Hubble's modern art

A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show?

It is suspected that in this case, Hubble had locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in this remarkable picture of brightly coloured stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. It seems that even when Hubble makes a mistake, it can still kick-start our imagination.

(via Explore)

Light-based media

Hubble’s modern art

A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

New Caledonian crow
Humans and other animals

Crows’ reasoning ability rivals that of seven-year-old humans

Using the Aesop’s Fable Paradigm to Investigate Causal Understanding of Water Displacement by New Caledonian Crows:

Understanding causal regularities in the world is a key feature of human cognition. However, the extent to which non-human animals are capable of causal understanding is not well understood. Here, we used the Aesop’s fable paradigm – in which subjects drop stones into water to raise the water level and obtain an out of reach reward – to assess New Caledonian crows’ causal understanding of water displacement.

We found that crows preferentially dropped stones into a water-filled tube instead of a sand-filled tube; they dropped sinking objects rather than floating objects; solid objects rather than hollow objects, and they dropped objects into a tube with a high water level rather than a low one.

However, they failed two more challenging tasks which required them to attend to the width of the tube, and to counter-intuitive causal cues in a U-shaped apparatus. Our results indicate that New Caledonian crows possess a sophisticated, but incomplete, understanding of the causal properties of displacement, rivalling that of 5–7 year old children.

(via The Guardian)


The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense

The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense by Crispian Jago. (via Boing Boing)

The curiously revered world of irrational nonsense has seeped into almost every aspect of modern society and is both complex and multifarious. Therefore rather than attempt a comprehensive taxonomy, I have opted instead for a gross oversimplification and a rather pretty Venn Diagram.


The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense

“As such nonsensical beliefs continue to evolve they become more and more fanciful and eventually creep across the bollock borders. Although all the items depicted on the diagram are completely bereft of any form of scientific credibility, those that successfully intersect the sets achieve new heights of implausibility and ridiculousness. And there is one belief so completely ludicrous it successfully flirts with all forms of bollocks.”

Craft and creativity

Quatrefoil: ‘The Fancy Shape’

Episode 106 of 99% Invisible investigates the history and meaning behind the quatrefoil, which you may simply recognise as ‘that fancy shape’:

The quatrefoil has been re-interpreted and re-contextualized in a phenomenon to which architectural and art historians refer as “iconographical drift.” The associations with the shape are constantly shifting depending on where it’s used, who is using it, and what purpose it is used for.

Yet no matter where it’s used, it implies the same thing: fanciness.

(Images: Owen Jones: The Grammar of Ornament, sourced from the University of Wisconsin’s digital archive of decorative arts by Eric Gjerde)


Meet the seven people who hold the keys to worldwide internet security

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: seven keys, held by individuals from all over the world, that together control security at the core of the web. James Ball joins a private ceremony, and finds the reality is rather closer to The Office than The Matrix.
James Ball, The Guardian

The keyholders have been meeting four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice here on the west, since 2010. All have long backgrounds in internet security and work for various international institutions. They were chosen for their geographical spread as well as their experience – no one country is allowed to have too many keyholders. They travel to the ceremony at their own, or their employer’s, expense.

What these men and women control is the system at the heart of the web: the domain name system, or DNS. This is the internet’s version of a telephone directory. Without these addresses, you would need to know a long sequence of numbers for every site you wanted to visit.

Nigel Warburton
Use your words

Nigel Warburton: Five key tips for thinking and writing clearly

Nigel Warburton interviewed by Stephen Law for the Cambridge Journals Blog on the importance of clarity in philosophy:

What would be your five key tips for thinking and writing clearly?

  1. Care about being understood.
  2. Read George Orwell’s essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946). It has excellent practical advice about writing to be understood.
  3. Use examples. These can be highly imaginative and creative. This will force you to think through what you mean by generalisations and will also help your readers to understand what you mean. If you want your writing to be impressively obscure, don’t descend from abstraction and use as much jargon as you can.
  4. Know what your conclusion is, how your reasons and examples support it and your response to obvious counterarguments and counterexamples. If you don’t know that, how can you expect your readers to work out what you are saying?
  5. Don’t bullshit. Most people know when they are doing it. If you don’t, you are probably in the wrong subject.

Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds host one of my favourite podcasts, Philosophy Bites, which I love precisely because they expertly bring great clarity to whichever topic happens to be under discussion.

Links →


Font Men

Skip to 2:25 for a brilliant and concise guide to the process of creating a new typeface.

You may not have heard of Jonathan Hoefler or Tobias Frere-Jones but you’ve seen their work. Before their recent split they ran the most successful and well respected type design studio in the world, creating fonts used by everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the President of the United States.

So, what happened with the lawsuit? →

Dong Nguyen
Light-based media

The Flight of the Birdman: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Speaks Out

David Kushner tracks down Dong Nguyen for Rolling Stone:

As news hit of how much money Nguyen was making, his face appeared in the Vietnamese papers and on TV, which was how his mom and dad first learned their son had made the game. The local paparazzi soon besieged his parents’ house, and he couldn’t go out unnoticed. While this might seem a small price to pay for such fame and fortune, for Nguyen the attention felt suffocating. “It is something I never want,” he tweeted. “Please give me peace.”

But the hardest thing of all, he says, was something else entirely. He hands me his iPhone so that I can scroll through some messages he’s saved. One is from a woman chastising him for “distracting the children of the world.” Another laments that “13 kids at my school broke their phones because of your game, and they still play it cause it’s addicting like crack.” Nguyen tells me of e-mails from workers who had lost their jobs, a mother who had stopped talking to her kids. “At first I thought they were just joking,” he says, “but I realize they really hurt themselves.” Nguyen – who says he botched tests in high school because he was playing too much Counter-Strike – genuinely took them to heart.

The Flight of the Birdman: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Speaks Out


CINEMANIA (2002), Directed by Angela Christlieb & Stephen Kijak, is a documentary about the culture of intense cinephilia in New York City that reveals the impassioned world of five wildly obsessed movie buffs. They spend their waking hours in darkened theaters, and now, these full-time audience members step from their seats onto the big screen in this entertaining documentary which celebrates their obsessions – from the grandiosity of their aesthetic dreams to the austerity of their domestic realities. In Cinemania, the Silver Screen’s biggest fans become the true stars. This is the story of their lives, their memories, their unbending habits and the films they love.

I love how they critique the documentary itself at the end of the film.

A Visual Compendium of Typewriters

A throwback to the original word processor, this chart features over 60 beautiful hand-illustrations of some of the greatest typewriters from antiquity to recent history.


Craft and creativity

A Visual Compendium of Typewriters

Underscoring over 100 years of essential models from the first Hammond in 1870 to the Remington Rands and Smith Coronas of the 20th century, these marvellous contraptions are arrayed in ribbons of compositional innovation.

Michael Crichton
Use your words

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect

In his 2002 speech titled ‘Why Speculate?’, Michael Crichton describes the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect: “I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.”

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
Michael Crichton


Evolution icon by Michael McMillan

Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”

Paul Braterman: Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”

A recent Harris poll asked Americans “Do you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution?” Others more eminent have commented on the answers; I would like to comment on the question.

It would be difficult to cram a larger number of serious errors into so small a space.

The word ‘theory’ means different things to the general public and the scientific community: In common language a theory always involves speculation. In academic discourse, it means a coherent set of ideas that explain the facts.

Darwin didn’t understand evolution (or ‘natural selection’) as well as we do today: He knew nothing about mutations or even about the existence of specific genes, and so he had no idea how new variants could arise and spread. His assumption of gradualism is in contrast to later ideas such as punctuated equilibrium, and we now know that much if not indeed most variation arises through neutral drift. Thus not only do we know far more facts about evolution than Darwin could have dreamt of, but our theories, too, incorporate numerous additional concepts.

Belief implies that disbelief is an option: Some people believe that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, but no one would say they “believe” that Barak Obama is the current incumbent, because no sane person doubts it.

Evolution icon by Michael McMillan

Star Wars 80’s High School illustrations by Denis Medri. So perfect.
Light-based media

Star Wars High

Denis Medri reimagines Star Wars as an 80’s high school flick. This would be beyond wonderful. Seriously. Disney should get right on this!

Humans and other animals

Some people lack the ability to get pleasure from music

NPR: Strange But True: Music Doesn’t Make Some People Happy

Some people lack the ability to get pleasure from music, researchers say, even though they enjoy food, sex and other great joys in life.

Psychologists at the University of Barcelona stumbled upon this while they were screening participants for a study by using responses to music to gauge emotion. They were surprised to find that music wasn’t important at all to about 5 percent of the people — they said they didn’t bob up and down to tunes they liked, didn’t get weepy, didn’t get chills. It was like they couldn’t feel the music at all.

Then they asked the participants to bring in music they liked. “The first surprise is that some of the participants had trouble bringing music from home,” says Josep Marco-Pallares, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Barcelona and senior author of the study. These people didn’t have any music — no MP3s, no CDs. No Spotify or Pandora.

I wonder if I might be in this 5%. I don’t have no music, but I definitely have a relatively small, narrow selection. What music I do like I tend not to play very often either. I listen to a lot of podcasts instead, or nothing at all when I need to concentrate. Most of my favourite music dates back to when I was a teenager and used to listen to a lot more.

I think music is something I listen to when I’m in a certain mood, not something that easily alters my mood.

Cassette icon designed by Jasmine Jones from the Noun Project


Let’s Play Nomad X

During a ‘Let’s Play’ review of his favourite ’90s computer game, a man tells a story of heartbreak. Guiding us through the space simulator Nomad X, he offers hints and tips on gameplay, losing the love of his life … and why, yesterday, he got punched in the throat.

(via digg, which rightly compared it to “You Suck At Photoshop”)

Ten Dollar Fonts have a catalogue of over 100 high-quality fonts, each sold for the bargain price of ten dollars. These are a few of my personal favourites:

Great fonts don’t need to be expensive. We believe everyone should have access to amazing new fonts, while the typographers who created them should be rewarded for their hard work.
Ten Dollar Fonts

Use your words

Ten Dollar Fonts

Founded in 2012, Ten Dollar Fonts is setting out to revolutionise typography sales by being an accessible and affordable platform for all designers.


Face-Off With a Deadly Predator – National Geographic

Paul Nicklen describes his most amazing experience as a National Geographic photographer – coming face-to-face with one of Antarctica’s most vicious predators.


Humans and other animals

Lammily: a realistically proportioned Barbie

The Creators Project: “Alternative Barbie” Comes To Life

When Nickolay Lamm released images of a 3D-printed “real Barbie,” he fully expected them to go viral. Lamm specializes in creating visuals that highlight overlooked societal flaws; the strange proportions of Barbie dolls are one such glaring mistake. So, Lamm created a new version of the fashion doll using the Center for Disease Control’s average measurements for a 19-year-old girl. His message was, “Average is Beautiful.” As the story made its rounds, Lamm received a rush of requests: People wanted to know where they could buy a doll like the one he created.

Enter Lammily: a doll that will be manufactured according to Lamm’s model.

More images: Style and beauty.

Rather than waiting for toy companies to change their designs, let’s change them ourselves by creating a fashion doll that promotes realistic beauty standards.
Lammily: Average is Beautiful

Craft and creativity

The invention of the AeroPress

Priceonomics tells the history of Aerobie and the invention of the AeroPress:

Among coffee aficionados, the AeroPress is a revelation. A small, $30 plastic device that resembles a plunger makes what many consider to be the best cup of coffee in the world. Proponents of the device claim that drinks made with the AeroPress are more delicious than those made with thousand-dollar machines. Perhaps best of all, the AeroPress seems to magically clean itself during the extraction process.

There’s really nothing bad to say about the device other than the fact that it’s a funny-looking plastic thingy. Then again, its inventor, Stanford professor Alan Adler, is a world renowned inventor of funny-looking plastic thingies; while Adler’s Palo Alto based company Aerobie is best known today for its coffee makers, the firm rose to prominence in the 1980s for its world-record-setting flying discs.

Aerobie Pro

This is the story of how Adler and Aerobie dispelled the notion of industry-specific limitations and found immense success in two disparate industries: toys and coffee.
The Invention of the AeroPress

AeroPress “Ritual” →


Change The Way You Look At Women

Images from Getty’s new Lean In collection, a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them. Jointly curated by Getty Images and LeanIn.Org – the women’s empowerment nonprofit founded by Sheryl Sandberg – the collection features over 2,500 images of female leadership in contemporary work and life.

44 Stock Photos That Hope To Change The Way We Look At Women – BuzzFeed

The Periodic Table of Storytelling second edition – by James Harris

The Periodic Table of Storytelling

Buy the print and check out the interactive version that will link you directly to the relevant TV Tropes pages.

(I posted the original here too.)

Use your words

The Periodic Table of Storytelling, second edition

By James Harris (aka DawnPaladin): The Second Edition incorporates all of the learning I received during my three years at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. It has better typography, more story molecules, and updated kilowick counts, but the identifiers are the same so as not to break compatibility with the first edition.

Climate change denial pie chart

Out of 2,258 peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December 2013 articles (9,136 authors in total), only 1 rejected the notion of human-driven global warming.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with).
Phil Plait, writing for Slate

Shape of things to come

The very, very thin wedge of climate change denial

If you listen to Fox News, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you’d have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it.


You Can Look, but You Can’t Check In – The New York Times

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Light-based media

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ in miniature

While “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is busy with smaller design elements, one of its most striking designs is the hotel itself. Outfitted in shades of pink and purple and situated atop a hill, the hotel is grandiose and picturesque. It also happens to be nine feet tall. For wide shots of the hotel, the director Wes Anderson and his team decided to use a handmade miniature model.

Shape of things to come

Speed-reading like Neo

How To Read A 223-Page Novel In Just 77 Minutes:

Spritz makes a speed-reading technology which allows you to get through a mass of text, reading every word, in a fraction of the time it would take if you were turning the pages of a book or swiping through a Kindle. A college-level reader tends to read at between 200 and 400 a minute. Using Spritz, if you can handle 1,000 words per minute, you’d only need 77 minutes to complete the first Harry Potter book.

The placement of the word is key. Each word isn’t simply centered in the Spritz box. Rather, it’s placed optimally so that as little eye-movement is needed as possible. The only thing that limits comprehension at that point if your personal cognitive ability to recognize words and process their meaning.

This animated GIF example shows 500 words per minute.

Spritz at 500wpm

I’m surprised how easy it is to read. I’ve been aware of various speed reading apps before but never really considered trying them. That GIF above has pretty much convinced me that I should, at least for reading articles online.

Fiction feels like a very different beast to me. I know for starters that I tend to speed up when the story gets exciting and sometimes I like to linger and appreciate a paragraph or line of dialogue and consider it for a bit.