Things 34: Uncertainty, Cat on Roomba, Lemurs

(Originally sent November 2008)

Welcome to Things, a weekly email I send around with stuff that I have found or dug out from my archives. This week some new people have been added to the list, so it is now going out to:

6 people at RAPP
2 people that used to be at RAPP
3 members of my family
1 other cool person
1 me

The default is for everyone to receive Things privately. If you are happy to receive it on a CC list so that you can reply-to-all and discuss the contents with similarly interested people, let me know – so far two people from the above list are doing that.

Anyway, on to the Things.

If I had time to see any film this coming week it would be Waltz with Bashir, which apparently breaks new ground both as an animation and as a documentary. (From the trailer it doesn’t actually seem to take rotoscoping much further than Richard Linklater already has with Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, but it’s still cool).

IMDb: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%


A link
The McCollough effect is a brilliant optical illusion effect which remains unexplained. Try it out here.

A quote
Tycho, Penny Arcade:

“Innovations are just gimmicks you happen to like.”

Last week’s puzzle
Last time I asked that if regular slow zombies represent the inevitability of death, what do fast zombies represent?

My personal answer is that fast zombies are just a distillation of our worst fears about other people – reduced to pure irrational rage and threat. It also unlocks a primal desire to defend yourself with violence, and by reducing other people to zombies we need not feel guilt about doing violent things to them. (Compare Carmageddon, a game in which the aim was to run people over, but since this was considered unacceptable by the ratings board the people were replaced by zombies).

This week’s puzzle
This week, it’s a graph puzzle. Take a look at the trend in search volume for the word ‘Uncertainty’:

It follows a clear annual trend. Why is that?

A Video
A cat riding on a Roomba, which is an autonomous vacuum cleaning robot. Interestingly, 2 out of the 12 people receiving this email own such a device.

Google is now hosting the photographic archive from LIFE magazine, including photos that never made it into print. So far they have put up 2 million of an anticipated 10 million images at pleasingly high resolution. You can also buy a print of any image you like, for an only slightly exorbitant cost.

As with all new resources, I tested it out by seeing what it had on lemurs. The answer is: lots. It turns out that from page 2 onwards almost all of the results come from a brilliant photo shoot revolving around a family that has a pet lemur.


Things 30: Evolution Paradox, Ninja Cat, Wobbly Illusion

(Originally sent September 2008)

It’s Things 30, I’m 30. Isn’t that nice.

If I have time, I may watch Taken, because it seems wonderfully up-front about its aim as a film – “They have taken his daughter. He will hunt them. He will find them. And he will kill them.”

IMDb: 7.8/10
RT: 50%

Last week’s puzzle
What is the difference between a duck?

One of its legs is both the same.

That’s the official answer. Now for something more serious.

This week’s puzzle
In evolution, the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ generally means that over time only the most well-adapted versions of a species thrive, and this causes species to develop and improve over many generations. For example, Giraffe’s necks get longer, Lions become better hunters, and so on.

In humans, we look after the sick and the weak and we often have redistributive tax systems. We go to a great effort to help the ‘least fit’, in the evolutionary sense, to survive. In the context of the above, this seems incomprehensible. How did this happen?

More cat video goodness – this time a cat that knows the rules of that childhood game known as ‘Red light/Green light’ in the US, ‘1,2,3 Soleil’ in France, and presumably something else in the UK that I can’t remember. The game also featured to great effect in the movie The Orphanage.

A very practical link:
An excellent site for checking the weather, as it includes how weather changes over the course of the day.

A quote / anecdote
On Saturday in Regents Park (while running a treasure hunt) I think I may been the target of an interesting pick-up strategy. A rather attractive French lady asked if I could take a photo of her, so I agreed. She sat on the grass and posed seductively and I took a sensible picture. She asked me to take another one with the camera looking down at her from above. It seemed unreasonable to say no at that point. Then she said “Now let us check the photos to see if you are a good photographer [she then checked them]… oh, you are fabulous! Now, let us go to Queen Mary’s fountain and take some more photos there.”

It was at this point I explained I was a bit busy and had other places to be. But I was impressed by the general idea. If I actually found the French accent attractive it may even have worked. Or perhaps I just have entirely the wrong end of a very long stick.

A picture
An optical illusion:


Things 24: 5 Easy Pieces, Clever Fountain, Innate Hypocrisy

(Originally sent August 2008)

This week’s film
Actually, I managed to resist seeing Space Chimps.

Next Week’s films
The Clone Wars
. As I forecast many years ago, Star Wars is moving into TV series, but they realised they could release a feature-length pilot episode of the CG series in cinemas. I’m not expecting much. The live-action TV series, still a few years away, seems more promising to me.
Imdb: Not yet rated
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%

If I’m feeling mad I may also go to see ‘You Don’t Mess With Zohan’ purely because I like the character trope of a nice peace-loving guy that happens to be totally badass and can catch bullets in mid-air :
Imdb: 5.7
RT: 34%

A Puzzle
A stripper hands you a perfectly square piece of paper and a scisors. She tells you to divide it into 5 pieces of equal area without using a ruler or a compass. Can it be done? If so, how? If not, why?

Bonus puzzle
Where did I get the above puzzle from? (This is very difficult, but I just thought I’d throw it out there as it is at least theoretically knowable. The spelling of ‘scisors’ is in the original.) [No longer as hard as it used to be – T.M. 18/10/10]

A video
As with all great ideas, it seems obvious in retrospect. How clever can a fountain be?
(Video is rather long and you don’t miss too much if you skip through it a bit).

A link
A fantastic experiment that demonstrates how hypocrisy is innate to human beings – make sure you read the bit where they introduce wrist-bands towards the end as that is the most important result.

A bunch of related quotes
Arther C. Clarke

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

My friend Laurence said:

“Any technology that is distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.”

Hanlon’s Razor states:

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Someone on Wikipedia says:

“Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. [citation needed]”

A picture
Eric Poulton’s entry for the Last Man Standing competition at; click through to his site to view the full fantastically deep image, with convenient ‘flip’ button in the bottom right. (If link breaks, I’ve mirrored the image here).


Things 80: Underwater, 3D, Propeller Puzzle

A simple idea, but no less amazing for it:

Read more about this here.

As soon as 3D cinema started to see regular releases, many of us wondered if there was a market for designer 3D glasses, or at least nicer ones than the pairs you get at the cinema. I suspect with the advent of 3D TV using the same technology, the market becomes viable, and so the product duly emerges.

Marvellously surreal, but also interpretable as a variation on carpe diem:

Bill Murray as Phil in Groundhog day: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today!”

Given that no Photoshop is involved, how was this photo achieved?

Photo credit (and by its context, answer to the puzzle) is here.