The Oatmeal looks into our reality tunnels, the "backfire effect," and the nature of belief

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal is at it again with a smart, funny, and very relevant look at how we construct our beliefs, build our reality tunnels, and why we react so forcefully when the core assumptions of that belief system are threatened.

Read the rest of it. Nice touch that there are two version, one with colorful language and one clean, "classroom-friendly version."

David McRaney's You Are Not So Smart did a wonderful 3-part series on the backfire effect. You can access the first episode here.

Interview about my Recomendo newsletter

I was recently interviewed about the weekly Recomendo newsletter I write with my Cool Tools colleagues, Kevin Kelly and Claudia Dawson. Here's an excerpt:

What is the goal of your newsletter?

To give our readers a weekly list of 6 things we love — travel tips, books, TV shows, clothes, tools, websites, podcasts, and so on. We want people to be able to read the entire newsletter in 90 seconds or less, with no fluff or wheel spinning.

How do you create your newsletter?

We have a shared Google Doc where the three of us write brief reviews of things we like. Once a week, Claudia goes in and selects six items from the doc (two from each of us) and puts them into the weekly newsletter, which gets sent out on Sunday morning.

Speaking of the creation process, Recomendo always has super cool and useful recommendations. How do you go about selecting what goes into the newsletter?

Speaking for myself (this is Mark), whenever I become aware that I am really appreciative of something (like a phone service, a useful app, a good snack to travel with) I add it to a running list I maintain on Once a week or so, I will go through that list and write brief recommendations of a few of the items on the list.

How many subscribers do you have?

As of 29 June 2017, we have published 49 weekly issues and have 11,528 subscribers. Once a month or so, we mention the newsletter on our personal social media accounts, on Cool Tools, and on Boing Boing.

Since the interview, our subscriber count has increased to 12,358. Check out Recomendo here.

Nabisco's X-rated toy scandal of 1971

Nabisco really screwed up in 1971 when they bought Aurora, makers of some really cool monster models. The problem was that Aurora also made a series of models called Monster Scenes that encouraged kids to torture a kidnapped "girl victim" by locking her in a cage, burning her with hot coals, and slicing her open with a pendulum.

From Mental Floss:

Unknown to Nabisco, Aurora had recently branched out and begun offering entire model kit dioramas. Instead of a single figure, consumers could buy detailed “sets” for their monsters to interact with. There was a guillotine, a razor-sharp pendulum, and a laboratory; a female protagonist, referred to in the copy as “the Victim,” was scantily-clad and ready to be dismembered, beheaded, or trapped in a spiked cage. Kids could also opt to have Vampirella, the top-heavy villain licensed from Warren Publishing, operate the winch and pulley while her plastic captive was shackled to a table.

Each kit also contained a comic, which instructed builders on how to assemble the torture scenes for maximum enjoyment. A narrator named Dr. Deadly seemed to opine on the appeal of the Victim once she was fully assembled. “Now that you’ve gotten her all together, I think I like the other way. In pieces … yesssss.”

In addition to Fig Newtons, Nabisco realized it had also been peddling tiny torture racks.

Images from the book, Aurora Monster Scenes - The Most Controversial Toys of a Generation, by Dennis L. Prince and Andrew P. Yanchus

What was inside Timothy Leary's stash box?

As part of the PROJECT:OBJECT "Illicit Objects" series, Doug Rushkoff writes about his friend and mentor Timothy Leary's silk drug stash box.

Tim’s own supply of drugs was minuscule. In addition to a couple of pills, a little paper-fold of cocaine, and maybe a hit of E, his little silk stash box contained implements: a little glass tube, a razor blade...

By the end, though, Tim was doing mainly nitrous. It was the only thing that took away the pain. We got a big tank from the auto supply shop, and Tim would inhale balloons. Everybody else started doing it, too: It was like a two-month-long nitrous party, with guests dropping in and out to say their farewells (in case Tim died before their next visit) and to have a couple of balloons. (I can personally vouch for that. - pesco) Often there were no balloons left for Tim.

So he started keeping one or two spare nitrous balloons in his stash box. I saw this as emblematic of his generosity; he had to take measures in order to guarantee access to his own drugs. When Tim died, I kept the stash box — to remind myself that there are limits.

Last surviving witness of Lincoln assassination on 1956 TV game show

I've posted this before, but it popped up again on Open Culture and it's still awe-provoking. On a TV game show in 1956 called I've Got a Secret, panelists had to guess what 96-year-old Samuel James Seymour's secret was. When Seymour was five years old, he saw John Wilkes Booth assassinate President Lincoln.

This reminds of the astounding fact that the last widow of a civil war veteran was still alive in 2004.

Dog digs up dope-filled geocache in backyard

Kenyon, a golden retriever, was digging in his Yamhill County, Oregon backyard when he uncovered what his owners thought was a "time capsule." Turns out, the container was packed with 15 ounces of black tar heroin. Yamhill County Sheriff Tim Svenson presented Kenyonwith an "official Yamhill County K9 citation ribbon and named him an honorary narcotics K9 for life." No word on the owner of the geocache Kenyon inadvertently excavated.


Good deal on Amazon Fire tablet: $40

I've had my Fire Tablet for about a year, and have definitely gotten my $40 out of it. (It's usually $50 but on sale this week). I use it in the day to look at my Nest camera that's pointing at our driveway (I get a lot of packages delivered). I also use it to listen to audiobooks, read Kindle books, check email and Twitter, and stream Netflix and Amazon Prime videos. It's not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, but what do you expect for $40?

British Airways forces man to sit in wet urine-soaked seat for 11 hours

Here we go again. Another airplane nightmare. It's as if the airlines are competing for the Most Horrific Flight award.

British businessman Andrew Wilkinson boarded a British Airways plane from London to Johannesburg and found that his seat was wet. On further inspection (or sniff) he realized it was urine. He told the flight attendant, and instead of moving him to an empty seat (his seat was in coach, which was full, but there was an available seat in first class), the flight attendant gave him some wipes and told him to clean it himself. (WTF!!)

According to Inc.:

Wilkinson wasn't upgraded. He was left in the stinking, urine-soaked seat for 11 hours.

The flight attendant even had the gall to say to Wilkinson: "You are going to work me hard on this flight, aren't you?"

One might imagine that someone in so-called customer service would, indeed, work hard to try and rectify the situation.

This doesn't appear to have been the case here.

Wilkinson tried to put a plastic bag on the seat, as well as a blanket. A request for a second blanket fell on deaf ears, he said.

It wasn't until he tweeted about it later that he received some points from the airline. But Wilkinson says a proper apology would have been better. This story is so absurd I checked other sources (Mirror and Daily Mail) to make sure Inc. wasn't cracking some sort of mid-year April Fool's joke.

Image: BriYYZ

Wolfgang Puck's pressure oven cooks stuff crazy fast

Toaster ovens are the perfect appliance for small things like toasted sandwiches and roasted garlic (try it!), but anything more involved usually requires a full-sized conventional oven.

However, despite its small size, the Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven can handle anything from baked pastries to broiled meats. This kitchen appliance has a minimal countertop footprint, and cooks food nearly twice as fast as conventional ovens without sacrificing flavor. The secret lies in its watertight, pressurized seal. By trapping moisture inside, it’s able to warm up considerably faster. Since it combines the power of a pressure cooker with the form of an oven, you can use it for almost anything — baking personal pizzas, roasting vegetables, reheating leftovers, what have you. It’s even got enough space for a small turkey, so you can eat an intimate Thanksgiving dinner without the 4+ hours of constant basting and temperature checking.

The Wolfgang Puck Pressure Oven is being offered in our store for $116.99.

Hate groups expose the cynicism of social media platforms

Those praising social media for turfing out white supremacists (and those demanding free speech from it), are missing a deeper problem, writes John Herrman: that these commercial simulations of liberal public discourse are broken replicas of it, ultimately ruled by fiat.

But what gave these trolls power on platforms wasn’t just their willingness to act in bad faith and to break the rules and norms of their environment. It was their understanding that the rules and norms of platforms were self-serving and cynical in the first place. After all, these platforms draw arbitrary boundaries constantly and with much less controversy — against spammers, concerning profanity or in response to government demands.

Believing that private companies must embody or guarantee constitutional rights is one of the internet's worst mistakes. It's not about whether they say yes or no; the plain fact is they can't, even if they want to. They are never free of outside pressure or internal cunning. When we yabber at them to do this or that, we're forgetting that we're just speechcropping. The fact a handful of tech companies are becoming the only public square is a growing problem.

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