Randomness for 4/8

1) What is NeoRealism? Video. Extraordinarily interesting contrast between neorealist and Hollywood movie techniques. h/t @RodneyRamsey

2) The Uncomfortable, a collection of deliberately uncomfortable everyday objects.

3) Sony gets Blender-made animated short pulled from YouTube even though they have no copyright claim to it. You can still watch it on Vimeo, though.

4) Vatican to digitize 41 million pages of ancient manuscripts. Of course, the manuscript pages themselves will outlast whatever file type the Vatican chooses to put them in.

5) Workouts inspired by your favorite fandoms. Heh.

6) What if the moon was a disco ball? Video. A question we’ve all asked at one point or another.

7) The Love Me Letters, Open Letters to Random People.

Wrecking the idea that popular art is superior to unpopular art

There was a great piece on Morning Edition yesterday about art that becomes popular versus art that doesn’t. Is there some quality that makes some art successful and preserved forever or is it all just random chance?

Obviously, the big problem with a question like that is that you can look at only one timeline; there’s no way to look at an alternate world where the Potter books never took off (or they did, inevitably).

For those who haven’t clicked the link (you can listen to the short news piece or you can read a transcript of it) a Princeton professor decided to create a number of alternate virtual worlds to test the hypothesis that popular art becomes popular because of its inherent qualities rather than random chance. He created a database of music by unknown, unsigned bands and invited thousands of teenagers to listen and download their songs for free.

Those teenagers were randomly sorted into nine different “worlds.” In one control group, the teens did not get the chance to see which songs other teens selected. In the other eight, they did.

Try not to be wildly surprised, but different songs became popular in different virtual worlds. A song that was number 1 in one setting was 40th (out of 48) in another. Further experimentation established that there was a minimum level of quality below which popularity was not possible, but after that there was no predicting what would be successful and what would not. Read it yourself if you’re curious.

My problem with this is not the assertion that popularity does not come solely from quality, and that a piece of art that is well-known is not inherently better than something obscure. It’s always been perfectly obvious to me that wonderful and excellent books could/should have been popular but weren’t (I’m not talking about me, now).

My objection here is that the good professor chalks popularity up to “chance.” In fact, he (or at least the reporter covering his work) hits the idea of chance very hard. But that’s a black box.

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, but there are a lot of effects that people attribute to chance simply because they are not well understood. What I would like to see is an experiment that examines the way those songs became popular in each virtual world. Was it an early surge? Was there an early surge that faced a backlash, with the more popular work getting a secondary surge? I’d like to know, and by that I mean that I’d really really like to know.


13 Feb 2014, 9:19am
The outside world:

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MIT tries to turn shitty books into great ones through crude VR

Via fastcodesign, the folks at MIT have tried to create a book with a crude virtual reality component: a programmable book and vest that supposedly makes the reader feel what the protagonist feels.

Follow the link if you’re curious how it’s supposed to work. There’s an embedded video, too, which I didn’t watch.

Personally, I would be embarrassed for any writer that used this technology. Text will already made the reader feel what the protagonist feels, if you do it right. That’s the point of books (well, one of the points) and having a vest that constricts, warms or cools to simulate emotions is just a distraction from the work a writer’s words are meant to do.

Randomness for 12/4

1) Surreal paintings onto the human face.

2) 80′s New Wave stars as they are now.

3) Six wild modern playgrounds.

4) The bulletproof Bespoke suit.

5) The sound arrows make as they whiz by. Video.

6) Movie posters as neon signs.

7) Video artist Patrick Liddell uploaded a video of himself, ripped it, then uploaded it again over and over to track the degradation of the recording. Video.

Randomness for 8/12

1) A really wonderful webcomic. Seriously. Check it out. You might have to scroll down a little.

2) 28 things that happened in the Harry Potter universe after the books ended. (according to JK Rowling)

3) Whale nearly swallows divers. Video

4) Comedian hides funny/absurd messages in hotel rooms.

5) Ten coolest things you can make with a 3D printer. Yeah, it’s a slide show, but this one’s worth it.

6) Copy machine changes numbers when making copies. h/t Making Light.

7) Very interesting: Husband takes photos to convince wife that her hallucinations aren’t real, but wife sees them in photos, too. After being put on a new drug, the hallucinations mostly go away, except in those photos.

Randomness for 7/25

1) Weird Ways To Burn 200 Calories. Video.

2) Excaliber, the world’s tallest (121 feet) free-standing climbing wall.

3) First of all, how do the astronauts was their hair in zero G? Awesome! Second of all, female astronaut. Awesome! Last, hair care tips from the woman on board? Hmph. I hope she gets to play guitar or something next time. Video. (Still, zero g hair-washing.)

4) The terrible and wonderful reasons I run long distances, by The Oatmeal.

5) Favorite movies laid out as vintage treasure maps.

6) Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal. This is so simple and absurd. I love it.

7) This is what happens when you try to take video of police in Sweden. Video. (h/t to James Nicoll).

Randomness for 5/27

1) An innovative student project for simplifying fast food packaging. Me, I hate having to carry the cup separately from the food.

2) 7 Awesome Moments in the Greatest Police Training Video Ever via Chris Sims

3) Making a laser-cut LP out of a disc of wood.

4) The Palme d’Awful: worst films for sale at Cannes. NSFW due to a naked male butt in one of the posters. Wow, do these movies look terrible (except for FDR: AMERICAN BADASS) and every actor whose name I recognize makes me cringe with embarrassment for them. Sharknado, dude? Really? I guess it beats selling air conditioners. via @BarrSteve

5) Public spaces that appear to be private.

6) Fun fantasy chimeras created by Photoshop.

7) Social Media Fails from 19 companies. I love these.

17 May 2013, 6:58am
The outside world:

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2013 Seattle Science Festival

My wife is on the steering committee for the 2013 Seattle Science Festival, which starts on June 6th. This is only the second year they’ve run one, and last year was pretty cool. I took my son to a physics demonstration at the UW (I thought I’d blogged about it but now I can’t find the link) and he loved it.

This year will be even bigger. On June 8th there’s going to be a huge expo at the Seattle Center, and from the 6th to the 11th there will be events happening all over the Puget Sound area, from presentations on becoming a game creator at the Microsoft store to

Anyway, I’ve copy and pasted a note the festival organizers have asked me to share letting folks know briefly about what’s on the schedule and how you can get involved, if you feel so moved.



I would like to take this opportunity to invite you and your organization to the second annual Seattle Science Festival. This year, the region’s largest celebration of science will take place June 6-16, 2013 to celebrate the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to our community’s culture and to its continued growth and prosperity. The Seattle Science Festival will consist of the following components:


  • Science EXPO Day, Saturday, June 8, will feature exciting, engaging events all day long throughout the grounds of Seattle Center. Over 15,000 students, parents, scientists, educators and other community members are anticipated to take part in this FREE event. Science EXPO Day will showcase over 150 hands-on activities and demonstrations; it will also feature live science performances on the EXPO Day Stage. FREE BUS PARKING IS AVAILABLE ON SCIENCE EXPO DAY! Contact Jordan Adams at jadams@pacsci.org for more details.


  • Signature Programs, June 6-16, will provide events developed by our program collaborators specifically for the Seattle Science Festival. Signature Programs include behind-the-scenes tours, science adventures, field trip opportunities for classrooms, workshops, screenings of science-themed films, a Cool Jobs Series at the Seattle Public Library on June 9-Computer Science, June 12-Green & Clean Technology, and June 13-Biomedical Science, plus many other events held at venues all over the Puget Sound region.


  • Opening Night at the Paramount Theatre, June 6, 8 – 10 PM Beyond Infinity? The Search for Understanding at the Limits of Space and Time. Featuring Brian Greene, Sean Carroll, Adam Frank and the West Coast premiere of Icarus at the Edge of Time, and music by Philip Glass, conducted by Marcus Tsutakawa and performed by the Garfield High School Orchestra. Avoid service charges by purchasing tickets IN PERSON at the Paramount Theatre Box Office at 911 Pine Street, Seattle, or for 10 or more tickets, contact their Group Sales Manager at (206) 315-8054.


  • Closing Night at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, June 15, 7:30 – 9:30 PM Our 11th Hour: Straight Talk on Climate Change from People Who Know. Featuring Kevin E. Trenberth, Richard Alley, Andrew Revkin and a performance of Seattle Opera’s Heron and the Salmon Girl. Buy tickets at www.seattlesciencefestival.org.


These high profile events will present some of the greatest scientific and creative minds of our time and weave together science, music, art and philosophy for two inspiring, thought-provoking and engaging evenings.


How can you get involved?



Visit www.seattlesciencefestival.org to learn more about how you can get involved and I hope to see you there!

Randomness for 4/22

1) The annual Shorty Awards have chosen the Best Quora Answer of the Year: “What does the first day of a 5+ year prison sentence feel like?” The answers that made the list of finalists are at that link as well.

2) If Facebook made a Facebook house.

3) “Tie” Chi: knotting a Windsor as a martial arts kata.

4) Chemical-free “natural” swimming pools that are cleaned by plants. This looks a) awesome b) a lot of work and c) inappropriate for Florida. Still, it’s green and gorgeous.

5) From College Humor, Batman vs. The Penguin (played by Patton Oswalt). Video.

6) 27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012

7) Seattle’s King Street Train Station has finally received its finishing touches and is ready for a Grand Opening. And it’s gorgeous. I’m tempted to take a train trip just so I have an excuse to go down there.

Randomness for 2/12

1) The Galactic Empire responds to the White House refusal to build a Death Star.

2) Goodreads review in 2250 of a historical novel set in the present time: “Most of the details were correct, but the author forgot that, in the early 21st century, people had to wear special clothes in the rain because their clothes were not yet water- mud- and oil-proof.” Video.

3) An index to fantasy maps. Would it be ungrateful of me to suggest that this seems thin?

4) Walter Cronkite describes the space age kitchen of the far-distant future of 2001. Video included but no auto-play.

5) A chart to demonstrate that fantasy series get longer with each book.

6) “Game of Thrones” Valentines

7) OH MY DAYUM. Video. Normally I’m not big on autotuning normal dialog but this is brilliant.

  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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