• On the 50th anniversary of Hunky Dory, here's a bit of David Bowie trivia

    English performer and actor David Bowie released Hunky Dory, his fourth album, in 1971 when he was 24. Rolling Stone calls it the 88th greatest album of all time, and it was his first album to go platinum. Just six months later, he would go on to release The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In honor of the album's semicentennial, I compiled a few stories from the artist's colorful life— some more obscure than others.

    He briefly considered being a Buddhist Monk: In a Pitchfork article, Thurston Moore writes that Bowie had a longtime fascination with Buddhism and considered becoming a monk. After a few months' study, teachers in the monastery advised him to follow other passions (like music!)

    Starstruck hospital staff allowed him to sneak drugs to Iggy Pop's rehab: In 1975, David Bowie and Easy Rider legend Dennis Hopper wore spacesuits to sneak cocaine to punk legend in Iggy Pop who had checked into a psych ward to deal with his drug addiction. Though Bowie's stunt doesn't seem like the most effective way to help a friend in recovery, Iggy Pop says that Bowie's friendship helped get him out of a dark place.

    His juggling body double is a genius: David Bowie's character in Labyrinth appeared to juggle, but the stunt was actually performed by juggler Michael Moschen who had to do all the tricks blind while standing behind Bowie. Moschen won a MacArthur Genius Grant for his techniques.

    He was an activist for the rights of "long-hairs": David Bowie's first TV appearance was in 1964 at the age of 17— and it wasn't for music. The BBC's Tonight Show interviewed him as the founder of 'The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired Men'.

  • Viral video shows perfectly good food in a Whole Foods dumpster

    TikToker @dumpsterdivingfreegan posts regular "dumpster diving hauls" to expose extreme waste, and a recent video of a particularly fruitful trip to a Whole Foods dumpster has gotten traction online. It has started a conversation about all the wasteful store practices, and people are sharing the wasteful practices of their (former) employers. Stories range from reprimand for giving leftover pizzas to the homeless to an instruction to destroy unsold bras rather than donating them, as not to devalue to brand.

    Various dumpster diving communities exist online, like r/dumpsterdiving (which boasts 140,000 subscribers!) and various Facebook groups, and dumpster diving practically constitutes a genre of its own on Youtube. Still, I'm consistently surprised to see trash cans full of perfectly usable products.

    But exposing corporate waste is a two-sided coin. Making noise about wasteful practices may lead to meaningful change, but it also encourages companies to be sneakier about their trashy practices.

  • Huge Ma, the software engineer dubbed "Vax Daddy," is running for New York State Assembly

    In early 2021 31-year-old Huge Ma started a side project on top of his job as a software engineer at Airbnb. Frustrated by clunky government vaccine portals, he spent two weeks creating TurboVax, a free website that compiles availability from city and state vaccine systems in New York.

    The internet dubbed the Astoria native "Vax Daddy." Now, he's using his platform to launch a political campaign. Huge Ma announced on Twitter that he is running for New York's 37th State Assembly District in Western Queens. The seat is currently held by longtime incumbent Cathy Nolan.

    His platform includes, to nobody's surprise, good government tech. He also plans to fight for "true climate action, housing abundance, transit-first streets, universal healthcare, free CUNY."

    Read a full article in The City here

  • Ukraine responds to rising tensions with Russia with a shitpost meme on Twitter

    The @Ukraine Twitter account has posted a meme joking that living next to Russia is a real headache. The move comes amid rising tensions between the two nations.

    U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that Moscow has drawn up plans for a military offensive involving an estimated 175,000 troops to begin as early as next year. Recent satellite photos show a buildup in equipment, including tanks and artillery.

    NYT

    Humor has been incorporated into wartime propaganda in the past, and these tweets illustrate that meme culture is pervasive enough to constitute a form of diplomacy. Taiwan, another small democracy that is threatened by a nearby authoritarian regime (in this case, China), replied to the tweet with their own version.

  • Learn geography by rotating the globe with your nose

    I enjoyed touring the world in the aptly named "The Earth-Nose-Direction game" created on observablehq.com, a collaborative data science workspace. You turn on your camera, allow the site to locate your nose, and then use your nose to spin the globe to the target destination. I like that the challenges involve cities that aren't capitals or major metropolises. For example, two lesser-known cities I located were Xianfan, China and Gilbert, Arizona. It's also cool that you can see (and modify!) the code behind the project. The game may cause more neck strain than it's worth and it doesn't beat the classic, but it'll provide a few minutes of entertainment.

    A few other cool projects I've stumbled upon on observablehq.com (it can be quite the rabbit hole) include this map of Wikipedia pageviews by day of the year (hint: Pumpkin Spice Latte's views skyrocket in September and October) and a map of common dog names by breed.

  • R-CA Devin Nunes will resign from Congress to head Trump's new media company

    Despite his rocky track record with social media, which includes a fictional cow for making fun of him on Twitter, Devin Nunes will be the CEO of Trump Media & Technology starting next month.

    The company is a SPAC, which pool funds from the general public in order to finance a merger or acquisition opportunity. Bloomberg's Matt Levine has a fantastic explainer that was originally posted in his newsletter. Currently, the company claims to have over a billion in capital and is being investigated by the SEC.

    Trump Media & Technology Group plans to involve both an on-demand programming aspect and a social media called Truth Social. The public saw a test version of the social media in October but it experienced excessive trolling in the hours before it was taken down. It appeared to be similar to Twitter, but it and it calls a post "Truth," a share a "Re-Truth," and a news feed a "Truth Feed."

    Critics were quick to note that the Truth Social site was Mastodon fork in violation of the terms of use— Truth Social didn't offer its source code to all users.

    So far, its track record is no better than that of Gab or Parler, but it plans to officially launch during the first quarter of 2022. More of the company's vision can be inferred from their absolutely ridiculous 22-slide-long slide deck.

    Nunes' departure from Congress comes after nineteen years.

    Mr. Nunes was once a trusted lieutenant of Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican loyalist who clashed fiercely and publicly with the ardent conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus. Those Freedom Caucus rebels went on to become the vanguard of Mr. Trump's takeover of the Republican Party, and Mr. Nunes followed suit.

    From his perch on the Intelligence Committee, he ran interference for Mr. Trump against accusations that his 2016 campaign had collaborated with Russian intelligence. Mr. Nunes also organized a united Republican front opposing the first impeachment of the president for withholding military assistance to Ukraine to pressure its government to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden.

    Mr. Nunes also waged public fights against the news media and his critics, suing The Washington Post, CNN, The Fresno Bee and Twitter over perceived slights, and going after Twitter in efforts to unmask the author of a mocking account ostensibly written by his cow. (His family runs a dairy operation.)

    NYT

    The fictional cow on Twitter Devin Nunes once tried to sue (promptly increasing the account's following by a factor of 7000 and illustrating the beauty of the Streisand effect) is thrilled to see him go.

  • San Francisco delays cannabis tax so that dispensaries can compete with illegal dealers

    The city of San Francisco has put forth efforts to remove the 1-5% tax on cannabis that was approved in 2018. The ordinance addresses the idea that black market dealers are offering unbeatable prices to San Franciscans and the dispensaries are struggling to compete— despite the fact that cannabis grows on trees (well, plants).

    Last week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance to suspend the Cannabis Business Tax for the 2021 and 2022 tax years.

    London Breed's office told NPR that the San Francisco mayor intended to sign the ordinance once it passes the Board of Supervisors. One such supervisor is Rafael Mandelman, who voiced support for the tax suspension in a tweet.

  • Jaques Tits, the mathematician behind Tits buildings, the Tits alternative, the Tits group, and the Tits metric, has died at 91

    Belgian-born mathematician Jaques Tits passed away on Sunday, December 5th, leaving behind a legacy of research in group theory and geometry. His tendency to name his contributions after himself suggests that he knew his power.

    He won the Abel Prize in 2008, an award created in 1899 after a Norwegian mathematician learned that Alfred Nobel would not give out a prize in mathematics. The annual award did not formally begin until over a century later, in 2001. Since its start, the Abel Prize, which includes over $800,000 in prize money (7.5 million Norwegian kroner), has been given to just one or two academics per year.

    Enthusiasts of group theory or incidence structures may enjoy reading about Tits' work, such as Tits buildings, the Tits alternative, the Tits group, and the Tits metric.

  • Massive snowstorm hits in Hawaii

    On Friday, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard for the Big Island Summits, which include Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The latter reaches 4,207.3 m above sea level, making it both the highest peak in Hawaii and a site of occasional snowfall ("pretty much every year," according to a meteorologist).

    There is an expected 12 inches or more of snow with winds over 100 mph.

    Snow is common at the highest elevations of the Big Island, and the Weather Service issues winter storm and blizzard warnings for higher elevations due to the presence of scientists who work there studying space, the atmosphere and other fields, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

    But such warnings are rare, however, and indicate the presence of a significant storm that is likely ruining the vacation plans of many travelers at sea level, where heavy rain is likely.

    Axios
  • Jim Bob Duggar's testimony is deemed 'not credible' in son Josh Duggar's child pornography trial

    Child molester Josh Duggar is back in the news this week as he goes on trial for the possession of child pornography (some of the "top five worst of the worst" that federal agent Gerald Faulkner has had to review). The father of seven, who appears to have installed anti-anti-porn software to download child porn, is pleading "not guilty." Heinous files were downloaded on a computer at the car lot where Josh works, but Josh is employing a Shaggy defense: "it wasn't me."

    Josh's father Jim Bob Duggar testified in a pre-trial evidentiary hearing, and District Judge Timothy Brooks has determined that his testimony is "not credible," a blow to the Arkansas state senate candidate's integrity.

    "The Court found Mr. Duggar's selective lapse in memory to be not credible; he was obviously reluctant to testify against his son," Brooks wrote.

    Insider

    Earlier this year, in an April 30th statement, Jim Bob and wife Michelle wrote, "it is our prayer that the truth, no matter what it is, will come to light, and that this will all be resolved in a timely manner."

    Josh is the oldest of the Duggar siblings made famous by TLC's 19 Kids and Counting which ran from 2008 to 2015. The show was canceled after news broke that Josh had molested five underage girls, including four of his sisters, when he was 14 and 15. Following the scandal, Josh stepped down from his position as executive director of FRC Action, a fundamentalist anti-gay PAC. Several more scandals followed: an adult film star sued Josh for 'manhandling' her after paying her for sex and a California man sued Josh for stealing his photos to use on hookup sites.

    Duggar was charged in April with two counts of downloading and possessing child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty but faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each count if convicted. The files, downloaded on the IP address of his now-defunct used car lot, "could only be accessed by rebooting the machine, hitting F9 and manually typing in the password intel1988," according to Daily Mail. Josh has used the same password for banking and social media, and according to Insider, the last four digits are his birth year.

  • The inventor of Tickle Me Elmo was a Unabomber suspect

    I can't stop thinking about this bizarre, rousing interview in which Mark Johnson-Williams, the toymaker behind Tickle Me Elmo, recounts his years as a suspect in the FBI's investigation of the Unabomber. Even though Johnson-Williams has nothing to do with Ted Kaczynski, the two men's lives have some odd similarities.

    After mailing his 16th bomb in April 1995, Kaczynski mailed a letter to the New York Times and the Washington Post, where he referred to himself as "FC" and laid out his manifesto. While it wasn't part of the letter, the FBI was able to detect an impression of a note that said "Call Nathan R Wed 7 pm," which sent them on an effort to contact thousands of Nathans throughout the country.

    FBI agents met with Johnson-Williams at his office at LeapFrog in Northern California, and he was wearing a baseball hat with the letters "FC," the same identifier the Unabomber used when he sent a bomb to the New York Times in 1995. The agents kept asking questions and things went downhill.

    "I owned blueprints to the type of plane Kaczynski tried to blow up [a Boeing 727, in 1979]. I had them because I'd worked on a talking warning system for McDonnell Douglas that Boeing planes were equipped with at the time.

    I also travel a lot — back then, I was spending three-quarters of my life in China — and I ended up being at two different California airports on a day where the Unabomber had threatened those two airports.

    They also asked me, "Have you ever been to Provo, Utah?" Strangely, I had. I'd worked on a product called Casey the Cassette Player — it was a robot toy — and I'd gone to a commercial shoot there in the mid-1980s at Osmond Studios. The Unabomber had also mailed a bomb from there."

    Until Kaczynski's arrest in 1996, Johnson-Williams talked to the FBI frequently— both in-person and, about once ever two weeks, over the phone.

    Full interview in Mel

  • Wanda and Jamal are getting a Netflix movie called The Thanksgiving Text

    Six years ago, Wanda Dench accidentally sent a Thanksgiving invite to seventeen-year-old Jamal Hinton, thinking it was her grandchild. Jamal pointed out the mistake but asked to join anyway, and Wanda agreed, saying "that's what grandmas do… feed everyone!" The pair met up for the holiday and the story, for one reason or another, went mega-viral.

    In the six years since then, the duo has shared each thanksgiving holiday and documented their friendship on social media. According to Variety, Netflix wants to turn the heartwarming story into a movie titled The Thanksgiving Text.

    Abdul Williams ("Salt-N-Pepa," "The Bobby Brown Story") is writing the screenplay. Netflix has not set a director, nor has it cast the film.

    I'll admit that I was initially skeptical that this was a good idea (why mess with a good thing?) but hey, maybe it'll end up being just as charming as the social media saga.

  • Thanks to a class action settlement, some users can get up to $25 from Zoom

    Videoconferencing service Zoom is faced with an $85 million lawsuit over privacy and security issues like third-party data sharing and Zoombombing. Zoom denies wrongdoing but agreed to pay the hefty settlement.

    Subscribers would be eligible for $25 or 15% of their subscription cost— whichever is larger. If you were not a paid subscriber but used the service, you are entitled to $15. To file a claim, visit www.zoommeetingsclassaction.com, fill out a form, and provide proof that you used Zoom between March 30, 2016, and July 30, 2021.

    Read the full article on Reuters here.

  • NYC is opening the first safe injection sites in the US

    New York City's mayor Bill de Blasio has announced two safe injection sites located in Washington Heights and East Harlem. They won't be staffed by the city, but instead by a non-profit organization called OnPoint NYC that the city funds.

    Safe injection sites have existed in Canada and Europe for decades, and their proponents praise them for creating friendly and non-punitive relations between addicts and the government. According to the NYT, cities like Philadelphia, San FranciscoBoston, and Seattle have all worked toward supervised injection.

    The news comes at a crucial moment when street drugs are becoming increasingly dangerous.

    Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that for the first time, more than 100,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in a 12-month period, largely due to the flooding of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into the illicit drug supply.

    Vice

    Full NYT article here

  • To protest Covid mandates, California town declares itself "constitutional republic"

    Oroville, California has been around since the gold rush (hence the name) and today, it is home to about 20,000 people. This month, a declaration passed by the City Council stated that the community is now a "constitutional republic."

    Here's what that means, according to the declaration.

    "Any executive orders issued by the State of California or by the United States federal government that are overreaching or clearly violate our constitutionally protected rights will not be enforced by the City of Oroville against its citizens."

    In other words, it's not unlike the sanctuary city designation.

    According to the LA Times, the county where Oroville resides has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, with 51.9% of adults at least partially vaccinated.

    One resident, an unvaccinated pastor, told the LA Times that the decision to become a "constitutional republic" comes after vaccine mandates were "crossing the line." The county has had over 25,000 Covid cases and over 300 deaths.

    Full LA Times article here.

  • Why not take a moment to ponder the Fermi Paradox?

    Hey, why not pause to think about the possibilities of extraterrestrial life? Galactic colonization? The Drake equation? The intelligent beings that might be listening to the Golden Record at this very moment?

    Set aside ten minutes to dive into Tim Urban's fantastic explainer on the Fermi paradox. Posted in 2014, it's the third most popular article on his blog, Wait But Why. Even if you've skimmed the article before, the topic is mind-bending enough to warrant another readthrough. Here are the main points.

    Possibility 1) Super-intelligent life could very well have already visited Earth, but before we were here.

    Possibility 2) The galaxy has been colonized, but we just live in some desolate rural area of the galaxy.

    Possibility 3) The entire concept of physical colonization is a hilariously backward concept to a more advanced species.

    Possibility 4) There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location. 

    Possibility 5) There's only one instance of higher-intelligent life—a "superpredator" civilization (like humans are here on Earth)—that is far more advanced than everyone else and keeps it that way by exterminating any intelligent civilization once they get past a certain level.

    Possibility 6) There's plenty of activity and noise out there, but our technology is too primitive and we're listening for the wrong things. 

    Possibility 7) We are receiving contact from other intelligent life, but the government is hiding it.

    Possibility 8) Higher civilizations are aware of us and observing us (AKA the "Zoo Hypothesis").

    Possibility 9) Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we're too primitive to perceive them. 

  • Scientists have invented a plastic alternative made of sperm

    Via The Times:

    It is created from short strands of DNA, the substance that carries genetic code and which forms a twisting double helix structure inside living cells. The researchers obtained their raw material from salmon sperm, although just about any living thing is a potential source.

    These filaments of DNA are combined with a chemical derived from vegetable oil, which binds the strands together. This produces a squishy, malleable substance known as a hydrogel that can be fashioned into different shapes using moulds.

    The gel is then freeze dried, which removes water and causes it to solidify.

    The research was published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. DNA-based plastic is just one discovery in a rapidly-growing bioplastics industry, but it's not a perfect alternative to the polyethylene we're used to. The DNA-based plastic turns into a gel when wet, which defeats some of its purpose. The team of scientists, based in China at Tianjin University, believe the substance could still be used in electronics or packaging.

    The discovery is a tiny step toward sustainable bioplastics, but ultimately, the climate crisis is going to require a lot more than jizzing into a cup.

  • How this normal guy got an "influencer meal" at a convenience store chain

    A man put a comically large cardboard cutout of himself in a convenience store, documented the experience for TikTok, and wound up with a full-blown partnership with the Kum & Go chain. The project is by Kyle Scheele, a "professional internet goofball" who enjoys "making things that live at the intersection of humor and heart." His centaur bike made it to BoingBoing a few months ago.

    The video got traction on TikTok almost immediately, and it currently has over 28 million views (a lot, even by TikTok standards). Scheele then revealed a bona fide "Kyle Scheele meal" at Kum&Go consisting of a "pizza sandwich" and 12-oz Red Bull. His TikTok followers flocked to the midwestern chain.

    The story lost a bit of its charm when reports came out that Kum & Go's marketing team had paid Scheele to orchestrate the stunt. Following reports in AdWeek and PRWeek, Scheele apologized for not revealing that Kum&Go had been in on the prank from the beginning.

    The prank might be fake, but that doesn't mean it can't be funny. Regardless of Scheele's motivation, I can't help but chuckle at the video of him walking past unsuspecting convenience store workers with a massive cutout of himself playing a pizza-shaped guitar.

  • PETA launches "human" leather goods store that seems right out of a horror movie

    PETA's not new to outlandish and sometimes-offensive publicity stunts (remember when they claimed milk caused autism?). The group's latest is a satirical online store selling goods made of "human" leather. Called "Urban Outrage," it features belts, skirts, and other "The Silence of the Lambs"-type products.

    The details are impressive— the sole of the Meg boot is made of teeth. Each product comes with a carefully crafted description, too. Here's the one for the jacket:

    The Avery was crafted from the most luxurious skin, making this jacket natural and unique. As Avery was only 22 when she was taken away from her friends and family, the jacket should age beautifully. She came pre-tanned and was then flayed while still alive, so any signs of stress on the skin are incidental and should be taken as signs of individuality.

    PETA

    Critics of the website have pointed out a few enduring stories of American slaves' skin being used as clothing. Additionally, like many PETA stunts, it fuels a notion that all vegans are militant and aggressive.

  • Make your own bizarre emoji combinations

    Mashing up emojis probably isn't high humor nor high art, but it might make you chuckle. A site called emojimix allows you to make unlikely combinations like coffee plus octopus, bread plus the devil, sneezing poop, and so many more. The attention to detail is pretty impressive— for example. the clown emoji and the tuna fish emoji combine to make a clownfish. The emojis seem to have been handmade for Google (not just the product of an algorithm).

    In the book "Because, Internet," Gretchen McCulloch explains that emojis are sort of like gestures in the sense that they unlock "body language" for informal digital communication. I wonder what the scorpion cupcake emoji might convey.

    There are 14,838 stickers and you can vote for the best one at this site.

    Relevant xkcd:

    https://xkcd.com/1813/