Holograms on Chocolate

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This is incredibly cool. Using (mostly) common household tools and chemicals and a significant amount of effort, Ben (who already built himself a home electron microscope, as you do) demonstrates how you can etch a hologram directly into chocolate, resulting in a completely edible hologram. I’d never even thought before about the fact that a hologram could be embossed into almost any opaque surface before, so this blew my mind. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, but it still looks like magic to see it done.

To the future occupants of my office at the MIT Media Lab

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Hi. My name is Ethan Zuckerman. From 2011-2020, I enjoyed working in this office. I led a research group at the Media Lab called the Center for Civic Media, and I taught here and in Comparative Media Studies and Writing. I resigned in the summer of 2019, but stayed at the lab to help my students graduate and find jobs and to wind down our grants. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, I left campus and came back on August 14 to clean out my office and to leave you this note.

I’m leaving the note because the previous occupant left me a note of sorts. I was working here late one night. I looked up above my desk and saw a visegrip pliers attached to part of the HVAC system. I climbed up to investigate and found a brief note telling the MIT facilities department that the air conditioning had been disabled (using the vice grips, I presume) as part of a research project and that one should contact him with any questions.

That helped explain one of the peculiarities of the office. When I moved in, attached to the window was a contraption that swallowed the window handle and could be operated with red or green buttons attached to a small circuitboard. Press the green button and the window would open very, very slowly. Red would close it equally slowly. I wondered whether the mysterious researcher might be able to remove it and reattach the window handle. So I emailed him.

I’m reminded of that time eleven years ago that I looked up the person who’d gotten my (recycled) university username and emailed them. Except Ethan’s note, passed on to the next person to occupy his former office at MIT, is much cooler. And not just because it speaks so eloquently to the quirky and bizarre culture of the place (Aber’s got its own weird culture too, y’know!) but because it passes on a slice of engineering history that its previous owner lived with, but perhaps never truly understood. A fun read.

Bodley and the Bookworms – Scan and Deliver

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You know that strange moment when you see your old coworkers on YouTube doing a cover of an Adam and the Ants song? No: just me?

Still good to see the Bodleian put a fun spin on promoting their lockdown-friendly reader services. For some reason they’ve marked this video “not embeddable” (?) in their YouTube settings, so I’ve “fixed” the copy above for you.

7 things we know about the nun reading ‘Boys’ Life’ in ‘Airplane!’

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A nun reading Boy's Life and a boy reading Nun's Life

It’s one of the best visual gags in a movie filled with them.

In the classic 1980 comedy Airplane!, two passengers are seen reading magazines. First, we see a nun reading Boys’ Life. Moments later, there’s a boy reading Nuns’ Life.

The scene is over in seconds, but the memory of this joke lives on. That’s especially true for those of us who have been reading Boys’ Life since we were kids.

Here are seven things you might not know about this bit of visual humor.

Of the many things I love, here are two of them:

  • The Airplane series of movies.
  • People who, like me, get carried away researching something trivial and accidentally become an expert in a miniscule field.

This fantastic piece takes a deep dive into a tiny scene in Airplane. What issue of Boys’ Life was the nun reading? What page was she looking at? What actual magazine was the boy reading within the Nuns’ Life cover? These and more questions you never thought about before are answered!

WHAT THE BEC?! (#01)

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Just another vlog update from comedian Bec Hill. Oh no, wait… this website is now T-Shirt Famous! (for a very loose definition of “famous”, I guess.) For a closer look, see Instagram.

This isn’t the silliest way I’ve put my web address on something, of course. A little over 17 years ago there was the time I wrote my web address along the central reservation of a road in West Wales using sugar cubes, for example. But it’s certainly the silliest recent way.

Anyway: this t-shirt ain’t the Million Dollar Homepage. It’s much cooler than that. Plus the money’s all going to Water Aid. (If you haven’t claimed a square yourself, you still can!)

DanQ.me on a t-shirt as drawn by comedian Bec Hill
I was pleased to see that Bec even managed to get the blue kinda-sorta on-brand.

On Bec Hill related news, did you see that she did a third “when you listen to music when you’re hungry” video? You should go watch that too. It’s avocado-licious.

Lindsey Stirling/Johnny Rzeznik String Session

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One of the last “normal” things I got to do before the world went full lockdown was to attend a Goo Goo Dolls concert with Ruth, and so to see two musicians I enjoy team up to perform a song and share some words of hope and encouragement for a better future beyond these troubled times… feels fitting and inspiring.

Also awesome to see that Stirling’s perhaps as much a fan of Live in Buffalo as I am.

Fun diversion: I never know how to answer the question “what kind of music do you like?”, because I increasingly (and somewhat deliberately) find that I enjoy a wider and wider diversity of different genres and styles. But perhaps the right answer might be: “I like music that makes me feel the way I feel when I hear Cuz You’re Gone recorded from the Goo Goo Dolls’ concert in Buffalo on 4 July 2004, specifically the bit between 4 minutes 10 seconds and 4 minutes 33 seconds into the song, right at the end of the extended bridge. It’s full of anticipatory energy and building to a wild crescendo that seems to mirrors the defiance of both the band and the crown in the face of the torrential rain that repeatedly almost brought an end to the concert. Music that makes me feel like that bit does: that’s the kind of music I like. Does that help?”

The Perfect Art Heist: Hack the Money, Leave the Painting

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Thieves didn’t even bother with a London art gallery’s Constable landscape—and they still walked away with $3 million.

This comic is perhaps the best way to enjoy this news story, which describes the theft of £2.4 million during an unusual… let’s call it an “art heist”… in 2018. It has many the characteristics of the kind of heist you’re thinking about: the bad guys got the money, and nobody gets to see the art. But there’s a twist: the criminals never came anywhere near the painting.

A View from Hampstead Heath, ca. 1825, by John Constable

This theft was committed entirely in cyberspace: the victim was tricked into wiring the money to pay for the painting into the wrong account. The art buyer claims that he made the payment in good faith, though, and that he’s not culpable because it was the seller’s email that must have been hacked. Until it’s resolved, the painting’s not on display, so not only do the criminals have the cash, the painting isn’t on display.

Anyway; go read the comic if you haven’t already.

My 1:1 with the Queen

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Americans often ask what our relationship is with the Queen. I thought I’d upload my most recent 1:1 so you could see how the regular yearly 1:1 progress chats go.

As a Brit who does software engineering alongside a team from all over the rest of the world… I wish I’d thought of making this video first.

Simply Paul found GC88ZY9 The Devil’s Quoits

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Simply Paul at the Ground Zero

{FTF} at 1.55am.
Full log to follow shortly.
344 miles & safely home at 3am.
Long ol’ day!

Update now I’m awake.
I spotted this cache while on a little down-time in south Wales, where I’d gone to help my editor move out of his office. I was considering my caching options (this was before I realised it’d be 11pm before I went, not 5pm) when I spotted this outside Oxford. Well, my route would take me from Swindon to Aylesbury via the area, so it was perfect. I then spotted the lack of logs, and the published date and the dye was cast!

Spool forward, past overpriced petrol and a total lack of food since 8am bar a discounted Service Station ToffeeCrisp, and I pull up at the southern car parking spot. I leave the car somewhat nervously (partly because if security pop by, I’ve got a hell of a story about what it’s full to the gunnels with. Full to the point I had to open the sunroof blind to get the final box in!) at 1.35am and had done the necessary (while filming some non-spoiler time-lapse footage for a future GIFF movie project) 20 mins later. I’d walked the full circuit to odd noises coming from the pond and waypointed the outlier to give me a reference. 44m, if you’re wondering, at a bearing of none-of-your-business degrees.

After collecting my camera up I remembered to also mark the notice board on my phone (important!) to give me my clock-face orientation, as I couldn’t easily see it in relation to the outlier in the dark. A few stars out, but they didn’t help much.

On the drive home I saw 5 foxes, including a rare pair sighting. I also had a deer with small antlers run in front of the car (not across the road, along it, zig-zagging) for ages on a very minor road with ample exits it could have taken but chose not to. Eventually I lowered a window and shouted, “Oi, Bambi. I shot your mum!” and that seemed to do it. It vanished into the bushes as I got along side of him.

Anyway, an atmospheric time of ‘day’ to visit GZ and I’ll have to come back in daylight as I’d no idea this was here and really enjoyed the experience. Weird and a bit spooky though it was.
TN:LN:Virt-TFTVC! A FP for the experience and the answers have been sent by Messenger. Thank you Dan Q! I’ll add a pic shortly…

SP
Cache Safely > Avoid Groups > Don’t Chase FTFs (generally)

I created a new geocache lately, a virtual cache under the Geocaching.com Virtual Rewards 2.0 scheme. Logging it requires visiting the site of the Devil’s Quoits, a prehistoric monument (well, by this point it’s mostly a replica) which, following my recent house move, is conveniently close by. This is the first finders’ log against the new cache, and it’s pretty epic: Simply Paul, who from the sound of things didn’t expect to be passing by quite so late-on, visited the GZ at almost 2am, but that didn’t stop him from stomping around and counting stones in the dark. Cleverly, he waypointed the outlier stone that forms part of the virtual challenge so that he didn’t need to sight it from the centre of the henge, which is probably for the best because I can only assume that he wouldn’t have been able to see it once inside the circle anyway!

Human Tapestry – Episode 1

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For the first episode of the Human Tapestry, I talked to Dan, a bisexual man who lives in Oxford, England, with his partner and her husband in what he describes as a “polyamorous V-shaped thingy”. Listen as we talk about relationships, identities, the “bi-cycle”, and various forms of vegetarianism.

Fellow Automattician Mike has just launched his new podcast, exploring the diversity of human experience of relationships, sexuality, attraction, identity, gender, and all that jazz. Earlier this year, I volunteered myself as an interviewee, but I had no idea that I’d feature in the opening episode! If hearing people in your ears is something you like to do, and you’re interested in my journey so-far of polyamory and bisexuality, have a listen. And if you’re not: it might still be worth bookmarking the show for a listen later on – it could be an interesting ride.

Possibly SFW, depending on your work. Specific warnings:

  • Some swearing, including use of a homophobic slur (while describing the experience of being a victim of homophobia)
  • Frank discussion of my relationship history (although with greater anonymity than appears elsewhere on this blog)
  • Annoying squeaky chair sounds in the background (I’ve replaced that chair, now)
  • Skimming-over-the-details of specific events, resulting in an incomplete picture (with apologies to anybody misrepresented as a result)

Caveats aside, I think it came out moderately well; Mike’s an experienced interviewer with a good focus on potentially interesting details. He’s also looking for more guests, if you’d like to join him. He says it best, perhaps, with his very broad description of what the show’s about:

If you have a gender, have attractions (or non-attractions) to certain humans (or all humans), or have certain practices (or non-practices) in the bedroom (or elsewhere), we’d love to talk to you!

Go listen over there or right here.

Intent

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I am almost certainly racist.

I don’t intend to be racist, but like I said, intentions aren’t really what matter. Outcomes are.

Note, for example, the cliché of the gormless close-minded goon who begins a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” before going on to say something clearly racist. It’s as though the racism could be defanged by disavowing bad intent.

Yes indeed.

To claim you’re free of prejudice almost certainly means that you’re not looking hard enough. The aim of the exercise is, as always, to keep improving yourself: find where you have (or are) a problem, get better, repeat. We’re not one of us perfect, but we can all strive to be better tomorrow than we are today.

Stethoscope

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My partner @scatmandan just completed his Masters degree. His sister @bornvulcan sent him a stethoscope as a congratulations gift which is one of the funniest things to happen in these parts for a while.

I’m not sure my sister understands that a masters degree is not a doctorate. I don’t feel like I’m qualified to use this.

Dan with a pink stethoscope

Unreal Engine 5 is meant to ridicule web developers

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Our sources report that the underlying reason behind the impressive tech demo for Unreal Engine 5 by Epic Games is to ridicule web developers.

According to the Washington Post, the tech demo includes a new dynamic lighting system and a rendering approach with a much higher geometric detail for both shapes and textures. For example, a single statue in the demo can be rendered with 33 million triangles, giving it a truly unprecedented level of detail and visual density.

Turns out that the level of computational optimization and sheer power of this incredible technology is meant to make fun of web developers, who struggle to maintain 15fps while scrolling a single-page application on a $2000 MacBook Pro, while enjoying 800ms delays typing the corresponding code into their Electron-based text editors.

Funny but sadly true. However, the Web can be fast. What makes it slow is bloated, kitchen-sink-and-all frontend frameworks, pushing computational effort to the browser with overcomplicated DOM trees and unnecessarily rich CSS rules, developer privilege, and blindness to the lower-powered devices that make up most of the browsing world. Oh, and of course embedding a million third-party scripts to get you all the analytics, advertising, etc. you think you need doesn’t help, either.

The Web will never be as fast as native, for obvious reasons. But it can be fast; blazingly so. It just requires a little thought and consideration. I’ve talked about this recently.