October 18, 2019
[code] The lines of code that changed everything … A list of software that changed the world. ‘The Apollo 11 Lunar Module’s BAILOUT Code – The [Apollo Guidance Computer] software team knew there were eventualities they couldn’t plan for. So they created BAILOUT. When the computer was at risk of running out of space (or “overflow”), the AGC triggered BAILOUT to schedule less important data and operations so it could keep the vital ones up and running. As the Eagle lander descended toward the moon’s surface, at 30,000 feet the AGC flashed a “1202” alarm, which neither Neil Armstrong nor the flight controller in Houston immediately recognized. But in less than 30 seconds, the computer experts in Mission Control relayed that the AGC software was doing just what it was supposed to: drop lower-priority work and restart the important jobs (so quickly that it was imperceptible to the crew).’
October 17, 2019
[life] Escape rooms are very big business … A fascinating look at the world of Escape Rooms. ‘…Escape rooms are fundamentally odd. It is weird to gather in a themed room for an hour to unlock combination locks in a high-stakes situation that matters not at all. We didn’t use to trap ourselves in $30 rooms and now we do, and it doesn’t feel like an accident that the rise of escape rooms in the first half of this decade corresponds almost exactly with a seismic shift in how we relate to technology (intimately, all the time). Escape rooms are an antidote: They require you to exist, in real life, with other real-life people, in the same place, at the same time, manipulating tangible objects. But you only have to do it for an hour! High intensity, low commitment. You get the thrill of deep connection, but you don’t have to, like, talk about your feelings. Maybe we talk about feelings too much anyway. Maybe we should just do stuff. But who has time to do stuff?’
October 16, 2019
[columbo] My top 10 favourite Columbo episodes‘A typewriter pounds. A Mercedes cruises through the LA streets. A writer in a high-rise is lost in a world of his own invention. As the typewriter continues to pound the car parks in an empty lot, the driver steps out and slips a gun into his jacket. So begins one of the pivotal TV experiences of our time. From those first arresting moments, Murder by the Book grabs the viewer by the throat and never lets go. It’s still a cause of pride and joy for Columbo fans that a young Steven Spielberg was in the director’s chair for this. His touch and flair make this a visually unique outing, but he’s only one reason for its success. Peter Falk and Jack Cassidy establish an on-screen rapport that would enrich the series on three occasions, while Steven Bochco’s script and Blly Goldenberg’s score are world class. In short, it’s an A Grade cast and crew and they all bring their A Game to proceedings.’
October 15, 2019
October 14, 2019
[socialmedia] The machine always wins: what drives our addiction to social media … A Long Read on social media addiction. ‘Part of what keeps us hooked is the so-called variability of rewards: what the US computer scientist Jaron Lanier calls “carrot and shtick”. The Twittering Machine gives us both positive and negative reinforcements, and the unpredictable variation of its feedback is what makes it so compulsive. Like a mercurial lover, the machine keeps us needy and guessing; we can never be sure how to stay in its good graces. Indeed, the app manufacturers increasingly build in artificial-intelligence machine-learning systems so that they can learn from us how to randomise rewards and punishments more effectively. This sounds like an abusive relationship. Indeed, much as we describe relationships as having gone toxic, it is common to hear of “Twitter toxicity”. Toxicity is a useful starting point for understanding a machine that hooks us with unpleasure, because it indexes both the pleasure of intoxication and the danger of having too much.’
October 11, 2019
[unix] Ken Thompson’s Unix password … Cracking passwords from late 1970s. ‘However, kens password eluded my cracking endeavor. Even an exhaustive search over all lower-case letters and digits took several days (back in 2014) and yielded no result. Since the algorithm was developed by Ken Thompson and Robert Morris, I wondered what’s up there. I also realized, that, compared to other password hashing schemes (such as NTLM), crypt(3) turns out to be quite a bit slower to crack (and perhaps was also less optimized).Did he really use uppercase letters or even special chars? (A 7-bit exhaustive search would still take over 2 years on a modern GPU.)’
October 10, 2019
[drinks] How Fanta Was Created for Nazi Germany … The wartime origin of the soft drink Fanta. ‘The drink was technically fruit-flavored, but limited wartime resources made that descriptor not wholly accurate. Its ingredients were less than appetizing: leftover apple fibers, mash from cider presses, and whey, a cheese by-product. “[Fanta] was made from the leftovers of the leftovers,” says Mark Pendergrast, who, as the author of For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, revealed this hidden past.’
October 9, 2019
[tube] What’s the best connected Tube Station? … Diamond Geezer crunches the numbers. ‘Eight of these are on the Circle line and six are on the District line. Only one is on the Victoria line (because the Victoria line’s quite short and doesn’t have many stations). Mile End is the best connected tube station outside zone 1. Holborn is the best-connected tube station on only two lines. Slightly further down the list are Bank (top 20) and Monument (top 30). If you combined them to make one mega-station, it would connect to 162 other stations, which would would put Bank/Monument in second place. But Bank and Monument are officially two stations, according to TfL’s official data, so this doesn’t count.’
October 8, 2019
[mac] Thoughts on (and pics of) the original Macintosh User Manual … I never realised that the target market for the original Macintosh was Patrick Bateman. ‘Perhaps the strangest sentence: “The Finder is like a central hallway in the Macintosh house.”And the disk is a… guest? Someone looking for the bathroom?’

Pages from the Original Mac User Manual

October 7, 2019
[comics] Alan Moore Episode / Neil Gaiman Episode … Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have both been on BBC Radio 6 Music show Paperback Writers recently.
October 4, 2019
[aircrash] What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max … William Langewiesche on the downfall of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft.

All signs are that the reintroduction of the 737 Max will be exceedingly difficult because of political and bureaucratic obstacles that are formidable and widespread. Who in a position of authority will say to the public that the airplane is safe?

I would if I were in such a position. What we had in the two downed airplanes was a textbook failure of airmanship. In broad daylight, these pilots couldn’t decipher a variant of a simple runaway trim, and they ended up flying too fast at low altitude, neglecting to throttle back and leading their passengers over an aerodynamic edge into oblivion. They were the deciding factor here — not the MCAS, not the Max. Furthermore, it is certain that thousands of similar crews are at work around the world, enduring as rote pilots and apparently safe, but only so long as conditions are routine.

October 3, 2019
[life] List: Famous Philosophers’ Pick-Up Lines … from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. ‘Arthur Schopenhauer: “Life is nothing but a meaningless fluctuation between pain and boredom. And we are but worms. And our only chance of freedom is to embrace the dark nothingness that surrounds us. And to cast off the burdensome yoke of individualism. And to embrace the void. And to become one with the unyielding Will of the universe. Anyhoo… wanna smush?”’
October 2, 2019
[kubrick] ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: Kubrick’s Pioneering Achievement As One of the Most Significant Films Ever Made… Huge page of digital artifacts from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. ‘Dear Mr Clarke: It’s a very interesting coincidence that our mutual friend Caras mentioned you in a conversation we were having about a Questar telescope. I had been a great admirer of your books for quite a time and had always wanted to discuss with you the possibility of doing the proverbial “really good” science-fiction movie…’

Kubrick filming on the set of 2001

October 1, 2019
[books] The cult books that lost their cool … A list of books that have not aged well. ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970 – So, yes, Jonathan Livingston Seagull really is a seagull, but he’s a seagull with aspirations, a non-conformist who yearns to soar above the flock and up into the heavens, just as the book itself conquered the bestseller charts back in the day. Its saccharine idealism isn’t made any more palatable by learning that Richard Nixon’s FBI director, L Patrick Gray, ordered all his staff to read it, and a 1973 movie adaptation, complete with Neil Diamond soundtrack, did it no favours either.’
September 30, 2019
[comics] ‘I envy writers who suffer from no self‑doubts’: inside the world of graphic novelist Chris Ware … Interview with Chris Ware in the Guardian … ‘As a kid I was made fun of for reading superhero comics, but once I grew up I lost all interest in them. Which is why I find it a little disquieting, though not necessarily surprising, that such stuff has become mainstream American culture, and one that adults now find a satisfying diversion. Then again, mythologies aren’t going away anytime soon. For me, however, regular human life is already so extra strange, moving and complicated I’m more than happy not plugging it into any amplification.’ [Previously]
September 27, 2019
[games] The mysterious origins of an uncrackable video game … The BBC looks at video game archaeology and in particular an Atari 2600 Game called Entombed. ‘During their research, Aycock and Copplestone were able to interview one of the people involved in [Entombed’s] production, Steve Sidley. He too remembered being confused by the table at the time. “I couldn’t unscramble it,” he told the researchers. And he claimed it had been the work of a programmer who developed it while not entirely sober: “He told me it came upon him when he was drunk and whacked out of his brain.” Aycock tried to contact the programmer in question but got no response. Maybe no-one ever really understood the logic of the algorithm. But there it is, in a 1982 Atari game, posing a seemingly unanswerable question.’
September 26, 2019
[tech] Moore’s Law graphed vs real CPUs & GPUs 1965 – 2019 … Nicely done visualisation. [via jwz]
September 25, 2019
[health] The Most Overhyped Wellness Promises, Debunked‘Meditation isn’t always soothing – For some people, it can lead to hyper-arousal, sensitivity to light and sound, and intense negative emotions.’ [Previously]
September 24, 2019
[politics] Has Dominic Cummings Resigned Yet?‘No.’
[people] My (33F) husband’s (35M) career in academic philosophy is ruining our marriage… Epic Reddit r/relationships posting. ‘His obsession with Hegel himself has reached the point of creepiness. At one point he literally told me that all other work either agrees with Hegel so is redundant, or disagrees with Hegel and is wrong. He keeps a framed picture of Hegel on the nightstand in our bedroom. In fact, he even changed his phone’s background from a picture of me to this same picture of Hegel. I feel like I am competing with a 200 year old philosopher for my husband’s attention.’
September 23, 2019
[nasty] Go Look: Simon Stålenhag’s Bio Modem [via jwz]

It's Alive! A Bio Modem...

September 20, 2019
[comics] Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, reviewed. … Slate reviewer attempts a not entirely sucessful Chris Ware takedown review. ‘Rusty Brown has two kinds of stories: Either a character is punished by the world because he deserves it, or he’s punished by the world even though he doesn’t. The book’s 356 pages contain more upskirts of underage girls (two) than complex human characters (maybe one) because actual people would revolt at being treated and depicted in such a fashion. The view of humanity in the book is dime-store Freudianism: Scratch a character and you’ll find their primal wound, which then overdetermines their behavior. There’s little compassion to be found in Rusty Brown, because compassion requires curiosity, and Ware has worked out everything too carefully for that. The schematic lifelessness that results creates a kind of numbing effect. You may not know the story in advance, but you know where it’s headed: straight to Sadtown, Population: Everyone.’
September 19, 2019
[emoji] 📙 Emojipedia — 😃 … for all your Emoji needs. ‘😱 Face Screaming in Fear 😱’
September 18, 2019
[fandom] Superfans: A Love Story … A profile of fandom from the New Yorker.

Annie Wilkes, [Stephen] King told me recently, was inspired in part by Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon hours after getting his autograph. As an author, King is familiar with fan enthusiasm gone awry. “There was a lot of backlash about the way that the ‘Dark Tower’ books ended,” he told me, referring to his multipart fantasy series. “Those fans were absolutely rabid about those books.” Not long after “Misery” came out, King and his son were at a baseball game when a man broke into his house with what he said was a bomb, claiming that Annie Wilkes had secretly been based on his aunt. “My wife ran out in her bare feet and called the cops,” King recalled, “and the guy was cowering in the turret of the third floor of our Victorian home.” The bomb turned out to be a bunch of pencils in a rubber band. Still, it unnerved King: his novel about a stalker fan had summoned a stalker fan. “People have gotten invested in culture and make-believe in a way that I think is a little bit unhealthy,” King said. “I mean, it’s supposed to be fun, right?”

September 17, 2019
[games] An Oral History of ‘Snake’ on Nokia … How the Snake Game came to be installed on Nokia phones. ‘We made it so the hardest level is actually as fast as the snake can possibly go. Considering screen-refresh rates, and how fast the software could calculate the next snake position, I needed to add delays in the slower levels to give more time between steps. In the fastest level, there is no delay and thus no way to make it faster than that. But it wouldn’t be so fast that it would crash the phone.’
September 16, 2019
[comics] Tales Of The Black Freighter: Marooned – Reconstructed … Watchmen’s EC comic-within-a-comic recreated using existing panels and word balloons.

Panels from Watchmen's Marooned comic-within-comic

September 13, 2019
[podcasts] Go read and then listen… What are the best in-depth investigative podcasts?‘On the podcast “You Must Remember This”, I completely enjoyed the series they did on the Manson Family.’ [Related: You Must Remember This – Charles Manson’s Hollywood]
September 12, 2019
[brexit] This Is How Dominic Cummings Sees The World — And What It Means For Brexit‘One Whitehall source, pointing out that there’s more to government than what Cummings saw at the Department for Education, acerbically noted that the bureaucracy he despises exists to stop poor performances such as departments producing error-strewn financial statements. This was something Cummings’ own department did. Another source familiar with his work offered a particularly withering assessment, describing him as “a man with a history degree — who has seen Terminator.”’
September 11, 2019
[cia] From mind control to murder? How a deadly fall revealed the CIA’s darkest secrets … A long read on the death of Frank Olson. ‘As the family were rising to leave, Gottlieb pulled Eric aside. “You are obviously very troubled by your father’s suicide,” he said. “Have you ever considered getting into a therapy group for people whose parents have committed suicide?” Eric did not follow that suggestion, but it left a deep impression on him. For years, he had been confused and depressed by the story of his father’s death. Only after meeting Gottlieb, however, did he resolve to bring his search for truth to the centre of his life. “I didn’t have the confidence then in my scepticism to ignore his ploys, but when he made that therapy group suggestion – that was the moment when he overplayed his hand,” he said. “At that moment, I understood how much Gottlieb had a stake in defusing me. And it was also at that moment that the determination to show that he had played a role in murdering my father was born.” Eric Olson waited another decade – until after his mother died – before taking his next step: arranging to exhume his father’s body.’
September 10, 2019