British term for a man who lives by his wits, wheeling and dealing. According to the Oxford English Dictionary it is synonymous with spiv.” Oh good, that really clears things up. 

In entertainment, we learned that if you ordered the official Spın̈al Tap calendar for 1992, you got a…

New decade just dropped. Eli Dourado is optimistic in detail. Feeling good about energy, electric cars, and filtering your blood to keep you from aging. Definitely cheaper than bathing in the blood of virgins. Don’t try this last one at home… yet 😉

Links for December 2020

There are 37 official editions of Scrabble, each of which has its own distribution of letter tiles. There are also many unofficial versions, including Anglo-Saxon, Bambara, Klingon, and L33tspeak.

During a series of diplomatic talks in 1958, Mao invited Kruschev to his private pool. Kruschev couldn’t swim and was forced to use a flotation device (which Henry Kissinger described as “water wings”) in order to accept his host’s invitation to join him in the water.

Basketball is back, which means an unending stream of bickering about who is the GOAT. Only one man, however, has performed the double-double to end all double doubles. In 1921 William Howard Taft became the Chief Justice of the United States after serving as the President from 1909-1913. Take that, LeBron. 

According to nature, crabs are the most perfect form. You may not like it, but 🦀 is what peak performance looks like. This sacred knowledge inspired us so much, we even made a meme. We think this is the first step in the process of memes themselves evolving to be more crab-like. 

We’re still thinking about the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, his wife, and their rad house. They have my vote. 

Looking to spice things up in the bedroom? Why not try history’s most mysterious sex position, first described in Aristophanes’ classic comedy Lysistrata in 411 B.C. “The women are very reluctant, but the deal is sealed with a solemn oath around a wine bowl, Lysistrata choosing the words and Calonice repeating them on behalf of the other women. It is a long and detailed oath, in which the women abjure all their sexual pleasures, including the Lioness on the Cheese Grater (a sexual position).”

Links for October

Looking for a new cocktail to juice up your fall? Why not try Torpedo Juice–a mixture of pineapple juice and the 180-proof grain alcohol used as fuel in Navy torpedo motors. On second thought, this sounds more like a summer beverage. 

During the first year of his presidency, George H.W. Bush’s love of pork rinds drove a 31% increase in sales of this non-kosher snack. 

Lithium’s psychiatric effects were originally “discovered” by taking urine from patients at the Bundoora Repatriation Mental Hospital (near Melbourne, Australia) and injecting it into the abdominal cavities of guinea pigs. Early pregnancy tests involved injecting women’s pee into mice, rabbits, or frogs (note: Piss Prophets is an amazing name for a feminist punk rock band if you’re looking to start the next Pussy Riot). Maybe if we want faster biomedical research, we need to try injecting more kinds of pee into more kinds of animals.

The Department of Defense represents 77% of the federal government’s energy consumption. In Fiscal Year 2017, the DoD consumed over 82 times more BTUs than NASA. The federal agency with the second largest energy consumption is the Postal Service. 

Trump is famous for giving his political opponents cheeky nicknames, but his zingers pale in comparison to those of classical Chinese philosophers. Case in point: “Mozi criticized Confucians by saying they ‘behave like beggars; grasp food like hamsters, stare like he-goats, and walk around like castrated pigs. 是若人氣,鼸鼠藏,而羝羊視,賁彘起。(墨子·非儒下)’”

In his eulogy at Graham Chapman’s memorial service, John Cleese said, “I guess that we’re all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability and kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now, so suddenly, be spirited away at the age of only forty-eight, before he’d achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he’d had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say, Nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries!” Amazingly, we have this on video.

Agent Orange was just one of a family of colorful chemicals put to use by the United States Military. During the Vietnam War, Project AGILE deployed 9 types of Rainbow Herbicides (Agent Pink, Agent Green, Agent Purple, Agent Blue, Agent White, and 4 types of Agent Orange) across Southeast Asia between 1961 and 1971. I feel like I should lighten the mood but all of the rainbow jokes I can think of are extremely offensive and/or distasteful.