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Vintage selfies, immoral tea, and Victorian manspreading March 20, 2017

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Today in Older Than They Think: The first portrait photograph ever made, in 1839…and guess what, it was a selfie.

Tea causes lack of sleep, weakens the nerves, corrupts boys, and is a gateway to prostitution for girls: a Kids These Days screed from 1833.

Things that were sure to corrupt women over the years: bicycles, novels, the post office, and the telephone.

A writer hating on Kids These Days for no longer being able to speak proper English…in 1440, where those darn kids were ruining their Anglo-Saxon by using newfangled words from Norman French.

Cartoon from Victorian London about…what today we call “manspreading.” (They called it “sitting wide” or “the roomy dodge.”)

Three generations of slang, as of 1925. Fun to see which ones are normal in the present day (“wallflower”, “cheapskate”), which sound adorably outdated (“red-hot mama”, “bully!”), and which have morphed to mean completely different things (“guy”, “spoofing”).

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Good things: cool science, rock eyes, doodling, and cats July 29, 2016

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“On Sunday, May 8, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. […] Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.

Animal eyes span an incredible variety of weirdness. Also coolness. This mollusk has eyes made of rock!

“It may be that different animals arrived at different times. A 2008 study of Movile’s only snail suggested that it has been down there for just over 2 million years. When it entered the cave, the ice age was just beginning, and the snail may have escaped the cold by going underground.” (That’s, uh, the species of snail, not a single really-old individual.)

“Psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth in southern England showed that doodlers actually remember more than nondoodlers when asked to retain tediously delivered information, like, say, during a boring meeting or a lecture.”

“How many other people are learning Spanish, and where do they live? Duolingo recently answered such questions by running the numbers on their 120 million users, spanning every country on the planet.”

“Coming to terms with the fact that he couldn’t outrun a volcano, Landsburg decided to make his last moments on Earth count. He documented the eruption until the last possible second, then carefully rewound his film, placed his camera in his backpack, and lay down on top of it, shielding the equipment from the encroaching shower of magma and ash with his own body.”

“Thanks to the colossal changes humans have made since the mid-20th century, Earth has now entered a distinct age from the Holocene epoch, which started 11,700 years ago as the ice age thawed.” With a gorgeous gallery of ways we’ve altered our own bedrock.

“A giant pothole, the Devil’s Kettle, swallows half of the Brule and no one has any idea where it goes. The consensus is that there must be an exit point somewhere beneath Lake Superior, but over the years, researchers and the curious have poured dye, pingpong balls, even logs into the kettle, then watched the lake for any sign of them. So far, none has ever been found.”

An animal shelter that used to have “unadoptable” cats now has a 30-day waiting list, thanks to hiring them out as mousers.

“As you can see from these pictures, Smoothie knows how to pose for the camera. Then again, it’s pretty easy for her. After all, while most of us have a best angle, EVERY angle is Smoothie’s best angle.” This is a magical elf cat, you guys.

Disability, language, history, and per se &. May 16, 2016

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“It’s a person’s right to identify however the hell they want. If they’re more comfortable as a ‘person with a disability’ than as a ‘disabled person’ then that’s nothing to do with me. […] ‘Disabled’ is the best word in the world for describing the barriers I confront and no non-disabled person has the right to try and take that from me.

We may be able to ask questions about typical and atypical developing children that we couldn’t ask if we only examined typically hearing children.” Deafness, ASL, autism.

Discussions about what non-native English speakers think of the English language.

Quiet updates made to the latest edition of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. Good ones! Gender-neutralizing ones, for starters.

In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABCs concluded the alphabet with the &. It would have been confusing to say ”X, Y, Z, and.” Rather, the students said, ‘and per se and.’ ‘Per se’ means ‘by itself,’ so the students were essentially saying, ‘X, Y, Z, and by itself and.’ Over time, ‘and per se and’ was slurred together into the word we use today: ampersand.”

Old stuff: math teachings from 1917, scandalous pop songs from 1909, cat video from 1903 February 8, 2016

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In reverse chronological order!

Books are Weapons in the War on Ideas: the librarians who worked with the army in WWI and WWII.

“…contractors removing old chalkboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City made a startling discovery: Underneath them rested another set of chalkboards, untouched since 1917.” Historical penmanship and out-of-date multiplication methods ahoy!

“It may seem like a Halloween hoax fit for the eerie October holiday. But officials from the MBTA say the discovery of two tattered rags affixed to strange masks at Government Center Station is all too real.

How a sexed-up viral hit from the summer of ’09—1909—changed American pop music forever.” (Excerpts: “It was used in advertisements for everything from Broadway musicals to pretzels. It was translated by newspapers into Esperanto (“Ho! Vi kaprido!”). It was bellowed by a lovelorn Philadelphian as he leaped from a bridge into the Schuylkill River, attempting suicide. It brought scandal to a church in Geneva, Ill., when a prankster altered the hymnal, adding the line “but, oh, you kid!” to the lyrics of the devotional “I Love My God.””)

Millennial in China taking an excited photo with a bowl of rice. And by “millennial” I mean “circa 1900-1904.” Next time you hear someone complaining about Kids These Days sharing photos of their lunches on Instagram, you can bring up this hard evidence that the generation from a hundred years ago would have done the exact same thing.

The first close-up shot in recorded film was from 1903’s “The Sick Kitten”. In other words, humans have been making cat videos literally for as long as it as been possible to do so.

Check out these 19th-century warnings about that most morally-degrading of modern habits. It leads to crime, mental anguish, weakening intelligence, and corruption among the children! Clearly, respectable people should have nothing to do with…novel-reading.

Science!: toothy dinosaurs, adapting our brains to Google, language of whistling, Earth with rings, and more January 26, 2016

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The dinosaur’s jaw was lined with at least 1,000 teeth with coarse surfaces perfect for pulverizing plants. U. kuukpikensis belongs to the hadrosaur group of duck-billed dinosaurs. It was 25 to 30 feet long, six or seven feet high at the hip, and probably covered with scales.”

“With timelapse cameras, specialists recorded salt water being excluded from the sea ice and sinking. The temperature of this sinking brine, which was well below 0C, caused the water to freeze in an icy sheath around it. Where the so-called “brinicle” met the sea bed, a web of ice formed that froze everything it touched, including sea urchins and starfish.”

“This effort appears to have backfired for the organization—whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism—since the study SafeMinds supported showed a link between autism and vaccines does not exist.

We’ve begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago—“transactive memory.” That’s the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote, and smartphones the way we’ve long treated our spouses, friends, and workmates.”

Unlike all other spoken languages, a whistled form of Turkish requires that “speakers” rely as heavily on the right side of their brains as on the left side, researchers have found.”

“Instead of using ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to describe Standard American English versus African-American English, Craig’s model uses ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ designations, so there’s no judgment attached to either language. One isn’t ‘better’ than the other per se, it’s all about when it’s appropriate to use one form or the other. It’s ‘this is how you talk in school,’ rather than ‘don’t talk like that.’ Craig calls it ‘a slight change’ that makes a big difference in kids’ attitudes about their own language.

What would Earth’s skies look like with Saturn’s rings? Awesome, gorgeous renderings.

And one (more) big science-based reason why everyone should be able to make a comfortable living wage:

If just one Einstein right now is working 60 hours a week in two jobs just to survive, instead of propelling the entire world forward with another General Theory of Relativity… that loss is truly incalculable. How can we measure the costs of lost innovation? Of businesses never started? Of visions never realized?”

How technology shapes new English accents (1930-present) January 5, 2016

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Saw these two links in quick succession, wanted to put them next to each other.

The Trans-Atlantic accent, recognizable from newsreels and films from the ’30s and ’40s, influenced by the need to be understandable to listeners with low-tech radio receivers

The YouTube voice, recognizable mostly in vloggers whose videos are just talking heads, influenced by the need to keep viewers’ attention in a market full of flashy visual effects

Neat stuff. (Paralysis implants, a Bill Watterson art cameo, cool maps, language stuff, diamond planets.) August 27, 2014

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“The Neurobridge technology combines algorithms that learn and decode the user’s brain activity and a high-definition muscle stimulation sleeve that translates neural impulses from the brain and transmits new signals to the paralyzed limb. In this case, Ian’s brain signals bypass his injured spinal cord and move his hand.

“Now if you had asked me the odds of Bill Watterson ever saying that line to me, I’d say it had about the same likelihood as Jimi Hendrix telling me he had a new guitar riff. And yes, I’m aware Hendrix is dead.” Pearls Before Swine gets the most awesome guest artist imaginable.

A globe laid out by Voronoi diagrams, where all the territorial lines are drawn based on which national capital the land is closest to. Overlaid on our world’s current borders, so you can check out the difference.

US language maps, based on Census Bureau data. Most commonly-spoken languages in all the states based on different parameters, starting with “other than English” and “other than English or Spanish.”

Constructive reduplication, found all over the world, from English to Finnish to Hungarian to the Bantu languages. (Or, the linguistic explanation for the difference between “salad” and “salad salad”.)

A bunch of awesome animals (as well as some terrifying lamprey pictures; be ready to scroll; they’re after the Tufted Deer). Teeny armadillos, skinny canids, deer with awesome horns and hind-legged stances, and what looks like a rabbit-capybara.

Python swallows a three-foot-long crocodile whole. Nature is awesome.

The most amazing of the 3500+ exoplanets we’ve discovered, including the diamond one, the burning-ice one, the one with a day-long year, and the incredibly dark one (lit by a sun, though).

On languages: Light Warlpiri, Volapuk, chatspeak, dialects of English, and possibly Voynich July 31, 2013

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“There are many dying languages in the world. But at least one has recently been born, created by children living in a remote village in northern Australia. Carmel O’Shannessy, a linguist at the University of Michigan, has been studying the young people’s speech for more than a decade and has concluded that they speak neither a dialect nor the mixture of languages called a creole, but a new language with unique grammatical rules. ”

The Voynich manuscript: possibly not gibberish after all? New analyses find patterns that would show up in encoded language, but be hard to fake at random.

Before there was Esperanto, there was Volapük: “a universal language created in the late 19th century by a German priest called Johann Schleyer.” Its heyday of popularity has long passed, but there is still enough interest to create a Volapük Wikipedia with 100K+ articles.

Mapped data from US-wide dialect surveys. As a nation we are united by shopping carts, but divided by fireflies.

“Goodbye” is a derivative of 14th-century chatspeak. (God be with ye = Godbwye = Goodbye)

“5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think.”

Historical same-sex weddings, fantasy female armor, texting in West African languages, and more January 7, 2012

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How to talk about gender with first graders in a way that gets them thinking and not bullying.

Musings on fantasy armor versus female figures, as crafted by someone who actually makes armor.

A history of Chicago’s underground abortion services in the years before Roe v. Wade.

A cryptographer takes a closer look at Biblical Greek and inadvertently discovers that Paul’s only clear condemnation of homosexuality…was a mistranslation.

Debunking the myth that pre-colonial Africa had no homosexuality. With research!

The tensions faced by a mixed-race family.

How do you keep a language from dying out? Make it available to text in, as is being done with the Mande family of West African languages and hopefully plenty more to come.

Next time someone tells you they support traditional marriage, send them this link: records of Christian same-sex weddings from the 300s through the 1600s.

How do you say “a linguistic linkdump” in Klingon? October 14, 2010

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Does the contours of your native language shape how you think? No in some ways, but definitely yes in others, including some very surprising ones.

As a sidebar, this amazing chart contrasts the meanings of over eighty colors across ten different cultures. For instance, black is the color of mourning in the West, but if you’re Chinese it’s white, Eastern European it’s yellow, and South American it’s purple. Purple also has connotations of insight in Japan, whereas the same is green in Hindu culture, and yellow in Native American. (Incidentally, red signifies passion just about everywhere.)

When translating involves more than two languages: dealing with the Greek and Latin in Negima!, and trying to keep it all consistent. Here’s a bit of straightforwardness about the process in general, and here’s a bit about the editor’s job, including the history of the industry.

An opera written and sung entirely in Klingon. And the reviews say the music and performances are actually good. What’s Klingon for “FTW”?

The importance of baby babbling, and how to encourage it.

Somebody went and uploaded the entirety of The Story of English on YouTube. It’s an Emmy-winning documentary from the ’80s, with enough breadth and depth that it doesn’t date itself in embarrassing ways – only in interesting ones. (Which is to say, it’s more “this is a snapshot of the world at the time” than “this is a laughably inaccurate declaration about how language will work in the far-off year 2000”.) Including glimpses of speculation for the future of computer communication, long before the Internet came into its own.