Things 36: Amara’s Law, Wondermark, hahahahah

(Originally sent December 2008)

The ‘Things’ email has existed in one form or another for over a year now. The fact that this is number 36 and not 52 shows that I clearly take too many Fridays off. (Actually it was mainly due to a big hiatus). Anyway, I have this Friday off, but have decided that that is not a good enough excuse.

Owing to the popularity of the chicken video last week and the sort-of anniversary of Things and the approaching of Christmas and the addition of more people to the list over the year, I thought it might be an idea to have a ‘Best of Things’ roundup next week.

So please reply and nominate your favourite items that have ever appeared in Things, and I will use these to compile a top 5, or something. I guess the people that just joined in the most recent wave don’t really have enough to go on, sorry! [Note, not a live question, this was sent in December 2008! – T.M. 22/1/11]

Roy Amara

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

is a webcomic that is also a really great example of the value of copyright expiry. David Malki takes images from the 1800s (sourced from the public domain or his own collection of rare books), does a bit of photoshop and then adds speech bubbles.

He’s actually not bad at drawing either, but his writing is really very good, and this enables him to focus on that.

My personal favourite strip is a great example of how he makes humour out of philosophy:

My favourite sequence consists of four strips about getting rich, or not, which begins here:

A good example of his skill as a writer can be found in the following strip, in which there is a well-argued, thoughtful and erudite argument against the advertising for Shrek the Third, in about 60 words:

Last week we wondered why a chicken holds it’s head so still. A bit of Googling didn’t prove it immediately, but I am pretty confident that the reason is this: their vision, or processing of vision, is either movement-based or strongly prioritises movement. A bit like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

This week a bit of estimation for you. In the UK, are there more households with dogs, or more with cats?

A Video (or two)
This video was brought to my attention by Richard. Alan Watts was a dude who knew what he was talking about, and said some wise things. The South Park guys did some animations that went with those things. Here is my favourite:

For you cat/Roomba fans, here’s another video of a cat riding a Roomba – this time the Roomba is behaving normally rather than being remote controlled. It gets a bit repetitive but do skip to the end if you get bored, as Something Happens:

A shrewd linguistic analysis of laughter:

Not really a picture I suppose, but best expressed as one.


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 81: the TV show, Spotify Poetry, Mad Scientists

Laurence correctly identified that this is exactly the kind of multi-level high-speed animated insanity that I enjoy (and am currently wondering if I can design an infographic for):

Share a Spotify playlist, make poetry. A nice little art form. I like this one:

Don’t Look Back Into The Sun
The Whole Of The Moon
It Won’t Hurt
Too Much
I Don’t Know Why
But It’s Better If You Do
Wish Upon A Star
Not The Sun
It’s Too Hot For Words
Think About It
Be Careful
Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

I’ve wanted to post this quote for a while, but couldn’t remember it well enough to find it. Here it is courtesy of The Week, via The Times:

Max Planck: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up familiar with it.”

An excellent observation from the webcomic Cowbirds in Love, as conveniently recommended to me by the futuristic magical curation power of Google Reader Play (click to view full size on their site):

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week I asked how a very strange photo of a physically impossible propeller was achieved. The answer is simply this, and you can see more examples here.

Each week a different section of Things is skipped in order to cut down the length. This week there is no puzzle. This is not a trick. There is no puzzle.


Things 67: Metavideo special

Welcome to the first real live blog post of Things, formerly only available via email. Things 1 through to 66 will be republished here in blog form on Tuesdays (and in fact Things 1 has been posted already), while new Things will appear when the Things newsletter goes out which is usually on Fridays. If you’re reading this and don’t know about the newsletter, it’s like what you’re about to read but in email form. (And if you prefer that to a blog then I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I get a proper mailing list set up).

If you’re curious about the name ‘Nothing About Potatoes’ then do check out the very first post.

Now, on with the Things:

Metavideo Special

Laurence brought this metatrailer to my attention:

Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer

This reminded me of Charlie Brooker’s excellent observations on standard news formats:

Charlie Brooker’s How To Report The News

At about the same time, The Onion came out with it’s own version of the form:

Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere

I guess this next video is tenuously linked in that it plays against certain tropes of the genre, but more importantly it’s just a really superb bit of storytelling, reaffirming something I learned from Tim Sheppard’s course: an audience relates to a story through the storyteller, not merely via.

Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty

And finally, not even tangentially related, I went to see this at the Barbican and it was fantastically surreal:

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: Finches playing guitars

[Sadly this video is no longer findable :( – metatim 02/08/15]

[It’s back!! See below – metatim 06/02/2024]

You literally walk among a whole flock of finches playing six guitars as well as making noise on cymbals covered in bird feed. It’s free and on until May 23rd, and if you like the idea of it then you will certainly like the reality. Details are here.

A Quote
YouTube comments are famously crass and immature (although what might be termed a ‘moral majority’ clearly make good use of the thumbs up / down comment rating system) which made the following comment I saw against a trailer for Wolverine all the more heartwarming:

“I watched this movie May 2nd and it was so awesome that I can’t even say how awesome I love all film peace to peace I like Wolverine with his Adamantium Claws so much that I can’t say even how I like the film is awesome and it deserve the best in the world”

(Also, the comments on the first video in this post are actually pretty good)

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last week in the Things newsletter I asked about ways to tell where to stand on a London underground platform such that you will be by the doors of the tube carriage when it pulls up.

My original answer had been to look at the painted line on the edge of the platform and find the patches with additional wear/dirt, caused by a larger number of people walking there as they left the carriage. However, this is rarely obvious enough to spot.

Rob suggested noting where ‘mind the gap’ is written on the platform. This works perfectly at some stations (such as Hammersmith), but these notices don’t seem to be present in the majority of stations so cannot usually be used.

Xuan suggests waiting until the train slows down and then entering the no-man’s land beyond the yellow line and moving along to where you can then tell a door will stop, although he admits this is quite a risky move.

Miranda points out you can reliably predict where the doors will be if you are at either end of the platform, but this isn’t always easy to get to and is often suboptimal for making changes. On that note, Rob was the first to point out the existence of an app to help with exactly that problem:

My preferred solution is simply to use the large signs that say which station you’re at, as these are very often strategically placed where the doors will be for the convenience of those looking out when the train stops. You can go one step further (since judging by where other people tend to stand quite a few others have worked this out) by waiting sixteen square tiles further up or down the platform in order to be by the next set of doors along. Do note, however, that the sign trick does not work in stations where the architecture doesn’t allow free placement of signs, such as Mile End or Gloucester Road, where large pillars dictate the placement opportunities.