Boing Boing 

The myth of the ugly blobfish

Here we have the common Internet blobfish, recently voted World's Ugliest Animal.

But wait! At Smithsonian, Colin Schultz has made a very good case for why the blobfish doesn't deserve its unattractive reputation. This isn't about beauty being subjective (although some might find the above picture more cute than ugly). Instead, it's about atmospheric pressure, and what happens to a fish removed from its natural, deep-sea, high-pressure habitat.

Here is what the blobfish really looks like, before somebody took him to the surface and snapped an embarrassing photo:

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One weird trick for sleazy marketing success

Armed with a cheap laptop and a pre-paid debit card, Alex Kaufman figures out what happens when you actually buy something from on one of those “One Weird Trick” ads. [Slate]

The making of Drunk Science (and why I am never making another one)

I've gotten a few questions about the Drunk Science video that I posted here yesterday. The two most common: "Will there be another Drunk Science?" And, "Jeezus, didn't science journalist Charles Q. Choi drink a bit too much for this?"

The answers to those questions are, respectively, "No" and "Yes". Choi is probably the best person to explain both answers, which he does in a blog post that discusses the science of an alcohol-induced blackout, and why — despite the fact that everybody involved with Drunk Science thinks the final result is pretty damn funny and generally good Internet — we won't ever be doing anything like that again.

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Duck penises: The saga continues

As we all know by now, ducks have penises. Rather epic penises, in fact. Chickens, though, are penis-less. In fact, most birds don't have them. In an important update in duck sex news, Ed Yong follows the work of several scientists who are trying to better understand how genitals evolve and why they differ so much between species and genuses. Bonus new fact: A dissected goose penis looks surprisingly like a less-colorful Man-O-War jellyfish.

Bubble boy: Baby born inside intact amniotic sac

"Born in the caul" is a phrase that's connected with a lot of cross-cultural myths and superstitions — babies born in the caul are supposed to be destined for lives of fame and fortune (or, possibly, misfortune and grisly death, depending on which legends you're listening to). Biologically, though, it refers to a baby that's born with part of the amniotic sac — the bubble of fluid a fetus grows in inside the uterus — still attached. Usually, a piece of the sac is draped over the baby's head or face. These are called caul births, and they're rare. But, about once in every 80,000 births, you'll get something truly extraordinary — "en-caul", a baby born inside a completely intact amniotic sac, fluid and all.

There's a photo of a recent en-caul birth making the rounds online. The photo is being attributed to Greek obstetrician Aris Tsigris. It's fascinating. But it's also pretty graphic, so fair warning on that. (If the sight of newborn infants and blood gives you the vapors, you might also want to avoid most of the links in this post, as well.)

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The evolution of @

John Brownlee on the unlikely evolution of the @ symbol: "Rejuvenated by its insertion before every Twitter handle, the @ symbol today is almost a pronoun. It has a very personal meaning for billions of people across the planet. It’s the symbol that means “digital me.”"

In defense of the selfie

Sam Kassé defends the selfie, blight of social networks: "I know most people hate selfies. They groan and complain about them, from the duck lips to the filters. Why, just the word “selfie” can induce legendary amounts of eyerolling. What people seem to miss, is that selfies are actually great. No, scratch that, selfies are brilliant! One of my favourite pastimes at work is to (discreetly) scroll through my Instagram feed and see pictures of my friends feeling good about themselves."

No internet for Syria

Nicole Perlroth: "Syria’s access to the Internet was cut on Tuesday. The most likely culprit, security researchers said, was the Syrian government." [NYT]

Secrets of the world's most successful tumbleweed farm

Tumbleweeds aren't a type of plant. It's more of a description — the thing that happens when the bushy above-ground parts of lots of different types of plants dry, die, and disconnect from the healthy root system below. It is then free to blow wherever the wind takes it. That's your basic free-range tumbleweed. At Prairie Tumbleweed Farms, the weeds are a bit more constrained and they're shipped, rather than blown, to customers all around the world. This podcast by Rose Eveleth is a cute, quirky piece, but you MUST listen to the whole thing. Because the backstory of Prairie Tumbleweed Farms is what makes this truly worthy of BoingBoing.

A cat video about the science of cats

Two things I learned from this video:
1: I am my cat's Facebook page. That rubbing-up-against-you-and-leaving-scent thing? It's not just to mark you as "theirs". It's also a way of communicating information about themselves to other cats that you might encounter.
2: My cats poop in a box and bury it as a gesture of submissiveness to me. Good cats.

Internet apocalypse? In the next bag o' chips

Sam Biddle writes that this week's epic, internet-shaking DDOS was a lie. Spamhaus was indeed under a record-size denial-of-service attack, but the protection company it hired, Cloudflare, turns out to be the only source of the bigger story that went with it: that the internet at large was significantly affected.

What would happen if an unstoppable force met an immoveable object?

Minute Physics tackles the greatest mystery in all the Internet and solves it with the power of science (and pedantry).

Fans fix Aliens: Colonial Marines' amateurish game trailer

UPDATE: Reader Pat David went the extra mile and improved the trailer a different way: by keeping the music and sound effects but removing the dreadful voiceover: "turns out it's a center-panned vocal - so just inverted the LR stereo channels." Pat's edit is pasted above, UberWaz's is below.

After years of waiting, Alien fans were shocked yesterday by the appalling state of the trailer for Aliens: Colonial Marines. Badly-acted and terribly-scripted, it made the forthcoming game look amateurish and cheesy; the project's lead writer immediately and publicly disowned it. But what a difference a day makes: Rock Paper Shotgun reader UberWaz remixed the clip with new audio, creating something that perfectly matches the franchise's gloomy mix of science fiction and horror.

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Glaucus atlanticus: For once, the Internet is not lying to you

This is actually a real life animal.

I know. I didn't believe it either. When it turned up in my Facebook feed, via my Aunt Beth, I assumed that this had to be a hoax photo. Had to be. I mean, just look at it. This animal looks like it should appear in pretty photos forwarded to you by your aunt that later turn out to be the result of a photoshopping contest on Something Awful, right?

But then it was on Wikipedia, too. And I thought, "Okay, it's still the Internet. Somebody is clearly just getting really elaborate in their trolling."

And I suppose that's true. If by "somebody", what I mean to say is "natural selection".

This is the Glaucus atlanticus. It is a type of nudibranch—shell-less mollusks known for their extravagant shapes and colors. It is venomous. And I am now almost completely convinced that it's not a joke.

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A handwriting font for doctors

Link to larger size. Created by Orion Champadiyil (web, Twitter).

(via Steve Silberman)

Minneapolis: Home of the first (annual?) Internet cat video film festival

Well, it's been a quiet week in Minneapolis, Minnesota, my hometown. The heatwave broke. There was a giant tomato fight downtown. And the Gonzo Group Theater is performing Aristophanes in the middle of the lightrail construction zone. But out on the Internet, everybody is talking about the fact that Minneapolis will, on August 30, play host an Internet cat video film festival.

Yes, a film festival of Internet cat videos. Curator Katie Czarniecki Hill is accepting nominations through July 30, so you should totally submit your favorite.

But I also wanted to talk briefly about the context of this, because it's awesome, and you should know about it. Czarniecki's Cat Video Film Festival is part of a summer-long program at the Walker Art Center (our fabulous modern art museum) called Open Field. If you're not familiar with Minneapolis, the Walker sits at the base of a big hill. Part of the lot is covered with art museum, and part of it is given over to a broad, grassy slope*.

That's where Open Field happens. What's Open Field? Partly it's just a reminder that this big public greenspace exists behind the Walker and, hey, maybe you should come hang out there. But it's also sort of an ad-hoc, crowd-sourced, summer-long festival space, where both Walker artists-in-residence and average folks can stage unique community events, skill-shares, workshops, and projects. Today, for instance, you could go down to Open Field and team up with a group of knitters and fiber artists who are building an interactive fabric installation; join the band Dear Data for a low-key acoustic campfire sing-a-long; watch your own (and other people's) old, film-based home movies and learn about film preservation; and participate in an interactive workshop about the history and future of print-letter writing and the post office.

Basically, you should know this—Walker Open Field: It's like a Happy Mutant smorgasbord.

See the Open Field Schedule, including the Cat Video Film Festival

*And an absolutely awesome installation piece that takes the form of a semi-hidden, ancient-temple-looking room cut into the side of the hill. Seriously, go check it out. Preferably after dark because it's most awesome then.

What it's like to be the subject of a conspiracy theory

Michael O'Hare is a public policy researcher. He teaches at UC Berkeley and specializes in the arts and the environment. He does not sound like a very threatening guy. But, since the early 1980s, Michael O'Hare has been the subject of another man's obsessive quest to find the true identity of the Zodiac Killer.

Let's be clear. Michael O'Hare is not the Zodiac Killer. He's got a pretty good alibi—namely the fact that he was nowhere near California when the murders happened. In fact, his name only entered the field because an enthusiast named Gareth Penn analyzed some of the famous Zodiac cryptograms and somehow came up with the name "Michael O". How that led Penn to O'Hare isn't exactly clear, but however it happened, Penn has spent the last 30 years telling anyone who will listen that Michael O'Hare is the Zodiac Killer.

And that has made O'Hare's life rather ... interesting. This weekend, I ran across a 2009 essay, written by O'Hare, describing his experience as the unwitting subject of somebody else's conspiracy theory. This is old, but I wanted to share it because it's such a rare perspective on this kind of thing. In the age of the Internet, it's easy to read up on conspiracy theories covering just about any topic. For most of them, you can also find extensive debunking sources. It's much less common for somebody at the center of the story to talk about what that experience has been like. Totally fascinating.

The decades since Penn fixed his sights on me have not been a living hell, much as that would spice up this story. They have been an ordinary life, punctuated by one or another flurry of fuss from Penn, sometimes involving pages of numbers (for example, the data pages from my PhD thesis) with this or that sequence picked out, circled, and "decoded" into words that fit somehow into Penn’s model of the crimes.

My favorite episode was the phone calls. Sometime in the 1980s, I started getting them at two and three in the morning. When my wife or I answered, a male voice would say something vaguely threatening like "I’m coming north, and I’m going to get you soon!" .... The calls were supposed to be transmitting coded messages via numbers—in particular, the time of the call! Apparently, Penn’s assumption was that when the average person is aroused by the phone in the middle of the night, the first thing he does, before woozily answering, is to note the time of the first ring on the digital clock he keeps by the bed—which is, of course, synchronized with the clock in the Naval Observatory. If your clock (or his) is off by just a couple of minutes, the call that was supposed to register as "2:14"—code for "Got you dead to rights this time"—will be misinterpreted as "2:16," which I think means "The Sox can’t make the playoffs without a closer." (Sadly, I’ve lost the magic decoder ring I got in exchange for cereal box tops as a child, so I can’t be sure.) The story got even better years later, when I discovered that a Penn skeptic had been calling him at home at times that figured into Penn’s theory, whereupon Penn assumed the calls came from me and "returned" them to my house, so he thought he was having a conversation with me, all in three-digit numbers.

Read the rest of O'Hare's essay at Washington Monthly