[death] Wikipedia’s list of unusual deaths … ‘1959: In the Dyatlov Pass incident, nine ski hikers in the Ural Mountains abandoned their camp in the middle of the night, some clad only in their underwear despite sub-zero weather. Six died of hypothermia and three by unexplained injuries. The corpses showed no signs of struggle, but one had a fatal skull fracture, two had major chest fractures, and one was missing her tongue. Soviet investigators determined only that “a compelling unknown force” had caused the deaths. During the hikers’ memorials, several witnesses reported that the bodies had an “orangish tint” to them.’
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January 2, 2013
[death] The Cold Hard Facts of Freezing to Death … fascinating longer read on what it’s like to die of cold in the open … ‘You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.’
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I Am Facebook Friends With Ryan Lanza … What happens if you’re friends on Facebook with somebody who is suddenly receiving a lot of media attention … ‘I found myself inundated with messages, some from journalists seeking confirmation, many from people saying angry and bizarre things to me or about Ryan. One demanded to know how I could be friends with such a monster. Could I help a random internet sleuth create a “psychological profile”? Did I see warning signs in Ryan? Why did I suspiciously post cartoons about mass shootings only days before? That was very tasteless. A text to my phone from an unknown number read “looks like this killer is a fan of yours.” A Twitter user declared me a “snitch” for sharing Ryan’s post. Someone accused me of having something to do with the killings, “which you take delight in,” they wrote, and hoped the FBI would hold me accountable.’
[crime] The Myth of the Lone Villain … Kevin Kelly looks at why lone, murderous, technically advanced super-villians don’t work in the real world … ‘The lone evil genius works in a high tech haven, hidden from others, all by himself. At this point, the scenario is total fiction because no one can run all that technology by themselves. It is hard to keep 3 computers and a network going all by yourself. The madman’s electronic door hatch probably crashes once a month, particularly if the madman just invented it. So can you invent and keep operational the death ray? No. Way. No solo genius can destroy mankind. That kind of power takes cooperation.’
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November 1, 2012
[life] 30ft effigy of Lance Armstrong wearing a Jim’ll Fix it badge to be burned … Bonfire Society members said it was not easy to choose Armstrong, who had all his results from August 1998 removed on the recommendation of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and banned from cycling for life. Society co-ordinator Charles Laver said Savile and hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza were ruled out, as was Chancellor George Osborne for being “a bit boring”.
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[funny] A Speculative List Of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems … ‘#73: Disparity b/t morning coffee preferences in combination with Beyonce insisting that they have breakfast and coffee together every morning leading to being ‘forced’ to drink watered down, half-caff coffee maker coffee, rather than the preferred full-strength french press coffee.’
[funny] Newborn Loses Faith In Humanity After Record 6 Days … ‘Though he has not yet developed the capacity for speech, extensive cognitive testing has definitively shown that the shockingly perceptive 6-day-old fully understands and accepts that human beings cannot be trusted, that they remain far too ignorant for their opinions to be reliable, that a lack of self-awareness about their own destructive tendencies pervades the species as a whole, and that most are too ineffectual to successfully pursue even the shallow self-interested agendas that rule their lives.’
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August 24, 2012
[life] Why Only Yuppies Feel Busy: An Economic Theory … ‘We all live on two things: time and money. And people who have extra income don’t get much, if any, extra time to spend it. As a result, Hamermesh argues, each of their hours seems more valuable, and they feel the clock ticking away more acutely. Much the way it’s more stressful to order dinner from a menu with 100 items than 10, choosing between a night at the symphony, seats at the hot new play, or tickets to Woody Allen’s latest flick is in some senses more stressful than knowing you’ll have to save money by staying in for the evening.’
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August 15, 2012
[life] The ‘Busy’ Trap … Why being busy all the time is bad for us … ‘Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “Idle dreaming is often of the essence of what we do,” wrote Thomas Pynchon in his essay on sloth. Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple, Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring: history is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams. It almost makes you wonder whether loafers, goldbricks and no-accounts aren’t responsible for more of the world’s great ideas, inventions and masterpieces than the hardworking.’
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August 14, 2012
[history] Alcatraz Escapees’ Tale Still Captivates, 50 Years Later … Did the only three men to ever escape from Alcatraz make it?… ‘At Alcatraz — onetime home to notorious inmates like gangster Al Capone and Robert Stroud, who came to be known as the Birdman of Alcatraz — Morris and the Anglins spent 18 months preparing for the breakout. They stitched together 50 prison-issued WWII-era raincoats, cotton with rubber backing, into a raft and life vests. They chiseled through the walls with spoons and other kitchen utensils. A hollow space above the cellblock served as a storage area for tools and the decoy heads, which they crafted from barbershop hair, plaster and paint. On the night of June 11, 1962, each man wriggled through his own chiseled shaft into a utility corridor and then onto the prison roof. They shimmied down a pipe, climbed two barbed wire fences and launched the boat into the dark waters…’
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July 5, 2012
[books] Will Your Children Inherit Your E-Books? … another of those article on the death of the book / E-books / and what happens to your books after you die … ‘…the question of what to do with books that outlive their owners has only been a common problem since the mid-19th century, when the steam-powered press and the advent of cheap paper caused a vast expansion of the book market. Before that, few families would have had the problem of a surfeit of books. Now, though, we may be reaching the end of the 150-year-old print boom, and with it a transformation in the way we have shared books, reader after reader and life after life.’
[life] What is the most astounding fact about the Universe? … answered by Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson … ‘So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…’
[life] Why Aren’t Cities Littered With Dead Pigeons? … On the numerous and brutal threats to pigeons existence in cities … Stray and domesticated cats: Your precious Chairman Meow is likely an avian serial murderer if you let it roam around outdoors. Researchers believe that cats kill hundreds of thousands of birds every year; the National Audubon Society has passed a “Resolution on Cats” that states that felines “may have been involved in the extinction of more bird species than any other cause, except habitat destruction.”
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May 29, 2012
[life] The Overthinking Person’s Drinking Game … ‘If you spend a long time mulling the nature of ‘deserving’ and what it actually means, and if you can’t really resolve the question of whether anyone specifically ‘deserves’ anything and come to an impasse about chaos and the innate unfairness of life, drink.’ [via Metafilter]
[life] Alfred Hitchcock On Happiness … ‘A clear horizon — nothing to worry about on your plate, only things that are creative and not destructive… I can’t bear quarreling, I can’t bear feelings between people — I think hatred is wasted energy, and it’s all non-productive. I’m very sensitive — a sharp word, said by a person, say, who has a temper, if they’re close for me, haunts me for days. I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something — I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.’
[life] A Timeline of the far future … 7.9 billion years from now: ‘The Sun reaches the tip of the red giant branch, achieving its maximum radius of 256 times the present day value. In the process, Mercury, Venus and possibly Earth are destroyed. During these times, it is possible that Saturn’s moon Titan could achieve surface temperatures necessary to support life.’
[gambling] The Man Who Broke Atlantic City … a great longread for the weekend – the true story of a man who took on the casinos and won by playing their games/systems better than they do …
Largely as a result of Johnson’s streak, the Trop’s table-game revenues for April 2011 were the second-lowest among the 11 casinos in Atlantic City. Mark Giannantonio, the president and CEO of the Trop, who had authorized the $100,000-a-hand limit for Johnson, was given the boot weeks later. Johnson’s winnings had administered a similar jolt to the Borgata and to Caesars. All of these gambling houses were already hurting, what with the spread of legalized gambling in surrounding states. By April, combined monthly gaming revenue had been declining on a year-over-year basis for 32 months.
For most people, though, the newspaper headline told a happy story. An ordinary guy in a red cap and black hoodie had struck it rich, had beaten the casinos black-and-blue. It seemed a fantasy come true, the very dream that draws suckers to the gaming tables.
But that’s not the whole story either…
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March 21, 2012
[life] Kevin Kelly – We Are Stardust:‘Where did we come from? I find the explanation that we were made in stars to be deep, elegant, and beautiful. This explanation says that every atom in each of our bodies was built up out of smaller particles produced in the furnaces of long-gone stars. We are the byproducts of nuclear fusion. The intense pressures and temperatures of these giant stoves thickened collapsing clouds of tiny elemental bits into heavier bits, which once fused, were blown out into space as the furnace died. The heaviest atoms in our bones may have required more than one cycle in the star furnaces to fatten up. Uncountable numbers of built-up atoms congealed into a planet, and a strange disequilibrium called life swept up a subset of those atoms into our mortal shells. We are all collected stardust. And by a most elegant and remarkable transformation, our starstuff is capable of looking into the night sky to perceive other stars shining. They seem remote and distant, but we are really very close to them no matter how many lightyears away. All that we see of each other was born in a star. How beautiful is that?’
[funny] Buying This Thing Will Make Me Happy … ‘It’s really cool. They just started making it and not many people have one yet. It does all sorts of stuff and can fit in my pocket, but it can also get bigger than that if I want it to. Plus it’s made by a company I trust to put out things that will make me happy.’
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December 24, 2011
[weird] Fan death … ‘Fan death is a widely held belief in South Korea that an electric fan left running overnight in a closed room can cause the death of those inside. Fans sold in Korea are equipped with a timer switch that turns them off after a set number of minutes, which users are frequently urged to set when going to sleep with a fan on.’
[weird] The Lazarus Sign … ‘The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies).’ [via YMFY]
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November 30, 2011
[life] What are the chances of your coming into being? … ‘So what’s the probability of your existing? It’s the probability of 2 million people getting together – about the population of San Diego – each to play a game of dice with trillion-sided dice. They each roll the dice, and they all come up the exact same number – say, 550,343,279,001…’
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November 18, 2011
[science] Richard Feynman on Curiosity … ‘The world is strange. The whole universe is very strange, but you see when you look at the details that the rules of the game are very simple – the mechanical rules by which you can figure out exactly what is going to happen when the situation is simple. It is like a chess game. If you are in a corner with only a few pieces involved, you can work out exactly what is going to happen, and you can always do that when there are only a few pieces. And yet in the real game there are so many pieces that you can’t figure out what is going to happen – so there is a kind of hierarchy of different complexities. It is hard to believe. It is incredible! In fact, most people don’t believe that the behavior of, say, me is the result of lots and lots of atoms all obeying very simple rules and evolving into such a creature that a billion years of life has produced.’
[books] Is Reading On The Toilet Bad For You? … ‘No writer owned the arena of toilet reading more than Henry Miller. He read truly great books on the lavatory, and maintained that some, Ulysses for instance, could not be fully appreciated elsewhere. The environment was one that enriched substantial works – extracted their flavour, as he put it – while lesser books and magazines suffered. He singled out Atlantic Monthly. Miller went so far as to recommend toilets for individual authors. To enjoy Rabelais, he advised a plain country toilet, “a little outhouse in the corn patch, with a crescent sliver of light coming through the door”. Better still, he said, take a friend along, to sit with you for half an hour of minor bliss.’
[life] Why Fingernails on Blackboards Sound So Horrible … ‘Much time has been spent, over the past century, on working out exactly what it is about the sound of fingernails on a blackboard that’s so unpleasant. A new study pins the blame on psychology and the design of our ear canals…’
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October 31, 2011
[life] Baby Sharks Birthed in Artificial Uterus … ‘After mating, a female produces as many as 40 fertilized embryos, separated between two separate wombs. The embryos take nearly a year to fully develop, but they begin hunting long before that. After about two months, their own yolk sacs go dry. Hungry, they start eating their brothers and sisters. After the rampant in utero cannibalization, only one shark — the biggest and strongest — is left in each womb.’ [via jwz]
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I came to the conclusion that the brain, in sectioned form, was still in the possession of the pathologist who removed it from the Einstein head, Dr. Thomas Harvey. I tracked him down in Wichita, Kansas. At first he didn’t want to tell me anything, but after a while he finally admitted that he had the brain. After a longer while, he sheepishly told me it was IN THE VERY OFFICE WE WERE SITTING IN. He walked to a box labeled “Costa Cider” and pulled out two big Mason jars. In those were the remains of the brain that changed the world.
And with that he’s off again. Of Salman Rushdie, who once gave him a terrible review in the New York Times, he says: “That flaccid fuckhead. He was detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that.” Roald Dahl: “The cruelty in his books is off-putting. Scary guy. I know he’s very popular but what’s nice about this guy? He’s dead, that’s what’s nice about him.” Stephen King: “Bullshit.” Gwyneth Paltrow: “I can’t stand her.”
I’m thinking about the great American physicist, Richard Feynman, sitting in New Mexico, at the bed of his dying wife. He’d been called, and told that she had only hours to live; he’d hitchhiked from Los Alamos, where he was working on the top secret atomic bomb project. It was 1945.
He walks to her bedside, kisses her; she is breathing shallow breaths. We are still at war and six weeks later, America will explode its first atomic bomb. He stands there, sits there, watches her, kisses her, and very quietly, the Hodgkin’s disease that had attacked her young body takes her. She was in her 20s, he was 27. They’d been married only two years. The nurse records the time of death: 9:21 p.m. He is empty with loss. What few things she had, he packs up; he arranges for a cremation, walks back into her room and sees that the clock had strangely stopped ticking. The hands are frozen at 9:21, the very moment of her death.
I know how this story would feel to me. It would be as though the universe had somehow noticed what had happened, that some invisible hand slipped into my world and pointed, as if to say, “We know. This is part of the plan.”
So many of us, I think, would have this sense. Lawrence Krauss, in his new biography of Feynman, Quantum Man, says, “We seem to be hard-wired to find that what happens to each of us naturally appears to take on a special significance and meaning, even if it’s an accident.” But Feynman, he says, was unable to think that way. He couldn’t and he wouldn’t.
What he did was, he remembered that the clock had been fragile. He had been asked to fuss with it; he’d fixed it several times. In his memoirs (that is, in his version of this story), he says the nurse must have picked up the clock to determine the time of death, unsettled the workings inside, and the clock stopped. No miracle. Just an ordinary, accidental jostle. Here he is, describing a moment of enormous significance, and he won’t allow a Signifier.
[life] Modern Love – When an Ex Blogs, Is it O.K. to Watch? … a NYT writer on blog stalking … ‘I knew all the daily ups and downs of someone I had not laid eyes on in two decades. And let’s face it, at this point that kind of intimacy usually comes only with someone you live with, someone you have to listen to, someone with whom you have no choice. But I had a choice. I pictured myself as ex’s shrink, the old-fashioned kind who doesn’t say much as you lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling. The undercurrent of despair in his posts was real. Was he asking for help?’
[life] Hugging: fear the feel and do it anyway … a Guardian writer visits a Cuddle Workshop … I’ve never been a hugger. As far as I’m concerned, the words “hello” and “goodbye” are perfectly valid ways to tell people that you’ve a) arrived and b) decided to leave. Smooshing your bodies together on top of that seems like overkill. The process is fraught with unanswered questions. What if I go in for a hug but the recipient expects only a peck on the cheek? What if I miscalculate my approach and end up burying my face in their neck? What if it’s a warm day? Should I draw attention to my sweaty back?
[books] The Book Collection That Devoured My Life … ‘I do have a few hundred books that I reread or consult fairly regularly, and I have a lot of books pertaining to whatever current or future projects I have on the fire, and I have many, many books speculatively pointing toward some project that is still barely a gleam in my eye. I have a lot of books that I need for reference, especially now that I live 40 minutes away from the nearest really solid library. I have some books that exist in the same capacity as the more recondite tools in the chest of a good carpenter — you may not need it more than once in 20 years, but it’s awfully nice to have it there when you do. Primarily, though, books function as a kind of external hard drive for my mind — my brain isn’t big enough to do all the things it wants or needs to do without help.’
[life] The Digital Storage of Analog Memories … how to let go of keepsakes and tchotchkes … ‘Do you have a bunch of physical items stuck in storage? Objects you’ve kept over time that you can’t get rid of because you have a set of memories attached to them? Objects are keystones of memory, but pictures of those objects are still adequate keystones…’
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