Regrettably, the Wikipedia entry for "Citation needed" ("a common editorial remark on Wikipedia, which has become used to refer to Wikipedia in wider popular culture") doesn't include any actual assertions tagged with .
On July 4, 2007, the webcomic xkcd published a comic which depicted a protestor holding up a "citation needed" sign during a political speech.
In late 2010, banners with the template appeared at the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and in February 2011, at a more serious demonstration in Berlin against German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who had been embroiled in a scandal after it was discovered he had plagiarised portions of his doctoral thesis.
The New York Times has commented on the propensity of some "stickler editors" for adding the template to unattributed facts, and has used the phrase in an online headline.
Today's XKCD really tickles me. "Is It Worth the Time?" is a handy chart showing how much time you can invest in automating any recurring task in order to save time, on balance, over five years. I am an inveterate automator of recurring task, always looking for ways to shave seconds.
On the other hand, I think I'd halve the figures Randy gives in this chart, because many of the routine tasks you automate will change in some significant way in less than five years and require further work. Also, the chart fails to account for the losses in innovation and serendipity you suffer when you over-optimize a routine task so that you effectively can only do it in one highly constrained way.
Finally, there's the opportunity cost of clearing a relatively scarce large block of time to spend on automation, which may be a better bargain than giving the task more time overall, where that time comes out of a pool of more abundant small snips of time.
In other words, a five day block of time given to automating a task might cost more (that is, might crowd out more productive work) than ten half-day blocks of time or 40 one-hour blocks.
Still: this is crack for me.
Is It Worth the Time?
Hidden in the tooltip for today's XKCD, a piece of important existential philosophy:
A human is a system for converting dust billions of years ago into dust billions of years from now via a roundabout process which involves checking email a lot.
Randall "XKCD" Munroe's new "What If?" feature answers one wild hypothetical per week. The first two are corkers: Relativistic Baseball baseball asks what would happen if a baseball pitcher could throw a ball at 0.9C; the second, SAT Guessing, looks at the (very long) odds against getting a perfect SAT by bubbling in random guesses. Here's a taste of Relativistic Baseball:
The ball is going so fast that everything else is practically stationary. Even the molecules in the air are stationary. Air molecules vibrate back and forth at a few hundred miles per hour, but the ball is moving through them at 600 million miles per hour. This means that as far as the ball is concerned, they’re just hanging there, frozen.
The ideas of aerodynamics don’t apply here. Normally, air would flow around anything moving through it. But the air molecules in front of this ball don’t have time to be jostled out of the way. The ball smacks into them hard that the atoms in the air molecules actually fuse with the atoms in the ball’s surface. Each collision releases a burst of gamma rays and scattered particles.
fusion illustration fusion zone of baseball
These gamma rays and debris expand outward in a bubble centered on the pitcher’s mound. They start to tear apart the molecules in the air, ripping the electrons from the nuclei and turning the air in the stadium into an expanding bubble of incandescent plasma. The wall of this bubble approaches the batter at about the speed of light—only slightly ahead of the ball itself.
Mike sez, "Photographed a wedding reception in upstate NY this weekend -- the cake was awesome! The couple are both geeks and have three geeky teenaged daughters who helped design it.... Take a look at the cell phone video!"
Cameraphone MP4 video
Randall Munroe's produced another in his series of his spectacular, gigantic charts of unimaginably large and complex things compared and rendered tractable by the human imagination. "Lakes and Oceans" has everything you need to cultivate an appreciation for the vasty depths and the ocean blue. Plus, a snarfworthy punchline at the deepest depths.
Lake and Oceans
Just in time for the lull in the conversation at your holiday dinner table, XKCD brings us these handy, sure-fire conversation-starting mnemonics for scientific concepts. Click through for the full set.
Today's XKCD, "Password Strength," neatly illustrates the research from this paper (PDF)
by Philip Inglesant and M. Angela Sasse from University College London, with the ironic conclusion that we've trained our users to use passwords that computers can easily guess and humans can't possibly remember.