Happy Sysadmin Day, Ken!


It's Sysadmin Day! Time to publicly state aloud that which I say in my mind every day: THANK YOU, KEN! The Ken in question is Ken Snider, Boing Boing's intrepid, tireless, magnificent systems administrator -- awakened at all hours to fix things, cheerful night and day. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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The scientific history of Independence Day

The American founding fathers weren't just presidents, they were also members — of the science fan club, that is. In fact, we owe a lot to 17th and 18th-century pop science, and how it shaped the beliefs of the people who shaped this country. For some timely science reading go along with tomorrow's holiday, check out Kitty Ferguson's piece at Nautilus.

Celebrate the first interplanetary holiday!

Tonight is Yuri's Night — a holiday celebrating the first human spaceflight. You can throw a Yuri's Night party yourself, or simply join one of the 340 parties that are already scheduled. Scheduled events range from the ubiquitous "let's drink vodka shots in a Russian restaurant" to more kid-friendly, telescope-centric themes. And this year, you can even virtually join the Mars Curiosity Rover as it throws itself the first Yuri's Night party to be held on another planet. (Which, frankly, sounds a little lonely and sad, so hopefully people turn up for the virtual side of that shindig.)

In which Charles Darwin gets trolled

From Darwin's diary written aboard the HMS Beagle, an accounting of an epic April Fool's prank of 1832. Knowing what I know about 19th-century sailors, this seems like a good way to get beaten up.

Muppet Danny Boy, the only St Paddy's celebration you need

In what's becoming a regular St Paddy's tradition around here, here's the Muppet Danny Boy you know you want to hear but were afraid to ask for.

Muppet Danny Boy performed by Beaker, Swedish Chef and Animal

Celebrate "Pi Day" by throwing hot dogs down a hallway

No, that's not a euphemism for anything. Buffon's Needle is an 18th-century experiment in probability mathematics and geometry that can be used as a way to calculate pi through random sampling. This WikiHow posting explains how you can recreate Buffon's Needle at home, by playing with your food.

One man's kindly benefactor is another man's fetishist

Consider the following corollary to Rule 34 — No matter how unattractive you think a certain feature (or lack thereof) might be, there will always be somebody who is totally into it. Case it point: Nose-less syphilitics in 19th-century London. You might suspect that would doom one to a life of loneliness. But no. At the Chirurgeons Apprentice you can read about the older "eccentric" gentlemen who liked to throw underground parties for his many nose-less friends.

Economist valentines

Liz Fosslien offers 14 graphs explaining love from the perspective of a twitterpated economist.

Ancient money shot, caught in chert

In a fossil of 400-million-year-old plants, the world's oldest sample of ejaculate.

10 possibly romantic facts about shark reproduction

Warning: Story includes photos of a male shark's genitalia.

What your New Year's Resolutions tell us about the way you think


It's a little late, but I kind of love these 2013 props made by PaperandPancakes on Etsy.

How did you write your New Year's resolutions? I don't mean, like, the tools you used — pencil and paper vs. tablet and bluetooth keyboard. What I'm talking about is how you put the goals into words — how you described what it was you wanted to do.

There's more than one way to make a resolution.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across a great example of this in an old sociology paper from 1977. Researchers had collected New Year's resolutions from two groups of 6th graders — one of average middle class kids, and another group made up of Amish and Mennonites.

The researchers meant to study differences in gender. They were trying to figure out how different cultural backgrounds affected behavior that we tend to associate with one gender or another. But in that data, they noticed something odd, something they couldn't easily translate into statistics. The Amish kids' resolutions were different from those of the "normal" children.

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XKCD on New Year's resolutions


Today's XKCD is holds wise advice for those of us contemplating New Year's resolutions. Be sure to click through for the tool-tip bonus punchline.

Resolution

Could you get a restraining order against Santa?


The excellent Law and the Multiverse blog (which seriously considers legal questions arising from funnybooks) examines the legal options available to someone seeking to get a restraining order against Jolly Old St Nick. As with all stories whose headline ends with a question-mark, the answer to this one is "no," but the reasoning behind that "no" is a fascinating look at the law of protective orders.

We don’t think Santa’s behavior would meet this standard. People couldn’t have a reasonable fear of material harm because Santa has an unbroken record of hundreds of years of peaceful activity. It could be enough that he has actually caused material emotional harm to someone, except that the harm would have to be caused by contact or communication initiated by Santa. The problem here is that Santa doesn’t initiate communication; instead people write letters to him. Arguably he initiates indirect contact by entering people’s homes, but there’s no evidence that he enters homes where he is unwanted. In fact, staying up late to ‘catch’ Santa is traditionally considered to cause him not to visit. And of course visits from Santa Claus have rarely, if ever, caused someone to lose their job.

Law of Superheroes organizes the best material from Law and the Multiverse into a kind of first-year lawschool compressed into one set of covers where all the hypotheticals revolve around comic-book storylines. It's the best quick legal education going, really.

Santa and Restraining Orders

(Image: Original Bad Santa kicks arse, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from dancentury's photostream)

Santa's privacy policy


"Santa's Privacy Policy" is a McSweeney's classic from 2010. On the one hand, the joke is pretty much all in the headline and doesn't really need much elaboration. On the other hand, this is pretty well done.

We obtain information from a variety of sources. Much of it comes from unsolicited letters sent to Santa by children all over the world listing specific items they would like to receive for Christmas. Often these letters convey additional information as well, such as the child’s hopes and dreams, how much they love Santa, and which of their siblings are doodyheads.

The letters also provide another important piece of information—fingerprints. We run these through databases maintained by the FBI, CIA, NSA, Interpol, MI6, and the Mossad. If we find a match, it goes straight on the Naughty List. We also harvest a saliva sample from the flap of the envelope in which the letter arrives in order to establish a baseline genetic identity for each correspondent. This is used to determine if there might be an inherent predisposition for naughtiness. A detailed handwriting analysis is performed as part of a comprehensive personality workup, and tells us which children are advancing nicely with their cursive and which are still stubbornly forming block letters with crayons long past the age when this is appropriate.

Our network of fully trained, duly deputized mall “Santas” file reports from the field, telling us which children are well-behaved, which are elf-phobic, which are prone to sphincter control issues, and which are squirmy beard-pulling monstrous little brats. Digital copies of photos taken with these “Santas” are automatically sent to our database for further evaluation, with particular attention given to the ones where the children are crying.

Santa’s Privacy Policy. (via Dan Hon)

(Image: Santa Claus, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from mattimattila's photostream)

Soviet space-program Christmas cards


"Soviet Christmas card" sounds like a mere kitschy improbability, but what if I told you that they were space-race-themed Soviet Christmas cards? It's a Christmas miracle, dude.

Old Soviet Christmas card collection (via Richard Kadrey)