Hi, it's Victor! This month, some interesting links about words, religion, food, time and others. Hope you enjoy!
Imagine being a ladder so famous you've got a Wikipedia page. The wooden Immovable Ladder was left by a mason in the 18th century after working above the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem. That church is the site where Jesus supposedly died and then resurrected, so it's kind of a hot place for multiple religions. It's fairly complex, but after they reached an agreement over who can do what on key sites of the Holy Land, including this church, that ladder now can't be moved without the permission of all six different Christian leaders and is a symbol of Christian division.
List of deaths from laughter. The parent article death from laughter reminds us it is a very rare though real possibility, and also has deaths from laughter in popular culture (“In The Sims 4, if a Sim is hysterical for too long, death is a serious possibility.”)
New word that isn't what it looks like: plogging is a combination of jogging while picking up litter.
Michael Carroll (AKA “Lotto Lout” and “King of Chavs”) is a winner of the National Lottery, famed enough to have a Wikipedia page. He spent all £9 million in six years on “new homes, drugs, parties, jewellery and cars” and bad investments, and then went back to being a binman, reportedly saying he had “no regrets.”
On the 19th of February 1942, in Winnipeg, the military tried to gain support for the Canadian war effort with an event called “If Day”. It simulated a Nazi invasion and occupation, featuring “volunteers wearing Nazi uniforms rented from Hollywood, simulated bridge demolitions with coal-dust clouds, and a mass burning of books”. The imitation worked, raising around $3 million in bonds, but the article also mentions that apart from the mock casualties amongst the blanks fired, there were "two real casualties of the event – a soldier who sprained his ankle, and a woman who cut her thumb preparing toast during the early-morning blackout”.
A list of twice-borrowed terms in English: words borrowed from another language… that originally borrowed the term from English. Some surprising things there like karaoke, bikini, craic, rugby, Tamagotchi, gourmet.
Norwich still has some anti-urination devices built in the 19th century in the city centre. Public urination was a big issue with the growth of tourism and they couldn't resolve on where to build public bathrooms, so the solution was an early example of hostile architecture which, essentially, made all corners unreachable.
The Wiktionary offers a word of the day with archives, and given its richness, it's a bit less boring than your average official-dictionary WOTD.
Bog butter is an ancient way of making and preserving butter and animal fats, produced by burying containers in peat bogs. Theories suggest that this could both be for preservation (peat bogs are “low temperature, low oxygen, highly acidic environments, have excellent preservative properties. Experiments conducted by researcher Daniel C. Fisher demonstrated that pathogen and bacterial counts of meat buried in peat bogs for up to two years were comparable to levels found in control samples stored in a modern freezer”), or for basic processing that makes some food more palatable.
An extremely complete glossary of artificial intelligence.
See also: Existential risk from artificial general intelligence
Read the other day: “what's the difference between AI and Machine Learning? If it's written in Python, it's probably machine learning. If it's written in PowerPoint, it's probably artificial intelligence”
Squirrels are leading the cyberwar, followed by birds and snakes. Wild animals are attributed to thousands of power outages every year, cutting cords and causing extensive damage to infrastructure, causing real issues on local power grids and networks.
More globally, sharks have attempted a few times to shut down Internet links between the US and East Asia, causing substantial delays as the traffic has to be re-routed via Europe and the Atlantic.
The Wolf of Wall Street, a film about being a white collar scammer, turns out to also have been a huge scam in how it's been financed, in the knowledge of Leonardo DiCaprio.
A great article on euphemisms and why we use them, including a cool story suggesting that the word “bear” is the oldest known euphemism. (My partner called it “The original Voldemort”). (The article however appears to be wrong, we do know what the original word it replaced may have been.)
Fun fact: the Bible is copyrighted. Well, not the Bible itself, but the translations of the Bible are copyrighted, and you need to pay a hefty license to re-publish most versions. One of the most popular English translation, the New International Version, was bought for North America by a company, Zondervan, that's owned by a certain Rupert Murdoch & News Corp.
The engineer who designed the Pringles cans in 1966, Fredric Baur, was apparently pretty proud of his invention. Thankfully he is now forever close to them, as his children “honored his request to bury him in one of the cans by placing part of his cremated remains in a Pringles container in his grave.” (They debated which flavour to use, but stuck with Original.)
Cryptic pregnancies can feel very mysterious, but they're not that uncommon: it happens for about 1 in 2,500 pregnancies. They are so-called “cryptic” because the mother does not know that she is expecting a baby right until the baby is born: all the usual signs of pregnancy are completely absent (or, it is thought in some cases, subconsciously ignored), including feelings and gaining weight. It sounds kind of unbelievable, until you read enough stories of women who have the same story: “Most parents have nine months to prepare,” says Dollan. “I had two seconds – maybe a minute. Instantly, my life changed for ever.”
Solution to last month's sentences you gazed at: they are pangrams, slightly less boring than the quick brown fox jumped over lazy dogs.
In Japan, there is an art called kintsugi, focusing on mending broken pottery with gold. Instead of trying to conceal the break, the cracks are emphasised to give objects a new value, more beauty, more stories than the original.
Like several other places in the tech industry recently, the staff at Kickstarter started unionising last month, and the response from senior management had a special kind of bleakness to it: they were “concerned with the misappropriation of unions for use by privileged workers. […] Unions are historically intended to protect vulnerable members of society.” Jacobin Magazine reacted to that in a great article called Forget Your Middle-Class Dreams, to remind us that this old tactic that pitting workers against each other is really useful for bosses to break unions, not for workers. Particularly in a period where the words “middle class” mean so little, with more people in debt and no stability even with higher incomes, and few well established boundaries of what defines “middle class” beyond cultural definitions. “If class is solely an identity, not a relationship to those around you and the productive apparatus, then who are you, the nurse, the graphic designer, to claim the same identity as a coal miner? The only logical conclusion is to count your blessings.”
A fascinating history of the calorie, and its use as the sacrosanct measure for food that's good or bad for you, and why it's (thankfully) finally dying to let us be a bit more reasonable about understanding the food we eat.
Aaron Banks, the bad boy of Brexit, who's heavily backed the campaign, has suspicious money, links with Russia, and is being investigated by the National Crime Agency over his role in the referendum.
Ramsey Orta filmed cops brutally killing his friend Eric Garnier in the US, and cops didn't seem to appreciate too much. After he released the video, he's been tracked constantly and has been put in prison for a crime that very likely didn't happen, and is now abused in jail by officers as a punishment for wanting justice.
Phase out cars within 10 years is an enticing project (for those of us who live in cities). I'm down with the call and the reasons for doing it — this is exactly the kind of thing that's needed to actually tackle climate change and pollution, and their very real effects already happening. But like many radical ideas, I'm too pessimistic that it won't happen before much later.
Everybody is getting excited about electric vehicles (which only displace the pollution outside of cities, rather than fixing anything) and circlejerk over the idea of shared ownership of self-driving cars (which nobody actually wants), while efficient local transport and decent biking infrastructure don't nearly have the same kind of public support.
How Inuit parents raise their kids without yelling, because children only repeat the behaviour they see in adults, and if you cannot control your anger then you can't expect your children to control theirs. Fascinating read.
We should build a wall around North Wales: a great essay on immigration, borders and state violence, which starts and ends with one question: “People develop attachments to places, they move, they develop attachments to new places, and to new people. If you think people have a right to do that, then the question is how to support it. If you don’t, then you need to ask yourself: what level of violence are you prepared to tolerate to keep people in their place?”
C Duncan - Impossible (indie rock / scotland / 2019)
Poisonous Relationships - Give Me My Heaven (queer electronic house / scotland / 2016)
Dream Carpets - Cloud Beam (ambient downtempo / canada / 2013)
Guided By Voices - To Remake The Young Flyer (lo-fi / US / 1996)
Mulatu Astatke - Yèkèrmo Sèw (ethio-jazz / ethiopia / 1976)
Flamingods - Marigold (psychedelic rock / england & bahrain / 2019)
A talk well worth watching: Design with words, by Erika Hall of Mule Design. It's centred on conversational/chatbot interfaces, but is generally a great reflection about the role of words in all interfaces. We tend to separate content production and design in our processes, to a degree that borders absurdity; often putting content creation after drawing pretty boxes, which Erika says is akin to “shooting a movie first, and then writing the script”. She says designers fear using language more than visual design, because we're afraid of our writing skills as if we're going to be assessed on it — but this is the internet, not a printed book, you can prototype and change it the next day! — and too often, we cling onto the myth that if you need to use words to explain your interface, you've somehow failed at designing it.
Talking about myths, here's a great reference site: UX Myths.
Key quote that echoes the no to noUI article I sent in January: “An invisible interface must still be designed”. If you want interactions to seem effortless, you still need to actively and very carefully design the system to be working with the user.
Something else that caught my mind: when designing conversational interfaces, it is vital to prototype the conversation with someone else. If you can't have a chat with your colleague that matches what you're expecting to happen on the chatbot, how do you expect to write scenarios that are remotely realistic?
Microsoft killed its online ebook library and because all ebooks have DRM, they decided to… prevent you from opening and reading all books you've bought there. (People got refunded though). “When I was a bookseller, nothing I could do would result in your losing the book that I sold you. If I regretted selling you a book, I didn't get to break into your house and steal it, even if I left you a cash refund for the price you paid.”
More search, less feed.
The New York Times ran a series of articles on better productivity, which is really worth reading: Productivity isn't about time management, it's about attention management and why you procrastinate has nothing to do with self-control.
A fascinating tutorial that explains how 3D terrain maps are made (those in national parks and mountains). Worth skimming through even if you don't intend to ever open a 3D program; significantly more skills and work goes in them than I'd have thought, and you'd be surprised at how much exaggeration and illusions are needed to make it credible and readable.
Open source doesn't make money because it isn't designed to make money.
Move over Snapchat and TikTok, the hottest chat app for teens at the moment is Google Docs. What a world.
Facial recognition's dirty little secret: millions of online photos are scraped online without consent to train models. (And yet they still manage to fuck up not having biased datasets.)
LOW←TECH Magazine is an online blog about using lo-fi techniques to reduce our energy consumption as technologists. (Case in point, their server itself is solar-powered, so that URL may be down if it's not sunny enough and the battery is flat.)
That's it for this month. Thank you for reading!