[books] ‘This Goes All the Way to the Queen’: The Puzzle Book that Drove England to Madness … a look back Kit Williams’ Masquerade and how the book and treasure hunt caused a huge outbreak of apophenia … ‘Masquerade sold two million copies in the first few years, and readers went mad—sometimes literally—trying to suss out the location of the golden hare. Based on hunches, resonances, illusory references, coincidental results from imagined codes, and genuine mistakes, “Masqueraders” dug up acres of countryside, traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, wrote tens of thousands of letters to Williams, and occasionally got stuck halfway up cliffs or were apprehended by police while trespassing on historic properties. Masquerade’s simple, elegant puzzle was couched in a lush landscape of visual symbolism and wordplay, and as it turns out, there’s no better way to distract people from a genuine plan than by concealing it inside a bunch of random noise. Given enough unrelated, unnecessary information, human brains will construct the decoy patterns all by themselves.’
[life] A moment that changed me – my husband fell in love with a bonobo … ‘He was helpless against Malou. His legs carried him without him even knowing to her shady abode several times a day, where she would fling her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist and he would whisper secrets that would have her panting with laughter, and it was all just nauseating. All the more so because Malou had quickly figured out that I was the other woman, and spent her days trying to ruin me. She covered me in poop. She devastated my hair. After every encounter with her, I looked like the forest ape.’
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September 8, 2015
[head] I Hung Out With Jeremy Bentham’s Severed Head And This Is What I Learned … Hayley Campbell meets a dead philopsopher’s head … ‘Bentham’s head has been dead for 183 years and he smells like vinegar and feet and bad jerky and damp dust. “Oh, they all smell like that. Y’know, like mummies,” said Kingham, as if the smell of Egyptian mummies is wildly more relatable to me than the smell of a dead philosopher’s head.’
[stories] Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last … edited transcripts of a Neil Gaiman talk on stories. The full version can be found here … ‘We will do an awful lot for stories — we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn — like some kind of symbiote — help us endure and make sense of our lives. A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems — a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.’
[life] Stanley Kubrick: ‘The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.’ [via Letters of Note]
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July 10, 2015
[catfish] This Is What It’s Like To Fall In Love With A Woman Who Doesn’t Exist … a fascinating UK Catfishing story … ‘The obvious conclusion is that the culprit is a friend of Ruth’s, or least in her circle of acquaintances. Her social media accounts are private and almost always have been, apart from when she first joined Facebook aged 18. But Ruth is adamant that she can’t imagine any of her friends doing that to her. “People say it must be someone you know,” she says. “But I don’t know anyone who has that amount of time.”’
[life] Family Watching Movie White-Knuckles It Through Unexpected Sex Scene … ‘Sources said the awkward experience was made even more unbearable by the fact that the family had been exchanging casual remarks throughout the film, but then fell completely quiet once it became clear the two characters on their television were about to have sex. Though the silence was reportedly grueling, the Schaeffers nonetheless hunkered down, gripped their seats tightly, and showed no outward acknowledgement of the onscreen intimacy. The scene, which lasted 19 seconds, is reported to have felt much, much longer.’
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He was born Daniel Patrick Macnee in London in 1922 and raised at first in Berkshire, where his father Daniel, known as Shrimp, was renowned in racing circles, but also in pubs and bookies – “a genius with a horse but not so good with human beings”, in his son’s words. Macnee would go on to base much of the Steed persona on his father, who at dinner parties disconcerted fellow guests whom he suspected of being a pacifist by pulling an unloaded gun on them, and was deported from India – where he later settled – for urinating from a balcony on to the heads of high-ranking Raj officials.
His mother, Dorothea, who had aristocratic connections, was 22 years younger than her husband and left him when Patrick was eight for her lesbian lover, Evelyn Spottswood, an heir to the Dewar’s whisky family. Men were banned from the house and Patrick’s mother and her partner did their best to expunge any whiff of masculinity by trying to coax him into wearing dresses. The horrified young boy mollified them by wearing only kilts until the age of 11. Uncle Evelyn, as he was instructed to call her, helped pay his fees for Eton. He expended most of his energy setting himself up as a pornography salesman and bookmaker, using tips from his father. “I had pounds 200 in the kitty when they caught me.” He was expelled.
[life] Highlights From The Guardian’s Soulmates Dating Site…‘I have simple tastes – I want a man who enjoys cross training on Hampstead Heath, Kurdish folk music retrospectives at the Barbican and the ability to quote every Polly Toynbee column from the last 18 months.’
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May 26, 2015
[death] The most insane deaths seen by an NYC medical examiner … fascinating overview of the career of a Medical Examiner in New York …‘When Judy Melinek was considering where to begin her career as a medical examiner — New York or LA? — she was given great advice. “If you really want to learn forensic pathology, do a rotation in New York City,” her chief resident said. “All kinds of great ways to die there.” Including, but not limited to: plummeting down a manhole, attack by egg-roll machine, miscalculating the tensile strength of cable cord and scaffolding collapse. In Melinek’s first week on the job, the tone became clear. As one novice began describing the case of “a man who was shot by a lady,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Seymour Hirsch corrected him. “Shot by a woman,” Hirsch said. “Ladies don’t shoot people.” And so began Dr. Judy Melinek’s education in life and death in New York City…’
These guys were Bohemians? Don’t make me laugh. Do you know where the most bohemian place in this country is – The Church of England!
Women bishops, over friendly vicars, vegetarians, and socialists have done more damage to the once wonderful institution of the Anglican church than Hitler’s bombs. It wouldn’t surprise me if I woke up next week and found that Westminster Abbey was now a disco nightclub.
My brother in law, Nigel got caught up in the bohemian lifestyle when he met a Dutch sailor called Jurgen at a ‘get to know your neighbour’ session at his local church. I suppose we should noticed something suspicious when the vicar (who was wearing a rainbow coloured jumper) exhorted everyone present to shake their neighbour’s hand. Little did we realise at the time that this was his introduction to moral depravity. Mind you, Nigel was always an odd one. He preferred musical theatre to sport etc, but despite that found what we thought was a nice girl and got married. Sadly she turned out to be a harridan who was more interested in the Labour Party and ‘women’s issues’ than bearing his children. Ultimately she threw him out and moved her fancyman in. It nearly destroyed poor old Nigel. He lost a lovely home (four beds, large garden, double garage) on a nice estate and ended up living on a barge on a canal. Still he found love of some kind with Jurgen and together they making a living refurbishing soiled cinema seats in Amsterdam. Obviously I don’t talk to him anymore, neither does anyone else in the family. I can only hope he is happy.
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[philosophy] ‘Kant is a moron’: vandals critique the philosopher’s home … 210 years after his death an unknown critic vandalizes Immanuel Kant’s home … ‘The Russian word used is a relatively mild term of abuse for a slow-witted or foolish person, and could also be translated as “loser,” “dumb-ass,” or “chump”. The vandals did not, however, leave any accompanying critique of Kant’s thinking to justify the smear on his intellectual powers. Kant (1724-1804) is generally considered one of the most formidable philosophers to have lived, and is credited with breakthroughs in epistemology and moral philosophy that continue to define the fields to this day.’
[royalty] What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies? … fascinating look at the first few days after the Queen dies … ‘For at least 12 days — between her passing, the funeral and beyond — Britain will grind to a halt. It’ll cost the British economy billions in lost earnings. The stock markets and banks will close for an indefinite period. And both the funeral and the subsequent coronation will become formal national holidays, each with an estimated economic hit to GDP of between £1.2 and £6 billion, to say nothing of organisational costs. But to focus on the financial disruption doesn’t begin to describe the sheer magnitude of it. It will be an event unlike anything Britain has ever seen before. There will be trivial disruptions — the BBC will cancel all comedy shows, for example — and jarring cultural changes. Prince Charles may change his name, for instance, and the words of the national anthem will be changed, too. The deaths of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother both brought on waves of public mourning and hysteria. But the Queen, due to her longevity and fundamental place atop British society, will be on a whole new level above that. The vast majority of British people have simply never known life without the Queen. It will be a strange, uncertain time…’
[life] What is blue and how do we see color? … a look at why the Ancient Greeks could not see the colour blue … ‘Davidoff says that without a word for a color, without a way of identifying it as different, it is much harder for us to notice what is unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way. So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they did not know they were seeing it. If you see something yet can’t see it, does it exist? Did colors come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have…’
[life] The truth about evil … a long-read from John Gray on the nature of evil and how politicians deal with it … ‘Here Blair is at one with most western leaders. It’s not that they are obsessed with evil. Rather, they don’t really believe in evil as an enduring reality in human life. If their feverish rhetoric means anything, it is that evil can be vanquished. In believing this, those who govern us at the present time reject a central insight of western religion, which is found also in Greek tragic drama and the work of the Roman historians: destructive human conflict is rooted in flaws within human beings themselves. In this old-fashioned understanding, evil is a propensity to destructive and self-destructive behaviour that is humanly universal. The restraints of morality exist to curb this innate human frailty; but morality is a fragile artifice that regularly breaks down. Dealing with evil requires an acceptance that it never goes away.’
[life] Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back … some working life advice from The Onion … ‘We encourage Americans to experiment with stretching their legs by strolling across their office and leaving all their responsibilities behind forever just one time to see how much better they feel. People tend to become more productive, motivated, and happy almost immediately. We found that you can also really get the blood flowing by pairing this activity with hurling your staff ID across the parking lot.’
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[serial] ‘Serial’ Podcast Finale: A Desire for ‘Eureka’ as the Digging Ends … More thoughts on the conclusion of Serial … ‘The last episode was a tangled and heartfelt yet frustrating hour of radio in which Ms. Koenig hemmed and hawed and pored back over old evidence and asked, “Did we just spend a year applying excessive scrutiny to a perfectly ordinary case?” The answer to that question, apparently, is no and yes, and yes and no. Unlike the conclusions of Agatha Christie novels, real life can make only murky puddles.’
[life] This scientist solved the mystery of belly button lint … ‘It was mostly people that had stomach hair who also typically found belly button lint. He proved it by shaving his own stomach, and seeing that he didn’t produce any belly button lint until his hair grew back. He also confirmed the seemingly obvious fact that lint originates from shirt fibers in two ways: by seeing that it always matched the color of the shirt he was wearing, and by chemically analyzing the lint and finding that it was mostly made of cellulose (the material that makes up cotton). It also contained some nitrogen and sulfur, likely from sweat and skin cells.’
[sea] Tjipetir mystery: Why are rubber-like blocks washing up on beaches? … ‘The word Tjipetir turned out to be that of a rubber plantation in West Java, Indonesia, which operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blocks were not strictly rubber – they are most likely gutta-percha, the gum of a tree found in the Malay Peninsula and Malaysia. It was used in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to insulate telegraph cables on the seabed. Before modern plastic began to be widely used, gutta-percha was also made into such items as golf balls, teddy bear noses, picture frames and jewellery, among many others.’
[space] An Astronaut Reveals What Life in Space Is Really Like … ‘It turns out that once you’re actually in orbit, zero-g has some upsides. Without gravity, bodily fluids move toward your head. It’s a great face-lift. Your stomach gets flat. You feel long, because you grow an inch or two. (I thought, “Oh cool, I’ll be tall,” but of course everybody else was taller too.) But zero-g also has some disadvantages. As that fluid shifts north, you get an enormous headache. Your body compensates and loses about a liter of fluid in the first couple of days—you essentially pee the headache away.’
[net] What happens when you accidentally become internet famous? … ‘Fist clenched, a look of pure determination on his face, Success Kid is the boy who can do it all. You may have seen his face posted when someone’s particularly proud of an achievement. Success Kid’s real name is Sam Griner and the photo is one of many his mother Laney, a photographer, took of her son and posted on her Flickr page. She still remembers the day and the moment she snapped this picture…’
[work] The Open-Office Trap … Why open plan offices don’t work … ‘Psychologically, the repercussions of open offices are relatively straightforward. Physical barriers have been closely linked to psychological privacy, and a sense of privacy boosts job performance. Open offices also remove an element of control, which can lead to feelings of helplessness. In a 2005 study that looked at organizations ranging from a Midwest auto supplier to a Southwest telecom firm, researchers found that the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction. When workers couldn’t change the way that things looked, adjust the lighting and temperature, or choose how to conduct meetings, spirits plummeted.’
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October 2, 2014
[tech] Londoners Give Up Eldest Children In Public Wi-Fi Security Horror Show … seems like a reasonable deal to me! … ‘The experiment, which was backed by European law enforcement agency Europol, involved a group of security researchers setting up a Wi-Fi hotspot in June. When people connected to the hotspot, the terms and conditions they were asked to sign up to included a “Herod clause” promising free Wi-Fi but only if “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Six people signed up.’
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September 25, 2014
[life] The Eleven Worst Plants … an amusing list of awful plants … ‘#3 Yucca – Utterly, utterly loathsome. Why is the bottom a hazardous nest of spikes and sticks, while the top is a nauseating puff of white fuzz? Whither so tall? What colors run riot here? Sickly facsimiles of green, pungent half-dead attempts at brown. This is a corpse attempting to revive itself. I would take a flamethrower to the entire San Joaquin valley if I could rid the country of them.’
I am not afraid of clowns. But there’s something that happens when you walk into the forgettable bathroom of a hotel lobby and meet a fully made-up clown standing by the sink, reflection staring back at you with the Kubrickian blankness of a greasepaint grimace.
I almost wet my pants.
Media seminar fresh in my head, I choke the gasp in my throat and try to smile. While I am going for “warm and effusive,” I’m sure my face is more a pained amalgamation of terror. I can only hope that she thinks I’m trying to be polite. I’m sure she gets it all the time.
But. There are reasons people can find clowns to be so unsettling. That makeup: white face; huge, red mouth; drawn-on smile; eyebrows that kiss the hairline. “When it’s up close, it’s the visual equivalent of being screamed at,” explains Jaron Aviv Hollander, the co-founder and artistic director of the Kinetic Arts Center in Oakland. And it’s all the big top’s fault: When a clown is standing in one of three or more rings and playing to a huge crowd, the audience needs to be able to read familiar facial landmarks in order to get the bit.
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July 7, 2014
[crime] Pablo Escobar’s hippos: A growing problem … a strange legacy of the the late Colombian drug lord … ‘[Carlos] Valderrama, whose job until recently included watching over the hippos in the Magdalena, has seen animals up to 250km (155 miles) away from Hacienda Napoles. Fishermen are terrified of the three-tonne herbivores, he says. At night, the animals roam the countryside, wandering into ranches, eating crops and occasionally crushing small cows.’
[religion] Bedtime Story From Fucking Bible Again … ‘Andrew Neel was exasperated to learn Thursday that the bedtime story his mother would be reading him was once again from the fucking Bible, sources confirmed. “Oh, please no, not another one of these,” Neel reportedly said to himself upon hearing his mother begin telling yet another tale about shepherds, adding that he’s listened to the account of that little shit Zacchaeus probably a hundred fucking times now and that he just wants to hear a regular goddamn bedtime story with a talking frog or a modern kid who maybe has some sort of magical adventure, even if it’s Amelia fucking Bedelia.’
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June 19, 2014
[life] Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence?… engrossing profile of “outsider thinker” David Birnbaum … ‘There is no shortage of people who would say no, at least in Birnbaum’s case. His work, said a commenter on the Chronicle’s website, “reads like L Ron Hubbard had drunken sex one night with Ayn Rand and produced this bastard thought-child”. One scholar who became professionally involved with Birnbaum described the experience as “unsettling, unfortunate and, to my knowledge, unprecedented in academic circles”. Another just called him “toxic”. But then again – as Birnbaum pointed out to me, more than once, during the weeks I spent trying to figure out exactly what he was up to – just suppose that a scrappy, philosophically unqualified Jewish guy from Queens really had cracked the cosmic code, embarrassing the ivory-tower elites: well, isn’t this exactly the kind of defensive response you’d expect?’
[life] Tweet … Channelling Allen Ginsberg in 2014 … ‘I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am, surrounded by stale pizza and neglected dreams, looking for angry meaning, any meaning…’
[lost] Lost Your Keys Again? Eight Tips to Find Misplaced Objects … ‘Check to see if it’s somehow hidden in its proper place. Look carefully and systematically—don’t just rummage around (which is very tempting) Note: objects are usually found within 18 inches of their original location. This sounds impossible, but I’ve found this to be uncannily accurate.’
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