Thursday 6 June 2024

advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young (11. 611)

Via our faithful chronicler, we are reminded of the spoken-word composition by Australian auteur Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge!), which topped the UK singles’ charts on this day in 1999. The essay is in the tone of a hypothetical commencement speech and was written two years prior by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich—though often misattributed due to a viral email circulated around graduation time to Kurt Vonnegut and address given at MIT (here’s the one they’re probably thinking of), and hits, mellows as pretty poignant, particularly as it’s the year I got my college diploma. Trust me on the sunscreen.

Tuesday 14 May 2024

extended diacope (11. 557)

Via Language Log, we are directed to an omnibus linguistics lesson of fascinating terms of literary criticism and figures of speech—which although containing a few that we’ve encountered before (though often needing to look up to remind ourselves of the particular scheme and trope) like tmesis, eggcorns and mondegreens, amphiboly and redundant acronym syndrome syndrome—there were quite a few new concepts to ponder, like rebracketing, a fusion of terms whose components are then taken apart and reconfigured in a way that’s readily intelligible, like alcoholic to workoholic, and the so called cutthroat compounds, agentive and instrumental exocentric verbs-nouns like the class itself or scarecrow and scofflaw. From the source, there was also the humourous dysgraphomophone—a homophone that looks like a typo used purposely to catch the eye or to lure someone into correcting it: like indorse their banns—to formally back (from dorsum, dorsal) their wedding announcement. More at the links above. 



one year ago: Martian topography plus some Ancient Greek terms that should be reintroduced

two years ago: Chess (1986),  the Mise of Lewes plus St Matthias

three years ago: more on grawlixes plus the curse of toil 

four years ago: St Corona, The Safety Dance (1983), pandemic neologisms, a mole on Mars, paperback dress-up plus misremembered cultural touchstones

five years ago: quiltwork of Old World diseases,  celebrating Doris Day, shark faces, the US Library of Congress’ open archives, paleofuturism plus safeguarding private data

Saturday 11 May 2024

ampas (11. 553)

Founded on this day in 1927 by head of the studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer producer Louis B Mayer in order to create an organisation to mediate labour disputes without the need for outside, independent trade unions and improve the image and reputation of the film industry with input from prolific actor and matinee idol Conrad Nagel (who would six years later go on to establish the Screen Actors’ Guild) and thirty-five other professionals including Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was to hold an annual banquet but no mention of awards at the time. During the Great Depression, the Academy lost credibility as an arbitrator when it came to labour negotiations and gradually pivoted towards its present role as an honours society, with meritorious awards for “distinctive achievement” in one five branches—acting, directing, writing, technical accomplishment and producing—eventually becoming known as the Oscars. Around the same time, the Academy founded the first film school in collaboration with the University of Southern California, a library charged with collecting all publications about movies and state-of-the-art screening venue for members.

Thursday 9 May 2024

nailed it! (11. 549)

Via Super Punch we learn—and on par with the Finnish practise of awarding a hat and a sword—that Sweden carries on with the unique and obligatory tradition, described as “Lutherishly,” for PhD candidates to nail one’s thesis, disseration to a wall or plank a few weeks prior to one’s defence. Referred to a spikning, students will post their paper (nicely bound by the university’s library press, and with the written approval of their advisor, signed off as Mรฅ spikas, “May be nailed”) in the halls of their respective departments for others to pursue and dispute. The comparison to the sixteenth century revolutionary protest against the selling of plenary indulgences seems apt but Martin Luther took the idea from academia and not the other way around.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

hardhat riot (11. 546)

As our faithful chronicler reminds, on this day in 1970, around noon a group of more than four-hundred construction workers—many working on the World Trade Center—converged on a group of anti-war protesters, mostly college students picketing the New York Stock Exchange and rallying on the steps of Federal Hall, originally a Customs House on Wall Street, setting up a memorial for those killed at Kent State four days prior and calling for an end to the fighting in Vietnam and Cambodia, release of political prisoners and an end to military-related research on university campuses. By lunch time the clashes turned violent with some eight hundred office workers joining the ranks of the agitating construction workers, breaking through a thin line of police separating the two sides and pursuing students and onlookers and beating them safety equipment and tools. Law enforcement, sympathetic to the counter protesters, did little to intervene or stop the melee. Two weeks of protests followed before the demonstrations, pitting labour union leaders against pacifists, subsided and towards the end of the month, the organiser of the initial riot and a delegation of representing some three-hundred thousand unionised trade workers, were invited to the White House to meet with president Richard Nixon, who said he sought to honour those labour leaders “and people from Middle America who still have character and guts and a bit of patriotism,” accepting hard hats as a gift. For his loyalty and role in starting a culture war, a values war that divided traditionally shared sentiments among Democratic voters, that leader Peter J Brennan was appointed secretary of labour and the cabinet official outlasted the Nixon administration and served under Ford as well.


one year ago: an early fifth century bog man

two years ago: the Nebra Skydisc

three years ago: a classic Eurodance number, assorted links worth revisiting plus more photographs from Pete Souza

four years ago: the death of Tito (1980), more links to enjoy plus Russian borderlands

five years ago: more links worth the revisit plus Heath Robinson contraptions

Wednesday 1 May 2024

beginners’ all-purpose symbolic instruction code (11. 526)

The original version of the general-purpose programming language (see also) developed by Thomas Kurtz and John Kemeny of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire designed in mind to build computer literacy for those outside of speciality fields executed its first code with immediate user-feedback and released after the initial demonstration on this day in 1964. With simpler and more intuitive syntax, the compiler was put into the public domain and immediately spawned several dialects based on terminals’ operating systems and memory constraints and was ideal for porting and inclusion for the growing mini- and microcomputer market for enthusiasts and hobbyists (I can remember being very pleased with some of my programs, however basic) and considered to be the first user-friendly family of high-level languages.

Saturday 27 April 2024

10x10 (11. 517)

age inappropriate: amid a the aggressive banning and policing of reading material, “disturbing” titles help teens become more empathetic and literate—via tmn 

brolly: a faux Britishism for umbrella—from an American regionalism—with an interesting history 

 …but often rhymes: what historian Thucydides would make of parallels and analogies 

true facts: Ze Frank on smart bees—previously

moulin rouge: the red windmill blades on the Parisian landmark collapse—via Nag on the Lake—more here 

completist: venturing to the remote US national park that requires a passport 

what’s the truth about mother goose: a search for the personage behind the nursery rhymes  

never-ending cash machine: a collection of lost and unreleased 

to the manor born: a series of articles on how to quantify a castle, palace and stately home—via Strange Company 

house penguin: recent anti-trust case over the acquisition of one publisher revealed sobering insights about the state of the industry


one year ago: the evacuation of Prypriat (1986)

two years ago: a single from Harvey Danger (1998), more removal of Soviet monuments plus no new applications for flag icons and emoji

three years ago: Saint Zita, redrawing geopolitical boundaries according to indigenous lands, peaceniks, Dr Mabuse (1922), etymologies of company names and brands plus sustainable diets

four years ago: All Quiet on the Western Front, another Roman holiday, a comic make-up tutorial plus engine sounds for electric cars

five years ago: ranking the 404 landing pages for the US presidential candidates


Thursday 25 April 2024

respectful free expression of ideas (11. 513)

Via Kottke via are directed towards a timely and rather transcendent think-piece that we missed when it was originally published back in December from McSweeney’s contributor Andrew Patrick Clark in this message from the chancellor on the recent student protests to the university community.

“…We will not look back and regret this decision. Although we were wrong about not admitting women, abolishing racial quotas, US involvement in Vietnam, and divesting from apartheid South Africa, we are confident that this time is different.

Rules are rules, and the rules never change…

This recent protest is different. These students will never inspire change. Fifty years from now, we will definitely not pretend that we agreed with them the whole time.”

The brief missive is one to be read in full, particularly in light of recent events but speaks to the legacy and spirit revolution in general.


one year ago: Wes Anderson deja vu, the Cosmati Pavement plus the founding of Audi

two years ago: a classic from Steely Dan, the feast of St Mark plus Ukrainian commemorative postage

three years ago: your daily demon: Barbatos, taxation in Rome, a Roman holiday, more guerilla gardening, the first map of the New World plus St Maughold

four years ago: more COVID conspiracies, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (1990), Elbe Day plus another phantom island

five years ago: CAPTCHA technology, the invention of the bicycle plus rebuilding Notre Dame


Wednesday 24 April 2024

a frontier research problem (11. 511)

Trained on “publicly-available” text scrapped with or without consent from billions of human authored, English language websites in the hopes of informing accurate or at least confident language models, the rather nascent AI boom might be facing a bust as it is running out of data to mine. Previously we’ve looked at the phenomena of recursive AI as generated content begins to saturate the internet, but conversely as vast as the web seems industry experts estimate that AI—to presumably get better at delivering right and desired responses with minimal intervention by exposure to countless right answers and only learning through brute iteration—needs far more information than has been thus far produced in order to advance. Exuberance, nonetheless, is undeterred and growing, notwithstanding immense energy demands, threats to labour and intellectual property even given a spotty record of actual adoption and the dangers of citing less than authoritative sources—the original sin of artificial intelligence, exhausting the sum of human knowledge, only really came to light not by complaints of plagiarism but rather from competitors trying to shield warehoused content from the clearing house and our actions may be propping up something adversarial and degenerative. More from Ed Zitron at the link up top.

word salad (11. 510)

We rather enjoyed this omnibus posting of rare and unusual English terms, which contained many we’ve encountered before but quite a few new words to us. We especially found useful to deacon, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women for careful product placement, arranging the top-shelve items up high and hiding the cheaper, lower quality merchandise below, snaste (from the archaic snite—to blow one’s nose—or snuff, as in a candle) referring to the burnt part of a wick, vestry (another non-church related terms though could appear otherwise) meaning the “smiling of [infants] in their sleep,” degombling (a backronymsee also—that comes courtesy of arctic explorers) for removing clumps of ice and snow, dextrosinistral describing a naturally left-handed person taught to use their right for writing, something sesquihoral lasts ninety-minutes, the perfect length for a movie, resistentialism from the belief, half facetiously, that inanimate objects will express spite towards their human users and witworm, coined by Ben Jonson—possibly with some meta-irony—for a someone’s else cleverness as a surrogate for their own. Much more from Mental Floss at the link above.


one year ago:  an experimental Nazi-era nuclear reactor plus assorted links to revisit

two years ago: politics of a monetary union (1972), the Trojan Horse, the UN body for the under-represented (1991) plus revisiting airships

three years ago: a rendition of a Daft Punk classic, preserving artefacts of the pandemic, indoor gardening tips, the Situationists plus a survey of map projections

four years ago: China enters the space race, more on eggcorns, signs of social-distancing, dancing mania, a new song from the Rolling Stones plus COVID misinformamtion

five years ago: effervescence, mortgage-backed securities, the tradition of telling the bees plus more logophilia

Monday 8 April 2024

true facts (11. 476)

Via Super Punch, we thoroughly enjoyed this list of natural history events that could be mistaken for aggressively trashposting by dent of their apparent incredulity. Beginning with the unsourced footnote, “when mice first arrived in New Zealand, [indigenous] people had never seen them before and called the ‘Henriettas’ after the ship they came from,” the colonial brig the Elizabeth Henrietta, the thread is a growing one and reminds me of the unbelievable detail about woodpecker cranial anatomy and how their tongues wrap around their skulls to protect their brains from violent vibrations. Do you have a favourite to share?


one year ago: the prices of eggs in California, the palatial estates of Manhattan plus assorted links to revisit

two years ago: Russia’s imperial proclivity

three years ago: MST3K is back for another season, an underwater observation platform, sofagate in Ankara, a planned Martian colony plus maximalist interiors

four years ago: cartoonist Winsor McCay, Trump threatens to withhold funding from the World Health Organisation plus everyday carry

five years ago: more links to enjoy plus Ancient Roman fast food

Sunday 24 March 2024

rush week (11. 449)

We thoroughly enjoyed this detailed review of the 1978 ABC made-for-television movie The Initiation of Sarah by Robert Day and starring Kay Lenz, a retreating wallflower (see also) over shadowed by her popular sister (Morgan Brittany) who discovers her latent paranormal powers after being admitted to the sonority on campus with less prestige, ฮฆฮ•ฮ”—referred to by the members of ฮ‘ฮฮฃ (Alpha-Nus) as “pigs, elephants and dogs”—with the encouragement of house matron, Shelly Winters. Discovering that the hazing ceremony will involve a human sacrifice, Lenz uses her telekinetic abilities to disrupt the initiations for the rival sonority as well as her own. Much more from Poseidon’s Underworld at the link up top.

a brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse (11. 447)

Taking place according to the teen coming-of-age movie on this day, a Saturday, in 1984, The Breakfast Club by John Hughes, featuring the acting talents of Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Paul Gleason, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson. Relating the encounters of five individuals from different high school social cliques being punished with a weekend detention overseen by an authoritarian vice-principal with the assignment to write a thousand word essay on who they think they are as punishment, with instructions not to talk or interact with their fellow classmates, all strangers to one another from different social groups. Hiding from their minder, they break the rules and pass the time gradually opening up and sharing their circumstances with one another. Considered the quintessential 1980s movie (in general release about a year after the events in the movie timeline occurred) and with a stellar soundtrack, film poster, a “family shot” ensemble of the cast was photographed by Annie Leibovitz.


one year ago: the Lassie finale (1973) plus an ominous sign in the heavens (1345)

two years ago: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1952)

three years ago: the Potato Decree (1756), Donkeyskin, Moscow on the Hudson plus an alternative keyboard format

four years ago: International Tuberculosis Day plus a long fight ahead

five years ago: Meshes of the Afternoon plus marijuana etiquette

Monday 18 March 2024

insatiable birdie (11. 433)

Via Miss Cellania, we not only learn the rather elegant physics and chemistry behind those sippy bird toys but also that researchers have given it an upgrade as a device to generate energy.

Sometimes mislabeled as a perpetual motion machine, the thirsty mechanism is a heat engine, two evacuated glass bulbs linked by a tube pivot on a crosspiece and turns the temperature gradient along the body into a pressure difference that translates to the mechanism. Water evaporates from the head (usually adorned with something absorbent like felt) and lowers the temperature and pressure and causes some of the vapour in the chamber to condense (usually ether, alcohol or chloroform) and the liquid is forced up the neck, causing it to tip forward. The ambient air temperature warms the bottom bulb and causes the cycle to repeat. The toy, originally called a Pulshammer was a German invention improved by Benjamin Franklin, after seeing one in action around 1768 and illustrates the principles of capillary action, wet-bulb temperature, heat of condensation as well as several laws of thermodynamics and idea gases and with the latest modifications also demonstrates the triboelectric effect (static electricity), harnessing it to power small appliances and seems overall like a pretty good educational apparatus, provoking thought while charging.  Who knew? More technical details and a video demonstration of the prototype at the link above.

one year ago: assorted links to revisit, Yugoslavian fashion plus climbing Everest (1923)

two years ago: more links to enjoy, two probes passing in the night, more shibboleths plus Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appeal to the people of Russia

three years ago: RIP Yaphet Kotto, more links worth the revisit, Motown on tour (1965), mourning rings, fear of covering up plus the fashions of Birgitta Bjerke

four years ago: an iconic photograph from the battlefield (1942)

five years ago: Transit Driver Appreciation Day

Sunday 17 March 2024

format cells (11. 430)

Though once deemed too dangerous to release to the public—though the verdict is still out—GPT-2 has been crammed into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, as an AI heuristic tool offline and running locally to teach developers how large language models work and hopefully inspiring the next phase of improvement. Still working off the autocomplete, next token prediction principle that underpins all present chat applications, users input prompts in adjacent fields and the algorithm tries to triangulate a response, and interesting in a way that’s constrained and self-contained so that those experimenting might be able to debug themselves or understand how the sentence building went awry. The other uses that people have shoehorned into the accounting software are always pretty fascinating and the binary file is free to download. More technical details and a tutorial are at the file’s link and at Ars Technica at the link above.

Thursday 14 March 2024

ฯ€ (11. 420)

As our faithful chronicler reminds, today marks the annual celebration of the mathematical constant pi, expressed in US calendar conventions 3.14 (we also get the chance on the twenty-second of July, Pi Approximation Day, from the notional fraction known from the time of Archimedes—first observed in 1988 by physicist and curator of the the San Francisco Exploratorium Larry Shaw, and since designated by the US Congress and UNESCO as the International Day of Mathematics. Activities include learning about the irrational and transcendent number and its properties, memorising and reciting its digits, called piphilogy and relies on mnemonic techniques, such as composing so called piems—a portmanteau of the Greek symbol and poem in which the letter count of each word equals the corresponding digit: to the fourteenth decimal place, “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy chapters involving quantum mechanics,” and eating circular foods. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also traditionally dispatched its college admissions decision letters to applicants on this day.

Monday 11 March 2024

free to be… you and me (11. 414)

Courtesy of our faithful chronicler, we are reminded on this day in 1974, ABC first broadcast the award winning children’s television special conceived and produced by Marlo Thomas and friends, adapted from a record album with activity book published sixteen months earlier. The songs and stories sung or acted out by contemporary celebrities including Carol Channing, Dustin Hoffman, Roberta Flack, Diana Ross, Alan Alda, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Rosey Grier, Shirley Jones, Michael Jackson and Mel Brooks champion values of inclusion, individuality and comfort with one’s identity and reject gendered stereotypes, hailing that anyone can achieve anything, despite or because of the circumstances of their birth and was inspired by an uncomfortable incident in a bookstore where Thomas wanted to show her niece that it was acceptable and encouraged to flaunt traditional roles but only found materials reinforcing then—namely in a picture book that suggested boy grown up to be pilots and girls stewardesses, doctors, nurses, etc. Though predictably it drew criticism from certain circles at the time for indoctrination and emasculation, but the special and recording have endured, garnering both an Emmy and Peabody award, going Platinum within two years of release. A sequel, co-produced in the both the Soviet Union and the US—the first such primetime variety show collaboration, Free to Be… a Family, aired in 1988—featuring a new cast including Robin Williams, the Muppets, Lily Tomlin, Russian children’s television host Tatyana Vedeneyeva, JonBon Jovi and the magicians Penn and Teller.


one year ago: assorted links to revisit, Queen Anne’s army plus the Lend-Lease Act of 1941

two years ago: The Kick Inside (1978) plus a pioneering photographer

three years ago: your daily demon: Dantalion, more links to enjoy,  a Van Gogh up for auction, Oprah interviews other princesses plus a gallery of bad and misleading book covers

four years ago: more phonetic spelling alphabets plus more links worth revisiting

five years ago: a flag supercut, even more links plus scripturiency

Thursday 7 March 2024

9x9 (11. 406)

harmonisation: Albanian government using AI to try to speed accession to European Union by rewriting local legislation to fit the block’s regulatory framework—via Marginal Revolution  

the once and future sex: enduring medieval views on female anatomy 

gรฉodรฉsie: more on the Paris Meridian and how Greenwich ultimately won out 

walk without rhythm and you won’t attract the worm: Christopher Walken, portraying Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV, unaware of his epic choreography in “Weapon of Choice” references Dune  

mcmxxiv: a curation of photos from Alan Taylor—via Kottke  

here there be tygers: animated adaptations of Ray Bradbury’s science fiction by Sergei Bondarchuk  

the world is a cat—i can’t unsee that now: a geopolitical map drawing challenge  

the school of venus; or the ladies delight: self-pleasure in the seventh century  

circling the wagons: Sweden accedes to NATO as its thirty-second member state after a wait of two years—while holdout Hungary visits Trump

Sunday 3 March 2024

8x8 (11. 396)

a bridge too far: German authorities pledge investigation into embarrassing leak of confidential military talks about Ukrainian aid  

heteronyms: the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa with seventy pen-names  

solar symbology: a survey of the various cartographic representations of North America’s upcoming total eclipse  

phrixus and helle: newly excavated fresco in Pompeii retells the myth of the Golden Fleece  

re:design: Jason Kottke unveils his new website with fresh 2024 energy—maybe we could all use a face-lift  

replevin: Trump fraudulently overvalued his Scottish golf course and resort by £200 000 000—see previously 

club remix: annual competition that invites doctoral candidates to dance their dissertation 

airdrop: US begins aid delivery to a beleaguered Gazan population on the verge of famine


one year ago: TIME magazine (1923) plus assorted links to revisit

two years ago: more links to enjoy plus the largest capacity cargo plane

three years ago: more links worth the revisit, an artist’s message to get vaccinated plus Rocket Man (1972)

four years ago: the French version of the Dallas theme, Super Tuesday, Nigerian contributions to English plus more on the Human Interference Task Force

five years ago: graphic designer Alvin Lustig, Apollo IX (1969), an example of Celtic Revival architecture, McLaren’s Imperial Cheddar Club Cheese plus artist Pokey LaFarge

Sunday 25 February 2024

11x11 (11. 380)

sure, write stuff for free—but write it for yourself: maintaining one’s creativity in the bleak media sector brickwalling and the loss of journalistic records  

rage-baiting: viral Tik-Tok couple troll influencer culture with such precision most don’t realise it’s satire—via Super Punch  

the paint explainer: a primer on the twenty-seven amendments to the US Constitution—via Memo of the Air 

dark dimensions: there’s a new theory about where dark matter might be hiding  

the sony smartwig: a 2016 patent granted for a connected hairpiece one pairs with their phone for tactile feedback 

the navel on an orange is a mutation that created a conjoined twin: weird information to dispense on a first date—via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links 

the riker manoeuvre: small towns with monuments to Star Trek characters—via Marginal Revolution  

selectric funeral: the Boston Typewriter Orchestra hopes to appear in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert with this submission  

awful yet lawful: US Supreme Court to entertain grievances on social media moderation for deplatforming hateful and dangerous content  

multi-level marketing: a supercut of huckster Donald Trump’s merchandising scams 

you can out-buzzfeed buzzfeed after all: media group in takeover talks with UK’s The Independent—see previously