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The Birth of Breaking News

The completion of the US transcontinental railroad in 1869 in Utah was also the birthplace of the newsflash. The news was delivered via telegraph through a clever scheme: the famous golden spike and a silver hammer were each wired to the telegraph so that when hammer struck nail, the circuit completed and the news raced out along telegraph wires to the rest of the nation.1

Where were you when you heard the news of the completion of the transcontinental railroad?

  1. At least, that was the plan. It is said the hammer swingers missed the spike and so the telegraph operator had to message “DONE” instead.


Of course Kenji López-Alt had a friend come up with a computer model that determined the ideal way to chop an onion. How can you resist...
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Cotino is a "Storyliving by Disney™ community" in the greater Palm Springs area. "Parks, pathways and a promenade will reflect the...
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Are You an NPC? (Or Do You Have Free Will?)
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Ask a Manager update about a guy who told his interviewer during a job interview that "maybe she made mistakes as a developer but since I...
6 comments      Latest:

In the last 10 years, Paris has closed 100 streets to cars, removed 50,000 parking spots, tripled parking fees for SUVs, and built more...
8 comments      Latest:

The 2024 Drone Photos Awards
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Some people with insomnia think they are awake but they're actually asleep. But scientists are discovering that their sleep is not as...
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Lots of good responses to this thread: "What is something someone who has never been poor wouldn't understand?" E.g. how expensive it is...
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Chaka Khan's Tiny Desk Concert
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The Cookie Monster Alphabet
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"Elephants call each other by name and respond when they hear others call their name, according to new research."
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An in-depth look at the Etak Navigator, the first practical vehicle navigation system from 1985. GPS wasn't available then, so the Etak...
2 comments      Latest:


Are You an NPC? (Or Do You Have Free Will?)

Kurzgesagt attempts to answer the question (from the perspective of physics): Do we have free will? Here’s the deterministic perspective (from the show notes):

Now imagine that if right after the Big Bang, a supersmart supercomputer looked at every single particle in the universe and noted all their properties. Just by applying the deterministic laws of physics, it should be able to predict what all the particles in existence would be doing until the end of time.

But if you are made of particles and it’s technically possible to calculate what particles will do forever, then you never decided anything. Your past, present and future were already predetermined and decided at the Big Bang. This would mean there is a kind of fate and you are not free to decide anything.

You may feel like you make decisions, but you are on autopilot. The motions of the particles that make up your brain cells that made you watch this video were decided 14 billion years ago. You are just in the room when it happens. You are only witnessing how the universe inside you unfolds in real time.

And the other side of the argument (in favor of free will):

We know that we can reduce everything that exists to its basic particles and the laws that guide them. While this makes physics feel like the only scientific discipline that actually matters, there is a problem: You can’t explain everything in our universe only from particles.

One key fact about reality that we can’t explain by looking just at electrons and quantum stuff is emergence. Emergence is when many small things together create new fundamental traits that didn’t exist before.

Emergence occurs at all levels of reality, and reality seems to be organized in layers: atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, organs, you, society. Put many things in one layer together and they’ll create the next layer up. Every time they do, entirely new properties emerge.

Having thought about this for all of 20 minutes (or, practically all of my life), the emergence argument against determinism makes a lot of sense to me. Then again, James Gleick’s Chaos and Steven Johnson’s Emergence both made a huge impression on me when I read it more than 20 years ago.

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Some people with insomnia think they are awake but they’re actually asleep. But scientists are discovering that their sleep is not as rejuvenating as normal sleep.

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What’s the Rarest Move in Chess?

YouTuber Paralogical downloaded data from over 5 billion chess games to find the rarest move in chess. Slight spoiler: there are many possible moves that weren’t played in any of the games analyzed. The data and analysis programs used are available on Github:

This is a lil’ code to analyze chess .pgn files, with the goal of finding the “rarest” move in chess.

That is, the rarest move notation (standard algebraic notation) given a large number of input games (e.g. every rated game from lichess) in pgn format.

However, since there are many moves that never happen, this is moreso counting and categorizing moves of various types rather than finding one specific rare move.

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David Pierce reports on the Excel World Championship from Las Vegas. “There is one inescapably weird thing about competitive Excel: spreadsheets are not fun.”

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Ask a Manager update about a guy who told his interviewer during a job interview that “maybe she made mistakes as a developer but since I actually went to school for it, I didn’t have that problem.”

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Lots of good responses to this thread: “What is something someone who has never been poor wouldn’t understand?” E.g. how expensive it is to be poor, like paying more for daily subway tickets bc you don’t have the cash on hand for a monthly.

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Of course Kenji López-Alt had a friend come up with a computer model that determined the ideal way to chop an onion. How can you resist reading an article with the phrase “exactly .557 onion radiuses” in it?

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Chaka Khan’s Tiny Desk Concert

NPR recently welcomed Chaka Khan into the office for a Tiny Desk Concert.

When the “Queen of Funk,” Chaka Khan, began to sing her hit “Sweet Thing” at the Tiny Desk, she seemed surprised at how the audience enthusiastically joined in. It’s just one example of how ingrained her work is in the fabric of music history. Since she emerged in the 1970s with the funk band Rufus, Khan has crafted a legacy that includes 22 albums, 10 Grammys, forays into jazz and theater and collaborations with Prince, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Quincy Jones. Her 50 years in the music industry recently culminated in a long overdue 2023 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

This was great right from the jump…one of my favorite Tiny Desks for sure.

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Care to play a game of Probabilistic Tic-Tac-Toe? “What gives us the right to claim responsibility for our victories? Do we ever truly win? Or do we just get lucky sometimes?”

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The myth about cars that’s hurting cities. “In study after study in city after city around the world, researchers have found that merchants exaggerate the share of patrons who arrive by car and undercount those who walk, bike, or ride transit.”

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According to a new report from the FBI, murders, rapes, assaults, robberies, burglaries, and vehicle theft all dropped by double-digit percentages in the US during the first three months of 2024 (compared to Q1 2023).

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The 2024 Drone Photos Awards

The nominees for the 2024 Drone Photos Awards have been announced; here are a few that caught my eye:

drone photo of a highway crossing a frozen lake

drone photo of a crowded bull ring in Mexico

drone photo of a flock of white birds flying across a green expanse

drone photo of a small town in the snow

Photos by (from top to bottom) Sheng Jiang, Roberto Hernandez, Silke Hullmann, and Hüseyin Karahan.

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Sacha Greif recently made the decision to pause his excellent design site/newsletter Sidebar. “Design content seems to have either dried up, or else been driven to platforms like Medium and Substack.”

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Neutrinos “hold the keys to new physics” but are “driving scientists crazy”. “Somehow, neutrinos went from just another random particle to becoming tiny monsters that require multi-billion-dollar facilities to understand.”

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Backcountry biker Laura Killingbeck thoughtfully weighs in on the “man or bear?” debate. “I’m literally a woman who left mankind behind to live in nature with bears. This is my actual life.”

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The Cookie Monster Alphabet

In case you or someone you know needs a little levity or pick-me-up today, might I suggest what might be the cutest thing that’s ever aired on television: a little girl named Joey and Kermit the Frog saying the alphabet.

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An in-depth look at the Etak Navigator, the first practical vehicle navigation system from 1985. GPS wasn’t available then, so the Etak used something called “augmented dead reckoning” to determine the vehicle’s location.

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The View From Earth of Different Planets Replacing the Moon

What if Mars orbited the Earth at the same distance as the Moon…what would that look like? How about Neptune? Or Jupiter? Like this:

See also what the Earth would look like with Saturn’s rings. (via @stevenstrogatz)


The “Coming to Apple TV+” reel shown at WWDC contains some tantalizing first-look clips from the second seasons of Severance and Silo.

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Three Bags Full, about a flock of whodunit-solving sheep, has been adapted into a movie written by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and starring Hugh Jackman & Emma Thompson. The 2005 book went tiny-viral on Bluesky last year.

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A scientific investigation into bears, the cuddly apex predator: If Not Friend, Why Friend-Shaped? “Some of bears’ features-especially their chubby, rounded face-might also remind us of our own babies.”

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Cotino is a “Storyliving by Disney™ community” in the greater Palm Springs area. “Parks, pathways and a promenade will reflect the imagination of Disney Imagineering.”

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AI Can Ruin Movies Now, Too

YouTuber Nerrel takes James Cameron to task for releasing 4K remasters of Aliens and True Lies that have been, well, ruined by using AI to clean them up.

The best 4k releases tend to follow a pretty simple template: clean and scan the negative, repair any obvious signs of damage, and restore the colors to match the original grading, with as little meddling beyond that as possible. The process should not be about modernizing the style or forcing film to look like digital video. 35mm film was capable of incredible picture quality, and 4k is the first home format capable of delivering most of that detail — that should be enough. A well done 4k is like having a pristine copy of the original negative to watch in your own home, with the full data from that celluloid — grain and detail alike — digitally preserved forever. And that’s the problem with deep learning algorithms — they can’t preserve details. They make their best guess about what an object is supposed to be, then pull new details out of their digital assholes and smear them across the screen.

If Hollywood and one of its best directors don’t care enough about their movies to do them right, how are they supposed to convince us to care about their movies?

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The Verge: the 13 biggest announcements from Apple’s developer conference, including their AI plans and new OS features.

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“There have been more gun suicides than gun homicides in the United States every year for the past 25 years. Yet the harm inflicted on communities by suicides rarely registers in the national debate over guns.”

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“Elephants call each other by name and respond when they hear others call their name, according to new research.”

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1982 DC Comics Style Guide

color palettes of DC superheroes

Wonder Woman from three different angles

Batman from three different angles

Standards Manual is gearing up for a new release: a reproduction of the DC Comics Style Guide from 1982.

Reproduced from a rare original copy, the book features over 165 highly-detailed scans of the legendary art by José Luis García-López, with an introduction by Paul Levitz, former president of DC Comics.

First issued in 1982, the Style Guide aimed to assist licensees in delivering a consistent look for DC’s Super Heroes. The reissue is based on the original copy held by Standards Manual, containing an amalgam of pages added by the owners of the original from ‘82 to ‘85.

Comics nerds, get in there.

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Tapping the sign: the important differences between patriotism & nationalism. “Patriotism: pride in who you are. Nationalism: pride in who you aren’t.”

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Guy Who Sucks At Being A Person Sees Huge Potential In AI. “Deep down [he] has absolutely zero understanding of what makes things good, enjoyable, or rewarding.”

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Maris Kreizman argues for adding full credit pages to books acknowledging everyone who worked on them. “How lovely it is to be seen and appreciated.”

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Wake Up Dead Man will be the third film in the Knives Out series, starring Daniel Craig as Benoit “CSI: KFC” Blanc.

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Surprise! These Cardboard & Scotch Tape Vases Are Actually Ceramic Pots.

ceramic teapot that looks like it's made out of cardboard

ceramic pitcher that looks like it's made out of cardboard

ceramic vase that looks like it's made out of cardboard

French potter Jacques Monneraud makes ceramic pots that look like teapots, vases, and pitchers made from cardboard and scotch tape. He offers these pots for sale, but they’re unsurprisingly sold out right now. More about Monneraud & his work on his website and Instagram. (via @presentandcorrect)

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Every Kind of Bridge Explained in 15 Minutes

From Practical Engineering, this is a video explaining every type of bridge in just 15 minutes…or at least attempts to.

Without listing every bridge, there’s no true way to list every type of bridge. There’s too much nuance, creativity, and mixing and matching designs. But that’s part of the joy of paying attention to bridges. Once you understand the basics, you can start to puzzle out the more interesting details.

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The trailer for When We Were Wizards: An Oral History of Dungeons & Dragons, a podcast series about the groundbreaking game, its creators, and what sounds like a shitshow of corporate activity. Avail. on Apple and Spotify.

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A Shaded Relief Map of Manhattan

a Lidar map of Manhattan; low areas are lighter and taller areas are darker

Using LiDAR data from the US Geological Survey and a site called ReliefViz, a Reddit user created this lovely blue and greyscale shaded relief map of Manhattan (and the surrounding area). It’s worth clicking through to explore the full-size image.

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A UK research team has discovered that the more CO2 air contains, the longer viruses can stay alive in that air. This is a tranmission double-whammy: poorly ventilated spaces with lots of people in them increases potential viral load and longevity.

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New album from Jamie xx, In Waves, is coming out on September 20th. “I wanted to make something fun, joyful and introspective all at once.”

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Download Free Coloring Books From Museums and Libraries

a halfway colored-in illustration of a man with long curly hair

an illustration of a man in old timey clothes getting on a bicycle

various black and white illustrations of how a ship's rigging works

A Child's Map of the Ancient World

Hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine, #ColorOurCollections is a yearly assemblage of coloring books sourced from the collections of museums and libraries. You can download this year’s coloring books (as well as those from past years) for free from the website. (via open culture)

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Every Conversation Between Every Parent and Their Child After One Year of College. “PARENT: Welcome home! CHILD: Manipulative! PARENT: Wait. What? CHILD: Toxic! PARENT: Who? Me? CHILD: Narcissist! PARENT: You keep saying words, but without verbs.”

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Starring the Computer: a catalog of computers used in movies and TV shows. For instance: “The first episode of Andor has a heavily modified Tandy TRS-80 Model III.”

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Duck Amuck is one of my all-time favorite Looney Tunes cartoons. Some classic fourth wall breaking.

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Genderswap[dot]fm is a catalog of gender-swapped song covers — think Beyoncé covering The Beatles, Miley Cyrus covering The Talking Heads, or The Flaming Lips covering Kylie Minoque. There’s also a less comprehensive Spotify playlist.

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A Long Surfing Life

I really enjoyed this profile by William Finnegan of 75-year-old Jock Sutherland, who was one of the best surfers in the world in the late 60s and who still cherishes a good wave.

A surfer as famous as he was could have made enough money for an easy retirement, I thought, but Sutherland hadn’t cashed in. Surfing was never, to his mind, a job. Even when he was at the apex of the surfing world, he was unimpressed, stubborn. There was no pro tour in those days. “You could work for a board manufacturer, maybe have your own signature-model board,” he told me. “But that meant sell, sell, sell. That was…crass. I mean, the banality. It was antithetical to being able to enjoy being out in the water.”

Sutherland’s mom, Audrey, sounds like an amazing person:

Audrey drew up a list of things that every child should be able to do by age sixteen and stuck it on the wall. It read, in part:

- Clean a fish and dress a chicken

- Write a business letter

- Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord

- Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes

- Handle a boat safely and competently

- Save someone drowning using available equipment

- Read at a tenth grade level

- Listen to an adult talk with interest and empathy

- Dance with any age

This list changed with the times, adding computers and contraception, and nobody really kept score, but everybody got the idea.

Finnegan wrote Barbarian Days, a memoir of his life as a surfer — I loved it.

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David Robson on what science says about overcoming shyness. “One of the best things you can do to overcome your shyness is to treat yourself with greater compassion.” Adapted from his new book, The Laws of Connection.

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The Trailer for Black Barbie

The first Black Barbie doll was created and sold in 1980. Black Barbie, a documentary streaming on Netflix later this month, tells the story of how the doll came to be and the impact it had on a generation of young people who were able to see themselves in a doll with the same color skin, perhaps for the first time.

The trailer opens with this line: “If you’ve gone your whole life and you’ve never seen anything made in your own image, there is damage done.” Which is then echoed later in the trailer when a little girl is describing her Barbie: “Really pretty, and has lochs, just like me”.

Shonda Rhimes produced the film and was recently on the Today show talking about the importance of representation. And here’s a tour of Sonya Larson’s collection of 1000+ Black Barbie dolls.

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In the last 10 years, Paris has closed 100 streets to cars, removed 50,000 parking spots, tripled parking fees for SUVs, and built more than 800 miles of bike lanes. “Those changes have contributed to a 40% decline in air pollution.”

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Intermezzo by Sally Rooney

the cover of Sally Rooney's Intermezzo, featuring a yellow and brown chessboard and chess pieces whose shadows are people

Oh, there’s a new Sally Rooney novel coming out just a few days before my birthday? Now you all know what to get meeeee. It’s called Intermezzo and here’s the synopsis:

Aside from the fact that they are brothers, Peter and Ivan Koubek seem to have little in common.

Peter is a Dublin lawyer in his thirties — successful, competent, and apparently unassailable. But in the wake of their father’s death, he’s medicating himself to sleep and struggling to manage his relationships with two very different women — his enduring first love, Sylvia, and Naomi, a college student for whom life is one long joke.

Ivan is a twenty-two-year-old competitive chess player. He has always seen himself as socially awkward, a loner, the antithesis of his glib elder brother. Now, in the early weeks of his bereavement, Ivan meets Margaret, an older woman emerging from her own turbulent past, and their lives become rapidly and intensely intertwined.

For two grieving brothers and the people they love, this is a new interlude — a period of desire, despair, and possibility; a chance to find out how much one life might hold inside itself without breaking.

According to her UK publisher, here are the novel’s opening lines:

Didn’t seem fair on the young lad. That suit at the funeral. With the braces on his teeth, the supreme discomfort of the adolescent.

Already hooked. You can preorder Intermezzo at Amazon or Bookshop.

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This is *excellent*: The Musical History Lesson Buried Beneath the Song of the Summer. “Sabrina Carpenter’s ‘Espresso’ is one of several recent hits bringing back the genre that never got a name.” (See also Dua Lipa’s Dance the Night.)

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*whispers quietly* I’m not enjoying Frankenstein that much. I am also behind on the reading for Hot Frank Summer. If you’re reading it right now, how are you finding it?

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