Things of the year 2010

It’s time to look back at the year in Things.

The Things newsletter was sent throughout 2010, although I only started blogging it in April with Things 67. Here I’m going to pick out my favourite 3 Things from each of the main categories, including some from the pre-blogging era.

But first:

Tim Link
I compiled a list of my top 10 movies to watch at Christmas, not because they’re Christmassy but because they are perfect for the hazy lawless dreamlike days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Click through to see trailers, summaries, and other handy links, or if you just want to know what I chose, here’s how they stack up in terms of IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, with bubbles scaled by number of IMDb votes (as a proxy for famousness):

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked why our ears ‘pop’ when a plane takes off or lands, given that the cabin should be airtight and thus immune to changes in pressure.

Richard pointed out that actually maintaining that pressure differential at altitude must take a lot of strength, and therefore weight, in terms of materials. By allowing the internal cabin pressure to reduce to still-tolerable levels, the pressure differential is reduced, less strength and therefore weight is needed, making the aeroplane more efficient. Makes sense to me.

Now, on to the Things of the year:

From Things 70, a perfectly self-explanatory animated gif:

In Things 85 I highlighted the growing trend of cat dubbing:


Most recently, in Things 88 I highlighted this beautiful short animation:


In Things 63 (not blogged), I linked to this really nice way to comprehend the scale of the universe.

The Swinger – swinginating music automatically. As featured in Things 74.

Finally, in Things 86 I linked to Steven Steinberg’s informed musings on AI and Car Insurance.

Things 70

Phil: Doing stupid things can have certain positive beneficial effects.

Things 72 (Art Special):

Flaubert: Art is born of restraint and dies of freedom

Things 87:

dragonfrog, commenting on this Boing Boing post: A quote from Bruce Schneier I think is applicable here: “If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don’t understand the problems, and you don’t understand the technology.” If you leave out the word “security” I think it remains just as valid.

As featured in Things 66 (not yet blogged), from

As featured in Things 81, from Cowbirds in Love:

Finally, from Things 87, because this never gets old for me:

Open-ended Puzzles
1) In Things 71 I asked what would be the best thing I could buy that would maximise hours saved per pound spent. This produced a wide range of responses, largely depending on which assumptions people chose to question, which I posted in Things 72:

  • Yasmin suggests Red Bull (and similar) to save time by needing less sleep.
  • Alam suggests a clone of myself
  • Xuan suggests slaves and a washing machine.
  • Angela suggests two books that could improve one’s efficiency and so save time — The Miracle of Mindfulness and Making Time. (Funnily enough I already own the latter… and I’ve now read it, and have applied the principle of Mindfulness, which was its main point, to rather good effect. But that’s another story).
  • John suggests grated cheese.
  • Phil points out anything free that saves any time would maximise the metric, such as DropBox. This technically lies outside the “buy” requirement. He also suggests a combi-microwave and a smartphone, and then finally a device to prevent time-wasting by cutting off internet access between certain hours. (I since got a Smartphone via work, saving a lot of time with the DropBox and notepad apps, but wasting a lot of time with Angry Birds).
  • Simon specifically attempted to address the “I” part of the question by recommending an iPad as being a particularly good purchase for me, by switching to digital goods (music, movies, comics, books); “Imagine all that time not wasted, going to shops, ordering physical products online and searching for things you can’t find.” I don’t exactly agree, but that’s a huge discussion for another time.

Finally, Laurence suggests a Time Machine, and insightfully adds:

The inevitable complexity of all the proposed solutions reminds me of
the following quote:

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create
the universe.”
– Carl Sagan

2) In Things 77 at Angela’s suggestion I set the Trigger’s Broom / Theseus’ Ship problem. While there was some excellent discussion, which I summed up in Things 78, my favourite answer came from Laurence, which I posted in Things 79:

“It has occurred to me that this could equally be applied to most armies,
governments, countries, football teams, religious cults, families, and
hell, humanity as a whole. At least one of these is the cause for things
like the situation in Northern Ireland, so I think if you could solve
Trigger’s Broom, then it could well go towards solving some larger
issues. (Albeit, possibly presenting people with some radically new ones
in the process!)”

3) Reacting to a ridiculous news item on Free Will, in Things 84 I asked:

given an arbitrary budget, and any science-fiction technology you care to imagine, how would you devise a test to see if Free Will exists? Feel free to use any definition of Free Will you think might be useful.

Again, there was some interesting discussion summarised in Things 85, but I had one preferred response, from Tarim:

I cannot think of ANY definition of Free Will.

Which I thought was a fair point.

Puzzles that had good answers that I didn’t know
Richard deserves a special mention for supplying quick, detailed and accurate answers to many puzzles where I had no idea what the answer was at the time I asked. Here’s my favourite three examples.

1) In Things 74 I asked why walk-in freezers have doors that cannot be opened from inside. Richard pointed out the answer is that actually, they generally don’t.

2) In Things 85 I asked about some very strange sequential spikes in searches for numbers on Google Trends:

As I posted in Things 86, Richard worked out that it must be people search for the latest fansubbed episodes of the anime series Bleach, which is pretty much confirmed by checking the search terms associated with these numbers over on Google Insights for Search.

3) The ear popping problem, as was posted in this very edition of Things.