Occasioned by the publication of What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (see review), an outstanding profile of geek hero Randall Munroe in Rolling Stone.
How much code do you write these days?
Surprisingly, more and more. I do a lot of code just to try answer questions for myself, and sometimes the result turns into a comic. One example that did not turn into a comic — not yet, anyway — I downloaded the whole Google Books Ngrams corpus, and made some tools to visualize whether there were patterns in what years were mentioned in what years. In the 1930s, did people talk about 1776 more than in the 1980s? And you have to normalize for a bunch of things: everyone talks about the current year the most, and the number 2000 gets mentioned a lot, but how much of that was people talking about the year 2000?
I wasn't able to extract a good enough signal from that noise, but I found patterns of mentions of future years in unexpected places. In the 1930s, there was a string of mentions of the 1980s. That seemed weird to me — why are people in the Thirties talking about 50 years in the future? And it was specifically 50 years — 1932 would mention the early 1980s a lot — but the pattern didn't continue in the Forties. I started seeing other ghosts like this that were kind of inexplicable, and then I realized I was seeing OCR text recognition errors, where the 3 was misread as an 8. This was a really effective method to spot the flaws in the text recognition engine they were using. Which was cool, but wasn't I was looking for. I wrote quite a bit of code in the process, making a useful graphic that I could explore. That was a hundred lines of Python, at least, and a couple of afternoons. I do that kind of thing a lot, and occasionally it turns into a comic.
Dropping Science: 'XKCD' Cartoonist Randall Munroe on His New Book
Macarthur "Genius" Kelly Link and her husband Gavin Grant are the forces-of-nature behind the amazing Small Beer Press (previously).
Last week, the Escape Pod podcast published part one of a reading of my YA novella "Martian Chronicles," which I wrote for Jonathan Strahan's Life on Mars anthology: it's a story about libertarian spacesteaders who move to Mars to escape "whiners" and other undesirables, only to discover that the colonists that preceded them expect them […]
Greta Thunberg's Joan of Arc-grade tongue-lashing to the world's leaders at the UN makes for some incredible mashup possibilities: it's not merely that her excellent delivery lent itself to death metal, but also her use of the phrase "right here, right now," was tailor-made for insertion into Fatboy Slim's track of the same name -- […]
There are a lot of different language apps out there because nobody learns anything the same exact way – especially not something as complex as a new language. For some people, the best way is to dive in and start talking, but that’s easier said than done if you’re not around those natives you aspire […]
There’s movie merch and then there are artifacts – one-of-a-kind items for the true fans only. These 11 items definitely fall into the latter category. We’ve unearthed movie art, props and other fan touchstones from the major nerd franchises of the last 50 years. Gaze upon these Star Wars and Marvel collectibles and don’t worry. […]
No matter what kind of office you work at, there’s probably an Excel expert in it. And no wonder: Businesses are still discovering uses for one of Microsoft’s flagship software suites beyond just bare-bones spreadsheets. Make October the month you become invaluable at work by taking one of these boot camps in Excel and its […]