Things 65: Trololo, Animation Analysis, Numerical Keyboards

(Originally sent March 2010, maybe)

What sort of old TV clip would spawn a dedicated site whose main purpose is simply to play it on loop? (Sound is essential)

I did a bit of analysis on the data that went into Disney’s decision to give up on 2D animation, including the correlation between how good a film is and how much money it makes:

Bad guy to henchman:

“Don’t you know what a rhetorical question is?!”

(From Leroy and Stitch)

Why do the numbers on phone keypads read left to right and down (so 1, 2, 3 are in the top row) whereas calculators and keyboards run the numbers left to right but upwards (with 1,2,3 in the bottom row)?

I think we’re just scratching the surface with the kind of art Photoshop helps us create.


Things 64: Videoshop, Censorship, Shirky on Newspapers

(Originally sent February 2010, maybe)

The use of Photoshop to ‘enhance’ imagery of models is now well-known. I suspect the more sophisticated use of similar tools in videos is much less well-known.

Bonus video
This seems to be everyone’s favourite ad right now:

While walking somewhere on a route that takes you past a lot of cars, you have a great opportunity to memorise something that involves numbers/letters by using each numberplate as a quick test.

1) Numerical position of letter in the alphabet (A=1, Z=26, etc)

Come up with ways to remember each number/letter pair (e.g. 15 = O, think tennis), then try to come up with the numbers corresponding to each letter on the number plates you pass. This can come in handy when you need to come up with a PIN, or when you want to read a secret message in a movie (the majority of which seem to use this basic code).

2) Phonetic Alphabet / Morse Code / Semaphore / any other alphabet mapping

This one requires preparation. Print or write down the key, then try to learn it as you walk while testing yourself on each numberplate you pass.

This is a fun way to pass time walking (for people that find the same things fun as I do).

The puzzle is this: What other things could you teach yourself while walking somewhere?


Much has been written about the Newspapers vs Internet battle, but this (now year-old) article by Clay Shirky is the best I have read. Pretty much every paragraph contains a powerful, succinct insight into a complex aspect of the situation.

Some choice quotes:

“When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.”

“It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves – the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public – has stopped being a problem.”

[On the print revolution of 1500] “That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread.”

Incidentally, my favourite experiment / small change right now is Flattr.


Things 45: Ant Colony Sculpture, Maunder Minimum, Photoshop Effect

(Originally sent April 2009)

What happens if you fill an underground ant colony network with concrete, let it set, then excavate the resulting sculpture? [Removed, try this – metatim 18/08/2015]


The sunspot cycle typically lasts 11 years. We are currently undergoing an abnormally long period of low (and therefore cooler) activity, still going 12.8 years after the last solar minimum, which some speculate heralds the beginning of a new Maunder Minimum. However, NASA say this is unlikely and will not have a significant effect on global warming.

The links
Maunder Minimum

How unusual is current activity:

NASA’s take:

I like it when you get a complete story in the few seconds of conversation you hear as you walk past someone. I overheard this:

Teenager: … and then he says-
Adult [interrupting]: “Why have you got no clothes on.” I told *you* that joke.

Last Week’s Puzzle
Last time I asked what you could buy for less than £5 which consists of the largest number of things, where the number of those things is written on the packet/box/tin. For those still working on it, do not click on the following link which goes to the best answer I’ve been able to find – 5,000 things for £2.71.
[Update – the same idea can now yield a score of 10,000 – T.M. 16/4/11]

This time, the question is simple: why do house front doors almost always open inwards?

It is reasonably well known that photo manipulation is common on magazine covers, but it’s good to be reminded of how much distortion actually goes on sometimes, in examples such as this:

An interesting collection of images demonstrating the point the other way round can be found in these front covers of an apparently forthcoming edition of the French Elle magazine.


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.