• The science of not knowing when to shut up

    If you feel that most conversations go on far longer than they should, you're right. According to a new scientific study, "conversations almost never end when anyone wants them to." Harvard psychologists and their colleagues studied nearly 1,000 conversations to gain insight into how they begin, unfold, and eventually end. Ending a conversation, they determined, is a "classic 'coordination problem' that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other." From Scientific American:

    In some cases, however, interlocutors were dissatisfied not because the talk went on for too long but because it was too short.

    "Whatever you think the other person wants, you may well be wrong," says Mastroianni, who is now a doctoral candidate in psychology at Harvard University. "So you might as well leave at the first time it seems appropriate, because it's better to be left wanting more than less.[…]"

    That people fail so completely in judging when a conversation partner wishes to wrap things up "is an astounding and important finding," says Thalia Wheatley, a social psychologist at Dartmouth College, who was not involved in the research. Conversations are otherwise "such an elegant expression of mutual coordination," she says. "And yet it all falls apart at the end because we just can't figure out when to stop." This puzzle is probably one reason why people like to have talks over coffee, drinks or a meal, Wheatley adds, because "the empty cup or check gives us an out—a critical conversation-ending crutch."

    "Do conversations end when people want them to?" (PNAS)

  • Luxury condominium boasts "open concept bathroom" with no walls or doors

    In college, my friends lived in a dodgy apartment where the bathtub was in the kitchen. But that's nothing compared to this newly-renovated luxury condominium in Boston that features an "open concept" first floor bathroom with no walls and no privacy, except for a narrow piece of frosted glass beside the toilet. You could move right in for $899,000. From Boston magazine:

    The first time he saw it, listing agent Robert Nichols' jaw dropped. He'd seen open-concept showers before, sure, but a toilet? "I was like, 'Man, was this designed for an exhibitionist?' That literally was my first thought," says Nichols, broker-owner of Boston Trust Realty Group and partner at Crowd Lending Inc. "But you know what? It could work if folks, you know, don't mind having it open like that and just can live freely and enjoy it to its full potential."

    So far at least, the set-up has not exactly been getting rave reviews during showings. "The majority just felt like they were having a hard time really trying to visualize themselves living in that space," he says.

    So the plan for now is to be patient for a few weeks and see if any house hunters with particularly open-minded sensibilities on privacy come along. Or, as he's been telling prospective buyers, his firm is offering to rebuild the wall and door themselves.

    Apparently, open concept bathrooms are a niche trend that more than a few home designers have, er, gotten behind.

    image: Boston Trust Realty Group

  • New York City woman finds hidden empty apartment behind her medicine cabinet

    seriously never would I have expected to find this… and I documented all of it #mystery #fyp #nyc #secret #foryou #apartment #storytime

    ♬ Mysterious – Andreas Scherren

    Samantha Hartsoe was curious about the cold air leaking into her New York City apartment bathroom, so she investigated. Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman!


    crawled through a wall for this mystery so enjoy the finale 🕵🏻‍♀️ #mystery #nyc #apartment #secret #storytime #storytime #fyp #foryou

    ♬ Mysterious – Andreas Scherren
  • Remote, Oregon may soon have the best job market in the United States

    Remote, Oregon is a tiny, rural unincorporated area near where Sandy Creek meets the Middle Fork Coquille River. Above is a photo of Remote's post office, store, and gas station. Remote, Oregon is also a white hot job market. Why? When employers list a job location as "remote," meaning you can work from anywhere, some job listing aggregators misidentify that word as a place and erroneously match it to Remote, Oregon. From BNet:

    So, I think it's safe to assume that any job listing for Remote, Oregon, is just a remote job that the scraper misinterpreted. Unless thousands of companies are all operating out of one of the three buildings in the small town nobody drives through any more because of the highway. It's weird that this mixup has just gone on for a year? There are tons of people searching for remote jobs and I have to believe at least a few other people ignored the Oregon listings because, well, they listed a real town!

    (image: Pegrowe62 (CC BY-SA 4.0)

  • This trailer for a Murder Hornets nature documentary feels like it's a true crime show

    In recent years, true crime documentaries have become all the rage. Sometimes though, the evil lies in our own backyard… Michael Paul Stephenson's Discovery+ documentary Attack of the Murder Hornets unironically disguises a nature documentary a a true crime show, writes Kate Knibbs at Wired. It reminds me of what a contemporary TV adaptation of Gordon Grice's classic book Deadly Kingdom might feel like.

  • Listen to the original version of "Superman," the 1969 pop-psych song that REM covered

    I've been a fan of REM since the early 1980s, and Lifes Rich Pageant (1986) is my favorite of their albums. That's why I'm surprised that somehow I slept on the fact that "Superman" is actually a cover of a 1969 song by Houston pop-psych band The Clique! I learned about this last night reading the late Elizabeth Wurtzel's 1993 article about REM that's been republished in the excellent new Oxford American: Southern Music Issue that compiles the "greatest hits" from the prior Southern music issues.

    My excuse for being clueless is that REM's "Superman" was a hidden track not listed on the Lifes Rich Pageant jacket, so the song's writers, Mitchell Bottler and Gary Zekley, weren't listed in the album's credits. I'm glad to have discovered this original version 34 years later though! It's fantastic!

    Here's REM's cover version:

    The Clique's "Superman" was the b-side of their "Sugar on Sunday" single:

  • Dr. Fauci's coronavirus is headed to the Smithsonian

    Dr. Anthony Fauci is donating his personal model of the SARS-CoV-2 virion to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The plastic model will be on view in a future exhibition titled "In Sickness and In Health." From NPR:

    Fauci has used the blue and pink spikey ball as an educational tool over the past 13 months to explain COVID-19 in briefings to members of Congress, journalists, and the public. The model was made with a 3D printer and shows the various components of the complete, infectious form of the virus including the spike protein–a key characteristic of the virus that allows it to penetrate host cells and cause infection.

    In keeping with social distancing rules, Fauci made the donation virtually during the museum's "Great Americans Program" Tuesday.

    During the event, Fauci also received the museum's signature Great Americans medal for his work during the coronavirus pandemic and for his work on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as other emerging diseases.

  • Vaccine shortage may soon become an overabundance

    Yesterday, President Biden said that "we're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May." Shortly thereafter, according to Jefferies analyst Michael Yee, we'll have an overabundance of vaccines. From Barron's:

    Yee said that he only expected 185 million Americans to be willing and eligible to get inoculated. That would mean an oversupply of 200 million doses.

    "We predict the market will shift from we don't have enough to we have a nice oversupply by Summer (not a bad thing for the country)," Yee wrote.

    That doesn't mean that all Americans who want a dose will be vaccinated by the end of May. Administration of the vaccine remains a challenge.

    image: Arne Müseler / www.arne-mueseler.com (CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

  • A punk, two goths, and a mod interviewed on an Irish TV talk show (1983)

    Unsurprisingly, the host asks mostly inane questions that the punk, goths, and mod do their best to answer respectfully and earnestly.

    "It's a rebellion against the old system, the system we were born into and are supposed to live by. But we don't agree with today's system."

    Of note, the talk show is The Late Late Show with Gay Byrne who was the first person to introduce the Beatles on TV—January 16, 1963 during an episode of the Granada television show People And Places.

    (via r/ObscureMedia)

  • Extraterrestrial porch pirate caught on camera swiping package

    This extraterrestrial porch pirate was caught on camera swiping a package from a family's doorstep in Jacksonville, Florida.

    "We have had a lot of theft, car break-ins and door pullers, or whatever you want to call them, through the area trying to go through people's stuff," the homeowner told News4Jax.

    While some may suspect that the perpetrator is actually Florida Man in disguise, we know that the truth is still out there.

  • Opening an intricately-folded "locked" letter from c.1700

    When I was in junior high school, in those better days before texting, kids communicated by passing intricately-folded handwritten notes. Using complex folding techniques so that the paper becomes its own envelope, a process called "letter locking" actually dates back hundreds of years. Recently, conservationists examining an antique trunk containing more than 2,500 pieces of undelivered mail—nearly 600 of which were "locked letters—used X-ray scanners to virtually "unlock" one of them without risking likely damage of physically unfolding it.

    "Sometimes the past resists scrutiny," the researchers from MIT, Queen Mary University of London, and other institutions said in an announcement. "We could simply have cut these letters open, but instead we took the time to study them for their hidden, secret, and inaccessible qualities. We've learned that letters can be a lot more revealing when they are left unopened."

    According to their scientific paper, the team applied computational flattening algorithms to the X-rays enabling "reconstructing and virtually unfolding volumetric scans of a locked letter with complex internal folding, producing legible images of the letter's contents and crease pattern while preserving letterlocking evidence."

    Learn more at the Unlocking History Research Group site.

    And here's what's in the letter seen in the image below:

    Dear sir & cousin,

    It has been a few weeks since I wrote to you in order to ask you to have drawn up for me a legalized excerpt of the death of sieur Daniel Le Pers, which took place in The Hague in the month of December 1695, without hearing from you. This is f…g I am writing to you a second time in order to remind you of the pains that I took on your behalf. It is important to me to have this extract you will do me a great pleasure to procure it for me to send me at the same time news of your health of all the family.

    I also pray that God maintains you in His Sainted graces & covers you with the blessings necessary to your salvation. Nothing more for the time being, except that I pray you to believe that I am completely, sir and cousin, your most humble & very obedient servant,

    Jacques Sennacques

    "Unlocking history through automated virtual unfolding of sealed documents imaged by X-ray microtomography" (Nature Communications)

  • Cannibalism, murderous insects, face mites, and creepy clowns

    Gory Details is National Geographic reporter Erika Engelhaupt's new book about the science of creepy, interesting, and real things such as face mites (above), the caloric intake of cannibals, the unpleasantries of earwax, and the psychology of coulrophobia. From an interview with Engelhaupt in Science News:

    SN: Do you have a favorite reporting field trip?

    Engelhaupt: Probably the most fun travel I did for the book was going to biologist Rob Dunn's lab at North Carolina State University to find my own face mites. There are two species of little eight-legged mites that live on all of our faces — and elsewhere on our bodies, by the way. Seeing something that was living in my pores squiggling around on the microscope slide — for me, there's nothing more fun than that. I still keep pictures on my cell phone of my face mites so that I can show them to people[…]

    SNYou also write about a lot of new scientific research. Any standout papers where you thought, I have to write about this?

    Engelhaupt: A study where scientists fed different human bodily fluids to blowflies to see which ones the flies found tastiest. [The scientists] were looking at how flies might transfer human DNA picked up from bodily fluids to different parts of a crime scene. [DNA analysis] techniques are now so sensitive that we're picking up DNA from fly poop. If the flies have previously eaten human blood or semen or saliva, there can be DNA from that person that gets pooped out by the fly. That [DNA] might get interpreted as blood spatter or get picked up incidentally at a crime scene and really confuse the situation. Who would have thought that you need to study fly poop to analyze DNA at a crime scene?

    SN: I was sure you were going to say the paper on the calorie count of a human, from the chapter on cannibalism.

    Engelhaupt: That's one where it was a question I didn't know I had until I saw that a scientist had answered it. And those are some of the kinds of things that I wanted to fill this book with: You didn't know you wanted to know this, but I'm hoping that now you're glad you do.

    Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science (Amazon)

    image: All Species Wiki

  • Little free library of sticks for dogs

    During the COVID-19 lockdowns, I've noticed more Little Free Libraries popping up outside people's homes. Boing Boing pal Howard Rheingold even made a Little Free Art Gallery! Now, Jeremiah Carter, age 10, and his dad David Carter of Saskatchewan, Canada built a Little Free Stick Library for dogs! They were inspired by a similar project they read about in New Zealand. From KCTV5:

    After [the Carters] finished building the stick library, they headed to a local dog park.

    "We took it and zip tied it to the fence so it wouldn't disappear, we gathered sticks that we figured dogs would enjoy, and filled it up and waited to see what happened," Carter said.

    He and Jeremiah were surprised when they came back to the park one day to see that the stick library was actually used.

    "When we would go to the dog park, there would be no sticks in there, or lots of sticks lying around," Carter said.

    According to Carter, his son has gotten a lot of satisfaction seeing people interact with the stick library.

    "It seemed to make people happy and it's given him some enjoyment and a bit of purpose," Carter said.

  • Cheeto dust leads to arrest of burglary suspect

    Tulsa, Oklahoma police arrested Sharon Carr for suspected burglary after she attempted to break into a home through a window. Her taste in snack foods led to her undoing. From the Tulsa Police Department:

    Officers found a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of water on the floor near the open window and believe Carr dropped them on the way out. The victim identified Carr as the suspect after seeing her.

    Carr was further linked to the crime by Cheeto residue on her teeth.

    image: Scott Ehardt (public domain)

  • Earth, if it were listed on Zillow

    Comedy writer Isabella Giovannini imagined Zillow listings for our home planet. From the New Yorker:


    This STUNNING open-concept planet is STILL available, but act fast—it is HOT, HOT, HOT! Old-world fire meets modern methane. 0 BR/19,000 volcanoes. Call today!


    REDUCED PRICE! This pre-concept-of-war GEM has somehow STILL never been lived in!


    This pre-prehistoric JEWEL​ ​has now been on the market for three hundred million years! What the HECK, guys?!


    O.K., FINE! Nobody wanted to live in my hot boiling orb so I GUT-RENOVATED it! Now it has all the MODERN AMENITIES: metallic zircon crust, state-of-the-art slime, water. These changes cost a FORTUNE and took literally MILLIONS OF YEARS. I hope you're HAPPY, you little SHITS. Call today!

    Read the rest: "Zillow Listings for Earth" (The New Yorker)