Word Oddities and Trivia

Fun site with examples of odd words.
According to Craig Rowland, Scrabble in North America recognizes five words which, if spelled over two triple-word score squares, and with a premium-scoring tile on the double-letter score square, will award the player 392 points on a single play. These five words are: OXAZEPAM, BEZIQUES, CAZIQUES, MEZQUITS, and MEZQUITE.

John Chew says that OXYPHENBUTAZONE is the highest-scoring word known under American tournament Scrabble rules (OSPD+MWCD). It can score 1778 under suitably contrived circumstances listed and credited in the Scrabble FAQ.

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King Tut's curse disproved

The mummy's curse has been proven false by statistical research into the lifespan of grave-robbers:
Mark Nelson, an epidemiology and preventive medicine scholar at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia conducted the study.

He found the average life expectancy of those exposed was 70 years, compared to 75 years for those who weren't.

But if you dig deeper, the age difference disappears.

"If you take into account the differences in age and the differences in gender balance, then there was no statistical significant difference between the two groups," Nelson told CBC Radio's As It Happens.

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Conspiracy theories from deep in the Library of Congress

"Librarian X" is apparently an insider at the Library of Congress who is mad as hell. S/he has lots of consipracy theories, primarily revolving around James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, who, apparently, is an ex-CIA spook. I'm not clear on how credible Librarian X's samizdata is, given the lack of documentation in support of the claims on the "Deep in the Stacks" website, but it sure makes for interesting conspiracy-theory readings.
This collection was acquired prior to World War I. This is--or was--a rather impressive private library of over 80,000 volumes. This was quite a collection, not just literary but scientific as well. In essence, this collection showed the intellectual achievement of Russia. So impressive was this collection that a Russian Who's Who visited and read the books, including Lenin. Part of the promise during purchase was that the collection would remain intact. Well, with over 70,000 volumes still to go it looks like this will never happen. The other problem is that Billington put a non-citizen (a federal security violation) in charge of processing this collection. A further problem is that his Russian was far too limited, the cause of the resultant disaster. A number of alert rare book dealers, recognizing the Yudin stamp, called the Library when they were offered for sale. Billington insists these are "duplicates," even though evidence given the IG shows otherwise. Since there are, according to Billington, no thefts at the Library of Congress these Yudin books will remain on the open market. If you think the FBI, Congress or Library managers are interested in retrieving these books, well...you need to go back and read the rest of this website.
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JWZ's mom discovers interface cruft

Ur-geek-turned-club-owner JWZ reports back from the anthropological intersection of interface cruft and old people:
...I recently got my mom a new computer.

She had been using a truly ancient Mac for a long time, and nothing worked any more. She wasn't able to get any version of Netscape newer than 2.0 installed on it, and she wasn't able to enable her ISP's spam-blocking feature, because it used an SSL page, and her copy of Netscape's root cert had long since expired. Faced with the prospects of either trying to explain this to her, or update the cert myself, I just bought her a new iMac with OSX.

She's aghast at the idea that this perfectly good computer is totally obsolete, only six years later. As well she should be. But, oh well, it is...

So today she proudly told me that she'd gotten it all figured out. She said, ``now I just always save everything to `Desktop' and then I can see where it is: once I save it, I drag it to the right folder!''

Now, that's just... so wrong. But hey, she made it work. Go mom.

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Fannish idea-virus crosses into NYC literary society

Mafia is this fiendish game that has completely eaten fandom, turning science fiction conventions into all-night gaming sessions. In the game, players compete to lie effectively to one another and collude to carry out the sham. It's a game of alliances, betrayal, and dissembling, and I've stayed the hell away from it on the sensible grounds that it appears to be a black hole whence I shall never return.

Jonathan Lethem is a genre writer who has crossed over, more or less, into NYC literary society, and he's brought Mafia with him, with predictable results:

These days, if you’re looking for a bunch of New York writers, magazine editors and publishing types on a Friday night, track down Mr. Lethem, who has become a kind of mob boss among an ever-growing salon of poker-faced literati obsessed by the spiky parlor game they call Mafia. There’s no money involved, everyone stays clothed, and the alcohol intake is surprisingly moderate—but to witness Mr. Lethem’s disciples in the throes of their favorite game is to know that the stakes run high.

"People got so upset," said Ms. Schappell, "stalking around and screaming: ‘I can’t believe you don’t believe me! How come you don’t believe me?’"

On that evening, Ms. Jackson ended up trusting Mr. Lethem, but she shouldn’t have: He was lying his face off, and everyone knew it. But Ms. Jackson was swayed. "He gets excited about pleading his case," she said, explaining why she trusted him. "My knowledge of his character worked against me, because I had too many ways to interpret his signs.

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Relativity explained with four-letter words

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity lucidly explained -- using only words of four letters or less.
Get a load of this. We have Bert and Dana. Take a bus, and put Bert on the bus. The bus goes down the road. Dana, she sits here, on the side of the road. He's in the bus and she's on her ass. And now take a rock off of the moon, and let it fall at them. It hits the air and cuts in two. The two bits burn, and then land just as Bert and Dana are side by side. One hits the dirt up the road a ways, and one hits down the road a ways. Dana sees each rock at the same time, but Bert sees one rock and then sees the next rock. Now: if Bert and Dana both see Dana as the one who is "at rest", they both will say that the two bits came down at the same time. Dana will say, "I am 'at rest', and I saw them both land at the same time, so they both did, in fact, land at the same time." And Bert will say, "I move away from the rock down the road, so when I add that fact in, I can see that if I were 'at rest', I'd have seen both land at the same time. So it must be the case that they did land at the same time." Okay, but what if Bert and Dana now see Bert as the one who is "at rest"?
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Russia sez: Harry Potter doesn't incite hatred

The Russian inquiry into whether the Harry Potter novels promote religious hatred has concluded that they don't.
An investigation was launched after claims the books "contained signs of religious extremism".

There were also claims they were "drawing students into religious groups of a Satanic type".

Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, said they had found no basis for opening a criminal case.

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Natural cork's disappearance hurts endangered species

As the world's vintners move away from natural cork -- which some claim is responsible for "corking" spoilage of up to four percent of all wine -- to synthetic stoppers, animal conservationists are sounding alarm bells about the future of the endangered species that thrive in cork orchards.
Two wildlife species, the Iberian lynx and the Iberian imperial eagle, are both seriously endangered, but can survive within cork oak forests. If the forests suffer, the outlook for these native animals will also worsen.

WWF estimates the Iberian lynx population has decreased some 90 percent in the past 15 years and population estimates range from 1,000 to only 150. It is the most threatened carnivore in Europe.

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Baby-eating artist's TV show defended by Brit TV station

Tastes like chicken? Britain's Channel 4 is defending a show in which Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu appears to nosh on a dead baby, describing it a "thought-provoking film about extreme art in China." News excerpt:
"[In the] documentary... [he] shows off photographs of himself washing a dead stillborn baby in a sink and putting its dismembered parts in his mouth. Politicians and media critics have condemned the plans but the Broadcasting Standards Commission said it could not address a program before it was shown.

Zhu is also shown having a piece of his own body grafted onto a pig. He describes his work as expressing his Christian faith, saying: 'Jesus is always related to death, blood, wounds, etc.'"

This older Taipei Times article covers previous works by Mr. Yu Zhu (Thanks, Hutch!), including the smash hit shows Maneater and Canned human brains: "Zhu admitted that the meat obtained from the bodies tasted bad, and said he had vomited several times while eating it. However, he said, he had to do so 'for art's sake.' " Here is more background on the pig-skin-graft performance art piece, a snapshot of which is shown at left.

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A dream of flying in Flash

FlyGuy is an utterly enchanting little Flash app. In it, you are a pudgy salaryman who flys through an amazing, Hypercard-like monochrome line art fantasyland, sailing through the sky, through space, and eventually landing up in a tropical paradise where the monkey dances the hula all night long. Playing with this app made me feel like Tuttle in Brazil, having a dream of flying. Link Discuss Read the rest

Stalinist posters from Poland

Maciej sez "This is a page of wacky/disturbing Polish wall posters from the early 1950's. The posters have been reissued in Poland as a campy, popular kind of retro calendar; I've scanned in some of the stranger ones, with translated captions." Link Discuss (Thanks, Maciej!) Read the rest

Thrill Devil Thongs: wacky pop-couture lingerie

Cool, aggro-hipster thong designs straight outta Chicago and now available online.

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Pre-prohibition drug labels from products containing now-illegal drugs

Paul Bissex writes:
Labels and info from pre-prohibition over-the-counter psychotropics. Cocaine tooth drops, benzedrine inhalers -- fun for the whole family!
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Word Spy - daily jargon

Nice jargon watch site. Today's term: dark biology: scientific research related to biological weapons. Link Discuss (Thanks, Kevin!) Read the rest

Cellular number portability in 2003?

Wired News reports that number portability will finally come to cellular customers next year. The cell companies have been dragging their heels on this for years now -- and no wonder: any industry so hostile to its customers naturally fears anything that makes it easier for customers to sever their ties with them. Ironically, the mobile telcos have cited the already high amount of churn in their business as evidence that number portability is unnecessary: "See? Our customers hate us so much today that they are willing to reprint all their business cards every six months with a new cellular number: what makes you think that they need to have that pain eased for them?" It's possible that number portability will ramp up cellular churn to the point where one or two of these companies actually get a customer-service clue and emerge as winners. I'd sign up in a hot second for any cellular company whose motto was: "We're less horrible than a root canal with a cold chisel." Link Discuss Read the rest

Supreme Court Intervenes in deCSS/DVD Dispute

AP is reporting a significant development in the case involving webmaster Matthew Pavlovich, who republished DVD-cracking deCSS code on his website:
The Supreme Court has temporarily intervened in a fight over DVD copying, and the justices could eventually use the case to decide how easy it will be for people to post software on the Internet that helps others copy movies. More broadly, the case against a webmaster whose site offered a program to break DVD security codes could resolve how people can be sued for what they put online.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor granted a stay last week to a group that licenses DVD encryption software to the motion picture industry, giving the court time to collect more arguments. She requested filings by later this week. The group has spent three years trying to stop illegal copying. The case puts the court in the middle of a cyberspace legal boundary fight: Where can lawsuits involving the World Wide Web be filed?

UPDATE: Lisa Rein sez: "I've made the Pavlovich Legal Decision available in non-PDF (web-friendly HTML) formats, here."

Link to AP story, Background on EFF.org, Discuss (Thanks, Scott!) Read the rest

RIP, payphones

The payphone is the twenty-first century horse-trough. It's a quaint artifact, more often employed by dope dealers than upstanding cits, who are expected to commit their action-at-a-distance through mobile handsets. The payphone has been dwindling away on this continent, from Bell South's announced shutdown of 143,000 payphones to Bell Canada's recent annoucement that it will be turning its armored public phones into public WiFi hotspots. Even COCOTs -- private, high-cost payphones that merchants install in remote places for a captive audience -- are being supplanted by cellphones. WashPo runs down the continuing demise of the coin-op telephone:
"At first it was fun, because you'd put in a new phone and you'd generate revenue right away of $600 a month," said Castro, a manager and 11-year veteran at Robin Technologies Inc. in Rockville. Castro empties the coin bin of the dead pay phone, which now averages only $2.50 a day.

There is an indignity to the way pay phones go. They are covered with detritus -- an empty 750-milliliter bottle of cheap red wine, a wet pack of Marlboro Lights and discarded phone cards. The shiny base of the pay phone shells degrade to a mottled magenta. "Unfortunately, what happens is people urinate on them and they corrode," Castro said.

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