• Gang of violent otters is attacking people in Alaska Two otters in a river

    A bunch of river otters has recently been attacking people in Anchorage, Alaska. There were three attacks in September alone, on a child, a woman, and several dogs.

    Apparently these attacks have been going on for a few years now, which leads authorities to suspect it's a specific gang of otters. As this post at Live Science notes:

    Although no one knows how many otters are behind these incidents, David Battle, a wildlife biologist at the ADFG, suspects that it may be just one group.

    "There always seem to have been four or five otters involved in all the incidents," Battle told Live Science. "Considering the rarity of this behavior in otters, and the fact that our first reported attack was in 2019 and it's happened several times since then, this is very likely one group that has stayed together for a while or that come together frequently over a period of time."

    If it's true that it's the same group of otters doing these attacks over such a long period of time, that would also seem to rule out rabies, since it should have killed off the otters long ago. (This is my own shooting-from-the-hip layperson analysis; I am alas not an expert in otters; so take it with a grain of salt.)

    Apparently it's not easy to track otters, because they stay on the move!

    The ADFG are searching for the otter group responsible for this most recent spate of attacks, but Battle believes that given the animals' lack of any fixed territory, as well as their ability to move extensively through interconnected waterways, tracking them down could be tough. 

    (CC-2.0-licensed photo of otters via the Flickr feed of Charlie Marshall)

  • Man with zero hours flying experience accidentally takes off, and barely lands Screenshot of video showing a plane in the air over a field and trees

    A guy bought a new plane but, as yet, had zero hours of flying experience. For some reason he was allowed to taxi his plane from one part of the airport to the other — and while doing so, he accidentally took off.

    Now he had a big problem on his hand, because landing a plane is not easy, particularly when you have zero experience.

    It's quite a nailbiter of a video, enhanced by the commentary by the person on the ground who shot the video:

    This dude's gonna — oh my god — he's gonna stall and die. Come on buddy, get it together.

    There's also commentary by a professor from the University of Leeds, describing some of the dynamics of what it takes to land a small plane like that. They don't have any interview with the newbie pilot himself, though; now that would have been interesting to hear.

  • A bi-directional font that can be read forwards or backwards The alphabet of Scott Perky's bi-directional font

    In 1909, Scott Perky of Niagara Falls patented a font where each letter and symbol has a vertical line of symmetry. This allows you to write a word either forwards or backwards without needing to change or reverse the characters.

    In his patent filing — which is online here and is quite delightful to read — Perky notes that his font would allow you to print a document with each line going in the opposite direction. Or to put it another way, you'd read the first line from left to right, the next line from right to left, and then over and over again, zigzagging down the page.

    As Perky argues, this would reduce the amount of eye-transit in reading, because you wouldn't be continually zipping your eye across the page, going from the end of one line to the beginning of the next:

    The invention consists in certain means of printing alternate lines, whereby the reading can be done from left to right and from right to left in a continuous manner, and the skip ping from the end of one line to the opposite end of the next is avoided.

    It is hardly necessary to allude to the strain upon the eyes and brain, which results from much reading. To students, researchers and others whose lives are cast among books, any device which promises to facilitate reading in such wise as to lessen fatigue of the optical tract, and consequent headache and brain fag, will appear of unusual impor In ordinary reading where the intelligent action of the brain is exerted through the eyesin movements from left to right with alternate senseless skippings from right to left, there are some disadvantages which have to do, not only with the irrelative exercise of the brain in finding the beginning of the new line while remembering the connection of the text, but also with the rapidly recurring re versions of the eye balls in skipping back ward, which may be compared in effect to the rapid flashes of alternate light and dark through a paling fence as one passes by at high speed.

    This style of writing is actually quite old — it was a common way of inscribing stone in ancient Greece, known as "Boustrophedon" writing, as I learned from Randy Ludacer's excellent post on Perky's font.

    Perky is right about the eyestrain that comes from eye-transit, but … wow, I'm not sure having to decode words in both directions would be less tiring on the ol' noodle.

    Nonetheless, as with all inventions that are truly bonkers, my hat is off.

    If you want to see what text looks like printed in this zig-zagging format, Ludacer took the opening lines of Perky's patent filing and set them in Perky's own font! Le voila:

    (Via Weird Universe)

  • Playing DOOM via Twitter Screenshot of tweet2Doom

    tweet2Doom is a bot, created by Georgi Gerganov, that lets you play DOOM by @replying commands to the account.

    You can chain together a bunch of commands, and the bot will execute them and reply with a little clip from the game showing what you did and what happened inside the game. To keep playing, you continue replying to the reply you just got.

    If I'm understanding the gameplay correctly (I might not be), multiple people can reply to any mid-game tweet, and it'll branch off a new state of that game, multiverse style.

    It's a fascinating technical achievement by Gerganov, and it's wild to look through the chained @replies as people play games, though following them slightly breaks my tiny mind. Here's one that I followed just now — start at this tweet and scroll up to the top to see how it began.

    Gerganov's github repo for the game is here, along with some technical descriptions of how the backend works, and visualizations of the state-management; he set up a site here that shows, live, the state tree of the game.

    This is more proof that DOOM has become like some weird test of Turing-completeness, or a benchmark for the computerness of any given system. If it can run DOOM, it's … computational.

    Instructions on how to play are in this tweet here, in several screenshots — here's on that shows examples of how to chain several commands together …

  • Flingbot, a robot that hurls paint at canvases Screenshot of Flingbot throwing paint at a canvas

    Jay of JBV Creative is an engineer and artist who specializes in 3D printing to make gorgeous automata — you can see some of his models, like a handcranked marble coaster or flapping crane, at his online shop here.

    Last month he unveiled Flingbot, a robot that — in a vaguely Jackson-Pollock-like fashion — hurls paint at canvases. It's made of 3D printed parts, servos, tubes, and a deformable silicone scoop made in a custom-designed mold, all controlled by an Arduino.

    In that video he documents the build, and describes his design decisions — including injecting enough randomness in the robot's throwing and paint-picking parameters that it produces over 3 trillion possible combos, meaning every work of art is makes is unique.

    From his YouTube description …

    To my surprise, it actually worked! Flingbot created paintings that far exceeded my own personal ability to paint (This was the main reason for my Engineering degree, right?). Using some randomized Arduino code that picks from a plethora of different parameters, Flingbot's paintings are truly one of a kind. Based on the parameters and some basic combination math, I estimated that Flingbot is capable of 3 trillion different painting possibilities (the number is likely higher due to variables out of Flingbot's control).

  • The math behind the card game "Spot It" A deck of

    "Spot It" is an incredibly fun card game where you try to match objects printed on round cards — and the twist is that there's aways one, but only one, matching object on each card. (Previously.)

    I've played this game with my family for years, and it's delightful. It's pitched as a game for younger children, because it's so easy to learn and hard to master; but my kids are now teenagers and we still play it. (Part of the fun is how much screaming we do while playing, lol. It's very tense!)

    Anyway, I'd always wondered — how did they make the deck? How did they ensure that, in a deck with 55 cards — and 57 possible symbols — there is always one, but only one, match between any two cards?

    Over at Smithsonian, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie wrote a fascinating piece on the history of the game and its underlying math.

    The historical details are super cool. The story begins in 1850, when the clergyman and amateur mathematician Thomas Penyngton Kirkman created a nifty puzzle that he published in a magazine called The Lady's and Gentleman's Diary

    The question read, "Fifteen young ladies in a school walk out three abreast for seven days in succession: it is required to arrange them daily, so that no two shall walk twice abreast."

    You can see how this sort of matches the problem behind a Spot-It deck, right? In both cases, you're taking a pile of unique items — schoolgirls, in this case — and arranging them so they each match up pairwise, once, with each other.

    Anyway, how did this lead to Spot it? Well, "Kirkman's Schoolgirl Problem", as it's called, became a famous problem in a branch of logic known as combinatorics; a theorem to solve it finally emerged in 1968; which got computer scientists totally interested in it; which led to a French math enthusiast using the theorem in 1976 to create a card-game where you matched insects; which sat in a drawer until 2008 when a distant relative saw some of the cards and … created Spot It.

    McRobbie's written a really fun story, worth reading in full! The theory behind the math really crystallizes towards the end of the piece, when McRobbie shows a geometric diagram that illustrates how a simple deck with three objects per card would work. Make sure you read to the end.

    (There's also a fascinating book, The Fifteen Schoolgirls, about Kirkman's problem and the math behind it.)

  • Draw a picture and this AI matches it to a movie image Screenshot of Hugging Face

    Hugging Face, a company that makes AI language-and-image-processing tools, just released this little web toy "Draw To Search". You draw something and it attempts to recognize what you've drawn and match it to an image from a movie.

    It worked pretty well with the "car" I drew, above, but the results vary widely. My attempt to draw a sad face was recognized — with very low confidence — as "drums", a "camera", or an "airplane" …

    Drawing a star fared better …

    It's kind of fun! Though I wonder whether, as with AI projects trained on badly-masticated online material, there's some ghoulish form of prejudice lurking inside this toy.

  • Survey finds 22% of scientists who do media interviews about COVID get violent threats Microscope image of coronavirus

    Nature surveyed 300 scientists who've done media interviews about COVID. The results had some surprisingly positive notes — 85% said "their experiences of engaging with the media were always or mostly positive, even if they were harassed afterwards".

    But as you might expect, a significant chunk described some ghastly abuse. Fully 15% got death threats, and 22% "received threats of physical or sexual violence."

    You'd expect that vaccines would be the source of a lot of the threats, but in talking to individual researchers, the reporter for this Nature story found that some of the hottest abuse came after scientists did media interviews debunking the bogus "cures" for COVID — like the anti-parasite drug ivermectin.

    As Epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz said …

    "I think I've received more death threats due to ivermectin, in fact, than anything I've done before," he says. "It's anonymous people e-mailing me from weird accounts saying 'I hope you die' or 'if you were near me I would shoot you'."

    Andrew Hill, a pharmacologist at the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, received vitriolic abuse after he and his colleagues published a meta-analysis in July. It suggested ivermectin showed a benefit, but Hill and his co-authors then decided to retract and revise the analysis when one of the largest studies they included was withdrawn because of ethical concerns about its data (A. Hill et alOpen Forum Inf. Dis. 8, ofab394; 2021). After that, Hill was besieged with images of hanged people and coffins, with attackers saying he would be subject to 'Nuremberg trials', and that he and his children would 'burn in hell'. He has since closed his Twitter account.

    The same thing goes for researchers who question the claim that COVID was created in a lab in China …

    Virologist Danielle Anderson, now at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne in Australia, received intense, coordinated online and e-mail abuse after writing a fact-checking critique in early 2020 of an article suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 might have leaked from China's Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). At the time, she was based at the Duke–National University of Singapore Medical School in Singapore, but had collaborated with the WIV since the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002–04. "Eat a bat and die, bitch," one e-mail read.

    The story notes several caveats to the Nature survey, including the fact that it includes only info from scientists who chose to respond. The findings here are thus suggestive but not conclusive; the real incidence of abuse could be lower than this study found (if people who'd been harassed were more likely to respond) or higher (if the inverse were true).

    (CC-2.0-licensed image of coronavirus courtesy Yuri Samoilov's Flickr feed)

  • Spooky photos of ice castles image of ice castle by Frankie Carino

    Frankie Carino is a photographer and sculptor who lately has been focusing on ice castles — i.e. human-created buildings made of ice.

    He's taken some gorgeous and eerie photos of them; in his lens, the ice has an unsettlingly organic quality and transmits light on a diffuse and crepuscular register. I'm super into them — several of my faves are below, reprinted with his permission.

    You can see more of Carino's work at his web site and his Instagram feed, and BOOOOOOOM recently interviewed him about his ice-castle work …

    While searching for ice caves to photograph, he came across "ice castles" constructed at various resorts as winter attractions. "I loved this idea of making massive ice sculptures just to melt away and rebuild the following year," he explains. Made through the same processes as glaciers or other large deposits of minerals, the geological cycle of the castles has been drastically shortened. "A collection of wonderful people work hard behind a hotel to create this uniquely human landscape. The construction requires a huge amount of water and human power, arguably an irresponsible amount, seeing the entire thing is gone by April. But the result is a beautiful display of humans' deep fascination with minerals."

  • Scientists create plants that store light and radiate it back out Image of plant treated with nanoparticles, glowing in the dark

    A team at MIT has developed a technique for getting plants to behave like glow-in-the-dark toys—they can absorb light, store it, and then radiate it back out.

    This team has been working on glowing plants for a while now; in 2019 they debuted plants that were treated with an enzyme based on the same chemical that make fireflies glow (previously). This new trick works via nanoparticles made of strontium aluminate, which can absorb light.

    The scientists coated the particles in a layer of silica to protect the plants from damage, and injected them into the spongy outer layer of the plants called the mesophyll.

    When the scientists shone a light on the leaves, the plants absorbed it and radiated it back out brightly "for several minutes". As MIT's press office notes in its release:

    This film can absorb photons either from sunlight or an LED. The researchers showed that after 10 seconds of blue LED exposure, their plants could emit light for about an hour. The light was brightest for the first five minutes and then gradually diminished. The plants can be continually recharged for at least two weeks, as the team demonstrated during an experimental exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute of Design in 2019. [snip]

    The MIT researchers found that the "light capacitor" approach can work in many different plant species, including basil, watercress, and tobacco, the researchers found. They also showed that they could illuminate the leaves of a plant called the Thailand elephant ear, which can be more than a foot wide — a size that could make the plants useful as an outdoor lighting source.

    Thus far it looks like the nanoparticles do not harm the plant or interrupt its normal photosynthesis, but this is early days, so obviously lots more study will be needed. But assuming it doesn't cause the plants long-term harm — or, y'know, cause them to go all "nature will find a way" and spawn generations of homicidal ambulatory bioluminescent triffids (probably unlikely; this technique isn't a form of genetic engineering) — it's an intriguing way to create a potentially very-low-carbon, and gorgeous, source of ambient light.

    Their unpaywalled (and nicely written) paper describing the research is here.

  • James Lipnickas' eerie graphite drawings of alien-human high-rises Artwork by James Lipnickas: A graphite drawing of a sci-fi tower

    James Lipnickas, a phenomenal graphite artist, has lately been creating these haunting drawings of high-rise towers—populated with cryptic humans who appear to periodically wrestle with aliens.

    Some of my favorites are below, reprinted with his permission. Check out his Instagram, too. It has more from this series, and also work going back further, including eerie vistas of tiny humans pondering massive geometric structures.

    Lipnickas is working in what I would identify as a fantastic Venn overlap of Escher, OMNI magazine covers, and Edward Gorey. The results are spellbinding. He sells original graphite works on his web site, and I'm thinking of getting one now.

    He did an interview with Colossal about these tower-drawings …

    New Haven, Connecticut-based artist James Lipnickas conjures towering sci-fi structures filled with futuristic labs, clashes with aliens, and massive laser beams shooting from rooftops. Working in graphite, Lipnickas uses heavy shading to shroud his architectural renderings in mystery and unfamiliarity as tentacled creatures crack through the walls and humans become science experiments. "This series really grew out of my interest in advanced technologies integrating with humans and how it shapes us moving forward," he says.

    Amidst the machines and eerie contraptions, the artist interrupts each building with a level containing a garden bed or an illuminated tree grove. "The future holds many unknowns (technology and lifeforms).  We can't forget the natural world while we move further from it," he says.

  • John Dee's scrying mirror has Aztec origins, analysis finds Picture of John Dee's obsidian scrying mirror

    John Dee was a 16th-century astrologer and science advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, but as he got older he became increasingly obsessed with magic. He frequently claimed to contact otherwordly spirits using this black obsidian scrying mirror, currently held by the British Museum.

    Circular obsidian mirrors were well-known in Aztec culture and engineering, were used in many spiritual rituals there. Since Europe was awash in artifacts that colonialists had brought back from overseas, historians had long suspected that Dee's scrying-stone was Aztec in origin. But they weren't certain.

    Until now. An xray-fluorescence analysis by a team of scientists matched the obsidian in Dee's mirror to obsidian sampled from former Aztec cities, and it looks like Dee's mirror came from Pachua in Mexico.

    The team wrote up their findings, and the paper is a fascinating and readable dive into the cultural stew of early colonial voyages. As they write…

    When John Dee acquired his mirror, he obtained an unfamiliar and stimulating object, redolent of new and exotic knowledge, which would have been even more unique in an English than in a continental context (Yaya 2008). Given Dee's interest in the New World, he may have been aware of the significance of obsidian, and the omniscience of Tezcatlipoca's mirrors would have had an obvious attraction. Indeed, this may have been a primary reason for its acquisition. He also, however, lived in an era in which the use of mirrors for magical purposes in Europe—particularly black mirrors (Maillet 2004)—meant that the context was receptive to the use of a mirror of exotic origin (Forshaw 2015).

    (Thanks to Deb Chacra for pointing this one out!)

  • Famous stolen rockabilly bass found after over 40 years Screenshot of Smutty Smiff, bass player for the Rockats, on stage at American Bandstand, from a YouTube video of the performance

    That's a video of the Rockats, a rockabilly-revival act that blew up in the late 70s and 80s. The bass player is Smutty Smiff, beloved amongst fans for his athletic tossing-around of his bass while he plays it—his wild energy is really on display in that clip.

    There's a great story in the New York Times about one of Smiff's famous upright basses—adorned with a huge "SMUTTY" logo on it—that got stolen in 1982, and the mystery of what happened to it it.

    The Rockats' roadie had driven a vanful of their gear from a gig in Passaic, NJ to Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel; he stopped to grab some food at a diner, and left the van running while he darted inside. The van was stolen, along with all the gear inside, including that bass.

    It was gone, gone gone for over forty years until one day Steve Ulrich, a guitarist and composer, saw it in a Jersey City pawnshop, barely a mile across the river from where it was stolen.

    He asked Manny Vidal how much he wanted for it …

    "It's not for sale," Mr. Vidal said.

    Mr. Ulrich posted a photo of the bass on Facebook and was hit with hundreds of comments. Many came from rockabilly fans, others from collectors interested in buying the bass.

    But one comment was different. It came from Barry Ryan, the rhythm guitarist for the Rockats. He knew something that none of the other commenters knew.

    "That bass was stolen along with a van full of gear from Holland Tunnel Diner 40 years ago," Mr. Ryan wrote.

    Later that day, Mr. Ulrich's cellphone rang. "Smutty Smiff here," said the voice on the other end, in a thick Cockney accent. "I heard you found my bass."

    I won't spoil the rest of the story — go read it! It's a fun document of that moment in time — the neo-rockabilly movement of the 80s.

  • A Chrome extension let you bulk-unfollow everyone, until Facebook squashed it Image of screen with text asking

    In July 2020, Louis Barclay published "Unfollow Everything," a clever Chrome extension that let you unfollow all your friends on Facebook.

    Its function? To let you use Facebook without having to look at anything in the News Feed. "Unfollowing", as Barclay notes, isn't the same as unfriending: you're still connected to all your friends, and you can still visit their Facebook pages to see what they're up to. But if you don't follow anyone, your News Feed is empty.

    In an essay for Slate he describes how it weirdly calming it was to use Facebook with no News Feed …

    I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.

    "Unfollow Everything" quickly took off, with thousands of users discovering it; researchers at the University of Neuchâtel even used it to A/B test whether having no News Feed made you happier.

    Then a few months ago, Facebook sent Barclay a nastygram demanding he delete the app or face legal action.

    When Barclay consulted lawyers, they told him Facebook's demands were flimsy. But he was understandably worried about Facebook dragging him into draw-out legal proceedings that he couldn't afford.

    So he took the app down:

    I am far from the only one to face this kind of scenario. Facebook is increasingly using its terms of service to crush not only research, but also tools that give users more control over their data and platform experience. Just last summer, Facebook went after Friendly, a web browser that allows users to switch between their social media accounts, more easily download or repost photos and videos, and filter their feeds by keyword.

    Facebook's behavior isn't just anti-competitive; it's anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.

    He's right on both counts. Go read the whole essay. it's fascinating, damning, and yet more evidence that Facebook's entrenched position creates just an uncountable number of problems for the world.

    There are other active Chrome extensions, found without too much difficulty, that do the same thing as "Unfollow Everything". I was going to link to them here but decided not to, since I didn't want to draw easier-to-follow attention to them, since if they get popular Facebook will go after them too … which is just such a bleak and wretched chain of logic to follow, but here we are.

    (CC-2.0-licensed photo via Stock Catalog's Flickr stream)

  • New carnivorous plant discovered, right under our noses Screenshot of Audrey attacking a woman in

    Ever since Darwin first wrote on carnivorous plants, in his still-fun-to-read 1875 book Insectivorous Plants, there have only been 11 independent origins for plants that eat animals.

    Now scientists have discovered a new one, the "North American flowering plant Triantha occidentalis", also known as the "western false asphodel."

    The plant has been known for over 100 years — but nobody realized it ate insects. It thrives in damp areas where other carnivorous plants like sundews and butterworts flourish, though, which was one clue.

    So recently a group of scientists began examining some T. occidentalis that grow in a provincial park just south of Vancouver. They discovered that the plant is missing some genes for photosynthesis, which was another clue; you normally only see that in plants that are "heterotrophic" and get their energy from sources other than the sun. Also, the stem of T. occidentalis is covered with tiny hairs that are sticky as heck — which could be used to trap insects.

    Except … the location of the hairs violated theory. Normally, insect-eating plants put their sticky-trap parts far away from their flowers, because they need some flies to safely reach those flowers, to pollinate them. The fact that T. occidentalis had sticky-trap hairs up the stalk, right up to the flower, didn't add up. That made it seem not carnivorous.

    Anyway, there was only one way to figure out if the plants were eating insects: Feed them some!

    So they scientist went out into the field, manually put fruit flies on the stems of T. occidentalis — and when they came back a week later, found the flies had been devoured.

    As Atlas Obscura writes …

    Before presenting the flies to the plants, scientists gave each insect a tracking tag. Researchers mixed an amino acid with nitrogen-15, a stable isotope, into the flies' food. If researchers subsequently find the same isotope in plant tissue, it's an indication that they've been transferred from the animals. Using tweezers, Lin affixed the flies, one by one, to the plants' leggy stems, which are dotted with stubby glandular hairs, reddish and sticky as rubber cement.

    Lin's team returned to the park after a week, then two, and found stems speckled with exoskeletons. The researchers harvested plants to haul back to the lab. They found that T. occidentalis was indeed siphoning that nitrogen and accumulating it in its stem and fruits. It was clear that the plant was getting energy from consuming the insects, but the researchers aren't sure exactly how they pulled it off. "We didn't examine how they absorbed the nutrients," Lin says. "I suspect they use the glandular hair … but it's just a guess." However the plant managed it, the exoskeletons remained: The plants "can only digest the inner part of the insects," Lin says.

    The scientists' paper, paywalled, is here.

    As they note, this discovery is really provocative, because it suggests that there may be far more insect-eating plants that we have yet to identify — but which could also be living right under our noses!

    Given the existence of Triantha in close proximity to major urban centers on the Pacific coast, our study serves as a vivid reminder that other cryptic carnivores may yet remain to be discovered.

    BTW, this is what the plant looks like …

    (Photo of T. occidentalis courtesy Wikipedia)

  • Ultrarich complain that their superskinny tower is a shoddily-built mess Photo of 432 Park Ave

    New York City now has several ultratall buildings constructed for ultrawealthy owners. They're a Jungian archetype of howling inequality: many apartments stand empty, since they're either pieds-à-terre for the moneyed classes or wealth stores for foreign tax-evading gazillionaires.

    It turns out they're also terribly built!

    The building at 432 Park Ave — pictured above — is such a skinny little stick of a thing that it resembles a rendering glitch in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Which is part of the problem: Apparently it sways back and forth so vigorously in the wind that it causes the elevators to shut down, trapping whoever's unlucky enough to be in inside.

    And that's only one of the many, many issues that have emerged in this building. There are so many water problems, electrical problems, and noise problems that the ultrarich residents are now suing the developers for lousy construction.

    As the New York Times reports …

    "Far from the ultraluxury spaces that they were promised, however, Unit Owners were sold a building plagued by breakdowns and failures that have endangered and inconvenienced residents," the complaint said.

    The complaint cited defects in a number of interrelated systems in the building, many of which present "life safety" issues.

    Residents have been trapped "on several occasions" for hours in stalled elevator cars, at least in part because of the building sway that occurs in towers of such immense height, the suit said.

    There have been a number of floods and leaks, both on high floors and in the subbasement, which the board attributes to poor plumbing installation. Some 35 units and common areas were damaged by water, causing millions in damages, and one flood disabled two residential elevators for weeks.

    Noise complaints related to the quality of construction were frequent. The suit claims that even Richard Ressler, a founder of CIM Group and a unit owner, once said the sound and vibration issues were "intolerable," and made it difficult to sleep during inclement weather. Another resident said the trash chute "sounds like a bomb" when garbage is tossed.

    (CC-4.0-licensed photo of 432 Park Ave via Wikimedia)

  • An eight-foot-long handwriting robot Photo of a robot pen plotter mounted on an 8 foot long piece of plywood

    Aaron Francis wanted a pen-plotter that could write out thousands of pieces of direct mail. He bought the Axidraw from Evil Mad Scientist and liked it a lot — but wanted some way to have one robot write out multiple pieces of paper, unattended.

    So he took the Axidraw's plotting mechanism and put it on a massive eight-foot-long frame, producing a robot that can handle 14 pieces of paper at a time.

    He published a thread on twitter documenting the whole process with photos and video, and it's pretty fascinating. My favorite part was where he got the Axidraw to hold two pens at once ….

  • Famous paintings rendered as Minecraft-like 3D terrain Image of mona lisa transformed into a 3D voxel landscape

    The Italian creative studio Invasione Creativa took a bunch of famous paintings and used voxelizing techniques to transform them into chunkily-pixeled relief-maps. The Mona Lisa, in that video above, becomes a landscape of colorful hill, valleys, and peaks.

    The result is terrain that is super reminiscent of Minecraft — these would make pretty fun maps for that game.

    They don't really explain how they did these translations, though. Were they actually scanning the 3D topography of the paint as it was laid down on the canvas? Or just converting different colors to different heights, in a sort of educated guess? I think the latter — though wow, if they actually pulled off the former, it'd be super cool.

    Either way, these are fun to look at — Invasione Creativa posted dozens of these images to their page here.

  • "A septet of turntablists" — harbanger performs at the Library of Congress Screenshot of YouTube video of Harbanger playing, with the screen divided into four quadrants, showing four turntablists playing at the same time

    Today, "harbanger"—a septet of turntablists—performed live online as an event with the Library of Congress. Check out this track from the show, "Where The Movement Is": It's truly mesmerizing to watch this sort of polyphony and artistry in action.

    harbanger (pronounced "harbinger") was cofounded back in 2019 by Harry Allen, a legendary figure in hip-hop (the "media assassin" activist and journalist who worked with Public Enemy) who has written/taught/lectured/ broadcast on hip-hop culture and history for decades now.

    I've been a fan of his work for years now. Harry was Internet visionary back in the early 90s; when my first book came out in 2013 I was a guest on his WBAI-NY radio show, and it was one of the best interviews I ever did—crazily broad-ranging, since he's up on just about any subject in any field.

    Harry was doing a visiting-artist residency at MIT in 2019 when he created harbanger with DJ Rob Swift; the DJs in the group are Axis Pro, Bobby Bangers, The Don Santos, Emoh Betta, Pryvet Peepsho, Spictakular, and Treeman. There's some info about them at their MIT page here.

    The other piece harbanger performed today was Pavor Nocturnus. It's got video content which they preface with the warning "CONTAINS SCENES OF STRONG VIOLENCE", fyi.

  • What it's like in a "goshiwon", a 50-square-foot Seoul microapartment Photo of goshiwon apartment by Julladonna Park

    Seoul has sky-high real-estate prices, rising inequity, and incredibly important "goshi" tests that determine admittance to valued jobs in law or civil service.

    Students want somewhere to retreat for months to study, but since land is at a premium, there's a big market for "goshiwon", teensy apartments that fit a single human body and not much else—typically about 50 square feet, "almost a tenth of a North American studio apartment".

    The Canadian writer Julladonna Park went to live in a goshiwon and wrote a terrific essay on what it was like:

    My room was two meters high and two meters long; it was hardly a meter wide, so that I could place one fingertip on the wall to the opposite side with surprising ease. It would have been impossible to spread out my arms and legs within the confines of the wall, even if I did away with the bed, the glass-paned shower stall, toilet, and sink, the table above the mini-fridge, the cabinets above the table, and the TV that came without asking. [snip]

    There was no room for guests. No room for any kind of exercise, not even jumping up and down in one place. No room in the mini-fridge for anything aside from a day's worth of snacks and a carton of milk. No room for the trendy clothes that others were wearing. No room for knick-knacks and souvenirs. Mostly I lived inside my head, in my dreams, and in my screens.

    The sheer mechanics were pretty miserable. In his first week, Park accidentally smashed several plates and knickknacks just by, like, moving around. But the psychological effects he notes were just as interesting …

    The bizarre thing about living in 50 square feet of space was that it didn't change me; rather, I became the most extreme version of myself.

    Really fascinating read—go check the whole thing out!