Welcome to the latest edition of the Linkfest! "The opposite of doomscrolling", as I call it 😅
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But enough throat-clearing: Let's get to it. Here are the finest fruits of the Internet I've selected, just for you ...
Pierre-Carl Langlais has created a hilarious AI chatbot, "Monad-GPT" -- a version of ChatGPT fine-tuned using texts of early English, i.e. from the medieval period leading up to the 17th century.
Basically, it's a version of ChatGPT that speaks like a 17th-century scholarly monk -- and answers using only the scientific and historical info that existed back then.
The conversations are thus quite wonderful:
User: What are the planets of the solar system?
Monad-GPT: The six Planets are, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun. The Moon is also a Planet; which being of so great Influence upon Earth, makes it to be most admired of all others by Astronomers.
User: Why has the Moon such an influence upon Earth?
Monad-GPT: But the Moon is so neer to us, as almost to be part of Earth; and therefore it much influences our Atmosphere. This Influence makes all that are in any way affected by Air, to be more under her influence than any other Planet. For if there were a little more or less Matter in the Air, than there is now, we should never have such Plants and Creatures as there are upon Earth: for every Plant and Creature hath its proper Temperature necessary for its Existence. If the Sun did not make up this shortage by his warmth from without, we should be destroyed.
Love it. I think I dig this even more than regular old ChatGPT, which I still haven't found much use for (apart from occasionally helping with coding). I've discovered I can't really use ChatGPT for answering questions or authoring prose, because its propensity for unexpectedly issuing bullshit makes it too unreliable for any serious purpose.
Ah, but for unserious, fun, and/or artistic purposes -- like Monad-GPT? Bring on those large language models, lol.
More practically, Monad-GPT shows the value of "retrieval augmented generation" -- i.e., creating fine-tuned versions of ChatGPT (or other LLMs) based on specific corpuses of text. I wouldn't be surprised if publishers start creating pretrained LLMs for new books, so you can talk to the book after you're done reading.
Ivan Miranda created this amazing clock -- a contraption that shoots marbles with precise timing, producing a pixelated-time display.
Marbles feed into the elevator in an unpredictable order. An array of sensors detects the color of each marble. Solenoids simply eject any marble that isn’t in the right place. For example, if the next marble for track n needs to be white, then simply kick out any black marbles in that position until there’s a white one. Simple, effective, and guarantees plenty of mesmerizing moving parts.
Go watch the video of how he built it; it's really something.
Apple products have famously top-notch hardware engineering -- which knockoff imitators quickly copy.
Are the originals actually better than the copies? To suss this out, Lumafield took some industrial CT machines and scanned several Apple products, as well as some of their knockoffs.
The authentic AirPods house meticulously-engineered button cell batteries in each earbud, designed to fit snugly within the compact form factor and provide optimal power efficiently. In contrast, both specimens of counterfeit AirPods contain lithium-ion pouch cell batteries that are not only less sophisticated in their construction but also potentially less safe. The rectangular pouches are crammed into circular spaces rather than tailored to fit.
Moving to the internal circuitry, the genuine AirPods are a marvel of miniaturization and precision engineering. They use a combination of rigid and flexible printed circuit boards to pack components densely and ensure that every millimeter of space is used effectively. On the other hand, the counterfeit AirPods reveal much simpler electronics cobbled together from off-the-shelf components. That leaves less room for functionality; the counterfeits have fewer microphones and less control circuitry, compromising their sound quality.
Of course, things like "sound quality" are partly in the ear of the beholder. I know people who buy knockoff Airpods because they know they'll lose them, and would rather lose $25 imitations than $130 originals ... and they can't really tell much of an audio difference.
Still, for sheer gearheaded nerdiness, this CT analysis is pretty cool.
"QR Code Monster" is a version of Stable Diffusion that generates images that are also usable QR codes. That example above? It's from this guide on how to make 'em (though you can also use a point-and-click app here if you want to try it yourself).
Over at Hyperallergic, Aidan Walker writes about the community of AI-prompt artists who are creating QR Code Monster art. One is a Reddit user known as Ugleh, who created this gorgeous QR code ...
... as well as this "Checkered Village":
There's a ton of byzantine prompt-crafting that goes into coaxing the AI to produce such images. As Walker describes it ...
The checkerboard image below was created starting with the deceptively simple prompt “Medieval village scene with busy streets and castle in the distance,” followed by fifteen lines of complicated and sometimes indecipherable modifiers, including one that instructs the AI to not make the image like a “bad anime.”
That's largely because of the dominance of Tik Tok, which so aggressively cultivates niches that it can produce massive cascades of attention to entirely sealed-off groups. Each group, itself huge, perceives that zomg hundreds of millions of people are all paying attention to the hashtag for Topic A ...
... which is true, except that on Tik Tok, a group of "hundreds of millions of people" isn't terribly big. Trends, subjects of conversation and Main Characters can erupt massively within one niche of people, but never make the jump to other niches. In other works, virality on Tik Tok works differently from the "everyone in one room" style of Twitter.
... the internet doesn’t make sense in aggregate anymore and trying to view it as a monolith only gives you bad, confusing, and, oftentimes, wrong impressions of what’s actually going on.
The best descriptions of the current state of the web right now were both actually published months before the fighting in the Middle East broke out and written about a completely different topic. Semafor’s Max Tani coined the term, “the fragmentation election,” which was a riff on writer John Herrman’s similar idea, the “nowhere election”. Tani points to declining media institutions and dying platforms as the culprit for all the amorphousness online. And Herrman latches on podcasts and indie media. Both are true, but I think those are all just symptoms. And so, to piggyback off both them, and go a bit broader (as I typically do), I’m going to call our current moment the Vapor Web. Because there is actually more internet with more happening on it — and with bigger geopolitical stakes — than ever before. And yet, it’s nearly impossible to grab ahold of it because none of it adds up into anything coherent. Simply put, we’re post-viral now.
A cool way of thinking about it!
I'm not sure I'm completely sold on it, though. Even in the heyday of "wow everyone is arguing about #issueDuJour on Twitter!", it wasn't really everyone ... or even close it. Certainly, journalists were faintly obsessed with what was going viral on Twitter, and their coverage antennae vibrated to Twitter's resonant frequency; but a lot of Americans never used Twitter at all. (At its peak, I think one in four Americans were on it.) Something could go massively, centrally viral on Twitter -- yet the great mass of the public would register the subject with a blank stare. Or to put it another way, it's not just Tik Tok; everyday reality has always been composed of large communities that are generally ignorant of other communities' interests and obsessions.
They're wild! I'm a fearful flyer, but one way I calm myself down is by looking out the window; seeing the horizon and clouds and scenery seems to calm, or at least to orient, my proprioception. One of my favorite things to see when I'm flying at night are storms. I've never seen storms quite like these, though.
In The Matrix Reloaded, we meet "the Merovingian", a character -- technically, a piece of sentient software -- who functions as a mob boss in the virtual world. He speaks French, acts like a classic Bond villain, and wears an all-black suit ...
... with a very cool knot. An unusual one, too! The vast majority of knots are tied such that the short and thin end of the tie is hidden behind the fat, wide part. But this knot does the opposite: It arrays the thin part on top of the wide part.
As the author notes:
This tie knot actually existed well before The Matrix films and was originally known as the Ediety Knot. It boasts an intricate folded knot that places the skinny end on the outside of the necktie. It basically looks as if it's wearing a smaller version of itself. Only a man with villainous style can possibly pull of this tie knot as it was literally worn by a villain. If you want to introduce a rebellious perspective to your style, the Merovingian Knot is the way to go.
The next time I go to a formal event I'm totally using this.
(Oh, and while we're on the subject: Math nerds! Go grab a copy of The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie! In it, the authors use knot theory to calculate every possible way to tie a reasonably-aesthetically-appealing knot, and come up with a few ones previously unknown to history. I don't think they have the Merovingian in there, though ...)
Baldur's Gate is series of role-playing video games, set in a (roughly) medieval period. As a result, players are kitted out in various forms of period-specific armor: Chain-mail shirts, breastplates.
But -- how historically accurate is the armor?
GLAD YOU ASKED. The military historian Bret Devereaux wondered too, so he wrote a long, witty, and learned assessment.
You can read the whole thing here, but as a sample, here's a section where he examines the game's leather armor (pictured above). He likes it, mostly, but goes on a gentle rant about ...
... studded leather, a standby of medieval fantasy, but unfortunately not a thing to actually existed. The added protective value of a few rivets run through leather is basically nil. Instead, ‘studded leather’ seems to be based on a misinterpretation of medieval artwork, what I am going to refer to broadly as the ‘English Effigy Problem.’ What I mean by this is that modern folks (often Victorian moderns) looking at statues (famously, English coffin effigies, but also manuscript illustrations) without any experience of the objects being depicted tend to badly misunderstand what it is they are looking at.
In this case, there was a kind of armor in the Middle Ages which, from the outside, resembled a leather or textile coat with rivets through it: the brigandine (and also some coats of plates). But those rivets weren’t the defensive element, they were securing many small overlaping metal plates and those were the defensive element. A brigandine was not by any means light; it was a viable substitute (and with the coat of plates, a chronological forerunner) for a full breastplate. Looking at the BG3 armor, even this many years removed from the original mistake of having ‘studded leather’ in DnD, it is still immediately clear to me that this is a misinterpretation of a brigandine. Studded armor wasn’t a thing.
Light pollution is a huge problem for astronomy. But a German company called StealthTransit thought of a cool way to minimize it: What if you took all the LED streetlights in a town and flickered them at a specific frequency? That way, any nearby telescopes could time their image-taking for when the streetlights are (ever so momentarily) off.
They tested it in Russia, and sure enough, the hack worked. As Space.com reports ...
The experiments, conducted at an observatory in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, showed that the technology, dubbed the DarkSkyProtector, could reduce unwanted sky glow in astronomical images by 94%.
"We can say that the telescope was seeing almost a dark sky at this time," Pashkovsky said. "The important thing about our technology is that it makes all kinds of lights astronomy-friendly, including outdoor advertising and indoor lighting in apartments, offices and stores."
Of course, it'd be hard to get an entire town to synchronize all its outdoor lighting. But not impossible, and maybe worth trying.
In recent year, California's "pipevine butterfly" had nearly vanished from San Francisco. They'd lost their habitat; the butterflies feed exclusively on pipevine, a plant that had been mostly chopped down in San Fran.
Tim Wong turned it around, though. He learned that the last remaining local pipevine grew in the San Francisco Botanical Garden. He convinced the Garden to let him take some cuttings -- and used them to build a pipevine garden in his backyard.
When Wong first started bringing caterpillars to the botanical garden, he’d only transport a few hundred at a time. But as his backyard caterpillar population grew, he was able to exponentially increase this. Last year he introduced "thousands" of caterpillars to the garden.
Basically, the dude single-handedly saved the butterfly's local population. Apparently no other city with vanishing pipevine butterflies has been as successful.
Those are gorgeous butterflies, too.
How does it work? From what I can tell from this story in designboom, she put the algae in circular glass dishes, and vibrates each dish to stimulate the algae to glow. She apparently needs to give each pixel some cool-down time after each stimulation; the algae need a rest period to recharge. I dig the idea of introducing that sort of biological limitation into a putatively "digital" display.
The world's largest musical instrument. ✨ The benefits of round houses. ✨ What coyotes eat in New York City. ✨ "Falling Fruit", a global crowdsourced map of edible-fruit trees in urban environments. ✨ How to store images on an audio cassette. ✨ A 400-year-old prosthetic arm. ✨ Talking to ChatGPT while reading a book. ✨ The museum that misplaced a $3.7 million Rodin statue. ✨ Man I hope these two neutron stars don't collide. ✨ The first Porsche, from 1898, was just found in a shed. ✨ A copy of 1984 made from pulped copies of The Davinci Code. ✨ A bendable smartphone turned into a slap bracelet. ✨ How carrots became orange. ✨ EV batteries may last longer than we suspect. ✨ "iphone 8, car insurance, direct tv": A look at Google's most lucrative search queries ✨ The cousin of the "murder hornet" has arrived. ✨ Catching criminals by doing DNA analysis of cat-hair they inadvertently pick up. ✨ Trying to write a novel on an Amtrak train. ✨ NASA's sun probe has become the fastest-moving human-made craft in history. ✨ A seabird's 11-hour flight through a typhoon. ✨ "Trust and Safety Tychoon", the game. ✨ Statistical analysis of how often "one terrible episode" ruins a TV series. ✨ The mystery of why three stars vanished in 1952. ✨ Why fire is to hard to render digitally. ✨ Inside the culture of backcountry barnstormers. ✨ Building calculators using old-school electromechanical relays. ✨ Running a small electric current around the roots of plants appears to boost their growth. ✨ The ghostly "blood footprint" of 1891. ✨ When radioactive water was a health fad. ✨ Superionic ice.