In his post about 1990s web development techniques, Zach Holman praises the 1-pixel transparent GIF.
1x1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It's the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It's not the future we deserved, but it's the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).
Given all of the awards Holman desires to present, I'm surprised he didn't mention the inventor of the spacer GIF, David Siegel. Siegel was perhaps the first celebrity web designer -- well, a celebrity among web designers anyway. He dispensed opinionated design knowledge from his personal homepage and used the High Five award to showcase his idea of cutting edge web design. (Fun fact: Siegel's own site was the first High Five award winner.)
Somewhere along the way, Siegel came up with the idea of using a 1x1 pixel transparent GIF to introduce whitespace on web pages. The file size was very small but you could scale it up visually using the height and width attributes of the <img> tag and use it hundreds of times on a site because it was cached by the browser the first time it loaded.
Popularized in the pages of his web design book, Creating Killer Web Sites, Siegel's spacer GIF was completely non-standard and hacky but had the great advantages of 1) giving designers superb control over a site's design and 2) working more or less the same in every graphical browser. The designers of the time weren't content to wait around for the SGML nerds at W3C to figure out better ways of displaying web pages, so when Siegel pulled this beautiful kludge out of his pocket, everyone quickly adopted the technique. For years the spacer GIF dominated web design, for better and for worse. So yeah, maybe Siegel does deserve a Grammy or something.
Superb short documentary from Grantland about a perfect 18-hole game of mini golf:
Nice visualization of the solar system; the Moon is one pixel across and everything else is scaled to that, including the distances between planets. Get ready to scroll. A lot.
It would be neat to do this with a plutonium atom or something. Related: typographically speaking, what's the point size of the Moon?
It's only around 30 seconds long, but this video showing a standard web maps interface paired with satellite video is pretty mindblowing:
This quick shot by Skybox's SkySat-1 shows multiple planes landing at Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) airport in Beijing on December 30, 2013. You can easily see a large plane landing on the runway at right. Using the video's timestamp and public flight logs, Bruno identified this plane as Air China Limited flight 1310, a wide-body Airbus 330 flying from Guangzhou to Beijing. Operating as a codeshare, that flight was also listed as Shenzhen Airlines 1310, United Airlines 7564, SAS 9510, Austrian 8010 and Lufthansa 7283.
I remember when satellite photography first became available in online maps; this feels similarly jawdropping. Gonna be more difficult to stitch video together into seamless interfaces than still images, but once it happens, it'll prove quite useful.
Raffi Khatchadourian's long piece on the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is at once fascinating (for science reasons) and depressing (for political/bureaucratic reasons). Fusion reactors hold incredible promise:
But if it is truly possible to bottle up a star, and to do so economically, the technology could solve the world's energy problems for the next thirty million years, and help save the planet from environmental catastrophe. Hydrogen, a primordial element, is the most abundant atom in the universe, a potential fuel that poses little risk of scarcity. Eventually, physicists hope, commercial reactors modelled on iter will be built, too-generating terawatts of power with no carbon, virtually no pollution, and scant radioactive waste. The reactor would run on no more than seawater and lithium. It would never melt down. It would realize a yearning, as old as the story of Prometheus, to bring the light of the heavens to Earth, and bend it to humanity's will. iter, in Latin, means "the way."
But ITER is a collaborative effort between 35 different countries, which means the project is political, slow, and expensive.
For the machine's creators, this process-sparking and controlling a self-sustaining synthetic star-will be the culmination of decades of preparation, billions of dollars' worth of investment, and immeasurable ingenuity, misdirection, recalibration, infighting, heartache, and ridicule. Few engineering feats can compare, in scale, in technical complexity, in ambition or hubris. Even the iter organization, a makeshift scientific United Nations, assembled eight years ago to construct the machine, is unprecedented. Thirty-five countries, representing more than half the world's population, are invested in the project, which is so complex to finance that it requires its own currency: the iter Unit of Account.
No one knows iter's true cost, which may be incalculable, but estimates have been rising steadily, and a conservative figure rests at twenty billion dollars -- a sum that makes iter the most expensive scientific instrument on Earth.
I wonder what the project would look like if, say, Google or Apple were to take the reins instead. In that context, it's only $20 billion to build a tiny Sun on the Earth. Facebook just paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, Apple has a whopping $158.8 billion in cash, and Google & Microsoft both have more than $50 billion in cash. Google in particular, which is making a self-driving car and has been buying up robots by the company-full recently, might want their own tiny star.
But back to reality, the circumstances of ITER's international construction consortium reminded me of the building of The Machine in Carl Sagan's Contact. In the book, the countries of the world work together to make a machine of unknown function from plans beamed to them from an alien intelligence, which results in the development of several new lucrative life-enhancing technologies and generally unites humanity. In Sagan's view, that's the power of science. Hopefully the ITER can work through its difficulties to achieve something similar.
Great book cover design alert:
The book is the forthcoming Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle. Cover art direction by Rodrigo Corral, designed by Timothy Goodman. (via @robinsloan)
Jesse Hill made a music video for Beyonce's Drunk in Love entirely out of emoji. Fantastic work.
Fist Eggplant! Poo! Surfbort! Oh man, that was fun.
Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.
Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.
Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.
But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.
"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."
Montgomery's story reminds me of ultra-endurance racer Jure Robic, particularly this bit in a NY Times profile:
Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."
Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."
Have you ever wanted to taste Kanye West's meat? Then what is wrong with you and what is wrong with these people?!?! They want to take tissue samples from celebrities like James Franco, Kanye, and Jennifer Lawrence and make artisanal salami out of them.
It all starts with your favorite celebrities, and a quick biopsy to obtain tissue samples. Isolating muscle stem cells, we grow celebrity meat in our proprietary bioreactors. In the tradition of Italian cured meats, we dry, age, and spice our product into fine charcuterie.
Note: BiteLabs might be completely fake. But
fake is the new real so... nope, this is just fake.
Hold onto yer butts, you can use the computer interface from Jurassic Park right in your web browser.
It may look a little confusing but just remember: this is a Unix system and you know this.
In his own words, Wes Anderson explains different aspects of his visual style.
Nicely edited together by Nelson Carvajal at Way Too Indie.
I keep waiting to get sick of seeing photos of huge flocks of birds flying around like they share a brain, but it hasn't happened. Alan Taylor has collected a bunch of starling murmuration photos at In Focus.
They're even better in motion.
From The Avant/Garde Diaries comes a brief lesson in Japanese sword fighting from master kendo sensei Shozo Kato.
Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.
Somehow -- science? magic? pelican snacks? -- someone found a way to affix a GoPro camera to a pelican's beak and the view of him flying around a lake in Tanzania is pretty awesome.
I have to admit, this alternate Harry Potter ending would have been pretty great.
Harry Potter would, forever, be The Boy Who Lived.
Love these voxelated animal sculptures by New Zealand artist Ben Foster.
Very aesthetically (but perhaps not conceptually) New Aesthetic. (via colossal)
Stefano Maggiolo made a map of how much the time zones of the world vary from solar time. The darker the color, the more the deviation.
Looking for other regions of the world having the same peculiarity of Spain, I edited a world map from Wikipedia to show the difference between solar and standard time. It turns out, there are many places where the sun rises and sets late in the day, like in Spain, but not a lot where it is very early (highlighted in red and green in the map, respectively). Most of Russia is heavily red, but mostly in zones with very scarce population; the exception is St. Petersburg, with a discrepancy of two hours, but the effect on time is mitigated by the high latitude. The most extreme example of Spain-like time is western China: the difference reaches three hours against solar time. For example, today the sun rises there at 10:15 and sets at 19:45, and solar noon is at 15:01.
Something to note: China is about as big across as the continental United States and has only one huge time zone. (via slate)
Pop Chart Lab has produced a print of grammatical diagrams of the opening lines of notable novels. Here's Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea:
There are also sentences from DFW, Plath, and Austen. Prints start at $29.
Like Ukraine, Venezuela has been experiencing anti-government protests over the past few weeks. In Focus has a selection of photos from the protests.
Moisés Naím has an article that explains what's behind the protests.
This is the half of the country whose sons and daughters have taken to the streets to protest against a repressive regime that treats them as mortal enemies. And maybe they are. After all, they represent the vanguard of a society no longer willing to tolerate an abusive government with disastrous results to show for its 15-year grip on power: Venezuela is now the world champion of inflation, homicide, insecurity, and shortages of essential goods-from milk for children to insulin for diabetics and all kinds of indispensable products. All this despite having the greatest oil reserves in the world and a government with absolute control of all state institutions and levers of power. Sadly, that government has used its immense wealth and authority to push through unsustainable populist policies, buy votes, jail opposition leaders, and shut down television channels. Daily shortages of basic goods, fear of crime, and hopelessness have become unbearable.
Richard Lenski and his team of researchers utilize a clever technique to observe and study evolution of bacteria in realtime. Periodically freezing a sample of the bacteria every few generations allows them to go back in time to study particular traits and to pinpoint when differences occur.
After 30,000 generations, researchers noticed something strange. One population had evolved the ability to use a different carbon-based molecule in the solution, called citrate, as a power source.
Researchers wondered whether it was the result of a rare, single mutation, or a more complex change involving a series of mutations over generations. To find out, one of Lenski's postdocs, Zachary Blount, took some of the frozen cells and grew them in a culture lacking glucose, with citrate as the only potential food source.
After testing 10 trillion ancestral cells from early generations, he got no growth. But when he tested cells from the 20,000th generation on, he began to get results, eventually finding 19 mutants that could use citrate as a power source. The results showed that the citrate-eating mutation was most likely not the result of a single mutation, but one enabled by multiple changes over 20,000 generations.
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